Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Humor Me: One light goes out, they all go out

By MATT WIXON

A couple of years ago, I watched Frisco resident Jeff Trykoski stretch Christmas lights across his lawn, drape them over trees, tack them around windows and arrange them in giant snowflakes on his roof. Fifty thousand lights in all, which led me to this thought:

"So, if one light goes out, do they all go out?"

I decided not to ask because Trykoski was working hard and probably not in a joking mood. Also, he was holding a staple gun.

But anyone who put up Christmas lights in the '70s or '80s remembers when lights strings were plagued by "one light goes out, they all go out."

I actually saw my dad yelling at strings of lights several times. Sometimes he combined that with shaking the lights violently, and I think he intimidated a few sets into working.

The world was simpler back then and so were Christmas displays. Today, inspired homeowners can turn dozens of extension cords and thousands of lights into a dazzling holiday moment that is forever burned into people's memories – and retinas.

"Some people think we're crazy," said Trykoski, whose lights are synchronized to music broadcast over a low-power FM transmitter. "We think it's worth the effort considering the people who've been coming by for years who we create memories for."

I certainly appreciate the effort behind the ambitious Christmas displays. Because by the time I've untangled a dozen or so lights sets each year, and attempted to keep my kids from stepping on them, I've pretty much had it.

A few strings on the bushes, a few wrapped around a tree trunk, and I'm done. If one light goes out, even if they all go out, I am done.

And then I'm ready to see the people who really know how to decorate. The people who buy Christmas lights in crates, lug extension cords around in wheelbarrows and begin decorating a few days after Halloween. The people who put a huge, inflatable snowman in the yard and flank it with eight glowing reindeer and a 6-foot plywood cowboy that says, "Merry Christmas, y'all!" The people who are willing to reach high on a wobbly ladder and walk on the roof, which is nearly as dangerous as prolonged exposure to Madonna's version of "Santa Baby."

The displays are awe-inspiring. But can they also obscure the true meaning of Christmas?

Some people would say so. And when a display is so crowded that Rudolph's red nose appears to light the way for the wise men to find the baby Jesus, who is in a stable that includes Kermit the Frog playing a guitar, they're probably right.

But Christmas lights are one of the great highlights of the holiday season. So, for those willing to make the effort to create elaborate displays, you have my admiration and appreciation.

You can also have the string of lights in my yard that just stopped working.

Who knows? Maybe it just needs one new bulb.

***
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Friday, November 13, 2009

Humor Me: 20-year high school reunion

By MATT WIXON

Last month was my high school reunion. My 20-year high school reunion. Yeah, that’s a little sobering.

It’s hard to believe that two decades have passed since I graduated from Apollo High School, home of the fightin’ Hawks, disappointing test scores and smoke-filled teachers’ lounge. I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday when I could walk through the parking lot and see the school motto of “Pride, Class, Dignity” while avoiding the sharp edges of broken beer bottles?
No, it wasn’t yesterday. You have three kids and like two hairs left on the top of your head.
Thanks for that slap in the face, wise inner voice. I wish you had been around in 1991, when I ate that macaroni and cheese that had been in the refrigerator for more than a week. The only time I felt sicker that year was after I spent six bucks to see Hudson Hawk.

So it’s been 20 years, but is that really a long time?

Oh yes. When I graduated in ’89, the Berlin Wall had not yet come down, Whitney Houston was both talented and coherent, and a first-class stamp was 25 cents. Even more stunning was that people were still sending letters to each other via the U.S. Disgruntled Postal Service. Because, like OMG, there was no e-mail then.

There were no text messages, either. Or emoticons. Or ways to send a Twitter tweet in the middle of a world history class in which a teacher who really didn’t want to be there -- Hi Mr. Grassi! -- put on a marathon of filmstrips to fill class time. To make things worse, the Extra-Strength Clearasil of 20 years ago really didn’t do much but dry out your face and leave the pimples to thrive. It was a dark time for teenagers.

Now move forward to 2009. Teenagers are pretty much the world’s rock stars, right? They’ve got everything going for them, and they’ve got the video, uploaded to YouTube or another video-sharing site, to prove it. As for the Great Satan of oily skin, Clearasil now has something called “Rapid Action Treatment Cream” that claims to visibly reduce pimple size in four hours. And man, life can’t get much better for the greasy-haired teenage boys of today. Gorgeous women find them so attractive that they lose their minds and jump on them right in the school hallway. At least I think so, because I saw it in a commercial for TAG body spray.

(Quick sidebar: The closest I ever got to such a seductive encounter was when I was riding my bike through the school parking lot and got hit by a car driven by an older girl, perhaps a senior. She got out of the car and asked if I was okay, but had I been wearing a potent body spray, who knows what could’ve happened. Wowee!)

Anyway, the point is that a lot can change in 20 years, and that’s why I wanted to go to last month’s reunion. I can only imagine the topics of conversation about Apollo High School, home of the fightin’ Hawks, spider-filled portable buildings and many, many dedicated teachers -- including one so dedicated that he married one of my classmates.

Seriously, it’s true! One of my teachers married one of my classmates shortly after we graduated. Pride, class, dignity ... occasional inappropriate relationship.

Despite all that, I did like high school. And had I still been living in Arizona, I probably would’ve attended the reunion. It would’ve been great to hear talk of the old days, including the awesome basketball team, the dreadful football team and the occasional unsubstantiated rumor that Skinheads were going to take over the campus. I heard that rumor several times, but our campus never did have Skinheads, just a lot of bald teachers.

I probably missed out on some great conversations, but flying from Texas to Phoenix was hard to fit into the schedule. And although I had some great friends back in high school, I can find those people with Facebook, swap stories through e-mail, that sort of thing. I’m also still working on obtaining washboard abs and millions of dollars, and pulling up in my 1999 Honda C-RV with the rockin’ AM/FM cassette player wouldn’t make a great impression.

So I skipped it. But after the reunion, one of my friends gave me a report.

“Mildly enjoyable,” he said. “I chatted briefly with several people, but it tended to be the same people with whom I interacted in high school. It was kinda funny how that works.”

That’s how it would’ve worked with me. Twenty years have passed, but I’m pretty much the same. I was shy in high school, and although a journalism career has forced me out of my shell, I’m still not an effective schmoozer. I’m not a social butterfly who, at least with people I don’t know well, can flit around the room and make conversation. That’s partly why I wasn’t Mr. Popularity at Apollo High School, home of the fightin’ Hawks, mandatory P.E. outfits that bordered on child abuse, and yes ...

Some of the best times of my life.

Some of the best times, that is. But most of the best times of my life have come since the day when I was a dorky 17-year-old walking across the stage to receive my high school diploma. I don’t remember much of that graduation ceremony, but I do remember this:

We once had a mandatory assembly that was supposed to inspire us all to “get high on life, not drugs” or something like that. I remember Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” played before and after some guest speaker told us “these are the greatest days of your life!”

Maybe at the time. But 20 years later, I hope that’s not true for most people. The high school years can be great, but what a bummer if your life peaks that soon. If high school is as good as it's going to get, then what do you have to look forward to?

Your first high school reunion, I guess.

***
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Humor Me: Neiman Marcus' Christmas Book

By MATT WIXON

The 2009 Neiman Marcus Christmas Book was unveiled a few days ago, and just in time. I mean, it's just three weeks until Halloween. And then we'll only have -- try not to panic -- less than two months to race from store to store, look for gifts and beg store owners to stop playing "Last Christmas" by Wham!

So what's in this year's book?

Well, keeping in mind the state of the economy, Neiman Marcus said it made an effort to offer more affordable options this year. That's why you'll find an electric motorcycle that goes 150 mph and costs $73,000.

I believe there's one out there with a little more power, but it would've been in the $90,000 to $100,000 range. That's just too pricey.

Anyway, the book is out there for you to check out. But I don't think most of the items compare to the 2007 book, which I "reviewed" for The Dallas Morning News. Here it is ...

OK everyone, let's get busy. We need to raise $1.59 million to fund one of Neiman's greatest offerings ever:

A private holiday concert by the world-famous Kirov Orchestra.

The concert features Regis Philbin as host, but more important, piano virtuoso Lola Astanova and maestro Valery Gergiew. I'm told they are incomparable and had nothing to do with "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

Yeah, $1.59 million is a little steep. But the concert is for 500 people, and if we divvy it up, that's only $3,180 per person. Pretty cheap when compared to some of the other gifts in the Christmas Book.

For example, you'll need $110,000 to have Brazilian artist Vik Muniz create a portrait of you and a friend in chocolate syrup. A lot more, I assume, if you decide it's clothing optional. You'll also need $75,000 for the cutting-edge robot and $73,000 for the mobile phone with 7.2 carats in diamonds.

