"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Christmas Tree and Other Irritations

So, mostly I just gush about the boy all the time around here.

But I'm noticing our Christmas tree over in the corner and it's looking sad. In the past, dozens of different kinds of ornaments have adorned its branches. We don't follow any certain style; over the years, we've collected a variety of flavors. Some fancy crystal, some homemade felt. Some green and red balls, some tourist souvenirs. But place them all overlapping the festive blinking lights, fill the room with more eclectic tastes of the season, and the tree appears downright elegant.

Here's what it looks like this year:
That looks even worse than in real life. Here. It looks slightly better with the lights on, but you can't really tell how the ornaments are distributed. It's just such a mess, I'm embarrassed to even post these pictures.

Any guesses why it looks this way?

Generally, Xander's pretty great. But the fact that he's turned our Christmas tree into this mockery of a Christmas tree is distressing. I understand I shouldn't expect much else. He's a precocious toddler with nothing else to do but run amok throughout the house. But he's broken at least four of the ornaments and I've punctured my foot on an ornament hook when he generously distributed a bunch around the floor. It hurt.

So I'm in a mood to discuss a few other annoying aspects of the toddler and his ways.

I wear glasses. Always have. My wife, too. If you're blessed with infallible eyes, I won't be able to explain in words the importance of fitting a pair of spectacles so well that you forget they're on your face. Seriously, when that child doesn't want to be held and he reaches up to grab your glasses when he knows how much it infuriates you...I can't even end that sentence. But once he has the temple in his little vice grip, you can't just move your head or he'll snap the little plastic piece in two. You can't reach up to stop him; your hands are full and busy holding on to his wiggles and squirms. He knows very well he has the advantage. You just have to let it happen. He takes the glasses off your head, and depending on his own level of frustration, might send them flying across the room or restaurant or holds them away from you, smiling broadly, a game of keep away at full tilt.

This happened to me once.
But it was a soccer ball, not a toddler's foot.
The whole issue is aggravated when he accidentally smacks his face or foot or something else into your glasses. Right there on the corner of the frame where the joints are so precariously fitted, so perfectly formed that the glasses stay comfortably on your nose without slipping, without pinching your ears. And when you collect them and put them back on, the chances of them being slightly askew, which means infinitely maddening, are so high that you almost just want to throw them in the trash and start over at America's Best in the morning. Of course, how would you get there if you couldn't see?

And you already know my feelings about the detritus that gathers on our hardwood floors. As the boy gets older and has graduated from a high chair to a booster seat at the kitchen table, the detritus has only gotten worse. He's still strapped down because if he weren't he would hardly eat anything before slipping under the table and running away with a curt "bye-bye" and a wave. So when he's through eating what's on his plate, he simply grabs it and dumps the remaining contents on the floor. It happens so quickly, no amount of watchful hovering can stop it. There is no defense. The food ends up on the floor, and whatever is left on the table is then brushed off with his hands, quick like a bunny, because he's anything if not courteous enough to clear his entire place from the dinner table.

He knows how to say "I'm done," or at least "Down." But he doesn't. Then he runs off and leaves the sweeping to Daddy.

The last item on my list today is the "No" as first response. Throughout the day, your questions might go something like this:

"Xander, do you want some cookies for dinner?" "No."

"Is it time to play with your trains?" "No."

"Do you want to wear your monster jammies or your monkey jammies?" "No."

Xander also does a smashing "Ka-Chow!"
And then all you can do is giggle.
"How about some Cars 2 tonight?" "No...Yes, my daddy." He says "My daddy" and "My mommy." Like, I say, "Say thank you, Xander," and he says, "Denk oo, my daddy." It's pretty freakin cute.

But I digress. What was I saying?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Big Boy Bed

I don't know where my son is right now.

I'm pretty sure he's in his room. I'd have heard the door open if he'd escaped. But exactly where he is in that room? That's a mystery. I could check. A good inch-wide gap separates his bedroom door from the floor, the result of wall-to-wall carpeting however long ago. These days we go with naked hardwood. If I lie on the floor a little ways down the hall, I can get something of a view inside the room. But right now, I think all I'd see is blankets piled on the floor, tossed off the bed.

Not long ago, a monkey foot wrapped in footie pajamas forced its way under the door in an effort to escape the confines of the room then got stuck there. I had no choice but to open the door and replace the monkey boy back into his big boy bed.

Thus began Xander's first night sleeping without a crib.

A couple of days ago, the boy was committing some random terrorism around the house and ended up in time out. His mother and I put him in his crib while we went to clean up whatever mess he had made. We returned not more than 30 seconds later and entered his room to find him smiling proudly, lounging in the armchair we'd put in there a few days ago while he was up all night coughing his lungs out and not sleeping much. The plushy armchair is more comfortable for a parent sitting up with a sick child, but apparently we'd left it too close to the crib because he'd figured out he could use it to his advantage and stage a prison break.

It was a watershed moment.

I removed the chair, all the while knowing any day now the boy would discover another way out of the crib. After all, a handy rocking chair had sat next to his crib for two years now. It was a much shorter drop than to the floor.

Then today at 1:59 p.m., I received a text from my wife declaring the following:

Put Xan in his crib for a nap. A few minutes later he opened the door and ran out to give me a hug. Huge grin on his face. Guess what we're doing tonight?

I laughed out loud. When I got home the first thing the boy did was show me how he could climb out of his crib by balancing precariously over the corner and dropping kind of sideways onto the rocking chair. Easy peasy. How proud he was.

So we turned the crib into a big boy bed. Four walls no more, the cage is gone, replaced by a guard rail that's supposed to keep the child from rolling onto the floor, but which facilitates an easy climb in and out of bed.

"Are you ready for what's going to happen tonight?" I asked my wife when the bed was complete again.

"No," she answered, but didn't offer any words of wisdom. Please refer to the Great Sleep Debate of 2012 to remind yourself of what we went through to get the boy to go down and sleep all night in the first place. Now I was worried the debate was about to start up all anew.

Bedtime rolled around tonight. Mommy conveniently found a way to leave the house. I read him a few books, watched some of an episode of The Last Airbender until he was sleepy, then put him down in his new big boy bed. He curled up in his blanky like he does, turned over, and seemed to get right to sleep. We've trained him well, I thought. Mom will come home and be so impressed. No debate necessary.

