Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Tree Assembly: A Primer

 Listen up.  There are three ways to put up a Christmas tree.

Method 1:  Drive down to a dodgy looking parking lot (or quaint-ish Christmas tree farm type place, if you're into that sort of thing).  Pick your picturesque victim.  To keep the ever loving peace, you then walk over and cut down the other terrible looking lopsided tree everybody else decided on without you.  The abominable thing is tied with shoelaces to the roof of your ride, and off you go.  You stick that sucker in a wobbly metal contraption that holds some water and you're all set.   

Total time elapsed:  2 hours, 48 minutes.

Method 2:  Head out to your storage place and drag the massive, 187 lb cardboard box (cardboard with durability similar to 1,900 year-old papyrus) up/down into the living room.  Remove the dead bugs.  Kill all the living ones.  Set the three pieces together on the unsure tripod (no water bowl).  Spend 45 minutes plugging the thing in.  Burn 3 hours, 25 minutes finding which strand is busted.  Spend 15 minutes locating where the fouryearold put the spare bulbs and fuses.  Threaten fouryearold repeatedly.  Give up and swing the unlit part to the back of the room, so that every one of your back yard neighbors can see you're too cheap and inept to stick up a functioning Christmas tree.

Total time elapsed:  6 hours, 27 minutes.

Method 3:  I had not heard of this one before about 15 minutes ago, but hey, it takes all kinds to make the world go 'round.  Okay, find every single thing you own in this world, including a mask and a cape.  Put on the mask and cape.  Locate an out-of-the-way corner in your house.  Pile every gall-darned single piece of stuff up in an imposing pile.  Clothes.  Toys.  Containers.  Baskets.  Old plastic popcorn buckets.  Stuffed animals.  Dirty Underoos.  Whatever you got, man.  It goes in.  Top it off with a fireman hat.  Declare to all, "IT'S A CWRISTMUS TRWEE!"  Pose for picture.   

Total time elapsed:  11 minutes.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Practical Botany for the Modern Parent

I was told about this well after it happened.  And that's really the best way to be told about things like this.

Curlycue is crawling around at alarming speeds now.  She's so fast in fact, that I have to flat-out race her to get the deadbolt unlocked and the door shut after me as I'm leaving for work.  She spots me and just accelerates like a V10, always sporting this maniacal grin.  And shrieking.  She shrieks.  A lot.  Loudly.  She does that when she tires of hissling.  Anyway.

She's also got the annoying habit of waiting until you've got a drink in your hand, and she - this is lightning quick, mind you - shoots out a hand on the lip of your glass and starts shaking it like an earthquake.  She did this with my (hot) coffee one morning.  Didn't turn out well.

And the child's grip strength is staggering.  You can barely peel her off anything she's determined to hold.  Like my neck.  At times I've wondered if she's cutting off the blood flow to my brain.  She'll grab a hunk of my face, I guess just to see if it's attached.  Usually she does this in church, so that the 10 full pews behind us can see exactly how far my bottom lip can stretch.  It's pretty far, man.  Or she yanks a big tangle of my hair (overwhelmingly popular choice, that one).  Or my chest hair.  Dirty little thing just shoves a fist down my front button and digs around in there for whatever she can grab.

My point in all this - and there is one - is that the chick is fast.  Undetectably, unstoppably fast.  We tend to have to work with consequences, rather than on prevention.

Majesty's good friend and her son came over yesterday for lunch, and to work in some generalized playtime type stuff.  It was nice outside so the grownups (and the nefarious and quick Caroline) sit on the patio.  Amazingly, the frost didn't kill all of our sissy plants, and there's a croton nearby, between some chairs.

Unfamiliar with the croton?  No sweat; I've got you covered.  The boildown is they're semi-tropical, can be simultaneously red, green, and yellow, they're all over the Yucatan, for instance, and you probably trampled several of them that time you chased the big iguana outside the hotel room on your honeymoon.

BUT dear friends did you know what they do to sneaky little babies that guess the leaves probably taste like field greens in a nice vinaigrette?

I quote:
It contains an oil with violently purgative and irritating qualities, which is also suspected of being a co-carcinogen. Luckily, it tastes dreadful, so accidental poisonings are rare.

Prevent children from nibbling on the attractive leaves.
So (Former?) Friend gets a solid coating of baby yak when Curlycue spews her lunch like a busted up Coke can.  Among the yakkity rubble?  A tiny, green square of Codiaeum variegatum.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fear and Loathing in Social Media, Part 2

Continued from Part 1:
"The Internet's not written in pencil, Mark.  It's written in ink."
Just about everyone has heard that line from The Social Network.  And it's true:  Shouted, muttered, whispered, scrawled, or typed, our words can exist long after we're gone, whatever the medium.  Technology didn't start that particular fire, but it might have poured gasoline on it.  Things fly off our iWhatevers faster than we can really evaluate the wisdom - or the ethics - of posting them in the first place.

What you write is important, sure.  But equally important is why you're writing.  The effects will be, believe it or not, long lived.  Be as certain as you can they're good effects.

My caveat here is that I certainly haven't got this all buttoned up yet.  It's something I struggle with.  To my shame, I've been pretty darn good at transforming words into thermonuclear weapons.

These kinds of questions* are ones I'm asking of myself lately:

1.  What's my motive?

Why am I saying this, anyway?  Is my goal to win an argument, improve my own stature, save face, attract attention, to get someone told... or is my goal to show the grace and love of Christ in gracious and loving words that would glorify him?  Big difference.  One is almost exclusively self-serving, the other just... serving.

