Category Archives: My Life

The reason for the season

It’s that time of year! That’s right; it’s time to turn on the holiday music, assemble the Christmas tree, and haul this sucker out of the basement where it has slept dreaming for the last year:

It's even clearly labelled and everything.

What treasures await us inside the box? I think you know.

Yes, Virginia, that is a Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band ornament. Jealous?

No Christmas is complete without a Christmas tree completely buried in Star Wars ornaments. This year’s decoration went reasonably well, although our three-year-old did request that the Darth Vader ornament be moved to the back of the tree because it was scaring her. (The stormtrooper ornament was banished as well.)

In retrospect, I definitely missed an opportunity to lecture her about one of life’s hard realities: fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. And that, in turn, leads to you eventually getting tossed down into the Death Star’s power core by your apprentice.

Oh well. Life will teach her that lesson soon enough without my help. Also, Merry Christmas.

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Don’t be a nerd—listen to Officer Byrd

I was pleasantly surprised after my last post (so very long ago, I’m afraid) to learn that so many of you remembered Cal Worthington, his dog Spot, and the ubiquitous television ads which made him a part of my childhood. But imagine my joy when I discovered this morning that, thanks to the internet, yet another memorable character from my TV-watching youth is still out there, teaching impressionable young children to wear bike helmets, avoid downed power lines, and never eat from the colorfully-packaged boxes of poison under their parents’ sink.

My friends, let me introduce you to… Officer Byrd.

That horribly catchy theme song has been stuck in my head for about 25 years now. I’ve sung it for my wife, but I suspect that until today, she didn’t believe Officer Byrd really existed. (Michele, I expect a full apology and a retraction of those things you said about my mental health.) But oh, how he existed. There are 14 Officer Byrd videos out there for you to watch (check out the sweet special effects in episode 4). No word on the controversial episode 15, in which Byrd’s cheerful partner Officer Mike is brutally killed by the Mob two days before retiring and Officer Byrd has to break all the rules and take justice into his own hands.

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Time to hit the road

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. –Robert Louis Stevenson

Michele and I have a road trip coming up soon. It’ll take us through what many people would consider the “boring flyover” states (Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas), but it’s a route we both enjoy. It’s long and flat and hot, but it’s a familiar drive, one that we’ve made many times before. Lots of time to talk, read, and listen to music in the car, and nothing to challenge our rather limited navigational skills–just get on 80 and stay there.

One reason we’re especially excited about this trip is that it’s the last big road trip we’ll be making before (Lord willing) the baby arrives in autumn. (Oh, and if you don’t know–we’re having a baby.) We’re trying to steer clear of the notion that Our Lives Will Change Forever once Baby arrives (yes, “Baby”–trust me, you don’t want to hear the array of Byzantine, ancient Mesopotamian, and Tolkien-derived names we’ve put on the list of Possible Baby Names), but there is that sense that we need to be extra deliberate in our enjoyment of this trip, since we might be making just a few minor lifestyle changes once our cute little broodling joins the family.

Odd as it may be, I mentally associate traveling through the Midwest (highway 80 in particular) with our marriage. While Michele and I were dating, I made the drive between west Michigan and Chicago countless times. The Saturday-morning drive to Chicago was a joy because at the end of the trek Michele was waiting; the Saturday-evening drive back to Michigan was a joy because I had just spent several hours with my future wife. (But credit where credit is due: I want to thank my indefatigable red Chevy Cavalier, the Dandy Warhols, and Depeche Mode for making those trips a bit more manageable.) Once we got married, the travel continued, along the same route even (Michigan to Chicago) but extended further out to Nebraska, where Michele’s family lives. The Cavalier, which I figure has put in its time, has been retired; but the Dandy Warhols and Depeche Mode still keep us company along the route.

