Rites of passage . . .

Here in the US, we like to mark certain events as “expected transitions” that mark changes in the progress of our lives.

Learning to walk

Starting School

First Kiss

Prom

HS Graduation

College Graduation (if it applies)

First “Real” Job

First NEW Car

Homeownership

Well, between us, my wife and I have all of those covered, and then some.  And as of today, we’re adding one more:  Refinance the Home Loan.

It’s an interesting story.  It started off with us getting a good, but not stellar, loan approval from a small office that looked exactly like the small business we wanted to support.  Then, at closing, they slid in another piece of paperwork for us to sign, stating that we agreed they would have a right to sell our loan to someone else.  We were assured that it was just a legal formality, and they would likely not use it.  Before the first payment was due, we got a letter stating that the loan had been sold to Bank of America.

We cussed, groused, and fumed, but we made all of our payments on time for over 3.5 years.  No, we didn’t suddenly miss a payment.  Instead, we got a letter saying that BofA had sold our loan to PennyMac.  Then, PennyMac said that our escrow didn’t cover some sort of annual title fee, and if we didn’t cough up the amount in full our monthly payments were going to go up.  We paid it – and then our monthly payments went up anyhow.  So, I called in to complain, and the lady on the phone quickly said that I was right, and everything was being corrected.  Just as we were about to hang up, she said, “Oh, is this accurate?  Is this a VA loan?”  Well, yes, I am a veteran.

She asked if I’d be willing to talk to one of their loan agents who specialized in VA loans, because there was a chance that a re-finance would reduce our payments.  Sure, I’ll talk to him – but I thought to myself that I’m not holding my breath, because we’ve been sinking most of our disposable cash into house updates, and aren’t really in a position to pay closing costs on another loan.

When he got on the line, he was very polite, even friendly.  And by the time I was done talking to him, he was suggesting that if we refinanced with a new program specifically for disabled veterans, there would be no closing costs, no out-of-pocket expenses on our part at all, and they might be able to shave half a percent off our interest rate.

We jumped.  On Thursday I got a call that the application had been approved, the interest rate went down 0.52%, and the Notary is coming to our house today to sign the final paperwork.  Oh, the joys of home ownership!

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Memories . . .

It’s funny what our memories carry along through the years.  I remember a discussion I had with a few people from Lebo, Kansas, shortly before I closed my Facebook account.  In that discussion, one of them said that Lebo was the warmest, friendliest town in America.

That’s not how I remember it.

I was the smallest kid in my class.  Even the smallest girl was bigger than me.  When we started the Freshman year of HS (9th grade), I was 5’2″ tall and weighed in at around 98 pounds.  While mine is only one point of view, and to play “Devil’s Advocate” it is entirely possible that Lebo is the warmest, friendliest town in America, here is what I remember.

I remember that not one full week went by between 1st Grade and 10th without me being beat up by one of the bullies in school, and there were several.  One of those bullies eventually became the town’s mayor.

I don’t remember any of those bullies ever getting in trouble for starting a fight with me – but I remember getting in trouble many times for defending myself.  I also remember choosing to join the US Army because it gave me a contract that guaranteed me Special Forces training after I completed Basic and my MOS training.  Why?  Because I wasn’t going to ever let another bully put me on the ground.

I remember that not one girl who grew up in Lebo would go out on a date with me – ever.  A few indicated privately that they thought I was a special guy, but peer pressure wouldn’t let them anywhere near me in public.

I remember a town where it was a literal truth that everyone in town belonged to one of the two churches – and the only real Christians in the whole town were Anna Ruth Williamson (the teen/young adults group leader for the Methodist church when I was still there) and Jack Allegre.  Yes, that means I wasn’t a real Christian, too.  I wanted to believe, but I couldn’t.  “Faith” is hard to find in a heart filled with fear, loneliness, and hate.  I know, because I can’t begin to count the number of hours I spent on my knees looking for it.

I remember a town where the two kindest, gentlest members of my class were both afraid to be who they really were – because they were both homosexual.

I remember a town that was rocked by scandal the year a high school student (about 3 years older than me, I think) bought a motorcycle.  It wasn’t even a Harley-Davidson, but it might as well have been hand made by Satan himself the way Lebo reacted.

I remember the last day of Sophomore year, when it was obvious that my parents were divorcing and I was going to be moving to Emporia after 10 years in Lebo.  Not one member of my class was sorry to see me leave – or at least that was how it looked through my eyes.  On that same day, when David Fry started a fight with me during lunch, I can’t seem to remember him getting in any trouble at all.  I got suspended from school for throwing one punch in self-defense.

PvK 2 . . .

I didn’t like leaving the last post as just a rant, so I decided to give it some more thought and see if I could spot anything that would explain it.  Being a parent myself, I was hoping to get some insight to it that would help me do a better job AS a parent.

I do think I have something to share.  It is a bit weird, because it is both a cause (please note: I did NOT say it is the cause, nor did I say it is the only cause) and an additional question.

Still, they say the only life not worth living is the unexamined life, so let’s take a look at what I’ve found, so far.

