Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricane Katrina again

This is all over the news and everybody knows about it, but this would not be a personal journal, a record of my life, if I didn't comment on Hurricane Katrina.

It's just awful. All those people displaced, many mourning their losses, or unsure whether loved ones survived. Pets left for what their owners thought would be a few days. Photo albums. Daily journals (glad I'm blogging instead of journaling).

Meanwhile, we're gearing up to fly out in a few days for a week long vacation on the Chesapeake Bay and the Eastern Shore. We discussed ditching the trip and helping, but we haven't seen this family in a very long time, and Ben's never met many of them. A tragedy like this hurricane makes us realize that family members might not always be around, so we have to spend time with them when we can. There will be plenty of time and opportunity for us to help after our visit is over.

They're relocating New Orleans folks from the Superdome to the Houston Astrodome, 350 miles by bus. At least 15,000 people have been living there two days and nights without benefit of air conditioning, toiletries, proper facilities, or even enough food and water. There is nowhere else for them to go in New Orleans, as the Superdome area was about the only place buses can still go and still get out of the city -- and the water is still rising.

Jails are flooded to the point that authorities have had to relocate prisoners to state prisons.

Those who left their homes before the waters came are as far flung as Dallas, Little Rock, Memphis. While some motel owners are giving discounts to the displaced, others are price gouging. A Best Western representative was quoted on National Public Radio as saying that, as regrettable as the practice may be, the rules permit individual owners to set whatever price they want.

My boy is calling for me, and I must put him to bed soon. Maybe more on this later.

Mississippi also has suffered great losses. The floodwaters are not still stranding people as they are in New Orleans, but the devastation from the 145 mph sustained winds makes it look like atomic bombs were dropped. Entire neighborhoods are in millions of pieces.

I have heard most of my news of this on NPR, but we are watching a Dateline NBC special right now. A family with four children who returned Tuesday from Florida to Gulfport, MS to survey the damage found their house a flat pile of splinters. They spent the night in their car, and the next morning patrons of the CVS Pharmacy gave them food, water, and Fix-a-Flat for their tire. It's nice to see people doing good things for real, instead of for one of those television shows that replaces a home or a face for advertising dollars.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hurricane Katrina and My Reporting

At lunch yesterday as I munched on my canned tuna, Zesta saltines, and baby carrots, I for once paid attention to the television in the break room. Hurricane Katrina was on her miserable march up Louisiana and Mississippi, leaving little room for stupidity. Yet CNN had an innumerable supply of reporters, borrowed and their own, feeding them live footage of themselves getting wind-whipped and rain-soaked. Collectively, I believe they were, as my friend Chris put it, "an idiot for being out in it with a raincoat and a mic." Obviously a substantial chunk of the population believes they need this type of sensationalism with their news. We know hurricanes damage things and kill people, and it's horrible. Do we really want to put more people out there in it just to satisfy our desire for live coverage? If you need footage that badly, post a weatherproof camera on a building or something.

At the same time, I do feel a bit for the reporters sent to those scenes. Most of them don't sign up as reporters specifically to put themselves in harm's way like that. Jumping jobs from journalism to some other field is not a decision one makes based on something that happens once or twice a year. "Nope, sorry, boss, I'm just going to skip this one." Well, that doesn't really happen if you want to keep getting paid.

That said, I was a newspaper reporter/photographer for about a year, so I know that the danger can be somewhat intoxicating, as well as saddening. I covered fires, accidents, and even the murder of a man I knew.

There's a strange disconnect that occurs when reporting a scene, especially when behind the camera. Just that viewfinder could make me feel I was only watching. Fortunately for me, the worst weather events I covered were ice storms. If the roads were icy and there was a pileup on a bridge, I was right there on the bridge, on foot, in case any sliders-by needed a human target.

I went to house and car fires in progress, and followed ambulances to crash scenes. If it was just a fender-bender, then we didn't bother. I could have made quite a lucrative business of toting a lawyer's business card for kickbacks.

In the only fatal accident I covered, I saw the mother of the dead teenage boy, beside her son's flipped Jeep Cherokee, sobbing so deeply I would have been compelled to comfort her if nobody else had been there. I snapped a few pics, loathing the fact that I was capturing what might be the most painful moment in her life, yet being careful to compose good shots. Then I had to start asking those on the scene what happened. I think that's when I realized that business was not for me.

The danger thrill hit me hard during one particularly nasty house fire. That fire department had to cover a 62-square mile area without benefit of a big budget, so if your house caught on fire, it was best to enjoy the show and hope your insurance coverage was as good as you thought. The story goes that the wind had blown the guy's turkey cooker over, snapping the gas line to create a flamethrower with a two-story deck as kindling.

