Friday, December 23, 2005

Still Alive At Christmas

Just a quick note. We did manage to move, though it was not a terribly edifying experience, complete with taking longer and breaking things and not being real happy with the movers, who are hiding behind a claimed Federal Law against their giving a refund. WTF? I have actually contacted our congressperson about that one.

The kitchen countertop still isn't done, but its done enought to cook and use the sink. Its gonna look real good when done. The master bedroom window has been replaced after the dogs knocked it out trying to attack someone walking their dog along Shoal Creek Blvd. No damage from that but the stitches from Marquis' run-in with construction debris and Hubert's wrassling with George (the second set of stitches. The first set from 10 days ago had healed and been out for about 45 minutes before he got a new set of gashes. The dogs really need to get walked) do seem to be healing nicely. We may have stumbled onto a good vet via that misadventure.

All five of the window blinds I bought at Lowes were the wrong size (too short), but they were awfully decent about refunding everything and getting me a new set. But they couldn't do anything about the special order I had placed being delayed by the factory until after Christmas despite the factory saying the blinds had shipped already.

Aside from Jake and Trish, I'm terribly off on my Christmas shopping. But I think people know our situation and will understand.

On the plus side, the cable internet has been installed and is working fine so far. Woo-Hoo!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Commence Silent Running...

Next week we move in to our new house (sans a kitchen countertop, at least for a few days -- that's a long story). So that means I am and will be very very busy. Then comes Christmas. Which is all a way of saying that I will not be posting much the next couple of weeks. Wish us luck, and have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Good Kwanza, Pleasant Yule, Spiffy Winter Solstice, etc.

Or you can do the moving for us. That way, we will have time to deal with the Appendicitis Scare, the Wrong Grout Color Issue, the Shed Conundrum, Finding Food, Trish Going to A Conference Right After Christmas for Days, Getting High-Speed Internet, and Miscellaneous Crap.

I may be a little stressed right now. But compared to the last move, this one should be a piece of cake. At least if we forget something we don't have to drive a thousand miles to retrieve it.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Jacob is 7 3/4 (I think he might insist on the distinction). He believes quite strongly in Santa Claus, and we haven't done anything to disabuse him of that notion. We (perhaps I should say I -- Trish has always been determined not to lie to Jake on these matters, and rightly so I think) have temporized from time to time ("Santa is as real as we want him to be").

He has just finished re-watching The Polar Express and re-reading Berke Breathed's The Red Ranger Came Calling, both of which deal with the issue of belief (and disbelief) in the fellow in red explicitly. They both come down pretty hard on the side of real, so despite the fact he generally knows the difference between true things and make believe things I think they might have strengthened his convictions despite acknowledging there are people who don't believe. Of course, why grown-ups wouldn't believe in Santa despite the appearance of toys they did not buy under the tree is a subtle detail he hasn't caught yet.

As I recall, I was around eight or nine when I realized that there was no actual Santa. I was old enough to recognize that things did not quite add up, and finding the stash of Christmas toys in a closet (I was an infamous poker into places I did not belong) was the kicker.

Trish and I have better hiding places, but Jacob is smarter than I was at that age (he might be smarter than am right now), despite sometimes missing important details. At some point, we won't be able to sidestep the problem, and I really wonder how the heck to handle it. Do I sit him down and have "The Talk About Santa"? Or will he come to the conclusion himself and say "Dad, there's not really a Santa Claus, is there?" Will he be angry? Tearful? Matter-of-fact?

I think I'm more worried about this than trying to teach him how (and how not) to deal with girls.

Friday, December 02, 2005


As you may recall, we are working on a house. We have been working on it since the first week of September. The people doing the work are good, but often no one has been there doing much of anything. Finally, we decided we were going to have to be ugly about things, and have simply set a move-in date. December 13. 2005, mind you, not 2006. We told our guy that was the date. Get things finished. Or else.

Now, of course, having done this, everyone is saying "oh yeah, that's what you have to do." Well hell, couldn't they have said that oh, maybe a month ago? Sheesh.

So now a crash program is developing. I'm interested in seeing what can be accomplished once they stop using us to fill in the gaps between bigger jobs.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Post-Thanksgiving Short Takes

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. We did.

When it comes to traditions like the last posting talked about, I do have a couple of personal ones for the holidays, which I hope to add to in the years to come. The week before Halloween, I like to read Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October. Then, sometime in December I like to pop in my tape of Patrick Stewart's brilliant one-man performance of A Christmas Carol.

The dishwasher finally got fixed last Wednesday. I won't bore you with the details, but it was quite an adventure. Two different guys said it was a bad pump, but the third guy said it was the electronic controller. Fortunately he had one in his truck. Whee! A dishwasher! I almost ran it every time I dirtied a glass, I was so thrilled. I'm not joking.

It's damn hard to leave Lowe's without dropping well over $100. Especially when getting a new house ready.

I had an interesting idea for a long post, but wasn't anywhere I could make a note of it. Now, of course, I have forgotten. I hate that…

Monday, November 21, 2005


As we approach the time known as the holiday season, I, as most years, think back to a simpler time -- 1975, or thereabouts. What, you don’t recall the '75 as being particularly pleasant or simple? Okay, it wasn't, really, but I was only about 8 years old and it seemed tranquil compared to, say, my years in high school.

As an aside, I think that is why many people seem to think "life was simpler then" -- they were kids and life was simpler -- for them.

Anyhow, in those golden days of Watergate, gas lines and the fall of Saigon, and on through the pleasant era of inflation, hostage crises and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, my family had an established and welcome pattern to its holidays.

July 4 was for a time spent at my Aunt Audrey and Uncle Bill's house. Bill ran a trucking company which shipped cattle all over the country. They therefore had a huge caliche rock drive and parking area, perfect for fireworks. My parent's home town was so small that not only was there no ordinance banning fireworks in the city limits, the fireworks stand itself was across the street from the county court house and next to the waterworks.

Thanksgiving was spent at our (my grandfather's old) house there. Mom got the dressing (stuffing) started early and one or two older cousins of mine would come over to taste test it before she put it in the oven. Mom's dressing was justifiably famous in the family. Later more and more people would show up and eventually we would stuff ourselves silly, scattered all over the kitchen, living room, and back porch while the Dallas Cowboys played some sacrificial lamb on TV.

Christmas was spent at Aunt Hasey and Uncle John's place, which was just across the road from Audrey and Bill's. We would gather there Christmas Eve. Mom was invariably the last to arrive. Finally (after what seemed hours to us kids) Hasey would plant herself under the tree and hand us presents, telling us little ones to whom they were to be delivered. These gifts were from family members to other family members. Eventually, all the gifts would be distributed and we could rush back to our own piles to rip the paper off and see what goodies we got. At some point, carolers would wander by. Then we went to bed at our various places to await Christmas Day and Santa's goodies. It was a good time to be a kid.

If we lack for anything these days, it is that sense of family ritual at the holiday season. I realize now that there were tensions and cross-currents I knew nothing about, and what I really want is something I can't have without being 8 again. Still and all, I wish we could do the Big Family Holiday Thing.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Historical Reality

When I was in college I developed a habit of doing all the dishes I used as soon as I was done with them. This was partially in self-defense. I knew that arguments over cleaning the kitchen would develop, and I wanted to stay out of them. This was mostly successful, though I think my roomies resented having to acknowledge the mess in the sink wasn't mine. Or maybe they resented my forcefullly observing the mess wasn't mine. Over and over. Nah.

When I got my own apartment, I continued the habit. I didn't enjoy doing dishes, but I also didn't have enough dishes to fill a dishwasher before running out of stuff to eat on and with. A little silly, I suppose; who cares of the washer is truly full before running it? But it seemed wasteful. So I did 'em myself after every meal. It wasn't until I got married that the generation of soiled dishes outstripped my ability to keep up and I had enough to fill the thing before needing to use large banana leaves to put my cereal on. If memory serves, Trish had a hand in convincing me the dishwasher was an actual labor-saving device, and used less water to boot.

Anyway, last week the dishwasher had a problem. The water wouldn't drain out, so I've been thrown back to hand-washing for the better part of a week. Washing all dishes by hand for one person for 1.5 meals a day is a minor pain. Doing so for three while also cooking etc. is a royal pain. I can’t even just stuff things into the washer for later cleaning. They sit on the counter or in the sink taking up space I need for other things.

Okay, so its not hauling all the water needed for drinking, cooking and cleaning two miles from the community well. Sue me, I find it a serious hassle. And it certainly serves as a forceful reminder about all those history lessons that mentioned the introduction of labor-saving devices for the home back when. For the (mostly) women of those eras, it must have been like…having a stay-at-home-parent. Or something like that.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Baby on Board

A while back Slate ran an article about choosing a baby stroller. Strollers aren't really something we need much of these days, but I've often considered a series of posts for new parents or parents to be on what our experiences were with various baby gizmos.

Most people who write about this grumble (with justification) at the below the belt nature of much of the marketing for baby stuff. For most people, the struggle is not to get too much stuff, including fripperies like the baby wipe warmer. In our case, for quite some time it was almost the opposite.

As I recall, despite the morning sickness and the fact that her stomach was out to here, Trish and I were in a vague sort of denial about Jacob's impending birth. With only a week or two left before the big day, we only had the stuff we had received as part of the baby shower. I felt a vague sort of unease about this, but nothing strong enough to make me say "You're getting in the car and we're going to Babies 'R Us. Now."

It took a friend of ours to give us a good kick in the rear and get moving. She had actually come up to visit and help us move the last of Trish's stuff from her old apartment in Columbia (three hours away) over to our house. That is a story in itself, but she was scandalized at our lack of baby prep.

"I can't believe you guys!" she said. "Come with me, we're going shopping." And so we did.

