Let Your Geek Flag Fly

As I begin writing this post, we are recovering from Gen Con 50, a massive game convention that invades downtown Indianapolis at every summer’s end. We’ve been 15 years in a row (yes, same as we’ve been married), and each year we still manage to discover something new to enjoy.

This year, my favorite event combined three of my favorite things: day drinking, Scotty’s Brew house, and Call of Cthulhu. I’m a fan (or should I say “cultist?”) of H.P. Lovecraft, though were he contemporary, I’d probably boycott him because of his personal politics. Not only did I play in the posh private room of my favorite happy hour spot, I got to hang out with the head Brew Mistress! I’ll give you a moment to be envious of how cool I am.

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One of the most impressive parts of Gen Con is the massive Exhibit Hall. Everything from Magic the Gathering, to Euro strategy, to Exploding Kittens can be found here to play, as well as all the geeky paraphernalia to go with it. During some free time, the Mister and I played a Demo (which we promptly purchased) of Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time. To our surprise, one of our fellow players materialized a hand-held camcorder afterwards and recorded a YouTube Video synopsis. Check out that video, as well as other fantastic game reviews by GreyElephant Gaming here.

One gem from the Exhibit Hall was revelation of a revamp of my all-time favorite childhood board game, Fireball Island. I’ve been trying to buy this game for years (the one I played was my cousin’s), but it’s hard and expensive to obtain. You’d think it was only available via actual active volcanoes. Not only is this game being re-released, but the team at Restoration Games promise to make the rules meatier. It would be impossible to find a bigger fan of this game than I am, but even I must admit, looking back, that it was simplistic.

With hotels at a premium availability and cost, we were excited this year to host a Lousvillian friend and a friend of his. Our guest-of-a-guest turned out to be the host of the +1 Forward podcast. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to have recorded anything from our basement accommodations; that might have been too scary to publish.

Even the ambiance of Gen Con is a geek-tastic, with local restaurants switching their televisions from 24/7 sports to showings of Princess Bride and Marvel movies. For four days, it’s completely normal to see Gandalf or a Storm Trooper moseying in the crosswalks. If, like me, you need a friend (or a thousand) to conquer a legendary Pokemon Go raid, you are covered.

As always, our circle of friends debriefed after the Con, inevitably asking the question “What was your favorite part of Gen Con this year?” While my highlight reel includes the Scotty’s game, puppet karaoke, and Fireball Island news, my favorite experience was geeking-out and not adulting for 5 days. Sure, we operated on limited sleep and too much junk food, but it was awesome to spend time just being me. No dishes, no laundry, no arguing with kids about whose turn it is to feed Josie Junebug. Especially with two little ones, I get so bogged down in the minutia of managing (micro-managing?) everyone around me that, even if given an unlikely hour of freedom, I have nothing left in me to be…me.

While we were getting in touch with our geekiness, Josie Junebug was at her dog sitter’s enjoying being a dog. This girl loves to be with her people, but sometimes, there’s nothing better than wrestling with someone who doesn’t mind if you playfully stick their head in your mouth or sniff their privates. This visit, she got to romp around with Ted, the giant doodle therapy dog, who makes our eighty pound mutt look like a pup. Click here to watch them play.

tribeSometimes, you just gotta be with your tribe. Those groups (and there likely is more than one) that bring out the you-ness of you. We play a lot of roles in this life, but if there’s one thing Nicolas Sparks has taught us, it’s that everyone you love dies. Wait no, that’s not where I was going. You have to practice being your best self before you lose it and resent everyone you love. That’s only slightly less depressing. How about this…

 

 

Take some time every now and then to LET YOUR GEEK FLAG FLY!

 

Drop a note in the comments about Geek culture, dogs being dogs, or who brings out the best in you.

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Measuring Life in Bruce Willis Time

I got this wild idea a while back to re-watch all the Die Hard movies. After streaming services left us empty-handed, we bought the DVD pack and our quest began with the original 01-dieDie Hard (1988). This classic Christmas movie hit theaters when I was nine years old–too young to see rated “R” movies. Watching it on DVD reminded me that R-rated movies are never the same on cable.

