Solo Dad and the Grand Adventure

Well, calling my day out with the kids this Sunday a “Grand Adventure” might be laying it on a bit thick. The three of us (Lulu Belle, Short Stack and I) decided that rather than knocking around the home stead on such a beautiful July day, that we’d strike out and have an adventure. Action Girl was working a full day today so it was just dad (me) and the kids. For those of you who might not me keeping track, Short Stack is two and a half now and thus, chatty, inquisitive, funny and hard to keep track of. Lulu is only three months and is by far the easiest to deal with as far as kid-maintenance goes. Two caveats… Short Stack, though chatty, inquisitive, etc, etc, is also of the age where he wants to do stuff that is not necessarily on the agenda. This can be problematic. Lulu, though a cooing little ball of pink who fits nicely in a car seat, can go from smile to full on air raid siren in .3 seconds with no rhyme or reason and there is no talking her out of it.

I try very hard not to let these things effect my decisions. I flat out refuse to be held hostage to what MIGHT happen. Life’s too short to worry about all the stuff that could go wrong. I get in a lot of trouble for following that line of thinking sometimes. It’s usually worth it though.

So, the original idea was to zip up the Maine coast to surprise and visit Action Girl. She works as a sea captain and I thought I knew the harbor she was going to be in at noon. Luckily, at the last minute, I called. Nope, she wasn’t taking that route today. I would have missed her and far worst of all, I would have gotten Short Stack all revved up to see Mom and then not have delivered the goods. To put things mildly, that could have been a very bad scene.

So, my choices were to head back home or throw caution to the wind and simply call it a road trip day. I decided on the road trip.

With no particular plan in hand, I picked “North” as our direction. Not only north, but north via pretty secondary roads. This worked for about three minutes. “Where’s Momma? Daddy, where’s Momma? Where’s Momma? Daddy? Wh…”

Ok… have to think fast… “Hey Short Stack, maybe we’ll see a water tower.” Silence from the back seat. Short Stack has a few very important areas of interest in his life. Trucks rate at the highest but there are others that can completely derail his current train of thought as well. Water towers, for what ever reason, are a particularly effective distraction. “Where’s da water tower? I can’t seeeee it.”

The next few minutes were comprised of me trying to explain to my back seat occupant that he couldn’t see the water tower yet because we weren’t near one. I also was stepping on it in an effort to get off Old Route 1 and to the highway. The next water tower was at least ten miles away, and I didn’t know how long I could keep his interest and my sanity. Lulu Belle seemed unimpressed with the entire situation.

After about a thousand iterations of why we couldn’t see the much vaunted water tower yet, it’s bulky green mass finally loomed into view. All was right with the world and Short Stack was grinning from ear to ear. “Dare it iiiiiiiiis!”

As I continued on past it, I was quickly given directions from the back. “Daddy will back up, please. Want to see it again. Daddy… Want to see it again!”

Think, think, think…. COWS!

“Hey Short Stack, let’s see cows!” I was greeted with more blessed silence as this information was digested. We bumped along and the roads got smaller and rougher. I knew that there was a farm down this way and I thought that I remembered that they welcomed the public. Actually, I preyed that they welcomed the public. This is the danger of winging it. “Where’d da cooooooows go?”

Come ooooooon, COWS!

The fates smiled and they had a wonderful little set up for visitors. Diapers were changed, children were fed and shoulders were burped on. Then, we were off to see the cows in the barn. As it turns out, there were far more than just cows. Goats, sheep, and pigs rummaged around in neat, clean stalls and chickens wandered all over. Short Stack desperately wanted to touch a chicken but the combination of his and their skittish behavior made this highly predictable. He never made it closer than a meter. Lulu Belle watched the whole show from over her pacifier, Maggie Simpson style. “Nook, nook, nook.” What a good baby!

We spent perhaps an hour there looking at the animals and riding the thoughtfully provided toy tractor around the barn. After knocking the majority of the poo out of his and my footwear, we hopped back in the car and headed off back down the road. It was lunch time and we needed hot dogs. We discussed hot dogs at length as I scanned the various road side stands. He has a book called “The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog” and we quoted it back and forth as I tried to locate at lunch stand.

