Saturday, December 7, 2013

Stay warm

It's snowing outside, so it just seemed appropriate to get a fire going and watch Christmas movies as a family. Nothing quite like warming your bum by the fire.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The first snow

The last two days we've woken up to snow flurries -- big fat ones -- falling like frozen tears from baby cherubs, dainty sendings of heavenly sorrow crystallized while passing through rarefied atmospheres. Tiny beautiful fairies, perfect and unique, that melt slowly into nothingness and oblivion on the deck. Or just snow flurries. We'll just leave it at that.

But there really is something both beautiful and haunting about early morning snow, and the way clouds hang heavy over the mountains. The lightness of the flurries and the weight of those enveloping vapors contrast in interesting ways that get me thinking as I stare out the window. I almost run to wake my daughter.

When she finally does wake up, I tell her to go look out the window, and she does, trailing her curiosity behind her like her old ratty bunny. And then I hear her scampering feet, rushing back to shout,
 "It's snowing! It's snowing!" 
She dances around, a pint-sized but enthusiastic manifestation of my own introverted feelings. There's nothing like watching a kid celebrate snow that brings you back to your own childhood, before shoveling, before scraping car windshields, before trying to drive to work or the supermarket.

The snow melted everywhere but on the upper elevations. I wonder how long it will last there. It's beautiful, but I almost look forward to its passing so that the next snow can be a surprise gift, just like this one.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nature called. It wants you to come out and play.

We don't currently own a ball for Addison to kick, so it was fortuitous that this tumbleweed decided to come and visit. What, you don't get tumbleweeds where you live? Maybe you would if you lived in the kind of town that doesn't bother to remove trees when paving its streets.

All of these are within a quarter-mile of our home.

And this kid, she knows a good thing when she sees it. She really does.

A girl and her tumbleweed

Saturday, November 16, 2013


We've been in our new place for about two months now, and the process of re-establishing ourselves, our habits and our goals, has me thinking a lot about what makes a house a home. There's some kind of magic in the way that a bunch of wood and drywall and glass arranged at right angles on a slab of concrete can become something more than a mere assemblage of construction materials.

I've lived places that had no soul. Places that seemed little more than shells, uninspiring storage containers for living bodies. These are often in-between places, places in which you don't want to invest too much because you may not be around for long. Places that accumulate clutter like flies. And then once you've cleared it all up, it doesn't feel tidy; it just feels empty.

But now we're in a house that we hope we might have for the long haul. I love the pine trees outside, the fireplace, the high ceilings, and the view from our front door.

Addison took this photo while wandering in the back yard

All of these things, and more besides, add up to make a wonderful place to nest. It's not perfect; a lot of people might be turned off by living in less than 1000 square feet of home with little-to-no insulation and decor and appliances straight out of the 1970s. A place where there's no trash pick-up, the postal service only delivers to a P.O. Box, and where half the population doesn't get cell phone reception.

Despite its utility, there's something rather clinical about comparing all of those pluses and minuses in coming up with an abode to call "home." Such lists are stoichiometric -- more "scientific method" than "poetry." They're about cancelling things out to see what's left over. They're about neutralizing and off-setting instead of celebrating. And if you've got such a list in your head, it's hard to ever enjoy something without qualification.

Watching Addison shows me that there is another way.

Kissing her "nicest, most favoritest" rock she's ever found

It took Addison a little while to adjust to our mountain cabin, but it's a special thing to watch the way she finds magical moments here, moments that never made it onto our pros and cons list. Kids don't cross things off of some master list as they decide whether to commit to a place. I came across Addison, the other day, reading a book in her room in a ray of light.

It reminded me of my own childhood in a house in Northern Virginia, and the bay windows under which I'd cast myself, basking in a glowing patch of sunlight warmed from a hundred million miles away.

Me (with the wide eyes), my siblings, and dad all sitting in front of those windows.

I have many fond memories living in that house, but the sunlit patch and those accumulated cozy afternoon moments of Zen reside at the forefront of my recollection.

It's impossible to predict which experiences, which memories will mean the most, at least when we're right in the thick of them. It might be decades before the teasing presence of a certain memory or routine finally coalesces into something we can articulate. And whatever item Addison loves in one moment is so often cast aside a day later (with the exception of her Bunny); the activity that she craves so constantly for a few weeks or months is largely replaced by another as she matures and her interests evolve.

But I hope this one lasts.

I hope that anytime she comes across a spear of sunlight illuminating an otherwise ordinary space that she perceives the miracle in it. That she can see in that gentle glow that crosses an impossibly large, impossibly empty and dark expanse, an analogy for finding warmth, comfort, and hope in unlikely places.

