Lehman Family Christmas letter

Originally written December 8.
Yesterday was a good day. Woke up when I felt like it; opened Christmas presents with my fiancĂ©e Ellen; lounged around all day munching candy, listening to Christmas carols and doing a puzzle; had the traditional Christmas dinner of spaghetti carbonara; made and ate an entire batch of chocolate chip cookies; and fell asleep watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“But it’s not yet December 25!” you exclaim. “This is madness!”
Madness? THIS. IS. CHRISTMAS!
As you may have realized, I’ve been re-watching the movie “300” and enjoying the story of the ragtag band of Spartans taking on the hordes of Persians trying to conquer them. Though they ultimately lost the battle, it is the struggle against a seemingly insurmountable force that makes the combat so entertaining. That, and the seething badassedness of King Leonidas and his warriors. For the Lehmans, 2008 proved a similarly difficult task, but you’ll be happy to know we emerged victorious.

You may be wondering why I’m celebrating Christmas before Christmas. I could tell you it’s because I’ve been living in Germany from October until December 20, but then you’d just ask why I’m living in Germany, so let me explain by telling you about my year. I spent as much of ’08 as possible staying out of Los Angeles, my disdain for the traffic, the people, and even the constant sunshine getting the better of me. Through my job as a supervisor with SkyWest Airlines, it cost literally nothing to fly, so February I went to Orlando, March I went to Thailand, April was Phoenix, May I saw Vegas, July I outdid myself with Salt Lake City then Dallas then Des Moines, and August found me in Colorado for our family vacation (more on that later). So when October came, I decided it was time for a break, quit my job, and moved to Germany.

Okay, so it wasn’t that simple. Ellen got a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in a little town near the Swiss border called Meersburg, so I took the opportunity to live out here until the end of the year with almost no expenses and even fewer commitments. We’ve taken a couple short trips to Vienna and Slovakia, as well as day trips throughout southern Germany, but for the most part I’ve been working on independent writing and projects. For more on that, check out misusingecards.blogspot.com. But right before Germany, I flew up to Portland and asked Ellen to marry me, to which she of course said “Hell yes.” To victory!
To save up for my life abroad, Daniel let me crash on his couch for the summer, effectively cutting my cost of living by about a grand. Plus, it gave me the chance to see how the other half lives. He still works at WaMu, he’s still going to school for his Master in Psychology, and he’s still surfing, despite a small mishap where his board attacked him and gashed open his face. But he just shouted, “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood!” and got back on it. Some new things he’s doing: worrying about whether or not he’ll still be working at WaMu tomorrow; preparing to do his practicum for school, meaning actual psychology stuff like “it’s obvious you’re subconsciously in love with your dog and this love is manifesting itself in the brightly-colored ties you wear”; and accompanying me to the great state of Iowa for a visit with our old friend Becky, where we drank beer out of Das Boot and saw a Moose on the Loose (it’s exactly what you think it is, as long as you think it’s a store full of Midwestern doodads).
It wouldn’t be a year in the life of Daniel without some risky behavior, so in September, he and I drove up north to Whitney Portal, where we met up with Dave (dad), Roger (uncle) and Dennis Reibold (friend) and hiked all the way up to the 14,505 ft summit of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48. It was breathtaking, truly. We could barely breathe. Then just a week later, Daniel took me hang gliding for my 24th birthday at Dockweiler Beach in LA, and we ran up and down hills with wings attached, trying desperately to fly. Each time Daniel gripped the glider, and each time something went slightly awry. Finally, the last attempt: his hands were steady, his aim—perfect! And by the end, we each caught at least 10 feet of air for at least 5 seconds.