Lulu had nodded off and missed the Hot Dog vendor I stopped at as well as our witty banter involving birds and processed meats. The seating arrangements at the stand were fine but rudimentary and I was not going to risk waking her. We continued on with me handing french fries, one by one over my seat into the waiting pudgy hands behind me. After a few false starts, we finally found not only shade to sit in and eat our hot dogs, but a play ground to boot.

More diaper changes, a hundred tips up and down the slide by Short Stack, punctuated by his dad calling him in for bites of lunch and another happy hour passed. I noticed various approving looks from other moms at the playground and I’d be a liar if I said that it didn’t make me feel proud. I was a dad out by my self with my two little kids and we were having fun.

Action Girl happened to be back in port by the time we were ready to head home and we stopped in for a visit. We managed to find her a hot dog of her own at a street vendor and presented it to her with pride. She got lunch and a cuddle from her kiddos and a kiss from me before we headed out for home. Short Stack was pooped and was out cold as we pulled into the drive way. I put the windows down, brought in Lulu Belle and let him sleep.

As I sat down with my daughter, I realized something about the day’s adventure. It had been a success and a good time but the realization hit me that I would be the only one to remember it. Short Stack is still too young for the memory to stick and Lulu Belle… well. This would be my memory, alone. Rather an odd thought, really.

It was a little tricky to pull off, naturally, but it’s a day I’ll always remember as being special. It was my first day out adventuring with the kids on my own and they had both behaved wonderfully. I can’t wait to do it again.

I wouldn’t have minded a little help, though. Next time, I think I’ll check Action Girl’s sailing schedule a bit closer and be in the right port at the right time.

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The Land Before jpegs

The lights go off. My whole family is sitting in the dark facing one wall. There’s a faint humming and then a blinding flash! KA-Click! And up comes the first image!

These are fond memories for me. Actually, memories of memories. The family slide shows were always fun despite the hoots from the audience that the projector runner was going too fast, too slow or that the picture was out of focus. That big silver screen was magical and the “Zoooop!” sound that it made as it was extend up, ready for the show to begin was always so appealing to hear.

The piles of carousels from vacations past. The pictures of aunts and uncles who looked impossibly young. The popcorn!

It’s interesting to think back to a time not so long ago when I was carefully picking out the right ASA film for the picture taking that I was planning to do. The special holsters for the telephoto, macro and zoom lenses. The equipment was fun. It made you feel professional. You knew what you were doing and the fourteen pounds of camera equipment lashed to your torso proved it.

When I was young, like so many other kids, I got a little Instamatic 110. It even had the pedestal for the flash cubes, supposedly to cut down on redeye. That little black rectangle and I went all over the place. It was dragged to camp, hiking and Disney World. I vividly remember taking “pictures” even though I knew it was out of film, just for the satisfaction of hearing that “click” of the shutter and the ratchet sound to advance the film.

The 110 naturally, took print film and in various dusty boxes are zip lock baggies with piles of thick prints, corners neatly rounded and going sepia with time.

Then at some point, I got my Dad’s old 35mm. It was a Minolta. Its steel body made it weigh a ton and there was only the one, do everything, lens. It was fully manual and the as far electronics went, there was built in light meter. That’s it. I loved it, used it well and if the lack of lenses made it difficult, if not impossible to take some photos, it made up for it by taking the most exquisite black and whites of any camera I’ve ever owned.

On one particular trip to the Middle East, we took a long bus ride and I foolishly put it in the pocket of the seat in front of me. Naturally, being a kid, I forgot it when we disembarked. I realized it just as the bus was pulling away and started going bananas. My Father quickly left me with the baggage and managed to chase down the bus after a few blocks. To this day, I’m totally astonished that he managed to get the camera back. I also NEVER put personal belongings in the seat pouch again. I still have the camera.

For some reason, taking slides always seemed to be the realm of adults. My Father, Grandfather and uncles took them by the pound. Somewhere there is a picture of me on a family vacation, holding up a plastic bag full of shot rolls of slide film. There are easily fifty rolls in that bag. Over the years and a few cameras later, I too took some slide photos, but never like they did. I still preferred the prints. I could flip through them as I pleased and it was never too fast or too slow. If they were out of focus, you tossed them.

