Saturday, June 17, 2006

Guest Bloggers: Bridget and Tommy Kaempfer

This (above) is what my family looked like on St. Patrick's Day 1997. Tommy (the baby) is now 10 years old--and will be 11 in October. Since it's Father's day on Sunday and Bridget's birthday today (the young lass in that picture is undisclosed age), I asked them to provide a guest blog for this weekend. I really like their contributions, and I hope you do too.

Give Me Math Any Day

by Bridget Kaempfer

I am NOT a writer. From grade school to college, every writing project assigned to me turned me into the Queen of Procrastination. I assume most everyone is like that at some point in their lives. Probably some of you were still printing (or typing) your final paper for English five minutes before class started like I did. But I even did it in the fourth grade. There was nothing I hated more than a blank piece of notebook paper and being told to “use my imagination.”

However, I AM a reader. I read everything as a kid. My sisters and I would go to the library every Saturday and each of us would check out fourteen books (the limit on our cards), trade them back and forth, and do it all over again the following week. I don’t have time to read as much as I used to, but I still read quite a bit.

Much of what I read these days is the product of my husband’s hard work. Who would have known that he would provide an endless supply of new reading material right in my own home? That I would be asked on a regular basis to give a critique (which ultimately will be ignored) or check for grammatical errors in a new article? Or that some personal details of my life would be twisted out of proportion and posted on the web for the world to read?

Most of the time, I find it amusing. I never knew my family’s life could be so funny... it certainly doesn’t seem funny as its happening. I guess it’s a good thing that I can read about it later and laugh. And of course, I can claim that the really embarrassing stories didn’t really happen (he writes fiction for goodness sake...)

It’s also interesting to see a seemingly mundane event turned into something special with the power of words. Like many working parents, my busy schedule makes it nearly impossible to be as involved as I’d like, and sometimes I feel like I miss out. But I’m lucky. I get a running commentary of what is going on in my house at any given time. Whether it’s learning how to ride a bike for the first time, reaching a new level on a video game or a designing new train track configuration, I can count on the highlights of my family life being recorded so I can go back and see what I missed. It’s like my own personal TiVo (with the added bonus of being able to see humor in a trying situation after the fact, as opposed to living through it myself and killing somebody).

But I can’t do that. I’m not a writer.

“What do you want me to write?” I ask.
“Anything you want,” he says.
“What do you mean, anything? I can’t write – nobody wants to read anything I write.”
“Yes, they do,” he says. "It’ll be fine. Write whatever you want. Use this as a chance to vent at me.”

He may as well have said “use your imagination.”

Besides, I prefer to do my venting verbally. In person. At the top of my lungs.

So here I am, with the proverbial blank piece of paper and an assignment I don’t really want to do. Which is why I waited until the last minute to do this. And once it was done, I didn't tell him for three days so he would sweat about being able to post his blog on time.

After all, I am the Queen of Procrastination. I have to protect my reputation.

As for venting, his oldest son may have a few words to say....

Your Name Has 1,000 A’s
by Tommy Kaempfer

One of the most popular sayings in my house, specifically from me, is the phrase, “DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD!”

This is because there are some really ridiculous things my dad can do. I’m going to give you my top five most annoying.

5. Dad does this ‘short-term memory’ thing that drives me crazy. Once he thought I was my brother, Johnny. “Well, hello, Johnny.”
“Johnny, cut it out.”
“Daaaaaaaaad, I’m TOMMY.”
“Don’t be silly.” I ran off to Johnny to show him.
“This is Johnny.”
“You’re getting weird, Johnny. That’s Tommy.”
I don’t EVER want that to happen again.

4. Og. I just can’t take this anymore. Once I told Dad that his jokes were twice as old as him. He took that as a challenge. The very next day, he gave me a smelly joke about Calvin Coolidge. “I guess Mr. Coolidge was a pretty calm guy,” I remarked after the joke. “That’s the point of the joke,” he replied. I heard quite a few VERY weird jokes that day. I haven’t really heard much of his ‘new material’ again.

3. This thing Dad has done for the last 10 (that’s how old I am, for your information) years has annoyed me for life. He says the lyrics of songs that I think s t i n k.

2. This is pretty much the same as 3, but he SINGS the songs instead.

1. This has tortured me for a lifetime. (It also has a tie.) First of all, when I don’t want to get up in the morning, he threatens to use the “Pinching Machine” or to tickle. The Pinching Machine is his own hands, of course. The Pinching Machine always will get me out of bed (other than having the Science Fair being tomorrow.)

Second of all, which is worse than Pinching Machine, is Dad’s voices. The worst is his voice of Grover. We used to have a punishment system when he would hear me talking with Johnny at night. First warning, he would take away our teddy bears. A second time, there would be no Nintendo DS. Third, someone would go upstairs in Mom’s and his room. Fourth, (although impossible), Dad would sing all the songs on his iPod as Grover. I’ve hated the Grover (and technically, Yoda) voice since I was 4 or 5.

So now you know what makes me say “daaaaaaaaaad”. Here he comes right now. He says he ate my Nintendo for lunch. DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD!

