The California mountain emergency chicken call

This was the phone call I received. It was from my mother. I was in the mountains of California, and it was early morning. I answered it, worried something might be wrong. I was right. Something was wrong … I answered the phone. This is the call I received.

Mom: Brian!

Me: Yes, mom. What’s wrong?

Mom: I hate to bother you on your vacation, but this is really, really important (long pause) … There is a chick in the backyard!

Me: Hold on, say that again?!? It sounded a lot like you just said, “there is a chick in the backyard.”

Mom: What?

Me: A chick in the backyard!

Mom: That’s what I just said … how did you know?

Me: I didn’t know. That’s what you just said.

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Mysteries of the summer vacation

Somebody explain to me how you can pack enough clothes for a 10-day trip to the mountains of California, yet only wear the equivalent of three days worth. Layers upon layers of unworn jeans, shirts and shorts sat stacked up inside my suitcase. There were enough socks to open up my own store. Why did I bring all those clothes? With so many options, why didn’t a single thing match?

And, most perplexingly, did they multiply? Because as I tried to re-pack everything into my suitcase for the journey home, nothing fit anymore. Same number of clothes, yet the stack was twice as tall. I had to wear four layers of clothing on the flight, and bind the bulging suitcase shut with heavy cable and duct tape.

Oh, the mysteries of traveling.

My family and I ventured out to Yosemite, Kings Canyon and finally Los Angeles. We rode horses down mountain trails and across rushing creeks. We stared wide-eyed at waterfalls, all super-charged this year by the heavy winter snowfall. We marveled at 1,800-year-old sequoias that were wide as a house and tall as skyscrapers. And we wandered star-struck through a backstage tour of the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood.

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If I were a rich man … with no passion for fishing

I guess “horrified” isn’t the right word, but I would definitely say “dumbfounded” comes close to capturing it. It was an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “How the Rich Fish.” Its subhead read, “In their quest for the best fishing, avid anglers are spending $200,000 to $750,000 to create and stock personal streams with computer-controlled conditions.”

Yes, my friends, there is no end to the excess!

First off, if you’re that rich, you can certainly afford to get some robots to do the fishing for you, and even dress them up in funny party hats and animal costumes. But you sure don’t need to go wading into the water yourself. Go eat ice cream instead.

The story spotlighted a retired energy executive who had created 2 acres of man-made streams and ponds at his Wyoming home. He said his two passions in life were “playing golf and fly fishing.”

Second off, if you have enough money to dig computer-controlled fish ponds, you can certainly afford to go out and buy yourself better passions!

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The perils of dog sitting

It’s day number five with Ella, the Meat Chunk. Meat Chunk is a specific breed of dog that is native to my brother — large in stature, dense, the mass of three imploding suns and likes to sit on small children while riding in the car. The aforementioned child no longer has any feeling in her thighs.

My brother and his family went on vacation for, well, close to eternity, and we’re dog sitting ye ‘olde Meat Chunk while they’re gone. It hasn’t been a bad experience — for the most part she’s a good dog. It’s just that dogs have their own quirks, and this one especially. Partly because my brother believes dogs NEED quirks. That they should be uncivilized and unruly, and that these eccentricities should be on display like a neon peacock.

You know, like a dog who can’t walk in a straight line. I swear I thought she was drunk the first time I walked her. She darted left and right on the leash, like a divining rod swerving from water source to water source. I was dragged behind like a rag doll, my knees all skinned up and the circulation to my poor hand long since cutoff.

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Memories of elementary school dances … and dads dropping their little girls off

I’m not sure who had more fun: My daughter going to her first school dance, or me, getting to go along to drop her off at the school dance. I needed her special permission just to be allowed in the car. I had to keep a low profile. I wasn’t allowed to drive. Like a dog, I was required to sit in the back seat. I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t say corny, obnoxious or sappy things. And I wasn’t allowed to cry, laugh or pontificate.

Any of these things would get me kicked to the curb, or worse! Shoot, I nearly got slugged when I came home from work and said to my daughter — her hair neatly brushed to one side and wearing a wonderful, flowing summer dress — “Boy, you’re the most beautiful girl in the world.” I dodged the swing and jumped over the sofa to safety.

But the short drop-off was still awesome. I pressed my nose up against the window, trying to catch a glimpse of something — anything! — as she walked into the school. “Stay away from boys!” I wanted to scream, but the child lock was set and the window wouldn’t roll down. (Darn kid had thought of everything!)

How it reminded me of my younger days, and my first elementary school dances.

I don’t remember that we had too many. Maybe because I spent most of my years at an all-boys Catholic school in Tampa, which was directly across the street — and two barbed wire fences away — from the all-girls Catholic school.

