Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas Memory


My favorite Christmas photo, Tori on the beach at Vincent T. Mason Coral Reef Park, just south of Frederiksted on St. Croix. This was taken on Christmas Even, 2008. It explains why, despite the problems that have beset the island and the idiosyncrasies of island living, we miss the V.I. and why we DON'T miss snow. At all.

Merry Christmas to All!

From the Baurs of the Big Easy

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

We're Sending a Little One Out in the World for Christmas


Tori volunteers for a spay and neuter center in town, and about six weeks ago she brought home Jane, a kitten we were going to foster. Everyone thought, "Oho! You're in for it now John. You've got a cat."

No, no I don't. This is better.

Jane Austen
Tori named her Jane Austen, although you know about cat names. No matter what we think a cat's name is, we're wrong. She was about 8 ounces of fluff and orange dryer lint. She'd been found on a path in a swamp, so she was kind of scruffy, but a cute little thing.

Over the next three weeks we fed her and fattened her up, took her in for her shots and neutering, played with her, medicated her eye infection, shared the computer with her (she loved to jump up on the keyboard and "help" me write,) cleared up her ear mites, and took her back so that someone could adopt her.

That same day Tori came home with another kitten, Lucy. Hard to describe her – not quite black fur, because she has this sort of peachy/orange undercoat, and a peach streak that runs down the right side of her nose which gives it an odd effect. I'd have named her Schnoz, or Durante, if anyone had asked me, which they didn't.

We were told she needed some discipline, she was unruly, attacked and bit and was unsociable. Goodie. She had been found as a kitten on a boat, and was not at all happy with the change in accommodations.

When she came in, she was naturally skittish, and a little bitey, as kittens will be. But within a few hours she was out and exploring.

Lucy
She turns out to be the sweetest kitten I've ever seen. I'm not a cat-fan, so I may not be the best judge, but she's pretty sweet. Except when she's doing the manic-kitten-running-around-the-house routine, which she does for about half an hour in the morning and again in the afternoon, all she wants is for you to hold her while she purrs. If you sit on the couch or recliner, she'll end up on your lap – well no, not your lap. She starts there, then works her way up until she has her head wedged under your jaw – and just purrs for the next hour or so.

So last week Jane got adopted, but the family doesn't want to pick her up until Christmas Eve. The spay center needs the space, and she's awfully cute so people kept asking if they could adopt her. The center asked Tori is she could come back here.

I took Lucy down and swapped her out for Jane. Lucy was not happy, growling as I put her in her cage – which was clean and full of food and kitty litter. I brought Jane home and she acted as if she'd never left.

The next day the center called and said Lucy was having trouble, she flat out hated everything about being there, hissed and howled and wouldn't let anyone touch her. So she came back here.

At first she and Jane hated each other. There was much howling and growling and stalking and hiding, staking out territory. That lasted about three hours. Now they get along fine, chase each other playfully, share the various toys and food bowls. Their favorite thing to do is wait until Tori sits on the recliner, then both jump into her lap and spend the next hour sleeping on her. They've done it to me too, but Tori's their favorite.

But now it's Christmas Eve. Time for Jane to go to her new home. It's a family with two little girls who will love her, and name her Mittens or Muffin or Whiskers or something, and have tea parties with her and all that stuff. She'll be a happy cat.

Lucy is more problematic. We've put her up on the spay center's Facebook page, because she just can't abide the center. Hopefully we'll be able to get her adopted that way. All she needs is a place where she's comfortable and she'll be the sweetest cat you'd ever want. So we live in hope.

We like the idea of fostering kittens for a few weeks, helping them get acclimated and find a home. That way we get all the fun of a kitten without having the long-term commitment of a "cat" and all that entails.

We'll see how it goes.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Just a Quick Question

Oh pressure cooker! Where have you been all my adult life?

I've also acquired a Crock Pot. (An actual Rival Crock Pot, not just a slow cooker.) I know I've had them before, but I can't remember ever cooking in one. What a handy gadget.

But the pressure cooker – Ye gods!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Catching Up for the Holidays


Catching up. I had a cold all week, which just messed me up.

Been thinking about old friends and good times, and a lot of epic Thanksgivings from years past. During the '90s and into the new century we always took part in what we called "the theater orphans' Thanksgiving." Our friends in Oregon were almost all theater folk, and we'd get 16, 18, 24 people over for the day. Everyone would bring the one thing without which it wouldn't be Thanksgiving. We'd do a turkey, and usually there'd be another one, plus someone often brought ham. Mashed potatoes and yams and bread and Pat always brought "the pink stuff," this frozen cranberry horseradish dish. It was always a good time.

And there were pies. Many, many pies. Tori turned the day before Thanksgiving into Pie Day. One year she made 18. She never made less than a dozen. Pumpkin and apple and cherry and a couple of pecans and even mince meat. Her mother, Janet, loved mince meat pie. I never saw anyone else eat that one.

Alex was always an integral part of Pie Day. It would have been hard not to think of her a lot that Wednesday, even if it weren't her birthday.

We still do Pie Day, but this year only four pies – and they were great as always. Our young friend Alan, who was Millie's friend on the island and now lives in San Antonio, came to visit for the day and it was great to see him. Dinner was the usual delight, and the pies were plentiful. I ate too much, as always.

That Saturday we went to the Louisiana Renaissance Festival. It's probably been 40 years since I've been to a Ren Fair. A lot of fun. The kids had a great time. Within an hour of arriving, Kate, who doesn't like going out much, was already talking about how next year she'd have to dress up. I could have gone in pirate garb, but this time I was just there as "Dad," and dressed appropriately.

We saw a comic swordfight team, TheDuelists, and they were very good. The sword stuff, sure, that was fun. But the patter, the stage presence, and timing – brilliant. I enjoy watching pros, and that's what these guys are. They travel from Ren fair to Ren fair,and they know what works, know how to play a crowd. I learned from watching them. We could do an act much better than the Pirate Guy schtick. Just takes practice and being willing to try new stuff.

There was jousting, I suppose that's a standard at these. It was a LOT of fun to watch. We ran into the Whiskey Bay Rovers, old friends from when we went to Mardi Gras with the Krewe of Pirates. They didn't recognize me in my dad costume, but smiled with recognition when I introduced myself. You can hear them here doing "Leaving of Liverpool."

Alan, who is both a computer nerd and a geek, was very helpful Sunday as we searched for Max's Christmas gift. No more on that, since there's the slightest chance Max might actually read this.

And then I took Alan to the airport, we started our regular routine again – just three weeks 'til school is out for the holidays, and I got sick. Not bad sick, just a cold that refused to go away. For most of the week if I wasn't actually writing or editing for the Source, I was asleep or wishing I was asleep. Today is the first day I feel really almost like myself again.

