Wednesday, October 20th, 2021

Our oldest son, Sean, was such a dedicated bookworm when he was a lad. When Sean’s nose was in a book, he was not very easily distracted from it. It’s not a stretch to say that you could drop a grand piano from a great height to crash land on the pavement right in front of him and the odds were pretty even he might not notice.

Or, to be a little less hyperbolic: Once Sean asked me for a ride, then very nearly got left standing on the curb when he failed to notice me shouting and waving at him, even though I was close enough to hit with the proverbial dead cat. (Is it still a proverb? I just realized I haven’t heard anyone say that in ages.)

We were living on an air force base in northern Japan at the time. The O-mobile was a Mitsubishi minivan, which is not as small as the work “mini” implies. It had room to seat six grown adults in spacious comfort and a four wheel drive gearbox that we put to use to climb mountain roads with some regularity. It was a vehicle that was not easily missed when it drove by, is what I’m getting at.

As soon as I pulled into the parking lot I saw there was a parking space at the end of the row, right across from the entrance where Sean was standing by the curb waiting. Score! I pulled in, parked, and looked across the road expectantly at Sean. He did not look up from the book he was reading.

I’m an easily-distracted person. When a moving object crosses my peripheral vision, I look up to see what it is. I’m fully aware this makes me look like a walking nervous tick but I can’t help myself. Whatever makes me do that, though, Sean is full of the antidote for it. The arrival of a big, dark, growling vehicle virtually within arm’s reach did not register at all on his radar.

Which I was used to so, after chuckling to myself, I leaned out the window and said his name, just loudly enough to be heard over the sound of the engine but not so loudly that I might startle him. He was that close. But, apparently, not close enough. I repeated his name, a bit louder this time. Still no response, so I shouted his name, thumping the side of the van with the flat of my hand to give it a little added oomph.

Still oblivious. Wow.

Running out of noise-making options, I laid on the horn, which jolted him out of his reverie so suddenly he almost jumped out of his shoes. Seemed just a trifle annoyed at having been beeped at, too. I explained to him that I’d tried just about everything else but I seem to recall he wasn’t mollified and I had to just let it go.

book meet nose | 8:39 pm CST
Category: damn kids!, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, Seanster, story time | Tags: ,
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Monday, January 14th, 2019

Story time with Uncle Knuckles: The Goat That Ate Sean’s Hand

I don’t know why they puts goats in petting zoos, do you? Goats are really creepy-looking animals. They’re kind of skeletal, covered with boney bumps, they’ve got demon eyes, and they’re always jerking around as if their own personal invisible devil is jabbing them with a sharpened flaming stick. Yeh, let’s throw our children into a cage with hyperactive, scary-looking animals. Good idea.

But back when we were a young couple and we had a six-year-old boy who loved barnyard animals, we took a trip to the Berlin zoo, where they have a petting zoo filled with all kinds of cute little fluffy animal babies. Most of them were in small pens, but the large, open area in the middle was filled with chickens and ducks and goats and other seemingly harmless livestock. Sean wanted to pet them all.

At first, the animals had absolutely no interest in us. When we walked up to them to pet them, they walked away, not like they were afraid of us, but like they had something better to do. They were completely indifferent to being petted. Then one of us spotted a coin-operated feed dispenser and figured maybe we could catch the attention of a few animals if we had some yummy green pellets to feed them. We led Sean over to the machine, showed him how to cup his hands under the chute, dropped ten pfennig into the slot, and turned the handle.

And that’s when the goats attacked.

Cranking the handle on that machine was like ringing a dinner bell. When we turned around, every single goat in the petting zoo was rushing us like stoned teenagers trying to trample each other to get to the stage at a rock concert. I tried to keep Sean calm by casually encouraging him to offer the goats his handful of food pellets.

Big mistake. Bigger even than the idea of buying the pellets in the first place. Every one of those goats wanted to eat every pellet in Sean’s outstretched hand, and the goat that sucked Sean’s entire hand into his mouth was the winner. Sean freaked and tried to pull his hand out of there, but the goat wasn’t letting go until he was sure he got all the feed out of Sean’s hand. One of us tried to help Sean pull his hand free while the other swatted at the goat, as if that was going to discourage it. Meanwhile, every other goat was climbing over the one that was eating Sean’s hand.

When the goat was finally satisfied he got the kibble he could get out of Sean, he let go and went looking for another victim. Sean’s arm was just fine, no blood, no broken skin, but I was afraid it would take years of therapy and a keg of Zoloft to put this behind him. Parents worry that everything’s going to screw up their first kid. But it didn’t. He’s normal, or as close to normal as to make me look neurotic, which is not a very high bar to clear, now that I think about it. Sorry, Sean. I’ll come up with a better metric next time I tell this story.

when goats attack | 6:00 am CST
Category: Seanster, story time
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Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

The other day I peed my pants like a little boy and survived to tell the tale.

It all started with breakfast at the Avenue Club, a venerable Madison supper club on East Washington Avenue. We went there to take advantage of their New Year’s unlimited pancake breakfast. They brought each of us two freshly-baked pancakes as big as a dinner plate, invited us to visit the table where they had set up dishes heaped with toppings such as pecans, almond slivers, chocolate chips and the like, and said if we wanted more, we could help ourselves to the mountain of hot cakes on the steam table they were continually refreshing.

As it turned out, “all you can eat” means the two giant pancakes they brought me in the beginning. This was a classic “eyes bigger than head” situation. I was really very proud of myself just for finishing those two.

I ordered a tall glass of orange juice with my breakfast, and after we stuffed ourselves full of pancakes, we lingered over coffee for a little while. That was my third coffee of the day, after our customary hot cuppa (or two) to wake up as soon as we got out of bed. My kidneys were doing their best to keep up, and I made a couple stops at the club and again as soon as we got home, so I sincerely thought output had caught up with input. I was so very wrong.

I was maybe four blocks from home when I began to replan my route. I’d thought of going as far as the library, which reminded me there were no public buildings open anywhere today. Maybe not such a good idea to get too far from home. By the time I was walking along Winnequah Road down by the shore of Squaw Bay, I was sure than shortening my route was a good idea.

I had the stop sign at Maywood Road in sight, two blocks away, so picked that as my turnaround point, hung a right at Kelly Place and squiggled through its twisty turns until I got to Panther Trail, which I followed up to Bridge Road, a total of maybe three blocks. By the time I got to Bridge Road there were enough alarm bells going off in my hind brain to make me nervous.

It’s a two-block walk up Bridge Road to Frost Woods Road, and one block along Frost Woods to Sylvan Lane. I was speed-walking all the way. By the time I was in the home stretch I was sure there was going to be an accident in plain sight of the whole neighborhood, but I managed to hang on until I unlocked the front door of our house and stepped inside.

I remember playing in the living room with our son Sean when he was maybe three or four years old. We were on the floor setting up a skirmish with a bunch of plastic dinosaurs or something like that when all at once he jumped up and began a fast march across the room as if he’d just received a coded message by radio wave from the mother ship. Halfway across the room he yanked his pants down and tried to manually stop himself from emptying his bladder on the way but failed, squirting a trail that pointed into the hallway and continued into the bathroom.

That was me as I ran across the living room. It’s kind of funny when it’s a four-year-old, not nearly as funny when it’s a fifty-six-year-old.

kegle | 6:29 am CST
Category: daily drivel, falling apart, random idiocy, Seanster, TMI Tuesday | Tags:
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Sunday, December 21st, 2014

Hello, boys and girls! Welcome! Welcome to Story Time with Unkle Knuckles. Gather round and I’ll tell you the story of how Silly Putty came to be banned from our Christmas stockings. Ready? Let’s begin.

This would’ve been so many years ago that Sean was still a toddler and Tim was no more than a notion. Back then, my Mom and Dad lived in the O-Folk Ancestral Manse, far, far away in The Frozen North. In the year which our story takes place, we made the long voyage there to spend Christmas day with them.

In Sean’s stocking, he found one of the classic toys: A plastic egg with a blob of Silly Putty inside. It was the first Silly Putty he’d ever played with, so we showed him all the nifty stuff he could do with it: Bounce it like a ball, break it like a piece of china, and copy a panel of Calvin & Hobbes off the funny pages. That last one was the corker: He was having such a good time that we left him to play and didn’t give the Silly Putty another thought.

Long after we had opened all our gifts and the morning had lapsed into the time of day when we were all blobbing out on a sofa or were slouched in an overstuffed chair, my Dad decided he had to get another cookie or a drink from the kitchen. When he tried to rise from his chair, he discovered that the chair wouldn’t let him go! He sank back into the chair, then tried to get up again. The chair seemed to be following him! He tried once more and finally bulled his way into an upright position.

Good thing the chair he’d been sitting in was one with a removable seat cushion, because the cushion was well and truly glued to his butt. The glue? Silly Putty, of course. As we all learned that day, if you sit on a blob of Silly Putty, your body heat makes it spread itself evenly across your whole butt, and if you’re wearing pants, it works itself so deeply into the fabric that it’s never going to come out. Same with the fabric of a chair cushion, if you happen to be sitting on one. The only way Dad could get away from that chair cushion was to take his pants off.

And that’s why Silly Putty was never seen again in the stockings of the littlest O-Folk.

silly | 5:56 pm CST
Category: Dad, O'Folks, Seanster, story time
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Sunday, November 30th, 2014

The tip of Boo’s tail was broken when she was a kitten, sometime before we got her. Sean was petting her last night and mentioned how much he liked the hook at the end of her tail because it reminded him of a scorpion’s stinger, and then added something typically Sean-like, like, “Too bad she’ll never be able to sting anybody with it.”

“Ah, but if evolution favors cats with stinging tails,” I pointed out, “then in a million years her direct descendants will be the killer scorpion-cats you would like her to be, and how cool is that?”

Sean thought it would be very cool for the cats, but not so much for humans.

“If there are any,” I put in, “which I doubt.”

Sean was more than a little shocked that I thought the human race would not survive a million years. He thought that humans would venture out into space and colonize other planets, driven by a biological imperative to spread our race far and wide to ensure survivability.

Holey moley. This is the same Sean who has spoken out repeatedly against the imperialist, colonial practices of European governments that have overrun the world in the name of securing more room to live. I could hardly believe my ears.

So I asked him, Assuming we could find a planet enough like ours that we could be reasonably assured of settling a meaningful population of humans, did he think we could colonize another planet without affecting the native life?

But more to the point, if we had the technology to build a space ship big enough and fast enough to transport a million people across the galaxy, that same technology would surely be awesome enough to ensure the viability of our own planet, the one we’ve evolved to live on, for a million years.

And yet, even though the technology we’ve got right now is telling us that we’ve got to clean up our act in order to leave a planet that the next generation will be able to live on, we’re not doing that.

Yeah. In our house, a crooked cat’s tail routinely ends up in discussions like this one. You should’ve heard the one about gender roles.

colonials | 2:58 pm CST
Category: Seanster
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Thursday, November 27th, 2014

We played Bourbon Jenga last night, which is like regular Jenga but with cherry-infused bourbon. You can use regular bourbon if you like; it doesn’t have to be infused with cherries. It doesn’t have to be bourbon, either, but then it probably wouldn’t make sense to call it Bourbon Jenga. You still could call it that, I’m not going to stop you. It’s a free country, theoretically.

