Sunday, October 30, 2005

It was a dark and stormy night...

Once upon a time there was a nice suburban neighborhood where everyone planted flowers in the front yard, Halloween was filled with cute pumpkins and smiling kids in clown costumes, and nothing ever blew up.

Then one spring a Mad Scientist moved in. At the time the neighbors didn't realize he was a Mad Scientist. Oh, they knew he was a scientist and they thought he was a bit odd perhaps, but in an interesting, harmless way.

Then October rolled around. Suddenly the big, nice house in the middle of the block turned weird. Green lights glowed behind every curtain. Strange shadows lurched behind the windows. Brillant flashes and horrific howls filled the night. Glimpses of things (some with axes) were caught before they scuttled away into the garage.

It made people nervous.

October 31st came. Kids were out trick-or-treating. A clump of them stood at the end of the sidewalk before the Scary House. Dares were made. Double-dares were made. Then a double-dog-dare was made. The reluctantly-brave child trudged up the path and rang the bell. The door opened and the Candyman stepped out. The kid ran screaming to his friends, but it was too late. They had already run away from the nightmare in the doorway. Halloween had come to the neighborhood.

Many years ago I made a deal with Misseswether. She can decorate the house however she wants for Christmas but I get Halloween. At the time she though it was a fair deal. She didn't realize how far I would take it. Come October all the lights in the house are replaced with green bulbs. The skulls, giant spiders, and assorted beasties come out. Strob lights are strung up, spider webs are spun, and this year the bones of several cows were assembled into dragon's skeleton. Being an adventure means knowing where to find lots and lots of bones.

As usual, kids were dragged kicking and screaming to our door to meet the Candyman.

The only child who wasn't frighten was Miniwether. She had been playing with skulls, spiders, severed limbs, and giant rats for weeks. She thought everything was really cool, plus there was candy! She and Misseswether had gone out trick-or-treating even though it was raining out.

Misseswether managed to cajole other moms into bringing their children out trick-or-treating as the rain dropped down to a drizzle. Earlier in the evening we had massive storms, but by 6:30pm they had died down to wind and low-scudding clouds. Miniwether was already home and munching on her candy when neighborhood kids began showing up. Miniwether tried to convince them I was harmless, but a lot of kids found me to be quite threatening. Cool.

To Miniwether, I was still just "daddy". Her bedtime came and she gave me her nite-nite hug and kiss as usual.

Then she poked me in the eye. Definately a chip off the old block!!!

The rest of the evening was pretty much the same. Doorbell rings, Candyman answers the door, Misseswether runs after children, apologizes to their parents, and gives them lots of candy. Repeat until 9pm. Our house is the "must-see"" spot on Halloween and people have started bringing video cameras. A good time was had by all.

Well, except for maybe Meowether...
He'll wear the hat, but he WON'T enjoy the hat.

Fear! Screams! Bones!

Little girls love horses.

Especially when they come in sets of eight.

Old Town Spring was having there yearly Rod Run. Row after row of souped-up, chromed-out, flame-painted muscle cars from the 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's, and 70's. Sweet lord in heaven above, it was a gearhead's paradise.

So of course Clark and I brought our daughters. They liked the shiney stuff and Minniwether totally dug the motorcycles, especially one sweet old BMW with a gorgeous sidecar.

The short bus also gathered crowds.

The weather was perfect, the roads were blocked off so the girls could run loose, and strangers were passing out candy. A good time was had by all (especially us daddies!).

Monday, October 24, 2005

Enough about Dallas, back to poking monsters with sticks!


Throughout the "civilized" parts of Lake Houston State Park are signs warning of the existence of poisonous snakes. If snakes are such a problem in the happy family area of the park what creatures lay in wait for those who wander into the woods? Being an adventurer, there was only one way to find out. Clark and I had to walk down a half-mile of dirt road to get to the trailhead. This involved stepping on a copperhead. I took it to be a good sign!

Wildlife teems throughout the Lake Houston state park. We spotted our first deer a moment after the snake encounter. The wind was in our favor so we were able to get pretty close to it before it high-tailed away. Alas, I still didn't get close enough to poke it with my hiking stick. After that we entered the woods on the main trail. Every so often we'd come across an area on the trail which had been oddly scuffed up. Pine needles had been shoved around, but the ground was too hard for any footprints. Something was mucking about, but we couldn't tell exactly what it was. Cool! A woodland mystery which, in the end, turned out to have a rather frightening answer.

