Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rockin' the homefront

I got to do something this weekend that for some reason I haven't been able to do in a long time: play loud music. First, let me qualify that. The windows didn't rattle, the dog didn't flee in pain. My kickin' AR speakers barely broke a sweat. But the music was much louder than I usually get to listen to it. And that brought me great joy.

Maybe it's the busy modern-day, semi-respectable lifestyle, maybe I just don't have have the house to myself very often. But I rarely get to turn up the stereo to levels I can enjoy from any room in the house. A friend of mine once called it "house cleaning music." Being able to sit at home and write, do chores, or anything is just more fun when the music is cranked up. I know there are a lot of you out there who understand what I mean. Some say "if it's too loud, you're too old," but I disagree. If the music stinks, then any volume is too loud.

Best part: the music I chose. An old favorite of mine. It's a 2-disc set from Hawkwind called Live Chronicles. It's from their "Chronicles of the Black Sword Tour" in ages past (1985). The music is based on the writings of Michael Moorecock, a favorite and good friend of the band.

Another thing I've been doing lately is writing more, which is kind of indicated by my posting here. If I'm updating my blog, I'm usually also writing other things. This afternoon I wrote a piece that'll probably end up being sent to the local newspaper editor. Hopefully I can expand it and turn it into a real article to submit to a few heritage magazines.

I'm also working on two different short stories and a different essay. The reason I mention them here is to keep me motivated toward finishing them. I don't want to have to come back here and tell all of you that I never did.

Got to go eat dinner now. It's my youngest's birthday and we're going out for Mexican food!

Playing on XM: Don't know because I'm listening to Hawkwind!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Night of the Slug Rave

That's what I'm calling last night. It was a Friday, after a long, hard week. My wife and I decided to sit out on the front porch with a bottle of wine and some cheese and crackers. Little did we know that we were crashing a party. It began just after dark as we were in the middle of talking about our respective days. That's when we noticed the first arrivals. The air was cool and damp with impending rain. A pair of slugs were climbing up one of the columns on our porch. They were right in front of us. We acknowledged their slimy presence and I refilled our wine glasses.

A few minutes later, we noticed that the slugs had apparently reached their target height on the column and began, um, partying. They climbed over one another, intertwining their bodies, and...forming letters. We felt like we were about to be swept up in some kind of Charlotte's Web situation as the slugs formed O-S-A-O in sequence. We might have missed a letter or two, but that's probably just as well. I'm afraid to know what they were trying to communicate to us.

Their little party kicked into high gear, and the two bodies, which were both easily four inches long, began writhing and undulating very spasmodically. They seemed to have no concern for their personal safety as they began sliding down the column as a single, orgiastic mass of slug-flesh. The downward sliding didn't distract them from their gyrations at all. Slime practically poured off of them. It was only a matter of time, as my wife predicted, before one of the fell, plummeting two feet to the concrete below. That has to be a long distance when you're a slug, even in the throes of mind-numbing passion. It just lay there for a while and eventually started moving again, but not very far. The other also held its ground up on the column, its energy and strength clearly spent.

My wife and I toasted our guests and thought that our slug adventures were over for the night. We were wrong. Within minutes a third slug entered the scene. This one climbed onto our small porch from the side and was moving like greased lightning straight toward me. I was already a little disturbed by what we'd witnessed and this was more than I could take. I moved my chair out of the slug's path. It eventually slowed down to a normal slug's pace and seemed to relax.

Meanwhile, the slug on the column craned its head around the corner of the square column to see where I had gone! It looked right at me and I could see its head and elongated antennae silhouetted in the dim light provided by a nearby streetlamp. It was very creepy to be sought out by these overly friendly animals. When we saw the fourth giant slug approaching from the sidewalk, we decided that it was time for us to head inside for the night.
As we took our leave, we couldn't help but feel that for the slugs, the night - and the rave - were just starting.

Currently reading: White Night by Jim Butcher

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Waking up in Vermont

I found this as a saved draft that I forgot to publish while on vacation. Rather than let it go to waste, I'm going to go ahead and post it, better late than never.

Roll out onto the balcony, maybe grab a blanket from the couch on the way.

Kick back in a chair and watch the fluffy clouds crawl across the mountain range in the near-distance. Their grays and whites battle for dominance in the cool morning air, a civil war amongst the air currents.