My preacher pen pal (from last time) was focused on winning an argument.  An argument with someone he knew to be a fellow servant of Christ.  As fellow servants, we're commanded to love and be gentle with each other.  He dunked over me anyway.  The motive mattered.

2.  What would happen if every single person I know read this?

Would including your wife, hubby, preacher, mom, or boss in this communication change what you just said?  How?

Is privacy in this matter important?  Is there a good reason why disclosure should trump privacy in this case?  Why?  Are you sure?  Would it do some unintentional (but predicable) damage?  We all say yep, privacy’s very important... but we mean our privacy is important for us.  The other guy's privacy?  Not a big deal.  Your Facebook account is littered with examples of decent, well-meaning people destroying privacy and goodwill simply because they were thoughtless.

Is this important?  Is it beneficial?  Is it so important and beneficial that 2, or 20, or 2,000,000 people need to see it? 

Does this improve my life, or the lives of others?  Or does it degrade us?

3.  Does this honor and glorify Jesus Christ?

I know, I know, that's a whopper of a question to ask when you're telling 3,153 people how juicy your turkey sandwich is.  (Stop that, by the way.)  But when you're a servant of Jesus, you have to pose the question:  Do my actions reflect well upon (or just plain reflect) Christ Jesus?

I think your answer to that question might cut how much you interact online by half.  Maybe more.  But if your answer is, “That’s profoundly dumb, because what I post has absolutely nothing to do with my faith,” then - and I'll steal this from someone else - you may be splitting your life into secular and spiritual pieces… a concept never, ever endorsed in scripture.

Stay frosty out there, kids.

*Since this blog is Christian (If you didn't know that... Hey, this blog is Christian.) these are necessarily Christian-flavored.  But then, shouldn't they be?  If you’re Christian, but operating without a set of Christian ethics for your online behavior, does that make sense?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fear and Loathing in Social Media, Part 1

I think I always knew that the balance between writing about our family and preserving our privacy would be tenuous.  And make no mistake, we're private people.  We don't participate much in social media, blogging excepted.  I've had close to this very conversation with the Head Honcha over at Deus Nos Conjuxit.

I've told Majesty many times that I wanted to be completely, utterly truthful with CJMP, since it's somewhat of a family history.  But just like any history, an author has to be selective - sometimes extremely so - about what to include and what to leave out.  And I leave out a whole lot.

So I've tried to be absolutely truthful, but not particularly open, if that makes sense.  Why?  Because privacy is truly important.  And because people are jerks.  Aaaaaand because some people are just downright crazy.

Two stories for you today, illustrating why I sometimes desperately hate the internet.

I'm Sorry, What Did You Say You Do for a Living?
I stumbled across a website recently and quickly realized that it was entirely dedicated to a specific religious dispute.  One guy got crosswise with another guy, everyone chose up sides... and one side got a website design firm!  Boy, that sounds healthy, doesn't it?

 I was familiar with many of the people mentioned.  Some of the alleged slights were from a decade ago, and were at times difficult to even parse out.  It was rabbinical hairsplitting at its very finest.  Worst.  Whatever.

The site was shameful and it made me mad.  Incredibly, there was a "CONTACT US" link at the bottom of the (anonymous) site that linked to righthandman@heaven.org or whatever.  I fired off a curt, but mostly nice, request.  I said they should be ashamed of themselves and the site, and I encouraged them to take it down.  Its usefulness, I said, if it ever had any at all, had long since passed.  Made it perfectly clear that I considered myself their Christian brother, but I was absolutely appalled by what they had done.

And then I totally forgot about it.

I checked my email weeks later (it's not one I use often) and there's a note in there from an unfamiliar address.  Yep, you guessed it.  This guy had torn into me hammer and tong.  Ripped me up, down, left, right, backwards, forwards.  Quoted lots of scripture.  Lots.  Repeatedly implied I wasn't a real Christian.  Y'know, like him.  He mocked.  He just dripped with this sneering sarcasm.  He was... well, bear with me as I use the technical theological term:   an unparalleled jerk.

I thought, "Who IS this guy?!" and looked him up.  He's a preacher in the Midwest.  That's right, ladies and gentlemen, I had just had my head handed to me by a preacher.  Friends and neighbors, there's something very, very wrong with that.

The Best Argument Ever for Comment Moderation
You'll be shocked to know this, but this isn't a bigtime blog.  I don't get an onslaught of comments.  Friends and wellwishers will post a note or two, and that's about it.  So I was pretty surprised to see a completely anonymous comment, posted at the freaking crack of dawn Wednesday.  I would just describe it to you, but honestly, I can't do justice to this degree of snarling insanity.
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Jack, Meet Rudyard.":

Tax havens. Entitlement. Bad teeth. Dead eyes. Narcissism. Cute kids with the right clothes. Yes, behold the fall of the American Empire, writ large on electrons which shall vanish after not too long a time; hopefully before the author of this garbage expires. Long live white people. Until they stop.

Posted by Anonymous to Captain Jack Makes Port at November 28, 2012 5:14 AM
Say, were you casting about for a definitive sign of American collapse and Western cultural decadence?  Look no further!  There's a kid's blog in Texas that is going to destroy us all!  Repent!  Repent!

Man, there's so much fun to be had here that I was tempted to give it a post of its own.  Apocalyptic warnings?  Check.  Cheap ad hominem?  Check.  Unhinged race baiting?  Check.  Nonsensical conclusions?  Check.  Arcane grammar?  Double check.  Drive-by insults?  Got 'em.  A veiled death wish?  Yes!

