Sunday, August 30, 2009

Conspiracy, Extra Spicy

The Freemasons served me a hamburger today. It did not seem like the sort of thing that contained ancient secrets or fascinating hints of conspiratorial intrigue, though there was a generous amount of Cajun spice poured on top of it.

It was good.

Our Little Town held one of its festivals this afternoon, down on Main Street (really - we actually have a Main Street, right in the heart of the town). We picked up the girls' friend Gracie and hung out for a while, playing the games, touring the fire department's ladder truck (with its 105-foot ladder fully extended, though we admired that from a safe spot on the ground) and stopping, eventually, for lunch.

The Freemasons certainly do not look like the kind of people who populate Dan Brown novels except as extras. Mostly they just looked tired from flipping burgers.  Perhaps that's part their clever ruse, though. You never know.

I have never been a big fan of conspiracy theories.

First of all, such theories assume a level of intelligence and coordination across large groups of people that as a historian I just have not encountered very often. Most people just don't have the foresight and mental agility to come up with a viable plan. Hell, most people don't have the foresight and mental agility to come up for air when drowning. And those that do tend not to be good followers. If there is anything a conspiracy needs it is good followers - people who know their roles and can stick to them without freelancing, bragging or just plain screwing up. Leadership is easy. Intelligent followers - now that's hard.

Second, I've always had the sneaky feeling that if such conspiracies did exist and were actually successfully doing what the tin-foil brigade insists that they are doing, perhaps they deserve it. I mean, it's not easy to pull off a good conspiracy (see point one, above). If anyone can do it, maybe they really are just better than the rest of us after all.

And this does not square with my general sense of humanity either.

When I was in college I was surrounded by people who insisted that I - as a straight white man - was part of a grand conspiracy to oppress them. This always puzzled me, as I was never invited to any meetings, nor did I receive any of the briefings or assignments that one would expect out of such a conspiracy. I certainly didn't feel like I was actively conspiring against my fellow students, some of whom were my friends and most of whom I didn't think about one way or the other.

There is a tremendous apathy barrier that has to be crossed in order to get a good conspiracy going, I think. Why go to all that effort for people you just don't care about? Mark that as another strike against conspiracy theories.

Oh, I was not so blind even then that I was unaware that being a straight white male in modern America didn't hand me a set of advantages over others not similarly described. I can get married. Racism tends to work in my favor in most situations. I get paid more for the same work. But you know, there is a difference between conspiracy on the one hand, and flat out unfairness on the other. Unfairness is easy to spot, often vociferously defended by people who have an interest in maintaining it, and rarely maintained by shadowy, secretive groups. People just beat you about the head and shoulders with it and expect you to sympathize with them while doing so.

Sorry, no.

So I took my Cajun burger and sat down on the curb. It was a bright, sunny day, there were crowds happily milling about, and so far as I can tell the fate of the earth was not being decided anywhere close by.

I'll take that.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

This I Believe

...that there ought to be a licensing requirement and an exam before anyone is allowed to sing Patsy Cline songs in public. This is especially true for "Crazy" and "I Fall to Pieces." If you can't bring a bar to a standstill, stick with "My Way," "Spirit in the Sky," and other lesser tunes.

...that there is no meat entree that cannot be improved by the addition of pickled sliced jalepenos. Hot dogs? Hamburgers? Chili? Steaks? Pork chops? They're all good.

...that the only thing I get out of trying to bring reality to modern conservatives is older, and that I should find a better use for my time.

...that there are many different kinds of salsa, and if you want to try them all you need to find a Mexican grocery where they don't speak English and ask for "salsa" enough times. I've never gotten the same thing twice. Mmmmmm, salsa.

...that having vague guidelines for concrete tasks is no way to go through life, son.

...that I am now so far behind in so many things that I can procrastinate while being fully productive. This is not as rewarding as one might think.

...that people who win the lottery and insist that they or their lives will not change because of all that money should be stripped of their prize and the cash donated to people or institutions more open-eyed.

...that every moron in America has a driver's license and the roads are just packed.

...that local sports announcers ought to be biased and excitable.

...that the year really begins in September. Nothing happens in January that makes anything different from what came before, but the fall is when school starts, the leaves turn, and everything gears up for another run at things. I've tried the January new year routine, and it just doesn't work.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Tabitha got her hair cut yesterday. This is something of a landmark event around here, for a couple of reasons.

