Thursday, December 27, 2007

The King of Ping Pong

Mrs. Abbey, Little Abbey and I spent Christmas day on the farm. It was a simple celebration just like we always have. Brother Abbey with his broken leg couldn't make it up here to Iowa so he spent his Christmas at his girlfriend's house putting together a folding ping pong table for her two children. That note certainly brought back lots of happy memories.

For Christmas one year, my brother and I received a ping pong table as a gift. It had belonged to our grandfather but since he didn't play anymore, he gave it to our father who somehow snuck it in while we were sleeping. After all the other presents were opened, we proceeded to carry it up to one of the unheated bedrooms on the second story of the old seven bedroom farmhouse we lived in at the time but couldn't get the single table surface up the stairs. After much debate, measuring and cutting once, we carried two halves up and soon had it ready to go.

My father taught us the rules and then proceeded to slaughter us every time we played, often games ending early under the skunk rules of 7 to 0 or 14 to 1. When he tired, my brother and I would spend the rest of the day playing marathon sessions against each other. Years passed and we gradually got better. The room had about two feet to spare on each end of the table before the wall and the sides a scant foot. The walls started showing signs of our exertions with a few holes appearing from stray paddles or a foot stuck through while stretching for a ball. Then when we were older, the day came when first my brother and then I started beating our father in games.

When I entered high school, the Physical Education class had a quarter during the winter months where ping pong was taught. We would play round robin style against everyone in class a few different times and then had a tournament. My very first game, a male classmate of mine served the ball in a slow lob and I spike it back at him leaving a bruise on his abdomen where the ping pong ball hit after hitting his side. He was then gun shy and I handedly slaughter him. Coach saw that and I was forced for the rest of the quarter to play left handed or against him. I usually opted to play him but hated to because of his extreme English he placed on the ball but could still always beat him. The tournament between all the classes eventually came and without much surprise I was crowned the king of ping pong.

For three years I was king until my senior year of high school when my brother and I were in the finals. To this day I remember the crowds of people standing all around that table set up in the middle of the gym with still more people hanging off the balcony watching as my brother and I battled the ping pong battle to end all battles. Alas I would like to say I won but my brother was the victor. He had always been better and I had known it would be inevitable when he got to high school but I was still sad to let the crown pass on.

Throughout college, I occasionally me the guy in the bar who thought he was king of ping pong and after much trash talking, I would offer a friendly wager over a game. I happened to know a ping pong table in one of the dorm rec rooms that mostly gathered dust and soon I would be walking away with a few more dollars in my pocket. It wasn't until I was several years out of college that I finally made a wager with a friend whom I just discovered played ping pong that I had to pay out. In my prime I could have beat him but years of playing just once a year had taken the toll and after a long battle that went into overtime, I got beat.

A half decade has gone by and I haven't held a paddle or even thought about it until Christmas morning and my brother's phone call. I asked him if he would have mercy or slaughter them from the beginning as our father had. He said he would show no mercy even if he had to sit in a chair with his broken leg cradled out in front of him. The crown is still being passed on.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Donald

I work with a man named Donald who is a fascinating study of how we grow up in the environment provided us. Given a different environment than what we had, we would all probably grow up to be very different people. I've never seen Donald's parents or where he grew up but then again, I'm not sure I would want too.

Donald is different. He is forty years old, never been married and chalk full of interesting quirks. One of his more interesting tics is his loud hiccup. He will hiccup once in awhile with a single hiccup so loud that everyone in the office can hear it and then he will be silent. I often wonder if his lungs still remain in their proper places after such an incident. Another tick is that he is forever scratching his ears. One would think that this is something that you do silently in the privacy of your own office and nobody would know but not Donald. He scratched his ears like a dog so that you can hear this thwak thwak thwak sound every time his hand goes by his ear. It is loud enough that probably half the people in our office can hear him scratch which probably averages to a handful of times a day.