Even the front-yard dragon topiary is ridiclously expensive. At least for a topiary. It's $35,000, and that doesn't include the legal fees you'll face when you receive this letter in the mail:

"The homeowners association has decided your 100-foot dragon with brown-glass eyes, custom-welded steel frame and gold-leafed horns doesn't abide by the neighborhood covenant."

I'm guessing the HOA also will have a problem if you store your $80,000 Papalotzin ultralight plane in your back yard. Maybe you could cover it with a pair of $9,500 Lippi Cat fur coats, but note that the coats might soon be recalled because they were manufactured in China.

So who buys these fantasy gifts?

Who knows, but the gifts are actually more practical than in the past. Back in 2003, the Christmas Book offered a $555,000 motorcycle so powerful that it was NEVER intended to be driven. Fantastic! I can save a few bucks by not buying a helmet.

In 2005, there was the $3.5 million skycar. Very cool, but there was a minor problem: the skycar was a prototype and had never completed an untethered flight.

Kind of a risky gift. And an inexcusable faux pas if that gift malfunctions while holding someone hundreds of feet in the air.

This year isn't as bad, although the $2 million rocket racing franchise, including a Mark-1 X-racer with 1,500 pounds of liquid oxygen thrust, is a little out there. So is the $1.4 million two-person submarine. But at least the submarine has leather seats, which is a nice upgrade from the cloth seats you find in most two-person subs.

The submarine also comes with a two-day training program, which I'm sure is more than enough time to learn how to operate it.

Hey, who wants to take the first deep dive with me? Don't worry, I'll bring the instructions!

I'll pass on that, but the private concert does sound great. I just need to round up 499 people who want to hear the Nutcracker Suite and the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. Actually, 500 people, because I can't afford my share.

It's expensive, I know, but what an opportunity. The world-famous Kirov musicians will even allow us to select a third masterpiece for their performance.

That means, in one magical night, you can hear the Nutcracker Suite, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto and "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas."

Truly incomparable.

***
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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Videos: Ryan's birthday and Nathan on the go

Ryan's 7th birthday. Video quality is much better on the TV!

video

Nathan on the go

video

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Humor Me: Warning, this is a commercial

By MATT WIXON

My favorite commercial right now starts with an old, beat-up truck pulling up to a drive-thru. The truck stops, and suddenly a large metal claw emerges, picks up the truck and appears to peel its trashed exterior to reveal a brand-new Toyota truck. The new truck is set on the ground as this appears on the bottom of the screen:

Warning: Do not attempt.

Silly warning, you’d say, but I just think it needs some clarification. If I am able to commandeer a giant wrecking claw from some junkyard, or perhaps find a Home Depot with a really big rental operation, does the warning refer to the dangers of using the claw in such a manner? Or does “do not attempt” refer to thoughts of invoking some kind of David Copperfield magic, or perhaps evil spirits, to turn my clunker into a sweet new ride?

Car ads are the greatest for nonsensical warnings. You’ll see cars doing slalom courses on snow-packed roads, performing 90-degree slide turns, skidding on all four wheels and racing across stretches of desert like they’re part of the Saudi Arabian paparazzi.

Then we’re warned that the driving is done by a professional driver on a closed course. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. It’s an excellent point, considering many amateur drivers on open courses have yet to master getting between the parking stripes at Kroger.

Of course, when I say it’s an excellent point, I mean it’s an excellent point for an exceptionally small part of the population. The part of the population that probably believes, after seeing a Hummer ad, that the world’s most mastodon-like vehicle can orbit Earth like a space shuttle.

We all know it can’t -- yet. But the Hummer would be a pretty cool-looking spaceship. I bet if NASA added a rugged-looking chrome grille and a little more militaristic styling to the space shuttles, more Americans would consider space travel. Especially if they could tow a bass boat.

Anyway, car commercials have silly warnings. But that’s not to say warnings and disclaimers don’t have a place in commercials. Here are a few possibilities:

Disneyland commercials
“Professional actors on closed course. That’s why it looks like there are only a few people here at The Happiest Place on Earth. Under normal conditions, we are also the Most Crowded Place on Earth, and you may experience extended waits for some of our more popular areas of the park, such as Adventureland, Tomorrowland and Bathroomland.”

Commercials with celebrity endorsement
“Paid spokesman. Celebrity might not even know what our product is, but give us a break. How many Domino’s Cheeseburger Pizzas do you think Donald Trump ate? How often did Fabio spray I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter on anything? How much of that anti-constipation yogurt does Jamie Lee Curtis really eat?"

Breath freshener/chewing gum commercials
“Small point: No breath freshener can make you blow cold air that can freeze a mirror or window pane. Larger point: Our breath freshener will not make potential sexual partners lust for you, nor can it cover up every personal flaw -- whether it be physical, intellectual or a garlic-based halitosis.”

Cruise-line commercials
“Professional actors on closed cruise ship. Feel free to try, but you will not, and frankly CANNOT, be as happy as these highly caffeinated actors. Also, actors in commercial were not infected with the Norwalk virus that plagued several ships in recent years and caused passengers to suffer gastrointestinal distress. Your distress may vary.”

Weight-loss commercials
“We always include ‘weight loss not typical’ in our commercials, but seriously, your weight loss may vary. Put it this way: About 10,000 people tried our weight-loss plan last year and we only needed one for our commercial. And that person didn’t eat for five days because she went on a cruise ship that had a Norwalk virus.”

Natural male enhancement commercials
"Professional actors on a closed course, trying really hard not to laugh. Also, please don’t ask us, ‘What is natural male enhancement?’ because we can’t describe it on television. The guy takes a pill and then he can throw a football through a tire ... you figure it out, OK? If you can't, you might want to ask a friend, and a few days later, find a new circle of friends.”

***
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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Humor Me: Public speaking nightmares

By MATT WIXON

In a recent letter to the editor in The Dallas Morning News, a 14-year-old pointed out that his high school's requirement of one semester of speech should be eliminated.

"High school is supposed to help get you ready to go into college and the business world," he wrote. "If someone's career will involve speech, then he or she can take it."

The letter was well-written, especially for a 14-year-old. But I think the requirement of a speech class should remain, and here are two reasons why:

First, no matter what you do in life, the skill of public speaking is useful if not essential. If you can look someone in the eye and deliver your thoughts with confidence, or at least without throwing up, you'll have a key ingredient to success.

And second, and nearly as important, I want other people to go through what I had to go through in high school. That's right, leaders of tomorrow, it's your turn to feel the terror of public speaking today! But don't worry. Your high school speech experience will probably be like mine, and you'll quickly learn how to stand in front of a crowd and babble randomly and nervously while nearly tipping over the lecturn with trembles of panic.

My speech I most remember from high school was on eliminating nuclear weapons. It should be noted that I’ve never had a negative opinion of nukes, but after a teacher assigned me the speech, I did had a very negative opinion of him.

Don’t be nervous, Mr. Stewart told the class before our first speaking assignment. He then passed along the well-worn strategy of picturing audience members in their underwear. Apparently, this is a popular strategy for dealing with nervousness. It was even mentioned in an episode of "The Brady Bunch," the most influential show ever to have nine people living in a house with three bathrooms. (Or was it two? Did Alice the housekeeper have her own bathroom? Hmm ... perhaps it's the subject for a high school speech.)

But the thought of picturing people in their underwear doesn’t ease my nerves. I think it would just make me feel overdressed and consider hanging out with other people. So I skipped that strategy as I took on nuclear weapons.

“Since the United States first developed an atom bomb …”

I think that’s how the speech started, but I don’t really remember. I can’t remember how it ended, either. But I do remember that when my name was called to give the speech on nuclear weapons, a part of me hoped somebody would use one to destroy the school.

Pretty selfish, I know. So many innocent people would die. But at least my classmates would be spared from seeing me trembling behind a lecturn, sifting through sweat-smeared notecards and staring down at the floor as I talked about global disarmament.

Actually, there’s no way I used the phrase “global disarmament.” It might’ve been in the notes, but when lips are frozen in fear, any words over two syllables are a struggle. I probably said something like, “all countries should seek ‘golf ball dish ornament.’”

Fortunately, my classmates weren’t listening. This was guaranteed because it took a week to finish everyone’s speeches and we didn’t know when Mr. Stewart would call on us. So while I was mumbling about “new clear pro lifter raisins” — a.k.a. nuclear proliferation — the other students were doing one of two things:

Daydreaming in a euphoria that kicked in the moment they finished stumbling through a speech on capital punishment, abortion, gun control or another controversial topic.

