April 30, 2013

Shoot Out The Lights

We were driving home from Target when a conversation - a civilized one, not one launched by "you're a butt" - broke out in the backseat.

Mia: My light's going out when I'm 18.
Owen: Really?
Mia: Yeah. But yours is going out when you're 16.
Owen: Why sixteen.
Mia: I don't know. But at 16 it's lights out for you.
Owen: I don't want my lights to go out.
Mia: Neither do I but I'm going to be in high school when mine do.
Owen: Will I be in high school too?
Mia: I don't know. Dad, will Owen be in high school when his lights go out?
Me: What? Whose lights are going out? What kind of morbid conversation is this?
Mia: What's morbid mean?
Owen: Yeah, what's morbid? And what about my lights?

Let's back up.

Earlier in the day Beth had gone on a whitewater rafting trip. It was me and the kids. Solo. I was officially outnumbered. So we went shopping for lamps. I know. I know how to treat the kids. Lamps. Woohoo!

Fast forward.

Positioned at a stoplight, I turn around to see just what these two morbid kids are talking about. As it turns out, Mia has the pack of lightbulbs I bought on her lap. The box reads, "Guaranteed for 11 years." They weren't being morbid at all. Just figuring out the next time they'd have to scam their dad for lightbulbs.

Posted by Chris at 8:19 AM | Comments (6)

April 29, 2013

Iain Banks

I have always loved to read.

When I was a kid, my dad handed me a stack of sci-fi novels and said here, read these. And I did and they were awesome. Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov...they changed my life. I became a reader. Like, for reals.

I continued to read through middle school and high school. In college, reading got sidetracked. I was forced to highlight textbooks and, though I flew through Crime & Punishment in a day, absorb "the classics." During my senior year in college, though, I stumbled upon this book that changed my reading life. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I bought it based on the cover. I know, you can't judge a book...

The book was The Bridge by Iain Banks. I knew nothing about Banks and had no strong feelings one way or the other about bridges but I bought it. Shortly after, I cracked the spine and started reading it. I don't believe I put it down until the final page. It was like nothing I'd read before and I was delirious when I finished. To recount even the most minor part of the story would ruin the whole thing. Suffice it to say that The Bridge rekindled my love of reading, prompted me to start my reading journal and opened my eyes to a whole new literary world.

I learned over the weekend that Iain Banks is dying. After discovering late-stage cancer, he has only a few months to live. Instead of mourning his inevitable demise, he ran off and married his "widow-in-waiting" and honeymooned in Venice and Paris. It's hard to believe (though I'm sure harder for him than me). This mysterious Scottish man who inspired my love of reading isn't long for this work and that, my friends, crushed me. While other authors have tried, no other writer has produced in me such a foundational response, painted such evocative pictures that stuck with me over time, and created a series of worlds which I'd so desperately like to visit.

Mr. Banks, I want to thank you. I've had Canal Dreams, walked down Espidair Street and The Crow Road, taken the Steep Approach To Garbadale, and been given The Business in The Wasp Factory. I've Considered Phelbas and examined The Player Of Games Against A Dark Background while Walking On Glass in the Stone Canal. And I will miss those journeys. I will miss them greatly. But I thank you for committing them to paper and ink so your imagination will live on.

Banks recently posted this on his site after reading his fans' reactions:

"Discovering the sheer extent and depth of the feelings people have expressed on the message board over the past two weeks has been truly astounding. I feel treasured, I feel loved, I feel I’ve done more than just pursue the craft I adore and make a living from it, and more than just fulfil the only real ambition I’ve ever had – of becoming a professional writer. I am deeply flattered and touched, and I can’t deny I’ve been made to feel very special indeed."

You are, Mr. Banks. You are.

Posted by Chris at 8:25 AM | Comments (1)

Haiku For Monday #450

Four hundred fifty
haikus? A lot of Mondays
and lots of 'kuage.