Listen, there are cranks everywhere, sure.  But it's more than a little disturbing that this sort of pseudointellectual crank is on our blog, looking at pictures of our kids, apparently seething with vitriol.  Why would someone bother with material they found so offensive?  I have no idea.

The End (of this Post) Is Near!
 The underlying problem is that somehow, somewhere, we decided that we could say absolutely anything on the internet, no matter how awful it was.  Think about it:  This 42 year old unemployed circus clown, dressed in his jammies and writing from his mom's basement person would never, ever say this to me in person.  Nobody would.  Because there's a general fear of getting your lights punched right clean out.  But anonymously, it's totally okay, it's moral.  You're still a nice, sensible, wonderful person.  That's not the real you.

But that's not true.
"The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks."  -Luke 6:45
I don't have much of an overarching point here, other than to encourage us all not to be jerks... not in real life, not in your words online.

And if you see comment moderation suddenly pop up around here, just smile and nod to yourself, knowingly.

Continued in Part 2.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

Get Back, JoJo

Get back! Get back! / Get back to where you once belonged
1.  Jack and I went to pick up some garlic at the store (For pesto and fumigating for VAMPAYUWHS.  He's obsessed with VAMPAYUWHS.  Great.).  Get Back came on the radio right before we get out of the truck.  Insistently, Jack asked me with this very serious, WhatchootalkinboutWillis look on his face, "Daddy.  Daddy.  Why do they tell him to get back?" 

Just for fun, I give you the full rooftop concert video.  It's only about 20 minutes or so.  It's really great... until the cops show up.  Incidentally, Paul's Most Interesting Man in the World look here is what I think I'm shooting for:  Savile Row from the neck down, Grizzly Adams up top.  All I need is the full beard, man!

2.  The Hissle is Jack's term for what Caroline does when she gets all kinds of tickled.  Here's the method to reenact it, because we think it's really better experienced first hand:  Put your teeth together.  Now scrunch your nose up towards your eyebrows, making those nostrils just comically huge.  Yes, it's pretty attractive.  Smile while crinkling up your eyes deviously.  Now breathe in and out excitedly through your nose, preferably right in someone else's face, making a noise somewhere between a whistle and a hiss.

You are now hissling.

3.  Proper Jack 'o Lantern care and nutrition?  Pro tip:  Jack feeds them acorns.

4.  We hate, despise, abhor, and loathe ragweed.  If you are a ragweed, or associate with ragweed, you're not welcome here.  Adios.  The whole family has been sick for weeks.  Weeks.  I'm investigating napalm availability on Amazon.com.

I'm out.  All I got.  But hey, THE BEATLES!  Right?  Right?  Okay, I'll stop.

The Beatles - Rooftop Concert (London Original... by STARDUST72

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

My Running Partner, Offshore Tax Havens, and Locomotion 101

Part I.
So I run a little bit.  Nothing crazy.  What?  No, I certainly will not call it jogging.  Jogging is when you enjoy it.

There's no time for long runs sans chillrun except in the very early morning, so that's when I go.  But recently, I got the hankering to do some afternoon runs, too.  And that means... taking Jack.

It's a mess.  But it checks a few boxes at once:  it gets Jack out of Majestad's hair for a few minutes, heat-conditions his old dad, is typically hilarious, and it's a mother of a workout.

And Jack loves to run.  Or at least likes the idea.

He flits about the house after I ask him the question.  He throws on his running clothes.  (It took me all summer to convince him to wear a shirt.  Ahem.)   He makes me fill a sippycup full of ice water.  He tells me to take a bottle, too.  Raisins, a Lärabar, he has to be all stocked up before he leaves.  It has to sustain him for a torturous afternoon run... spanning about 25 minutes.

25 minutes is also the amount of time we spend getting ready.

Jack explodes down the driveway "STOP, THERE'S A CAR, JACK!  STOP!  I SAID STOP, DUDE!" and upon starting again runs like he's entirely engulfed in ignited jet fuel for about 35 yards.  He then yells ahead, "WAIT DADDY, WAIT!  I'M TIRED!"  He's gassed.

The Dude piles into the jogging stroller.  The one he outgrew in 2010.  So there we are, front wheel properly locked, Jack's legs protruding from the stroller on either side, almost dragging the ground.  The ridiculous amount of water we have on board sloshes, and I settle in to my work.

The Motor gets to hoof it behind him, pushing that little sucker - and his darn water - and his raisins - and his Lärabar - over creation as fast as I can without having a stroke.  Now I know what those dudes that carried the litters for ancient royalty felt like.  It's not a great gig.  I've actually taught him to goad me, yelling "FASTER, DADDY!" and as if to a slow horse, "HYAH, DADDY, HYAH!"  I tell him to push harder. 

Dude, the shape parenting gets you in.  It's unreal.

Our turnaround is this tiny little stop sign on the trail.  Usually, I'll pull close alongside it and Jack will slap it for good luck and good measure.  This last week, he somehow dumps himself flat out of the stroller, in front of the 19,186 people waiting at the light.  I figured there was no way to spin this positively.  I'm certain to be The Bad Parent for either (1) not strapping him in - he won't fit and refuses anyway, (2) seemingly dumping him out in the first place, or (3) laughing at him.  We got lost, and fast.

Yakubu's also my in-run public relations coordinator.  He relentlessly waves and says loud hellos to people, and to the cars lined up at the stoplight.  The ones that just saw him manage to fall out of a stroller.  He belts out a continuous, 2 minute long "HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!" to everyone that will dare look at us.  I get even by drinking his ice water.  From the sippycup.  Yes, I'm a grown man.  IT TASTES LIKE IT COMES FROM A MOUNTAIN STREAM.

