October 29, 2010

Snowflakes

Humor me for a few minutes and allow me to deviate from my standard Friday posts. Something interesting happened last night and there's pretty much no way I couldn't share it.

When Owen moved from his crib to his toddler bed, we lucked into getting one of those video monitors for Owen's room for free. There's something vaguely big brotherish about it but still it's come in handy when Owen suddenly decides to try cartwheels in the middle of the night (you think I'm joking). And considering that Mia went through a similar phase and our low-tech solution was hooking up our old video camera to a desktop computer with 20 feet of USB cable and broadcasting the picture via WiFi, the video monitor is a hell of a lot simpler.

Last night was a pretty standard night. Mia went off to bed after dinner, working on reading (for realz) some recently acquired books while listening to The Sound of Music soundtrack. Owen put up his usual fight but eventually surrendered around 8:00. Beth and I settled on the couch, caught up on some episodes of Chopped and Survivor, drank a beer or two then surrendered ourselves.

When we go to bed, we usually open Owen's door which allows me to turn off that video monitor's sound. It's a little loud and the hiss drives me crazy. Last night I did just that. I was more than a little surprised, then, when I woke up around 1:00 in the morning to the sound of Owen fussing coming over the monitor. I turned the sound down only to realize that the sound was completely off. Huh. I looked at the monitor and saw a Buzz Lightyear-covered lump, not moving, and since the fussing had stopped I decided that nothing terrible was going on. At 1:30 the same thing happened, sound still off on the monitor, lump still, and the fussing stopped as soon as I contemplated getting out of bed to check. 2:00 found the cycle repeating itself.

At 2:30 I heard the fussing again, gazed into the monitor again. Beth rolled over beside me.

Beth: What's wrong?
Me: You awake?
Beth: No, I'm comatose. Yeah, I'm awake.
Me: Have you gone in with him at all? He's been fussing about every half hour.
Beth: Uh. No. He's been here between us since midnight. He wandered in himself and crawled over you to get in the middle.

I looked and there lying between us was a very asleep Owen.

I did my best to convince myself that the sounds I'd heard, the staring into the monitor, were all part of some elaborate dream. Or that Owen had been making noise from the safety of our bed. Or Mia had been the one fussing. I didn't believe it but I was tired and went back to sleep anyway. Until 4:00.

At 4:00 in the morning I heard something that sounded remarkably like paper being torn. The sound was unmistakably coming from the monitor beside me. I turned over and counted the people next to me. Beth and Owen were present and accounted for. I could hear Mia snoring in her room. I returned my attention to the monitor and there I saw something flutter in front of the camera. It looked like one solitary snowflake falling in a still forest. It disappeared from view and was followed by another maybe five seconds later. A chill ran down my spine and I wished that I owned a bat. I got out of bed and walked towards Owen's room, closing our bedroom door behind us, then quietly closing the door to Mia's room as well. I could hear a rustling of paper which stopped abruptly as I neared the room.

When I crossed the threshold, I saw that those snowflakes were indeed pieces of paper. There were two or three dozen of them, all about the size of a quarter. They were white with what looked like writing on them. I looked around the room, checking under the bed, behind the furniture, in the closet. Then I went to Mia's room and did the same just to be safe. She kept snoring and nothing was amiss. So I went back to Owen's room, sat down on the floor and took a closer look. It was clear that something had been written in large letters on a fairly large piece of paper. Then that piece of paper had been torn up. I started reassembling. It was 4:00 in the morning and the process was slow but I eventually made sense of the paper and laid the pieces out in front of me on the carpet. The chill in my spine returned twofold as I heard a small child laughing behind me while I read the message there in front of me...

HAPPY HALLOWEEN GUYS!

Posted by Chris at 7:42 AM | Comments (30)

October 28, 2010

Circle of Life

I've been reveling in my HD TV goodness lately and to take advantage of it I've been downloading HD episodes of Planet Earth. It's an awe-inspiring series to begin with but in high definition it's jaw-dropping. So much so that when Mia saw a clip of one, she was instantly hooked and wanted to watch more.

And then a giant crocodile dismembered a wildebeest.

Mia watched, eyes glued to the television with a look of profound concern on her face.

Mia: Did that crocodile eat that cow?
Me: Wildebeest. And yes.
Mia: That wasn't nice.
Mia: You understand that to live some things need to eat other things?
Me: Yes.
Mia: And out in wild animals hunt and kill and eat other animals.
Me: Yes. It still wasn't nice.

A couple of nights later, we watched another. Ten minutes in I could tell that Mia wasn't totally engaged. She looked wary.

Me: Do you like this one?
Mia: It's okay. But is something going to kill something else to eat it soon?
Me: I'm not sure. Why, did that bother you?
Mia: No.
Me: You want to see animals eat each other?
Mia: Yeah! I do!
Me: I'm sure something will get killed and eaten soon.
Mia: Really?
Me: Yeah, I mean, look at that big fish. That's just a meal waiting to happen.

And then the head of one large fish was bitten off by the head of a gigantic fish, Mia was happy and all was right with the world.