First, it hasn't happened for two years. She decided that she wanted to grow her hair long, and - it being her hair and she being the one who had to live underneath of it - we said fine. As long as she took care of it, who are we to argue?

And second, it wasn't a simple matter of wanting her hair longer. Tabitha decided that all that hair would go for a purpose, and she would grow it long enough to donate it to Wigs For Kids when it was cut off. She was the one who came to us with this idea, it should be pointed out, and not the other way around. How could we say no to that?

Wigs For Kids is a non-profit organization that provides wigs to children who lose their hair due to medical circumstances such as chemotherapy, burns and so on. They do not charge families for this, and they are always looking for donations of real hair in order to make the wigs.

The only problem is that the hair has to be at least twelve inches long in order to be donated, and Tabitha's hair doesn't grow that quickly. It's thick, it's lovely, but it is not quick. So for two years she has let it grow and learned the intricacies of taking care of long hair.

But yesterday was the day!

Kim - who was also jonesing for a haircut, it must be said - took Tabitha for her first visit to an actual salon instead of the kid's haircuttery that she had been going to, and they shared some girl time while getting their hair cut.

It came out well.

Tabitha's old hair is now sitting in a plastic bag, waiting to be mailed off. She's happy that the brushing is a lot simpler now, but somewhat bemused by the fact that she got all that insulating material cut off at the end of summer and just in time for fall and winter to come. The timing could have been better, admittedly, but then school starts next week so you might as well go in looking good.

You done good, kiddo.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I have no idea what is going on with Blogger.  It has decided to change all the formatting on new posts, and when I go to change it back it looks perfectly normal.  But nothing changes.

I do not like this, Sam I Am.

Fruits of the Earth

The garden is coming in.

Those of you who do not have gardens in your family probably get visions of delicate baskets full of colorful vegetables when you read that sentence - baskets that could be carried by a small child in one arm and laid tenderly on the table.

Those of you with gardens know better.

Because if you have a garden in your family, you know that "The garden is coming in" is meant to be spoken in roughly the same tone of voice as that used by German soldiers overlooking Normandy beach on D-Day, or by Malaysian vacationers during the last tsunami. Batten down the hatches, folks, and prepare to be overwhelmed - the lucky and the strong survive, and the rest will have zucchini carved on their tombstones.

This year Kim decided to go back to her old plot in the community garden that Our Little Town operates in the green space between the highway and the jail. She did that for a while when Tabitha was a baby, but as Tabby grew older and Lauren came along the logistics became untenable and we were forced into other options. We tried getting a share of a community farm, but found ourselves at the mercy of whatever they put in the box ("What's this?" "I don't know - boil it and see if it complains."). The farmer's market here is nice, but if you like to garden as Kim and the girls do it is not the same.

So gardening it was.
Early season planting

Late season maintenance

And right now we are up to our deleted expletive in squash, zucchini, tomatoes, miniature pumpkins, and peppers. We've eaten the carrots already, and the beets largely disappeared due to a tragic case of mistaken identity. If it weren't for the rabbits we'd be buried.

Of course the star of the show is Herbert.

Herbert is a cabbage, one that started life as a third-grade science project. Tabitha brought him home at the end of the school year and she and Kim plugged him into the corner of the garden, where he flourished.

My, did he flourish.

Kim cut him down a week or two ago when it was clear that either we ate him or the bugs would, and Herbert found himself brought home and put away.

What do you do with a cabbage that is bigger than your head? Or any other individual part of your body? At my age this is quite a statement, really.

Well, I guess you eat it.

Tabitha was okay with this, despite having named her cabbage. That shows True Pioneer Spirit, it does, particularly since Tabby really doesn't like cabbage and thus is not in a position to benefit personally from this sacrifice.

Kim sliced off about one-seventh of Herbert and this has lasted us for two meals. Saturday we had braised cabbage, which Tabitha even ate a little of. "How was Herbert?" we asked her. "Okay," she said.
And then on Sunday we made coleslaw out of a small portion of the slice that didn't get used on Saturday. Having grown accustomed to getting the bags of pre-sliced coleslaw mix, it was quite an adventure for me to slice my own even with a large and dangerous machine doing most of the work. In the final dish there was a small percentage of "mulched cabbage" that made it in there before I figured out that I needed to turn the blade over to the larger chopping size. Live and learn.

There is still 6/7 of Herbert down in the fridge in the basement, and about half a seventh sitting in the kitchen fridge. At this rate, we should be eating cabbage well into Lauren's high school years.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Voyagers North

Some family traditions happen because of what you do, and some happen in spite of what you do.