The other day, I went down to our local landfill. I hate going there, not because I dislike the duty or the smell, but because right next to the entrance, there’s a little hut. That hut is where you can leave stuff that still works but that you don’t want. I’m a packrat by nature and places like that call to me like a siren’s song. Despite my best efforts, I looked as I passed by. My eyes popped and I hustled to the different bins, metal, plastic, lawn clippings, in an effort to ditch my load and claim my prize before it was nabbed by some other, speedier packrat.

Quickly trying it out to make sure it was not broken, I happily toted my brand-old, slightly dented, but other wise perfectly good, projector screen back to my now empty trunk. With childlike glee, I snuck in into the basement in an effort to avoid the “What did you bring back now?” that would likely get lobbed my way from my very understanding, but not infinitely patient wife. I can’t say that my dump-return track record gives me much room to argue the point.

So… Now all I need is a functional projector and once again we can turn out the lights, sit down and argue that the pictures are going by too fast, slow, out of focus, backwards, where they were taken and by whom. The meager number of slides that I have will make this a slightly less lengthy experience than the family slide shows of yore. I’m betting that my Father’s collection alone is in the several thousands.

Still… there are more than enough to make an few evenings out of it. The real question is whether I’ll be able to resist getting my old 35mm back out and picking up some fresh slide film.

So, who’s making the popcorn?

Wordsmith in Training

My son, Short Stack is at the full fledged “tape recorder” stage of his life. Anything said or any sound made with in his earshot is more than likely to come flying back to you, but in a higher and squeakier register. Often, letters will be substituted here and there as he makes his first attempt, but more then not, he gets it right on the first try.

Fairly early on, I realized that a lot of the words that we teach kids work against them in the long run. Why would you teach them “horsie” when it’s a horse? Why get them to say “din-din”, when it’s actually dinner? “yummies” instead of snacks, “duckies” rather than ducks, “Nukular” instead of nuclear. Mr. Presidentman can’t even get that one right.

Not to say that there aren’t some words that he slaughters on his own. “Banana” becomes “banna” when left to Short Stack’s interpretation. The same with a crane being pronounced “train”, which can add a certain level of confusion to conversations with him. But, here’s the thing; Action Girl and I correct him with his pronunciation when he gets it wrong.

It’s really hard to do sometimes. Some of the things that come a-tumbling out of his mouth are somewhere just beyond amazingly, heartstoppingly adorable and you feel kind of like a monster telling him that it’s not an “ExcaBAtor”, but an excaVAtor. If you ask him what the excavator does, he’ll tell you that it “doops”. We love hearing these kid-isims but helping out with saying things correctly has, I believe, helped him expand his vocabulary very rapidly. Words don’t scare him.

A few weeks ago, Short Stack, his Grandfather and I were at a new playground. It was mostly set up for bigger kids so it was a bit tricky finding stuff that he could play on. Naturally, he was drawn directly to the stuff that made my heart stop. One such piece looked for all the world like the reclining, undulating spine and ribcage of a Playgroundosaurus. It was set up close to the ground and was intended to be walked along. Understand, I’m not one of those “tear out the teeter totters and merry go rounds” type of parents. This bit however, was made of welded pipe and obviously intended for children with a higher level of dexterity than your average two year old was likely to muster.

“I don’t know about this part, Buddy. It looks pretty lethal.”

Naturally, and much to the entertainment of the other moms there, Short Stack spent much of the his remaining playground time pointing out the offending play equipment to other folks and exclaiming, “I don’t know… Dat’s pretty lethal!”

I’m still working on “that” rather than “dat”.
So. Damn. CUTE THOUGH!

This interesting little experiment that I’m running with my obliging child is a reflection of my own experiences when I was a knee biter. My parents taught me proper, common and sometimes, not so common words. As a result, I could carry on a conversation with an adult when I was fairly young. It had serious benefits.

Having the ability to speak well and articulately is a wonderful way to get what you want. You can make a logical case for it and preset your side of the argument in a thoughtful and organized manner. It helps avoid confusion and frustrations and, hey, it helped get me a ten speed bike when I was in fifth grade!

It’s also fun at parties… “I think Dad is full of Hooey” coming out of a two year old, is rather bemusing.

