Halloween Hellscape

I really enjoyed making this Halloween silhouette scene. When I described it to my co-worker Jim prior to showing him a picture, he decided to call it my Halloween Hellscape which had me laughing. He was laughing too when I showed him the picture.

I’ve wanted to do a large scale Halloween decoration since we moved into this house and am always eyeing the garage door as a giant canvas for something. This year, I had the mental space to process a fleeting idea and put it in action.

When I Googled “Halloween decoration garage door” I found an image and an old blog post from someone that had created a scene cut out of plywood with lights fixed behind it to create a backlit effect. This lady screwed the whole scene to her garage door with what looked like a killer result.

When I read through her article, she mentioned using a Dremel which I happen to have but have never plugged in. I’m not even sure where it came from. And certainly, was not sure how to use it. But of late, when something feels right and I can get my hands around it, I go for it.

As our garage door goes up and down 342 times per day (thank you children), screwing a collage of plywood to it would not be a great idea. But our neighbor has a sort of decorative wall that runs along the front property line. It’s about 4 feet high and nearly 30 feet long. Perfect.

I really liked the scene I got this inspiration from with the witches over the cauldron – very Halloweenie. But I wanted to sort of make it more personal. Sarah’s a tremendous cook and we joke that I bought her a “witch’s cauldron” several birthdays ago so she could make her Bolognese by the truck load. I even had to buy a comically large spoon with which to stir her secret potions.

Ok, so the witch over the cauldron is Sarah cooking. Since my role in the kitchen consists of drinking beer, a wizard quaffing a spooky brew only seemed apropos. For the 3 tiny humans bopping across the center I did some more digging into The Almighty Google and found a perfect silhouetted graphic that I worked off of. With that in mind, I got to sketching the design on paper and added in some trees, a spooky cat, pumpkins and an owl.

With approval from the family on the look of the thing, I got to sketching the scene out on the stack of plywood I picked up at Lowes. Looking back, I should have sanded the surface to make this part easier. Once I had it about right, I ran a Sharpie over it so I could see what was I doing with the Dremel. Cutting it out with the Dremel was effective but my hand felt like it was made of stone when I was done. Holding on to this tool spinning at 30,000 RPM while it cut apart wood was, um, intense. Next time – JIGSAW, duh.

With it cut, I did a quick sanding and started painting. From there I made some brackets on the back to fit over some long ground stakes. Then I stapled the lights to the back which was quite a process. But I’m feeling confident they’ll not be coming off anytime soon.

I’m glossing over a lot here but I’m tired of writing and wanted to get this out there. I really love the way this thing turned out and think I’ll keep making them for other holidays!

Running In The Dark

teddyI went for a run at 4:42 this morning. I haven’t been out of bed this early for fitness – on purpose – since my college days of rowing a little boat in the ice dotted waterways of extra brisk Oyster River. Have I finally lost my marbles like Tootles in Hook thanks to Captain Corona? Nope. I actually wanted to get out of bed and pound my knees into the pavement at oh dark thirty. Favorite Sister-In-Law Erin had the great idea of a running calendar club for the month of May to which I promptly replied “I’m in!” and then just as promptly wondered “What have I done?”


The idea is to run the number of miles that go with the number of each day. May 1 = 1 mile, May 2 = 2 miles and so on. With jiu jitsu reduced to online classes where I absolutely DOMINATE Teddy, my 7 year old’s gigantic stuffed bear wearing a gi, the timing was perfect as I’m in need of a challenging exercise outlet. Plus, Uncle Todd had also just put together a plan for the entire Stender clan to come together (virtually of course, no contact!!) and put up a combined 500 miles of running, biking, drinking and/or sack racing in the month of May. A great way to keep everyone in contact and work off all that alcohol. This calendar club would be the perfect avenue to hit that goal. The stars have aligned on the Exercising In A Socially Distant Fashion Master Plan!


