For my daughter – the road taken

road 3With the new college semester about to start, I know you’re trying to make a decision about what career path you should take.

I’m sure you feel that whatever major you decide on, you’re not quite sure if it’s the direction you should go. If another major might give you more opportunities, or bring you more happiness.

With every path in life shrouded in fog in the distance, it’s hard to know exactly which way you should go.

But here’s the secret: you can’t make a wrong choice.

As long as you pick something that makes you happy, something that you enjoy doing, something you find fulfilling and uses your talents, then there isn’t a wrong direction to take.

Sure,the road you choose is going to be filled with challenges and obstacles. And, yes, even failures along the way. But that’s true no matter what you decide to do.

And best of all, every choice is also filled with hope and opportunities. And success. And with your talents, you’ll find plenty of success as you go along.

I know you don’t feel you are necessarily smart or talented. But you are!

Remember when used to watch Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Anytime you got a question right, whether it was the $100 question or the $100,000 question, you always shrugged it off by saying, “But that one was easy.” And remember what I always said, “They’re all easy if you know the answer.”

But what I didn’t tell you was that they weren’t all easy. In fact, most of the time I didn’t know the answer.

You’re so smart and talented. Much smarter than you give yourself credit for. And I know you don’t think it’s a big deal, but winning a National Merit Scholarship is an awesome award. They’re not just giving those things away at walmart.

I don’t tell you enough, but I am so very proud of you. Everyday.

Choose a path that you like. Stick with it and see where it takes you.

And I’ll support you every step of the way.

Meeting Batman

Not everyone has the chance to meet their childhood hero. But I got to do just that a few years ago when I met Batman.

Growing up, I loved comic books. And at only 20 to 25 cents a copy, how could you go wrong. Superman, Green Lantern, Flash – it didn’t matter. I read them all.

But my favorite comic book was always Batman. And like many of my friends, I often watched the Batman reruns on television. I never quite understood why the Riddler didn’t just shoot the Caped-Crusader or at least stick around long enough to make sure Batman was percolated to death in a giant coffee pot, but I still liked the show.batman4

So when I heard Adam West, the original Batman, was coming to speak at the university where I worked, I was more than just a little excited. At the time, I worked in advertising and public relations. What I needed, I decided, was an interview with the Batman himself. So I slogged through all the red tape, made numerous phone calls, faced rejections, and finally, like many hard-working journalists, I gave up to work on other, pressing stories.

Then, one afternoon as I sat at my desk, the phone rang. On the other end of the line, a smooth, baritone voice asked, “Is Mark in?”

“This is Mark,” I said.

“Hi, Mark. This is Adam West.”

Surprised? Yes! Like finding out Michael Keaton had been picked to play the super hero in the movies of the 80’s.

“Hello, Mr. West. Thanks for calling. But I’ve got to admit I wasn’t expecting your call and don’t really have any questions prepared.”

“That’s okay,” he laughed. “How about if I interview you instead?”

I couldn’t believe it – my hero was calling me, and he had a sense of humor, too. What were the chances?!

West proved to be much more humble and personable than I would have ever expected. He expressed the opportunity to play Batman and the success that followed.

“There are some actors who reject or are bitter about the success they have portraying a character,” said West. “My feeling was ‘How lucky can you get!’ I was able to play a character that became a classic. Now everywhere I go, I’m greeted with warmth and hospitality. And how many guys wouldn’t love the opportunity to be Batman for one day?”

West was staying busy with commercials and voiceovers for such animated series as The Simpsons (I still love the line “Pure West”), Rugrats, Futurama, and Family Guy.

At the time, West told me he had no plans to retire soon, and still continues his acting and voice work.

“I’m too young to retire,” West said with a chuckle. “And I enjoy the money. It takes a lot of money,” said West, reverting to his familiar serious voice from Batman, “to keep Wayne Manor going.”

I eventually met West in person when he made his way to campus. That was fun, too, but for me, talking to West at length on the phone was more memorable. After all, you never forget the day you meet your childhood hero.

Bad Movies. Good Times.

bowl of popcorn

bowl of popcorn (Photo credit: Maura Teague)

Most parents instruct their kids in skills and activities that can help them throughout their life. Art. Drama. Academic programs. Sports programs and exercise. You know, stuff a person could actually use throughout their lives.