The best part, from my perspective is the surprised reaction from other adults and the obvious pleasure that Short Stack derives from knowing that a word he used gets a positive and unexpected reaction.

His current list of “My God! He knows what that is?” words are…

Excavator,
Hydraulics,
Wheel, (…versus the tire. The wheel is the metal hub)
Peonies,
Bachelor Buttons,
Neon Tetra (in the fish tank)
Portcullis, (he has a toy castle with one that you can drop on unsuspecting finger puppets)
Stabilizers, (on the sides of his toy backhoe)
Front-end loader.
and most importantly to me, “May I please have a ____”

That last one makes me beam every time.

So, Senior Statesman-to-be or seriously articulate lobsterman; I don’t really care what career he chooses. Just so long as he can say NU-CLE-ER.

That’s all I ask.

Snarky Post Script-
I refer you here to Merriam-Webster.

Apologies to those offended. 😉

Winning the “Husband Points” Lottery.

Three years ago, we had made plans to go vacation with out friend in France. His house is beautiful and the country side is rugged and inviting. The time we were planning to go was what they call the “shoulder season”, meaning that it was leading up to, but not quite yet, nice out. It’s a good way of avoiding tourists and crowds, although where our friend lived, that was hardly a factor. His house is located on a terraced hilltop out side of an obscure and minimal village in a little traveled province of southern France. Hardly on the tour maps. The weather would be chilly and rainy but we knew how to dress for that. On the positive side, that would mean lots of fires in the mammoth fireplace. I hade visions of me sitting, curled up on the couch or out in the courtyard, wrapped in blankets and writing for days at a time, interrupted only by wonderful food, wine and conversation. It sounded like heaven.

This was to be no ordinary trip for us either. This was our “Last Hurrah” trip. At the time of the trip Action Girl would be about four months pregnant. We both knew that long distance journeys would be out of the equation for the foreseeable future. We both wanted to see our friend again but to be honest, it was I, who was looking forward to this the most. Left to her own devices, she would have fancied something with more palm trees. Still, it was looking like it would be a fun time.

The first problem started in a Paris Suburb. In 2005, Two youths, fleeing from Police ran into a power sub station, over the protective fences and were electrocuted. The Minister of Saying Things On TV at the time was then Mr., (now President) Sarkozy. He managed to fan the flames of racial discord enough to really get the riots going full tilt.

We watched the news and the pictures at home of burning cars and screaming protesters. “No big deal”, we thought. “This is France we’re talking about here. Protesting is a national sport over there. I’m pretty sure that their version of the Boy Scouts offer a merit badge in protesting. It’s a way of life for them. It’ll blow over. Besides, we’re not going any where near Paris. We’re flying into Marseilles.”

Two weeks later, the rioting had spread to Marseilles. Great. After each new news installment of what was on fire in France now, friends kept asking us the leading question, “You’re not going to go, right?” No, we were still planning to go. The only problem that seemed to be looming was that I was still waiting for my new passport to arrive. As usual, I had waited too long. My old passport had expired and only through the less than subtle prodding from Action Girl, did I get it in, supposedly, on time. It was getting down to the wire.

About two weeks to go and the passport arrived. I popped it into the luggage and foolishly thought that we were good to go. The rioters even seemed to be burning fewer cars and shooting at fewer police. What timing! Four days to go and then… oh dear. While doing the final packing, Action Girl happened to look at her passport.

Expired.

Not to worry. It would be expensive, but the government does offer an expediting service. All you need to do is send in your old passport, new pictures of your self and a bank check big enough to make a mortgage payment. The new passport will then arrive in one day from the time they receive it. So, we did all this and waited. And WAITED. Two days until we leave and still no passport. Action Girl calls the processing center and inquires what’s going on. They haven’t seen her passport. WHAT!?

Through a set of unfortunate events and misleading instructions, Action Girl had mailed her information and old papers to the wrong place. There was no new passport coming. Not in time anyway.

What I got that afternoon was a phone call from my cursing/semi-hysterical wife, telling me that the trip’s ruined and that she was going to call work up and try to get her vacation time back. After talking her down from the edge, I told her to give me the afternoon to work this out. I got off the phone and put my brain into overdrive. Mind you, “overdrive” doesn’t get used much. It smokes a bit and makes a grinding sound.