For both of us, road trips also mean books. I have a little habit of choosing a book to read on each road trip we take. (Usually more than one, actually, but I always designate which book is the official Road Trip Book.) I love reading in the passenger seat as Illinois and Iowa roll by outside. Invariably the experience of reading my chosen book gets woven into the road trip experience, so that my memories of one are permanently intertwined with the other. Last year it was Alan Moore’s Watchmen; before that it was Umberto Eco’s Baudolino; Nabakov’s Pale Fire and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine (written with somebody else, I forget who) happened in there somewhere, going all the way back to our honeymoon road trip along highway 80, which was accompanied by the decidedly unromantic Six Armies in Normandy by John Keegan. This year it’s A.S. Byatt’s Possession: A Romance, and I’ve already cheated by reading the first 50 pages before the road trip’s begun.
So we’ve got a road trip coming, and I’m mentally and emotionally ready for it. If Baby can hear us yet, s/he will be treated to our comfortable routine of Generation X music, political banter, and nostalgic reminiscing about the days when The X-Files was still good, people treated each other with respect, and the Fourth Crusade had not yet sacked Constantinople. I hope Baby enjoys it, because Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, the three of us have many years of these trips ahead of us.

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All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray

I miss California.

I’m visiting the Golden State on a work-related trip. I genuinely enjoy living in the Midwest, and it’s not like I sit around all year in Michigan pining for California. But I’m always surprised, upon setting foot back in my home state, at how much I still miss it even after nearly a decade in the Midwest.

California just feels different to me than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. The trees are different, the buildings are different, the people are different. The hills and rocks and brush are different. The road signs and streets are different. I’ve learned of late to temper my nostalgia with a healthy dose of realism–California is also crowded, hectic, smoggy, and expensive–but being here is comfortable and familiar.

There’s a Santa Ana today, and the sky–beyond the thick layer of Los Angeles smog, of course–is utterly clear.

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I’m a winner

Earlier this week, I won a prize drawing.

In my life, I have won exactly two prize drawings (that I can remember, at least). The first was a five-pound Hershey’s chocolate bar, which served as dessert at the Rau household for many weeks, and which definitely answered the question “Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?” And my newly-won prize is… wait for it… a giant bag of hair-care products.

Thinking back to a trip to the barber a few weeks back, I vaguely recall mumbling “yes” when asked if I wanted to enter my name in their weekly drawing. And sure enough, I was the one chosen to receive the ultimate prize.

I hope that I am not allotted a finite number of prize-winnings in my life, because that would mean I’ve burned through two of them on a giant chocolate bar and a bag of hair gel. At least, I think this stuff is mostly types of hair gel. I can’t tell, because instead of labeling the bottles with something easy-to-comprehend, like “hair gel,” they call them things like creme-cire de coiffage (which sounds vaguely dirty), curl life defining system (what is it defining, exactly?), and extra intense conditioner (I don’t want to know).

Unfortunately, the phrase “pearls before swine” springs to mind here, as I really am the last person upon whom you should be lavishing hair-care gifts. As the more fashion-conscious among you have no doubt noticed, I have not changed my hair style since high school, and endeavor to spend as little effort on my hair as is humanly possible. My primary goal upon visiting the barber is to maximize the amount of time before I have to visit the barber again–i.e., cut my hair short enough that I don’t have to think about it for a few months. “It would be impossible,” I always tell the person cutting my hair, “to cut my hair too short.” They never seem to really believe me.

Ah, well. Michele will be back from Turkey later this month, and I’ve now got just the thing to serve as a welcome-home present…

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Sturm und Drang

As some of you may have heard, we spent the first two weeks of October in Germany. Michele has begun posting about the trip, so if you want in on all the grisly details, her blog is a good place to start. We’re also determined to get some of our photos up at Flickr for you all to enjoy.
Our trip began in Berlin; from there, we made our way roughly clockwise around the country and back to Berlin. The bulk of our time was spent in the extremely beautiful southern third of the country, with several days spent in the general vicinity of Munich and several more in the Black Forest region. More details to come, I’m sure.

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Cell phones and DSL and cable, oh my!

