Tales of a 4th Grade Something

by Fat Daddy, Esq. on September 23, 2014

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Welcome to the real world I said to she, condescendingly. Take a seat. Take your life. Plot it out in black and white. Well I never lived the dreams of the prom kings and the drama queens. I’d like to think the best of me is still hiding up my sleeve.

As a parent I have to tell you to stay inside the lines, knowing something may be better on the other side.

So the good boys and girls take the so-called right track, faded white hats grabbing credits; maybe transfers. They read all the books but they can’t find the answer. And your parents we’re getting older. Wonder if we’ve wished for anything better? Yes, filling our memories: tiny tragedies.

I don’t want you to run through the halls of your grade school. You shouldn’t scream at the top of your lungs. But you should know there’s no such thing as the real world, just a lie you’ve got to rise above.

You are invincible, as long as you’re alive. I just can’t wait ‘til your 10 year reunion, when you can strut through the double doors. And when you stand in front of your friends who adore you, you will know what all this time was for.

It finally happened. Thing 1 The Super-Scholar has become Thing 1 The Super-Slacker.  She has always been ahead of her peers and school came easy. Fourth grade is taking a toll on her, causing her to question her scholastic aptitude.

The main culprit is busy work. The “doodle in your journal while I count the meal money“ work. The “write your spelling words with blanks where the vowels go” work. The “read a book for twenty minutes and write a summary of what you read on this sheet” work. Never mind that she is very creative, aces the spelling tests and reads above grade level. She runs the risk of being evicted from the gifted program before it even begins because she is not finishing her work.

So we had to have a talk with her. And since I don’t believe in lying to my kids I told her my thoughts. I admitted that some of the work she is supposed to be doing is not doing much to further her learning and may even be a waste of time or not as important as it is being made out. And no one will care what her grades were when she was in the fourth grade.

But that’s not the point. Hot Mama and I let her in on a little secret—meaningless busy work and mundane tasks are a part our lives too. Judges, clients, bosses, customers will sometimes require us to do things that we would rather not do. But we have to do them. Life doesn’t get better, fifth grade will be even worse. And just wait until seventh grade when you have to try to get your school work done while navigating the social hell that is junior high.

She is getting bad grades because she is not conforming to the expectations. And being lazy. See, I wish I could say that she is so enlightened that she already sees through the fluff work and is forging her own path toward accomplishment. But really she is being lazy. Hopefully she understood my explanation that fourth grade laziness, if left unchecked, can turn into tenth grade laziness. And that turns into middle-aged laziness reflecting on how your life is going and wishing you made some better decisions.

My hope is that she can excel for her own ambitions, not just to conform to expectations. I hope she can excel in her own way and be proud of her accomplishments. I hope she can put herself in a position where she never has to do busy work again. Or at least find satisfaction in the busy work while striving for greater things. But this isn’t about my hopes. This is about her hopes and aspirations.

I remember when she was learning to ride a bike. She so wanted to ride that bike but would get discouraged when she was unable to do it without training wheels. There were times she didn’t want to practice when things didn’t immediately go her way. She didn’t want to put in the work to learn to ride on her own. Hot Mama and I spent evenings running beside her along the sidewalk trying to assist in her endeavor. And then one day it clicked. She could suddenly ride her bike anywhere she wanted, by herself.

Parenting is about to become more difficult. She is one of our proudest accomplishments. I don’t want to screw her up. I want her to want to succeed. Ideally her idea of success will be similar to mine, although admittedly my generation’s definition of success is different than that of my parent’s generation. Primarily I want her to achieve whatever it is she wants, even if it doesn’t fit inside my lines. The trick it seems is to run along her with one hand on her shoulder and another at her back until she is going her own direction under her own power. Then it will be a matter of offering cheers for her accomplishments and encouragement when she falls off course.

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Passing Through

by Fat Daddy, Esq. on September 12, 2014

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As summer fades into a crisp autumn day I find myself back in school. A two-day symposium on drug use and mental illness and the specialized court systems available to treat criminals with these issues. So, you know, best time ever.

This summer Hot Mama and I went to Las Vegas for a weekend. As we walked back to our hotel from dinner one night she commented that were a lot of children out late with parents. She wasn’t so sure that it was appropriate for elementary school aged kids to see what they were seeing. I observed that I hadn’t seen anything all that inappropriate. Apparently she was alarmed by the large number of homeless men and women out on the street. I told her I thought it would be a good thing for them to see.

The Things 3 are good kids. Perfect angels they’ve been called. But they are spoiled little shits with serious entitlement issues. I don’t believe I have exceptional children. I understand that most kids have episodes of “I want” when they are out shopping with their parents and the resulting “that’s not fair” when their requests get shot down. In that regard they are not unique.

We are not wealthy. We are not broke. We pay our bills and try to put a little money aside for fun from time to time. Our small community has plenty of poor and impoverished families but no homeless man begging on the street corner.