By now you must be wondering: did Dave make it down off the mountain alive? Surprisingly, yes, and so did Roger and Dennis. For a few old fogies, they really held their own as mountain men, especially considering that only 1 out of every 3 people who attempt to climb to the top of Whitney don’t make it. (Don’t make it as in can’t get to the top, not as in die.) We each just put one foot in front of the other, trudging every step of the way, even when darkness came and we were still on the mountain. But it wasn’t fear that gripped us, only a heightened sense of things. And yes, I may have dropped in that statistic just to brag, but can you blame me?
Aside from several practice hikes, Dad spent the rest of ’08 in the usual manner: deaconing, real estate brokering, and music group singing with Michelle (mom). He took a few trips, including one with Michelle and I to Orlando for the annual Century 21 convention, and we enjoyed an air boat ride through an alligator infested swamp and a day at the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (or EPCOT, for you philistines out there). He also celebrated being cancer free for two years, and he took on a post as spiritual advisor for St. Vincent De Paul Council of Northern California. In his position, he is sure to usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine.
With their traveling buddies, the Reibolds, Dave and Michelle went to Arizona in April to see our good friend Corry, and I tagged along for a couple days. We all went to see feathered dinosaurs at the Mesa Natural History museum, then I flew back for work and the rest of them did all the stuff I didn’t care about like botanical gardens and Sedona. A couple months later, Michelle met up with me in Salt Lake City because I had a free hotel room for a work conference, so she spent a couple days exploring and we enjoyed some good old fashioned Mormon culture. And because they have a million timeshares and had to use one up, Dave and Michelle just spent a week in San Francisco pretending they haven’t been there a bunch of times by riding cable cars, taking a Bay Cruise, and visiting Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Ferry Building, Pier 39, the Aquarium, China Town, Union Square, and St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Other than excessive travel, mom kept herself busy trying to stay afloat in the midst of real estate craziness, but with her “never retreat, never surrender” attitude and the help of His Holiness the Deacon Dave, she managed to close enough deals to keep putting food on the table. Since real estate wasn’t so busy, she also took the opportunity to get elected to the Board of Directors for the Sacramento Association of Realtors, as well as be reappointed to the Deacon Advisory Council for a second 3 year term. Who really knows what either of those do, but it’s important to note that she, too, is sure to usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine.
Of course, what would a year be without a Lehman family vacation? Worthless, that’s what. Last December, just before Christmas, we all flew down to Cancun for a week full of ancient Mayan ruins and deadly ball games, aquatic zoos with pooping pumas (pictures available online), and a tour guide named Jesus that constantly reminded us to “trust in Jesus.”

But that was last year’s vacation that just didn’t make it into the newsletter before deadline. This year, we stayed closer to home by getting Rocky Mountain high in Breckenridge, Colorado. We drank some brews at the Coors factory in Golden and did a lot of hiking. Dave, Daniel and I drove out to Quandary Peak, where we did what we were trained to do, what we were bred to do, what we were born to do. Three hours and several meetings with mountain goats later, we reached the top, and enjoyed the view that only 14,265 ft can afford. I couldn’t get an entire week off, so I had to fly back early and missed the second hike of 12000 ft up to Black Powder Pass. I can’t imagine anything being fun that doesn’t involve the possibility of blacking out from lack of oxygen and falling thousands of feet to one’s death, but the pictures made it seem like Dave, Michelle and Daniel had a good time. So all in all, Colorado was good to us.

And that’s our story for 2008. We faced some challenges, but only the hard, only the strong may call themselves Lehmans, and we triumphed in the end. As for me, I’ll be headed home December 21 just in time to enjoy my second Christmas of the month, then the 25th I get to have a third. With three days of gifts and celebration, I feel like I’m three-eighths of the way to becoming a Jew. However many days of festivities you and your family have, we Lehmans hope they’re everything you wish for this season. And if there’s one piece of advice I can leave you with, it’s this: Prepare for glory!
Love,
Dave, Michelle, Daniel and Mark (me)
P.S. For Michelle’s website, visit www.fairoakshomes.net. Dave and Daniel can be reached via e-mail at deaconlehman@gmail.com and ddlehman@gmail.com, respectively. And we are such a high-tech family we can all be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Adios, Deutschland.

Oops, I mean "Auf wiedersehen." I guess I learned nothing here.

Just kidding, I picked up a bit here and there.

I leave tomorrow morning early to take the bus to the train to the plane to Dublin, Ireland, where I stay until Sunday morning and fly out to San Francisco and get in just in time for Christmas with the Lehman extended family.

If I make it through this weekend alive and in one piece, I'll write observations on my final days in Germany.

A nice farewell from Europe

My time here is almost up, as I leave on Saturday to head back home in time for Christmas, and it seems Europe has decided to say "good riddance" by making my money worth so much less. When I arrived three months ago, the exchange rate was around $1.25 = 1 euro, and it stayed pretty steadily there until last week, when it started rising. Since then, it's been going up by about 3 cents per day, and today it's at $1.44 = 1 euro.