I showed up, parked my Mitsubishi Mirage as close as I could without getting in the way, then ran to the scene, stepping over leaking firehoses all the way. Firefighters would call me back, and I would rush in from another angle. Nobody had been hurt, and large house fires can make for beautiful photographs. Oddly enough, a firefighter taking a break pointed out an octagonal window with blue flame dancing behind it. I wondered if the reporter I replaced had won his firey spot news photography award thanks to a hoseman with an eye. I stopped after realizing I was walking close enough not only to be backed up by the heat, but close enough that no unprotected firefighter was anywhere near me.

I also showed up on a car fire scene to take pictures about three feet away from the car's smoking innards as the firefighters doused it. It wasn't the smartest thing to do, but it was my job.

Just as it was my job to cover the murder of a man I had interviewed only a few months earlier.

Our daily's managing editor called me to ask about the disappearance of local marina manager Dave Howard back in 1999. As I gathered information, I found the authorities frantically doing the same. From the local county detective to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, I talked to everyone who might be in a position to look at this case. He was last seen alive in Bella Vista, Arkansas, and was found dead beside the freeway in Oklahoma. Had I read about it in a newspaper, I might have thought it was exaggerrated. Because I was the one covering it, however, I knew it was real. Evidence showed he had been in an Internet love affair that resulted in the jealous husband allegedly setting him up and shooting him. I say allegedly because the guy has not been brought to justice yet. I cannot find my story online, but it's a fascinating story, recapped here in March of this year. He was denied a new trial, but plans to appeal, which will be in about a year. Great system, huh?

I got into journalism after a stint as a Web programmer left me wanting to write, but not write code. Took a 50% cut in pay and moved us 230 miles to do it. I found out that being a reporter was not in my blood. On the occasion I got to write a column, I was ecstatic. That was my favorite part. Maybe that's why I blog.

Monday, August 29, 2005

I Yike it a Yot

This weekend, I managed to install two more of our ceiling fans. Living pretty much anywhere in Texas without fans is not recommended. The second one went in Ben's room, and after I finished it, he looked up and said, "Ben's san."

Now, Ben doesn't use the"f" sound yet. Instead, he uses the "s." I said that yes, he was right, this was Ben's fan, and I asked if he liked it. He said, "I yike it. I yike it a yot." Just to catch you up, Ben's not saying the "L" sound yet, either.

As I came back from putting away the ladder and my tools, I could hear Ben yelling from his room, "Yike it a yot, yike it a yot." Shannon and I always get a big kick out of things like that, because, well, they're cute. There's no better way to put it. When something like that happens, something that you never would have predicted, you can't help smiling.

There's another upside to it. When Ben goes out on the Chesapeake Bay next week with his grandparents, he'll be able to say not only that he's on a boat, but that he's on a "yot."

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Find the Differences

Oops. What I meant was watching the sun rise as Benjamin plays in the sand. Thanks to jim for pointing out that it would be hard to see the sun set over the ocean while on the east coast.

Another thing... I took the two pictures below, before and after getting our new HDTV. That's the most obvious difference between the two, but can you the spot the others? Come on, you obviously have a little time to waste, or you would not be reading this. I have a page with bigger versions, if you need a closer look.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Vacation Coming Soon

We're loading Ben into an airplane for his first flight, up to Baltimore. Then we'll take a short drive to Queenstown, MD to visit the other in-laws. Yes, I have in-laws there, too. Divorce gives the benefit of two sets. We'll spend some time on their boat on Chesapeake Bay, where I'm hoping we'll go to St. Michael's, a picturesque community with some great Revolutionary War history. Might visit Baltimore Harbor, Annapolis, or any number of locations dating back to the birth of the U.S. (and before).

Then it's off to Ocean View, DE, where we'll visit more family and Bethany Beach. Ben's never been to the beach, and I've never been to the east coast. I have visions of the sun setting over the ocean as Ben goes nuts in the biggest sandbox he's ever seen. Of course, that's followed by visions of photos of same. We'll see, and maybe my faithful readers will, too (who that is, I have no idea).

(Major change of mood and subject)

While I always get a good feeling visiting the area where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the national anthem, I also think of the relocation and near genocide of the natives of the land. It's an atrocity for which we cannot possibly give worthy restitution. So, we just kind of put it out of our minds and go on with life, most of us seeing them only when we buy souvenirs or play the slots. I often wonder what it would be like to live in a place like Minneapolis, where Sioux work alongside those whose ancestors displaced their own. I'm reminded of the song "Darkness," by Rage Against the Machine. I don't by any means agree with everything they say in their songs, but this one seems to be right on. The first several lines go:

Causing innocent blood to flow
Entire culture lost in the overthrow
They came to see, take whatever they please
Then all they gave back was death and disease

People were left with no choice but to decide
To conform to a system responsible for genocide.