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A letter to the household critters

Dear critters of the Thompson household,

I thought it time I sit down and put into writing some concerns I want to address with you. One or two incidents, I agree, do not constitute a trend. However, we have now reached the point where there is a pattern developing and it’s time to talk.

To put it simply: We’re starting to look like a crazy house! I’m asking you all to pull it together and make some changes.

Let’s start with you, the chickens. And, in particular, the scrawny (but pretty) brown one who goes by Phoebe. Thanks to your inability to stay within your ample enclosed area, I have had to further “enclose” it … stringing ever taller nets around your “land” so that my backyard now looks like a poor man’s batting cage, or some kind of third world fishing village. Not the look I was going for! Please stop hatching wild escape attempts so you can go eat my butterfly bushes.

And you, the dog. What’s with the shedding? I get that it’s turning hot and you think leaving five inches of fur across my living room floor will make you cooler. But guess what? It’s making me hot! At least vacuum once in a while.

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Little kid trip excitability

Kids crack me up. How excited they get about things still months away, like Christmas, the promise of their first cel phone, driving, paying taxes and especially trips.

My 11-year-old daughter is no exception, especially when it comes to trips. She sat down at the dinner table the other night like a business woman ready to discuss our trip to Michigan … in late July! The two of us are traveling out to see my sister perform in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. We are meeting up with my dad, and it’s just a daddy-daughter trip. Our first. (I’m excited, too!)

But it’s still months away, which is why I found it amusing when she said in her most serious tone, “So, I want to discuss Michigan.”

“OK. Let’s discuss,” I said.

“So, what airline are we flying?”

“American.”

“Oh, great! The one that killed the giant bunny?!?”

“No, that was United. American hasn’t killed any giant bunnies recently. Maybe a snake. I don’t know.”

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Running to a ridiculously longer life

Sometimes a news article comes along that is just what you need, at just the right time.

Like this one from The New York Times: “An hour of running may add 7 hours to your life,” the headline practically screamed.

“Seven extra hours for every hour I run?!?” I thought. “Shoot, I’ve already banked enough to live to 307! I’m practically immortal!!! I can start drinking beer for breakfast and eating pretzels dipped in bacon fat, just like I’ve always dreamed!”

As some of you may recall, I recently wrote how I had fallen into a running rut after completing a marathon last fall. And in that column I advised, more or less, to swear off advice columns that promise to help you wake up early or get back into super-fancy exercise regimes. They were failing me as I tried to break my funk and re-engage my lost love for running.

But I want to amend that: Skip advice columns, BUT … in their place, read only the headlines of stories on health studies that make grandiose and overly-general claims. (The key here is ONLY read the headlines, never the full story. Life is best when you gloss over the facts and skip the fine print.)

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Thump goes the milestone

As a runner, I always understood the word “milestone” in terms of distance. How long it’s been since you hit the last the one. How they’re important markers on the road of life. How they pop up and symbolize something so significant that you have to remember it, memorialize it and celebrate it by screaming out, “Dude, who knew I could fit a whole bag of Cheetos in my mouth!” (Not sure that last one has anything to do with running, but …)

When I hear the word “milestone,” I always focus on the “mile,” and never the “stone.” Only, recently I’ve come to appreciate that second part of the word a bit more — what it really means. How important it is to the greater construct.

Mile-STONE — an event of great significance … that wallops you on the head. I believe the term comes from ancient Greece where the swift marathoner Runesius won a country race, only to be bludgeoned in the head by an archrival with a rock. “Boy, that milestone sure did wallop Runesius!” someone remarked, and the rest as they say is history. (Or at least, that’s how I picture it.)

This new meaning of milestone has come to me as my daughter winds down her school year, which seems loaded with significance and change on the horizon. This week, for instance, marked her last performance with the children’s choir at Memorial Presbyterian downtown. She graduated. Apparently, she isn’t a “children” anymore.

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A life free of online advice columns … in three easy steps

Another one hooked me. An online advice column with some kind of headline about the secrets to waking up early so you have time to exercise or drink coffee or read more advice columns.

I’ve fallen into a running rut — an erratic exercise schedule ever since my marathon in October. It’s as if my body said, “Yo man, we’ve run enough miles for the entire year. Let’s just kick back, eat cheeseburgers and get to know the next notch on our belt!”

Swell.

And once you’re out of your exercise routine, it’s murder getting it back. I thought the secret to running more regularly was returning to a morning schedule. But first I would have to conquer my addiction to hitting the snooze button 72 times each morning. I hit the snooze button so many times I’ve developed a callus on my palm, and I think I’ve dislocated my wrist.

That’s when I saw it! The online post promising me I could wake up early if I did this one thing.

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