Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Traditions

Four years ago, I gave you all the complete history of Christmas according to Dan.
I covered the history of Santa and his buddy Black Peter, the history of the Christmas tree and lights. This year, I thought I'd bring back that post, with some more classic traditions and terms and explain their history.

Yule Tide/ Yule Log
Yule Tide is basically an old word for Christmas. The Yule Log however... well, it's what it sounds like. It's traditionally a large log burned in the fireplace on Christmas Eve in Europe. This, like most Christian traditions, appears to have come from the Pagan tradition where there was a fire-festival to celebrate the winter solstice.

It seems the log is still burned fairly regularly in Europe, but in North America, it's been replaced by the Yule Log channel. It's a 2-4 hour video loop for a fire with Christmas music playing in the background.

Now if we could only get TV's that has smell-o-vision, we would have the full experience.

Chestnuts Roasting

Most likely, we all know Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire as one of the most classic Christmas songs created. Nat King Cole really nailed that feeling of sitting around the Christmas tree in your pajamas, watching a fire on Christmas Eve. But what does this mean? Is this one of Nat's family traditions? A marketing ploy by the evil Chestnut Growers Association of America?

The few articles discussing this seem to agree that this tradition started in mountainous regions where cereal grains couldn't grow. Like present day humans, who undo 11 months of dieting and working out by stuffing every sweet baked good offered into our mouths, chestnuts become sweet when they are roasted. Thus, these people just wanted a sweet snack around the holidays.

Elf on a Shelf

A relatively new tradition, parents position an elf around the house every night in order to keep their kids in line.

This was inspired by a book written by Carol Aebersold, Chanda Bell, and Satan himself. It's all about teaching children to give into Big Brother, and you'll be rewarded with Capitalist gifts. Just make sure you stay in line, otherwise Darth Elf will kill your parents.

I'm not the only one who thinks those blank, souless eyes are creepy. There's an entire Pinterest board dedicated to him being creepy. Tumbler is filled with Elf on a Shelf having sex with Barbies, murdering GI Joe, and writing creepy messages in sugar. In fact, just search "Elf on a Shelf Creepy" returns 426,000 results on Google as of 12/22/14.

Leaving Cookies and Milk for Santa

No one appears to know exactly when this started, but most people reference children leaving hay and treats for Sleipnir, Odin's eight legged horse, in hopes that the duo would stop to rest and leave treats for children.

Now it's an excuse for parents already high on ham and eggnog to cram a couple of cookies into their gullet, always leaving at least one half eaten cookie on the plate.

Some children would leave carrots for the reindeer as well and it wasn't until I was older that I linked having some sort of roast with carrots a few days after Christmas as the way to get rid of those carrots.

Christmas Caroling

I haven't had carolers to my house in nearly two decades, but I know it still happens. In fact, my cousin and his buddies have a few beers and spread holiday cheer to the suspecting neighborhood every year.

Pagans used to sing and dance for various rituals. The Winter Solstice has traditionally been December 22nd, so singing songs of praise that the days were going to get longer became tradition. Christians eventually took this idea, put a lot of Christ into the pagan songs, and took them as their own.

Christmas Cards

In the true spirit of marketing and Christmas being tied together, the Christmas card was thought up by Sir Henry Cole, who wanted to figure out a way to get the average person to use the post office.

He came up with the Christmas Card with John Callcott Horsley in London in 1843.

Now, any number of services will print up a collage of pictures of you and your dumb pets with the entire story of the past year on the back. These can be most often seen covering up refrigerators until January 3rd, where they are promptly stacked several inches high, and thrown in the trash can. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sitting Around the Radio

With how busy Sal and I were this year and how much traveling we did, we bonded over several podcasts. These were the ones that I would see downloaded in my app and ignore for several days knowing that we were headed for Chicago, Columbia, Rolla, or Madison. 

There were some old standbys that have tapered off like Hollywood Babble-on, but there are some that have become such favorites that we don't talk to each other until the end of each episode like The Moth or WTF. 

There's only been one podcast that has us hooking the phone up to to speakers while we sit around, staring at the radio like kids waiting for an Ovaltine advertisement between the Lone Ranger episodes.

That podcast is Serial. You've probably heard of it. It's the number one podcast in the world right now.  It's a story, told weekly, much inspired by famous documentaries like Thin Blue Line and pulp stories of the 50s. 

It's a look at a crime that took place in 1999, a teenager that might have been wrongly convicted, and all of the witnesses, jurors, and evidence (sometimes lack thereof) that lead to Adnan Syed being imprisoned. 

I love mysteries. And in an increasing environment where half the country doesn't trust the justice, this podcast was due to catch fire. 

I started listening to Serial without Sal. But after six or so episodes, I needed a ringer. Sal has this annoying ability (she gets it from her mother) to solve a mystery within 15 minutes of starting the movie. I thought for sure, she would hear a piece of evidence I missed and Sal and Dan would be famous detectives, doing the talk show circuit with Sarah Koenig, because we had solved the case much of the world could not. 

Over the past 13 weeks, we've listened to the weekly episode. Discussed in depth the topic of the episode. We changed our opinion multiple times. I've re-listened to every episode 3 times. Scoured Reddit and Facebook for more information and fan theories, always wanting more.

Around week 8, I realized since Adnan was still in jail and no retrial had happened. We weren't going to find out the solution to this mystery. I was worried that I had dedicated all of this time to this story and there wouldn't be a satisfying conclusion.

The final episode was this week, and surprisingly it was a satisfying conclusion. No, we did not find out who actually committed the murder, but what we did find out was significant evidence went un-used, Adnan's lawyer might have been losing it a little, and the jurors seemed significantly misinformed. 

If nothing else, Adnan was not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he committed a murder, and thus, we hope this goes to retrial.

We donated a few dollars to have season 2 created. This podcast has pulled us in far more than any television show or film or videogame has since we've been married. I cannot wait to see what topic they tackle next year. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When Words Don't Work

In recent years, I've felt my brain getting weaker.

My memory is shot for things like, "What actor was in that movie?" I rely on Google, the world's most powerful search engine, always available in the palm of my hand to feed information.