We went up north last week for a short "Get Outta Dodge" kind of vacation, and it rained. It rained and rained and rained and the animals lined up two by two and the highways grew mold and entire towns mulched up and returned to the mud from whence they came and I thought to myself, "I must be on vacation."

My side of the family has a long history of vacationing in the rain. When I was a kid we used to go down to the Jersey shore every August. We'd stay in Sea Isle City in the south side of a twin house that was owned by Charlie and Judy, who were cousins on my grandmother's side in that interminably convoluted way of Italian families. It was a nice house, only blocks from the beach and surrounded by all sorts of jumping toads that kept me and my brother busy for hours on end. It was also waterproof, which was a good thing since it rained almost every year. Most years it was just for a day or two out of the week and we got good at playing Yahtzee and visiting wineries where they made the sickly sweet wine my grandparents and I loved at holiday time. One year it rained the whole week, and we eventually just went home.

Bayfield is lovely in the rain.

We left Fuzzy and Rachel's house on Wednesday morning and headed north to the wilds of Lake Superior. Along about lunchtime, though, we stopped in Hayward and made a pilgrimage to the first ever Famous Dave's BBQ restaurant, which was an emotional moment let me tell you. The food was more or less the same as at all the other ones (with the exception of deep-fried green beans, something that appears to be indigenous to the northern Wisconsin region) but the decor was original and it was attached to a lodge, which means - follow me here - that you could actually stay at Famous Dave's and eat there every day.


Be still my beating heart.

Stuffed to the gun'ls we continued north, arriving in Bayfield sometime in midafternoon. Bayfield is a tiny little town - some 600 residents if you don't count us tourists - located right on Lake Superior, just across from Madeline Island. We rented a cabin just north of town - that's right, in the suburbs of a town of 600 - and settled in to watch the rain.

The cabin was owned by a young couple named the Predators, who let us rabble stay there when they are off doing other things most of the year. They are probably nice people - and they certainly kept the place well stocked, including far better pots and pans than the ones we have at home - but the little photo album they left just made us want to bonk them over the head with a bag of foam peanuts. For some people, this reaction might be sparked by the McMansion they own in Texas. Others might find all the photos of them doing athletic things in exotic places just a bit off-putting. For me, it was their utter inability to use an apostrophe. Follow me people: "The Predator's Place" signifies ONE Predator, not the both of you. One. And that one should not feel entitled to use the definite article unless knighted, unique, or having a Pro-Bowl season at strong safety.

But you know, it was a lovely cabin and one we did not mind spending a lot of time in.

That evening we took a cruise through downtown Bayfield, umbrellas aloft and spirits high. It's a pretty little town, with lake views from pretty much everywhere and a lot of stores that cater directly to visitors. The biggest hit was the Antique Candy Store, which not only had more salt-water taffy flavors than any store I've ever seen but also had Teaberry gum. I haven't seen Teaberry gum since the Carter administration. But we snatched up some of that gum, and a new generation of fans was created.

That night we settled in for some killer Monopoly, and one of the great lessons of my childhood came back to me then: if you roll fourth in a four-person game of Monopoly, you are pretty much toast. It took two days for it all to shake out, but eventually Lauren bankrupted the lot of us.

The next day we took the ferry over to Madeline Island.

Madeline Island is the largest of the Apostle Islands, and the only one that isn't run by the National Park Service. You get on the ferry and take the 15-minute trip across the water, and you end up in La Pointe, which is even smaller than Bayfield. We slogged off the dock and into the nearby Historical Museum, which had the twin virtues of being both interesting and dry.

There was a break in the rain after lunch, so we wandered down to Joni's Beach and went rock hunting. This is not all that hard to do - the rocks have excellent camouflage skills but score poorly when it comes to evasive action - and we ended up with quite a stack of them. A few, however, were returned to the lake as skipping stones. I taught both girls how to do this, and they each managed to skip a few rocks. Life was good.

And then we met Kayak Ed.

Kayak Ed was a sprightly old soul who ran the kayak rental place across from the beach. Since late August is effectively autumn that far north, his season was largely over and he was planning to do some kayaking on his own. But when Tabitha and Lauren went over to talk to him, he offered them the use of the Croco-Kayaks. Kim - much more of a water-based soul than I am - was happy to take him up on this, and Ed and I retrieved the Croco-Kayaks, paddles and life jackets.