Praying to the heavens that they would not be next, and because God might not intervene, following up the prayer with a telepathic message to the teacher that said, “please, please, PLEASE … anyone but me.”

It was horrible. But I did learn some things from speech class. Most notably that, when giving a speech, I had a nervous habit of scratching my eyebrow every few seconds. And that even “ultra dry” antiperspirants are no match for terror sweat.

I also learned a couple of other tips. The first one sounds strange, but it’s really true: you should exercise a few minutes before the speech.

Why?

Because exercise transforms nervous energy into enthusiasm. Those smooth operators at Toastmasters International even recommend it.

They don’t however, recommend it during the speech. But if you get nervous midway through, why not? Few things liven up a dull presentation like a well-executed back handspring. Just make sure you stick the landing.

I also remember that visualization of success is important. You should try it before your next speech. Moments before zero hour, picture yourself giving a clear, effective delivery and the audience rising to give you a standing ovation.

You can also plan to visualize the audience in their underwear if you want. But in that case, please don’t ask me to be in the audience.

***
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Friday, July 17, 2009

Humor Me: Sleeping on the job

By MATT WIXON

As your body calls out for its afternoon caffeine fix, the boss calls for a meeting. Moments later, you and your colleagues are in the conference room, daydreaming about 5 p.m. as the boss talks about the company’s new policy on Post-it notes.

Or maybe he’s talking about plans to stripe the parking lot with yellow paint instead of white. Or announcing that, after a six-month study, management has decided to change a comma to a semicolon in the company’s mission statement.

Whatever the topic, it’s one of those essential meetings. And that’s when it hits you. An elephant has landed on your eyelids and you are being pulled into the Darth Vader-like grip of sleep -– and perhaps unemployment, if the boss sees you.

You try to resist the dark side, staring hard at the boss and focusing on every word:

And furthermore, we feel we can improve our performance vector and overall synergy with the use of Helvetica 10-point bold in ALL office memos ...

You fight it, but it’s soooo difficult to keep your eyes open. You start to regret your decision to stay late at the karaoke bar to perfect the high notes on "Dream Weaver." But maybe this drowsiness isn’t your fault. Maybe it’s just the lulling hum of the fluorescent lights and the tick-tock lullaby from the clock above your head.

You open your eyes wide and blink hard. "This is ridiculous," you think to yourself. "I just need to keep my eyes open."

Sure, it sounds easy. But you’re in the gravitational pull of sweet sleep, the most powerful force in the world. That’s right: The most powerful force in the world.

Some people say it’s money that makes the world go around, and there certainly is truth to that. Lottos have a huge following, and studies have shown that the tilt of the Earth’s axis depends on the location of Donald Trump's ego.

Other people say sex is the world’s most powerful force, and yes, adult movies make a gazillion dollars a year. And of course there was Baywatch, the show lasted 12 years with about four recycled plots. Actually, Baywatch didn’t need storylines at all -- just a 60-minute loop of slow-motion beach running.

Very powerful. But the lure of the dark side, the force that can make a table in the conference room feel like a downy pillow, is much more powerful. The proof:

You’ve spent years putting in long hours to build your career. Going into work on weekends. Laughing at the boss’ bad jokes. Pretending you actually care about how he did on the back nine at his private golf club that defines you as “pond scum.”

It will all be for nothing if the boss sees your head flopping at the end of the table.

But the power of the dark side has taken over your brain. You think, maybe if I just close one eye, I’ll make it through this meeting. Maybe if I just turn my head a little toward the back wall, away from the boss, I could shut my eyes for a couple of seconds.

Just a couple of seconds, huh? Our brains are so naïve when sleep calls.

Suddenly, the boss’ voice fades into a drone mumbling that sounds like the teacher talking to Charlie Brown: “wha wha wha, bla bla, blabla.” Your head tilts downward, sucked into the vortex of dreamland. Then, just as your face is about to hit the table in front of you, your head jerks back up and you think, "What the heck just happened?"

What happened was a very close call. You’re terrified it will happen again, but you can’t stop it. Your head gets heavy, you start falling forward, and ...

OH SWEET MERCY, it sounds like the boss is finally wrapping things up.

So in conclusion, please remember to only use the yellow highlighters with internal memos and reserve the pink highlighters for highlighting faxes. We’ll discuss it more tomorrow, when we have a meeting to discuss future meetings. Thanks everyone.

You return to your cubicle, filled with relief. But you’re also shaken by the experience -- shaken by the thought that, had the meeting lasted a few more minutes, you would’ve been drooling on the conference table.

So you decide to show your dedication, at least for the last three hours of the day. You will be productive. You will do some good ol’ fashioned hard work.

Good for you. And good luck with that, because the Dark Side will never stop pulling you in. Except at about 2 a.m. tomorrow morning, when you're lying awake in bed telling yourself you need to get some sleep so you won't be a walking zombie the next day.

In that case, drink a little warm milk while reading a stack of office memos. That should knock you out.

***
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Monday, June 29, 2009

Humor Me: Vacationing with the kids

By MATT WIXON

The check-in line at Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine has a sign that says, “Start your adventure here.”

What kind of adventure?

Well, about 50 feet from the sign are two animatronic trees that will be harmonizing with a pretend raccoon before the day is done. It’s that kind of adventure.

It’s kind of like being immersed in a Disney movie about kids taking over a hotel and building an enormous water park inside. Unlike a movie, however, Great Wolf Lodge offers the added bonus of a chance to spend $25 on a magi wand or $50 on a stuffed animal with your child’s wish sealed inside.

Bring the whole family and your credit cards. It’s that kind of adventure.

But wait … this is actually a positive review of Great Wolf. The biggest reason is that the water park, which is huge, great for all ages and kept at 84 degrees year-round, has pretty much ruined every other water park for me.

Great slides for kids and adults. Very short lines. No sweltering heat or need for me to slather SPF 150 sunblock on my pale skin. It’s so different from the experience at most water parks, where you bake in long lines while trying not to notice aging back tattoos.

(TATTOO SIDEBAR: Have you ever noticed that tattoos -- while they are pretty cool, edgy, sexy, all that on young skin – give off a very different vibe on older skin? It’s kind of like seeing a mom drive by in a minivan that’s blasting death metal. And an elderly person who is heavily tattooed? He or she looks like a dented UPS package that fell off the conveyor belt and got stamped dozens of times as it traveled the world.)

Anyway, the Great Wolf water park is definitely a winner. The staff is also pretty cheerful and helpful. Not so helpful during my visit were the elevators, which broke down in the morning as we were trying to get a stroller to our room on the fourth floor. Also not helpful was the person who swiped my wife’s sandals off the deck of the outdoor pool, leaving Janell with no shoes as we were leaving the resort.

Janell had to walk to the car in a pair of sandals normally worn by our 6-year-old son, Ryan. Janell was pretty ticked off as she walked to the car with her toes hanging out over the end of Nerf pool sandals, which looked ridiculous enough to become the next fashion trend. But upon further review, we decided that her sandals were probably picked up by mistake and not actually stolen. That could certainly happen in the rush to pack up a family’s pool paraphernalia. Also, although the economy has caused us all some pain, I find it unlikely that anyone would stoop so low as to swipe a pair of $8 Wal-Mart flip flops.

My wife did manage to avoid the greatest adventure of our trip to Great Wolf: staying overnight in the hotel with our two oldest sons. That was a very exciting part of the trip for Ryan and Cooper, and for me, uh … it was memorable. Here’s how it went:

After a long day of water-park fun, my wife drove home at about 8:30 p.m. with our 16-month-old son. We decided that getting Nathan to sleep in a hotel room was more adventure than we wanted. So Janell left, leaving the two double beds for Ryan (age 6), Cooper (age 4) and Dad (age well beyond that at which sleepovers are thrilling).

After a trip to the arcade and some of Cooper’s leftover birthday cake, it was time to go to sleep. Or at least it was time to discuss the sleeping situation.

First, Ryan showed me several options that would create lighting conditions like those at home. Ryan flicked lights on and off throughout the room and brought up other creative ideas. My favorite was his idea to leave the door open on the microwave because that was like having a night light in the room. We finally decided to leave the bathroom light on and crack the door.

After a bedtime story, Cooper and I climbed into one bed and Ryan got into the other. But then Ryan decided that he wanted to sleep in our bed, too, giving us three people in one double bed. Then Ryan changed his mind because it was too hot and went back to the other bed. Thank goodness.