When if comes to food, Donald is king. People sometimes bring food to the office and leave it in the break room downstairs. Don will stop in there to check when he gets to work, at least once in the morning, right before he leaves for lunch, right after lunch, in mid afternoon and on his way home. How do I know this? Because he told me so. We consider him our early snack warning device because when he finds food, he will walk around to all our offices showing us his plate of food and letting us know that it is down in the break room. His seriousness at office food is so strong, that we will sometimes tease him when by talking about the imaginary crock-pot of little smokies or box of donuts in the break room when we know he is within hearing range. He will immediately head down to the break room to check it out only to find nothing. Which means when someone brings food in after he has checked it, we can also eat it in front of him and he won't believe that there is any in the break room believing we are pulling his leg. He will agonize over this for ten minutes or so before his stomach overrides his brain and he goes down anyway.

Not only does Donald go down to the break room often, he gets lots of food. On one memorable instance, I brought a cake that my wife had made to work. I put it on the break room table and went upstairs. Once there, I remembered I had forgot to leave the knife so I went back. There was Don just putting a slab of cake onto his plate that he had cut out with the handle of a plastic fork. That wasn't unexpected but what was unexpected was seeing that his one piece totaled 1/4th of the entire cake. Don is not bashful with food. When people bring holiday food to work, most of us browse and get a sample here and there. Don will pile a plate heaping full, unmindful that 60 or 70 other people might want to have some, and then go back several times during the day.

One day I asked him what he eats at home since I had seen him load up a heaping plateful the day before to take home after work. He says he eats frozen TV dinners on weekdays and then eats boiled chicken on weekends. I guess I couldn't blame him after that for loading up on food here.

Another tidbit that I am about to relay, I thought I had blogged about once before but can't find it so I will mention it again. Our office is attached to a factory overflowing with men who let me just say, can be unmerciful at times if they find out something embarrassing about you. One day last year, a couple of the more unmerciful ones were talking about seeing the movie 40-Year Old Virgin when Donald walked up. They asked him if he had seen the movie and his comment was no, but that he would be one the following year and then he walked off. The factory workers were speechless, something I have never ever seen since, for a full minute just looking at each other before they fell on the floor laughing. For months afterwards, that story was told over and over throughout the plant.

Donald likes to build model cars as a hobby but says he doesn't get much chance because he has too many chores to do at home. His tiny one bedroom house can't require more than ten minutes to clean from top to bottom but I am afraid to ask how come his chores take so long. He vacations only with his parents and older sister, also unmarried, and never goes out anywhere at night. The only trips he talks about making after work are to the grocery store to stock up on frozen TV dinners and to the movie theaters within a 50 mile radius. He is perhaps the most knowledgeable person I know on children's movies, which scares me quite a bit as well. He is definitely a unique individual and someday I would love to see the environment he grew up in to produce such a personality…. from a distance.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Little Abbey Sweets

A week ago, I was in the mood for some sugar cookies in various holiday shapes and smothered in powdered sugar frosting so I made some. I've found that unless you are quick about eating them and by quick I mean snarfing them down in 1.2 seconds or less, Little Abbey will see you and demand one. Most things it would take her ten minutes to eat through something that size but with the cookies it takes her about 10 seconds and she wants another one.

My wife had a little ornate glass container with a heavy sealed glass lid full of holiday Hershey's Kisses that is on the cedar chest in our great room. It is used only for decoration and we really don't eat out of that container. Little Abbey figured our yesterday how to get it open and came walking into the kitchen to show mom her chocolate treasure that she had in her hands before she popped it in her mouth and started dancing around. Ten minutes later she repeated the same thing, managing to get the tinfoil wrapping off somehow and again popping it into her mouth. Mrs. Abbey decided to curtail this before it could get blown out of proportion and hid the container when Little Abbey wasn't looking. Ten minutes later you could here this whining coming from the great room as someone discovered her sugar fix had been taken away.

Mrs. Abbey made some chocolate cookies a Little Abbey could sense that something was up. They were put on a piece of wax paper on top of the counter to cool and we went into the living room. About ten minutes later we here this scraping across the floor as Little Abbey pushed a small ladder that vertically challenged Mrs. Abbey sometimes used to get into upper cupboards, clear across the room and right up next to the counter. Little Abbey then climbed up the ladder until she could see the cookies and that is when we caught her and gave her the evil eye. She reluctantly climbed back down the ladder but went back several times to check on them the rest of the evening.

