Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Swimming

It's a little known fact, well, known only to parents, that parenthood consists of facing and planning for obscene horrors. Yes, there is all the schmaltzy stuff that gets posted on your Facebook wall or gets chain-mailed from your mother or aunt or whatever (eventually all coming from a devout but curiously bigoted church lady in Nebraska) , but there is that other thing.

Especially true for dads, I'm guessing. Evolutionarily it's dad's job to keep everyone from being consumed completely by a random sabre toothed tigers (I want to say T-Rexes of Velociraptors but for some reason feel compelled to adhere to scientific accuracy when spouting out a hyperbole (and weaker, but still strong, is the revulsion of using sabre toothed tigers, which I'm sure I've used before)). Not that this can't be mom's job, but she was likely much busier rearing the children and feeding them and whatnot.

Where was I?

Oh yes, horrors.

One of these horrors is swimming, in a  pool. My kids have juust got past the stage of requiring life-jackets. But before that there was a very strict protocol for getting that jacket on before they even open the gate to the complex's outdoor pool. Visions of Owl Jr. slipping headfirst into the deep-end and drowning before I can say "Did you remember to put on the jacket tight?" are not uncommon.

I almost never have to go to the pool with them, usually because there's cooking that needs to get done and Mrs. Owl doesn't break out in hives when confronted by the one-two punch of sunny weather and small talk that will extinguish my will to live quicker than some time in a SE Asian tiger cage.

The kids though, love it. Even when there isn't anything to play with or any other kids there. They just kinda noodle around. I've perhaps lost that joie de vivre that helps me appreciate fully submerging myself in chlorinated water while my parents look on. How was that ever fun? Of course, I don't take a huge joy in playing with action figures or taking the latest Mattel Product Placement Animated show seriously either. A net loss, I'd say.

It's a complex swimming pool. So you get a wide range. Young families, surly teenagers, far-too-tanned retirees, young people of a certain age that you are sure they should be living downtown or somewhere else where 11pm isn't thought of as rather late.   And there is always a weird policing where you have to balance rowdiness and age and general endangerment to everyone involved. Because, horrors, drowning, desperate CPR on the side of the pool, etc.

There are cannon-ballers and little babies swimming with their consciously non-chalant parents. Your primary school kids who splash even when they don't mean to splash and find it an act of superhuman willpower NOT to run and their parents who are just too damn tired to keep reminding them.

There are sometimes even parents in the pool, with no babies to bring in with them, those not self-conscious and who have that sort of devil-may-care attitude about how they look nearly naked (exact opposite of me). That's something I've always envied, the complete disregard (usually men of a certain age) have about their well, let's face it, office job and hyper-abundance of calories and general sedentary lifestyle cobbled body that are, well, rounded.

Maybe it's something about  being a former hefty kid, now merely love-handle gifted, that finds the prospect of taking off my shirt outside of a bathroom to be insurmountably terrifying. Maybe all the guys who don't mind brandishing their trophy to 20 years of cubicle living were jocks in their youth. Forged an iron self-esteem that will not bend to the realities of donuts and gravity.

The kids have become nut-brown from all their time in the pool. They've expressed their dislike for me being a different shade. Enough for me to look decidedly unrelated. I might be forced to face the true  horror of extended sunshine exposure, if only to maintain their unfettered joie de vivre.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Why does this dog like walking around with limes so much?

  • It was the last thing his mother gave him before she was shot dead in broad daylight for standing up to El Jefe AND city hall.
  • It reminds him of the infinite fragility of planet Earth, with its whorls and eddies of life and  the gusts of inequities visited upon the weak and the strong; the shuddering tidal wave of death that evens everything in the end. Also IT TASTES FUNNY.
  • He was the runner-up to represent 7UP for their Hong Kong sub regional ad campaign 3 years in a row and just cant. Let it. Go.
  • It reminds him of the last clown to ever tease him.
  • He' s a recovering alcoholic whose poison of choice was tequila.
  • He was the last surviving member of an all-dog around the world sailing expedition, all of who, except for him, died of scurvy.
  • He's part of a Labour Union Iniative for Mtn Dogs and is sitting in solidarity for oppressed and exploited citrus workers of Southern California.
  • He has canine onset diabetes and this is the closest he'll ever get to nuzzling all his body dysmorphic issues into a club sized tub of Lime Skittles.
  • He was raised in an abandoned  furniture warehouse, making his living paw-raising rare desert chinchillas, and, after all his wandering, that was the only time he was truly happy. Himself, the citrus furniture polish in the air, the mewling of chinchilla pups in his ears, oh, and the high keening death throes of the latest rooster to die in his on-the-side cock-fighting ring.
  • Sniffing it is the only way  he can get the overwhelming taste of human blood out of his mouth.
  • It's gotta hatch sooner or later.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

