Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mr. Baseball and the Monkey, enjoying the new Chair

10 reasons we go to Wal-Mart

10. A top ten list of reasons to go to Wal-Mart should include some comment about the way their business model acts like a virus, latching onto a community and sucking it dry. But I don't want to begin there, because really, what more could be said than has been shouted from so many other blogs, books, and documentary exposés. What good would it do to mention how sad it seems to me that so much of the county's (and our own) Christmas shopping was done under the watchful eye of the big yellow smile. Or that I feel like a miner forced to shop at the company store, or a communist in a bread line, except that instead of standing in line at the only place in town that has bread, I'm standing in line at the only place in town that has anything.

9. Grover mentioned this in his blog last month, but there is the whole "degradation of food quality" issue at Wal-Mart, like the abominable donuts with their three and four layers of glaze, frosting, striping and sprinkles, colored in neon greens and blues and filled with a corn syrup/Crisco cocktail that can scarcely be considered "food." I mentioned the donuts to a woman behind the cake counter once, being careful to sound neutral and disinterested when I asked her if she was the one who decorated the donuts.

"Noooo," she said, with a sideways glance at the mutant pastries in the cases against the wall. "Those are done by the night people."

The "night people," are apparently a group of second class (or maybe third class) citizens who work all hours of the night wreaking havoc on what would other-wise be a fairly tame donut case at Wal-Mart. I picture frosting zombies holding pastry tubes in stiff outstretched arms, layering sprinkles through glazed-over eyes and limp lower lips.)

8. And its not just donuts. Produce at Wal-Mart, while priced fairly reasonably, is often either over-ripe, or green, hard, and woody. Anemic tomatoes, limp spinach, and bitter cucumbers make for sad salads.

7. Which, of course, is not a really fair argument against Wal-Mart, at least not in Athens, a hippie town with a year-round farmers market that sells the freshest of produce. But unless your schedule and your budget line up with the Market's, then your only other real alternative is the Kroger, which is open late, but suffers from the same price problems that the farmer's market does.

6. So we find ourselves going to Wal-Mart at least three times a week for food, light bulbs, feminine products, tooth paste, batteries, diapers, etc etc etc and we're getting to know some of the regular clerks who are glad to have work where they can get it, and we shop next to the same people every week and you can just tell how pleased so many of them are with the sheer size of the carts, the shelves, the selection, the falling prices, and of course, the mutant donuts.

5. And I'm beginning to think that I am too hard on Wal-Mart, too hypocritical, too holier than thou ("thou," of course being everyone else pushing a cart in the store, holier than the other poor families sitting in line to take family photos with cheap film in dated lighting that will be printed on cheap paper with sickly color values, and certainly holier than the rag-tag teenagers playing guitar hero in the back end of Seasonal).

4. And maybe there's a service Wal-Mart provides even to the self-righteous. By monopolizing the economy Wal-Mart maintains a steady enough level of odiouosity (get it? state of being odious) to keep the noses of customers like me sufficiently turned up in disgust, even as we are pushing our carts down the aisle. Thus we somehow justify our patronage with the negative feelings conjured up by being in the store.

3. In other words We get to feel self-righteous, holier than thou, and perfectly disgusted, and Wal-Mart still gets our money.

2. And so much of what we buy at Wal-Mart ends up breaking--mirrors, chairs, dishes, hangers--because we bought the "Great Value" brand at $2.42, instead of buying the national brand at $2.72, and the savings we supposedly see end up a wash anyway because we've got to go back and replace all the broken stuff.

1. Which was the case this year, with our own Wal-Mart portrait studio pictures, which we spent too much on, because we wanted the package deal that gave us enough little photos to send to our families. After spending 30$ and waiting two weeks for the prints to come back, we were left with what amounted to poorly developed snapshots of our boys that looked like bad school pictures. So, in frustration with Wal-Mart, I dressed the boys up in their Christmas best and took them and a camera to the park to have my own photo shoot, which turned out fairly well. And, then, thank heaven for Wal-Mart, I was able to print order them online at the one hour photo booth and we got the new photos sent off to our families on Christmas eve.

So, here they are. I don't know what to say, except that this is life in Athens. When Wal-Mart gives you unripe lemons, make Lemonade, extra high fructose corn syrup.

Wal-Mart aside, (and actually, thanks in-part to Wal-mart) we did have a fabulous Christmas--two days of relaxed playtime with the boys, just enough really good food, and lots of thoughtful gifts given and received.

We made a Japanese Christmas Cake for Christmas Eve, read the Christmas Story with Callan, and sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. We also made Sour Cream Twists (amazing Fitzgerald tradition!) and Mel and I had just about all the gifts taken care of by midnight.

