Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Smooth Criminal

I'm posting this video for one reason only: for the duration of my shift at work today, the ENTIRE shift, this song was in 'repeat' mode in my head. It was insane how many times I caught myself humming it, tapping my fingers to it, and just plain listening to it play in my teeny tiny brain.

This is my attempt to exorcise it from my head in time to get some sleep.

(but be sure to check out the wicked dance move at 7:15, the famous extreme lean forward that seems vaguely superhuman)

Who's playing Summerfest - Tuesday June 30th

There's a variety of talented artists headlining Summerfest today, but the selection of Chicago with Earth Wind & Fire at the Marcus Amphitheater strikes me as a weak draw. I could be wrong. I have nothing bad to say about Chicago. I think they're OK, and my sister C was always a big fan. EWF isn't my cup of tea, but my buddy Carlos likes them enough to crank them on his stereo on the way to Brewers games. So who knows, maybe they'll bring down the house.

Of the headliners I'd pick from one of two: blues great Buddy Guy, who's supposedly better in person than on vinyl, or Staind, a grunge-ish band that I could swear I saw in '99 or 2000. For those of you just as wrapped up in the music of your youth as I am, but who place that ear just a wee bit earlier in the 20th century, check out Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

Monday, June 29, 2009

LuLu's Quote of the Day

LuLu had a blast at her first day of summer school and came home happy and upbeat, saying she "loved it". I asked her what she did in class.

"Well, the first thing I did was sit around in a circle and learn everybody's name. The second thing I did was forget them all, and then . . ."

Do you know what newpaper Jim Doyle wanted as the paper of record for Wisconsin? I bet you'll never guess.

I swear to God, it isn't even partisan at this point. I think Gov. Jim Doyle, who is a Democrat (but who would run as a Bull Moose if it would secure an election), is just out and out daffy.

Say what you will about my hometown Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Call it a waste of trees, a front for the Democratic party, or as it's commonly called, even by employees: The Urinal.

But it *is* the major newpaper of Southeastern Wisconsin, aka the largest population area in the state. It has distribution throughout Wisconsin and across the state line, and by some feat of bribery or sorcery even has a recent Pulitzer to its credit. And again to their credit, they've actually gone on record as questioning some of Doyle's odd budget decisions.

So what does Jim Doyle attempt to do in his new budget? He selects a new paper of record for all official state notices in the Milwaukee area. He chooses . . .

The Milwaukee Shepherd Express.

Yes, you read that right Wisconsinites. Doyle wanted the Shepherd, which is owned by former Democratic State Assembly member Lou Fortis, to beneift from being the official paper of record in the ara. To do so the law would be changed to eliminate those pesky requirements about circulation and geographic distribution areas.

You know: the laws that would object to a low circulation free weekly newspaper, one that's proudly and loudly left of center and known almost exclusively for music reviews, one whose readership is 95% college students and East side pot dealers, from securing exclusive state business. Those laws.

Now I guess none of this will happen, as his opponents seized on the ludicrous notion. He vetoed it this very morning ((p. 43, C1). But if it hadn't been noticed, if no one had cared, all state notices would have flowed through the hands of a staunch Democratic ally of Doyle. Nice.

h/t BadgerBlogger

My Day with LuLu

Today (Monday) LuLu begins summer school. Lisa and I both felt - as did her teacher - that her reading ability was below where it should be (in fact nearly non-existent).. She's actually excited about it, because her self-esteem has taken a big wupping over this issue. Keep in mind, as my Mom said in her defence, when I was growing up we didn't even start reading until 1st grade.

True, but as my Dad countered, it's a different world now. If the kids going into first grade are reading, LuLu needs to be too.

Anyhow, I'd taken her to the doc on Friday for a hacking cough that the pediatrician labeled a 'bad summer cold' and then prescribed antibiotics and bedrest. That doesn't make any sense, but ok. So she's laid low for the weekend. Last night this meant she and I hunkered down to watch Disney's Princess Protection Program together, which turned out to be an ok movie.

Today it was just me, Ginger and Lu at the house, with everyone else scattered here and there. I got it into my head to do some yard work, which was kind of a pain with a 22 month old running around trying to join in the fun. So I sent Lu downstairs to recover an old friend I'd recovered from the flooded basement. Ladies and gentlemen, the hardcore baby backback by Evenflo - the "Trailtech".

Back in the day I remember taking Smiley for a walk in this when he was as old as Ginger and about twice as heavy, and I tossed LuLu in it once a year or so ago before abandoning it to the basement. It was good to have it back.
Once I got the belts all connected, I took out the old push reel mower and did a patch of yard behind our fence, and the front yard. LuLu wanted to help, and I let her use a pair of garden shears to trim the yards edge. Normally I'd use the weed-whacker, but I was out of cord.

After that we emptied and cleaned out the shed, then loaded it all back in in a somewhat organized fashion. I also checked the mouse bait stations I'd left out over the winter, and while one was untouched the other was empty. Little buggers. We had a mouse in our cellar area when we moved in, and I am very aggressive in preventing that from happening again. Ugh.

Anyway, I noticed that LuLu was choosing to ride around on a very old bike of hers, one with training wheels. Somehow I convinced her to try a bigger bike without the training wheels, and while she was nervous she agreed.



So up and down the block we went. She never made it on her own, but there were a few times I'd let go and she'd do fine for a yard or two before panicking and tipping to the side. It was far more tiring than I thought it would be, and I'd have given up after ten minutes but LuLu was gung-ho. The only thing that stopped her in the end was an unfortunate flat tire.

Once we put the bike away I heard the siren call of an ice cream truck and flagged it down, buying a snow cone for LuLu. You could tell on her face that she'd had a great day, and as she was heading off to bed she came up to me and thanked me for everything.

My pleasure LuLu, my pleasure.