Fortunately our friend was something of a country girl, so we were not steered towards things like Tommy Hilfinger diapers or what-have-you. We did get a bunch of things that we were later to make much use of, and certainly saved us from many, many trips to get some thing we needed direly post birth. If memory serves, we got such basic items as a crib, a diaper pail, a changing table, wipes, more diapers, a monitor, some functional baby clothes, blankets, bottles, and an extraordinarily useful "baby bag" (where you stuff all the spare diapers, medicines, wipes, chewie things, etc whenever you leave the house, hopefully not forgetting the baby in all the packing). I'm sure there were some failures in that pile of things as well, like the baby backpack thing that Jacob never seemed to fit in right, a musical mobile, and others.

But, thanks to her, we were as prepared with stuff as we reasonably could be.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sick and Tired

I was sick this past weekend. Nothing bad, just a low fever and a general feeling of tiredness. It was the sort of illness you could almost forget about as long as you kept still. Anyway, I think it gave me an insight.

When I was a kid there a sense that moms didn't get sick. Granted, in the cultural milieu where I grew up, moms tended to stay home as well, so who knows to what degree this was universal, but at any rate, moms did not get sick. Kids got sick all the time. Dads got sick, too. Rarely, but it happened. Mothers, however, seemed invulnerable.

This, of course, was bunk. Moms got sick just like everyone else; they just didn't acknowledge it. There was too much to do. Intellectually, I knew that. But this weekend, as I was able to pretty much take it easy while getting better, I think I came to understand how they kept going.

Guilt. Yes, guilt (and me not even Catholic!). I think it was the first time I ever felt truly guilty over an illness. No doubt the mildness of the episode played a part. But still, there it was, and it hit me then that my mom, and surely other people's parents as well, had felt as down as I did plenty of times, and yet went on. Playing with pain, they call it in the sports world. You're not 100%, but the team needs you, and so you go in anyway. You could refuse; you could say no, but you feel you would be letting people down.

Yeah, it's an imperfect metaphor. They all are, sue me. And no doubt many people ignored illness because they had to work and needed the money. But I'm thinking more about stay-at-home parents, here, and I think there's something to it.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Kiss the Cook

I've never regarded myself as a cook, with the exception of working a smoker to create barbecue. Otherwise, while I could cook, I wasn't a cook, if you get my drift.

This semester (a consequence of working for a university for three years after college and then marrying a university professor is you define your life by semesters) Trish has been teaching a late class, and since we haven't gotten to move in to our new house yet, I've had to do most of the preparing of the family meals.

In the past, this sort of thing was pretty much restricted to one meal a week. I've managed to make the adjustment, but it's still hard for me. While I do get a sense of accomplishment those nights I manage to pull it off it, it feels like work in odd ways that folding laundry does not.

Last week, I felt like I really outdid myself. I made a cheesy potato soup with salmon for Monday, a nice white bean soup Tuesday, slow-cooked pork with stir-fried veggies for Thursday, plus various combos for leftovers on the other weekdays. Everyone liked them, they were fairly easy with not a huge amount of cleanup, a huge success.

Problem is, that was last week. Now I have to do it all again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Life Comes in Bunches

Life comes in bunches.

Sometimes, life comes at you in a way that can make a day feel like a week, and a week feel like only a day. This is one of those times. And it's not due to anything awful or terrible. It's just stuff.

Times like these are the sorts that make you want to get organized. And I don't mean the garden-variety sort of organization, with Daytimers and checklists. I'm talking file folders and Gantt charts, here people. Milestones. Choke points. Pre-requisites. And a Partridge in a pear tree.

I want a system able to handle either moving the furniture or the invasion of Normandy. Where I'll need to change is the size of the poster board tracking everything. Actually though, I'm more likely to need lots of sheets of loose-leaf paper. My issue is not one big project with lots of interlocking parts; that might actually be easier than what I do have. I have lots of small individual projects, each fairly linear, but all vying for time and attention and which intersect only vaguely and at irregular intervals.

This is not something I've really done before, or really have had to do before. Or maybe I should have done this before, but it didn't occur to me it might be a good idea. Trish has had to do this for a long time. I find her example and advice very helpful. The occasional teasing goad doesn't hurt either! :-)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

This Old House: Austin -- The Concrete Contretemps

A couple of days ago I was at the new house and found a crew pouring concrete to level out the old garage. It looked fine to me and I left. Yesterday I came back to find a carpenter at work framing in what are going to be window spaces where the old garage doors were. A few minutes later that concrete fellow shows up, grumpy.

It seems the contractor in charge was not happy with the surfacing of the concrete. The surface was too rough. This irritated the concrete guy, who knew that we intended to stain and score that floor. He said that was the exact sort of surface you wanted for staining. The carpenter fellow backed him up. I was non-committal, saying only that I wanted the proper surface for staining and scoring, whatever it was supposed to be, and suggested a call to the guy who was going to do that job. The concrete fellow wasn't interested in that; he'd done stain jobs, he knew concrete, and it was fine, he said.

The contractor was adamant in a call to me later. It seemed in both cases as though he and the concrete guy wanted me to say something about the matter.

Frankly, that was the last thing I wanted to do. You'd be better off asking me a question about atomic physics than concrete. You really would, I've read books on cosmology and stuff, and understand the basic concepts. But concrete? You make it with water and sand or some other aggregate, and after a while it dries and turns hard and gray. That's what I know about concrete.

So I told him what I told the concrete guy. I know nothing about concrete; all I want is a good floor. Talk to the guy who is staining and scoring and see what he has to say.

I hope they get this straightened out.

Monday, October 17, 2005

This Old House: Austin The Sandpaper Chronicles

This weekend I spent several hours trying to save some money by sanding paint off some bathroom cabinets. I've had worse jobs than using a power tool in the shade of a pleasant fall day, but I've had better as well. Whoever did the painting and stuff in an attempt to make our new house more sellable deserves to be taken out back and shot, or at least strung up by the thumbs for a while.

They appear to have done none of the things you are supposed to do when painting, for example. It would have been better if they hadn't painted at all. They painted latex paint over oil, and so it will just flake off. They used exterior paint on the inside (or was it interior paint outside? Whatever, it was wrong). They did a slapdash job of preventing spills, drips, and overbrushing that created as much mess as it prevented. They painted over dirty wood, rotten wood, and in some places no wood. It is, in a word, crap. The people we have hired to paint things the way we want have spent a lot of their time scraping off the most recent paint in order to do their own.

So there I was in the back bathroom with a palm sander and a lot of coarse texture sandpaper sheets, hoping to save us a few bucks by giving our paint crew a hand. Thank God for power tools. I don't want to think about what it would have been like to try and get that stuff off purely by muscle power. As it was, I was incredibly stiff and sore at the end of both days.

Of course, you would figure that the half-assed way the previous people did things included really laying the paint on thick in those places it was easy to reach, like the tall cabinet doors in the water closet. The paint on those doors almost ate my sandpaper, rather than vice-versa. Those doors were what I spent all of yesterday afternoon working on.

Although tiresome, the previous days work on drawer faces and under-sink cabinet doors and stuff seemed like child's play compared to the grunt work those tall doors presented. Naturally, I was covered in paint particles from the sanding. Arms, hair, beard, shoes. An inch or more deep in spots on the floor. I wore a surgical mask, but I would rather not think about the amount of gunk I almost certainly inhaled despite its presence.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Uphill in the Snow etc. etc.

This past weekend I may have utilized that great parenting crutch of "walking to school in the snow. Uphill. Both ways" for the very first time[*]. Admittedly, we were engaged in a boring and un-fun task. We had driven about 3.5 hours with a trailer down to a house we still own in Tilden, Texas. Once there we loaded up the trailer with the stuff. As unpleasant tasks go, it wasn't that bad. We had food and drink, Jacob had a book to read, some old toys of mine to mess with, and the weather was cool and sunny.

Nevertheless, he was bored. Bored, bored, bored. Nor was he shy about communicating this, and at some point I had enough. I told him about how I had to go there every weekend, and how I had to work on the ranch, and how we didn't run the air conditioner, and how I didn't get to carry around a book, and about the heat and the dust and the long drives after a hard day. I was about to start in on how I had to feed cattle on cold winter days when I realized what I was doing and allowed myself to run down.

Jake was impressed, however. Not enough to quit grumping completely, but he did quiet down for a while.

Speaking of that trailer…It was a bit of old home week there. As a kid I really had done all the stuff I was telling Jacob, including something I didn't go on about, which was driving the pickup with a big gooseneck trailer full of cattle behind it. The sixteen-footer were pulling this weekend wasn't much compared to that, and I found the skills of backing and maneuvering the thing not too hard to recall.

There were some important differences, though. A gooseneck hooks onto a heavy eyebolt which is threaded into a massive (ours was 8" across) nut welded to the pickup frame. This makes the truck-trailer much more of a unit and pulls the center of gravity forward a bit. The other difference was that in those days, the official speed limit was 55. Which meant we basically drove 60 all the time. This cheap trailer we had this weekend hooked on by way of your standard ball hitch. Even more importantly, I discovered pretty early on that at anything like current highway speeds, it was unstable. Press the speedometer anywhere past 65, and the tail of that thing began to sway ominously back and forth. Scarier than seeing that in the mirror was feeling it in the steering wheel.

So I kept things below 65mph. I tried for 63, which was good empty. On the way back every once in a while the trailer got a little antsy, and I'd have to back off some more until it settled down. Probably I should have settled for 55 or 60 at most, but I confess that I was sick of pulling that thing after a while and begrudged any loss of speed that meant for a longer drive.