I exited the room, closed the door tightly so he couldn't open it. The door jam is sticky, so even if he could turn the knob, he couldn't open the door. I figure that's our next hurdle.

Is this so terrible? With my oldest daughter, we strapped her into her bed until she would request it before we left the room at night. Otherwise she never would have stayed in bed long enough to fall asleep. But her mother and I hadn't trained her like we've trained the boy, so I figure only a few nights of blockade will be necessary for him to learn that sleep happens in bed, not on the floor at the door breathing the radiance creeping in from whatever party Mommy and Daddy have going for the rest of the night.

So, after sticking one foot under the door, emptying out several of his dresser drawers, crying the dark because he'd turned off his own nightlight, sitting with Mommy after all because she came home and couldn't stand him crying in the dark, he has chosen this:
Atta boy.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Trains and the Two-Year-Old Boy

At two-years-old, Xander can't get enough out of trains.

He wakes up in the morning calling out, "Choo choo!" Mom and Dad hear it through the baby monitor, and it's enough to make me want to ditch the whole system. If he wants me to wake up, he can climb out of the crib and say "choo choo!" at me in person. I don't think Mom is there yet, though.

When we finally pull him from the crib, then, he runs to wherever he was last night with his trains before being forced to give them up in favor of a pacifier and cup of milk. He carries at least three trains in his arms, wanders around the house, sometimes putting the trains on a track, sometimes just pushing them around the floor or couch or table or bathtub, always with the mantra, "Trains. Choo choo. Trains. Choo choo" on his lips.

And the perpetual smile is kinda creepy.
He watches a variety of train-related videos during the day. Thomas the Tank Engine is one of the favorites, much to my chagrin. At least it's changed from earlier incarnations. Even with George Carlin or Ringo Starr narrating, I could never get past the soulless faces on these engines and the plastic humans, standing in place, as if someone were literally filming a train run around someone's model track in the garage. Now it's computer animated, so the trains actually speak their lines and the background doesn't look like it was built by Radio Shack, but it's not like they now produce Pixar-quality stories. It's still just an excuse for a toddler to watch trains chuff their way down the tracks.

"Chuff," by the way, is a word I've only recently learned. It's the sound the train makes as it goes, as in, "Thomas chuffed around the tracks, showing he was a very useful engine." We found a book called Choo Choo by Petr Horacek at the library, and it demonstrates that there are several interesting synonyms for train noises that a young boy might want to know.

Lately, though, the boy wants to watch a movie called The Little Engine That Could. Wildly original, I know. But it's a new movie, computer animated, and Whoopi does a voice, and so does Patrick Warburton, so it could be worse. Xander will watch this movie over and over and over. He calls it "Train" and Thomas and Friends is called "Choo Choo."

When we want to feel like good parents and limit his TV time to a mere several hours a day, we have train-based iPhone apps that he fiddles with. They're mostly Thomas puzzles and interactive books, and some are just train pictures with train noises, but the boy can't get enough. He'll sit on the couch touching the screen in the same place to see the same picture or hear the same chuffing, again while holding three trains in his other hand against his chest, like if he drops them or even lets them out of his sight for a minute, the train might go away, his fascination might require some other diversion.

Then last week, he turned two, and he got the gift of even more trains. Trains of different sizes to go on different tracks. It's a racket, but we willingly bought into it. He now has trains more fancy than the blocky, plastic ones he used to carry around. It's Thomas and Percy, wooden, metal, and even electric. He doesn't really like the one that has an "on" switch to make it go by itself. It's loud and creaky. Perhaps it reminds him of the nasty hair clippers. Or perhaps it just takes away his own fantasy of moving his own engine by his own power, hauling some kind of precious cargo over the hill because he knew he could.

Monday, November 12, 2012

New 'Do

Here is the boy at the local skate park. I swear there are kids tricking (Is that the proper skate term? Sounds wrong.) out there every time I look. Don't they have school? Or homes? Except the area was uncommonly deserted this day when Xander discovered that the skate ramp makes a pretty good slide.

No longer satisfied with wholesome Bieber bangs or even a faux-mullet, Xander had opted for the who-has-time-to-think-about-his-hair 'do. We had a couple of options:

1. Do nothing, which would mean we'd have to get him a board. Maybe a longboard to start? Then just send him over to hang with the cool kids. He's already got the hoodie.

2. Take him back to Sport Clips. The first time we did that has been previously chronicled. Not a bad option. But I believe that when you're getting a haircut, you should get your hair actually cut. Which brings me to option

3. Break out the clippers and shave his head myself.

You can see for yourself which option won the day.

Full disclosure, in case she's been saying otherwise, this was done with full permission from his mother. I'd always wanted to do this with either of my two daughters as they were growing up. Every time they'd scream as I was brushing knots out of their hair--which is to say, every time I brushed their hair--I'd ask their mother once more if I could just shave their heads and save us all a couple of months of grief. That never happened, and my thirteen-year-old still whines about brushing her hair. Even today she needs a good buzz cut. Imagine how that would go over with my ex-wife.

So with both parents in agreeance (it's a perfectly cromulent word), we strapped the boy into his booster seat, put the chair on the back porch, and clipped away. He didn't seem to know what was happening at first, so he didn't move when he heard the quiet buzzing of the clippers near his ear. But the moment the clippers snagged on a too-long strand of hair, the hummingbird whisper became a chainsaw growl and the boy started howling and the world descended into total anarchy. You can imagine. Dogs and cats living together and such.

You can see we all survived, brilliant countenances intact, so it wasn't as bad as all that. But I doubt Mom will let Dad do it ever again.

At first I wasn't exactly satisfied with the results. The extremes were too severe, from too long to too short. And as his hair grows now, every missed hair sticks out more, which diminishes my once professional-level ability with the clippers.

But now I think he looks older, more debonair, like a more youthful David Beckham. Which can't be a bad thing.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lil' Kickers

The Boy is nearly two-years-old and it's about time he learned how to kick a ball. I mean, Ronaldinho was juggling a futebol de salao right out of the womb, right? Xander's behind schedule.