Who's playing Summerfest - Monday June 29th

Not a great lineup today, IMHO. I liked Heart for a minute back in the '80's, and I still dig some of their music. But the partisan side of me is still nursing a grudge over their objection to the use of Barracuda in the last election. Not that it would prevent me from stopping by to catch their free set if I happened to be there. But they can be seen at many lesser venues around Wisconsin, including a recent Pridefest - so why waste a day at the Big Gig on them?





Nor would I empty my wallet for George Strait, although I acknowledge him as a fine artist. I'm over country. It sounds fine, but their overuse of the chorus gets tiresome. However, Mr. Strait does hold the honor of being the artist who sang our wedding song in '96. Not in person, of course, as at the time I was not the World Famous blogger I am now. Even so, "I Cross my Heart" will forevermore hold a special place in the Slapinions household.



Our love is unconditional, we knew it from the start.
I see it in your eyes, you can feel it from my heart.
From here on after let's stay the way we are right now,
And share all the love and laughter
That a lifetime will allow.

I cross my heart and promise to
Give all I've got to give to make all your dreams come true.
In all the world you'll never find a love as true as mine.

You will always be the miracle that makes my life complete,
And as long as there's a breath in me, I'll make yours just as sweet.
As we look into the future, it's as far as we can see,
So let's make each tomorrow be the best that it can be.

I cross my heart and promise to
Give all I've got to give to make all your dreams come true.
In all the world you'll never find a love as true as mine.

And if along the way we find a day it starts to storm,
You've got the promise of my love to keep you warm.
In all the world you'll never find a love as true as mine,
A love as true as mine.
Fond memories there. Still, The Gufs aside, I'd say Monday is as good a day as any to avoid the festival grounds.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Billy Mays of OxiClean Fame, Dead at 50

CNN is reporting that Billy Mays, the popular bearded pitchman for OxiClean and other products, as well as a star of his own reality series, was found dead in his Tampa home at age 50.




Saturday Mays had been on a jet that made a distressed landing when a tire blew out. He told a local Tampa reporter (emphasis mine):

"All of a sudden as we hit you know it was just the hardest hit, all the things from the ceiling started dropping. It hit me on the head, but I got a hard head."

An autopsy will be performed to identify the cause of death, and the airline has stated they will co-operate fully. RIP Billy - I think you were a lovable and believable salesman for a great product.

Who's Playing Summerfest - Sunday June 28

Ok, this is the first time this year I'd choose to see the headlining act at the Marcus Amphitheater. I really enjoy Better than Ezra, and Blues Traveler would be neat, but c'mon - ya gotta pick Stevie! Not only is he a legend, it's mere days after Michael Jackson's death. Is there anyone out there who *doesn't * think he'll kick it up a notch and play tribute to his friend? Hell, if I had the money, I'd be there. I think it'll be a hell of a show.

Furry Foxes, Cussing Customers, and Annoying Applebees

Lisa and I just returned from a rare dinner out. The experience itself sucked, as the staff at the local Applebee's was more concerned with singing along to Bohemian Rhapsody than taking orders or delivering drinks. Really though, who cares? A dinner sans kids is a great dinner no matter the surroundings.

* * * *

On the way to dinner we saw a pair of foxes in our neighborhood. To those of you in the country this may not be a rare occurence, but this is a city of 600,000 people. I've never seen a fox before outside of cartoons. I took some camera-phone pics, but I doubt they'll turn out given the lighting conditions. The pair wasextremely bold, just lounging on a front lawn and watching traffic, then darting into the street and strolling past our van.

Back at job prior we had woodland behind the building, and at night I'd sometimes run into coyotes. But foxes, that's new to me. But apparently not new to Smiley, who was adament that he saw one cross our street last month. " 'ox, 'ox" he's say over and over, nodding his head vigourously.

I guess the little guy was right.

That brings the wildlife total here to:
  1. assorted birds, including morning doves and robins.
  2. foxes
  3. racoons
  4. skunks
  5. field mice
  6. and, once, a deer

* * * *


Speaking of Job Prior, today's workday featured a flashback experience, one that was all too common back in the day. Any readers from that workplace will nod their head in agreement.

I was at work finishing a sale when a young guy came in, cut ahead of two other people and interrupted me. No ifs or buts about this, it was plain as day. He physically moved ahead of people to get my attention. Does that behavior normally work? Do salespeople or waiters just drop their current customer and bow to him? Has someone encouraged this behavior in the past?

I told him he'd have to wait his turn , the same as I'd say to anyone else (and in fact, did say to someone later in the day). It was like flipping a light switch. Boom, he began swearing at me, finishing with "you're a racist motherfu**er".

[I think technically I should insert a comma there, as I think his intent was to call me a racist and a motherfu*ker, rather than just a common everyday racist motherfu*ker. ]

Now as usual I don't detail what I do for a living, as it's become my quirky signature not to shit where I eat. But rest assured, in my employer's sedate oasis of liberal thought such behavior is neither common nor warranted. Frankly, I find it hard to imagine anyone even getting worked up enough to say "ouch" if they stub their toe there, much less go off swearing.

Well, customers went off for "help", management came out, etc. but by then I had already finished the encounter. He left unhappy, and I continued work a little pissy. But the powers that be were very concerned about the conflict escalating. "Keep your cool Dan, " I was told. "If there are any more problems we'll call the police. Don't think it was your fault, that man was so out of line, blah blah."

I was pissed off, but their concern was almost as irritating. I consider myself extremely blessed to have gone seven months without someone swearing/screaming/threatening me at work, and am very happy to be out of a profession where those encounters were (surprisingly) standard issue. But I spent six years dealing with much worse crap on 3rd shift, and another three years handling a diminished amount of it during the day. I'm not going to cry, and I'm not going to go crazy and start swinging.

Anyway, this wasn't a big deal, and in truth took up all of four minutes out of an eight hour shift. I'm not sure why it's even stuck in my head long enough to write about it, except that I think I now have a deeper appreciation for a polite workplace. Roughly 65% of any asshole behavior I display on a given day is due to Job Prior. While I'm poor and getting poorer, I guess there are legitimate pluses in having that job yanked out from underneath me.

