Tuesday, August 28, 2007

3600 Miles Across America

-Mambowether's shoes

Mambowether in now famous in truckstops and fast food joints from Texas to Minnesota and over to Wisconsin. Every place we stopped on our long drive people flocked to see the cute girl that squeaked. Ah, Chinese squeaky shoes, one the very best and most annoying creations to come from that Eastern land. The perfect thing to track both the direction and velocity of your young'uns. Stick them on an incredibly giggly toddler and suddenly the cuteness factor is blowing puppies and baby bunnies out of the water.

Way cute.

Summer vacation road trips. Is there anything more likely to skate the razor's edge between cherished memories and total disaster? Uh, I mean other than spending time with me out in the woods...I really miss Clark.

But back to happy thoughts! In this case it was a family reunion 1190 miles away in central Minnesota. I had three weeks of vacation stored up, what better way of spending it than packing the family and several bags of beef jerky into the Honda Pilot and driving North for three days to spend two weeks in a 120-year old farmhouse with one bathroom shared with 10-16 other family members in a town I left twenty years ago?

Wow, nothing like a run-on sentence to move the plot along.

Sidenote: two weeks is a long, painful time to keep one's gut sucked in...and I never did cross paths with any high school flames.

So, what was the trip like? Glad you asked (though maybe it was just the voices in my head that asked, but you'll just have to sit through the answer now, won't you?)

In past, pre-Mambowether long road trips we usually just stick "Cinderella" in the portable DVD player and drive until someone had to, er, *unload*. It was a fast, painfree way to cross long distances. However, one should always test the DVD player a few days before such a trip to make sure it's working. They can be very fragile items.

Speaking from experience here folks!

So, after that disaster we decided never again to rely on such unreliable entertainment to passivate our kids. When telling others of our movie-free plan to cross this great country the usual response was disbelief and questions of our sanity, followed by internal playback by the commenter of past experiences with me, then silence, then the comment, "Uh, nevemind...".

It's sad how our civilization has lost its ability to be amused by anything other than passively watching images on a screen. So, without further delay, I'd like to offer new parents tips on keeping the kids happy on a long car trips, thereby allowing them to see America rather than quickly (and expensively!) fly over it.

Note: I have no financial incentive to share these tips with you (damn it). It's just stuff Misseswether and I found that kept the girls happy.

1. Crayola "Color Wonder" paper and markers. These things make a chemist weep. Imagine the technologhy invovled in markers which only leave marks on the special paper. Miniwether spent hours drawing pictures of her and Spiderman having tea with The Batman. Sidenote: she got pretty upset when I told her it was impossible for her to have tea with both of them as Spiderman is from the Marvel Universe and The Batman is DC. On the other hand this was a good opening for me to teach her about the Many Worlds interpetation of quantum mechanics. I think she didn't catch all it's nuances, though.

2. Leapfrog "Leapster" coupled with the Disney Princess game cartidge. Yep, nothing like using questionable role models to trick your kids into learning spellling and math. Um, boys might prefer a different game (though there's nothing wrong with them liking the Disney Princesses. I mean let's face it, Ariel is HOT, um, for someone half-fish).

3. Handheld electronic game with flashing lights and beepy noise bought from the Salvation Army store for 99-cents. This was great at letting Mambowether mimic her older sister playing with the above-mentioned Leapster. Contented cooing, giggles, and strange techno-beebly noises make a wonderful soundtrack to the nation passing by.

4. McDonald's play areas. Need to wear the kids out? Nothing works better than loading them up with meat and complex carbs then chasing them through a maze for half an hour. They'll sleep for hours after that.

5. Maker's Mark Whiskey. For when McDonalds isn't enough to knock the kids out. JOKING!!!!!

6. A map: Kids like to feel important as well as learn new things. A little ceremony when crossing a state lines adds to the fun. Sidenote: The ceremony probably shouldn't include yelling the line "Hey, we aren't to far away to turn around and go home so you never see your cousins!".

7. Big pieces of paper that can be torn into smaller pieces of paper. Is there anyone who doesn't find random acts of destruction soothing? Lord knows it'll keep an 18-month old happy for 20 minutes or more.