Where could we go? Florida and much of the southern east coast had just been flattened by a series of hurricanes. So had most of the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands. I didn’t know much of anything about vacationing in California, Washington or Oregon. We needed to find a place to go that didn’t involve passports but would be guaranteed to make my dear wife happy about this vacation on the fly. I had it! I called the airline and asked them, “What if we went west instead of east?” A couple hundred dollars paid to them for changing my mind, a quick call to my Mother to enlist her help in finding lodging and we were all set. I called Action Girl at home.

“Empty out the suitcases and start repacking for warm weather.”
“What? Why? Where are we going?”
“Don’t forget your swim suit.”
“WHERE are we going!?”
This was tough. I badly wanted to make this a surprise, but I supposed that she had lived through enough stress for today. I also guessed that she would have strangled me if I withheld this information until we reached check-in at the airport.
“Maui”

*Gleeful squeals*

“Do we have tickets?”
“Taken care of.”
“A place to stay?”
“Mom found a place. It’s on the beach.”
*More squeals*

So, we called our friend in France, gave him our apologies and flew from Boston to Maui. I hadn’t been there in about ten years and for Action Girl, it was her first time. We had a blast. I didn’t get much writing done. Most of our time was spent sightseeing and snorkeling. We had a blast.

I’m still looking out for a chance to get back to France. The fires are out and the rioters are just the local taxi drivers or school teachers and no one seems to be shooting at the police at the moment. I’ll get there yet. The trouble now will be convincing Action Girl to fly east, rather than west.

Bon Aloha.

Dangerous Birthday Presents

Action Girl is not an easy person to buy a gift for.
That’s putting it mildly. She’s fiendishly difficult to buy a gift for, and with her birthday coming up fast, I was in a bit of a panic.

Over the years, I have made progress in working out what she likes for prezzies and what falls flat. Clothes? No way. She’s very particular about clothes. Dustable knick knacks? You’ve got to be kidding. Jewelry? That depends. She likes bracelets but never wears them because “They get in the way and bug me..” Necklaces have the same issue. She likes the idea, but the actual wearing of them is another thing. Rings? No. I don’t cal her “Action Girl” for nothing. Rings are far too delicate and would get crunched or wacked very quickly. Her wedding ring (in fact, the only ring she wears) was actually selected very carefully based on durability and looks. The Durability issue, however, came first during the selection process.

So, that pretty much leaves me with earrings. She loves earrings and she has lots of them. I have been buying her earrings for all sorts of occasions for years now and have followed the progression from ‘long and dangly’ to “posts, only please” and lately, back to ‘long and dangly’ again. The problem is that I almost ALWAYS get her earrings. She always appreciates them but it was starting to feel too easy, to obvious. I needed something new.

I also wanted something that said “I love you” in a new and interesting way. I love spending time with her and we used to do a lot of out door activities together such as mountain biking, skiing and rock climbing, but since the arrival of our kiddos, that’s been pretty much a memory. So, I spent some time thinking about an outdoor sport that we could do, just the two of us, that wouldn’t take too much time and we’d both enjoy. Then I had an idea. It was risky, but I hoped that she would like it.

Yesterday was her birthday. She informed us all that she was turning twenty nine again this year, since it went so well the other times and we made plans to get up at a reasonable hour and do something she enjoys. On the morning, we packed Short Stack and Lulu Belle into the wagon and headed off strawberry picking. Short Stack is still to young to remember doing this last year and we were a bit dubious about how this would work out. We shouldn’t have worried. As soon as he got his empty pint box, he transformed into a dump truck (his favorite thing to be) and made about fifty trips back and forth from us to the quickly filling flat. He dubbed it the “flat bed”. If any activity can involve trucks, he’s happy. Lulu Bell mostly got hoisted along in her car seat and watched clouds and bugs.