When God closes a door, yada yada.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How to Use Twitter to outwit Tehran

For many of you this is old news, and I know Beth over at Nutwood went ahead and did this several days ago. But to quote from another blog:

If you use Twitter, set your location to Tehran & your time zone to GMT +3.30. Iranian security forces are hunting for bloggers using location/timezone searches. The more people at this location, the more of a logjam it creates for forces trying to shut down Iranians' access to the internet. Cut & paste & pass it on.
At that blog there's a debate going on in the comments. Here's the skinny: one commenter argued that the Twitter action is equal to choosing sides in the conflict. Since neither Iranian candidate is all that palatable, and the public isn't well versed in the issues over there, should we really risk backing anyone? What if we're making things worse?

Here was my response:

I don't 'tweet', but I think it's a fine idea. Taking sides (and in a benign and harmless way) against a regime that is rigging elections and crushing dissent would seem to be the morally correct thing to do. Could it wind up being a "get rid of Batista and get a Castro"? Possibly. But if it happens it won't be because some American bloggers chose to adjust their Tweeter accounts.

I say go ahead and tweet, and give current regime in Tehran all the headaches they can handle.

Who's Playing at Summerfest - June 27th

I suppose I should pay homage to KISS as they headline the main stage, but alas they're before my time. The closest anyone I know came to fandom was Joey Nowak, who brought a KISS LP to kindergarten show and tell. But in first grade he also swore he saw Santa delivering his Christmas presents, so I'm not sure his opinion is all that trustworthy.

Who's left (of the headliners)? I'm sick to death of the local BoDeans, so I'd go with Barenaked Ladies. I saw them in 2004 and they were a blast. I believe they're out promoting a children's record they did, of all things, and I guarantee the concert will be a hoot.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Revisiting Michael Jackson


I have to do a quick add-on to my Michael Jackson post. This morning I had to take LuLu to a doctor appointment, and on the way the radio was playing MJ all over the dial. I pointed out each of his songs as they came on, and after a good half dozen LuLu asked why he had "soooo many" songs.

"Because he started singing when he was your age," I said. "And never really stopped."

When we were in the doctor's waiting room the radio was once again playing Jackson. And right then I got to thinking about how much talent he had and about his stage presence. I thought about the sheer volume of quality work he put out there, and how it spans my entire lifetime.

I'm not sure I was 100% genuine when I closed the last post with 'Rest in Peace', but I am now.

Whatever your faults and your sins, you gave this world a lot of joy Michael. Thank you, and Rest in Peace.

Who's Playing Summerfest - Friday June 26th

Keith Urban's the big draw tonight, but if I had my choice of free tickets I'd see The Offspring. For a bit of the unusual, check out Buckwheat Zydeco and his cajun flair. I first saw him on Letterman maybe twenty years ago, and I've never forgotten him. I doubt you will either.







.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, is dead at 50.



This is old news to you by now. And in truth it doesn't make much of an impact on my life, since I was never a big fan. I have Thriller and even a copy of HIStory, but that's about the extent of things.

But there's certain events you're obliged to record, and this is one of them. Ed McMahon dies, eh, it's sad but life goes on. Elvis dies, Michael Jackson dies, Princess Diana dies, well you better remember what you were doing that day.

Me, I was at work when Lisa texted my phone. "Is it true? Is Michael gone?" she wrote. I had no clue who or what she was talking about, and answered with a perturbed "?", but soon my sister called to break the news. My family's always been quick on the "Guess who just died!" calls.

Would it have been 'better' for Jackson's place in history if he'd passed away ten or fifteen years ago, before he slipped completely off the deep end, and before the sex abuse trial? We'll never know, but I imagine he'll always reign as the King of '80's pop, controversy's be damned.

Lisa and I have always wanted to see each member of the Trinity of Pop - Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson - in concert. Now, sadly, we'll have to settle for two out of three.

RIP.

On Angels and Demons

As long as I'm post happy today let's get this out of the way. Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol is due out in September, and the Angels and Demons movie has resurrected interest in the novel of the same name.

Sure, Ron Howard and Brown both claim the works are "pure fiction" and not "anti-Catholic" but let's get real here. Brown sells it as 'historically' based, and if you zoned out in your history classes you may walk away thinking you learned something from Brown. If you did, it wasn't history, religion, or proper science.

Full disclosure: Sure, I'm Catholic. Big wup. Lots of people harp on my religion for all kinds of reasons, commercial and otherwise, and you don't hear me complaining. And I gave Brown a chance, I really did. I've read two or three of his novels, including Da Vinci and Angels.

Perhaps that's why Brown annoys and angers me so much: not only are his facts wrong, but I think he's a lousy writer. Angels was better than Da Vinci, but I wouldn't rank either as a work of art or even quality pop fiction. That's subjective of course, but I've read enough to recogize talent, even in books I don't care about. I don't see it in Brown.



If you click on the image above you'll be taken to a site where you can download a conversational rebuttal to some of Brown's charges. With the knowledge that very few of you will take the time to do that, let me reprint something gleamed from a different site:

Brown claims: Copernicus was murdered by the Catholic Church.

Fact: Copernicus died quietly in bed at age 70 from a stroke, and his research was supported by Church officials; he even dedicated his masterwork to the Pope.

Brown claims: “Antimatter is the ultimate energy source. It releases energy with 100% efficiency.”

Fact: CERN, the lab which plays an important role in his story, actually debunked this claim on their website: “The inefficiency of antimatter production is enormous: you get only a tenth of a billion of the invested energy back.”

Brown claims: Churchill was a “staunch Catholic.”

Fact: Any history buff could tell you that Churchill wasn’t Catholic, he was Anglican; nor was he particularly religious. The only things Churchill was staunch about were cigars, whiskey, and defending the British Empire.

Brown claims: Pope Urban VII banished Bernini’s famous statue The Ecstasy of St. Teresa “to some obscure chapel across town” because it was too racy for the Vatican.

