May 29, 2013

Losing My Religion

When my friend Alektra commented on my book-slash-movie post yesterday it triggered a random thought. Her comment wasn't so much about books being turned into movies but, instead, religion. It sounds random but I see how she got there. Anyway, I had this bizarre thought.

Despite my atheistic/agnostic beliefs, the more my kids reject a higher power, the more I try to expose them to religion.

I've never been a religious guy. I went to a private Baptist elementary school that scared the Jesus right out of me never to return. What I learned from that experience was that God loves rich white people who are willing to donate to a mega-church with bowling alleys. I know - I promise you that I really, really know - that isn't true but when you're in fourth grade, transitioning to a public school and realize that you've a) never been in a school with a black kid and b) memorized bible verses instead of learning math - any math at all - you'd be a little emotionally scarred too.

I am, I acknowledge, something of a spiritual lost cause. And I'm okay with that. But I don't want it to impact my kids.

So, yes, the more I distance myself from religion, the more I encourage my kids to explore it. It might sound counter-intuitive but they need to appreciate all religions and make decisions for themselves. Perhaps I'm overcompensating for the fact that I have a seven year old vegetarian who, I venture to guess, would be eating steak if her parents did.

Regardless, my kids' religion isn't my decision to make. They can understand my beliefs, widen the lenses through which they view the world, experience others, and make their own decisions.

They will not believe, however, that God only loves rich white people. I'd sooner they become steak eating satan worshipers.

Posted by Chris at 7:08 AM | Comments (4)

May 28, 2013

The Book vs The Movie

We have a rule in our house. If you want to see a movie based on a book, you need to read the book first. Sure, it's somewhat unevenly applied to the kids but we think it's important that they read whatever they can, when they can.

We watched Silver Linings Playbook this weekend. It was fine, okay but not great. And I think it's because both Beth and I read and loved the novel. No spoilers but if you've read the book you know that there are some fundamental differences between the book and the movie. Those differences were critical to the story being powerful. Sure, the acting was good and might be worthy of the awards the actors won but the story itself was far less poignant than it could have been if the screenwriters stuck to the original.

That got me thinking about other book-to-movie translations and whether they'd succeeded or failed. It was a mixed bag.

Harry Potter. As dictated by our rule, Mia plowed through the first three Harry Potter novels and demanded to see the first movie. We gladly complied on a night when Owen stayed with his grandparents and Mia was delighted. While the language and personally-invested imagination can't be replicated in the movies, they do a great job capturing the magic of the novels.

Stephen King. Most Stephen King stories are better books than movies though I'll admit to consuming far more Stephen King movies than novels. That said, there is no more terrifying movie than The Shining and the film version, in my mind, is superior to the novel.

Jack Reacher. I refuse to see Jack Reacher. I love the Lee Child series of Reacher novels but Tom Cruise is and will always be the wrong choice for the title role and I'd prefer not to ruin the character as he exists in my head.

Fletch. I have a soft spot in my heart for Chevy Chase and I'll admit that I liked the Fletch movies just as much as I liked the corresponding series of novels. They had different senses of humor but both were fun.

John Grisham. Movies adapted from John Grisham novels are similar. They're fun in that legal thriller sense and easy to digest as beach books or escapist film.

Bond, James Bond. The James Bond novels are vastly overrated and I truly believe the movies - well, most of them - to be superior to the original material. The Bond novels are interesting as historical documents that describe the 50's idea of male-dominated macho awesomeness but they're also fundamentally boring. I've read most of them. I thought several of them were passable but a few were incredibly slow and space-time continuum defying given the extreme amount of time they took to complete in spite of their sub-200 page count.

Narnia. Speaking of slow books, the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis was a favorite of mine when I was a kid. I've gone back to read them with my kids and I have to admit that my kids find them boring. Not so with the movies. Of the three made to date, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is the best, adapting the original novel so faithfully that I realized just what it was about those original stories that was so great.

What's your take? And what are the best and worst book adaptations?

Posted by Chris at 7:40 AM | Comments (14)

May 24, 2013

The Weeklies #255

The Weekly Milestone. My son is officially done with preschool as of today. Next stop kindergarten.

The Weekly Half Good News. The Boy Scouts of America decided to allow gay kids into their ranks. Unfortunately the same standard doesn't apply to gay adults. Two steps forward...

The Weekly Entirely Good News. No surgery for Beth. Just another month in the boot.

