Trick or Beep!

So, Halloween, 2008, has come to a close.

The house is quiet, the kids have long since headed off to dreams of strange people hitting up their mom and dad for candy, and now, I’ve got to find a place to store a bulky costume that’s too good to just pitch along with the other recycling.

Another beer?
Don’t mind if I do!
*pop*, *sip*, “Ahhhhh”.

I am always grateful for good weather on Halloween. There is nothing, NOTHING, worse that having to trick or treat in a driving rain or (shudder) snow. Today, we were blessed. The temperature rose to a level just shy of t-shirt weather, the sun shone bright in a cloudless sky, and a light breeze did little more than annoy some loose leaves, lurking in the unmown grass. The day light hours of Halloween are always a bit frantic in our neck of the woods. Action Girl and I tend to scurry around, attempting to locate bits of decoration that was put, “some place safe”, the previous year and get it all installed before the lights go down and the sugar sucking monsters start to roam the streets.

As the two of us work away at making our house as spooky as possible, next-door is always a hive of activity. Our good neighbors are amazing artists and every year, a small army of other illustrators and artists descend on their house and transform it into… something amazing. It’s always amazing. Today, we could hear them laughing, hammering, constructing and generally being silly. On a few occasions Short Stack would raise a curious head over the tall grass and ask us, “What are they doing over there?” and we’d tell him that it was a surprise that he’d have to wait until tonight to find out. We put the final touches on our own decorations and after a quick photo shoot of the kids in costume while we still had daylight, we headed inside to get ready for Short Stacks first real Halloween night. As the sun finally set, we raced through dinner in an effort to be ready for the first knock at the door. We just made it.

Voices of excited children started to reverberate through the dimly lit streets and it was time to start things rolling. Action Girl shoehorned Lulu Belle into a ridiculously cute giraffe costume that was thoughtfully supplied by her folks and I fitted Short Stack with his own Halloween get up. He had picked the costume himself and there was none of that wavering that some kids show when it comes to difficult Halloween decisions. He wanted to be a monster truck. He was adamant on it and far be it from me to turn down a carefully made choice by a two year old. A monster truck, he would be!

In the end, it took a lot of cardboard, tape, paint, pipe insulation, four foil pie plates, two red L.E.D. jogging safety lights and two more self adhesive tap lights. Oh, and time. A heck of a lot of time. I took care of most of the actual construction, Action Girl and Short Stack did a bunch of the painting and then late the night before the project was due, Action Girl and I finished it in the basement, over some beers. The result… Well, here it is.

No one was happier with the finished product than Short Stack was. After an initial resistance to being wedged into the contraption, he absolutely loved the idea of BEING a monster truck. That, and all the, “Oohs!” and “Wow’s!” from anyone who happened to pass by at the time cemented his joy in the costume. With the headlights and taillights switched on, Short Stack and I set off to make his very first “Trick Or Treat” stop. Naturally, the first stop would be the neighbor’s. Dance music was thumping joyfully from their house as we walked to the darkened yard. What greeted us was a sight that stopped my little monster truck in his tracks. Not out of fear, so much out of pure mesmerization.


(Sorry for the lack of sound. my camera is quite elderly and did not record audio)

I do have to admit that not only did I know what was going to be there, but I actually did my little bit to contribute to the light show/ dance party, as well. I knew that I wouldn’t have a chance to lend a hand in any material way, what with me building a truck in my cellar at the time, but I could supply the music. I filled up my elderly iPod shuffle with a mix of fun techno, 80’s pop and some other strangeness with a good beat and lyrics that would pass the parent test. Well… most of the lyrics did. To be fair, I don’t think anyone really picked up on some of the stuff in “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femms. Oops! The life sized, glowing stick figures grooved the night away to the tunes and dispensed candy to those brave enough to get close. It was what I’d imagine an acid trip to be like. It was great!

