Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Aimlessness Rewarded

Road trips are road trips. Doesn't matter if you are 20 years old without a care in the world, or 50 with your cares staring at you from the back seat with hungry mouths, munching Cheetos and asking "are we there yet?"

It still means freedom. Living out of your car, going wherever you want is just plain fun.

Utah weather reports said it was gonna be too cold to do much of anything for the first several days, so we meandered down to SW Colorado and saw the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. My favorite conversation was if the ancient Anasazi had sports teams. The Coyotes? The Tricksters? The Cubs? Our consensus was that they did, though who knows what the game was.

We wandered further south into New Mexico and Arizona, then turned north into Utah just as that big snowstorm blasted the Southwest. Meaning we didn't even leave the motel the next day. The girls swam all day long, I bought a generic sci-fi novel at the grovery store to pass the time. The girls learned to blow into their swimsuits to make fake boobs, which would have been funnier if it weren't so deeply disturbing to my addled Dad-brain.

Hiked the Needles district of the Canyonlands the next day. My favorite spot in the world (and the site of our honeymoon!). A cold day, but the sun made it warm enough to hike. As a ruse to get them to pay closer attention to nature, we told the girls we'd pay them a quarter for each lizard they saw, a dollar for each Kangaroo Rat. They earned $1.75, all lizard based.

We headed north to the Arches next and had our Perfect Day. Hiked 3 miles, much of which was scrambling over huge boulders and stretches of slickrock. The l-hux and I are old hands at this, but we had no idea the girls would be such good climbers. Nor did they, so it was pretty exciting for everyone. They were scrambling like mountain goats at day's end. Big Fun.

Camped at the Arches, built a fire, ate hot dogs, toasted marshmallows, watched a truly glorious night sky slowly reveal itself, a thin crescent moon hanging low in the sky.

Froze our asses off that night.

But it was well worth it.

A final note: I watched the Disney Channel for the first time in our motel room. Specifically, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Two nights in a row.

Oh, my. May God have mercy on us all.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The one you could talk to all night

Novels are the sexy blond surrounded by admirers in the center of the room. Short stories are the interesting girl sitting in the corner by herself, the one you could talk to all night.

And do, providing you notice her.

Okay, clunky metaphor. Sue me. It's been a long week.

I been kicking around this idea for a blog post since I started a blog. My five favorite short stories. Not the best five. My favorite five. The list changes every time I think it over. The list, today:

The Lottery. Shirley Jackson. My sister read this in school and got home and pushed it in my face and said "read this." Savage. I think this is the first story I spent a lot of time thinking about. Made me realize writing was a craft, that a story was something somebody actually made, as opposed to something that just magically appeared in the pages of a book.

Silver Water. Amy Bloom. I've read it four or five times, and it makes me cry every time. Put the phrase "warrior queen" in my head forevermore, meant to describe a very specific kind of woman. Oddly, I've never read anther thing by her.

Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong. Tim O'Brien. A bit of a cheat since it's more a chapter from a novel than a story. Walks a razor between realism and myth. From The Things They Carried (which is on my five favorite novels list).

Where I'm Calling From. Raymond Carver. His brand of minimalism is responsible for a LOT of bad writing (some of it by me), since he was so widely imitated there for awhile. His voice is so specific. The details are so clear.

Werewolves In Their Youth. Michael Chabon. He'll write a great novel someday, though hasn't yet (Kavaleir and Klay was close). He's written a bunch of great short stories. This is one of them.

I've left out a bunch of heavyweights. Flannery O'Conner, most of all. Hemmingway. Bradbury (sorry Nance, sorry Irr). Annie Proulx. Kafka.

Off to vacation in the Canyonlands of Utah. Camping, hiking, stargazing. Love that place. L-hux and I backpacked down into The Maze on our honeymoon. Got lost nearly every day. Always found our way back.

Haven't made a bid on the house yet. If it's still there on our return, we probably will. If not, scenario one.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tilt A Whirl

The only thing scarier than buying a first home is buying a new one. And selling the old one.

There is a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous house for sale just a few blocks away. A two story brick beauty, built in 1910. Acres of hardwood floor. A fireplace. Lovingly restored wood detail. Separate bedrooms for the girls. So many windows it seems like the place is made of light. A 6-burner gas stove that made Dancehall fall to her knees as if bowing to an ancient Babylonian God.

The girls wouldn't even have to change schools.

It's also pretty cheap. But the market forces that make it cheap are the same forces that will make our cozy and lovable dump of a place sit helplessly on the market for months. So we are now scrambling to make it more cozy, less dumpy. Madly painting walls, repairing holes, replacing caulk, staining and sealing the porch.

We can afford to pay a couple mortgages for while (as long as we don't, you know, buy anything).

We haven't actually made an offer. Thus, in scenario one, we don't move, but now have a much prettier, less dumpy house to live in.

Scenario two, we move to a perfect house and eat ramen noodles til the first house sells (the upside: I really like ramen noodles).

Scenario three, we suffer a financial collapse, begin hemorrhaging money, and end up living under a bridge.


