The Odd Mix

I have moved to Everything that was here is now over there as well. Come on over and join the fun.

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Location: Virginia, United States

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Redneck Advertising

We live well and truely in the sticks. Civilization is encroaching fast, but things like this reasure me that we still live in the country.

I pulled into our local gas station/repair shop/quick mart/used car dealership and saw this in the lot. I knew the owner was into oversized trucks, but this was a new feature to this handy little multipurpose establishment.

I had to take photos. Caleb's response was, "Wow! There. Are. No. Words. To. Describe. How. Cool. That. Is!"

I give you Redneck Adverising!

And I thought William might particularly like this one, considering the emphasis on the traffic cone.

When I mentioed it, the Service manager smiled and said, "The emergency brake failed." I think he was joking.

Bissy Quotes:

Every night my MIL calls to talk with the kids. They take turns telling/reading (depending on the age of the duty kid) her a bedtime story. MDW's parents provided the kids with a cell phone on thier plan specificaly for this kind of call. Last night was Bissy's (Elisabeth's) turn. However Annelise was jabbering at everyone in the room... loudly... unceasingly.

Nana: Who is making all that noise?
Bissy: 'Leise.
Nana: She sure is being loud.
Bissy: Yep.
Nana: Is she always that loud?
Bissy: Noooo... [long pause] Only when she is awake.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Thursday Thoughts

Thank you, bloggers!

Many thanks to all of you who left notes for Gabriella. We read them all to her and she appreciated them very much. So did I.

I know, of course, that I cannot shield her from all life’s hurts – nor should I try. I can only make her as strong a little person as I can and wipe off the tears when they come. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier for me to see her hurting.

And, as I suspected you would, all of you, my new blogging friends, came through and effectively eased the hurt. The next morning MDW called me at work to tell me that Gabriella got up and, without prompting, put her hair up in a ponytail – high on her head so her ears would show.

MARCing time

Three hours each day I spend sitting on my butt on a commuter train. On the North side of the Potomac the rail line is the MARC train. No one seems to be sure what MARC actually stands for – it’s not even on their own web site – but I think it stands for Maryland Area Rail Commission.

For almost a year I rode the first rush hour train out in the afternoon and pretty much everybody sat and talked quietly, looked out the window, read, slept (like me)… you get the picture. Then my schedule shifted and I started riding the “Blue Ridge Express” which is the first train that continues out to West “By Golly” Virginia. What a change! These folks are crazy. I estimate three quarters of the riders are drinking on the train – and a good portion of them have already started before they board. They stand in the aisle (and occasionally on the seats), they yell down half the length of the cars, they have birthday parties with hard liquor and food. And some of them sleep. Most of the people always ride the same train, the same car, even the same seats every day. They are an isolated community and there is a fascinating diversity of people.

There are law enforcement officers from multiple bureaus. There are doctors and nurses. There are locksmiths and mechanics. There are programmers and political appointees. Lawyers, musicians and salespeople. There is a nationally known sociologist and a senior Senate aide.

The relationships run the gamut from vague acquaintances and casual friendships to long term romances and (I am told) the occasional on board illicit tryst – sort of the rail version of the mile high club. There have been fights and arguments, kissing and cuddling, crying and laughing. Ladies get married, ride through their pregnancies, and disappear for maternity leave. The choices of beverage range from domestic beer and cheap wine to the products of microbreweries and mixed drinks. The conductors range from affable idiots to pocket dictators.

When I first started on this train the people were like cartoon characters, not real people. I sat down my third day on the train with my laptop and proceeded to write the skeleton of a cast for what I thought could be a Cheers type sitcom. Over time they became real and familiar; and real people are far less easy to categorize. But that initial shocking impression has stuck with me and, just for fun, I think I am going to start fleshing out the character sketches and then work up a few “episodes” for my sitcom. Some of my characters have faces – based closely on real people. Some are based more loosely on the first impression I got of an individual. Some are composites and a very few are wholly imaginary. I thought I could make dramatic use of the lurches as the train switches tracks, I could change scenes by “falling out” through a window and letting the train zoom by and then “coming back in” another window.

One of the most fun things about this idea is that there is effectively no “action” – it is almost entirely about the dialog. With one exception – three of the most one dimensional characters are “the runners”. These three really exist; Mullet Man, The Beige Lady, and The Dark Horse. They have a compulsion to be first out of the parking lot. They stand in the door as the train pulls to its final stop; jump out as soon as the doors open; and sprint to their cars. They leave their spots like dragsters off the line… just so they can sit at the train crossing for five minutes or more while the rest of us get off the train. The people who are still on the train call the race as if they were at the race track. “…And it’s Mullet Man in the lead, but Beige Lady is coming up fast. And now Dark Horse is making a break on the outside!” They actually put money on the windowsill to wager on who will get to the gate first.