After his inaugural piece of candy was stowed in the bed of his truck, we headed off to the next few houses. The best reactions to his costume came from other trick or treaters as kid after kid stopped to point out the “kid dressed as the truck!” One three year old we know even correctly identified Short Stack as a monster truck with no prompting. Short Stack was in heaven. At every stop, more candy was added to his bed until the rear wheels started to drag on the pavement behind him. It was a lot of weight for a little guy, but “determined” is not a strong enough word to describe his mindset. He was on a mission! So far as he was concerned, this was the best thing ever! We looped back to our house to unload his loot and lighten the load before continuing on. Since the house candy was almost gone, we decided to wait there a few minutes for things to wrap up. Eventually, we finally ran out and Action Girl, with our giraffe daughter strapped to her chest, switched off our porch light and joined us. My folks, as well, who also had run out of goodies at their place, showed up to see the show. Four adults and two children headed off to find more loot and entertainment as strict bedtime were tossed happily out the window. It was great fun and though we could see that Short Stack was getting tired, he steadfastly refused to be taken out of his costume in an effort to make better time to the next front door.

Our route took us to the local Lion’s Club for refreshments and a costume contest. Short Stack’s energies were momentarily revived as he mingled with friends and costumes were compared. The announcer called for kids aged one through four to make their way to the stage and Short Stack, sporting a ring of chocolate around his mouth, took second place, just edged out by Saint George, dressed in home-made tin can armor and a stuffed animal dragon. Not bad!

As we stepped out side into the very, very late night, Short Stack decided that finally, yes, he was ready to get out of his truck and, in stead, ride in the stroller that Action Girl had though to bring along. He was chipper all the way home and Lulu Belle managed to keep her good humor until it was time for jammies. Normally, getting my son to bed is not something that goes smoothly, but tonight, resistance was minimal and he was asleep in a scant few minutes.

Lulu Belle’s giraffe costume will be far to small to be used again and so will likely get handed off to some new baby, yet to be. The monster truck, though… I think we’ll hang on to that for a while. It won’t last, naturally. Eventually, it will get wet or crunched or simply fall apart, but until then I think it’s got some more good playing left in it. Besides, it’s Short Stack’s first car, and far be it from me to take that away from a guy.

Now if you will all excuse me, I believe that there is a huge demon on my roof that needs taking in for the season and a cemetery in my front yard that needs breaking down until next year.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Winning the “Husband Points” Lottery.

Three years ago, we had made plans to go vacation with out friend in France. His house is beautiful and the country side is rugged and inviting. The time we were planning to go was what they call the “shoulder season”, meaning that it was leading up to, but not quite yet, nice out. It’s a good way of avoiding tourists and crowds, although where our friend lived, that was hardly a factor. His house is located on a terraced hilltop out side of an obscure and minimal village in a little traveled province of southern France. Hardly on the tour maps. The weather would be chilly and rainy but we knew how to dress for that. On the positive side, that would mean lots of fires in the mammoth fireplace. I hade visions of me sitting, curled up on the couch or out in the courtyard, wrapped in blankets and writing for days at a time, interrupted only by wonderful food, wine and conversation. It sounded like heaven.

This was to be no ordinary trip for us either. This was our “Last Hurrah” trip. At the time of the trip Action Girl would be about four months pregnant. We both knew that long distance journeys would be out of the equation for the foreseeable future. We both wanted to see our friend again but to be honest, it was I, who was looking forward to this the most. Left to her own devices, she would have fancied something with more palm trees. Still, it was looking like it would be a fun time.

The first problem started in a Paris Suburb. In 2005, Two youths, fleeing from Police ran into a power sub station, over the protective fences and were electrocuted. The Minister of Saying Things On TV at the time was then Mr., (now President) Sarkozy. He managed to fan the flames of racial discord enough to really get the riots going full tilt.

We watched the news and the pictures at home of burning cars and screaming protesters. “No big deal”, we thought. “This is France we’re talking about here. Protesting is a national sport over there. I’m pretty sure that their version of the Boy Scouts offer a merit badge in protesting. It’s a way of life for them. It’ll blow over. Besides, we’re not going any where near Paris. We’re flying into Marseilles.”