A bit further in on the trail we found our first rat snake. It was a big, black brute but completely harmless. *Poke*

After that it was just copperhead after copperhead. Clark just missed stepping on one. I almost grabbed one (accidently!) while I was climbing up the riverbank. They were friggen' EVERYWHERE! Perhaps next time we'll stick to the designated trails rather than heading off cross-country, but I doubt it. It was an interesting hike. If you looked up you'd step on a copperhead, if you watched your feet you'd end up stuck in a spider web with a 3" spider crawling on your face. It was awesome!! When you are an adventurer you often find your self damned if you do/damned if you don't. In this case it was either snakes or spiders, or so we thought.

Can you spot the snake?

Big, yucky-tasting spider.

The earth was getting more and more torn up around us. Suddenly Clark let out a new curse as he saw the beasts responsible. Ahead of us were three adorable baby pigs barely big enough for sandwiches. The momma pig, however, would have been perfect for a block-party pig roast. This was not good. Feral hogs are a real menace in Texas. Even if you discount their ability to kill and eat people, they are still dangerous due to the large number of diseases they carry including such things as brucellosis, tuberculosis, pseudorabies, and the plague. I'll poke snakes and spiders with my hiking stick, but feral hogs? Um, no. I'm not that stupid. A good adventurer knows when to poke and when to pray.

With an insulted grunt, the momma pig herded her babies away from us. We waited around for a while, taking loudly about how manly it was to be out in the woods and how good pork tastes, then we carefully continued hiking. We discussed the yumminess of bacon at the top of our voices. We banged our walking sticks against trees. We eyed each shadow with suspicion.

"Grunt, grunt, snort grunt".  We frozen in our tracks.

Whirling, we spotted five large pigs staring at us from ninty feet behind us.

Crap (not in the verb sense!).

There was only one thing to do (being law-abiding and therefore unarmed hikers). I waved my stick over my head and let loose my loudest, meanest roar and started towards them. This worked, the hogs panicked and ran away. Hah!!

Overall, the trails were unimpressive (hence the off-trail adventuring), but wildlife abounds at the Lake Houston State Park. During the course of our 7.5-mile hike we saw one deer, several copperheads, one rat snake, one rabbit, dozens of giant spiders, a troop of boy scouts, assorted beaver-chewed trees, and nine feral hogs. It's worth going there once if you want to see dangerous creatures, but the rest of  the non-threatening sights were pretty average.

And now, some more pictures:

Clark on a log (hmmm, most of my pictures of Clark are him standing on a log...)

This spot was quite nice and the gravel bars were filled with petrified wood.

Being an adventurer means knowing how to start a fire without matches. I'm striking sparks using a piece of an old, steel file against a flint-fossilized piece of petrified wood.

A spark landed in my tinder and I'm now blowinging it into a flame. Clark cooked up a great-smelling bean soup while I made sauteed onions/potatoes/sausage with herbs. Adventurers know how to eat in the woods!

This tree was really big and hollow.

Of course I had to see what was down there.

I think this tree was chewed by beavers. Other trees had been downed, but we didn't see any dams.

Cypress trees have "knees". I don't know why. They are kind of spooky looking, like demons clawing there way out of the Earth.

Clark looks kind of like Indiana Jones.

I kind of look like Don Quixote.

Adventure! Excitement! Feral Hogs!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tuesday in Dallas

I was stuck at the conference all day but Misseswether and Miniwether were ready to go exploring. Maps install a level of confidence and Misseswether had gathered a big ol' bag of brass cajones from the Triple A office. She had the following maps:
Dallas & Fort Worth combo
Dallas roads
Fort Worth roads
TRE metrorail system map/schedule
"Riding DART" guide
Fort Worth bus guide
Route 1B bus guide
Historic Stockyards map
Tourist guide to Dallas & Fort Worth
Area map around the hotel
She also had duplicates in case Miniwether torn one. They were ready!

Dallas had other plans though. They drove to the first train station but couldn't find any parking. Apparently Dallasonians like the train. They managed to find horribly over-priced parking at the next train station on their map. With the toss of a handful of money they were parked and ready to climb aboard.

Miniwether liked the train. She likes strangers and according to Misseswether the train was filled with them. Strangers with tattoos, strangers with piercings, strangers with wild hair, strangers with tattoos pierced by wild hair (just kidding on the last one). Miniwether knows how to work a room and soon everyone was talking with her, playing peek-a-boo, and generally scaring the heck out of Misseswether (or so I got the impression, this is all second hand...)

The train brought them to a bus which brought them to another train which brought them to the historic Fort Worth stockyards. If you want to know the history of meat in America this is the place for you! Statues of men wrestling meat! Live meat! Meat offered up cooked and ready to eat! I'm really bummed I missed it. I like meat.
cowboy wrestling meat
Meat statue (and Miniwether).

longhorn sushi
mmm, beef sushi.