PANCAKES

Owl Jr. is of a decided picky bent when it comes to eating. Plain carbs, yes. Chicken strips and fries, yes. Gravy on chicken? NO. He's the sort of boy who eats apples all day long and polishes it off with a long tall drink of juice. And like any First World parent I worry about him eating enough. Tale as old as the post-industrialization-enabled abundance of food driving sprawling urbanization and  a dangerous reliance on genetically invariant foodstocks.
It's funny because I was never a picky eater. I was more like Owlet. Undiscriminating, enthusiastic, and like Owlet, maybe just a touch... dense for my age (not that she knows). Owl Jr. is just a ball of yelling screaming, jittery energy. He doesn't go anywhere, he bounces, he jostles, he judders.
So, so, so, I gotta, like a grandmother from country that is resolutely trying to get into the EU, fatten him up. He does like pancakes, of all things. I stuff it with blueberries and chocolate chips and I cram him with them during the weekend. Discs of carb and sugar and more carb. Owlet, for whatever reason, actually doesn't really like pancakes, so she gets eggs and sausage.
It's usually only Sunday that I do the breakfast. But every breakfast, my kids, looking up from Netflix, ask me what I'm making for breakfast. Adult life stretches out in routine, time crunches together and before you know it you are grumbling about your pension and taking a baffling interest in fly-fishing. What I'm saying is I'm not entirely sure how long I've been doing this breakfast, but we've gone through at least two of those Costco "Oh Look Now You Have To Feed The Street Dance Party After the Lowerr Middle Class Youth Sports Team Beats The Rich Kids Across The Lake"-sized pancake satchels. Awhile, in any case. What are they expecting me to say? Beef tartar with honey lemon confit?
People, generally hate change, kids doubly so. I can only asume they want assurances that their breakfast as per usual will not be altered. Or maybe they simply forget after five or six days. The flurry of pans and smoke and dicing and whatnot is, I've found, no concern of theirs. Results. And to be honest there have been a few dinners I've tried, hounded by some mysterious guilt to get my kids to try new things, that have been far too adventurous, ending with Mrs. Owl and I really enjoying it, our kids having a bite, then having some innocuous leftovers instead.
I guess its less of a question as an interrogation, a line drawn in the sand that they remember, and will no longer tolerate a repeat of the Sundried Tomato Incident. Plain carbs. Plain meat. Plain veg. Please and thank you.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Oil Change

My parents came from hot countries, where the smell of uncatalytic-converted exhaust under the oppression of humidity make nostalgia. Countries where far too many people usually carrying far too many infants lash themselves to vehicles that could nominally be called motorcycles. If a 250cc Honda breaking every Federal Vehicle Safety Standard (and some yet to be written) while careening between two larger buses (with not so much blind spots as blind panoramas) could be called  a motorcycle.

Car maintenance was not a well-covered subject.

I can still remember my dad showing me that when the oil was low, you just add another quart. It's quite alright, feel free to recoil visibly from the screen.

It wasn't until I had my own car that I learned about things like timing belts and oil changes and all sorts of filters. So now, of course, I get regular oil changes.

There are things that cause aggravation, however. Sitting in the car, having the oil technician explain all sorts of things to you, positively cowing you with technical jargon you only ever hear about every 5000km. And it's always said in such a way as it's assumed you have any idea what fluid they are talking about. "Oh yes, the flambgerge diatcontatenator, of course, that needs to be flushed!". "Why wouldn't the triambulating kraanstenmeter be refiltered with a synthetic proformance lubricant?!".

And it was in a flee from this technical brow-beating that I endeavoured to learn to change my own damn oil.

It's not horribly complicated. You get the type of oil your car needs in sufficent quantities, you get the model of oil filter it needs. You get a car jack to hoist your many thousand pound amalgamation of steel and rubber hoses above your squishy, fairly clueless skull as you wriggle beneath it and try to find which nut, exactly, sets forth a gloopity schlupp of old, dirty oil. I may have devolved in Seussian terminology there and that's mainly fear induced. The filter and oil all make sense to me, marginally. The Hoist Really Heavy Thing Above your Head gave me pause.

It's reassuring, the heft and weight of the entire jack system, with the.... feet.. things... and the wheel stopping things. But something about my complete lack of most vehicular knowledge plus my confusion at society's misplaced trust that I'm certified or in any way trained to hoist an entire car above my head does get me somewhat squirrelly at times.

