August 31, 2011
Time Keeps On Slipping...Slipping...Slipping...
Question: Just where the hell did the summer go?
I ask only because it just now occurred to me that it's the last day of August. Labor Day is just around the corner. And I'm not entirely sure I understand how that happened. I mean I do know. Time passed, sand piled up at the bottom of the hourglass and we lost ourselves in fun and sun and warmth. But - and I know this sounds cliche - it seems like just yesterday we were anticipating a long swimming season, taking our first tentative dives into chilly pools and ending the school year wondering how we could possibly entertain kids for three solid months. Now look at us. We've got new backpacks. We're armed to the teeth with fresh glue sticks and lunch boxes ready to do battle with the forces of school and increased traffics. Our rakes are finely tuned to the possibility of falling leaves.
It would be tough to pick a favorite moment of the summer. If pressed I'd say Zanesville, the four of us trapped in the car heading through rolling farmland on a beautiful warm day. Or the beach, digging deep holes in the sand claiming to tunnel to China or India or Mexico or, oddly, Canada. Or watching Mia take a first place divisional medal in her final race of the year, seeing her swim like an absolute and powerful pro. Or the day we ran through the sprinkler in the backyard for hours. Like I said, I'd be hard-pressed to pick just one.
What are your best memories of this summer?
August 30, 2011
Four People, Three Lanes, Two Douchebags, One Long Night
Today is once again brought to you by the words vacation, hurricane and evacuation.
When the evacuation order went out and we made the last-minute call to head for higher ground, it was 7:30 in the evening. At minimum, it's a three hour drive home and if you have kids you should just multiply that by two. We packed all our stuff at a rapid clip and hit the road by 8:30. And we flew. Owen fell asleep, Mia watched a movie and no one needed to pee. One stop and we were home. Almost.
The DC area roadways - specifically those in Northern Virginia where we live - are going through something of a transformation. That's a nice way of saying they look like a deeply flawed civil engineer with a loose grip on reality designed our roads. Because of countless projects some genius thought should go on simultaneously - including the expansion of highways, creation of "hot lanes" and the extension of our subway system - everything is seriously screwed up. The worst offender is the Capital Beltway, a gigantic eight-lane road that circles the DC area.
On Thursday night we evacuated the beach and headed for home. We made great time. Until we hit the Beltway. Three of the four lanes were closed for night work. Everything ground to a halt. It took an hour to go three miles. Owen woke up and was miserable. Mia had questions about hurricanes.
Me: They better be doing a lot of work.
Beth: I hope there's an army of guys up here - wherever - working their asses off.
Me: This sucks.
And for all the gridlock it caused, there were precisely two guys wearing hard hats leaning against a pickup having a cigarette. Three lanes. Two guys. Three hours.
August 29, 2011
Before we get started, the vacation was great. I'll get back to that late in the week but trust me, the vacation was fantastic and I'm fundamentally, profoundly disturbed and disappointed that it's Monday morning and I'm heading into work.
But I'm here to talk about Irene. Because Irene's a bitch.
On Wednesday night during our vacation we really started to pay attention to the weather forecasts. Irene was hanging out down by southern Florida and all the usual suspect islands out there and getting huge, glutting itself on all the nice warm tropical water. By Thursday morning we were slightly concerned. By Thursday afternoon we started dealing with the fact that our vacation - scheduled to last through mid-Saturday - might get cut short. After dinner on Thursday night, my father in law and I headed out to fill up our gas tanks...and saw the mandatory evacuation notices go up.
We quickly wrestled with our options which were two-fold: 1) get the hell out of Dodge and beat everyone across the massive Chesapeake Bay Bridge or 2) wake up before everyone else and head for home. After much discussion we decided to high-tail it out of there. We quickly packed our stuff, emptied the house we rented, got the kids in jammies, loaded up the car and left. And we were completely and utterly alone on the road.
There was some vindication in the fact that the roads were clogged the following day. We didn't feel as though we'd overreacted quite so much. But then Irene hit. Or failed to hit.