A few weeks back, I sort of stumbled into signing up for this local race.  On the tough miles I thought, "This could be a lot worse.  I could be pushing someone up this hill."

Part II.
Caroline decided to learn to crawl while I was visiting a certain Caribbean tax haven.  She did this for jewelry.  Jewelry!

While I was doing this (not for jewelry):

It wasn't quite fair.

Part III.
Jack is drawing.  Suddenly.  I'm serious, one day he just started drawing.  On his easel.  On his small whiteboard.  On his, er... oh boy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Columbus Day

This is going to sound dumb, but I would skip this one if I were in your shoes.  It gets heavy.  I write it down not to give it to you, but to remove it from myself.  So tune in next week when I'll talk about our latest idiotic adventures, and also my new running partner.  Fair warning.

Okay, I didn't plan on writing about this today.  Or really ever.  But it's on my mind, and the more I think about it, the more it needs writing.  I realize this is my kids' blog, but the memory is insistent.  Two things stirred it up:  today's date, and a question from Jack last week.
Daddy, who is your best friend?
I can remember precisely where I was.  I was in the north end of a long, white hallway, the floor covered in a white ticked linoleum that would do a hospital wing proud.  The echoes of kids trotting to Sunday school reverberated through the entirety of the little Church of Christ in Fruitvale, Texas.

I made the goofy girl that was blurting out the news to everyone repeat it several times.  I had her say the name back to me over and over again.  Just to make sure.

He was two years my senior, and would have turned 38 this very day, October 12th.  His wife and four kids would have relentlessly hassled him with balloons and maybe a big stupid cake with awful blue piped icing that tastes like sugary ink.  The kind that makes you look like you ate a Smurf for breakfast.

But that was never to happen.  Mark (not his real name) had somehow gotten crosswise with some idiot from a nearby town, and they had retreated to an out-of-the-way stretch of highway a little to the south to settle up.  Because that's what you do in a little town when you're a tough, fast, 15 year old cowboy-in-training.

And Mark was tough.  I could remember when he broke his collarbone after, I believe, being thrown from a a horse.  I can't remember him even wincing, as he wore the comical little X-shaped brace for weeks afterward.  Later on, he played a little football and rodeoed.  Wore those crazy brushpopper shirts that were half Gene Autry, half M.C. Hammer.  He was sort of blondish and really, really good looking.  From what I heard, he could reel in any girl he wanted to with his raspy, twangy kind of voice.

I had known him since I could remember. 
Mark's mom had babysat me for years, and as an only child, I became effectively her fifth kiddo (and the second oldest).  We kids would play war and ride our bikes around the country road outlining their land.  It was a huge squarish track of molten blacktop not too far from my house.  We would dip into the woods (called artfully "The Trails") and play in the dirt and make all sorts of mischief.   My family had lived in the house beside Mark's.  The house I was brought home to when I was born, if my facts are straight.  The first (tiny) pair of cowboy boots I wore were hand-me-downs from Mark.

I had all sorts of new and different experiences as an adopted member of their family.  We got to put on these huge, dark-glassed welding helmets and watch his dad arc weld.  I went with them to vaccinate cattle.  (I cried.)  Mark tried to explain that they were
helping the cows, not hurting them.  Neither I nor the wild-eyed animals were convinced.  We were endlessly bucked by an annoyed horse around their house and front yard, leaving their brand new driveway full of deep horseshoe marks.  I think we got a few marks of our own after that.  I learned (and then forgot) how to rope a bale of hay adorned with a large black plastic replica of a steer's head.  Mark was very good at it.  I wasn't, but it was immensely fun anyway.  We irritated a gigantic and mean bull like it was a legitimate career path and scattered as the huge animal charged us.  Mark went over the barbed wire, I went under.  We got ourselves whipped for shooting the very same bull with our BB guns.  I'll let you theorize as to where one might aim when doing that sort of thing.

We had more camouflage clothing and accoutrements than non-camo ones.  Our kit was covered with pins and patches we had gotten at the Army/Navy store in Tyler.  By our markings, we were evidently US Army Rangers, had served (with distinction!) in South Vietnam, were expert Marine marksmen, and were all 1st Sergeants.  It was also rumored that I had done a tour in China with the Flying Tigers during WWII.  We ran around all day, every day bristling with BB gun rifles, broken six-shooter cap pistols, big Rambo knives and my wicked looking machete.  A real machete.  I lost the machete while monkey-climbing a fallen tree over a foul-looking creek.

Gravity ensued.

Mark was our leader, and was I his faithful lieutenant and best friend.  We were legit blood brothers, just like The Lone Ranger and Tonto.  One or two of his actual brothers trouped along with us.  Mark was fond of the admonition
"We're burnin' daylight!" which was of course true.  Our patrols would typically end with us in soaking wet Underoos being roughly hosed off in either of our respective back yards.  Then came the obligatory check for ticks.  And the application of the sticky, pink calamine lotion.  With that smell.  You remember the smell, right?

We grew apart in middle school, as kids separated by two whole years can easily do.  Besides, for anyone that knew me growing up, I was just a weird, weird kid.  I know, you're shocked.

By the time I set foot in Sunday school that bright-white morning, I had not spoken to him in many, many months.  Maybe even a year.

Apparently, the fight had gone badly for the out-of-towner.  As I said, Mark was a tough hombre.  The guy got in his truck. 
The details for me get sketchy here.  I never got the whole story from an eyewitness, and never really cared to.  Mark either decided it was a great idea to fling himself on the hood of the truck, or was perhaps hit and that's where he landed.  It doesn't matter much now.  My good friend ended up under the speeding truck, and was dragged a very, very long way to his death.