Tori and Max are sure eager for a couple of weeks off from school. And I have some plans for the new year, and I'm eager to get going on a couple of new projects.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pie Day, Politics and a Lesson


Pie Day: For years at the Baur House, the day before Thanksgiving has been Pie Day. About 20 years ago we and our friends at Albany Civic Theater in Oregon held the theater orphan Thanksgiving party. We actually hosted it about five years in a row.

We made two turkeys and an ocean of mashed potatoes, and everyone brought whatever it was that it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it. You'd be surprised at what some people thought was necessary.

We had as many as 30 people show up. It was an amazing time.

And the day before Thanksgiving, Tori made pies. Lots of 'em. One year she made 18 pies. Pumpkin. Apple. Pecan (several of those three.) Chocolate. Cherry (my favorite) mince pie (her mother's favorite.) Lots and lots of pie.

A lot of it got eaten that day. A lot more got eaten in the next few days. There may be better breakfasts than leftover cherry or apple pie, but not many.

We still make the pies every year, but not nearly so many of course. Tonight on the counter there are pumpkin, apple, and cherry pies, with the pecan yet to be made. Of course, there's not 30 people coming over. There's the four of us, plus our friend Alan, and maybe Cam and his girlfriend. We haven't heard back from them yet.

So even with the reduced numbers, there's plenty of pie to go around. There's also cupcakes for tonight, because we still celebrate Alex's birthday.

Thanksgiving. It's all about friends and family. And pie. Lots of pie.

–––

I was canvassing for the senate runoff last weekend. They don't just send you out knocking doors. They give you a list of names and addresses in a given neighborhood, the names of people likely to vote for your candidate. The idea is to get out your vote and hope the other side stays home.

I approached a house where a small boy and his father were bouncing a basketball back and forth in the driveway. The man had short hair and a scowl. His neck was actually red. He saw me approach and asked who I was.

"I'm John, I'm a volunteer with the Louisiana Democratic Party and ..."

"We're all Republicans here. You keep on walkin'," he said. Really, it was as menacing as it sounds.

I glanced at my list, which showed a woman lived there, who was listed as the same age as this redneck appeared to be, and she was clearly listed as a Democrat. She had apparently registered Democrat and not let her husband know she had done so. I considered raising the issue, just to show I had the right house, then thought better of it. Her voter registration was her business, and I saw no point in spilling the beans and creating what I was sure would be an ugly squabble.

"OK," I said, "have a nice day."

"We never vote for no Democrats," he added, possibly for his son's sake, as I walked on.

–––

Lesson Learned: Never buy your coffee beans at a clothing store. You wouldn't think that would be necessary to mention, but every now and then ...


Friday, November 21, 2014

Creepy Service at Rooms to Go


I haven't worked in retail in almost 40 years, but if I remember anything, it's that the customer is always right. In other words, take care of the customer, make them feel welcome, make them want to spend

Or at the very least, "Don't creep the customer out."

We are looking for a new sofa. We thought we found just about the right one at the first place we looked, but you hate buying the first thing you see, right? So we tried another store, a nationally advertised chain – Rooms to Go.

Well, they have rooms, and they made me want to go.

It started when we walked into the door and took maybe three steps and a young woman leaped out from behind a cabinet. As she started talking to us, telling us her name and how she'd help and wondering what we were looking for, I looked over her shoulder. There was a whole line of sales people – at least four – lined up behind that cabinet, each waiting his or her turn to pounce on the next potential customer.

It looked a little like the ambush scene in "The Lone Ranger" (not the 2013 version that was roundly panned, but the 1981 version, which was also roundly panned) where the Texas rangers ride into the canyon ringed by Butch Cavendich's gunmen. And the effect was about the same, since it pretty much killed our desire to shop there.

Anyway, we told her we were just looking but if we had any questions ... And she repeated her name and told us she'd be happy to help.

Here's where it gets creepy. She stalked us. She was never too close, but always right there. We strolled through the story, sitting on virtually every sofa in the place, and I'll give them this, they have a lot of sofas. But every time I looked up, there she was, maybe 15 to 20 feet away, pretending not to know we were there, busy with the little pile of advertising flyers in her hand, never actually staring at us, but obviously waiting for us to decide we needed her help.

Obviously Rooms to Go pays its sales staff on commission.

Anyway, we worked our way through the store, sofa by sofa, with our silent companion tagging along.

I turned to Tori and asked, "What happens if we try to leave without buying anything? Will she jump us if we head for the door? Will I have to gnaw my arm off like a coyote?"

A couple of minutes later Tori looked over my shoulder and saw the woman about 20 feet away,talking with an older guy with some kind of ID tag around his neck, probably her sales manager wondering why she hadn't sold us a sofa yet.

"Quick!" Tori said. "She's distracted." We took a sharp left past the dining room sets and made it to the far corner of the showroom. We'd lost her! We carefully circled around, keeping an eye out, until we made it to the exit. There was still a ravening pack of salesmen there, but they were on the lookout for people coming in, not fleeing, and they didn't pay attention as we slipped out the door.

Back at the car, we looked back at the entrance. A family was walking up the steps, and a salesman, not content to let them come to him, had actually come out on the porch to waylay them.

What was next? Would they set up a roadblock on the street outside? Anything seemed possible.

We will be going back to the first store this weekend and getting a couch. It had a good selection of furniture, and better prices.

AND NOBODY FOLLOWED US AROUND.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Well, That was a Lot of Fun


Got a phone call two nights ago from one of those right-wing groups spending a gazillion dollars in Louisiana to win the Senate runoff election.

The woman at the other end asked if I had time to answer a three-question survey. "Sure!" I said, licking my chops.

The first question was something along the lines of "Do you think Mary Landrieu is part of the problem in Washington, or is she helping to keep government spending within its limits?" Implying of course that the problem is government spending. So I said I couldn't answer that.

"So should I put you down as 'no opinion?"

"No," I said. I have an opinion. But this question isn't fair, it presupposes the problem and assumes one of these two answers are the only possible answer. No way I can answer that."

She took a moment and started to ask the second question, which was about the Affordable Care Act. Now, conservatives hate the ACA, which they call Obamacare and say in the same tone that they'd say Ebola. If you ask them why they hate it, they have trouble answering. They just know they hate it, because they've been told it's the worst thing to ever happen to this country.

So I stopped her halfway through the question and said, "Did you know that because of the Affordable Care Act, more than 100,000 Louisianans have health insurance now who didn't a year ago? Is that a bad thing? More than 100,000. And I'm one of them. It's the first time I've had health insurance in 10 years. Thank you, President Obama, and if Mary Landrieu helped make that happen, thanks to her, too."

She paused, then said, "I don't."

I asked if she had gone to the ACA website and tried to see if she could get it. She said again, "I can't afford it," then said she isn't covered because she only works 28 hours a week. When the act took effect, her hours were reduced from so that her employer wouldn't have to provide health insurance.

"So you don't have insurance because of your employer," I pointed out.

"I can't afford it," she repeated.

"Because of your employer. But if you went to the website ..."

"I can't afford it."

The last question was who I would support in the runoff, as if it wasn't already obvious. Would I support Mary Landrieu?