He fell asleep pretty quickly. Cooper, on the other hand, decided that he needed to touch my arm every 30 seconds to make sure that I was still there. I’m not sure how long it took him to fall asleep, but it took me even longer. Part of the reason was a tremendously overstuffed pillow.

(PILLOW SIDEBAR: Do hotels generally use overstuffed pillows because they seem more fresh or upscale than an average pillow? I can understand that a flat, mushy pillow can seem like it’s worn out, but that’s the kind of pillow I prefer. The pillows at Great Wolf were like completed Jiffy Pop bags. They were so plump that my head felt like it was nearly at a 90-degree angle as I tried to fall asleep.)

The next morning, Ryan and Cooper both agreed that it was the best sleepover ever and that they slept really well. Apparently, they slept well despite waking up several times to go to the bathroom and get drinks of water. Each time, Ryan would tap me on the shoulder to let me know what was going on. Cooper also would tap me on the shoulder, but not to tell me he needed a drink or needed to go to the bathroom. Cooper just wanted to make sure that I hadn’t died or been replaced by a mannequin in the 10 minutes since he had last checked.

The most interesting part of the night was when I noticed Ryan sit up in the bed for a minute or so and “sleep sit.” At least that’s what I think he was doing. I said, “Ryan, are you OK?” and he just kept sitting there, looking straight ahead, his eyes opening and closing as he nodded off. He looked like my dad trying to fight off sleep in the middle of a church service or me battling the sleep monster in one of my political-science classes in college.

The day we returned from Great Wolf, I felt a lot like I did in those political science classes. I was tired, hungry and a little confused. How could the trip to Great Wolf be so much hassle – going anywhere with three kids always is -- and yet so much fun?

At this point in my life, I guess seeing my kids have fun trumps just about everything else. And I know I should enjoy any experience in which my kids still want to have fun with me because I know that won’t always be the case. The “parents are a total embarrassment” stage will be here before long.

That will be a very different kind of adventure.

***
To be on the list that is sent out when a new column in posted, e-mail mattwixon@gmail.com.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wixon Boys Dance Party 2009

Not the best resolution with YouTube, but good enough to see the amazing dance moves of the Wixon boys. OK, maybe not amazing, but definitely interesting. The amazing part was that nobody was injured during the filming and nobody had to sit in our house's "timeout" spot.

Friday, June 12, 2009

My High School Yearbook Video

Twenty years ago, I graduated from high school in Glendale, Ariz. My school was Apollo, home of the mighty Hawks, the motto of "pride, class, dignity" and at least 100 cars with bumper stickers that had been altered from "IN-N-OUT BURGER" to "IN-N-OUT URGE." Apollo also featured some sweet fender benders during lunch break, when half the senior class would tear out of the parking lot hoping to make it to Burger King and back in 30 minutes.

I was thinking about this because I recently received my 20-year reunion invitation. It reminded me of the goofy video I did a couple of years ago to accompany one of my humor columns. It features some highlights from my high school yearbook that are probably similar to many yearbooks.

Here's the video, presented by the person voted "most likely to be forgotten or confused for some guy named Mike, Mark or Max." Oh yeah, and Class of '89 RULES!

video

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Humor Me: Spelling out success

Iwrote this column a couple years ago, but since the National Spelling Bee is back on national TV this week, I decided to repost it:

Humor Me: Spelling out success

By MATT WIXON

Kids always get critized for not knowing much. And during this week of remembering our fallen soldiers, I bet someone asked, "How many American children can even locate Iraq on a map?"

Well, considering a recent survey showed that two-thirds of adults ages 18-24 couldn't find Iraq, I'm going to say not many. Unless an episode of "SpongeBob SquarePants" featured SpongeBob hanging out with Mr. Krabs on a sand dune near Baghdad.

But that's enough talk about the kids who can't find Iraq. Let's take a positive spin and talk about the kids who can spell Iraq — and nidifugous, obmutescence and docosahexaenoic acid.

Those kids take the stage this week at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which for the first time will be broadcast live in prime time. PRIME TIME! That means kids who make it to the final rounds Thursday will have a national audience as they face spelling challenges such as "succedaneum," "hepatomegaly" and, because the competition is on ABC, "Eva Longoria."

How many people will actually tune in to see the riveting excitement of do-or-die spelling? Hmm ... that's a tough call. But I think the ratings could be as boffo as American Idol if the National Spelling Bee made a few subtle changes.

(The screen is now turning into wavy patterns as we enter fantasy mode)


Welcome to America's Spelling Idol! I'm Ryan Seacrest, America's No. 1 punchline. Now stepping to the microphone is our next contestant, who must spell this word:

"Argillaceous."

SPELLER: May I have the definition, please?

SIMON COWELL: (with totally affected English accent) My gaaaawd ... You're off to a dreadful start. Just begin.

SPELLER: A-R-G-I-L-L-A-C-O-U-S

SIMON COWELL: (throwing down a pencil and sighing) That ... was ... hideous. Positively aaaawful. Your ignorance of the letter "E" inflames the bile in my soul like every breath Paula takes.

PAULA ABDUL: (brushing back her hair to show a dazed look on her face): This might not have been your best performance, but you've got a great style, and I liked the way you started with the letter A. I vote "yes."

RANDY JACKSON: (leaning back in his chair) Uh, we're not voting on this show, Paula ... Oh dawg, this just wasn't your night. Come on, how could you misspell argillaceous? Don't you know that the Latin suffix "aceous" is often used in adjectives corresponding to classification names?

(We now return to reality)

As it is now, the spellers simply hear a little bell ding when they blow the spelling of a word never uttered outside a spelling bee. Then they walk off the stage, knowing that although they didn't win first place, they achieved something they can brag about while getting stuffed in a locker at school.

OK, I just reinforced a ridiculous stereotype. The truth is, not every elite speller is a total Poindexter who in 20 years will annually make more money than I will make in my lifetime. (I know this because I was a nerd in high school, and I don't make that much money now and I can't spell "succedaneum."

And the truth is, I will watch the National Spelling Bee. I like to see these sharp young minds get rewarded for their academic discipline. I like to see kids who can spell "sclerodermatous" despite growing up in a misspelled world of Froot Loops, Cheez Whiz and Beanee Weenees.

Another note on a misspelled world: Why would a manufacturer of EDUCATIONAL toys go by the name Playskool? That's like having a tutoring service called "One Plus One is Three."

It's also more reason to cheer these 275 elite spelling go-getters. So that's what I'm doing today, and that's what I'll do Thursday night. I've even decided who I'm rooting for:

The kids with an older sibling who has already competed in a National Spelling Bee.

Why?

Because it's got to be difficult to follow in the footsteps of a sibling who can call you an ignoramus and spell it correctly, too. I think the younger brothers and sisters deserve a chance for their own paradisiac moment.

With a win Thursday night, the jollification can begin.

***
To be on the list that is sent out when a new column in posted, e-mail mattwixon@gmail.com.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Humor Me: Signing day at Barnes & Noble

By MATT WIXON

So I was sitting there at the front of a Barnes & Noble, parked behind a table loaded up with my books. Lots of my books. More than I could ever imagine selling in one hour without appearing on Oprah or changing the title from The Great American Staycation to How to Achieve Financial Freedom and Have the Best Sex Ever.

(Although my book doesn’t directly address achieving financial freedom or having the best sex ever, those things could possibly be achieved by reading it. Reading the book might even help people solve their problem thighs. Please feel free to spread wild rumors about the book’s magical properties.)

Back to the signing day:

At Barnes & Noble, I was sitting directly in the line of sight of people walking into the store. That made sense, because it allowed everyone to see me, and when somebody was talking to me, it was great. But when I was finished talking with a potential staycationer, book-buyer, curious passerby or a lonely person looking for conversation, I was sitting at a table looking straight at the store’s entry.

When people walked in, I didn’t want to stare right into their eyes. If I was a customer, that would definitely scare me away. But I also didn’t want to be looking down, and thus appear to be disinterested, rude or a slightly overdressed member of the shoplifting-prevention team. I needed to give out a vibe somewhere between uncomfortably aloof and borderline stalker.

I’m not sure how successful I was at that, but at least I looked legit. Next to me was a sign with a picture of the book (good!), a picture of me (ugh) and an announcement that this was a Barnes & Noble “event.”

Hmm … I’m not sure I would’ve called it an “event.” Sounds a little grandiose. Sure, some people who had bought the book came out for the signing. And I met some other nice people who asked about the book and then bought it. But the book signing, the first of two this month, was kind of awkward.

Other authors had prepared me for that. If you’re not a well-known author, they said, expect some slow times. And don’t expect to sell a lot of books, either. People walking into a bookstore probably aren’t going to impulse buy a book they haven’t seen before. And how many people in this world want to start up a conversation with someone they don’t know?