So what am I teaching my kids? Well, you’ll be happy to know I’m teaching my kids how to appreciate the fine art of bad movies.

Now I’m not talking about just any bad movies. I’m talking about the worst of the worst. The really bad B movies that are shown on ScyFy. You know the ones. The movies with the bad names Movies like Piranhaconda (half piranha, half anaconda), Dinocroc, and Sharktopus (I somehow missed this one. Darn!)

Sharktopus

Sharktopus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And you can always find a good, bad movie on Lifetime. I think I’ve written about this before. It doesn’t matter when you turn on a Lifetime movie (10 minutes into it, or an hour and a half into it) you can pick up the plot in less than two minutes). There’s always a woman in trouble. There’s usually a bad man causing no end of problems, and a friend, usually a woman, but it can be a man.

Last month, ScyFy channel brought us the artistic creation that was Sharknado. In case you missed it, this movie was about a tornado that formed over the ocean, picked up shark, and deposited the sharks in various locales around Los Angles. Now you might think the sharks might be, well, you know, a bit disoriented after spinning around over a 100 miles an hour in a  tornado and being out of the water. Nope. Not the case. In stead, they landed and promptly ate any person within a one-block radius.

But what’s really great about these movies is laughing about them. And my son found no shortage of things to laugh at during Sharknado. We were both practically rolling on the floor with laughter. And for good reason. Like at the end of the movie when the hero took a chainsaw, started it while he was running, then leaped into the mouth of a large, man-eating CGI shark. Oh, then, of course, sawed himself out.

Yes, it was a great time for both of us. We finally convinced my daughter to watch part of it. But somewhere along the line she posted a Facebook status that read something like “Please someone help me! I’m being held against my will, and being forced to watch Sharknado.” Well, after Child Protective Services finally left our house, we were able to get back to the movie . . .

This week, we’re looking forward to watching a new ScyFy release called Ghost Shark. It has all the makings of an instant classic. If you need more convincing on how you should spend your Thursday evening, check out the trailer:

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVQDcKCINSM]

Sure, we could do something constructive Thursday night. But instead, we’re going to share some popcorn, share some time together, and share some laughs.

Yes, the movies are the worst. But these really are the best of times.

The fifth First

My son, a bit nervous as he begins fourth grade at a new school.

The first day of school. There’s really nothing quite like it. And for the first time in a long time here in Arkansas, the cooler weather this summer actually, today actually felt like the beginning of a school rather than a survival training day in the desert.

For my son, this was his fifth time to have a first day. Each year brings something new, and this year was no different.

My son was starting fourth grade, which meant a new school, new building, and new procedures. “What if I don’t know what to do?” was a popular question on Sunday.

We were able to meet his two teachers (two instead of one – another change this year), which is always a good thing. But there was a slight bump in the road this year – an assignment for the first day.

The assignment was simple: put five things about yourself in a sack (which was provided), then tell about yourself. But my son took the assignment to a new OCD level. There was nervousness and fear. But after picking out the objects he wanted to take (a baseball, a mini soccer ball, a word search book, a small chess set, and a calculator – because he likes math), and letting him practice helped him feel better about the whole thing.

This morning was pretty calm, the only concern was what to do during his “final 30 minutes of summer.” There wasn’t quite time for a beach trip, so we ended up mostly talking, with an episode of Arthur thrown in. The drop off at school was smooth and surprisingly free of chaos.

The first day of school – it’s always exciting. Always a life event.

But it’s also a little sad, because it’s also a last – the last time he’ll start fourth grade, start this new school, have more than one teacher. Another milestone behind us, another step toward growing up.

UPDATE: Monday evening

We survived the first day without too many injuries. By 9 this morning, I knew  the day was going well when no one from the school called me. When it reached noon, and I still hadn’t heard a large convoy of sirens heading in the direction of the school, I knew we would make it through Day 1.

The speech went well, and was much less of an ordeal than the drama and dread leading up to it. Lunch was good, but recess was too short. Old friends were brought together again after the summer break.

And the best part, at the end of the day, I got to be there to pick him up and hear all about it – something I don’t get to do every day. Turns out he doesn’t have any homework on his first night. He was happy about that.

Well, I guess that even with each new school year, some things will never change.

Dog’s unusual name causes confusion

In honor of my aunt Shirley who passed away last week, I’m re-posting one of my most popular blog posts. I hope you enjoy.