This blog is written by one of the palest, most freckle-speckled men you'll ever see, with blue eyes and a trace amount of Cherokee blood. If I can get bothered by the thought of this, then just think how those directly affected must feel.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Ben Makes Me Think

When I was playing with Ben in his room this weekend, I asked him if he could go get a car (which was in the living room). He said, "Yes," and then as he stood up he looked at me, held out his balled-up hand toward me and said, "Wye back." I could tell this meant, "I'll be right back," something we sometimes say to him when we're leaving a room. I repeated back to him, "Oh, you'll be right back? Okay."

He pumped his hand at me again, as if pointing, but without any fingers out, and repeated, "Wye back. Wye back." He walked toward the door, repeating that phrase over and over. As he reached to close the door behind him (not sure why he did that), he said it again. Just when the door touched the jam, he push it back open enough to look in and say, "Wye back." Then he added, "Say here," which I knew meant, "Stay here." I assured him I would do that, and he closed the door.

Upon his return, I could hear his hand fumbling at the doorknob. "Help," his muffled voice said through the door. "Daddy help." It was funny that after so proudly taking charge of the situation, he had to stop and ask for help. I got up and let him in. He walked in with a car and we played for a while. As I continued to ask him where a certain toy was, he would repeat "Wye back," and "Say here," before going to get it.

This is a moment I know I get more out of than I would with someone else's child. It is not just the cuteness of a two-year old reassuring an adult he would be right back, or even that he instructed said adult to stay where he was. Although, that was ridiculously cute. It's that our boy is learning. Not something we tried to teach him, but something he picked up just by observing us. He wants to be like us so strongly that he makes sure we acknowledge what he's doing.

That's when it hit me. Had we brought Ben up as something radically from our current lifestyle, whether something acceptable like the Amish or something hateful like white supremacists, Ben would be right there trying to be the same thing, with absolutely no standard by which to judge. That's how some children go for years being abused, yet still love their parents; they have no idea that their treatment is wrong. It's also why they usually go on to be abusers. That way of thinking and behaving is wired into their brains from such an early age that it's nearly impossible to clear from their minds. I'm not trying to excuse abhorrent behavior, but as a first-time father witnessing how impressionable children are, I'm taken aback by the joy and the concern. It's kind of scary, but it makes me glad that so far Ben watches nothing but commercial-free programs, and only about one or two hours per day.

I haven't written much about Ben in this blog until now. Maybe that's because I consciously was trying to avoid being the annoying guy who chatters incessantly about his kid. Other parents react in one of two ways to that kind of behavior; they either love it because it reminds them of when their child was that age, or they can't stand it because they're thinking, "So what, my kid did (or does) that, and I'm not writing about it." To the latter I say, you choose what you do or do not read, not me. I'm not even sure anybody's reading this thing, except Shannon, who is turning out to be my retroactive editor -- for better or worse. I try not to actively bore people.

Honestly, I could go on for quite a while about Ben. I wouldn't do it to brag, because I know the skills children exhibit at any given age vary for reasons doctors cannot name. At the same time, I worry whether he'll stop saying "coa" instead of "car."

Parents who work tirelessly to get their child to walk may get frustrated, while others who take a completely hands-off approach may see their child walk sooner than expected. We were a bit worried about Ben at one point, because we thought he "should" be crawling. He rolled to get around, and at first only in one direction. That meant that someone had to flip him around once he hit an obstacle. He used that method quite a while, and ended up crawling for a somewhat shorter period than many babies. Without any problems at all, though, he started walking right at about one year.

The same thing goes for talking. We don't know for certain whether our efforts are making a difference. We make sure that we repeat back correctly anything he mis-pronounces. I think that might have contributed to Ben's habit of repeating something until someone repeats it back, but I could be completely wrong.

Ben can't jump yet. I've seen kids 6 months younger jumping like jackrabbits, but at nearly 26 months, when he tries he still manages to get only his heels off the ground. Oh well, one of these days, little buddy.

This post has wandered all around. I guess that's why we have journals. We're not writing on assignment -- we're just putting down our thoughts. What will I post about next time, and when?

Wye back. Say here.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Minivan Looks as Good as New

We had a misadventure with our minivan repair. It's fixed now, and it looks good. Here's from a post I made on a blog I no longer use, back when we first had it "repaired" by somebody who turned out to be pretty much a hack. You won't be surprised after reading this.