The one gift that proved problematic was a rocking chair that Callan and I refinished for Melissa. We salvaged it from a move-out a week ago and it had a lot of cigarette smoke damage. Long story short--Callan and I sanded and stripped the chair and refinished it and bought new cushions for it, but the final coat of finish was still tacky on Christmas eve and the fumes were too much so we couldn't have it in the house. Luckily our neighbors were out of town and they had given me a key so I put it in their kitchen until the day after Christmas when we finally brought the chair inside.

The new seat in the house is everyone's favorite. Callan and Nolan probably spend a half an hour each sitting in it, reading books, and trying to make the rocker glide back and forth. Nolan in particular is fond of it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

COSI with Bob

We took another marathon trip to Columbus, this time not to the temple but to a museum! COSI
reminds me of going to OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) when I was growing up. I have fond memories of the "Earthquake House" and other exhibits that never seemed to get old. I was excited when I discovered COlumbus has similar museum, I knew Mr. Why would love it. It was more exciting when the website announced their Bob the Builder exhibit. If you're ever in Columbus and have a whole day to kill, go to COSI!

The Ocean exhibit had an old submarine (partially submerged in water even!) we got to climb inside. Good thing we're not claustrophobic!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sweet Tooth's increasingly problematic little habits

Another note. Sweet Tooth has been climbing like crazy. On the chairs, on the couch, on the shelves, on the beds, on his new bike, on the table! Perhaps we can find good use for it. Putting a star on the tree maybe?

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Fan Appreciation Day"

Last Saturday was “Fan appreciation Day” at the Ohio University Men’s Basketball game (which is a PR hack’s way of saying, “There are no students in town to come watch our team play, so we’re inviting the community to come for just $0.25 per ticket.”) Since tickets are usually $12 each, we figured we ought to take advantage of the deep discount. We all wore our Ohio t-shirts and got great seats just above the away team—University of Delaware. (Incidentally, we couldn’t figure out if the other team was from Delaware, the state, or perhaps one of the many Delaware Cities somewhere else in the United States. There are no less than 5 Delaware Cities in the U.S. besides the one in DE. Turns out they’re from the State, and their mascot is something fierce like a ‘Blue Hen’). When we sat down, Delaware—“The blue team”—scored and Callan shouted, “Whoo hoo. I want the blue team to win!” I informed him that we were Bobcats, and we were cheering for “the green team.”

“Which one is the green team?” he asked, which was a good question, because Ohio was actually wearing their home jerseys, which were white with just a little bit of green striping. To Callan, who has not yet learned the subtleties of team color palette standards, there was a white team and a blue team, but no green. I pointed the striping out to him and he got straightened out. Soon he was shouting “OHIO! OHIO! OHIO!” at the top of his lungs.

After the game Nolan and I followed Callan down on the court where both of them joined a few dozen other kids who were running around the floor, shooting little white plastic basketballs into the hoop. As part of “Fan Appreciation Day” the players came out to sign autographs, but the line was worse than a Santa line on black Friday so we opted out. Instead I met a friend for racquetball and Melissa went with the boys and some friends to Taco bell to exchange their ticket stubs for free tacos (another “Fan Appreciation” gimmick). At $0.25 per ticket, and free tacos for each ticket, we all figured we should have bought a dozen tickets. Oh well.

The game had all the feel of a good college basketball game, including some impressive (if not spectacular) basketball by Ohio’s front five, a lively crowd, cheer leaders throwing t-shirts and plastic basketballs into the crowd, cheesy advertisement-cum-fan participation contests, and, of course, overly enthusiastic fans shouting at the referees (including one loud woman sitting a few rows in front of us who appeared to be connected to the Delaware team and who did not have many nice things to say about the officiators).

The small town twist for this game came at the half time show—eight ten-year-old synchronized jump ropers from Parkersburg, WV known as “High Five.” They did great, only messing up a few times. That kind of thing always makes me nervous. Not because I’m worried about them getting hurt, but worried about how they’ll feel if the mess up. As a ten year old who broke down into tears regularly after striking out in little league baseball, I can relate all too well to how it feels to mess up in front of a crowd. And in something like dance you just can’t stop in the middle, even if you really screw up. And when you’re just watching them, literally praying for them to do well, and they mess up, what can you do except cheer hard for them so they know you’re on their side—nothing to do but cheer and pray.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, please oh please don't kill me (or my children)

We got our tree up last week—a free live tree from a friend. In addition to worrying about Nolan pulling off and eating/breaking/losing all the ornaments, or spilling/drinking/playing in the water in the tree stand, or climbing up/pulling over/breaking down the tree, according to CNN we now have worry about lead in the vinyl wire covering on the lights (as if we weren’t already worried about the perfect storm of dry tree, cheap lights, and power surge). But for now everyone is safe, lead free, and not on fire, so it should be a merry Christmas.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Whose Bathroom is it anyway?

