Baby Gorilla & the Uninhabitable House

Here in Ali’s inaugural Fritzwinkle posting. As Ali explains, it has been a long time since the last post for various reasons…

Many times Fred receives a phone call when I’m with him. All phone calls begin the same way, “Hi. How are you doing?……Not much….” I am here to tell you that if you are asking him what’s going on with him, “not much,” is a complete lie. There is too much going on. In fact, Fred has been so busy with the end of his school year, fixing up the new house, playing soccer once per week, attending childbirth classes once per week, serving on my company’s human rights committee, and then de-stressing with Playstation 2 FIFA soccer for hours on end that I finally tired of waiting for an updated Fritzwinkle (She forgets to mention that I created and also maintained two class websites for my students in the last few months during the Fritwinkle slowdown.). So I am going to write it. I have threatened Fred several times with this before, but this time I did it!

First of all…it’s all about me this time, so I’ll give the baby update. I have about two and a half months until D-day. So far so good. I mostly have back pain to complain about, but I’m sure Fred would have more complaints about my behavior than I do. We call the baby “Baby Gorilla” because it has strong kicks, it is making me HUGE and it goes through growth spurts that makes it so I am hungry ALL the time, especially for meat – beef. We have successfully completed 3 out of 5 childbirth classes. Fred is being a good sport about the whole thing considering he doesn’t even want to be in the delivery room. He jokes with the teacher and other guys in the class so much that when our teacher needs a victim for any demonstrations, she grabs Fred first. He was the first dad-to-be to have to wear the pregnancy suit. It was a weighted vest with a heavy stomach and large breasts. The vest even came with a sandbag to put pressure on his bladder. Fred’s least favorite parts of the classes are the videos. He calls them his “own personal hell” because he doesn’t like to see babies come out of women.

Photo: Ali and Me Belly-to-Belly

As for the house….what can I say? It is currently uninhabitable. We still don’t have real locking doors. Just a padlock on the front door and a slab of wood wedged in the back sliding patio door. We should have our doors installed by Friday (knock on wood). Fred ripped up all of the carpeting from the second floor. That made the place smell better at least. Keri and my dad spent two days last week mowing the lawn that hadn’t seen a mower since last year some time. I got to go in after my dad removed some tree stumps and plant some flowers in front to make the place look lived in. Keri spent her Saturday this week pulling out every carpet staple from the 15 stairs leading to the second floor. Fred is now in the more satisfying phase of priming and painting. Once we paint, we get to have carpet installed on the second floor. We also need windows, a water heater, and we will gut and redo the bathroom. It’s a good thing that Fred’s a teacher. This house is his full time job this summer. He’s under a bit of a crunch to make the place move-in ready before the baby arrives on September 7th.

Photo: Fred Cutting Carpet

Photo: Keri Cutting Grass

Photo: Me with Carpet Rolls

Photo: Keri with Remnants of the Lawn

Since the Last Posting

Well, as usual lately there has been quite a gap between postings. After releasing the great news of the impending arrival of our first child, I have been under a bit of pressure with an array of activities.

Photo: Connecticut Countryside

Since the last post, I spent about four days in rural, northwestern Connecticut evaluating a high school for the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). It was an opportunity presented to me by my employer as a means of preparation, since we will be receiving a visiting committee in a couple of years. I figured it was a good faith effort to show that I like it where I work, I can be a team player, and they should consider rehiring me. Those three points pretty much dominate the life of what is called the non-professional status (read non-tenured) teacher in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (or pretty much anywhere for that matter). What’s more, ever since I found out about NEASC I have had a lot of ambivalent feelings about it. I have often felt that schools jump through a lot of hoops to accommodate their accreditation with the organization, and yet it is only the state department of education that really has any authority. So I figured what better way to really get to know the details about the organization than by serving on a committee. Well, I was right on that count. I definitely learned more a whole lot more about the organization. Funny thing though, when my wife asked me if the experience made me feel differently about things, my response was “Yes, it has made me even more ambivalent than before I left.” Still, it was a pretty awesome overall experience in terms of being able to examine a school and understand what works on an institutional level.

Photo: More Connecticut Countryside

Also since the last postings my wife ditched me for a short respite in the desert with her sister along for the company. Ali had wanted for the two of us to take a short vacation, but I was a bit too slow to respond. Thus, she opted for an alternative, sans me. That’s right, Ali and Keri decided to team up, like days of yore, and headed off to that American oasis of guilty pleasure, Las Vegas. Considering that she is carrying our yet unborn child the rules were pretty simple: no booze, drugs, or prostitutes. Of course those restrictions did beg the question for the chosen destination, but the girls had a whole itinerary of good wholesome fun, including a visit to Star Trek the Experience, Liberace Museum, La Cage, Excalibur Tournament of Kings, Madame Tussand’s Wax Museum, and Cirque de Soleil.

Photo: Las Vegas Landmarks: Riviera

Photo: Las Vegas Landmarks: Circus Circus

Photo: Las Vegas Landmarks: Excalibur

Photo: Las Vegas Landmarks: Freemont Street

Photo: Las Vegas Landmarks: Venetian

So from sci-fi to master showman to drag show to knights jousting and an array of faux famous figures, rounded out with a healthy dose of the new Vegas economic anchor courtesy of Quebecois neighbors north of the border. It was a jam-packed four solid days for the ladies in the sun and heat. Amazingly, my wife lost less than $30.00 gambling, which seemed nearly impossible to me. But then again, I am blessed with a woman that is even thriftier than me, and she recognizes the perils of an operator or two with the sole goal of separating her from her money.