The Weekly App for Kids. BrainPop

The Weekly App for Adults. Dots

The Weekly Read. This week I tackled Tall Weeds after hearing an ad for it on my favorite podcast (The Mike O'Meara Show). It was $2 on Amazon so why not. It's the somewhat twisted tale of Yugoslavia in the 90s and a treasure hunt left over from the earlier Nazi invasion. It sounds outlandish and it kind of is but it's great escapist fiction and worth a couple of bucks.

The Weekly Question. What are your plans for the long Memorial Day weekend?

Posted by Chris at 7:14 AM | Comments (4)

May 23, 2013

For Those About To Rock...Look Somewhere Else

I know a thing or two about making poor style choices. Need proof? My yearbook picture - featuring a young, bemulleted Rude Cactus on the cusp of entering the world as an adult - was recently featured on The Chive's list of "Yearbook Photos So Wrong They're Almost Right. I'm so proud. Bet my mom is too.

There are others, though, who've made similarly bad choices and many of them have committed their terrible judgement not to yearbook photos but to album covers.

Exhibit A:

We can all agree that mullets don't belong on album covers any more than they belong in yearbook photos, right? And surely I'm not the only one who finds it odd that a creepy old lady wearing a white dress has her hand up a dummy's ass. I can't imagine what that album sounds like. A tragic accident was captured in this collection as well. That poor midget getting crushed to death by a harp after getting all dressed up. My favorite? Clown boobs.

Exhibit B:

Here we see Borat before there was a Borat and have real, tangible evidence of the fact that sci-fi themed album covers are generally a terrible idea. We also have what I assume to be a masked swinger, a dork who's clearly never seen a phone before, well-dressed guys on acid who think an animated satan is real and a guy who seems a little too fond of a dove. Fly away, dove! Fly away now!

Posted by Chris at 7:13 AM | Comments (6)

May 22, 2013

Barbershop Alternatives

It's hard being five and every bit of that toughness is showing in Owen these days. He's a wonderful, lovable and kind child but he's also a veteran button pusher. And he's taken great delight in pushing every button we have over the last few weeks.

We push back.

Yesterday, after taking my wife to have an x-ray (no surgery, yay!) and picking Owen up from school, the three of us went to lunch. We just happened to be next to his barber so we encouraged him to get a much needed trim. He yelled at us and told us that haircuts are stupid. Since we'd only just had the idea and he doesn't have Don King hair yet, we didn't put up a fight. But we did give him several alternatives.

1. Dad can cut his hair. I did it about a year ago. His hair looked awful and though we didn't think that part of his ear would grow back, it did.

2. Mia can cut his hair. Since Owen's pulled hers numerous times, I'm pretty sure she'd love a shot at it. Though I'm confident someone would end up in the hospital.

3. Waxing. No explanation needed. Not a pretty picture.

4. Monkeys with lasers. We'll arm a cadre of monkeys with lasers and they can go to town. I mean, monkeys with lasers? How cool is that?

While he seemed pretty intrigued with the whole monkey-laser thing, I'm pretty sure he's going to decide that a barber is his best bet.

Posted by Chris at 8:21 AM

May 21, 2013

Got News Feed?

Are you laboring under the illusion that I've stopped posting? Is your newsreader witholding my latest and greatest thoughts? Yeah, that's what I thought. It seems that I've developed a glitch. While I fix it, please point your news readers to and I'm sure the rest will be taken care of by the magic that is modern technology.

Thanks bunches.

Posted by Chris at 8:14 AM | Comments (2)

May 20, 2013

Wet Balls

It was a big baseball weekend here at Cactus-Fish headquarters. Both kids are in the middle of their respective seasons, both of which have games scheduled for Saturdays. Mia plays machie-pitch, the machine closely resembling some medieval torture device designed to hurl rocks at witches. Luckily, Mia's got a wicked strong swing and an insane arm so she can look after herself. Owen plays t-ball which would be fine if a) Beth wasn't the coach and b) Beth had two fully functional feet.

If you're on the East Coast, you're probably thinking "hey, it rained all day Saturday so they couldn't have played." But we did. Mia's game actually took place during the two hours of heaviest rain that day. Thirty kids played like pros in pouring rain and though Mia's team didn't win (honestly, one of the rare times they didn't), they were awesome. No one complained.

Owen's game was a little weird too in that the other team didn't show up. We're guessing that some wimpy coach told their team the game was cancelled and didn't bother to inform anyone else. So Owen's team played against all the parents who brought them. It was pretty awesome considering that every single parent played and, seemingly, had fun.

I know there are horror stories about team sports and the participants' parents and domineering coaches. I'm lucky that I have yet to see any evidence. In fact, I've seen the exact opposite - parents who are interested in their kid's activities and coaches who do their best to teach and have fun.

Still, wet balls are no fun.