That whole process I'm constantly looking for the adult to be supervising the activity and find, most worrisome, that it's me.

Contrary to all common sense or laws of causality, I've changed my oil twice so far without any major incident. But, most importantly for me, without anyone asking "If I really think I should let the ammonium dioxicraft stay in the defibrillated counter-position past 3000km".

Whidbey Island Part 2


As a challenge, for the questionable glory, just to say I Did That on my death bed, and, most importantly, to have a free pass on having to do cleanup or *shudder* outdoor activities (maybe even sports!), I offered to do all the cooking. For 17 people. For two days. 

To make it somewhat manageable I squished breakfast and lunch into a meal I  like to call Very Late Breakfast. And dinners were all dishes I'd done before, just on a much grander scale. With so many burners and ovens going it's a game of efficiency, the  "What can I have going at the same time as the other thing while at the same time being something that I don't have to worry about burning oh god I forgot that other thing now everything is late by three hours" game.  I ended up like Rainman, counting out numbers to myself and staring at the clock. Sauteeing one thing while counting down the time for something else to finish in that pan over there. It was, for a certain slightly not quite right frame of mind, actually pretty fun.

On Saturday there was bacon, sausage, home fried herb potatoes,  fruit, eggs over easy, crepes with apple pie topping. Then roast chicken with roasted root veggies (onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes) and gravy for dinner. Sunday was eggs benedict, bacon, sausage, fruit, toast for brunch. For dinner a
rather involved stew that featured an entire bottle of wine and garlic bread. None of those items by themselves were horribly complicated, no puff pastries or souffles and the like, but the sheer quantity made the cooking experience... lively?

Our 21st century kids were, I think, exactly the way I would be if I had interactive touch screens chock full of all sorts  of games JUUUST within reach. Conniving, planning, and sometimes just plain whiny, trying to get 'screen time' . Time when playing games was allowed, in other words.  We, being 21st century parents were equally chockful of guilt with allowing them too much screen time. But there would alway s be one parent, at some time or another, who's guard would be down, too tired or too cranky or whatever, and the kids would pounce and wheedle away an hour or 30 minutes of uninterrupted Minecraft or Angry Whatever. 

And other times the kids, in their gaggly, wild way, would invent borderline maiming activities that were probably better for them in the long run than any number of touch screen devices. Games like Roll Down the Stairs and Laugh For No Apparent Reason. Or the never old Scream and Run and Make Far Too Much Noise game.

There was also campfires and unevenly enthusiastic sing-alongs. By the end we hadn't all melted down into a horrible mess of strained relationships and awkward silences. Which is a win, I think.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Whidbey Island Part 1

We live in a townhouse complex. Those communal affairs that are not quite apartments and not quite duplexes but most people there have some sort of familial unit that requires more space and the general population is not crammed with young professionals who's idea of Keeping It Down mean keeping the 500 watt amps inside their unit and for whom Going To Sleep At A Reasonable Hour is something not far from incomprehensible.

It means communities where quiet, somewhat fuddy, somewhat duddy hobbies are embraced as appropriate and even Alright now that everyone is of a certain age never mind that its the sort of thing I did even when I was youthful and supposedly full of vim and vigour (perhaps the first clue I've been  more on the bookworm side is I would use the term 'vim' without thinking it might be as modern day appropriate as blunderbuss, Black Lung, or consumption (dying of, not mass)).

And its through these activities that an alarmingly large number of families have bonded together.
The men, by playing european board games about, amongst other things, power distribution in a large German city, battling monsters for control of Tokyo, and winning the favour of the marriagable princess in 16th century Normandy (we cast a wide net).

The women, by having a wine drinking club that occasionally discusses books. It might not be applicable to all book clubs, or all women book clubs, but it certainly pertains to this one, that the books they choose make some of the drearier Russian novelists look like auditioning members of Menudo. Dire subjects, plot lines more dire by far that involve this relationship falling in dissolution, that childhood trauma being revealed, and everyone in the end being shipped to a leper penal colony.

This may explain the wine, actually.

On top of that you have kids who more or less get along. The older ones tolerating the younger ones, as the case often is, the younger in a state of endless hero worship. Or at least unquestioning attachment. All the kids invariably jockeying for position to play with the kid that's older. Sometimes, it's magic, where they all find some imaginary game where they can all, more or less, participate in. Or at the very least, the younger ones are not aware they are being excluded. That's some parenting nirvana right there. Kids at free-play learning how to socialize and the like, parental duties involve doing absolutely nothing except listening for wailing or complete, unbroken silence.
 