"Oh hell yes I'll vote for Mary!" I said. I think she was surprised. If the script had gone as written, I'd have been backed into a corner and have to say I'd support the stuttering idiot running against her. (And don't be mistaken. If the polls are correct, that stuttering idiot is about to become a U.S. senator. I know that.)

But the script hadn't gone as planned, because I know more than they want me to. The right wing money machine relies on people believing what they're told to believe and not actually knowing facts and stuff.

So that was fun.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Visitor Lends a Hand – But Isn't Very Helpful


I knew this would happen. It was almost inevitable. No. Strike the "almost." It was inevitable.

Max takes guitar lessons at the Guitar Center. Tori takes him most weeks, because I usually work the copy editing shift Wednesday night.

While she waits for him, she volunteer at the nearby pet adoption center, spending an hour cleaning cat boxes and playing with the kittens. (I just heard the "click" where you put two and two together and came up with "kitten.")

Tori and Max came home Saturday with a tiny kitten, maybe six ounces of orange fluff and dryer lint.

"She's not staying," Tori said solemnly. "We're fostering her. She's sick and can't be with the other kittens. It was either bring her home, or the four healthy ones." Although Tori immediately named her, Jane Austen, so we'll see how long "temporary" is.

She had an eye infection. (Jane Austen, not Tori, although Tori coincidentally does have an ear infection, completely unrelated but there you go.) The center gave Tori an antibiotic to give the cat and it's working. Tori says we have to get Jane Austen's weight up to two pounds before she can be adopted. Just guessing, I'd say she's five, maybe six weeks old at most.

Apparently she was found alone on a path in the swamp. Either mom was feral and had a litter in the outdoors, and this one got separated, or someone just dumped her.

Saturday, her first day with us, she was kind of terrified. Spent most of the day and all night under the reclining chair. (Which was a bummer, since we were afraid to sit on it. It rocks, and we didn't want to squish her.)

By Sunday she was feeling more comfortable and roaming around the house. She has now taken to sleeping in the middle of the couch. In fact, she already sort of owns the couch. She's nine inches long at most and manages to take up the entire thing. She's got the run of the place now.

During the weekdays, I'm the only one up and about during the school/work hours, so she focuses all her attention on me.

Look, I'm not a cat person, but I won't pretend she's not cute. I can spend an hour just tossing crumpled up paper wads and watching her bat them around the floor. And she follows me around from the desk to the kitchen to the laundry room and back all day long.

But she's not very helpful. I know, I'm asking a lot for an animal that young to actually be helpful, but still. Starting Monday, she was a) confident enough to go anywhere and b) comfortable enough with me to want my attention. So as I tried to work at the computer, she kept climbing from the couch to the end table to my lap, then up onto the keyboard.

I know there's nothing new about that. The Internet is littered (see what I did there?) with pictures and video of cats on keyboards. It's a first for me. Our last cat, the only one we had in the family for any length of time, wasn't a cuddler. Roger Cow (the kids named him) had a very clear delineation of duties. He was king of the neighborhood, in charge of keeping other cats, dogs, raccoons and other critters out of our yard. I was in charge of everything else.

But Jane Austen has spent the last three mornings climbing up onto the keyboard. She either types, throwing all kinds of windows and dialogue boxes up on the screen as she strolls across the keys, or sits in the middle and grooms herself, as if to say, "I'm taking care of business. You can enjoy looking at me while I work."

Needless to say, it cuts my productivity down.

She's asleep right now, stretching out and somehow filling the couch with her tiny body, so I can actually type something. But I don't have much time and I've got a lot of work to do, so I'll cut this short.

I'll leave the last words to her. Below is what she typed yesterday while I was trying to finish the last work on "Scurvy Dogs." I think I'll call it "Scurvy Kitten."

k-7= ∫˙vxcccccccv222xzv bfh4reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee3rtut r7w7zzsssssssssssssssssssssssssss7ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss75e7su7e7eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssseeseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeseessssssssssssssseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezz7zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz77737eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwxq8 88ccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccdcd8juuuuudd8ccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccc mb;;;;;;;;nnnnmjd 34mq tuidkeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedm kg, 50


,EWTE RU6 YW3FR000R0V5000YYYYYYGGGGGYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYP8B,,IPI7;][;]IPHccccc ddcddcccccccccccccccccdddd8ccuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu6zxhfsbvcv6u2aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaccccvh

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election Aftermath – A Lull

Well, that was disappointing. We'd hoped to avoid a runoff, but we've got another month of this.

Obviously this is no longer about who controls the Senate. That's settled. This is about who best can represent Louisiana. Mary Landrieu has a proven record of working for the state and its citizens, and delivering, regardless of which party controlled Congress or sat in the White House. Her opponent's whole campaign has been based on tying her to President Obama and saying, "Obama – Bad."

So, fine. We know what he's against. We've got a month to try to find out what he's for. And based on his comments last night, he's still not inclined to tell us. That's really all we ask. A clear statement of what he wants to do as a senator. Barack Obama is not on the ballot. What does this guy want to do as a U.S. senator?

Everyone's resting today. Tomorrow we jump back into it. And if the Koch brothers think they can buy the election – we're going to make them spend it all!

Apropos of nothing – Just finished re-reading Patrick O'Brian's "HMS Surprise." What a great series of books. Think I'll head down tot he library today and find another of the Aubrey/Maturin books, one I have only read two or three times.

Not that I'll have a lot of free time for reading this month. There's a runoff to win.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day

What a Day

It's 8 p.m. and we're done. For better or worse, we've done everything we can do.  The phone bankers were still making calls at 7:45, until I pointed out that the only way it could help is if they happened to get someone who lived right across the street from a polling place and had forgotten there was an election going on.

Now we wait for the results. If Mary Landrieu wins 50 percent plus 1 tonight, it's over. If not, we've got a runoff, and that could be ugly. The Republican money and attack ads will pour into this state. So I really hope we won it today, and there's at least reason for cautious optimism.

But if there's a runoff, so be it. We've all worked too long and too hard to let it get away now. We know Mary, and we don't care what lies Karl Rove and the Koch brothers toss. We're going to do everything in our power to win this thing.

What a great memory

9:45 a.m. I'm stuck in the campaign office, coordinating canvassers and the phone bank. Just had a walk-in who wants to canvass, but he's got his sons – age 6 and 8 – with him. Is that OK? "Sure, I said. They're your kids.  Found him a precinct without too many doors. The kids were very excited. What a great memory for them, helping their dad get out the vote in an important election. Or as the 8 year old told me, he's very excited for the chance "to tell people how to vote."


Early morning reverie

Got up very early to go down and open the local campaign office for our Democratic candidate for Senate – Mary Landrieu – then stood out in the parking lot for a few minutes to watch the sun come up. Spectacular color show of pinks and blue and golds.