Posted by Chris at 8:20 AM

April 25, 2013

Disney: Days 5 & 6

Day 5: The Magic Kingdom (Part 2)

Yes, we did indeed return to the Magic Kingdom. As I mentioned earlier, it really is the happiest place on earth so why not go back? Those of us who dared ride rides mapped out a Park Engagement Plan the day before so we knew just where to go and what to do. By the end of the day we'd ridden Thunder Mountain (twice), Splash Mountain, It's A Small World, Peter Pan (five times), the Tomorrowland People Mover, Haunted Mansion, Pirates Of The Carribean, The Jungle Cruise, Swiss Family Treehouse, and the Tomorrowland Speedway. Somewhere in the middle of the day we squeezed in lunch with Winnie The Pooh and friends. Eventually Owen ran out of steam (actually, that happened sometime on Day 1) and he and Beth headed back to the hotel. Mia and I rode all the rides we could find, watched the nighttime electric parade and checked out the fireworks. We left the park 14 hours after we entered, exhausted. Only to wake up five hours later...

The Park: 5 out of 5 stars
The Food: 2 out of 5 stars
Sheer Awesomeness: 5 out of 5 stars
Overall: 12 out of 15 stars

The verdict: Even on the second day? Still magical.

Day 6: The Flight Of Terror

As I mentioned, I don't like to fly. I'm rather proud of myself, then, for not completely freaking out while waiting for, boarding or riding on a plane. I was given a pretty good excuse on the flight back. It was two solid hours of heavy turbulence, so heavy that the flight attendants weren't even allowed up. Since it was a massively windy day here in DC, the landing was worse. I'll just summarize it this way: there was some heavy barf bag restocking needed after everyone got off that plane.

The Wrap Up

The food. Food is tough, expecially when you've got a couple of picky kids and three vegetarians in the family. It was, for the most part, pretty good. Sit down lunches had the most variety while the "quick service" restaurants menus got incredibly repetitive after a few days.

The Cattle Complex. It's hard not to feel like a head of cattle going through the Disney ranch. You spend your day in lines. Sure, in April, most of them are short but there's still a line to get into the park, a line to have your bag inspected, a line to ride a ride, a line to get lunch, and a line to get onto a bus to take you back to your hotel. All that said, the way Disney is able to handle the logistics is absolultely amazing when you start to think about it. There's honestly no better way of handling the sheer volume of people.

The Experience. It's impossible not to have a good time, on some level, at Disney. I'm 40. I don't believe in magic or faries or talking mice. But a small part of me overcomes my natural cynicism and believes, if only for a second, that if there's a place on earth that's magic, it's this place.

And now you're caught up.

Posted by Chris at 7:26 AM | Comments (8)

April 24, 2013

Disney: Days 3 & 4

Yes, I'm still going with this multipart Disney thing. I'm going to blame the fact that I'm shellshocked by the Real World, so much so that this is all I can come up with. And the fact that you're completely emotionally invested in what happens next, I just know it.

Day 3: Animal Kingdom

I'm pretty sure that Animal Kingdom deserves the title of Most Gorgeous Amusement Park Ever. It's vast and breathtakingly cool. A quick walk gets you through the gates and from there you can trek to Africa or the Far East, head out on a safari or float down rapids. We did each of those things, rode a train, played with some smaller animals, and had lunch with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and Goofy. A lunch that was awesome and was accompanied by beer.

I guess the only downside to Aminal Kingdom is that if you're looking for a lot of stuff to ride, well, you're a little out of luck. There's the obligatory roller coaster (which both Beth and Mia gave a thumbs down), a pretty decent rapids ride, and some other assorted kids stuff but the main attraction really is the animals and the park itself.

The Park: 4 out of 5 stars
The Food: 5 out of 5 stars (bonus point for beer)
Sheer Awesomeness: 4 out of 5 stars
Overall: 13 out of 15 stars

The verdict: A lot to look at, a bit to learn but not a lot to do. Older kids will dig it more than younger kids and even then you'll get some eyerolls.