It was the high point of the trip as far as the girls were concerned.

The Croco-Kayaks are exceptionally stable things that you sit on top of, rather than inside of, so they require no extensive training to use. And within moments, off the girls went, paddling about the bay and having a grand old time.

He wouldn't even accept payment. "I do this all the time with the kids," he said. "They'll be back for more next year."

A savvy businessman, that Kayak Ed.

After about an hour the girls tuckered out and we put one kayak away and gave the second one to the other kid on the beach. And it was at this point that certain difficulties that we had figured out in a theoretical way while watching them paddle made themselves manifest in more concrete and practical ways. Namely that we did not have any spare clothing for our intrepid sailors, and they were both soaking wet from the waist down.

So we improvised with sweaters and jackets.

The next morning we packed up and headed off to the White Winter Winery as part of the traditional "rainy vacation activity package." The thing about the White Winter Winery is that it does not in fact make wine. It makes mead, which is based on honey rather than grapes.

They were nice enough to give us a tour of the place despite being in the middle of moving most of the equipment from here to there, and we tasted a great number of their fine products. Be sure to check out the White Winter Winery for all your mead needs, as they make some good stuff.

We spent one more night back at Fuzzy and Rachel's, hanging out and enjoying ourselves with good friends before heading home.

It's always good to get home, even if all those work piles you went away to avoid are still lurking when you get back. The cats met us at the door and started gnawing on our fingertips, since I had forgotten to explain the trick to the front door lock to the person we asked to come in and feed them. Fortunately they had enough food lying around that a) they were fine, b) the hamsters remained uneaten, and c) I had enough time to throw down some kitty chow and get out of the way without myself being snacked upon.

They seem to have forgiven us.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Away Up North

Kim's magnets are all aligned now.

I have this theory that home is where your magnets line up.  The brain is an electrochemical organ.  The earth has a strong magnetic field.  You get used to being in a certain place and your brain tells you it's home.  It doesn't have to be where you were born, or even where you grew up.  Just where home is.

Home for me is a stretch of land that runs roughly from Bryn Mawr, in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, through the rest of Lower Merion, where I actually spent most of my childhood, to Penn's Landing on the Delaware River coast of Philadelphia.  That's where my magnets line up.

For Kim, it's northern Wisconsin, specifically up near the western parts of Hwy 8.  The angle of the light, the shades of the grass, the types of the trees and the magnets all line up there.

Or, rather, here.

We're "up nort' " as they say.  Tonight we stay with our friends Fuzzy and Rachel et al.  We drove up this afternoon, and spent a very pleasant evening just hanging out.  That's what vacations are for.

They live rather out in the country, which is fine by Kim but is just a bit unnerving to this city boy.  The first time Kim brought me here they left me at home while everyone else went out to do their thing.  I spent the morning on the porch, reading and not seeing another house no matter which direction I looked.  I was completely surrounded by Nature.  Kim called around lunchtime.   "Why don't you go for a walk?" she asked me.  "Where would I go?" I replied.

She married me anyway.

Tomorrow we head up to Bayfield, where Tabitha will get to check off another of her Life List items - to see Lake Superior.  We'll spend a couple of days there doing whatever it is one does in a Natural Paradise - mostly relax after a far too busy summer.

And when we get back to Our Little Town, with any luck Kim's magnets will hold on to their happy alignment for a while.  Sometimes home is a surprisingly portable concept, even so.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Alone Again, Naturally

For the second straight weekend, I am alone in the house. I am beginning to wonder if this is a hint.

Having just returned from Girl Scout Camp on Sunday, Tabitha turned right around and went back there on Thursday. Well, she had help - Lauren and I accompanied her on the long drive out there, with me in the driver's seat (those pesky licensing laws and all that). This time it was Horseback Riding Camp, and Tabitha was very excited about the whole thing. We arrived on time and even as I was getting the paperwork all set up - mostly a matter of turning in the blizzard of Releases From Liability that ensure that everything up to and including cannibal camp counselors is all my fault and shall not be litigated under any circumstances - Tabby zipped off to join the other girls.

She has reached that age. "Bye, Dad!" and off she goes. I did manage to track her down before I left for a hug, but this is just the foretaste of what's coming up.

The camp turned out to be rather short of camp counselors - those pesky cannibals, not managing their resources properly - so Kim volunteered to go up after work on Friday. I'm hoping she makes it back without acquiring any new tastes in food. You would think that a Girl Scout camp would be well-supplied with other things - cookies, say - but you never know.