We're just going to skip a few steps and watch Pulp Fiction tonight.

(No, we won't.)

(Oh, and who knew wildebeest was spelled that way? I never would have guessed.)

Posted by Chris at 7:51 AM | Comments (12)

October 27, 2010

Personal Politics Revisited

Monday's post generated a fair bit of controversy. And I got called a hypocrite. A lot. Specifically, lots of folks thought that because I'd made a judgment about my incredibly disappearing conservative neighbors based on their bumper stickers, I'd done the same thing that they ended up doing to me. Not true. And because this is my little corner of the universe and I can say whatever the fuck I want, I'd like to defend myself.

Here's what I said:

A year or so ago while we were pulling into our neighborhood, we found ourselves behind a minivan. Not a remarkable moment aside from the fact that the rear end of the minivan was littered with stickers proclaiming allegiance to the Bush/Cheney ticket, support for our states ultra right-wing governor and his cronies, a love of the NRA and a "Don't Tread On Me" snake. To top it all off, the license plate was a vanity job with the NRA seal in the middle and a custom plate number that spoke to some of those core NRA values. I turned to Beth and said, "well, there's someone we'd never get along with."

I didn't say oh look, there are bad people or we'll never let our kids hang out with theirs or let's avoid them at all costs and try our best to shun them from the neighborhood consciousness. No. I made the judgment - the incorrect assumption - that these were people I wouldn't get along with. I made a comment. I did not take action. My personal biases didn't stop me from doing the right thing and recognizing that people are more than their political beliefs.

These neighbors are people who are entitled to their own opinions about anything. So while I might have pre-judged and assumed, my personal beliefs did not prevent me from meeting these folks, liking these people, playing with their children, having them in my home or enjoying their company. Theirs did.

Throughout college and beyond most of my friends seem to be conservative Christians. I don't share their beliefs but I admire their faith. And I enjoy talking about their beliefs so long as the discussion is founded on the understanding that their job is not to bully me into accepting theirs.

And I am clearly in the minority.

We are reaching a very critical, very scary point in this country. A point at which opinions become labels and labels create outcasts. It is quickly becoming a country of us versus them, right versus wrong, and black versus white in which there are no shades of gray. And I'm sorry but life is one big gray area. People are labeled by their ideologies. Liberal is a bad word. Candidates fail to understand the contents of the Constitution. It is a point at which it becomes much easier to throw up your hands and say fuck it than it is to express yourself in the hope of making some meaningful change merely to get shouted down in the process. And if that mentality is ever adopted by the majority, we're really and truly screwed.

There's been a lot of talk about bullying in the media. But everyone seems to be missing the obvious. Sure, the big kid in the school yard who wants your lunch money is a threat but there's no greater example of institutionalized bullying than the American political process. Candidates, the media and those who tow the party line are all guilty but none more so than the if you're not for us you're against us crowd who can't see the subtle variations of belief and instead see binary, yes or no, black or white, right or wrong, liberal or conservative.

What do you make of the political state in the US?

Posted by Chris at 6:41 AM | Comments (34)

October 26, 2010

Dead Man's Drawers

In addition to sitting here, checking my email and sipping a cup of coffee, I'm wearing a dead man's underwear.

Wait. I'm not a sick freak. Okay I probably am but not for that reason. Let me explain.

Before he died my uncle enjoyed shopping. A lot. It didn't hurt that the neighborhood he lived in was literally surrounded by high-end stores like Tiffany and Saks and Neiman Marcus. When he died he left behind a haul from Brooks Brothers - new shirts, a pair of ridiculously expensive shoes and several new pairs of boxers still wrapped up in plastic.

Now, Dick was a little hunched over in his old age but he and I were somewhat the same size. So I took the shirts and boxers (it was obvious that the shoes weren't going to fit - Dick had tiny feet) with me when we cleared out his place. The shirts were gorgeous, high-end button down shirts. And while the neck size was right, the sleeves made it look as though I'd just thrown on something of Owen's. Not a good look for me and surprising given Dick's prowess as a boxer. All was not lost. As it turns out, Dick and I had the same waist size.

Which is how I find myself wearing a dead man's boxers.

If you knew my family, you'd understand that this is really all par for the course. We're a little odd, us Cactuses. But we've got plenty of underwear.

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM | Comments (10)

October 25, 2010

Personal Politics

A year or so ago while we were pulling into our neighborhood, we found ourselves behind a minivan. Not a remarkable moment aside from the fact that the rear end of the minivan was littered with stickers proclaiming allegiance to the Bush/Cheney ticket, support for our states ultra right-wing governor and his cronies, a love of the NRA and a "Don't Tread On Me" snake. To top it all off, the license plate was a vanity job with the NRA seal in the middle and a custom plate number that spoke to some of those core NRA values. I turned to Beth and said, "well, there's someone we'd never get along with."

Fast forward to the summer. As I mentioned extensively, Mia got involved in our neighborhood swim team. IT was, for many reasons, a fantastic experience. One beneficial side-effect was the fact that we got to meet a lot of our neighbors as did our kids. They instantly fell in love with three sisters and we got to know and like their parents.