Die Hard 2 (1990)–the one in the airport. I’m not sure I ever watched this one before my current mission. (Wait, why are they switching ammo? OMG!) I was probably too busy being a middle-schooler and trying to figure out if/how I would survive into adulthood.

Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)–the one with Samuel L. Jackson. In 1995, I was in high school and obsessed with Pulp Fiction (featuring both actors) that released the prior year.

Half-way through our Die Hard journey, we introduced our kids to Fifth Element one family movie night. My daughter was confused on the plot most of time, but enjoyed the crazy setting and appreciates any movie where chicks kick tail. It came out twenty years ago, which is even harder to believe since that was the year I graduated from high school! It’s still at least monthly that someone in my social circle references either a “multipass,” or “I got no fire.”

Continuing the theme, we next introduced the wee ones to The Kid (2000). I was still a kid myself when this released, finishing up University–the terrifying and exhilarating unknown possibilities of life before me. Willis played a grown Russ Duritz, confident he’s winning at adulthood, when his younger self unveils that he has lost his way. “So, I’m forty, I’m not married, I don’t fly jets, and I don’t have a dog? I grow up to be a loser.” His evaluation of adulthood success is reminiscent of my first post, where I mentioned always envisioning life with a dog. (As it happens, the hypothetical dog, Chester, is also the “world’s best dog.”)

In 2000, Unbreakable also came out. We re-watched this movie New Year’s Eve going into 2002, the night my husband and I got engaged.

Next up, we watched Live Free or Die Hard (2007), a pretty solid addition to the franchise in which hackers immobilize America. Sadly, it reflects a time when gratuitous violence against innocents mars our real world, reflected in cinema. At this point, I’d graduated from college (twice), gotten married, and our first baby was coming soon.

We have not yet re-watched A Good Day to Die Hard (2013). By the time this movie released, I’d transitioned into a new career specialty and baby number two was on-scene.

Unlike Russ, we don’t have to wait until our impending 40th birthday to check-in with our childhood self, and it’s not too late if your 40th is behind you. We celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary last month by marking an adventure off our bucket lists: whitewater rafting. One day, we may actually go on relaxing vacations; so far, though, there are too many adventures ahead.

It’s good to take stock, every now and then, of the vision you have for yourself (childhood and adult versions) and see if you’re missing out on anything, like being a pilot or having a dog. Often, some adventure has come up in conversation, and we all say “we should do that sometime.” If you don’t PLAN it, “sometime” becomes never.

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Copyright © 2017 m.padgett photography

Watching these “old” movies, especially with our growing children, has highlighted the passing of time. Recent health issues with family a generation before us, as well as our anniversary, have even my husband (who’s the least nostalgic person I know) remarking on the speed of life. I’ve heard from those my senior that they still see themselves frozen in their twenties. You’d think I’d have a better sense of aging, since I work with college and high school students. That I don’t is probably a sign that I’m way more embarrassing and un-cool than I realize.

IMDb lists Die Hard Year One as rumored to be in the making. Wonder where life will have taken me when it hits the big screen?

How would Josie Junebug mark her years in film? Well, she’s still pretty young. I know she’d approve of having the World’s Best Dog in your life as soon as possible. I’m sure she’d be a Bruce Willis fan too, if she ever met him. Split did just hit video, and she never misses a family movie night. I guess I’ll put that in my Redbox cart for the weekend and continue the theme.

To those experiences life has been throwing at us lately, I’ll channel my inner John McClane who, beat to hell, defies his enemies with a hysterical battle cry, “Yippee-ki-yay-mother—–!”

Special shout-out to my new followers, who encouraged me to get a new post out. If you love our totally awesome family photo that marks our anniversary milestone, checkout more of the genius of Mandy Padgett here.

In the comments, share something you’ve been wanting to do–and when/how you’re going to do it. Or, name your favorite Bruce Willis movie.