As for me, I started playing soccer when I was five. It was the mid-seventies and soccer was exploding in popularity all over America. "Soccer Made in Germany" was broadcast semi-periodically on PBS. Pele was paid millions to play out his waning years for the New York Cosmos. And the AYSO's "Everybody plays" policy helped extend the Sixties nearly into the Eighties.

At some point I realized that I was rather comfortable with a ball at my feet, so my parents put me on a team. I played my whole young life, then didn't for many adult years, then started coaching a few years back, and now I'm consistently playing again. I play indoor, managing maybe three minutes without keeling over, and somehow I end up stepping on an opponent's toes nearly every game. Also, we keep losing to the same teams, which gets old, but I can't complain because I'm playing soccer. Complaining would be antithetical.

The club where I play offers the Lil' Kickers program which starts kids at eighteen-months-old. Last week we were able to sign up Xander for a free trial with the "Bunnies." In a couple of weeks, once he turns two, and if we decide it's the worth the pricey fee, Xander will be put on the "Thumpers" team.

They started with ten minutes of "warm-up," which consisted of about eight toddlers roaming around one end of the indoor soccer field, at times picking up and carrying a size three soccer ball, other times kicking it, everyone in their own space. As parent I tried to keep a leash on things. I passed a ball to Xander's feet as often as I could. He kicked it back by stumbling into it. Mostly, he just wanted to run.

I mean that literally. That's all he wanted to do. It didn't matter where. It didn't matter what was in his way. He was out of the confines of our small home, free to cavort as though he had all the time and space in the world.

Which he didn't.

He discovered early that the long, air-filled tube separating the Bunnies from the Thumpers was easily moved. All he had to do was tumble headlong into it and it would roll away from him, reducing the space allotted to the Thumpers. More than once the dividing tube nearly steamrolled over another small child on the opposite side.

He also didn't have nearly all the time he desired. After that first ten minutes, Coach Jill attempted to engage the players in organized activities. First, she wanted them to sit on a colored mat then tell the group their names and what color the mat was. Why she thought anyone less than two-years-old would be able to do that, I don't know, but at least all of the other kids were able to sit in one place while their parents doled out the information. Xander wouldn't sit down, let alone still, so I held him upside down like I do when he's too squirmy to hold onto properly and told the group who he was.
Not a great photo, but you can certainly see his enthusiasm.

After that we were supposed to run together across the field to the opposite wall. Xander wanted to run in whatever direction he chose. Then, Coach Jill handed each child a few orange field cones and demonstrated how to make a tower then kick a ball at the stack. Xander didn't mind stacking up the cones but didn't wait to put a ball at his feet before knocking over the tower. Next, hula hoops. Roll them around. Chase them. Run into other children. It's all part of the fun. Then with the squishy balls. Each player started with one, but Xander likes to carry more than one of anything, so he pounced on any unattended ball as quickly as he could and tried to carry them all around. Very little kicking was involved. In fact, few team or group activities were involved on the Bunnies soccer team.

Until Coach Jill pulled out the parachute. The other kids threw their squishy balls onto the parachute, circled up, and grabbed hold of an edge. Xander wasn't sure what to make of it. We tried to make the balls bounce around the middle. Then we flew the parachute up, and pulled it down over ourselves so everyone was underneath. Everyone except Xander. He'd found his calling. From outside, he ran back and forth from the parachute, attacking the airy bulge at every open point. More than once, he crashed into a child underneath, before I had to grab him again and pull him aside. The only time he held still the whole hour was when we put the kids on top of the parachute and the parents made a Merry-Go-Round out of it. I got dizzy myself from the circles, but the kids, even Xander loved it.

He ran away again as soon as the turning was done. The other kids were getting their hand stamped and picking up papers to give to parents, and I was still chasing after my boy.

The lack of actual soccer notwithstanding, we'll be taking him back. I'm disappointed that Xander didn't demonstrate grand promise as a future soccer megastar, but he clearly enjoyed  himself. Perhaps the Thumpers and the two-year-olds will show him the one true way. In today's competitive climate, we can't afford to wait until he's five.

Before we left, as if to punctuate something, I put him on the bleachers to change his clothes and to get a few pictures, when he chose to step off the bench in the instant I took my hand off him. I reached out to catch him, smacking him in the mouth, but slowing his descent to the floor enough that all he got was a bloody, fat lip.
Seconds later, pow, right in the kisser!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Wherein I discuss Nonfiction for a tick

I got no excuses. Except for the plenty of reasons I have to continue to neglect my blog. But it's still October. Two posts for the month ain't bad.

To the point, I've been reading a bunch of nonfiction lately. Partly for work. Partly for fun. And I don't say that lightly. I'm not in the habit of reading nonfiction for fun. If I'm looking for fun and can't get to the mini-golf course, I go in for the fiction reading. Which goes to show these must be some extra-superb books, right?

Let's begin with a book I haven't even finished yet, but can't wait to explain to people. How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer purports that soccer effects everything from small communities to society at large, from ganglords in war-torn Bosnia to political divisiveness in America. At least those are the two chapters I've read so far.

I picked it up and read the last chapter first because it was about the United States and how when soccer became a popular children's recreation in the seventies, it was basically a hippie construction, an extension of the sixties, a contrast to the militarism of Pee-Wee football and the competitiveness of Little League baseball and was viewed as anti-American. Thus, red states and blue states can be identified by how many people let their kids play soccer. Fun, right?

Fascinated, I returned to the first chapter which explains how throughout the nineties a man gained Serbian national acclaim due to his leading an army of soccer hooligans in defense of Slobadon Milosovic. Apparently, it's common practice for a soccer club in Europe to recruit and hire groups of fans to be the team's official hooligans. And apparently, in what started as Yugoslavia, these hooligans did more than just taunt fans of the other team. One psycho criminal was given charge of the Red Star fans and led them to commit atrocities against Muslims and Croatians during their war. After reading this, I stifled my innocent giggle at being labeled "Unamerican" because I play soccer. I'm a little embarrassed for my sport. But certainly fascinated by this book.

Over the summer, I read the book The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs. This book chronicles his attempt to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in about a year. Jacobs published the book in 2005, and I figure he must have started his quest just as Wikipedia was gaining traction online. He discusses reading CD-ROM versions of the Encyclopedia, but unfortunately doesn't discuss what impact online fonts of information have done to the necessity of the Britannica.