Okay Europe, I get it, I'm not wanted here anymore. Geez.

For more on how much the dollar sucks right now, read Bloomberg.

Merry Christmas eCards!

Okay, so maybe not so "merry," but funny, I think. Here's a sample from my other site, Misusing eCards:






And my personal favorite:


It hurts so good

I just finished doing 51 straight pushups, and I’m only halfway to my goal.

When I arrived in Germany a couple months back, I was determined to improve on some areas of my life that had been lacking, one of which was exercise. So I started doing some pushups, doing my own routine and feeling good. Then I heard from my friend Mindy about this thing called the Hundred Pushups Challenge, and I knew it was my destiny.

I’ve just finished Week 5 of a 6-week program, and at the end of this week, I’m supposed to be able to do 100 pushups in a row. Somehow, I don’t see that happening, since it’s taken me 5 weeks to go from 25 pushups to 50. But if it takes another 5 or even 10 weeks, I’m going to hit that 100 goal.

My pushups goal might be easier now that I’ve stopped doing my other exercise: the stairs workout.

Picture 044 Picture 048

There are about 100 stairs total, right around the corner from our apartment here, and at one point I was going up and down those bad boys about 16 times in a 30-minute session. It was quite a workout, plus I got the added bonus of having all the German people using them to get from the bottom to the top or vice versa give me weird looks. Three months into my stay, though, I’m used to weird looks from Germans.

I took this little video the other day to further illustrate the magnitude of this task:


Sadly, since it’s been snowing and raining, the steps have iced over and are basically a death trap, so I’ve discontinued that part of my workout.

To sum up, when I get out of bed in the morning, something new hurts every time.

(The music in the video, if you're wondering, is a friend from high school, Eric, playing the theme song from the old Nintendo game "Mike Tyson's Punch Out." Download it at http://ericslittleshack.tripod.com/.)

A VERY lazy Sunday

So much so that I pulled out my old Apple //e emulator and played some Oregon Trail. I decided to be a carpenter; being a banker afford way too much money and not enough difficulty, but the life of a farmer is harsh and often unsanitary. Me being an impatient man, I bought the maximum oxen I could (18) and was plugging along at 30 miles a day.

Just after crossing the first two rivers, a thief came in the night and stole 16  oxen. 16! How could all five of us in my party have missed the sounds of 16 oxen leaving camp?! Well, our pace slowed considerably and a few of us came Ellen has cholera on the Oregon Traildown with some nasty diseases (Buddha got typhoid, Jesus got the measles). Then Ellen caused all kinds of problems when she broke her arm, then got lost for 4 days, then broke her leg, then got cholera, then got lost for another 5 days. You'll be happy to know, though, that we all made it alive and in fair health to the beautiful Willamette Valley.

 

Since I was in a nostalgic mood, I did a quick Google search and found another classic: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. I had a few missteps when first I caught up to the thief and had forgotten to issue a warrant, but got my groove back and was busting heads quick. However, something I noticed disturbed me. The detective (me, I guess) sleeps from 11pm until 9am. It seems the game makers were trying to teach CARMEN09kids that 10 hours of sleep is very important, even when on the hunt for a major criminal who just stole the elevator out of the Eiffel Tower (I’m not making this up).

Lesson learned. I, however, would rather put in the extra effort and guard the safety of all other famous monuments’ elevators.

It's like a drug.

I don't even remember how I found this game, but every time I use the internet now I find myself on their site, playing it.

It's called Flood-It. Instructions from the site:
The object of the game is to flood the whole board with one color in less than 25 steps. You start from the top left corner and progress by selecting one of the colored balls on the left. When you change your current area color, every adjacent square with the same color also changes, that way you can flood other areas on the board.
Give it a try, see how addicting it is.

Frozen knees and the best Christmas present ever

The snow continued to fall overnight, covering the landscape in another couple inches of fresh powder, and Ellen and I took advantage. But before I detail our adventures, let me relay a short story to you of a budding architect and a horrible (but also maybe brilliant) Christmas present.

When I was about 10 years old, I decided it was time that I started giving my extended family Christmas presents. Having no stable source of income other than a meager $3 a week allowance, I found the most economical place to shop would the the old 98 Cent Clearance Center, where everything was 98 cents. (I believe they’ve since been bought out by the dollar tree, where everything costs $1. Inflation is tough.)