He was drilling holes in my van

I pulled into the driveway from work a couple months ago,when we were temporarily staying with my in-laws. This guy is running a sander over the rear hatch of our minivan. Yes, minivan. Get over it. I notice, too that the surface he is sanding sports about eight or nine holes the size of a .45 slug. My mind starts racing a bit. The van is curbside, and a little boy is playing in the back of the guy's pickup. I know exactly why the man is there, but I have no idea who invited him. I also wonder why it isn't Manny.

A few months before that, my mother in-law was driving our van as she and my wife scoped out house possibilities in McKinney. I had interviewed for a job and expected to get it. As they backed out of one of the driveways, she smacked the back of the van into a construction worker's truck. Turns out she hit his bumper, and it didn't damage it at all.

On a more recent visit to Plano, a hispanic man named Manny comes up to the in-laws' door and says he noticed the dent in the back of the van, and asks if we would like a free estimate. We say, sure. He says it will take about $600 for him to do everything but paint it, and it will be good as new. He'll do the work right there in the street. He has a reference letter and some before-after pictures. The fact that he is hispanic really doesn't matter, but when I describe someone, I like to use detail. I tell him we don't have time to wait for that kind of job, because we're about to leave, but I get his card.

A few days ago, my wife and my mother in-law were at Wal-Mart. As my wife was about to back out, a man approached her and said he would fix our van dent, except for painting, for $250. They apparently thought that sounded better than $600 and let the guy and his boy follow them home. Clearly, they don't watch the same kind of movies I watch or read the same kind of books I read. That is a good thing in many ways, but sometimes a little fear of strangers can save your life.

Back to now. When I approach him, the man explains to me that he had to drill the holes to pull out the dents. He could not push them out from the inside as he originally planned. I end up talking to the guy, and find out that he has Romanian parents, but was born and brought up in Massachusetts. He doesn't seem uncomfortable in the least when I tell him that I could tell by his skin color that he probably was not hispanic, that he looked more like a friend of mine who has Syrian blood. As he applies seemingly random dabs of some red compound, the purpose of which I still am clueless, he just tells me more about his heritage and how he ended up in the Dallas area. Perhaps my comments would bother some folks, but after talking to him a while, I just had the feeling he wouldn't mind. It was refreshing after always being so politically correct at work and other places. I would never walk up to the lady across the hall and ask her if her mother is white. Unless she started it.

On another note, though, after setting my son's stroller on the street so he could climb into the back of the van, he didn't move it. It ended up covered with a layer of sanded off paint, body filler, and general muck. When I asked for his last name, he said "Thompson." But, when I presented a check, he asked for cash because, "I need $250 today. That's why I came up to them in the parking lot." Whatever. We paid him, and now our van toodles around town with a back hatch resembling the hide of some newly discovered leopard. I'm just a little worried the body shop guys will find a problem when they start wet sanding that surface. We'll see. Oh, and whereas Manny said it would look like new, this guy just came out and admitted it would not. That's probably just the more honest answer.

Of course, that was the past. The minivan now sits looking fine. We do not back it up the driveway anymore to hide the Bondo-looking back end. Moral? Get it done right the first time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Laptop Selloff Causes Melee

Just got this from a co-worker and had to share it. Richmond, Virginia's Henrico County school district decided to sell a bunch of laptops for $50, and it turned into a mob scene, with one guy using a folding chair to swat line breakers like flies. Folks, they are four-year-old Apple iBooks used and carried around by high school students. But it had folks going crazy, to the point of hurting people. Read it here.

Tried Something New Last Night

Stop that. This is a family blog.

For our anniversary, we went to a place called Studio Movie Grill. Notice that they do not add the pretentious "e" on the end. I like that. My wife found out about it from a Mom's Club member. It is a movie theater with several screens, on which patrons watch first-run movies as they dine on the moderately priced fare. We didn't know exactly what to expect, as neither of us had ever heard of a place like that. It sounded great, though, because we've lamented the fact that having dinner and a movie on a weekday makes for a very late night. We can never get to a restaurant and eat in time to make the 7-ish show, so weeknight movie dates were pretty much a no-go.

Overall, it was good, but it started out a little rocky. The show started at 7:30, but the Web site encouraged everyone to be there by 7:00. This time, it really was not our fault we were late.

We had ordered the tickets online and printed out our confirmation sheet. When we dropped Ben off at the in-laws' place, I called the theater's number to find out exactly where it was located. The recording said it was on West Park, two blocks east of the North Dallas Tollway, in Plano. We kissed Ben and left at 6:40, with about 20 minutes to get somewhere that should take about 10.

