Re-purposed Costumes and Child Prodigies: A Proud Father Horrified

A couple of quick insights before we get into the meat of this post:

  1. Halloween costumes are cheaply made (the ones we buy are, anyway) and might as well be re-purposed.
  2. I am aware of the dangers of trampoline ownership and usage. We monitor the kids closely when they use it and have had no trampoline related injuries in the 2 years we’ve had it. Well, no injuries to the kids, anyway. I’ve pulled several muscles moving that ridiculous thing out of the way so I can mow under it. Oh, and also the blood blister from trying to stretch those extremely stiff springs during setup.
  3. Bicycles the size of the ones my 7 year old daughter and 5 year old son use are not equipped with kick stands. I take this to mean that the manufacturers do not expect that children that young will need the training wheels removed. What it likely means is that they’ve already spent money installing training wheels and don’t want to spend more on manufacturing and installing a kick stand.
  4. I choose to believe that my son, despite the bicycle manufacturers implied assumption, is a bike riding prodigy. I choose to believe he will be the bike riding equivalent of Beethoven and/or Mozart.

With all that said, let me explain the intent of this post. My son can ride a bike. He enjoys riding his bike to an extent that horrifies me because, the more confident he gets, the more risks he takes.

Before he learned how to turn, his risk was to get as close as possible to the trampoline before stopping. As his turning skills improved he decided he simply MUST try to ride around the lotus pond.

This caused me much consternation. I didn’t want to discourage him, however, I especially didn’t want him to fall into the stagnant, odiferous muck that inhabits the pond now that all the blossoms and leaves have fallen into the water. This stuff is very nearly alive and I rue the windy and overcast day that it finally burps up some strange, dripping, glob-like life form.

Side-note: I refuse to clean out the lotus pond in the fall because not only will the lotus grow up and hide it in the spring, but he muck makes a wonderful addition to mulch and I want it to get as mucky as possible before I scoop some out in the early spring to schlop onto the garden.

As soon as I saw him headed toward the pond, I took off running. He rides with his knees out to the side and I don’t know how to describe the sight, but he pumps his legs so fast that the sight of those knees bobbing out on the sides of his bike is very comical. So I laughed as I ran. Just as I caught up to him he executed a perfect turn mere inches from the edge of the pond.

When he stopped his bike by intentionally running into my theoretically evergreen tree I lectured him on the dangers of what he had just done, implied there would be consequences if he did it again and sent him off to ride a different route.

He was proud of his turn, though, and kept bringing it up. “Hey Daddy, did you see, I, I, did you see me I turned and didn’t splash?!”

Apparently this gave him confidence and, feeling that he had mastered the challenges of turning before riding into a pond, he decided it was time to tempt fate another way.

When he disappeared into the house, I figured he had to go to the bathroom. Instead he came back out in his Halloween costume and decided it would be fun to horrify the dogs and his sisters as he rode after them helter-skelter, cackling and crashing into obstacles he couldn’t see through the inadequate eye holes of the Halloween mask.

Here’s the moral of all this: There may be many ways to repurpose a Halloween mask. Bike helmet is not an acceptable option, even though it has the potential to be hilarious.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…allow you children a few eccentricities. They are good learning opportunities for you as well as them. While sometimes scary, they can also be hilarious.

A don’t…feel guilty if you monitor them closely when they have their “good ideas”. In most cases, they are envisioning positive outcomes that only exist in the realm of the miraculous.

 

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A Day in the Yard or When Work Isn’t Work; Cherish it While You Can

I have three children. Of the three I have two accomplished bike riders and one aspiring. Strangely, my oldest at 9 and my youngest at 5 are the accomplished. My 7 year old is still aspiring. She’s a bit of a free spirit, though, and nothing holds her attention for very long. She’s getting very close to taking the training wheels off for good.

There’s no rush, I suppose. I know adults who never learned to ride a bike.

Anyway, the other day there was no school and the weather was perfect and after breakfast we went outside and I watched them ride bikes for about two hours. When their legs finally began to get tired and they drifted to other activities I got the wheel-barrow and rake and started loading up needles and leaves.