Anyway, Tim came over last night, thinking that he was going to have dinner with us but finding out as he came through the door that B & I were just on our way out to yoga class. Our instructor was recovering from a sinus infection that knocked her out for last Monday’s class but she was feeling well enough again to talk us through some restorative yoga exercises that mostly involved very heavy breathing and trying turn all the way around to face the same way as my butt. Couldn’t do either very well. I’m not a huffer-and-puffer kind of yoga guy; I think I get the importance of controlling my breath, but I don’t see why it’s important to make a big production out of it. Maybe that understanding will come later. And I’m not flexible enough yet to turn all the way around like an owl. I’m not sure that’ll ever come to a guy with a back as tired and crooked as mine, not that I won’t keep on trying. Our instructor can fold herself all the way over so she can stick her head between her knees, so I can see with my own eyes that it’s possible. I just can’t comprehend doing it myself yet.

By the time we got back home from yoga it was almost eight o’clock. Sean announced almost as we came through the door that they had been too hungry to wait for us, so Sean fed himself from the kitchen and Tim ordered take-out from the Indian place up the road. And kudos to him; that’s some of the best Indian take-away anywhere in the city. B & I were mighty hungry, though, so we sat down and tucked into the sloppy joes that B made earlier and left warming in the oven. When Sean caught the aroma, his face lit up and he took a seat at the table to devour a sloppy joe, too.

Then came the Jenga. I’ve wanted to play Jenga for weeks now. Can’t say where I got the hankering, but it’s been there long enough that I mentioned it to B a week or two ago and she put in an order with Amazon last week. I think it came in the mail the next morning. Same thing happened to the cook book I ordered and wanted to give to B for Christmas. I thought it would come maybe a couple days later and I would be able to fish it out of the mail before B would see it, but no, it came the very next day and was in a big bag with all the other stuff that she ordered from Amazon, so naturally she opened it. I didn’t even know it was in there until I heard her say, “What the hell?” and turned around to see her holding the cook book with a look on her face that went from puzzled to shocked realization to Oh Shit I’ve Opened My Christmas Present Early. I kissed her and wished her a Merry Christmas.

Okay, so back to Jenga, which became Bourbon Jenga when B got out the jar of infused bourbon and ladled out a shot for everybody while I set up the Jenga tower. We didn’t make it a drinking game; there weren’t forty-two overly-complicated rules about when you had to drink, it was just Jenga with drinks. Play the game, enjoy the bourbon, have a good time. Those were the only rules. We had a little trouble with the first one because I just wanted to play the game but B wanted to follow the instructions. Who reads the instructions for Jenga? But eventually we sorted that out and the game was played, the bourbon was enjoyed and I think everybody had a good time.

bourbon jenga | 9:53 am CST
Category: booze, entertainment, food & drink, games, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg, yoga | Tags: , , ,
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Saturday, November 15th, 2014

Happy Birthday, Sean!

Sean and B

Happy Birthday Sean! | 3:54 pm CST
Category: Seanster
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Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

salmon7Let’s Go To The Shimoda Salmon Festival With The O-Family!

I think it was only a week or two after we got here, but that could be my addled memory making a hash again out of everything I’ve ever seen. Anyway, we heard about the salmon festival, where you pay a couple hundred yen to get in, put on some waterproof boots – well, you didn’t have to, but it would’ve been a good idea – and when they blow the whistle and release the salmon, all you’ve got to do is bend down and grab one. Simple, right?

salmon2Like so many things that sound simple, this event was a circus.

I think it’s one of those crazy ideas that city commissioners come up with in board meetings, then laugh themselves silly as they watch the gullible boobs slosh around in the freezing water, getting soaking wet and holding up their prize salmon as if they’d bagged a charging rhinocerous.

Okay, I’m being way too harsh. Actually, we all had a lot of fun, and we even took our salmon home and ate them, so I’d have to say that we had a really good time. Once.

Here, Barb and Sean squelch their way across a two-inch wide causeway made out of milk baskets. The water’s only six inches deep, but it’s cold as ice.

salmon4And here’s the prize! A genuine, live, wet, cold salmon, fighting mad and all too willing to slap you right in the face if you don’t watch yourself. I can’t be certain – it’s my trick memory again – but I think we all dropped each of our fish, and had to grab another one. If we ever did this again, and I’m not insinuating for a moment that we would, I think I would just take pictures of the boys, and I’m pretty sure Barb would be cheering them on from the refreshments tent, with a hot bowl of ramen in her hands.

salmon1And That’s All From The O-Family At The Shimoda Salmon Festival! [This has been another Geocities flashback.]

Shimoda salmon festival | 5:58 am CST
Category: My Darling B, O'Folks, Seanster, T-Dawg, travel
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Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Just yesterday, Tim was asking me about our trip to Ireland: Where we went, what we did, will we ever eat smoked salmon as great as that again? I could easily answer the last question (sadly, no), but to answer the first two questions I had to dredge the backwaters of my memory, hardly the most reputable place to find the kind of facts he was looking for.

Way, way back in the dimmest beginnings of the internet (we’re talking Geocities; remember Geocities?) I threw up some web pages with our travel photos and what I thought of at the time as witty commentary for the folks back home to look at. Just for the hell of it I asked The Great Google if there was any vestige of those pages still out there and, what the hell, there was! All of the pages for our trip to Ireland were there, but two of the photos had gone missing: One photo was the introductory page, and I have no idea what that looked like. The other photo is described below in the original text from the web pages.

So this one’s for you, Tim. Here, without further delay, are the photos with the original, unaltered text. I hope they’ll provide some of the answers to the questions you had, because it’s about all that I’m able to provide, with the help of my internet memory.

[Added: I found the original photos in an album and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I’d written the date of our visit on the backs: April 2000.]

The Ofamily at TarbertSome time around the turn of the century, Barb’s great-grandfather, Arthur Marshall, left his family in Tarbert to emigrate to the United States, and for some time now she’s wanted to kick around the old ancestral land. Since our first full day in Ireland was wet, we decided a long car trip to Tarbert would be just the thing. We had no idea what we’d find when we got there. The town hardly gets a mention in any guide book, and then only because they have a jail that they’ve turned into a museum. As it turns out, about the only thing in Tarbert worth showing anybody is my lovely family posed by the sign on the edge of town. They look happy because they haven’t seen Tarbert yet. The place amounts to a t-junction with several pubs and a shrine to the Virgin Mary. I’ll leave you to think about the implications of that juxtaposition.

Torc FallWe managed to squeeze all the wild excitements of Tarbert and drive all the way back to Killarney in time for lunch. As we still had plenty of daylight, we all piled back into the car to have a drive into Killarney National Park to see the sights. The first sight we saw was a cave I don’t remember the name of and which I don’t have pictures of anyway, so why do you care, right? It was a cave. Think of Batman.

The pictures I do have from that outing, though, I took while we were having a bimble up the valley that Torc Fall cuts through. Nobody on earth could have designed a waterfall more perfectly laid out for tourists that Torc Fall. There’s a big car park right beside the road, and the falls are only about a hundred yards up the path. I imagine in the height of the tourist season this place is thronged, but today the rain discouraged them, so we didn’t have to fight through much of a crowd. They were thickest when we were already coming back down the hill, where I stopped to snap this shot of the boys with the falls behind them. That’s Sean to the left of the couple holding hands, Tim to the right. Like you can see them.

Torc Fall ViewWe lucked out just about everywhere we went that day. Every time we stepped out of the car, it had just stopped raining. While we were having a walk around, no rain. Then, each time we got back to the car, usually just as we were opening the doors, it started to rain, and kept on raining until just before we got to our next stop. I can’t explain it, but I’m not complaining.

As the weather was being so kind to us, and there were quite a few pathways to explore in Killarney National Park, we took a short hike up the valley to see the source of Torc Fall. Never found it. We did find this view, which is a great deal more spectacular if you’re gazing upon it in person with your own wet eyeballs, and not staring blankly at a web page on a computer monitor, but this is the best I can to do for you, sorry. The city of Killarney is in the distant right background, beyond the lakes of Killarney National Park. A gorgeous mountain range is immediately off the left edge of the picture. Too bad you can’t see it.

Ladies' ViewOne more shot from Killarney National Park, this time a photo of what they now call Ladies’ View, so named because Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting were so utterly dazzled by this sight they could hardly tear themselves away. It must have been pretty dull to be a lady-in-waiting. I imagine they had better weather, too. We stopped here for quite a while, had a tramp around the rocks, ducked into the Ladies’ View tourist shop, and so on, but the majesty of the place didn’t quite strike us the way other places did. Might’ve had something to do with the thirty-knot headwind or occassional showers. And that’s just about all we saw around the national park; we spent the rest of our time chasing tourist busses in our car, and I know you can’t wait to hear about that, so if you’re still with me, let’s click on to the next page …

green hills of IrelandThis is the kind of scene you expect to see when you think of Ireland, isn’t it? We had miles and miles of this when we finally went out to tour the Dingle Penninsula on Tuesday. (I’ll wait a moment while you finish chuckling over the name ‘Dingle Penninsula.’ Done? Okay.) The sky was clear and blue, the temps were warm, the most gentle of breezes beckoned us to get out and walk whereever we went, and every picture I took that day was a post card — I know you don’t want to look at post card after post card. As pretty as these scenes are, they all kind of run together after a dozen or so. I’ll offer you a few here, though, just so you can sort of get the flavor of the day. I don’t remember where I took this, but I know it was on Dingle (Yes? What’s so funny in the back, there?), possibly in the area of Slea Head, where we stopped several times to walk around — or it might be in the area of Inch, our first stop of the day. Don’t remember. Spent more time trying to soak up the sun and the sights than paying any attention to what I was taking pictures of.

snowy mountains of IrelandThis, on the other hand, is typically not what I imagine when I think of Ireland. Looks more like Japan to me. But Ireland it is, honest. This is off a beach in Smerwick Harbor, on the north shore of Dingle. We were looking for the rolling heads. According to the guide book, there was a massacre on this site back when they used to do that kind of thing in Ireland, and to commemorate the event (I think that’s the right word), an artist with a fat government grant sculpted dozens of severed heads and scattered them up and down the hillside. Or so says the guidebook. We saw no heads, and although this stunning view made up for it, we were still rather disappointed.