When I exited and headed east, as the directions said, we went much farther than two blocks. Probably more like a mile and a half. All we saw were houses. We turned around and started back the other way, figuring maybe the recording was wrong. I called the theater's number and a live person said we had gone the right way the first time. We called the inlaws, who usually give good directions, and they said the same thing. I turned around. Grrr...

It's about 7:00 by this time, so we know we're going to be late. Trying to keep our anniversary positive, I assured Shannon that getting there a few minutes after was no big deal.

Shannon was first to spot the Blue Goose, a landmark the theater guy had given us, on the left side of the road. Grumbling something about that not being anywhere near where he said it would be, I somehow got us across two lanes without crashing and turned into the parking lot of the Blue Goose.

We drove around the front of the Blue Goose and saw no entrance to the Studio Movie Grill's lot. At that point, those two curbs and that small strip of grass were not going to stop me. I very gently eased over the curbs and into the next lot, where I then hit the gas to cross the 100 yards of empty spaces. We had arrived, and it was 7:10.

I like to sit in the middle of the theater, just a little farther back than dead center. A couple sat in the prime spot, so we sat next to them. This was to our advantage later.

I'll describe in detail since it's so much different from a typical movie theater. The seating consists of black office chairs with armrests, the kind that run about $149 at Office Depot. Our row had a table that ran its length, butted up against a short wall. Recessed lights mounted at the top of the short wall shone just brightly enough to light our menus. A row behind us had the same chairs, but with two-top tables instead of the bar approach. Each couple had a lighted coaster (like the kind some restaurants use to page you when waiting for a table), which we could activate when ready to order or when we needed something. Very good idea.

The menu at Studio Movie Grill offers a nice range of choices. The Pizzas had various toppings on a base of honey-wheat crust, red sauce, and provolone and mozzarella cheeses; hamburgers resembled what you might find at Chili's. The prices ranged from $6.99 for the hot dog to $9.99 for a loaded pizza. I was surprised to see that the popcorn was only $1.99. They had mixed drinks aplenty, some of which sounded like they would make good desserts. We happened to be there on Margarita Monday, which knocked $1.50 off the price of a margarita. Shannon was a little queasy, so she passed, and I'm not a margarita drinker.

As we looked over the menu, the couple next to us helped make our anniversary better. They did not know it was our anniversary, which made their offer even nicer. The lady showed me a coupon book, and asked if we would like one of the tickets for "buy one entree, get one free." She explained that they expire in October, and there was no way they were going to use them all. We gave them the usual polite answer, something like, "Oh, well if you really don't think you are going to use them."

The couple asked for their spinach artichoke dip to come out before their meal. I thought maybe they were just being cautious, so I said nothing. Yeah. Nice.

About 10 minutes after we ordered, as we watched the trailers for upcoming features, all of our food came out, including our "appetizer" spinach artichoke dip. Shannon's pepperoni pizza was very good, and my burger was tasty. The lighting was low enough that I couldn't tell whether it was done, but it tasted okay, so I devoured it. I have only about three or four burgers a year at the most, and it was very good.

We saw "Wedding Crashers," which was very funny. The whole crowd laughed out loud many times. The story was a formula seen in several romantic comedies over the years, but Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson did a great job with a funny script. They make a great comedy duo. There's also a hilarious cameo that had my mind racing to guess who it was before he was revealed, but I don't want to spoil it for anybody. We had a hard time buying Owen Wilson as a romantic lead, but maybe that says more about us than it does about the movie. I don't have time for that blog entry.

There were a couple times during the show that we could hear booming bass from one of the other screens, a problem I suspect I would find in any of today's multi-giga-super-plex cinemas.

If you are up for dinner and a movie and there's a Studio Movie Grill nearby, then give it a try. It cuts out waiting for a table and the rush of trying to make it from one place to the next.

That is, if you can find it.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Thought Again of Losing Her

Shannon's first weekend without Ben...

I took Ben to Arkansas this weekend for my cousin's 30th birthday party and to see family he had not seen since Easter. It was his first time away from his Mommy for more than one night, and the latter has happened only once. It was strange to be somewhere with Ben but without Shannon. She has taken Ben for family visits without me before, and it was no big deal, because she would go during weekdays. Also, when I lived in Plano for a couple weeks before they joined me, we did fine.