Miniwether enjoyed seeing all the meat, but a few other things also caugt her eye. Apparently the cobblestones of one section had writing on them which Miniwether found fascinating. Letters on the ground? Bizzare!! She also thought the display of barbedwire was interesting, though a bit pokey.

After several hours Miniwether and Misseswether had their fill of meat (hah ha ha) and began the long trek home. Miniwether turned the charm on college students and recently released prison inmates, Missewether cringed. They made it home safe and sound in time to see me during the pre-supper conference break. I'm not sure what they had for supper, some rice with canned meat secretely cooked in the hotel room I think. Meanwhile I was feasting on lobster and steak at The Palm as a guest of one of our suppliers. It was very good.

Maps! Exploration! Meat!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sunday/Monday in Dallas

I'm tired.

Work has been crazy-busy with oil prices where they are. I've also picked up a consulting job on the side. It's left little time for adventure, excitement, or exploration. Suprisingly, Misseswether has picked up the slack and she and Miniwether have had some hair-raising adventures lately.

I had to attend a conference up in Dallas. Four days of such stunning talks like, "Core flow analysis of Khuff formation dolomite at 14,000 meters." Ye-haw. Since Misseswether is an unemployed bum (her term!) she and Miniwether joined me in Dallas. We arrived late Sunday afternoon to our hotel, the Wyndham Anatole. Hey, "Casing unit morphology, aluminum versus steel" is a lot easier to listen too when you woke up in a five-star hotel. Anyway, I had to get to the conference Sunday evening, so Misseswether decided to make a quick run to the grocery store which was supposedly just on the other side of the freeway acorrding to Yahoo maps.

Several hours later a frazzeled, foodless Misseswether and a rather frightened Miniwether stomped back to the hotel room. The map was wrong, no grocery store was at the indicated location. The map also did not indicate one-way streets. What should have been a two-mile juant to fresh produce and yummy baked goods turned into a multi-houred, screaming journey into some of Dallas' seedier avenues of despair. When I returned to the hotel I found a glaring Misseswether and a suprisingly quiet Miniwether.

Misseswether explained to me that she was not going to leave the hotel room again unless I was driving the car, preferably back towards Houston. As I am wise in the ways of women I agreed with everything she said. Being an adventure means knowing when you are the hammer and when you are the anvil.

The next day I only had talks in the morning. By 10:30am I was back in the hotel room, only to discover my family was missing. A quick phone cell phone call revealed they were at the Triple A office getting maps. They actually got a bunch of maps, a lollipop, and a large bruise on Miniwether's head (something about running full-speed into a large, plate-glass wall). Maps in hand, my Adventure-Wife and Adventure-Girl were ready to try Dallas again. (I told you five-star hotels are great for healing the soul.)

We met back at the hotel, then headed out to the Texas State Fair. We made a quick stop at a nearby grocery store (don't ask) to get the fixin's for a car picnic, then off to the Fair.

Along with approximately 1,000,000 other people. It took us over an hour to find a parking spot, but that was okay. Miniwether caught up on her napping, which proved vital for the rest of the day. Once we made it to the gate an unexpected problem appeared, everyone entering the Fair was being scanned with a metal detector wand. I'm an adventurer. One of an adventure's key tools is a knife. Remember an earlier post when I said "one is zero, two is one, and four is just paranoia"?

Let's just say I have a paranoia about not having a knife with me.

Luckily, I've been through this sort of situation before. This time I used the "accidentaly drop a handful of change" in front of the scanner and he just waved me through rather than wait for me to pick everything up.

Once inside we headed to the children's rides. Miniwether was wide-eyed and staring at all the people, animals, colors, and flashing lights. There was a color Viking boat ride up ahead and when asked if she wanted to ride it Miniwether vigorously answered yes. After a short wait I strapped her into her boat while Misseswether jockeyed for position amoungst all the other camera-wielding parents. With a blast of of music the ride began turning and Miniwether waved to us as she passed. The boat splashed up and down! The music played loud! The colored lights flashed!

Then Miniwether realized that the boat was taking her AWAY from Adventure-Daddy and Adventure-Mommy.

Over the sounds of the carnival barkers, loud music, clanging rides, and ten thousand voices chattering away I could hear one lone voice crying, crying for mommy. Crying, crying for daddy. As she circled back into veiw she suddenly looked very, very tiny and very, very afraid. She reached out for us as she was swept by, begging for us to save her. Misseswether gave her that big, fake smile that parents think is reassuring. The guy next to me nudged me, pointed at Minwether, and laughed. I gave him a look that said, "I walked in here with four knives, don't make me leave with three."

