Friday, August 29, 2008

The Final Countdown

3...2...1...Over...Well, just about over. It's the final weekend for voting in the Hallmark Your Funny*ness card contest. The final countdown, the end of the road, the last dance, last chance for romance tonight. Oh, wait, I've segued into a Donna Summer classic.
Did someone throw the cake out in the rain yet?

Okay, this is just nuts. Wait, that's it. Some days are just nuts. Sounds like the theme of a greeting card. A really funny greeting card. One with a very amusing photo of a squirrel on it.

Enough of this craziness. The final two days of voting in the card contest are upon us. They have now clouded the online vote status in a veil of secrecy. You can still vote, but they won't show you the results.

So, maybe, just maybe (oh sure, click my heels together three times and it'll happen) when the lights come up, and the final votes are tallied, and the results are posted Mr. Squirrel will find himself a winner. Uh, probably not. But does that mean we shouldn't try?

Does it mean that all the cupcakes I baked, the cookies I baked, the fliers I printed and handed out, the people I met, the excitement I felt, the Hallmark card store tour, the t-shirts we wore, the campaigning, the printed cards available in stores, were all for naught? I think NOT! It was fun. It was a brief moment in time. One moment in time. (Oh, sorry, another diva song). It was my Warhol share of the limelight. My 15 minutes. I even got one of my cards in the mail with a request for an autograph! (Thank you, Fred!)

Maybe we should try. Just one more rally. Would'ya, could'ya, double-dare'ya. Will you vote for me please? One last time? Or maybe two? For the good times.

Hey, you take the good, you take the bad, and then you have...oh, don't make me say it...the facts of life...

Let us climb every mountain. We'll be strong. We'll be invicible. We'll be Squir-rel!

Thankyou, folks. Thankyouverymuch!

Monday, August 25, 2008

My Sunshine

Sometimes, while I'm getting the birds ready for bed at night, I sing to them. Usually, the song is "You are my sunshine". Sometimes they sing along, very often they climb up on one of the playgyms, start to relax, and listen quietly, attentively. After a while, they close their eyes, twitter softly, contentedly. Occasionally, I think they expect me to let them sleep all night on top of their house on the playgyms. Eventually, I tuck them inside, one by one, and there they stay until the morning, and the sunshine, comes again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Could we really rally?

So, I logged on earlier today to vote for Mr. Squirrel, and I discovered our percentage had gone up from 2.7% to 2.8%. Huzzah! However, we were still in 13th place. Then, later this afternoon Joe logged on to place his vote, and, zippa-dee-doo, we were still at 2.8%, but in 12th place!! Yowza, Yowza, Yowza! Someone is voting for us for certain!

Could we rally? Really? Could we make it to the finish line? Catch up to that baby (who, by the way, is now a toddler)? It would take a major happening to pull that off. But, I'm grateful for the momentum. Looks like Mr. Squirrel will at least be getting a fresh bag-o-nuts, if not a weekend in Chicago with the comedy stylings of The Second City.

Thanks for voting, whoever you are!