I always get up with Ben on weekends to give both of us a change of pace, so that part of it was no adjustment for me. It was the little things, like not being able to turn to Shannon and say, "Did you hear that?" Sure, I could do that with my brother and his wife, but it just wasn't the same. The only time it was at all inconvenient was when Ben and I stopped to eat, and I decided I should use the bathroom one last time before getting back on the road. I didn't have Ben's stroller, and I couldn't just let him wander around a public restroom while I took care of business. Two-year olds generally have little idea of what they should and shouldn't touch, and the colorful "mint" in the urinal might have been quite tempting. So, holding up Ben's 30 pounds with one arm and considerably less weight with the other, I completed my task without too much trouble. No, there was nobody else in there at the time. That probably was for the best.

The weekend did make me think, just for one sad second, what it would be like if for some reason it were just Ben and me. During a tense time in the delivery room, it was more than just my imagination that made me think of that.

Of course, as is the case with all husbands who have children, my wife went through more than I can imagine. I had a little added stress that I wouldn't wish on any of them.

As I watched the nurses get Ben's first footprints, my wife lay almost motionless across the room. I heard the nurses saying things about her blood pressure dropping low and something about how much blood she had lost. Their movements were more hurried and their sentences more succinct. I rushed over to her and saw that her eyelids were very heavy, as if she were trying to stay awake. Concerned that she might be falling unconscious I asked the doctor, finishing up "downstairs," if it was okay for her to be falling asleep. The doctor said, "As long as she wakes up when we ask her to." I'm not sure that comforted me much.

This was not the first time I thought I could be losing her. A year or two before that, a large horse she was sitting on while inside a barn reared up on its hind legs and went down on its side, with my wife still in the saddle. Somehow, she escaped with only bruises and soreness. Viewing the videotape later, which I was using because it was her first time to sit on a horse, I still don't see how her head didn't hit the stall door. I haven't watched that tape in at least three years, and I'm not sure I will again. It makes me sick just recalling it long enough to write this.

There she was, post-partum, taking what I feared were her last breaths, as our baby across the room took his first. She made it through, of course, and each time I see her sleeping I think back to that day when I thought her sleep might last forever. If you've ever thought you were losing someone you've poured all of yourself into for 12 years, then you can imagine how I felt.

They never did a transfusion, which I still question to this day. I know transfusions are not as common as they seem on TV emergency room shows, but she was very weak and anemic for weeks after that. My cynical side says that the doctor was not concerned about how she felt after leaving there.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Origin of Phrases

That's a true statement (and other sayings)

I try not to judge people by the words they use, because I sometimes catch myself using annoying phrases. There's a guy within earshot up here at work who keeps saying, "That's a true statement," and I'm about to throw my tangle over the cubicle wall at him. Great. Now the guy next to him said, "That's a true fact." Might have to hide in the server room.

That got me ta thinkin'. What makes people start using stock phrases in their everyday speech, or what blocks their brains from realizing what they are saying? Some are passed down by family, I'm sure, but I've heard others that I know were picked up later in life.

An IT instructor from the past was moving some computers and said he needed someone with "a strong back and weak mind." I've heard him say that at least 20 times. He also used the popular, "It's six of one, half a dozen of the other." I think that means that it makes no difference which of the two you choose. Why can't he just say that?

Then there are phrases that the individual might have coined, but that become predictable.

My mother-in-law's favorite, uttered at every family gathering, is, "You can tell when our family is eating, because it gets real quiet." I think she's suggesting that the family is a bunch of loudmouths who can only stop talking long enough to chew. On that subject, I have no room to talk. Ha. Nevermind.

I can't leave out the occasions when one means one thing but ends up conveying the opposite. I often hear, "I miss not seeing you." Huh? I've let that one slip more than once.

"Can you unloosen this for me?" Sure. I think. Just hand me the jar and we'll see.

I could list and try to make funny comments about others, but I'm sure all this has been covered somewhere else, and my lunch break is over.

Quick note, though. I had my first good experience at Blockbuster a few weeks ago. They had the new release I wanted in widescreen format. Almost none of the video stores back in Missouri or Arkansas carry widescreen DVD's anymore, and historically I just don't like Blockbuster because they overcharge me for something I don't need for a week. Everything went off without a hitch, smooth as silk, and I was happy as a clam.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Silent Talking and Ben's New Swing

Working together and Ben loves his new swing.

Saturday I found out that the in-laws had bought Ben a swingset as a birthday present. His birthday was about a month ago, before we were settled into our new house. Paul brought it over, boxed up, on Sunday morning at about eight. He and I worked on it until about noon. The instructions were horrible, and Shannon told me after we had finished that she had read online reviews of the set that said the same. We had to stop and take pieces off more than once to turn them around, flip them over, or both, because we were not warned at certain times to be wary of which way those parts were installed. The set ended up looking great, and Ben absolutely loves it. We skipped putting in the see-saw for now, because the instructions call for setting it in concrete. We were not up to that challenge at straight-up noon in August. It was not quite 100 degrees, maybe, but we had been out there in it long enough.