It strikes me that while I want my daughter to love and miss the home of her childhood, to yearn for it (and us) and seek to return to it (and us), the most wonderful thing about a patch of sunlight is that she'll be able to find it in most any place she ever finds herself. That sense of "home" never needs to be too far away.

These sunlit memories may or may not inhabit my daughter's subconscious as they do mine; I suppose she'll have the rest of her life to explore and define her own psychological safe-havens. But watching her settle in has, for me at least, conjured the magic to make this house a home. Thanks for that, Addison.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The most beautiful dream . . .

That dream is still alive, but it's like a dagger in me every November. Now, both springing forward and falling back offer a lose-lose situation. Ah, well, only like another decade of this, right?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Raven

For your Halloween enjoyment, my three-year-old's narration of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven. I thought we'd only try a single stanza, but she was a trooper. It only took three single smarties and a kid's handful of pretzels to convince her. She's always had a love/hate relationship with birds:

And, if you're so inclined, here's another animal-themed video (which I made when I was in film school), to fill that blank spot in your psyche that is made up of terrifying deer nightmares.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Merry Halloween to you, my good sirs

We struggle a little bit with Halloween in our house. Really, we struggle with most holidays. And by "we" I mean me. I'm not the sort of person who likes big productions, decorations, groups of people, or expectations to act a part. I don't really get excited about costumes (although I admit I'd like to dress my kid up as a Jawa), and I kinda hate getting my picture taken. Perhaps it's the introvert in me. Perhaps it's the contrarian in me. And yeah, I'm a lot of fun at parties.

My wife told me I probably shouldn't include the "bastards" bit in this comic, that I might alienate sensitive readers (along with all her relatives). And if you read my blog much, you know I tend to lean way further towards the sappy than the snarky. But when it comes to the almost universal social expectation that I should love a holiday or tradition, the curmudgeon in me tends to come out full force. If it's any consolation, I promise not to defile Christmas. Not too much, anyway.

Halloween isn't all bad. I mean, after you take away all the dumb commercial stuff, I can definitely appreciate a holiday that celebrates being a little creepy. And if you're the proud parent of a creepy kid, it resonates all the more.

We're still going trick-or-treating this year. I do make a few sacrifices for the happiness of my three-year-old. Last year, my daughter was a pirate, which was mildly fun and subversive:

This year, she wants to be a princess. Here's her actual request, I kid you not: "I want to be a Princess trapped by a Pirate." Sigh. I'm okay with that. Really. As long as she never stops wanting to play in the dirt and build rocket ships, she can be my little princess.

Be safe out there, kids. And be nice to all the little monsters, and pirates, and princesses.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Monday, October 7, 2013

The mountains are calling and I must go

A little over a month ago we moved from Orange County to a mountain cabin in the Los Padres National Forest. This is what we wake up to in the morning:

We knew that things would be different. We now have to drive nearly an hour to get to an affordable grocery store. We've already had near-freezing weather, snow is on the way, and we've exchanged palm trees for pine trees. We literally live on the side of a mountain, and we're still figuring out exactly what that means. While we were moving in, Lindsay got a little education from a conversation with our neighbor:
Neighbor: Do you have any cats? Do you want one? 
Lindsay: ? 
Neighbor: I found a feral cat, and I've been feeding him and nursing him back to health. 
Lindsay: Well, actually we’re kind of allergic to cats.
Neighbor: We’ve also got raccoons here. You like raccoons? 
Lindsay: They're alright . . . 
Neighbor: There’s a whole shed full of ‘em across the street. I feed them too. See? There’s one on my porch right now. They’re real friendly. 
Lindsay: Oh, wow. Okay. 
Neighbor: How do you feel about bears? 
Lindsay: Real ones? The big kind? 
Neighbor: Yeah, they get big. This guy finds a mother bear with cubs, and he takes out a pistol and shoots her. Idiot! Anyway, those cubs were living under your porch for a while. 
Lindsay: Our porch? 
Neighbor: Yup. Animal control said to just let nature take its course, but . . . 
Lindsay: You fed them? 
Neighbor: Yup. 
So, gotta watch out for those critters. I'm waiting for the day Addison wanders in with a moose on a leash.

We were a little worried about how well Addison would transition to a new place. When you're three, your house and your routines are your whole world (heck, they're still my whole world). And for the first day or two, she had a tough time. She missed her Grammy and Gramps. One night, she sobbed for 45 minutes, saying that she "just does not have any friends here!" and "there are not so many people here!" And recentlyAddison told us that "sometimes when I'm playing by myself in my room, I pretend I have no friends and am very, very lonely."

