Thursday, January 29, 2009

Robinson Crusoe

And now for an extremely rare mid-week post:

So I was intrigued when I read about "Literacy Thursdays" on Jennifer's blog. Jennifer is my high school buddy Stephen's wife, who I have not yet actually met (it's complex). The idea is to write about your favorite children's book and link to her blog.

So I had two book ideas, The Once and Future King by T. H. White and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. I've only read TOAFK once, and was utterly blown away, but it's been awhile, and I didn't think I'd do it justice. If your library card is burning a hole in your pocket, you will under no circumstances be disappointed. Really.

So that leaves Robinson Crusoe. OK, I hear ya, it's not your Peter Rabbit, Chronicles of Narnia kind of children's lit. But it used to be that this book was the province of daydreaming 12 year old boys. So for you people with older kids, I submit the predicament of poor Robin the castaway for your reading. Heck, I'd recommend it for anyone. If you currently have a pulse, read it.

Having been published in 1719, Robinson Crusoe is old. It's in fact considered the first book in the English language written in a brand new style called the novel. I say that only to make the point that its language can be daunting. I actually suggest listening to it (unabridged) narrated on tape/CD if you're not hip to the older-style English. Like watching Shakespeare (rather than reading it), you'll pick up on what's going on in spite of some of the opaque phrasing.

But it's just that distance from the present day that makes this such a good read. Everything, and I do mean everything that happens in this man's unfortunate(?) life is interpreted through the prism of God. I won't bother with much of the well-known plot, other than to say that sea squalls, multiple shipwrecks, cannibals, escapes, gunplay, a desert island and basic survival are all involved, and the events take place on at least 3 continents. This is a busy dude.

In Robinson's 1st person narrative, he feels, as maybe we all have at one time or another, that he's disobeyed God and has received a just reward. But he gives thanks for God's provision during his many miseries and dangers. Virtually alone on an island for years on end with a Bible, he reconstructs his forgotten knowledge of God, and reinterprets his life from the bottom up. If you've ever wondered about the action of God's Will (Crusoe also uses the term Providence), then this book gives a unique look at one man's daily attempts to understand that. What does God actually do in the tedium of our lives? What does that mean to us? How should we react to Him as He acts? Robinson has years to ponder these questions and do little else. An example of his thoughts and one of my all-time favorite quotes:
How strange a checkerwork of Providence is the life of man! and by what secret differing springs are the affections hurried about, as differing circumstances present! Today we love what tomorrow we hate; today we seek what tomorrow we shun; today we desire what tomorrow we fear; nay, even tremble at the apprehensions of.
It may sound dry. But this isn't an intellectual's book. You go along with Robin as he attempts to get food, make clothing, fight cannibals, make tools, stay sane, and generally cope with his incredible situation. Oh, and he trains a parrot, too. It's darn good fun to see him do it, no matter your age. I mean, there's a reason I'm recommending it almost 300 years after it was written.

Many times I'll hear people try to distill a Scripture or a Bible class down to something "practical." "What does this mean to us?" I'll hear someone ask. "How to do we apply this passage in our 'daily lives'?" they'll say. If you can reason to yourself about God while making a dugout canoe, you're well beyond these questions. In every mundane task, Robin sees God, and I can learn a lot from that alone.

When I first read Robinson Crusoe, I expected something like RLS's Treasure Island with fewer cast members. What I certainly didn't expect to find was a book that is as spiritual as any "religious" book I have ever read. I hope you'll try it, and I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I have.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hyperfluency and Media Bias

I've been told by the higher-ups that my endless reporting of the inconsequential around here is misleading, at best. In fact, it's been brought to my attention that a whole heckuva lot is going down around Home Port 2.0. So just pretend I was the NYT and forget about all that inaccurate jive reporting before. Witness the mighty doings of our ship's Captain, ye dogs:

Jack has his first tooth! It's right out front on the bottom, which I'm told is to be expected. The thing looks pretty lonely if you ask me. Maybe the next one is on its way via Tooth Fairy FedEx. When we tell everyone, and I mean everyone, about this, they usually respond with some variation of, "Teething?! Oh no!" But it's been a non-event to Mr. Jack. The kid is way tougher than his old man would be about getting new dental equipment, for sure.

Next, I have been directed to report that Jack attended his first playgroup. Now, some months back I would have been hard pressed to scratch up a definition of what a playgroup even was. I now believe it's something where moms bring their kids to show them off in new outfits and casually swap stories to basically confirm their child is "normal." Supposedly the word on the street is that Jack was the most verbal of the kids there (shocking). No doubt he'll take after me in being a blabbermouth. Melanie uses the term "hyperfluent." Yeah.