I have to say I never thought I'd miss that old gooseneck.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Charley and the Chocolate Lunch

So, less than a week after I grumble about a sudden dearth of new things to say about being a SAHD or even a parent, I stumble across this little tidbit on a parenting blog (which I found via a convoluted process I don't remember and could never repeat). In short, there is a plan afoot in the UK to limit what parents can send in their kid's school lunches.

What to make of this? I find it interesting because there has been a move in this country to get junk foods out of schools as well. I basically support this effort. But here for the most part it is has been a matter of removing or changing the contents of vending machines, not serving ice cream as part of a school-supplied lunch, and not allowing teachers to use candy as a reward (this last is mostly honored in the breach as far as I can see), and improving the quality of school-supplied lunches.

I recall the brouhaha that erupted here a couple of years ago when the state imposed these new guidelines. We were at a start-of-school meeting where a mom complained that she would no longer be able to send a coke in her kid's lunchbox. Neither the mom nor her daughter were exactly svelte, if you know what I mean. As it happened, the rules did not extend that far. Oddly, what had people most exercised was they would no longer be able to send in cupcakes on their kid's birthday. Or at least I have to infer this, because this part of the rule was later rescinded.

We already have a fair number of limits on what we can send in to school with or on our kids. Guns and machetes are frowned upon, and I think see-through clothing or thong bathing suits might be considered gauche as well. But I have to say this idea that schools can control what I feed my kid (even if, admittedly, its on their property and on their time) creeps me out, no matter how much I agree with the idea that kids should not have a lunch consisting of Coke and Twinkies. It's a nasty grey area, and I'm well aware of the fact that parents (including myself) are always fine with schools teaching stuff that isn't strictly speaking academic (manners, for example) until they get to a topic we don't like, whereupon the school becomes a parent-undermining busybody.

Friday, September 30, 2005


One thing which I did not think about when I started this blog, but should have if I'd spent about 5 seconds looking ahead, was the likelihood that, after a while, new insights would become a lot more rare. And while I never intended this to a blog that described what I had for lunch today, as the meta has faded into the background of everyday existence, that is more or less what has happened. Looking back over the past few months, posts dealing with the special concerns of being a SAHD have dropped pretty close to zero. Even posts about parenting are not exactly flying off the presses.

Part of it is distraction. The House Business™ has been my life since April at least. Searching the MLS (sometimes several times a day), meeting the realtor, looking at houses (many of them twice -- once for myself and once with Trish), driving around neighborhoods, delving into demographics, asking about schools, etc. etc. And then we get a house and immediately plunge into fixing it up. This past week I've actually had a day or two in which there were no house-related errands and I found myself wondering what to do with the time. It was kinda weird.

All of which is a long way of saying that, in addition to the standard list of stuff that must happen every week, I had a lot to do which, at least to my mind, didn't really have anything to do with being a SAHD, and tended to drive out anything that did. And if I didn't just write to say what was going on, I wasn't going to have much to say.

I'm pleased to see that despite the unconscious morphing of the blog into what it is today, folks have continued to read it. Which must mean there is at least still some entertainment value to be had, even if the insight has dropped off.

Monday, September 26, 2005

This Old House: Austin Day 18

I had a hurricane post half-written and never got back to it, so I guess its too late now. Too bad, I had a great title for it: "Praise the Lord and pass the Plywood".

Work on the new home continues apace. I wish it would go faster, but considering the guy thought he wouldn't even have gotten started until last week, I can't complain too much. What’s wild is the effort I've had to go through in order to choose stuff for the house. Multiple trips to Lowe's, Home Depot, and numerous specialty tile, woodwork, and plumbing shops to find what we like and want.

The tile has been particularly rough. The tile we plan to use in most of the house is set, but the tile for the entryway and countertops has been a bear, to say the least.

This. No, that. No, not that, its marble and no suitable for a kitchen counter top. Granite? Needs to be sealed periodically. Silestone? Costs too much. This? Too rustic. Too light. Too dark. Too plain, too striking, too much much much!!!

Except that we may have finally nailed it down. That just leaves the backsplash…

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Write? Right? What?

Approximately a zillion years ago (okay, more like 10 months -- pretty close) I said I going to try and devote myself to writing and acting. Wanting to be helpful, Trish suggested I read Bastard On The Couch so that I could see what sorts of reflective essays were getting published. After all, what is a blog like this but a set of self-reflective essays? It's also part of the reason I read Slacker Mom.

And we all know how well those turned out.

Between Couch and Slacker Mom (admittedly, not a statistically valid sample), I wonder if there's a market for self-reflective essays for someone who's not either self-obsessed or an inveterate whiner. Not that I don't whine on occasion (like now). But as one person in that otherwise excerable book noted, Redbook and its ilk have a storyline, and they are not keen on publishing something that doesn't follow it.

It is true that when I fantasized about being published, I thought I had a different sort of writing in mind. But on reflection what was different about it was mostly the subject matter. Instead of being about my experiences in relationships, it would be about struggles to fix up our ranch, or my work in the movies. I'm just not going to be an investigative reporter, at least not until Jacob goes off to college. More likely, never.

Which does make me wonder about this writing for money thing. I think I could do a good Dave Barry. Except we already have a Dave Barry. Well, maybe no one would notice. I would hardly be the first copy-cat.

Booger. Which, by the way, would be a great name for a rock band.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Total Parent Quality Management

I don't know about you, but I regularly go through periods of wondering if I'm doing a good job as a parent. This feeling can take many forms. The most recent being the "playmate" thing. I know for a fact I'm not the most fun dad there has ever been, and I mostly accept that, but it doesn’t mean there aren't days when that knowledge, for whatever reason, gets to me more than others.

When I was in college, I had a course or two that dealt with the ideas of Total Quality Management (TQM). Books have been written on this, but the idea I took from it was the one of using feedback to engage in a process of continuous improvement. In theory, this could be applied to almost anything.

So, in a fit of concern and a recollection of the feedback principle, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and asked. Specifically, I asked Jacob while on our way home from school last week what, of things that could be changed (we couldn't go to Disneyland every day, for instance), would he like to see changed about what I did as a Dad. I told him that he needn't answer right away, that he could take his time.

Nevertheless, I gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter than usual.

His response did not take long.

"I think you should park closer to the playground. That way, we could stay longer, and I wouldn't hurt my feet as much on the walk back."

I see, I replied. Well, I couldn't park closer if other people got there first, but I would try. Was there anything else?

"Could you come by and eat lunch with me at school?"

I realized we were a month into the school year and I had not stopped by to eat with him. I solemnly promised to try my best to come by the next week.

He felt that was good enough, and addressed himself to finishing his smoothie. My eyes didn't mist over or anything, but my heart was light enough to boost our MPG by at least 5 the rest of the way home.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Review: Confessions of a Slacker Mom

Confessions of a Slacker Mom
Muffy Mead-Ferro

I picked up this book at, of all places, a Scholastic Book Fair being held at my son's school. Somehow, in dipping into it, I thought I was going to be getting a funny look at modern child-rearing from the mom perspective, perhaps a kind of Erma Bombeck-Dave Barry stir fry.

Not quite.

Mom is actually fairly serious, despite a certain irreverent tone. More on that later.

The author in this short and small (a sort of pamphlet after several rounds of weight-lifting and high-protein shakes) book takes issue with…well, pretty much everything most people seem to take issue with regard to the rearing of children these days. Overscheduling, getting the kid on waiting lists to exclusive prep day cares before birth, scrapbooking their first sippy cup, that sort of thing. Oh, and being overprotective, etc.

At first I was nodding my head in agreement. After all, she grew up on a cattle ranch in Wyoming, and much of formative years were spent on a cattle ranch in South Texas. Kids don't really need a battery-powered geographic globe-thing to have fun -- a sturdy stick will often do nicely. But after a while I began to get a bit tired of the same ol' same ol' of the book, which ran thusly: Slacker mom encounters some excessive behavior, slacker mom decides either out of conviction or laziness not to engage in said activity, slacker mom justifies outcome of said non-engagement by describing how it is better for the children not to have it.

There's only so much of that one can take, even if you are in general agreement. Oh yeah, and that tone. What starts out as irreverent after a while starts to seem…I'm not sure I can describe it, but to me it comes off as a sort of sarcastic smugness. And aren't these sort of things often pretty easy targets, for all that people do seem to engage in them? And while I confess to having given our son Jacob too many toys, the arbitrary way they limited toys for their kids struck me as insane. And even when admitting it was arbitrary, the author rolled on to her standard defense of her attitudes.

[you need a "to be sure" graph here -- ed.]

To be sure, the author says she might be wrong, the things she complains about might not always be all that bad (even harmless). But its pretty clear that she doesn't really buy that. Otherwise, why do it? Finally, I have to acknowledge that part of my reaction may be due not getting what I expected. I wanted something funny, not a long bit of self-justification.

In the end, despite generally agreeing with the slacker mom's thesis of trust your instincts, don't over do it, you don't really need the "Baby Genius Super Brain Developing Mobile" in order for your kid to get into Harvard Medical school, I can't say I liked this little book, nor can I recommend it (unless you have a friend who could really use a good talking to about chilling out on the French flash cards for their two-year old).

Monday, September 12, 2005

This Old House Austin: Day 1

I really must apologize for the lack of blogging. And for that matter, the tenuous if not non-existent link of the blogging I have been doing to being a stay at home dad. But if you've been reading this thing you know I've been busy with the work on the new house. And that's tough, because my best times to write are in the morning or the evening. Lately I've been dashing out of the house in the morning, and by evening I've been way too tired to produce the sparkling wit you, my dear readers, have come to expect.

(I have to confess, though, that prior to last weeks exhaustion due to house business, I spent many nights playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic in a fashion that could only be described as obsessive. I've not had that much fun with a computer game in a long time, and a supposed RPG ever. And because it was an older game it was also pleasant to go into the Options and turn everything up to "Maximum Glitz" while still getting a smooth-running game. But, I digress.)