8. Snacks. Sometimes lack of sugar is what ails a kid.

9. An AWESOME big sister. Miniwether's love of Mambowether really showed through on this trip. She'd make funny faces and sounds, retrive toys, and give snacks to Mambowether at the first hint of Mambo's unhappiness. Dang, we got great kids!

10. The "Look Out The Window" rule. Parents should point out any interesting things they see along the drive, however they should not get upset if the children refuse to look. There are thousands of things to see in this life. Missing something here or there is NOT a big deal.

And now for a few other tips for parents consdering following our path.
1. Dallas traffic sucks, but driving straight through it on I-45 on to Hwy 75 worked pretty well. Granted, this tip really only applies to a small sub-group of readers. The next will apply to ALL new parents.

2. Teach your kids how to go potty in the Great Outdoors. Once a child is potty trained if can be suprisingly difficult to convince him/her that putting poop in a hole in the ground is okay under certain circumstances. From there it's an easy step up to going potty into a plastic shopping bag (check for holes first!). Trust me, if you are thirty miles from anywhere or worse the only toilet option is the Shell station outside Denten, TX the ability to just go in a bag is really, really useful!!

3. When 16 people have to use the same bathroom, stack a case of toilet paper right there. And don't even start the whole lid up/lid down argument!

Well, that's enough preaching for a while, let's see the pictures!

Why we went.

The bonding of first and last.

drivedrivedrive.jpg drivedrive2.jpg

Long story, let's just simplify it to "Love".

Our daily bread (or in this case corn on the cob, watermelon, and various types of meat).

Enough teeth for corn!


A day on the banks of the Crow River (it really does exist!).

And a lot of frogs live in it.

Minnesota has a lot of pretty water.

Misseswether shows the inlaws another reason to give her dibs on the bathroom (scored 200 out of 220 points!)

Six boys (plus another two neighbor boys), eight bicycles, three BB-guns, five 2x4's, three sheets of plywood, one old wagon, 1/4 acre to roam and not a single broken bone or lost tooth the whole two weeks.

Mambowether doing the Muddy Hustle (or, what happens when it rains while daddy is in charge).

Miniwether really loves bugs. Sidenote: The Children's Museum of Minnesota is AWESOME. Go there.

Being Turtle.

Going underground.

Crystal Cave in Wisconsin. Fun when I was a child, fun now as a dad.

Mambowether the Adventurer.

The last picture was taken in the woods on the edge of town. When I was a kid it was all trees and dirt paths worn by children. Now these paths have been paved and the trees have been pushed back a 'safe" distance. While walking these new trails I had the following discussion with Miniwether:
Mini: When are we going into woods? You said we'd go into the woods!
Me: We are in the woods.
Mini: No, I mean the real woods!
Me: You know, you're right. Let's go!
And then Miniwether, Mambowether and I left the civilized path and spent two hours tromping through brambles and over fallen trees, eating wild plums, and following deer tracks.

Damn, I have a great life!

*Note: Clark has not died in some borderland excursion. He and the family moved last Saturday which will greatly curtail our adventuring together.

Adventure! Excitement! Long Roads!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I taste like steak?????

Revenge is a dish best served cold.
-Belief held by Kligons and grasshoppers

I was coming back from lunch today with my boss, a coworker, and a newly-fired, $200-dollar-an-hour consultant when I spotted a giant, beautiful grasshopper. It was as big as my index finger and bright, brilliant green. Thinking Miniwether would like to see it I caught it by it's tush and that's when everything went horribly wrong.

Rather than meekly submit to my superior evolutionary status the little bastard twisted around and clamped his mandibles onto my finger! I started cursing and flicking my finger around to dislodge him but it had ahold of me with all six legs and its jaws. It felt like two wasps stinging my finger. My boss, coworker, and Mr. $200 stopped walking and stared at me.

I held my finger out to them with the grasshopper busily chewing away and said, "It's biting me". I then grabbed it's abdomen and began pulling him off my finger. One leg after another popped off until only his clentched jaws were left binding the two of us together.

Mr. $200 gave my boss a look of, "This is your star Ph.D.?" and my boss just shrugged his shoulders then asked me why I was fighting with a flesh-eating grasshopper.

"Well", I explained. "I thought my daughter would like it." Then I finally teared it free of my finger and tossed it away.