If you were to take a national poll in the US about the one thing parents most wish for their kids, the number one answer would probably be something like “a better life than the one I’ve had”.  Better education, better job, more pay, better health care, more status . . . I’m sure these all factor into that vague wish for kids to have a better life.  But, parents don’t really appreciate it when the kids achieve this, and it’s somehow personal.

When I was growing up, my dad worked as a supervisor at the Dolly Madison cake factory in Emporia, Kansas.  Of course, he hasn’t worked there for over 35 years, so I wouldn’t expect anyone around there to still remember him, but it’s true.  Sometimes he worked night shift, sometimes graveyard, and sometimes days.  He didn’t have a lot of time to spend with me, so he tried to make it count.  When I was 10, he introduced me to 3 things.  On my 10th birthday, I got a new BB gun, which I promptly used to give myself a lesson in respecting firearms – by shooting a BB into the end of my middle finger.  He also introduced me to coffee that year, and taught me to play chess.

My dad has a 147 IQ, and had at one time in his life played chess regularly with the man who at that time was the Kansas State champion at tournament chess.  He could hold his own, and they considered each other friends.  This is who taught me to play chess.  He never was brutal, but he didn’t take it easy on me, either.  He wanted me to learn to think and critically plan ahead.  Slowly, I learned.  Incidentally, it was my overhearing conversations between them that helped me learn how to do metric-to-US Standard conversion equations – when I was in 2nd grade.  Yes, it turns out I have a higher IQ than my father does.  I’ll never be a “Stephen Hawking”, but I’m not stupid, either.

I can still remember the look on his face the day, 26 years later, when I finally earned a victory over him. I beat him in 2 straight games.  After so many chess matches, over such a long time, the look on his face seemed to say he never expected this to happen.  At the time, it was one of the sweetest days of my life.  It was also the last time he ever agreed to play chess with me.

It might mean that he feels he has nothing further to teach me, as far as the game of chess is concerned (never mind that I just enjoyed being able to take the time to play, and talk with him).  It could also mean that my victory somehow reminded him of his impending mortality (but nearly 20 years have passed, so that one is getting a bit hard to swallow now).

Finally, it might reveal a deeply hidden truth about us as parents – we “say” we want our kids to do better than us, but what we really mean is we want to sound right to the people listening, but secretly we hope they fail so we’ll continue to be needed.  We don’t want to be the shoulders supporting a giant, because we’re afraid our backs can’t support the weight.  As Loghaine MacTyre (the principle bad guy in the video game Dragon Age: Origins) tells his daughter – Queen Anora – “Daughters never grow up.  They remain 6 years old, with pig tails and skinned knees, forever.”  Or at least that is how they remain in our parental minds.  I’m sure something similar is true for sons.  We, as parents, never feel more important than when our children come running to us with some world-shattering crisis-of-the-day and look up into our eyes with that, “I know you can make it right” look on their faces.

And we never feel more pain, as parents, than the day they look at us for the first time with that, “I know what I’m doing, and I don’t want you interfering” look on their faces.  But if we have done our jobs right, we should all know for a fact that this day is coming, long before it arrives.  To that degree, the person most to be pitied is the parent who does a wonderfully successful job of raising good kids into good adults, and fails to prepare for letting go.

Like I said, this was an examination of what I’ve found so far.  I promised no solutions – and I don’t think anyone could make such a promise.  The answers would be as numerous and varied as people themselves are.

Parents vs. Kids . . .

I know, this is going to be one of the oldest gripes in human history.  Still – what is it with parents?

When I decided to start this blog, one of the very first things I did was call and give my dad the address.  He may be 72, but he has a computer and is on the internet nearly every day.  When I talked to him Thursday night, he admitted to me that he still hasn’t looked at this blog.  Not once.

Every kid – or at least all of the ones with social or philosophical ideas to better mankind – has run afoul of this phenomenon.  We try so hard to do well, and our own family doesn’t even notice.  Or worse (for example . . . in the Bible there is a report in the Gospels that Jesus’ own mother attempted to guilt-trip him into quitting his ministry) they try to impede your efforts.

I wish I had some sort of insight into the cause of this, or it’s solution, but I don’t.  This is just a rant.  I wanted my father to see what is going on in my head, and how I’m using it to help others (and even causes he supports), and perhaps be proud of me.  I’ve had to re-define myself so many times since the surgery on my bone tumor back in October of 1982 that left me permanently disabled.  It’s never been easy, but I’ve done alright.

I wish he’d notice.

It’s official . . .

I’m guilty. I’m a thief – specifically a cradle robber.

I’ve written before about how my wife can be sitting at work, and someone will come up and ask to speak with a librarian. When she tells them she’s a librarian, they answer her with “No, I mean a REAL librarian.” Because they think she looks like she’s still an undergraduate student. Half of the time, she still gets carded for buying booze, even though she’s closer to 40 than 30.