We finished up picking and after a quick cleanup to get the strawberry juice off of Short Stack’s face, hands, chest, neck, ears and arms, we headed back. I had told Action Girl that her present was at my shop. I got the obligatory, “You didn’t have to get me anything” speech but there was no way that I’d let her birthday go by with out something given. As we got closer, I got more and more nervous. This was either going to work or really, REALLY bomb. When we pulled in I tried to explain that this was… an unusual gift. It was something that she didn’t need and probably never thought of getting. I explained that I got it because I wanted to spend more time with her and I thought this might be a good way to do that.

Boy, did she look confused and perhaps, just a little bit worried.

I ran in, got it and came out with this…

It’s a M96 Swedish Mauser built in 1917 and it’s in fantastic shape. For those of you who haven’t read the “In a Nut Shell (bag?)” page or missed the other posts I’ve made about firearms, or the fact that the name of the blog comes from two of my favorite fire arms, let me just say, “I love shooting.” Though her upbringing did not involve guns, Action Girl has turned out to be a very good shot. The problem was that the high power stuff I shoot tends to kick her around too much and thus, she doesn’t go with me very often. She likes the little .22 caliber rifles we have but they are really only good to about fifty to seventy yards and for accuracy over distance, you need more power.

My sweet Action Girl… truth be told, is a power junkie. Just ask her. Her idea of a boat is a center console, 25 foot Mako with a couple of 225’s on the back. She can drive any piece of heavy equipment you can name and handle it flawlessly. She drives multi-ton sea going vessels for a living. She, to put it succinctly, likes power.

The Swedish M98 Mauser is nothing to sneeze at. The bullet it fires may be smaller than most of the military cartridges if the day, but at 6.5 millimeters in diameter, it’s still plenty big; just not big enough to bruise your shoulder after a morning at the range. It is also very beautiful, as old rifles go. My hope was that if she had the right rifle and the knowledge that it was hers, then perhaps she would feel compelled to drop the kids with the grandparents and go shooting with me some Sunday mornings.

Big gamble. She was either going to love it or hate it and I was really nervous. I put it in her hands, told her what it was and… a big smile broke across her face. Then she started working out how we could slip away this weekend so she could go and shoot HER rifle! *phew!*

So, we have a ‘date’ this Sunday to go and punch some holes in paper targets at 100 yards. I’ll bring one of my usual rifles and this time, she’ll have her own. I can’t wait. And the best part is, neither can she. I wonder what earrings accessorize best with a rifle?

Of Shorter Posts and Shorter Finger Tips.

There are few things on our bodies a massively useful as fingers. Think about how much stuff you can juggle at the same time with those things! You’re trying to hold that splitting bag of groceries while finding your keys which are in the opposite pocket, unlock the front door and all while talking on your cell phone. With out fingers, things would get far more difficult. You simply couldn’t do fifteen things at once. Actually, you couldn’t do a heck of a lot things by them selves.

Let’s not forget that some losses can work in your favor. A fried of mine’s dad is missing the last knuckle bit on his right hand, index finger. When he was a young man he was out hunting dear when he was attacked by a pack of werewolves… no.. not really. What happened was that the snow had built up on the barrel of his rifle and he was dusting it off with his right hand. As his hand cleared the end of the barrel, he accidently discharged the rifle. Pretty gruesome until he realized a few years later that the missing bit of finger kept him out of the draft and therefore, out of Vietnam. He decided to keep the information that he was in fact, left handed, to himself.

So why bring the subject up, you might ask. Well, today I had what they call an ‘object lesson’. I relearned the fact that razor blades are very, very, VERY sharp and will happily slice through cardboard, tape, paper… or you if not adequately attended. They really don’t care.

Stupid razors.

So in the time that it usually takes me to write a thousand word entry, this is all I could manage. You really wouldn’t want to see this entry before I ran it through spell check and you really don’t want to see the tip of my right middle finger. I did manage to keep all the bits mostly attached and it’s borderline on “go get stitches” or “tough it out”. Being a guy (interpret as you like), I elected to tough it out rather than tackle the labyrinth that is our health care system. I picked up some butterfly stitches on the way home and put the Neosporin to it. Here’s hoping.

As the Black Knight would have said, It’s only a flesh wound.”

My next post might take a little longer that normal to get typed… Ow.

You Can’t Get That From Here.