Last night Callan and I braved the icy roads to do a little Christmas shopping for Melissa. We decided this year that Callan ought to make gifts for everyone, rather than spend a lot of money, and I've been trying to help him come up with something for Melissa on his own. I thought a walk through the store might stimulate some ideas. I primed Callan with a few questions as we drove to the store, asking him what he thought mommy might WANT for Christmas. He couldn't think of anything. "Okay, What does mommy NEED?" I asked him. He thought for a long time and then said,

"Her own Potty," an answer that attests to Callan's listening skills. Melissa has on a number of occasions (usually when she has just used the bathroom after Callan) lamented the fact that she has to share a bathroom with " little boys" (I'm still not sure why she pluralizes 'little boys,' since Nolan doesn't use the bathroom yet). She dreams of the day when she no longer has to compete for counter space or toilet, sink, medicine cabinet, and mirror time with me, or Callan or anybody else and on more than one occasion she has hinted that when we do have two bathrooms, I might be relegated to sharing with boys so she can have her space.

The truth, however must be told. The bathroom is already Melissa's. Anyone who spends any time there, as I have recently, can tell almost immediately, by the reading material alone, that this is no man's bathroom. Family Fun, Mothering, Good Housekeeping? That's the reading selection currently on the shelf. Whose bathroom?

Not that I don't appreciate a good article on public breastfeeding or on how to make Christmas ornaments out of popcorn and pipe cleaners, because I do, and not that I don't appreciate Faith Hill's "Inspiring advice--and funniest-ever story," in the "Giant Holiday Issue," with the "Bonuse Ultimate Holiday Planner," and the "Perfect Party Dresses (Under $100!)," but while being "commodious" a guy might want to read an article in Time, or maybe something from Outdoors or even the AWP Magazine, something without a lot of billowy fabric, holiday recipes, or advertisements for Coldwater Creek.

When we were kids, my youngest older sister, Misha,--ever outnumbered by her four brothers--was at some point given the hall bathroom to call her own. Central to the entire house, and complete with tub-shower, ceiling fan, and ample cabinet space, the "middle bathroom" as we once called it, (with no intentional Tolkienian reference), was prime real estate for vain teenagers and became the sight of many a battles worthy of a J.R.R. himself. It became known, despite our best efforts, as the "girls' bathroom" (or was that "girl's bathroom," I could never tell, even though there was only one Misha).

The "boys' bathroom" resided in the farthest, coldest, most remote outcropping of the house in the back of the laundry room, behind a weathered pocket door that only halfway worked. The low toilet, industrial sink, and curtain-less fogged window screamed "concentration camp" and it seemed that toilet paper was always in short supply.

We all still used the middle bathroom, but Misha's "ownership" made innocent transgressions like leaving the lid up, or tinkling on the toilet seat, or forgetting to flush, or leaving any variety of hair anywhere was cause for battle royale. However, the only time she could really exercise her eminent domain over the "middle bathroom," was if she had to use it at the same time one of us boys did. The boys were sent to the boys' bathroom.

Who wants a bathroom anyway? There are so many other rooms in a house that it seems almost silly to pine for a private potty. What about the kitchen, or the hallway, or the living room? Yes. When we have a bigger house, I would like my own hallway, one I don't have to share with anyone, one I can walk through in peace. Some day. Some day.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Coconut Soup Recipe, as requested

This is the funniest recipe, but it turns out really well! I usually use about 4 red potatoes, 2 carrots, and 1 medium zucchini. Oh and I always add chopped onion, occasionally cubed chicken and chicken broth instead of water. This amount usually uses 2 cans of coconut milk.
Curry Coconut Soup

some potatoes, diced
some carrots, cut into matchsticks
some zucchinis, diced
enough cans coconut milk to cover these vegetables in the pan
add enough water to thin it down as much as you like
some red curry paste (maybe about 1/2+ tsp for a pot with enough soup for 6-8 servings)
some fish sauce (maybe about 1-2 Tbs for the same size pot)
some pure maple syrup (1-2 T?, or 4? large medjool dates (pitted), or 1-2? Tbs brown sugar )

Place cut up vegetables in a pot, and then add enough canned coconut milk to cover them. Add water to thin to desired broth thickness. Add to taste red curry paste and fish sauce. Add preferred sweetener: if using medjool dates, blend them with a little coconut milk. Cook until vegetables are done.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Super Tar-mart!

Callan has been waiting and waiting for it to snow. He looks outside every morning to check and this morning he got his wish! It's after 1pm and it's been snowing all day. Check out the campus webcam. The trees around here had lost all their leaves; it was starting to feel pretty lone and dreary. But now the snow cheered things up! And since it cheered me up here's some things I'm grateful for that I didn't mention during the recent Gratitude-day.

- A live tree! A gift from some friends.

- A tree that's still alive! And not torched after we accidentally left the lights on all night

- Coconut Soup. It's delicious.

- Coconut Soup with Lemon Red Curry Chicken on the side. WAY delicious.