But after last night, it really hit home. I have all of these emotions and feelings and I have no way to express them. The city I love is in flames, divided, and I feel I can't elegantly describe anything.

Of course, both sides have their knee-jerk people who all of a sudden have degrees in Law, Sociology, and American history.

Some want to answer centuries of racism and oppression by shooting "all those hood rats." I'm not kidding, multiple people on my Facebook feed had this as the answer.

Some believe a prayer will bring peace. Unfortunately in this instance, we need to not only pray for peace, but we have to pray for a solution to the problem.

On the other side, I have friends that are happy and excited that police cruisers are being burned. They discuss times of police corruption ignoring that evidence is available for the public's eyes to see. Ignoring that if the Grand Jury was unable to get 9 members to vote for indictment, there was no way a unanimous decision would be found if the trial went further.

And this is where teenage Dan comes into conflict with adult Dan. When I was a kid, I was moody like most. But I had a sense of purpose. I didn't just hole up in my room listening to sad music. I was a man of action.

I knew things were bad in the country in 2003. This was when I first started paying attention to the 24 hour news cycle.

And when I was punk rock Dan, there were times I believed that a brick through a Starbucks window was the only way to get things changed. My philosophy was, "things are so bad, we have to burn it all down so we can truly start over."

And then last night I saw looting at mom and pop convenience stores. I saw Little Caesar franchises burning down. I saw people warming their hands over burning cars at a dealership.

And I couldn't figure out what this accomplished.

A major reason for the severe disparity between say West County and North County is the unemployment rate and pay scale.

As thousands of people left the older, northern, suburbs in the 80's and 90's for larger houses and greener grass out in western Missouri, jobs started moving too.

And thus, those that once were in the city and finally scraped up the money to move to the suburbs, to give their kids a better life, found a mostly abandoned neighborhood where there were no jobs or enough tax money for the school system to run properly.

The cycle continues of unemployment, people turning to crime to feed themselves, dropping out of school because why go when the school isn't teaching you anyway. I saw it many times over in Myrtle Beach. 17-year-old kids left behind by the world, relegated to a live fast, die young world.

So why would destroying businesses that remained in your community help?

I was excited when people were starting to address the segregation that exists in St. Louis. I imagined that some public figure would step up like Martin Luther King Jr. and lead successful peaceful protests. I imaged a scene, much like this one. And I was honored that it was going to happen in St. Louis.

I looked forward to marching with my neighbors and possibly fixing some of the underlying issues for all the hate.

Instead, my neighborhood burns. Silhouettes highlighted by the senseless fires of a few people that want to take advantage of a situation. People ruining their community and reputation for some hair products and snack food.

And the camera's love it. The "leaders" coming in from out of town on both sides of the debate, just here to stir the pot and see themselves on television again. We feed the 24 hour newscycle. Reddit is filled with constant postings about safety when visiting St. Louis. We will not recover from this for many years to come.

Then again, maybe we haven't earned the right to recover from this.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Rules of Attraction

There's a lady I collaborate on projects with fairly often. We have enough of a rapport that we can usually get a hours worth of work done in 40 minutes and then we spend 20 minutes dishing.

I told her about the week we were having. Lot's of drama, long days, and flat tires.

I was telling her about it because it was like a movie. It was comedic. She laughed for a moment and then said, "Dan, you have dark energy in your life. You have a great perspective on everything, but the amount of negative stuff that happens to you is wrong. You have to change your energy."

She went on to tell me that I need to put rose quartz under my bed because it attracts love and positive energies. She also told me to get the house cleansed with sage and to watch The Secret.

Humoring her, I did watch The Secret on Netflix. It's corny. There's a lot of famous quotes thrown on the screen while someone whispers the words in the background. There's a guy with his shirt half unbuttoned talking about how he kept envisioning that he would have a better car, and soon he did.

It's really a bunch of rich Californians dreaming of big houses, beautiful women, and fast cars. BUT... the main message is solid.

If you put out positive vibes, you'll attract positive vibes.

Instead of being pissed in traffic on your way to work, focus instead on the podcast you're listening to or how good your coffee is. Think of it as a way to have some leisure time before work. Or just envision being at work and sort of block out the traffic.

I've been trying this since Thursday of last week. Just trying to send out positive vibes. And guess what, I had one of the best, most relaxing weekends I've had in a long time.

On Friday, I spent time with Brett and Rosie. We had some killer Pasta Carbonara and prepared some bottles for one of my new brews. Saturday, a bunch of us got together to watch the Blues game at Southtown Pub. We had great barbecue, had delicious beer, watched a Blues win, and some got up for Karaoke.

And today, we woke up at our own pace, went to Steinberg Skating Rink, and for the first time since my injury, I ice skated in the snow while listening to some Floyd blasting from the speakers. And it felt good and natural. I'm hooked again. I couldn't skate backwards very fast and I couldn't do a hockey stop, but I had speed and control going forward. The other's will come back as soon as muscle memory kicks in.

So, the positive vibes and stuff might not have actually caused the greatness of the weekend. But, I figure if nothing else, it's good to throw positive vibes out in this messed up world.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Hamster Wheel

It's been a rough month financially. Between the roof stuff, my computer crapping out, the trip to Phoenix, and Sal having to rotate every week between going to the dentist and doctor, we've been tapped out.

When I've discussed finances with those that have been in the adult world longer than us, we most often hear the same thing, "You will always be in debt."

That sounds crazy and wrong on so many levels. It's like being stuck on a hamster wheel. Like I was only shooting for a better paying job, to get a bigger house, a newer car, a better cable package and keep the debts managed. If there was no end in sight, why would I wake up at 7 every morning to clock in.

It sometimes made me want to drop Netflix, sell our car and take public transportation, and move into a one bedroom apartment.

There have been many times where I wished we didn't own a home. I hate doing the yard work. I hate seeing the house projects that need to be done. I get anxiety thinking about selling the place in 5-10 years knowing that there are big ticket items I need to fix first.

The tax deduction and the equity we're building on the house don't seem to equal the amount of money and time we put into it. (Yes, I put a financial value on my time often to figure out if things are worth it)

There's often a part of me that would rather have pay $250 less a month on utilities and mortgage than owning a house. At least then, we could put that money toward the car or student loans.