While I am an early riser, pre-5 AM is not my norm. But given our current household schedule, it’s really the only way to make the numbers work for me. In fact, I claim to Sarah that I can’t run first thing in the morning because I really need to be fully awake with some water and food to fuel me. Like I’m Prefontaine over here, training for the Noncompetitive Olympics.


monkeyWell, I’m still here and happy to report I rather enjoyed this running in the wee hours! No traffic and no humanity to speak of. Which makes me happy on a normal day but is doubly goody these days. I will say that running through the deserted park in the dark had me periodically jerking my head around – eyes wide – certain there would be a gape mouthed zombie moaning and pointing at me. But no, just me, boinging along pondering the funniness  of my playlist transitioning from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Shoe-In MMM-Bop to Neil [sic] Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World.


So, I look forward to continuing this challenge of many miles for the month of May and also more alliterative opportunities. Sure beats showing off my JUDO CHOP! on Teddy.

Forest for the Trees

Part Deux in my efforts to focus on the lighter side of life in a time of doom and gloom.


Jack Reacher coined the term “Forest for the trees” and it’s a personal favorite. You see, our children have comically been categorized by their teachers as favoring the forest or the trees. This has been explained to us in parent-teacher conferences and borne out in daily observation at home. “Yes, Hendrick is doing great, he’s really good at seeing the big picture” (Forest) or “Maren is doing great, she’s really into details” (Trees). Milan’s teacher doesn’t seem to find the humor in such idioms but I would say she bounces between the two.


Our new daily regimen of bike rides is just the canvas to illustrate these personalities. For starters, taking 3 beginner bikers on a ride by yourself is not encouraged. 3 humans equal 3 rates of progress. Forest is full speed ahead, borderline out of control. Biking like a madman, blissfully unaware of any and all hazards. Trees is going so slowly that I actually can’t keep my bike upright at that speed as we chat about the shade of purple in the wildflowers. And Peanut is alternating between crashing into Hendrick’s rear wheel and somehow managing to go more slowly than Maren while blocking her path. It’s a blast.


So, I have modified our plan of attack to take the young ones on individual rides. Mainly so I don’t have a heart attack attempting to keep each one safe as they ricochet about a 360-degree viewfinder – in the middle of the road. This is something I have apparently succeeded at for the last 8ish years but which becomes exponentially more challenging when everyone is on wheeeeeee-ls! Just imagine trying to get them all across a crosswalk, one going 90 mph, one swerving like a drunken sailor and one meandering along at a snail’s pace.


This individual attention yields individually funny observations:


  • As Hendrick hurtled down a hill in front of me, I called out to slow down. So, he rode the bike onto someone’s lawn and fell over. When I asked him if knows how to stop his bike, he said “Yes, but my brakes don’t work”. When I asked him why he didn’t ask me to fix them, he said “Because I can just crash on the grass.” All about that forest.


  • Maren is in the opposite of a rush. In fact, we’re moving so slowly I have to put my feet on the ground or risk falling over. Yet somehow Maren is ever so gently moving forward…and talking the entire time. About the worm on the sidewalk, about the number of dandelions on the lawn, about how many calories a squirrel has and so on. All while I encourage her along, practically begging her to turn her pedals at more than 1 RPM. Buried in the trees and I love it.


  • Milan is telling me all about everything/singing all the time we’re riding. And swerving like a maniac. Swerving so much in fact that she regularly grazes my bike giving me heart spasms every 30 seconds. It’s very exciting. Occasionally riding so fast she’s on the hairy edge of a catastrophic crash. Or dramatically huffing and puffing as we climb the St. Louis equivalent of Mt. Everest, also known as Wilmore Circle.


Given the current situation, I propose looking at the Forest for now. Don’t ignore the Trees, but don’t lose sight of the big, fun picture.


A 5 Mile Run

pizaI just went for a run and it was tremendous. It’s 40 and bright out. The magnolia tree is blooming and it snowed this morning. Just another normal day in a world without climate change.