At the wake, I visited the house I had spent so much time in.  Mark's mom darn near squeezed the life right out of me.   There was an argument about his dad wanting to go out and feed the cows, with everyone finally relenting when he said plainly, "They still gotta eat."

All the grownups said what a good job the undertaker did with him.  He had lost a hand, I remember.  I could only stare dumbly at its replacement.  I see now their politeness, because a 13 year old me could barely recognize his friend.

I was a pallbearer for the first time in my life.  It was an honor I didn't fully understand.  His mother had asked.  I believe the other 5 were all Mark's older friends, boys acting tough, as I suppose they thought they were expected to.  I didn't know any of them very well, and I distinctly recall sitting silently in the back of a very full car lined completely in unsettling red leather.  I had never seen
real leather car seats before.

Inside Main Street Baptist Church - you can't make this stuff up - another of Mark's friends sat on a wooden stool and played guitar and sang a new song called
The Dance by some dude named Garth.  As it happens, you might have heard of the church singer:  a very young (and now Grammy-winning) Chris Tomlin.  I only found out a few years ago that he had gotten himself good and famous in Christian music circles.

After Mark's service, I cannot describe his mother's wailing at the back of the hearse, standing not 3 feet from me.  Nor will I repeat her words, words that I had forgotten during the 22 years before writing this.

It was said that for years afterward, the out-of-town
er religiously avoided our city limits.  There were those that had threatened his life, people that lived out on the edge.  People that one should take seriously.

Happy birthday, Mark.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jack, Meet Rudyard.

I've mentioned this in passing before, but something I'm immensely proud of this year is getting to read The Chronicles of Narnia to Jack.  All seven books.  I sometimes paraphrased a word here and there, because it's darn near impossible to explain the innocent and colorful use of the word ass in 1950s Britain to a threeyearold-type-person.  But he generally got and enjoyed the full brunt.  Especially the parts about SOWHDFIGHTS! and TOONICKS! and dwarf pipe-smoking habits.  There were unintended consequences, sure.

I keep meaning to write about this, but the Christian allegory in these little "children's books" is just staggering.  It can deepen your faith.  I mean it.


I shifted over to (I now know) an abridged copy of The Wind in the Willows, which was pretty darn delightful.  It's likely the most charming and beautiful thing a former president of the Bank of England has ever written.  But honestly, it didn't capture Jack's attention like Narnia.  I then tried Bill Bennett's seminal The Book of Virtues.  Jack liked Androcles and the Lion, but not much else.

I needed to find a new bedtime story book.  And fast.  But I'm a huge, gigantic, very large book snob.

Most of you will know that The Dude was/is/likely will always be obsessed with Disney's 1967 adaptation of
The Jungle Book.  It's great, and if you haven't gotten that far back in the catalog, go check it out.  He was so very consumed by it that I went and got a copy of Rudyard Kipling's original for myself a few years ago.  I talked about it a bit here.  Actually, I should say originals.  There are actually two Jungle Books.  Betcha didn't know that.

I loved them.  I hadn't read any Kipling apart from the odd piece of poetry, and he's darn good.  Jack likes him too.  We're now deep into the Subcontinent, where Mowgli does less singing and dancing, but more dealing with the uberdangerous folk in the Indian jungle.

My biggest challenge so far is simply scrubbing out the word "kill."  Now, we're not the handwringers at The Atlantic or the NYT fretting over perceived (and largely imagined) "violence" and all that business.  But almost every single sentence is about killing, being killed, threatening to kill, talking about the kill, needing to hunt and kill, kill kill kill kill.  I get it.  It is the jungle, after all.

Jack is already familiar with the concept, though obliquely.  But I just don't want to absolutely steep him in the word (and general idea), and it then ooze out of him 24/7, which he's wont to do.  Like with everything else in his little Kryptonian brain.  So I've had to be creative with my synonyms about killin'.

And creative in the description of the ongoing blood feud (!) between Mowgli and Shere Khan.  Uh, that little story arc didn't quite make the Disney cut.

Second biggest challenge?  Convincing Jack that Kaa is a good guy (or at least neutral).  Disney's Kaa is goofy and frequently winds up with a knot in his tail.  Kipling's Kaa?  A very, very bad dude.  How bad?  A could-start-his-own-outlaw-motorcycle-gang-for-pythons kind of bad dude.  Observe (emphasis mine):
The fighting strength of a python is in the driving blow of his head backed by all the strength and weight of his body. If you can imagine a lance, or a battering ram, or a hammer weighing nearly half a ton driven by a cool, quiet mind living in the handle of it, you can roughly imagine what Kaa was like when he fought. A python four or five feet long can knock a man down if he hits him fairly in the chest, and Kaa was thirty feet long, as you know. His first stroke was delivered into the heart of the crowd round Baloo. It was sent home with shut mouth in silence, and there was no need of a second.
My favorite passage, this time about Bagheera (emphasis again mine):
Bagheera stretched himself at full length and half shut his eyes. "Little Brother," said he, "feel under my jaw."

Mowgli put up his strong brown hand, and just under Bagheera's silky chin, where the giant rolling muscles were all hid by the glossy hair, he came upon a little bald spot.