Nothing’s aMUTTer with me

I admit that being an INFJ, or perhaps just a jerk, I don’t excel at small talk. Picture this: Josie Junebug and I are walking the neighborhood, socializing in a crowd, or visiting the vet’s office, and some friendly soul inquires about our beautiful girl, “what kind of dog is that?”

To which I reply, “Well, we’re not really sure, but we think she’s a Ridgeback mix.”

Then they inevitably respond, “Oh, I think she’s…”

Well, good for you. I mean, you’ve never seen her ridge rise like the spines of a porcupine when she spots a squirrel invading her yard. You have only a superficial view of her temperament, but please, tell me what you think.

I know it sounds harsh. (Refer to previous disclaimer about inadequacies with small talk, and you’re probably now starting to lean towards the jerk option.) First of all, if we cared what kind of dog we had, we wouldn’t have adopted a mutt. Secondly, I think it’s a strange conversation to have with someone you don’t know. You start off talking about how sweet my dog is; by your third sentence, I’m getting an unsolicited opinion about how I’m wrong.

Let’s imagine a similar conversation with a different topic:

Stranger: “Hey, what are you listening to on your headphones?”

Me: “Showtunes.”

Stranger: “Huh, I think showtunes are stupid.”

My former clinic friends and I had a favorite game. First, you have to understand that, whatever kind of breed an owner says they have, you go with it. For some people, I guess it is a matter of pride, and if Mr. Jones is in love with his twenty pound “mastiff mix,” who are you to challenge that bond by telling him it’s not?

So, the game goes like this: I bring a dog back to the treatment area for a nail trim, blood draw, or whatever, clearly having a wild sixty pound yellow lab on a leash. My friend would say, “Whatcha got there?” If you’re playing the game, the answer would be something outrageous like, “this is an imported mammoth Chihuahua.” To keep it going, she’d reply, “That’s the best looking Mammoth Chihuahua I’ve ever seen.”

It great way to enliven work, much like performing lip sync concerts while mopping. However, this is never something we’d say in front of the owner. Why? Because bonds are personal and special. It served no one for us to be “right.”

As a society, we seem to project so much of our external image that even our loved-ones are evaluated. Smartest kid, biggest dog, fastest car, newest phone….

bobdylan-meWhile this may be as ancient as neighbors having green grass, now we market it instantly to a wider audience: Facebook, Snapchat, hell–even our own blog. 🙂

Rather than hide our “flaws,” why not embrace them–contemplate why they are there.

There is a Japanese aesthetic philosophy I have long admired called wabi-sabi. In the simplest of terms, it’s an appreciation that flaws are made by an item’s story through time. In a world of airbrushing and screen-captures of the perfect moment, I’ll let you see behind the curtains.

I leave papers and books scattered around the house like autumn leaves upon the lawn. The shredded corner of my love seat testifies to 15 years of living with my cat, whom I have often referred to as my best friend. My husband’s grey hairs remind me of a lifetime spent together, just as we’d dared to hope 21 years ago. I’m fairly smart, but say and do dumb things. Often. Like posting about my spouses’s grey hairs on the world wide web. My daughter struggles with dyslexia, and my son is so stubborn he has literally argued with us about whether it’s day or night.

We have had it helpfully suggested to us that Josie Junebug is a vizsla, doberman, lab, and boxer. I think I’ll start telling people she’s a bedhog/antelope mix. If she was descended from unicorns or the most common breed on the planet is meaningless to us. We love her because she is ours: big, beautiful, mess-maker, insistent cuddler, and eager part of the family.

Time for you to play along. Leave a comment with an absurdly silly suggestion as what mix Josie Junebug could be. Or, embrace wabi-sabi and confess to something beautifully flawed in your own life.

To read more on wabi-sabi, check out this great article: Wabi-sabi https://www.tofugu.com/japan/wabi-sabi/

You’re an idiot, but we can work through this

I sometimes project the illusion that life is perfect since Josie Junebug came to live with us. The truth, however, is that two members of the household are immune to her charms and remain resentful to this day. Those two individuals are our teenage cats.