Tim at Inch Strand IrelandBacktracking just a bit, this is a shot of Inch Strand, the beach at Inch that runs right round and out into the harbor. It’s very, very long, very wide, rather tidy, and soft enough to invite you to run barefoot, with of course Tim had to do almost immediately. This was our first stop of the day and we couldn’t have asked for a better place with better weather. There was even a tea shop on the beach. Tim started a shell collection here that I believe is still rattling around in his jacket pockets. The rest of us just collected sand. We stayed about as long as we could stand the tourists, then squeeked out between a pair of tour busses and an oversized camper. The main roads that you see on the map are just wide enough for our car to slither between an oncoming tour bus and the stone walls that flank the road on both sides, but only if I clamp both hands around the steering wheel and shut my eyes so hard that tears spurt out. Barb was doing the same thing with her eyes, so I don’t think she caught on to what I was doing. It worked, right?

davebarbflatI’ll squeeze one more snap into this page to make your download really tiresome. Barb’s nephew Alex sent us a ‘Flat Stanley’ — a little cutout doll. Stanley likes to travel, the story goes, and he travels mostly through the mail. Alex sent him to us so he could get a little globe-trotting experience, and lucky for Stanley he arrived just as we were getting ready to head for Ireland, so he went much further than he knew he was going to go. We took lots of pictures of Stanley — way more, it turned out, than the huge number I already thought we were — but I’m not going to inflict that on you. This just happens to be a fairly good picture of Barb and I, and Stanley happens to be stuck to Barb’s fingers. Stanley’s also in the photo of Barb, Sean and Tim at the Leprechaun Crossing that you saw on the first page, by the way, but no way am I going to turn this into a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ competition. (Winner gets a piece of stinky piece of cheese by return of post.)

barbbeehiveHere’s Barb at the beehive huts, near Slea Head. These are supposed to be something like a thousand years old, constructed by hermits or religious devotees or somebody else who wanted to be very, very alone, didn’t care much where he lived and didn’t have a lot to build with. There are lots of flat stones lying all over the ground in Dingle, so these guys piled them up in a circle, like an igloo. Why these are called ‘beehive huts’ and not ‘stone igloos’ is beyond me, but I’m not on the tourist board, so it’s not my call. If you ask me, they look suspiciously like somebody rebuilt them a year or two ago, and it might just possibly have been the local farmer who charges a pound per sight-seeing tourist, or they might actually be a thousand years old and just look as though they’re remarkably clean and well-kept, especially for ruins that thousands of tourists tramp through every week.

dadseantimThe O-Men (trademark applied for) pause somewhere along the tourist circuit on the Dingle Penninsula to vogue for this stunning photograph. Ain’t we a bunch of studs? Especially the guy in the middle? Somebody in the peanut gallery has asked about the toupee. It’s a hat. I will never wear a toupee. You can hold me to that.

The tourist circuits around the three penninsulas in County Kerry are known as the Ring of Dingle (okay, that’s enough of that), the Ring of Kerry, and I forget the name of the other ring right now, but it’ll come to me, I promise. By unofficial agreement, the traffic on these rings moves in an anti-clockwise direction, but the guidebook doesn’t explain why, so I decided to go my own darned way and was feeling pretty good about making my own decision until we met a tour bus. They’re wide enough to take up the whole road and big enough to squish tourists who have the temerity to disreguard unofficial directives. So for crying out loud, if the guidebook suggests something, no matter how whacky, JUST DO IT!

dunquinnThis is a shot of Dunquinn — or Dunquin, or Dun Quin, I’m not sure. Everything in Ireland is spelled at least two different ways. Killarney is also Cill Airne, and everything is labelled in English and Irish. (Which is not Gaelic — that’s what the guidebook says, SO BELIEVE IT!) Since the English is also supplied it’s not a big deal, but there are one or two isolated spots where the road signs are in nothing but Irish, so if you haven’t been paying attention, driving can become a teensy bit more complicated than you bargained for.

As for Dunquinn, it’s a small harbor between Dunmore Head and Clogher Head, and features very prominently in the tourists shops this year because a well-known photographer (well-known to tourists) took an artsy-fartsy picture of a flock of sheep winding their way up the stair-step road you see snaking up the rocky point. I couldn’t arrange for the sheep, sorry.

staigueWe visited the Staigue Stone Fort on a rather rainy day and, wouldn’t you know it, unlike the beehive huts, there’s no roof! You can’t count on those stone-age guys for anything! The stone age must have been a very confusing time, because the Staigue fort doesn’t guard anything that we could see. It must have been just a place where the shepherds and beehive hut people could run into when rampaging bands of marauders landed on the penninsula to kick some heads.

This fort really is rather impressive, by the way. Unlike the beehive huts, the walls of the fort are something like ten feet thick and twelve feet high, and the fort’s defenders could climb up the stairways built into the walls to fend off marauders by bonking them with rocks or whatever the cutting edge of weapons technology was at the time. The small door you see to the right of the boys is a storage chamber built into the wall. If you want to see the fort, by the way, you’ve got to REALLY WANT TO SEE IT, because it’s at the end of a long, long one-lane sunken road that winds up a valley choked with sheep, which frequently step out onto the road to greet tourists in the friendly manner that all Irish sheep seem to have. And it’s on the south coast of the Iveragh Penninsula, on the Ring of Kerry — sorry, I jumped ahead without telling you.

(Photo missing)

Backing up to the Dingle Penninsula, this is a view from Connor Pass. For once, all the hype in the guide books is well-placed; this view will take your breath away on a clear day, and we had the clearest, warmest, most breath-taking day of the week when we were up there. We stopped for a quick late-afternoon lunch, and just to make the day perfect, some guy parked beside us, dug a set of bagpipes out of the boot of his car, and played a couple tunes. He wasn’t busking and he wasn’t from the tourist board, he just wanted to play his bagpipes at the top of Connor Pass. I know that’d really spoil the moment for some people, but I dearly love the sound of bagpipes, especially in the open air. Barb, by the way, is one of those people who can’t stand bagpipes. She’s the one with the Celtic blood, and I’m nothing but Slav. Go figure.

roadconnorI took lots of pictures of the roads as we were driving around the tourist circuits because they were so narrow, sunken between berms thickly covered in grass or flanked by high stone walls, and along the coast there was always sheer stone up one side or a sheer drop down the other. Unfortunately, none of those pictures captures the hair-raising feeling of driving along those roads. This snapshot of the road north of Connor Pass, for instance, doesn’t convey to you that there were just inches of clearance between the fenders of my car and the rock on either side. If it had been fairly straight, this might not have been much of a problem, but the road was as crooked as an arthritic woman’s fingers. I chose to show you this photo because I love the warning posts along the stone wall on the left. As if I needed the warning.

The drive up the hills to Connor Pass was so pleasant, and the view from the pass was such sweet eye candy, that when we got back down and were headed home Barb pointed out another scenic route that would take us up another mountain pass, between the villages of Camp and Aughils. I’m pointing this out to you because IT’S A TRAP! The only vehicle you should ever attempt to drive along this road should have at least four-wheel drive, although ideally it should be tracked and armored and powered by a twelve-cylinder diesel engine of at least two-thousand horsepower. This ‘scenic’ road climbs grades that had me spinning my tires against asphalt in first gear. And I thought I knew hairpin turns from my drives through the Rocky Mountains. They were child’s play compared to this drive. And for all that work you’d think they’d give you a scenic view at least as spectacular as the one at Connor Pass, but it ain’t there, if you ask me. Just don’t even think about it.

blarneycastleYou can’t go to Ireland and not kiss the Blarney Stone, right? I mean, there’s something almost irresistable about puckering up and giving a warm, wet buss to a cold chunk of rock that several thousand people have already slobbered on, don’t you think? Blarney Castle just happens to be along the road that we took on the way home, so we stopped in, climbed the stairs with a hundred other tourists, and planted our lips on the legendary stone. It’s on the underside of the wall, so you have to bend way backwards and slide out through the hole that you can see daylight through in the photo of the castle wall.





The O-Folk in Ireland | 11:45 am CST
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Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Sean uses Tim as his lounging pillow. In return, Tim slips Sean a wet willie …

image of Tim and Sean

wet willie! | 8:29 am CST
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Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Yay. The cat has finally curled up in my lap. Can’t do a thing while he’s turning in circles, looking for the right place to settle down. Can’t type a word, can’t sip my coffee, can’t even set down my coffee cup within easy reach because he would just keep sticking his snotty nose in it. I have to just sit here, waiting until he stops. So who’s the mammal in charge here?

image of B hugging Sean

Sean is home for Christmas. Touched down at Dane County Airport shortly after eight, where we scooped him up and motored into town to have dinner at Next Door Brewing. He pronounced himself very pleased with the taco plate. I had the Atwood Burger, delicious as always, and B loved her salmon sandwich. And of course there was beer. Can’t go to Next Door without partaking of a refreshing libation. B was especially satisfied with the Festivusale, but just a little saddened that the staff apparently forgot to provide her with the grievance form that was supposed to come with each glass. She was looking forward to hanging her grievance on the Festivus Pole.

Aargh! | 8:19 am CST
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Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Sean and Nikki, dancing fools, at the Great Taste of the Midwest.

image of Sean and Nikki dancing

mosh pit | 6:19 am CST
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, Seanster
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Sunday, August 11th, 2013

attending the Great Taste of the MidwestTime once again for the Great Taste of the Midwest, the very best beer fest anywhere in the world, as if that has to be said. We’ve been going to the Great Taste every year for seven years now but this time around there were two significantly different changes to the way we attended.

The first and most amazingly fun change we made was that we invited Sean and Nikki, his significant other, to the event. We snagged a few extra tickets and were trying to figure out how best to spread them out amongst our friends and acquaintances when My Darling B hit on the idea. To sweeten the pot, she bought the plane tickets for them, too, and we offered to put them up in our guest room while they were here. Not too surprisingly, they snapped at the offer, arriving the Friday night before the festival.

The other big difference is that last winter I became a member of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild, the group that organizes the Great Taste, mostly because I’ve really wanted to help out at the event and I’d heard that I’d stand a better chance of being allowed to volunteer my time if I was a member, so I paid my dues, waited for the call for volunteers and raised my hand high in the air when it came. And you know what? Not only did they give me a chance by letting me help the vendors set up, they let me in with the rest of the members an hour before the gates opened! Now My Darling B wants to be a member and volunteer, too. I can provide her with a good character reference if she needs it.

At the Great Taste of the MidwestI think Nikki and Sean enjoyed it more than we did, as hard as that might be to believe, although B had a pretty darned good time this year as well, disappearing into the crowds with Nikki to look for more delicious beer whenever Sean and I got distracted by bacon on a stick or an appearance by Mama Digdown’s Brass Band. Then we’d all meet up again by texting each other on our cell phones or, later in the day when our eye-hand coordination had deteriorated to the point where some of our text messages became mostly nonsense (and here I’m thinking of the already-legendary “BACON MEAT IN OUR MOUTHS!”), by agreeing that we should all meet at the picnic blanket if we got split up.

When the taps ran dry and the people began to make their way home, the two youngest members of the tribe, still full of energy and just getting their weekend started, caught a downtown shuttle to join a dance party on the roof of the Children’s Museum where one of Nikki’s friends was DJing. Wow. I probably could’ve done that when I was thirty, but we’ll never know now. The two older members of the O-Folks headed home via the taxi queue where we waited in line for the better part of an hour before being packed tightly into a Toyota Prius with two other people headed back to their hotel room in Monona. We were practically sober by the time we returned to Our Humble O’Bode and ordered the customary after-fest pizza.

Many, many thank-yous go out from Drivel HQ to Nikki and Sean for coming all the way to Madison to make our visit to the fest this year extra-special.

Great Taste 2013 | 2:42 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, Seanster
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Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

“Guess what tomorrow is,” My Darling B asked me as I was cleaning up after dinner.

I thought I knew what she was getting at, but I didn’t want to just blurt it out, so I said, somewhat obtusely, “Tomorrow’s the fifteenth.”

“And that means?”

“Duh. Fifteen percent off wine at the liquor store.”

“Right,” she laughed. “What else does it mean?”

I was silent for an embarrassingly long time as I tried to guess what else she could possibly mean. “You’ll get it, eventually,” she encouraged me.

“Oh,” I finally said, after the nickel dropped. “It’s our son’s birthday.” D’oh!

“Right,” she said. “What belated gift should we get him?”

I didn’t even have to think about it much. “Discount wine?”