Michele and I are currently enmeshed in the process of sorting out all of our phone and internet options. It started out as a simple mission–“Let’s reduce our phone bill!”–but it has morphed into a gargantuan research project.
Should we drop the landline entirely and go voice-over-IP? If we’re doing that, should we switch from cable modem to direct-line DSL and get a bundle deal? And while we’re doing that, should we finally cave in and buy cellphones (that’s right, we’ve never owned a cellphone) so we’ll be covered in case the power goes out and we lose VoIP? Or do we dare trust the phone company’s oh-so-amazing DSL-cellular-landline bundle deal, when they’re the ones whose overpriced phone service kicked off this whole process in the first place?
When researching this sort of thing, you eventually reach a point where the sheer number of variables involved–pricing options, extra features, bundle possibilities, terms of service, activation fees–becomes overwhelming. I think I’m about at the point beyond which I simply cannot process any more information on this subject. So if you’re a pushy salesperson and you’ve got a great deal you can offer me on internet and telephone service, now’s the time to call; I’m far too weary to resist.

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Today at work, I did something that made me feel bad.
I got a phone call from a Random Person who asked for me by name, having seen an article I’d written online. He wanted to talk about the article, and to bounce some of his thoughts on the article’s subject off me. Basically, he wanted to chat with me.
I don’t get many phone calls in the course of my job, and I generally try to keep all of my interaction with Random People restricted to email. This is because I dislike talking on the phone, and really dislike talking on the phone with strangers (or salespeople). But I took the call today anyway, not realizing that the person on the other end was going to want to talk with me at length.
He launched into his conversation immediately, and it quickly became clear that the person on the other end of the line was going to be… difficult. I’m somewhat ashamed that my first reaction was “Oh great, I’m stuck in a conversation with a wacko.” I wouldn’t quite label this person a “crazy,” but he wasn’t too far from it. This person, you see, had some very odd ideas about the subject at hand, and hardly gave me any room to speak. I listened as he talked on and on, mumbling the occasional “I see” or “Mmm hmmm” as I tried to think of a way to politely end the conversation as quickly as possible.
Eventually, after about 10-15 agonizing (for me) minutes, he seemed to realize that I was hardly participating in the conversation, and that I was showing a definite lack of interest in talking to him. I politely thanked him for calling me and sharing his, uh, “interesting” ideas, and hung up.
The feeling I had as I hung up, however, was not victory, or elation at being free from the unbelievably awkward conversation, or even anger about the stream of crazy ideas to which I’d just been exposed. I felt… guilty.
Questions are milling around in my brain as I write this–questions about how I should have handled the situation. This guy had some strange ideas, but he was a real person, somebody who took the time to call me up because he wanted to talk to me about what was on his mind. Were his ideas obviously somewhat crazy? Definitely. Was he lacking in social skills? Yes. Was it bizarre that he called me at work to tell me his thoughts? Yep. Was avoiding conversation and essentially hanging up on him a morally appropriate action? I’m not sure it was.
I knew within moments of talking to him that this guy needed help. Not medical help, or even counseling help. He just sounded like he’d been alone for too long, like he’d been cooped up in his house reading oddball websites for too long. At some point in the conversation (and this should give you an idea of the rambling nature of his monologue) he mentioned that he hadn’t been able to find a church home because he felt judged by the churches he visited. But that’s exactly what this guy needed–some friends, some fellow believers, a community of other real people to tolerate him, improve his social skills, and set his life back on track.
I wish I had said something kind to him, encouraged him to keep looking for a church home. I should’ve not let that conversation end with him feeling sheepish for calling me up and babbling at me. I should not have let the excuse It’s not my job to help this guy even enter my mind, much less determine my course of action.
But I did. Maybe I’ll do better next time. And I hope somebody else can pick things up where I dropped the ball, and help this guy out.

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Muffin mania

This morning, Michele baked a batch of delicious muffins with chocolate chips in them. They are quite tasty, and presumably intended to be eaten over the course of several days. Then she went off to work, leaving the container of muffins on the kitchen counter.
To make a long story short, I’ve eaten a very large quantity of chocolate-chip muffins today. She’ll be home shortly and will inevitably see that the muffin container is now only about 30% full. She will also want to know why I’m too full to eat dinner.
I think it’s too late at this point to somehow create more muffins to replace those I’ve eaten. Nor can I think of a convincing story to explain the disappearance of all those muffins (the cats, who normally make good scapegoats, have shown no interest in the muffins, so Michele wouldn’t buy that). I might just have to face the music on this one.

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