Two weeks later, the rioting had spread to Marseilles. Great. After each new news installment of what was on fire in France now, friends kept asking us the leading question, “You’re not going to go, right?” No, we were still planning to go. The only problem that seemed to be looming was that I was still waiting for my new passport to arrive. As usual, I had waited too long. My old passport had expired and only through the less than subtle prodding from Action Girl, did I get it in, supposedly, on time. It was getting down to the wire.

About two weeks to go and the passport arrived. I popped it into the luggage and foolishly thought that we were good to go. The rioters even seemed to be burning fewer cars and shooting at fewer police. What timing! Four days to go and then… oh dear. While doing the final packing, Action Girl happened to look at her passport.

Expired.

Not to worry. It would be expensive, but the government does offer an expediting service. All you need to do is send in your old passport, new pictures of your self and a bank check big enough to make a mortgage payment. The new passport will then arrive in one day from the time they receive it. So, we did all this and waited. And WAITED. Two days until we leave and still no passport. Action Girl calls the processing center and inquires what’s going on. They haven’t seen her passport. WHAT!?

Through a set of unfortunate events and misleading instructions, Action Girl had mailed her information and old papers to the wrong place. There was no new passport coming. Not in time anyway.

What I got that afternoon was a phone call from my cursing/semi-hysterical wife, telling me that the trip’s ruined and that she was going to call work up and try to get her vacation time back. After talking her down from the edge, I told her to give me the afternoon to work this out. I got off the phone and put my brain into overdrive. Mind you, “overdrive” doesn’t get used much. It smokes a bit and makes a grinding sound.

Where could we go? Florida and much of the southern east coast had just been flattened by a series of hurricanes. So had most of the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands. I didn’t know much of anything about vacationing in California, Washington or Oregon. We needed to find a place to go that didn’t involve passports but would be guaranteed to make my dear wife happy about this vacation on the fly. I had it! I called the airline and asked them, “What if we went west instead of east?” A couple hundred dollars paid to them for changing my mind, a quick call to my Mother to enlist her help in finding lodging and we were all set. I called Action Girl at home.

“Empty out the suitcases and start repacking for warm weather.”
“What? Why? Where are we going?”
“Don’t forget your swim suit.”
“WHERE are we going!?”
This was tough. I badly wanted to make this a surprise, but I supposed that she had lived through enough stress for today. I also guessed that she would have strangled me if I withheld this information until we reached check-in at the airport.
“Maui”

*Gleeful squeals*

“Do we have tickets?”
“Taken care of.”
“A place to stay?”
“Mom found a place. It’s on the beach.”
*More squeals*

So, we called our friend in France, gave him our apologies and flew from Boston to Maui. I hadn’t been there in about ten years and for Action Girl, it was her first time. We had a blast. I didn’t get much writing done. Most of our time was spent sightseeing and snorkeling. We had a blast.

I’m still looking out for a chance to get back to France. The fires are out and the rioters are just the local taxi drivers or school teachers and no one seems to be shooting at the police at the moment. I’ll get there yet. The trouble now will be convincing Action Girl to fly east, rather than west.

Bon Aloha.

Dangerous Birthday Presents

Action Girl is not an easy person to buy a gift for.
That’s putting it mildly. She’s fiendishly difficult to buy a gift for, and with her birthday coming up fast, I was in a bit of a panic.

Over the years, I have made progress in working out what she likes for prezzies and what falls flat. Clothes? No way. She’s very particular about clothes. Dustable knick knacks? You’ve got to be kidding. Jewelry? That depends. She likes bracelets but never wears them because “They get in the way and bug me..” Necklaces have the same issue. She likes the idea, but the actual wearing of them is another thing. Rings? No. I don’t cal her “Action Girl” for nothing. Rings are far too delicate and would get crunched or wacked very quickly. Her wedding ring (in fact, the only ring she wears) was actually selected very carefully based on durability and looks. The Durability issue, however, came first during the selection process.