I spent the better part of last Thursday and Friday dashing about hunting down the perfect bath fixtures™ (and that's important because you can spend absolutely freaky amounts of money on a faucet). The amusing part for me is that I'm the one who cares what they look like. Trish for the moment is a lot more worried about the light fixtures in every part of the house except for the bathrooms, which for some reason I care about.

Why was I spending that time hunting parts for the bathroom instead of blogging about the inability of people to "get" SAHD-dom, a la RebelDad? Well that was because the electricians showed up on Friday and were going to need some of this stuff, and the plumber is supposed to arrive on Monday and they will need even more. That is assuming, of course, that they show up. Everyone who has dealt with contractors and major projects has told me that these people are rarely on time. The electrical guys, for example, were late Friday morning. Now, once they arrived they were extremely professional, but there you go. The plumber was also supposed to come by and have a look at things, but he had been knocked cold by a freak air bag deployment when his car smacked a curb after he had swerved to avoid another car. I swear I'm not making that up. Maybe he made it up, I don't know, but even so it’s a helluva story, even if you can only use it once per job.

Hopefully he'll be feeling better by Monday.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Onward Through The Fog

I do hope you enjoyed your Labor Day weekend. We did, though we were sort of working. Trish's sister came into town to help with the new house. Her sister is the sort of person who can tell you that brown is Right Out for a room, but Burnt Umber would be the bomb. Since I'm the sort of person whose ability to color coordinate pretty much ends with "Light pants-dark shirt or light shirt-dark pants" she was very helpful. In fact, as I type this she is at the new house engaging in a bit of decorative painting for the hall bathroom.

She also helped us in contractor choosing by applying her observation skills to the bids, and telling us which ones looked more reasonable to her. There are times I still think it would have been better and faster and cheaper if I had simply done most of this job as piece work, handling all the details myself. But c'est la vie.

And I do wonder about expense. I'm the sort who in this case feels like that if we want to do these various things, best to do almost all of them right now. Trish is clearly leaning to letting a few go for a couple of years, in order to save some money. Hers is an altogether sensible proposition. I do wonder if we choose to wait if we will ever work up the courage to do them two to five years down the road.

Sometimes I find myself screaming in my head "We can't do it, we can't do half of it!" Then I remember we are planning to sell this, and sell that, and some money will come in from over here, and I relax.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

This Old Contractor Work: Austin

When we started this process I really thought we'd be almost done by now. Well, we are almost done -- done choosing a contractor, that is. It's taken weeks to get all the bids back, and frankly, I am wondering if it was worth the trouble. Nothing has changed at the house, unless you count the toilet flapper I replaced myself.

It's true that we had to have a builder-type person to handle to garage conversion. And at the time it seemed to make sense to get one person to handle the details of tilers, painters, carpenters, etc. But you do pay a premium for that, not to mention time while they do their estimating. And the money estimates they sent back have really given me some sticker shock.

As I've wandered about here and there asking for people to give me estimates on different line items, I've found that they tend to be lower than what I've been quoted. Sometimes quite a bit, and while I know that in some cases it’s the contractor estimating their cut for choosing and making arrangements, and in others its got be a certain fudge factor. But how much is fudge and how much is cut? I don't object to folks getting something for taking care of arrangements, but since in many cases this has to be along the lines of "Hey Joe, I need you to lay some tile for me this month" I do object to its being a fixed % of the cost of that item, rather than a flat fee, though the % thing seems to be the way its done.

Part of what you pay for is someone else dealing with the headaches of people running late, etc., but I have to drive by that house every day anyway, and from what I hear about home building, you really need to be there all the time anyway. I told Trish last night I was about that close to just grabbing people from the phone book and turning them loose individually. Probably not wise, but at least something would be happening.

Addendum: While writing this I finally got the last estimate, which has put me in a better mood by being lower than I had expected it to be. I still need to see its details, but I'm happier for the moment.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

This Old House: Austin

As I've mentioned here recently, we bought a new house. We closed on it almost exactly a month ago. We haven't moved in yet, despite the beginning of school and the arrival of Trish's "regular" work time with the Fall semester.

Actually, its not a new house. Its a different house from the one we have now that is actually about forty years older. It needs work. Well, "needs" is a bit subjective. Structurally, there is nothing preventing us from moving in. Its in excellent shape, really. But esthetically, it’s a bit of a nightmare. Okay, not a nightmare, more like thpse weird dreams you get after devournig a whole plate of cheese fries with ranch dressing and watching the end of 2001 while sipping stale Heineken. Like the pale pink walls in what will be the living room. Or the pale yellow (I call it p!ss-yellow) paint in the dining area, the too-pink laminate wood in the kitchen, the stained off-white carpet, the…well, you get the idea.

Then there is the garage, which we want to convert into a study/library/office. It's half-converted right now, but with the original car doors in place and no insulation whatsoever. Despite the fact someone ran an AC duct into it, as well as network cable for high-speed internet.

There are some minor actual repairs that do need doing, but they are mostly outside. The point is, we could move in now.

Except we would still want the walls painted, the carpet replaced (mostly with tile), and the garage properly converted. We could do this while living there. We could. With the dogs barking at the workers, and the cats, already traumatized from moving, trying to either make a break for the door (along with the dogs, who would be having a fine old time (aside from the workers) and mostly trying to sniff every molecule of new scent in a three block radius) or trying to hide in the attic. Plus our furniture getting shunted back and forth again and us dodging the dust and carpet nails and tile cement. Hopefully our computers would not get clogged with sawdust or our sinuses with insulation bits.

In short we are envisioning the sort of whole-house work that tends to make your life miserable if you have to live through it. So, since we don't have to we're choosing not to. But the waiting isn't easy, especially for poor Trish, who is still driving an extra 30-45 minutes because we haven't gotten in there yet, or me who has to drive down to pick up Jake at the school there and mow two yards. But we think the wait will be worth it. If we can just get the last bid to arrive and then get these people started.

More to come!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Book Review: The Bastard on the Couch

My wife got me this book, called The Bastard on the Couch. It’s a companion book to The Bitch In The House.

It's interesting. A series of essays by men about men and what they feel, and sometimes why they feel that. It leads off with singles, then people in relationships, men in marriages good and bad, divorced men, etc. A couple of the essays spoke to me, and I guess a couple (a different couple) might speak to anyone, but in the end I felt the book was wanting as a source of insight.

I think the book got off to a bad start with a series of essays by single men. My main thought about them was, "What losers". But not because they were single (I was single for a loooooong time); rather, because of how they viewed their singleness. One fellow refused to get involved with a woman unless she was completely independent, and had no need of anyone or anything outside of herself. From the essay, it seemed such a woman also had no need of any sort of companion to keep her happy. It seemed strange to him that the one woman he encountered that seemed to fit the bill was remarkably likely to ignore him on a date if she found something more fun to do. So he was alone, partly because because he had created an ideal that excluded about 95% of normal humans and the remaining 5% were mostly composed of selfish, narcissistic assholes. The boy had issues, as they say. Another guy enjoyed being a boy toy for older women. His appreciation of their experience and depth was ironically, totally superficial and self-centered.

I'm not sure I was able to get over my turn-off of reading these sorts of essays right off the bat.

Another problem is typical of these sorts of books. Most of the essays have a tendency to speak for all men. "Men do this" "men feel like this" when of course, I'm a man, and I'm thinking, "Actually no, I don't do that".

Then there was where they came from and what they did. There about 21 essays all told. Nineteen gave me an idea of the writers location. Twelve of them were written by men from what I would call "back East". New York City (6), Massachusetts (2), Vermont (2), and two who gave a location as "East Coast". Three others were West Coast, two in California and one in the Pacific Northwest. One in Ann Arbor, one in Gettysburg, PA, one in Chicago. One lived in Arkansas, and one wrote from prison.

Of the occupations I could determine, eleven were writers of some kind. One was an artist. Then we had a stay-at-home-dad, and a bouncer. And the fellow in prison, which I thought was a good addition, even if he didn't discuss how he got there, something I thought was important.

No essays from men living in Georgia, Florida, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, etc. No obvious computer programmers, engineers, firemen, cops, bus drivers, car salesmen, farmers, ranchers, retail clerks…

Not exactly what I would call a representative sample. Granted, if you're asking for essays, you're a lot more likely to get writers than shop foremen. But if you're trying to get a look at the gamut of actual living breathing men…well, I think its lacking. I think the editor could have cast a wider net.

So if you want to know more about men and what they think and want, I don't think The Bastard On the Couch is for you. Unless you need info on men who are writers living on the coasts, the east coast especially.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Kids Can Be Observant

Jacob asked Trish why he changed schools every year or two. She (and I) were taken aback by this, but we realized that it was true. He's been to four different day cares ("school") and now two schools. I doubt he recalls the first day care, but we left it when we moved from Kansas to Austin. The next place was semi-convenient to our places of work, but not to home. The third was a good place, but we didn't care for the woman who would be his main caregiver, so when a brand new place opened up (Bluebonnet School of Cedar Park) even closer to us which got raves from some people who had left the third, we moved him there. And it was very good place. He went in to kindergarten, and continued at Bluebonnet in after-school care until I began to move into SAHD mode. And now we're moving to a new house (more on that later -- remodeling, even minor remodeling, is way expensive) and so a new school. We were so concerned and worried about keeping things stable for him, and yet we were shuffling him around anyway. Granted, some it could not be helped. And granted, the price to be paid for overdoing that stability would have been excessively high. I don't regret anything we did. But it was still a surprise to have him comment on it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I'm Going To Disneyland

Well, I guess actually "I've been to Disneyland!".