Thought about past elections, some that were very disappointing, some that were surprisingly positive. It feels a little like Christmas. We've been working so hard. Now it's time to see what Santa – in the guise of the voters – brings us. Present? Or a lump of coal. Depends entirely on how well we get the vote out today.

Time to get to work. Let's go win this thing.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Family Visit and a Midyear Resolution

When you live in Los Angeles and family comes to visit, you take them to Disneyland – Disney World, if you live in Florida. Live in S.F. and get company, it's off to Golden Gate Park. There's no shortage of places to take visiting family and friends if you live in New York or Washington D.C., and of course, on St. Croix it was off to the beach. Of course, it was always beach day on St. Croix, but when folks came to visit you had company.

Mary, Ed, Tori, John
And here in New Orleans, when friends come to call, it's the French Quarter.

On almost any night, Bourbon Street is a loud, wandering party. A little obnoxious, more decadent than you can imagine, but always entertaining. So we spent some time there Friday night with Tori's aunt Mary and uncle Ed, who were visiting from Arizona with a group of friends.

The friends were in town for a wedding, so after Friday night's long stumble through the Quarter, we had them to ourselves Saturday, took them to see the  sculpture garden in City Park, and a tour through one of the city's many cemeteries. We've got cool cemeteries. This one features the biggest funerary  phallic symbol I've ever seen. The person so honored is a former New Orleans Police Commissioner. (We believe the draping at the top of the column is a 19th century condom.) There's always something to see in a cemetery. (In Oregon we lived about 200 feet from an old cemetery, which is where I got a lot of names for various characters in books over the years.)

Sunday they all went on a swamp tour, the same one that Max and I went on a year ago with his biology class. (That's Max, greeting a baby alligator on the tour.) So we stayed home Sunday and recovered from the first two days of the excursion. Monday Tori took them all over – around the Garden District, then off to a restored antebellum plantation.

But this isn't really about the tour itinerary. It's about family. When Tori's brother died this spring, we realized she was the only person left from that particular nuclear family. She was the sole survivor. And I haven't been as close to my seven sisters as I should have been, there's only been a couple I keep in semi-regular touch with. We decided we needed to make more of an effort to reinforce those bonds. So it was great that Ed and Mary came out.

We've been talking about a trip west next summer, if for no other reason than we are still paying monthly rent on a storage unit in Albany containing – well, it's hard to remember what a lot of it is. Kitchen stuff that we've of course replaced, clothes that won't fit, a couple of thousand books – but also lots of family photos and other mementos. I made the mistake of doing the math, how long we'd been storing it and what it has cost. Ouch. Time to And now we've got another reason to go. We have a specific invitation to come by the river, where Mary and Ed live, and spend a couple of days. And we've got other family all over the west, plus lots of our oldest friends. We are the farthest east contingent of both our families, except of course, for Millie and Ben in NYC, but we claim them as ours.

So we'll have plenty to do. I don't see how we can make it in less than three weeks and see only a fraction of the people we want to. But that's the plan.

We couldn't have had a better weekend than the one we just spent showing our new home to family. They're airborne right now, on their way back to Arizona. It was great to see them.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Almost Over

We take such simple things for granted. Flip a switch, and we're surprised if the light doesn't come on. Turn a faucet, we expect water to come out. Flush a toilet or open the drain on a sink, the liquid goes down, goes "away," and we rarely give a second thought to where it goes or how it gets there.

So the last two weeks have been educational, if nothing else. Really inconvenient, sometimes annoying, once very funny, but also educational. Go without running water for a day, or without sewage service for 15, and it reminds you how special such simple things are.

I know no one cares about this but me, Tori, Kate and Max, but I just have to say, this long plumbing nightmare is almost over. They've been fiddling around on the front lawn all day, had me flush a couple of times while they peered down the clean out, gave me a thumbs up. Now they're filling in the hole. And presumably, we're good to go.

This started Sept. 19, with jack-hammering. I didn't know then why they were doing it, and now that they're just about done, I still don't. Everything here worked fine before they started, and it seems to work exactly as fine now.

At least for now, I have renewed appreciation for those little things that make what we call "civilized" life possible. I hope I don't lose that, at least for a while.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Great Burgers at Five Guys, and Some Ketchup

Ever eaten at a Five Guys hamburgers? Best five dollar burger I've ever eaten.

One minor side benefit of this ongoing plumbing woe has been we've been eating out a lot. Pizza. Chinese. It's hard to wash dishes when you're aware that every drop that flows through the house ends up in a hole out in the front lawn.

Wednesday was Max's guitar lesson, and there was a Five Guys in the same strip mall, so at his urging, that's where we went. It was great. All they have on the menu is various burgers plus kosher hot dogs, and fries. HUGE quantities of very good fries. They figured out the one thing they were gonna do, and do it extremely well. If you haven't yet, give 'em a try some time.

I was standing at the counter waiting for my order, and beside me was a woman holding a baby and staring into the kitchen to see if her food was ready. She didn't notice the baby, who was I would say six to nine months old. While mom's attention was diverted he was reaching over, manipulating the ketchup dispenser and licking the ketchup off his fingers. It was hilarious. Maybe my laughter alerted her, or her maternal instincts kicked in, but she was horrified when she realized what was going on.

"He's never had ketchup before," she said, wiping his fingers. "Well," I replied, "it looks like he's a convert."

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Unexpected Lake Brings Laughs

I hate to keep coming back to this, because I suspect it's boring if you're not actually living through it, but the work on the plumbing continues. And yesterday was pretty funny.

A different crew came to work Tuesday morning. They had to divert the water main, ever so slightly, so that the Public Works crew can come back and attach our house and the neighbor's to the sewer. (Even though it fit just fine before they started fixing it.)

We were without water while they worked. It was really interesting, I spent a lot of time outside watching. You don't really think about where the water comes from or where it goes. You just take it for granted. It was a rare chance to really look at it, to gain some appreciation for something we rarely even think about.

It was also fun because they expanded the work area into our neighbor's yard. He's an asshole. I don't mind saying that. In two years the only time he's spoken to us has been to complain about  how we don't edge properly. Seriously. So it was nice to see a big swath of trench and mud in his pristine yard. I know that's petty of me. I don't care.

Lake Unexpected.
At about 5 p.m., right on schedule, they were finished. They started filling the hole and started re-pressurizing the system.

And, as could be predicted, the main blew. It was a small geyser, quickly filling the trench and spilling out. It wasn't the part they'd just replaced, but the older line adjoining the new stretch. Right in the middle of the neighbor's yard. His six-year-old son came out and was jumping up and down with excitement. It was something. There was a whole new lake. At least is was fresh water instead of sewage.

So the water stayed off. They got back in the hole and started digging in the waning light. Then the sun set and they were working by the light of a couple of flashlights. I have a set of flood lights we got from Tori's brother's house I brought out and set up for them, because they were never going to get done in the dark. And I really wanted the water back on.