Several years ago, my wife, daughter, and I lived in a small town next to a church, where I served as the youth director. One day, we found a beautiful border collie. Actually, she found us, because she just appeared at our house one day. We mistakenly thought the dog belonged to our pastor and started call the dog “Preacher.”

My daughter at a young age along with our dog, Preacher.

My daughter at a young age along with our dog, Preacher.

We quickly discovered she had no owner, and we were lucky enough to keep her for our pet – and we kept her rather unusual name.

Preacher had been well taken care of and knew all of the standard dog tricks. She quickly became a favorite with everyone at the church. However, as I’m sure you can imagine, working at a church and having a dog named Preacher can often cause some confusion. For example, when she became sick, I caused quite a stir when I told people we had to put Preacher in the hospital. The congregation was ready to send flowers to their pastor until I explained it was only our dog who was sick.

But this mix-up was mild compared to the problems Preacher caused for my mom, Carolyn. When my family and I moved about a year later, we had to take an apartment that didn’t allow pets. My parents, being the wonderful parents they are, agreed to keep Preacher. They quickly became attached to the dog. So it was with some sadness when my mom called me to tell me Preacher had been killed when she was hit by a car. But in addition to calling me, she also called her sister, Shirley.

At this point, I’ll let Shirley tell the rest of the story as she told it to me.

Your mom called me the other day just a ‘crying and said, “Our preacher has been killed.” Well, the first thing I thought of was Brother Guthrie at the church and his poor widow and their two kids. I just couldn’t believe it.

How did it happen, I asked.

“A car hit him,” said my mom, still crying.

“A car hit him?” I asked. I just couldn’t believe how tragic this was. “Was he out walking?”

“No, he was probably running,” my mom said.

Well, I knew Brother Guthrie used to jog, but I thought he had quit. “Well, where did it happen?” I asked.

“He was out in front of our house.”

Well, I could see now why Carolyn was so upset – having someone killed right in front of your house would upset anyone, but I was still in shock. “How on earth did a car hit him? Did it swerve over or did the driver just not see him?”

“No,” replied my mom. “I think he ran right out in front of the car.”

Well, this was the strangest thing I had ever heard. “Why would he run out in front of a car. Wasn’t he watching where he was going?”

“I think he was probably chasing a squirrel,” said my mom.

I was shocked! “Brother Guthrie got killed in front of your house while he was chasing a squirrel?!”

“No! Our dog Preacher!” said my mom, almost offended. And in her distraught condition exclaimed without thinking, “I wouldn’t be this upset if it had only been our pastor!”

Death by Weather Channel

In a household with a nine-year old, you might think our favorite channel would be something like Nickelodeon. Or maybe Cartoon Network or PBS.

Nope.

Most of the time our television is tuned to . . . the Weather Channel.

My son is – how can I say this nicely – very interested in the weather. Ok, he’s obsessed with it. So much so, that is a constant topic of conversation at our house. A cloudy day is cause for concern, and a chance of rain (no matter how small) will put us on high alert. And with this obsession comes the Weather Channel.

Stephanie Abrams is a familiar face at our house, as are the rest of the personalities on the Weather Channel.

Stephanie Abrams is a familiar face at our house, as are the rest of the personalities on the Weather Channel.

How do you know when you might be watching too much of the Weather Channel? That’s easy: when you know all of the meteorologists by name! Yep, you know it’s a serious storm if Jim Cantore is covering it!

I truly hope I never see Jim in my neighborhood. Not that I have anything against him; he seems like a nice enough fellow. But if you watch the Weather Channel for say more than five minutes, then you know that Jim only covers the really serious storms. So I’d just as soon not have any of those nearby.

It’s a sad day when my son, full of excitement, runs up to me and says, “Guess what comes on in 10 minutes?! Weather Center!”

Please, someone, help me.

I like watching Jim Cantore, but I hope to never see him standing like this on my street.

I like watching Jim Cantore, but I hope to never see him standing like this on my street.

We watch most of the original shows that come on Weather Channel. Some are interesting; others, not so much. For example, a recent series titled “Deadliest Space Weather” was, how can I say this, enlightening to say the least. For example, do you know what would happen if it was as hot on earth as it is on Venus? Well, basically, we’d all fry.

And what would happen if were to suddenly become, say, 600 degrees below zero like on Saturn or some such remote place? Frozen, all of us.