Some time ago, Action Girl and I were headed off on one of our trips, backpacking through various European towns. One of the issues that always proved problematic were the cats. We had two at the time and obviously, could not leave them unattended for two weeks while we gallivanted off on adventures. Try as I might, neither one of the kitties seemed to be able to get the knack of using the can opener. I blame this on the lack of opposable thumbs and having brains the size of a walnut. This meant that we needed a house sitter. Well, cat sitter, actually. Considering the neighborhood we lived in, having the house occupied would also give us a better shot at coming home to a house full of all of our stuff, rather than an empty shell. Our house was nice, where it was located was… well, lets just say that you didn’t get bored keeping track of your belongings.

Out house/cat sitter was a good friend and was happy to do it for free. All she wanted was something cool from Europe. That sounded easy. Off we went on our adventure and we had a great time as you’d expect, but one problem persisted. Finding something to get our house sitter that she couldn’t get in the States was getting impossible. Everything we seemed to find that looked promising to one of us, the other would inevitable remark that, yes they had seen that back home. It was getting really infuriating. It seemed that the world had finally shrunk to the point that there were no longer any real cultural oddities that you could bring back from Europe to the States that would “wow” the folks back home.

The only thing that we could finally come up with that you couldn’t get back home, was the Smart Car. If you haven’t seen one of these, then you are really in for a treat. “Cute” doesn’t come close to describing it. They are itty bitty, two seater cars (yes, I know that they make a four seater now) that you see fairly often over much of Europe now. They are made by Daimler AG so you know that they are both well made and crammed full of a gazillion little parts that would take a watchmaker to replace. The interesting part is that not only are they tiny, sporty and make you smile almost immediately when you spot one, but they are also quite safe. I actually had a friend in England who owned one. At one point he managed to get into a high speed accident going down the highway. He bounced off the guard rail doing about eighty MPH, zinged across traffic and off the road, into the trees. The Smart Car was toast. He had a broken wrist and ankle. Not bad for a car you practically strap on.

So, though we needed to repay our house sitter, a car was a bit out of our price range, even if it did have a fair chance of fitting in the overhead compartment for the flight home. On the last day of our journey, I spotted the perfect thing. While we waited at the train station for our ride to the airport, sitting in a gift shop window I spotted our “thank you” gift. Kinder Eggs. Lots and lots or Kinder Eggs. These were perfect. Kinder Eggs are the size of a regular hens egg and wrapped in foil like a Cadbury Creme Egg. They are Chocolate, like a Cadbury Creme Egg. The chocolate is hollow, again like the Creme Egg. There are two major differences. The interior of the Kinder Egg is lined with white chocolate. “Big deal”, I hear you say. Ahhh, but, the real fun is the yellow capsule inside. In that capsule is a toy, usually needing assembly. They are often perplexing, sometimes really fun but always random. They do offer “themes” that go with promoting various movies or TV shows, but for the most part, it’s a crap shoot. You just don’t know what you’ll get, AND you couldn’t get them in the U.S.

There’s a FDA rule that you can not stick an inedible object into a food stuff. You can kind of think of it as the “crunchy frog” clause. The capsule is far to big to be eaten by accident but it seems that the FDA felt that American kids were just far too stupid to notice the avocado pit sized, yellow, plastic thingie in the center of the egg. You couldn’t import them for sale back home!

So, one dozen Kinder Eggs in hand, we happily headed back to all out belongings and a happy house sitter. The cat’s had steadfastly refused to use the can opener. Good for them, she had been there!

A month or so ago, I went into a local fancypants food import store and there on the counter next to the Ritter Bars and the Nutella was a display of Kinder Eggs. I quietly called the manager over and mentioned that I believed that these were not legal to sell in the U.S. To my surprise, she told me that Kinder Egg had managed, after many years of lobbying, to get a special dispensation. They could sell them in America at long last. I was both relieved and a little sad. It was the one of the last things that was uniquely foreign. Some weeks later, as I drove to work I spotted this…

Yes, it’s a Smart Car. You can get them here now as well. This one in particular has been modified for the Lindt Chocolate Company. The bunny ears are not for sale with the standard model. It did strike my fancy though. Some how the idea of both the Kinder Egg and the Smart Car done up as a chocolate bunny goes hand in hand. I wonder if it runs on plastic Easter grass?

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