But, there was a conversation I had recently that gave me the warm fuzzies inside.

A lady I work with has a similar story to ours. She turned 40 this week and said, "I would never want to go back and relive my 20's or early 30's."

She set up her story by explaining that she had a similar job, similar student loans, and similar debt.

She's now 40, her debt is paid off, she owes a little on her house, and she is able to go basically anywhere and do basically anything whenever she wants to.

She told me that they bought a house within their means, they struggled for 10 years with debt, but kept pushing, and now that she's 40, she's having the time of her life.

That gives me hope. Instead of being told the doom and gloom of, "You will always be in debt" I was told, "you have some great times ahead of you."

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

And Then it Clicked

Typically, I learn best when someone shows me how to do something.

I'm terrible at reading books. I'm terrible at test taking. I'm terrible at online courses. It's a wonder that I graduated from a major university with a pretty decent GPA.

For the first 2 years of brewing, I didn't really have anyone to show me anything, and I still haven't had anyone around to show me how to make bread.

For the most part, I've spent years having wet dough stick to my hands, ugly looking garbage baguettes, and beers containing hop pieces in the bottle. Basically, I could've been playing with Playdough and making hoppy tea and I would've been accomplishing very similar things.

I just kept doing and reading and doing and reading, hoping that things would click.

And sometimes they do.

The most recent example of something clicking is a method for mixing dough. I've read so many baking books that describe this fold over method. They even have nice splash pages with pictures showing how to do it. I've looked up videos on YouTube. None of it made sense to me. I couldn't make my hands make the pretty looking dough in the pictures.

A few weeks back, I was making some dough, and then it was as if power was restored to a part of my brain and it just clicked. It was one of those moments where you can't remember the week previous when you had no idea. It was something you always knew. I fully understood the folding method and my breads have been much more flavorful since.

I met a few guys that brewed beer over margaritas at some random Mexican restaurant a few years back.

I was starting to figure out some basics of brewing. I understood the basic premise and why things were done a certain way, but I was still years off of figuring out how to make my own recipes. And then I started going to brew days at these guys houses. I saw their setups, how they kept beers from getting hazy, how they steeped hot water through the grains, and how they cleaned up.

Meeting this group of friends gave me ideas and probably accelerated my skills by several years.

Basically what I'm saying is, yes, I can learn anything, it will just take me a long time like baking did. Or, if I meet people that already know how to do it, and they are willing to show me, I'll pick it up immediately and excel at it.

All I know is at least once a week, I'm eating my bread and drinking my beer and it doesn't cross my mind to go to a bakery or store to pick up someone else's products, and that's a great place to be.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

First Impressions and Contactors

Every interaction I've had with contractors have not been pleasant.

One neighbor had a team of guys working on our shared fence. They showed up at 6 am for 10 straight days and started hammering and drilling. They set up their saw horses and housed all the lumber in our yard. They ruined parts of our yard.

That same neighbor got a new porch poured not long after. Guess where the cement truck was parked while it rained? That's right, on our yard. The truck slide a good 3 feet during this pouring, destroying the grass and making huge dips and lumps that I've attempted to even out multiple times, but they somehow remain.

The other neighbor had roofers show up. They plugged their power tools into my outdoor outlets, threw tons of discarded roof tiles into my yard, threw cigarettes into my yard, and even left a stained smelly shirt hanging on my porch.

So when it came time to hire our first workers to cut down the tree in our back yard, I was incredibly stressed. I was pissed off when things happened to me, and I would guess the neighbors would feel the same when it was flipped back.

Of course the tree guys let huge logs fall three stories into both my yard and the neighbors yard creating huge divots that still remain. I've dumped a good 30 lbs of dirt into holes (of course fixing the neighbor's yard first) trying to get things fixed. It still is not right.

We had a storm roll through a few weeks back that completely ripped the roof off of our house. Around this same time, we got a new neighbor next door.

He came up to me on the fence line and introduced himself. We had a quick pleasant conversation. I was happy to have a new start.

Well, the roofers have showered his house in pieces of brick, mortar, and tar paper. The dumpster guys ripped a huge steel pipe off of our curb and there's a good six inches sticking straight out in the street ready to ruin someone's wheel. And now I'm the proud owner of a dead side yard because a tarp covered in trash sat for 8 days.

This morning, I was baking bread, trying to quickly mow the lawn, and clean up trash left behind and I was interrupted every 12 minutes by my new neighbor, who was justifiably upset every time he found something new wrong. Instead of spending 90 minutes getting everything done, this was stretched into more than 2 hours as I attempted to call the street department, the insurance adjuster, and the roofer, none of which are answering because it's the weekend.

I can understand the contractor's side. You're doing 12 hours of work a day, in the elements, for maybe $30,000 a year. Your body is breaking down, you have no retirement, and you do the same back breaking jobs 6 days a week. At a certain point, you stop caring.

But dammit, there's also the being considerate side of things. I go out of my way to be considerate to everyone that deserves it. And that is probably why I care so much about this.

Thanks for sitting in on this therapy session.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Death, Babies, Stress, and Mind Running

Buckle up. This was three separate blog posts at one point, but I felt there was a common subject. That subject is, "Everything stresses me out."

As I've written before, Death Scares the Hell Out of Me.

I've been thinking about the subject a lot lately. There's been a lot of anniversaries of important losses in my life, people I care about dealing with deadly disease, and generally the world seems like it's falling apart.

It's just a feeling of helplessness. Like we're spinning on this globe with no say of how fast.

I think I worry about macro things too much. (Or, maybe not enough.) The world issues that I feel like I have no control over scare me the most. It has to be my imagination. There's an issue and then I connect the dots until it kills me.
  • We're running out of fresh water. I've read things that say, at the current rate, we'll be out of fresh water sources in 40-50 years. And then there are plague like things happening to some of our larger fresh water sources:
  • We've got to be on the verge of a major war right?
  • The freaking Ebola virus is running rampant and some of those infected are outside of Africa.
  • And then there are the normal things of possible recession in Europe again, gas shortages, climate change, overpopulation, etc. 
All of these things equate to a Mad Max like scenario where I eventually starve to death, while fighting a plague, until I am executed over the lack of drinking water.