And eventually, maybe four hours later, they were done. Both lawn, ours and the neighbor's were a mess. This morning it looked like a bomb had gone off. But they're back, cleaning up, and soon this part will be finished. Then Public Works can come back and finish the job and our two-week nightmare will be over.



I hope. Because I really need a shower.

Monday, September 29, 2014

No Progress, and Everyone's Pissed Off

It's midday Monday, and there's no progress. Front yard is still dug up, back yard is even more dug up. There was a guy here for a while working in the back, he's gone and I'm not sure where. No sign of anything in front, although I was told some people were out looking at it briefly early this morning.

And the few people I have talked to have been very pissed off. The Saints played last night, and New Orleans loves its Saints. And they looked awful. Oh lord, it was a dreadful, dreadful pigskin performance Sunday night. I can't think of a time  I've seen the Saints play worse.

We've been hearing all summer about how good the Saints would be this year. The road to the Super Bowl leads through New Orleans, they've been saying. Even when they got off to an 0-2 start, then limped to a win over Minnesota, people kept saying, "They have too much talent to ..." To what? Stink up the field in Dallas? Because that's what they did.

It might be time to say, "Maybe they're just not very good. Maybe this year the Saints are a bad team. Wherever the road to the Super Bowl is, it sure doesn't go through New Orleans."

Based on last night, the Saints will be lucky to sniff the playoffs.

And the guy who was here, briefly, was really angry because he said when the Saints lose, it hurts his business. I'm not sure how. Seems like if a sewer gets clogged, you want it cleaned out regardless of how the team played. Maybe when they lose – and play so bad doing it – people don't party as much and put less pressure on the sewage system. Or maybe when they lose, there's less tendency to flush inappropriate objects. I don't know.

All I now is, this is getting old.  I would like to take a guilt-free shower.

Friday, September 26, 2014

See, THIS is why I'm glad I rent

Last Friday, TLAPDay, I was surprised when a Public Works crew came out and started digging a hole in the front lawn, in the median strip between the sidewalk and the street. They jack-hammered up the sidewalk, got out a backhoe and exposed the lines running from our house and the obnoxious neighbor's house. Then they strung up some caution tape and went away.

I had been surprised because there was nothing wrong with our sewerage. Everything has worked fine since the day we moved in. Apparently there had been some kind of problem in a house across the street, but ours was fine.

I have written about sewer problems before. I don't like them, naturally. Well, who would? But they're never easy to live with while they're going on, and they always become much more complicated than you thought they would be.

They came back Monday, made the hole bigger. I asked them toward the end of the day how it was going. They said they'd made a mistake, but figured out what it was and now they were on it. Then they left. Tuesday they came back, made the hole bigger. Late in the day (2:30) they said they had run a camera down the line and found some more broken pipes so they'd had to fix them.

Wednesday they came back, tore a chunk out of the street, so there was now a trench from about three feet out into the street, four feet wide, extending back about four of five feet past the sidewalk. Big piles of dirt everywhere. Felt a little like a set for a play about World War I.

Anyway, they seemed to be satisfied, because Thursday they started putting stuff back in the hole. By the end of the workday (2:30) it was all covered up. They still had to patch the street and lay a couple of new sections of sidewalk, but the hole was gone.

So about 4:30, I throw a load of laundry in and start making dinner. A short time later I turned to go down the hall and there's water flowing out of both bathrooms (which are right next to each other. Go figure) and down the hall. Spilling from both toilets and up in the tub.

That's about when Tori got home from work. We mopped and scrubbed and the house reeks of bleach. And of course it's not fixed yet and we can't use the bathrooms. Public Works came back last night and tried to flush the clean-out plug, but it didn't work. So they came back this morning as early as they could and they're digging it all up again. The problem may be, they said, that the four-inch sewer line that comes down to the street from the house is too low. If they can't tie it into the six-inch line with a high enough drop, it'll be up to me (my landlord) to raise it all up.


Crew working on the sewer Friday.
But after working all morning, they now tell us there's blockage, and it's on our end of the line. Somewhere between the house and the sewer there's a clog. And that's on me (and my landlord.) Not them.

"So the fact that this happened right when you did all this work on the line is just a coincidence?" I asked the supervisor? "Yep," he said.


Well, it's possible. There's a reason they have the word coincidence in the dictionary, I guess. Still ...

So now our landlord has to get a plumber out here to flush out the line from the knock out at the back of the house. Lawrence is pretty good about that, so I'm hopeful this won't go on too much longer.

Because if we  don't have the bathrooms working by the time Tori gets home from work, we're going to a motel tonight. 'Cuz DAMN I need a shower.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Odds and Ends

Kids say the Darndest Things


We were at the mall, looking at displays of women's clothing.

Max: God, it looks like Dad was the fashion designer.

Kate: Oh, it's not that bad.

As it happened, I was wearing one of my more – shall we say flamboyant? – Hawaiian shirts. It worked, too. No salespeople crowded up to pester us.

A little while later, in front of another display:

Kate: Suddenly, I remember what I hate most about clothes shopping.

Me: The clothes?

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Another holiday has come and gone. It was a good one, very busy. Lot of phone interviews with radio stations across the U.S. and Australia. For me the day started as I ran out early, dressed in pirate finery of course, to Krispy Kreme to pillage a dozen doughnuts.

Mark and I used to do them sitting in his living room. He had two extensions, so we'd sit in his living room for about a day and a half, taking calls from all over the world, one year 80 in a 30-hour period. Now, of course, most of the interviews are solo, either him or me, which allows us to double our range.

Afterward, Tori and I decided to take a break and went out for dinner to a place that was supposed to have great ribs. It was a bar, Moby's. Didn't look like much from the outside. We parked around back and, as we walked to the door, Tori noticed a rat scampering along the fence. Hmmm. Well, he was outside. That's something. He was on the fence, not actually on the bar's property. And he was half the size of the cane rats we used to see on the island.

Inside it was – a bar. Long and narrow. A few tables. A bunch of people standing around the bar and in groups at the side talking loudly. It was one of those places where the acoustics magnified everything and we could barely hear each other over the clatter and din. (Clatter & Din? A noisy legal team? A bad folk duo?)

So the ambiance was far from ideal. But the ribs?

The ribs were magnificent. We decided to split a whole rack instead of ordering our own plates. A good thing. I could have eaten a whole rack, don't get me wrong, but it would have been a very bad idea. A very, very bad idea.

So you can't judge a book by its cover, a pirate by the cut of his jib, or a rib joint by anything other than the ribs.

On Television

You know those ads for a satellite TV service touting all the football games you can watch? You can become "the world's most powerful fan," or some similar BS.

Well, judging from those ads, the worlds most powerful fans are the world's biggest jerks. They don't mind destroying property or tearing up the neighborhood or just generally behaving like asses.

Please, save me from the world's most powerful fan.

Speaking of TV

Tori and I were at Best Buy drooling over the TVs. You have to understand that we got our TV for $25 at a garage sale. It's fine. Works great and I can see everything I want to see. But these TVs at the store were amazing, especially the big, curved screen set. We stood in front of it in awe of the clarity and the almost vertigo-inducing sharpness. As another scene came on, this one from a network TV show, I could actually see the actress had a little acne on her forehead.