- Little boys who smile and laugh all day

- Little boys who smile and laugh all day because they're getting so much sleep at night now

-Walmart. ugh. Yes, I can say that. I can do it and really mean it. And wait a sec, lest you think I've become a Walmart-o-phile I didn't say I LOVE it, I said I'm grateful for it. Grateful that it's 5 minutes away and that I can actually buy things I need there. White Paper for instance that didn't cost me $4.50 for a half-ream. And cheap tree stands and clearance matching shirts for those smilers and laughers. And just one tiny little request now for Walmart. Would you please magically change into a Target? I would be so much more grateful for you! Maybe Santa could help you out, or the Genie? Or maybe in the very least you could change into the first Super Tar-mart! Thank-you kindly Walmart. Much appreciated. You can stay Walmart in all those places where people can choose where to shop.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My New Temp Job

I started working this week for the University's telephone fund drive. The job is three-and-a-half weeks long, pays $8.15 an hour, and hints at the possibility of occasional free pizza and other "prizes" for employees who meet their pledge goals. Besides trading my time and my shame for $8.15 an hour, the job isn't too bad, and has not, to this point, meant making pushy phone calls to irate alumni (This is not, after all, telemarketing—a fact reiterated several times during the four-hour-long orientation). It does mean that I was encouraged to write my own script so I would sound more genuine (a move I appreciated because "cheesy" would be a nice way to describe the sugar-coated blah that "Corporate" had prepared for us), and it does mean that because I'm new, and my skills are unproven, I spend six hours on the phone four days a week calling "non-donors"—a spirited group which includes the very oldest of alumni who've never given (I called a woman yesterday who graduated in 1922), and the most recent of graduates (most of my calls last night were to alumni from this decade, the vast majority of whom are still paying off student loans, or are barely making enough to get by and who would love to pledge but probably can't until next year).

One call last night brought the whole call center (about 12 people) into silence. I hung up the phone and said, "The person I just called was murdered three weeks ago." The person I talked to, who I can only guess was the widow, told me in a broken voice that the man I was calling for was not there because he was dead, and he had been murdered at the beginning of the month. I didn't know what to say except to apologize, assure her that we would make note of it in our records, and hang up after whispering "God bless you." I couldn't believe it, and wouldn't have believed it if she hadn't sounded so convincing, and if we hadn't all looked up the murder on the internet.

The alumnus in question was 25, married with a small child, and was shot and killed more than three weeks ago, we found out from a newspaper website. He was coming out of a store he managed late, and was accosted in the parking lot. The criminal is still at large and the case appears to be a mystery. What isn't a mystery is how devastated the widow must be. I spoke with her for less than a minute, and she only said, "he's dead, He was murdered," but her voice said everything: that for three soul-scouring weeks her bed has been half-empty at night, her kitchen table 2/3 full in the morning, the phone not ringing midday on his break at work, her daughter perpetually waiting for Dadda to come home, the Christmas tree out in the back never trimmed and brought in to be decorated, the ignorant telemarketers calling for him, asking when they should call back, and all she wants to do is scream "NEVER!" "NEVER CALL BACK!" And all anyone can do is apologize and feel awful in the distant way that bystanders always feel when they know that now is not the time for laughing, or frowning, or even crying because it is impossible to even begin to have empathy for a mother and wife who has just lost half of herself to a reckless criminal too short-sided to think what he might actually be doing, impossible even to find a good way to end this blog entry without sounding negative, or sentimental or irritatingly optimistic, or at worst, moralizing.

Monday, November 26, 2007

What's the worst thing about giving plasma?

I started donating plasma last week, and today I went for my third "donation" (we're technically donating the plasma, and the money we receive,--$60 a week--is compensation for our time, but I still feel like I'm selling my body, even if only 880 ml of it). The entire process is rather uncomfortable, but I can’t decide which part of the procedure is the most offensive:

maybe the dozen or so questions about my sexual history that I have to answer every time I donate, even though the answers will never change.

or maybe the finger-prick during the pre-screening used to collect blood to check my iron and protein levels, which has created a small puncture wound on the end of three different fingers now (one finger for each visit--I'm rotating to spread the joy around a little bit, that way I'll only have to have the same finger pricked every month or so)

or the thirty-second iodine swab that isn’t supposed to hurt at all but drives me to distraction with the cold, relentless, circular pressure on my veins,

or the actual needle poke at the beginning of the extraction process, which takes place after the iodine swab, but before the iodine has dried, allowing only the slightest bit of iodine to come in contact with the broken skin, which adds an acrid sting to the already painful violation of the needle poke, which I can’t bring myself to watch because the whole process reminds me way too much of the Tropicana orange juice commercial where a hand model inserts a large candy-cane-striped straw into the side of an orange,

or the metallic film that seems to cover my mouth during the procedure, like I’ve been sucking on ball-bearings, or swallowing blood from a bleeding gum-line,