And as fate would have it this was the family who drove that minivan.

We never socialized outside of the standard pool activities but we'd all go to the pool and hang out together. The wife was a very strong yet softspoken woman; I always appreciated how she dealt with and spoke to her children. The husband was a big dude, former military yet shy and almost goofy at times. I instantly liked the guy even before I found out he and I graduated from the same high school.

Towards the end of the summer, the whole family came over to our place after Mia's birthday party. Everyone played and had a great time. And then we never heard from them again. Around August, Mia and I were riding our bikes and ran across the three sisters. We talked to them for a while but something was weird, like they'd been told to stay away. The husband was cleaning out his truck and I talked to him for a while. But as with the sisters, something was off. And that was it.

We don't hide our politics. My car is adorned with several pro-Obama stickers and there's an Obama sticker prominently displayed on the inside of our front door. That's the only thing I can blame for the vanishing of some folks who could have become friends.

I've always believed that our politics are only one part of what make us who we are. They don't totally define us. But if for some reason this whole thing came down to politics - and I honestly suspect it does - its truly heartbreaking. Because it demonstrates to me that people can base their entire perception of me based on who I voted for.

Have you ever felt discriminated against or judged because of your beliefs?

Posted by Chris at 7:11 AM | Comments (36)

Haiku For Monday #340

Monday, oh Monday
wherefore art thou Monday. Oh
there you are. Fuck off.

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM | Comments (2)

October 22, 2010

The Weeklies #153

The Weekly Medical Crisis. Owen and his ER visit. Two days later and he seems to be rebounding just fine. Thanks for your concern, everyone.

The Weekly Political Party I Could Get Behind. Even if you're paying attention to the many political races going on in advance of election day, you still might not be aware of the newest political party. In the New York gubernatorial debate, candidate Jimmy McMillan made an appearance representing the The Rent Is Too Damn High Party.

The Weekly Cool Website. Show World is a pretty cool little site that allows you to visually compare almanac-like figures. Okay, that description sucked. Just check it out for yourself.

The Weekly Read. (Part three of my quest to read scary books throughout October) Bentley Little writes two kinds of books - creepy social satire and straight-up horror. And I've read almost everything he's written and, for the most part enjoyed them. Oddly, The Disappearance falls into neither of those categories. It is, instead, more of a thriller that focuses on the disappearance of a girl and the cult behind that disappearance. I was a little let down when I realized how straight Little was going to play this one. But then I found myself enjoying the book and realizing quickly that this is some of his strongest writing in years. Maybe not the strongest book or interesting ideas, but decently written and compelling.

The Weekly Two Minutes and Seven Seconds You're Not Going To Get Back. You've seen the Potter Puppet Pals, right? You should but fair warning - their little song will get stuck in your head for days.

The Weekly Celebrity Deaths. Two TV parents have died. Happy Days' Mr. C - Tom Bosley - and the iconic sit-com mom herself, Leave it to Beaver's Barbara Billingsly.

The Weekly Schadenfreude. Christine O'Donnell is an idiot unqualified to hold up her own pants much less political office. Case in point - in a televised debate with her democratic opponent earlier this week, she got into a heated debate over the subject of teaching creationism in public schools. What seemed like a fundamental lack of understanding in the first amendment was clarified when she asked "Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?" The room literally burst into laughter and so did she, not understanding that the crowd was not laughing with her but at her. It gets worse. When her opponent - Chris Coons - returned to the subject later in the evening O'Donnell had to be told four times that the first amendment addressed separation of church and state.

The Weekly Question. What are you dressing up as for Halloween this year? What's your best costume ever?

Posted by Chris at 7:39 AM | Comments (17)

October 21, 2010

Mrs. MacGyver

We've got a drawer in our kitchen that literally came off the rails. And the cabinetry we inherited in this house is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, shitty. Despite the fact that this is the most popular drawer in the house, we need something from it about every 4.3 minutes and accessing the contents of said drawer puts your fingers in mortal jeopardy, neither of us has done a damn thing to fix it. Until last week.

I came home the other day from work and found the drawer fixed. I stared in wonder at this miracle of cabinetry and Beth shot me a look that I read as so there, you silly person with a penis who should have fixed that a month ago. Then she said, out loud this time, you should see how ingenious my solution was. Then we ate dinner and the kids threw things at each other and my wife distracted me with her hotness so I completely lost the thread. But as I was getting something out of the cabinet below the Drawer of Doom yesterday, I saw exactly what she was talking about.

DSC_7450_drawer.jpg

It's amazing what an old water bottle and duct tape will fix. And let's face it, Beth is a hell of a lot hotter than MacGyver.

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM | Comments (17)

October 20, 2010

Fragile

Yesterday morning I went to work and drank my coffee and called into conference calls and met with co-workers just like I do every day. Yesterday afternoon I found myself in the emergency room holding my sobbing son, holding him down for x-rays and sonograms, and trying to convince him that the nurses that descended upon his room weren't going to hurt him (anymore).