Kimberly & Mr. Squirrel

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hallmark Summer

Well, the party's (nearly) over. Come August 31, voting will end for the Hallmark "Your Funny*ness" card contest, and I will be in the running no longer. I've had a beast of a time climbing back from 13th place. I was at 12th a while back. My percentage of votes has increased, and so many people have been kind enough to take the time to vote for me. But darned if that baby, and several other cards, just seem to have me beat.
I made a fair play for the finish line. I marketed. I visited over a dozen Hallmark stores in our region. In fact, Joe and I visited four of them today. Even got asked to sign my autograph at one!
I met some interesting people along the way. I was generously given a one-year membership to the Squirrel Lovers Club after contacting the president of the club about the contest. He was so kind and supportive. Check out their website if you get a chance. More information about squirrels than you would expect to find in one place. Gregg, the president of the club, is a genuinely nice guy.
I was brave (or crazy) enough to approach complete strangers with little hand-outs about the contest and ask them to vote for me. Most were gracious enough to at least take the hand-out and pretend interest. And for those that did actually vote, thank you!
At one point there was a small article in the local paper about the contest, and myself. I got a local radio DJ to vote for me, and plug the contest on-air. Last week I baked squirrel shaped sugar cookies and sent them to work with my husband in a last-ditch effort to rack up some votes. Although most said they would vote, the numbers didn't change. I suppose the other finalists are out there campaigning, too.
I have to give thanks to my friends, family, and co-workers for being so supportive and patient. I know I've sent email after email. Chattered on about the contest at length. And everyone has been very kind about it. Some of them even wore custom-designed squirrel t-shirts to promote the card. Many of them went to Hallmark stores and purchased a card, too!
Hallmark has a new contest for the holiday season. Submissions are due at 8am on Monday. So far I haven't come up with anything to submit. I think this will be a tough contest. It's heavily illustration based, which is defnitely not a strong point of mine. I can barely draw a straight line. So, I told my husband Joe that I didn't think I would be entering. The relief on his face was evident - at least he wouldn't have to bug his co-workers to vote for me again.
I did inform him, though, that I have two photos in the local Humane Society 2009 calendar contest, and that voting starts online in September. So, um, there will be more voting requests to come. Although I don't know any of the details yet, and I don't know if I'll make the cut anyway. The pictures are of my budgies, though, and who can resist their beautiful faces? We'll see.
Anyway, it's been a real Hallmark Summer (shouldn't that be a Beach Boys song?). I'll be sad to see it end.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Winking Game

I noticed it first when I visited the pet shop and was introduced to Tori. He was so sweet, and pretty. And when I talked softly to him he paid attention. I winked at him. He winked back. Coincidence? I tried it again. He responded. This went back and forth for a bit. He didn't shy away from me, and he winked back at me. This was a good sign. This was the one.

A lot of the manuals tell you that for the first few days you should leave the bird in its new house, keep things quiet. Let it settle in before talking to it, attempting to hold it, and so on. This may be the case when you buy a bird at Petco or somewhere like that. But when you buy from a specialty breeder that hand raises the babies themselves, things are a little different. At least they were for me. Kay & Ralph are among the believers in prompt results. They know their birds. They are careful to match the right birds with the right people. They always answer any questions I have (and I have had soooo many) with such patience, and a sense of humor and compassion.

It's possible that a bird will not eat in the first day or so that they are in their new home. They are adjusting to their new surroundings. They are nervous. I hated the idea of Tori going hungry, so I was of the mindset that I would get him to eat at least a little bit. If I could get him to eat, then I knew he would be happy here. That he would be okay. When I brought him home I talked softly to him. He was listening. He sat on my finger. Eventually, I put some seed in the palm of my hand and he ate some. I was so relieved. I didn't want to put him in for the night, I just wanted to watch him. Let him know he was going to be okay, and, happy. Joe finally convinced me to tuck Tori in to his new house and let him get some sleep.

Over the next days I talked to him. Played different music for him. Got him to sit on my hand, and on my shoulder. We played the winking game. It was a secret way of communicating. If I blinked hard, squishing my eye down, he did the same. It was adorable. By the end of the week he was hanging out on my shoulder, and napping beneath my chin while I watched television.

With each bird since then I've followed the same idea. I try to make that initial connection - if they pay attention when I speak, or are intrigued by the rest of the birdies when we visit the pet shop, if they play the winking game, I know it could be a good thing. And, so far, I haven't been wrong.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I found my Japanese-English-English-Japanese dictionaries today. I knew I had them stowed away somewhere, it just took a little searching. I found my multilingual guide map to New York, too. Joe and I took a look at it after dinner.

I actually have a fairly easy time with pronunciation when it comes to foreign languages. What I don't have much luck with is remembering any of it! So, as I've mentioned before, when we went to New York with "the cousins from Japan", I took several translation dictionaries, and a notebook, so I could jot down things ahead of time so we could communicate as well as possible. My sentence structure was terrible, but I could at least at least convey where we were, where we were going, ask if anyone was hungry, and so on. To be honest, most of my sentences consisted of one or two words. Three, if I was really working at it. Plus a hand motion or two. The ability to play charades does come in handy.

Joe grew up in a household where his mother spoke Japanese, and his father spoke some. Strangely enough, neither Joe, nor his sister Theresa, or brother John, picked up much of the language. A phrase here and there, the ability to count in Japanese. But no real working knowledge of the language. So, it was rather amusing that on this trip I spoke better Japanese than Joe did.