or perhaps at the end of the procedure when the phlebotomist removes the two or three strands of tape from my arm that have been holding the rubber tube in place--an unceremonious process that pulls at, but never quite removes several dozen arm-hairs,

or the icy tingle that washes over me at the very end of the procedure when 500 ml of room-temperature saline solution (approximately 72 degrees) are being pumped into my 98.6 degree body to help jump start the plasma regeneration process. The 26 degree difference eerily mimicks the sensation of jumping into a swimming pool after being in the Jacuzzi, the relative cold of the saline causing first my arm to chill, and then, during the drive home, if I forgot my coat, my whole body to shudder, my arm remaining strangely cold hours after donating

or the maybe at the end of the night, peeling and peeling and peeling off the neon green stretch tape that the phlebotomist wrapped around my arm earlier that day just above the elbow in order to sustain the necessary pressure to stop any bleeding.

As uncomfortable as the process is, a certain satisfaction rings through me when I scan my finger at the end of the procedure and the small screen tells me money has been added to my account. Easy money. Money I got for sitting an reading a book for an hour, for putting up with a few pokes and a few scabs, money that this December will mean a cozy (if frugal) Christmas with a few well planned gifts, money that means my wife and I can breathe a little, feel comfortable at least nodding to the cultural expectations of the holiday, enjoy a few sips of warm tea on Christmas Eve without worrying about our credit card balance or our student loan ledger. 'Tis the season for giving anyway, right!

Nolan's many new talents

Friday, November 16, 2007

On Birthdays

At twenty-seven I am beginning to feel old. I know how silly that must sound, how everyone older than me, particularly those who are several years older, perhaps twice or three times my age, must consider a statement like that rather foolish. Nonetheless, that is how I feel. For the first time in my life I have gained a little weight (about 8 pounds, in case you were wondering) and though it doesn't show, it certainly feels. It feels right now in my waist, around the skin on my stomach, in my sides when I lean over, in my chest when I climb stairs, in my slacks as I type these words at my computer. Until recently I had never noticed the waist line of my slacks, except perhaps at Thanksgiving, but now I notice it every morning when I button the pants that once hung loosely on my hips and now fit "just so." In fact, I notice my slacks quite a bit more than I ever have and they have become quite a troublesome reminder of what it means to be getting "older."

I can remember thinking as an eighteen-year-old that I had until at least 26 to worry about what I ate. I gave myself almost a decade before exercise and diet would have any noticeable effect on me and my prediction turned out almost exactly right. A year ago, at 26 I began to notice for the first time that the jeans I had been wearing were a little tight, and by last summer, I had completely given up on three pairs of pants, purchasing new slacks, and new pair of jeans, all a size larger than I normally wear--the size I've worn since i was fourteen-years-old. Fourteen! For 13 years I've been metabolizing everything like an incinerator--candy, chips, chocolate, doughnuts, cake, chocolate, ice cream, cookies, chocolate, waffles, crepes, chocolate--and now, at 27, my body has finally decided to turn down the heat. I have a pair of basketball shorts in my drawer right now that I purchased during my eighth grade year and though I can still wear them, this year--for the first time--they are beginning to fit a little funny.

And its not just the nagging way that once perfectly fitting clothing has begun to tug, cinch, press, and twist around my body that is making me feel old, there is something particular about the number twenty-seven. When I was twenty-one, going back three years put me at eighteen, which felt and sounded young. Same with going back three years form twenty-four--21 just sounds young. But at 27 going back three years puts me at 24, which, while not old, certainly doesn't sound young anymore, at least to me.

I have seven brothers and sisters, and all but two of us are officially out of our twenties, a fact that causes awful fits of "old" if I think about it too long. I have a sister just a few years from fifty, and I'm more than half way there myself. But don't get me wrong, getting older certainly doesn't mean I feel bad about it. Because, well, the fact is I'm not "OLD," I'm just "older" than I used to be, which is still quite young. And I feel like this whole trauma about my "waste" line is more than neurotic paranoia, less than some existential crisis. To say "I'm beginning to feel mortal" would imply that up until now I had felt more than mortal, which is not true. Rather, I've felt "present-tense," with everything before me, the future creating itself in every verb, and lately, for the first time, I've begun to see, be it ever so blurry, the "past-tense" I have created, and I feel a little tarnished, a little used, a little, okay, mortal. No, this is no existential crisis, more like an existential sigh.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Belated Birthday Message

"There's nothing better than a good [husband], except a good [husband] with chocolate!"
Linda Grayson, "The Pickwick Papers"

Dear Joey-

Happy 27th Birthday! I meant to post this on your actual birthday, but life got in the way the last few days. As it often does, but I won't let it stop me from thanking you for being everything to me: my husband, partner-in-parenting, counselor, shoulder to cry on, comic relief, organizer, planner, cheerleader confidant, co-chef, dance partner and absolute best friend.