During the night on Monday, Owen let out a few shrieks but it wasn't clear what, if anything, those shrieks would amount to. Tuesday morning, after I'd left for work, they'd turned into full, balls-out screaming. Beth took him to the doctor who strongly encouraged a visit to the emergency room. Beth called me and I couldn't concentrate so I punted the remainder of my meetings for the day and headed to the hospital.

Over the past six months, I have become Owen's parent of choice. All bets are off when kids are sick though because invariably they want their mom. But yesterday, I was the one who could make everything alright, who couldn't leave the room, who had the ability to kiss away the tears and snuggle away the hurt.

I am so grateful for his love and for the trust he puts in me that I can hardly breathe when I think about it. I cannot stand to see him in pain. But I'm glad I'm the one who can make things okay.

Every day - any day - can turn on a dime. You can be sipping your coffee in the morning and sitting in an ER in the afternoon. Life is unpredictable. It is fragile. It is tricky. But when you're loved, hell, that makes everything alright.

Update: Owen slept at home - primarily on me - last night. Though it was a rough night, he just ate his body-weight in breakfast and, when I left for work, was running around with a huge smile on his face. Me, well, I'm going to crawl under my desk and take a nap.

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM | Comments (32)

October 19, 2010

Pot

I have a confession to make - I have never smoked pot.

See, I'm something of a control freak about certain things, one of which is being in control of my body and mind at all times to whatever degree possible (and it's not always doable). This is the same thing - along with a history of alcoholism in the family combined with depression and resulting meds - that stopped me from drinking between the ages of 21 and 34. I'm pretty sure this attitude kept me from doing some fun stuff and some good old American experimenting but I don't really regret my control freakyness.

Keeping all that in mind, my stance on the legalization of pot is kind of surprising. I'm all for it.

The legalization debate has been sparked most recently by a movement to legalize marijuana in California (of course). The arguments for and against are neither conclusive nor new. For every opinion, there is a counter. For every study there is an equal and opposite study. Yet despite my lack of first hand experience, I'm not convinced that pot is any more dangerous or destructive than booze or alcohol. And if drugs with similar strengths and consequences are legal (I'm looking at you Marlboro and Bud Light) I'm not altogether sure why we should deal with pot any differently.

Now we do all pay (literally) for the use and abuse of these so-called luxury items, namely alcohol and tobacco. So we should tax the hell out of them and allow states to recover the cost of their use. And pot should be no different.

Where do you come down in the legalization debate? And should individuals who consume goods that contribute to poor health be taxed for doing so?

Posted by Chris at 7:33 AM | Comments (27)

October 18, 2010

Kill Your Television

I discovered something over the weekend - I'm a little bored with TV. Or, at least, the stuff I typically end up watching.

The list of stuff we DVR isn't all that exciting to me anymore. House and Cuddy are finally knocking boots (it's about damn time) and there will inevitably be another long season of illnesses which confound doctors until they have an epiphany while staring into a half empty cup of coffee. Justin Bieber was laughable as an actor on CSI but no more laughable than the rest of the cast. People will continue to hoard things and I will continue to grow squirmingly uncomfortable and grossed out. Midgets will continue to dominate TLC (seriously, change your name to The Littlepeople Channel or something), and people will continue to hunt for houses, complain about the paint colors in spite of the fact that its the easiest thing to fix and choose the second house (the majority of the time, it's the second house).

What's missing - ironically - is Lost or anything compelling, for that matter. There's nothing I need to see beyond Survivor which is bizarrely watchable despite the fact that it's followed the same formula for 20+ seasons.

And what are the execs in Hollywood and New York coming up with? Retreads of Hawaii Five-0, The Munsters, and Wonder Woman. And having already tried and failed with miserable reboots of Knight Rider and The Bionic Woman, why'd you want to go down that road?

So help a guy out. What are you watching this season that's really drawn you in? What do you consider appointment TV? Or is there any such thing anymore?

Oh, and we recently got a flat screen HD TV (yes, we're a bit behind). Tell me, is a Blue Ray player worth the investment?

Posted by Chris at 7:12 AM | Comments (61)

Haiku For Monday #339

Here's to a four-day
week! And to coffee! Both are
good motivation.

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM

October 15, 2010

The Weeklies #152

The Weekly Heroes. Florencio Avalos Silva, Mario Sepulveda Espinace, Juan Illanes Palma, Carlos Mamani Solis, Renan Avalos Silva, Mario Gomez Heredia, Jimmy Sanchez Lagues, Ariel Ticona Yanez, Edison Pena Villarroel, Víctor Zamora Bugueno, Raul Bustos Ibanez, Claudio Yanez Lagos, Víctor Segovia Rojas, Jorge Galleguillos Orellana, Jose Henriquez Gonzalez, Samuel Avalos Acuna, Claudio Acuna Cortes, Franklin Lobos Ramirez, Osman Araya, Yonni Barrios Rojas, Alex Vega Salazar, Richard Villarroel Godoy, Daniel Herrera Campos, José Ojeda Vidal, Luis Urzúa Iribarren, Carlos Barrios Contreras, Omar Reygada Rojas, Juan Carlos Aguilar Gaete, Carlos Bugueño Alfaro, Pedro Cortés Contreras, Pablo Rojas Villacorta, Darío Segovia Rojo, Esteban Rojas Carrizo and all who worked to rescue them.