The skipper is rolling over occasionally, I guess when he gets the notion to do that. Jack now is officially superior to my fairly well trained English Setter, First Mate Belle. She never could get that trick. This guy? He figures it out on his own. That's genius, right there. He's slowly grasping (we think) some baby sign language. I had hoped his first language would be English, but I don't call the shots around here. We also introduced Jack to real, genuine (puréed) food yesterday. He ordered the galley to whip up some yellow squash pronto, and proceeded to make a darn good mess of it. It's unclear as to how much got eaten as food and how much got worn as clothing, but it was excellent fun anyway.

Ah, next on the list to tell you about are the new favorite toys du jour: (1) the Musical Fishbowl (it's hard to explain, click the link) and (2) Cousin Kelly's neato seahorse is really popular these days as well (Kelly: "I like sea creatures.") So does Jack.

We sailed lazily over to church last night for Jack to go forward about spitting up on me three (!) times in about 12 seconds. I very nearly drowned. Rather than stay on task, however, he decides he wants to participate in the song service. And then he yammers on during the lesson. And the prayers. And the scripture reading. Both of them. Finally he gets bored with all that, gets a teething toy and works on it like there's no tomorrow. Looked like John Popper on a harmonica. Or a starving man with a slice of watermelon... Pick your own analogy. I feel bad that Jack distracted the folks behind us, but they didn't seem to mind since they were laughing hysterically. What a bad kid.

Had dinner with our very good People the McIntoshes on Saturday night. Jack was fascinated by the parents ineptly trying their hand at Wii Tennis. Oh, and to our amazement at dinner, Jack just grabs his bottle from Valerie and starts chugging it, holding it in two hands with a death grip. When you reach a certain age in life, sometimes you've just got to do things for yourself.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Since Her Majesty has been on the IR lately with what we're calling the "Plague of 2009," yours truly has been seriously busy on board. In the last two uber-productive days, I have done the dishes, some laundry, ginned up a gluten/dairy/rice-free pie, baked yet another pie absolutely packed - packed, I tell you - with gluten and dairy, attended to the Captain's every need (ok, almost every need), trimmed the hedges, cleaned out the amazingly funky garage, removed a 40'x60' tarp (!) by my lonesome from the backyard, removed assorted junk and materials leftover from construction, pruned some trees... all that and a bag of chips.

I wish I would have had video of the tarp-folding fiasco. I opened up what my dad would call a hornet's nest (that's the East Texan equivalent for Pandora's Box). Next time I'll know better: (1) Get large piece of cardboard (2) Write "FREE 40X60 TARP" on said cardboard (3) Affix sign to telephone pole and (4) Go back inside.

I write this morning with moral support from the Cap'n as he jumperoos in front of me. Yep, thanks to working in or near the roiling capital markets, your correspondent is at Home Port 2.0 today rather than the Hard Labor Camp, ready to swab, lash, belay, unfurl and trim whatever H.M. and the skipper direct. This dad stuff is hard.

Her Majesty's coughing bouts have made things interesting at night, I can tell you. I did something a few nights back that I have never before done in my entire life. I relocated sleeping locations no less than 3 times during the night. Each round of Musical Beds was a change for the worse: from a nice comfy regular bed to the old sleeper sofa to a sleeping bag on our ultra-hard office floor. Long story, but you would have probabably done the same in my circumstances.

I'm embarassed to say I had my first official near-gag reflex to a diaper. I know, I'm a lightweight, and I've seen nothing yet. And this one's borderline noncompliant with our Mission Statement, so I apologize in advance. Last night Jack had been marinating himself in a really nice vinegar and poop sauce, and I got the honors. The rancid green cloud of putrefaction that wafted through the vents in my hazmat suit just about dropped me like a stone. Melanie (we now call her The Mime or The Quiet Queen since her voice went out) had a good silent chuckle over that one. Speaking of her, she's taken up all sorts of odd behavior during this illness. She's now sleeping upright in a chair to ward off the nightly coughing fits, with pillows piled around her so that it ends up looking like a pan of monkey bread. Am I the only normal one left aboard?! Am I?! ANSWER ME!

Monday, January 12, 2009

2 Tsp Cherry Haze

I'm dying, how are you?
Your correspondent's hyper-caffeinated coffee is duking it out with some way-powerful cough suppressant/laudanum to create an uneasy equilibrium of consciousness this morning. I mean, I am hazy. Hope you're faring better.

YouTube? I'm your huckleberry.
Jack has made his first appearance on the ubiquitous YouTube! It's long, unedited, and the picture quality stinks (so much for ponying up for the HD camcorder) but it's there. So you can get my annoying commentary of Christmas morning while the progeny picks from his assorted bag of cute stuff tricks. It only took me 6 months. Using precise calculations, at that rate you have 35 more videos to look forward to until he leaves for college. Savor them. And go burn 6 minutes (SIX minutes!) of your time over there. If Francis Ford Coppola can do it, why not me? Don't answer that.