Thanks for being my chocolate,
you make my life sweeter!

Your Lucky Wife

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Blogger Guilt

I signed in to Grover's blog today, and was irked to see that he just posted yesterday, but was somewhat consoled by the fact that, prior to today, he hadn't posted since the 8th, which was Thursday, which means he isn't posting every day, which means he isn't entirely wiping the floor with me in terms of the "attention-paid-to-one's-blog" measurement of success, which is almost as important a measure of one's writerly success as, for instance, the "length-of-run-on-sentences-used-in-ones-blog" measurement, which I also like to pay attention to. But still it definitely gets me that the November 8th post on his blog was made with pictures from my own camera and somehow, I sent them to him without posting them on here.

But this blog, as much fun as it is to keep the pictures updated and occasionally sit down as I am doing right now to consider my life as it flops about in front of me like a hooked fish on the dock (Thin "lots going on, but not much control"), is actually just another item on the long list of to dos that I find myself feeling guilty about. Like exercising or saying morning prayers or saving money or reading more, blogging tends to maintain a high enough position on my list for me to notice, but rarely high enough for me to do anything about it. And its not that I don't feel like I've got things to write, because I do. Every day I notice little things of interest that I think ought to end up here--overheard conversations, fleeting thoughts, observations on parenting, and at the very least, the events of the day--but taking the time to actually do it is often the real problem.

For instance, yesterday was my birthday. It was an absolutely wonderful day ( and not just because of all the chocolate I got to eat, though that always helps). We had chocolate waffles for breakfast and then Melissa went to an activity at the church while the boys and I spent the morning together. We wrestled, colored, made paper airplanes, played at the baker center, ate lunch, read stories, and made Nolan's birthday cake. In the evening we had Dave, John, and Poulani (sp.?) over for the best Okonomiyaki we've ever made, and then had ice cream sandwiches. Callan climbed all over everyone, and Nolan made a terrific mess with his birthday cake, and it was by all measures, a good evening.

And as for Friday night, I ought to mention that after putting Callan to bed I sat down to the computer to look at, the online accommodation/networking site we've used three times now to find free places to stay, and I was looking at places in NYC when Melissa came in and asked what I was doing. I told her I was looking for potential places to stay if we ever made it the AWP conference in January. She smiled at me and said, "I was going to wait until tomorrow, but I think I'll give you your birthday present now," and she pulled a gift bag from the closet and handed it to me. Inside was a map of NYC, a guide book, and a print out of a flight confirmation for all of us to go to New York for the AWP conference. A week ago she'd found 20$ round-trip tickets to New York on Skybus, so we're going. It was, as things usually are with Melissa, pleasant, and surprising.

In October, we posted a whopping seven posts, most of which were pictures, and some of them were catch up posts that should have been posted in September. Is it fair to use the busy parent excuse? No, not really. Blogging is at best another way to keep up with family, at worst a neurotic diversion, and maybe I should feel better about the amount of time it isn't consuming. In fact, I think I'll take advantage of the fact that everyone else is sleeping right now, and do the same.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Birthday Boy!

Happy Birthday Nolan!

On the box

What was in the box!

Nolan- We're so glad you're part of our family, you make us laugh so often, especially when you climb inside the computer cabinet, or into the drawer under the stove. It's so fun to watch grow and learn. We love you!
Mamma, Dad and Big Brother Callan

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Halloween in Athens happens between 5:30pm and 6:30pm and everyone gets involved. Callan was a firefighter (thanks Nana and Papa), and I was the fire. The bugs in Melissa's hair were SO gross, and Nolan spent most of his time looking grumpy in his duck costume.

Callan and Nolan tried out their glowsticks in the car on the way home from trick-or-treating.

A few weeks ago we attended the OU Homecoming parade. Firetrucks, bands, floats! It was great. Notice the cool brick sidewalks that are all over campus.

The band really puts on a show, dancing almost as much as they play.

It was the first really cold morning, and once again, Nolan is scowling. We promise he smiles quite a bit more than it appears here.

Callan, Melissa, and Nolan went with several friends from church to a pumpkin patch. Callan, we've decided has corn husk hair.

Nolan and the pumpkins. Both got dirty, both rolled around a lot, and in the end, both were picked up off the ground and put in the car.

Nolan can "officially" walk, as long as someone is dangling a wallet, camera, or other interesting object in front of him, but mostly he cruises, one hand on a chair, or couch, or, in this case, a half buried rubber tire, and then he falls on his diaper cushioned bum.

The Baker Student Center at OU has six pool tables, a ping pong table, and a foosball table that anybody can use. About once a week Callan and I take the 5 minute walk to the Center to play. Callan's enthusiasm more than makes up for any deficit in skill.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

So much to say...