The real value of a signing is that the “event” is promoted in a store for several weeks, which means potential buyers walk into the store seeing a display for your book. This is a good thing, of course, because there are currently 14 quadrillion books sitting on shelves, lost in the masses, gathering dust and getting overlooked for something like A Mother’s Gift, the novel written in 2001 by noted author Britney Spears and her mom.

Among the customer reviews for that book:

“A part of me has died after reading this book.”

Perhaps it wasn’t the best book. But I can only hope that my book will earn the sizzling sales of Spears’ novel, or perhaps sell as well as Terrell Owens’ Little T Learns to Share (surprisingly unavailable is "Little T Learns to Throw a Tantrum"). Spears and Owens would bring in some big crowds for a signing.

As I looked around me during a break in the storm of people trying to talk to me –- two at one time can count as a storm, right? -– I noticed some other books that would pack the house for a signing. Next to racks of magazines were books such as Tori Spelling’s Mommywood, James Patterson’s 8th Confession and another titled Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. Yes, that title will sell. Maybe what I need is a title like that and one of those romance-novel covers featuring a slightly modernized Tarzan and Jane preparing to get it on.

I had lots of time to think about these things because I’m not a well-known author. But I did learn a few things from the book signing.

1. Patience pays off. After waiting through some slow times, I sold a few books when people approached me after I had found the comfy space between being uncomfortably aloof and a potential stalker.

2. When the sirens go off for a tornado warning in the area, the book signing is officially over. (I was packing up a few moments after the Cowboys’ practice facility was demolished by high winds).

3. There is a magazine called Glutes. Yes, seriously. I could see the current issue from where I was sitting, and the cover included a headline “Your Best Butt Ever!”

Coincidentally, that headline is also part of the title of my next book:

How to Get Your Best Butt Ever While Achieving Financial Freedom and Having the Best Sex Ever.

As seen on Oprah, I hope.

***
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

My CNN interview on staycations

It started with an e-mail that had “CNN Interview Request” in the subject field. Sent to me by an associate producer for CNN, the e-mail started like this:
“Hey Matt,

I’m writing to find out if you can join Fredricka Whitfield during CNN Newsroom Saturday at 3PM CT/4PM ET, to discuss your book The Great American Staycation.”
I received this e-mail on April 1, so I was suspicious. But no fooling … none of my old college buddies were involved and it was not a prank. It was truly a golden opportunity to get some national publicity for my book -- or perhaps pass out or throw up on live television and became a YouTube legend.

Thinking about it now, maybe I should have done something outrageous during my interview. A million hits on YouTube would undoubtedly translate into some book sales, if only from people who felt sorry for someone who was humiliated in front of a national audience.

But the interview went pretty well, or so I’m told. I’m too embarrassed to watch myself on television so I still haven’t seen the whole thing. But I do remember, and I will always remember, the way I felt as a CNN producer told me, “After this segment, we’re coming to you.”

I was sitting in a chair in a Dallas studio, with a microphone clipped to my jacket and a backdrop of the Dallas skyline behind me. I was staring into a camera, listening to the show through an earpiece, wondering what question Whitfield would start with and how shiny my head looked under lights nearly as bright as the sun.

(Column continues below video)



Some makeup would’ve mellowed that shine. And 30 minutes earlier, when I had arrived at the studio, the makeup room was pointed out to me. But yeah, like I’m going to put on makeup. It’s not that I’m too manly to allow some makeup touch-ups, it’s that I have no idea how to use makeup. So what if my head would be shiny and my skin a little blotchy? Better that than my amateur makeup application turning CNN Newsroom Saturday into a freak show.

Anyway, back to the interview. I was sitting in my chair, listening to the earpiece, and I heard the intro. “So Matt Wixon wrote a book on staycations …”

Oh man, they really are coming to me.

I hadn’t felt incredibly nervous until that moment, when I realized my national television debut was just seconds away. My heart began pounding so hard that I wondered if it could be seen under my jacket. Any kind of television interview can cause anxiety, including the one I did last week on Good Morning Texas. But the CNN one was more stressful because I had never met the person I was about to talk to, I had no idea what question she would ask, and I was looking into the lens of a camera instead of the eyes of another person.

Finally, Whitfield asked her first question. And …

Seriously, I don’t remember much of the interview. But you can see the video above. What I do remember is that the interview was much faster-paced than I expected, and I didn’t feel I had enough time to answer a question fully.

When I was done with my interview at the start of the show, I was asked to stick around so they could talk to me some more. So for the next 30 minutes, I sat in the chair, waiting for the producer to again say, “we’re coming to you.”

In the meantime, I tried to follow the show in my earpiece, but it was sometimes difficult. I couldn’t see a monitor and the audio sounded like muffled AM radio. I stayed alert, however, to the possibility that I could be back on at any moment. My nose itched at one point, but I didn’t want to scratch it because I thought that would be the moment when CNN would put me back on the screen and the scratch could be mistaken as a pick, like in a memorable episode of Seinfeld. (Hmm … a nose-picking author on YouTube … another way to get a million hits!)

Finally, Whitfield came back to me. A few more questions, a little more discussion, and then the show was over. I was relieved as I walked out of the studio, but also a little disappointed that I didn’t get to mention some of my best staycation ideas and strategies. (Start subliminal message … For lots of great ideas, buy The Great American Staycation … end subliminal message).

So the CNN interview wasn’t perfect. But I can’t complain. I got the chance to go on a national show, and I didn’t throw up, pass out, fall off the chair or get frozen in fear and stare blankly into the camera.

Well, I don’t think I did any of those things. Like I said, I haven’t watched the interview that closely.

And if any of those things did happen, it’s probably better that I don’t know.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My staycation interview

I was on CNN on Saturday for an interview about staycations, and I should be able to upload that video in the next few days. But today I was on "Good Morning Texas" to talk about staycations, and it's much easier to get that video.

Good news: Although I was nervous, I didn't suffer an attack of flop sweat.

Bad news: Well, I'm not sure if there is any. But I don't like to watch myself on television, so I didn't look at the video too closely.

Here's the clip:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Humor Me: Yoga dropout

By MATT WIXON

A few years ago, I tried yoga. I tried and failed.

Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, because you can't really succeed at something that you commit to for less than an hour. Certainly not something like yoga, which is defined as a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being.

Yep, that's yoga. A moving meditation that can unify the body, mind and spirit as it balances your energy centers -- also known as “chakras.” Sounds great, but that's not beginning yoga.

Beginning yoga is defined as a system of exercises for attaining humiliation as you nearly fall through a coffee table while trying to achieve the Extended Camel Posture (Purna Ushthra Asana in yoga terminology). Beginning yoga is what I do, or more accurately, did. My dedication lasted approximately 39 minutes — the running time of an instructional yoga video.

At first, I had high hopes because my wife loved the video and said that it improved flexibility and strength. I decided to give it a try, as a favor to my wife, and of course, my chakra. I play a lot of sports and stay reasonably in shape, so I thought balancing my energy centers wouldn’t be too difficult. The video’s description also mentioned that the yoga workout would help me find relaxation in my strength, which sounded great. Strong and relaxed -- what a nice combination.

After a few yoga postures, however, I wasn’t feeling the relaxation in my strength. I was seeing the comedy in my weakness. The Cobra (Bhujangasana), Downward Dog (Adhomukhasvanasana) and Warrior Pose (Virabhadrasana) convinced me that learning yoga would be much harder than spelling Paschimotanasana (Forward Stretch). Fifteen minutes into the tape, I was tempted to return to a more familiar posture, the Recline With Beverage.

But I didn’t want to be a quitter. I still feel bad that my childhood voyage into martial arts only lasted long enough to learn how to count to 10 in Japanese. And my soccer experience wasn’t much longer, albeit long enough to learn that flying soccer balls always assume trajectories that collide with the faces of players who wear glasses.

So I decided to persevere through the entire yoga routine. It helped that I was in my house, and not at the health club, where my yoga ineptitude would be on full display to the people achieving the human pretzel (Mr. Salty Posture). In privacy, I could attempt to push my body toward its spiritual center, or at least give my chakra a good stretch if my downward dog (Maggie) would stay out from under my feet.

The yoga instructor’s encouragement helped. “Good,” she said at one point, not noticing that my tired spiritual center had led me to cheat and bend my knees during the forward standing bend. “You’re doing great today,” she said later as I failed to do what she calls the “Crane Posture,” or what I like to call “Impossible for Me.” I may not have been succeeding in the -- this is a quote from the video box -- “time-tested spiritual discipline where exercise and relaxation meet,” but at least the instructor was giving my chakra a pep talk.

