Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Cost of Being Cheesed Off

I'm interrupting my regularly scheduled vacation reporting to share with you a story of great importance...

“What was all the screaming about?” I asked as I stepped through the front door. I had just returned to the house after attempting to help my next-door neighbor’s daughter get her car started.  This is the next door neighbor who hates me, told me that I have traumatized her children, and once declared in reference to my children that she was relieved that her children lived in the real world.  She must have been desperate to call me.  

I had heard raised voices coming from within the house while attempting to jump start the neighbor’s car, but nothing that alarmed me.  My children bicker. Then I received a phone call from The Oldest. He was out-of-breath, as if he had just run around the block. “Where are you? Please come home!” he begged. 

“Dad, he was out of control!” exclaimed the 19-year-old Karate black belt, in response to my question. “He reached for a weapon. I had to stop him!” 

What happened? Why did The Middle Child grab a weapon and attempt to harm his older and stronger brother?

It all started with cheese. 

The Girl decided to make herself a cheese sandwich for breakfast. She successfully opened the bread bag and removed two slices of bread. She placed them on the paper plate that she took out of the cupboards completely on her own.  Then she confronted the zip-lock cheese bag. Those give her trouble. In fairness to The Girl, they give me trouble, too; but, without a fully functioning lefty, they are particularly troublesome for my youngest. Never to be slowed down by her impairment, The Girl grabbed a pair of scissors and went to work. She would have her cheese.  That’s when The Middle Child started to come unglued.  You see, it wasn’t just any cheese bag she was cutting open. It was a bag of Muenster cheese. His favorite!

“Dad!” he exclaimed, wincing from the pain in his neck. “She used scissors to cut open the cheese bag. It won’t reseal after that!”

“Is that when you lost control of yourself?” I asked. 

“Yes,” he moaned. “I tried to help her, but she refused.” 

“Hey, I’m a big girl now!” The Girl cried. “I don’t need his help.” 

The Middle Child continued his defense. “And she cut through the cheese, too! We could get sick from food poisoning!”

“How did you hurt your neck?” 

“Dad, he went nuts,” explained The Oldest. “He started screaming and yelling and slamming cabinet doors.”

“He yelled ‘bullsh*t!’ twice” added The Girl. 

“When he gets this angry he throws things. I thought he was going to hurt himself the way he was storming through the house. I put him in a bear hug. That’s when he went nuts!” The Oldest continued.  “He was thrashing and yelling. He made his way over to the counter and reached for a weapon.”

“What did you reach for?” I asked The Middle Child. There were no knives or scissors on the counter. 

“A fly swatter,” he mumbled. 

I looked at The Oldest. “A fly swatter?” 


“A FLY SWATTER?” I asked again, a grin spreading across my face.

“You can do a lot of damage with that thing!” he exclaimed.

I'll have to speak with our Sensei about teaching us fly swatter defense. Maybe there's a Kata for that.
I looked at The Middle Child. “Is that when you wrenched your neck?”

“Yeah…” he replied. 

“He yelled ‘bullsh*t’ twice!” The Girl reminded me. Clearly, I wasn’t quenching her thirst for justice by not addressing this salient point. 

The Middle Child has spent the last 24 hours grabbing his neck and moaning. It will be a few days before he returns to normal, and both his regularly scheduled bowling on Wednesday and golf on Thursday are big question marks. There is no punishment that I can give him that will teach him better than his inability to move without looking like Quasimodo. I’ve asked The Oldest to keep his hands off of his brother during his remaining three weeks of living at home. I'll deal with any temper tantrums involving insect extermination devices. The surviving seven slices of Muenster Cheese are living safely in a one gallon zip lock bag in the refrigerator. And last night, as The Girl and I drove to Karate, she looked at me earnestly and exclaimed, “Dad, you don’t understand. He yelled ‘bullsh*t’ twice!” 

Can I go back to Poland now? 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

And What Do You Do For A Living?

While still technically a work day, our Thursday in Toulon was the first hint of what our vacation would be like together. I spent the morning enjoying the ocean breezes, coastal scenery, and sunny weather of Toulon while Melissa went to meetings.

After lunch, we meet up at the gates to the naval base and boarded a tour bus for a trip provided by our French hosts to the Domaine Souviou Winery in Le Beausset for a tour and wine tasting.  

The winery houses a beautiful 15th century chateau with a chapel.



The views were incredible, but I kept expecting James Bond’s yellow  Citreon 2CV to come rolling out of the trees at any moment. (Yes, Bond purists, I know that the car belonged to Melina Havelock, but really, what sane person actually knows her name?)

We were shown “The King,” a 1200 year old olive tree still producing a huge volume of olives annually. “The Queen” stands a few feet away, still looking spry at roughly 800 years old.

 If you’ve never attended a wine tasting where you are taught the proper manner in which to enjoy wine, you should find one. There are more subtleties and complexities to wine that are hidden than one can imagine, and a few simple tricks release wonderful flavors and aromas.  And it was free. Free wine is good. We enjoyed ourselves, but I must admit that mixing reds, whites, and blushes in one sitting is not good for me.  
Our trip continued into downtown Le Beausset where we were encouraged to roam until dinner was served at La Cauquiere. The Boss found a small French chocolatier who sold imported Belgium chocolates and purchased one box for us and one for our friends in Poland.  While she did that I fielded a couple of calls from home where I tried to settle a growing dispute between the 13 year old and his older brother. The first week of our trip was replete with text messages and phone calls that confirmed my worst fears about leaving the children at home while we traveled to Europe. The middle child was beyond difficult. He was an emotional rollercoaster of pubescent anger and angst who needed to be talked off the ledge at twenty cents per minute from 5,000 miles away. I was standing in the postcard perfect French Mediterranean coastal region negotiating a battle between two boys over whether or not he plays Mario Kart 4 before or after his schoolwork is completed. The girl had the common sense not care about much as long as she was fed. I wanted to kill the boy. The Boss exited the chocolate shop, grabbed the phone from me, explained exactly what would happen to the boy if he didn’t shape up, and ended the call. That gave us a week of relative peace.