Happy Birthday, Sean.

belatedly | 9:21 pm CST
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Saturday, July 21st, 2012

image of automated musical instrumentsI’ve been to House On The Rock once before we went on our family outing last week with Sean. Many, many moons ago, when I was just a dorky beanpole teenager instead of a dorky beanpole middle-aged guy, my mom and dad stopped there during a family vacation, probably a weekend camping trip, but to be perfectly honest I don’t remember much about it except a calliope that caught my interest and a room chock full of musical instruments that played themselves.

Comes to that, the self-playing musical instruments were just about the single most impressive thing about the House On The Rock that stuck in my memory all these years. I’m a gadget geek by nature, so that stuff was the cat’s ass from the moment I first laid eyes on it, and I was wowed all over again when I saw them this time around. I forgot exactly how many rooms were filled with stringed instruments or brass or woodwinds, each instrument festooned with pneumatically-activated fingers that jumped as they plied the keys. As it turns out, there are dozens of such rooms, each with a different theme: In one room, the violas, cellos and violins rest on the plush cushions of gilded chairs and play waltzes, while in another garishly-painted room, brass instruments blare out marches.

I’m not the only one to get a serious geek-on over this. The band 10,000 Maniacs recorded a music video for their song More Than This at House On The Rock against the backdrop of a room filled with automated strings and horns. The band members wear puppet strings and prosthetics, and turn their heads robotically to suggest that they’re automatons. Very nerdy stuff.

Because I’m such a geek about it, I wanted to find out more about how the automated instruments worked, so I asked The Mighty Google to tell me more and was crushed when I learned from Wikipedia that a lot of the instruments don’t really play themselves. Wait, what? According to a book by Doug Moe, a journalist who writes for Madison news media, a lot of the instruments only jerk back and forth while the sound comes from organ pipes. I have never been more disappointed. Seriously. The combined disillusionment I felt when I learned that the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, Santa Claus and Batman were all just figments of the imagination did not let me down more than this.

image of doll house at House On The RockAs long as I’m sinking into the depths of disillusionment, here’s another thing I didn’t remember very clearly about The House On The Rock: In my dim memory, it was a place filled with a vast, wonderful collection of various and sundry trinkets and mementos gathered from around the world and assembled into an almost Smithsonian display of Americana.

It’s vast. I recalled that correctly. And there is some eye-popping stuff, but I wouldn’t call it exactly Smithsonian. I don’t think the Smithsonian would display a fiberglass whale that’s twice as big as any living whale and has shark’s teeth as big as tombstones. And I think the Smithsonian has doll houses, but not like House On The Rock. House On The Rock has doll houses like a mutt has fleas. They’ve hoarded what has got to be the largest number of dolls and doll houses amassed anywhere in the nation. If the powers that be added one more doll house to the massivity of their hoard, I’m pretty sure it would collapse into a black hole, it’s that impressively large. I wouldn’t call it a collection, though. A collection would be a thoughtful representation of doll houses displayed in a way that you could make sense out of. Their doll houses are piled up almost on top of one another in great big heaps, like old newspapers in a garage. Might be fun to look at a couple, but open up every one to see what’s in it? Nah.

Just one other thing I didn’t recall correctly, and then I’m done: I think the displayed mountains of stuff were meant to evoke a kind of wonder at how much there was, or how wildly crazy it was, or something big and fun, but it wasn’t what I would call wonderful, exactly. Maybe calling it a walk through someone’s nightmarish fever dream is too harsh, but it came awfully close to that. Almost every room was so badly lit that I staggered in and out of darkness, bumping into blind corners, and what lights there were seemed to highlight each display in ways that were straight out of a gotcha scene in a slasher movie. I often felt a little disoriented and often even repulsed by the strangely twisted sculptures that jumped out of the shadows at me. Nothing, for instance, could have prepared me for the sight of a hundred department store mannequins converted into angels by the addition of twelve-foot wings and gauzy toga-like garments so ill-fitting that about a dozen of them were flashing their nipples at us. Really? Nipples? They thought it was necessary to take the time to paint nipples on the mannequin angels? Wow.

image of nippled angels at House On The Rock

stoned2 | 1:52 pm CST
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Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

nightmare image of unicorn head on a naked woman's bodyMy Darling B and I took Sean on a day trip to see The House On The Rock yesterday. “It’s something everyone has to do when they go to Wisconsin, and we haven’t done it yet,” she explained. So, in spite of a tiny bit of reluctance I may have detected from Sean, we jumped in the car early yesterday morning to hit the road. Okay, it was actually nine o’clock or so. Early for us.

Before heading to Spring Green where the house is at, we stopped at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner for a big, delicious breakfast. We anticipated being away most of the day because we were going to get tickets for The Ultimate Experience of the house, and didn’t want to run out of steam halfway through the tour of what is billed as the “marvels upon marvels of the grand vision of Alex Jordan,” the guy who built The House On The Rock. The Ultimate Experience is the ticket that lets you wander through all three sections of the fantasmagorical collection that has been amassed at the house over the years. B decided that, if we were going to do this thing, we were going to do the whole thing so we’d really have something to talk about.

We got there some time between ten and eleven o’clock on a day when the temperature hit 101 degrees. That’s sort of important, because the actual house part of The House On The Rock was built in the 1960s by a guy who might have been a genius when it came to building houses on rocks, but could have used a little more training in the subject of how to incorporate adequate central air conditioning into a vacation home. (Just kidding. I don’t think he gave it a moment’s thought until well after the house itself was finished.)

The house is actually two houses: There’s a gate house at the base of the rock where a fully-appointed kitchen and a low-slung dining room gave the residents a few modern amenities. Then there’s the main house perched high on a stack of sandstone overlooking a valley lush with oak trees. It must have been a truly beautiful vacation spot at one time, before it was surrounded by a parking lot, warehouses filled with bric-a-brac and an endless chain of covered walkways you can’t really see anything from.

image of House On The Rock, Spring Green, WIThe one quality of The House On The Rock that amazed me most was that I couldn’t see it very well. While we were outside, I couldn’t see it at all. The covered walkways all around the base of the rock zigzag every which way, but never at an angle that gave me a view of the house. Maybe I’m just being silly, but it seems to me that there ought to be at least one clear view of the main attraction. Even the Mighty Google could find just one image of it, a picture post card dating from who knows when, and it’s been recycled endlessly on tourist web sites and blog posts just like this one because, I would guess, people start to write about it and realize that they don’t have a clear photo of the outside.

Once I was inside the house I could take a pretty good look around, if I had the time and patience to wait for a break in the teeming mass of people that is constantly streaming through the cattle-chute cordon laid out to guide tourists through the house. I don’t know how big the house is – I imagine it’s pretty roomy for a couple on vacation, and probably still roomy with a couple of house guests along for fun. When there are a hundred people jammed into it, though, it’s as crowded as an elevator car. All I could see most of the time was the heads and shoulders of the people in front of and behind me as we shuffled through the narrow passageways and spread out whenever there was a little breathing space.

The house might be described as a warren of low-ceilinged rooms tucked here and there in the spaces where the rock parted wide enough for the builder to lay out a conversation pit or hang a row of windows. The rooms were connected by cliffhanging galleries or narrow passageways through clefts in the stone. At one time it must have been a wonderful place to explore, wandering from room to room, losing your way only to find yourself back in a familiar place again, but the rails laid out to guide people through the house have pretty much ruined the wandering charm the house once had.

image of The Infinity Room at the House on the RockThe highlight of the tour through the house is supposed to be The Infinity Room, which looks and feels like a tacked-on addition meant to satisfy tourists who bought just the ticket to tour the house and nothing else, to keep them from feeling ripped off. It’s more of a hallway than a room that sticks out 150 feet from the rock, with a window in the floor at the far end so you can see that you’re high above the oak trees in the valley below. While we were there, there was a gaggle of people at the end waiting their turn to get their pictures taken, so I guess the room turned out to be the money shot of the house tour after all.

If I had paid $28.50 for just this, the first leg of the tour, I would have left feeling ripped off – but no! There is so much more!

stoned | 6:07 am CST
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Saturday, July 14th, 2012

We all crowded around the television screen last night to watch Alien because we found out Sean has never seen it. HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?

A couple nights ago after dinner we were sitting around talking about all the things that were wrong with Promethus again, and after one of us compared it to Alien Sean casually mentioned that he’d never seen it. I thought at first I’d misheard him, or maybe he’d meant to say he hadn’t seen it in the last ten years or something. “You’ve never seen it?” I asked him, expecting him to correct me. “No, never,” he confirmed. My jaw dropped. I was gobsmacked.

So My Darling B checked it out from the local library and we watched it last night after dinner. You know what? It’s still a pretty good movie. I wish we had a bigger screen to watch it on, because a lot of the atmosphere that comes across from a big movie screen gets lost when the picture’s shrunk down to a nineteen-inch television screen. The scene where Kane is hanging from a rope in the egg chamber of the alien ship, for instance, made me gape and gasp when I saw it on a proper movie theater screen. I’m pretty sure it still would. When I saw it this time, I desperately wanted to shove my face right up against the television screen but was afraid the others would find that a teensy bit rude.

And I have more reservations about believability. I didn’t used to, and I don’t know where I got it. Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon now, but I just don’t believe some of the really crazy stuff any more, like when the alien goes from being a little worm to a full-size monster in a couple of hours, or maybe it was as long as a day. Either way, it wasn’t enough time for him to do that, and where’d he find anything he could eat so he could grow that big? It didn’t make any sense to me.

Also, why couldn’t anybody on that ship remember to close a door behind them? Were these people brought up in a barn?

“Hey, the facehugger’s not on Kane’s face any more! Where could it be?”

“Let’s go in and look for it.”

“Shouldn’t we close the door behind us?”

“Naw, I wouldn’t worry about that. It wouldn’t go scrambling out into the hallway to get away.”

“Oh, okay.”

Then near the end of the movie when Ripley goes down to get the shuttle, she leaves the door open behind her, as if there isn’t a giant killer alien roaming the ship looking for her. That drove me nuts! But I guess that’s exactly what it was supposed to do. And the alien wouldn’t have been able to hide in the shuttle if she hadn’t.

I think Sean liked it, and we all had a good time watching it again, although I think Tim was just a little annoyed by the audience participation. Some of us couldn’t stop ourselves from yelling “Don’t go in there!” or giving Sean a poke at just the right time, which did sort of ruin the suspense, but it was family movie night and those kinds of things are more or less a given. Maybe we should have saved the MST3K stuff for when we watch Prometheus at some family movie night in the future.

Alien | 7:47 am CST
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Friday, July 6th, 2012

The bus pulled into the Dutch Mills parking lot right on time at 9:45, and Sean was the first one off. It was still so hot that we sat in the car to wait for him, getting out only to welcome him with a big hug before scampering back into the car.

His first natural impulse when we got home was to feed. His mom told him he could eat anything in the fridge except the stuff in the paper boxes, our leftovers from dinner that we were saving for lunch the next day. Almost as soon as he set on his food, I was getting ready for bed. It was well past the usual time I hit the hay. I’m pretty sure B turned in shortly after me, but I don’t remember it.