Still, it wasn't but a few days before she was wandering around at the playground holding some random kid's hand, instructing her "husband" to dance with her like Beauty and the Beast. 

And she's excited by neighbors she can interact with. While we construct make-shift play equipment in the backyard, she has conversations with our elderly neighbors, who tend a garden and always pop something off a plant for Addison to put in her mouth. She loves their cherry tomatoes. 

With a little coaching, Addison wrote them a thank-you note, on which she drew tomatoes and a space ship. I couldn't find her for about thirty seconds, and then I heard something outside. She was standing at the fence between our lots, shouting at their house:

We're still working on what it means to be "neighborly," though I can't fault her enthusiasm.

The adventurous streak is strong in this one. She gets that more from her mother than from me. I love her boldness, her confidence, her inquisitiveness, even if it sometimes catches me off-guard. But I can understand that there's nothing quite like exploring a brand new place, especially when that new place is filled with rocks, lakes, mountains, and all manner of furry critters.

In the end, Addison has transitioned to our new life even better than I imagined she would. Every day that she snatches up her staff and asks to walk to the park or the library, I'm inspired by her excitement for a new quest. When she requests some time to go out back and dig a hole, I'm gratified by her eagerness to go out under the pines and get her hands dirty. When we step outside to search the clear night sky for the brightest, luckiest star, I'm reminded that she's an adventurer, and that to her, the magic of the world vastly outweighs the anxieties. She's a brave kid, and it's gonna stretch me to keep up with her.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On falling down

“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation -- either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” 
                                                      ― Martin Luther King Jr.

If there's one concept I wish I could teach my daughter, it would be this. The Universe seems inexorably to succumb to decay. But in each of us is a creative power that trumps the destructive forces that surround us, if only we will have the will to use it. From the ruins of tragedy may be built soaring towers of transcendence. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A million splashes

Our new place is a short walk to a park with a fishing pond. As we walk along the road to the pond, Addison and I fill our pockets with little flat stones. Skipping stones is a new skill that Addison is keen to learn. As I skip a rock, she counts the splashes: "One . . . two . . . threefourfivesix!" And when she tosses her own rock like a shot-putter hurling a cannonball, she waits for the single massive splash and shouts, "Whoa! A MILLION splashes!"

We go to the pond almost every day. I scan the ground for likely candidates as we walk. My heart skips a beat when I pick up a really quality skipping rock, something with a comfortable heft and a nice place to curl my finger around it. The kind of skipping rock that's so beautifully formed, so perfect for its purpose, that you save it for last and then don't want to use it after all. Because in the end, the very best skipping rock is the one that skips the farthest and then sinks into the depths, beyond recovery. Such great potential paired with the heartbreak of such a singular moment, a brief triumph that can never be repeated.

As I watched my daughter bend down to pick up stones in the dirt shoulder of the road, I considered her little self. So perfectly formed. And her hand fits so perfectly in mine. I kind of just want to keep her in my pocket and never let her go.

But really (I have to keep telling myself this), raising a kid is like having a perfect skipping stone 
that's MAGIC. You throw it out, and it skips incredibly, beautifully across the surface. And then it comes BACK. It always comes back. So long as you've treasured it, cradled it in the palm of your hand, loved it with all you have. So long as you pause a moment before launch, breathless, preparing yourself mentally for all that will come. If your throw is true and pure, imbued with the experience of many past successes and many hours of practice. If you've earned the stone's love, it comes back.

And then, one day, the stone will learn that it can throw itself. All those times when you launched it out there with your heart in your throat -- they were all for this purpose. So that someday, even when you're not there, the stone will keep throwing itself out there, and keep skipping gracefully, magnificently across the surface, and never sink to the bottom.

"Whoa! A MILLION splashes!"

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Booming the scares, taking care of hurt monsters, phoning dead relations, wanting new parents, PICKLEWEASEL!

We're almost done with our move up into the mountains, blog post to come soon. In the meantime, there have been a bunch of conversations I wanted to record. As first seen on my Facebook page, here they come:
Addison has recently been complaining about scary things at night, something that's never been an issue before. She'll come running out of her room at bedtime, saying, "Scares! In the dark! There are scares in my room!" 
So Lindsay tried to teach her a little trick with an invisible magic wand to make the scary things go away: 
Lindsay: Just say, "Abracadabra scary things away, BOOM."  
And then Addison's maternal instincts kicked in and all her fears of things that go bump in the night faded away, to be replaced with this:

Addison: Oh no! You boomed the scares! But now all the little scares are hurt and they don't have their moms and dads to take care of them. I will be their mom now. Poor scares. Poor, poor scares.