The Weekly Disturbing Experiment. Ever wondered what happens to a Happy Meal if it sits in the same place undisturbed for six months? Someone tried it out and you may be surprised by the results.

The Weekly Read. Continuing on my quest to read nothing but scary books in October, I gave Brian Keene's Castaways a shot. In it, a reality TV show very much like Survivor is being shot on a deserted island. But is it really deserted? And how many contestants will survive? Being a Survivor fan I couldn't resist giving it a shot. It was good campy fun but that's about it.

The Weekly Review of a Movie I Haven't Seen. This week, I'm taking a critical look at Conviction starring Hillary Swank and some other people. Swank, playing Betty Anne, heroically puts her life on hold to get a law degree and get her brother off death row. Drama ensues. Swank turns in a top-notch performance though her head often looks too large for her body. The music is quite melodic. The film is 1 hour and 37 minutes long which is 5,820 seconds. The film is rated R for strong language and naked dwarf tossing. Five out of 18 stars, except on Tuesdays.

The Weekly Schadenfreude. Let's hear it for longevity in celebrity marriages. Like Courtney Cox...well...Christina Aguilera...um...Ben Harper...wait...Brett Favre. Oh hell, at least it's been a banner week for divorce attorneys.

The Weekly Question. What's your biggest vice?

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM | Comments (25)

October 14, 2010

JJ The Quality Cat

JJ is a cat. Our children love JJ with a burning passion. Despite the fact that Mia is allergic to him, she squeaks when she sees him. Owen loses his mind, manhandling JJ when he appears. JJ humors him and loves Owen back. JJ helps me with the yard work, hangs out in our backyard while we watch movies, and talks to us through the window while we eat dinner. JJ walks Mia to the school bus every morning and accompanies Beth and Owen when they walk to the bus stop to pick her up. He takes walks and bike rides with us. And more than once, JJ ended up at the pool with us.

JJ is not, however, our cat. He belongs to the neighbors but we, apparently, belong to him. And JJ is a quality cat.

Aside from Dorothy - Mia's goldfish who has now been with us for nearly two years - we haven't had a pet around the house since our two cats Callie and Pixel died four years ago. Since we later discovered (the hard way) that Mia is incredibly allergic to cats and dogs and has some overall challenges breathing, the pet vacancy in our house probably won't end anytime soon. In the mean time, I think we got the best of both worlds - a cat, without a cat.

How many pets do you have? And what are they? What is your most fondly-remembered pet?

Posted by Chris at 6:56 AM | Comments (34)

October 13, 2010

Big Love

Because we are apparently gluttons for punishment at the hands of reality TV, Beth and I just recently watched an hour of Sister Wives. If you don't know what the show is all about, here's how TLC describes it:

Meet husband Kody — along with his three wives: Meri, Janelle and Christine and their combined 13 children — and see how they attempt to navigate life as a "normal" family in a society that shuns their lifestyle. From their unconventional family structure and living arrangements to financial challenges, each half hour episode exposes the inner workings of a polygamist household, revealing the unexpectedly tight-knit and loving relationships between Kody's wives.

Now, before I get to my point, I want to make a few things clear. Here's what I understand:
- This is a reality TV show and we know reality TV only partially resembles actual reality.
Even if the people and events are truthfully and accurately portrayed, I've only invested one whipping hour in this thing. I'm not exactly an authority.

That said, I'm not sure I see anything wrong with the way these people have chosen to live.

But here are five (Kody is engaged to a fourth wife) seemingly intelligent people each of whom admit they understood the intricacies of the lifestyle they were signing up for and, in fact, wanted and encouraged it. And what these people have ended up with - if reality TV is to be believed - is a close-knit family, each looking out for each other to form a complex but fantastic support system. How can that be bad?

I understand that the practice of polygamy is often rife with abuse and exploitation. I get that roles, relationships and responsibilities aren't equitably shared between men and women. And I'm hip to the prevalence of brainwashed child brides and dirty old men who marry them. I can't condone any of that. But maybe those are the exceptions, not the rule.

I think homosexuals should be allowed to marry and that they should enjoy the same rights as those of us who just so happen to be straight. In fact, I believe that any two people who love each other should be allowed to marry and enjoy the benefits and rights afforded to married people. As a result, I find it hard to justify a law that prohibits people from marrying multiple people they love so long as everyone involved understands the arrangement. I guess more than anything, I don't think it should be my - or a politician's - choice. It should be theirs.

Am I off-base here? Should marriage be legislated? To what extent?

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM | Comments (33)

October 12, 2010

Sides

When my Uncle Dick died last week, he left behind treasures from a long and storied life. It was his wish when he died that his family take the the things that meant the most to him and try to find some of his presence in them. On Sunday morning, Beth and I rounded up the kids, met my parents, and drove to Dick's apartment to start the process of cleaning out his place.