The lady or the tiger?

An update on last week's rather forlorn post about eldest: she's doing better. She carries a lot more baggage from her chaotic pre-adoption years than does her sister, and will always struggle with it, I'm sure.

She has a great need to control the world around her (don't we all?). I think her's is sort of a bulwark constructed to keep all the early chaos she experienced at bay.


I made up a chart - she loves the calm predictability of charts - with three boxes to check for each morning: I was nice to my sister, I was nice to my parents, I did all my chores. If she gets a check in all three boxes, she gets Wii time in the evening.

Interestingly, I think the reward is not the Wii time as much as it is getting to put those painstakingly drawn checkmarks inside that orderly series of boxes.

The Wii is gravy.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


After that glorious Sunday of Barbie and baseball (see last post), every day of our week has started with tantrums and fights.

So. There's that.

Our eldest is not a happy girl. It is worrying.

Perhaps that is why I cling to the happy moments so.

Venus is falling fast in the evening sky. A little lower every night. It'll be gone by the end of the month, and not return (as an evening star, anyway) until next year.

It is, of course, important to remember that it will return. As beautiful as ever.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Barbies, Bratz and Baseball

Our little clowncars woke up Sunday morning with the idea apparently fully formed in their minds that they were going to a party at Barbie's house. La Petite Huque was reading the Sunday paper at the time, and showed them the feature article, replete with pictures, about Barbie's 50th birthday, thereby fanning the small flame of the girls' fantasies into a prarie grassfire. Now I fully buy the Barbie=unrealistic body image argument, but popular culture these days (and those hellish Bratz dolls specifically) make Barbie look positively enlightened.


Huque made a birthday cake, the girls wrapped "presents" all morning, and we invited Grandpa over to eat cake and share in the hoopla. After the presents and the cake, there was some wildly convoluted fantasy about them driving to Barbie's house in California, which in real life consisted of them wheeling to the corner on their scooters with their dolls tucked under their arms, while I read a book and kept an eye on them from half a bock away.

Ahhh, fantasy. Ahhh, Spring. Ahhh, youth.

To offset all the Barbie-ness, we played whiffle ball with Grandpa in the backyard afterward. Huque and the littlest clowncar both drove several balls right up the middle for base hits. The bigger clowncar hit a homerun, over the fence, into the neighbor's yard. She was so proud she was still talking about it this mornng.

I hit two mammoth home runs. I only mention it to point out how inordinately, embarrassingly happy it made me feel to hit them in front of the girls. It's a feat the average fourth grader could accomplish.

But the girls don't know that.

Made me feel like Babe Ruth.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Recently, as I was driving the little clowncars home, one of them asked from the back seat, "Daddy, what is heaven?"

I've been dreading this talk. The sex talk I'm fine with. I'm pretty sure that more information about sex is going to be good for them. Say the wrong thing about heaven and hell, though, and I fear some serious warpage may occur.

Religion they're being introduced to. Lil Hux has been taking them to a nice, calm, so-reasonable-it's-barely-religious Unitarian church lately (I stay home and write and make a big Sunday lunch). And they learn about all the religions there, in a very general sense, and that's all good.

But what to say about heaven, specifically, has bothered me.

So when they asked, I thought "it's showtime" and defaulted to the truth.

I said most people believed in heaven. But their Mom and Dad did not. They could decide for themselves.

I said heaven was a place you went when you died (I didn't bring hell into the mix, nor will I, ever). Where everyone was happy all the time, and you could do your favorite things all day long. But that the best thing about heaven was that people you loved who died lived there. So you can be with the people you loved forever.

I said I didn't believe in it, but that people who did, did so because it made them feel better about people they loved dying. I started to go into my whole we're-all-made-of-stars brand of animism, but I clearly lost them 10 words into it, so I let it go. I'll pick up that thread another day.

I asked them if they believed in heaven. Youngest said she did, of course, and immediately populated heaven with unicorns and kitties and golf (we were driving past a golf course at the time). She'll be fine. I think of her as a "unicornitarian."

Oldest stayed noticeably silent.

Religion on one side. Nothingness on the other.

We shall see where all this goes.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Green Death Gas From Space

I will, I promise, quit talking about Comet Lulin very soon. You can't really see it anymore, as it begins its lonely multi-million year journey back to the Oort Cloud, so there's not much left to say. But it was such a pretty one, with all that green and those two tails and such, I have to post one more thing. This is a video stolen from the ever-reliable Bad Astronomy site, a time-lapse of rock and ice and gas pouring off the head of Comet Lulin. It looks like a smoking matchhead to me. Makes me want to light up a cigarette.

Eric recently asked me what made the comet green, and I looked it up to give him an answer (he called me Mr. Wizard, gently assuaging my ego, so I couldn't say no). It's cyanogen gas, a poison related to cyanide. So the "smoke" in the video coming off the comet actually contains a deadly gas. It's pretty common in comets. There have been scares in the past that going through a comet's tail would kill us all - notably in 1909 when Halley's Comet came around - because of the cyanogen.

Nobody died.