Nobody said anything, so I guess I'll talk a bit about our vacation, the Disney part of it (since many families are apt to want to go there at least once).

One thing I would strongly suggest to anyone thinking about a trip to Disneyland or Disneyworld is to invest a few bucks in a book called "The Unofficial Guide". The Guide is great. It goes over travel arrangements, describes the hotels around, describes all the rides and reviews them, describes all the fixed dining areas and reviews them, and provides many handy tips of a miscellaneous nature. Examples of miscellaneous tips include hidden quiet areas in the parks, short cuts, and things to look for when on the rides. The books also include itineraries to use in order to get in as much as possible as efficiently as possible. Some folks might be put off by that, but if you only have a single day to spend in the park, it could mean the difference between a fun (if exhausting) day and a series of incredible frustrations.

This was our third trip to Disneyland (plus one to Disneyworld) so we are getting to be old hands and didn’t use the books. One thing I'll put in up front: If you can stay in the park, or very close by, and especially if you are spending more than one day there, try and take a break in the early to mid afternoon. Go back to your room and hop in the pool or take a nap for an hour or two. The park stays open till 10pm or even Midnight, and is much much cooler (Southern California is a desert area, and so is very hot in the day, but cools off fast at night) than the afternoon. If don't or can't, you'll probably hear yourself saying things like "Shut up and have fun, dammit!" by 8pm…

By the way, Disneyland is sort of two parks these days. The old Disneyland, and California Adventure, which is a more like your average theme parks (more doesn't mean exactly -- plenty of the extra touches which set Disney apart even today). Adventure was never as crowded as Disneyland proper, and I expect it filled more with locals or people like us who were staying three nights or more. Oh, and make use of Disney's call-ahead service if you plan to eat in the resort area. The nicer and more popular places can fill up quickly, sometimes even days ahead of time.

We decided to take three days this time, and stayed at Disney's Grand Californian. Very Nice. For some reason this summer three nights there was only 50-75 more than three in the older Disneyland hotel, so we went for it. Gorgeous. Jacob had a bunk bed all to himself. Our room would have suited a larger family just fine, as the kid's bed was a bunk with a trundle; three could have slept in it just fine. My and Trish's bed was supposed to be a queen, but it seemed more like a double to me.

We did pretty much all the thrill rides. Trish wasn't prepared for what the California Screaming roller coaster did and took an hour to recover. Later I rode it, but I'd gotten so much scary talk beforehand the actual ride was not that bad.

We did the Tower of Terror, which is one of those dropping elevator type rides. The first time I didn't know where the handholds were, and was trying to keep my hat, camera and T's bag from flying everywhere. It was disconcerting. The second time we did know where the handholds were, and although I think I got very sore muscles it was okay for a ride. The bad part is the fast ride up, 'cause you know its going to stop suddenly!

We rode lots of times on Star Tours, and Indiana Jones. I think Indy is my favorite ride.

We did the new Space Mountain. It's a little darker, or at least harder to catch glimpses of anyone. They've added speakers to the seats and play fast music while you're in it, and I think its just a bit faster. The line was always very long, except early in the morning. Our first night we waited well over an hour, and I don't think it was worth that.

Another major piece of advice is to use your Fastpasses! The FP tries to manage lines by giving you an hour-long window later in the day to skip most of the line on a particular ride, allowing you to go elsewhere and ride something else, eat lunch, or whatever. Depending on the popularity of a ride, your "return time" could be in 15 minutes or 6 hours later. The really popular rides like Splash Mountain and Space Mountain get FP times running late in the day very quickly, and usually run out at some point. Oh, and some rides don't use them (like Matterhorn, and almost everything in Fantasyland). I won't go into all the limitations and strategies now, since they change from time to time, but read up on the rules when you go. Judicious use of these little guys really helps a lot.

As I said this was our third time. I found it interesting how standing in line was not all that bad, most of the time. A 45 minute wait was no big deal. It might have been helped by the fact that this time around, Jacob was able to read. So we brought some paperback books into the park with us (Harry Potter, which Trish had purchased so she could read them in the tub without worrying about inadvertent soakings) which he would read while we waited. This kept him entertained and allowed Trish and I to talk. We have several pictures of him in line at various rides sitting or standing with his nose in a book.

It was Trish's birthday while we were there. I told our check-in person, and got us some "autographed" pictures of the Disney characters, a birthday button, and a few other little extras. Trish wore her button into the park, and got a zillion "happy birthday's", plus a couple of free desserts.

We had fun our three days. It was nice to not be in a rush to see everything we could. I think we could have done a fourth day as well, but five would have begun to get a bit stale, I think. Unless we took a day off from the parks just to hang out. There are certainly things to do just outside the parks and in the hotels.

For example, about the coolest thing that happened there was at the hotel one afternoon while we were resting from the parks. Jake and I did the "Grand Quest". Its a very simple scavenger hunt-like thing in the hotel where you go round and collect words and phrases from different locations, then go on to the next location give them your word or phrase, then they give you a new one for the next area. We did it and got free cookies. But that wasn't all. The cool part was that (maybe because only two groups did it) we got to be Grand Family of the Day! This meant some extra goodies (chocolate, ballons), AND admission to the Concierge Lounge that night to watch the nightly fireworks show from Disneyland, complete with music. Plus all the treats and drinks we wanted from said lounge free. Pretty cool.

Man, I'm sure I'm leaving out something else interesting and or useful, but there was so much that went on. Well, if I think of something or Trish reminds me, I'll add it in.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

For Want of A Nail; or As The Drying Fan Hums

My apologies for not blogging more. With the Jakester doing the Summer Camp thing all day I thought I'd have more time. Ha!

Part of the reason for that is humming in the background. You see, one night I noticed the sink in the hall bathroom (its not really a hall bathroom, it’s the upstairs bathroom shared by Jake and the guest room, but that takes too long to type) was draining rather slowly. This is odd all by itself since the things that normally get drains clgged up don't go on in there, unless the dogs are using it to trim their whiskers or something. Anyway, I made a note to try doing something about it in the next day or two. Because you are reading this here, you know where this is heading.

Well, the next day or two were busy. And Monday night I headed upstairs after cleaning to get Jacob to bed early. I headed for the hall bath to get his toothbrush set up and discovered a lake had formed. The water had not been completely turned off at the sink (something I had fussed at him before) and had overflowed. It was probably 3/4 of an inch deep.

I screamed threw down a couple of towels on the carpet and ran to grab a wet-dry vac to suck up the water. Actually, that was not the best idea; the vac is really for cleaning floors, not for flood control. Trish got about a zillion towels thrown down in order to soak up the water. Somewhere in the dashing about we saw that water was forming on the ceiling of the room below, and even dripping down from a fluorescent light fixture (which we turned off and in a calmer moment I taped over the switches, because every time I went in there I wanted to turn on the light).

At this point Trish suggested it might be a good idea for me to contact a water removal and remediation service. Actually, I think her words were more like "I think you should call somebody RIGHT NOW!" I was not frankly, operating at a high level in this mini-crisis. My high point was that bit with the tape. Anyway, I did call places, and the first ones to make it got the work.

By the time they arrived, which was actually fairly quick, all things considered, we had sopped up pretty much all the standing water, and the dripping down into the kitchen had slowed considerably. After looking things over this is what was done: several holes were drilled in the ceiling of the kitchen to get airflow to the subflooring, and four largish fans were set up to blow air under the carpets and up into those holes.

That was Monday night. Its Wednesday morning right now, and the guys are supposed to come this afternoon to see if the fans can be removed. I've also summoned a plumber to deal with the drain, which mysteriously refilled itself at least twice since we shut it off.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

We're Back!

Hey there! We got back from our vacation Monday late. Since then, I've been kept pretty busy dealing with the cleanup from that trip and getting ready to close on our new house. As I type this, we are closing tomorrow. Probably by the time this gets posted it will have already happened. Then begins the task of getting the new place ready; its in fine shape, but will need a fair amount of work done before its ready to handle us. And of course, school starts early this year, at least a week sooner than I can ever remember it starting, and there is no way on earth the place will be ready and we can be in it in two weeks time. So Trish will be ferrying him to school in the wee hours of the morning and I'll have to go and pick him up for at least the first two weeks. I have a hope that a month will be enough time to do what we want, but Trish is thinking October. I fear she will be right.

In the meantime, I can give you househunting tips, trips to Disneyland tips, or highlights of the vacation stories or something of all of them, if you like. Let me know in the comments. Otherwise, I'll just go with what strikes me.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Californee-ah's the Place You Oughtta Be...

On July 16, the next Harry Potter book will be out. I pre-ordered mine from Amazon about a zillion weeks ago. We figured that when it came out, we would take Jacob to one of those midnight sale thingies that started up around the time book three arrived. It would be fun.

Well. We are scheduled to be vacationing in California at that time. No big deal, we can go to a midnight sale there (unless as Trish suggested, we just order a book and have it sent to her dad's house, where we will be spending part of the time).

The fly in the piontment here is that we are only going to have one copy of Harry between Jacob and myself (mine is going to be sent to my house, remember?). This could lead to some friction. I know this kid, he'll be reading in between every driving stop and when we're hanging out in hotel rooms or at his Grandad's house. And seven year-olds aren't known for their discretion. He's likely to blurt out something like "It was cool the way the Flortibasts ate the wall in order to save Harry and get the Maguffin back, wasn't it?!?" without considering the possibility that I or others around might not have gotten to the part about the Flortibasts. Or the missing Maguffin, for that matter.

So what this means is I'll be staying up late at night, trying to get far enough ahead so he can't inadvertently spoil me, and so I can read to him (despite being totally able to read on his own, he still likes for us to have a reading time together -- very sweet) for bedtime without being caught unawares. I'm going to be fighting with my own son over reading time for Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince.