Dick documented his life in things. He wasn't materialistic but I think that's how he remembered the parts and pieces of his life. It didn't hurt that his wife was a professional appraiser. In going through his things - something I didn't particularly enjoy though part of me was fascinated - I saw the Dick I knew and met an uncle I'd only heard rumors about.

The man I knew was a slightly-hunched, white-haired, small but not frail man. In his house was evidence - a walker, a wheel chair, a few canes. But there were also things that spoke to the man's larger-than-life stature, his vast presence. A picture of Dick leaning out of his fighter in World War II. A shot of him escorting his wife through some sort of party, both elaborately and elegantly dressed. A picture of Dick boxing, clearly dominating his opponent.

Dick wasn't particularly communicative about things that involved emotion. I knew he loved and was fascinated by my children. But I wasn't prepared for his desk. Dick had a beautiful desk. On it were his correspondence, a letter opener, a magnifying glass. But just underneath the glass top, between the glass and the rich wood beneath it, were pictures of my children, maybe a dozen. Nor was I prepared for the story of Mia's other pictures. Before Dick got sick a couple of months ago, Mia drew Dick a few pictures which my mom took over to him one day when she visited. When Dick had a heart attack, he took those pictures to the hospital, pinned them up on the wall and told everyone about them.

I miss him. He was a part of my life and my family that I'm lucky I found but I'm pretty sure I didn't have enough time with him. While things will never and can never take the place of the man, I'm happy to some of his art on my walls and a few pairs of cuff links to help me remember both the man I knew and the uncle I never had a chance to know.

What is your most prized possession that helps you remember someone else?

Posted by Chris at 7:31 AM | Comments (25)

October 11, 2010

Pants Down

Oops. You seem to have caught me with my pants down. Impressed? You should be.

For the first time in a very long time, I'm unprepared. I didn't jot down notes or half-formed thoughts much less write a brilliantly authored post to share with you this morning. Instead I had a jam-packed weekend and a late night last night which has resulted in this ill-advised, poorly-developed post quickly written on-the-fly.

The weekend? It was packed with celebration. Eleven years (and two days) ago, you see, Beth and I stood before a frighteningly large crowd of people, exchanged vows and rings, and got ourselves hitched. We celebrated this weekend. No gifts, no cards, just a nice evening out together. Beth picked dinner, I picked the movie. Beth did a great job. I did not (author's note: Case 39 is a shitty movie). On Sunday, there was a festival two dinners out (I sat in on one then jetted to attend another) and bed. Sweet, sweet bed.

And now you're here and caught up.

So, how are you?

Posted by Chris at 7:24 AM | Comments (8)

Haiku For Monday #338

I'm working. No love
for Chris Columbus from my
place of employment.

Posted by Chris at 7:19 AM | Comments (1)

October 8, 2010

The Weeklies #151

The Weekly Geek Purchase. This week I bought myself a Pogoplug. What's a Pogoplug? It lets me connect all my external hard drives - the ones with my music, videos and pictures - to my router and share with any computer on my home network or, better, THE WORLD!

The Weekly Fall Fail. Apparently there are thousands of people everywhere using their GPS-enabled cell phones to find their way out of corn mazes. That just ain't right.

The Weekly Gadget Devotion. Late actor Tony Curtis was laid to rest earlier this week. Buried with him? His iPhone. Now that's dedication. Or just really strange product placement.

The Weekly Read. I've made a vow this October to get into the spirit of the month and read nothing but scary books. The first? Ghost Road Blues Jonathan Mayberry. The verdict? It was pretty good but not perfect. The book's setting - rural Pennsylvania - was perfect for this ghost story. The execution was good and the writing was strong. But two things kept it from being perfect. First, it didn't really scare me. Second, it was the first novel in a trilogy and, as such, didn't really have an ending. Will I read the second book in the series? Sure. Already bought it.

The Weekly Music. Joe Satriani is a guy with a problem. Joe's one of the most brilliant guitarist who's ever picked up the instrument and he churns out a steady stream of really solid instrumental guitar albums. The problem? How to keep each one sounding fresh an avoid each album sounding the same. His latest - Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards - doesn't provide a completely original set of Satriani songs but it does prove just how good he is. Does it redefine the guitarist? Absolutely not. Is it worth checking out? Definitely.

The Weekly Schadenfreude. Have you caught TLC's Sister Wives? I haven't but this much is clear to me. Going on television doing something illegal is stupid. Polygamy is illegal. Therefore, going on television being polygamous all over the place is probably not the brightest idea. So why are these people surprised that - wow - all of the sudden they're being investigated?

The Weekly Asshat. Gene Simmons. The Kiss bassist has always been a lovable asshole but perhaps we're starting to see the real Gene when he talked about music piracy.

Make sure your brand is protected. Make sure there are no incursions. Be litigious. Sue everybody. Take their homes, their cars. Don't let anybody cross that line. The music industry was asleep at the wheel, and didn't have the balls to sue every fresh-faced, freckle-faced college kid who downloaded material. And so now we're left with hundreds of thousands of people without jobs. There's no industry.