"There is no one in the jungle that knows that I, Bagheera, carry that mark--the mark of the collar; and yet, Little Brother, I was born among men, and it was among men that my mother died--in the cages of the king's palace at Oodeypore. It was because of this that I paid the price for thee at the Council when thou wast a little naked cub. Yes, I too was born among men. I had never seen the jungle. They fed me behind bars from an iron pan till one night I felt that I was Bagheera--the Panther-- and no man's plaything, and I broke the silly lock with one blow of my paw and came away. And because I had learned the ways of men, I became more terrible in the jungle than Shere Khan. Is it not so?"
A problem I thought I would face, but didn't?  Translating the arcane English for Yakubu.  He just soaks it up.  On the other hand, I guess nobody interpreted the KJV to a very small kid in 1980s East Texas and he understood just fine.

But thank goodness we're off that Curious George meathead and on to some far more interesting (and less infuriating) animals.  Rudyard's guys would treat him like salami on a Ritz cracker.

Exit question:  Anybody got any good suggestions for reading material?  I was thinking about doing The Sword and the Stone portion of T. H. White's incredible The Once and Future King, but will have to re-review it for suitability.  Ideas?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yes, Your Child is Difficult

Every parent overestimates their child to some degree.

He is SO SMART.  Mine gets into MORE TROUBLE.  She was talking/reading/walking/playing the didgeridoo BEFORE ANY OTHER KID.  He NEVER SLEEPS.

So parents overhype their kids.  I know, I know.  In other news, water is wet.  So what?

Well, it's natural to do.  The things you see as a parent are stunning, like exploring a wild jungle that no outsider has ever visited.  You see beautiful, frightening things there for the first, and maybe the only time in your life.  You'll replay these events and scenes over and over in the coming decades.  It's all quite incredible, and not easy to describe to nonparentals.

But there are some people, and you may never know quite who they are, that put up with more than the rest of us.  A lot more.

I give you this little gem by the brilliant Tim Dalrymple.

Philosophical Fragments - Yes, Your Child is Difficult

Left Behind in FauxCal

It seems this time of year I have little inclination to write.  Things are nice.  I'm not fired up about anything.  Or at least I'm not stupid enough to write about it.

The family has abandoned me again.  So that leaves me alone to crank up that old time rock n' roll music (and okay, CNBC too) and test the boundaries of legitimate taco ingredients.  And how long can one can actually subsist on tacos?  Current hypothesis is between 5 and 6 days, tops.  I'll let you know.

It's sort of like vacation time, but not near as enjoyable.  I don't know how in the world you single people do it.  I get the occasional text from H.M. or a picture of Jack or Princess Ringlet while they're hostages in Mobile.

Talking Point #0.5:  Everybody's good.  Jack got something like 5 pairs of new shoes in Alabama, because he had ah, exceeded recommended safety parameters on nearly every pair he owns.  Seriously, his toes were scrunched in there up against the end so hard that I was convinced his shoes would explode.  Caroline is wearing 24 month sized duds.  She was born in February.  Which makes her, what... carry the one...  somewhat less than 24 months old.

IS there HGH in the water, here?  IS that the secret to widespread athletic success in Texas?  Betcha I'm on to something, there.

Talking Point #1:  This week I have relearned what it feels like to go outside and... now listen to this part... not sweat.  It's not that it's cool, except in the morning, and certainly not to the point of indulging every ridiculous retailer in town trying to foist Shetland wool sweaters on you.  But the FauxCal weather is great while it lasts.

Talking Point #1(a):  Before the heat broke a few weeks ago, I actually saw a few people wearing sweater vests.  To give you perspective, it would be like witnessing someone stroll through the Kremlin... in January... in a bikini.

Talking Point #2:  You skewer okra, dust it with Tony's, paint it down with olive oil, and throw it on the grill.  It's really good.  AND qualifies as a vegetable.  AND more importantly is officially recognized by Majesty as a vegetable.  (We still quibble over cilantro, onion, and salsa verde.)

Talking Point #3:  Plumbing is yucky.  Really yucky.  You have no idea what is in your garbage disposal right now.  I mean, thar be dragons.  And mushed up rotten week-old key limes.  But the dragons, too.

Talking Point #4:  Being a dad in a suddenly empty house is probably a lot like being thrown in one of those sensory-deprivation chamber things.  The lack of sensory input (a.k.a. interminable noise) is jarring.

Enter Van Halen.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Blues or Jimi Hendrix As Therapy

These kids are killing us.

One doesn't nap well, one doesn't nap at all.  When they do trip and accidentally fall asleep with the sun up, they're absolutely set on being up till 11 o'clock.  At night, one sleeps solidly, the other does not.  The one wakes early, the other no, but is awakened by the madrugador.

One is generally insane, most times comically so, possessed by forces beyond our control and description.  The other will placidly sit there like it's time to pose for a Rockwell painting.

One might be a slightly-picky, apparently? texture-sensitive eater.  One has never met a substance that he will not ingest.  Except chickpeas.  HATES chickpeas.  Hates 'em.

I tell him, "These aren't chickpeas, dude.  They're garbanzo beans."  "GAWHBAHNZO beans?" he asks.  Garbanzo beans aren't bad, and he eats those just fine.  Also loves hummus.  It's complicated.

Y'know, I did always wonder why the things had two names.  Now I know:  Hoodwinking fouryearolds.  I digress.

We - I really mean she - incessantly tends to the little one.  It makes sense.  That one is after all much louder.  The big one then takes that golden opportunity to douse our kitchen with a gallon jug of white vinegar.  The place smells like the most low-rent, wilted garden salad in the galaxy.  The fumes were so overpowering this morning that I got coffee + shockingly unhealthy breakfast elsewhere.

These kids are killing us.

They say when you got the blues, you need The Blues.  Okay, nobody says that.  Made it up just now.  Feel free to use it.