The subject of children has come up often lately. I think the first wave of married folk from 4-6 years ago have started having kids and Sal and I are finding that kids love the crap out of us generally. We get a lot of those, "You know you would be great parents" sort of comments. 

And then I see some people on my Facebook feed having their 4th or 5th kid. And I see them post really ignorant, racist and homophobic updates, and I see them ringing up credit card debt, and buying houses and cars they can't afford, and I think, "maybe we should have kids to balance out the idiots."

I guess this is a sentiment that has been true forever. I shouldn't be surprised. Harvey Danger even sang about it with Flagpole Sitta back in 1997. 

Been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding
And of course we would be good parents, great even. If (and it's a big IF) we could have kids, we're just not sure it would be healthy for us.

We've barely been able to travel or complete any of the bucket list items we had in college. We're still playing catch up from losing our jobs back in 2009. Sallie just now is being paid what she should have been when we graduated. There are too many marriages that fail and it seems like a large cause/symptom is having kids when you're not prepared.

Basically, kids aren't in the near-future-cards because of this forced arrested development we both feel.

And also, we just don't know if we could have kids. Adoption might be the only option.

Generally, I think I'm just too stressed. Sal and I have been driving up and down the country for seemingly months now. I think we are just running ourselves ragged.

I know this seems to be my post every 8-10 weeks or so, but it really has felt like that. 

It's been another year full of weddings, and this year almost all of them have been out of town. With out of town weddings, come gifts, hotel rooms, full weekend filled with travel. Just generally tiring. 

Then a few weeks back a freak storm came through and ripped our roof off. I'm not exaggerating. Our flat roof was lifted up like a blanket and thrown over itself. We also had two windows, two doors, and some leaking damage. So every time it gets cloudy, I get stressed again. The new roof can't be put on until there are three solid days with no chance of rain. I'm hoping that's by the end of this week.

And we did that dumb thing where we over commit to things. Yeah, LouFest sounds like a blast back in April when we bought tickets, but by the time it comes around in September, we've been non-stop busy for 8 weeks. 

I guess not using any PTO for the first 5 months of the year really sets a bad precedent. I just feel stressed, rushed, and tired. Even when I've taken time off for just a long weekend to reset, somehow I end up filling that too. 

I'm not complaining that there's not fun things. It's not like every weekend I'm out digging ditches or doing match. Usually the stuff we have is fun. I'm just a guy that likes some alone time. I really only feel reset if I get to wake up, sip some coffee, play some video games, dunce around on the internet, and ease into the day. I need that at least once a week and it just hasn't happened. 

Basically, this is what life feels like lately if I had to sum it up in one picture. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Happiness as Science

There's a scientific research project called Track Your Happiness which is trying to quantify what exactly makes humans happy. I first heard about this over a year ago on one of the podcasts I listen to.

The scientist said what they are learning is incredible. Things like, people tend to be most happy when they are in a car and not thinking about much in particular.

It's something you don't think about often. What makes me truly happy? Sure, you know things like eating ice cream will make you temporarily happy, but when, during your everyday life, are you happiest?

I decided to sign up to get text alerts and add to the project. I've done it twice now, 6 months apart. My second go around just finished. This is particularly interesting to me because of the completely different life-place I'm in compared to where I was around the holidays last year during my first time doing the survey.

There were a lot of "no-duh" pieces of information.

  • I'm happiest on Fridays, least happy on Tuesdays. (The day I have to take phone calls.) 
  • I'm most happy when I'm doing things I want to do, but also have to do. Which I think translates to, "I enjoy doing certain things (cooking) for other people when I sign up to do it. (family event, dinner party)
  • Right now, I'm slightly more happy when I'm inside. When I did it the first time, back in January, I was slightly more happy when I was outside.
  • I tend to be happiest when I get around 7 hours of sleep. When I get more than 8, I'm less happy.
  • I am happiest when I'm brewing, at a brewery, at a buddy's house, listening to music, or watching a movie.
  • I'm least happiest when I'm at a hospital, relaxing (that's a huge surprise), working, listening to the news, at Target, or praying/worshiping/meditating. 
I think what I get out of this is, when I'm left with my thoughts, I'm the least happy. Which I don't know what that says about my mental well being. 

It makes sense though, my three least favorite chores to do are yard work, grocery shopping, and doing dishes. All things that are relatively mindless, yet it's not easy to listen to podcasts or occupy myself in other ways. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Salmonster VS Hungerbot

Every few holidays, I'll make Sallie a comic or picture instead of getting a card.

We've had a bunch of old paintings and canvases sitting around the house, so I got the bright idea to raise the bar. I was going to paint a picture. Now the thing you need to know is I'm terrible at painting. I'm really bad at figuring out which colors go together and staying in the lines. I'm terrible with brush strokes. I basically don't like moving outside of drawing. So I knew this would be quite the undertaking.

I started back in May. The concept stages. Sal and I have this joke that the only time we fight is when she's hungry or I'm tired. In fact, she has a persona for when she's hungry. She's SALMONSTER!

So I thought about how much I love old sci-fi and horror movie posters and decided my topic. I would create Salmonster vs Hungerbot in the style of an old Godzilla movie poster. Specifically, the one below was a huge inspiration.

So I started on this journey. I didn't know how I was going to pull this off without ruining the surprise.

So I started with some concept art, this one being the one that made it. I actually drew this sitting on the same couch as Sal, but she was getting deep into the internet on our tablet, so I knew I was safe from her seeing. I took one of the paintings we already had and agreed that we didn't want to hang it on our wall, I painted primer over it and then did this nice orange and red.

I got a little cavalier next, painted the frames for the buildings and then without any outline, went ahead and did some lettering. Not only did it not line up very well, but days later I realized I forgot the "S" in Monster.

I then added the beginnings of Sal in my favorite dress of hers and the robot. I'm a little creeped out that Sal has no eyes or hair, but I have to wait for the paint to dry before doing anything else. I also start painting over the lettering that I screwed up.