The morning's chill feels good on my bed-warmed limbs. The birds of early August sing their greetings to the dawn though there's no sun in sight yet. I sit there in the quiet, listening, watching, feeling the clean air fill my lungs. It smells and tastes of earth that's fresh, clean. I have a paperback in my lap, but it's for comfort rather than reading. The experience is almost perfect.

Then my wife appears, pulling up another chair to join me in the quiet. Hand in hand as the clouds crawl and play on that damp, green mountain range. Now it's perfect.

Playing on XM: Commander Cody - "Mama hated diesels"

Good times in Vermont

Long time, no post. Well I'm on vacation finally, so I suppose the least I can do is update my blog. We're in Stowe, Vermont at the famous Trapp Family Lodge (I married into a family timeshare). The place is beautiful. Brilliant green mountains all around. Air so clear that it makes your lungs want to sing about the hills being alive.

It's a beautiful place in a glorious land of hippies. Almost. Many of the locals I've encountered are nearly hostile and certainly far from friendly. I certainly understand their plight. Most people who come here are Northeners from New York and Connecticut, and older ones at that. That tends to mean people with few manners and aging baby-boomers who stubbornly believe that the shopkeepers they are giving their money to should grovel for every dime the boomers spend. I can tell you from experience that that kind of customer makes for a surly and cynical retail clerk indeed.

Naturally, my encounters have been limited to the usual tourist stops (there are an infinite number of shops here), so by no means am I passing judgement on this land and its peoples. In fact, quite the opposite. The vendors I encountered at a local farmers market were all quite friendly. If my soul weren't so entrenched ('s buried there in the hills somewhere) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, I'd love to relocate to one of these small Vermont towns.

In particular, one place we stopped, the Vermont T-shirt Company (not much of a website, but it's there), had the best and most pleasant people I've encountered all week. The small store was run by two beautiful ladies (possibly a mother/daughter combo, but maybe not) who were the friendliest and downright nicest people I've encountered yet. Not only were they very patient with my sons as they selected the designs for their t-shirt and sweatpants, but they made a point to engage (with a smile!) every person who entered their store. I'm going back there tomorrow just for the heck of it.

That's all a little microcosmic of me, especially given the amount of fun family time we've had...that's the important stuff. It's just that today was the visit to the t-shirt company and most recent impression in the Silly Putty of my brain. The Trapp Family Lodge is a beautiful retreat from reality, and yet it's based in half a century of history that I truly appreciate. You've all seen The Sound of Music, right? Well after the European Partridge Family fled Austria, they relocated to the mountains of Vermont and built a resort community. Well, not quite, but that's what it is today. The owners have managed to preserve the historic roots of this place and its beginnings while growing it into a magnificent place to spend a week.

My wife's father bought into the timeshare in its early days. In the early 80's, the original lodge burned down. It was rebuilt in '83 and in the downstairs lobby of one of the main reception rooms, there's an 8x10 photo of the dedication ceremony for the newly rebuilt lodge. Standing on the balcony of the new building is my then-teenaged wife and two of her sisters. It's really weird.

Right now my sons are sitting in front of the fireplace (did I mention that's it's a wonderful 63-degrees? - my idea of a perfect August!) while watching TV. I've spent my time sitting on the balcony reading (Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and Mark Millar's Ultimate X-men [yawn...I've read the first four volumes of Ultimate X-men now and I'm really not impressed by the story or Millar's writing. I'm a Bendis guy]), sampling local beers (Troegs so-so, Otter Creek yes!), and watching the clouds roll across the mountain range below.

Yesterday we spent better than two hours in the pool because my youngest finally decided that he did indeed know how to swim. All in all, we're having a fabulous time and enjoying our first vacation in about nine years. In fact, our last vacation was also here, but with my wife's sister & her family. After that we had two baby-sized children, then toddlers with autism and after that, any time and money we had were spent battling the autism. We and our boys have come a long way in the past few years so that now we can travel (and almost afford it) and have a nearly normal family life. Wow, there are so many unwritten blog posts in those last few sentences.

Time to put the boys to bed. I'll try to be back soon.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Overheard comment...

At work recently:

"Everytime I see that bottle of Listerine sitting on the toilet tank, I want to move it to the sink, but then I think, 'who am I to tell someone else how to use their mouthwash?'"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Anvils and Martians

We had some friends visiting this weekend for a rebel-rousing weekend of games, books, movies, and drinks. It was a great weekend, even though my wife was too busy to fully enjoy it.