Not so with me. I can count on ONE HAND the number of times I’ve been carded in my whole life! Yesterday we went back to Joplin (3rd time is a charm, right?) to try to get a set of crystal wine glasses that weren’t broken, chipped, or otherwise less than usable.

Since we were there at lunch time, we stopped at a buffet to eat. After we got our food and sat down, she started laughing. I asked her what was so funny, and she said, “Look at the receipt!”

Items on the receipt – one buffet with drink. One SENIOR buffet with drink, no charge for the drink. Total discount over $2. To qualify for a SENIOR buffet, you usually have to be 55 y/o or greater. I’m 46.

The clerk must have thought I was having lunch with my daughter, or something.

Off to a bad start . . .

Our day got off to a bad start today. I was sleeping on the couch in our TV room (keeping Merlin company) and woke up at 7:10 am. My wife usually tries to have all her “getting ready” done by 7:30 so she can fly off to work. She wasn’t even awake yet.

So, I woke her up, went and started my coffee, and settled down to read email. Just after she left (at 7:30), my phone rang. A friend in Florida was letting me know that GameStop has finally released a version of Guitar Hero III for the PC – yay! Only problem: it’s nearly $80 before tax. Bummer.

Oh, and it’s raining outside, too. I’m having mega-trouble just getting around the house, and my energy levels feel inadequate to power a night-light.

Last night, after my wife got off work, we took Merlin to see the vet. He had worms, as well as still having fleas. Took care of both, and it only cost us $15. Great vet! Merlin seems much happier now. At least HE woke up with plenty of energy today!

Cat toys . . .

When we decided to adopt the 8oz. bundle of fur with claws, we knew there were some things we’d need that we didn’t have.

We thought that one of the things we’d need was “cat toys”. Especially for our 7 week old kitten.

Well, we are rapidly learning the frustration felt by parents who spend a couple of hundred dollars on a new toy for a birthday present, and the kid wants to play with the box it came in. Yep, that’s our cat!

Among the things we bought for him were the 3-story kitty condo, and a package of misc. cat toys – balls w/ bells, pillows with catnip, a pillow shaped like a mouse.

He won’t touch the condo, and rarely gives the toys the time of day. Instead, he likes the box some of our vitamins arrived in, and he loves to play with the plastic pull-tab that you take off when you open a fresh jug of orange juice. He’ll chase that pull-tab around the kitchen floor for an hour!

Oh, well. We can’t expect a cat to understand the relative value of things. Can we?

Merlin’s mad at me . . .

Here’s the story:

I saw a flea on his belly while I was playing with him. So, Merlin got his first bath.

He did not like it. Not at all.

After I held him under the running water, lathered him with liquid dish soap (carefully keeping it off of his face), I rinsed him off completely. Then I wrapped him in a dry dish towel, and held him while trying to dry him with it. Drying off he liked – he started purring.

Now, he’s still slightly damp, still wrapped in the dish towel, and purring contentedly in my left hand while I one-hand type this note.

I think it worked to get rid of the fleas, though.

The smartest 8oz. attention whore . . .

Yes, the smartest 8oz. attention whore in this town is – – – MERLIN! Of course, I am writing about our new furball.

This cat really is an attention whore, too. If he’d been a girl, we’d have been forced to name him either Paris or Lindsey! Yes, he’s that bad!

He still doesn’t care for cameras, but he totally insists on being the center of attention. Even when he’s sitting in my lap, I can be petting him with one hand, and trying to read email with the other. Not good enough – he wants that other hand to pet him, too!

As for him being smart, he’s already figuring out some of the games I play with him. I was making “shadow puppets” for him to chase, but he figured out that those shadows came from somewhere, and now when he sees a moving shadow, he starts looking for where my hands are, to play with them instead.

He’s getting stronger every day, too. When we first brought him home, he couldn’t jump down from either the coffee table or the cot in my office. Now, he’ll not only jump down from them, but he’ll climb my pants leg to get into my lap! (note to self – no wearing shorts around the house until he’s strong enough to JUMP into my lap!)

Ok. I’ll admit it. In less than three days, he’s managed to take complete ownership of his humans! We totally love him, and I’m wondering why we didn’t adopt one long ago! I’m even forgiving the accident at 4:30 am CST, when he used me for a bathroom. After all, he’s only 6.5 weeks old, and never been an indoor cat before. He’ll learn!

He’s here!

Our new family member has arrived!

He’s not exactly interested in posing for the camera, so these were the best pics I could get on the first go-round.

Merlin checking out my ball cap on the coffee table.

This was supposed to be my wife’s hands holding Merlin up to the camera so you could see his face. All you can get is a good idea of the size of his head.

Here is the best close-up I got this evening. He’s sitting on a cot in my office, on an old pillow.

Right now, he’s still on the pillow, but looks like he’s decided to go to sleep for the night. Which, if memory serves me right, will last until about 10 minutes after I decide to go to sleep.

Oh well, I think tonight I’ll sleep on the couch, just in case he wants some company. On the way home, he curled up in my beard (while my wife was heading into the grocery store – we bought hard kitten food and he’s not quite ready for it) and was purring like an outboard motor!