One key word worth learning in Japanese is daijobu (pronounced di-jo-boo). This word is essentially translated as "okay" or "fine". However, depending on how you present it, it serves multiple purposes. Asked as a question it serves to inquire whether or not the person (or persons) you are speaking to is "okay", or in agreement. Expressed as an exclamation, it can convey that you are happy, pleased, excited, or, obviously, okay. Coupled with a slight "ta-da" of the hands, it can signal "destination achieved". Here's where it gets a little more complicated.

If you want to suggest that the group get a bite to eat, you should make eye contact with everyone, ask very slowly, and somewhat loudly, "Is anyone hungry? Hungry? (motion to stomach). I think that we (motion to yourself, then to all) should go (motion towards something) to the restaurant over there (point to restaurant) and get something to eat (motion to your mouth, then rub your tummy). Pause to allow time for confusion to settle. If this does not work, allow additional time for your co-traveler with the translation dictionaries to look up random words having to do with dinner, food, eat, and so on. Try one or two words or phrases to get the message across. If this does not work, revert once again to speaking slowly with gestures. When this fails, just hand signal to all to follow you and lead them to the nearest eating establishment.
Upon arriving, exclaim "daijobu!"

Saturday, August 9, 2008

New York City, 2004

There were six of us. Joe, myself, and the cousins, Haruko, Rieko, Yuri, and Tsuyoshi. We were bunking in two separate hotel rooms at The Portland Square Hotel, just a few blocks from Times Square. It was quiet enough, with small, but tidy rooms. And, thank goodness, air conditioning, since it was the height of summer and it was HOT! In the 90's.

When we arrived in the city mid-Thursday afternoon, we had parked the van at a reserved parking garage and walked the 10 city blocks to our hotel, luggage in tow. Once there, we checked in, cleaned up, and headed out for some immediate adventure.

We stopped first for some lunch, which is a bit tricky when you can't really translate the menu to your guests. We found, somehow, that steak translated well, and, so, that's what the cousins ordered. After lunch we made our way to Battery Park, and to the Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty tours. Post 9/11 the Statue of Liberty was not open inside for tours at the time, but the grounds were open. We spent some time there, then got on the ferry to go over to Ellis Island. The museum was open and we spent quite a while there looking at all the exhibits.

There is an incredible display there. It stands floor to ceiling, and, maybe, two rooms wide or more. In it there are hundreds of photographs of people that have come through Ellis Island over the decades. You walk in one direction and see all the pictures, one by one, but when you stand back and walk in the opposite direction, the display becomes a giant, waving, American flag. I remember seeing this, then pointing it out to Yuri, who is twelve. I watched her walk along looking at the photographs, and then saw a surprised look come across her face as it changed into the flag. She laughed and clapped her hands.

We took the ferry back to Manhattan, and made our way up to the Financial District, and then to Ground Zero. It was strange to look into this wide empty space in the middle of this vast, iconic, metropolis, knowing what had happened. However, I found it even stranger to look towards the cityscape from the ferry coming back from Ellis Island and realize that those two very tall trade center buildings were, indeed, missing. We found our way to the Metro and headed back to mid-town.

To be honest, I can't recall exactly what we did after that. If we had dinner, or stopped anywhere else. I can remember that we were all exhausted from the long drive, and a day full of sightseeing and walking. I do recall that once we got to our room, Joe and I just dropped down on the bed and moaned about how tired we were, how our bodies ached from all the walking, and the heat. A little while later we managed to freshen up a bit and walked up the block to Langan's New York Bar & Restaurant for a glass of wine to celebrate our first day in NYC. I've no doubt the cousins were fast asleep by then. It had been a long day.

The next morning we met in the lobby and, together, made our way to the siteseeing tour, where the cousins met up with their translator and received a two-three hour tour of the city and the surrounding buroughs. This left Joe and I a few hours together, which we spent walking the city streets, and into Central Park. As mentioned in my previous post, this is the point where romance falters and the human condition kicks in. My digestive tract revolted and we bolted for the nearest restrooms. Finally, after a few hours we found ourselves running late to meet up with the cousins after their tour of the city.

We did catch up to them. They had stopped for a bite to eat near the tour company building, so we were able to find them pretty quickly. They wanted to find a currency exchange office so that they could exchange their yen for dollars, etc. It took a while, but we finally found one.

