Wednesday, November 29, 2006

On Being Adopted...Maybe

We had an interesting morning. Actually, it started yesterday afternoon. JP called me out to the kitchen with an emergency. Apparently, Climber (the "blonde" kitty) had gotten stuck under the house again.

At least, that's what she thought. When I went outside, I heard a meow much louder and deeper than either kitten uses. (They're both rather quiet kitties. Truth be told, their purrs are louder than their miaows.) I bent down to check out the situation and noticed that the kitten stuck under house wasn't one of ours.

It was an orange tabby cat, colored like a striped pumpkin. He (I guessed...and later confirmed) wanted some attention, which was perfectly understandable. There still was some snow on the ground and it was pretty cold. I could see why he would hole up under the house.

Now, I wasn't wild about him (or either of our two calicos) taking up residence under the house and getting ideas of where they could bury their, um, "leavings." (The garden can use a bit of compost, but I'd rather not have the smell of something "strange" wafting up through the floorboards, if you know what I mean.)

I have this habit of giving names to creatures. In an attempt to coax this traveling cat out from under the house, I called him "Tramp" and it stuck. JP handed me some canned cat food in a dish and I spent several minutes convincing Tramp that it was his.

Tramp apparently had had some bad experiences with people; he was not at all trusting. He'd poke his head out from under the house and then pull back immediately, apparently convinced we were trying to pull a fast one on him. Sudden noises made him dive back under the house for several minutes.

Eventually, he started eating (wolfing, more like), taking huge bites of food and swallowing them whole. He dropped as much food on the ground as he got into his stomach, poor kit.

As Tramp ate (gobbled), I moved the bowl farther and farther away, trying to get him to come further and further from underneath the house. When he was fully out and far enough away, I blocked up the opening he'd just come out of.

Naturally, he took off like a shot toward the other side of the house. I followed and saw his tail as it disappeared into the opening he'd apparently used to get under the house in the first place.

Fortunately, he was still hungry.

I put the bowl out for him and let him finish it without hassle. While he was eating, I slipped a couple of bricks in front of the original opening, thinking that if I managed to get him out from under the house again, he wouldn't be able to get back.

After two bowls of food (he was clearly ravenous), I was able to coax Tramp out and close up both entrances to the house. He let me pet him and I carefully picked him up, carried him to the back gate, and gently set him on the other side of the fence. (I had hoped he would find shelter in the wood pile next to the house on the other side of the alley.) Before I put him down, Tramp graced me with a gentle (and sadly quiet) purr.

Now, allow me to take a moment to say that I'm probably the biggest ailurophile (cat lover) in the family. Oh, I know the JP and the girls would disagree, but I've always been a cat person and tend to prefer them over many dogs.

(Dog is an exception. Remember, he sees himself as a larger, furry cat who can't purr.)

It's not that I wouldn't happily adopt any stray cat that chooses to stay, it's just that I know how many animals we can healthily manage and we're very close to our limit right now. If we lived on a chunk of land with a barn and a stand of trees off to the side, I wouldn't mind. But, we have a tiny yard in the midst of a residential neighborhood. A busy street is only a couple of houses away and I've bad memories from growing up with an unspayed cat while living next to a busy street.

So, I didn't mind giving Tramp a good meal and a good cuddle, but I really didn't want him hanging out long term like. You know what I mean?

It's not that I don't have a heart (believe me, I do), it's just that I try to stay on top of our obligations as a family.

Still, I felt bad and told JP that if he managed to get under the house a third time, I'd let him stay the night. We'd deal with the next step after that.

About half an hour later, I went outside and guess what I heard coming from under the house? Tramp let me know he'd found his way back into his sheltering spot. I went around to see how he'd done it. He'd simply pushed one of the bricks into the hole that led under the house. At that point, I knew I was licked, so I cleared away the blocks I'd put into place and we let Tramp stay the night under the house, which was probably a good thing for him as it was 30 degrees Fahrenheit at 11:00 pm.

This morning, DD woke me up to tell that Tramp was back. When I got to the kitchen, JP, DD, and the kitties were watching Tramp warily eat breakfast. He was still skittish, but he was inside. He was still gobbling his food, rather than tasting it, and he was still leaving great crumbs of the stuff all over the floor. A fact not lost on Pouncer, who is vying with Dog as the resident mooch.

Once Tramp had eaten a bit, he nuzzled DD and let her give him "loves."

Climber wasn't entirely sure she wanted another cat around the house and hissed a bit from time to time, but Pouncer was more hospitable, going as far as trying to get Tramp to play with her. Tramp, for his part, was only interested in breakfast.

He was still skittish, though, and took off as soon as Dog made an appearance.

I could tell that the question of whether or not Tramp would be staying had changed for both JP and DD. There clearly was no question in their minds. I was a bit more nervous about the whole thing. How would his presence change the dynamic between the kitties and Dog? Would there be fighting? Would there be a challenge for alpha cat? Who would we be rushing to the vet for stitches?

We couldn't stay long, as school was still a consideration. DD's school started late because of the icy road conditions, but we still had to get her to class. Eventually, we left the pet door open, as well as the entrances under the house. As we drove away, I wondered what (if anything) we'd have to clean up when we got back in the evening.

As it turns out, there wasn't much to clean up. It doesn't seem like Tramp came into the house while we were gone. In fact, he doesn't appear to be around any longer.

DD clearly misses him. She came out several times during the evening, wanting to know when we were going to go out to look for him. He hasn't made an appearance.

He's not under the house at the moment and we haven't seen (or heard from) him all evening. DD's sad, but not overly so. JP misses him, after (in her words) "one brief morning fling."

I kind of miss him, too. I hope he's okay. It's 33 degrees Fahrenheit and raining.

I'm going to look for him.

(*half an hour later*)

I went outside and called for Mr. Tramp. I heard a small "mrowr" in reply. We've got him inside right now and he's finished two bowls of food. He's clearly enjoying the attention that JP is giving to him, though he's just as clearly overwhelmed by everything.

Pouncer isn't sure how she wants to treat him yet. She alternates between trying to take his food and trying to get him to play. Climber is clearly out of sorts and hisses from time to time. I think it'll be okay, though. She was not at all pleased to make Dog's acquaintance when I first introduced them. Now they're the best of friends.

Tramp seems less skittish than last night.

Dog, for the moment, is locked in our bedroom.

If he's going to stay, Tramp is going to have to learn with all of us. And tonight is clearly a step up from last night. We'll see if he's around in the morning. If he is, DD will be very, very pleased.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Into Each Life, Some Snow Must Fall

This week's One Deep Breath prompt is legacy, a term that refers to something handed down or inherited from generation to generation. My contribution is a bit loaded, so forgive me for waxing poetic before I get to the actual poem.