Fact: The statue was actually commissioned by Cardinal Cornaro specifically for the Cornaro Chapel (Brown’s “obscure chapel”). Moreover, the sculpture was completed in 1652 — eight years after Urban’s death.

Brown claims: Bernini and famed scientist Galileo were members of the Illuminati.

Fact: The Illuminati was founded in Bavaria in 1776. Bernini died in 1680, while Galileo died in 1642 — more than a century before the Illuminati were first formed.


Brown's too damn popular right now for me to hold a grudge against the folks that line his pocket by buying his product, but I've got to say my piece. He's a hack and in his own way a purveyor of prejudice and division, and he'll get no money from me.

Farrah Fawcett Dead at 62


Farrah Fawcett, '70's icon and star of TV's Charlie's Angels, died this morning after battling cancer. She was 62.


My clearest memories of her are from watching The Burning Bed in the mid '90's. I was never into Farrah, as she was a bit before my time, although I do remember an episode of Charlie's Angels were she was kept captive in a steam bath. Even though I was a kid of five or six I remember being . . . impressed.

RIP.

Today's Summerfest Lineup - June 25th

Today's the start of Summerfest, Milwaukee's annual music festival down at the lakefront. It's perhaps best known outside the state as the event where George Carlin was arrested for doing his "Seven Words" routine.

I'm not a big fan of crowds, drunks, or spending the day baking in 85 degree heat, so it isn't my preferred activity. But I'm definitely in the minority, so with that in mind here's today's headliners, led by Bon Jovi and Puddle of Mudd. Personally I'd skip 'em all and go see the Meat Puppets at the U.S. Cellular stage at 8 p.m.

Enjoy the show!

Construction paper scrolls and home Perms - all in one tidy post!

Another reason to be annoyed at Sprint: sometimes my camera phone pictures are nice and crisp and large, and sometimes (without changing settings) they are available only as tiny little sticker sized doodads. I have yet to puzzle out the reasons for this change, but please bear with the pics in this post.

Before I introduce LuLu's new 'do, here's a picture taken when the family joined me on my lunch break last week. Smiley had decorated several different colored sheets of construction paper, taped them together end to end, and rolled them up like a scroll. He was very proud of his work and insisted on unveiling it wherever he went.

Now on to LuLu. She's been asking to change her hair forever, and while the choices were once between short hair and a perm, YaYa's bob settled matters. For Lu duplicating YaYa was a revolting prospect, and so the day they visited me for lunch Lisa and her Mom permed Lu's hair.

PhotobucketPhotobucketPhotobucket

I think it turned out pretty well. I was imagining a big Little Orphan Annie hairdo, and was unbelievably relieved when I got off of work and saw the result. Lisa was happy too; after countless bad perms in her own childhood, she was ecstatic that LuLu's hair wasn't completely butchered.

You're a cutie Lu!

On newsprint, North Korea, and LSU

So far two people online and one in the 'real' world have told me Brett Favre's officially a Viking, but I've seen butkus on any legit news site. So for the time being, I withhold judgement.

* * * *

Congrats to LSU on your College World Series victory. That's aways from being heartfelt, since I was hoping for a Texas win, but I'll say this: LSU's Jared Mitchell, the White Sox first round draft pick, looks like the real deal. He is a bit rough around the edges tho'.

* * * * *

I just got done writing a column for the Journal. About a month ago they asked if the 'regular' contributors could back off a bit to allow some of the other writers a chance. Okey-dokey.

Then a week ago a new email went out from the editor. That idea hadn't gone so well and there was now a shortage of material. They were also asking for someone to pick up a column for the 4th of July. I pitched an idea, but the request had come in while I was at work and I was late in answering. Here was the editor's response:

Hi Dan, I’ve picked another column to run on July 3, but I like this angle you suggest (tying in Iran demonstrations) and would like to publish yours on the same week (probably Thurs. July 2).

Could you write this up and get it to me by that same deadline so that I could have it edited and ready to go . . . If that’s a problem, please let me know. Thanks.

I'm not complaining, because Lord knows I feel blessed each and every time they put my name in the paper, but this one was hard to write. The deadline was today, the 25th, which meant a seven day lag between the day it was written and publication. That's fine, except I was supposed to be writing about the protests in Iran. I assume by the 2nd the government will do a fine and bloody job on suppressing the protesters there - but what if I was wrong?

In the end I decided I was over thinking it and plunged ahead. Ergh, we'll see how it reads in newsprint.

* * * *

Today marks the 59th anniversary of the North Korean invasion of the South. It strikes me as an ominous thing to remember as the North again ratchets up the "my d*ck is bigger than yours" rhetoric by threatening war, but that's a matter for another day.

Today, I wish to extend a sincere thank you to any and all veterans of that conflict.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On two fools: one confirmed (Gov. Sanford) and one suspected (Brett Favre)

I've just read a note on Facebook that says Favre has signed with the Vikings. No confirmation yet, but if the bum has gone full Judas you can expect a post here tonight.

* * * *

In other news, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, ye who went off grid for a week, then resurfaced saying he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, has confessed: he was actually in Argentina visiting his extra marital lover.

What a knob.

Forget all the talk about how he's blown a run for the Presidency in 2012; IMHO he was too flaky to have had a serious shot at the job. No, my concern lies with his family, who spent Father's Day sans Dad as he bonked his girlfriend, and the people of South Carolina who now have to figure out what to do with the moron.

To me, it's all crazy. I mean actual 'get on some meds' crazy. You're the Governor and you decide to vanish from the state, without word to anyone, and leave the continent to get some tail. After a week you return, make up a goofy story that was doomed to fall apart as soon as airline records leaked, and then go all sobby-sob to the press. That isn't normal. It just isn't.

And to those who will jump on this and gloat that the party of 'family values' has failed again: I'm afraid I'll never agree, any more than I'll understand the need to disparage any attempt to promote positive values. There is no harm and plenty of good in aiming for an ideal, be it 'get married before you have a baby', 'don't cheat on your spouse', or 'don't break the bleepin' law'. If you don't hold those ideas dear, fine, I know of no law that says you have to; but don't knock people who do.