I will post things here as I work them out and clean them up. Let me know if it gives you any good creative ideas. I think I shall call it Train Space. Or not. We’ll see how it goes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

If I Knew Who He Was, I’d…

…rip his tongue out through his nose and staple it to a wall.

High up on a wall.

Well at least I’d like to. But I wouldn’t. Because that kind of behavior is considered inappropriate. Especially when directed by an adult toward a kindergartener (OK. He’s in first grade now, but who’s counting).

I have been accused of having a hot temper. Not true. What I have is more of a ferocious but controlled temper – I think it’s sort of a Celt/Norse thing dating back to the Vikings in Scotland. I rarely get angry enough to show it, but when I do (I am told by MDW) I am frightening. I know my temper and I therefore control it ruthlessly. I have never, not once, allowed myself to really loose my temper with my wife or children. In fact, I can only recall a handful of times in my life when I did loose my temper, and it scared me enough to want to never do it again. Now into my nice controlled life, I have just discovered, intrudes a nitwit who really makes my blood boil - and I cannot vent it in “real life”. So I am venting here.

As you may know, I have four wonderful children – three of whom are beautiful, one of whom is handsome. I am not just being biased (though I freely admit that I am) – many people have told me how attractive my children are. (Does anyone ever tell you if your kids are unattractive?)

And they have all been home schooled – except for last year. We decided to let Caleb and Gabriella attend public school for a year to see how it would go. Answer: Not well at all. No more of that nonsense for now.

Ready for the screeching left turn? Since last year, Gabriella has resisted letting MDW put her gorgeous red hair up in a pony tail or braid. We couldn’t understand it, and it resulted in not a few arguments. This winter she finally told us that it was because she didn’t like to see her ears. Huh…? Well, you may have guessed it. She admitted to MDW this morning (during one of the aforementioned tearful arguments) that the reason she does not like her ears was that she had been teased about them in kindergarten last year. By one little xy chromosome bearing individual whom she didn’t even like. While the teacher sat and did nothing. Which Gabriella took as tacit agreement with the opinion of the little jerk. And now there is no convincing her that her ears are beautiful. What is a father to do (besides the stapling the tongue to the wall trick I have already rejected)?

I know that life is full of hurts. My wife and I were both teased unmercifully when we were kids. I survived with a mildly dented ego. She didn’t fare nearly as well. I know that Gabriella will undoubtedly hurt again in her life. But this is the first time someone has hurt her, badly, on purpose.

And darn it, I am the Daddy that held her when she was an infant and critically ill and sang You Are My Sunshine until she quieted for a few minutes. I am the Daddy she runs to when she hurts herself. I am the Daddy whose side of the bed she sneaks into when she has a nightmare. I am the Daddy who took a fall down the stairs rather than drop his little girl. I am the Daddy who wants to be home to hold her, who would protect her forever if I could. And hearing her weep in the background as my wife talked to me on the phone is tying my guts in a large, complicated knot. I don’t know whether I want to cry or break something. I have no target (thankfully) for my rage. The boy is nameless and faceless, the teacher has retired. So I’ll pray about it… and look at pictures of my beautiful Sunshine… and vent to the blogosphere.

Please do me a favor. If you read this post, leave a comment for Gabriella.

Friday, March 10, 2006

101 Things About Me

(one more than one hundred – because I could)