So we've learned that although a few months ago Little Abbey really didn't seem to care for sweets, those taste buds have now developed and she craves them. We try to counteract this recent development by keeping a bowl of fruit in sight and it has worked to some extent. Little Abbey goes through a couple bananas a day sometimes plus part of an apple or maybe an orange. But she can point out exactly where every sweet in the house is located even if it is out of reach, out of sight and under lock and key.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Little Abbey at 18 Months

After eighteen months of writing Little Abbey updates, my mind is having a more difficult time in differentiating the past from the present. So many new things, lots of them subtle many of them not, that I had a hard time remembering if she has been able to do that for two weeks or two months. I fear that I might start repeating myself at times so much so that I offer up the warning, if I have previously mentioned it, just skip ahead. So in no particular order.

Little Abbey understands a large amount of words though she speaks just a handful of them that two scientific minded parents can understand. Gradually we have started figuring out that the babble she says does bear some resemblance to the word banana or doll. But she does understand more of what I say to her than what I can of what she says to me. For example, if I ask her to help me load the dishwasher, she carries me stuff to put into it, closes the soap door lid after I had added some, pushes the tray into the machine and closes the door. If mom asks her for the newspaper, she will go to the door where I have put the paper on my way to work, retrieve it and bring it back. We have even been working with her so that when we tell her to wash her face or blow her nose, she will get the appropriate item, i.e. napkin or kleenex, use it and then throw it away. She almost always gets are verbal commands right these days but occasionally she makes a mistake. Last week, we asked her to go get her broom, a small miniature version we bought a while ago, to help us sweep the floors. She went off into the other rooms and eventually came back with her push trike that we have called her vroom-vroom. I can understand her confusion.

Other things Little Abbey has learned to do without being asked. Whenever she spots a piece of kleenex or other debris lying around, she will pick it up and throw it away. After she has been changed, she will throw away her diaper too. If we are putting on our shoes getting ready to go somewhere, she will go get whatever pair of shoes she wants to wear and put them on too. If we don't get ready to go fast enough to suit our tastes, she will go stand by the door and let us know!

As Geri mentioned in her blog, at this stage of life they are just perfectly proportioned. Not to thin, not to chubby and so full of character that I can't help but see her as a mini adult. There is no longer any sign of the baby that once slept in my arms over a year and a half ago in the hospital.

Little Abbey has mastered her utensils enough where she feeds herself all the time now. We set down a bowl of whatever we are eating in front of her and let her go to town. Sometimes it takes her a little longer when we are having something like spaghetti but with a little help with her left hand, she manages. She has twelve teeth in now, 8 fronts and 4 molars, and is working on her two lower canines now. With all that biting power, she loves eating apples now along with her other favorite bananas, as long as we get the apple started for her. We have found that apples take her so long to eat, that they are guaranteed to keep her occupied for at least an hour. Imagine, a babysitter that grows on trees!

Speaking of babysitting, my wife and I were sitting in our great room enjoying a fire with a candle burning on the cedar chest between us. We don't normally use them down where Little Abbey can reach them, but we did on this day and for the most part, Little Abbey had ignored it other than to stare at it for a few minutes when first lit. So it was shocking when my wife's frantic shouting of fire while slapping at Little Abbey's hands roused me from the book I was reading. I thought Little Abbey had started her clothes on fire but my wife started dancing on the floor still shouting fire. I leapt out of the chair and rushed around the chest to see a burning kleenex ineffectually being stamped on by my wife's tiny feet. So I put my big feet to work and stamped it out within seconds. Evidently, Little Abbey had found a kleenex, held it on the candle setting it on fire, and tried showing her accomplishment to mom. My wife had slapped it out of her hand and started screaming. Fortunately, Little Abbey wasn't burned, the hardwood floor wasn't scorched and judging by Little Abbey's reaction as she hunkered out of the way watching her parents jump on the fire, I don't think she will do it again anytime soon. Even if she wants to she won't get a chance, as all lit candles will be well out of her reach in the future.

