Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Koho’s Big Adventure

Copy of Picture 016For New Year’s this year I will be celebrating out of town. My usual “dogsitter” friends are also going out of town so Sheila, a good friend of my family, who has kind of adopted me when my mom is in Hawaii agreed to help me out. I asked her if she would come by my house and check on Koho a couple of the days I was gone. Not wanting to impose, I told her that I would leave Koho in the garage/side yard so she could be warm inside the garage, but still have access to the backyard. I would leave her a big bowl of food and water. Sheila said she was happy to help out, but wanted me to bring Koho to stay at her place. As many times as I said I didn’t want to impose, she insisted that Koho come spend the few days with her.

Sheila wanted me to bring Koho over before hand in order to meet her dog Cain and just to be sure they got along before I left her for a long period of time. This evening I had dinner plans in her neighborhood so I brought Koho over before heading out to dinner for a couple of hours.

The initial dog meeting was uneventful. They sniffed each others’ butts while wagging their tails. Cain followed Koho around the house while she explored her new surroundings. Before I left for dinner, Sheila and I went into her kitchen to see her new cupboards. While we talked, the dogs wandered around getting to know each other. However, after a few moments I looked over and Koho was starting to poop in the family room. How mortifying, right? I quickly ushered her outside into the dark backyard. She ran around the pool to the back corner of the yard to finish her business. Then she made a 180 turn, walked about 2 steps, and fell right into the swimming pool as I yelled, “No, no, no!” I watched her sink down to the bottom and then bounce back up. Rather than swim to the side she was next to, she swam the length of the pool to the other side, put her front paws on the side, and waited for me to pull her out.

At this point, I was still recovering from the pooping and now reeling from the unexpected swim. My dog is like 100 years old and, although it is not as cold as it is in other places, the water was probably only about 40 degrees. I’m surprise that she didn’t have a heart attack right there. But, we got her dried off and back in the house with the fireplace. Sheila told me to go and they would be fine. I headed to dinner, telling her to call if there were anymore incidents.

Thankfully, no phone calls during dinner, and I returned to pick her up about 2 hours later. When Sheila let me in Cain was right by her side. She said that everything went fine. She said she would go upstairs and get Koho. Why you ask? Because Koho decided that she needed to sleep on Sheila’s bed. I grabbed her leash and walked upstairs. When I got into the bedroom Sheila was sitting on the bed petting my dog, while her dog sat on the floor. What a brat!

I brought Koho home after making arrangements to bring her back before I go out of town. Can you believe that she is even welcome back? I can’t. Koho is a very, very tired dog tonight.
New Camera 042

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Just A Little Something

This time of year, we are inundated with advertisements for cars given as Christmas presents.  Not just any ole' cars either.  No, they are usually luxury cars like Mercedes, BMW, or Infinity. 

I’m just curious, who here has ever received a new car as a Christmas gift?  With a big red bow on top?  I don’t know anyone who has, so I am interested if this is something that actually happens in real life or if it’s just a car companies’ way of making us feel bad for the gift cards, house wares, and other trinkets we buy for our loved ones this time of year.   

I’m almost positive it’s the latter, but if you’ve ever received a new car for Christmas or Hanukkah, tell us about it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

6-8 Black Men, pt. 2

This is the continuation of David Sedaris’s column about Christmas in the Netherlands. Part one is here

The six to eight black men were characterized as personal slaves until the mid-fifties, when the political climate changed and it was decided that instead of being slaves they were just good friends. I think history has proven that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet times beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility. They have such violence in Holland, but rather than duking it out among themselves, Santa and his former slaves decided to take it out on the public. In the early years, if a child was naughty, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would beat him with what Oscar described as "the small branch of a tree."

"A switch?"

"Yes," he said. "That's it. They'd kick him and beat him with a switch. Then, if the youngster was really bad, they'd put him in a sack and take him back to Spain."

"Saint Nicholas would kick you?"

"Well, not anymore," Oscar said. "Now he just pretends to kick you."

"And the six to eight black men?"

"Them, too."

He considered this to be progressive, but in a way I think it's almost more perverse than the original punishment. "I'm going to hurt you, but not really." How many times have we fallen for that line? The fake slap invariably makes contact, adding the elements of shock and betrayal to what had previously been plain, old-fashioned fear. What kind of Santa spends his time pretending to kick people before stuffing them into a canvas sack? Then, of course, you've got the six to eight former slaves who could potentially go off at any moment. This, I think, is the greatest difference between us and the Dutch. While a certain segment of our population might be perfectly happy with the arrangement, if you told the average white American that six to eight nameless black men would be sneaking into his house in the middle of the night, he would barricade the doors and arm himself with whatever he could get his hands on.