Sean treated me to Big Head Burrito for lunch today (real name: LaBamba’s, not nearly as catchy; our name comes from their motto, “Burritos As Big As Your Head!” They’re not far off), and then he got on his mom’s bike and headed into town to hang with his friends. I considered riding into town with him for the fun of racing with him, but after spending just five minutes in the hundred-degree heat outside adjusting his mother’s bike I put that thought right out of my head and satisfied myself instead with relaxing in the air-conditioned comfort of Our Humble O’Bode.

seanster | 2:06 pm CST
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Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Ten years from now, or maybe as little as five, really, I may not remember where I was or what I was doing when I heard the news that Maurice Sendak had died, but I hope I’ll always be able to recall some of the happiest moments of my life, and that I could live them only because Sendak was alive.

Here’s one of them: Reading Where The Wild Things Are to my youngest son, Timmy, while he sat in my lap. I loved the part where I got to say, “That very night, in Max’s room …” and then pausing, Tim’s cue to throw his hands over his head and shout, “A FOREST GREW!”

Or this: The many pages of The Wild Rumpus. There were no words, so as I turned to the first two-page spread I would bounce Tim up and down in my lap and he would join me in chanting, “Rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpuussss!” Then we would turn the page and do it all over again.

Unless my memory’s gone south, Sean’s favorite Sendak book was In The Night Kitchen, probably because it was full of milk and cookies. Both the boys liked Chicken Soup With Rice, which is easily my favorite, right after Where The Wild Things Are.

When I heard of Sendak’s death today, I slumped in my chair and very nearly came to tears, until it occurred to me that it would be much more appropriate to make sure we all kept the wild rumpus going.

Rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpuussss!

Maurice Sendak | 9:01 pm CST
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Monday, December 26th, 2011

My Christmas morning prezzie from The Great Big Cosmic FU* was a plugged-up bathroom drain. It was starting to drain slowly earlier this week so that by Sunday morning I was standing in a deepening pool of my own effluvia as I washed up. There is but one way to unclog the bathroom drain, but it was Christmas morning so I said sod it and let it go until this morning when I mustered enough motivation to climb into the garage attic, haul out a garden hose and connect it to the outside tap, drag the other end in through the bathroom window, attach the clogbuster, shove it down the drain and turn the tap wide open. Had to jump up and down on the drain with a plunger a couple times, too. The one good thing was that temps were in the 40s today so my fingers didn’t freeze solid and break off while I was draining the hose and wrapping it up before hauling it back up to the attic.

The rest of Christmas morning was excellent, though. Tim came over, we dumped the contents of our stockings on the table so we could ooooh and aahhh over the prezzies, then we hung out for a while playing with the Nerf guns that Santa left under the tree. They came with velcro darts that would stick to fuzzy fabric, and they also came with a couple fuzzy targets we were supposed to strap on so we could play Nerf paintball but we didn’t do that. We hung the targets from chairs and other stuff and just shot for practice. Tim got pretty good.

Dinner was a great big ham and enough mashed potatoes to feed Coxey’s army, and we stuffed ourselves until we couldn’t hold any more, except for Sean who can always hold more, somehow.

Just before I busted the clog in the bathroom drain this morning, we gathered again for brunch – scrambled eggs, ham and womp biscuits, the kind that come in paper tubes you open by banging them against the edge of the kitchen counter until they explode – WOMP! Always the one to add that perfect touch, My Darling B mixed up a couple Bloody Marys with peppers she grew herself in her garden last summer, and garnished them generously with pickled onions, pickled cukes, jerked beef and a cube of cheddar, but without asparagus spears, because who eats those damned things, anyway?

I busted that clog after brunch, then washed up and we all settled in the living room to watch a movie. FYI: “Hobo With A Shotgun” is not a Christmas movie, just in case you were wondering. Also, it’s not something you should watch if you’ve just eaten. Or ever eaten, come to that. Just don’t watch it, is I guess what I really want to say.

When the movie didn’t work out, we moved into the dining room to play “Boggle” for an hour or so until we were tired enough to break up and move off to our separate napping places.

*My use of the phrase The Big Cosmic FU in no way implies that I believe that the cosmos is, in fact, flipping me off, or is even capable of it, but sometimes it sure feels like it is, doesn’t it?

swag | 4:03 pm CST
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Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

We went to Denver to visit Sean and visit our old, favorite haunts. What we ended up doing was eating almost non-stop. At least it felt that way, even though we ate just two meals each day. For all practical purposes there is an infinite number of restaurants and other places to eat in and around Denver, and at virtually every one of them they leave you with an indecently large serving and wait for you to eat every bite of it.

On Friday morning we stopped in at Sam’s No. 3 for breakfast. This is Sean’s favorite place to eat out, he says, because each serving is enough to feed Coxey’s Army and, on those rare occasions when he can’t finish his order, he takes the rest home and polishes it off later as a midnight snack. We had no fridge in our room so that wasn’t an option for us and, as a resut, I had to leave behind more than half the stack of pancakes I ordered. My Darling B ordered biscuits & gravy and also had to leave at least half of it behind. Sean ordered some kind of sausage & egg dish and managed to drill all the way down to the plate but, even so, even he had to leave behind some of his dish. If I had the time, I’d like to go back one morning, watch the customers to see who orders the pancakes and see if any of them can polish off all three. They weren’t literally the size of manhole covers, but they weren’t much smaller. Who eats that much for breakfast? Who even has that much room anywhere inside their bodies? It’s a question that I won’t be able to answer until later, sorry.

We had dinner on Friday at The Wynkoop Brewery. This was one of our very favorite places to eat back when we lived here. We loved it so much that we ate our final meal in Denver there on the night we left, so it was truly enjoyable to go back and revisit it.

On our second day in town we brunched at Le Central where they serve meals in the French tradition, which does not mean that the wait staff is a gaggle of French-speaking gastrosnots who tolerate your presence only because they don’t have anything else to do. The staff, in fact, were warm and chatty and just attentive enough to make sure your water glass never went dry (our barometer for good service). I asked for “Oeufs Norvegiennes,” but in English so I wouldn’t swallow my tongue. “I’ll have the salmon and eggs,” is what I said, to which the waitress replied, “Oofs Norwegian, very good.” If I’d known I could have gotten away with saying “Oofs Norwegian,” I would have happily said that.

Sunday morning we met some old friends at Hot Cakes Diner where we mostly drank from our bottomless cups of coffee (we had a very good waitress) while we exchanged stories and, from time to time, looked over the menu. Eventually we each ordered a plate of food so they would let us stay longer. They brought two plates of food out to me, each piled with an insanely large portion. By this time I was pretty sure every restaurant in Denver was trying to kill me.

The best place we visited for any meal, and I think I speak for all of us on this one, was Domo, a Japanese restaurant just outside the downtown area. Not only did they have the most delicious, most authentic Japanese food we’ve eaten since we left Japan six years ago, they also had the most eye-popping ambiance I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. Inside and out, the building was dressed up to look like a traditional Japanese country house, and it was so authentically done that you might almost believe it was built from scratch using rough-hewn lumber and hand tools. Although I couldn’t say where they sourced the ingredients, the food appeared to be truly authentic. My Darling B ordered ramen; Sean had the donburi; and I ordered salmon teriyaki. As in every other place we visited, we were stuffed silly by the time we left and had to take a long walk after we got back to the hotel.

Eating in Denver | 6:57 am CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, Seanster, travel, vacation | Tags:
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Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

We wanted to take a look around the old neighborhood, so Sean drove us to Aurora on Monday. After he parked out front of Lansing Middle School, we walked up and down the block, amazed at how little it had changed. It looked exactly the way it had back in the 90s, which was exactly the same way it looked in the 60s. Very comforting. Then we walked two blocks over and one block up to the cul de sac on Moline where we used to live and got our minds blown.

The old house did not look so hot, even from a distance. The guy we sold it to was a handyman with all kinds of plans to fix it up and he’d obviously done some of that, but in the time since he sold it, the next owner had let it go downhill fast. Water melting from the snow on the roof was dribbling from the corners of the gutters where the downspouts were supposed to be, but weren’t any more. The trim around the edge of the roof was falling off, rotten or the paint was peeling – all three, in some places. The roof itself hadn’t been replaced, and it was old when we bought the house twelve years ago, so it was looking pretty gnarly. I almost didn’t want to get any closer than the sidewalk but, like a train wreck, I felt compelled to take a good, long look.

I tried to peek in the windows but couldn’t really seen anything no matter how flat I plastered my big schnozz against the glass. There were some cutsie-pie white shutters in the living room window, blocking a clear view. The bedroom windows were too high, even for me, and nobody volunteered to give me a boost, so we moved around to the side where we found the gate into the back yard. It was open and, while we were wondering how much trouble we could get into if we went poking around back there, the neighbor pulled up in the driveway.

It turned out she was the daughter of the older couple who used to live there back when we were still living in the neighborhood. She gave us the short version of the house’s history since we’d left and said that it’s been on the market for quite a while. The agent was only asking $119,000 for it – same amount we paid for it back in 1997.

From the back yard we could see into quite a few windows. The kitchen was a godawful mess. Someone had put down gray linoleum floor tiles and over the years the corners had turned up. It looked like the floor was covered in a caked-on layer of gray muck that cracked into pieces under a blazing desert sun. The walls were patched in places but the patches weren’t painted, leaving white squares and blotches of raw spackle everywhere. And the bastards yanked out the intercom system! The kitchen used to be home to a genuine 1960s-era Nutone intercom base station that still worked when we lived there. Nothing left but a spackle square now. It had a radio built into it and I used it to pipe music from Boulder radio station KBCO to every room in the house while we were painting. Big hit that summer: “The Old Apartment” by Barenaked Ladies.

The view from the dining room was even more heartbreaking. The finish on the hardwood floors was worn completely away and the wood had gone gray. More spackle on the walls. Trim broken. Fixing up the place would take a ton of money. The kitchen alone would probably cost twenty thousand, or whatever amount you would need to completely gut it and start over. Too bad. It was such a nice house.

We got away from there and back toward town. I wanted to say hi to the T. Rex skeleton in the lobby of the Natural History Museum. The first time we went there, I put Sean up on my shoulders to get a good look at the T. Rex. He was so ga-ga for dinosaurs at that age, I knew he was totally geeking out about it. “I’ll bet you could touch him,” I suggested, so he did, only he wasn’t satisfied with only touching. He grabbed, and that skeleton isn’t as solid as it looks. The steel frame it’s mounted on is flexible, so the whole thing swayed back and forth when Sean let go, and I thought, Oh, Holy Shit! We broke the T. Rex! But we didn’t, it just shook for a while, then stopped.

The T. Rex is still there. I didn’t put Sean up on my shoulders to touch it this time.

memreeeeez | 6:21 am CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, travel, vacation | Tags:
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Saturday, October 29th, 2011

I went to visit Caboose Hobbies this afternoon while My Darling B joined The Seansterator in the Occupy Denver march through the downtown area. We split up for two reasons: One of us should have remained “on the outside” in the event, however unlikely, that it would become necessary to post bail and arrange for legal representation. Also, I really wanted to walk amongst the toy choo-choos once again.

A visit to Caboose Hobbies was one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday morning back when we used to live in Aurora. Even if I didn’t buy anything, I still had so much fun wandering through the aisles of what is still the biggest model train store I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in a lot of model train stores. Now that the hobby is mostly served by on-line sales, stores of any size are not at all common, but Caboose is still there, thank dog. I spent a happy ninety minutes poking at boxes, flipping through magazines and books, and making a long mental list of all the cars, engines and other neat-o stuff to search e-bay for after I got back home.