Later today I found a live treefrog in my lab. It didn't bite me when I caught it and took it down the three flights of stairs to release it outside.

Sometimes my days are weird.

Adventure! Exploration! Inverted Food Chain!

Monday, August 20, 2007

How Merriwether Got His Groove Back...

Walked out this morning, don't believe what I saw
Hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore

-Sting/The Police



I'm back!

Spent a lot of the last few weeks exploring a really scary place, my brain as it confronts it's own mortality. Again.

I'm 10 months away from turning forty (but still damn sexy!) which, for someone who always felt he was destined greatness, has been a bit of a reality check.

I've come to the conclusion I won't be great. I'm just a guy, though somewhat twisted, and it's time to cut away some dreams.

I'll never learn Chinese.
I'll never become a martial arts expert.
I'll never learn to weld.
I'll never quit my job and open a wilderness survival school.
I'll never learn Kendo.
I'll never bench 300 pounds.
I'll never be wrote about in National Geographic (or the letters column of a certian magazine).
I'll never build and master playing a copy of the Blue Man Group backpack PVC plosive aerophone.

Just like everyone else.

But it's all good, because I get other stuff instead.

A life filled with small, wonderful adventures.
Two stunningly beautiful, wonderful daughters.
A gorgous, brillant wife who is nuts about me.
A body covered in scars, each with a great story behind it.
A chance to help others (note to Ig: you made my day).
A job that sends me around the world and pays great (one word to young people out there: metallurgy)

And now a few more details:
I've mentioned a few times about my job being tough. I'm basically a chemist who has become an expert oilwell plumber. The job pays great but it's very high stress. Along with my normal job responsibilities I also work in the training department teaching new employees about oilfield chemicals. I've been voted best teacher in our company of 16,000 employees. Apparently I can make a complex subjects entertaining and simple to understand (though sometimes I meander a bit. It seems every talk I give on corrosion gets sidetracked into how to forge a Samurai sword...but the students love it). But a side result of all this is they are giving me more and more classes to revamp, though I get to teach them in places like Norway, Russia, China, etc... On a sidenote, I got promoted today. Bigger paychecks, more responsibilities, and they want me to write several books. More cuts into family time.

Ah, family time, what a change Mambowether has made. Miniwether was to the point where she and I could have a great time in the woods. She's four but knows edible plants, safe vs. "owie" bugs and other wilderness skills most scouts don't have. When we first got her she could barely move even though she was 10 months old, but she loved to ride in my backpack carrier as I wandered through the woods. I'd hand her sticks and tell her about leaves on our rambles.

Mambowether is different. She's an 18-month old dynamo of speed and oralness. Taking her into the woods is an exercise in stooped running and grabbing things out of her mouth. Not exactly fun. She doesn't want to just ride on my back, she wants to run through flowers chasing butterflies and then eat them (not nearly as tasty as grasshoppers). End result, taking her into the woods doesn't happen as much as it did with Miniwether. I've found my wilderness romps have been severly curtailed and it depresses me. I've come to the realization that it'll be a while before our outings are back up to speed.

So be it. Those times will return.

One other major thing that's going on is Clark and family are moving. In less than a month they'll be gone. They'll still be in the greater Houston area, but our quick, spur-of-the-moment trips into the Spring Creek borderlands will be coming to an end. Major bummer. We'll still get together for big adventures, but those don't happen nearly as often or as easily.

Anyway, I just wanted to give you a glimpse into what's going on and why I haven't been posting as much. I had to reorganize things and decide what's important, decide what I love doing.

And what I love is my family, adventuring, and telling people about both.

I can't guarantee I'll still post something every week but it seems you'll be here when I do show up. I'll try not to keep you waiting too long.

Oh, and for those of you waiting for the next part of the Wendigo story, don't worry, you'll get more soon. Not the next post, but soon.

Coming next: 3600 miles of asphalt, two kids and no portable DVD player

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I don't know...

If I have the time to keep this blog going.

I'll try my best, but time has become gold coins which need to be spent wisely.

Readers, if you want me to continue then leave a comment. Just a word of encouragement or a blurb about how I inspired you to do something wild. If the demand is there I'll keep at it.

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!