December 27, 2012

Oh, Hi

I believe I neglected to tell anyone that I'd be taking the week off. Instead of reporting to an office or trying to come up with witty posts, the only job I'm pursuing this week is dad.

I hope you all had Merry Whateveryoucelebrates and I'll see you in the New Year.

Posted by Chris at 9:46 AM | Comments (4)

December 21, 2012

The Yearlies (2012)

The Yearly Podcast: The Mike O'Meara Show

The Yearly Tragedy: Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

The Yearly Top 5 Beers:
- Two Hearted Ale (Bell's)
- 60 Minute IPA (Dogfish Head)
- Torpedo (Sierra Nevada)
- Northern Lights (Starr Hill)
- 48th Parallel (Sam Adams)

The Yearly Heroes: Teachers everywhere but, specifically, every teacher who hauled every kid to safety at Sandy Hook.

The Yearly Villain: Westboro Baptist Church and all who support them.

The Yearly Top 5 Books:
- The Wool Series (Hugh Howey)
- Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)
- The Search for Wondla (Tony DiTerizzi)
- The Revised Fundamentals Of Caregiving (Jonathan Evison)
- One Last Thing Before I Go (Jonathan Tropper)

The Yearly Worst Book: Driven (James Sallis)

The Yearly Favorite People: Beth, Mia, Owen, Barack Obama, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Robert Plant.

The Yearly Fear: The fiscal cliff.

The Yearly Top 5 Albums:
- Celebration Day (Led Zeppelin)
- Momentum (Neal Morse)
- Fog Electric (North Atlantic Oscillation)
- Flying Colors (Flying Colors)
- The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (Nada Surf)

The Yearly Worst Album: Music From Another Dimension (Aerosmith)

The Yearly Getaway: New York City.

The Yearly Top 5 Shows:
- Breaking Bad
- The Walking Dead
- American Horror Story
- Mad Men
- The Booth At The End

The Yearly Worst TV Show: Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo

The Yearly Event. I turned 40. Surely that's worth noting.

The Yearly Extreme Home Makeover: Our kitchen, shiny and new.

What are your yearlies?

Posted by Chris at 7:53 AM | Comments (7)

December 20, 2012


Before we had Owen and our parental experience was limited solely to Mia, I put a lot of stock in the whole nurture part of the nature versus nurture argument. Nearly five years into being a parent to two, I'm not so sure. The differences between girls and boys are striking. Despite all our best efforts, for example, Mia became enamored with princesses (though thankfully that fascination is on its way out) and Owen learned how to turn anything (a paper towel roll, a pencil, a piece of cake) into a gun.

But that's not my point.

(And the point might be hard to stumble upon since I spent half the night in a twin bed with a boy who has some sort of chronic sinus problem and an ENT appointment tomorrow whilst his sister again showed off her fever-getting prowess in the next room over.)

My point is this.

(See, I'm getting to it.)

I wonder where the tipping point is in that nature versus nurture argument when it comes to the quirks my kids seem to have in abundance. For example, from the stairs, there are two hallways that connect to the living room. Owen has decided that one is totally off limits unless it necessary to shut the bathroom door in the other hallway. And it is required that all doors remain shut at all times. For her part, Mia - a very precise, organized and tidy person normally - seems to believe that she must sleep with everything she owns for her bed is piled with stuff. I asked her how she could possibly sleep with half of her room on her bed and she told me when I'm forced to sleep in a little ball it makes me feel all cozy. Mkay.

Anyway, I naturally wonder how much of these and the many other examples of kid quirkiness were preprogrammed and how much of it Beth and I influenced. And if these were at least partially influenced by us, what did it take to push that button? Some pattern of behavior on our part or a simple sentence over dinner?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to make another cup of coffee and make sure that Mia hasn't been crushed under the weight of the crap on her bed.

Posted by Chris at 8:37 AM | Comments (3)

December 19, 2012

Service, German Engineering and White Men

Yesterday morning I posted this on Facebook:

When you're on your way to work at 7:00 on a cold foggy morning, and you stop at Starbucks to pick up the largest cup of coffee you can find because you know you're going to be working your ass off, it's a little disconcerting when the barista follows you out and gets into a much nicer car than you are ever likely to own.

I'm not placing a value judgement on slinging coffee for a living or even saying that what someone drives at all meaningful. It's just a bit...incongruous.

I took some heat, both in the comments and in some email I received. Then I realized that I'd been misunderstood. Or, worse, came off sounding like elitist complaining about first world problems. That's not what I meant. I could literally not care less about what other people drive. I don't want a fancy car but I don't begrudge those who do. And my white collar doesn't give me an exclusive right to nice pieces of German engineering.