The woman in the family all got lovely 98 cent earrings, and the men got anything from mugs to cassette tapes of awful music, and everyone feigned gratefulness. However, my two cousins I idolized, so I wanted to make something special for them.

One cousin, Todd, had been attending the US Military Academy at West Point, so I took a pioneer wagon that I had made out of popsicle sticks in cub scouts, painted it camouflage, and then led him on a treasure hunt to find it. When he finally did, he certainly had little idea of what to say, but acted like it was the best gift in the world and was able to fool me.

I felt bad, though, because I only had one popsicle stick creation and two cousins. So, for my cousin Jeff, I took the remaining popsicle sticks and made the best possible structure: a wall. Of course, even my 10-year-old mind knew a popsicle stick wall wasn’t much of a Christmas present unless it was marketed correctly, so I painted in large red letters on it “The Wall 2000.”

You can probably guess that he loved it; so much so, in fact, that he still talks about it as the best present he’s ever gotten. (A close second is another of my masterpieces: a beer can wrapped with a home-printed label saying “can of whupass.”)

So without further ado, I present “The Wall 3000.”

The Wall 3000

Sadly, because there were only about 5 inches of snow, we had to resort to trick photography. Here’s how high “The Wall 3000” is.

Victory!

* * *

We also had another baby. Looks like our snowman has a new baby sister.

Our new baby

They grow up so fast, don’t they?

A few weeks ago, Ellen and I had a baby.

Baby snowman!

A baby snowman, that is. Then the sun came out and our little tyke took off and headed someplace where it was colder so he could survive. Naturally, we were a bit sad.

Today, however, was a splendid day, because our little guy came back to us, full grown!

No longer a snow boy... he's become a fine young snow man.

We only got to spend a short time with him, as he is heading off to France to strike out on his own and pursue the arts. Here he is dressed up in his French beret with proud dad:


Proud dad and son

When mom went to give him a hug goodbye, he actually got so choked up that he vomited on himself. Poor fella.

A tender moment with mom

We wish him the best of luck, and next time we see him, he might even have a wife!

Camels and wieners - the real deal.

A short trip to Neuschwanstein & Nurnberg wielded unexpected but delightful results:




My nickname in college was "the llama."



Guess who won this fight?



Joe Camel's cousin, Steve.



Mrs. Claus looks smaller than I remember. And harrier. And much more dog-like.



It's a half a meter long. And if you're wondering: yeah, it's real.

Better than Neil Diamond? Is that even possible?

Last year's Christmas letter contained over 20 individual references to Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits, so trying to top that will be a tall order. Of course, in years past I've talked about Captain Planet, scrotal support, and forcefully-imposed fasts. Anyone following along should easily be able to realize that at this point, I'm mostly just trying to amuse myself with these.

With that in mind, I get to work. Hopefully I'll have it finished before Christmas. It would be so much easier just to send ecards to everyone.

PS If you'd like me to send you a paper copy of the Christmas letter, shoot me your address.

Chocolate in Germany, but (thank God) not German chocolate

For Thanksgiving, despite my thinking it's a terrible holiday, Ellen and I did the whole turkey and mashed potatoes thing. Then I went a little crazy with the chocolate mousse, so we had delicious dessert that lasted up until Thursday.

Unfortunately, the mousse is no longer on the loose. Fortunately, Germany offers several other options.

Chocolate croissants
They are available at nearly every corner backery, and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

  • The classic croissant often comes filled with Nutella, a delicious chocolate hazelnut cream filling.




  • Of course, sometimes the classic is drizzled with chocolate syrup, or sprinkled with carmelized sugar on top. In other words, Nutella filled awesome, drizzled with drops of liquid and/or sprinkled awesomeness.




  • There's the bar croissant, a plain jane pastry filled with delicious chocolate chunks. My personal favorite.




  • And lastly, the football-shaped croissant. Very similar to the classic, this one usually comes packaged and sold in grocery stores. Not amazing, but a solid dessert.



Not into French pastries? That's okay, I saved the best for last. I always thought Rice Krispie Treats Cereal were the most amazing cereal ever in the world. (Breaking News: I was searching for a picture of Rice Krispie Treats Cereal to put on here, and found that they are sold on Amazon.com. I know what I want for Christmas.)