To see any of my previous guest bloggers, click here:

Happy Father's Day.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

From the Archives: With a Little Help from Depends

This is what Paul McCartney & Ringo Starr looked like in 1996 when they put together the Beatles Anthology project. Paul was 54 at the time and Ringo was 56.

There has been quite a bit of publicity lately about Paul McCartney's upcoming 64th birthday this Sunday. He wrote the song "When I'm 64" for the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album in 1967, and for some reason, none of us ever thought this day would come.

After looking very young well into his fifties, Paul is finally starting to look his age a little bit. He appeared on the cover of a recent AARP Magazine (don't ask how I know), and whoa...let's just say he really is 64.

Of course, this isn't really the first scary Beatles age marker. That probably occured in 2000, when Ringo Starr turned 60 years old. It certainly freaked us out at the John Records Landecker show. It inspired the following song to the tune of "With a Little Help from My Friends". I don't believe we ever performed it live, but it did appear on the 5th Landecker & The Legends CD.


What would you think if I told you how old,
Ringo is turning this year,
He's 60 years old and before you get worried,
I'll try to allay all your fears,
Ringo stays dry with a little help from Depends,
Yes he keeps dry with a little help from Depends,
His Beatle bum is still dry with Depends

For many years now ol' Ringo's been gray,
(Grecian Formula's well stocked at home)
The hair that he has is in a ponytail,
(And it's swirled to cover up his chrome dome)
But he stays dry with a little help from Depends,
He's a dry guy with a little help from Depends,
His Beatle bum is still dry with Depends.

(He don't need any money)
He's got money to burn
(He just wants his old body)
His digestive system is a concern

(How many times does he wake every night?)
I'm afraid it happens all the time
(I heard that he stays in his bed through the night)
His Depends are the no-leaking kind

So he stays dry with a little help from Depends,
He's a dry guy with a little help from Depends,
His Beatle bum is still dry with Depends

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Half Empty: 10 Things a Husband Can Say to Make His Wife Laugh

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.


By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

The following is the natural comedic arc of a relationship between a man and a woman.

1. She falls in love with you because you make her laugh.
2. She marries you.
3. She begins to roll her eyes.
4. She begs you not to tell a joke again.
5. She intentionally ruins your punch lines at cocktail parties.
6. She only loves you when you're serious.
7. She says "When will you grow up?"

Ah, love.

Don’t feel bad if the above seven step process describes you perfectly. It happens to every man after a few years of marriage. When a wife gets to know her husband a little better, he becomes less and less funny. If you talked to Jerry Seinfeld’s wife she would say the same thing.

It's really not her fault. You tell the same jokes. By the third year of your marriage she's heard every single one of them. Plus, now she's hearing those jokes from the guy who leaves his dirty socks on the floor even though he's constantly being asked to "pick up those disgusting socks."

It's inevitable. No one is to blame. It's the way God planned it.

So what can a man (who was chosen as a husband primarily because of his ability to amuse) do to keep his wife laughing? Between the two of us we have thirty years of marital experience, and even more comedy writing experience. Unfortunately, here is the comprehensive list of things a husband (of more than a few years) can say to his wife to make her laugh.


So is that it? Your wife is never going to laugh again? Sure she will. She just won't laugh at anything you say. She will get a huge laugh, however, out of the following ten pictures. All women think these are hysterically funny. Show them to her, and bask in the nearby laughter.

She's laughing, isn't she? No charge.

If you missed any previous HALF EMPTY columns, click here:

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Suburban Man: The Fight Board

By Rick Kaempfer

The school year officially ended this week in our school district. Kids are rejoicing all over the neighborhood. The parents, on the other hand, are chewing their fingernails and wondering what the heck they are going to do for the next three months.

I’m a little worried myself. My house will be occupied by three boys, day and night, seven days a week. The only sure things in life are supposedly death and taxes, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s at least one more sure thing if you’re the parent of boys over a summer vacation.

Fights. Lots and lots and lots of fights.

Summer vacation has barely begun, and here are just a few of the arguments I’ve already broken up over the past few days...
=Why does he get the green bowl?
=He’s looking at me
=Tell him to stop humming
=He called me a stupidhead.
=He bit my butt
=Batman cannot fly!

Each of these fights ended in fisticuffs. I speak from experience when I tell you that it’s only going to get more violent as the summer “togetherness” season heats up. I’ve taken all of the precautions I could. I signed them up for just about every activity under the sun, from summer school classes to swimming lessons, but it won’t be enough. All of these activities together are still not going to be as time consuming as school has been. Any way you slice it, these boys will still be spending waaay too much time together.

Which means it’s time to bring back the “Fight Board.”

I haven’t had it officially trademarked yet, but the Fight Board was created by yours truly in a fit of inspiration during an all-out brawl last summer. The fight board is non-judgmental. All it does is keep a running tally of the number of fights throughout the summer. It doesn’t matter who started it, what caused it, or whose fault it is. A fight is a fight—and a red tally goes on the board. This isn’t done to show them how many fights they have—although it is a nice bonus—it’s done as a reward/punishment system.