Those who stumble are not a discredit to the idea, but simply a testament to the persistent failings of human nature.

Or in the case of Sanford, of a need for some f'ing Xanax and a shrink.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

By jiminy, a fine day!

I'd count Tuesday as a good day.

Sure, I said this on Facebook: Just took out two bags of water damaged trash from the basement, including (sniff) my beloved Zombie Halloween Costume! Plus I'm covered in waterlogged cat litter, but who cares -my zombie costume is ruined!

But that was the finale of my day, and note that I still had enough giddy-up to tackle a sizeable corner of the basement and fold some wash too. Naw, it was a very good day, in large part because I managed to get some things done. Like the basement, zombie tragedy aside.

Plus, Texas evened up the College World Series against LSU. Damn fine game.

Anyway, I woke up early and took my Mom to the Doctor. While she and my Dad waited I took off, went to the bank, paid off my mechanic, and stopped and got a much needed oil change for Lisa's van. With that done I wandered over to an Italian bakery and bought myself some wonderful bread before perusing a thrift shop. While I was doing this I was working the phone, and chopped off a number of important items from my 'to-do' list.

It being my mother-in-law's birthday (Happy Birthday!) I then swung by her house and traded some good natured insults with her husband. YaYa and Smiley had spent the night and we all had lunch together before my Mom (finally!) called and asked to be picked up.

I should point out, a little late in the game here, that it was a disgustingly hot and sticky day in Milwaukee, with temps near or crossing ninety and a heat index of 105. It sucked, and as you may recall, my central air is on the fritz. So when I returned home I yanked out the ol' window units and plopped 'em in.

Then it was on to a doc appointment of my own across town, before returning to join a birthday dinner and cake at my in-law's. After dinner YaYa and I ventured over to my friend Tre's house to chat for a few minutes before rejoining the clan to raid the local Dollar General . That was a vain search for a cup that Ginger would accept at bedtime. Instead we walked out with a toy gun that shoots foam balls.

"Han up Daddy" Smiley said, and would aim the gun at you like a cop who caught you in the act. "Han up." Naturally, you'd comply and raise your hands.

And then he'd shoot you right in the face and giggle.

Ah, a fine Milwaukee cop he'll be. I can already hear the union rep rallying to his cause.

And that's pretty much it. You know, in print, that looks like nothing at all.
But it sure feels like a wholehelluvalot.

A kind of sad, melancholy post this fine early Tues AM

Er, before I get emails saying "Where's the movie post?" - I deleted the review that posted around 1am this morning. It wasn't supposed to run until later in the year, and so I rescheduled it to correct for the error.

* * * *

In the early AM on Friday Milwaukee was hit by torrential rain and many areas flooded, including my lovely basement. It wasn't too bad this time, maybe an inch, inch and a half in parts, but I called into work the next morning to complete the cleanup, something I've done only twice this decade.

I think I have the source of the water now pegged. When we bought the house the basement featured a dirt and cobblestone floor (you read that right - mainly dirt with the occasional brick tossed in). Now the basement is wall to wall concrete. Except . . . I realized that the area under the basement stairs, which is hidden by a wood wall, still has the original flooring. That *seems* to be the entry point for the water. I'll have to attack that area soon, as I'd like to actually enjoy a summer storm for once.

Saturday was ok, and I worked most of the day anyhow. Lisa took Smiley and Ginger to Foxbrook lake and spent the day there, enjoying the sun and the water. The only real bad news? My car overheated.

Sunday was Father's Day, and I got my wish for quiet, but in the end I wasted it (by my own choice) doing nothing more constructive than watching Band of Brothers. Today I shelled out $225 for a brake repair job on the van, $225 I don't have to spare. Oh, and my central air seems to have taken a dump, just as temperatures in Milwaukee finally reach summer norms.

But other than that, and you know, thinning hair/obesity/poverty/Democrat in the White House, all is well.

In the rare good news department, I've gotten an assignment from the Journal to write a column at the start of July. Yay me.

Alright, enough of this pityfest. I'll be back with happy thoughts tomorrow.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Taken


"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you."

As a rule I do not like movies that depict the kidnapping of a child, even a teenager - not while four children still reside under my roof. Taken, starring Liam Neeson is the grand exception to that rule. It is intelligent, it is fierce, and it is enthralling.

Taken is the story of Bryan, a retired government agent who reluctantly allows his estranged daughter to visit Europe with a friend. While in Paris she is randomly kidnapped and sold into slavery by human traffickers, and her father sets out on a frantic four-day quest to rescue her. Little is mentioned about Bryan's past beyond a casual hint at past glory, but it is certain he was quite able at his profession. Throughout his search he is cool, methodical, and relentless.

A review I read warned the viewer that in the end you "will not like Bryan", presumably because of the actions he takes to recover his child. I think that statement says much more about the questionable moral strength of the reviewer than it does about the character. While Bryan carves a path through the criminal underworld of Paris, it is not done for pleasure, or for pride; he simply does not blink at doing what is necessary to rescue his child, no matter the cost.

In the end it is irrelevant whether you like or dislike the man, because you will, at the very least, applaud this movie.

3.75 out of 4, 86 out of 100.

note: There is very little I can criticize about this film, beyond Maggie Grace's portrayal of the 17 year old daughter. She bounces and runs around like a girl half her stated age. You're left wondering why her mother thought she was anywhere near mature enough to take the trip unsupervised.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

In which I side with Obama (gasp!) and comment on Iran

I caught this wondeful bit of malarkey from PETA this morning.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants the flyswatter in chief to try taking a more humane attitude the next time he's bedeviled by a fly in the White House.

PETA is sending President Barack Obama a Katcha Bug Humane Bug Catcher, a device that allows users to trap a house fly and then release it outside. .