Now this was starting to look like something. I redid the lettering across the bottom, put some hair and glasses on Sal, as well as her dragon breath, and paint a pretty sweet St. Louis skyline. If you look in the top left corner, you'll notice it looks a bit different. I again messed up some lettering, but this is Slider's fault this time.

I was doing the "NEVER BEFORE SEEN..." lettering and I had paints out. The dummy decided to lay right on top of the plate I was using to mix colors. Now my back was turned during this initial thing, but I believe he probably felt wetness, sat up, licked it, and then spazzed out when he tasted paint.

All I see is a gray blob come flying around my "L" shaped desk, jumping off of my drawing table, and then shooting upstairs. I look at the paint and see hair stuck in it.

I start to chase this already panicked cat around the house, he's foaming out of his mouth, getting paint everywhere.

I catch him, put him in the bath to wash all the paint off and then make him throw up.

A day later, while Sal is eating dinner, I notice a bunch of cat painted paw prints near the piano on the floor and stealthily clean them up.

Disaster averted.

Then I had Rosie come over and do a little touching up. She put on the perfect accents to make it look a little more professional. So, after a good ten weeks of working on this for 30 minutes at a time, here is the final product.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The 30's and Sitcoms

Sal and I both turn 30 in the next week.

She is looking forward to her 30's.

I am not.

I don't have a great reason why I'm not. It's really a number that humans made up based on another number on a piece of paper from 30 years ago. Being 28 is not much different from being 32.

But I feel sort of ripped off. Between the multiple surgeries, getting laid off, all the overtime, I feel like we missed out of the sitcom years. You know, the 24-30 range where you make adult wages and get to have fancy cocktails in some hip New York bar/coffee house combo.

Instead, I could barely walk during those years.

And it's unrealistic. No one really lives like Ross and Rachel or the Sex in the City ladies. (I know, they were all in their 30s, but come on, they lived like 20 somethings) Most of my friends had the same struggles finding work as we did and dealing with lay offs and unexpected debt.

None of us were sipping cocktails in Manhattan and worrying about a visit from our rich, but obtrusive parents or discussing the benefits of dating older men and women.

F·R·I·E·N·D·S more like L·I·E·S
The 20's just felt like this exciting time. Older adults seemed to latch onto every story you had, living vicariously through you. The world seemed to be in front of us, and life so fresh.

When I look at the 30's on paper, it just seems like a time to get comfortable, and I don't really want that.

I'm not going to feel much different on Saturday than I did any random Saturday a few years back. This is all theoretical changes and maybe how others might view me.

I guess I'm ready for my 30's. A time where my student loans will be paid off, our car paid for, our salaries increasing (God willing), and a new chapter in life. But damn if I didn't wish I still had a few 20's to count.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Going Back to the Phones

On July 8th, I had to return to taking phone calls once a week.

I hadn't done this in almost a year, and in that year I really loved my job. The calls themselves aren't that bad. It gives me a chance to think on my feet and interact with people. BUT... this also opens me up to abuse from people having a bad time.

I've been dreading it. I used to be one of the best you could ask for on the phones, but not taking a call in a year really puts some rust on your skills.

For instance, my phone dismounts have gotten really awkward.

"Alright, that password is reset, you should be good to go..."
"OK, than..." "can I help..." "OK, umm bye" "...with anything else." Pause a few seconds, "No, bye."

I've also been stumbling to remember where I have certain tools saved. Sometimes they're a bookmark, sometimes it's an app, either way, I have 100 of both, so I have to sift through.

And I forgot how talking to users is like speaking two different languages. They don't exactly know what's going on and that's why I'm there to take calls.

So the first day back, I had a call that went something like, "Hey, I can't get logged in."

"OK, what screen are you on? Is this Windows or Email?"

"It's Windows."

"OK, do you see a change password button below where you log in?"

"No, I see a black screen."

"Ummmm, sir is your monitor on."

"Yeah should be, but it's black."

"Push the little orange button."

"Alright, I'm logged in. Thank you!"

We have a new head of technology coming in August, so my team going back on the phones is sort of a test to see if we can keep up with our other work. The answer is probably no and we're hoping whoever the next head is will take us off the phones permanently. But for at least the next few months, every Tuesday is going to be the worst day of my week.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Divergent Path

I didn't go to my 10 year high-school reunion because frankly, I didn't like high-school very much and the people I actually liked, I still talk to.

Facebook has removed the need to re-connect at high-school reunions. There is something lost by not drinking face to face, trying to one-up each other in the life awards at a real reunion, but I think I'm OK with it. I've always said, have a couple great friends instead of a ton of OK friends.

There are a few outlying people that don't post to Facebook too often that I want to know what they are up to.

My best friend from high-school reached out to me a few days ago. I hadn't really heard from him in a good 7 years when in college he told me he knocked up a girl and might have to drop out of school.

When I say I haven't "really" heard from him, it means I haven't had a meaningful conversation with him in years. Maybe about every 2-3 years, he sort of checks in and finds out where I'm living and what I'm doing.

He was cleaning out boxes in his basement and found a concert stub for a metal show we went to in high-school and reached out to me asking if I remember it.

I think the real reason is my Facebook picture is me as a kid and he thought maybe I had a child. I get the sense that he lost a lot of friends having a kid so early and was hoping to rekindle ours. As soon as I told him it was me, his answers got much shorter.

There are times where I'm jealous of the attention and camaraderie I see among parents my age. This is especially true at family functions where my brothers and I are the only ones that don't have kids or houses in the burbs.

The other cousins form circles where they discuss trips to Florida or the most recent soccer tournament. The announcement of a new pregnancy brings high-fives and hugs.

The kicker is, I love kids. I'm great with them. I just don't know if Sal and I will ever have one of our own. Anytime we've seriously discussed it, we think adoption is the most likely option for us. And even that, not until we're in our mid-30's. We both always felt like we wouldn't have one of our own, but our parental calling would be more of one for a child in need.

As morbid as it is, we both separately had this deep feeling that something terrible would happen someone we knew and we would take their kids and raise them instead of letting them go to child services.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Things You Learn About Yourself and Six Flags

There are days where men are challenged. Where they take a deep look into their inner essence as a man, and discover just how much they can take. That same man, if truly a person of this Earth, then looks at his environment, and notices details he skips in everyday life. The way a leaf sways in the wind and how completely different the dance looks as a whole. The way rain runs down the branches of a tree.