"Six to eight, did you say?"

In the years before central heating, Dutch children would leave their shoes by the fireplace, the promise being that unless they planned to beat you, kick you, or stuff you into a sack, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would fill your clogs with presents. Aside from the threats of violence and kidnapping, it's not much different from hanging your stockings from the mantel. Now that so few people have a working fireplace, Dutch children are instructed to leave their shoes beside the radiator, furnace, or space heater. Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men arrive on horses, which jump from the yard onto the roof. At this point, I guess, they either jump back down and use the door, or they stay put and vaporize through the pipes and electrical wires. Oscar wasn't too clear about the particulars, but, really, who can blame him? We have the same problem with our Santa. He's supposed to use the chimney, but if you don't have one, he still manages to come through. It's best not to think about it too hard.

While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively simple. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you're bad, he leaves you coal. If you're good and live in America, he'll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, "Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before you go to bed. The former bishop from Turkey will be coming along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared."

This is the reward for living in Holland. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution--so what's not to love about being Dutch?

Oscar finished his story just as we arrived at the station. He was a polite and interesting guy--very good company--but when he offered to wait until my train arrived, I begged off, saying I had some calls to make. Sitting alone in the vast terminal, surrounded by other polite, seemingly interesting Dutch people, I couldn't help but feel second-rate. Yes, it was a small country, but it had six to eight black men and a really good bedtime story. Being a fairly competitive person, I felt jealous, then bitter, and was edging toward hostile when I remembered the blind hunter tramping off into the Michigan forest. He might bag a deer, or he might happily shoot his sighted companion in the stomach. He may find his way back to the car, or he may wander around for a week or two before stumbling through your front door. We don't know for sure, but in pinning that license to his chest, he inspires the sort of narrative that ultimately makes me proud to be an American.

A heartwarming tale of Christmas in a foreign land where, if you've been naughty, SAINT NICK and his friends give you an ass-whuppin'

Unlike our Santa, SAINT NICHOLAS is painfully thin, dresses like the pope, and tops off his robes with a tall hat resembling a tea cozy.

In addition to a great Christmas story, THE DUTCH have thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution. What's not to love about that?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

6-8 Black Men, pt. 1

I’m taking the easy way out for the next couple of posts, but I think you will enjoy it.

David Sedaris is a humorist and I first read this column in one of his books“Dress Your Family in Denim and Corduroy” a few years back. It is a great Christmas time story and I’m going to loosely link it to Writer’s Workshop because my motto is
From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.
and this is REALLY funny. (I know, I’m sorry for the lame link to WW, but that’s all I’ve got). Enjoy!

6 to 8 Black Men, pt. 1, by David Sedaris
I’ve never been much for guidebooks, so when trying to get my bearings in a strange American city, I normally start by asking the cabdriver or hotel clerk some silly question regarding the latest census figures. I say silly because I don't really care how many people live in Olympia, Washington, or Columbus, Ohio. They're nice enough places, but the numbers mean nothing to me. My second question might have to do with average annual rainfall, which, again, doesn't tell me anything about the people who have chosen to call this place home.

What really interests me are the local gun laws. Can I carry a concealed weapon, and if so, under what circumstances? What's the waiting period for a Tommy gun? Could I buy a Glock 17 if I were recently divorced or fired from my job? I've learned from experience that it's best to lead into this subject as delicately as possible, especially if you and the local citizen are alone and enclosed in a relatively small space. Bide your time, though, and you can walk away with some excellent stories. I've heard, for example, that the blind can legally hunt in both Texas and Michigan. They must be accompanied by a sighted companion, but still, it seems a bit risky. You wouldn't want a blind person driving a car or piloting a plane, so why hand him a rifle? What sense does that make? I ask about guns not because I want one of my own but because the answers vary so widely from state to state. In a country that's become so homogenous, I'm reassured by these last touches of regionalism.

Guns aren't really an issue in Europe, so when I'm traveling abroad, my first question usually relates to barnyard animals. "What do your roosters say?" is a good icebreaker, as every country has its own unique interpretation. In Germany, where dogs bark "vow vow" and both the frog and the duck say "quack," the rooster greets the dawn with a hearty "kik-a-ricki." Greek roosters crow "kiri-a-kee," and in France they scream "coco-rico," which sounds like one of those horrible premixed cocktails with a pirate on the label. When told that an American rooster says "cock-a-doodle-doo," my hosts look at me with disbelief and pity.