A note. This shall be my last post for a full two weeks. Our vacation will be that long, and on our return I may be caught up in the details of finalizing the purchase of a house closer in to central Austin, not to mention the effort to move in to said house, and the disruption that will cause. So expect things to be sporadic for quite a while even after August gets well under way and school starts up again.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A Tale of Two Reunions

In the past three weeks I've experienced two reunions. One was a by-product of a wedding, the other was planned. The first was the wedding of my old college buddy Pete. Most of those people I hadn't seen in person (or in some cases, even in email) since my own wedding almost eight years ago. The other was my Twenty-Year High School Reunion. I hadn't seen any of those folks since my last reunion, ten years ago. Some I hadn't seen since graduation.

Both were enjoyable. But I found the impromptu one more satisfying.

I enjoyed high school. It was and is a small place (my graduating class had 65 people in it), so we didn't have the sort of cliques that develop in bigger schools. There were groupings, but you had to work at it if you wanted to be exclusive. There just weren't enough people to create the distance. I wasn't popular, but neither was I unpopular. I was smart, and so had something of a license to be weird. But most of my better friends were older -- they were juniors, seniors or sophomores when I was a freshman. In a way, I had more fun in the hour or so I spent with one of older friends than the 5+ hours at the reunion. I got on well enough with my classmates, but only one of them was really a close friend, and he couldn't make it. So I was left with the standard stuff, where are you, what are you doing now, etc. etc. Oh, and the typical observances of who had sagged the most, held up the best, or had actually gotten better-looking since the last reunion or graduation.

At the ten year, I had received the Most Eligible Bachelor Award. This time, I go the "Most Improved" Award. I dunno what I was to have improved from exactly (graduation? Ten years ago?), but the sense of backhanded compliment was pretty strong. Funny side story: One classmate came up to my wife and related how she and others were so happy that I had "found someone." Apparently she and some others were "worried". Trish just stared at her, and she apparently realized how awful she had sounded, made some excuse, and scurried back inside. Thing is, I'm pretty sure she was one person interested in being "someone", and hadn't exactly been Miss Popularity back in the day. Meow.

Another element getting in the way was answering the question of what I was doing. I've talked about this before. I had a hard time with that question. I'm not sure I ever answered it precisely the same way twice. I didn't want to lie, nor did I want to sound like I was bragging. So at different times I emphasized I was retired, had gotten lucky in the stock market, was a stay at home dad, was busy handling the family portfolio and taking care of the house, and so on. All of that is essentially true. Well, perhaps not the retired part. As my mom famously observed more than once, "Your daddy may have I retired, but I haven't!" I reckon most SAHD's would concur with that sentiment. We may not be working in an office or wherever 8-5, but we sure ain't retired! Anyway, the point is that dealing with that issue was still confusing and uncomfortable and detracted from my enjoying the event.

The wedding was different. For some reason, I was able to be pretty up-front with my old college buddies about events, and did not really care about their reaction. Was it because we had been closer in college, and shared more experiences than most of those who were from my high school? Was it was because I had been able to continue to be around many of them after college, and so they all knew I'd been in the job world and been a working stiff just like everyone else? Was it because I had been voted most likely to succeed in high school and felt I had to live up to that, whereas in college I was just one more bright kid amongst the bunch? Some of whom hadn't gotten a degree anyway, whereas I had, and on time too? I don’t know. They mostly acted envious, while the folks from high school seemed a bit bemused. But that might stem from my own difficulties in settling on a single narrative or take on events.

All in all, an interesting pair of events.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Redwall Agonistes

As I have written several times before, our son Jacob is a voracious reader. For the past couple of months he has been working his way through the Redwall series. Put briefly, the Redwall books focus on talking animals and their adventures in a quasi-Medievalesque setting. The books themselves are fine, but Brian Jacques has written 17 of them since the first was published in 1986, and things are getting a wee bit repetitive.

Things tend to go like this: The good beasts of Redwall/Salamadastron/The Forest have a feast. Joe Bad Guy has this horde of bad guys, and they are marching on Redwall/Salamandastron/The Forest to pillage and maim. Trish wonders why the good guys haven't figured out that if they would only give up feasting, they would have a lot fewer invasions to deal with.

Eventually, the Good Guys see the Bad Guy army, and a siege develops. The Bad Guys outnumber the good guys, usually by a few zillion. Treachery and double crossing abound amongst the bad guys.

Good guys die. Creatures will be called by name solely to get offed a sentence later. For reasons usually unrelated to the battle, a handful of creatures journey across the forest and get involved.

Creatures eat. What they eat is always described in considerable detail. Always. And is always some weird vegetarian thingy. I don't know if they are made up foods or its stuff they really eat in the UK.

Someone encounters the shrews and gets them to help out. Always. Baby creatures appear and take a prominent part in the action. They tend to speak with cutesy voices.

Eventually, the creastures on the journey encounter the siege or return with the object of their quest, which has something to do with ending the siege. In a final climactic battle, the vermin are driven off. If a badger is leading the good guys, then he tends to die while killing the bad guy leader. Badgers are just that way, it seems. A big feast is held, the end.

Like I said, its actually a pretty good series. And no doubt the repititions are no worse than other classic series, like the Hardy Boys, or even Harry Potter. But after 17 books, read almost in a row...oy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Progress Report

So, it's been a while. Nice to see that the hit meter has been pretty steady over the week or more since my last post. Gee thanks, guys! Nice to be appreciated. Your reward is a longer post than usual!

Much and little has happened. The big event of the last week for me has been surviving Vacation Bible School. Many people (parents, fellow workers) commented on how well the whole thing came off. Which is good, because the conceit of play-acting like ancient Israelites in the city of Jerusalem around the time of the Crucifixion was certainly something that could be fraught with peril.

My own role, which was that of a Rabbi teaching in Synagogue was apparently a big hit. I'm not sure how much of that had much to do with me or the fact that for part of three days the kids got to practice writing Hebrew letters (on tablets I made out of oil-based clay and heavy posterboard. Oil-based clay won't dry out -- at least not easily). That activity was surprisingly popular.

I had to do my thing outdoors, which was mostly just as well, since the younger kids tended to leave bits of clay scattered about. Mostly just as well, since it was pretty warm, and several days saw me with a soaked shirt by the end. The way we did things was thus: I'd bring them in, make them wear their yarmalukes, ask what they had done that day, and do a reading from the "Torah" (I made a scroll out of heavy dowels, stained them, and wrote the OT verses we needed for the week on the paper), which I kept in an "ark" made from a nice wicker chest, covered in burgundy cloth. I'd give them the meaning of the Torah reading in words of one syllable, then follow up with a story of some sort, and describe some experiences a temple or synagogue goer of the time might see.

At times, either via my script or because of comments from the kids, I was called to upon to talk about Jesus. Credit to the script in that it said I should be hesitant and uncomfortable about how to deal with him -- though it didn’t go so far as commenter Dave suggested it probably should. Frankly, I was uncomfortable with that part of the role. I've no clue to what degree the kids saw me as a real authority figure, and how much stock they put into what I said, but while I desired to be true to the role, I didn't want to come across as too down on this Jesus fellow. I mean, I am, and we all there were Christians, after all (probably. I mean, I suppose its possible some of the kids were Hindu or something, but that strikes me as unlikely). We were there to present a Christian message, albeit in a different way. I suspect I'm worrying too much. Moving on…

I don't know if we have a house or not. We thought we had a contract on the place by last Thursday. But in the intervening time, the wicked stepsister (a realtor in California) has intruded, and is apparently berating the local family members (the house in question belonged to their parents, now deceased) for being too accommodating. Granted, it’s an unusual situation, which I'll spare you more details of, but I thought we basically had a deal (admittedly very skewed in our favor, but we weren't going to screw anyone) and she's interfering. Anyway, we're adjusting our terms to satisfy the other folks.

We'll walk away if we have to, but it’s a bit frustrating to me. Whups, while typing this, I just got an email from our realtor, including some new document. Hmm, seems computer error made things a wee bit more complex than intended, but they are now getting sorted out. The seller's realtor thinks things will be okay. Well, we'll see.

As if that weren't confusing enough, I've been trying to sell and buy some land on our ranch down below San Antonio. The lady I tried to sell some land to told me she already owned it! It took me a week between Bible School and the house business to get back to them, but I finally called the County Clerk and the Tax Assessor. Neither one of them is sure who the land really belongs to. In '56, Some family we call "Z" paid the taxes. In '58 it was my family (my grandfather and his wife). Then in 1960, someone else (who we'll call "X") did. In '61, both my family and group X paid taxes on it. In '66, Another outfit, "Y" paid. In '69, It was my family and "X". In '82, it was definitely my family (in the person of my dad). From at least 1992 onwards, both "Y" and my Dad were paying. Got all that? Now, I'm assuming here I didn't miss something while the Tax Assessor was telling me all that, and we both suspect that "Y" and "Z" are actually relatives, quite possibly a father and daughter.

I'm entirely willing to believe that my Dad or Grandad sold this piece of land in the ancient mists of time, and that it was somehow missed on our deeds. It would be easier than you think for that to happen. Our land, all 1200 acres of it, is subdivided into 10 acre tracts (well, most are 10 acres. A handful are slightly larger, another handful much smaller). The plots were often bought up piecemeal, over a period of 40-odd years. I have deeds referencing single tracts. Other deeds deal with 20 or thirty. Anyway, the point is, I'd wouldn't make a fuss if it looked like that was the case (I've already composed the apology letter in my head). But I want to know for sure, and it may take a full-on title search to determine that. What we'll do if it turns out we probably own the land and the other person chooses to fight, I don’t know.