Little Abbey seems to be well into the mimicking stage. When my wife is painting, Little Abbey is creating works of art with watercolors and washable markers. When mom is baking, Little Abbey sits on the counter and helps her stir or add ingredients, often times dipping in a finger for a taste… or four. When taking a bath, she helps by pouring water from a glass over herself to rinse off. When sweeping a floor, she 'helps' with her broom. Little Abbey and I have this mimic game going that keeps getting more complex. She will come up to me and stick a finger in her mouth. I will do the same with mine. She will them move her hand onto her mouth and then move it back and forth to create her war whoop and I will do the same. On we go doing everything from patting our stomachs to lifting both feet high into the air. It is funny when we have done this game for a while and she runs out of ideas for my to mimic. She will pause and you can see those wheels in her head turning for a few seconds before she comes back with something, most of the time just repeating something occasionally with something new, like sticking her finger up her nose. I am forced to comply.

I don't remember how long ago I modified her crib so that she can get in and out on her own but she loves it. In the mornings, she will just get up, open her bedroom door and come into our room to check on us. On the weekends, when I am there, she will hand me my glasses, fetch my slippers and do about anything to get me to get up. My wife tells me that occasionally when she gets up too early and my wife wants a little more sleep, she simply ignores her efforts and she will either go back to her bed to lie down for awhile longer or find something to play with until my wife wakes up like mommies makeup or a roll of toilet paper. We haven't heard a tear in the morning in ages. It is also nice for taking naps so that she can just come downstairs when she wakes up and saves us having to go fetch her. We thought this might make it hard for Little Abbey to stay in bed at night when we put her to bed despite her wishes. But she seems to know that it is bedtime and stays there even though she will put on a show of protest stating that she would rather be playing downstairs.

I could go on but this post is already too long so I will close with one of Little Abbey's specialties now… the flying kiss. Mmmmmmmmm-ah (the sound effect that goes along with it.)

Oh Christmas Tree

Christmas officially began in our household this past Sunday with the trimming of the tree. Because of the Saturday ice storms and a visit by some friends, we didn't get started driving down to the family farm until Sunday afternoon. The wind was at times gusty and getting stronger while the temperature was falling. I had tried calling my parents to see if they wanted to get their tree at the same time but had only gotten their answering machine. We stopped by the house when we got down there and they were still gone so we set off by ourselves.

Our Christmas tree plot is an old corner of pastureland that had been neglected by the previous tenants. Red cedar trees have grown up here and there, most to big to mow with a brush cutter and clearing it really serves little purpose since it isn't worth farming. This is the third year we have gotten our tree from there and each time, we hunt around and find the perfect shaped tree but think that there isn't another tree worth going to get next year. Yet when next year rolls around, one of the trees deemed to small from the previous year turns out to be just right and perfectly shaped. The cycle continues and probably will for some time to come.

We bundled up Little Abbey in her all terrain stroller and I scrambled up the steep ditch careful not to let her tip. When we made it to the top of the bank, we hadn't walked but fifteen or twenty feet when we found a nice tree. We might have cut it down had we walked around for fifteen minutes first looking at others but since we hadn't been out of the car more than a few minutes, we made a mental note of the location, right by the car, and continued on. Clear on the far side of the patch beneath the pond where we found ourselves ten minutes later was another lovely specimen. This one actually had two trunks that forked about a foot up from the ground and made it appear more dense than normal. It looked great. I would have opted still for the first tree but the wind was howling and already I was starting to feel the cold. Little Abbey seemed fine in her bundle of clothes but I had not dressed as warmly. We made the decision to get this one and I cut it down with the handsaw.

I drug it the 100 yards back to the road and walked another 100 yards back to the van to drive it closer. Almost fifteen minutes after we started, we had the tree loaded up and were heading back to the farm feeling chilled to the bone. My parents still weren't home when we got back so Mrs. Abbey put the finishing touches on a fruit tart to leave behind as payment while I talked with some deer hunters that were heading back into the woods on this opening weekend of first season. Just as we were leaving, my parents pulled in and we talked for an hour and let Little Abbey stretch her legs awhile and get spoiled by grandma's stash of gummy bears.

The 50-minute drive home was pleasant with our eight-foot tall cedar smelling tree even if it lacked the little string to hang to the rearview mirror. We ate a bit of supper and then got to work setting up the tree and trimming it while the Christmas music played in the background and a nice fire burned in the fireplace. The green food coloring that I added to the first pot of water will green it up nicely and the aroma of cedar will fill that part of the house for the next month. It's a simple tree, but the price was right and it is tradition in our family. Going out and buying one at the store just wouldn't seem like Christmas.