What I was trying to say is that, for a fleeting moment, it was demotivating. I worked an 80 hour week last week. I'll work another this week. Would I want to sling coffee and deal with everything the barista has to put up with? No. It was disconcerting because it made me ask the question "am I better off in a high stress job or can I do something different and still be able to thrive financially?" After a bit of research I learned that the answer to that question is no. Baristas in the greater Washington DC area make about $9/hour or an average salary of $19k/year. If someone wants to sink three years' salary into a car, fine. (Though, seriously, a Honda would be a wiser choice.)

It was also pointed out to me during the course of the day that I was implying that, as a white man, I feel entitled to be served. And that's ridiculous.

Because I'm busy, I do hand over a lot of stuff to my wife. She cooks most nights, she cleans, she does laundry and she does the lion's share of the kid wrangling. She also doesn't suck at math so the wealth of our vast empire is under her command. It's a lot. And some days I go home, find the couch, place my ass squarely on it and act as if I don't ever want to move, having gone off and slayed the proverbial dragon for the day. She cuts me a lot of slack, more than she should. But I realize that the slaying of said dragon is only reflective of one of my jobs. I'm a dad too. I trade one hat for another when 5:00 rolls around. And it wears me out and sometimes I'm impatient and wish I could just be left alone. But that's not how it works and, frankly, I'd be miserable if it did.

In the past, sure, white guys got used to being handed things on literal silver platters. Those days are gone. To claim otherwise is doing a great disservice to all the men who've tried to break that stereotype, the husbands who truly value a division of labor with their wives and appreciate all they do, and the dad's who've changed more of their fair share of diapers. There's a long-recognized glass ceiling for women but there is also the, well, the opposite of that for men. I'm tired of the stereotype that I can't take care of sick kids, can't figure out how to do a load of laundry or have some chromosomal barrier to loading the dishwasher correctly. It's almost as insulting as I imagine equal job and pay issues are for women in the workplace. The only thing women can't do that men can is pee standing up. And even that's not an impossibility. It's just messy.

Posted by Chris at 7:48 AM | Comments (11)

December 18, 2012

Old Man Christmas

When it comes to Christmas, time apparently stopped in the late sixties. I'm old school, Christmaswise. Take my Christmas music collection and accompanying playlist, well-honed over the years. There've been some decent Christmas albums made in the last few decades but my collection always seems to center around Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Burl Ives and Gene Autry. Well, them, and those who work so hard to preserve an old-school big band sound. My taste in Christmas movies is similar. None of my favorites are any more recent than 1954.

It's A Wonderful Life. Yeah, it's long and vaguely unpleasant in parts but the collaboration between Jimmy Stewart - one of the best - and Frank Capra can't be beat. The acting is absolutely stellar, the characters are wonderful, and the end is brilliant.

The Bishop's Wife. Most folks haven't even heard of this Cary Grant classic, or hadn't until Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington starred in the remake. Give me the original any day. From the first year we ever owned a VCR, my parents and I watched this every year.

Miracle On 34th Street. It's partially because of this movie that I'm not totally convinced Santa isn't real.

White Christmas. I'll admit it. White Christmas is a total cheese-fest. Rosemary Clooney can't pull off the part of a hot single dancer and it's hard to look past the fact that Bing Crosby was a first-class douchebag. But through all the corny songs, lame acting, and massive suspension of disbelief, White Christmas is a wonderfully nice story.

What are your Christmas favorites?

Posted by Chris at 7:04 AM | Comments (14)

December 17, 2012

A Conversation I Never Wanted To Have

It was the hardest conversation ever.

I don't want to make you sad or scare you or do anything to make you feel less safe but I have to talk to you about something. A horrible thing happened on Friday. I need to tell you about it now because I want you to hear what happened from me. Some kids might talk about it at school on Monday so I want you to know what they're talking about. And you might see policemen around your school I want you to know why.

On Friday, a person - a guy who had something wrong with him - went into an elementary school with guns and he shot people. He killed a lot of people and a lot of them were kids. The teachers were heroes. They did their best to protect the kids, pulling them out of the halls and bringing them into their classrooms to hide but some of those heroes were killed too. There's really no good explanation why someone would do something like this but there are a lot of kids who will never go home to their moms and dads.

School should be someplace wonderful. It should be a place where you go to have fun, be with your friends and learn. It should never be a place you're scared of going. Your mom and I are on this earth to protect you. We will never let anything bad happen to you. And if I have to stand out front of your school with a baseball bat to make sure you're never afraid, I'll quit my job and that's exactly what I'll do.