1. I have a beautiful wife, known here as MDW.
2. I have four great kids.
3. The oldest is a boy (9); the rest are girls (7, 6, and3) and they are all homeschooled.
4. We live on a horse farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains.
5. MDW is fulfilling her lifelong dream of owning an equine training facility.
6. My kids and can play in the yard without fear.
7. My kids all have ponies of their own.
8. So do I (except mine is bigger).
9. I can breathe cool mountain air in the morning.
10. It is expensive to start up an equine business.
11. We are still starting up.
12. I am a programmer.
13. I love computers.
14. Except when I hate them.
15. I work in Washington, DC.
16. I commute over two hours – each way.
17. People ask me why I do it.
18. I say see #4 and #10.
19. I am very creative.
20. I cook, build, draw, and photograph.
21. At other times I have done cross-stitch, stained glass, acrylic painting, miniatures, models, calligraphy, watercolors, and architectural drawing.
22. I even tried knitting.
23. I generally dislike cats.
24. We have seven of them.
25. They live in the garage.
26. They adore me.
27. Dogs, horses, and hamsters generally like me, too.
28. We have all three.
29. I like dogs and horses.
30. We also have fish and snakes, but I can’t tell if they really like me.
31. I have near perfect pitch. I can always tell if someone is singing off key.
32. My kids almost always sing off key.
33. I love hearing them sing.
34. I have a beautiful maple baroque recorder that my father gave me. I can’t read music so I play it by ear – see #31.
35. I love to play it.
36. I rarely do.
37. I also play the penny whistle.
38. I am politically very conservative.
39. Some of my best friends have been very liberal.
40. We treat each other with respect; discuss issues; and agree to disagree.
41. I am a committed Christian.
42. Some of my best friends are: agnostic; atheistic; neo-Pagan; Jewish; Protestant; Catholic.
43. See #40
44. I have enjoyed many outdoor activities: mountain biking; skiing; kayaking; hiking; rock climbing; rappelling; horseback riding.
45. Horseback riding is the only one that doesn’t leave me feeling like I got run over by a truck – so I ride instead of the others.
46. I have had nearly every major bone in my body x-rayed at least once.
47. I have injured my toes, ankles, shins, knees, only one hip, lumbar spine, ribs, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, fingers, thoracic spine, c-spine, and head.
48. Most of those happened while I was in the Army.
49. Most of them also happened while I was off duty.
50. I am really not a klutz.
51. Now days I refer to Motrin as “Vitamin M”.
52. I had Strep throat seven times in one year.
53. The doctors finally decided to remove my tonsils.
54. They took them out at 8:30am on September 11, 2001.
55. When I woke up the world was a different place.
56. MDW is the first girl (outside my family) I ever kissed.
57. I was twenty three.
58. I was a late bloomer.
59. We were slow dancing in the dark in her family room while listening to Restless Heart’s The Bluest Eyes in Texas.
60. We were in Virginia, but she had the most beautiful blue eyes I had ever seen.
61. I asked if I could kiss her. She said, “If you want too.” So I did.
62. After I kissed her I had to sit down because I was weak in the knees.
63. We kissed some more while I sat.
64. We married 14 months later.
65. We lived over 400 miles apart the whole time.
66. My favorite meal is fresh steamed Maryland Blue crabs. We used to buy them, alive, by the bushel from the fishermen who caught them.
67. I have eaten over four dozen in one sitting.
68. Blue crabs should be a social event, not just a meal.
69. I struggle with depression, anxiety, and adult ADD. Fortunately all are generally moderate and the medicine is effective.
70. Because of my meds I once tested positive for amphetamines on a workplace drug test.
71. Fortunately I had a prescription.
72. I have lived in five states and two other countries.
73. I was born in Japan (to American parents).
74. Since then I have moved 36 times in 38 years.
75. In May we are moving again (but just down the driveway, this time).
76. I was also deployed to Germany and Somalia while in the Army.
77. I was an Army officer for seven years.
78. I missed my first wedding anniversary while deployed to Somalia.
79. While there, my truck was shot and hit – thankfully none of my troops were.
80. Somali donkeys have zebra stripes on their legs.
81. You actually stop noticing the sound of bullets going over your head.
82. MDW struggled with endometriosis for the first eleven years of our marriage and through four and a start pregnancies. We lost one baby to a miscarriage.
83. It took a complete hysterectomy to finally stop the endometriosis. She is all better now.
84. I am a light sleeper.
85. I usually pull night duty when the kids wake up scared or sick.
86. I learned to go without sleep in the Army.
87. The longest I ever went was 72 hours without a nap. At that point I fell asleep while walking. I never even fell down.
88. I’m not that good/young anymore.
89. I still am OK with only two or three hours of sleep – but only for two or three nights running.
90. It is 3 AM now. My youngest is having mucus issues tonight. I have to leave here at 5:30. I will be fine for one more night.
91. I have two sisters.
92. In October my parents will have 10 grandkids.
93. We all live in the same state.
94. When we were young I was closest to my baby sister.
95. Now I am closest to the older one.
96. I wish I were closer to both.
97. I created my blog in January of 2005.
98. I started blogging a year later.
99. I read a lot of blogs every day. Most are written by parents with young kids.
100. Cat’s blog was the first one I started reading when I started blogging.
101. I love my wife with all my heart. I will do so until the day I die.

This was interesting, and easier than I thought it would be. It was interesting to see how I distilled me for those who do not know me. I chose to just start typing without really planning what to reveal about myself and see what showed up. That is why I call it a distillation – these are pretty much the things that first occurred to me to describe myself to a new friend. Well, except for the one about the Somali donkeys…

I would appreciate comments on this, as I am now very curious to know how this leads you to perceive me. It was also a lot of fun. Try it if you haven’t already and let me know.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

It's a Cowboy Hat, People!

I just have the brim pulled down.

Sheesh. You all have no imagination, or is it too much? I dunno. Anyhow, I always (or always when I am outside anyway) wear a black cowboy hat. At least it used to be black - it is now more of a dark charcoal color from sun, rain, dust, horse hair, etc. I wear it because there is no hair under there. I couldn't care less about people seeing my bare pate - but the sunburns up there really hurt and the stiff crown keeps me from braining myself on the rafters in the hay loft.