I thought wrong.

Nougat Kissen
These are small chocolate squares filled with a Nutella-like hazelnut/chocolate filling. I get a small stomach ache every time I eat them, and then I black out from happiness overload.

I never expected I would like chocolate in Germany so much. When I was a kid, every time I was in the cake mix aisle, I would look at the German chocolate cake mix and be supremely disgusted because it looked like vomit. To this day, I still think it does. I'll spare you by not posting a picture, but click here to see one if you're curious.

* * *
And thus ends my dessert manifesto. Now you can see why 8:30-9:00 pm has become my favorite time of day.

Real estate in Germany

Since markets all over the world are tanking, now is a great time to buy a home. With this in mind, Ellen and I are on a little trip right now looking at some real estate in Germany.


What do you think... $200k, 10% down, 30-year fixed?

It was very clear today

So here are the Swiss Alps.

"Of Human Bondage": Round two

I'm trying again. Before getting on the plane to come to Germany, I started reading W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" on the recommendation of a friend from work, a spunky English lady who raved on and on about it. After reading about 50 pages and still not having any notion of who any of the characters were or why I should care, I tossed it aside and picked up "Twilight" instead. And then I grabbed "How Animals Have Sex" from a British bookshop in Vienna. Finally, I'm trying again. No more animal sex or vampires, it's time for some real, adult fiction.

And not "adult fiction" as in erotica, either, because I'm sure after 50 pages of erotica I would know exactly what was happening in almost-medical detail. Although with a title containing the word "Bondage," I don't blame you for thinking that way. Incidentally, I'd advise against Googling that book; putting "bondage" in a Google search doesn't return the most wholesome results.

Silly me thought that I was missing out on the joy of shopping

Turns out this year added another reason to spurn the Thanksgiving holiday weekend: a deadly Black Friday.




I can assure you, Ellen and I didn't see anything of that sort around here. Christmas markets start in towns all over Germany on Thanksgiving weekend, and we visited three different ones in three different towns. Instead of clamoring over neighbors for the last copy of "WALL-E" or throwing a few elbows to try to grab a cheap digital camera, Germans suffered through the cold to graze through outdoor craft fairs, sipping alcoholic gluhwein and eating pizzas and bratwursts and kebabs, singing and dancing traditional German carols. And while I didn't actually find anything good to buy at any of those markets, they were still a good old time and I was able to do some present shopping on Amazon to snag some decent deals without risking my life or my health.

We'll be heading to Nuremberg this coming weekend to check out their market, which is supposed to one of the best in the country, so hopefully I can snag some cool stuff there



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Christmastime just keeps getting better

A couple years ago, doing a search for Christmas music on KaZaA (who remembers that?) when I came across this gem:
Christmastime in the LBC

Who wouldn't love a song with a lyric like "You like this package, ho? I wrapped it nice with a bow." BONUS: Just found out you can download it free from Jimmy Kimmel's website: http://www.jimmykimmel.net/sounds/christmaslbc.zip (I know it's a zip file but I downloaded and checked it, it's legit.)

Last year, one of my favorite bands, The Dan Band, put out the best video featuring Florence Henderson I've seen since the Brady Bunch came out on DVD:



I've seen them live in LA a few times, so if anyone has a chance, you should definitely check them out. Then just today I got an e-mail update from them with another glorious Christmas video, this time featuring a whole cast of stars like Doogie Howser / Barney Stinson / Neil Patrick Harris, Meg Ryan, Faizon Love (Dr. Turk from "Scrubs"), etc.

Please Don't Bomb Nobody This Holiday. (Sorry, I couldn't get it to embed.)

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Reasons Thanksgiving is a terrible holiday.

Sure, you get a few days off from work or school, but as you'll soon see, it's not as good as it seems. Here's why:
  1. Travel
    If you’re within eight hours driving distance, or you have enough cashmoney to fly home, of course you’re going to do it, because it’s Thanksgiving and you’re not an ungrateful bastard. But Lord is the traveling a nuisance. I’ve driven the LA to northern California route several times, and the shortest number of hours it has taken is eight, and that’s leaving Wednesday night after 9 pm. Of course, most schools and employers don’t give the Wednesday before Turkey Day off, so everyone is trying to get to all the same places all at the same time, so wherever you go, the crowds make you feel like you’re in the middle of Miley Cyrus concert filled with idiots. Whoops, I guess that’s kind of redundant, since I can’t think of who else would go to a Miley Cyrus concert besides idiots.