Pumpkin patches, parades, Halloween Parties, road trips, sick kids. That is what we've been up to for the past few weeks and tonight, with the house clean, the kids asleep, and school at bay, Melissa and I are finally sitting down to post a few pictures, watch a little television, and enjoy the absence of something to do, somewhere to be.

few weeks back we hiked a short trail in Strouds Run State Park. Nolan liked it more than he's letting on here, but he did manage to fall asleep in the backpack. He's just beginning to take a few steps now, and it won't be long before he's hiking up the trail, chasing after Callan.

The Ohio wilderness dripped, dangled, and draped all around this leafy trail in a manner that would have made Robert Frost proud. Spider webs hung at eye level, squirrels watched us from low branches, and deep in the brush, just beyond our focus, we could make out the footprint of several derelict homesteads, including a brick building that made our apartment look huge by comparison. The trail we hiked lead to a small pioneer cemetery, home to perhaps a eight grave plots.

Callan would have kept hiking all day if we hadn't forced him to turn around and head for the car. His biggest problem, deciding which stick to carry with him. He finally chose a fairly good sized walking stick that I convinced him to leave behind, leaning against a tree for the next hiker to use, rather than bring it home to our apartment complex.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Rhetoric of Helping Children Pray

This morning we knelt down for family prayer and I asked Callan if he would like to help Nolan say the prayer. Callan smiled, bowed his head, looked sideways at Nolan, and in his most cutesy, condescending, but sincere parent voice possible said,

"Dear Father," then paused for Nolan to repeat after him, even though Nolan is not even a year old and was at that moment chewing on a toy cell phone.

"Thank you for this day," continued Callan, dutifully pausing for Nolan.

"Thank you for Mommy's breast milk." pause.

"Thank you fro Mommy, Daddy, and Callan," pause again.

"In the name of Jesus Christ Amen."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Four is Funny

Last night Joey and I and Nolan were sitting on the couch when we decided to throw the blanket over ourselves and "hide" from Callan who was playing nearby. Callan decided to join in underneath and I whispered to him, "No who are we hiding from?" and he replied "Jesus!"
"Why are we hiding from Jesus?"
"He has sprinkles!"
It was good for a chuckle.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Thank-you Charlotte

On Saturday Joey and Callan read the last 30 or so pages of Charlotte's Web, just in time for us to watch the movie. A few weeks ago I realized we could start reading chapter books to Callan, since he listens so intently to stories. Charlotte's Web is our first, what a hit! After nearly ever chapter he would say , "Puleease, can we read some more?" or "Just one more chapter!" We read two short chapters a day and thought we could finish by Saturday, watch the movie in celebration and move on to the next book. Well, it didn't work quite that easy. Things were busy, Callan was tired, it was late. We had over 60 pages left to read on Friday afternoon. But Joey and Callan read and read Friday night, woke up Saturday and read some more. Joey especially liked the last line. "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."
The movie was enjoyable and our first attempt at Read-Aloud was a success! Today we started with James and the Giant Peach; Callan could barely stand to go to bed after 5 (short!) chapters. It makes a mom and his literary dad happy!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

An athiest, a Mormon, an agnostic, and a Catholic walk into a restaurant...

No, that's not the beginning of a joke, that's a description of our trip to Oregon. For the first time in more than three years all of my brothers and sisters got together, and for the first time that I can remember we were all dressed up. So even if Misha's new husband was not as cool as he actually is (and we're so glad he is), the wedding would have been worth it to get everyone together. Jason traveled with two kids from Utah, Josh drove from Las Vegas by way of every friend he knows in California, Sherri drove from Seattle and stuck the entire weekend out with a migraine, Kristi opened her home to five of us (making it a grand total of 11 people in her home for much of the weekend), and we flew from Ohio, traveling all day to get there. Tom lives in Portland, so at least he didn't have to travel a ton. Far from a complaint though, this description is reason for celebration--we all love each other enough to actually do what we did to get together for one weekend to celebrate a wedding, and we survived it without killing each other (which in our family is saying something). Incidentally, both Josh and Sherri were involved in car accidents on the way home from the wedding. Josh hit a garbage can in the middle of the freeway at 1:30 in the morning somewhere in California and Sherri was rear-ended on the way back to Seattle.

Misha's wedding was the first time our bunch has gotten together as full-blown adults (The last time we all got together Tom was only 17, maybe just barely 18, but all of us who where 18 once know that 18 still isn't quite adulthood--I'm not sure 26 is either for that matter).