Today was one of those days. Today I learned some things.
  • My younger self was either braver or dumber than my older self.
  • The rides at Six Flags are mostly not built for a 6'1" full grown adults. 
  • Shirts are required at Six Flags, but sleeves are not.
  • That park is much smaller when you're tall enough to see over the line railings.
I hadn't been to Six Flags since I was 17, almost 13 years ago. No... let's not start the story there, let's back up a little more.

Being a kid with an early growth spurt, I was both blessed and cursed with the ability to ride any ride at this early age. When I was 5, the Screaming Eagle had just had some renovations done and there was heavy marketing during Saturday morning cartoons for it. I wanted to ride it. I wanted to ride it more than I wanted a Rafael action figure.

And I did. And when I almost fell out of the seat every time this creaking wooden roller coaster hopped the track, I decided that would be the last time I ride a coaster for a long time.

We went back to Six Flags around the time I was 7. My mother made a deal that if I rode the Ninja with her, I would get some cotton candy. I went on the ride, trembling. Turns out I liked it OK and it seemed as if my coaster phobia was fixed.

I had season passes in high-school, and soon got bored riding the Batman, Mr. Freeze, and the Boss. We were there just about every other week and got to the point where we just walked around Six Flags like it was a casual day at the mall.

Flash forward to today, and I thought, just maybe, JUST MAAAYYYBBEE, today would be the day I finally ride the Screaming Eagle.

We start the day on the Batman. The line was non-existent. This was a good sign. We had high hopes.

And then my cranium got beat to hell on the ride. I had a headache. I felt a little woozy. This was a bad sign.

Then we move to the Mine King where my knees were beat to hell.

And then swings thinking that would let my brain stop rattling. Well, these aren't your grandma's swings. These swings first raise you about 100 feet into the air, and then start spinning you around. Neither of us felt comfortable.

The heat start pounding down. My energy was draining quickly. My head seemed to grow three sizes. I was too aware of the Jimmy John's hanging out in my stomach.

We got smart and spread coasters between other rides. hoping I would recouperate on the non-coaster rides.

We rode a new one called the Boomerang (surprisingly was a good ride) and then cooled off in Thunder River (barely got splashed) and the Log Flume (got splashed a little more.) But still, the heat barreled down and that headache I got from the Batman was also turning into a stomach thing.

We started really noticing the clientele of Six Flags has changed dramatically since our childhood. We remember middle class families, standing in line, generally building memories.

Now... man... now it's like some Blue Collar Comedy Horror Movie. Lot's of really fat children, red necks in Hustler t-shirts, (sleeves cut off of course, exposing the side of their hairy man chests) and little girls (3-4 year old) in "I'm sexy and I know it" shirts. It was sad enough that Sal and I actually turned to each other and said, "Maybe we should get some kids so that the whole world isn't screwed in 18-30 years."

So I said, "No Dan, you will not go quietly into the night. I will not vanish without a fight. We're going to coaster on!"

We walked the approximate 3 miles to the Boss, my favorite coaster from my high-school days. And halfway down the first hill, at the worst possible moment, I came to the realization, "I don't think I like roller coasters anymore." The rest of the ride I held my glasses on, with my abs engaged, teeth clinched, and eyes closed, just repeating, "Do not hurl" in my head.

We got off the Boss and I had had enough. My head was pounding, the heat was making me feel sick and weak, and I had no interest in checking Mr. Freeze and some new coaster called American Thunder off the list.  That Screaming Eagle will stand as a monument to my roller coaster failures until inevitably someday it jumps the track and actually kills some people.

We start driving home, I'm still feeling rough, but I'm focusing on the highway in front of us. We're so close at home. Soooo close... and then BAM! My head flips forward, my already pounding brain is beat against the front of my skull, and shortly after the shock I realize we've been hit from behind. (BTW: Sallie has only driven home from Six Flags twice in her life and has been in accidents both times)

We pull over and meet an erratic Bosnian. He obviously didn't have insurance. He kept saying, "Oh everyone is fine, there's no damage, there's no need to get insurance involved. I really have to get to a job. See, I'm wearing work clothes. This happened before and the people let me drive off, I praise God." I'm feeling so crappy at this point that I just see a small scratch on our bumper and I don't think I can physically wait for the hour or so for the cops to show up and write up a report.

We ask if we could have his insurance info. We wrote down his name and number and that was it. As he drove off, I snapped a few pictures of his car and wrote down his license plate. It technically wasn't a hit and run, but it wasn't far from it. (After consulting a legal expert, I found out that we're OK, even if we find something wrong later on since we have his plate info)

So hours later, after being in air conditioning, eating some food, having a beer to take the edge off, I finally feel somewhat normal again. Just really tired. I would not be surprised if I were in bed before 10 tonight.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Wanting What You Don't Have

I've always been incredibly jealous of guitar players. People that really understand the instrument and can just pick it up and make things up as they go, belt out some Beatles, and generally impress everyone in the room.

Anytime I'm in a room where someone I didn't pay to hear play music starts playing guitar, my neck tenses up and I get disappointed.

Now don't get me wrong, I play guitar. I'm better than the average person. I know most the important chords and can string my guitar up. But out of all the talents I was blessed with, rhythm was not one of them.

And it's partially the way I decided to learn guitar. I came to guitar because I actually wanted to sing, but didn't know what to do with my body when there wasn't singing. The thought of my lanky, awkward body trying to do some sort of rock star dance scared me behind the strings.

I tried to learn for a solid 7-8 years and I sort of hit this point and never got any better. I had multiple people try to teach me scales. I read so many books and watched so many terrible videos. But nothing got me to a better point.

You want me to play Green Day? I got you covered. You want me to play the Who? I'm going to stare at the frets for a minute, maybe play a note or two, and then change the subject.

I guess I just sort of need to accept where I am in talent level. I can write stories like a madman, play games like no ones business, and brew beer like a champ. But none of my talents are flashy things that you can own a room with.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Separation of Tech and People

I love technology. I love the feeling of unboxing it. I love showing it off to people. I love that the entire internet is in my pocket.