Posted by Chris at 8:20 AM | Comments (2)

Haiku For Monday #452

Getting the kids out
is often much harder than
it really should be.

Posted by Chris at 8:17 AM

May 17, 2013

The Weeklies #254

The Weekly Affliction. Broken foot.

The Weekly Food Nationality. Chinese.

The Weekly Read. I love Chris Grabenstein. His novels might not be the most wonderful ever written but his John Ceepak series is much fun. Hell Hole was no different. Summer in a seaside resort town on the Jersey Shore, a military conspiracy, and a bunch of Springsteen tunes. It doesn't get much better than that. When I truly love a series of novels I find myself doing my absolute best to take them slowly so I don't run out before the next installment hits the shelves. And though Grabenstein just released a new one, that's exactly how I feel about these.

The Weekly TV. I honestly can't decide if I like Game Of Thrones or not. Six episodes in and the jury's still out.

The Weekly Music. If you took the polish of Coldplay, the emotional bite of Snow Patrol and the swagger of The Killers and put them all together, you'd probably end up with something that sounded a whole lot like Imagine Dragons as evidenced by Night Visions. I realize I'm late to the party on these guys but I caught their single Radioactive on the radio the other day and was a little bit hooked. Imagine Dragons are big, and I'm not just talking about their success. They've got big anthems, big beats and big ideas. And I respect them for that. The problem? I wish that Imagine Dragons was a little bigger than the sum of their Coldplay, Snow Patrol and Killers parts. Though I like the album I occasionally found myself wishing it was just a little less derivative and a little more interesting.

The Weekly Movie. Young Adult. What an awkward, uncomfortable film. I mean that in a good way. And, sure, Charlize Theron was great but Patton Oswalt stole the show.

The Weekly Question. What are you most looking forward to this summer?

Posted by Chris at 7:23 AM | Comments (2)

May 16, 2013


We have an awesome backyard, made all that more awesome by the fact that we seem to tame it just a little more each spring. By time we're 80, we'll get it just the way we want it. In the mean time, our kids are vastly entertained by the ecosystem we seem to have inherited.

Robins. We have two robins, one male and one female, who have a nest high in our cherry tree. They have two, maybe three, robin chicks. They're protective parents. They chase anything and everything away including Owen. When one makes food runs the other jumps into the nest and tends to the chicks.

Mockingbirds. Though Owen insists that they're called knockingbirds, we have a pair who have just started their lives together. They're apparently quite wealthy since they're currently creating two nests, one in a short evergreen bush, the other in a rosebush. The mockingbirds take issue with the robins' territorial leanings.

Frogs. After staring as eggs and turning into oddly alien-looking tadpoles, our frogs have returned to our pond. The nights are punctuated by sexy frog mating calls and when we approach the pond we are immediately warned by the biggest and loudest frog that it is his pond we're approaching.

Fish. Our fish weathered the winter and bred in abundance. They're gigantic and their numbers are kept in check only by the blue heron that occasionally visits our pond then looks slightly guilty (yet well-fed) when we catch him in our yard.

Rabbits. We've only spied one rabbit but it is gigantic and where there is one gigantic rabbit there are surely more. This is a nice surprise since the last time we saw rabbits in the yard was the day we put an offer in on the house. As we pulled out of the driveway that day, five little bunnies scurried away. We thought they were strategically placed by the owners.

Deer. Every couple of nights a mom deer and three fawns stroll through our lawn looking for something good to eat. If they make it past the militant frogs and the protective birds, they might make it to our hostas which have deer size bites taken out of them.

I swear, one day Mia's going to go into the backyard and sing and all the animals will crowd around her like our own personal Disney movie.

Posted by Chris at 8:49 AM | Comments (3)

May 15, 2013

Photo For Wednesday #1

With Beth sidelined, the kids have been forcibly drafted into more chores than normal. What they don't know is that there's no going back.

Mother's Day dinner cleanup.

Also, Owen recently fell in love with a fedora. Like chores, wearing the fedora is something we're encouraging.

Posted by Chris at 7:40 AM | Comments (3)

May 14, 2013

Damn You, Sheryl Crow!

Owen likes rock and roll. Mia does not, or so she claims. I like long-winded progressive rock. Beth does not. This makes choosing acceptable music in the car something of a challenge. The kids and I went out over the weekend to hit the grocery store and score some cleaning supplies at Target (yes, we live the life of glamour). We were finally able to arrive at some acceptable listening material. Though there was a price.