Then I rode the light rail back into town. Not only does Denver have the biggest, coolest toy train store in North America, the store is just a few blocks up the street from a station on the light rail line that goes right through the city center. I could hop on the train and be back at our hotel in about twenty minutes. I could have done that, if I had known enough to change trains at the Osage stop, but I didn’t, so I ended up at Union Station. No problem, I thought to myself, I’ll hop on the free shuttle that runs through town, a work-around that would have worked if the Occupy Denver protest march hadn’t disrupted all bus service in the downtown area. Small world.

occupied | 3:26 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, hobby, LoCo Rwy, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, travel, vacation | Tags:
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Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Seanster, My Darling B and I went to see Cowboys & Aliens last night. B got the tickets, Seanster got the popcorn and sodas, I got to sit back and enjoy the movie. So Heinlein was wrong. There is such a thing as a free lunch.

You can expect to pay fifteen bucks for a large bucket of popcorn and two sodas at a theater in Madison, WI, by the way. It’s a freaking huge bucket of popcorn, but still, that is an unreal profit margin on a dollar’s worth of product.

The movie was about what I expected. Daniel Craig makes a pretty convincing cowboy. Harrison Ford almost does. Sam Rockwell was completely wasted. Who’s Olivia Wilde?

I can’t believe we ate all that popcorn.

Cowboys & Aliens | 7:18 am CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, movies, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster
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Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Sean is visiting this week so we took some time off from work to hang out with him. I managed to snag some vacation time today and so did Sean’s brother, Tim, but My Darling B had to work, so it was just the boys today. What did we do with our quality time together? We played Scrabble. And had a pretty good time doing it, too. We were going to play regular Scrabble but then we bent the rules a little bit. Threw out the rule about no proper nouns entirely, and for the rest we decided that we could use any word that we could find in the Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary I have on my desk. That made it a little easier to play, but not much. We’re mostly four- and five-letter Scrabble word players until we get near the end of the game. By that time the words all trail over toward the right-hand side of the board and all that’s left in our cradles is either something like “QZKRX” or “IEEIIAI,” so we’re mostly playing two-letter words at that point.

We played a second game but, instead of working with just seven tiles in our cradles, we each picked ten on the theory that it would be easier to form words and the game would move a little quicker, but that’s not what happened. It turned out to be a lot harder to decide on a word, probably because of the endless options. Nobody wanted to play a four-letter word when they had so many more possibilities, if only we could figure out what they might be. Which we couldn’t.

scrabble | 9:43 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg
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Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Sean called us as soon as he landed in Denver last night to let us know his trip went without a hitch and he was all right. What a good boy. I know B likes to get the all-clear from him whenever he flies home, same as she likes to use her laptop to check the progress of his flight every fifteen minutes when he’s on the way over. She’s a mommy; it’s what she does, although last night she was already in bed with a book and had crossed that line between reading and nodding off, so she probably wasn’t as attentive as she normally would be.

Sean seems to be one of the crowd that’s always calling somebody on his cell phone just to touch base and exchange hellos. I’ve wondered why I feel absolutely no inclination to do that. I’ve never cared much for chatting on the phone. I guess it just wasn’t gadgety enough. You’d think that now they’ve turned phones into hand-held computers I’d be a lot more into it, but no. It just never took.

I do tend to call B when I travel and let her know I’m okay, though, so in that one small respect I’m in the same league with Sean. And on a trip back from Washington D.C. I texted B to let her know I left the station on time. When she texted a little “pitty-pat” back to me to let me know her heart beat a little faster knowing I was on the way home, I texted the name of the next big city as I went through it (forget what it was) and kept on doing that all the way to Chicago so she could tell how close I was. It was a lot of fun but I’ve never done anything like that since.

Touchdown | 8:55 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, travel
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Saturday, December 25th, 2010

We opened presents last night because I couldn’t wait any longer. The kids aren’t as jazzed about Christmas as they were when they were wee little bugs, but I was so excited about seeing My Darling B open the prezzie I got for her that I knew I’d pee my pants if I had to wait until the next morning, so I lobbied for early Christmas and won.

I didn’t get her diamonds or anything like that, because she’s repeatedly warned me that, if I did, she’d only hock them and use the money to pay for a tropical cruise or a trip to Japan. I think she possibly overestimates the amount of money I’d feel comfortable spending on jewelry.

So I got her a zip-up hoodie and a t-shirt from Batch Bakehouse, our favorite bakery, just opened on Willy Street and always filled with fresh, delicious baked goods, except on Monday and Tuesday, which must be their weekend because they’re closed then. Probably a good thing because it’s just three blocks from the office where I work, so I walk over there once or twice a week for something to nosh on. I know I shouldn’t. All that butter. But it’s so good.

She got me a copy of The John Varley Reader. Remember the dream I had about trying to find the name of a science fiction story? It turned out to be Air Raid by John Varley, and it’s in this collection of his short stories. I read Air Raid again this morning and it’s every bit as good as I remember it. Much better than the novelized version (sorry, Mister Varley).

The boys didn’t get us anything for Christmas, so we stiffed them right back. Just kidding! T-Dawg got a recipe box, already loaded up with three or four of his favorite recipes, shepherd’s pie and stuff like that. The Seanster got a crisp new fifty-dollar bill because he gets harder to buy presents for every year.

And then we hung out until a little after nine o’clock before we started drifting off to bed, because we’re all lightweights, except for Seanee-boy who lives on Moscow time. We still have the stockings to dig into this morning, if and when the boys turn out of bed and gather round for Christmas cheer.

Prezzies! | 10:09 am CST
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags: , ,
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Friday, December 24th, 2010

I don’t know why they puts goats in petting zoos, do you? Goats are pretty creepy-looking animals. They’re kind of skeletal with all those bony bumps, they’ve got demon eyes, and they’re always jerking around as if their own personal invisible devil is jabbing them up the behind with a sharpened, flaming stick. Yeh, let’s throw our children into a cage with hyperactive, scary-looking animals. Good idea.

But when we were a young couple, and we had a young boy who loved barnyard animals, we took a day trip to the Berlin zoo and stopped at the petting zoo filled with all kinds of cute little fluffy animal babies. Most of them were in small pens, but there was a large, open area in the middle filled with chickens and ducks and goats and other seemingly harmless livestock. Sean wanted to pet each and every one of them.

The goats had absolutely no interest in us. We tried to pet them and they just walked away, not like they were afraid of us, but like they had something better to do. But Sean really wanted to pet them, so when one of us spotted the coin-operated feed dispenser we figured maybe we could catch the attention of at least a few goats if we had some yummy green pellets to feed them. We led Sean over to the machine, showed him how to cup his hands under the chute, dropped ten pfennig into the slot, and turned the handle.

And that’s when the goats attacked.

Cranking the handle on that machine was like ringing a dinner bell. There were no goats anywhere near us when we stepped up to the dispenser, and then when we turned around, every darn goat in the petting zoo was rushing us like stoned teenagers trying to trample each other to the first through the gates at a rock concert. I tried to keep Sean calm by casually encouraging him to offer the goats his handful of food pellets.

Big mistake, bigger even than the idea of buying the pellets in the first place. Every one of those goats wanted to eat all the food in Sean’s outstretched hand, but the goat in the front stopped them all cold by sucking Sean’s entire hand into his mouth. Sean freaked and tried to pull his hand out of there, but of course the goat wasn’t letting go until he sucked down every last food pellet. Meanwhile, the other goats were climbing over one another trying to get at the goat who was hogging the little boy all to himself.

Barb and I both did what we could to get the goat to let go, but my brain was short-circuiting and I’m afraid I wasn’t much help. Great, I was thinking, It’ll take years of therapy and a keg of Zoloft to put this behind him, and even then he’ll be haunted by those weird eyes. Eventually the goat finished off the last of the food, at which point he became profoundly uninterested in Sean and let his hand go, and when the other goats realized there wasn’t any more food to be had, they instantly lost interest in him, too, and they all ran off to mob somebody else.

Goats Ate My Kid! | 11:17 am CST
Category: entertainment, O'Folks, play, Seanster, story time, travel
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Monday, December 20th, 2010

And the whole family’s home once again. I drove out to the airport with T-Dawg last night to pick up the Seanster, who somehow arrived so close to his originally scheduled time as to make no difference. I only mention that because the guy’s been haunted by a modern-day travel curse that makes it impossible for his flight to depart on time, ever.

But he was not only at the airport waiting for us, we were able to call him and ask him to wait at the curb for us to pick him up. I’ve always wondered how it’s possible for people to do that, probably because I’ve never picked up anybody on time at the airport. We didn’t even have to shut the engine off, just pull up to the curb and let him jump in. Amazing.

Once home, we crowded around the dinner table and gobbled up bowl after bowl of My Darling B’s delicious home-made chili while catching up, and then spent a couple hours discussing the woes of the world and how we would solve them all if we were in charge. I’m happy to report that, with all our powers combined, we can have it fixed in a jiffy.

Together again | 6:39 am CST
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg, travel
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Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Now that Sean has gone back to Denver, and My Darling B has gone back to work, I’ll have to go back to the fun of keeping up with the yard work and the housekeeping. Oh, and I suppose I’ll have to look for work, too.

We put Sean on a plane to Denver last night. Whenever his flight’s been delayed in the past, he’s called us to while away the time waiting to board but, since we didn’t get a call last night, I’m assuming he actually departed on time, arrived in Denver when he expected he would and was so bushed from traveling that he went straight to bed after getting home, promising himself that he would call us in the morning. Yeah, that’s what happened.

B returned to work reluctantly, as we all do if we’ve managed to snag a full week away from the office to visit beautifully lush gardens, host a big party here at Our Humble O’Bode, paddle a kayak across Mud Lake and otherwise spend lots of quality time with family. She desperately wanted to play hookie today but fully realized she’d only have to deal with the same inclination tomorrow, so she packed up her lunch bag and soldiered on. She’s such a trooper.

Cheeseburger for lunch! Same as yesterday, and again tomorrow.

Back To Unemployment | 4:49 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, Seanster, T-Dawg, work
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Monday, July 19th, 2010

image of Jordandal Farm, Argyle WI

Cows! We went to see the cows at Jordandal Farm yesterday! Let me hear you say “Moo!”

When we go to the farmer’s market every weekend we buy most of our meats from Jordandal. We’ve never been disappointed by the food and Carrie and Maria have never been anything but friendly and helpful, so when we heard there would be a picnic lunch and farm tour at Jordandal sponsored by REAP, we signed up in a heartbeat.

REAP Food Group is a Madison organization devoted to promoting public support of local farmers and restaurants, and educating the public about what they put in their faces, should they want to know such things. Many people don’t, so it has the feel of a specialty group, which B and I like quite a lot. Besides the Day At The Farm event, REAP also organized the Burgers & Brew fest we went to last month (the one where we got soaked eating hamburgers in a downpour).

Jordandal Farm is a small, family-owned farm between New Glarus and Argyle, a corner of Wisconsin where we always get lost no matter how many times we ask each other, “Left or right on C?” Maybe there are iron ore deposits in the soil that make our internal compasses spin out of control, I don’t know. We navigated our way to Jordandal with no trouble, but when we headed home we got turned around and were halfway to Dubuque, Iowa, before we realized we’d gone the wrong way. Getting there took a little less than an hour; getting back took longer, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

REAP set up this Day At The Farm with a lunch prepared by chefs from several of the most well-known restaurants in downtown Madison using ingredients from local farms, because that’s what REAP is about. The lunch menu included a meaty drumstick, potato salad and a sandwich, all given a little extra zing by way of spicy Thai recipes. Even Sean’s culinary demands were satisfied, and that’s quite an endorsement.