My father passed away two years ago. He was not a rich man, nor a particularly popular man. Like all of us, he had flaws...and gifts. Like many of his generation, he didn't like to talk about himself or his feelings very much. Oh, he'd freely discuss his frustrations and the things that upset him, but he didn't frequently discuss the things that made him proud or that he wished he'd done differently.

After Dad passed away, my step-mom carefully chose things she should thought I would want or should have. As a result, I have several boxes of letters, tons of photographs (many of which I had not seen before), and various thingamagigs and geegaws. Some of these were important to Dad, but many belonged to his mom, my Grandma. For example, I have his family's World War II ration books. (My Dad was 16 months old when Japan surrendered). I have a book that describes the cattle brand my grandparent's farm used during the 1940's, as well as two books of history of the county where Dad was born. My Dad was a man with a heart, though one unknowingly seeking a voice.

Thus, my legacy is more symbolic than practical; it consists of memories and memory triggers. Things that have value only when seen in context. Oh, I'm sure I could get an interesting price by placing the ration books on eBay, but the true value of those paper packets lies not in their history, but their in sentiment. They are, in some ways, a chance to connect across generations, if only for a heartbeat.

I'm thinking about all of this because it snowed tonight. We don't get a lot of snow in the Great Northwest (at least, not on this side of the mountains) and it usually melts rather quickly. However, tonight, we're going to be left with at least a couple of inches.

One of my earliest memories of snow involves my grandmother's house in Iowa. I was a year older than DD is now and we'd just spent three days driving there. It was the middle of winter and when I looked outside the morning after we'd arrived, I discovered more than a foot of snow, just waiting to be played in. We hadn't brought a lot of cold weather gear (it had been a hastily planned trip) and I begged and begged to be allowed to play in it. Grandma finally won the battle with my Mom and told me I could go outside, but only for ten minutes. I was very upset at having my time restricted so unfairly, but had to admit that it was pretty darned cold when I got out there. (If memory serves, it was about ten degree below zero, Fahrenheit.)

I rolled a small snowman and made a couple of snow angels. I had a mock snowball fight with invisible antagonists hiding behind a tree in the yard.

When I came back in, Grandma had just finished making a pot (as in sauce pan, not coffee) of hot chocolate for me (warmed on the wood stove). When she gave me a steaming cup filled with marshmallows, I felt all grown-up. My cup steamed just like the coffee the adults were drinking.

As you might expect, this memory is bittersweet. Yes, I really enjoyed playing in the snow; however, we drove to Iowa to attend my grandfather's funeral.

At eleven, death was pretty abstract. I remember seeing Grandpa resting in his coffin, a slight frown on his face. I recognized that he was gone and that I wouldn't see him again. But, we hadn't been that close to begin with. We lived several states away and Grandpa wasn't the kind to play with a young child. No, there were too many chores for that. Sure, he'd rustle my hair, but as soon as he did so, he'd put me to work doing something simple, like throwing seed for the chickens. His farmer's life didn't allow for many moments of connection or conversation.

My Dad died two years ago...and I know there were a lot of things that were left unsaid. We didn't see much of each other after he and my mom divorced. She moved to another city and he didn't have the money to fight her.

I know he loved me and that he was proud of the person I had (somehow) managed to turn into. However, I had to figure that out on my own, reading it between the few things he would say. Dad would rather tell you a dirty (and completely inappropriate) joke than talk about something sensitive. He would only say "I love you" on very rare occasions, usually after he'd had a couple of "snorts."

I wish to leave a different legacy for my children. I want them to know that I love them, that I am more than proud of them, and that they are loved unconditionally for the people they are and the people they are struggling to becoming.

When the snow started falling earlier this evening, in tiny little specks of cold, Pouncer tried to grab flakes out of the air. I called DD over to watch. She giggled.

Twenty minutes later, the backyard was covered in white. When she saw the snow, DD bundled up and wanted me to play with her. I resisted. It had been a long day and I really wanted some time to decompress and relax. She kept after me and I eventually capitulated, sneaking out the front door and through the gate to attack her from behind. We tore around the back yard, thowing snow at each other, laughing and giggling.

When she's older, I hope she remembers snow days with some fondness. Actually, I hope she remembers many of these days with a certain amount of fondness. I hope her childhood memories are primarily of peace, happiness, and laughter. No matter what legacy she eventually inherits, I truly hope that, with JP's help and the help of her other parents, DD remembers her childhood fondly.

And so, with that prelude, here's my response to this week's prompt.

Snow falls. Home today!
A child sees and wants out.
"Play!" Laughter ensues.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Syntactical Sugar

Today's post is a bit of whimsy inspired by a recent item in The Washington Post, which describes how the US administration has redefined the word "hunger." (For a more serious look at this article, please see JP's far more articulate and relevant analysis.)

"The Republican National Committee (RNC) has vowed that they will never experience poverty again. However, some Americans may experience "very low financial security" and may not be able to contribute to Republican election campaigns.

Every year, the RNC issues a report that measures Americans' access to money, and it has consistently used the word "poverty" to describe those who can least afford to contribute to Republican election efforts. But not this year.

Scrooge McDuck, the lead author of the report, said "poverty" is "not a scientifically accurate term for the specific phenomenon being measured in the financial security survey." McDuck, a RNC accountant, said, "We don't have a measure of that condition."

The report claimed that only 2% percent of Americans, or roughly six million people, could realistically be be expected to put food on the President's table at least part of last year. Many of the remaining Americans are reported as being poor at all times. Beginning this year, the RNC has determined "very low financial security" to be a more politically palatable description for that group.

Three years ago, the White House asked the RNC "to ensure that the measurement methods our fundraisers use to assess households' access--or lack of access--to adequate election campaign funding and the language used to describe those conditions are conceptually and operationally sound."

Among several recommendations, the panel suggested that the RNC scrap the word poverty, which "should refer to a potential consequence of financial insecurity that, because of prolonged, involuntary lack of money, results in discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation."

To measure poverty, the RNC determined, pollsters would have to ask individual people whether "lack of money led to these more severe conditions," as opposed to asking who can afford to keep cash in the house, McDuck said.

It is not likely that RNC pollsters will tackle measuring individual poverty."Poverty is clearly an important issue," McDuck said. "But lacking a widespread consensus on what the word 'poverty' should refer to, it's difficult for research to shed meaningful light on it."