Owen: Play some rock and roll.
Mia: No! Well, only if there's a girl singer.
Me: Okay, you guys will like this.
Owen: Is it a girl rock and roller?
Me: Yes, it's Sheryl Crow singing about Steve McQueen.
Sheryl: Like Steve McQueen/All I need's a fast machine/I'm gonna make it all right
Mia: Who's Steve McQueen?
Me: Famous actor from a long time ago.
Owen: Was he related to Lightening McQueen?
Me: Kinda. After a fashion.
Sheryl: I ain't takin' shit off no one/Baby that was yesterday
Mia: Daddy, what did she just say?
Owen: Yeah, what'd she mean?
Me: I, uh, didn't hear anything.
Mia: She said spit.
Owen: Yeah, spit.
Me: Oh, um, yeah. Must have been. That's not very ladylike.
Sheryl: We got rockstars in the White House/All our popstars look like porn
Me: Hey, let's listen to the next song!

...time passes

Mia: Daddy, who's Mister Brownstone?
Owen: And why won't he leave the singing guy alone?
Me: Let's listen to something else? How 'bout smooth jazz. Kenny G is like the Jimi Hendrix of smooth jazz.

Posted by Chris at 7:19 AM | Comments (4)

May 13, 2013

The Good Outnumber You

Shit has happened since I last came up for air. Sure, I've been around but between Disney and work and breaking feet it's been all I can do to keep my head above water lately. But surely you knew that since my five-day-a-week posting dwindled.

Like I said, shit has happened.

North Korea. Boston. The Castro Kidnappings. The Arias verdict. I got down for a while. And then, I read this from one of my favorite people and former neighbor Patton Oswalt*.

Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, "Well, I've had it with humanity."

But I was wrong. I don't know what's going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here's what I DO know. If it's one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

It's true, you know. The good outnumber the bad. They always will. And knowing that helps.

* Also, I watched Young Adult this weekend. Patton goes toe to toe with Charlize Theron and single-handedly made the movie.

Posted by Chris at 7:30 AM | Comments (3)

Haiku For Monday #451

Seriously, how
do you solve a problem like
Maria? Thoughts please?

Posted by Chris at 7:06 AM | Comments (1)

May 9, 2013


As I mentioned day before yesterday, Beth is couch-bound (which sounds like a great band name for agoraphobics). She's not happy about this. Pissed would more aptly describe her state of mind. That and bored. See, she doesn't do sitting around all that well but in an effort to avoid surgery, she's willing to give it a shot.

The last two days have been all about juggling. Juggling school drop off and pick up, juggling baseball practice, juggling chores. Lots of juggling. I guess what I want to know is how any of you single parents manage to pull this off. Sure, my wife is immobile but I'm not single and it's still hard. Hats off to you.

I can't believe I did this to myself and have to just sit around.
Speaking of which, sit back down and let me fold the napkins.
I'm an invalid not an idiot.
I think you got that the wrong way around.
Oh. Yeah.

Meanwhile, any of you know a good maid service? I'd try to clean but I'd do it wrong.

Posted by Chris at 7:27 AM | Comments (3)

May 7, 2013

Overcome By Events

O.B.E. Overcome by events. This is a perfect way to describe the weekend.

On Thursday I started to feel some tooth pain. It just suddenly started, like Kirk, Spock and Scotty materializing on some strange planet. It was just there. I made myself a deal. If it was still there Friday, I'd go to the dentist. It was, and I did. I got a referral to an endodontist for what looked like a failing 10 year old root canal and some meds for the pain and infection if I needed them. My body lulled me into a false sense of security. On Friday afternoon I felt fine. Friday evening, though, was a different story. I felt such a blinding pain that I almost fell down (and almost cried, but, shhh). And it never got better. Saturday morning was worse. I filled my prescriptions and hoped for the best. By mid-day, pacing around my kids' baseball games, I called the dentist again. Got new advice. Was miserable. Over the last 72 hours I've taken 6800 milligrams of Motrin and 5500 milligrams of Amoxycillin. Things are better. And what I've got isn't a problem with my teeth at all. It's a massive sinus infection combined with a ten year old root canal that's suddenly decide to let me down.

Just as I was starting to emerge from my shroud of pain, Beth took a big trip down a small flight of steps and quickly rendered herself immobile. She limped around the bulk of the day, claiming it kinda hurt. First thing Monday, after we'd taken the kids to school, I took Beth to the doctor. Then another doctor. Then another doctor. The three came to a verdict. Beth broke her foot. She was fitted for a sexy boot and given some crutches and ordered not to move for, like, ever. Or at least two weeks.

Say what you want - we're old, we're falling apart, we're a little bit clumsy - but at least we have good timing. It's kinda like that rule that not all members of the cabinet are present at the State Of The Union in case the Capital gets blown up. You should always have at least one fully functional parent at any given moment.