We queued up for an early lunch so we could take the farm tour at noon. We were there bang-on time but somehow didn’t hook up with the tour until they were coming back from the chicken pens, so we hung out in the barn where Eric was showing off one of their cows and its newborn calf. B wanted to pet the calf but was too shy to shove aside the gaggle of two-year-olds clustered tightly around it. (I tried to snap a photo for you but it was dark in there and B wouldn’t hold still.)

Besides the cows, Carrie and Eric also raise pigs, turkeys and sheep. The cows provide rich milk that Brunkow Cheese near Darlington turns into some scrumptious cheeses under the Fayette Creamery label. We can tell you from the results of many happy cookouts that the pigs are especially tasty, and unless my memory has failed me B has prepared lamb from Jordandal at least once (it’s a very occasional treat). We’ve also ordered turkey from them before but it was a different breed than the one they’re raising now. I’m probably forgetting something; I’m still a little numb from the idea that two people can manage to take care of so much.

Because the weather was scorching and we were in that neck of the woods anyway, we finished our day out with a stop at the New Glarus brewery, one of those places we’ve been saying for years that we ought to visit because it’s practically outside our back door. The brewery, on a hilltop at the south edge of New Glarus, had a shaded garden overlooking the pastures of the Wisconsin countryside where we could sit and enjoy a cool afternoon breeze while we sipped our samplers. A better end to the day could not have been had if we’d planned it (we sort of did, but My Darling B, who’s all about options, pack so many contingencies into these trips that they always take on the character of an afternoon played almost entirely by ear).

image of intrepid explorers

The O-Folk became a band of intrepid explorers this morning when we paddled our tiny fleet of kayaks from the lagoon behind the Rutabaga Paddle Sports store, then down the Yahara River and across Mud Lake and continued on south through Lake Waubesa to the boat landing in the county park. I can’t tell you exactly how far that is, but I can tell you how far it feels like.

My Darling B, the events coordinator for the past week, wanted an activity that would appeal to the O-Guys so she looked around and thought: Kayaking! We’ll rent a bunch of kayaks from Rutabaga and paddle around on the lakes! It’ll be like The Three Stooges Go Fishing! Maybe it’ll even turn into a Tweedle Beetle Puddle Battle! Nice try, B.

We did have a pretty darned good time, though, and I learned that it takes one heck of a lot longer to paddle from here to there than I thought. We picked the kayaks up at ten o’clock and chose the half-day rental so we could have them until two-thirty. In that much time I figured we could paddle from Monona to the moon and back, but we hardly got halfway down the western coast of Lake Waubesa before we figured it would be a good time to turn back.

Our short stop at the boat landing on Lake Waubesa gave Tim the opportunity to show us how not to get out of a kayak when pulled up alongside a dock. Actually, I missed his presentation entirely as I was facing the wrong way, and I couldn’t get him to re-enact it even though he was already soaked, so I guess I’ll have to learn that lesson on my own.

image of Tim and Sean in kayaks

One other very important thing I learned was that tandem kayaks pretty much suck as far as watercraft go, or at least the one that B and I were paddling did. We spent almost the whole day out doinking around with the adjustments to the seats and footrests and never did get them where we felt comfortable enough that we could say we were happy with it. Neither one of us had enough legroom and the seats were designed by a sadist. I was all gung-ho about buying a kayak last summer, and now my aching butt and crippled legs are thanking me that I didn’t.

Tim, on the other hand, was really very happy with his kayak, so happy that he wants to buy one as soon as possible. He’s even already done a little research into accessories and found there are lots of changes he can make to the seat so it doesn’t feel like a rotweiler’s chewing on his rear end. If I were going to buy something to go paddling around in, though, I’m pretty sure that, after today’s experience, I’d go with a canoe, and I’m pretty sure B would second that.

A Fine Day Out | 5:00 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, farmer's market, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags: , , , ,
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Friday, July 16th, 2010

Sean was just game enough to go with us to our weekly group salsa class at Social Life last night. I’m not sure how much he was looking forward to it, but once we got him there and started cutting a rug he picked up quite a few good dance moves in just forty-five minutes! We started with a review of the basic salsa step, added a left underarm turn and a chase with a spin, and pretty soon he was dancing as well as we were.

Then he hung out for another forty-five minutes while My Darling B and I stepped through our private lesson, bless his heart. We’re trying to get as much private instruction in swing dance as we possibly can before the hangar dance at the end of this month. Christopher put us through a crash course in three new steps: a left underarm turn, a belly wrap and a step to switch handholds that I don’t remember the name of. Then he strung them together at the end of an ordinary underarm turn and had dared us to dance through the whole sequence while he played one song after another, each with a beat that was faster than the one before until we were twirling so fast we looked like a pair of boogeyriffic Tasmanian Devils.

The secret to swing dance is not so much knowing the steps as it is possessing the sheer stamina to jump around like a maniac for as long as the band keeps playing. We can learn almost any steps Christopher throws at us, although I admit I suffered a bit of a brain cramp last night when it came to coordinating hands and feet. I’m not sure what was going on but I finally sorted it out with five minutes or so to go before the end of the lesson. Stringing them together is a little more challenging as I’m not terribly creative when it comes to planning my next move. I often have to think about it a bit while I chug along doing the basic step, so I’m glad when our instructor strings a bunch of steps together that I won’t have to think about.

At this point, five minutes of swing dancing seems to be about all we can build up steam for. I have the feeling that, once the song’s over, we’ll have to retire to the sidelines to catch a breather and maybe drink a gallon of water. Also, the hangar dance being at the end of July, I’m wondering how hot it’s going to be. It’s just possible that literally building up steam might be more of a problem than I thought.

But we’re going, no matter what. The studio will have two more group swing classes on Monday nights, and we’ll get two more nights of private instruction to learn what we can before we make a spectacle of ourselves in public.

Thursday Night Group Dance | 5:18 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, dance, entertainment, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster
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Thursday, July 15th, 2010

image of mural

Yesterday we all piled into the car and drove to McGovern Park, a north Milwaukee neighborhood near Glendale, where we visited Growing Power, an urban farm. Right in the middle of an urban neighborhood, with houses and apartment blocks all around, these guys were growing veggies and raising fish, chickens, goats and turkeys, and selling all kinds of goodies at a storefront that looked just like a roadside farmer’s stand. I’m not sure how that would play in a ritzy neighborhood, but they have Trader Joe’s so they don’t need it. The people living in the McGovern Park neighborhood, where there are no grocery stores for miles in every direction, did.

Our visit was all My Darling B’s idea. She’s the family’s gardening geek and food expert and has wanted to visit Growing Power ever since she read about it, probably in one of the forty-two million books about food that fill her book shelf and are piled on the floor beside her bed. She had several days off from work this week while Sean is here to visit, and while she was planning fun-filled events for each day she scheduled a trip to Milwaukee to see the Growing Power farm, because what else would you do on a Wednesday afternoon?

image of aquaponic tank

I don’t read too many books about food. Every once in a while B will recommend one to me when she thinks it’s especially good or important. She’s usually right and I end up enjoying it quite a bit, but it’s not typically the sort of thing I gravitate towards. Likewise, visiting a farm, urban or rural, would not have occurred to me as a grand day out, but I’m willing to try almost anything once, particularly if it’s something that makes B happy.

Growing Power is on the site of what was once a farm before the city grew up around it. It’s even still zoned agricultural, which is why they can raise chickens and fish there.

I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. Quite a lot of the farming that’s done there centers around an aquaponics system they built up in a greenhouse that might’ve been devoted to growing flowers at one time. If it was, any sign of the FTD man is long gone and the greenhouse has taken on the somewhat tired look of a well-used farm. All the flowers are gone and the shelves have been lined with heavy black plastic to contain rivers of water gushing back and forth.

The water comes from six-foot-deep tanks, mostly buried in the ground, filled with thousands of tilapia. The water from the tank, along with all the fish poop they make, is pumped up to the plastic-lined shelves. Each shelf is filled with pea gravel, which traps the fish poop, and watercress grows in it like weeds. To take complete advantage of the fish-poop fertilizer they set pots planted with borage, lettuce and other leafy greens on the shelves. The water drains into the fish tanks, the fish poop in it again, and the cycle starts over.

image of tour group at Growing Power in Milwaukee

I was very impressed by the way they’d put all this together, partly because they’d managed to keep it all so simple, partly because I get a great big gadget geek-out for stuff like this. The fish tanks are trenches in the floor of the greenhouse, lined with timber and made waterproof with the kind of thick black plastic you find in decorative outdoor fish ponds. The shelves are timber-framed and lined with the same plastic. They use an ordinary swimming pool heater to keep the fish tank warm, because tilapia are a tropical fish. The warm water keeps the greenhouse warm and makes it possible for them to grow leafy greens through the winter. And none of this is made of special or unusual materials: all the timber, plastic, plumbing and other hardware is ordinary stuff you can buy at your local do-it-yourself store.

They raise yellow perch with this system as well as tilapia and sell both at local markets and to local restaurants. The greens are harvested several times a week in the summer, a bit less often in the winter, and are also distributed locally. As impressive as the aquaponics operation is, they also raise sprouts, tomatoes, mushrooms and other veggies in hoop houses to the rear of the two-acre site. There was an apiary in the far corner out back to produce honey, and pens behind the barn where they raised goats, turkeys and chickens. Amazingly, Mike, our guide for the day, told us this one urban farm produced enough food year-round to support thousands of people. I can’t vouch for the numbers but, seeing how hard they were all working at it, I can easily believe it happening.

One of the guiding principles behind the operation, as Mike explained it to us, was sustainability, which they measured as farming without doing any harm to the next generation. They farmed intensely, but they made every attempt to balance what they took away with what they put back in. One whole greenhouse was filled with worm boxes, for instance, where they raised red wigglers by the ton. The worms were thrown together with kitchen waste and wood chips to make compost, and the compost was mixed with coconut husks to make plant bedding that was richly productive. Wormcast was also soaked in water to make “worm tea,” liquid fertilizer fed to potted plants.

The Milwaukee urban farm is just one location for the growing organization behind it. An urban farm, called The Resilience Research Center, was christened this spring at a site on the south side of Madison, not too far from Our Humble O’Bode. The organizers have huge aspirations to develop it into a campus where people can learn how to develop urban farming in other cities.

The tour through the Milwaukee farm lasted just an hour and a half, and although we would have liked to see much more it’s a small farm and they’re awfully busy. Also, it was ninety degrees when we were standing outdoors in the sun, and who knows how hot when we were gathered around a fish pond in the greenhouse, so although we would have been happy to keep on poking into every corner of the farm, asking questions, we were almost just as happy to retreat to our car and crank up the air conditioning full blast.

Growing Power | 5:20 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, garden, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster
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Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

image of landing airliner

Sean’s flight from Denver to Minneapolis-Saint Paul was delayed, as if that surprised any of us. Practically every trip he makes to our neck of the woods starts with a telephone call from Denver International Airport that begins, “My flight’s been delayed …”

“I’m never flying anywhere with that boy,” My Darling B declared as we were on our way to the airport. “He’s an air travel jinx, is what he is.”