While I know some people really got hit hard, we got some much-needed rain and a bit of wind. That's it. Irene was kinda like dressing up for a date with Minnie Driver and answering your door to find Minnie Pearl standing there. (And yes, I'm willing to admit that's a fairly obscure analogy but, really, it's been a long week and weekend so I didn't exactly try too hard to find something better.)
I grew up on the Gulf Coast. Now, I don't want to say that East Coast folks don't know what a storm is but Irene wasn't it. She's just a greedy bitch who stole a couple days of vacation from me.
Haiku For Monday #381
I think I know how
astronauts describe Mondays:
reentry's a bitch.
August 25, 2011
How We Roll
This is how we roll at the beach.
We get up no later than 7:00. That’s kid-driven. One of us runs out for fresh-made bagels while someone brews the coffee. By 8:00 breakfast is served. By 9:00 the kids are sunscreened and our stuff is packed for the beach. At 9:30 we’ve scouted a place, chairs are out, umbrellas are up, and kids are sand-covered. We have lunch at noon, a combination of things we brought and beach food (pizza, boardwalk fries) then continue to become utterly filthy in the salt water and sand. By 2:30, we’re baked. We head to the house, clean up and head to Funland for the rides that have been there in place since the 50’s. Then dinner. At 7:00 every evening there’s a dance party followed by bed for the children. The adults stay up, sitting on the porch enjoying adult beverages until the first of us starts to drift off.
There are exceptions to these schedules, made for sailing or bike riding or random walks on the boardwalk for boardwalk games and cheap stuffed prizes.
This is how we roll at the beach.
August 22, 2011
Haiku For Monday #380
I'm at the beach. Ain't
no way I'm blogging first thing
in the morning, yo.
August 19, 2011
The Weeklies #184
Nope, there's no audio this week. I'm blaming all-day meetings and a shit-load of work. So sorry.
The Weekly Beer. Heavy Seas' Loose Cannon. I had a couple at a restaurant not too long ago and figured out it was brewed in Baltimore. So I figured I must be able to get it someplace close. Damn fine beer, folks. Damn fine.
The Weekly Activity. Road trips!
The Weekly Vegetarian. News broke the other day that Bill Clinton has become a vegetarian. Welcome to the club. Now stay away from interns.
The Weekly Read. With all the meetings, road trips, work and other assorted things, I've got to admit that I haven't been able to finish a book this week. I'm reading a rather promising one but more on that next week.
The Weekly Movies. I was not prepared to like The Fighter. But I absolutely did. Nor was I prepared to think highly of The Lincoln Lawyer. But again, I did. Two excellent movies.
The Weekly Schadenfreude. Michelle Bachman won the Iowa straw poll. We're all fucked. But Kate Plus Eight finally got cancelled. The lesson? The world is a weird, twisted place but ultimately karma's a bitch.
The Weekly Question. Political question that does not involve revealing your actual political persuasion - will Obama score a second term?
August 18, 2011
What To Read
Reading. I don't seem to be doing as much of it lately. Granted, I'm pretty busy but I do try to read every night. But I've realized lately that while I'm turning pages I'm doing so listlessly, in a very uninspired fashion. I think I'm in something of a rut. So help me escape listless page turning.
What awesomeness have you read lately? What would you recommend?
August 17, 2011
When I lived in Houston our phone number was one digit off a famous local restaurant's. After a few years, we got tired of saying sorry wrong number and started taking reservations. This is kinda like that. Yesterday I got the following email:
Hello, I will like to order for Fajitas for 150 people on august 26th and its for my mom birthday and it will be pick up by private shipper agent and am ready to pay for full amount with my credit card can you do that for me and pick up time is 4pm so let me have the total cost plus tax.