So, that pretty much leaves me with earrings. She loves earrings and she has lots of them. I have been buying her earrings for all sorts of occasions for years now and have followed the progression from ‘long and dangly’ to “posts, only please” and lately, back to ‘long and dangly’ again. The problem is that I almost ALWAYS get her earrings. She always appreciates them but it was starting to feel too easy, to obvious. I needed something new.

I also wanted something that said “I love you” in a new and interesting way. I love spending time with her and we used to do a lot of out door activities together such as mountain biking, skiing and rock climbing, but since the arrival of our kiddos, that’s been pretty much a memory. So, I spent some time thinking about an outdoor sport that we could do, just the two of us, that wouldn’t take too much time and we’d both enjoy. Then I had an idea. It was risky, but I hoped that she would like it.

Yesterday was her birthday. She informed us all that she was turning twenty nine again this year, since it went so well the other times and we made plans to get up at a reasonable hour and do something she enjoys. On the morning, we packed Short Stack and Lulu Belle into the wagon and headed off strawberry picking. Short Stack is still to young to remember doing this last year and we were a bit dubious about how this would work out. We shouldn’t have worried. As soon as he got his empty pint box, he transformed into a dump truck (his favorite thing to be) and made about fifty trips back and forth from us to the quickly filling flat. He dubbed it the “flat bed”. If any activity can involve trucks, he’s happy. Lulu Bell mostly got hoisted along in her car seat and watched clouds and bugs.

We finished up picking and after a quick cleanup to get the strawberry juice off of Short Stack’s face, hands, chest, neck, ears and arms, we headed back. I had told Action Girl that her present was at my shop. I got the obligatory, “You didn’t have to get me anything” speech but there was no way that I’d let her birthday go by with out something given. As we got closer, I got more and more nervous. This was either going to work or really, REALLY bomb. When we pulled in I tried to explain that this was… an unusual gift. It was something that she didn’t need and probably never thought of getting. I explained that I got it because I wanted to spend more time with her and I thought this might be a good way to do that.

Boy, did she look confused and perhaps, just a little bit worried.

I ran in, got it and came out with this…

It’s a M96 Swedish Mauser built in 1917 and it’s in fantastic shape. For those of you who haven’t read the “In a Nut Shell (bag?)” page or missed the other posts I’ve made about firearms, or the fact that the name of the blog comes from two of my favorite fire arms, let me just say, “I love shooting.” Though her upbringing did not involve guns, Action Girl has turned out to be a very good shot. The problem was that the high power stuff I shoot tends to kick her around too much and thus, she doesn’t go with me very often. She likes the little .22 caliber rifles we have but they are really only good to about fifty to seventy yards and for accuracy over distance, you need more power.

My sweet Action Girl… truth be told, is a power junkie. Just ask her. Her idea of a boat is a center console, 25 foot Mako with a couple of 225’s on the back. She can drive any piece of heavy equipment you can name and handle it flawlessly. She drives multi-ton sea going vessels for a living. She, to put it succinctly, likes power.

The Swedish M98 Mauser is nothing to sneeze at. The bullet it fires may be smaller than most of the military cartridges if the day, but at 6.5 millimeters in diameter, it’s still plenty big; just not big enough to bruise your shoulder after a morning at the range. It is also very beautiful, as old rifles go. My hope was that if she had the right rifle and the knowledge that it was hers, then perhaps she would feel compelled to drop the kids with the grandparents and go shooting with me some Sunday mornings.

Big gamble. She was either going to love it or hate it and I was really nervous. I put it in her hands, told her what it was and… a big smile broke across her face. Then she started working out how we could slip away this weekend so she could go and shoot HER rifle! *phew!*

So, we have a ‘date’ this Sunday to go and punch some holes in paper targets at 100 yards. I’ll bring one of my usual rifles and this time, she’ll have her own. I can’t wait. And the best part is, neither can she. I wonder what earrings accessorize best with a rifle?