Lauren, faced with the prospect of an evening home alone with Dad, quickly demanded a sleepover at her friend Gracie's house. So this was arranged - and such a buzzed little girl you have never seen - and we went over there last night. Gracie acquired a pool this summer, and she and Lauren spent a happy evening splashing about together, along with Gracie's neighbor Isabelle, while the grown-ups ate chips and salsa, drank adult beverages and talked.

Everyone should be back in their usual slots sometime this afternoon, just in time to begin racing around again for the next round of activities. It's summer, and you have to wring every ounce of fun out of it before life begins in earnest with the school year.

Some fun is best left unexplained.

Windows Into My World

The window project is finished!

Adam and I stopped working on replacing the windows last fall when the snow fell, right around Thanksgiving. We had actually made some good progress by that point - fourteen double-hung windows plus one small casement in the basement (which sounds like a euphemism for something BUT IT IS NOT. I do not even want to know what it might be a euphemism for, as there are no answers to that question that make me feel any better than not knowing). All we had left to do was the picture window in the living room. But the snow didn't go away after that, not for some time, and the idea of working outside while there was a large gaping hole in my nice heated house seemed suboptimal, particularly as the temperatures approached the point where Fahrenheit and Centigrade merge and the thermometer stops showing numbers and just has elegant pictograms of morose looking brass monkeys.

And then it was spring and neither of us had any time to worry about replacing a window that was, in point of fact, doing a pretty good job of what it was designed to do, namely letting in light while keeping the outside air outside and the inside air inside.

Summer similarly slid by.

But all good things must come to an end, even procrastination, so this morning at 8:30 sharp Adam came over with his tools and we got to work. And you have no idea how good it was that he was there, since even with his professional, union-certified help it still took the two of us nearly seven hours to put this thing in.

For one thing, there was much reconstruction work to do on the sills and frames, which had rotted away underneath their nice aluminum blankets, a festering sore hidden beneath a glittering surface like some bad movie's twist ending. Boy, who saw that coming? Not me.

For another thing, the window company continued its tradition of providing windows the exact same size as the opening, which meant that there was almost no way to wedge the thing in there.


But when one member of the team has a truck fully stocked with implements of destruction and the other member is the property owner and thus in a position to authorize the use of said implements, well, there isn't really anything that is completely impossible.

Inadvisable, perhaps. But impossible? Not really.

The window is now resting comfortably, unbroken, in its opening. It is caulked, sealed, stopped and sheathed, and there is no further work to be done not now not ever. Ever.

And the only casualty is a perfect square of burnt grass where we laid the old window in the sun before moving it into the truck for disposal. I'm thinking of putting up a sign and charging admission to see it. Either that or spreading rumors that the aliens have given up crop circles for lawn squares.

I figure I'll make money either way.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Monopoly On Education

I did my bit to help out the economy today.

Not on my own behalf, mind you - there were no shiny things made out of pure shiny with a shiny coating and some awesome on the side, nor were there piles of books to be lugged home and stacked up and worked through one at a time until my eyes glazed over and I fell into a deep and self-satisfied coma. That sort of thing only happens in my dreams, and frankly not often even there. I need better dreams.

No, the girls and I went store-hopping looking for school supplies.

Yes, I said it: school supplies. Because Not Bad President Elementary opens its doors in earnest on September 1 this year, and this is only three short weeks away. Because we have had two lists of things to send our children back to NBPE with stuck onto the refrigerator since May and I got tired of seeing the fridge list at such an angle. Because even in Wisconsin, a state known throughout the Union for the quality of its public schools, there is still a large group of people in government and out who think all that edumacashun stuff is just for left-leaning wine-drinking non-faith-based elitists and by gum if they approved enough money for the schools it would only encourage them to keep going and get some learnin' in 'em and start thinking for themselves and questioning things and we just can't have that now can we?


I don't remember having to do this when I was a kid. Of course, I don't remember a lot of things that happened when I was a kid so that might not mean much.

So we bought pencils and erasers, Markers, notebooks, paper, glue and rulers. Kleenex. Wet wipes. Backpacks. And more than a few other items.

No guns, though. The state legislator who spent most of his career trying to arm the teachers finally got voted out last year, and we saw no need to have the girls pack heat in self-defense after that.

Honestly, the depths of stupidity some people will vote for.

With all this behind us, I figured we needed some entertainment. So we wandered over to the entertainment section of our local ColossalMart and purchased a Monopoly game.