"Whoah!" Tori said. "People are going to have to get better looking."

The set cost $8,000, so we won't be adding it to our living room any time soon.

Although, there was that great game yesterday, Broncos at Seahawks, that seesawed back and forth, had me on my feet shouting, went down to the wire, with an unbelievable finish by Manning, then an even better coup de grace by Wilson and cousin Marshawn. (I'll explain that another time.) When it was over, I was spent. Didn't even bother watching the Sunday night game, which is rare for me.

Imagine how overwrought I'd have been watching on that big, curved set. Probably better for my health that I stick with the garage sale TV.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Morning Walk

This was the view on my morning walk. Lafreniere Park.


Monday, August 11, 2014

A Lesson via TMNT : Keep Your Eyes Open


I won't be seeing the new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie, and not just because of my disdain for Michael Bay's movies. The turtles once played a key role in our family life, but that was a couple of decades ago. I am, after all, pushing 60, my kids are mostly grown. From the box office reports, it doesn't sound like they missed me.

But with all the hype the last few weeks, it reminded me of one of the wisest things I've ever heard a kid say. And I've heard kids say more than a few things.

It was 1991, and I had taken sons Jack (10 years old) and Ben (5) to see "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze." It's the one with the classic appearance by Vanilla Ice, who can now be seen in a mac and cheese commercial, as a himself working in a supermarket. It's always nice to see someone with a little perspective, who can poke a little fun at himself.

A few days later I was walking through Eugene's downtown pedestrian mall with the boys. And Jack went running on ahead to a manhole cover. (For the uninitiated, if there are any, the turtles lived in the sewers and emerged through the manholes.) He peered at it closely, kicking at it once or twice, then came back to me.

With a knowing look, he told me, "Any place could be a secret passage. That's why I keep my eyes open."

Something I try to keep in mind, as life offers the occasional secret passageway. You've got to keep your eyes open.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Change of Seasons


Got up early this morning, made a lunch. And so it goes, with the seasons changing.

Not the calendar seasons, of course. Friday is the first day of school. They start school absurdly early here in Louisiana. Call me old fashioned, but the school year starts the first day after Labor Day, it always has. It's a month early here. It's the beginning of August, temps are in the middle 90s. And kids are getting ready to drag their butts back to school.

And so is Tori. After two years of fighting her way through the system, she has her own classroom. She'll be teaching English Language Arts at the Stella Worley Middle School. It's not ideal by a long shot, it's across the river, so she'll have a half hour drive over the Huey Long Bridge every morning and afternoon. But it's the school that wanted her, and that makes it ideal.

It's been a long summer, especially July. Took the kids to the Rooster Teeth con in Austin. Did a lot of work for the Source. Took another freelance job that had me writing nine stories in a month. And spent a week in Louisville helping Tori clean up (both literally and legally) her brother Brian's estate, which was no fun at all. That was a really tough week. But there were a couple of bright spots. We stayed with Brian's ex-wife, who is a peach. And Tori reconnected with her best friend from 30 some years ago, when she was 14.

So it wasn't all awful, just mostly.

Anyway, we're starting a new season, and a new set of routines. Tori is at school right now trying to get a summer's worth of prep time dealt with in a day. Tomorrow she and Max are off to their respective schools. I get up first to get coffee started and make school lunches and get them out the door. Then I can get to work.

But, while I like the routines – I get more work done during the school year than during the summer – I can't quite shake the feeling that the timing is wrong. It's way too early.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How I Spent My Summer Vacation


We were in Texas because the kids wanted to go to RTX.

Alan, Kate and Max outside the Austin
Convention Center, which as the sign says,
is the site for RTX.
RTX is the Rooster Teeth Expo. And let me start by saying I'm way too old and uncool to understand Rooster Teeth. Shouldn't even be talking about it. 

I've been to a Comicon and now I've been to RTX, and the one thing that leaped out at me in Austin was how much younger the latter was. At Comicon there were everything from tweenagers to old Trekkies in wheelchairs, everything from Star Wars to Walking Dead, Dr. Who and Matt Smith to Pam Grier (I can't remember what she was there promoting, but I thought it was cool. She looked good.) and lots and lots of people I'd never heard of. 

RTX was much more focused on gaming and online and anime. Everyone was young and hip. I am old not as young and have a sore hip.
Kate meets Burnie Burns, one of the Rooster Teeth
founders. Her life is now complete.
Rooster Teeth is an Austin production studio that does online live action and animated shorts. They had a huge hit with Red v. Blue (or the other way around) and RWBY, which is pronounced Ruby, and a lot of game stuff. They have crowd-sourced pledges for more than $2.5 million to do their own full length movie. On youtube they've got more than 7 million subscribers and more than 3 billion views. I give these guys huge credit, they saw something they wanted to do and made it happen, created an industry in their hometown. At RTX, they were gods.

Kate is a huge fan, Max is a big fan. Millie gave Kate a weekend pass for the convention as a birthday present. So we were off. Tori and I were along for the ride – literally, since we drove. It was my first real vacation in about seven years.

Thursday, we drove to Houston (a six hour drive,) stopped and saw our friends from St. Croix, the Lopez family. Their three kids (three of the nicest, smartest kids you'll ever meet) were also going. We stopped there for dinner, then went on to San Antonio where we spent the night at the home of another St. Croix family, the Jean Pierres (that's their last name, two words. They're Canadian.) Their son Alan is Millie's age and someone who has sort of been part of our family since 2008. He came with us. They live out in the boonies, we didn't get there until about 1:30 a.m.



The Texas state capitol. Very nice as state
capitols go.
RTX started at 9 a.m. Friday (the Fourth of July? Didn't seem to hurt attendance) and Kate wanted to be sure to be there for a panel that started around 11, so we left San Antonio around 8:30. Two hour drive. Dropped the kids off, went down to the hotel, checked in and fell asleep for a while. Later we toured the capital, because it was there and pretty impressive. Say what you will about Texans, they know how to build a capitol.

Meanwhile, the Lopi (our collective name for the Lopez family) did much the same. 



Tori and the giant cupcake guy. He's apparently
a character of some kind in a game or something.

Saturday was the same. Dropped the kids off (Kate was quivering with excitement the whole time.) They got autographs and pictures and T-shirts and posters and all the usual stuff. They went to panel discussions and just generally geeked out. Tori and I spent most of the day poolside or in the fitness room. I also work weekends, but because the hotel has free wifi, no problem. (My only complaint with the hotel – They have a scale in the fitness room and it's WAY off. Not even close to what I'm sure my weight really is. I don't actually kn ow, but I'm positive it couldn't be THAT! 'Nuff said.)