Making friends with the natives.

There is a man who lives just a few streets over from me who is an arborist. He’s a quiet man, mostly of Native American lineage and mostly of the stoic variety. I had lived in the area for several years before he even started to acknowledge me, though we pass cross paths at least two or three times a week. Two things changed my status from, “Does not exist, as far as I’m concerned.” to “Deserves a head nod when seen.” and then, all the way to an actual verbal greeting.

The first event was initiated by Action Girl. One evening, the two of us had gone for a walk down some of the paths that snake through the woods around here. As we walked, darkness closed in sooner than we anticipated. I felt pretty good about taking the right trails back as we tripped on the exposed roots and rocks which seemed to suddenly fill the path. As we stumbled along, Action Girl somewhat jokingly told me to “channel my ancestors and get us home”. You see, among all the European blood that flows through my veins, there is also a good dose of Native American Indian.

We made it home with no issues other than stubbed toes and I thought nothing of it. Action Girl happened to have cause to talk with our Indian arborist a week or so later and made some off the cuff remark about me using my Indian blood to find our way out of the woods. That caught his attention.

“He’s part Indian?”
“Oh yah. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him but he has family from two different tribes. His great grandmother lived on a reservation a ways up the coast.”

Well, with out me realizing it, I had graduated to earning a head nod or even a two fingered wave from atop the steering wheel as he passed by. It caught me by surprise and it took effort on my part to not blow it by enthusiastically waving back or grinning like an idiot.

I am anything but stoic. My kids are DOOMED to be embarrassed by their dad.

The next thing that really got me in his “Okay guy” book was my son, Short Stack. My father had a tree that needed attention and hired our silent arborist to come take care of it. He showed up on the appointed day and climbed up the tree to take care of the offending, dead limbs. Short Stack was in the care of my folks that day and was helping Grandpa around the yard. As I’ve said before, Short Stack’s number one recreation is driving his toy trucks. Number two however, is helping. He loves to help. You can get him to do just about anything by framing it as “help”. Be prepared for enthusiastic truck noises that are apparently a necessity, though.

What our friend in the tree had, was a fantastic view of Short Stack running around in the yard, not playing, but really helping. Hauling little buckets of mulch, raking, watering flowers, his shoes and anything else from his knees down… for over two hours. He never stopped, whined, or got bored. For what ever reason, this impressed our stoic tree climber like nothing else could. When the cutting and trimming was done and his descent back to earth accomplished, he commented to my father about Short Stack’s work ethic and told him that if he was still cutting trees in fourteen years, he’d hire him.

So now, I’ve gone from being, “That new guy who smiles too much” to “That part Indian who smiles too much but has the hard working kid.”

Hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Our stoic friend blew me away this weekend by actually crossing the street to come and talk to me about some trees on my parent’s property, so… I guess I’m “in”. I think he even smiled. Though come to think of it, I was holding Short Stack at the time.

Whatever.

To me, it’s another little victory towards being accepted by my adoptive home and a step closer to not being “from away”, as the locals put it. With a little luck, in another 15 to 20 years, they might even start referring to our house with our last name rather than the name of previous occupants.

Hmmm. Well, maybe in 25 to 30, anyway.
We’ll make it. We’re in it for the long haul.

Proving Grounds

So today was the first big day for this new dad of two. For the first time, I was the sole care giver for the kiddos while Action Girl went back to her employer for the fist time in months and months so she could pick a schedule to start working in about a week and a half.

Let me say that first, I rather pride my self on being able to multi-multi-multi task and manage time and resources very well. It’s what I do every day at work. At work though, the machinery and product rarely poops its self, then runs around shrieking and trying to escape. To be fair, neither do my kids (mostly). Short Stack is far too happy go lucky for that sort of behavior (again, mostly) and Lulu Belle is still in the “Where you put her is where you’ll find her” stage. Mostly, Short Stack wants to play with his trucks and Lulu Belle wants… well, if I knew that, I’d be in far greater demand with young parents with new babies. Let’s just say that her main interests are eating, sleeping, pooping and “urping up”.