She found out two weeks ago that she needs another class in order to get her permanent teaching license...and she has to have the class completed by June. It seems that the Virginia Department of Education revised the requirements last September, but didn't tell anyone about it. After moving heaven and earth, she found a class that fulfills the requirement, but it's a graduate-level semester-long class condensed into six weeks. So she won't see the light of day for another 5 weeks. But that's another post...

After our friends left on Sunday afternoon, I decided to spend some time with our sons, to make up for them not getting much attention while all the adults were having fun. On Friday, one of them asked if we could play D&D this weekend. I went over to my gaming shelf to find something less structured than a miniatures battle game. I pulled out and dusted off my copy of Toon: The Cartoon Roleplaying Game. What a good call that turned out to be.

I cornered my youngest in the living room and asked if he wanted to play a new game. I described as a roleplaying game like D&D, but you play a CARTOON character like Bugs Bunny or the Animaniacs. Intrigued, he flipped through the rule books with me. He saw that the game is published by Steve Jackson Games, and made the connection with his favorite game, Munchkin. I thought that was a cool detail for a 7-year old to catch, and we went on from there. He settled on a cool-looking character from one of the supplements named Pook Skywriter, a light-saber wielding humanoid squirrel in search of adventure.

Just about then, his older brother, the 9-year old, wandered in to see what we were getting excited about and I hit him with my sales pitch. Here's where it gets scary. He wasn't sure until he too saw the publisher listed on the cover of the rule book. "This is made by Steve Jackson Games? Well that's all you had to tell me!" And he dived right in. If there was ever any doubt that my kids are gamers, it's gone now.

We played an adventure from the rule book where their characters are sent to the moon "to investigate some strange activities." They didn't like that the military gave their characters pink spacesuits, so they quickly found a paint-ball gun in the armory and ended up with pink suits spattered with lots of yellow and blue paint. Much happier, they continued with the adventure.

The "strange activities" turned out to be a little Martian and his dog constructing a giant ray cannon because "the Earth is obstructing my view of Venus, so I'm going to blow it up. Isn't that exciting?!" Hilarity ensued as they fought the dog, the Martian, and the Martian's clones. They saved the day when the giant ray gun exploded because one of them put a cork in the gun barrel. The problem was that their rocket got destroyed in the fight when a whale fell on it from space (hey, stuff like that happens all the time in Toon), so they commandeered the Martian's spaceship and headed home. But...

The younger son said: "This won't do any good."

I said: "What do you mean? You destroyed his cannon. Earth is safe."

Son: "But that won't matter. Another Martian will come to the moon and build another one. Earth is still blocking their view of Venus."

Me: "Do what? Oh yeah, I guess that's true." (I'd all but forgotten that detail I made up to focus their attention earlier)

Son: "Can we switch them? Can we switch the Earth and Venus so it won't block their view?"

Me: "Umm...sure! Why not?! How do you think you can do that?" (it's a cartoon game after all)

Son: "Well, we could fly close to Earth and lasso it with our rope." (rope had figured heavily in their plans to stop the Martian)

Me: (running with it) "If you make your Throw roll to lasso it, then you can use the spaceship to drag Earth over to Venus' orbit."

Other son: "And use Earth to hit Venus and knock it back into Earth's orbit!"

Son: "Exactly!"

A couple dice rolls later, the plan is executed and the Earth and Venus have switched places. But then the older son looks troubled and speaks up.

Older son: "But won't that cause a drastic increase in temperature? It'll be too hot for life to survive on Earth!" (he's in 4th grade, you know)

Me: "Nah, it's just a cartoon, remember?"

Older son: "Oh yeah. Okay!"

And that's how I spent my afternoon with my sons. Shooting ray guns, dodging thrown anvils, getting Boggled, and Falling Down. Steve Jackson, if you're listening, I owe you a big thanks. And I also wish I'd thought to pull the game out Friday night when the grown ups were playing games!

Playing on XM: Hank Williams III covering The Boss's "Atlantic City"

Reading: "Hollow Earth" by Rudy Rucker

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rite of passage

My oldest son's birthday is this weekend...he'll be 9. I decided it was time to celebrate his budding maturity and ever-expanding sense of humor. So, as a rite of passage, I bought him a subscription to Mad magazine.