We continued to discover small ancient churches, each of which I had to tour. In Le Beausset I found Eglise Notredame de l’assomption (the Church of the Assumption). This one was nowhere near as ornate as most Parisian houses of worship, but I did manage to walk in on a wedding rehearsal between a very pregnant young woman and a much older looking man.  Neither they nor the priest seemed to mind my wandering around the back of the church as they practiced their vows.  

The dinner was delicious, but whenever I am at one of The Boss’s work events I mind my tongue carefully, which means that very few of her co-workers truly know my sense of humor. After all, I do want her to retain her employment, and I did not want to be on the receiving end of a CNN microphone after starting an international incident. Inevitably, the question arose from our French hosts, “What do you do for a living?” I’m never certain how to answer this one. “Not much?” “I don’t work?” “She’s my Sugar Momma?” “I’m her bitch?” They were genuinely interested when I told them that I homeschooled our three children. Homeschooling is legal in France, but rare. I think the most amusing question of the evening came from a young woman who asked me whether or not I was afraid of getting it wrong, and poorly educating my children. I honestly answered, “Yes.” It's a sobering concern. I followed up on my answer with an explanation of the past 12 years of home education, my degree and classroom experience, and the one son who has graduated from our home school and successfully went on to college.  I was asked about our literature selections, and although by that point in the evening I was tired and wined-out (I could not remember all of the titles we have read), the entries from our reading list appeared to assure those around me that my children were not illiterate. Of course, talking about home educating a special needs child opened up a host of other questions, most of which were answered with, “Yes, I can do better than our local school district.” I know. I’ve seen it. Apathy Middle School leaves a lot to be desired. I have no idea whether I left our hosts confident in our abilities to home school or certain that we are destroying the next generation of Americans.

The day was fun and relaxing. The following day we wandered Toulon as a couple, giving The Boss an opportunity to dip her toes in the Med before we boarded a high speed train to Paris. We spent one night in Paris before traveling by train to Beavais, and boarded a Ryan Air flight to Poland and started our actual vacation. That’s when we met Thomas Glenn and Kasia.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Sometimes It's Best To Leave The Lens Cap On

We were in France so that The Boss could attend a French and American symposium on incredibly boring stuff that admittedly pays well. The first day-and-a-half of the symposium on incredibly boring stuff was held in Paris. The following two days were held in Toulon, in the south of France on the Mediterranean coast. It was horrible. Sunny skies, beautiful water, cool breezes off the sea…the south of France was everything you would imagine it to be.

Our French hosts were sending us from Paris to Toulon by train, but before we could get there, French railroad workers went on strike. They were kind enough to announce the strike in advance so as not to inconvenience as many people as possible. That’s how we ended up on a bus that took us from the Ministry of Defense to Orly Airport and an Air France flight (a free Air France flight) to the southern shores. The Boss graciously gave up a delicious wine infused lunch provided by her French hosts (every lunch was wine infused, according to the attendees) to retrieve me from the hotel so as to not miss this change in venues. She settled for airline pretzels after she couldn’t eat a crappy overpriced airport sandwich because she discovered after purchasing it that it contained mayonnaise. (She just reminded me of the sacrifices that she makes for me. I’m lucky that way.)

It was on the bus through the south end of Paris that we notice trucks with the name “Ada” on it.  It’s the French equivalent of Hertz.  While snapping a picture of an Ada truck through the bus window (we knew our Ada would love it)(we were wrong) we heard a woman near the front of the bus tell her husband to “quick snap a picture because Ada would love it.” It turns out that another American couple on the bus had a daughter named Ada. It’s the first time we’ve heard of another Ada who wasn’t 104 years old. It is an old person’s name.

The flight was good, the trip to the hotel on the coast was pleasant, and the days were filled with exploration while The Boss attended to the well paying boring stuff. I discovered The Tour Royale, a fort built in the 16th century to protect the naval port in Toulon. The fort was closed for the season, so no tour was available. There was a submarine memorial for all of the sailors who gave their lives in the French Silent Service.

There were miles of beaches and hidden ocean front pathways and ancient buildings and naked people. It was a little early in the year for lots of naked people, but it was clear that this was an area where naked and people and sunshine and beaches are pretty much synonymous.

The nakedness was a surreal experience.  There were naked people of all shapes and sizes and ages. There were Olive Oyls and dirigibles and everything in between. There were young children whose parents stripped off their clothes and allowed them to run free in the sand and elderly people who went the full monty. You know, gender doesn’t matter. Old and wrinkled and naked is not a good public combination.

Sure, there were two young ladies (late 20's/early 30's) who were nice to look at. And when they are right in front of you and starkers it is difficult not to notice.  Oddly, one of them was clearly self-conscious. I was sitting on a park bench with Bob (the other Ada’s dad) and Jane, another spouse, enjoying the sunshine and chatting away, when a young lady walked up the beach, chose a spot near us, began to undress, noticed us, and became obviously uncomfortable. It was like she wanted to be nude in public but didn’t want anybody to notice. The second au naturel young lady was lying face down in the sand with a friend when the three of us walked around a rock outcrop while exploring a seaside hiking path. Her friend said something to her in French and she lifted herself up to look around, exposing most of her topside in the process. When she saw us she shot us a nasty look and lay back down. I remember thinking, “Don’t get mad at us, doll. Slap your friend. She’s the one who made you look.”  I avoided taking pictures at these moments.