Please Note: i would like you to get back to with the total for individually made for 150 ppl plus tax
To which I replied:
Vivian, Thank you for your inquiry and a very happy birthday to your mother. We would be more than happy to accomodate your order but you must first agree to write emails comprised of more than one deliriously long grammatically incorrect sentence. Our cost estimate - predicated on a mix of our most popular fajitas - is as follows:
- 40 beef @ $1.50/fajita
- 40 chicken @ $1.50/fajita
- 20 rare Bolivian goat @ $5.50/fajita
- 20 Peruvian alpaca @ $8.40/fajita
- 10 lobster and unicorn tears @ $240.24 (or current market price)/fajita
Mariachi band: $475.00
Tortilla-wrapping surcharge: $194.59
Processing, handling and no-sneeze fee: $45.61
Homeland security cheddar tax: $391.02
Arroz con helado: $438.41+
GRAND TOTAL: $62,547.43
We hope you'll choose us for your next event. Tell your friends and get a %0.03 discount on your next order.
Your friends at the Bonito Queso Fajita Emporium
* they're REALLY good
+ our famous blend of organic long grain rice, herbs, spices and Ben and Jerry's Phish Food ice cream
^ please specify preferences and specialties at least 30 days before your special event; midget hookers extra
It's like crank-calling without the phone. And I'm kind of an asshole.
August 16, 2011
This weekend we went back home. It's odd because I've never actually lived in Zanesville, Ohio. The longest I've spent there was a two week stretch while my parents visited Europe. But my entire family hails from Zanesville. Many were born there, many died there as well. For me, it's like when people say they're Italian or German or Japanese. I'm Zanesvillian (or something). It's who I am.
Zanesville is a small town, around 25,000 folks, named after western author Zane Gray. My family has lived there or around there since my great great great grandparents arrived from Germany. They were farmers, mainly. They became salesmen, business owners, church elders, hospital volunteers. My grandfather died in Zanesville at age 40 only twelve hours before his own mother died in the same hospital. My other grandfather died there as well after too long a stay at the VA nursing home. In the years that passed since those ancestors first settled there lots of things have changed. The downtown is boarded up. Most manufacturing jobs have gone elsewhere. There are still two elementary schools, one junior high and a single high school (though it should be noted it was just demolished, rebuilt, and looks astonishingly wonderful). The unemployment rate is just slightly above the national average. Housing prices are well below.
But not all is lost. As it turns out, Zanesville is a pretty wonderful place. It is, after all, where nearly every generation of my family came from so it can't be all bad. And it's home to Tom's Ice Cream Bowl. It was where my parents went in the afternoons after high school to hang out. And they report that it looks exactly the same.
Within thirty seconds of leaving the town you're confronted with farm land. The most gorgeous land I've seen in a long while. And it stretches everywhere, dotted with barns and silos and tractors and rivers and lakes and churches.
My children loved it. They loved visiting family, seeing where they'd grown up. We went to church - the church my grandparents helped build - and sat in the very room my parents got married in while attending the service with my grandmother and aunt. The kids participated like they'd been doing it all their lives. Most magically, in the little town of Zanesville, Ohio, my kids acted as though they felt right at home. Which I suppose they were.
August 15, 2011
Taste Like Summer
I was going to talk about the weekend trip we took to lovely Zanesville, Ohio, home of the legendary (in some circles) Y Bridge and most of the people (past and present) to whom I'm related. But, as it turns out, there's a lot of ground to cover there. And since we rolled in at 2:00 on Sunday after a seven hour road trip, I don't really have it in me to recount everything in a coherent manner. Instead, food.
About twenty miles from home yesterday we stopped at a local produce stand. It's not much to look at but they sell almost every type of fruit and vegetable imaginable and everything's grown locally. We left with $40 in fresh produce and ened up with the most wonderful dinner ever - caprese salad with fresh basil, mozzarella and tomatoes; sweet corn on the cob sprinkled with butter, salt, pepper and Old Bay; and yellow watermelon.
It was just the kind of meal that made me recall the summers I spent in Zanesville with my grandparents, working in their acre-sized garden, shelling fresh sweet peas, eating onions like apples, and feeling the sinus buzz of fresh radishes shoot up my nose.
For a split second it made me want to move to a modest sized farm in the rolling hills around eastern Ohio, plant and raise everything myself, let the kids run around from dawn to dusk. Then I remembered that the only diversity I'd seen was Sunday morning when I met a lady from Kansas. And speaking of that the only ethnic restaurant I caught sight of was the Great Wall Chinese Buffet. Not a lot of multiculturalism in small town Ohio.