I tried to copy the instructor’s postures, but it was like trying to trace a Rembrandt. Her picture-perfect postures are probably framed in a yoga studio somewhere. My postures, on the other hand, are the equivalent of a preschooler’s crayon scribbles on a wall of the studio.

And some of the postures I couldn’t even do. “You might not be able to do this right away,” she said, again in a very encouraging voice.

Right away? No, I’ll never be able to stand on my hands and lift my knees over my shoulders.

But at least she has faith in me, which might convince me to watch the tape a few more times. I figure that even if I don’t do the routine, I’ll have somebody telling me that I’m doing a great job. That is sure to make me feel better as Doritos crumbs roll down my shirt.

I could also just fast-forward to the end of the workout, the part of the workout I enjoyed the most. That’s where the instructor told me to lie down, close my eyes, and feel every part of my body relaxing. “Feel your legs relax, your arms relax, your head relax,” she said. “Feel yourself sinking deeper into the floor.”

Now that was relaxing. After sinking deep into the floor, I came up to a seated position. The instructor told me I “did a terrific job today,” although she probably tells that to all her students.

Following her lead, I brought my hands together and bowed forward as she said “Namaste,” a greeting that means, in part, “I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light, of peace.”

Such a beautiful ending. But the next morning, I was so sore that I groaned as I got out of bed.

Loosely translated, I believe “ugh” and “argh” mean “Oh, my aching chakra.”

***
To be on the list that is sent out when a new column in posted, e-mail mattwixon@gmail.com.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Great American Staycation

"The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available at amazon.com and it will be in stores March 18. It has ideas, strategies, and tips from people who haven taken staycations for years, along with a few stories of the strange vacations my family took when I was a kid.

The description of the book is here. The story behind the book is below.

***

Twenty-five years before “staycation” became a buzzword, my parents packed their three kids into a rented van for an overnight “fake-cation.”

Yes, a fake-cation. As in fake vacation.

After all, the van wasn’t really rented. My parents got it at a reduced rate, or maybe even free, in exchange for listening to a sales pitch on conversion vans. When the sales pitch was over, the van was all ours for the next 24 hours.

And what a 24 hours it was.

To escape the summer heat in Phoenix, Ariz., we drove 75 miles north to higher elevation. We swam in a creek, ate dinner somewhere, and then slept in the van in a grocery-store parking lot. One bench seat folded flat into a bed, and my parents slept there. My brother slept on the floor, and my sister and I each slept in a captain’s chair.

The captain’s chairs reclined less than an airplane seat, making sleep almost impossible. I remember struggling to get comfortable as I watched cars zoom by on a freeway next to us. The next morning, with our 24 hours nearly complete, we headed home.

It was one of several fake-cations my family took when I was a kid. One time, my family spent a weekend at an RV park that was mostly populated by retirees. The park had a small, deteriorating miniature-golf course that was fun for an hour or two. But after that, my brother, sister, and I had nothing to do but play cards in the RV and walk over to the shuffleboard courts and sling around the sliding discs. I remember I ate an entire box of Cheez-Its in one day during that trip. Not because I was hungry, just because it was something to pass the time.

The most memorable moment of that weekend was when my brother and I, tired of watching the three channels available on our portable five-inch, black-and-white TV, walked to the RV park’s community center. We found a television there to watch, but that only lasted a few minutes. We got yelled at for turning up the volume because it was interfering with the man calling out the Bingo numbers.

Very memorable, but not the greatest vacation. Truly a fake-cation.

But I don’t blame my parents. Three kids were expensive to fly anywhere. And the emotional cost was probably higher, given that my brother, sister, and I could get into an argument in the middle of church. On Christmas Eve.

Money was tight, and so was time. My dad, an insurance salesman, switched companies so often that he didn’t accumulate a lot of vacation days. He did accumulate a lot of business cards, however, and we used the backs of the outdated ones to write down phone messages.

Obviously, the seven-day family vacation to Walt Disney World wasn’t an option for my family. But now that I’ve taken some jabs at my parents, I’ll give them some credit. Even without much money or time, they still wanted to put some kind of vacation together.

That’s exactly what millions of Americans, including me, are thinking right now. How are we going to spend our next vacation?

We’d all love to really go all out. We’d love to jet away for a fourteen-day trip to somewhere exotic. We’d love to lounge on an exclusive beach and snap our fingers to have someone deliver us food, drinks, and in my case, SPF 140 sunblock.

But for many of us, reality is cramping vacation fantasies. The economy is in a downturn, home values are sinking, salaries are stagnant, and somewhere in this great country, a father-of-the bride is breaking the heart of his daughter:
Honey, you know how much I love you, but the economic conditions right now just aren’t conducive to having a five-foot ice swan at your wedding reception.
Tears will follow, but hopefully, so will an acceptance of the current economic conditions. Because most Americans –- young, old, single, married, with or without kids –- are feeling the pinch.

That brings us to the staycation. The stay-at-home vacation. The kind of vacation nobody really talked about until it became a product of necessity. The kind of vacation that my parents tried to pull off back when the economy was in another mighty swan dive.

But those were fake-cations. A staycation doesn’t have to be that way.

I know this because I’m now in the position my parents were in 25 years ago. I’m not an insurance agent, money is probably not as tight, and I’ve never planned a vacation that includes a three-hour sales pitch and a free set of steak knives. But like my parents, my wife and I have three kids. And since we started having our kids, and heard “it’s a boy!” three times, we’ve spent many vacations at home.

"The Great American Staycation" has some of our ideas and strategies for a vacation in your hometown or nearby. But more importantly, the book has the ideas and experiences from more than 20 other "staycationers" who are a lot smarter than me.

It's not like a typical travel guidebook. Those are loaded with useful information such as maps, detailed descriptions of towns, attractions to see, and where to eat. But sometimes the guidebooks read like the instruction booklet to George Foreman’s Lean Mean Grilling Machine.

I hope my book does a little better than that. It’s kind of an “anti-travel” book, so it won’t read like a travel guidebook. I’ve written humor columns for more than 10 years, and I think that tone fits staycations well. Because to take a staycation, you need to have a sense of humor. You need to have a positive attitude, an open mind, and a willingness to try something new. You can’t take yourself too seriously.

If you read the book, I hope it will help you be ready to plan a staycation that doesn’t feel like a fake-cation.

You can make it real, you can make it special, and you can make it memorable.

Final thought ... if you use Facebook, you can also find the book by searching "staycation." I just created that Facebook page for the book, which includes links to the book on Amazon and allows you to sign up as a "fan." That helps market the book, and it also allows me to give you any updates on the book.

Thanks to everyone who read this far!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Humor Me: Your kid won't be famous

By MATT WIXON

I've stopped watching American Idol this season, as I always do after a few weeks. My only interest in the show is to watch the train-wreck auditions. The auditions where someone belts out a hideous rendition of "I Will Always Love You" or "Over the Rainbow" or tries to take a country song and give it the R&B treatment.

It's hilarious. But also kind of sad, especially after the judges give them blank stares of cut them down with some clever phrase they've been waiting to use. What the judges say, however, isn't the sad part. It's what the singers often say:
"I'm not going to quit. I know I can make it!"

Well, I applaud your doggedness. But I hope when the cameras are off, your parents come up with some better advice than, "That's right, honey. Don't quit. You are going to make it!"

Maybe so, but not as a singer. And that leads me to a message I want to send to kids. A message that could land me in detention.
Hey kids ... you know that inspirational "if you set your mind to it, you can be anything you want to be" speech? The one we’ve pounded into your head since you stuck the quarter so far up your nose that we couldn’t get it out?
Well, it's a lie.

Not a big, horrible lie. Nothing like when parents tell their kids "and if you get out of that bed again, the invisible snakes will get you." Or like when my dad would tell me he had something called a "plumber's helper" to force me to eat vegetables.

(Note to kids: The plumber’s helper was also mentioned in the movie A Christmas Story, so I’m guessing many of you are being threatened with this contraption. So remember that if you just move the food around on your plate, it will look like you ate some of it. Also, you can hide spinach under a potato skin and green peas can be smeared on the underside of the table. Good luck!)

OK, back to the topic of "you can be anything you want to be."

For a 5-year-old, I think it's probably a good message. It provides motivation, builds self-esteem, all that good stuff. It's also hard to determine a career for the skill set of "knows ABCs, spells name correctly, can pop off G.I. Joe's head and place it on Barbie's body."