During an interview for CNBC at the White House on Tuesday, a fly intruded on Obama's conversation with correspondent John Harwood.

"Get out of here," the president told the pesky insect. When it didn't, he waited for the fly to settle, put his hand up and then smacked it dead.

"swatting a fly on TV indicates he's not perfect," [A PETA rep] said, "and we're happy to say that we wish he hadn't."


Why bother mincing words? What nut jobs. How can you ever take that group seriously when they spout crap like that? This society, for all its genuine problems, has FAR TOO MUCH free time on our hands. That time could be spent trying find a solution for world hunger, curing cancer, or simply helping a child learn to read. Instead, a precious few obsess about a disease carrying insect that craps wherever it lands. My word.

Good for you Mr. President. And in honor of PETA, enjoy your hamburger at lunch today - I know I will.

* * * *

I'm not a big believer in the tired axiom that history repeats itself. It doesn't - every situation is unique, with different people, circumstances, and beliefs guiding the situation. But I do find it curious that the Iranian Revolution was fueled, in part, by the Shah's failure to cut long-distance lines. That enabled Khomeini to phone in instructions and propaganda to his followers and fueled his support. Now, those in power are besieged by Twitter and Internet protests. What goes around comes around.

I don't foresee a happy ending to the situation in Iran. The hard-line Islamic government isn't going to roll over and make nice. But I do want to go on record and say I think it's imperative for the White House to publicly lend support for *peaceful* and *legal* change in Tehran. Whatever claims are made to the contrary, we are currently at war with the fundamentalist fringe of Islam, of which Tehran is a damn fine example. The only long-term solution to the problem (unless you believe perpetual violence is hunky-dory) is to promote moderate governments that place a value on freedom, not extremism.

It's a narrow line to walk, I know. Express too much support and you trigger a reflexive backlash, or more likely are made the scapegoat for the [inevitable] violent crackdown. Say too little and you are rightly criticized for not doing what you can to save lives and promote the ideals we hold dear.

But it's something that has to be done. This isn't Hungary in '56 or China in '89 - what happens in Iran is of relevant and immediate value to a conflict we are actively involved in, one which has breached our shores, one which could reverberate across the Mideast.

The world is watching. Now is not the time to play it safe.

The Strain

Sometimes it isn't necessary to reinvent the wheel and bring something new or breathtakingly original to the table. Sometimes it's enough to merely induce a course correction, to offset the current fad and bring the subject at hand back to equilibrium.

I would argue The Strain does just that with the vampire genre. The book takes a horror staple that has again become romanticized and softened and drags it back to where it belongs, to the darkness. The Strain is unabashedly content selling the notion that if vampires were real they would be ghastly parasites, creatures of death and darkness, of stench and rot.

In the book a passenger jet arrives in New York and promptly shuts down, without explanation, on the runway. Inside all but four of the passengers and crew are found dead, each victim found without signs of trauma or illness. It is, as you can guess, the beginning of the end.

In violation of a millenia-old truce one of the seven original "Master" vampires has launched an assault on North America. In his corner is the fierce speed by which the virus - for that is what it is - can be transmitted, and the reluctance of modern humans to grasp the truth.

Against him stands only two doctors from the CDC, an over sized New York exterminator, and a Holocaust survivor who first confronted The Master in the concentration camps of his youth.

I'm not a big fan of pseudo-scientific explanations for zombies/werewolves/vampires, etc. and so I would gladly have seen Hogan skip some of the biology lessons, but otherwise the novel was well constructed. Take note that the site of the World Trade Center figures prominently in the novel, something that some people will feel is objectionable - but where better for evil to breed than the place where it was practiced?

This is the first of three books planned between famed director Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, so as expected not much is resolved in this volume. But it does a fine job of introducing the threat and those who will rise to meet it.

Recommended.

3.4 out of 4

Here's a book trailer for the novel. WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES AND LANGUAGE

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mum Mum Mum Mah

I just finished one of those ridiculous but entertaining little do-dads on Facebook, one that asks what you think consider are the five 'best' albums. By 'best' I assume they meant 'favorite', as I'm sure there's some obscure Flemish recording of farts and xylophones that meets the critics notion of 'perfection'.

Now, as God himself would acknowledge, music came close to dying the day Courtney pulled the trigger on Kurt, just as it was only truly born when Flannel came to Seattle. My list reflects those facts.

My choices: Pearl Jam's Ten, Nirvana's Bleach (eh, coulda gone with Nevermind), Garth Brooks Double Live, a best-of Artie Shaw, and the great Singles soundtrack.

BUT . . that doesn't mean I can't dig a great dance tune.

Question: How do you annoy Lady Gaga? Pokerface. How do you make her happy? Just dance.

Eh, you'll get it in a minute. Here's two of her songs, Pokerface (and baby when it's love if it's not rough it isn't fun) and Just Dance.





Enjoy!

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

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One thing I don't like is when an author takes the time to ridicule other writers in his work. Stephen King has been guilty of this a few times, criticizing, among others, William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist) while oddly leaving the formulaic Dean Koontz alone.

In his recent short story collection King takes a swipe at the novel The Memory Keepers Daughter,using it to highlight the difference between the intelligent character - who couldn't get through it - and the comic foil husband who loved it.

Whatever. I didn't read the book, but Lisa did, and while she didn't rate it as high literature, she found it an enjoyable and interesting read.

Because she liked the book I rented the movie version from Netflix. It was pretty much as expected, a TV quality movie version of a tearjerker.

In the movie a respected and beloved doctor's wife gives birth to twins, a healthy boy and a girl with Downs Syndrome. As his wife passes out from the ordeal we are treated to a series of mystifying, silent flashbacks that lead the Doctor to give up his daughter to an orphanage and tell his wife she was stillborn.

We learn the flashbacks are of his own childhood, when the death of his sister broke his Mother's will to live. A fear the daughter will do the same to his wife serves as the alleged motives behind his actions. Here the novel has more time to dwell on the matter, and from what Lisa says it does a better job of justifying his feelings, but in the movie it doesn't ring true.