But still, it was a damn good dinner. It tasted like summer. Since we're nearing the end of the season, it was much needed. And hit the spot.
Haiku For Monday #379
There's nothing quite like
a Monday after a long
weekend roadtrip. Argh.
August 12, 2011
The Weeklies #183
Listen if you dare! Oh, sorry...I made that sound scary, didn't I? It's not scary. Cheesy, yes. Scary, no. You can also download this bad boy.
The Weekly Beer. Red Hook Pilsner. I have yet to discover any resource that can tell me - without completely confusing me - the difference between ales and lagers and the 87 million varieties of beer. So I don't really know what a pilsner is. I do know that it's yummy, light and refreshing but really full-bodied.
The Weekly Music. Fountains of Wayne are back. I've always loved their stuff but nothing they've released has ever hit me over the head and made me go whoa. Until now. Sky Full of Holes is the best thing they've ever released and, if pressed, I'd say its one of the top five releases of 2011 to date. It is quirky, smart, slick, sweet, touching and altogether wonderful.
The Weekly Read. I finally made it through Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse. The title says it all - robots turn evil and try to take over the world. I have mixed feelings about the book. It was structured a great deal like Max Brooks' World War Z, comprised of fictional bits of transcribed oral history. But World War Z was a much better book. Robopocalypse wasn't bad. There were little glimmers of brilliance and some great writing but they were few and far between. By the end, some characters became central to the story while others just disappeared. Is it worth reading? Yes. Should it rocket to the top of your "to read" list? Nope.
The Weekly Schadenfreude. Are we going to elect another Texas governor as president? I'm from Texas and I sure as hell hope not. There was an interesting editorial on CNN yesterday. It said, in part:
His Saturday speech in South Carolina will make clear that he is entering the race for the White House and will spawn the ugliest and most expensive presidential race in U.S. history, and he will win. A C and D student, who hates to govern, loves to campaign, and barely has a sixth grader's understanding of economics, will lead our nation into oblivion.
The Weekly Question. What is the world's most perfect food? I'm going with pie.
August 11, 2011
On an average day I get over a dozen emails asking me to blog about a specific topic (Vacationing With Children!), read an article (10 Ways To Keep Your Kids Hydrated During The Summer), feature a picture (We hope you'll post this still shot from the latest Disney movie), conduct an interview (Interview the self-published sci-fi romance novelist today!) or review a product (I'll send you one toilet brush to keep and another to give away to your readers). And on an average day I'm left scratching my head wondering why?
The simple fact is that I generally get more pimp-mail than I do comments. My site states tell me that, yes, a few folks still dutifully drop by instead of using Google Reader or another news aggregator. But still, traffic has slowed down over the years. Long story short, I'm not your best bet, especially considering that I've made it clear I refuse 99% of any offers like these.
When I started blogging it was the wild west out here. Everyone had an opinion and everyone built a blog to share it. Over time, though, while the amount of individual blogs has decreased (drastically!) the number of PR-type folks glomming onto bloggers has skyrocketed. Which leads me to questions. Are bloggers really so influential? Or are we just an easier, cheaper way to schill products no one really needs?
We need to get on a Do Not Pimp List. Either that or I just need to suck it up, go all in, buy a cane and a big-ass hat with a feather in it.
August 10, 2011
Time, And The Legend Of Wounded Ice Cream Hand
I can write a decent sentence (not that this site is any great testament to that skill), take a pretty good photograph and I can play a darn good guitar riff. The problem? Like most skills, if you don't use them, they start to fade. Like the Wounded Ice Cream Hand.
Many years ago - before I started this site and before Beth and I were married - we had my parents over to our crappy apartment for dinner. The apartment wasn't terrible but our upstairs neighbors who had hardwood floors and played nothing but mariachi music at top volume 24 hours a day were. My parent brought desert. At midnight I decided that I needed more. Haagen Daas came with the deal but it was frozen and hard. Instead of doing what any right-thinking human would do - popping it in a microwave, letting it sit - I did what any dumb-ass would do. I grabbed a butter knife and tried to carve a scoop out. Unfortunately for me, I was too strong for my own good. The butter knife went right through the ice cream and into the hand I was holding the pint with. I ended up in the emergency room with a ripped tendon, stitches and an order to see a specialist the next day. I was, in short, an idiot.