And so Addison, now refusing to go to bed for a different reason, starts wandering around to all the dark little corners of her room muttering "it's okay, scares. It's okay. I'll take care of you."

Kids. They take that parenting manual and really scribble all over it.

My daughter, running breathlessly out of her bedroom: 
Addison: There's monsters in my room! 
Lindsay: Oh? 
Addison: Yeah. And some of them are hurt. And I need to take care of them. 
Lindsay: Okay, well, get back into bed and take care of them. 
Addison: Okay. 
I can see that we may have a new bed-time routine.

As we near our move-out date and Addison contemplates what it means to move from one home to another, and since she thinks about her deceased (great) Grandpa all the time, this is where her thoughts went: 
Addison: Does God have rooms? 
Lindsay: Uh. What? 
Addison: Like to sleep in... 
Lindsay: Um. Maybe? 
Addison: Let's call my Grandpa and ask him to ask God to give us some rooms to sleep in after we die. 
Because when you travel from one place to another, you always want to know that there's a safe place to land. Count on a kid to remind you that mundane things act as analogies for the big concepts in life. I'm gonna have to put some extra special thought into cozying up her new room.

My daughter's revolution continues. She said, "I want new parents." 
The reason? "I want new stuffed animals," she said. "These stuffed animals are not my favorites." 
Me: And why do you need new parents for that? 
Addison: Because they will have different stuffed animals. They can still be named Lindsay and Neal. But they will wear different clothes.
Lindsay: But we'd miss you so much. 
Addison: It's okay. My new parents will bring me to visit. Or maybe you can come live with my new parents, too. 
My, how easily we are replaced. It's a little sad that she'd trade us for a new set of stuffed animals . . . but at least she doesn't mind if we still live together.

Typical phone conversation with my daughter: 
Me: I have something to tell you. 
Addison (from a distance): No! 
Me: Ok, then I'll tell you this: Pickle-weasel! 
Addison (suddenly much closer and engaged): Pickle-weasel to you!

Me: No! Pickle-weasel to YOU!

Addison (at max volume): NO! PICKLE-WEASEL TO YOOOOUUU!

I'll treasure these conversations.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Tire swings and quiet moments

It's not often that we catch our daughter in a moment of repose. The world is too big, too exciting, too explorable for her to sit still for more than a fraction of a second. If I ask her to come and sit on my lap and tell me about her day, she comes running, gleefully, and touches down like some winged thing. And then, before I have a chance to wrap my arms around her, she's off again, a bird of prey soaring away with something snatched in her talons. She's a will-o'-the-wisp, materializing in unexpected places, and then slipping away before I've fully realized she was there. She's a pioneer, pushing every frontier, striking breathlessly through liminal spaces, a tiny human-shaped vessel going where none have gone before.

And yet there is a quiet place in this little dynamo. There is an eye to the storm, a still center about which great energies revolve.

I glimpse these moments and I imagine a strange alchemy which converts energy from her recently wind-milling limbs into conceptual fuel. The propellent ignites from a spark in her synapses, and her mind goes questing, boldly travelling her internal infinities.

Or perhaps there is repose both inside and out. Perhaps in these moments her mind empties itself of the myriad distractions of this world. She finds calm. She finds peace. She finds simplicity. And she quietly refills her psychic reserves, safe in sanctuary, before launching back into the wide world of possibilities.

I'm pretty sure I'll never know what secret conversations she has with herself in these moments; I think I like it that way. Because as I watch her and imagine, mystery and possibility fills my head, too.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

My little reader and my Google Reader

First, a few pictures of my blossoming reader. After that, a request for help.
The only one on the plane who took the safety announcement seriously
Still poring over it, long after the presentation was over
There be dragons here
We spent a good 25 minutes talking about this single page.
In a couple of days, Google Reader will disappear. Every time I log in, I get a message reminding me of its impending doom. And I still haven't found a replacement. When the demise of Reader was announced several months ago, I spent some time researching alternatives, but I wasn't ready to make the leap. Now I'm going back and trying to do more research, but it's tricky because a lot of the reviews I find are many months old and may not be fully accurate.

According to my stats, I've got over 100 subscribers on Google Reader. My Google Reader companions, I feel your pain. You might consider subscribing to my posts via e-mail (there's a "Follow by Email" button on the sidebar); that's probably the safest way to make sure you see my stuff.

But for a Reader alternative, I found this article on Lifehacker that offered a few brief reviews for replacements, and based on it, I'm thinking Feedly, The Old Reader, or Newsvibe. Have any of you started using an alternative? How did you choose? How do you like it?

Note: I originally created the Then/Now comic for the Insatiable Booksluts. It's a cool blog about many things literary. You should check it out.