I know. It came as something of a shock to me that we didn't already have one of those, but there it is.

When I was a kid, the neighborhood gang - me, Nick, Kate, and occasionally Keith, Kirsten or Matt - would gather together for Monopoly games that would last for days. I think it was Nick's set, but we'd set up all over the neighborhood and play until we got called home for dinner, and then pick up the next day, and sometimes the next. Nick, being the oldest, usually won (come to think of it, he was also the banker; hmmmmmm....) but we had a great time anyway. Greed, competition, bankruptcy - what's not to love?

So we came home and set up a game.

Do you know they still make the tokens out of metal? So. Freaking. Cool.

Tabitha took the dog piece. Lauren got the ship. I was the thimble. And around the board we went. The girls actually have quite a knack for this game, which sort of scares me in a way though I imagine it will come in handy when they are paying for my retirement home. By the time we put the game away it was not at all clear who would win - my previously strong position having eroded considerably, while Lauren was holding steady and Tabitha had rebounded from near bankruptcy to full plutocratic power.

Saved by the dinner bell from the economic clout of my own children.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hot Times in the Old Town Tonight

So this is what debauchery looks like in Our Little Town: Aimless web-surfing. Vacuuming. Taking large amounts of leftover-garage-sale material over to Goodwill. Taking half of it back to the landfill. Finding that the landfill closed twelve minutes (twelve!) earlier. Stacking it back up in the garage. Calling various friends - sometimes leaving messages and sometimes not, because really what do I have to say? Staring idly at the cats. Reading.

Well, actually I shouldn't say that this is all the debauchery one gets here. I was never very good at it, even when I was young and single. There are probably numerous ways to get into all sorts of delicious, delicious trouble around here. It's just that I couldn't find them with both hands and a road map.

Apparently I'm fun-impaired.

Kim and the girls took off on Friday for a weekend of camping with the Girl Scouts. The Girl Scouts are understandably wary of having adult men hanging around with all those sleeping young girls - we'd probably start in harping about zone defenses or Tom Clancy novels, and what good would that do? - so I stayed home. The bachelor life for me!

On the one hand, not being one with nature is not a mortal blow to my psyche.

On the other hand, the girls love it and so does Kim, and I am undeniably missing out on that. Oh well. When they come home we can do something fun that I like to do, such as ... well ... such as ... huh.

Fun-impaired it is.

Naturally, last night southern Wisconsin was hit by monstrous thunderstorms, complete with wind, lightning and the occasional farmhouse spinning merrily by, escorted by a green woman on a broom. Kim called this morning to say that they had made it through just fine, though without much sleep, and that they were headed out to a museum. Since this weekend is also the weekend when Wisconsin finally remembered that it is Summer, not April, and therefore ought to be Hot, Sticky and Uncomfortable, this was probably a good idea.

At least the rain cleared off.

As for me, well, the grocery store awaits. I know, I know - I am such the wild man.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Requiem for a Goldfish

Mella seems to have vanished.

Tabitha's goldfish was actually doing pretty well for a while, at least as far as we could tell. You never really know with goldfish. When they're happy, the swim and goggle at you. And when something is wrong, well, they swim and goggle at you. It's a simple life, and I'm sure if they could vote they'd be conservatives.

She was still circling around in the big vase that Kim stuffed her into when we got home from the fireworks on the Fourth of July, though we'd moved her up into the girls' room. We bought a tribal-sized tube of Goldfish Chow - the smallest on offer at our local supermarket, which apparently caters to people obsessed with and surrounded by hordes of shiny yellow miniature carp - and the girls had established a comfortable routine in which Mella did not miss out on too many meals. She even got fresh water now and then, thanks to Kim.

The deal Kim made with the girls was that if Mella lasted one month, we'd get her a real tank of her own.

Thus it is with some irony that Mella turned up missing on August 3rd. I feel like Catbert the Evil Human Resources Director, firing people just before their pensions get vested. I don't plan that far ahead, though, so I'm fairly sure I had nothing to do with it. One night she was doing fine, swimming away and goggling like a champ. The next morning - nothing. Our own Judge Crater, leaving behind an empty vase and a basket of unanswered questions.

It must be said that Mella is missing and only presumed dead. There has been no recovery of any body. Not that I expect to feel a soft but insistent tapping on my big toe some morning, accompanied by a pantomimed demand for something to swim in. We're fairly sure that she didn't walk away, though what did happen to her is something of a mystery.