The injury was bad but fell just short of requiring surgery. I wore a spint in my hand for a month and received regular treatments to ensure that the tendon didn't sever itself. When the splint came off, my hand was half the size of its companion and knew how to do nothing.
The rare photos I managed to snap this summer were poorly composed. I haven't tried to write something - something more than just a snap judgment or weird bathroom tale - in quite some time. And I actually picked up one of my guitars the other day - the '68 Fender Stratocaster - and played. My fingers felt all wrong and I botched the blues scale I was trying to play.
The problem, my friends, is time. I simply don't have it. Sure, I'd like to be the next Ansel Adams, the next Joe Satriani or Dave Gilmour or the next Ernest Hemingway. But at this point I'm afraid I don't have the time.
What are your hobbies? And how do you find the time to do them?
August 9, 2011
When I got home late last night - after a 14 hour day and a quick jaunt to and from West Virginia - Beth showed me an insanely cool video. I'd just spent the length of a car ride from West Virginia talking to a co-worker about where we'd like to live. Serendipity, some would say.
So - since I'm worn out from aforementioned 14 hour day - I ask you a question: If money was no object, where would you move?
August 8, 2011
I have a 13 hour day today. I'm not even kidding. Here's my schedule, slightly modified to protect my superhero identity.
Not only do I have meetings all freaking day but after most of those meetings are over I have to get in my car and drive to West Virginia. Now I have nothing against West Virginia but I wouldn't say commuting out there for a Monday evening meeting would be my idea of a perfect evening.
Is your summer busier or quieter than normal? Mine seems insane.
Haiku For Monday #378
August is shaping
up to be batshit crazy.
I need coffee. Now.
August 6, 2011
The Weekly Kick Ass Music Podcast #2
It's that time of the week - time for The Weekly Kick Ass Music Podcast! Enjoy!
August 5, 2011
The Weeklies #182
Yep, you can listen to this one too though it should be noted that some of the audio is a little crude...so don't blast it at work, okay?
The Weekly Beer. Red Hook's Copper Hook.
The Weekly Fish. Arctic char.
The Weekly Phrase Most Used With My Kids. Watch the attitude.
The Weekly Work Activity. Conference calls. I've been on about 382 conference calls this week. Or at least it seems like it.
The Weekly Automotive Awesomeness. My new car. Every time I drive it I figure out that it does something else cool.
The Weekly TV. Mad Men. Yes, we're a little behind the times but Mad Men just arrived on Netflix's streaming service so we're giving it a shot. Three episodes in we're still not sure what to think.
The Weekly Word I Can't Seem To Spell. Strategic.
The Weekly Good Dude. Matt Damon went to bat for teachers during a stop in DC. He said, in part:
"The wealthy are paying less than they've paid at any time, certainly in my lifetime and probably in the last century. I don't know what they were paying in the Roaring '20s, but it's criminal that so little is asked of people who are getting so much. I don't mind paying more, I really don't mind paying more taxes. I'd rather pay more for taxes than cut Reading is Fundamental or Head Start, or some of these programs that are really helping kids. This is the greatest country in the world, is it that much worse if you pay 6 percent more in taxes? Give me a break. Look at what you get for it. You get to be American."
The Weekly Question. On a scale of 1 to 10, how concerned about the economy are you?
August 4, 2011
How would you live your life differently if you knew you could not fail?
I don't mean to get all self-helpy on you but I saw a version of this question online the other day and it got me thinking.
We all live our lives fearing, to some extent, failure. Because we all fail. Me? I sometimes lack confidence in myself professionally. I'm positive I'm getting fired, that I'm in over my head, that I'm somehow managing to fool everyone around me. Do I really honestly believe that? Not most of the time. But those mostly unfounded fears make me better at what I do. Because fear of failure can itself be a valuable motivator and responsible for successes.
The bottom line is that I'm not sure I'd want to live my life free of the fear of failure. It might actually make me less good at some things.