Austin is really nice. Not only is it far and away my favorite city in Texas, it's pretty much the only Texas city I like. And it's very, very easy to get around in. As opposed to Houston, which deserves its reputation as commuting hell. It literally is surrounded by rings of freeway, the many rings of the inferno.

Sunday was a little trickier, since checkout time was noon and the convention ran until 6. But it worked out. Tori and I spent some time visiting the University of Texas campus. The football stadium is terrifyingly huge. You could easily put the entire population of the U.S. Virgin Islands in there. Also saw the clock tower, from which back in 1966 Charles Whitman shot 48 people, 16 fatally. So there was that.

John and Tori behave inappropriately on
the set of theRooster Teeth podcast.
Our kids were horrified! Yay!
The Lopi were leaving Austin at 4, so Tori and I borrowed a couple of their kids' passes and went in to see the last couple of hours. It was winding down, energy was lower, but you could still get the flavor of the thing. I was clearly the oldest person there and it wasn't even close, I was easily more than twice the average age. We went through the main hall and saw the "museum" of Rooster Teeth artifacts. Tori and I took many inappropriate pictures. And touched things clearly labeled "Do Not Touch" and talked to people much to cool for us to talk to. Anything to distress the children. Otherwise what's the point of HAVING children?

Tori, Monty and Alex.
We saw a line forming, so we got in it. Turned out it was to get photos taken with Monty. Monty is an anime artist, I guess he draws RWBY, a young Japanese guy with longish bright blond hair. And he's another star. Now, I should have mentioned that Tori brought Alex. Her ashes are in a small box that Tori carried in her purse. She just thought Alex would would have enjoyed the convention so she brought her for the road trip. When we got to the front of the line, she asked Monty to sign the box. Which he did, and was very kind about the whole thing. I took the picture. It was kind of nice.

Anyway, RTX was fun and the kids had a great time. But you know how it is. No matter how nice the trip, sooner or later, you just want to be in your own space again.

Ricardo Lopez with the cupcake guy.
We left Austin around 6:30 or 7 Sunday and drove back to San Antonio. Stopped at a Texas institution – Whataburger. It's supposed to be so good it makes you say, "What a burger!" And you know what? We did. It really was about the best fast food hamburger I've ever had. A tossup between Whataburger, and Burgerville USA in the northwest. No contest between those two and the usual chains.

I had to work Sunday night, so when we got back to Alan's I put my hours, then went to sleep around 2 a.m. We left the next morning around 10:30, got back to Houston and spent the afternoon there with the ever pleasant Lopi so as not to drive through the heat of the afternoon. I napped, then we left Houston in the evening and drove all night until we got home about 4:30.

So that was our trip. Next week another couple from St. Croix are going to be visiting NOLA, so we'll see them (they moved to Alberta, almost the exact opposite of the islands) and we have to run to Kentucky end of the month. Then it's time for Max to head back to school.

Summer.

jb












Friday, May 9, 2014

Where Does the Time Go?


Millie sent some photos from the wedding of her friends in New York Wednesday. She helped organize it on sort of the spur of the moment, when they realized their plans to move to England would be much simplified if they were already married, instead of waiting to get hitched over there. Interestingly, the bride's name is Robin. And when Tori and I got married at the courthouse (by Judge Jack Frost!) Tori's friend helped throw it all together. Her name is Robin. That's karma, or something.

Anyway, looks like they had a nice time. Wedding at City Hall, then gathering to drink toasts to the couple in Central Park. As I looked through the pictures it seemed for just a minute as if I was looking at stills from "Friends," or "How I Met Your Mother," or another of those sitcoms about happy, vibrant young people excited to be starting their lives in New York. And I wondered, how did that happen? How did my little girl, who I used to watch Arthur with every morning before getting her ready for kindergarten, grow up and become one of those characters?

Like the line from the song, "I don't remember growing older. When did they?"

And then I thought, if she's Courtney Cox or Cobie Smulders, does that mean I'm one of the actors who made the occasional guest appearance as the out-of-town, out-of-touch dad? I'm Michael Gross? Or Bruce Willis or – ooh! ooh! – can I be Elliott Gould? Way back in the '60s and '70s he was very cool. Now he's in his 70s, and I'm damn near 60.

And of course, Millie caught the bouquet. Twice! They did it twice and she caught it both times. That's not right. She's got too much going on in her life. Work. Making that career in show business. (Or, as it feels to her rapidly aging father, getting ready for middle school.) I told her that everyone knows that if the couple is having a second wedding in another country it doesn't count. Sorry. It's just the rules. (The big England wedding is still on the schedule; apparently one of the big names from "Game of Thrones" is on the guest list. Don't ask which. But considering that show's record with weddings, is that a good idea?)

Quick side note – Judge Jackson Frost, the guy who married Tori and I close to 25 years ago now, was a longtime prosecutor, then a judge in Albany. On a couple of occasions in the years after we were married, I'd run into him around town, the grocery store or something similar. "Judge Frost?" I'd say. He'd react warily. He didn't know me from Adam and he'd put away a lot of bad guys over the years. I'd introduce myself, tell him that he'd married us in 1989. He'd smile. Then I'd shake his hand, thank him and say, "I just wanted to tell you, it was the best day's work you ever did."

Monday, May 5, 2014

Milestones for Max and Millie


Max and I spent Friday morning at the Bonnabel High School cafeteria. It was the Jefferson Parish Public School System's "Celebration of Champions," honoring all the students, middle school and high school, who have finished the year with a 4.0 GPA.

And Max is one of them! Congratulations Max, great job. We're very proud of you. Hence this blog post.

They hold the event at Bonnabel, I suspect, because it has the largest cafeteria and even more important, the largest parking lot. What it didn't have, oddly, was any 4.0 students this year. Max's school, East Jefferson, had a handful – eight or nine, I think – and the two Riverdales, high and middle, both had contingents. But the Haynes Academy had by far the biggest group – around 80, I'd guess. That's the "magnet" science academy. We talked a year ago about letting Max go there, but he opted for EJ, and it's a good fit. Not as overwhelmingly academic, but a good school with a lot of options.

He's in the honors program, which provides a really strong incentive for college. Earn a 2.5 GPA and the state pays a big chunk of college tuition. Earn a 3.5 or higher and they pay almost everything. I was talking to his counselor who said there is some talk that the standard will be raised in the next year or two, "but he's not even close to the cutoff line, so don't worry."

He's got his work cut out for him. Next year's schedule is mostly honors classes – Spanish II, Geometry, English II, Civics, World History. Thank goodness for band, he's good at it, enjoys it, and practice isn't the same as homework.

Anyway, just wanted to take a moment to brag a little, Max is doing great in high school and we couldn't be prouder.

ALSO – Millie called Saturday. She had three and a half days to throw together a wedding for friends. I didn't get the details, something about the friends moving to and planning to get married in England, only to discover it would be much easier to get married in the states first. So the courthouse ceremony will be Wednesday. Millie's the maid of honor. It doesn't seem all that long ago that we were attending the weddings of various friends. Now it's Millie's turn.