In assembling its report, the RNC divides Americans into groups with "financial security" and those with "financial insecurity," who cannot always afford to pass cash under the table. Under the old lexicon, the latter group was further categorized as "financial insecurity without prejudice," meaning people who donated, though sometimes very little, and "financial insecurity with prejudice," for those who sometimes had no cash and made no donations to RNC coffers.

That last group now forms the category "very low financial security," described as experiencing "multiple indications of disrupted spending patterns and reduced donation pledging." Slightly better-off people who aren't always sure where their next paycheck is coming from are labeled "low financial security," but only if they donate during the RNC's bi-annual pledge drives, typically broadcast on affiliates of the Fox network.

That any number of people in this wealthy nation feel insecure about their next paycheck can be hard to believe, even in the highest circles. In 1999, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, then running for president, said he thought the the best way to stimulate the personal economies of those who could not afford to contribute to RNC election efforts was to cut taxes for those that can.

"I'm sure there are some people in my state who are poverty-stricken," Bush said. "I just don't believe people stricken with poverty are truly poor."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanking My Blessings

It's Thanksgiving Day here in the US and I feel truly blessed.

I am blessed that both Kara and DD are a part of my life. This is our year to be with Kara on this holiday and she's been at the top of her form. Kara recently turned 8 and we celebrated her birthday this last weekend. It was fun, but also difficult in spots because of the way one of our guests was treating both of the girls. Without going into complete details, DD (Kara's 10 year old sister) ended up in tears, great wracking soul-wrenching sobs of pain caused by the words and actions of said guest. While it had been simmering throughout the party (without my knowledge), the outburst happened as I was trying to corral the kids together to light the candles on Kara's cake. (It's amazing how complicated a child's birthday party can become. Oy!)

So today, four days after the party, Kara and DD were talking about their feelings about this guest, who has been one of DD's closest friends for the last few years. While doing so, they realized they appreciated each other more because of what had happened over the weekend. To explain this to me, they first announced that this friend (who has also had a sleepover with DD the previous weekend) was no longer a part of their band.

Yes, band.

Apparently, said friend had been critical to Kara while they were rehearsing. As I understand it, said friend felt that Kara wasn't singing a song correctly and then proceeded to demonstrate how she wanted it sung...which was, to both Kara and DD's ears, exactly the way that Kara had sung it. DD told her friend to give her sister a break. "After all," she said, "She's only 8 and can't be expected to sing like an 11 year old."

I was so proud of DD for standing up for her sister.

We talked about how they felt about this friend's behavior and DD told me that, when talking to her friend later, her friend admitted that she (the friend) was embarrassed by what had happened. The girls and I talked about how, sometimes, it was hard for people to admit their mistakes and that they did all sorts of things to avoid taking responsibility for them.

And, bless her little heart, Kara held up her her hand and then said, "Like I do."

I was so proud of Kara for being so emotionally honest.

I told both girls what I felt about what they'd just said and all three of us talked about what we each felt about that. (Yes, I'm one of those rare men who speaks about emotions and feelings. Good thing I live in a house filled with females.)

Now, DD and Kara sometimes find themselves at loggerheads, which is (I'm told) to be expected between siblings this close in age. (I was an only child and am directly observing this dynamic for the first time.) In fact, before this weekend, DD very clearly expressed her frustrations in dealing with her little sister. They've been at odds a great deal the last few visits and today's détente was a huge departure from their usual dealings.

Now, I warned them that I wanted to go around the dinner table today and talk about the things that we're thankful for. Oh, I know. It's cheesy, schmaltzy, and totally clichéd. Nevertheless, I feel that this year, of all years, we should think about the things we are grateful for and share them as a family.

Without prompting, Kara said she was thankful for the sister who stood up for her. And DD, without further prompting, said that she was thankful for her little sister. They each spoke about their individual talents and they each spoke lovingly and appreciatively of their individual uniquenesses.

I'm so pleased that DD stood up for her sister. I'm so pleased that Kara recognized behavior in herself that she didn't like to see in others; furthermore, she connected to the fact that she might need to change that behavior. And you know what? I think she'll do it. Not because I pointed it out, but because she recognizes the negative impact it has on others and because she chooses not to inflict such pain.

This is probably the most authentic (as in aware and emotionally honest) thing I've ever heard her say.

DD, on the other hand, has a habit of seeking authenticity, of finding a centered place, and of being emotionally honest with herself...and with us.

And I'm so very blessed because both of my daughters recognize each other as more than just sisters of cicumstance, but sisters in truth, sisters in heart and spirit.

As a father, their connection is very rewarding.

I am also blessed because my wife has truly become my best friend. She openly takes emotional risks with me and she bares her heart, her soul, and her hopes to me. I am blessed because she is emotionally honest with me. She speaks to her happiness and she also shares her pain. She shares her innermost dialog, knowing that I support her completely and love her unconditionally.

Furthermore, she allows me the same freedom...and openly listens to whatever is in my heart or on my mind.

As a husband, my connection with my wife is very rewarding.

I'm also blessed because I have two kitties that are loving, each in their own way, and each loves to spend at least a little bit of time cuddling with me. One wrestles; the other snuggles. They're very cute.

I'm also blessed by the "mooch pooch," who thinks he's (at different times), a kittie, a daughter, and a lap dog. He's a very affectionate pup and would purr, if he could.

I'm blessed in my work because I have a job I'm good at and I enjoy, plus I earn enough to pay my bills, meet my obligations, and still have just a little left for myself. (No, I won't say where I work and I pray that those who know will respect my decision to keep that information outside of this blog. It's not germaine to this work...which is about my life outside of work.)

And I'm blessed because I'm finding a new support network within a larger community, developing relationships and friendships with people who read my words (as well as those of my wife) and comment to keep me honest. Thanks to all of you who have openly commented and my thanks to those who've silently lurked.

I am truly blessed to be surrounded by souls who, like me, strive to treat each other with respect, strive to learn to be the best individual that one can be in this life, and who strive to develop genuine, honest relationships of depth and integrity.

I am truly blessed. Thanks to all of you.

(By the way, today's picture shows a pigrim Kara made in school this year. Oh, sure, it's one of those art projects such as a child makes. But that's what makes it so very special to me.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

If My Dad Had Done It, What I Would Want to Know... if he'd really done it. Not conjecturally, but actually. Truth, not fantasy.

I would also want to know why he kept dragging my emotions through the wringer, as I'm sure I would have a pretty difficult time getting over it.