I am in my prime.
Rather than continuing to report that assorted crew members are feverish, sleep-deprived, snotty, coughing, infectious, malarial, etc., we're just going to assume that's the norm aboard ship and have done with it. Jack isn't sleeping consistently now, and the crew are really concerned about that. We just got used to the 7 hour stretches of pure, blissful, uninterrupted sleep. Guess that's out the door for now until we get back on schedule. Oh boy, does lazy, do-nothing, worthless E.C. miss the schedule!

You tell 'em I'm [not] coming!

So when I originally thought of doing a blog, I wanted to make it interesting. But I've encountered a small hangup. It helps if the subjects involved are fairly interesting, too. So this weekend, we didn't feel like doing anything else, and it had turned cold, so we hung pictures. Lots of pictures. And drank tea. Lots of tea. With lots of honey. Yeah. Big doings. It's about as exciting as a bowling tournament around here. And we're not planning on going much of anywhere, or doing much of anything until Home Port 2.0 (and the crew) is more ship-shape. But don't worry, the bleary-eyed skipper has us busy ginning up interesting adventures and tidbits for future posts. I think.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Headed Down South to the Land of the Pines...

This week was kind of like it says in John, if I may paraphrase: If I gave you all of what the last week was like, the blog post would fill the entire internet. But who has the time or the terabytes for that?

Well, Mr. Jack had another fine voyage over to the Port of Mobile. We went over to see Uncle Jay get himself thoroughly married to Aunt Emily and to nick some wedding cake. Everything went according to plan, at least as far as I know, and no one tripped or passed out during the ceremony, or made the bride fall in a swimming pool, like that video that's floating around the internet. The weather cooperated for the most part, which is a big consideration if you're familiar with the Gulf Coast. It rained hard during the ceremony, which was inside, but just about every time the preacher said something profound, like say, that marriage is a solemn bond, ominous thunder... well, thundered in the background. It got everyone to laughing nervously, Jay included. He and Emily pranced out to Weezer's "Island in the Sun," which won the skipper's enthusiastic endorsement. The wedding party then headed out to the reception in the stretch hummer - yes, the stretch hummer. That's why I like my brother in law: He always does things low-key.

Jack loves Tom Petty. Live. That's right, my infant son and I rocked out to the phenomenal band covering Mary Jane's Last Dance. Believe it. I mean, you haven't lived until you've jammed with your baby. And he LOVED the band. He's talking about being a roadie now. The reception was at the Ezell House downtown, which is this beautiful, sprawling, crumbling example of antebellum architecture so typical of the deep deep deepest South. The soirée was pretty sedate inside, being mostly people jockeying for their places in line for the excellent food, remembering who is blood kin to who and avoiding estranged relatives. We were at the outside part of the reception in the carriage house. Like I said, we had the band, so I guarantee those that weren't out there had the inferior time. The highlight of the entire evening was the groom grabbing a guitar and doing "Wagon Wheel" with heavy crowd participation. It was strong. STRONG.

I realized many things during the evening, in no particular order: That I don't dance with my wife enough. That my wife can dance. Really dance. That those dancing lessons actually came in handy, sort of. That I like old, old houses and weddings, especially when I can roam around in a tuxedo. That I believe I was by FAR the oldest groomsman, and over TWICE as old as the youngest one. And that I am okay with that fact. That I truly love my brothers in law. And cake. I love wedding cake.

The greatness of the entire weekend was really evident to me in that I had a blast even though I was sicker than sick (I think cholera has been circulating through the Hard Labor Camp lately). I looked about as green as a watermelon rind during the rehearsal dinner, a condition which was lovingly photographed by a family member that I couldn't manage to strangulate because of my extreme weakness. If I had this good a time in such a rotten condition, what could have I done in tip-top shape? It's the Tootsie Pop commercial: "The world may never know."

Many thanks this week to the best nanny in the entire known universe, the Captain's Great Aunt Gena "They Don't Call Me Great Aunt for Nothing" Bankhead. She had the honor of dodging the skipper's projectile spit up while we were about our groomsman/bridesmaid duties. To the Admiralty for putting us up in the Official Comodoro Hurricane Evacuation Site (a.k.a. the FEMA Trailer) once again and for some of the freshest oysters I have ever eaten, to Jay and Emily for including us, as they're now in the Captain's haunts on Dominica, and the many folks that piled up more booty on the Captain than should be legal. Or that could be stowed in HMS Tahoe.

And one more thanks to my lovely and beautiful wife, Her Majesty, for not killing me and disposing of my body in the river while we were fighting. I mean kayaking. Think Stalin and Churchill at Yalta. Was a close one.