What about you? How would you live your life differently if you knew you could not fail?
August 3, 2011
Owen's had a hard summer. His sister was on the swim team and, because his dad worked, he was dragged to every practice. And every meet of course too. Then his sister had the nerve to have a birthday - and a birthday party - which meant balloons and presents, none of which he got to open. And his parents that, in preparation for preschool, it would be a good idea to send him to camp which he DID NOT LIKE ONE TINY LITTLE BIT. Okay, he loved camp but hated going in the mornings. Sure, this summer he got to swim and play and make stuff and help his dad replace the mailbox and ride around in his new car but it was still The Summer Where Other People Got To Do Fun Stuff.
One thing made it better - Mia's jammies.
If you stopped by most any evening over the past few weeks, you'd find a post-bath Owen running around the house in a Disney Princess nightgown or flowery PJ pants and a nice pink tank top.
One of the first things you learn as a parent is to pick your battles. No, I'm wrong. That's the eighth thing you learn. See?
1. Functioning with little or no sleep.
2. Breastfeeding (if you're a female) or feeling bad that you can't lend a boob (if you're a male).
3. Wrapping a baby up like a burrito.
4. Peeing while rocking a baby.
5. Singing any song like a lullaby (Iron Maiden's The Trooper and Metallica's Enter Sandman can be beautiful when sung softly and sweetly)
6. Feeding a child without taking shrapnel.
7. Getting puke stains out of anything.
8. Picking your battles.
Anyway. Back to Owen in dresses. It makes him happy. And I'm pretty sure wearing girls' clothes at age three doesn't turn you gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm sure our son would turn out to be an amazingly wonderful gay man. But in this summer of his discontent, if the thing that makes Owen happy is a girly wardrobe, more (girl) power to him.
August 2, 2011
Life Online (A Hypothetical)
How much of your life is online? I'm not talking about your electronic banking habits or the number of recipes you get from the internet. How much about yourself do you share?
The reason I ask is because I thought of an interesting conundrum.
Scenario*: A college student working towards her education degree works part time in a local elementary school earning credits and assisting a second grade teacher. During the course of the year, you discover that the student has Twitter and Facebook accounts which are open to the public. While most of the posts and status updates are tame, the student occasionally posts about her students. While not specifically mentioning kids' names, some posts are sometimes unflattering, insensitive or insulting. What, if anything, do you do?
This got me thinking about what I put out there. I mean, I've been writing here for eight years. Surely I've let something slip that would make me cringe but I've tried to remain keenly aware that once something is out in the wild, it's gone and control is lost. Some don't have that perspective. Or just don't think.
So, how much of your life is out there? And what do you do in the scenario above?
* It should be noted here and now that this is purely hypothetical. No one who knows me in real life should start trying to guess who I'm talking about. Or even those who don't know me IRL.
August 1, 2011
We finally did it. We broke down and bought a new car. The car we replaced? My gradually-failing VW.
As much as I wanted a new car, I had mixed feelings as I drove to the dealership. On the one hand, at some point the VW was going to explode in a shimmering burst of German parts and electronics. But, on the other, it was fun to drive and, most importantly, it was paid for.
On Saturday morning I cleaned out the VW, vacuumed it out and took it to the car wash, and steeled myself for an appraisal that would leave me grabbing my ankles and feeling violated. What I got instead was a rather pleasant Indian gentleman, a appraisal $500 over the Blue Book value, and a fully loaded, slightly used (8,000 miles) version of the exact car I had my heart set on. By 1:00, I loaded two car seats and the kids into my brand-mostly-new car and drove it off the lot.
It's kinda awesome.
For the past few months I've been eyeing the Mazda 3. It's gotten great ratings - safety, reliability and awesomeness - and it's sporty. So that's what I ended up with. It's silvery-gray and has halogen headlights, a sunroof, Bluetooth connectivity, a Bose stereo system with iPod jack, leather seats and it starts with the push of a button. Sure, I know these things are all old-school by now but I've been riding around a less-than-cutting edge though very fun-to-drive German wagon for seven years. I'm easily impressed.
I think I'll go joyriding for lunch.