I'm burned out on technology. I already feel my mind slipping. It allows me to be lazy. Instead of having to memorize stuff, I just pull out my phone. Instead of going outside, I turn on Netflix. Instead of staring at a record collection and really thinking about what I to listen to, I put Google music on random. I even allow sites to tell me what I will probably want to buy. I'm giving myself to Skynet willingly.

Sometimes you forget how much technology is ingrained in your life. I bet you don't notice how much you actually check your phone.

I see Sallie doing it at stop lights. Quickly taking a look at email, Facebook, and Twitter before the light turns green.

I notice it when my touchscreen feels hot to the touch and I realize that I've already checked all my social media sites recently.

I spend hours browsing my RSS feed and Reddit while sitting on the couch.

The focal point of most people's living rooms is the television. You have guests over and it's assumed that television will be on.

Sallie and I are going to try an experiment in the coming weeks. We're going to move the television up to where our office currently is. We're going to remove that portion from the focal point of our living area. It will be a place set up to visit, to read, to listen to records, to eat.

I'm going to see if removing that from this room always traveled, if any of my habits change.

In a few weeks, I also want to try just having the data on my phone turned off. I want to be cut off from everything except text messages and phone calls. I'm filled with anxiety just thinking about it, which is usually a sure sign that it's necessary.

It's just time to take a step back. It's all about restructuring life a little so that you have a chance to live it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Resetting the Grind

Sallie, Matt, and I climbed in the car this weekend and went to Madison Wisconsin.

I think we all needed the break. I've not had more than one consecutive day off since early March, Sal's been working both her jobs, and Matt started a new job that often has him staying late and coming home to collapse. There was a sense of optimism on the car ride up. The complaints that pepper our lives were gone. This was an actual weekend away from it all.

The Hickle kids are cursed with this "Rip Van Winkle" syndrome. Instead of drinking a potion to sleep, they merely have to hear the hum of the car and they both are out. Their eyes were shut the moment we left Missouri.

I didn't really mind this time. I desperately needed some alone time to stare out the windshield, listen to podcasts, and just generally let my brain shutdown to emergency systems only.

We really didn't have an agenda for the weekend. There were a few breweries we wanted to hit in Madison, but we were all happy to just be away.

We woke up when we wanted. Did what we felt like each day. BBQ'd and played yard games. We did exactly what you think about when you see the coming of age stories that take place in the summer.

We went to several breweries: Capital, Great Dane, and Ale Asylum, but the one that stood out was New Glarus.

About 20 minutes south of Madison, through rolling farm hills, filled with cows, in a place where no GPS would work, stood this Disney-like-monument to Switzerland. The brewery had a huge beer garden, surrounded by a fake Swiss Town square on two sides, open to the fields on a third side, and peppered with fake ruins on the last.

In it's weird psuedo-realism, I felt like a child experiencing an amusement park. Only at this one, children are given beers, and told to just hang out in the sun and enjoy. It was the most minimalist time I remember having in years. We had nowhere to be. Nothing to do. Only what we wanted.

The trip reset the grind. I've been working so much and so often that the creative part of my brain was shut off. Every morning, auto-pilot engaged, and I just worked until I met my OT hours. I'm going to continue working overtime while it's offered, but it's nice to have a reboot. Especially since I think OT is coming to an end.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Happiness All Over My Desk

I'm staring at the puddle of my former cup of coffee. I had taken my first sip from it. That coffee is now all over my desk, computer, and lap. It was the last drop of coffee in the entire house.

It really felt like a blow. Like this little win, this little bit of happiness, was taken away from me.

Sal and I tend to get into funks. Usually these funks only last a day or two, but this year they seem to be hitting us more often and for longer.

For me, these funks are usually caused by an event. I've been dealing with a ton of stress at work, not getting a ton of sleep, and dealing with friends who don't deserve my attention. I do it with a smile. And then something dumb like an unexpected bill shows up and everything unravels.

Typically, I go through the Stages of Funk, which are similar to the stages of grief.

  1. Denial - That smile I had dealing with all that stuff, that's my stone cold denial face.
  2. Anger - Inevitably, when that bill arrives, I scream a lot of curse words, this lasts usually only a few minutes, but the cats hide for hours.
  3. Panic - I start proclaiming the end of the world and telling anyone who is near what our woes are. 
  4. Depression - I stew, quiet and still angry, thinking about how unfair things are. 
  5. Acceptance - "Yep, we're screwed."
Usually, I can pull myself out of meltdown mode if I get some alone time during step 4. It's when people keep asking me what's wrong or what can I do that I'm thrown right back into step 2. 

So how do you pull yourself out of a funk? How do you bring happiness back and learn to forget that dumb everyday stuff? How do you prevent the buildup of funk?

There was a Ted talk about trying to quantify what makes people happy. It came from one of the scientists that started Track Your Happiness. It's a site built to collect happiness data. You sign up, get a few text messages a day, answer a few questions about what you're doing right now and who you're with, and after 50 surveys, you get a report.

It's interesting where we are happy. The normal goals of money and popularity often make people more miserable. According to this study, autonomy, competence, relatedness, and self-esteem make us more happy.

My happiness report didn't blow me away. I found out that I'm most happy on Thursdays and Fridays, least happy on Monday. I'm most happy when I'm doing something I want to, but don't necessarily have to (autonomy). I'm happiest outside or at a brewery. And I'm happiest when conversing with exactly 2 people, followed closely by 1. Apparently, I don't like groups of more than 3.

But really what I learned from my happiness report is that the small things are really what makes me happy. A good cup of coffee, a nice craft beer, reading, or taking a walk. It's not things like winning awards or getting promotions.

So as I'm wiping up my little bit of happiness that was stuck under my monitor stand, I thought, "damn, how to I fill the void this cup of coffee has left."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Dance Partner I Denied

I had a dream last night about my junior year homecoming. It brought up a memory I long repressed.

Those of you that know me, know that I'm a clumsy guy. I think a major reason is my six toes. Most shoe toe boxes are not built to contain number six. Therefore, my sixth toe is usually rubbed numb and my toe nails are always busted up.