Before her, they were the adored pets of the house. Now, they are forced to cohabitate with a giant slobbering beast. She tries to play with them, which is as tempting as as a freshman playing tackle football with a senior. She drinks their water with all the grace of a blender-weilding toddler. She lurks as they eat, has a resounding bark, and is gassy. She hoards the comfy furniture.

Our more outgoing cat smacks her as she walks by, for the mere crime of being annoyingly alive. The other, more reserved yet also vengeful, likes to plant himself passively in Josie’s path, a living blockade.

Yet, there are two particular occasions where tolerance is practiced.  One such case is in the prewashing of dishes. As we load them in after supper,  Josie works from one side while one of our cats stands on the door and works another angle. There is a complete lack of drama.

Nearly every day in our house concludes with a bit of calm, found only when the kids are in bed. My husband and I usually sit and watch an hour of television. Having emptied our laps and hands of the louder offspring, our fur babies all find their way into the living room, settling in as close as possible for cuddles and petting. This also, apparently, is a tolerable neutral zone.

With presidential campaigns coming to a close, I find myself hoping, after all the months of ever-more-bitter vitriol, that we can also find a tolerable neutral zone in this country.  Every time I opened Facebook the last couple of months, I found myself slammed with each side’s newest “how could you vote for Major Party Candidate after reading this” post. On the upside, the nastiness was enough to help me cut way back on my mindless Facebook habit.

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I’m not naive enough to hope, or even ask, that after the election, we all put aside our differences. I do have concerns, for the first time in my privileged life, about our transfer of power being less than democratic or peaceful.

I do hope we can remember, though, that whatever the outcome, we share many goals for ourselves, each other, and this country. Even though our country has been fighting like (you know it’s coming…) cats and dogs, even those two famed enemies can put aside their differences to accomplish some common goals.

Everyone deserves peaceful homes and loving cuddles. So, please, let’s find a way to work through this.

It’s Kong O’clock Somewhere

At best, it looks like a beehive toddler toy. At worst, it appears to be some bizarre contraption best kept hidden in the bedroom.

Introduced in the late 1970’s, the Kong is a toy (or as we professionals call it, “enrichment device”) that has nearly become a staple in dog-owning homes. The founder, Joe Markham, designed it after his canine companion finally found gnawing satisfaction with a rubber suspension part from a VW Bus.

The patented one-of-a-kind plastic is safe on teeth, yet strong enough to withstand determined chewers. Its hollow “snowman” design allows for treats to be stuffed inside, prolonging the challenge and fun for users. Is the cost worth it? Yes! Even rat fanciers and zookeepers appreciate its value. (See video links at bottom.) To find the perfect Kong “fit,” more on its history, and recipes, visit the official Kong website.

My Josie Junebug is an energetic young dog who spends her workdays in the kennel. In addition to her walks and indoor play sessions, her dinnertime Kong serves as great mental exercise. I fill it in the morning, when I’m packing lunches, and stow it in the freezer (for extra challenge). When the family congregates for dinner, her Kong keeps her too occupied to even consider begging at the table.

I invested in a second Kong so one can be rotated through the dishwasher each night while the other remains available for her enjoyment. (That is assuming she doesn’t hide it from me.) Even after it’s emptied of edible surprises, it still provides hours of squeaky chewing enjoyment.

How difficult is it to fill? My husband was clueless when I texted him a request to prep Josie Junebug’s Kong after I had forgotten one morning. How easy is it? He asked my seven year old for directions!

Step One: Plug the smaller bottom hole with peanut butter (non-chunky), or cream cheese. I invest in a separate doggie PB jar, so I don’t have to worry about double-dipping.

Step Two: Set Kong upright in a cup for filling convenience.

Step Three: Fill with something yummy and exciting. My basic “recipe” is kibble soaked in a bit of meat broth or dinner drippings, but feel free to allow your doggie chef creativity to run wild. The hippie in me abhors food waste, so I often use food scraps (yogurt, pizza crust, rice, etc). The daily Kong is an especially good use for “ugly produce,” those slightly wrinkly blueberries, bruised tomatoes, and old carrots that human family members scorn.

Step Four: Fill to top with water.