Finally the ride stopped. I ran to Miniwether and rescued my screaming two-year-old daughter from the terrible boat. She wrapped her arms around me, looked me in the eye and asked, "Again?"

After that we decided to spend the rest of the time looking at animals. There was a free children's barnyard on the map that stated children would get to feed animals and learn all sorts of other farm chores. After waiting forty-five minutes in the hot sun drinking $3 lemon ice it was our turn to enter the "farm".

Is it a rip-off if it was free? The animals turned out to be fiberglass cows, plywood pigs, and stuffed chickens. Fake fruit was piled beneath fake trees, the only thing real was the dirt. I turned to the girls to state my complaints only to discover them having a wonderful time. Miniwether was tossing handfulls of "corn" at the animals to feed them. Misseswether was trying out the milking machine. Laughter and joy burbled from them in waves as the discovered a new farming technique.


Go figure.

After that the Fair blurred into a mix of funnel cakes, freaks, tractors, and music. The sugar-fueled Miniwether raced from booth to booth filling her head with who knows what. She chattered, babbled, and pointed at everything and about everything. A brief, heavy rain moved through and just added to her excitment.

Finally, we wandered back to the giant Ferris wheel. The dark and the rain had chased most people inside, so the line was short. Miniwether and I boarded and began the swaying climb up into the sky. Miniwether was struck dumb. For the first time all day she stared out at the lights, the sounds, but was herself speechless. At the top she clung to me but still stared out, still silent. Several times we circled, then the ride ended. As I picked her up to leave the Ferris wheel she hugged me and said, I love you, daddy."

We met up with Misseswether, then began the long walk back to the car. In less than a block Miniwether was asleep in my arms.

Next up: Tuesday in Dallas

Monday, October 03, 2005

Is it still a "small adventure" if a firetruck ends up at our house?

The common consensus is that when I'm finally standing before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates my hair and clothing will still be smoking from the accidently self-induced blast that launched me from this life. Things like that just happen around me. I guess it's my innate love of BOOMS coupled with lack of interest in fine details. Speaking from an evolutionary standpoint, this is a bad mix. Actually, speaking from the view point (and shrapnel range!) of neighbors, roommates, insurance agencies, etc, this is a really bad mix. On the plus side, it does lead to some great stories.

This probably isn't one of them.

It all started innocently enough (dum dum daaaa!!). Last Saturday The Woodlands held their community garage sale. Individual garage sales are not allowed in The Woodlands, so twice a year they let their residents take over a local parking garage to sell their stuff. I've gone to this sale several times and I've come to the conclusion that rich people's junk is just a crappy as middle/low income families' junk. I did make one really great fine though, a $20 bill! SWEET!! Of course, as soon as I picked it up it was snatched by a laughing, beautiful woman who took running off down the sidewalk. I was still carrying Miniwether at the time so I couldn't give chase, besides I knew Misseswether would spend the money on something worthwhile while I'd blow it on some odd electrical device that'd just smoke and throw sparks when I took it home and plugged it in. (Hmmm, foreshadowing?)

We finished up at the garage sale with only minor damage to my wallet and my wife's Honda's supsension system. It was still early so I suggested we swing by Home Depot. I needed some new batteries form my cordless tool kit, if you were interested. Home Depot is one store where I'm incapable of surgical-strike shopping. I always have to check out the copper tubing, the newest hammer technology, chainsaws, and assorted other manhood-reaffirming items. While poking around the glue section one of the workers came up and mentioned they were having their monthly children's workshop in the back of the store. Misseswether was somewhat concerned about it being age-appropriate for Miniwether, but I was all for it. Daddies, daughters, and tools - what could possibly go wrong? (look over there, is that a quatro producing an umbra?)

Ironically, the topic of this month's workshop was "safety". Each child was issued an offical, personalized Home Depot orange apron and a wooden kit to be assembled there at the store with parents' assistance. Hammers were swung! Glue was squeezed! Misseswether was yelling frantically for me to read the directions. Over there one dad was meticulously sanding each peice before carefully nailing it in place. Misseswether panicked at that sight and started furiously (though somewhat randomly) sanding peices. Meanwhile, I had my pocketknife out and was "modifying" another piece that seemed too big. I'd hammer the nails in most of the way, then Miniwether would finish the job. She was chanting, "Fixing the canoe." while hammering, which confused some of the parents around us. I didn't feel like explaining that story to them.

Eventually we were done. One of the employees gave Miniwether a neat pin to attach to here apron stating which project she had done, then we headed out. Miniwether marched proudly in front of us showing off her project to everyone.
And that is how a firetruck ended up at our house.

Adventure! Excitement! Red herrings!