During my run, I found myself going a little harder, a little angrier as my mind raced around COVID-19. Then I passed a woman power walking in the other direction with a big smile on her face and a friendly wave. And it really brightened my day. Why? Because the only thing I’ve been reading, watching and discussing for the last week has been coronavirus doom and gloom. It’s getting progressively more dire and consistently scarier. I like to think of myself as a relatively calm person, not prone to panicky behavior but this thing is starting to get under my skin. Hence the run.


bearBack to this power walker…she got me thinking how I need to be putting my thoughts on the good things out there. Rather than click on the headline with the most gruesome, terrifying possibility, I should be focusing on things that make me happy. I’ve consumed all the Kool-Aid on The Universe and what it delivers. So, I’m going to share things today that were good. The other side of the double-edged sword that is our super connected world is that we can all read as much crap and misery as we can handle – 24/7. So, here’s my effort to push back on the oppressive blanket of covid fueled anxiety.


  • Sarah and I sat at the table and had a conversation that lasted longer than 32 seconds. What’s so special about that? Normally when we’ve plugged the children into the TV on a Sunday morning, we have about 30 minutes to get everything in the world done. Well, the world has come to a screeching halt so we don’t have all that much to do. And man, it’s nice. My sister and I talked today about possible outcomes of the coronavirus and agreed that it would be nice if everyone eased off the gas pedal of life. Sarah and I tried that out today, I strongly recommend it.


  • I watched The Simpsons with the kids today and they were laughing as hard as I was. Thanks to Disney+ I can tell you it was Season 13, Episode 6 in which Homer helps make a backyard rocket. After blowing up 2 rockets and vaporizing Milton’s eyebrows, he enlists the help of scientists to make the 3rd one – which is epic. Upon successful launch he tells them “Thank you nerds.” Which is wildly funny because I regularly address my kids as “Listen nerd” or “Put a cork in it nerd”. It was perfect and hysterical. They were cracking up


  • Milan continued down her path as future Queen of Baking this morning with her lovely Monkey Bread. I had to plead with her to stick with a single size batch, not her usual double or triple, in order to conserve flour. She argued with me – as ever – but ultimately relented. A tasty Sunday brunch.


  • I sparred with the twins in the basement this afternoon. They with their headgear and gloves and me without. Maren has a furious combo attack, a la E. Honda from Street Fighter II, and a mantra of “I’ll never give up!” even as I sweep her legs, give her a couple jabs and tickle her incessantly. I love it. Hendrick has legitimately painful punches and had me questioning not wearing my mouth guard. At first, they took me on one at a time. Then they worked together and gave me a reasonably good pounding. One going for my head and the other going for my “Get his privates!” which we had a bit of a discussion about. Nobody’s ever accused them of being unintelligent. It was a great opportunity to blow off some steam and laugh my ass off. More of that is to come, I think.


I think I’ll try to put some stories that make me smile here as we continue sheltering in place. Man that run cleared my head…


Captain Kangaroo

kangarooI think Rodney Dangerfield cemented the hilarity of a kangaroo when he exclaimed “that kangaroo just stole my ball!” in the multiple Oscar award winning flick Caddyshack. It’s funny because it was a ridiculous animatronic gopher that stole his ball and also because Rodney Dangerfield is like a boardwalk drawn caricature come to life. I also watched the movie a thousand times in college, laughing at it surrounded by like minded (and possibly inebriated) scholars.

Fast forward to the present in which I am now a very responsible adult raising 3 upstanding children in the ways of Victorian etiquette and the kangaroo theme persists. Whenever the question of “What should we name the <cat, dog, scarecrow, frog outside the window>?” comes up, my default response is Captain Kangaroo. I’ve never actually seen the TV show of the same name but it doesn’t matter. It’s just hilarious to think of referring to myself as Captain Kangaroo. Do I have bizarre L-shaped legs and wear a yachting cap? Am I an actual Captain of something important but think I’m a kangaroo?