It was a spontaneous idea that came about after he and his younger brother spent half an hour at the local library reading back issues of the magazine. They focused on Spy vs Spy and other light content, but they were thoroughly getting into the magazines. Clearly, they're ready.

It took me back to the days of my own youth when I didn't understand most of the movie parodies (between not having seen the movies and not understanding most of the contextual parody and sarcasm), yet I thoroughly understood the overall concept of making fun of, while shining a light of truth on, the status quo.

I have always contended that much of my free-thinking and questioning of authority was originally nurtured by my having grown up reading Mad and it's sister magazines, Cracked and Crazy. Maybe it seems strange to think that such illustrated rags of parody and satire could contribute to the development of a child's critical thinking ability, but in my case, I know that it's true.

But then, maybe that just says something about my own upbringing and childhood. I don't know. I'll also admit that there'll be three people fighting to get their hands on every issue of Mad that arrives at our house.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Honor thy father and the tribulations of parenthood

So the other night, I come in from walking the dog to find my oldest son in trouble. He was on my wife's lap lightly sobbing. And as she looked up at me, she gave me that look that let me know I had missed something, and I'd better have my game face at the ready.

I sat down on the bed next to them and asked what had happened. My wife said that our son was in trouble because he'd forgotten to change his underwear while getting ready for bed...again. She inquired about why this keeps happening, why he can't remember to put on clean underwear every night. He was in trouble BIG time. This was a repeat offense and something we've been hassling him about lately.

Knowing how angry she was at him, my son decided to make a play. He looked at her, teared up, and said, "It's because I miss my Grandpa." And she did her best not to laugh, but at the same time, she wanted him to know that this attempt at emotional distraction wasn't going to work, so she called him on it.

And that's when I came in. After a quick recap, I gave my son a reassuring rub on the back and said, "I know what you mean, I miss him sometimes too. But you know, I'm pretty sure he changed his underwear every day, and I know he would want you to do the right thing too. So if you want to honor your grandfather's memory...change your underwear every day."

I'm going to dub that morality lesson #513. Lead a good life. Honor your ancestors. Wear clean underwear.

Hoka Hey.

Playing on XM: I've been listening to Willie's Place (honky tonk country) and XMU (indie/college rock).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Would you rather...fight a bear or write a novel?

Last night at dinner, my younger son made an announcement, of sorts. He is just positive that if faced with a bear in the wild, he could best it with one punch. Or at most, five. He is completely convinced of this fact. Despite our best attempts at educating him in the reality of bears, he was still sure that he could at the very least hold his own. He finally conceded that should he ever meet with a live bear, he would play dead or climb a tree, just to make his parents happy.

In November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month, a contest in which people challenge themselves to write a novel of 50,000 words in just 30 days. That breaks down to 1,667 words each day, or about 7-8 pages. That's quite a challenge for someone with a full-time job, two kids, and a wife. I got off to a late start, not beginning my story until the November 4th. I maintained a good pace...for a week. Then work got in the way because November is our worst/hardest production period of the year. I would've taken off a couple of days to write, but that just wasn't possible with the major workload and deadlines I faced. Then the holidays and visiting family got in the way. I was only able to get in a little bit writing here and there - those few hours were the highlights of the month for me.

I finished the month at 16,645 words, just a hair under a third of the way to the goal. Not bad, considering how busy I was and that I only found out about it the week before it started. I had no idea, outline, plot, or characters in mind before I began. That's why I got a late start...I had to brainstorm a story idea. Well, now I have the beginnings of it, and I'm finally getting back to work on it.

I'm stumped about where I want the story to go and the main plot in general. I know what I want it to be "about," but I don't know where I want the story to go...what the specific story is that I want to tell, and that's very scary and intimidating. Now I'm tired of letting that doubt and fear hold me back. I want to write. I'm hooked. I've been putting off continuing for two weeks because of that fear. The story will come when I entice it out of the subconscious by writing it.

While I'm waiting for that plot to form, I have a few scenes that I want to write and some characterization to do for the main character. It feels good to just open up and let the story flow, creating itself. I'm looking forward to eventually going back and revising the finished draft into something that will actually make a good novel. But first, of course, I have to finish said draft. And I will.

Current music: Steve Earle's new disc "Washington Square Serenade"