What was most interesting to me was something I realized early on in my reading. Jacobs formats his book alphabetically, giving his own versions of a chosen few encyclopedia entries while incorporating a memoir of his experience. He cleverly uses a current encyclopedia entry to be able to tell a story about what is going on in his life at the time he read it. For instance, he uses the entry on "vital fluid" to tell his story about going on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and crapping out at 1,000 dollars. So, basically, Jacobs spent his days reading, then writing about what he read as he made progress. Then it became a bestselling book. And I just kept thinking. I read. I write. Where's my bestselling book?

These next two books are crazy cool. But I think you have to be a total nerd to think so. Or an English teacher. (Go ahead. Make the joke. I'll wait.) Thomas C. Foster has written two books about reading called How to Read Literature Like a Professor and How to Read Novels Like a Professor. The second is really just a continuation of the first, but he only uses novels as examples instead of including poetry or drama like he does in the first book.

Anyone who loves reading should read these books. Foster shows you what you should be looking for to help you construct a deeper meaning from a text. He explains why an author might make certain decisions and use certain language. He explains the necessity of understanding allusions and symbols and choices of point of view and story structure.

I've studied and taught literature for most of my adult life, and this is the best, most succinct, most clear and easy to comprehend text I've read on the subject. I find it so enlightening, I've decided this is the new summer reading for my IB Literature class. The kids will love it.

The books show you how to be a better reader, but I've tried to incorporate some of the ideas into my own writing. A character totem here, another symbol there. Foster will have to use author Brent Wescott as a brilliant example in his next book, right?

Now, because I was stuck in my latest work in progress, I picked up a book called Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. A successful novelist I met at a conference in September recommended it to me. It's a book about screenwriting, but she said it was the best help to her for plotting stories that she's ever read. And it's certainly helpful. If you're a screenwriter and you don't do what he says about structuring your story, you're likely screwed. Snyder outlines the three acts of a film and shows you how to outline your story beat by beat. But my concern is as a novelist, not a screenwriter. I can see the benefit of following the structure for story, but I can think of too many novels that don't. Too many great novels I've read that don't follow traditional structure. I'm likely to use Snyder's suggestions to get out of my WIP rut, but the rebel inside of me will likely make it difficult. Tradition, conformity, structure. Bah. I can do it however I want, right? If only the publishing industry thought the same.

Lastly, I will just mention that in tandem with Save the Cat, I have begun reading The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, which uses Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces as its guide through story, myths, and archetypes. Just one more way to add some depth to my stories and make me a genius. Right?



Monday, October 15, 2012

Absent too long, I return with The Nineties Blogfest

Where have I been? Who cares. 

What's up today? Nostalgia for the go-go Nineties. Brought to you by Dave at Dave Wrote This

Because the calendar in my head only works in terms of what I listen to at certain points in time, naturally I've chosen to count down the best of the decade in music. For my personal life, it was college, marriage, babies, Seattle. But for my musical tastes, prepare your ears for some politically correct trip hop madchester shoegaze neo soul grunge. As well as some jargon and description that makes little sense to the uninitiated.

I was out of the country in 1990. Sadly, I didn't hear much music that wasn't church hymns or Brazillian samba, both of which can get a bit repetitive. Thus, this year I will skip.

1991: The Dream Academy, A Different Kind of Weather

No contest here. This was the first album I bought upon my return from my mission to Brazil. The Dream Academy was a brilliant band unfortunately pigeonholed as a one-hit-wonder for the popular 80's tune "Life in a Northern Town." However, every song on their three albums is a near-perfect confection of ear candy. A Different Kind of Weather is their swan song, sending the band out on a poppy high. Listen to "Waterloo." Close your eyes and just listen to it.

1992: Kitchens of Distinction, The Death of Cool

I almost put Catherine Wheel's debut album, Ferment, here. But Kitchens of Distinction's third album brings all the distorted jangle and adds more sing-along friendly politically correct choruses that rival those from the pioneering Bronski Beat. This album came at the tail end of the shoegaze fuzzy rock movement, but it's one of the best.

1993: Cocteau Twins, Four-Calendar Cafe

Not their greatest album, but Four-Calendar Cafe nearly put the Cocteau Twins in the mainstream. Elizabeth Frazier's signature vocals were sometimes intelligible, and Robin Guthrie's otherworldly control over the musical ether created some of the most radio-friendly song structures he would ever write. And for a dream pop song, "Summerhead" kind of rocks out loud.

1994: Everything But the Girl, Amplified Heart

Everything But the Girl is one of the best songwriting duos the world has known. With early material that relies on strong jazz and latter stuff verging on techno, Amplified Heart showcases Ben Watt and Tracy Thorn at their happy medium best. You might remember "Missing" from the souped-up dance remix, but the original is still one of their best songs, featuring concise, memorable lyrics coupled with a taut melody and a driving, hipster beat.

1995: The Boo Radleys, Wake Up!

When Billy Corgan announced in 1995 that Oasis were the best songwriters since the Beatles, he apparently hadn't heard The Boo Radleys. Oasis's (What's the Story) Morning Glory? is a swell record, but it doesn't hold a candle to Wake Up! Early on, The Boo Radleys had developed a signature stop-start, loud-soft-loud kind of shoegaze noise, but with this album, they turned it into a glitsy Britpop gem. Hear "Wake Up Boo!" and just try to not feel better about yourself.

1996: Cibo Matto, Viva! La Woman

Belle and Sebastian released two watershed albums this year, but to be honest, I wasn't up on the indie twee movement yet. I was all about the trip hop. And Cibo Matto brought the beats. Spare, twitchy, with howly japanese-accented vocals mostly about food, they owned the sound. Plus, "Sugar Water," which was later played on stage at the Bronze while Buffy did a sexy dance with Xander. Oh joy.

1997: Swing Out Sister, Shapes and Patterns

Tough year. Portishead, Bjork, even the Sneaker Pimps deserve some respect in 1997. But I'm going with Swing Out Sister's apex of old-school jazz-soul-pop. This album could have been released twenty-five years earlier and it would have sounded right at home. Plus, Corrine Drewery? Hot.