But let's move forward 10 years, to when the leaders of tomorrow become the Mountain Dewds and Dewdettes of today. That's when we have to be a little more careful with what we say. For example, last year I spoke to a group of teenagers and more than half of them planned to be pro athletes.

Sorry guys, you’re more likely to have athlete's foot. Just pull out your calendars and schedule the disappointment now.

That's harsh, I know. Especially for kids who've probably been told they can do anything. I remember the teachers at Apollo High School -- home of the fightin’ Hawks, ripped jeans and Motley Crue T-shirts -- told me that if I set my mind to it, I could do anything.

So I tried to be a professional basketball player.

And you know what? More than 20 years later, I can whip NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal in a game of H-O-R-S-E if no dunks are allowed. I also have above-average height, know all the rules of basketball, and although this is hard to believe, many people compare me with former NBA Most Valuable Player Steve Nash for my lack of fashion sense.

Still, I never made it to the NBA. And although it's possible that I didn't set my mind to the goal, I think my bling-bling career washed out because of a lack of quickness. And because I can't jump over a copy of The Da Vinci Code. Not even the paperback edition.

The painful truth is that we can't all be anything we want to be. We can't all have glamorous careers. Some people will be rock stars; some people will sing "Muskrat Love" on karaoke night. Some people will make a fortune in stocks; some people will make frappuccinos in smocks. Some people will be Mel Gibson; some people will arrest him on a suspected DUI.

This isn’t meant to squash dreams. The oldest of my three sons is 6, so I'm all about "go for it, guys!" right now. I think if you're 6 years old, it's good to dream big. Maybe you really will be a pro athlete, world-renowned doctor or performer in "Sesame Street Live."

And if you're a teenager, you shouldn't give up on your dreams. But if you can't sing, you can't sing and that's that. So have a backup plan as you consider this:

When you pass age 25, "dreamer" is pretty much code for "loser." Yes, even if you've almost learned to play guitar and you swear your band is about to get its big break. Yes, even if your Hollywood fame is just one juicy role away.

The one possible exception, of course, is if an NBA scout might discover you today when you’re shooting jump shots in your driveway at 6 p.m. My address is in the phone book.

***
To be on the list that is sent out when a new column in posted, e-mail mattwixon@gmail.com.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Humor Me: Lover, find your match

By MATT WIXON

Another Valentine's Day approaches, and here you are, still looking for that special someone.

Maybe special isn't even a requirement anymore. You just need someone ordinary who can show you an extraordinary love -- or at least pose for a photo that you can send to your meddling friends and relatives.

I know it can be difficult. Especially this week, when lucky-in-love people get to show their special someone just how much the Valentine's Day Retailer Mafia can squeeze out of a bank account.

But don't give up hope, because there's still time to find love. In fact, there's still time to find a date for Valentine's Day. Just go to a chat room and identify yourself as a blonde named Candee or a wealthy entrepreneur named Harrison.

Unfortunately, that probably won't turn into a serious, long-term relationship. Compatibility is required for that. For example, although my wife doesn't like sports and I do, and although she likes to watch makeover shows and I don't, we are both human. That helps us make our marriage work.

There are deeper elements of compatibility to explore, of course. That's why dating Web sites use compatibility questionnaires with their clients.

The one here, however, is free and easy. Even easier than trying to fool your friends by saying "I love you too, honeypoo," to a dial tone.

When you're finished with the survey, find another reader, match answers, and then who knows? Soon you could have that funny tingling feeling in your stomach BEFORE eating Mexican food:

1. When a couple has an argument, it's important to ...
A. understand disagreements are part of a healthy relationship.
B. always keep the lines of communication open.
C. wear a microphone for maximum effect.

2. Which statement most resembles your beliefs?
A. "I believe a strong relationship is based on mutual trust."
B. "I believe a strong relationship requires compromise."
C. "I believe you are sitting in my seat. Move."

3. Public display of affection ...
A. makes me uncomfortable.
B. is perfectly fine with me.
C. should be choreographed and practiced beforehand.

4. I like to travel ...
A. some, but I'm not that crazy about it.
B. anywhere in the world, because I'm adventurous.
C. anywhere within state lines, because I'm on parole.

5. Would you live with someone before getting married?
A. No, because it's despicable and should never happen.
B. Yes, because there is nothing wrong with that.
C. Yes, because I'm currently homeless.

6. I enjoy dinner by candlelight ...
A. because it makes a dinner special.
B. because it creates a romantic mood.
C. because the lack of light allows me to pretend my date is someone else.

7. If "fun and carefree" are on one side and "serious and organized" are on the other, I am ...
A. leaning toward fun and carefree.
B. leaning toward serious and organized.
C. checking my calendar to see when I have time to weigh the question thoroughly.

8. In financial matters, I've been called ...
A. thrifty.
B. a spender.
C. by four different bankruptcy lawyers in the same day.

9. I would like to have children ...
A. as soon as possible.
B. when my partner and I are ready.
C. stay out of my way unless they are bringing me a drink.

10. If roses are red and violets are blue ...
A. my heart overflows with love for you.
B. you da wild thang that makes life true.
C. is this a passive-aggressive reminder that I should've bought flowers?

***
To be on the list that is sent out when a new column in posted, e-mail mattwixon@gmail.com.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Humor Me: Diary of a 1-year-old

By MATT WIXON

Wow, the last year went by fast. It’s hard to believe, given my youthful looks, but I have now hit the big zero-one. It happened last week, in fact, as my family and I celebrated my first year of life. I’d like to say it was a great party, but I only got to watch everyone else eat pizza and cake while I was “treated” to things like spoonfuls of Stage 2 chicken-and-rice dinner, fruit medley and Cheerios.

Seriously, Dad ate like five pieces of pizza. Isn’t that ridiculous? Also, at the pizza place, Dad thought it would be fun for me to sit on the motorcycle video game to pretend that I was playing. He didn’t even put a coin in. I might still be young, but I know what’s going on when the screen is flashing “game over” and “insert coin.” I wasn’t born yesterday.

No, I was born a full year ago. And now that I’ve reached this milestone, I thought I would share some of my diary entries from the last year. That’s right, I keep a diary. I have a lot of free time these days, and it’s never too early to get started on the memoirs.

From the diary of Nathan Wixon:

Day 7

I’m a week old now but still adjusting to the big move. The new place is much more spacious, but a bit bright and drafty. There’s also way too much activity around me as I try to sleep. I can barely keep my eyes open most of the time, but when I open my eyes for more than 30 seconds, my parents goes absolutely bonkers. I’m worried they may not be very intelligent and that’s a hereditary trait.

Day 31

I’ve pretty much got this world figured out. I wake up, I eat and then I try to relax for a few minutes as I suffer through full-body hiccups. Then I poop and get my diaper changed by Mom or the guy who is allegedly my dad despite the fact that I have a ton of hair and he has zippo. After the diaper change, it’s time for me to give my grumpy-man look while I attempt to focus my crossed eyes on whoever is holding me. Then I fight the creeping sleep monster by crying my eyes out in my bassinet until the sleep monster defeats me.

Day 58

Tested my Emergency Broadcast System today. I just screamed for no reason, and so far, the system works well. Fortunately, this was only a test. If it had been an actual emergency, well, I would’ve done the same thing.

Day 75

Hello? Anybody out there? I’ve been screaming for like 10 minutes and nobody is coming here. It’s a shocking lack of gratitude for someone who just this morning made his parents’ day by smiling for the first time. Of course, I was only smiling because I had released some gas, but don’t tell my parents that. I like to see them get excited by these small achievements. They’re so cute at this stage, don’t you think?

Day 124

I just discovered that I have two older brothers. They are always playing crazy games and bouncing around on couches and talking really loud when I’m trying to take a nap. Until recently, I assumed that they were just hired to keep me entertained by wrestling next to my activity saucer. But now Mom and Dad are always telling them to “Watch out for your brother,” and I think they are referring to me.

Day 140

For the last time, Mom and Dad, I hate the baby swing. BOOOORIIING!

Day 159

How old is she? How old is she? A person asked that today. It made me so angry that I nearly spit up on mom’s last remaining non-spit-up-stained shirt. Then I went home and threw a ball around and tried to break stuff. I also tried to tell my parents to get rid of any of the jumpers in girly pastel colors, but all that came out was “gah.”

Day 160

Spit up on mom’s last remaining non-spit-up-stained shirt.

Day 209

Went in the pool today. A little chilly, but I kind of liked it. I splashed with my hands while Dad held me and then suddenly –- don’t ask me why –- I decided to try to dive bomb the water with my face. Not such a good idea. Dad thought it was funny until I decided to grab some chest hair to help regain my balance.