And some people think television isn’t good for anything.

What’s really exciting is when there is bad weather predicted for the area. I’m talking the kind that requires a WEATHER ALERT. I live in an area of the country where they issue an alert if a cloud appears. And every time we have an alert, there’s cause for concern in our household. There’s a lot of pacing, a lot of hand wringing. And, of course, a lot of questions, like, “It’s not going to be bad is it?”

So a couple of weeks ago, we were driving back home through a pretty rough storm. So there we are, lightening flashing all around us, and me hoping the car not only can stay on the road but can also float if needed. And in the back, there’s my son, bouncing up and down and squealing like he’s on a roller coaster at Six Flags!

Yep, my lesson is the same once again: It’s hard to figure kids sometimes. In other words, once again I haven’t learned anything new.

But one thing’s for sure, while I’m not opposed to watching Jim Cantore, I never thought I’d be raising him as my own son.

My son – aspiring mind or mad scientist?

There’s something you should know. My kids are smarter than me. It’s a tough reality to wake up and face. But I have to face it every day.

My college-age daughter sits around answering almost every question on Jeopardy (Now named to the cabinet, Steven Chu won a Nobel for capturing atoms with these light beams? – ummmm, what?) and my 9-year old son is telling me about the various weather fronts around the world. (Those are mammatus clouds, dad – duh!!)

And me? What’s my contribution to the world’s knowledge? Well, lately I’ve been spending a lot of time contemplating the return date of Ding Dongs.

I’ll never forget the morning my daughter received her first ACT scores. She was a sophomore, and she basically doubled my score on her first attempt. At a younger age. Without studying.

I never got on to her about studying again. Well, actually, I was kind of scared she might start using words that I didn’t understand.

Napolean Dynamite prepares to try out Uncle Rico’s time machine.

So what happened the other day shouldn’t have really come as a surprise. My son and I were talking about something, and I happened to mention that what we really needed was a time machine.

I was expecting a laugh. Or maybe a sarcastic comment.

Instead, I get this, “Dad, time travel isn’t possible yet because we don’t have the right power to run one.”

Uh? What?! Who is this kid, Lex Luthor?

As you might expect, I was a bit curious. What do you mean, I asked.

“There’s not enough power in the world for us to have a time machine now. Maybe someday when we discover a new power source.”

Is my son a future doctor . . .

Is my son a future doctor . . .

. . . or a future evil genius in the making?

Ummmmmm. What do you say to that. My thinking is that I really need to monitor his activity a little more closely when he’s in his room alone.

One thing for sure, if he asks me for any Krypton, I’m taking away that nuclear reactor I got him for his birthday!

Hawaii delayed for rummage through the trash

During the year my wife was sick, it seemed like our entire life was in chaos. It seemed that almost every day brought some new crisis. But there were a few happy memories from that time.

One in particular stands out – our trip to Hawaii.

We were looking forward to our trip to Hawaii - if only we could find the money we lost to get there!

We were looking forward to our trip to Hawaii – if only we could find the money we lost to get there!

Tracie wanted to visit Hawaii. But it seemed impossible . . . until one of her uncles sent us a check for $10,000 to make it possible. Needless to say, we were all excited, especially Tracie.

Now to understand what happened next, you need to know my wife. She was sweet and dedicated, hardworking, a great mom, and wonderful wife. But like all of us, she had her faults. One of those involved cleaning. She was kept a very clean house, and didn’t use any of the fantasy methods I wrote about in a previous post.

Unfortunately, there were times when she would become frustrated with the clutter. In these moments, she would throw out just about anything that had the slightest appearance of being unnecessary. This was a good thing at times, though, because it helped balance out my tendency to hold on to just about anything that might prove useful at some undesignated time in the future: a gift card to a video rental store that had gone out of business? I might need that – they could always reopen!

But at times, this habit of hers could also be frustrating when actual useful and needed things were thrown out.

And so as the day for our trip approached and we couldn’t find our check, I became suspicious. Surely, she couldn’t have thrown out a check for that much money, could she?

Well, after looking everywhere I could in the house, I thought I’d better check the trash outside – before the garbage ran the next day.

Here I am doing my best raccoon impression as I dig through the garbage.

Here I am doing my best raccoon impression as I dig through the garbage.