1998: Massive Attack, Mezzanine

This could be the best album ever. A distinct possibility since "Angel" is probably the best song ever, with its provocative, menacing build to a freak-out climax. I don't kid about this stuff, man. And maybe I love this album just because of the guest vocals, but the rest of the album is of equal quality. Since you've heard "Angel" in about a dozen movies and "Teardrop" thanks to the credits of House, here's the seductive "Black Milk" featuring vocalist Liz Frasier at her most dreamy.

1999: The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin

I can't even categorize this album. Both melodious and cacophonous, both beautiful and harsh. The Lips's first albums are full of grungy guitars, but with The Soft Bulletin, they pulled their underlying harmonies to the forefront and delivered their frothy, poppy opus. Plus, it's just good fun. Wayne Coyne certainly doesn't have an American Idol voice, but you can tell he sure enjoys himself, and I'd rather listen to his personality than an auto-tuned one any day. Here's "The Spiderbite Song," which Coyne wrote about a bandmate who almost lost life and limb due to a spider bite on his hand. Sweet.

And with the advent of of this indie mentality, grunge is over, trip hop is on it's last breath, as is overtly politically correct lyrics, and in a year or two, irony. Thanks, Mr. Coyne.

And how's that for my bloggy comeback?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

IWSG: Time

I'm already in negative mode because I had to go back to school today. Students show up next Tuesday. I will have very little time to prepare for their arrival. But I whined enough about that last post. Instead I will add more whining about other lacks of time.

With school starting, that means less time to write.

I also coach soccer, so most days between now and November I will be away from home for nearly twelve hours a day, even more when we have away night games. And it's not like any of those hours include down time. I have thirty minutes for lunch, and with that time I basically have to eat lunch. The other two hours a day when I won't be teaching or coaching I will be planning and prepping and gathering data and, soon enough, grading. (My IB classes have summer homework to turn in the first day of school. Don't tell them, but I usually give a day or two grace period; still, I have to start grading stuff early on.)

I'm not bemoaning my job. I love teaching. I love coaching soccer. But I don't love feeling like--no, not "feeling like"--I don't love simply not having enough time to do my job. Close to or more than 150 students will filter in and out of my room next Tuesday and every day thereafter. If I'm to be the best teacher I can be to each one of those students, the time allotted is not enough.

And then I seem to lose time to do anything else in my life. What happens is I push the GO button when I leave the house in the morning, push PAUSE for a half hour to refuel, then GO again until I get home later in the evening. This year, at least, I have one planning period before lunch and one after. That breaks up the day a bit. Last year, I taught class for four hours straight before lunch and that wiped me out good for the rest of the day.

This is all to say that it leaves me with little energy to write. To stay up past my son's bedtime and type away for a couple of hours hardly happens when I'm in school. Just to get home in time to see my son before he goes to bed is a boon. Then to try to think on top of that? Doesn't happen very often.

So my insecurity this month is about time. How will I find the time to get any writing done, to work towards any artificial goals I've set for myself, to live the dream?

Any and all suggestions are welcome.

Time, Clock of the Heart. Thank you Boy George.

Today's post has been brought to you by Alex J Cavanaugh and the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Please give early and often.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Back to School

As I've said, I go back to school on August 1st. That's pretty early. At least it's not July, though, like it was the year before last.

I'm not talking about year-round schools or anything. Our district has decided that an extra week or two of instruction at the beginning of the year can only mean better scores when the state tests come around in March. Why don't we start school in June for maximum exposure and have our break in April and May? Or just test students in May to determine improvement over a complete year? You got me.

Luckily, that isn't my point today. Instead, I simply ask where does the summer go?

I start off with such lofty goals. I want to fix things that drip. Weed the lawn. Patch holes in the walls. Even dust the ceiling fans. No, I don't WANT to. These are just things I CAN do (with the possible exception of the plumbing), and I feel like I SHOULD. 

So I set myself up for failure, knowing good and well it's going to take a lot more than a few unattached hours a day to get me to open up that toilet tank to see why the water won't stop running.

Exactly what have I done? 

We drove to Utah for a week to visit family. Spent a couple days in Steamboat Springs. I took the boy to toddler swimming lessons every day for a couple of weeks. Those are a half-hour long, by the way. My twelve-year-old likes to cook, so she was in a cooking class for couple of weeks. That required my driving skills to get her there and back. 
I had to stare out the window on road trips when I was a kid. He gets in-flight movies.

I read some books, watched three seasons of Fringe, played Pipe Roll on my iPhone. Some of those mazes take way too long, sir. I saw the new Spider-Man. It was pretty forgettable. Took the kids to the Aquarium to see the mermaids.
My daughter took a while to admit it. But she wanted to see the mermaids more than anyone else did.

That's enough, right?

I dunno. A copy of the Denver magazine 5280 has been in my bathroom for months. It's cover boasts "The Ultimate Summer Guide" and that inside I will find 21 amazing Colorado adventures. How many times did I open that up to find something to do with my family? Zero. How lame is that?

I know all of you nonteachers are reading this going, "He's complaining about being paid to not work for ten weeks. What a goob." To that, I only have to say, "Nah nah nah nah nah."

Except now I'm not ready to go back. Students come back to school next Tuesday. That's four days to prepare. Two of those days are already used up so we can be developed professionally. That's always time well-spent. One other day will have meetings of some sort to fill the day. That gives me one day. One day to put together a classroom. Like, literally. Well, perhaps not literally. The room is already has walls and stuff. But I had to move my room to a new room at the end of last year. And I still have to arrange. Books, files, wall hangings and decor, technology.

All that and figure out what I'm going to do next Tuesday.

Can I just take a personal day?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bachelors on the Loose: Day One

Every summer the LDS church sends their young women, ages 12-18, to a week-long summer camp. It's there they learn the ways of The Force, as well as the best fixins for Dutch oven cooking. Actually, I know about as much about what goes on at Girls' Camp as I do about what goes on at Boy Scout Camp, which most Mormon teenage boys attend every year, but which I never did, despite being a Mormon teenage boy. I was busy playing soccer or something.