Day 262

Today was pretty exciting. I pulled all of the pots and pans out of the kitchen cabinets, put my hand in the dog’s water bowl and then knocked over the fake ficus tree in the kitchen. A pretty full day, and I could’ve done more if not for these stinkin' naps I have to take.

Day 327

Launched myself right off the changing table today. I’d been trying for weeks, but this time I succeeded as Dad was trying to get a diaper out of the drawer. Don’t worry, I’m fine. I’ve got a Mom who has things a little more together.

Day 334

I can now pull to a full standing position. That’s great except for one thing: I don’t know how to get back down once I’m standing. So I have to stand there crying for help. I suppose this is an inconvenience at 3 a.m., but so is having to take two naps a day. When I start talking, there might be some room for negotiation.

Day 365

Watch out world, I am ONE YEAR OLD. A time to reflect on the year gone by, all of my accomplishments and the many toys I’ve tried to put in my mouth. And, once again, a good time to test my Emergency Broadcast System.

Yep, still works.

***
To be on the list that is sent out when a new column in posted, e-mail mattwixon@gmail.com.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Humor Me: It's time for Girl Scout Cookies

By MATT WIXON

As I reached for the doorbell with my arms full of delicious ways for
my neighbor to support my school, I glanced down at the fund-raising kit's suggested opening line:

"Hello, my name is (your name here) and I am selling delicious cheese-and-sausage products to raise money for (your school here)."

That opening line would work fine, but I knew it wouldn't make me the top cheese-and-sausage salesman at my school. I decided to add in how my school needed new playground equipment and that the top salesman would win a trip to Disneyland, where I had always dreamed of visiting (insert 10-year-old grin here).

Who could resist such a dramatic presentation?

As it turned out, just about everyone. But at least they offered legitimate-sounding excuses. Some couldn't find their wallet or purse. Others had already bought cheese and sausage from another student. A few were allergic to both cheese and sausage -- and talk about bad luck -- they were also allergic to the pecan rolls, candy bars and caramel popcorn I was shilling.

"I also have coupon books," I would add.

"I think I hear the phone ringing," was their response, "and a pot may be boiling over."

I got the point.

At some houses, I didn't even get to make my point. As I approached the front door, the lights in the house would go out, the blinds would close and the television would become silent. I would hear faint whispers of "Be quiet!" and "Is he gone yet?"

It's hard to believe people could do that to an innocent child walking the mean streets of fund-raiser world. What's harder to believe, however, is that I've become one of those people.

How quickly I forgot my childhood dearth as a salesman: the days when neighbors became targets as I parroted my opening line in hopes that someone would buy a raffle ticket, a box of caramel delights or sponsor me in my basketball team's Hoop-a-thon. The days when my relatives had an ample supply of my car-wash coupons and $9 cheese spreads.

These days, I'm the one peering through the blinds for pint-size pitchmen and pretending not to exist when they ring my doorbell. Yes, I know they're raising money for a good cause, and, yes, I feel guilty. Especially when I see them walking dejectedly away from my door wearing their soccer uniforms or T-shirts with their
dance team's name on the front.

How can I be so heartless?

Well, here's one reason:

Apparently 425 Girl Scouts live in my neighborhood, and they are all currently selling cookies. There are only so many boxes of Tagalongs, Do-Si-Dos and Samoas I can eat. And Thin Mints don't make you thin. Maybe minty, but I don't really want to be that either.

Anyway, somewhere in the sales assault of cookies, homemade wrapping paper and Wisconsin cheddar logs, I realized there are just too many good causes -- and even more good "saleskids."

"Hello, my name is Michael, and I am selling candy bars to raise money for my swim team," said one visitor a while back. "Do you like to swim?"

Do I like to swim? This guy was good.

As Michael continued his pitch, I hoped that my phone would ring, a pot would boil over or an excuse better than "I'm sorry, but I'm busy making the world safe for democracy" would pop into my head.

It was too late for excuses, anyway. Michael had rattled off his entire line of products and I was feeling guilty. I bought one, and then Michael was off to his next customer and, with a little luck, a grand prize like Disneyland. I basked in the satisfaction of supporting a cute kid and a good cause.

But only for a moment, because another kid was soon to be at my door. And I expect some more will be coming this week.

Shh ... everybody be quiet. I'm pretending nobody is home.

***
To be on the list that is sent out when a new column in posted, e-mail mattwixon@gmail.com.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Kids unable to read, write, add properly

Schools are not doing the job, kids are not learning, and the country is going to a hell in a handbasket. Fortunately, this time, the news isn't about this country.

This time it's in England, where a headline reads "Half of teenagers leave school unable to read, write or add properly."
Despite a rise on 2007, only 47.6 percent of pupils achieved the desired five A* to C-grade GCSEs including English and maths, leaving ministers struggling to hit a 53 percent Treasury target by 2011.
Got it? If not, maybe you're a "maths" person.

Well, at least there's this bit of good news in the story:
Statistics published today by the Department for Children, Schools and Families show that 440 schools are currently falling short of this benchmark - though that is an improvement on last year's dire figure of 631.
So it seems to be getting more gooder than worser.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Humor Me: New Year's Resolutions

By MATT WIXON

Welcome to 2009. A new year, a new start, a new opportunity to make your life everything you want it to be.

Starting tomorrow, of course. We’ll just forget about today, considering we're nearly a week into the new year and you’re lying in bed, trying to hit the snooze bar for the 10th time. You're probably still feeling that pain in your back that started when you woke up New Year's Day after a night of sleeping on your keys (while fully-dressed, with a bent-up party hat strapped to your head).

Did you ever find out what that red stain was on your shirt? Lipstick? Salsa? Blood?

OK, it doesn’t really matter. Today is the day to start self-improvement! Or tomorrow, or perhaps the next day, or maybe next week after you finish off the carton of cigarettes. Then it will be time to start your New Year’s Resolution.

Which, if you’re like most Americans, means deciding to get fit. In fact, it’s the No. 2 New Year’s Resolution, second only to resolving to make a resolution at a later date because "I’m really unmotivated this week/month/year/lifetime."

Motivation is key. A good example is the show called "The Biggest Loser," which could refer to a Kevin Federline biography but actually is a show about people competing to lose weight. The top prize is $250,000, which is why most winners need less than a year to go from human marshmallow to triathlete.

I could get in primo shape with that kind of motivation. Even rock-hard abs would be possible with a $250,000 reward -- and several rolls of heavy-duty tape, a pair of handcuffs and one or more of the anti-depression drugs advertised on television.

But that’s a little complicated, and I want it to be easy. So do most people, which is why something like the the Ab Torso Torture Blaster, endorsed by Suzanne Somers, Chuck Norris or some other celebrity who has a personal chef, will be a big seller again this year. It will require three easy payments, equaling one payment for each time the Super Turbo Gladiator Glutinator gets used before 2008.

Sadly, there’s no easy way to get fit. But there is a simple way, as shown in a recent study of people committed to losing weight.

Participants in the study achieved significant weight loss in just days by cutting out snacks between meals, cutting out snacks before bedtime, and cutting out breakfast, lunch and dinner. The research also indicated that after a few days, some of the study’s participants had dropped a dress size, others could tighten their belts an entire notch, and all were willing to fight with knives for a box of Wheat Thins stamped with "Best if eaten by 2005."

Weight control isn’t as simple for those of us who want to eat. And even if you have self-control at home (or tape and handcuffs), sticking to a diet at work isn’t easy. For one thing, vending machines are just steps away.

Fortunately, my employer looks out for employee health by bringing in vending machines that never allow the pack of powdered-sugar donuts to drop from the top row. This results in donut-seekers shaking and banging the machine in an effective low-impact aerobic workout.

But that’s not enough. To get fit, real exercise is required. The kind of exercise that involves sweating, grunting and heavy lifting, and that’s just to get the spandex workout pants over your thighs. If you get that far, you’re on the fit side of America’s bell curve.

If it sounds difficult, remember that we can’t all look like the people in the fitness ads. That’s why we should shoot for realistic goals, like never being one of the anonymous people that are videotaped walking down the street for the special report "Is America Getting Too Fat?"

More importantly, remember this:

You don’t have to start your New Year’s Resolution today. You can start tomorrow. Or the next day. Or in October, right after your Beer of the Month subscription ends.

It is a New Year’s Resolution, after all. You’ve got 12 months to achieve self-improvement.

Feel free to hit the snooze bar again.

***
To be on the list that is sent out when a new column in posted, e-mail mattwixon@gmail.com.

Photo by Kristan Hutchison, courtesy of National Science Foundation