I wish I didn't have to talk to you about this. Seven year olds shouldn't ever have to worry about things like this and fathers of seven year olds should never have to have this conversation. But I do, because I want you to hear this from me, I want you to know you're safe, and I want you to know that I'll always do everything I can to protect you. And you know that I am always honest with you, that I always tell you the truth because I know you are smart and mature and capable of more than I'd ever imagine.

It was the hardest conversation ever. During it, I fought back tears that I know Mia saw. She asked questions to which I had no answers, trying to somehow rationalize what she'd heard the same way I'd tried to rationalize it 48 hours earlier. I'll be years - perhaps forever - before any of us have answers.

After this, my daughter sat at our kitchen table drawing a line of kids all saying something about how great school was. With their parents behind them saying the same thing. She wants to mail it to Connecticut hoping that maybe, having seen it, some kids might feel safer.

Me, I just went someplace quiet and sobbed.

Posted by Chris at 8:06 AM | Comments (15)

Haiku For Monday #437

Those of you with kids
returning to school today -
good luck and stay strong.

Posted by Chris at 8:03 AM | Comments (2)

December 14, 2012

The Weeklies 239

The Weekly Lame Excuse. I got nothing. I'm exhausted. I'd worked a 40-hour week by the time I rolled into the office yesterday morning. Luckily that's all over and I managed to get a decent night sleep last night. But still, I got nothing. Instead I wish you wonderful weekends.

Posted by Chris at 8:58 AM | Comments (2)

December 12, 2012

Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Baby Jesus

We're not really religious people. Or, to rephrase using the same words, we're really not religious people. We do, however, think that the kids should have some understanding of the meaning of the holidays. Which is why, after unwrapping the Baby Jesus and setting up the nativity scene by the tree, we lit the appropriate number of candles on the menorah.

Owen lit them then Beth asked him if he wanted to sing a Hanukkah song. He declined exclaiming No, daddy should sing a song. I was flustered and unprepared. But I found inspiration in the Fab Four.

Help, I need somebody,
Help, not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone...Yahweh!

And then Owen blew out the candles on the menorah as though it was a cake.

So, apparently our holiday traditions now resemble a Beatles tribute band at a birthday party.

Posted by Chris at 7:30 AM | Comments (6)

December 11, 2012

One Swift Click

I'm pretty sure that one day retail stores will be gone. Well, no one will ever replace grocery stores and people will always want to try on clothes before they buy. But aside from those two exceptions - and Amazon and Apple product demo stores - brick and mortar retailers are doomed.

I did all my Christmas shopping on Sunday night. Beth and I threw all the stuff we heard our kids show some amount of enthusiasm for into a wish list, ran it through the parental filter that detects pieces of crap and things that'll take out an eye, and, with one swift click, ordered everything. I was notified throughout the day that our items were in various states of shipment. I'll start seeing boxes on the front stoop tomorrow evening.

I love giving gifts. I just hate the process of acquiring them. So do most people, with the exception of those who line up around big box stores at 2:00 in the morning to score Black Friday deals. I'm not one of those people.

How do you shop? And what's the future of retail?

Posted by Chris at 7:51 AM | Comments (16)

December 10, 2012

I Heart NYC

For those of you playing Cactus-Fish: The Home Game, checking all your social media outlets and noting my absence last Thursday and Friday, I have an explanation. Beth and I went to New York City for a long weekend. After all, it was my fortieth birthday. Go big or go home. Or something like that.

We took the train up to New York on Thursday morning, slipped into the city unannounced, checked into our hotel and hit the town. We had three of the finest dinners ever, wandered around the city in the cold drizzle, and saw a couple of pretty decent shows. We visited the World Trade Center memorial - sobering at the very least - walked through Chelsea Market, checked out store windows at stores we could never afford - or want - to shop in. We saw proposals at Rockefeller Center and fell in love with Bryant Park again. We got lost in the Met, saw Snoop Dogg, hung with Batman, fought the crowds at Macy's and walked the entirety of the High Line. It was brief, exhausting and wonderful.

And of course being bloggers to the core, we live-blogged the whole trip for the kids who stayed home with grandparents. I snapped shots, instagrammed them and uploaded them in real time. And though I knew they weren't waiting around, hanging on my every pixel, it was pretty fantastic being able to share the trip with them.

There is no other city quite like New York. And of all the cities I've visited in my life, I'm pretty sure it's my favorite. I owe a pretty big thanks to Beth for setting the whole trip up. She's the best, most fun traveling companion ever.