The b'sphere is aghast and agog over OJ's recent attempt to milk yet another 15 minutes fame from the American Public. And it's all a-twitter with Fox's sudden coming of age realization that maybe there are things too sensational to actually publish.

Still, as a parent and...before that, a child...what I want to know is if my Dad had acted on the murderous impulses he felt toward my mother, what sort of sick f*ck puts his children through this tragedy, time after time?

I've read a number of anti-OJ articles (well deserved) and I hardly wish to give the man more ink. However, I've yet to see anyone (especially him) step up for the rights and feelings of his children, Sydney and Justin, now 21 and 18 respectively.

All of this reminds me of the tagline of the one movie that Mr. Simpson was involved with that I actually liked. (If you've been paying attention, you know I like to fiddle with movie tag lines) So, I find myself wondering (with a bare minumum of respect) whether or not "[t]he confession was a sham. The murders were real."

Sydney, Justin, if you ever read this post, I humbly apologize. You've been through more Hell than anyone should ever carry. As a father who frequently restrains anger, resentment, and fury for the sake of his child, I apologize in situ for the person your father should have been.

Regardless of what you think of your father, I wish for you peace and then acceptance. There's nothing I can say, as an outside observer, to make the pain easier to bear. As a father of a child in a situation that is, well, less than ideal, I can only say, I'm sorry your father disappointed you in this way.

Regardless of what I feel toward my youngest child's mother, nothing would ever impel me to actually consider taking her life, let alone following through with it. The very idea of fills me with horror. And nothing would ever impel me to try to cash in on her death in any fashion.

It has been said that the veneer of civilization is very thin. I believe its thickness can be measured by the love of a child. I may not respect or care for the person my child chooses to love, but I honor her choice to love that person. Would that Mr. Simpson had as much integrity.

Mr. Simpson, if you have something to confess, then do your priest, your therapist, or whoever. Leave your children...and the rest of us...out of it. Please.

If you did it, you should not explain yourself to us. You should not ask us to understand or to forgive you. Instead, you should face your children and their righteous condemnation. If you did it, then stop pretending and just 'fess up.

Not for our sake, but for Sydney and Justin's. They deserve to know the truth. But not in public. Please, for the love of everything that's sacred, tell them what happened and then fade. Don't try for any more more moments of fame.

Your day is done, Sir...especially if you've more responsibility to bear than you have to date. Please step gracefully into the twilight of obscurity.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Fit on Fair and Balanced

(Tonight's image borrowed, with respect, from Paul's Justice Blog).

In case it's not been crystal clear in the times I've blogged about her, I adore my wife...and I'm very grateful we've both decided to revise, re-create, and re-release our relationship (e.g. Marriage 2.0)

There are nights we sit on either side of the dinner table, dueling laptops, keyboards, and mouse clicks. Generally, she's working on her latest poem or reading other people's blogs. I'm not yet that disciplined. Sure, I write my posts, but you've probably noticed that I'm not yet in the habit of writing daily. Some nights, I work on my other blogging responsibilities, such as reading the sites of people who may be turning into friends, leaving comments, and trying to create a wee bit humor in my wake.

Oh, I know, it's bad form to wait for inspiration, but sometimes, it's worth the wait. (For example, my recent attempt at handling a Poetry Thursday challenge.) And sometimes, the post is inspired by our conversation.

For example, JP is (currently) working on a poem using a form called a tanka, one that uses a specific measure of syllables.

While I like being near her when she's working for many reasons, one of the most rewarding is when she asks me a question about grammar or pronunciation. While I have written computer programs for much of my professional career, I also have a wide and deep knowledge of the English language.

As a result, I have a unique blend of creative and technical interests. One such interest surfaced during a discussion that JP and I had tonight. There is a site she uses to verify syllable count for words that can be pronounced differently in different parts of this country. For example, the word "prayer" is pronounced with one syllable on the West Coast. If you listen to people from various places in the so-called American "Deep South" pronounce the word, you will hear two distinct syllables.

A few years ago, I was asked to design a spell-check component, in part because my employer at the time was too cheap to pay for an add-in (it was pretty expensive). For a different part of the same project, I was also trying to design a way of locating names phonetically, so that typing "JOHN" would lead you to Johnson, Johnssen, and other common variations. So I spent some time investigating the composition of words and the patterns of pronunciation.

During my investigation, I learned about the most common algorithm used by computer programs to count syllables, which is to count the number of vowel groups in a word. For example, the word "vowel" has two vowel groups (O and E); according to this algorithm, the word has two syllables.

It's a pretty easy algorithm to write in any computer language. Unfortunately, it's also very flawed. Consider, for example, the word "neon." According to the algorithm, it should have one syllable, but in "normal" pronunciation, there are two syllables. The most-commonly used algorithm "breaks" (or is wrong) when it encounters words that break syllables between vowels. With one set of words claiming to represent a decent subset of the language, the algorithm was wrong 25% of the time, that is, it was wrong one in every four words.

(I actually did manage to design a far more accurate solution for my project, but that's not the point of this post.)

I mention this because the first word I typed into the site JP pointed me to was, of course, "neon." Unfortunately, it reported the word as having one syllable. I punched in a few of the other words I remembered from my earlier investigation and it failed on each of them. It seems pretty clear that whoever implemented the code underlying the site started thier investigation pretty much the same way I did. They found the same sources and ran into the same algorithm. However, unlike me, they trusted the information they found and implemented their site with it.

I wonder how many writers, school-age children, and other users will innocently presume that this site is authoritative and not even realize they may be getting invalid results from it. I wonder what they'll think when the projects they work on while using this site do not receive the acclaim (or marks) these users might think they deserve. Will they realize they used flawed tools? Or will they blame those trying to correct their mistakes? (Yes, these questions are at least slightly rhetorical.)

As writers (and computer users), we rely on a number of tools to accomplish our tasks. As the Internet continues to evolve and democratize the production and dissemination of information, new resources and tools appear daily. Things get easier. Word of mouth celebrates new tools and kits.

However, mistakes also become easier to make. And such mistakes become larger as they ripple outward, like a virus innocently transmitted.

I'm sure my darling JP would never create a tanka that relied on using the word "neon" as a single syllable word. However, I could see someone with less knowledge of this language making that mistake. To be honest, many media outlets appear to have become a little too "loose and goosey" with regard to their fact checking. (Remember the story that hastened the end of Dan Rather's career?) It would be terribly unfortunate have one's faith in a source, or a resource, lead to a story (or a post) with, um, inaccurate conclusions based on what used to be described as "flawed data". Embarassing, really.