Let this one wash you clean, babies.  I give you... and me... Jimi.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The First Decade

What were you doing on August 31st, 2002?  Don't remember?  I know for darn sure what I was doing.  Getting hitched.  Legal.  Respectable.  Being made an honest man of.  Tying the knot.  Matrimonialized.  Married to, as it happens, the beautiful, kind and feisty little soul that I love more than my life.

This isn't a wedding photo, because there is absolutely zero chance I would be caught dead tearing out photos from the Imposing Big Black Embossed Wedding Album.  You remember wedding albums, yes?  This is like a 1,000 years ago, before Facebook.  Heck, before Picasa.  May have been 1,500 years, even.

From the archives, ladies and gentlemen, I give you... THIS.

That is one smoking hot chick.  No idea who the dude is, though.  Friend of mine, probably.  Looks trustworthy.

So what do you talk about at breakfast after ten whole years of marriage?

Her:  I'm going to Trader Joe's to get dessert for tonight.
Him:  Nah, I'll go over there.  Whatcha want?
Her:  No, you're already getting sushi.  I'll do it.
Him:  Well, that's where I was going to get your flowers.  Get yourself some flowers, then.  They've got really good flowers.
For the record, she thought my being a pragmatic jerk was funny.  Because, after all this time, that's how the woman copes.

"Thank you for my beautiful flowers!" 

Monday, August 27, 2012

One Trip, Two Relatively Harmonious Perspectives

Our Pacific Northwest trip is long gone, but we're just getting around to the obligatory post.  And I mean 'we' literally in this case.  Inexplicably, even incredibly, H.M. has been writing a bit.  It's all the free time, right?  Actually, it's not that hard to believe at all.  I've been near AWOL from CJMP lately, and I think she feels obliged to take up the dang slack.


Here's Majesty's take:

We are back from our first trip to the Pacific Northwest.   I am hoping this will be an annual August trip, but next year I hope we can plan it so that we see El C a little more.  He was mostly tied up in meetings and seminars, horseback riding or suicide rafting. Things weren’t as exciting on our end but we sure had a good time!  With highs in the mid 70’s with a bit of a breeze, we spent the majority of the week outside.

First off, I have to praise the babies; they did fabulously on the 4.5 hour plane rides!  Jack only watched about 20 minutes of a movie and then spent the rest of the time on an Avengers look-and-find book, playing tic-tac-toe with me, doodling with Daddy, or just talking about the clouds and whatever else he saw.

We landed in Portland, loaded up the rental car and headed up to the lodge in Washington.  We did a few little hikes, found a playground, a swimming pool and a riverboat.  We also celebrated Jack’s 4th(!) birthday with an M&M cake and a bird show.  Got to see an eagle named Patriot, some hawks and owls up close.

Jack will tell you his favorite thing was the paddle boat ride on the Columbia River.  He spent about 45 minutes of the 2 hour boat ride in the captain’s chair with Captain Tom.  Captain Tom is about on par with Santa Claus.  He taught Jack to drive the boat and let him push almost every button on the dashboard (or whatever you call it on a boat) and patiently answered all 170 of Jack’s questions.

On the way home we took a later flight, which was maybe half full so we had plenty of room to spread out.  Jack especially had a nice flight (see picture).

My brief take:

Suicide rafting is a bit strong of a term.  Yes, there was a fatality on that river this year (kayak).  Yes, we did talk our guide (the rafting company owner's daughter, of all people) into going down a notorious Class 5 waterfall.  Yes, the boat in front of us flipped clean over.  We didn't.  No problemo.

I won't even annoy you with talk of hospitible (non-Houstonian) weather, which I still covet deep in my shriveled little heart.

It was the weirdest week.  Great, but weird.  It was like the family and I had booked completely separate vacations, but everyone coincidentally settled on the same destination.  I would see work folk, and then spy Jack sprinting through the lobby.  I would be talking with someone, and hear Caroline screech.  Pretty entertaining.

On the upside, I came through on the pledge I made last year, sitting on an airplane:  ONLY BAD FATHERS SING HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THEIR CHILDREN FROM COACH.

And, as Majestad mentioned above, we've finally solved the mystery of what Santa does in the off season.  Yes, Virginia, Santa's a paddleboat captain on the Colombia River.  Yeah, he goes by  "Captain Tom," but he's not fooling anybody, man.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Revealed: Where Butter Really Comes From

I'm reading through the Good Book again this year.  As usual, I like to make things exciting and start about 5 months late, leaving myself almost no chance of finishing.  My handy dandy howmanychaptersmustIreadperday.xlsx spreadsheet says I have to bang out something like 6.6 books chapters a day to make it.  Pressure aids performance, kiddos.  True statement.

Anyway, I took the NT first, and am now in Genesis, where you learn the origins of all sorts of stuff, like women (whoa!) and NBA players (the Nephilim, look it up) and Californians (antediluvian vegetarianism) and talk radio gold bullion dealers (the land of Havilah).  Learning where everything originates is neat, let's just acknowledge that.

Speaking of origins.  So last night at dinner, we somehow got on the subject of butter.  That's right, E.C.'s favorite aid to arterial lubricity, good old mantequilla.  The conversation:
E.C.:  Jack, how's that rice?  Butter makes it taste good, right?
Jack:  *mumbling, barely audible* Yah...  Yessuw.
Majesty, from the kitchen:  Jack, do you know where butter comes from?
JackYes.  Butterflies.
It was just spectacular.  Groucho couldn't have pulled off the line any better.  No hesitation whatsoever.  I got this fleeting image of a bunch of tough-looking, unionized butterflies with tattoos on their wings, crowded around Stanley lunchboxes down at the butter plant.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Majestad literally lay down in the kitchen floor, almost in tears.