Ski mask, indeed! Bank robber - No, Tink. Pirate, maybe. Because pirates would totally kick ninja butt.

I actually made the image for deviantArt where I used to post my photos. It was much bigger there. I guess it lost something in the reduction.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Very Sore, Very Busy

As usual, after the long weekend I have an entirely new set of aches and pains to torment me through the day. This week it is primarily my shoulders and abs from moving, leveling, and tamping a boatload (a barge, not a canoe) of earth. But I got most of my task list done and my whining body is consoled (really!) by the sense of acomplishment. In addition to being a huiman earth mover I painted a new sign for the farm, hung gutters, repaired stall partitions, moved hay, filled watter troughs, got my license renewd, went shopping, and kept the kids from doing bodily harm to themselves or each other whilst MDW worked on her own long list of things to do.

And now I am four days out from a deadline (three of which I am supposed to be in a class), so if I post at all this week, it will likely be short.

So here are some photos to keep you entertained.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Our AnnShh is Back!

Last Saturday we had something happen that scared the begeebers out of me – we almost lost our AnnShh. What is an AnnShh you ask? Well let me ‘splain it.

There are many young people in the world who would love to have, or at least ride, a horse. The vast majority of these youngsters never get the opportunity to do so because horses are four legged cash to poop converters. However, one way that a few of the more enterprising of these kids achieve their dream is to become a working student – sort of an apprenticeship. In return for lessons, leasing a horse, or boarding their own; they muck stalls, fix fences, feed and water horses, muck some more stalls, spray weeds, groom horses, sweep the aisles… and muck more stalls. It is hard, dirty work. It is wickedly hot in the summer. It is numbingly cold in the winter. It is wet, it is muddy, it is sleeping in the barn when a horse colics. It is putting up 50lb bales of hay at 2am because there is a storm coming. And there is no money! It is all for the horses, and for the good ones, that is enough.

Over the past couple of years we have taken on several young ladies as working students. Some have been fair (generally well intentioned, but unmotivated); some have been good, but moved on to other things; and some have been unmitigated disasters (each worthy of several posts, was I motivated to think about them more than I have to).

And some have become family.

One of the very best came to work with us when she had just turned fourteen. She knew next to nothing about horses except that she loved them. She was painfully shy. And she had a level of determination to rival any adult I have met. She lasted through the muggy heat of summer, with the all night haying and the flies and the dust. She lasted through the winter, with the slush and mud and no riding time. She avoided the petty, teen squabbles that seem to follow many girls like flies follow… well, horses. She treated our kids with acceptance and love. In trying to say her name, my little Annelise (who was then two) dubbed her AnnShh. “My AnnShh!” she would say.

And she has soaked up knowledge of the horse business like a sponge! She first worked to lease a horse at a reduced rate. Then she bought a horse on payments with her own hard earned money and continued to work for her board and riding lessons. Then she made a proposal to her father who lent her the money to purchase a prospect horse to train and resell – so she will have money to reinvest in a new prospect and save for college.

Her parents have honored us by allowing her to stay at our house on the weekends and for most of each week during the summer. She has kept her grades high and we have supported that as her first priority. I am thankful that she is there for my little girls as a role model in addition to MDW – for she is a really good one. She has excelled and we have come to depend on her, no longer as an apprentice, but as a true journeyman.

Last Sunday, as I was shopping at the giant orange toy store (Home Depot), I got a phone call from my wife. It was very short. “Get home now! Shannon has been kicked in the face and her nose is broken. Paige is bringing her up to the house now.” Click.

I left the cart where it sat and walked out the door. I saw her going the other way as I drove home; she was talking to AnnShh’s parents as she drove – arranging to meet them at the ER. All I could see of AnnShh was her arms and hands as she held an ice pack on her face.

She never lost consciousness and there was an EENT in the hospital that night. Typically they wait until the swelling of a broken nose goes down and then set it, but hers was broken on both sides, so they did surgery right away to set the bones. She went home that night with a small, red cast on her face.

The kick was not her fault. She was following all the rules. The horse was not a known problem animal. The other working student, another of our rising stars, reacted perfectly and got her to the house and help. It was, as they say, just one of those things. And I was really worried we had lost our AnnShh. I was worried for her until I heard that she was home, and that she was OK. I was worried for us until I heard that she wanted to come back, and that her parents would let her.

Today she came back to us – she is even spending the night. She can’t go in the barn – too much dust (sneezing would be a bad thing with a broken nose) – but she can pet her horses (who truly have missed her), she can be with the kids (who have truly missed her even more), and we are glad.

Welcome home AnnShh. We missed you.

Lovin' me some Software

I am using Blogbridge to follow all my favorite blogs. It lets me know when there are new posts and I can read them offline (like on the train - three hours every day). And, did I mention that it is free? And that it has not crashed my crash prone laptop even once?

Oh, yeah. Lovin' it.