Day 4: Epcot

If the Magic Kingdom is the Place Where You Have Fun, Epcot is the Place Where You Learn Something. In other words, yawnsville. The park is divided in two. Part one features someone's view of the future from 1982. The second features a tour of the world via a stroll around a lake. The future looks predictably dated but the world is still pretty cool. Each kid had their favorite attractions. Mia loved the Spaceship Earth "ride" which takes you up into the giant sphere and drives you around while Judi Dench talks to you about the evolution of technology. Owen loved the playgrounds that dotted the park. The downside? There's just not a lot to keep kids - especially little ones - entertained. Tiny Eiffel Towers and miniature tea gardens are not what kids visiting Orlando wake up wanting to see.

The Park: 3 out of 5 stars
The Food: 4 out of 5 stars
Sheer Awesomeness: 3 out of 5 stars
Overall: 10 out of 15 stars

The verdict: Of all the parks, Epcot is the most sedate. We spent a whole day there. It's easy to do. More time than that, though, you'll be struggling to find something to do. On the plus side, it's a gorgeous park, there's a vast selection of food (and beer) and no end to cool stuff to see.

Posted by Chris at 7:12 AM | Comments (2)

April 23, 2013

Disney: Days 1 & 2

Day 1: Bumpy flight, Hollywood Studios

Our trip to Florida was notable for a couple of reasons. It was, for example, the first time the four of us were destined to spend five nights in a single room. All four of us came back on the plane so apparently it wasn't tragically bad. Perhaps the most notable was the fact that it was the kids' first time on a plane. We tried to prep them for what they were going to experience, going so far as to simulate takeoff in a local restaurant which drew the attention of some fellow diners. Oops. Not a fan of flying myself, I found this to be the perfect example of Putting On A Brave Face. I also found it to be a perfect example of Taking Xanax In The Morning. Regardless, the kids did fine despite the rather bumpy flight. We arrived in Orlando to warmth and humidity, cockroaches the size of Volkswagens, and Spanish moss which makes me miss living in the south.

We caught a Disney bus to our hotel - Port Orleans French Quarter - checked in quickly, dropped our stuff off in our room and headed to Hollywood Studios.

Our plans immediately hit a snag. Owen was overwhelmed. Who wouldn't be? But the size and scale pushed some buttons I didn't know Owen had. He was terrified of every ride, forced us to get a stroller, and spent most of the day being pushed around. The rest of us enjoyed ourselves. It was the perfect place to spend half a day getting used to the Disney experience.

The Park: 2 out of 5 stars
The Food: 2 out 5 stars
Sheer Awesomeness: 2 out of 5 stars
Overall: 6/15

The verdict: Hollywood Studios looked cool but didn't really deliver on its promise of awesomeness. The whole thing was supposed to be like a Hollywood backlot. And, sadly, that's what it felt like. There were brushes with greatness - the giant Mickey/Fantasia hat in the center of the park, the giant AT-AT outside the Star Wars ride - but there just wasn't a lot of depth to the park. At the end of the day we were pretty happy we'd picked this park to spend the least time at.

Day 2: The Magic Kingdom (Part 1)

If you walk into the Magic Kingdom, pass through the gates and gaze upon Main Street USA, catching sight of Cinderella's Castle and aren't in a little bit of awe, you don't have a soul. I love the Magic Kingdom. I prepared the kids to be in awe. And as soon as they walked through the gates, they were. Watching both of their minds get blown simulatenously was pretty awesome.

The girls made a beeline for Space Mountain while Owen and I took in the park. I lobbied hard for It's A Small World which I realize is totally cheesy but love with all my heart. Owen lobbied against any ride that had any hint of darkness. The struggle continued.

The Magic Kingdom, as an adult, lived up to my memories of it as a kid. Sure, I don't remember seeing ceiling tiles and exit signs in It's A Small World when I was 10 but, hey, the magic - or at least the spark of it - is still there.

When all was said and done, we left tired and hungry with a long list of things we wanted to do when we returned to the Magic Kingdom on Day 4.

The Park: 5 out of 5 stars
The Food: 2 out of 5 stars
Sheer Awesomeness: 5 out of 5 stars
Overall: 12 out of 15 stars

The verdict: It really is the happiest place on earth. I shit you not.