I don't know what that must be like for my parents to sit in a room full (literally) of their grown children, and their children's children (They have 11 grand kids under the age of 18.) I look at my own children, my two boys--one just learning to coordinate his right and left feet into the stumblings of a first few steps, and the other who I picture sitting on the toilet, swinging his feet, shouting to me "I'm ready to be wiped," conscious of this final vestige of toddlerhood--and I am as excited for their eventual maturity as I am scared of it. I wonder if I will like the adult versions of my boys. I wonder if I'll be able to deal with the decisions they make on their own, without my permission, without my input. Will they grow up wanting to hunt deer or ride dirt bikes, and if so, what will I ever have to talk with them about? Will they run from academia like I am running towards it? Join the military? Go to law School? Grow their hair long and get tattoos? Will they love the Church that I love, or will they balk and religion? Will they want to come home for the holidays? Will they resent my presence? Roll their eyes? Grudgingly tolerate me? Will they call me up for advice, ask me for help changing out break pads, invite me on their camping trips? We've got nothing but possibilities and probabilities at this point, and maybe we're better off for not knowing, but I still can't help but wonder when I look at the diversity in my own family and think of how we all started out as little diapered dervishes spinning around the legs of our parents--all of us, the same parents, and all of us so very different.

At the rehearsal dinner, which was actually a picnic, I found myself standing in the parking lot, staring at the automobiles of my adult siblings. Five of us had cars there, and short of any epiphany, I felt like I was on to something. Not to anything profound or prophetic (as Jason worried aloud to me over the phone--that the kind of cars we drive might say something larger about the kinds of people we are) but to something interesting, descriptive if not prescriptive about the way my maturing family circle is evolving.

Krysti is the oldest. She has six kids under the age of 18, five still at home, and one in a booster seat. They bought this car in a small town in either Idaho or Utah several years ago during a family road trip in which their old car, also a suburban, gave up the ghost somewhere between Oregon and Yosemite. As you can imagine, the leather seats, flip down DVD player, and million cup holders was quite an upgrade.

Next is Sherri. She drives a Hyundai Sonata and taught us all a thing or two about purchasing a new vehicle when she purchased this car (or one like it, I don't remember) several years ago. She read a book about how to work the system when you want to buy a new car and she worked it good, paying thousands under dealer invoice for exactly what she wanted. Since moving to the Northwest 14 or so years ago, she has regularly driven down from Seattle to Portland for holidays, graduations, musical performances, athletic events and any number of family get-togethers. three years ago Sherri helped Melissa and I pull off one of the better surprises we've pulled on Mom. Without telling anyone, Mel and I flew to Sherri's place in Seattle and spent a few days before Thanksgiving playing around Seattle with her. Then we drove down to Portland for Thanksgiving and surprised everyone by showing up with Sherri when they thought we were still in Utah.

Jason drives a mustang. He could drive nothing but a mustang, because well, he is one. Okay, that's not entirely true, but he is the kind of guy who has scaled barbed wire fences in order to climb 200 foot tall radio towers. He's also the kind of guy who has called me from his cell phone to tell me he's in a rental car in a hotel parking garage in Atlanta and he wants me to know that he's finally perfected his powerslide. He also happens to be one of the best Dads I know. He puts hundreds of miles a month on this car driving between Logan and Salt Lake so he can spend time with his children, and he loves them and leads them with a kind-hearted fatherliness that could save nations if it were applied liberally.

When Misha bought this car in 2001, it was her baby. Candy apple red, manual transmission, get-out-of-my-way. We once drove it to Cannon Beach to participate in a sandcastle competition where we took third place. I'd never done anything like that before but she let me come anyway. I carried buckets of water, piled sand, and even sculpted the sand log in the above linked picture. Misha was once so serious about sandcastles that she and her team traveled to Mazatlan Mexico to build exhibition sculptures at a contest there. She's done Sand in the City several times (a sand sculpting competition that involves tons and tons of sand being dumped in the middle Square in Downtown Portland).

Josh is an industrial techno DJ (He would probably give a clearer, more nuanced definition of his music). Razorslave is his casual moniker. The full title is "The Rev. DJ Razorlsave," and he is actually a Reverend, or at least he was at one point (he performed a wedding for some friends a few years back). These days he DJ's at a club in downtown Las Vegas and occasionally at weddings and he drives a blue Saturn VUE--not the most industrial of vehicles but it gets great gas mileage and has plenty of space for his DJ equipment and his huge stereo system. He often got a kick out of catching me--his straight laced Mormon brother--dancing in the kitchen as his music streamed down the hall in our old house in Beaverton.

This is Tom's new toy, I think its a Nissan Pathfinder, and he loves it. Like him, its kind of big, but unassuming, fun, but practical. He described to me with great satisfaction the work that he's done on it to get it running, and I believe him, and I'm impressed. Tom stayed behind in Portland when my parents moved to Las Vegas a few years ago and almost under all our noses he has become quite an adult.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

More From the trip to Columbus

Fall is beautiful and so are my boys! We took some great pictures outside on our visit to the Columbus temple last week. It was our first visit to a small temple and we were both surprised at how small it really was. Joey and I took turns attending sessions/watching boys so we both got to go and we both had some fun with the kids! Before the 1.5 hr drive back home we took some great snapshots and walked around the grounds of the temple and yard of the neighboring stake center.