Posted by Chris at 7:18 AM | Comments (6)

Haiku For Monday #436

Woke up in New York
yesterday morning. Today?
Full work day ahead.

Posted by Chris at 7:04 AM

December 5, 2012

A Blogger Looks At Forty

Breaking news - I turned forty. Just happened, like, minutes ago. There. I said it. It's out there.

I'm not particularly bothered by my age though I have to say forty seems like a very long time to have been alive. But better that - the graying temples, the creaky back and tired shoulders - than the alternative.

My plans for the day are simple. I'm going to work - I have a lighter day than yesterday, which started with a 7:00 AM conference call - then I'm going to hang out with my family and, perhaps, drink some beer. And I'm sure I'll meaningfully ponder turning forty in short exclamations of age-realization. But I'm okay with forty. As long as forty's okay with me.

Posted by Chris at 7:58 AM | Comments (29)

December 3, 2012

The Holiday Letter I Will Send This Year

Every year, we get dozens of Christmas letters, you know, the kind that exhaustively recount the various and sundry things a particular family did over the course of the year. Some are great - witty and funny - and some are fit only for insomniacs who have tried every available drug. We tend to get more of the latter. I've been threatening to write my own for a very long time. And now I have. You guys get a sneak peek.

It's been a crazy 2012 for the Cactus-Fish family. There have been 365 wonderful days and, as is my holiday tradition, I'll walk you through each and every one.

Owen began his second and final year of preschool at Our Lady Of The Perpetual Shortness Of Breath. He's continued to blossom. While attending preschool Owen has started a Beatles tribute band with some of his friends. Since none of them can play any instruments besides drums, the classics have a refreshingly different arrangement. They're still finding their groove. Back in May, Owen was abducted by aliens. He was gone three days but returned to us perfectly fine. The timing was actually pretty good since he'd been acting like a little tool and we needed the break.

Mia started second grade this year. After excelling in a traditional public school environment we decided that she need to be challenged. That's why we've sent her to our local Klingon immersion school. From 9:00 in the morning until 3:25 in the afternoon, she's encouraged to speak nothing but Klingon while learning the history, social studies and math of planet Earth. As they say, nuqDaq 'oH puchpa''e'*.

As many of you know, after years of IT consulting I decided to change careers back in April. It's been an adjustment for all of us but I'm deeply in love with my new career as an illumination technician. Those big ass lights on the side of the highway don't change themselves! In my off-hours, I continue to write Dharma & Greg illustrated fan fiction and build Lego models of obscure third world dictators. Always on the look-out for new hobbies, I've recently begun refurbishing old refrigerators as walk-in closets for midgets.

Beth continues to stay home with the kids by day. It's challenging and I'm sure she'd enjoy daylight interaction with real adults every once in a while but her nighttime activities keep her plenty engaged. Thankfully none of our neighbors have seemed to notice her frequent midnight exits. Her employer - I can't say tell you the name but I'll say it contains the letters C, I and A - seems to appreciate her work (and her aim) and the benefits are fantastic. Full dental!

This year, instead of hauling the kids to all the great destinations in the country - Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, the Liberty Bell - we decided to take the kids to some of the lesser-known cities. We visited the refineries of Texas City, Texas, soaked in the culture of Gary, Indiana, and visited with mildly intoxicated native Americans in Gallup, New Mexico. Unfortunately, we got carjacked in Detroit. We were all fine, a little shaken up, but we finally found a way to ditch the minivan. We bought a hybrid Hummer in its place.

It was a good year for movies. We took the kids to see Hotel Transylvania, Brave, and Wreck-It Ralph, all of which were incredible. The only misstep was Toy Story 28: Andy and Brandi's Group House Party. It was only showing in a seedy theater and wasn't quite what we were expecting.

2012 marked the passing of several loved ones, most notably my great uncle Larry and great grandmother Florence. You've probably heard of Larry; he was something of a sensation in 1974, getting as close to viral as you could back then being the pickle eating champion of Lower Caledonia County in 1974. He was taken in his sleep by very unfortunate stealth lobster attack. Great grandmother Florence lived until the ripe old age of 118. That would have been a good thing had she not been convinced she was a miniature poodle for the last decade.

Anyhoo, we hope you all have fantastic holidays and that your 2013s are filled with as many wonderful memories as our 2012 was.

* I realize that translates, loosely, to where's the bathroom but Mia's Klingon is far more advanced than mine.

The Cactus-Fish

Posted by Chris at 8:01 AM | Comments (11)

Haiku For Monday #435

Buttons popping off
pants is a bad way to start
a Monday morning.

Posted by Chris at 7:57 AM