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

April 22, 2013

Disney: The Introduction

If you're a parent, the most important trip you'll ever take with your kids is to Disney. The only exception to this rule is if you have a dying aunt in Detroit who demands that you and your kids be bedside upon her death at which point she'll give you $2.5 million. Disney is pretty much the mecca for kids and their parents. It's a result of shrewd marketing, pretty decent entertainment output, and sheer quality. But mostly shrewd marketing. (And, for the record, I was in no way compensated for saying this or writing about Disney. Which kinda sucks considering just how much I dropped there. Disney marketing people take notice.)

Last week, Beth and I packed up the kids and headed to Florida for our first family pilgrimage to Disney World. At a 30,000 foot level (our cruising altitude), it went a little something like this:

Day 1: Bumpy flight, Hollywood Studios
Day 2: The Magic Kingdom, Part 1
Day 3: Animal Kingdom
Day 4: Epcot
Day 5: The Magic Kingdom, Part 2
Day 6: 5:00 AM start, Flight From Hell (TM), Kiss The Ground, Home

I'll spell it all out over the next few days but suffice it to say we had a great time. But we're glad to be home. And exhausted. I mean, seriously exhausted. Do you think Disney offers vacation packages to recover from previous Disney vacations?

Posted by Chris at 7:36 AM | Comments (3)

Haiku For Monday #449

Reality bites.
It's back to reality.
Like I said, it bites.

Posted by Chris at 7:06 AM

April 12, 2013

The Weeklies #252

The Weekly Season. Summer. We seem to have skipped spring. We're no sissies but the AC has already been flipped on.

The Weekly Country That Acts Like My Drunk Uncle Frank. North Korea.

The Weekly Confession. I don't have a drunk uncle Frank. If I did, though, he'd act a lot like North Korea.

The Weekly Read. I am NOT a comic book fan. The only ones I've read are the ones that Owen begged me to buy. And one of the Star Wars comic books that explained the origins of the Jedi. Earlier this week I got a free digital copy of The Walking Dead. Big fan of the show, I downloaded it. It was pretty great. Since the series meticulously followed the comic book, I knew what was coming but it was nice to see where the show came from.

The Weekly Music. Not really music, per se, but Mia is absolutely addicted to old-time radio shows. She's blown through a thousand (literally) old episodes of Superman and has moved on to The Shadow.

The Weekly Hint. If you love old stuff, preferably bad old sci-fi movies and radio shows which are not currently under copyright, you'd be well-served to head over to the Internet Archive, a home for all kinds of wonderful old things.

The Weekly TV. Mad Men is back. And just in time, since we just finished the last season. If Don Draper isn't one of the greatest character studies on TV, I don't know who is.

The Weekly Question. If you could have the voice of one singer, who would it be?

Posted by Chris at 7:49 AM | Comments (11)

April 11, 2013

Situational Awareness

I kinda think I'm psychic. Stop laughing. I'm serious. Maybe. Shut up. Two events got me thinking about this.

Episode One: The other day Owen and I were walking down the stairs. As we reached the halfway point, I started thinking about what would happen if Owen fell down the stairs before we reached the bottom. A split second later he did exactly that. He stumbled and fell down the steps. Luckily he flung an arm up as soon as he felt the steps come out from under him. I grabbed it and pulled him out of the fall.

Episode Two: I was in the local grocery store buying beer because that's what I buy when I go to grocery stores. I went with a half case of my old favorite, a beer that's lovingly packed in nice thick green cardboard boxes. As I was reching for the box, the thought crossed my mind, I wonder what would happen if one of these boxes fell apart as I was picking it up. And sure enough that's exactly what happened. Bottles went everywhere spiraling out of control as their seals were broken.

Okay, I don't honestly think I'm psychic. I'm calling it great situational awareness. Still, ever since I was a kid I got vibes off of people. I could tell when someone was bad - really up to no good - when I'd get chills a few seconds after passing close to them. Maybe this is no different. Maybe I'm just fine tuned to people. Maybe I was born over an Indian burial ground.