Maybe she had gambling debts. You know how those work out.

Right now the leading theory is that she got a bit too close to the surface while under close observation by one or the other cat, since both of the cats had taken to staring at the vase and Mithra had even managed to jump up on top of the dresser a couple of times. If this is true, you have to hand it to the cat - she managed to fish out the meal without shattering the vase on the floor, four feet below. Cats can be clever about food, at least.

So it's been a tough week, what with Ed and all.

A Visit to Wisconsin

My parents made it safely back home today, with no interesting stories to tell about their drive. This is good. Travel is not one of those things you want to be interesting until you arrive.

It was good to have them out here in Baja Canada. We ran them pretty hard, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

The day after the County Fair we headed up to Devil's Lake, which is a place of Great Natural Beauty to the point where even I am not completely oblivious to the fact. It is a big, heaping baseball bat o' beauty upside the head is what it is. It's where the glaciers stopped, and when they melted they simply dropped all the boulders straight down. So the whole thing ended up being a deep lake surrounded by hills made of house-sized rocks. It's really quite lovely. Plus the girls got to splash about for some time, and that is all to the good.

We spent the first part of Sunday at the Dancing Horses show.

If you've never seen the Dancing Horses, they're kind of hard to explain. They are at one of those odd touristy sort of zoo-like farms, the kind that have everything from camels to baby goats. You can see the bird show, or adopt a kitten, or ride around in the big wagon, but the main attraction is the horses.

These are some well-trained horses, let me tell you. Not that I would know, really - my knowledge of horses is limited to observations like, "My, but that's one big animal," which makes me about as much an expert on horses as I am on Namibian poetry - but they certainly did some impressive things.

You go inside to the arena - a small earthen circle surrounded by a couple of rows of seats - and for about an hour a squadron of light cavalry led by women in costumes runs routines for you, complete with all kinds of music and lights. Some of these routines apparently take years of training to get across to the horses - they're kind of like college students that way. Kim and the girls had seen this before, earlier this summer, when the Girl Scouts organized an expedition. It says something that Tabitha and Lauren were just vibrating waiting to see them again. After the show you can go up and pet the horses, if that's your sort of thing.

So if you ever come to southern Wisconsin, be sure to go see the Dancing Horses. Not saying. Just saying.

That afternoon Kim's parents came down and the girls had ALL FOUR GRANDPARENTS in one place! At one time! Can there be anything more exciting for a child? I think not. There was good food, good company, and a good time had by all. I hope that Tabitha and Lauren do as well in the in-law department as Kim and I did.

Next time, though, we're moving the big umbrella further away from the back steps, as the distance between the top of the railing and the bottom of the umbrella is just a bit too close, really.

On their last night here we went down to the local minor league baseball team, a place we are visiting more often these days. And what's not to like? The stadium seats about twelve people, so you can get right up close to the action. There are contests in between innings, often involving small children trying to navigate large objects around obstacles. The food is good and you can eat pretty well without taking out a second mortgage. And somewhere in there they play baseball. Granted, not quite Major League caliber baseball - somebody really out to enlighten our team as to the concept of a "cutoff man" - but baseball nonetheless.

It turned out to be a good game, too.

Our Local Heroes jumped out to an early lead only to lose it an inning or two later. But they hung on, and in the bottom of the eighth they got it back and won. Not bad for a team sitting in last place in their league, with a winning percentage some 200 points beneath the team they just beat. We've seen these guys win twice this season, which is twice more than we saw all of last year and a significant fraction of this year's total. Apparently our luck has turned. I ought to be playing the lottery more, I suppose.

One of the neat things about minor league games is that they are colorful. We've been sitting out by third base these last few games, and thus we have struck up an acquaintance with Kaptain K, whose main purpose in life seems to be to keep track of the strike-outs tossed by the home team's pitchers and commemorate them with laminated sheets of paper with giant K's printed on them that he velcroes onto the railing after each strike-out. It matters if the K is backwards, apparently - that means a called third strike, as opposed to a swinging third strike. Or perhaps that is the other way around. My head for baseball statistics pretty much peters out after you get past batting averages and won/loss records, and even batting averages can get pretty slippery once you get down to the details of what counts and what doesn't. I've been following baseball off and on since the mid-1970s, and even now I have no idea what a "slugging percentage" is other than that one is better off with more of it than less.

Kaptain K is a generous sort, and he let Tabitha slap up the final K to end the game. She even got to keep the K.