In traditional journalism classes, you're taught to verify your information from at least two completely unrelated sources. Make sure you're being at least as diligent. Do this in your professional work...and in your personal relationships. There are many times that, as people, we react without fully understanding "the other side of the story."

Be diligent in all facets of your life. Please.

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Loop, Endless," see "Endless Loop"

(Tonight's image has been borrowed from; I hope they don't mind too much.)

On most days, I'm pretty even-keeled. I'm hard to offend and I'm even harder to shock.

Still, there are things that push my buttons instantly, things I can't abide, things I will immediately leap to the defense of those wronged in such situations. Such situations include intolerance, injustice (especially towards children), and selfish incompetence.

A couple of days ago, I had to deal with the latter...and believe me, it...well...I'll let you decide.

My doctor and I have been trying to find a medication that manages a primary condition without involving side effects that, um, guys prefer not to live with. ('Nuff said!)

Well, I happen to work for an organization that has a pretty decent health plan. In fact, the health plan is such that they prefer you fill prescriptions through an online provider...if you do, they give you a 90-day supply without a co-pay. (For the record, most health plans in my experience require a co-pay and limit you to a 30-day supply at best.)

So, my doctor gives me a prescription for a certain medication. I dutifully ask him to contact the online provider. He (or someone on his staff) does so. We've been through this before and there have been no issues whatsoever. The pills usually show up in a couple of days.

If you've read my blog over the past couple of months, you know I've recently moved.


My first warning of trouble is an automated phone call from the company that fills the prescriptions. They claim that not only am I *not* covered, but that the contract they had with my insurance provider expired in 2003.

Um...I wasn't covered by this particular health plan in 2003. And they had a contract just a couple of weeks ago when I refilled a different prescription. WTF?

So...I contact my doctor's office to see what's what. They tell that they've filed everything according to instructions and that I need to contact my insurance company to get things straightened out.

After a bit (OK, a lot) of digging on the I dig up the number to contact my insurance company and I call...and I burn cell minutes waiting on hold because I have this inherent idea that one should not use one's employer's phone lines to conduct personal business. (And, for the record, my cell provider stinks.) I get on the phone with the health plan provider and explain the situation.

They tell me they understand, bring the prescription provider online, and then vanish...thinking everything's handled.

I provide the details again. And then am quizzed on the new delivery details.

Yes, they have the right ID's and plan numbers. Yes, they have the right address. Yes, everything's right, good, and proper.

The next day, I learn the prescription had been denied...for very different reasons.

About 10 a.m., a voice mail appears in the Inbox of my cell. It's an automated message that sounds slightly like the 1970's versions of the Cylons. Oh, c'mon. You know the ones I mean, the ones with the 'voder saying "By your command!"

The message claims they've contacted my doctor and that he's failed to respond to their queries within a 48 hour period. So, they can't fill the script.

The implication, of course, is that my doctor is a moron.

So, I call the health plan provider back, just to make sure I have the right subscriber number, address, and other vitals squared away. (I do.)

Now, I've yet to speak to the same person twice in all of this. It's also about ten days after the initial prescription.

Then I call my doctor's office.

I'm also getting kind of frustrated because I'm getting two different stories and no one seems to be willing to step up and talk to another party without using me as a messenger.

There are times I'm a very good messenger, but at this point, I have no idea which computer system has a bug up its assets.

So, I start solving the problem the way Alexander solved the Gordian knot. I tell my doctor what I've been told. I provide my observations about the different stories. They acknowledge the weirdness and promise to deal with it. I begin to breathe a bit easier.

A couple of hours later, I receive a call from my doctor's office, repeating the story of the missing contract and telling me that I'd need to work out the problem between my health plan provider and the company that fills the prescriptions.

The implication, of course, is that my health care provider and the company that fills my prescriptions are both morons.

It's déjà vu all over again.

I get on the phone to my health plan provider. I work really hard to rant without ranting. I lay out the ridiculousness of the situation with an air of aggravated frustration. The woman taking my call responds with the appropriate amount of sympathy. She clearly has been trained in how to deal with frustrated customers. We confirm my numbers and my address. She's open, she's listening, she cares. Yadda, yadda, yadda. (Shut up, Jerry!)

She tried to tell me that I need to call my doctor and tell them they need to call the prescription in,

I'm like...What?!?

I tell her that this is the third time I've been asked to do just that very thing and the lack of progress is why I'm calling now. I explain the stories I've heard. I tell her I have no idea what to do know. I'll call, but I don't have any faith there will be any significant progress. I tell her I need someone to deal with the problem, not frob it off on someone else.

Amazingly, my audio correspondent understands that. She asks me to wait on the phone while she calls my doctor. I don't have a lot of faith, but I agree...and I wait. (Yes, I'm still burning minutes.) A few rounds of Solitaire later, she comes back and tells me my doctor's office has been filing the right paperwork and would I be willing to wait just a few minutes more so she can call the prescription provider to make sure the story's straight on their end?

(What, I'm going to disagree at this point?)

Long and short, she comes back after that conversation and tells me that while she can't tell me they're going to ship the medication, it certainly looks like they have the right information, too.

She promises to keep an eye on things over the next several days.

Today, she called me back and told me that it looks like my meds have been shipped and I should see them in a few days. Frankly, I feel like Chris Kattan in "Night at the Roxbury." Hello, Operator 238...Credit Vixen!

OK, I'm over-stating things. I actually haven't received my meds yet. I hope they show up soon.

Huh? What's the "primary condition?" Um, well,'s high blood pressure, of course.

I wonder what I'll need to go through when they prescribe meds for the cholesterol.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ten Lies...and One Truth

If you've followed my wife's blog for any length of time, you know that she writes poetry on a near daily basis and that she participates in many different challenges given throughout the blogosphere.

Well, she asked me to add a couple of buttons to her blog template tonight, buttons that point to a couple of different sites offering such challenges. While doing so, I noticed that Poetry Thursday was running a challenge to write a poem about ten lies.

I'm feeling very snarky this evening and looking for someone to take it out on. Since I can't release my frustration on the person who truly deserves my ire, I'll take it out on someone who also deserves to be held accountable for their actions.

I am not a poet by nature. Nevertheless, I believe everyone has a touch of imagery in their souls.

That said, here's my contribution to this week's Poetry Thursday challenge.

Compassionate Conservatism.
Uniter and Not a Divider.
Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Warrentless Wiretaps.
I aim to be a competitive nation.
Axis of Evil.
War Against Terror.
Let's don't fear the future, let's shape it.
Are you going to ask that question with shades on?
You never know what your history is going to be like until long after you're gone.