Posted by Chris at 7:55 AM | Comments (3)

April 9, 2013

High Anxiety

I don't like to fly. I'm not sure why. Part of me thinks it's the loss of control. Another part is just convinced that being locked into a metal cylinder, hurtling through the clouds at a few hundred miles an hour is a bad idea. But unless you feel like driving for hours - and knowing full well that driving isn't the best option when encountering vast oceans - sometimes you've just got to suck it up and do it.

I'm getting on a plane in a bit. And my kids are getting on it too. It's their first flight.

It's a morning flight and we're flying first class so I'm hoping that the inevitable mimosa will help cut through the anxiety. That and the Xanax. And the fact that it's an adventure we're all taking together.

Posted by Chris at 7:31 AM | Comments (13)

April 8, 2013

Baseball, A Getaway, and Jungle Reclamation

I'm not gonna lie. I'm exhausted. This weekend consisted of many things, included among them were two baseball practices, a brief romantic getaway and extreme gardening.

Baseball Practices. Both Owen and Mia are playing baseball this spring. More accurately, Mia is playing baseball while Owen is playing t-ball. And Beth is coaching Owen's team. Owen is not convinced that baseball is the most awesome thing ever. Mia, however, is a natural and kicks total ass.

Romantic Getaway. After all the baseball, Beth and I drove about an hour to small town Virginia, stayed in a nice hotel and had a wonderful meal. Then we slept in yesterday morning to the point at which it felt very wrong to both of us. We then got up and drove home. It was a nice and much-needed interlude.

Extreme gardening. We have quite a yard. It was what sold the house, honestly. And it should have since the previous owners were retirees and master gardeners. We've spent the last five years trying to keep it from falling apart and failing miserably. So we've taken out trees, removed large beds that become a haven for weeds, and, this weekend, we wandered through all the woods and chopped down the various vines that have threatened to take over our yard, our house and, potentially, our children. Really, what we needed was napalm but sadly they don't sell any at Home Depot.

Now I have an extra full day in front of me, I'm covered in cuts and scratches, my knee isn't really working to its full potential, and I'd like to escape again to small town Virginia. Ain't gonna happen.

Posted by Chris at 7:15 AM

Haiku For Monday #448

Oh Don Draper, or
is it Dick Whitman? You're so
good and so bad. Huh.

Posted by Chris at 7:05 AM

April 5, 2013

The Weeklies #251

The Weekly Activity. Waiting.

The Weekly Tragic Loss. Roger Ebert.

The Weekly Read. On Monday, Mia picked up a copy of the first Harry Potter novel. She finished it last night and immediately picked up the second one. She's seven. I thought that was a pretty impressive.

The Weekly Country That's Getting On My Nerves. North Korea.

The Weekly TV. The Brady Bunch, as I mentioned yesterday, Grey's Anatomy and The Walking Dead. We stream stuff instead of watch anything from cable these days. Which is why we ended up with a DVR full of the entire season to date, unwatched, of Grey's Anatomy. Sure, the show jumped the shark years ago but I have to admit I like this season's story arc and it's comment on modern medicine. As for The Walking Dead, well, damn awesome as always...and now we have to wait for more.

The Weekly Music. A couple weeks back I praised Biffy Clyro's Opposites, an album I think is destined to top the list of best albums of 2013. Working backwards, I discovered their previous release, Only Revolutions. While not quite as strong as Opposites, it's a seriously fantastic album. If you haven't checked out these guys, do yourself a favor.

The Weekly Diet. High protein, no beer (on school nights). Part of it is kinda awesome. Part of it, not so much.

The Weekly Question. What book are you reading right now?

Posted by Chris at 8:09 AM | Comments (13)

April 4, 2013


I love stuff, primarily pop culture stuff, that most people think is just jive. An awesome day for me would consist of a Love Boat marathon followed by an evening of Zima and yacht rock. (And if you don't understand any element of that last sentence, I really don't want to hear about it.) My love of all things jive is what led me to introduce my kids to The Brady Bunch.