Part of my balance issue is not actually knowing where that edge of my foot is. This is why I've also broken toe number six about 30 times and part of the reason why I rarely wear dress shoes.

I realized early that this was a great hindrance to dancing. I went to D.A.R.E. dances as a way to mingle and hopefully make out with girls. Problem was, when I attempted the courting process and would ask them to slow dance, I would step all over their toes. This turned into an ultra-awareness of where my feet were around other people.

So, when I slow dance with ladies, it becomes this awkward zombie shamble back and forth as I attempt to actually move as little as possible so that I don't break those pretty little toes they've shoved into already painful heels.

So back to junior year. I never really went to dances. Never really went to football games or rallies or parades. I never really bought into the high-school lifestyle. I didn't care. I had my group of friends and I was more than happy to drive around St. Charles, sipping milk shakes, and soaking into the hormonal sexual urges that none of us awkward kids ever acted on.

When a dance was happening, I went to haunted houses or movies. The dance didn't even register on my calendar.

Junior year a girl named Autumn in my English class caught up with me while I was walking out of the building for the day and sheepishly asked if I would be her date.

I didn't have a canned response for this. I figured since I wasn't planning on asking anyone, I was free and clear. I started sweating and sort of choked out a, "I don't really go to dances. I don't think I can be your date."

She looked really disappointed. Being a guy on the asking end of things, I know how the sting of rejection feels.

I remember walking around my neighborhood later that week. I often would grab my Walkman, blast one of my mixed tapes, and walk around for a few hours on nicer nights. I ran into a group of girls I didn't know. They stopped me and said, "Are you the guy Autumn asked to homecoming?" I replied yes and just kept walking.

I guess there's some deep seated guilt for that moment. I wish I would've invited her to do whatever activity I was going to do besides the dance, or sucked it up and gone to the dance, or at least when I saw those girls, ask if Autumn was around so I could apologize.

I must be out of my mind, reminiscing about teenage guilt.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Hero, the Love Interest, the Strong Guy

When I was younger, I used to spend full summers babysitting my brothers and playing a ton of Playstation 1. There were probably 3 summers filled with gaming in my overly hot room in St. Chuck, Nick and Brett perched on the edge of my bed watching, reading comic books.

Basically, those Sears spreads that shows kids spread out, playing with all of their stuff... yeah, we lived that.

Every weekend, I either rode my bike over to my cousin Ryan's house or got picked up by Aunt Dee to go hang out with Jake all weekend. 

Eventually Ryan started working at Crown Candy and I saw much less of him, but Jake, being a year younger than us, was always ready to hangout. We biked around the greater Florissant area from Friday night to Sunday morning. 

Back to the games, during this time certain games would sometimes allow you to rename characters if you wanted to. Generally there were 3 main characters, the hero, a girl, and a strong guy to rename. 

I always renamed them. The hero was obviously always me. The girl, who often was the hero's love interest, was named after my grade school crush, Jamie. And the strong, third character, was always named after Jake. 

It just made sense. My hormones had me obsessing over Jamie, my best buddy at the time was Jake, and I'm always the hero in my play. Why wouldn't I name them this way?

Jake unfortunately passed away in 2000. (I was actually playing a Playstation game called Syphon Filter 2 when I found out.) I didn't really know how to process things then. I had a lot of death in my life when I was younger. It seemed to be a curse for a while. But none of them had quite been as cutting as Jake. There was an entire portion of my life that was just sort of gone. 

I've mentioned before that I'm recollecting many of my Playstation 1 games now. One of my most sought after ones is Legend of Legaia, a game not many people I know played. 

Over Christmas, I found it. After searching for 4 years, I finally found Legend of Legaia. 

Jamie, Me, and Jake from left to right.

I haven't had time to play it until recently, but last week I found myself sitting in a totally empty house. I popped it in and loaded up an old memory card save I had from probably 15 years ago. 

And there I was, staring at Dan, Jamie, and Jake. A memory living on this little plastic card for 15 years. It was weird. I wanted so much to turn to someone and say, "Do you believe that?" But no one except Jake would've understood. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

How We Split Our Time

I've probably sounded whiny lately about how much time I feel is wasted. I tend to dwell on this stuff when Sallie and I have been especially busy. And we have been jam packed since late February and will continue to be until late April.

I started thinking about this more when I read an article this week about the Swedish government testing out a 6 hour workday. (They already have a limit at 7 hours) They believe people will be more efficient and productive. I agree.

I'm great at my job. I exceed deadlines, nail my stats, win awards. But if I'm being honest, they probably only get about 5 hours of work out of me. The rest of the day is spent in meetings that go no where or staring out the window.

I broke down how many hours on average I spent on different things per week. (This was also an excuse for me to make a pie chart, which I haven't done since college when someone told me I would need to know how to do it for the business world.)

I'm sure this graph is at least close to most people.

I assumed that you work 8 hours, not including the 30 - 60 minutes wasted on lunch. I assumed that you spend at least an hour a day traveling, an hour eating 3 meals at 20 minutes a piece, 30 minutes showering and getting dressed, and an hour of general chores like picking things up, cooking food, etc a day. Basically, I went really conservative on these times. We all probably spend more time doing this stuff.

The amount of free time we as people have is not enough. If you have this ideal schedule, you're looking at 35 hours of free time a week. That's crazy. Only 20% of your time is actually yours.

I have many hobbies that I don't get to spend enough time on. I write, brew, play video games, and read. Things that I enjoy like guitar and drawing get pushed to the background, just because there's not enough time.

This isn't even including social interaction or those days where my brain is tired and I just need to stare at Netflix for a few hours.

Basically, if we go by the philosophy that you have to spend 10,000 hours on something to master it, it would take me almost 5.4 years to reach that goal, only if I spent all 35 hours of my free time on it every week.

This is the reason I'm not a master brewer, I'm not a published author, or whatever you become after mastering video games. When I start dedicating a lot of my free time toward one of these arts, I feel bad that I'm not spending enough time on the other ones.

This would also require I ignore my wife and friends. I like going out and having a beer. I like my wife pretty good. We need social interaction.

So, how do people do it? Do they just quit their jobs and mooch off of people until they make money with their art? Are these the people from my generation that live in their parents' basement voluntarily?