Look, I get that piracy is wrong but it's not like the music industry didn't set itself up for miserable failure early on in the whole digital music revolution. Stealing is wrong. Prosecuting kids is too.

The Weekly Question. What scares you the most?

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM | Comments (19)

October 7, 2010

Once A Freak Magnet, Always A Freak Magnet

Please to be explaining, if you will...

I was sitting at a light yesterday, in rush hour traffic, making a left hand turn across a major road. Whilst waiting - and always curious about people - I looked in the rearview mirror to see just who was behind me. Then, still stopped, I returned my attention to the road ahead. It was then that I began hearing something odd, something that sounded like a tambourine being played by my rear tires. I glanced in my rearview mirror again. And there, in the car behind me was the same woman enthusiastically singing and playing finger cymbals.

And that would be a good enough story had it stopped there. But it didn't.

After a few seconds of finger cymbal riffing, said woman - a tall, African-American woman with long dreadlocks - exited her car and began dancing around her car. While singing and playing finger cymbals. After two circuits of her car, she got back inside and acted as if none of this had happened. Meanwhile, at some point during this episode of Dancing With The Cars, the light had changed and the individual behind Dancing Queen began honking. And I'm thinking dude, did you not see what just happened here, because surely I get a pass for being distracted, right?

Care to venture a random guess what this woman's story was? What drives someone to dance in traffic with finger cymbals ablaze?

Posted by Chris at 6:35 AM | Comments (19)

October 6, 2010

Life With Bugs

We in the mid-Atlantic have something of an invasion on our hands. A stinkbug invasion. The Washington Post report I read called this the mere tip of the iceberg and had the nerve to report that what we'd see in the coming months would be - their word - biblical. (For such a good book, rarely does something good happen when an event is described as biblical.)

Stinkbugs, if you don't know, are little brownish-black creatures about half an inch long with a turtle-like exoskeleton. Despite this they're seemingly able to squeeze through any crack or hole in your house and, also, sense when you're about to open the door. They love being inside. They apparently stink when they get freaked out. I haven't really noticed the smell. I always thought that was Owen farting (it's surely not me). Back in 2001, the first stinkbug arrived on our shores from Asia, having stowed away in a shipping container. Had it landed in Arizona, it would have been immediately deported. But this was the more tolerant Allentown, Pennsylvania where they apparently made hot stinkbug love and thrived. They have no natural enemies beyond several million irate citizens of the mid-Atlantic and northeast.

When they first invaded Virginia around the beginning of spring, I chased one around with a copy of Rolling Stone trying to crush it.

Mia: Daddy, what are you doing?
Me: Trying to smoosh a stinkbug.
Mia: No, daddy, don't do that!
Me: Why, it's the only thing Rolling Stone is good for!
Mia: Huh?
Me: One day we'll have a long talk about the decline of music journalism in America.
Mia: No, daddy. Don't hurt the stinkbug. She's my friend, Dootrabia.

Putting aside the fact that my kid gives stuff some really weird names, I had to respect her wish that I not smash this thing into a billion little pieces. So I picked Dootrabia up and took it outside.

Months later, we're finding a dozen of these things in our house a day. Owen usually spots them and freaks the fuck out like the bug is waving a hot fireplace poker at him (the kid does not like bugs), then Mia wonders what's up Owen's butt. I tell her, "it's one of your friends, like Dootrabia" then I capture the little bastard and shuttle him outside.

What I don't get is everyone freaking about about the stinkbug invasion. Sure, they're annoying. But they don't bite or sting. They don't make any noise, they're not dirty and they don't carry any diseases. They're not going to get any prizes in the looks department but aside from being ugly and pervasive, they're not all that bad.

Now, if Owen would just stop farting...

Oh, and thank you Washington Post for freaking my ass out when I went looking for the stinkbug story again. Really, you should warn a guy before you plaster this on your homepage.

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Posted by Chris at 6:46 AM | Comments (14)

October 5, 2010

Solo, The Aftermath

I hope you won't think me immodest but I made solo parenting my bitch. Three days and I totally rocked this dad thing.

Okay, okay...I know it wasn't bringing peace to the Middle East, drying out Lindsay Lohan or finding an alternative to fossil fuels but, hey, it was still pretty damn important and impressive.

I'll admit, going into the weekend I was ever-so-slightly nervous. Terrified might be a slightly more accurate term. Since we've had kids, Beth's never been away. I haven't had to fend for myself (and the kids) for more than a few hours here and there. It was about damn time I tried. When she walked out the door early Friday morning, the kids not yet awake, I sat on the couch, tried to lay out some strategery for the weekend. Then I said fuck it, let's just have fun. And we did.

We watched movies - the new Tinkerbell is awesome, the seventies version of Charlotte's Web is just how I remembered it, and Star Wars was a huge hit and my fears of them being scared by it were totally unfounded. We took advantage of the great weather, riding bikes a lot. Mia developed several new games, the most impressive of which was Cycle-Ball, in which the three of us rode around in a small circle in the garage and tried to throw a small ball to each other (think roller-derby with toddlers and bikes) but that ended when one participant ran head-on into a trash can (no injuries). We hit playgrounds, Mexican restaurants, ice cream stores and my parents' house. We had performances, walks, long reading sessions, and colored like there was no tomorrow. We talked about Dick (my uncle, not the more generic, less appropriate term) and drew pictures of him. Owen learned how to say dammit and then, luckily, quickly forgot the term.