A good night.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Farewell to Ed

Ed bit the dust this week.

Kim and I got married over a Thanksgiving weekend and even now I still regard the Saturday after Thanksgiving as our anniversary, regardless of the actual date. It's a whole lot easier that way, and we're always off the day before so it works out pretty well if we want to go away. We had a pile of events planned for that weekend in addition to the wedding itself. The last of them was a Sunday brunch for everyone to gather one last time at our apartment and eat bagels.

Mmmmm. Bagels.

One of the cars making the trek from the hotel to our apartment that morning had my Uncle Ed and Aunt Rita in it, along with my brother and future sister-in-law. I have heard several different versions of this story over the years, but this is the one I remember.

Somewhere along the way they drove by a stuffed tiger, sitting out on the curb for the trashmen to come by the next day and haul it away. And by "stuffed tiger" I mean "mountain of artificial fur filled with the entire styrofoam output of New Jersey." Uncle Ed immediately pulled over to the side of the road and looked expectantly at my brother. "I can't get out," he said. "I'm driving." Keith thought about that for a moment - in describing this moment later his exact words to me were, "Well I'm not flying home with Rita" - and bailed out of the car. He grabbed the tiger and managed to stuff most of it into the trunk where it stayed long enough to reach our apartment. When they arrived, they dragged the tiger upstairs and presented it as if it were a prize-winning artwork.

Naturally, we had to name it Ed.

Newlyweds under the watchful eye of Ed.

That night, after most people had left for their various destinations, we gathered together all who had yet to leave at the nearby Appleby's for dinner, where I finally got to hear most of the story. Uncle Ed seemed very pleased at the way it turned out. Aunt Rita - an elegant woman - sat quietly listening to the story get told over and over. Eventually, when Kim made some comment about not knowing quite what we were going to do with this thing, Rita only shook her head and said, "Just put it out by the curb and wait for some other moron to come by and pick it up."

They've been married fifty years, now.

Ed eventually became one of the family. Kim patched him back up and we let him have the north side of our apartment. We'd decorate him for holidays. We'd pose him for pictures, one of which became our Christmas card one year. We'd use him as furniture. We brought him with us when we moved into our house. And when the girls came along, we let them play with him. Ed spent most of the last decade as a sliding board, actually.

But the ravages of time spare nobody, not even stuffed tigers. Battered, torn and largely ignored, he was consigned to the garage last month for disposal.

And then Kim needed a vast amount of styrofoam beads for a project down at Home Campus, and she knew just where to get them. It was a quick surgery, and now Ed is known as "Flat Tire" around here.

It's been a good ride, Ed.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Day at the Fair

The County Fair was in town! And so were my parents! What else could we do but introduce them to each other?

My parents made the long drive out from Philadelphia last week, and it was good to see them. The girls are getting bigger every day and there is just never enough grandparent time, really. Kim's parents are not all that far away by midwestern standards, so that is good, but my parents only get to see Tabitha and Lauren once or twice a year.

I've always found that a bit odd, really. When I was Tabitha's age I had three grandparents still living. Two were all of five miles away, and the other lived with us. They were a part of our everyday lives. But we're scattered to the winds now, and we do the best we can. We drive east, we drive north, and the respective grandparents make the opposite treks, and we keep the family humming.

Thursday was actually a pretty rainy day here in Our Little Town. It looked as if it were clearing a bit at lunchtime, though, so we packed up and trooped over to the fairgrounds in the hope that things would be dry.

That would be a no.

It was a light rain, though - more of a heavy drizzle than anything else - and the fair kept going despite it. You could check out the vendors and exhibitors in the rain. You could listen to the music in the rain - there was a disturbingly good Johnny Cash imitator on stage when we came in. You could check out the animal barns in the rain. You could also go on the rides in the rain, and since it was Wristband Day, when one fee gets you all the rides you can handle, the girls did just that.

They went on the Yo-Yo, which was the one with the swings that spin you around at treetop height. They went on the Tilt-a-Whirl. They went on the carousel, the giant slide, and the ferris wheel. They went on the bumper cars. There was not a ride left unridden, let me tell you.

And eventually the rain stopped.

Toward nightfall us old folks got tired, but Kim volunteered to stay at the fair with the girls as they wrung every last bit of value out of those wristbands, leaving them mere dried-up husks of paper that fell off like year-old leis at the end of the night.

Fairs are really for the young, and Tabitha and Lauren are getting old enough to be young now.

It was a good time.