At least he’s not trying to connect through Chicago any longer. An immutable law of physics bends time and space every time he’s arrives at the O’Hare terminal. Last time, his flight was delayed and he arrived some time after midnight. Rather than spend the night at O’Hare, though, he gave some guy a couple hundred bucks to borrow the guy’s car and he drove himself up here. He’s resourceful, I’ll give him that. Cursed, but resourceful.

Last night’s delay wasn’t nearly as bad. He finally arrived at about ten-thirty and we whisked him back to Our Humble O’Bode with no other interfering snafus, so he was safely in bed at a decent hour. He’ll have a week to visit with us in which he won’t have to worry at all about his next delayed flight until next Tuesday.

Sean’s Curse | 2:55 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, travel
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Sunday, December 27th, 2009

We finally got around to playing that game of Risk last night.

B fixed some doner kebaps for dinner using the leftover lamb from the night before. A doner is a Turkish gyro, roast lamb sliced thin and piled in the pocket of a pita-like bread with lots of veggies and yogurt sauce. We discovered them while I was stationed in Berlin and loved them so much we still miss them ten twenty years later.

B has learned to make a sauce that comes so very close to the original doner sauce as to make no difference, and it’s easy to get the veggies right. The ingredient we can only approximate is the lamb. It was slow-roasted with lots of spices. I haven’t tasted lamb like that since.

But B keeps tweaking her recipe to see how close she can get. The doners she made last night were delicious, and took almost no time to make (compared to the food preparation she goes through for other dishes), leaving us lots of time to play Risk.

We started the game in the usual way:

Tim staked a claim in Australia and swore to hold it against all invaders. He did this, and more. There’s a first time for everything.

B announced she was going to remain completely neutral throughout the game, and even though she never made a move that you could say was intent on taking over the world, yet somehow she managed to stay in the game until the very end, and made a pretty good showing of it, too.

I tried staking a claim on Asia this time, mostly just because I hadn’t done that in quite a while. Unfortunately, I have no strategy for holding on to Asia, something you must have if you want to build an Asian empire, even in a game so basic as Risk. The experiment failed miserably. I’ll stick to North America from now on.

Sean set his sights on North America this time and did a pretty good job of hanging on to it, right up until the very end. His last, significant move came when he turned in his Risk cards in exchange for something like thirty or forty armies and went on a rampage across Asia that destroyed quite a lot of Tim’s forces (Tim had conquered my territories by that time) and might have even wiped Tim completely off the board if he hadn’t painted himself into a corner in China. There he sat with fifteen or twenty armies and nowhere to go.

Tim’s turn was next. He slaughtered Sean.

B was still on the board but, by that time, all she wanted was for the game to be over so she could go read a book. Sean was feeling much the same way by then, so they both conceded and Tim declared himself ruler of the world.

Risk | 6:13 am CST
Category: My Darling B, Seanster, T-Dawg
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Friday, January 18th, 2002

It’s 6:30 in the morning – let the pandemonium begin!

Sean didn’t wake up to his alarm, so I knocked on his door until I heard him bustle around and grumble something that sounded like “drat!” He’ll be in a mood all morning; he has to be at school by 7:20, and if he doesn’t have at least an hour and a half to get ready (thirty minutes of that goes to wolfing down three bowls of cereal), he feels rushed.

Tim gets up with the rest of us. Don’t know why. He doesn’t have to be at school until around 8:20, but he still drags himself out of bed and goes to work scattering little reminders of his presence everywhere. By the time he leaves, for instance, there will be at least three books lying open through the house, one on the breakfast table (usually Calvin & Hobbes), one on the living room floor (he’s re-reading a Harry Potter for the 97th time), and one will be a surprise.

My Darling B still gets up when the boys get up, but she doesn’t have to make lunch any more – they do that for themselves now – so she just looks pretty. In another week or so she’ll have to start going to school again, though, so she’ll be getting ready with the rest of them.

morning routine | 3:41 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags:
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Thursday, January 3rd, 2002

Just don’t even try to get Sean’s attention when his nose is in a book. He was at the kitchen table the other morning, devouring breakfast and a political treatise on the after-effects of fascism in Europe, or similar light reading. Outside, My Darling B, a load of groceries in her arms, tried to get him to open the patio door by rapping sharply on the glass three times. He didn’t even twitch. She rapped a couple more times; no response. She tried shouting, with similar results. It wasn’t until she gave the door a good, solid pounding, swinging her bent arm high over her head, that Sean finally looked around, as if he’d become dimly aware that someone, in a voice on the edge of hearing, was calling his name.

I ran into the same problem when I went to pick up Sean and B and the commissary. Sean was standing out front, because he was supposed to be watching for me, but when I caught sight of him I noticed he stood hunched over a magazine, deep in thought. Uh-oh, I said to myself. I tooted the horn as I drove up, but I should’ve known better. Luck was with me, though, in the form of a parking space close by, so I tooted again as I pulled in. He actually looked up this time, but in the entirely wrong direction, then quickly returned to his magazine.

Honk. Honk. Honk.

I was starting to piss off the other people in the parking lot, so I instead of the horn, I opened my door and shouted his name over the top of the van as loud as I could. His expression was puzzled as he looked around, then changed to recognition when he finally caught sight of me hanging out the side of the van, waving my arms. What I need is a howitzer, or some kind of remotely-controlled live wire down his shorts.

in the zone | 7:30 pm CST
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Wednesday, December 26th, 2001

Sean’s very sorry, all the time, about everything. Even if he had nothing to do with whatever went wrong, he’s still very sorry about it. There can’t possibly be a more apologetic person on the face of the earth.

Barb and I have tried to figure out where all this guilt comes from, but so far it’s beyond out powers to decipher it. Besides, from where I sit, it’s just about impossible for just two mere mortals such as we to ever provide as much guilt as he constantly feels, even if we concentrated solely on him. As it turns out, for our guilt trips to have any effect we have to dump twice as much on Tim these days as we ever did before, as he builds up immunity. Even when it does have the desired effect of getting him off his butt, Tim is already a master at turning the tables to make sure everybody knows he thinks that whatever it wrong must be our fault, not his, and he’s doing us a huge favor by taking care of it.

Turning the fire hose on Tim cuts pretty deeply into what little guilt we can supply to Sean, not that he’s any less humble for it. He’s a canary in a coal mine when it comes to reacting to the smallest, simplest guilt trip, and will immediately set into fixing whatever went wrong, with his head bowed, dead sure that it was all his fault. He’s more than willing to let everybody know it was his fault, too.

It’s been said that guilt is a double-edged sword, but in Sean’s case it’s nothing so refined as a keenly-honed blade. It’s blunt trauma with a thick club, and that’s the way he likes it. He would’ve made a great Catholic if he’d taken that route, but if we tried to steer him that way now he’d only be disappointed.

guilt trip | 5:38 am CST
Category: Seanster, T-Dawg
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Tuesday, December 18th, 2001

The Christmas tree’s starting to look pretty brown. We had to buy it several weeks ago because about the only place to get a real Christmas tree around here is from the Boy Scout lot, and they get one shipment of trees at about Thanksgiving. I’m all for being prepared, but that’s a little too prepared for me. Dunno if we’ll be getting a real tree next year. There’s still a week to go before Christmas and this one’s so tinder-dry that we’re afraid to turn the lights on at night for fear that it’ll go up like a match head.

Sean played in the holiday concert tonight. There was a pretty long program, but I got Tim to go see at least the first half of it, and the intermediate band played within the first hour. Then we slipped out so Tim could “finish his homework;” it turned out that he had about five minutes’ worth.

Barb went to Aomori in the afternoon to see the Leningrad Ballet do The Nutcracker. She didn’t want to miss the concert, but she didn’t know there was going to be a concert when she signed up, and she loves The Nutcracker, so she bought tickets the minute she saw them on sale.

Christmas treats | 7:12 pm CST
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Monday, December 17th, 2001

B and I have been trying for weeks to put up some shelves in the storage shed. It’s not actually a shed; it’s a little concrete blockhouse just off the patio that’s about five and one-half feet square and ten feet high. We’d like to park our bikes in it, but that takes up the whole space, unless we dump everything else on top of the bikes, and we can’t ride the bikes very easily when there’s a ton of crap piled on top of them in the storage shed. (This is getting way more complicated than it has to be, right?)

I’ve been checking out shelves, and they’re stupidly expensive. Almost every storage option is. When I took Barb to the store to show her what I wanted to do, her eye fell on a plastic storage thing-o with sliding doors that we could park on the patio and lock everything but the bikes in. I didn’t have to build or install shelves, so it sounded great to me, but when we went to buy it, we ran up against that language barrier. It’s hard to be sure, but the explanation we got was that they were either out of stock, or we weren’t allowed to buy one.

On sort of a related note, one of our neighbors keeps his bike on his back porch, where dripping water from the eaves overhead have turned it into a lump of ice that’s frozen solid to the ground, so he won’t be riding that sucker until April or May.

Did I mention that Sean quit the wrestling team? He’s been putting in all his evenings at practice, and he’s been to two meets in Yakota, and he feels it’s eating up way too much of his time. I can see that; practice alone eats up all his time until seven or eight o’clock in the evening, and the trips to Yakota, a base in Tokyo, left here on Thursday night and didn’t come back until Sunday morning. And he went all the way to Tokyo but never got time off to see anything in the city. (Last time they went, they did head into Tokyo – to eat at McDonald’s! Now there’s a cultural experience you wouldn’t want to miss when visiting a foreign country!) So last week he told Coach April that he wanted to spend more time with his family and couldn’t see how to do that and keep on wrestling, so he was quitting the team. And he stuck to his guns, didn’t let the coach out-argue him.

B’s soccer kids played their last game tonight, and it’s a good thing, too, because the coaches and parents were starting to get pretty ugly.

shed shed shed I just like saying shed | 7:04 pm CST
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Sunday, December 2nd, 2001

Sean squeaked through the door just before I did this morning, back from his trip to Yakota with the wresting team. He’s talking about quitting the team. I can’t say I blame him. He puts in long hours at practice, usually doesn’t get home until after 7:00 pm, and after supper he has to spend the rest of his evening finishing his homework before he turns in about 10:00. When they go to an away game like this one, he leaves on Thursday and doesn’t get home until Sunday. Fellah wants a break. He’s been talking about it for a while now, and I think the only thing holding him back from quitting right now is, he’s been trying to figure out a way to tell his coach, who’s all ate up about wrestling. She wouldn’t be doing her best if she didn’t try to argue him into staying on the team; I think maybe Sean’s worried about losing that argument.

wrestlemania | 6:08 am CST
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Friday, November 23rd, 2001

Sean went to one of the wrestling squad’s “lock-downs” tonight. The team goes off to the high school cafeteria and watches movies, eats pizza and, for all I know, wrestles all night. The coach is pretty intense that way. They did one of these lock-downs just a few weeks after we got here; the coach showed up with about a half-dozen of the boys and they dragged Sean, sleeping, out of bed and off into the rainy night. The head coach for the wrestling team is a woman, by the way. That still seems unusual enough to me to warrant comment, even though this woman is crazy serious about wrestling. She must work out every minute she can, because she’s got muscles in places I don’t have places. And she’s every inch a coach, absolutely ruthless about maintaining discipline and making the boys work until they drop. Practice begins at four, and Sean doesn’t get home until after seven, wrung out like an old dish rag. He’s talked a couple times about quitting, but he keeps pressing on.

lock-down | 9:44 am CST
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