A couple of weeks after Las Vegas I got to put my theory to the test. My whole family went to Seattle for almost a week. As with any big city there were plenty of homeless men and women milling about. It didn’t take long for my children to spot them.

One evening I walked alone to the original Starbucks store near the Pike Place Market. I had a few souvenirs in a bag and a big cup of overpriced milk and ice with a little bit of coffee splashed in. As I rounded a corner and started walking up the hill there was a man standing on the sidewalk. He was clearly not on his way to a fancy apartment. Upon seeing my drink he told me “I could go for one of those, can I have it?” I smiled and kept walking. He continued, “naw, I’m just kidding, unless you want to let me have it. But I’d rather have a beer.” It made me laugh. I paused and turned back. I pulled a fiver out of my pocket and handed it over. I’m sure he enjoyed his beer.

The next day we were walking along the waterfront when we came across a homeless man with a plastic cup on the end of a string affixed to a small pole, holding a sign that read, “Fishing for Kindness.” Thing 2 had a few dollars of her own and asked me if it was okay for her to give it to him. I said yes and she walked over, dropped her cash in the cup and skipped away with a smile.

We returned home to our comfortable lives. The children were not magically transformed by the experience. They are, however, more aware now. They have seen real poverty up close and personal. When they act like entitled little shits they at least have a frame of reference when we point out there are others who have so little and we should appreciate what we have.

This seminar has been a similar experience for me. There has been a lot of discussion about trauma and its effect on behavior. It’s easy to see a client walk in my office (or more likely walk into the interview room at the jail) with another drug charge and wonder why that person can’t get their shit together. I don’t understand. I can’t relate. I am not an illicit drug user with mental illness brought upon by traumatic events. I don’t want to become a drug addict any more than I want my daughter to become homeless. But in both cases I think it is important to know those worlds exist and appreciate that, while we may pass through those places sometimes, we don’t have to live there.

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Eating Potting Benches

by Fat Daddy, Esq. on May 8, 2014

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When I was 12 years old I had a career path scoped out. I grew up playing sports and going to sporting events, mostly baseball games. My family traveled the country following a particular college baseball team. We also went to many professional baseball games. Aside from the game, I seemed to always notice the stadium.

Eventually I bought graph paper, drafting pencils and an architect’s scale. I began designing my own baseball stadiums, on 8 1/2″ x 11″ graph paper and to a rough scale. I would usually start by laying out home plate and the infield. It made sense to me as, by rule, first base is always 90 feet from home and the pitcher’s rubber is 60 feet 6 inches from the plate. Then I would decide on the outfield fence dimensions and other field boundaries, then the bullpen location. All of these items dictated where the seating began. I laid out the seating and aisles. I colored the drawing and designated different levels of ticket classifications.

This was fun, but it wasn’t enough. I knew that real architects created models of their projects so that was what I would do as well. My first order of business was to create the field. I mixed and poured plaster of Paris into a custom built wooden craft stick formwork and let it cure. Once dried I painted the plaster green, several dirt-brown areas, a white pentagon, three white squares, one small white rectangle and two small white lines extending from the points of the pentagon; all to scale, of course.  A playing surface was born. That roughly 576 square inch baseball field sat in my parents’ basement for years.

In my mind at the time it was an amazing accomplishment. Later, my older eyes were less than impressed. I never began construction of the stadium around the field. Somewhere along the way I stopped designing stadiums and when it came time to declare a major in college the architecture path somehow seemed less appealing.

In college and law school I began watching the New Yankee Workshop with Norm Abram. He made woodworking seem accessible. I was hooked. The garage in our law school townhouse became my intermittent workshop. I purchased a 10″ Delta Shopmaster Bench Saw and got to work. One of my first projects was a potting bench for my wife. Some twelve years later that potting bench still sits in our backyard, sagging and weathered. It needs to become firewood or compost. I plan to build a replacement. But I don’t want to get rid of it just yet. Not until Potting Bench 2.0 is ready for use.

Today I have a cabinet table saw, a planer, a jointer, a router table with several routers and multiple router bits, a dust collection vacuum, a shop vac, several power sanders and power drills, a dovetail jig, a dado blade set, not to mention all of the run of the mill tools one might expect a generally competent handyman to possess. And I seldom get to use them.

My tools are stored in my garage which also houses a minivan and ten years’ worth of accumulated crap. It is such a hassle to make room to work the work rarely begins. From time to time I am able to plan a project (often times with graph paper and an architect’s scale), gather the materials and tools, and in the end produce something that previously did not exist. When we moved into our house I built a custom entertainment center for our television. Most recently I built a bench for Thing 1 for her dance competition.