Anyhow, the nurse who's charged with taking the baby to the orphanage can't make herself do it, and adopts the baby as her own. For the next thirty years the Doctor lives with the knowledge that his daughter is alive and well, and as another bitter pill to swallow the guilt and shame has led to the destruction of his marriage and the alienation of his son.

The movie does a halfway decent job of redeeming the Doctor, who at heart is a good man and continues to become a better one as time goes on, and the idea of being so well and completely trapped by a single decision . . well, it's a terrifying thought.

As for the Mom,as portrayed she was a bit shallow for us to fully sympathize with her (and you'd think the audience would be 100% in her corner) and oddly, she doesn't appear to age at all in the thirty years that pass on the screen.

Not a bad movie.

2.5 out of 4.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Random thoughts on a Monday night - it is Monday right?

I was going to post my review of the hate filled The Assasination of JFK, Jr. today, but I think I'll shelve it for a bit. I hate going back to back on subject matter, be it political, reviews, or family pictures. Sure it happens sometimes, just recently in fact, but I find it's like playing two slow songs back to back on the radio - ewww.


* * *

If you're on Facebook you'll notice a big surge in my activity there. I'm still not sold on the concept, but I don't want to fall too far behind the times. Still I figure it's better than Twitter, as I see no reason to throw my every thought online. Can you imagine how boring and routine would that be? Sex, money, family, baseball, sex, sex again, means of egress in the event of the Zombie Invasion, baseball. No thanks.

* * *

Speaking of hate filled propaganda, Selena Roberts *poorly written* hatchet job on A-Rod tanked, with reports that fewer than 20,000 of the initial 150,000 printing have sold. I had the misfortune of reading a few of the ghastly chapters before I gave up and closed the cover, and trust me: it was crap.

It couldn't have happened to a better person. Keep in mind that aside from being dismissed as a hack and a fraud in the baseball community, Roberts tried, convicted, and executed the Duke lacrosse players time and time again in print - and then refused to admit she was even the tiniest bit wrong when they were exonerated. Pi*s on you Roberts, and well done Reading Public.

* * * *

Please note the re-emergence of the Free Rice game on my sidebar. Now you can choose your subject area - art, foreign language, math, etc - instead of just practicing your vocabulary.

* * * *

I'd congratulate the Lakers' on their 15th Championship, but on the rare occasions when I care about the NBA I don't devote an ounce of time to cold, corporate, high payroll teams that use their cash to dominate the league.

Now you'll excuse me as I finish signing up for my Yankees Fan Club.

An 'animated' discussion on the 2010 Gov. race

The claws have come out in the 2010 Wisconsin Gubernatorial race. Some background for those out of state:

Democrat Jim Doyle is expected to seek a third term, but seperate surveys give him between a 48-60% dissaproval rate from state voters. Combine that with an approval rating that's floating between 34-43%, and, at least from a year's distance, you've got problems.

It certainly doesn't help when the state's biggest paper quotes a fellow Democrat at your party's state convention as saying:

Most of her fellow Democrats might disagree, but Jolynn Woehrer thinks Gov. Jim Doyle won’t run for re-election in 2010.

Woehrer, a Milwaukeean attending the Wisconsin Democratic Party’s state convention, praised Doyle. But she said "he’s a little bit more moderate" and that she senses more progressive leaders are emerging in the party.

"That’s what the voters want and that’s what we need," Woehrer said.

Make a note people. This may be the one and only time I ever defend Doyle, but the guys tax happy and about as party-line as a Democrat can get in the Midwest. Any attempt to replace him with a more 'progressive' (read: overtly socialist) candidate is just asking to give away the office.

Anyway, what's the first and last thing you do in politics when the numbers aren't going your way? You attack, preferably with a bitter ad that says nothing whatsover, but maligns your opponent. Check this ad out (paid for by the state Democratic party).

As BadgerBlogger pointed out, this cartoon (!) "seems to be aimed at 6-year-olds . . ." Looks like 2010 will be full of polite, good natured campaigns, eh?


Pizza Hut with Smiley and Ginger

Smiley came home from school one day with a certificate for a free pizza from Pizza Hut, some kind of reward for reading. Odd that, as the boy can't read a lick. But, free food is free food, and one day when the older girls were out and about I took Smiley and Ginger to claim his prize.

Here's some pics from that day.

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As an extra-special Bonus pic, here's one of Ginger goofing around with a Santa hat.
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Sunday, June 14, 2009

LuLu's K5 Graduation

This past week featured a big day for LuLu, the graduation ceremonies that moved her from the world of kindergarten into First Grade.

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We got there just in the nick of time to see her class stroll onto the stage and begin a short musical program. Note that she was front and center for the songs.

Here's Lu performing "Oh What a Miracle Am I". What's neat is that it's a song from the Baby Songs DVD that she adored as a toddler.



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This is "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story.



Here's a poem they recited about summer and first grade. "To First Grade we are Going . . . "



Finally, to the tune of "On Wisconsin!" it was "On to First Grade!"



Ginger was great during the whole thing

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Then it was time for the diplomas. LuLu was one of the last to receive hers, and I thought I detected a note of worry in my girl :)

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We took some photos after the ceremony, then enjoyed a table of baked goods.

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I should note that YaYa left class to join us, but she somehow avoided the camera.

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Congratulations LuLu! Enjoy your summer and get ready for the First Grade :)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Oopsie - A happy (Belated) Birthday to KayKay

Today my sister C jokingly said she was insulted that I hadn't posted a birthday greeting for my niece yesterday.

"You couldn't remember her birthday, but you remembered George Bush's?" she said.

Point taken, apologies offered, head hangs in shame.

Happy 13th Birthday KayKay!

"Emma Retts" a story by YaYa written 6-2-09

This story is cross-posted on YaYa's (private) blog The Monkey House. Any and all of her 'invited' readers, please comment on her site and click on 'follow', as she *does* pay attention to such things. Thanks!