Posted by Chris at 7:39 AM | Comments (5)

May 3, 2013

The Weeklies #253

The Weekly International Food. Ceviche. Mall ceviche.

The Weekly Cool Guy Awesomeness. I'm a big Warren Buffett fan (and by typing that I'm secretly hoping that he gives me a million dollars for being awesome). He joined Twitter this week. His first Tweet? Warren is in the house.

The Weekly Band Name. Gary Busey Amber Alert.

The Weekly Read. I read Bossypants by Tina Fey. I like Tina Fey, really I do. But I didn't think Bossypants was anything to write home about (as if anyone actually writes home anymore. I think it's because I don't have a vagina. I don't mean that as a sexist statement. I just think it's a book that's easier to relate to if you are a woman. Or like 30 Rock which I never found funny.

The Weekly Amazon Review Awesomeness. Amazon reviews are often awesome. This week, an awesome slew of reviews targets How To Avoid Huge Ships. As one reviewer put it:

As the father of two teenagers, I found this book invaluable. I'm sure other parents here can empathize when I say I shudder at the thought of the increasing influence and presence of huge ships in the lives my children. I certainly remember the strain I caused so long ago for my own parents when I began experimenting with huge ships.


Being a ship of small stature (a "boat" if truth be told), I am quite disappointed in the amount of attention being given to huge ships. Although huge ships are... well... huge, they represent only a small percent of watercraft (less than 1%, actually). We boats (a necessary, but decidedly derogatory, term) represent both the majority of watercraft, as well as the true diversity of watercraft.

The Weekly State. Rhode Island, for that awesome gay marriage move.

The Weekly Music. Did you know that Fleetwood Mac just put out its first new material in 10 years? I know, I didn't care either. Then I listened to it and I didn't care even more. I've never been a huge fan but I do think that when a time-honored band like Fleetwood Mac releases something new, it deserves some attention. Their latest - a four song EP called Extended Play (get it?) - didn't. I don't really know how to describe it. It sounded like unfinished demos by some hipster alternative band complete with off-key vocals and jangly guitars. If that sounds good to you, have at it.

The Weekly Spam. I received an email yesterday encouraging me to grow my presence on Twitter. I usually receive email offers about growing other things. It was refreshing.

Posted by Chris at 7:57 AM | Comments (1)

May 2, 2013

Churros, Meth and 142 Hours At The Mall

Parenting is hard. Some days you're confronted by all sorts of horrors, like mall playgrounds, meth pillows and ceviche. The following is a real, unedited transcript of a recent text conversation between me and my lovely (and hilarious) wife.

Beth: Have been at the mall with Owen for 142 hours. I'm starting to seriously consider buying a $60 pillow. This is what happens when I sit outside of Brookstone for 142 hours. I have decided to annoy you instead.
Chris: That works.
Beth: Took him to buy shirts. Of the 8 he picked six have skulls on them. I had to talk him out of girl socks.
Chris: Good call.
Beth: Do you want to infuse your water by the way. I don't know what that means but Brookstone is pretty excited about it.
Chris: Yes. I do. I really, really do.
Beth: Owen has been playing with the same little girl for an hour which is very sweet but I'm losing the will to live.
Chris: Don't die at the mall. That's a shitty way to go.
Beth: I can tell you about Bueno Fresh too if you'd like. Would you like a churro?
Chris: What the fuck is Bueno Fresh?
Beth: It's next to Brookstone and clearly you do not spend enough time at the mall playground. Anyway, churro?
Chris: Yes, curro please.
Beth: Coming right up as soon as I buy my $60 pillow.
Chris: Why, precisely, is it so expensive?
Beth: I have no idea. Stuffed with meth? How much does meth cost? Am so out of touch.
Chris: Gotta be really cheap meth.
Beth: Never mind then. If I'm buying a pillow stuffed with meth, I want it to be good meth. Meanwhile, on the playground, Iron Man, Spider Man and Superman are playing together.
Chris: That would never happen. Two are Marvel and one is DC.
Beth: These kids are never getting into college.
Chris: Did the churro place replace the coffee place?
Beth: Yep. Such a shame since I have no immediate need for a churro but would love a cup of coffee. And also, I have not seen a single person set foot in Bueno Fresh in the entire 142 hours I've been sitting here.
Chris: That can't be good. Some sort of churro depression.
Beth: Hey, and ceviche. Mall ceviche is the best.
Chris: Only thing better than mall ceviche is mall meth. In a pillow.

Posted by Chris at 7:04 AM | Comments (4)