"When do you open your Christmas presents?" is another good conversation starter, as it explains a lot about national character. People who traditionally open gifts on Christmas Eve seem a bit more pious and family oriented than those who wait until Christmas morning. They go to mass, open presents, eat a late meal, return to church the following morning, and devote the rest of the day to eating another big meal. Gifts are generally reserved for children, and the parents tend not to go overboard. It's nothing I'd want for myself, but I suppose it's fine for those who prefer food and family to things of real value.

In France and Germany, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, while in Holland the children receive presents on December 5, in celebration of Saint Nicholas Day. It sounded sort of quaint until I spoke to a man named Oscar, who filled me in on a few of the details as we walked from my hotel to the Amsterdam train station.

Unlike the jolly, obese American Santa, Saint Nicholas is painfully thin and dresses not unlike the pope, topping his robes with a tall hat resembling an embroidered tea cozy. The outfit, I was told, is a carryover from his former career, when he served as a bishop in Turkey.

One doesn't want to be too much of a cultural chauvinist, but this seemed completely wrong to me. For starters, Santa didn't use to do anything. He's not retired, and, more important, he has nothing to do with Turkey. The climate's all wrong, and people wouldn't appreciate him. When asked how he got from Turkey to the North Pole, Oscar told me with complete conviction that Saint Nicholas currently resides in Spain, which again is simply not true. While he could probably live wherever he wanted, Santa chose the North Pole specifically because it is harsh and isolated. No one can spy on him, and he doesn't have to worry about people coming to the door. Anyone can come to the door in Spain, and in that outfit, he'd most certainly be recognized. On top of that, aside from a few pleasantries, Santa doesn't speak Spanish. He knows enough to get by, but he's not fluent, and he certainly doesn't eat tapas.

While our Santa flies on a sled, Saint Nicholas arrives by boat and then transfers to a white horse. The event is televised, and great crowds gather at the waterfront to greet him. I'm not sure if there's a set date, but he generally docks in late November and spends a few weeks hanging out and asking people what they want.

"Is it just him alone?" I asked. "Or does he come with some backup?"

Oscar's English was close to perfect, but he seemed thrown by a term normally reserved for police reinforcement.

"Helpers," I said. "Does he have any elves?"

Maybe I'm just overly sensitive, but I couldn't help but feel personally insulted when Oscar denounced the very idea as grotesque and unrealistic. "Elves," he said. "They're just so silly."

The words silly and unrealistic were redefined when I learned that Saint Nicholas travels with what was consistently described as "six to eight black men." I asked several Dutch people to narrow it down, but none of them could give me an exact number. It was always "six to eight," which seems strange, seeing as they've had hundreds of years to get a decent count….

To Be Continued…Check Back on Thursday for the Conclusion (it’s so worth it)!


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Blues

Sundays are always depressing to me.  I’ve written of this before.  I like to work and most of the time I like my work, but on Sundays I feel this overwhelming dread that I have to start a new work week.  Really the dread is thinking about all the things that I don’t like about starting a new week – the early morning alarm, packing my lunch, forcing myself to go to bed early so I can function during that early morning, etc. 

Once the week starts, that “Sunday feeling” dissipates and I’m fine.  Forget the Monday blues, I’ve got the Sunday blues.

Most Sundays I don’t leave the house.  I might do some chores, catch up on my favorite shows, or do something creative like make cards, or paint, or draw.  Nothing too time consuming though because I don’t want my last day of weekend to end too quickly.  Maybe that’s why they are depressing.  Maybe I need to make Sunday plans rather than avoid them. 

What do you do on Sundays?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Perfect Gift

For writer’s workshop this week, the topic was to write about my top five “must have” gifts that I am buying for loved ones.

I’ll be honest with you, I am such a uncreative gift giver. Since graduating from college and becoming an adult, I find it really hard to pick out gifts for others. Unlike kids, adults don’t usually ask for specific gifts. If they want something they buy it. At least that’s my take on it. Therefore I never know what to buy people. Do I get something they need? That’s not always very exciting. Do I get something I like? But they might not like it.

So what’s my “must have” gift?


A gift card!

Some might think they are impersonal, but I don’t think so. I love to get gift cards. So I just assume that others do too. Every so often I find something that seems like a neat gift, but then I worry that it’s not enough so I end up adding a gift card to it anyways.

Do you like to receive gift cards? What is the “must have” gift you are giving this year?