* * * * *

Emma Retts
by [YaYa]

I looked up at the board we were learning the cursive letter "z" the last letter! My friend named Sofie said "did we learn th letter " y" ? " yet ? she said . Mr. Comma said yes we did Sofie . He said to start are page. Do we curve the "z" ? I asked. A boy named Nate whispered to me yeah Dumbo! I just stared [at] my work.

When I walked home with my friends, my mom said welcome home Emma! I said bye to my friends. I walked inside my mom made a cake . What for? I said to my mother. She said my cousin Gina just won being vice president. Who cares I thought?

mom and I got changed my brother was already there. why can't he just take us in his own car? Teens are just that way,if thy get caught with family they get embarrassed from girls. When is dad coming back? Is he still in China? I miss him ! why don't you cheek the mail,maybe there's a letter from dad. I went on the porch mom! there"s a letter from dad!

it says: dear Lisa,Dan, and Emma I won't be home till May. sorry, my store was poor for awhile then , it was filled ! love ,daddy

Friday, June 12, 2009

Happy 85th Birthday Mr. President!



Today, on his 85th birthday, George Herbert Walker Bush once again went skydiving. Kudos to the man, because I've always been too chicken to try it - and I'm not the one old enough to remember FDR's first term!

Happy Birthday Mr. President, and I hope I see you keep your vow of jumping again to celebrate your 90th.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In which I bit** and moan and groan

While I continue to work pretty steadily, the income just isn't cutting it, and there is very little in the way of good (financial) news in the foreseeable future.

* I got word the other day that I didn't land the job with the City. Not only would it have restored the income level of Job Prior, it would have increased it to the point of literally changing our lives. After a few months of wading through the civil service process it was no-go.

* I am registered to begin teacher certification with MPS in July, but that's income that's still months away at best.

* I put serious thought into managing a property up-North, which would have meant leaving the city (duh) and moving the family across the state. That's not something I could normally see myself doing, but there were pluses:

a) it was a job in my old field

b) the cost of living is cheaper there

c) in addition to a salary, it included a rent-free house and utilities.

I thought maybe we could rent our current house for enough $ to manage the mortgage from a distance. There's certainly enough people interested in taking up residence here, as now two friends AND a co-worker have asked about moving in.

But in the end, I can't see ourselves doing it, for a number of reasons I needn't go into here. Not that the job is mine for the taking, because I don't mean to give that impression.

* Physically, I'm exercising more and feel better, although my heel spur still aches. Lisa on the other hand is plagued by an abscessed tooth that is defying antibiotics and must be pulled - if/when we can ever get bleeping approval from the insurance company. I've been through major tooth pain, and I know it sucks. It bothers me to see her in so much pain.

* Mentally, eh. A few weeks ago, after LuLu threw up before each of her three dance recitals, my Dad innocently mentioned a tidbit about me. As a kid my anxiety was so bad that I'd throw up many mornings before school. He mentioned it to make LuLu feel better, but it just destroyed me for a few weeks. Truthfully, I'd damn near blocked out that memory.

I would say that had I been pressed, I would have remembered it. But not once, not ONCE in twenty odd years did it pop into my head. It seems so insignificant sitting here in 2009, but it brought back all kinds of dormant insecurities and anxieties. Given an inch, all those social issues tried their damnest to reassert themselves.

Ugh.

* * *

Anyway, enough belly-aching. My Dad's Big Bad Boss - at least, the one I remember from my childhood - passed away in California in the last few days.

He shared a last name with a character from The Honeymooners, and he was a major prick. Loud, obnoxious,oblivious to other people's feelings, and cheap. My Dad worked 3rd shift and he used to call and wake him up for the most inane of reasons, almost for the sheer pleasure of destroying his rest

I remember him yelling at me for playing Space Invaders in his lobby, and how he kept a lion he killed on safari on permanent display in the window. The latter was cool; the former just stupid. Why put the video game there if you don't want people playing it?

Decades later, when I was a manager in the same industry, I found out those memories weren't exaggerated by my youth. Top to bottom, everyone who'd encountered him echoed my sentiments. But you just know his obituary will be full of glowing, nostalgic anecdotes, because that's how the world works.

RIP regardless sir. If nothing else, you gave me something NOT to emulate.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The First Communion Party

No strangers to the posh and debonair, we held YaYa's party at the same bowling alley that had played host to Smiley's birthday bash. Long ago, in ages past, it had been used for Lisa's bridal shower, and for my sister's baby shower.

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Now, it was to mark YaYa and her cousin's special day.

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Get a load of these cutlery sets. Plastic sure, but of sturdy stock and pre-wrapped in a linen-like paper napkin and tied with a ribbon that resembled a communion theme. 16 of them in each box, $2.99 a box.

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Soon enough, the guests began to arrive.

[BTW - Lisa's Mom sewed the tablecloths in the photos.]

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Here's some of Lisa's family from northern Wisconsin, who made the trip just for YaYa.

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My Dad's Aunt, her children, and my sister.

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My nephew. Yeah, let's not talk about the hair.

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Aunt Mabel

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Lisa holding my Godmother's grandchild.

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YaYa and Meadow.

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My Mom talking to her Godchild Judy (on the right) and her partner of many years.

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One of Caitlin's friends. What a photo-conscious girl, eh?

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The Devil formerly known as the Lump

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YaYa's Godfather and his wife Pam

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Caitlin and Faith

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Tempe and Ginger

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Smiley and Tempe

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Dinner was delivery from Pizza Hut, both their lasagna and chicken alfredo, along with salad. It was well received.

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I cut the cake and LuLu and my sister distributed it to folks.

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Meanwhile, the kids kept trying to escape.

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And then the party began to wind down

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And LuLu began to lose it, the first but not the last of the kids to reach the breaking point.

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But a little comforting/molleycoddling did wonders, for the moment at least:

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A very nice First Communion party for both girls! Congratulations!

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