I think Mia was slightly surprised that I enforced actual rules in Beth's absence. On Saturday she told me, "Dad, I miss mommy. Not having her around isn't as much fun as I expected it to be." By Sunday she'd changed her tune, wanting Beth to stay in Puerto Rico an extra day or two.

By the time midnight on Sunday rolled around and Beth walked through the door, the kids were peacefully asleep, the house was immaculate, the dishes clean, Mia's lunch for Monday packed, the laundry done, beds made, and floors slept.

I learned a couple valuable lessons out of all this:

- I have no idea how you single parents do it. Parenting is hard enough as a team.
- Never underestimate the entertainment power of an iPhone.
- Reading horror novels when you're the only adult in the house is unnerving.
- My love of bad sci-fi movies remains intact.
- You can combine the choruses of The Killer's All These Things That I've Done and The Beach Boy's Kokomo to make an oddly compelling earworm.
- My kids are at times challenging but insanely awesome and made this whole experience easy on me. Mostly.

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM | Comments (16)

October 4, 2010

Uncle Dick

On Friday evening, around 7:00, my Uncle Dick, age 94, died.

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There are a lot of things I'd like to say about Dick but none can really express how amazing he was and how profoundly appreciative I am to have had him in my life. Dick was a soldier - a pilot in World War II - a diplomat serving at posts behind what was then the Iron Curtain. He was never a father and took great delight in holding Mia. It was his first time ever holding a baby. Dick was very much estranged from my maternal grandmother - it's a long story - and seemed amazed to find us, a family he'd never known, when we moved into the area and finally gathered the courage to make contact. Dick and my grandmother last spoke in 1964. They'll never have the chance to make amends. Dick was notorious for his shopping sprees at high end stores and, having been married to an appraiser for sixty years, accumulated a trove of treasures in his travels. His a testament to his globetrotting. Dick is survived by, well, us.

When I told Mia and Owen, Mia took the news well, speaking perhaps the greatest truth in the fewest words - "Uncle Dick was a good man and he lived a good life. He flew airplanes, he stopped bad guys and he was nice."

Posted by Chris at 7:20 AM | Comments (42)

Haiku For Monday #337

I'm at home. I called
in exhausted. Being a
solo dad? Damn hard.

Posted by Chris at 7:17 AM | Comments (1)

October 1, 2010

The Weeklies #150

The Weekly Event. Solo parenting starts...now!

The Weekly Way George Lucas Is Trying To Take My Cash. Star Wars in 3-D? Really? Is that absolutely necessary?

The Weekly Way The World Is Trying To Take My Cash. I took some of my team out for drinks last night and covered the first two rounds. The tab? A lot. Why? $12 beers. Seriously. $12.

The Weekly Name Change. The US' latest export to Japan? Jersey Shore. (Are we still mad about WWII or something?) In order to sell the show, though, MTV has agreed to a name change. The Japanese version will be titled - I'm not making this up - Macaroni Rascals. Which sucks because I was going to name my next band that.

The Weekly Read. Harry Dolan's Bad Things Happen was everything a good mystery should be. It had fantastic, well-developed characters and a wonderful sense of suspense, while being wonderfully written. I became utterly absorbed on page one and the novel never got any less compelling. This was a fun one to read and had plenty of twists and turns to keep even the most seasoned reader guessing.

The Weekly Music. Spock's Beard is one of my all-time favorite bands. They're probably the greatest working progressive rock band and their latest, simply titled X, is no exception. Once led by the now-solo Neal Morse (probably one of the five most talented rock musicians in the world), the band has been fronted by drummer Nick D'Virgilio in a very Genesis-like personnel move. And this is their strongest album since this personnel shift, and perhaps one of their best overall. While it maintains its complexity, this is an immediately accessible album and could be a good starting point for you who aren't yet convinced about the wonder of prog rock.

The Weekly Awkward Awesomeness. Did you know there was a Jurassic Park musical? Well, okay, there's not, not officially anyway. But a few people got together and staged one in their backyard with a couple hundred onlookers. You can find all the parts and pieces here. It could be the most awesomely bad thing on the internet ever. (I urge you to watch at least part one as a whole but if you're pressed for time, skip to about minute 9.)

The Weekly Schadenfreude. I don't watch Dancing With The Stars but I do read about it. I took a disproportionate amount of pleasure when I read that Michael Bolton stunk up the joint and was, in return, savaged by the judges. Bolton is demanding an apology. What's he going to do if he doesn't get it? Ballad the judges to death? Also from the land of reality TV, there was a little bit of an issue on Australia's Next Top Model. Host Sarah Murdoch gave the title to the wrong contestant on live TV.

The Weekly Question. This week Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy. What's the next business or industry that you think will be impacted by technology?

Posted by Chris at 6:31 AM | Comments (14)


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