After that they wanted to do some shopping. We got on the metro, but, somehow, I had gotten us on the wrong one. So we got off, asked a stranger for directions, and got back on the right subway car. Next up, we visited Grand Central Station. They had some shops there, but not what we were looking for. So, we had a snack in the food court, and some guy overheard us talking about where to go, and he gave us a few pointers. He said if you had only one day to shop in NYC then you had to go to Macy's. So, off we went.

Macy's is huge. A little intimidating, if you ask me. We were really looking for touristy stuff, but it wasn't easy to spot. We finally asked one of the clerks and they told us it was in the basement, or some such thing. Ooh, that's where they send the tourists.

Anyway, we made our way down there and spent some time shopping. At one point Joe had to caution his cousin about being too open with her money. She needed to be careful. We found a wad of cash lying on the floor near the checkout. Oy-vay!

Evening was approaching. We made our way back towards Times Square. Then headed to Rockefeller Plaza. Took in some of the sights. Sat for a while and just absorbed the view, watching the people come and go. In the summer the center of the Plaza is like a big party, not a skating rink. It looks so different than that familiar image. We walked by NBC, Radio City Music Hall, then made our way south towards the Empire State Building. The building featured in so many movies. So many happy endings.

You have to understand, it had been a busy day. We walked a lot. I was a bit sick for a while. It was exciting, but a little stressful, as any good vacation might be. We managed to communicate between bits of Japanese and English, but it was frustrating not to be able to just converse.

After 9/11 the security at the Empire State Building had become a maze of checkpoints, photo id's, and rules. Just getting from the lobby to the elevator exit at the observatory deck takes forever. The entire way up, from floor to floor, you have to cue up for baggage xrays, id checks, and so on. They even photograph you. (And, you can even purchase a copy of said photograph -- we didn't).

So, it's dark now. We've been on line forever. We're so close to getting to the point where we can step out on the observation deck. Just a few people in front of us. Then it's our turn, I go up the last few steps to enter the shop that goes out onto the deck, and hear someone calling to the cousins to turn around.

They are turning back away from the line and heading in the wrong direction! Where are they going? All this security! I don't know what to say because my Japanese is sooooo limited. So, what do I do? What do I do?! Well, I growl! I turn towards them and, honest to God, growl! Stomp my feet. Joe motions to me to go ahead into the shop towards the observatory deck. He will handle it. I go inside. Feel the blood rushing to my head. Not even aware of how embarrassed I should be from my display. I had a meltdown, right there in the Empire State Building, in front of maybe 100 people. I wandered around the shop waiting for them to follow. They did not. A woman came up to me, "Excuse me," she said. "Would you like a Xanax?"

I didn't accept the Xanax, but thanked her kindly. I was calming down. We had been in line a long time. The cousins couldn't wait any longer and needed to use the restroom. That's where they were headed. Perfectly logical.

Finally, they were back. We found them out on the observation deck looking at the sites. Joe and I walked around, looked at the view of the city. Amazing. We were standing together. He put his hand in his pocket, pulled it back out, held it out, opened his palm, the ring glistened. "Still want to marry me?" he asked. I'd just had a major meltdown at one of the most famous places in America, and he still asked me to marry him. What else could I say? "Oh, alright" I said.

We found the cousins and showed them the ring. They congratulated us. Took our picture. We browsed the gift shop, then made our way back out of the building to the city streets below.

Friday, August 8, 2008

August 2004: Strangers in a Strange Land

Joe's father, a polish, and devout south-side Milwaukee man, spent time in the service in Okinawa, Japan. That's where he met Joe's mother, who is Japanese. His dad was persistant, won her heart, and they got married. When his time in the service was over, they came back to America, and Milwaukee, with baby Joe in tow.

Many years later, Joe and I were living together and talking marriage. Joe had purchased a ring. Well, we picked it out together. But once he had it, we had been playing a game of hide and seek with it all over the house. I was doing pretty well at finding it. But Joe wanted an opportunity to make an official proposal. I told him I wanted that ring by the end of summer (half-teasing).

We had been told that Japanese relatives were coming to visit the family towards the end of summer, but were not privy to any specific dates, names, or plans. Joe and I talked off and on about when his relatives might be coming. We should contact his folks and find out when. Find out if anyone needed a place to stay, and so on. But our timing was a little slow (as usual).