We moved into this house two summers ago and I thought I had an evergreen in the back yard. Apparently either I don’t or it’s very sick because last fall and again this fall, the needles have browned and fallen just like the leaves on our sometimes-greens. This tree drops so many needles that it covers the ground beneath it so thickly that it feels like walking on a shag carpet. Maybe the tree is an evergreen, and it’s simply a nostalgic sort of tree, pining away for the ’70’s.  A ha ha ha.

Ahem.

As I was raking and loading and trudging and dumping the loads of leaves and needles on my garden spot the kids began to follow me. They took my rake and began raking their own piles. They took my wheel-barrow and began carting loads themselves. They asked for rides and I gave them, at first in the empty barrow back to the trees and later (after my son was hit by a bolt of inspiration) in the leaf laden barrow en route to the garden spot.

Needless to say, by about 11:00 we were a bit hungry. I had worked up a sweat and I couldn’t think of anything better than sitting down in the cool kitchen for lunch. My oldest daughter insisted on a picnic. The electric company recently cut down a tree in our yard that threatened their lines. I asked them to leave the wood and they left slabs perfect for stools and a nice short, wide one that makes a fine table. As I performed one last task and maneuvered these into place, the kids ran inside to find their old Easter baskets.

We loaded the baskets with sandwiches, chips, “juice” pouches and dog biscuits.

I sat on a rough chunk of tree surrounded by kids and dogs and had the best grilled cheese sandwich and cup of coffee it has ever been my privilege to consume.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…let your kids help you work. I hear it won’t be long before they realize it isn’t fun. It is, actually, but only when you’re very young or getting old.

A don’t…blame your trees for pining for the ’70’s. The air was much cleaner back then. No wonder my evergreen wants to hold its breath for the winter.

 

Orion: A Constellation; A Memory Made; A Celestial Wonder With a Message for a Defective Man

When I woke up this morning it was still dark. I got the coffee going and woke up my kids. I stepped out the back door with my son with the dual intentions of feeding the dog and figuring out whether or not today was a short or long pants day (short pants were fine) and noticed that Orion was visible right over my garage.

I called for my daughters and, when they had stepped out and shut the back door (it was nearly dawn and the light from the laundry room was enough to blind us to the stars) I pointed out his belt and the four stars that insinuate his feet and hands. They couldn’t see it in its entirety. My middle child only saw his belt. I think they might have been having trouble connecting such unreachable dots. Either way, though, I was proud. It felt good to share something like that with them. I stood there staring at Orion long after they’d lost interest and I suddenly remembered that the North Star is part of one of the constellations. But which one? I simply cannot remember. Is it the bright star at the bottom of Orion that denotes his left foot? Or is it part of the Big Dipper?

Thinking about this took me back to basic training and all the times during our land navigation courses that I disappointed my Drill Sergeants (not to mention my Battle Buddies who trudged through the woods behind me in the exact wrong direction) to the point of nearly giving up on me. They never actually quit trying to teach me, but they were certainly frustrated that, hundreds of push-ups later, I still couldn’t sufficiently navigate my way out of an MRE bag when given a map, a compass and a block of instruction.

Then I thought about all the times in my civilian life when, trying to back-track some road-trip route, I swore up and down that I needed to go left when I actually should’ve gone right.  I don’t tend to give in to the fact that I’ve taken wrong turns, and, though suspicions are sneaking up on me, I continue making wrong turns until the web of wrong turns is so convoluted that I can’t even reverse the wrong turn route to get back to the first wrong turn I took. I’ve ended up turning around in so many private drives with no trespassing signs posted that I’m surprised my back bumper isn’t riddled with bird shot. I’m also surprised my wife has never actually thrown up all over the car. She gets car sick, especially when a twisty-turny route is combined with the stress of knowing she’s lost with an idiot who won’t admit he’s lost. She’s a real trooper. Thank God she didn’t know me in my Army days when my poor direction finding could’ve landed our necks under the blade of some radical’s machete. (They never gave me the map in a combat zone, by the way. I made it perfectly clear that doing so would mean certain death.)

As I thought about all these things this morning, staring up at the sky with my children chirping at the periphery of my hearing that we needed to go inside and eat breakfast, I realized I’m a defective man. I don’t have whatever it is they say men have that help them find directions. I don’t have a genetic compass, and for a moment I felt cheated. I mentally shook my fist at Orion for bringing on this realization.