With the possible exception of the short-lived sitcom Small Wonder and the unexplainable phenomenon that was Bananarama, The Brady Bunch is perhaps the jivest thing ever. It's silly, it's hopelessly optimistic, and it's unrealistically nice. Which is why I love it, and why my kids fell in love with it instantly. As soon as the theme song came on - the ubiquitous piece of music the lyrics to which I'm positive 95% of you can sing for me right now, about the lovely lady, the very lovely girls, the man named Brady, the three men, the hunch and the bunch - they were entranced. And so was I.

Thing is, it was kind of brave for it's time. Here was a television show founded on the premise of a blended family, with grown ups who slept in the same bed (eat your hearts out, Lucy and Ricky), who invited African Americans to their wedding in the late sixties. Sure, every episode was founded on some sort of life lesson - it doesn't matter what color your hair is, tattling is bad, don't blame innocent siblings for your own mistakes, Davy Jones is dreamy - but they weren't exactly bad lessons to remind kids (and adults) of back then. Or now.

After that experiment, I now find myself owning all five seasons of the Brady Bunch. Despite the fact that they're jive, I'm looking forward to watching all of them with my kids. Even the ones with Cousin Oliver. As I recall that kid was kind of a douchebag.

Posted by Chris at 7:40 AM | Comments (5)

April 2, 2013


I know I've seemed more than a bit distracted. That's because I've got a pretty big announcement to make. See, while I was half-assing all those entires over the past year, I was putting some extra time into writing a book. Pricked will be released on May 6th via the Grand Central Publishing imprint of the Hachette Book Group.

John Copley - office dweller and civil war reenactor - has had enough. Blogging for years, he's attracted more trolls than Bilbo Baggins. Armed only with an iPhone, an emaciated DeviantArt-loving goth sidekick, and a semi-imaginary robot monkey, Copley is taking the net into his own hands one asshat at a time.

Pricked- brainchild of popular blogger Chris Cactus - is a riotous send-up of everything 21st century with just enough one-liners, sex, and kneecapping to keep even the most boring person engaged. Think of it as Life Of Pi without all those pesky decimal places. Or the boat.

Blurbs include:

"I laughed until I sprained something then cried at the sheer brilliance of this magical book." - Marshall Karp, author of The Rabbit Factory and co-author (with James Patterson) of NYPD Red.

"After ten years of blogging, Mr. Cactus finally brings you something that'll take you longer than your average bathroom visit to read. Most of you, anyway." - Jeff Parks, author's neighbor.

"Look, all I know is that he wanted a car. So I sold him a car. I don't know what to make of this book thing." Kevin Malone, minivan salesman at Hargrave's Honda.

So there you have it - the next step in my ever-expanding quest for world domination. Or just some serious fame and cash.

Seriously, it would have been too obvious had I done this on April Fool's Day. I've been half-assing for years. No excuses.

Posted by Chris at 7:19 AM | Comments (5)

April 1, 2013

The Spring Break Recap

Pardon my absence. I was enjoying my kids and taking advantage of their time off. I confirmed what I already knew - they're pretty awesome little people, too smart for their own good, and always good for a laugh (or eight).

Over the past seven days, I've:

- Visited three museums
- Climbed through a three-story playground more times that I can possibly count
- Had my makeup done by two very enthusiastic young makeup artists
- Seen a vast array of former presidents done in wax
- Caught up on an entire and oddly compelling season of Grey's Anatomy, which I'd written off long ago
- Explained Easter and the Holocaust to my daughter
- Consumed many beers
- Introduced my kids to The Brady Bunch
- Hidden eggs way too early on a cold, dark Easter morning
- Adopted a brand new eating philosophy
- Performed hours of much needed backyard maintenance
- Watched several awesomely bad sci-fi b-movies
- Taught myself various Pink Floyd songs on the guitar

...and now I'm back at work, slightly exhausted and a little dismayed at the return to some sort of structure. It's probably how my kids are feeling right about now too. But I miss them already.

Posted by Chris at 7:33 AM | Comments (3)

Haiku For Monday #447

The problem I have
with vacations is that they
end. Goodbye spring break.

Posted by Chris at 7:17 AM