Ben's new set has two "regular" swings, one dual swing in which two kids sit facing each other, a slide, and a coming-soon see-saw.

One thing I noticed, which I've noticed before, is that guys get a lot done without saying a word. Perhaps women do, too, but I've never built anything with a woman, except my wife, so I can't speak to that. If both men have at least a little history assembling and/or building things, then there's an inherent understanding of what one should be doing at any given time. Each can anticipate what the other needs, and the teamwork that results is rewarding. Paul and I never had worked on a project like this together, but we executed as if we had.

Maybe that's why my dad would get frustrated sometimes when I would "help" him as a young child. There he was, doing something, and was not particularly talkative about it. Maybe in the back of his mind he was expecting me to act on cue, do the next thing that came naturally in the whole process. As a child, however, I had no reference by which to anticipate what he needed. Finally, I guess after I had not done what was expected, he would direct me what to do.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Marble Slab Creamery

If you've never been to the Marble Slab Creamery, and there's one near you, then you should go. It's not just an ice cream shop with several hand-dipped flavors and fancy waffle cones. When Shannon, Ben, and I first walked in, we thought that. I sampled the banana flavored ice cream, and it was very good. However, although the few featured flavors sounded good, overall we were not impressed by the dearth of choices. That is, until I said I wanted one scoop of banana and one scoop of the peanut butter ice cream. "Do you want me to mix those together for you?" the girl behind the counter asked.

I lowered my head a bit, as she was shorter than I and wore a baseball cap. I looked her in the eye. "You can do that?" I asked. She nodded. I got a little excited. "Oh, yeah, let's do that," I said.

The mixing was nothing like what Dairy Queen does with the Blizzard machine. Using two generous ice cream scoops, she dipped one flavor with each hand and walked to the end of the line, where a frosty cold marble slab awaited. She tapped the scoops onto the marble and manually pressed and stirred the ice cream.

Peanut butter and banana ice cream? Yes. I recommend it. Other choices included cinnamon, blueberry, cheesecake, and key lime. Shannon had key lime cheesecake. Mine was better, but Ben was glad to enjoy a little bit of both.

Clock Him in the Snotlocker

I'm not a violent guy, and the last person I punched probably was Christopher, in the 3rd or 4th grade. We had been arguing over who should get the most money after we had walked the highway for about four miles picking up aluminum cans. He was right; his father's primer of beer cans gave us a good headstart, but I wanted half the loot. Thus came my first lesson in not mixing business with friends. On the playground the following week, Christopher made some snide remark (I'm sure you're all gasping in disbelief at that one) and stuck his chest out. I punched him in the stomach. No fight resulted, probably because we both were shocked.

My peaceful nature aside, I had to share this phrase (with all two of my readers). I was listening to NPR on my way to work at about 3:45 a.m. a month ago, and a guy was telling a story about a bully who had thrown a rock at his face. It busted up his mouth and his dad ended up taking him to the bully's house for dental bill reimbursement. His dad told him that if he would just fight back, he wouldn't have a bully problem. "Clock him in the snotlocker, and he'll go down like a bag of rocks."

I had never heard that word for "nose" before then, but after two years of wiping Ben's nose, I can't think of a more appropriate term.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Apple's Move to Intel Threatens Linux

After reading a long article about Apple's switch to Intel, I thought about it a bit. I'm thinking this move could help keep Linux from becoming more mainstream. Until Apple's recent announcement, Linux was the only halfway viable alternative to Windows in Intel desktops. Still, running OSX (legally) and the apps for it (legally) on an Intel machine will be a lot more expensive than running their Linux counterparts. However, the Apple platform is more established and more familiar to the average user. I won't argue which group of users is more loyal, and although Linux historically has been more attractive to those who like to "poke around under the hood," Apple's move to a Unix-based OS immediately caught the eye of those same enthusiasts. Apparently, I was neither the first nor the only one to think of Apple's threat to Linux, but I wrote everything above before reading any of it (be that good or bad). Here's just one online piece I found when I researched it. Enjoy. It should get interesting.

Update: I had to include this link where Apple pretty much comes out and says that nothing will prevent buyers of Intel-based Apples from also installing Windows XP (or other flavors of Windows, I would guess).