With my wife and in-laws watching, there I was, sitting outside in the grass, enduring the steamy Arkansas summer morning, ripping into trash bags and rummaging through them like a raccoon. Needless to say, the smell from garbage that had been in the heat for a few days was not toooooo pleasant.

So when one of them asked me if I had found the check for $10,000 yet, my frustrated reply was, no, but I found two $5,000 checks.

It was one of those laughs that you need during stressful times. I did eventually find the check, and there weren’t so many coffee grounds on it that it couldn’t still be cashed. The trip was a memorable experience for all of us, and we still laugh about the “lost” check today. During such a tragic year, it was nice to have a few bright spots that we could enjoy, and remember with a smile.

Join my Fantasy Household Cleaning league

These are just a few of the supplies I don't use in my Fantasy Household Cleaning.

These are just a few of the supplies I don’t use in my Fantasy Household Cleaning.

Some people play fantasy football or baseball. They have entire leagues and tournaments they take part in.

Not me, though. Instead, I do fantasy housework.

I find that housework is a lot easier and less stressful if I don’t actually do it. I have the cleanest house on the block – in my mind! You’ll never see a more lush, manicured lawn than the one I imagine.

And using the fantasy method, it leaves a lot more time to do the things I enjoy – like watching “Sharknado” on SyFy or any number of bad Lifetime movies.

Sometimes I get the kids involved, too. Why, just the other night I was cooking, when I realized I needed one more dish. Macaroni and Cheese would be perfect, I thought. But we were out. So I asked my daughter if she would like some pretend Macaroni and Cheese. She agreed. I told her she could have as much as she wanted as long as she left some for me.

Pretend food is also great if you’re trying to watch what you eat, like I normally am. You can eat as much as you want without feeling guilty. Of course, you’re still kind of hungry afterwards . . .

Mr. Clean is just one of the guest coaches I hope to have for my fantasy cleaning camp.

Mr. Clean is just one of the guest coaches I hope to have for my fantasy cleaning camp.

I’ve also found I can get more (or less, depending on how you look at it) done by multitasking. There are some who argue that multitasking is impossible – you can’t actually do more than one thing at a time.

I beg to differ. I can multitask with the best of them. Why just the other night, I was procrastinating four things at once. I needed to do laundry, cook dinner, do some yard work, and grade some papers for summer school. I know there are doubters out there who find it hard to believe this. In fact, I’ve procrastinated up to 12 things at ONE TIME. Yes! Somehow, I’ve honed the skill of multitasking!

Who said it couldn’t be done? It felt good to get so much procrastinating and fantasizing done at the same time.

I tried to put off 17 things one time, but that just proved too overwhelming. I mean, there is a limit to how much a person can multitask, you know.

If you’re interested in joining my Fantasy Household Cleaning league, just let me know. Right now I need to go check on a colony of bacteria growing in my bathtub. I plan on getting it all cleaned up . . . but just not right now.

Why Andy Griffith continues to be a TV favorite

Last Wednesday marked the one year anniversary of the death of Andy Griffith. As for many, including myself, the Andy Griffith show continues to be a favorite.

I remember watching this show a lot in reruns while I was growing up. And even now, I never get tired of watching it.

I think there are several reasons why this show continues to be so enjoyable.

The family aspect was way ahead of its time

This show is considered a “Family Show.” But think about it, none of the main characters were married. The life revolved around a single parent trying to balance work with raising his son. His best friend was single, and the show often involved overcoming uncertainties about being single while at the same time trying to find someone else. This show began in 1960, and a single dad raising a son isn’t what we normally think of for the typical family from that time.

Parenting with accountability

Andy’s parenting style was patient, but also demanded responsibility and accountability from Opie. For every action, there were consequences. If Opie wanted to buy something, he had to earn the money himself.

A simpler life

I’ll be the first to admit that I love my IPhone. And the internet. And my DVR. But there are times when maybe I’m just a little overwhelmed with today’s technology. Sometimes, the slower pace of Mayberry does look appealing.

Taking care of family and friends

Andy, especially, and most of the other characters, looked out for one another. How many times did Andy bail Barney out of one mess or another? And his home family was a bit unusual with himself, his son, and his aunt. Not the normal family unit we think of from the 1960s.

Certainly there have been other TV shows over the years that I’ve enjoyed. But The Andy Griffith Show continues to have a special place with me. What do you think?