Step Five: Freeze until dinnertime

That’s it! That two minute investment in the morning buys dinnertime peace for us all.

Family, friends, co-workers, pets: I think it’s worth a little extra time to set each other up for success and harmonious living. Don’t you?

Obligatory notes about safety and other resources for Kong recipes:

Like diets for all species, do what works for you. If you feel it’s best for your dog to only eat store bought food (or perhaps he medically needs to do so), use a Kong stuffed with dog food and water.

If your dog is getting fat, cut back on calorie intake. You can feed dinner in the Kong as a way of slowing down eating and providing some amount of exercise.

If your dog has a sensitive stomach, of course, don’t go pouring bacon grease or some other craziness into a Kong.

Some human foods are toxic to pets. Chocolate is the most infamous; however, you should also not feed grapes/raisins or onion. Also, check labels. Xylitol, an artificial sweetener, is toxic to pets and now also used in some peanut butters and yogurts! The ASPCA has a good starting list, or check the Pet Poison Helpline for a more exhaustive list.

Still, there is some solid evidence that veggies are good for dogs too: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/want-your-dog-to-live-to-30-add-this-to-their-bowl.html 

Here are other videos links where you can watch other species enjoying Kongs:

More Kong Recipes: http://www.k9instinct.com/blog/frozen-kong-dog-treat-recipes

Go to Fern Dog Training to download a nice Kong recipe book, and while you’re there, check out his informative and entertaining dogcasts.

Sanctimonious Blabber

At the end of the day, what good does your outrage do?

First was the incident with Harambe the gorilla in Cincinnati. Everyone was quick to judge: parents’ fault, zoo’s fault, kid’s fault. The only thing internet trolls seemed to agree on is that the only life worth saving was the gorilla’s. Everyone knew just what should have been done, despite not being there and having no working knowledge of the use of tranquilizers in a grown, 450#, amped up ape.

The next witch hunt was local. The Indianapolis zoo announced that they were sending our polar bear to Detroit. The Inquisition tried them on their Facebook page with accusations of discarding her in her old age in an effort to save money. Every time I visited, people were most often overheard remarking on the small size of her enclosure. Yet “fans” were furious she was being sent to live (no longer in isolation) to a four acre modern habitat.

With rising temperatures, local officials posted civic ordinances on how to respond to a animal in a hot car. Step one: if you’re at a business, ask for the owner to be paged. Step two: call animal control or non-emergency  police. Posters waxed sanctimonious. “If I find a dog trapped in a hot car, I’m breaking the glass. I don’t care. I’ll go to jail to save a life.” I recently had to stop by a gas station on the way back from an awesome hike with Josie Junebug; paranoia racked me the whole three minutes I was inside the building. I could just see the headlines “Local vet tech arrested for abandoning dog in car.”

ac on

 

I love animals. I’ve dedicated a career to them. I’ve worked at a zoo, with feral cats, in a clinic, and with laboratory animals. No one knows better than me how adorable they can be. Majestic, fascinating, noble.

But you know what, people, you’ve got to stop! Stop criticizing the zoo keepers, the park rangers, Disney World, and shelter workers. Stop picking up every animal you see on the sidewalk, under a bush, in the National Park. Your good intentions often make things worse. Caring for animals is a tough job that requires education, foists much responsibility, and rewards little pay. Your derision is unnecessary; we’re hard enough on ourselves.

In his awesome commencement speech to graduates of the Harvard School of Education, Dean James Ryan warns against the Savior Complex, a common trap where your desire to help misleads you to believe that you are an expert. He advises, How we help matters as much that we do help.”

The same person proudly proclaiming no hesitancy in rescuing an animal from a situation they know little of, would just as vocally own up to ignoring someone on the street asking (begging, even) for help. Can we really wonder about the violence in our streets when we value human life so little?

This hit home for me a few weeks ago. I met a girl on track to be Valedictorian for a large high school. In one breath, she proclaimed me her hero. She would love to work with animals. In the next, however, she said she planned to go into human medicine. She could never make life and death decisions about animals; someone’s grandma, however, she could handle. I’d like to attribute this position to the immaturity of a teenager. Yet, as I sat and absorbed this at the tables of the Ronald McDonald House, where families stay while their children fight for their lives at Riley Hospital, I was overwhelmed with sadness.