Action Girl was out the door by eight and I was determined to make a showing of not just competency, but Super Dad levels of ability. I really bent my self hard into the job and worked my buns off; not for the bragging rights, but rather to show how badly I wanted to earn an “A+” WITH a Gold Star and smiley face. I think I made it.

The kids and I had a good time. Actually, mostly Short Stack had a good time. he has trucks to play with and used them well. Lulu Belle was cranky and barely slept. I finally got her down with a bottle, a fresh diaper, the baby swing, a pacifier, and “The ABBA Gold Collection”. Hey, when it comes to crying babies, what ever works.

When Action Girl came home at about 12:45, she got out of the car, looked at me, cocked an eyebrow and said,”Well, how did it go?”

I took a deep breath…

“Our internet connection is now fixed, the dishes are done, the baby bottles are sterilized, the laundry is folded and put away, the lawn is watered, the kids are fed, they have fresh diapers on, the trash went out, I reconnected the plumbing in the front yard. Short Stack is covered in sun block and is playing with trucks, Lulu Belle isn’t having anything to do with napping so she’s in the swing seat with a pacifier listening to ABBA.”

That got me a great big hug and a kiss!

“I guess dinner’s on me, huh?”
“Nah, I’ll bring home pizza”. Hey, if you’re putting your all into it, you might as well go for broke. I’m picking the toppings though!

A sea of yellow.

I have said in the past that one of the things I was looking forward to the most was finding out what Short Stack’s passions would be. I know they change as we grow, but every kid seems to have one thing in particular that lights his or her fire. For me, it was airplanes, for Action Girl it was matchboxes (The little cars, not an actual box of matches, thank goodness). What would Short Stacks be? Dinosaurs? Space ships? Pirates? I’ll give you a hint… VROOOOOOOM! DUMP! SCOOP!

Actually, if you ask Short Stack, it’s pronounced “ROOOOOOM! DHOOMP! DOOOP!”

Action Girl and I were careful not to steer him in any particular direction and let him find his own passions. We got him toys of all types and with out any particular gender alignment. He has trains, tools, blocks, horses, dolls, and even a miniature stroller to push. Something in his blood though cried out for heavy equipment. He loves it. Loves it more than applesauce; and that my friend, is saying a LOT.

Over the last few months, we’ve been buying him truck toys of different types. Our favorites are by a company called Siku. It’s a German toy maker with an eye for detail, solid construction and actual lead-free paint. What a bonus! They’re a little more costly than most of the Chinese made stuff (I almost said US made, but we all know that’s a fantasy, these days) but it’s really a quality made toy. They have heft to them and are very realistic.
frontloader.jpg

The best part is that he knows what all the equipment is called. He will happily explain to anyone who will pause more than half a second what each truck is and what its exact function is. In his two year old voice he points out, “Dat’s an excabator. It doops! Excabator have a big dooper. Dat’s a front loader. It has wheels. DOOOOP! Dis is back hoe. Has a tiny dooper…” and so on. He’s very worried that you might be misinformed and wouldn’t want you to make an embarrassing faux pas and call the skid steer a bucket truck or something. He’s helpful that way.

So now that his second birthday has passed and since everyone who knows him, knows his passion, we are awash in a sea of miniature machinery. He’s a very, VERY happy boy. I can’t wait for the weather to warm up enough for me to open up his new sand box for him. It’s going to be a good summer in the sand. In the mean time, Short Stack forwent his usual plush jellyfish that accompanies him to dream land and instead, drifted off clutching his brand new CAT 430 back hoe. And yes, he’ll let you know it’s a 430. He knows the make and model. Just ask him.cat-430.jpg

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