Then in today’s Wall Street Journal, the resident wordsmith – Ben Zimmer – dove into the etymology of yet another great variation of the word, a Kangaroo Court. My immediate thought is of a courtroom where the judge is a kangaroo with a Colonial British wig on, ludicrous. But one possible origin story is that in the neighborhood of Kangaroo, Mississippi back in the 1800’s a gambler was tarred, feathered and dragged into the literal Kangaroo court to face his sins. It’s almost too much. I mean, I wish I lived in this town so I could tell people I’m a Kangaroo. Not to mention the fact that tarring and feathering is a real thing. The lunacy of it!

And apparently our illustrious President twitted that any testifying by other illustrious political types regarding his illustrious Presidency would be worthless as it would happen in a Kangaroo Court.

Now, I think it’s safe to say that these days America, in general, is one huge Kangaroo Court. I mean it’s a really not too much of a stretch to see our entire government as being a herd of actual wild kangaroos, jumping around, fake wigs and all. But that’s a post for another day. My point is only that kangaroos are funny animals and using the word in strange ways is funnier.

A Rotten Center Console

Driving the children to school today was wonderful. Sitting in traffic. Listening to the twins simultaneously beat each other and laugh. Basking in the humidity that is October in St. Louis. While I sat there at the wheel, fielding questions and pretending to break up fights, an aroma crossed the helm.

Not like the nice kind you get when entering Costco while they’re cooking those magical pumpkin pies. No, this aroma was disgusting. Not quite like the smell that emanates from the L’Oreal factory in Clark, NJ – that one is disgusting but somehow fruity. And also not quite like that of the dog food factory that apparently is connected to the James Madison University campus in VA. On a hot, rainy day that stench will melt your pupils.

This smell, friends, was rotten. As the stink laid itself over top of all my other senses, my sense of Parental Intuition That Your Kids Are Fucking Around was triggered by the conspiratorial tones and giggling coming from the middle row of our cupcake delivery van. So, at a red light (so many red lights), I turned around to see the twins pointing and laughing at SOMETHING inside the little known and seldom used center console storage compartment.

When I calmly inquired “Children, what are you examining”, they slammed it shut and looked at me wide eyed, replying “Why Father…nothing”. When I implored they show me, they seemed to take joy in presenting me with the fruits of their labor. It took me a minute of staring, and gagging, to see through the mold and garbage to determine the little shits had stored a leftover blueberry pancake in this tightly enclosed space…many days ago. So I took a DEEEEEP breath and asked them to refrain from such activities in the future.

I then had a fleeting thought of who would be laughing at who were I to give them each a nice swirlie before bed.

Biting in the Night

Last night, at approximately 1 AM, Sarah and I awoke to screaming. Hoping that our 6 year old, Milan, had not fallen out of bed with her broken wrist currently healing in a giant purple cast – we raced to the source of the commotion…

5 hours earlier, we happily noted how cute our 5 year old twins were, sleeping next to one another in a queen sized bed. Normally they sleep in their own bed. Mostly because they fight each other like Lisa and Bart Simpson. A week ago, I heard grunting and thumping at bedtime. Walking into their room, I discovered the 2 of them, on the floor, tangled up in sheets and blankets. Maren in her underpants, Hendrick deflecting blows to the head. Both hissing at one another. But until we get them new beds, sharing is caring.

And wouldn’t you know it, the screaming was coming from the twins room. So, while we were happy to see Milan had not fallen out of bed, finding Hendrick wailing like a stuck pig and Maren pouting was not how I envisioned REM sleep. When queried on the source of his pain, the conversation went like this…

Hendrick: Maren bited me!

Me: (stifling a laugh) Maren, did you bite your brother?

Maren: (growling) mmm, YES, but he bited me too!

The use of “bited” of course made me laugh but even more so was my immediate thought that one of them started the fight in their sleep. I can only assume that a hand or foot got flung astray and the offending twin then lashed out with a firm chomping. Which of course was retaliated upon with more teeth. And it’s not out of the question that Hendrick was hungry, the boy never stops eating.