It's great that everyone gets along, pretty shocking, actually. So in an effort tempt fate we decided, all 17 of us, to pack off to Whidby Island and hang out at a beach house together. My brain immediately thought of a G-rated Big Chill, minus Kevin Costner in a coffin, obviously.

We all made it there in various cars and vans, down through the border which I'm always worried will involve a grumpy border guard and various breaches of the Geneva Convention. But they never do because a young family driving a 11 year old hatchback gets a pass, generally.

After the hubub of travel with the nauseau and the cliched questions about 'there' and the state of 'yet'ness and always lurking, the not entirely irrational fear that a gunfight will break out as soon as we see speed limits posted in seemingly sedate MPH, its was relief to make it to the farmhouse.  An place where we can all live in even closer quarters and do the things we generally do anyway but a few hundred miles away and with a beach close by. Our communal living arrangement made more communal.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Zoo

We went to the Seattle zoo. I hadn't been to a zoo for pretty close on 30 years and expected it to be much as it was in the third grade. Soviet-era cement bunkers locking down the whimpering remains of once proud animals. Each going through their own hellish version of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest minus the good friend who's handy with a smothering pillow; plus various attempts to get them to mate with other animals, who, while the same species, are complete strangers.

I don't know if I looked forward to this overmuch. Although there is some magic in seeing an elephant in the flesh; even with the hollowed out stare of someone long past wishing for death, I'm not sure there is enough magic to keep me excited for the 3 hour drive. Mind you, these are all memories added onto my memories as a child. Who knows what I thought back then, now through the tinted glasses of a purportedly sane, responsible, socially conscious adult.

The Seattle Zoo, however, is not the cement zoological gulag I remember of my youth. It's all made exceedingly natural, so where there was once concrete bunkers there's now rolling hills and hidden pools and, quite frankly, far more land than there is animal. It's like a Where's Waldo featuring charismatic megafauna. You get to experience the joy of birding (uncertain identification, natural surroundings, sporadic somewhat embarrassing excitement) and the joy of public events (overpriced concession, the click of numerous SLRs all firing at the same moment, cleverly hidden washrooms) rolled into one!

The various staff and plaques announce the animals are quite happy. Their objectivity isn't to be relied upon, I'd imagine. However, regular feedings without the alarming ritual of predators thinning your herd or poachers trying to provide material for a 3000 year old recipe for Viagra has to be somewhat better? The kids seemed to enjoy it. The animals didn't seem scarringly depressed? I'm not sure.

There didn't seem to be a whole lot of rhyme and reason to which animals they liked. Terrified of giraffes, not at all put out by panthers. A panther that could kill them and then carry their lifeless corpse in its mouth while it cleared a 6 foot fence not that, as a father, I'm hyper aware of every single danger that may or may not happen to my children no matter how slight the chance. Not so scared of tiny green Amazonian frogs which could kill our entire family with a sneeze. Scared of an unidentified sharply coloured jungle snake that... ok, well, that made sense.

There were some exotic things that I was sure were just urban legends perpetuated by a recurring misprint in a reference edition of the Encylopedia Britannica (Tapirs, I mean, really), and then not so exotic things (wolves (which they put on the same field as elks? was this just to keep both of them on their toes? Do elks live more healthy lives when harried by endless anxiety? Are they the Woody Allens of the temperate herbivores?)).

There was even a bear. A great massive hulking bear. Bears, actually. And they were gigantic like what you imagine they'd be if you were three and just saw Omaha's Wild Kingdom, on an IMAX. Volkswagen sized. So massive that the idea of them opening up a mini-van at Yellowstone because someone left a bucket of KFC in there takes no imagination whatsoever.

The zoo designers had a bit of a ball with the bear enclosure. First you see it from a great way off and think, 'Huh, big bear'. Then there's another viewing part, this time under a rock, and it's a bit closer, and you can see the mini-van crushing teeth turning a whole salmon into a pink slurry. And then finally there's a viewing area that's right up against the water where the bear is eating. Close enough that my mind started doing faulty arithmetic and laughably misinformed load bearing calculations with regard to mini-van destroying omnivores and whatever plexiglass grade they use to build the enclosure.

It's a strange thing to trust your life to the whims of an engineer who may or may not have thought of everything when creating a barrier between your family and thousands of pounds of muscle that would eat you as an afterthought on the way to getting a snack.

Are there zoo engineers? Is it terribly rigourous? Do they, at the last second, move the bears to the flamingo sanctuary and the pythons to the duckling alcove because of some marketing head's idea?

I have no idea. There is some charm, it might be said, for concrete gulags.