Ask not what your country can do for you, George. Ask what you can do for your country!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

There Otter Be a Law

You know, there are days when you really don't want to write about what happened to you.

So, instead of ranting about the injustice of evil, let's all just watch the otter. He's cute; he's at peace. Just swimming around and enjoying a meal.


(Overheard at bedtime)

"MOOOOMMM! Daddy's being weird"
"Am not!"
"Are too!
"Dee Two"

(DD bursts into gales of laughter)

Simple pleasures, y'know?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Meme Quartet: the RLiT version

My sweetie recently challenged me to a meme quartet. I'm new to this part of blogging, but feel up to the challenge.

And, so, without further ado:

a) Four jobs I have had in my life
1. Writer
2. Computer Programmer
3. Telephone Solictor (which lasted three weeks)
4. Wedding Photographer (yes, paid!)

b) Four movies I would do watch over and over again
1. Amadeus
2. What Dreams May Come
3. Amélie
4. Tie: Star Wars (aka Episode IV: A New Hope) and Raiders of the Lost Ark

c) Four places I have lived
1. Santa Cruz, CA
2. Hoboken, NJ
3. Atlanta, GA
4. Portland, OR

d) Four TV shows I like to watch
1. Battlestar Galactica (v2.0)
2. The X-Files (and, no, my password is not TRUSTNO1)
3. Looney Tunes (Classic and uncut!)
4. Batman: The Animated Series

e) Four places I have visited
1. Paris, France
2. London, England
3. Puerto Rico
4. New York City

f) Four websites I visit daily
1. Jane Poe: Nevermore
2. Paris Parfait
3. Dizgraceland
4. digg

g) Four places I would like to be right now
1. London
2. Rome
3. New Zealand
4. Right where I am

h) Four of my favourite foods
1. My wife's lasagna (Garfield never had it so good)
2. My step-mom's turkey and cheese sandwiches (as far as food goes, about the only thing that means "family" to me.)
3. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
4. Garlic Mashed Potatoes

g) Four bloggers I would like to respond (since I can't count Tara and JP)
1. Tim and the real roaming gnome.
2. Olive Juice
3. A Walk in my Shoes
4. My friend Ken, the guy who taught me ethics, responsibility, and integrity.

Wow! That was, in spots, a lot harder than I expected.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

On Being Prickly

In 1985, DC Comics ran a 12-part series designed to help clean-up continuity problems that had crept into the various storylines of their characters over the years. The Crisis on Infinite Earths involved gathering superheroes from each of the dimensions of the DC Multiverse to battle villains that threatened to destroy all dimensions. In the end, all dimensions were collapsed into one and only one Earth.

During these battles, many characters (and troublesome story arcs) were eliminated, including Kara Zor El, aka Supergirl. When I first read the story, I was shocked that DC would kill off such a major character. I remember being angry and saddened by her death. I never forgot the cover of Issue 7 (shown above), which showed Superman holding the limp body of a cousin he couldn't save. (The cover was drawn by George Pérez (bio) and I've borrowed today's image from the linked site.)

I had never seen Superman cry and I think the depth of his anguish is what struck me more than anything else. At the time, I imagined his grief came from losing one of his only remaining family members. Years later, though, I thought of that same image when grieving over the end of my first marriage and the loss of my child. Not loss as in death, but loss as not being able to be a physical presence in her daily life and the loss of being able to share in (and contribute to) significant portions of her childhood.

That image is one of reasons why I call my youngest "Kara" in these pages.

I mention all of this because I was a bit prickly this morning, prickly as in out of sorts and inexplicably grumpy.

"Dee Dee" (as in "Darling daughter") wanted me to play with her this morning and I did so grudgingly. This is out of character for me and wife JP picked up on it pretty quickly.

When the three of us started playing Yahtzee, I could tell that JP was trying to figure out why I was out of sorts.

At one point during the game, Dee Dee rolled three of the numbers needed for a small straight, a three, a four, and a six. I suggested she keep the three and the four and roll three dice for the other two numbers she needed. JP didn't see the logic of that and told Dee Dee to roll for the missing five with the remaining two dice. (For the record, Dee Dee followed JP's advice and got the die she needed.)

However, JP and I kind of conflicted over it. Oh, it wasn't a fight or anything, just a funny look, a lack of understanding, and some internal questioning about what was going on as the game continued.

After it was all over, JP wanted to understand what had happened. I really appreciate this about her; over the last several months, she's gotten into the habit of talking about things that trouble her and it's been a huge help to our relationship.

We managed to talk through our individual perspectives of what had happened and I, trying to be diplomatic, said that I was sorry if I'd been prickly. JP, bless her heart, commented that, yeah, I was being a bit prickly.

That was a little hard to take (in part because I thought she was the one being prickly), but I thought about it as I went to do some household chores. Kara's room needed some work and I closed the door to be alone for a few minutes.

As I worked, I felt a familiar pain begin to spread out from my heart. I began to cry, missing my daughter and grieving over her absence. I let the tears flow as I worked and tried to understand why today, of all days, was so hard for me. (I cried quietly, not wanting to let JP or Dee Dee know what I was going though.)

Then it hit me. Today is Kara's eighth birthday and she's spending it with her mother this year. I know it's fair to alternate birthdays, but I want so much to be a part of her childhood and to be a good influence for her.

I recently wrote about my ideas of evil. What I didn't say at that time is that I believe Kara's other home contains that second form of evil I mentioned...and there's nothing I can to do rescue her from it.

I think one of the reasons I'm feeling so much of my grief today is because I really miss being a part of that little girl's daily life, a daily life so very different than the one I envisioned for her when she first came into my life. And all I can do to try to make it better is to continue loving her and to continue trying to show her a better way of doing things during the few times I am a part of her daily life.

For every parent, there comes a time you have to let your child go and experience the world for themselves, without your guidance and without being ready to catch them when they stumble. There comes a time when you have to hope that your guidance has been enough. For most parents, this usually happens when the child is somewhere in their teen years.

In a way, I experience this every time I return her to her mother. And every time, it hurts.

It's been more than four years since that change. I should be used to it by now. I'm not, though. After dropping her off, I often drive home with misty eyes.

Most days, I handle it fine. Every once in a while, though, it overwhelms me and, while trying not to, I take it out on those around me.

I'm sorry for that. It's not fair.

I'm prickly. It's just one of those days.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pouncing Panther, Climbing Cougar

In an attempt to show that I'm not always going to rant about politics or stressful things, this post is about the youngest members of our household.