We were able to help a little, found her a bit of poetry to read at the reception. Every year on our anniversary Tori and I go to the park and I read her poetry, so it wasn't like we weren't prepared. Most "romance" poetry seems to be based on the guy trying to talk the woman into having sex with him. Seems kind of inappropriate for a wedding. I mean, by the time you're standing at the altar (or in front of the judge) it's just a matter of sealing the deal. But there's one that over the years has become  both Tori and my favorite. Now it might be the favorite of Millie's friends for decades to come as well. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116.

SONNET 116
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
  Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
  Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
  That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
  Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
  Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
  But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dirty Water but a Nice Day

Monday was a disappointment, but at the same time, a good day.

It was spring break here, the kids and Tori were off from Thursday through Tuesday. Between stuff we had to do, and the weather forecast, we picked Monday. Tori and I were taking a drive, just the two of us, a road trip out to find some beach.

John on the Gulfport, Miss. beach.
We hadn't been to the beach since we left the island. Even in Oregon trips to the coast weren't just an outing, they were a necessity, almost a pilgrimage. From Albany, the Oregon coast was about an hour drive. It was beautiful, rugged coastline, with quaint beach towns catering to tourists in funky, cheesy ways. The water was – bracing? Try freezing. You couldn't walk barefoot in the surf for more than a few minutes before the cold was painful. You'd occasionally see one or two people surfing – clad in wet suits – but I can't remember ever seeing anyone just wading into the waves and swimming. Too cold.

Still, we loved visits to the coast. Tori in particular needed them.

Moving to St. Croix, of course, was paradise. Instead of an hour drive, it was three minutes to one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. The water was as warm as a bath. I'm not much of a swimmer, but even I could float in the blue, blue, blue crystal clear water, bobbing in the swell.

So we were excited for the chance to have a road trip to find the Gulf Coast. I'd heard about it – white sand, warm water. We were aiming for the Mississippi shoreline, driving down the shore highway to see what there was to see.

First, Weather Underground really let us down. The weekend was supposed to be rainy. So the sky was sunny both days. Monday was supposed to be clear and warm. It was cloudy and overcast all day, and the temperature never cleared 65.

As we crossed Bay St. John and headed down the coast highway, the water looked murky, lead gray. There was a white sand strip on the south side of the highway. The north side was mostly a long collection of strip malls, chain restaurants and gas stations. Literally, it seemed like there was a Waffle House restaurant every three quarters of a mile. In one place there were three within four blocks of each other. Never want to be caught without a waffle, I guess.

I suppose if you live up in the northern part of the state, or Arkansas or Tennessee, it'd seem pretty neat. By Oregon standards it was a letdown. By St Croix standards? Don't make me laugh.

Dirty water in the Gulf.
We made it all the way to Gulfport before we saw any reason to pull off the road – a beach that included a public restroom. They'd done a nice job of giving the beach some amenities, tables and benches. No trees, no dunes, no grasses. A couple of dozen people were on the beach.

We went to the water and it was beyond filthy. Black leaves and debris washed up on shore. Standing ankle deep in the cold water – not Oregon cold, but cold – you literally could not see your toes. And the feel of the water was sludgy. We wanted a shower.

We used the facilities and drove on, through Biloxi, which is full of casinos, and found ourselves in Ocean Springs. The water wasn't any better, but it was a little nicer. My favorite part was the Ocean Springs Yacht Club. The name was probably not meant to be ironic, but there was nothing there but a bunch of day sailors, 20 feet or so. And a bar.

Statue of Iberville, who established
the French settlement at what it now
Ocean Springs, Miss.
But there was a really nice park, on the site of what apparently was the first French settlement established on the Gulf Coast. Really nice playground for kids, old trees. That's where we had our picnic lunch, cold fried chicken and potato salad. We had forgotten to bring forks, but Tori discovered if you bit carefully into a drumstick you could shape it into a sort of spoon, not much but serviceable.

There was also a long pier where you could walk out. There was a guy fishing who'd caught a couple of catfish, and we watched the pelicans diving for their lunch. Even the pelicans suffered in comparison to the islands. On St. Croix the pelicans would fly about 20 feet over the water, then wheel and plunge down to snag a fish. In Mississippi they skimmed the surface, then suddenly dropped to grab something. I guess the water was so cloudy that from more than a few feet they couldn't see the fish.

Tori at Gulfport. Any beach is better than none,
but we've seen much better.
Also saw something I'd never seen before – each pelican was accompanied by a gull or two. When the pelican splashed down and grabbed a fish, the gulls would join him – sometimes actually sitting atop the bigger bird – to steal a bite or two.

Anyway, we finally decided we'd had enough for one day. We could have kept going east and been in Alabama within half an hour. But home was beckoning and we turned our heads west. On the way back we changed across a cool NASA science center at the Mississippi-Louisiana border. It was closed, but it's only an hour away so we'll likely go back for a visit.

The beach was a disappointment, but Tori and I had a great day together, one of the first no hassle fun days we've had since we moved. It was a nice trip. Next time, probably this summer, we'll get on I-10
 Pensacola is only two hours away, we're told, and Fort Walton Beach only about a half hour past that. We're willing to give the Gulf another try. If nothing else, it's a chance for the two of us to get away together.




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Turning the Table, Part 2

So, as I said, one day about a month ago Tori took a close look at our ugly but very solid coffee table, and decided to do something about it. What she did was kind of amazing.

This is the table 'before.'
Whenever we go to Home Depot, she makes a point of checking out the orphan paint. These are gallons or quarts (or whatever size paint cans) of paint that got mixed and for some reason never bought. At Home Depot they're usually kept right under the paint desk, they're always cheap and often interesting. That's where she picked up the deep blue that now adorns our front door.

Sometimes she buys the paint without having a specific use for it. Just because it interested her. And about a month ago, when she was looking for something to use in our bathroom, she found something pretty cool.

Two quarts of "chalkboard paint." It's that deep green color you remember from your school days, and when you've put down three or four coats, it actually makes the surface a chalkboard. She did it on half this odd wall we have in our bathroom, and now leaves messages on it. The four of us in the house keep very different schedules, but the bathroom is almost always the first place any of us head when we start our day,

And there was plenty left over. So to the table. It has a roughly two-inch moulding around the edge, then a narrow crevice, and the central flat surface.

First she painted the whole thing white. She then applied four coats of chalkboard paint to the central surface. That was very cool. But that wasn't the genius part. In white, the two-inch moulding was kind of boring. So we went to the local comic book shop and bought some cheap comics. Those she cut up and glued them down all around the surface, covering them with a decoupage coating.

I think you'll agree the result is amazing.

The only downside is the chalk dust. It's probably a good thing that I can't just pile books and papers on the thing, but the chalk dust is kind of annoying. After folding laundry and stacking it on the table, as per usual, I found I had to rewash the items at the bottom of each stack. 

But it's a small price to pay for one of the coolest coffee tables I've ever seen.