So, on a Sunday evening we received a call from Joe's parents. The cousins were in town and at their house. They wanted to meet him. For some reason I didn't go. Can't recall why. Joe called from me his parents house.

"Honey? Are you working this week?" I was inbetween jobs and temping at the time, so my schedule was somewhat flexible. I was scheduled to work part of the week, and said so. But, if needed, I could probably switch with someone. "My parents are wondering if you would escort my relatives to New York."

The scoop was...there were four cousins here from Japan. Three women (including a 12-year old girl), and one man. They had been told by many that if they were coming to America, they had to visit New York City. But they did not want to go alone. Joe's parents weren't up to traveling to New York, so they were trying to come up with a way to accommodate their cousins. Since I was temping, they hoped I would be able to get on a plane, or a train, and escort them to the city, then fly back home on my own. I told Joe to come home and we would discuss it.

While waiting for Joe to come back home, I went online and started researching. I checked plane rates, train rates, bus rates. Back in 2004 gas was much cheaper than it is today (well, in hindsight anyway). I figured the best way to handle this would be to drive to New York. We would borrow Joe's dad's van, pack it up, and drive out there. I found us great rooms just blocks from Times Square at a great rate (it wasn't even a slum). I found a parking garage where we could leave the van for a great rate and not have to worry about parking while we were there.

I presented this proposal to Joe when he got home.

We discussed it. I spoke no Japanese, so how could I possibly escort four people, that did not speak english, that I did not really know, to New York City and just dump them there all on their own? Besides, I've never been to New York City and here was an opportunity presenting itself. And, Joe had plenty of vacation time, he hadn't really taken any, so why not use up a few days worth?

The next evening we met with Joe's parents and his cousins to discuss our idea. Joe's mother served as translator, telling them our plan, and then telling us their response. They were relieved to know that they would not be left in New York City all alone.

That was Monday evening. We went home, made some calls. Made reservations for the hotel rooms online. Made a reservation for the parking online. I went out the next day and bought several English-to-Japanese-to-English dictionaries, a few New York maps and travel books, and started making notes and packing. Wednesday morning we loaded everyone into the van and started off for New York City.

Given more time to plan, I would have hired a NY college language student to come along with us on our travels and serve as translator. Joe's mom wasn't there with us, so I was piecing together sentences in a notebook so I could explain where we were, how far we were, if we were stopping at a rest area, getting food, and so on. They did know a bit of english, but not very much. The person who knew the most was Yuri, the young girl. She was learning english in school.

We quickly figured out a few words and motions to communicate, and showed maps, etc. when necessary. They had a map of NYC in Japanese, so we were usually able to compare and point out where we were going. I was able to make arrangements for them to go on a multi-language bus tour of the city where they had their own Japanese translator. You could see their entire bodies relax when they met the translator at the tour station. They would probably get a better tour of the city than Joe and I would.

The tour gave Joe and I some time to go off on our own. We decided to walk through the infamous Central Park. I was unaware, but Joe had discussed with his friends that this trip would be the perfect opportunity to offer me that engagement ring. He was hoping to take me on a carriage ride around Central Park and propose then. However...

My stomach...most likely in reaction to the stress of the impromptu trip, lack of sleep, and erratic eating, and, maybe, one too many Starbucks iced coffees (there really is one on just about every corner in NYC), stomach decided to revolt. So, there we were in the middle of Central Park, and I was desperate to find a bathroom. This was not cute. Not romantic. This was panic. We found one. I was a bit hesitant to go in, after all, this was Central Park in NYC. Surprisingly enough, the restroom was quiet, and pretty clean. Ah, relief. Joe waited patiently for me.

We started walking through the park again. It was mid-August. Hot. Humid. My relief didn't last long. Suddenly we were making another mad dash for the nearest restroom. We spied the Plaza Hotel not far in the distance and made a beeline for it. It's a lovely hotel. I can now highly recommend use of the restrooms there. I have no idea about the quality of the restaurants, rooms, or anything else. Just, thank goodness they have nice restrooms. I did tip generously.

So, no carriage ride, no proposal. We were all strangers in a strange land. Strangers to each other, strangers to the city. We were running late to meet up with the cousins after their tour. What would happen next...