Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Ode to my Brothers

I have 2 brothers, Walter (8 years older than me) and Kaz (4 years older than me.) There are qualities about my brothers that I really really like. Walter was always way more than tolerant than humanly possible when I needed someone to play with my stuffed animals with me when I was a little kid. And he, like all my other siblings, took me along with him to the mall, basketball games at the high school, etc., when he got his driver’s license. He didn’t seem to mind 8 year old me hanging on his 16-year-old arm when we Christmas shopped in the mall.

Kaz taught me how to shoot my first lay-up at the basketball hoop in the driveway of our childhood home. When we were kids we played endless hours of wiffle ball in the yard. We created a wiffle ball stadium complete with home run fence (the line of bushes on the edge of the yard) and a scoreboard we’d fashioned out of scrap wood and paint. Wouldn’t you just know that Kaz has constructed an ice hockey rink for his kids in his own yard? And he has painted lines on the cul-de-sac in front of his house for various sports to be played on.

Kaz is also an insanely great guitarist. He’s one of those annoying people who can play a song by ear almost instantaneously. He can play all of Ozzy Ozbourne’s "Crazy Train" note for note. I can’t hear an Iron Maiden or Pink Floyd song without thinking of Kaz. I used to accompany Kaz with an occasional harmonizing vocal, or a bass line tapped out on my Yamaha keyboard, until I learned to play guitar too. I can’t play by ear to save my life, which is why I write my own stuff.

I can rely on Kaz to quote a line from Caddyshack on a moment’s notice, and I know he’d quote lines from the Spinal Tap movie, if only he’d finally rent it and get it over with already. Kaz can make me laugh to the point where I have tears streaming down my face.

I had the pleasure of spending Christmas Eve with my brothers and my Dad this year. Christmas with my brothers is a lot of fun because they have 3 children each, and having children around at Christmas really makes the holiday fabulous. The suspense in their faces at present opening time, the ripping of the paper, the squeals of joy when the presents are opened—I love it!

Not only was Christmas fun because of the kids, but because the amount of laughing I got to do with my brothers. This Christmas Eve Kaz and I were singing Hall and Oates songs over the table to each other. The way Walter snickered when he came in from outside wearing a cowboy hat and I had said "Oh, hey Hoss" was just priceless. (But then we got into a discussion over who wore the black cowboy hat on whatever show that was, was it Little Joe or Hoss?) I mean, how great is that??

Walter got me an awesome gift this year. When I was in Kindergarten my Mom had bought me "Misha" the official mascot of the 1980 Olympics being held in Moscow that year. I promptly named the bear Jennifer, after my best friend in Kindergarten. Eventually, over the years I wore Jennifer out or grew out of her. I don’t know which came first, the wearing out or the growing out. This Christmas Eve I was opening a gift from Walter, wondering what it could be that he and his wife were so excited about giving me. Inside the box was Misha, or Jennifer, whatever her name was. They actually found me a new 1980 Olympic mascot. It’s in perfect condition, unlike Jennifer’s eventual sad state after being drug around everywhere 6 year old me went. (Misha now proudly sits on my desk at work, where nosy dogs won’t get it and rip it to shreds. With all the other random stuff on my desk: sea monkey tank, fruit lights strung about, fruit stickers on my monitor, a sign that says in Polish "Caution! Angry dog!" nobody here—at my Office Space-esque workplace--is surprised to see a bear on my desk. )

Thank you to my excellent brothers for an amazing Christmas. You guys rock, your kids rock.

Oh, and here's a picture of Misha.

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Sunday, December 12, 2004

You All Know By Now, I LOVE Dogs...

Yes, I've always loved my dogs, I've never been much of a cat person. I grew up with various different dogs, from the welsh corgie, Penny, that my parents had gotten around the time I was born, to my current dogs, Griffen and Nemo.

Penny used to follow me around on my paper route when I was 8. I'd ride along on my way cool BMX wannabe bike, and Penny would follow along and hang out with me. It was her chance to sniff some other dogs butts, and get some treats from my paper route customers while narrowly missing getting hit by cars.

I used to sneak her into the stationwagon when we'd go for the day to my family's lot on Soapstone Mountain in Ellington, CT. Then when it got too far to turn back, I'd pull her out from under whatever thing was covering her--jacket, blanket, chainsaw--"Look Dad! Penny's here!!" I am not sure my parents always appreciated it when I completely disregarded their "No, Penny is NOT coming, she's staying home" but I like to think that they really did like having her along anyway. Penny died when I was around 10, and that completely bummed out little 10 year old me.