  2. The food
    I’m sure I’ll get a lot of flack about this, but Thanksgiving food is just not as good as everyone always says. I can probably count the number of excellent turkey dinners I’ve had on one hand, and that’s not talking smack about the cook. Turkey is just a difficult dish to prepare well without drying it out. And of course there’s so much of it that you’re stuck eating dry turkey for the next eight days straight. Mashed potatoes are delicious, but incredibly unhealthy and full of carbs (which is awful if you’re a carbohydrate bigot). Don’t even get me started on pecan pie; honestly, who thought it would be good to make a pie out of nuts? I’m betting it wasn’t the Indians.

  3. Commercialism
    Now once you’ve gotten to where you’re going and you’ve stuffed yourself with dry bird and nut pie, almost before the dishes are even washed, all the nice, warm, family-related parts of the holiday are over and you’re expected to spend the weekend shopping and getting ready for the next big holiday. Not only that, but you’re supposed to stand in line early in the morning cold for several hours just to exchange your hard-earned money for, let’s face it, crap that will be forgotten about faster than a new year’s resolution.
It’s just such a shame that the good parts, like hanging out with family and passing out from a food coma, outweigh the bad so much that you basically have to keep celebrating Thanksgiving, even in a foreign country, year in and year out. Still, it’s definitely the worst holiday of the year.
Something that has peeved me quite a bit, particularly during my travels around Germany, is the lack of drinking fountains. Bus stations, train stations, public parks, museums, really anywhere that sees a decent amount of foot traffic in the US has a drinking fountain. Here, well, that's not quite the case. You can't find a drinking fountain here to save your life. I'm not being figurative: if you were dying of thirst, I'd give 5 to 1 odds that you would die before you found a water fountain.

The only fountain in Meersburg
...and it doesn't work.
By my reckoning, there are a couple reasons for this. First off, many of these buildings and parks were built a long, long time ago, and either nobody thought to improve them by putting in drinking fountains (doubtful) or nobody wanted to spend the money. The second reason is not far from the first; it's likely that since they covet water so much here, and since they frown on people ordering tap water at restaurants, they don't want to spend money to give people free water and they'd be disgusted by those who drink water from the tap anyway.

The basic premise of this post is that as horrible as some American infrastructure is (take a look at a highway map of LA for an example), there are a lot of good things we've got going back in the old U. S. of A. And one of my favorites is the plenitude of fresh, free water.

Happy thanksgiving from a country that doesn't celebrate it

Ellen and I still managed to enjoy an almost traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls...




...and my favorite, chocolate mousse.
Mousse on the loose!


* * *

Happy thanksgiving everybody. Here are a few things I'm thankful about living in Germany:
  • Some time off from the daily grind.
  • A chance to do some writing and some creative work.
  • Travel.
    ...and especially
  • Cheap and plentiful bratwurst.

Here's a peek at what I've been doing lately

 
 

The rest of the Thanksgiving batch can be found at http://misusingecards.blogspot.com/search/label/Thanksgiving.
Update: Just realized the comics were too big and getting cut off on the page. I shrank them down, but if they're too small, just click on them and you can see them on their original site in the original size.

There are a lot of great things I miss about living in the US, but one thing I don't have to miss--thanks to the Internet--is my favorite comics. Comics.com just redesigned their site and made it awesome in that you can register, check all your favorite comics, and then get a daily e-mail with those specific comics for the day.

Here's an assortment of some of the greats:

F Minus, by Tony Carillo

F Minus

Pearls Before Swine, by Stephan Pastis (my absolute favorite)
Pearls Before Swine

Get Fuzzy, by Darby Conley
Get Fuzzy

Of course, Dilbert isn't on comics.com, it's on dilbert.com, which itself is an excellent site with an extensive set of options for the comic lover. Here's a good one from the other day:

Dilbert, by Scott Adams
Dilbert.com

One of my favorites growing up was Foxtrot, which just switched from daily to Sunday-only. It makes me sad, but they're still quite good every week. Click here for one of my recent favorites (it's on a different site that won't let me embed it here).