Photo: Las Vegas' Faux Famous: The Rock

Photo: Las Vegas' Faux Famous: Elvis & Keri

Photo: Las Vegas' Faux Famous: Liberace & Ali Photo: Las Vegas' Faux Famous: Tupac & Ali

More recently we have been headlong into the house hunt for the ages. No matter what anyone says about the market softening, New England hasn’t completely realized this notion just yet. Searching has definitely been a challenge and certainly filled with a share of disappointments. I can’t even begin to capture the level or number of lousy places we have had the distress of visiting, however briefly. I swear a few of the places must have been inhabited by squatters, and yet that didn’t prevent anyone from asking in excess of 200 grand! It is sobering to enter a prospective house through a front door, hanging by the thread of a single hinge, to an interior lacking a floor in nearly every room, only to descend into a basement that is topped off with six inches of stagnant water. I was just surprised that we didn’t find a vagabond on skates down there. Unfortunately, that wasn’t even the worst place we have seen.

We have just discovered a couple condo possibilities in the western suburbs but they are at the upper reaches of financial comfort zone. So we’ll see how things develop and continue to keep looking for the future home.

From MA to IL: Then to South Dakota and Back Part 2

From Sioux Falls, we continued westward to Mitchell, just east of our final destination. While some of you may know Mitchell is famous for one thing. It is the Mecca for Prairie Gold, otherwise known as the Corn Palace, a must see for any travelers in the area. You just don’t get higher on the Americana kitsch scale than this World’s Largest Bird Feeder.

The palace is the anchor to an entire tourist industry in Mitchell that radiates down the main thoroughfare of Mitchell. Arriving in town, we left the cool cabin of our SUV to be greeted by the chest-kicking 100-plus heat of a sunny evening on the Great Plains. Unfortunately the monument of maize was in the process of being revamped, as the exterior design is revisited annually. However, that did not really affect the quality of the photos. So get a load of these.

Photo: Corn Palace Marquee

Photo: Corn Palace Mural v.1

Photo: Corn Palace Mural v.2

Photo: Corn Palace Mural v.3

Photo: Corn Palace Mural v.4

Photo: Corn Palace Corner

To think that the entire building is covered with intricately selected and cut corn. It really is a quite an extraordinary site. It also should give hope to all the macaroni artists still left in all of us.

Along the hard streets of Mitchell, as we searched for grub, Keri found herself a real wiener with which she could spend some quality time. In fact, once this charming frank got hold of her, it was rather hard to pry the two apart. Once we informed him of our collective hunger, however, he quickly acquiesced. It was at that point that our expedition brought us to possibly the worst Mexican restaurant in which I have ever had the misfortune to dine. We should have taken our cue from the roadside statuary, which was a gringo (John Wayne adorned in blasphemous attire) masquerading as a bandito. As it was Los Sombreros was a hat filled room masquerading as a restaurant. If you are ever in the area, avoid it. The staff is a little kooky to boot.

Photo: Keri and the Wiener

Photo: Me and the Mexican Duke

From Mitchell we were only about an hour or so away from the place Grandma calls home, so back into the truck we piled to drive off the meal that was both terrible and tasteless. Before we knew it, we were at the old school house. You see, Grandma lives in an old country school, in the middle of nowhere, class long having been dismissed. It is actually quite cool, really. Ali’s late grandfather did quite a number on the place, giving it a whole lot of style and character on the inside. As anyone can imagine, Grandma was delighted to have company.

Photo: The Old Schoolhouse

So between trips to Chamberlain and games of Scrabble, we managed to enjoy ourselves despite any difficulties. Although I have to say, there isn’t a whole lot going on in Grandma’s neighborhood. Nevertheless, you can literally see for miles and watching a storm roll in across the Great Plains is a breathtaking sight no matter what else is happening. There is a kind of desolate beauty to that hard, hard land, and even a loveliness even in that desolation. The remnants of long gone neighbors amidst the vast openness can attest. Although, I have to say that I was far more partial to the terrain of the Missouri River Valley, a little further west, out Chamberlain way.

Photo: Abondoned House

Chamberlain is the home of Al’s Oasis, a rather decent restaurant and roadside attraction of sorts in its own right. Serving up buffalo burgers and all manner of beef, we took Grandma out that way for quality meal and even better desserts. Speaking of buffalo, Al’s hosts some of the largest in the area. Below, Keri poses with the enormous bison for the amusement of all.

Photo: Al's Oasis Sign

Photo: Al's Oasis Storefront

Photo: Keri with Buffalo

In addition, Chamberlain also is home to the Akta Lakota Museum at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Lakota essentially means Sioux, for the uninitiated. Considering my fascination with things Native American, this was the coolest place we visited on the short jaunt. I wish I had pictures, but due to copyright restrictions I wasn’t allowed to shoot much. However, it was a really great museum, full of all kinds of absorbing information; although I wish all museums would get rid of the life-like mannequins and just use faceless ones. Better still it is right on the banks of the Big Muddy River, as the Lakota refer to the Missouri, which was land I found far more stunning.

Photo: Akta Lakota Museum Sign

Photo: Lakota Sculpture Photo: Missouri River

Photo: Missouri River Valley

Before we knew it we were up at the crack of dawn and preparing to head back to Chicago. Prior to our departure we were treated to a magnificent sunrise, clearly visible from the back of the old school house. Then the girls gave Grandma a squeeze, we thanked her for her hospitality, and we were off.

Photo: Sunrise on the Great Plains

Photo: Ali, Marion, and Keri

On the return, the trail of Americana kitsch would lead us to a magnificent monument dedicated to a cultural icon. It was so amusing it simply demanded its own dedicated posting. Check back soon.