I almost forgot.  H.M. went on to say that one "stirs" milk to make butter.  While I was harassing her for slandering the butterflies in the agricultural products industry, Jack had gone to the kitchen, returned with a small pink spoon (for stirring), and was busying himself at unscrewing his cup full of milt.  "Churning" was then discussed.  And he didn't have the foggiest as to which utensil might do something like that.

In other homophone, heteronym, and polyseme news, Jack is learning the difference between handsome and a hansom (cab), tunes and tombs, and the various uses of the words bank.  It's confusing as all heck.

Three things, here:  (1) English is hard; (2) drawly pronunciation apparently makes English even more daunting to those trying to learn said English; and (3) C. S. Lewis is fifty five kinds of brilliant.  I've essentially got an Oxford/Cambridge professor reading to my child every night for like six months straight.  Narnia, baby!

We just returned from the Pac Northwest.  When we actually can get everyone back on our beloved Central Daylight Time, maybe I'll have enough energy so as to actually write about the trip.  Till then?  No.  Jack did turn four, a fact that we just can't change now.  No matter how much we try.

Butterflies.  C'mon.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jack 101: Unconventional Trip Preparation

I saw this helpful little presentation a few weeks back called "The Art of Packing" from the kind folks at Louis Vuitton.  (Don't ask.)  I guess they feel guilty about liberating 3,000 clams from you in exchange for a loud vinyl gym bag.  They're trying to give something back, man.  I digress.

Hey, stuffing junk into a bag is not as intuitive as you'd think.

Jack's packing up several times a day now to go "camping."  We've no idea where he got this idea from, as per usual.  Majesty won't be caught dead in a tent unless it's pitched inside a chilled and tastefully appointed hotel room.  I can take it or leave it.  It helps to have (1) a place nearby featuring nice weather in which to camp and (2) people that would likely go with you if you ever found such a place.  So let's see... that's a no, and er, another no.

But Jack's gearing up for his trip to Nowheresville anyway.  He stuffs a spare (adult-sized) orange daypack chock full, adds a black duffel that nobody ever uses over his shoulder and parades around like he's on safari in 1926.  Minus the pith helmet.  Because he left that at Grammy and Grandpa's.  Seriously.

LV notwithstanding, Jack has his own method of packing up.

If you're almost four, are intent on blowing town, and/or are certifiably crazy, here is your official packing list:
1.  13 T-shirts
Thirteen.  Apparently he's planning on either sweating a lot or eating plenty of oatmeal.  Or both.
2.  1 pair of shorts
That's faith, right there.
3.  1 pair of underwear
...and THAT'S faith to move mountains.
4.  Caroline's pacifier and clip
Was wondering where that went.  And uh, it's getting a bit weird, Jack.
5.  Spider-Man jammies
I totally get this.
6.  Paper towels
Unconventional, but practical.  Well played, sir.
Last night, Majestad was narrating as she unloaded his wares.  "There.  There's your blog post, right there."

Thanks, babe.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Quick Update Written out of Pure Guilt

I've already burned all this week's writing time on the last post.  But I feel compelled to provide a quick family update so nobody forgets who we are and whatever is going down over here.


Caroline looks more grown up every day.  Yesterday it was just striking how much she had changed.  Or maybe I'm just not paying attention.  That's a possibility.

We've got quite the little relationship going on, we two.  I can gawk at her from across a room and get a coy little smile back.  Irritates Majesty to no end.  "I'm the one that gets up with her three times a night!" she says.  Tough cookies, I say, while reminding her that Jack didn't have any use for me for about a year there in aught-8 or aught-9.  Doesn't really help.

Have I mentioned the littlebitty gal is LOUD?  I mean, deafeningly loud.  Horn on a cruise ship loud.  Neon green socks loud.  Everyone's got a talent, I suppose.

We're trying to keep Jack entertained and constructive this summer.  Despite no school.  Despite all the rain.  When it's not raining, mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds fly around like CIA drones.  But I'm not complaining, since my trees are all alive and well less than 12 months after the worst drought in Texas history.  The pool remains open for SCOOOBA DIVING, Jack says.

We just returned from a little family get-together this past weekend in Dallas.  It was particularly great seeing all the cousins and half cousins and cousins in laws and relations of every other sort.  It's something that we don't do enough.  My 1st cousin Kelly and her hubby Bill were good enough to let us invade and almost completely destroy crash at their place.

My side of the family lives generally in Texas, but as most know, the state's sort of a big place.  A few of us live over 9 hours apart.  Theoretically, I could fly to London before my car could hit the Lubbock city limits.  Dallas still evokes some pretty strong memories for me, and simply driving through it feels just plain weird.  Hard to believe we've been gone over five years, now.  The weather was great, no matter what anyone tells you.  When we hit town, it was 107 degrees.  And it felt GREAT.  I'm telling you, for us it was like being in Phoenix.  SWEAT ACTUALLY EVAPORATES AS ORIGINALLY INTENDED.

We had it in our minds to visit Wild About Harry's, the most ridiculously good frozen custard/hot dog joint in the known universe.  A Captain America milkshake was in my future, I thought.  Didn't happen, as we bolted town just a hair bit too early and the chilrun were already settled in on the drive.  Ah well, next time.  But I say that every time.

Next business trip up there, I'm hiring a cab and going, even if I miss my flight.  I'll post pictures of me in a dark suit by the giant (smiling) hot dog outside.

Some day, H.M. and I will sneak into town and spend an entire opulent weekend hitting every awesome restaurant up there that we miss.

Uh, assuming they're still open.