Lastly, a great independent comic called Amazing Super Powers from some friends from college comes out every Monday and Thursday. Here's a great one from a couple weeks back. (Warning: it can be a little graphic in nature.)

Anybody have recommendations for my sick sense of humor? Post them in the comments.

To the untrained eye, this may look phallic...

However, to the eye of a sophisticate, a patriot, and a lover of fine things, this is an obelisk of the greatest magnitude. It's a tribute to victory, an homage to excellence, a testament to the fortitude of the human spirit. Truly, a triumph of the will.








Whoops, I guess I shouldn't be mentioning "Triumph of the Will" while I'm in Germany. (I tried to find a link to the actual video, but unsurprisingly I got the message "This video is not available in your country.")

Also, since I promised photos of snow angels and snow forts, here's a feast for your eyes:






Admittedly, it's a pretty sad fort, but I think I made up for it with my epic monument above. I almost didn't put up the picture, but I didn't want to welch on my promise like that. Incidentally, I know a few people named Welch and I can't imagine they're too happy when someone uses that expression, though apparently it's a slur against Welsh people so I guess they'd have more cause to be angry.

Anyway, as I fully expected, it was quite a successful weekend in the snow.

BREAKING NEWS: There's no business like SNOW business

Not only did Mother Nature come through in a big old way, but she was premature compared to my expectation. All week I had been anticipating snow this weekend, only to check the weather report today and see for tomorrow: "Chance of Snow." Chance? What the hell's up with that? Still, I held onto my beliefs.

"It will snow."

Just as Ellen was getting ready to go to bed, I checked outside, fully expecting it to be just rainy and cold, and lo and behold, the unthinkable:




Here, in pictorial detail, is the chain of events that followed:













I shall call him Samuel. Samuel the Snowman.


Snow angels, snow forts, snowball fights and (if I'm not too dehydrated from running around) yellow snow are all coming up tomorrow.

Snow Day? Snow Way!

According to the weather report all week, snow should be coming to Meersburg tomorrow. For the few of you who might remember, it snowed briefly in Madrid when I lived there a few years back, and I can count on one hand the times it has snowed in Sacramento during the 18 years I lived there. (I could probably also count on two hands the number of total minutes it snowed in Sacramento when I lived there.)

Needless to say, I am quite excited about this weekend. It's been stormy, windy, raining/hailing and about 40 degress Fahrenheit today, so snow will be a very welcome change. Pictures of snow angels, snowball fights, snowmen and snow forts to follow.

Did I ever tell you about the time I almost had a pet koala?

I was looking at my pictures from the zoo in Vienna, and they reminded me of a story that I’ve only told a few but I think would appeal to many, considering it has three of the basic ingredients for greatness: 1) free stuff, 2) cute, furry animals, and 3) human stupidity.

I had moved into my first post-college apartment in Los Angeles and was in the settling-in phase, casually surfing craigslist for furniture, books, or anything free that looked cool. Cat-scratched couches, hole-y bean bags, craigslist was a sofa graveyard; it was where bad interior decoration went to die. Thoroughly jaded, I crawled my mouse over to the jobs section, resigned to actually start searching for a means of living, when one simple sentence caught my eye.
Free koala to good home
Do my eyes deceive? Surely that can’t be real, and if it is, there’s no way that it’s legal. Still...

I clicked through to the ad, and there, on the page, was a very homemade-looking photograph of someone holding a koala in what looked like your standard LA-area backyard, or what passes for one. The ad revealed that the person giving away the koala used to be a zookeeper in Australia, had the animal for a pet there and somehow brought it over to the US when she moved. She glossed over any details regarding legality or morality, but the tone of the ad seemed to convey a deep caring for the animal, as though the owner was looking for a trustworthy and reliable babysitter for a small child. Despite my incredulity, I came to believe it as authentic, and then came the difficult part.

Could I, Mark J. Lehman, be the proud new father to a pet koala?

What if the woman giving away the little fellow expected a koala expert? My fingers raced furiously over the keyboard, pouring through site after site on the internet in my haste to learn about koalas. I would need to know precisely how much eucalyptus these animals eat every day, where I could house and protect such a creature, how I could guard it from any neighborhood dogs or, for that matter, nosy neighbors.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, I made a judgment call. Yes, it would be hard work, but I was willing to put forth the time, effort and money—despite my lack of employment—to provide a home for an amiable new friend. Heck, the fur ball would probably be the best motivation to get a decent job.