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Snake That Lived in Our Grill

We think maybe it was a black rat snake. It was some kind of king snake, anyway. He was fairly big, and took up residence in our grill between when we put our Missouri house on the market and when we sold it. I'm kind of glad he came back after the two times we thought we were rid of him, because I think he kept down the gopher population. Gopher holes had been popping up in our yard, and getting rid of them is not easy. Those dirt mounds make for an unsightly showing when a potential buyer comes over. And no, they were not moles. They were much bigger. I have video. They were gophers.

Once, after I already had moved to Plano temporarily to my new job location, my wife had to have a neighbor (one of our company's pilots) come down and put the snake over the fence using a stick. The snake was back the next day, coiled up and staring out at my wife when she lifted the grill lid.

The other time we thought we had seen the last of him, I put some moth balls in the grill, because I had heard from a customer lady at Lowe's that they were the best snake retardant. That's when I first noticed he was not in the grill when I was back home for a weekend. Instead, he was on the grill leg, and that's where this image comes in. As I stood just outside our deck door snapping shots of him, he finally slithered slowly into the green watering can on the right. Shannon said she had moved that thing one day and thought it was awfully heavy to be empty. I guess so. Ugh.

I don't adhere quite as closely to my dad's philosophy as others do: the only good snake is a dead snake. However, had someone been there who was willing to kill him, I can't say I would have tried to stop them.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Ben is Relentless

Ben loves to chase the dog. He's relentless at times. We've tried putting him in his playpen for a couple minutes. We've tried slapping his leg. Nothing phases him. A moving target is just too much fun. Cockers are not known for getting along well with children, and Lexie, who lived with us for 10 years before we brought Benjamin home, is a classic example. Regardless of breed, many dogs would not like that at all. Lexie is at a disadvantage, too, because in the past few years she has lost all her hearing. She has no chance to move if Ben comes at her outside her line of sight. At first she tries to run off, but ends up standing her ground and growling, sometimes snapping. Her displeasure is completely lost on Ben, who just laughs harder the more she reacts.

Even before Ben hit the "terrible two's" he did this. Lexie actually managed to get a tooth on him once. I say "tooth" because she doesn't have many left. That was when she went to live with Shannon's mom. When we moved down to this area, Ben didn't chase Lexie at all. We thought maybe he had outgrown that. No luck. It took him about a week, but once he was back in his own house with her, he was back to his old games, and with a renewed fervor.

It bothers Shannon much more than it does me, of course, because she's the one at home with both of them all day. When she gates Lexie off in a separate room, Lexie just barks incessantly. I've heard it. It would not be fun to listen to all day, and would not be fair to Lexie. To put her outside in 100-degree heat, when she's never been an outside dog, just would not be good, not to mention that we don't want her bark echoing throughout the neighborhood. Disciplining the dog is pretty much impossible, too, since she can't hear. Besides, it doesn't seem right to smack her snout when she's just defending herself.

It is not that they actively dislike each other. We've tried to teach Ben that when he touches the dog, he needs to be "nice" and we illustrate that word by gently stroking her back. He does this sometimes while saying, "nice" over and over. Lexie lets him pet her, and even will try to give him kisses if he leans his face in close to hers. It's all very sweet until Ben decides it's time to chase her around, laughing like a madman.

Anybody want a very sweet, deaf, cocker spaniel who is losing her sight but is otherwise very healthy? I'm halfway joking, but we just don't want her to end up hurting Ben. Sorry, Lexie, but human child trumps canine child every time.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Garage Progress

The garage is one step closer. Saturday, while Ben spent some time with his grammy, I put together some metal shelves we bought for the garage. Then, we moved some things out to the driveway to make room to work. We emptied every box that said "garage" on it, with most of it going on the new shelves. My wife's organizational bent amazes me.

I'm pretty sure part of me melted when I went into the attic to measure the space for putting down plywood (or whatever is good these days). We'll get that done one of these days, and then maybe get our cars in the garage.

We won't be putting as many books on display in this house as we usually do. There just isn't room, and we really don't need to be reminded visually of what books we've read. All those paperbacks just take up space. Oh no, now I'm starting to sound like her! She's killing my inner packrat!

What Ben Says

I try to keep up with the words Ben says, but he learns so many new words so fast, I can't really present a list. Also, there's no way for me to remember them all. Mostly he still does not string more than two words together, and one-word utterances are the most frequent. He babbles long sentences sometimes, and although we can tell he really means it, we can't understand it. He says, "I got it," "I want it," "Out of bed," and one or two others I can't remember. He'll tell Lexie to "sit down" when she gets on the furniture, because anytime he stands on the furniture, we tell him to sit down. That was the first time we saw a sign of Ben being bossy at all. He's a delight most of the time, and seems to get wild mostly when he's hungry. As he learns more about us and the world, we learn more about him and try to keep everybody on the right track.