Here’s how the reward (carrot) and punishment (stick) system works. There are approximately 90 days of summer. If the boys are able to keep the number of fights below 50 for the whole summer, they each get a new toy of their choosing. That sounds like a lot of fights, doesn’t it? That’s a free fight every other day—and they’ll still get a reward. It’s also a completely unattainable goal for boys who easily fight twenty five times in a typical week.

Realizing this, I gave them a no-man’s land range of 50-100 fights in which they are neither rewarded nor punished. If at the end of the summer they managed to keep the number of fights below one hundred, no harm no foul. That’s such a vast improvement over the present situation—I would be rejoicing so much I wouldn’t be in the mood to punish them anyway.

However, once the number of fights gets above 100 (which is more than a fight a day), I start taking away a toy for each fight. For instance, if they fight 101 times—I get one toy. If they fight 120 times—I get twenty toys.

Any predictions how it went last summer?

They hit twenty five fights in the first week. The number slowed down substantially after that, because they saw the prize disappearing, but by July 1st they had officially lost their shot at the free toys. They ran through another thirty fights or so in that next two week period. As they approached 100, the fights slowed down again, but I think deep in their hearts they didn’t believe that I would really take away the toys, so the fights didn’t end completely.

They found out they were sorely mistaken on August 1st, when they eclipsed the scary 100 fight mark. I still remember the disbelieving looks on their faces when I started a collection of toys in my room. Ah, the joys of Star Wars fighter jets. I had five of them in my closet in the first two days.

By August 3rd, the fights stopped. Totally. They didn’t fight again for the rest of the summer.

I know all the parenting books suggest using positive reinforcement, but I can’t help but notice that my boys seem to respond much better to negative reinforcement when given the option. The carrot is rejected and the stick is embraced time and time again. Even with a possible reward at stake, Tommy never bothered trying to calm the combustible Johnny—he taunted him—and he paid for it. Even with a punishment looming, Johnny never tried to placate the even more combustible Sean—he antagonized him—and he paid for it. It wasn’t until the toys started disappearing that all three of them magically discovered how to get along.

When Johnny started to blow, Tommy helped calm him down. When Sean started screeching because his brothers were ignoring him, Johnny stepped in to give him just enough attention to avoid the meltdown. When Tommy started to lose it, the other two gave him his much needed space. It was like a miracle.

That’s why I love the Fight Board.

When I put the 2006 Fight Board up on the wall yesterday I heard a chorus of groans. They remember the terror of those red tally marks. They remember the disappearance of the Star Wars fighter jets. Let’s see if they remember the lesson they learned last summer. Can they control their tempers even if someone says something outrageous like “Batman can fly?” Will they prove the parenting books right and go for the carrot this time?

I’ll keep you posted, but let me put it this way: I’ve cleared out some room in the back of my closet...just in case.

For more Suburban Man columns, click here:

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Thank You Mary Ann Childers

Father's Day is a week from today, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank someone who often comes to mind when I think of my own father: Mary Ann Childers.

Why do I think of the local Chicago news anchor when I think of my Dad?

It's a very odd story. I was the producer of the Steve and Garry show on WLUP, and we did a very special Christmas show one year--a full reading of the stage version of "A Christmas Carol" starring many local celebrities.

Among the celebrities present that day: Mary Ann Childers.

I don't remember what part Mary Ann played, but I remember that I cornered her backstage and asked her to do me a big favor. I told her that my father had a thing for her. He didn't say it was time to watch the news--he said it was time to watch Mary Ann. I asked if she would mind sending me an autographed picture of herself for Dad.

She seemed very flattered, but I really didn't expect her to do it. I figured she was a busy person and this was such a low priority that she probably wouldn't get around to it. That's probably why I was blown away when she sent me her promo picture with a personal note to my Dad saying... "It was a pleasure working with your son, Rick." The picture itself says "To Eckhard--Warmest Wishes for Christmas 1988. Mary Ann Childers."

I'll never forget how excited Dad was when he opened my present to him on Christmas Eve that year. I captured it on film...

Dad died six months later at the age of 54.

After he died I went to his office to clean out his things, and there she was, right in the middle of his desk: Mary Ann Childers. His co-workers told me that he joked with them about this picture all the time, saying that Mary Ann was his secret girlfriend.

Next Sunday is Father's Day. It's always a rough weekend for me. For the first twenty five years of my life, Father's Day weekend was a tribute to Dad. (And not just because it was Father's Day--it was his birthday too.) So, even now--seventeen years later, I struggle to enjoy Father's Day. I can't help thinking of Dad--and how much I miss him.

That's where Mary Ann Childers helps out.

When I don't want my sadness to ruin Father's Day for my kids, all I have to do is think of Mary Ann Childers. I remember how excited Dad was to get this picture from his "girlfriend," and it never fails to bring a smile to my face.

I've seen Mary Ann Childers a few times since Dad died--and I re-thanked her each time. Somehow I still don't think that's enough, so I'll say it again.

Thank You, Mary Ann.

One small gesture from you gave my Dad six months of enjoyment...and gave me seventeen years of comfort.

I'll never be able to repay you for that.