This started long before Title IX, by the way. In fact, 2012 is the 100th anniversary of Young Women Camp. In your face, 2014 Division I women's lacrosse at the University of Colorado. Where were you in 1914?

Anyway, today my wife and my twelve-year-old daughter drove a car full of teenage girls to their camp site near Cripple Creek, Colorado, tucked away back there on the sunset side of Pike's Peak. That leaves me alone with the boy for the rest of the week. The following is the account of how our first day as carefree bachelors devolved into a possible homeless situation.

I actually followed the ladies with a truck full of camping equipment. We'd left the boy with a friend and a promise I'd pick him up by two in the afternoon.

The first point of difficulty was that the drive to camp took a good two and a half hours, not the hour-or-so that I was promised. Or rather, that I assumed. I was never actually told the exact location of the camp until I programmed it into my phone about three minutes before we were on the road. What this meant is that I was heading back into Denver at about 4:00 p.m., more than two hours later than what I had planned.

A quick phone call settled that crisis: Xander was fine. He is not wont to be any kind of problem.

Various traffic jams and one hitch-hiker later (actually, I just had to drive a friend back from the camp site), it was nearly 5:00 when I traded back my father-in-law's truck for my old Plymouth Breeze. Prudently, I had left the Plymouth car keys with my in-laws since, as I transferred my few belongings to my own car, I noticed I no longer had my house keys. A quick scouring of the truck's cab, and I recalled that I had used my own set of keys at the campsite to turn on my wife's car in order to use the lighter to power the electric blower to fill up the small air mattress May, my wife, would sleep on, all of which only happened because May had already become preoccupied dealing with a teenage girl fracas involving who would sleep where. I can only assume that lessons of this sort are why girls come to camp in the first place.

To recap: three hours late, still hadn't picked up the boy, no house keys. But I knew at some time in the past we had given my in-laws a copy of our house keys so they could collect the mail or make sure the kitchen hadn't exploded or something while we were away for a few days. They would surely still have said keys and I would be in no worse circumstances. My mother-in-law, in fact, had a single key on a ring, a paper tag marked "May" attached.

I drove my non-air-conditioned automobile through 95 degree heat and worsening traffic. Windows down, hot wind blowing, Guns N' Roses blaring, and I began to wonder what I would do if this key wasn't what it purported to be. At least I had my wallet, car keys, and a case of CDs. It could be worse. I called my wife to make sure I hadn't lost my keys elsewhere. She found the keys in her car, exactly where I thought they were, and I told her I might have to drive back out to get them. A stalwart pragmatist, she suggested I call a locksmith. But how do you prove you live someplace when all the proof is inside that place and you can't get in? (I still have an old address on my driver's licence, which I did have, but would not be any good in that situation.) My brain began to formulate a plan wherein I would leave Xander with Grandma and Grandpa to finally get some sleep and I would be able to go home around midnight after another five hour drive. Through mountain valleys. In the dark.

The first thing our friend said when I arrived to pick up Xander was that she probably just made a big mistake. She had let him fall asleep. Just now. She insisted he was no trouble, that he played all day, such an amiable child and all that, but that he hadn't napped earlier and had just nearly fallen asleep on the floor. She held him for a few minutes and he conked out. He was currently sprawled out on her bed, dreaming lazily, waiting for morning. He woke up as I strapped him in to his car seat, and he gave me perhaps the meanest look he's ever given anyone or anything. This look said, "Dad, I had a great day, but you were late, so I took it upon myself to rest my weary body, and this is what I get?" Then he frowned and tears welled and mean turned to sad. He only sobbed for a moment, though, probably because Axl Rose was crooning about some sweet child of his, and that rightly stops most people in their tracks.

The boy was asleep again by the time we got home, so I left him in the car while I checked the key. Didn't work. Crud. I tried all the doors for good measure. For some reason our house has about fourteen possible points of ingress. I put the key in everything I could, but there were no takers.

Before I got back into the mobile sweat lodge, I noticed a kink in the otherwise velvet-smooth field of the last hour's events. An outdoor spigot I can't seem to stop from leaking had chosen this day to just outright crack open and spray a steady stream of water into a basement window well. This wasn't the first sign of petulance from this particular water valve. And what I knew from experience was that if the flow of water wasn't plugged, and soon, we would end up with a flooded basement, which meant wet carpet, ruined food storage, and destroyed boxes of old writing. I needed to get into the house TONIGHT.

Now close to 6:00, I drove the freeway again back to my in-law's. Traffic. Heat. Wind. You know the drill. Xander slept still, but his little legs were exposed to the sun, his hair dripping with perspiration.

I tried my sister-in-law first. She lives just a few blocks from her parents. On the phone she said she had a couple of house keys she didn't recognize, but when I got there, I knew they weren't mine. Wrong shape. My father-in-law, however, said he had found another couple of keys with a red tag on the ring. I held out hope that they were what I so desperately sought.

Xander was awake again when I pulled up to the same place I had nearly two hours earlier, where my predicament began. His face was flushed and he sucked down most of his sippy-cup of water. I left him there and procured the red set of keys. Heavy sigh of relief. That red tag was certainly ours. I was sure one of those keys would open my house.

I returned to the car and started the engine. I told Xander to wave to Grampa as I pulled away, then looked down and saw the "Check Engine" light blink on. It didn't blink off. For the first time today, in spite of everything, I yelled into the wind, much as Gob Bluth might, "Come on!"

Postscript. We got into the house. All is well. Fortunately, no water came down the basement wall. But I have no swamp cooling available tonight without the outdoor faucet I still need to fix, and I can only hope the "Check Engine" will magically disappear when I next need the car.

I can only dream about a better day alone with the boy tomorrow.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tragedy in My Hometown

I don't have much to say about shootings at the Century 16 theaterYou can follow the news yourself. I've had 9News on all day.

For me, it's too shocking and horrific. I don't feel especially eloquent right now.

Still, I thought I'd let everyone know that my family and I are safe. And especially to those reading this who I don't know personally, you might know I'm from Aurora, Colorado. It says so right over there to the right. But Aurora is a big place, east of Denver proper, spreading out into the plains of Colorado. We're urban and suburban, even rural. So the chances of a tragedy of this magnitude happening in Aurora and still hitting close to home are pretty low.