They normally share a room and Hendrick is normally the first one asleep. Maren then stays up, singing in French or harassing her brother – throwing “dou dou’s” at him  and insisting he wake up. If she does rouse him, he greets her with mumbled threats and groaning.


So my theory is that one of them was rolling around in their sleep which pissed off the other enough to trigger a feeding frenzy. Once my initial frustration of being blasted out of deep sleep went away, I couldn’t stop laughing at these 2 tiny humans biting each other in their sleep.

A Day in the Life of Perfect Parenting

I had the pleasure of reading this hilarity from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency thanks to my favorite sister-in-law Erin. I highly recommend it for anyone who dabbles in the meditative-chakra-Non GMO-fermented-bountiful universe-wheatgrass smoothie lifestyle. I felt that a response to this article was necessary in the form of how perfect our family is. Specifically regarding the act of our perfect parenting and positive thinking.


At 5:30 in the morning, I breathe deeply through my nose as a 5 year old human, named Milan, taps my forehead. The perfect alarm clock. While she claps her hands at me to signal feeding time at the zoo, I spring out of bed and blissfully stroll to the kitchen for breakfast prep. I attribute the fact that my daughter treats me like a trained circus animal to our reverse-helicopter parenting approach. Let them run free and reap what you sow!


To start the day off on the right foot I begin to scramble 3 farm fresh, cage free, extra happy, unvaccinated eggs from chickens that roam the alpine pastures of Switzerland. Mid-scramble, the male half of our 4 year old twins – Hendrick – appears. In typical fashion, he is grinning ear-to-ear and gives me a warm hug followed by his morning refrain “Good morning Daddy, I love you, I would like rice, apple fritters and kale chips for breakfast.” To which I reply “Morning CHAMP! You got it!” During this exchange with my son, Milan is informing me that she will be having meatballs and porridge for her morning meal.

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Swiss Family Stender – The Opportunity

My friend Dave made a great suggestion recently regarding this blog. It can be hard to take a step back and think on it, but the past year has been an eventful one for our family. We moved from America with 3 kids under the age of 5 to Switzerland. A lot of words come to mind as I think about the last 12 months – fun, insane, exciting, exhausting but mostly awesome. Dave’s point was that our situation is relatively unusual and there might be other folks out there contemplating something similar. So why not share how it’s gone thus far, how we did it and all the other things that come with it? I love it, so I’ll kick it off with The Opportunity.

Open Door

There’s a book titled The Secret by Rhonda Byrne that at first glance seems a little hokey – ok, a LOT hokey – but once you get past that it’s solid. The content is serious and deep. My brother Tyler and I listened to the audiobook version on a cross country road trip. In and of itself this is a regular coup d’état for us given the time not listening to it was spent blasting BPM house music on XM Radio, leaning out the window and screaming or discussing the finer points of how much your head spins from an 11% barrel aged imperial stout. We weren’t exactly reciting Shakespeare.

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I HAmsterdam

Dave – my oldest friend – and I have had a lot of adventures over the years.


In high school we would drive around in my sweet Mitsubishi Starion for hours, gas being around $1/gallon back then. When it rained, the car would stall out, which was entertaining in a McDonald’s drive thru. Or if parked, the headlights would flip up and down whilst the horn blared incessantly leading to finger pointing and laughing.


In college, well, there’s really not enough room here for that chapter. But we both made the trip on more than one occasion to visit our respective higher learning institutions. He at James Madison in Virginia and me at University of New Hampshire in said state.

A favorite memory would be a visit of Dave’s to UNH, hanging out in the dormitory lounge I lived in (because emergency housing) late one evening. Suddenly, the door burst open and a neighbor stumbled around until he found our garbage can. Which he promptly picked up and dumped all over my roommates desk, then muttered some obscenities and disappeared. No explanation, no context. I’ve never laughed harder.

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