Another memory from my time as a preteen is learning to make scrambled eggs. My mom explained to me how to select the cooking vessel, crack the eggs and stir the curds. It was cool to see raw ingredients transform into something edible. And as a fat kid, I loved to eat.

I still make some really good scrambled eggs; my kids love my “cheesy eggs” and I can hold my own with any omelet bar buffet chef. During college I really began to expand my game and now I am the executive chef at Fat Daddy’s Home Kitchen (not a real establishment, any similarity to an actual restaurant or eatery is purely coincidental and the use of the term chef is not meant to ruffle the feathers of those who don’t believe you can call yourself a chef unless you have studied at an esteemed culinary institute). This was partially by necessity. Hot Mama owns a dance studio and since most small town elementary school aged children are in school from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. her classes take place in the evening. I could either wait for her to come home and cook something, which is certainly in her wheelhouse but would be served near bedtime; or one of us could pick up fast food, which isn’t very good for our health and is counterproductive to my quest to be less fat; or I can cook dinner for us.

Cooking is another creative outlet for me. Much like building a potting bench, I enjoy planning the project, acquiring the materials, using my skills and tools to transform the materials, and finally enjoying the end result and sharing it with others. Of course the end result does not usually sit in our backyard for over a decade.

Today I have an assortment of knives, an enameled dutch oven, a cast iron skillet, a cast iron griddle, a food processor, a blender, a stand mixer, a dehydrator, an immersion blender, a vacuum sealer, an immersion sous vide circulator, not to mention all of the run of the mill tools one might expect a generally competent home cook to possess.

Sadly Norm’s show is no longer on the air, although his website still houses great content. Now much of my how-to television viewing includes Alton, Christopher, Rick, Guy, or the suffering souls competitively churning out time constrained mystery ingredient comprised epiphanies.

We don’t have a minivan parked in our kitchen and the counters rarely accumulate more than several days worth of crap. Every day I can get out my graph paper and sketch out a menu, go to my pantry for materials, get out my tools and create a delicious project. Not every project is heirloom quality. Not every project is made of mahogany. Sometimes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich suffices. Last night was a sous vide ribeye finished on the outdoor grill alongside fire grilled asparagus and grilled pineapple slices with a honey-lime glaze. I am not a total food snob but there are few restaurants we frequent that best my crab cakes. And while I will happily eat almost any pizza my homemade version is a house favorite.

I may never build a baseball stadium, I may rarely build a table, but several times per week I can build a meal with wholesome ingredients that nourishes my family’s need for food and my need for creativity.

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Perfect Angels

January 31, 2014
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Once upon a time Hot Mama and I lived a carefree newlywed life where we could stay up late; sleep until noon; and walk around our clean house in the nude, not that I ever did for obvious reasons and sadly she didn’t nearly enough. Nowadays we may stay up too late from time to […]

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Pumpkin Pie

November 29, 2013
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Thing 2, my beautiful 6 year old daughter, spent the past week talking about pumpkin pie. Not turkey, not dressing, not cranberry sauce. Pumpkin pie was her sole focus. Oh, and whipped cream. Thanksgiving day arrived and the pumpkin pie talk went into overdrive. Our family gathered for lunch at a local event space large […]

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Neutered

November 17, 2013
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“Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.” So said the coolest game show host of my youth, Bob Barker. Hot Mama and I had many talks and decided that we didn’t want any more puppies. We had grown tired of cleaning up their messes. And it’s difficult to take a long […]

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Couple: An App for Two

August 7, 2013
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Communication is key to a healthy relationship. When I was in junior high the telephone was the popular way to talk to a girl. Text messaging is the popular way to communicate these days. It seems only natural that texting your spouse would be a popular way to keep in touch. It is quick and efficient […]

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The Story of Us

July 14, 2013
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Yesterday I went to the car wash to make my vehicle more presentable for the evening. Hot Mama and I were going out with friends to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary. As I was spraying down the car with the power washer it made me think of the first summer she and I were together. […]

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Happy Birthday, Chica Dulce

May 17, 2013
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The Mexican restaurant in town, like most small town Mexican restaurants I’ve been to, makes it a practice to, upon learning of a diner’s birthday, slap a sombrero on the patron’s head, sing them a tune in Spanish and present them with sopapillas. At our joint they like to smear whipped cream in the face […]

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TECHSHOW 2013

April 4, 2013
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I’m here. Hot Mama is at home with Things 1-3. I rarely travel alone. I am a homebody. I like my bed. I don’t like cramming my fat ass in a tiny airplane seat. But walking through the airport I began thinking about my previous trips to this event and began to get excited. I […]

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The Case for Electronic Case Files

January 2, 2013
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This is the scene after an associate attorney was rear ended by a tractor-trailer on a snowy turnpike. After his spinning car came to rest, he walked away. But his files were not so fortunate. See that piece of cardboard sticking out from where his trunk once was? That was a banker box full of […]

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