The apartment where the shooter lived is only a mile from my house. Right now the police still haven't entered the place. It's booby-trapped. Authorities have evacuated a radius of a couple of blocks. That doesn't reach my place, but it's literally close to home.

These events also hit home more figuratively. This movie theater is located at the Aurora Town Center, which was simply the Aurora Mall when I was younger. This particular theater wasn't built then; it's a relatively new construct, maybe ten or twelve years old. But I know what it's like to be young and hang out and see movies at that mall. Today, it's the location most of my students go to see their movies. I haven't been there in years. The last time I was there was to see The Incredibles when it came out, before a newer theater was built nearer where I live. I left my wallet in my seat after the movie and didn't notice until later that night. I went back the next day, and they had it waiting for me in the manager's office. Nothing was missing.

I don't know exactly why, but that incident keeps running through my thoughts today.

We don't know much at this point about the names of the victims, but as far as I know none of my own students were at this theater last night. But some of their friends were.

What's the closest to home is that two young women in my ward at church were there. One of them was injured but is okay and has already returned home. These girls are my oldest daughter's age. Had our lives been slightly different, my daughter might have been with these girls last night. I have a hard time trying to imagine what the injured girl's parents have gone through today. As a father, it scares me.

UPDATE: The young woman I speak of was interviewed by MSNBC. She is quite more articulate than I would be. Kinda surreal really.

I love this town. I wasn't born here, but I grew up here, came of age here, have made my home here. It's economically, racially, and socially diverse. I can't say how different Aurora is from other metropolitan cities. But it's Colorado. Varied geography, best climate on earth. It gets cold, but not too cold. It gets hot, but not too hot (despite this summer's constant hover near 100 degrees).

And my son will grow up here.

My wife says that for the rest of our lives, when we tell people we live in Aurora, people will ask us about the shootings at the Century 16. Forever a sad reflection on such a great place.

One more UPDATE: If you're interested in Aurora, this article describes our town in a way I wish I could have the other day.

Monday, July 16, 2012

100 Followers, Tag, and Random Versatility

It's time once again to get meta.

Much like Chandler Bing's reasons for spending Thanksgiving in a box, my discussion today will be threefold. A kind of long bit of nonsense follows. But when has that ever stopped you?

Point One: Following
First of all, last week my little blog gained it's one-hundredth follower. It's been a long time coming, really, but still I rejoice. Now, if one-tenth of those people actually read my writing, I could die contented. So, congratulations to Heather M. Gardner from The Waiting is the Hardest Part. She wins nothing, but continuing to read this blog will enhance her knowledge, health, and appreciation of good music. In a way, then, she wins everything.

Point Two: Blog Awards
A couple-few weeks ago I was kindly awarded a blog award for nothing less than being a recently new follower of Miss Farawayeyes at the Far Away Series blog. I've been dubbed versatile before. I'm not sure if it's due to my ability to do dishes with a small child in my arms or the fact that I can read Shakespeare in English, Portuguese, and Klingon.

The Versatile Blogger has certainly made it's rounds. It's already passed my way once (read how I dealt with that one here), so I will forego passing it on. You can all thank me in the comments below.

I am, however, not above pointing out seven random things about myself, like I'm supposed to do. And since I've already told you two, I shall add five more.

3. I ditched church yesterday because I didn't make some phone calls I have a responsibility to make and was embarrassed. I felt pretty lame, but I did it anyway. Don't judge.

4. I watched three foreign, low-budget, and totally cool monster movies last week. The Host is from South Korea. Troll Hunter is from Norway. Monsters is British, but it's set in Mexico and has a lot of Spanish and one of the most beautiful endings I've seen in some time.
A mutant creature emerges from the Han River.
Giant trolls secretly inhabit Norway.
Aliens invade Mexico.
Outerspace aliens.
Not illegal ones.

5. I purchase way too much music at once. I sometimes don't have time to listen to an album more than once. Darn you, Amazon and your amazing MP3 sales.

6. I have a daughter about to be a senior in high school. How I got this old, I'll never know.

7. I have read Goodnight Moon to my son so many times in the past couple of weeks, I don't like it any more.
The mouse moves around the room throughout the book.
My boy can point out the mouse on every page.
Can you find the mouse on this one?

Point Three: I'm it.
Last week, I was also tagged by Dave at Dave Wrote This. This doesn't have a pretty picture to go with it. It's just an elaborate game of tag. I'm supposed to tell eleven things about myself this time, but as I've already done seven, I will simply add four.

Robert Kirkman also writes
The Walking Dead. You
might have heard of it.
8. I read comic books only once every couple of years. I wait a couple of years, then check out the thick collections from the library. I'm currently catching up on one of the better non-Marvel/DC superheroes, Invincible. I've now read volumes 4-6, encompassing about 45 individual issues or something. (Volume 7 is still on library hold.) In a couple more years I'll read 45 more issues. It'll be sweet.

9. I've been playing indoor soccer on Thursday nights. Last game, I had to play goalie, and for days afterward my insides felt like jelly. I like standing up to kick the ball better than throwing myself on the floor to block it. And we didn't even win or anything.

10. I'm thinking about growing out my hair again. Relive the heyday of the nineties. Don't tell my wife.

11. School starts in fifteen days. I am not amused.

And there you have it. But wait there's more. Now I'm supposed to answer eleven questions that Dave asks. Then I have to come up with eleven questions and tag eleven other bloggers. Then they're it. Are we having fun yet?

The following are Dave's questions and my oh-so-correct answers. I'm just glad I didn't have to answer the questions Dave was asked when he got the tag. Every one of them was Star Trek trivia.

1. Who would win in a fight between Cavemen and Astronauts?
Astronauts. Unless the Cavemen figured out how to poke holes in their spacesuits.

2. If you could have one super power, what would it be?
To make music that unites the world in peace, a la Wyld Stallyns.

3. What is your favourite Band?
Cocteau Twins. No contest.

4. What is your favourite Bend?
Bender from Futurama or comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis.

5. What is your favourite Bond?
For Your Eyes Only. First Bond I ever saw. Rocked my world.

6. How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?
42, right?

7. What's the funniest joke you know?
Way too long to tell here. Maybe a future blog post? Maybe not.

8. Can dogs look up?
I don't like dogs. So I don't care.

9. If you drove a Mini, would you want a red one, a white one or a blue one?
Not sure if this signifies anything, but red. I'd want a red of any kind of car.