At the end of the day, what good does your outrage do? The next time something happens that stirs your heart, instead of declaring who was at fault, or finding a villain, do something useful. Ask “how can I help?” Channel your empahty to the bigger problem.

Thousands of gorillas  and other extremely endangered species are being wiped out worldwide. Donate to a wildlife fund in this gorilla’s honor, not once, but every month.

Volunteer at an animal shelter or donate much needed supplies.

If you love cute bunnies and songbirds, plant some life-sustaining natives in your yard, and think twice about pesticides. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator or park ranger before you pick up an animal that you think is abandoned. Trust the experts.

Animals are adorable and amazing. But you know what?

Josie Junebug would argue that humans are pretty terrific too.

Use your head along with your heart.

Come on, already, Spring!

Spring in Indiana is slow to commit. We’ve turned the heat off, the A/C on, the heat on, the A/C on, everything off, and sought shelter from hail and tornadoes. I think the weather angels have been forgetting to take their Ritalin. I appreciate a few rainy days curled up with a good book, or watching Lord of the Rings again. Yet I’m a heliophile at the core, and this chilly grey spring is wearing on me.

We were teased with some beautiful weather a couple of months ago. The family enjoyed long walks, started weeding flower beds, and cooked out. Lately, the only yard time I get is rushing home to mow in between stormy days. I’m not enjoying my lawn, I’m just maintaining it.

The kids are grumpy, and I’m stuck in a routine of ennui. Poor Josie Junebug hasn’t had a proper walk in two weeks! We’ve scheduled a couple of days at the local doggie daycare to tire her out, and I’ve attempted to entertain her with some riveting games of tug-of-war and fetch. Overall, though, our seventy pound baby is also bored. She’s tried to help us with some spring decluttering by destroying a toy or two each night, but the kids are not appreciative.

As we all stare at each other with tired anticipation of sunnier days to come, I realize that there are some things I had forgotten about life with a dog. My friends kept encouraging me to adopt a canine companion, regaling all the fun things dogs bring. You can hike together, cuddle her, she’ll make the kids feel safe, bah, blah, blah.

Here’s what those “friends” forgot to mention:

  1. Muddy Paws: she’s a year old. How many times does she want to go out and play? Approximately 6,340 times/day. And she must dig in the mud each and every doggone time.
  2. Seasonal Shedding: what the hell just happened?! I wanted to greet my dog when I came home, not summon a mob of tribbles to invade the den.
  3. Gas: our dog is beautiful. One friend calls her the “Brazilian supermodel of dogs.” The smells that come out of her, however, are neither dainty nor lovely.
  4. Rolling in smelly dead things: I don’t know if I really forgot about this one; I think the dogs I had growing up just didn’t do this. Josie Junebug, however, seems to have unearthed a stink bug nest in our back yard that is terrific to roll in. She comes in with a cloud of STANK on her that does not wash away.
  5. Vacuum furniture? Yeah, right: All those cute little attachments for your vacuum? They are as helpful removing dog fur off car seats and sofas as my four year old is at sweeping. Which is to say—not helpful.

 

In the long run, I’m the first to admit that all these complaints are minor, and nothing compared to the years of joy a dog brings. With a foul mood reflective of the weather, I could add more petty whining, but I’ll stop there. I’m sure Josie Junebug has her own list of grievances about her human mom:

  1. Hasn’t taken me on a walk in about 100 years.
  2. Sometimes steals my side of the couch.
  3. Closes the dishwasher before I’m done cleaning the dishes.
  4. Tries to drown me in the tub after I’ve just gotten all interesting-smelling outside.
  5. Forgot to freeze a Kong for me that one day.

Keep heart, friends. The sun will shine on us again. There will be flowers and Frisbee golf, hiking and hot dogs.  In the mean time, take care of yourself and each other.

Also, feel free to add in the comments something  people “forgot” to warn you about living with a dog (or humans).