We had a few other dogs, Tiger, Jagger, and all of them had unfortunately short lives with us. That is until we got Sammy. Sammy was an Australian Shepherd, and she was trained to be a show dog but because her teeth were crooked she would not have a career as a show dog. So we ended up with a fully trained 6 month old doggie, for FREE. (Side note, I kept looking at her teeth, and wondered which one was crooked, I'd never been able to determine what was wrong with her teeth. Oh well, that's doggie show business' loss!)

I was 12 when we brought Sammy home. And she was the best dog EVER. I swear she could understand when my parents would command her to do things in Polish. I used to joke that she was a bi-lingual dog. Well, tri-lingual if you count Dog. At least while we had Sammy I did get my drivers license, and didn't have to worry about my parents saying "No, Sammy's staying home."

Today I was cleaning a room in our house, that Todd and I call the stock room. It's a room in our house in which a lot of our junk is quite literally piled to the ceiling. Cleaning, for me, ends up involving finding a box containing photo albums, and sitting there looking through all of them. This is why Todd hates cleaning with me, by the way, because cleaning a room like this will quite literally take days rather than hours. So I was going through an album, and found these pictures of Sammy that I wanted to share with you.

Wasn't she pretty? Getting a bath wasn't her favorite thing in the world.

I don't know if you can tell or not, but Sammy didn't have a tail. Pure Austrailian Shepherds didn't have them. She didn't even have a nub or anything. So she had to resort to smiling instead when she was happy. She was not smiling for this picture, however.

Sammy died when I was 19, while I was in college. The kicker was she died on a Saturday, and I came home to visit on a Sunday. So I missed her by one day and that thoroughly bummed out 19 year old me.

Because I have to, here are pictures of Griffen and Nemo.

I think I am just SO artistic for the way that this picture of Griffen turned out. It was purely accidental. One afternoon Todd stood there throwing 4759562506 frisbees so I could get a shot of Griff catching one. Sadly, after 2 rolls of film, this was the best one. All of the other ones involved him missing it, or poor timing with my shutter finger. There was even one where the frisbee ended up in a tree, and we had to get it down with a rake.

This is my solar powered beagle, Nemo. He charges up in the sun, then runs around the house like a maniac, then passes out in a puddle of sun again. As you can see, he leads a very rough existence, with the bare minimum in dog luxury. In fact, this instant he's dozing in a pile of down comforter.

Every neighborhood has that crazy lady with way too many cats. When I get old, I will probably be that crazy lady with a bunch of dogs. But things could be worse I guess, at least I haven't knitted my dogs matching sweaters. Yet.

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Friday, December 03, 2004

We don't have a chimney...

The holidays have arrived once again. This time of year conjures up images of family by the fire, snowy days, good will, reflection on the year past, and recuperation. However for a vast majority of us, this time of year brings with it busy schedules, chaos, and stress.

Retail stores are consumed by shoppers. Employees are pushed to the edge of sanity by their managers and customers who have already lost theirs. Teachers and faculty are pushed to score tests, deliver grades, and wrap up the semester. Students are worried about passing exams and finding the dollars and transportation to make it home. The airlines, trains, hotels, and rental car agencies are beset by travelers desperate to make it home. Service businesses gear up for that last push before the official end of the fiscal year. CPA firms are drowned in a sea of tax projection paperwork. Food banks are stressed and searching for food. The homeless are trying to plan for the coming dark cold days of winter. Therapists are getting more calls from stressed out lonely people, and somewhere there is like 2000 elves that are 1.2 million toys behind in production with less than three weeks to go until the fat man flies.

People are cleaning, prepping, planning, cooking, coming, going, shopping, wrapping, writing cards, reading cards, trimming trees, hanging wreaths, and trying to find the time to keep the magic going for their kid who is just old enough to wonder how a reindeer could possibly be aerodynamic.

I am here to tell you that none of that means anything. The holidays are a celebration of all that has passed in the year before, and if that year wasn't so hot... it is a celebration of the fresh start that is just around the corner.

In the end, there are those that will feel the season and those that won't. You have to decide which one you want to be.

This is a birdo that we bought this season for our tree. I put him up top where he belongs.

Dangly legs look funny when our dogs tug at the lower branches of our tree.

Too many cookies!

My wifey got me this ship in an ornament for my birthday one year.

A Christmas penguin flotilla.

This was the first ornament that Beej and I got when we bought our first house!

This was the very first ornament we ever bought together.

Ya' gotta plan the route.

To feel the holiday you have to be a snowflake. You must be simple, unique, and you can't care about where you land (whether that is your living room or an office). Take the time to be silly. Trim a tree, sing the songs, make a snow angel, string some popcorn. If you can't leave your office... then turn the radio on and do a Christmas dance in your chair to the first holiday song you hear. Put lights around your cubicle and put tinsel in your briefcase.

I promise you, you will not regret it.

Happy Holidays from Todd, Beej, Griffen, Nemo, Neptune, & Sylvia Knapp

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