At seven months, both "Pouncer" (lower left) and "Climber" (upper right) are beginning to grow into their adult personalities. They're both very sweet kitties that love to cuddle and play. But, they each have their own distinct personalities and idiosyncrasies (something we're trying to get two little girls to fully appreciate).

I adopted them earlier this summer, when they were three months old. I had kept them inside and was nervous about moving them to the new digs, unsure how they'd adapt to the new place, where the doggie door would let them come and go as they please. The night before I brought them over, we looked throughout the backyard for places in the fence that might be wider than a set of kitten whiskers...and we covered each spot we could find. (I didn't want them slipping outside and forgetting which house was their new home.)

I shouldn't have worried. No only did they take to the new digs, but they quickly learned the joys of playing in the garden, of chasing each other up (and over) the picnic table, and of tormenting their new toy (the dog).

(Actually, they don't really torment him. They're very nice to him, probably thinking he's an overgrown kitty who can't purr.)

Pouncer gets her name because she loves to chase things that move under blankets, pouncing on them just when they stop moving. It's cute when you're playing. When you're sleeping, though, it requires a bit more, um, patience.

Climber, though, is the explorer. When she's slinking through the jungle underbrush (the garden), she pretends she's the big game hunter. When she spots her prey, she'll crouch down, raise her haunches, and swing her little hips back and forth until she's got just the right footing, and then strike. She gets her name because she's figured out how to work past the yard exits I covered; she climbs the fencepost.

I nearly had a heart attack the first time I found her perched on top of the eight-foot fence running along one side of the back yard. I managed to pull her down before she made a leap for the other side, but I know she's going to try that one day.

I know she's figured out how to get out of the yard. So far, she's come back. I hope she keeps doing so.

By the way, if you're looking for an easy way to tell them apart, notice the colors near their ears. I call Pouncer the brunette because she has black markings. Climber, on the other hand, is the blonde; it's a dishwater blonde, because she has darker colors mixed in, but it's definitely blonde.

This shows what I mean; it was taken a few days after I brought them home.

They're very sweet kitties.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Quack, Quack. Limp.

(Image courtesy of The Architect of the Capitol.)

Congratulations to all who won posts during this year's mid-term elections in the U.S. As you probably know, the Democratic party has taken control of the U.S. House of Representative and has won a slim one vote majority in the Senate.

To the Democratic Party, I raise a glass in well-deserved salute. I’m happy. I’m pleased. I’m jubilant. Before we get all punch-drunk on the sweet wine of victory, I would like to take a moment to climb upon my soapbox and offer a warning.

It's pretty clear that the American voters weren't drawn so much to the Democratic platform as they were disgusted by the behavior and actions of the Republican Party of the last few years. The War in Iraq is probably the biggest beef; there are (sadly) many others.

If Democrats would like to maintain, and perhaps even extend their control of Congress, they must be seen as not only an ethical alternative, but also an effective one.

In 1994, Republicans offered the Contract with America. I believe they won control because they seemed to offer a coherent message, even if it was one that vilified the poor and played off of people’s fears.

In 2000, Republicans won the Presidency for two reasons. First, the Democratic candidate failed to provide charm and reassurance. Second, the public was tired of hearing about the infamous blue dress and peccadilloes of their then current Commander-In-Chief.

As a result, one who promised to be a "uniter and not a divider" and seemed to be someone who would be good to have over for dinner with his homespun "charm" turned out to be more desirable than a tired and snippy Al Gore during their first debate.

In 2004, the Democrats were disorganized and unable to present a coherent, compelling message.

In 2006, the only compelling, coherent message the Democrats have been able to present is the fact that the current administration is corrupt, far too secretive, and completely at sea with regard to the war in Iraq.

Moving forward, I believe the American public wants the following:

• The open and honest government promised by Nancy Pelosi, the presumed Speaker of the House.
• A restoration of the rights stolen by the far right.
• A genuine solution to the Iraq crisis, one more compelling than "peace with honor."
• A return to balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility.
• Genuine tax relief for the lower and middle classes.
• Genuine progress on the symptoms that lead to terrorists, rather than policy that simply creates new ones by ignoring the mistakes that have gone before.
• To be treated as something more intelligent than hapless sheep.

My challenge to the Democratic victors is to meet these and other benchmarks.

As for the soon-to-be-not ruling Republicans, well, if they were somehow able to set aside their narrow-mindedness, their tin-plated delusions of Manifest Destiny, their greed, and their pride, they might also see a way to provide a proper agreement with the American Public, one that actually returns to a focus on fiscal responsibility and ethics.

And, finally, to President Bush, I offer this insight for your "legacy." You have acted as the last defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Yesterday, the voting public provided very clear feedback regarding your ideas. Did you hear? Will you finally demonstrate grace and understanding? Or will you limp into History, vying with Herbert Hoover as one of the least effective Presidents in history?

Please, recognize the message that's been very clearly communicated. Do more than ask us to lunch. Ask not what you can take from your country's consumers, but ask what you can finally do to serve them with honor, integrity, and genuine compassion (no matter how conservative).

If you do not, I'm afraid your final years of office will be spent as an invalid fowl.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Gimme Yer Nuts!

This little guy recently showed up in my front yard.

I strongly suspect he was over at Tim's place a night or two ago.

(No gnomes were harmed in the posting of this photo.)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why Your Vote Matters

By now, it should be obvious that I am not an unbiased observer when it comes to my wife. Not only do I love her, but I respect her to no end.

If you've read her blog, you've seen how daring, open, and honest she can be with her thoughts and ideas. I hope I can someday be as articulate as she's been.

This post is a strong case in point.

In 1986, I had one of the most seminal movie experiences of my life. After watching Platoon, I filed out of the theatre with the rest of the audience. While doing so, I noticed that there was complete silence. No one talked. No one joked. It was clear people were digesting what they'd seen. Commentary would come later, but in those initial moments, it seemed as if we shared the bond of combat. As I said earlier, it was a seminal experience, one I've (clearly) never forgotten.

I was reminded of this feeling when I read my wife's recent post.

In a few hours, polls will open in this country and the people will have an opportunity to express their opinion about their representatives.

In my political posts, I've tried to maintain at least a veneer of objectivity. Oh, you may sense my political bent, but I don't think I've actually come out and advocated a specific course of action.

Yes, I ask you to vote. Before you vote, however, I ask you to review the history of the current administration. Look at the erosion of personal rights. Look at the attacks on individual privacy, the use of questionably legal tactics to engage in a war whose legal status has never fully been settled. Warrentless wiretaps? Incarceration without legal representation or review? More and more documents excluded from the Freedom of Information Act? Government contracts awarded, without review, to companies previously run by senior administration officials? A secret energy policy created by oil companies in secret meetings held at the highest levels of power?