I surfed back to craigslist and found the ad again, scrolled down to the phone number provided, and with sweaty hands and jittery nerves, dialed each of the 10 digits and prepared for glory.

One ring, two rings, then a click and... “Hello?”

“Um, hi, I’m calling in response to your ad on craigslist regarding the koala...”

“Excuse me?”

I paused. Had I been made? Could she tell just by my voice that I was no expert? Did my youth discourage her from even hearing me out? No way, keep cool, you’ve got this puppy in the bag, so to speak.

“The, um, koala. Your ad on craigslist giving away a pet koala to a good home. I’ve got one. A good home, that is, not a koala, though I’m sure the new one would love a friend, but honestly I don’t know if I’m prepared to care for two koalas...”

Laughter. That’s all I hear. Laughter, drowning out the sounds of my heart breaking in half.

“Oh wow. I, um... wow. Sorry, I don’t have any idea how that got there, but I don’t own a koala. Sure you’ve got the number right?”

I repeated it back to her as I read it from my phone, at the same time double-checking it on the screen.

“Yep, that’s me. How strange. Well, sorry about that. Bye.”

The phone nearly fell from my hand as it was weakened from sadness. I dropped it on the desk, and slowly leaned over, elbows on my knees, head in my hands. You wouldn’t think this would affect me so much, but in the 45 minutes that had passed since I first found the ad, I had fully convinced myself that a pet koala was the key to solving all of my problems, as well as the issues and crises facing the world today. Well, perhaps not, but it had become essential to my settling into my new apartment and my new life, and now it was gone.

I swore off craigslist for a couple days. The lingering pain, like post traumatic stress, was just too much to handle. But I eventually bounced back and am now able to tell, in humorous detail, the story of the time I almost had a pet koala.

I'm just too sensational, I suppose

I wrote a post all about our travels through Austria (in fact, I wrote several posts), and one of them included a video I had uploaded to youtube. The video was a little half a minute thing showing a mother lioness walking up to the plexiglass and growling at the crowd, and it seemed like it was growling at a little girl in a stroller.

So, I of course tried to be as sensational as possible and titled it "Lioness tries to attack little girl at zoo." Turns out, that sort of thing gets noticed, since it's gotten several comments and a couple thousand views from people I don't even know. And to top it all off, the video found itself on a seemingly reputable news site, examiner.com, as well as two other video sites, one of them foreign.

In case you forgot which video I'm talking about, here it is:


Obituary: The best pair of sunglasses I ever had

Summer 2007 - Fall 2008
Requiescat in Pace
 

FAKE AVIATOR SUNGLASSES - Died Saturday, November 1 on a train ride from Ulm, Germany to their home in Meersburg, Germany. Cause of death is unknown, though it's suspected that their owner, Mark J. Lehman, sat on them while in his coat pocket. They were approximately 1 and 1/2 years old at time of death.

Birthplace is unknown, but they always considered their birthplace to be Venice Beach, CA, where they first met their only true friend and owner, Mark. It was a summer afternoon in August, and Mark saw them at a booth on the Venice Beach promenade being sold for $7. He immediately fell in love with them, and they with him, and from that day on, the two entities became inseparable.

Sunglasses grew up and spent their formative years in Los Angeles, traveling all over the world to places such as Florida, Thailand, and even the top of Mt. Whitney. Only a couple months ago, when their owner decided to move to Germany, they followed him out there. It's thought that the cold, damp weather of southern Germany didn't agree with them, but we'll never know for sure. They continued to provide all that Mark needed, and he was grateful for them every day.

Sunglasses are survived by their true friend, Mark J. Lehman. They also have a brother still living in Venice with their brother's owner, Daniel Lehman. Daniel's Sunglasses are in bad shape, though, and close to death themselves.

Services were held Sunday, November 2, at Fake Aviator Sunglasses' home in Meersburg, Germany. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Mark J. Lehman and the Buy Me A New Pair of Fake Aviator Sunglasses Fund.
Easily the best postcard I've ever laid eyes on. And since it was one of those advertisement postcards, it was completely gratis. Dunk!
This is just one of a few key finds on that trip across the Bodensee.
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