One final note. I'm doing better about getting things done this summer than last. Not great, but better. Not sure what the difference is. Maybe more things that are urgent in character and need doing right away, so they get done. Some of my longer-term projects are still kinda stuck. So we'll see what happens next, but I’m writing July off as far as productivity goes.

Till next time I get some time, have a good one!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Lazy Days of Summer

Whoever wrote that was obviously not a stay at home parent. Or perhaps just not me.

Since Jake got out of school I've helped have a nice dinner for the new pastor and some friends, gotten some training for Vacation Bible School, looked at houses, planned for and got stuff to play my role for VBS (I'm a Rabbi -- Yahweh, give me strength, and apologies to all the Jewish folk reading this), took Jake to the dentist, shopped for a new DVD player, installed said DVD player, and oh, yeah, tried to keep up with the regular house stuff.

Tomorrow, we go to SeaWorld, the next day meet some guys to look over their plans to finish out a house we're interested in, and go to an extra-long drum practice. Saturday we have karate, a birthday party and a music recital. Sunday features a special church service and then set-up for VBS.

Yeesh. I knew I said we were going to have a busy summer, but its something else to actually live it. And this isn't really supposed to be the busy part.

When does school start again…?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Two Days of School Left. Not That Anyone's Counting...

Despite daily watering, portions of an attempted herb garden were bone-dry an inch or two below the surface. I find this most frustrating, and it's not even my project. The soil must just be wrong -- we're going have to cart in a bunch of compost or soil from elsewhere and till it in. Assuming we stay here, that is. We'd rather not, but the house-hunting has yet to turn up an underpriced palace 10 minutes from campus in a hidden canyon where the people live to be thousands of years old…wait, that’s a plot from an old movie…

Anyway, still here. Tonight is Jacob's "student led conference" where apparently the kids explain to us what they learned all year. Should be interesting. Just two more days of school, and we'll have a week to get ready for Vacation Bible School, where I have graciously or foolishly consented to act the part of a rabbi teaching in the synagogue. There's some ironic justice to that, as my birth-grandfather was Jewish (a long story), but I've a feeling I'll be pretty much shot for the rest of the day when we get home from VBS at noon.

I'll try and keep you posted

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

In The Good Ol' Summertime

Next week is the last week of school. The summer begins. I look towards it with anticipation and dread. No more getting up at 6AM! No more trying to make a tasty breakfast and lunch while still half-asleep. On the other hand, there is the issue of having my wonderful son in tow for all the errandry that there is, and having to force myself to say "no" sometimes when he asks to play with me (and thereby get that blasted Harry Chapin song running through my head).

Then. We tried to determine all the things we wanted to do with the summer. We had far more things than we had summer. The entire month of July is booked. When we aren't going somewhere we're going to have to be recovering from having been somewhere. There are Seaworld trips, Schlitterbahn trips, several possible weekly activities (vacation bible school, a drama camp, a nature camp)…

We have striven to not be one of those families constantly on the go from soccer practice to piano lessons to little league to karate etc., but we tend to lose it during the summer. It seems like such a vast expanse of time, but it goes by pretty quick once you're in it. You've got about 12 weeks all told, and fitting stuff in is harder than one thinks.

Oh and there's that bit about moving closer in to the university. We haven't found the perfect house. We've found one that has definite possibilities, but its at the top of our range, which means it would be a while before we could make it more to our liking. Or we could just wait and see if we could find a less expensive place and then fix it up the way we want it. Then I start thinking of all the contractor horror stories we have heard over the years.

Finally, I worry about the implications for my time management project. Physical tasks are generally not a big problem. I can easily refocus despite interruptions. But when working on a mental project, like writing a letter, or an article, or filling out a form, I am easily distracted and have a hard time getting back into the frame of mind I need to do that job. I've seen it happening this week, as I've interrupted my days to run out and see some houses. It has been very hard to return and do what I need to do to meet my goals for the week and month.

Well, we'll just have to see what happens. My hope is that being aware of what I need to do and trying to do the Daytimer thing will help me stay focused, but I don't know if that will work.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Women's Clothing

Women's clothing is a trial for me. And I don't even wear the stuff. How you ladies manage to put up with what strike me as complete absurdities without strangling every designer who ever held a pencil is beyond me.

Take pockets. Despite forty years or so of women's lib, most designers of women's clothing apparently continue to assume that their customers are going to carry a handbag. Even in clothing that would otherwise appear to assume that handbags might not be practical. When wearing a nice suit, a man could have as many as eleven pockets, with a probable minimum of five. A woman in a business suit might have two. Maybe. And they will be small. A party dress would have none. I'm sure many pixels have been slain and quite a bit of ink spilled over the whys and hows of this, so I'll skip that part and move on.

One of the items Trish was interested in for Mother's Day was a…I think it is called a camisole. This is another thing about women's clothing, that similar things often have vitally important name distinctions. Men have shirts, for example. They may be dress shirts, undershirts, t-shirts, muscle shirts, what-have-you, but they are all shirts. Women have shirts, but they also have blouses, camisoles and God knows what else.

Anyway, she had indicated this camisole-thing, and noted the size she wanted, medium. So, a couple of weeks before the big day, I went to the website of the catalog and ordered it. It arrived in due fashion, and was presented with the appropriate ceremony. Trish was pleased, and later went to try it on.

It was too big. Rather a lot too big. As she put, we could have both worn the shirt--er, camisole, at the same time. She checked the size. Medium, just as she had requested. Very odd. She checked again, then she knew what had happened. I had been caught by euphemism.

Y'see (women may skip this paragraph) fellas, sometimes women's clothing comes in groupings. Even I had heard of "petite" and "plus-size". Well, when ordering the camisole-shirt, I had to choose not only the size, but the grouping to which it belonged. My options were "misses" and "women's". Women who are still reading this are nodding their heads sagely. To me, "misses" calls to mind images of braces and Junior High. I therefore chose "women's". It turns out that these things mean not quite what they might appear to mean to the ill-informed, namely, me. "Misses" in this case means essentially "regular". "Womens" means -- big.

Luckily for me Trish is not the sort to read Dark Implications into these sorts of errors.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Slow Motion

This past weekend was one of those where time does this weird thing of moving with a peculiar langour. Its not as if there seemed to truly be more time, rather, it seemed that the time there was stretched out, pulled thin. As Bilbo Baggins once said of himself "like butter spread across too much bread."

The original plans for the weekend were pleasant enough, dinner with friends on Saturday and then of course celebrating Mother's Day. But Thursday morning I received a phone call from a relative I had not heard from in a long time. Five years, in fact. I knew it wasn't going to be good news and I was right. An uncle had passed away, and so I needed to go to the funeral in Houston.

Okay, I made the necessary phone calls, found my suit, fiddled around until I remembered how to tie my tie, and went to bed early Friday night. At 5AM I got up, dressed, and headed out. It's amazing the sort of time you can make on the roadways of cities early on a Saturday morning. Still, it took three hours to get there. I attended the services, had lunch with an aunt, and headed back. The return trip took around 4 hours, as traffic and construction had congested the byways of Houston in the meantime.

In my absence, Trish and Jacob were both sick. Nothing too bad, but a general feeling of tiredness, with fever, some coughing, etc. They spent the day pretty much moving slowly aside from a quick trip to the store for comfort food and frozen dinners. So, when I staggered in the door around 5pm, we were all pretty much in the same boat.

The next day, I got up, made a simple Mother's Day breakfast and went to teach Sunday School to the pre-K/K group. I managed it, came home, and then realized that I now had what Trish and Jake were beginning to get over. I laid down on the bed for about 2 1/2 hours, then spent the rest of the day moving slowly, counting the hours until dinner and bedtime.

Jake was clearly feeling much better as the day wore on, which only contributed to my feeling of being stuck in cold molasses. Trish chose to take a mulligan on the day, and we declared that Mother's Day would be celebrated in full the following Saturday.

Yesterday, everyone seemed to have recovered more or less fully. Time resumed its normal march.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Home Shuffle

We're planning to move. Not real far, in terms of distance, but considerably in terms of time. Trish's commute can take anywhere from 30 minutes (way off peak time, i.e., when she doesn't go very often) to an hour, worse in bad weather or if there has been an accident. I'm well aware that some people would kill for that commute, but it’s the sort of thing that gets to her and me after a while. So we'd like to get in closer to her place of work.

We are picky people when it comes to houses. I'm the pickier one, but if a house passes my muster its almost certain to pass hers, so it makes for an efficient division of labor for me to make a first pass at house-looking and then bring her in.

The problem is that we are low on houses to choose from. We had a list of eight when I took Trish around (culled from even longer lists we had started from), and some of those eight I doubted very much were worth the candle, but I know my biases and so left them on the list. Two went under contract before we could even get to them. Of the rest, only two more were really worthy of further thought, and those were not without serious issues as well.

One was a quite lovely home, tastefully decorated, but very problematic in terms of its layout. The other house had more space and a better arrangement of rooms, but a much smaller yard and lots of signs of water damage. The water issues may or may not be properly taken care of . The house was a foreclosure and the bank is going to fix it up before sale, but will it go far enough in dealing with the problems?