In 1984, Ronald Reagan won re-election by asking if you were better off than you were four years earlier. Tell me, do you feel safer today? Do you feel as if your Constitutional rights are more protected today than they were two or six years ago?

Do you really feel that the current administration has wisely used its political captital? Has the current President (and the rubber-stamp Congress) united the country or divided it?

I believe we are more polarized than we have been since the height of the Vietnam war.

I will not ask you to vote the way I do, but I will tell you that I intend to vote for candidates that represent, in my view, a return to sanity, truth, and ethical behavior.

So why does your vote matter? Because I'm voting the bastards out.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Guy Fawkes Day

Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know no reason why

the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, 'Twas his intent.
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below.
Poor old England to overthrow.

By God's providence he was catch'd,
With a dark lantern and burning match

Holloa boys, Holloa boys, let the bells ring
Holloa boys, Holloa boys, God save the King!

(Image and verse courtesy of Wikipedia)

If you've seen the movie V for Vendetta (or read the graphic novel that inspired the movie), you may recall themes of anarchy versus fascism or violent opposition to a corrupt regime. Others may recall the original Gunpowder Plot, where Guy Fawkes was captured while planning to destroy the British Houses of Parliament.

In England, this date is celebrated with fireworks and bonfires. And it's an important date to Art Garfunkel, Sam Shepard, Tatum O'Neil, and many others. At one time, it was also a date important to me because it was important to someone else. Now, it's traditional celebration echoes, well, something else...and I find myself thinking of the storyline where, among other things, justice is a dish coldly served.

Someone who shouldn't expect anything from me asked me to do them a favor today. Ultimately, I chose to do what they asked...but not for their sake. Instead, I chose to not risk creating a problem for someone else, someone near both to the person who made the request and to myself. That second person, who I've recently written about, is very dear to me and I would not make a problem for her for anything in this life or the next.

I'm being sort of vague, I know.

I've been thinking a bit recently about the relationship between hypocrisy, selfishness, and denial. Together, these three traits are more dangerous than the witches from "The Scottish Play." Taken together, these traits allow you to redefine the world in ways that justify and defend your actions, no matter how brutal or manipulative. They allow you to re-present what actually happened as something that really didn't. They allow you to live with yourself knowing you've taken advantage of people, hurt them, deceived them, and stolen the things they hold most dearly...all in the name of what's best for you. Nacissicism at its "finest."

To my mind, there are two forms of evil. There is the megalomaniacal evil frequently portrayed in action films ("What are we going to do tomorrow night, Brain?" "Same thing we try to do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world!"). And then there's the casual, careless selfish evil of those who think everyone should serve their needs, regardless of what's happened in the past.

The second form of evil is more pervasive in this life, because it involves people who truly do not care about anyone else other then themselves, people incapable of genuine compassion because they lack empathy.

And thinking of the latter form of evil had lead me to slightly corrupt one of the taglines of the movie I mentioned earlier. Truly, victims should not be afraid of their abusers. Abusers should be afraid of their victims.

Let's all look forward and work toward a world where manipulation and abuse in all its forms is documentable, actionable, and (ultimately) preventable...and prevented.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

On Being a Parent (Fit the First)

One of the hardest things in my life has been being as good a parent as I can be in the life of my youngest, aka Youngest Sister. My first wife and I adopted her when she was 19 months and, for all intents and purposes, she's growing up as an only child...most of the time.

I was an only child, so I understand the viewpoint she may be developing. I certainly see similarities in her behavior and my behavior at the same age...especially when she interacts with others. I cut-up and tried to be the class clown. I shouted out answers and laughed too loudly. All in all, I did everything I could to be noticed and (hopefully) valued for being noticed. As you might expect, it didn't always work out the way I'd hoped it would.

I certainly see her confusion as the very same things that confounded me when I began to interact with others. For example, I found it hard to understand why people would be irritated when I was too loud for too long.

I can tell she's trying to work it all out. It's a bit unnerving, actually...watching her work through and model some of the same ideas I grew up with.

One of the hardest things for me to learn throughout childhood, young adulthood, and eventually full-blown adulthood, was how to recognize the needs for others and to care for their needs as intensely as I care for my own.

Throughout my adolescence, I wanted someone to validate me. Yes, I eventually learned to validate myself, to be my own biggest fan, but it took years and many, many mistakes in the interim. Having said that, there was a time, I really wanted someone to reach out and accept me for who I was...unconditionally.

I've tried to give my children the knowledge that they're loved unconditionally and the awareness that they are valuable in their own right and that they are valued by me as their parent. I've tried to help them recognize the fact that they are individuals, yes, but individuals in a world filled with individuals. I try to nudge them toward an understanding, an awareness, and a recognition of the importance of other people's lives. To understand that the person over there has dreams, needs, hurts, fears, desires, and talents, and so on. To understand that life is as dynamic to the person over there as it is to my children. I suppose you could say I'm tying to teach them empathy and compassion, qualities that are very rare in the world today.

It's hard, because you really don't get a lot of direct feedback as a parent. You hear when you're messing up, of course. But getting it right, well, that's a more difficult piece of feedback to scare up, at least in my experience.

My youngest is a bit of a firebrand and she can certainly be a handful. It's hard for her to recognize the feelings and needs of others. Oh, sure, it's age appropriate (she's almost eight, after all) and it fits given her daily environment, but I still feel it's important to help her grow up as centered, focused, and aware as possible.

This was my year to "trick or treat" with her. When I picked her up from school yesterday, she gave me a card, one of those things that melts a parent's heart and reminds them that they're raising a real (albeit young) person. It was like a letter from Heaven, really.

With appropriate pixelation (and a tiny edit), here's what my youngest daughter wrote to me:

Happy Halloween, Daddy!

Dear Dad,

I hope you have a good halloween. I like you because you love me for hoo I am, Thank you for taking me out for halloween.

I love you dad,

Love, "Kara"

P.S. Boo!!!!

In all seriousness, it brought a tear. (OK, it brought more than one.)

Thank you, sweetie! Yes! Thank you for recognizing that I do love you for yourself--unconditionally. That's exactly what I had hoped you would see and I hope you know that will never change.

Anyway, this little card is going into my super-secret hiding spot. The place I put the things I need to remind myself why I do what I do.

And I am going to keep trying to reach that aware little person that I periodically get to spend time with. She, like so many others, is well worth reaching.