10. What are you afraid of?
Heights. And broken hearts.

11. Why is this 11 facts/questions/answers?
To make my life difficult.

This post is way too long. I thought combining all this into one would be a good idea. It's not. 

Tag. You're it.
I can't count to eleven any more. My questions will be few, then. And only the following bloggers are tagged. They are officially IT. But everyone should go check out these blogs.

Brian M. White at Strangers Call Me Sunny. This is his third or fourth blog. I think he changes things up just to cull the nonbelievers. But he's funny and smart, which is all that's important in a blog, no matter the incarnation.

Mina Lobo at Some Dark Romantic. When you go to her blog, you might get a notice that her blog is for "grownups" only. Don't let that deter you; her blog isn't like that. She's a child of the 80's who hasn't given up on taste.

Rusty Webb at The Blutonian Death Egg. He is currently fascinated with the discovery of the Higgs Boson, which is pretty cool. If you don't know what that is or why it's important, you should go find out. As a bonus, Rusty's a pretty good artist, too.

Huntress, one of the contributors over at Unicorn Bell. She is currently obsessed about why Fifty Shades of Grey is a thing. Go see what she has to say.

Michael Offut at what I'm just realizing isn't officially "SLC Kismet" anymore. He's got a rad sci-fi adventure book out called Slipstream, and he's got good taste pop culturally.

And here are some probing questions to answer.

1. What kind of thing do you prefer to read?

2. When you were 13, what did you want to do with your life?

3. Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip? Discuss.

4. If you could join any group or club, what would it be?

5. What is the last song you listened to?

6. When you have nothing else to do, what do you do? 

7. If you could make a difference by boycotting one thing, what would it be?

That's plenty. Now have at it. And please let us know if and when you've gotten around to posting your answers so we can make sure to see them. Thanks. Goodnight everybody!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Detritus on the Floor

Detritus is an interesting word. First, I just found out that it's spelled "detritus" with a second T, not "detrius" without a second T. And second, some people claim to pronounce it with a long "e" as in "dee" and a long "i" as in "try." Others leave the vowels short and even leave out the second T in the pronunciation. Plus, it seems to be mostly used in biology or medical jargon, as in "the detritus of the dead bird in the garden is fertilizing the plants."

And because I'm a nerd, I looked it up some more and found out Detritus is also a video game much like Asteroids, a troll in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, and some kind of electro-aggro-industrial band. Now you know.

But for my purposes here, I'm referring to the physical debris that erodes away from our lives consistently, all day long. More specifically, the crumbs of food and bits of trash that end up on the floor of my house is driving me batty.
This is what it feels like. In my house.

We have hardwood floors in our house. Before we moved in, we had the floor completely refinished, and it's held up beautifully. We've since refurbished the kitchen and bathrooms and included new tile floors in each room. I love the look of my floors. But hardwood and tile flooring can cause a unique set of problems in a home. Small things too easily roll under the couch. You can't comfortably take a Sunday afternoon nap on the floor. And the floors can get cold. Even in the middle of summer, I sometimes find myself needing slippers. Worst of all, clean-up is a never-ending story.

( I couldn't resist. Enjoy the cheesy goodness of Limahl. Plus, notice how the drummer figured out you don't need drumsticks to play those hexagonal toy synthesizer drums years before Rock Band was ever a thing.)

It's kind of revolting to think about the particles of dirt and dust and skin and food and insects and mites that live long, full lives within carpeted flooring. Every once in a while, a vacuum collects the bigger pieces, but that's all okay because, really, you hardly notice the detritus. On a hardwood floor, as I'm learning, all you notice is the detritus. Dust bunnies float around with the currents created by the ceiling fans. Crusts of bread are kicked around until they're either reduced to minuscule crumbs or just scooted under the furniture. Drops of milk from a sippy cup accumulate dirt until they become black, sticky masses.
Did you know there are no pictures of messy or dusty
hardwood floors on the entire internet?

I've lived in this house for the better part of a decade, and I've lived with hardwood floors before that. So why now? What about the grit on the floor is getting to me now when it didn't bother me before? The answer is simple. It begins with an X and ends with The Boy.

It's summer, so I spend most of my time at home. And it's summer, so I spend most of my time barefoot. It's summer and the boy is nearly 20-months-old and he doesn't care if his pants are full of detritus, so what does he care what's on the floor?

The worst of it naturally builds up around the high chair. Xander's eating habits go something like this: Yum-yum, nibble-nibble, squish-squish, chew, swallow, throw. He knows how to say "Done." He knows how to say "Down." They're pretty much the same word to him. But does he tell us he's finished eating and would like to get out of his high chair now, please and thank you? No. He drops his sippy cup, upends his plate, throws to the floor any food he can grasp, and brushes the crumbs off of his tray with a quick sweep of his hands. This inevitably leaves more food on the floor than ended up in his tummy, thus creating the detritus that I must step through to get to the kitchen from the dining room.

And, somehow, the rest of the house is affected. The living room rug gets Cheerios ground into it. The bathroom hallway has sticky spots. Various corners of our home boast fruit snacks to feed the spiders. This is all in addition to the variety of cars and crayons and balls and bits of toilet paper we all must make a path through.
The boy has taken to unrolling the TP from the bathroom and galavanting around
like he's doing a rythmic gymnastics routine through the house. Cute, right?
Yep, that's him eating the toilet paper.

Really, the worst is what I feel on the soles of my feet. If we had carpet, I wouldn't notice when a piece of hardened cheese or even a mushed apple stuck to my heel. I would just swipe my foot along the rug if I noticed anything at all and, poof, the detritus would be gone, hidden at least until the next pass of the vacuum.

We didn't used to have to, but we sweep every day now. Usually more than once. And the mopping, which is more of a wet-wipe spot-cleaning than anything else. Yet the detritus is unconstrained. We try to control Xander's movements during meals, but the banana still ends up under the table, the Cheerios still end up everywhere. Only to be carried to the far reaches of the domicile, all adding up to become the detritus of our lives.