Then we have the matter of timing. We want to move out of our current house before putting it on the market. It needs some cosmetic repairs, and it would just be much, much easier to do what needs doing with us and the dogs and the cats mucking about. But we're about to hit the slow season for home selling. If we don't get going by early June, it might sit on the market for months. On the other hand, mortgage rates are still pretty low. Will they be this low next year, or six months from now? Would it be worth it to pay two mortgages for 6-8 months in order to get a good rate now (a point might mean tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of a 30-year note). But we have to live in this house. Is "good enough" now going to be good ten years from now? Argh.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Yard Man

I found out a week or so ago that our yard has something called "take-off". It apparently is some sort of fungus that attacks the root system. The best advice from the company that we use to take care of the yard was to spread out peat moss. Apparently peat moss is good for yards in any case. So I've been spreading this stuff out and watering it in. It isn't too hard but you have to wrestle these really big bags of the stuff around. I can only fit about 6 of them in the back of my Highlander, and six bags only cover about a section of my yard. I estimate I have 4 (out of 7) sections left to do, if I want to get the whole thing. Its not clear if the whole yard really needs it or not. I can't tell if the back yard has patches because of this fungus or because the dogs continue to beat the living you know what out of it every time they chase a squirrel.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Some Day, Some Way

As part of my quest to improve my time management skills, I've started keeping a journal of the stuff I do all day. Its not an exhaustive list, but I try to write down, across various blocks of time, what happened. It's both a tool for study and a spur to action. Seeing my activities written down sure seems to encourage me to get some more stuff on the list. Your mileage may vary. So far this week, I've not lacked things for doing, some of which require multiple hours.

One thing I've observed that applies to me is that after a certain point in the day, a bunch of small tasks is far more tiring (mentally, anyway) than a few larger ones. I've no idea why. Does it feel like more work to have done 6 things in an hour than one thing? Weird.

Another thing is that errands away from the house really eat up time ways you do not expect. The one checker has a long line of people paying with third-party checks from Botswana. You realize that in addition to milk you are in dire need of plastic bags--which are halfway across the store. Or, worse yet, you're picking up pictures at the mall camera store and realize you need dog food, or to return movies, or something else that require another stop. Next thing you know, you've been away an hour for something you thought would take 15 minutes. Yowza.

Monday, April 25, 2005

If I Could Catch Time In a Bottle

I find it ironic that ditching my desk job has actually made my day more complex. For the longest time (almost a year now?) I didn't realize that. When I worked away from home, I was generally in one of two modes: long-term and short-term. And my day was very basic. Get in, get settled, and work on my main, long-term project. Sometimes the phone would ring and I would need to drop everything and fight some fire. Then, when all we had was some wisps of smoke, I would return to the long-term project. And that was how I worked best, doing one thing until it was done, then moving on. You don't need a Daytimer when your life works like that.

For the most part, being a SAHD isn't like that. Sure, there are times when you spend the whole day sodding the yard or what have you, but most of the time your tasks (well, my tasks, anyway) are done in these little chunks. Get the laundry going. Pay the bills. Make a phone call. Run some errand.

Big deal, you say. These are just small long-term projects. Do them in order. Well. Here's the rub. Have you ever noticed how dogs will often make several little circles before lying down? I do that before getting to work. It can take minutes or hours or days (depending on how complex and/or unpleasant the task might be). Not much of an issue if you can then sit down and plug away for hours or days at a time. But when doing myriads of small tasks? Oy. Prepping (or, more correctly, psyching yourself up for) a day to do something that might require twenty minutes is generally not efficient.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Time Will Come Today

Springboarding from what I wrote the other day, I think some posts on the issue of time management are in order. Not all in a row, but over the coming weeks.

I have written before (many times before) on the issue of time and how, as a stay at home parent, you suddenly have a lot more of it to accomplish things that you had before (even if it isn't as much as you think). There's a trap there, though, and you have to be aware of it. It’s a classic one, the most basic form of procrastination. The idea you have is that with so much time, there's no hurry to get anything done beyond the most pressing and routine. And then one day you wake up and realize that everything is due tomorrow.

Anyone who has been a student, especially a college student, has fallen into this sort of trap at least once. And its an easy one to fall into at home as well.

The first trick, as I see it, is not in choosing the perfect day planner or organizational method. Almost any system will work well enough if you can commit to getting things done. There are tricks to help you along, and I'll discuss things I have done and am trying out in days and weeks to come. But the most important is: To keep on doing stuff and not put it off.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Things Your Mom Could Have Told You, Part MMIXVII

Okay, I hope everyone enjoyed my posts on the movie biz. Now, lets take a peek back at Domesticus life…

This is one of those things a stay at home mom probably could have told me twenty years ago if I had thought to ask her.

For reasons we needn't go into detail over (I screwed up. More than once.) I had a realization. When you work outside the home, home is generally a haven. If you screw up at work, unless it's bad enough that you might get fired, you don't have to take that with you. You can spin the chewing out from your boss all the way from not even mentioning it to fully acknowledging it was all your fault and you deserved what you got. And unless you were truly awful to someone, your spouse is likely to commiserate on the unpleasant circumstances, and try to buck you up.

On the other hand, if you work at home, and blow it on something that matters to the family, you don't have anywhere to run. And your spouse is stuck in the uncomfortable position of having to give you the business. Its not fun for anyone, and knowing you deserve it doesn't make things any easier (Been there, done that).

How one deals with it and tries to prevent it (short of never, ever screwing up, a tall order) depends on your circumstances. In my case it means better organization and less procrastinating. Even if this has not happened to you yet, I suggest a look around and a taking of stock. Figure out what is tripping you up and deal with it appropriately. We can't avoid all mistakes. But we can avoid making a habit of it.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

So You Wanna Be In The Movies -- Part 6 and last (I think)

The film-makers had a problem looming over them. We had done a bunch of shots in gloomy, cloud-covered light on Monday, but since then things had been sunny. Wednesday was also predicted to be sunny and clear, so the next step was obvious.

We had to come in earlier. As it happened, only a half-hour earlier, but in addition, I expected that things would move very fast as the crew scrambled to get in as many shots as possible before the sun came up fully and the morning clouds cleared away. I was right. Call time was 6:00AM, and by 6:40AM we were on the set, watching people hurriedly get set up.

By 7:30AM, I had gotten something to do. They needed more shots of "Sara's" pickup coming into the plant, so I and two other guys were sent up 3-4 floors to provide background as it entered and drove by. It made for good exercise, as I had to climb up and down steps in heavy work boots.

This sort of thing went on for the next 90 minutes. We would be moved from one part of the plant to another, given our marching orders, and they would get in a few shots. Most of the time I couldn't see what the main action was, but I did see the end.

We all watched as the last wisps of cloud began to clear the sun. Sara was down on the pavement with the fellow from Monday (whose name I never caught), apparently finishing whatever discussion had been interrupted by the clearing sky. The crew had fashioned massive shades of stretchy black cloth and light tubes that might have been aluminum in an effort to minimize the growing glare. I think they got the shot, but when the clouds finally vanished that was it for that scene. We got the "take five" and headed for the snack truck. It was 8:51AM.

From here on in, the action took place up high on the generator towers. Remember, when I say tower, I don't mean some slender, relatively clean thing like a lighthouse. These were somewhat squat, with stuff hanging all over them, with grilled flooring, and cat walks at various levels between the towers. Equipment, pipes, and tanks stuck out at odd angles, and sometimes got in the way. It was there the camera, sound and lighting people moved and began to set up.

I'm sure that a life in pictures eventually innoculates you to working all manner of strange environments, but watching those folks hanging lights and other heavy gear all over those tight spaces up high impressed me. And from 11:00AM onward, all the action was up there on the platforms, roughly six stories up. I watched Gellar dash across the catwalk between towers several times. Let me tell you, if you anything like a normal fear of heights (you know, the sort of fear that might keep you from jumping out of a perfectly good airplane for "fun" or keeps you away from steep drops because, you know, falling would be bad) dashing across one of those things was no picnic. The wind was blowing pretty hard up there too, which I doubt was fun for a small person like her. Once she almost lost her hardhat in a gust and they had to restart the take.

At noon we broke for lunch, and as I munched on a delicious piece of pork roast with grilled summer squash and a brownie for dessert, I reflected that I damn glad it wasn't me up there playing one of the Flying Wallendas, perhaps complete with the tragic fall.


So it was that at 1:55PM, I found myself at almost the very top of the power plant, and my action was to climb up a flight of steps in order to reach the actual tip top of the plant. I tell you, I was Not Enjoying this aspect of acting. I could see across to the other tower where the action was taking place, and what I could see was not much. In all honesty, I'm not sure the reason I didn't see much is because much of the action was taking place behind masses of piping or because I was mostly looking down to make sure my feet did not somehow inadvertently head off into empty space

This was the first time I had spent much time in close proximity to this particular PA, whom I mentally referred to as "the boy PA" because of his baby-faced features. Up until now, I'd had pretty negative opinion of the fellow, since he was the one who seemed to spend most of his time chivvying us extras into out-of-the-way corners where we couldn't see anything.

But now, up close, I had to say the fellow was nothing if not solicitous. He asked if we were okay, not too tired, if we needed water, etc, until they finally had enough shots and we could come down. It was a major relief. Of course, I left my windbreaker up there and had to go all the way back up to retrieve it. After that, a nice long drink of Big Red from the snack truck was what I needed to settle my height-jangled nerves. Fortunately, at 3PM, I was done with the high-wire act.

Shooting continued, but much of the crew activity at this point consisted of packing away gear. It's possible I could have seen this on the other two days, but all but one of us had never returned to the set after lunch for any extended period of time. I only had one more interesting set of shots.

About 2-3 floors up, a group of us gathered. The camera was to watch someone working down below, who was to stare at Sarah "significantly" as she climbed up some steps. I was to mime talking to another extra, and then we were to walk over a catwalk to the other tower. First, her stand in did some climbing while they got the lighting right, and they she came over and we did some takes. I think she'd ditched the hard hat for these. When we were done the director called out "Okay we are goodbye to Sarah for the day and we are goodbye to the power plant." Many cheers all around.

And that was that. We got in the van to return to the base camp, got our pay vouchers signed, turned in our costumes and props, and we all went home.

Thanks everyone for reading this, I hope you found it entertaining and perhaps even educational. I'll try and do a bit more of the actual Stay-At-Home Dad thing for a while. Not to mention try to get back to my regular posting schedule.