We finally went inside to get ready for school and as my daughters ate granola bars and my son dumped peanuts from the jar to a bowl and back again for some reason, I realized, no matter what I may be missing in my own genes, I have my children. I have my wife. We have a house and food, jobs, cars, our vision and hearing and health. We have hope for the future and a contented complacency in the present.

I may be a defective man, I realized, but I’m perfectly OK with that. Thank you, Orion. Thank you for speaking to me simply by sitting in the morning sky. I mentally unshake my fist at you, you big celestial dude, you.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…step outside in the dark now and then and let the stars speak to you. You never know what they might say.

A don’t…forget what you do have when you’re bummed out by what you don’t have. What you do have is probably pretty great. You might just need to take a few quiet minutes to realize it.

A Few Unconventional Ideas for the Home; I Bet They Won’t Work

I posted previously about the large pecan tree in my back yard. This tree is close enough to my house to cause some concern on windy days and my wife and I have spent many an afternoon watching the kids play and discussing how much of the house we would lose should the tree topple in the right direction. My dire prediction is that we would lose most of the house. She disagrees, but I think she might be in denial. The tree is huge, the house small. I think she’d compromise and agree that we could lose perhaps 40%. I don’t have a huge problem with it since the majority of our loss would be the kitchen (which I nearly burned down making Halloween decorations. I owe my family a new countertop and some flooring.) and the laundry room. These could stand to be rebuilt and the likelihood of anyone being in these rooms during a massive windstorm is fairly low.

These facts are of no comfort to my wife, however. She prefers that none of our house be demolished by trees. Perhaps she is the sane one. Perhaps…

With her in mind, though, I have begun to design in my head a novel defense. Solar powered roof top wood chippers. Actually, make them wind powered. That way they run without the need to turn them on with very little notice and they won’t be causing a cacophonous crescendo simply because it’s daytime. And trees could fall at night. I’m convinced. Wind is the way to go.

There’s a lot more science to be considered, positioning, weight, strength of roof, attachments, how to get them up there, maintenance, legality of such a device, etc., but I feel the underlying idea is sound.

Again, my wife disagrees, but keep in mind she is also not a fan of my plan to develop miniature smart missile batteries to shoot down stray drones that wander into the restricted airspace around my house. The local airport might not respect the fact that I’ve deemed the air above my property a no fly zone, but at least I could keep some kids’ toy with a streaming hd camera attached from looking through my windows.

Now if only I could convince the woman I love that it is ok to fire tiny warheads within the city limits…and do the science of developing said warheads…and procure the materials…and have nothing to do but sit and wait for someone to fly a drone into my yard which has never, to my knowledge, happened.

Again, perhaps she is the sane one…

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu… think me nuts if you must, but consider this; If my house is destroyed through no fault of my own it is not insane to appreciate the opportunity to rebuild.

A don’t…contact any watchdog organizations. I have no plans to develop tiny warheads. I’m simply a guy with an imagination. I just happen to enjoy imagining mini mushroom clouds and tiny heat seeking missiles zooming around. I’m also not a scientist and couldn’t make this a reality even if I actually wanted to. Also, I’m broke. No worries.

Pecan Pie…Or Not; A Natural Disappointment

There’s a dream tree in my back yard. The tree was bare when we moved into our house last fall, but as soon as the leaves started budding this spring I started day dreaming about the pecan pies my wife would (hopefully) bake this fall with the bounty of our back yard dream tree. My wife makes the best pecan pie I’ve ever tasted. It rivals even Amish recipes, of which I’ve tried several, and found they all pale next to hers. I’m convinced that she has been divinely touched to make a pie that could beat the offerings of such a very devout and down-to-earth, tradition rich folk.

I was convinced of that until this year, anyway. Maybe it isn’t her, though. Perhaps I am the one who is cursed. After all, she could still make the pie…if she had the pecans, that is. Let me explain:

Just a few short weeks ago the tree was so heavy with pecans that I couldn’t walk under it without leaves brushing the top of my head. I’d feel the tickles on my scalp and the top of my ears and think about everything they meant. The branches are heavy with nuts. They’ll soon be ripe. They are hanging so low that I’ll barely have to work to get them! Then, one fateful day, I was in my garden checking on my ghost peppers, tomatoes and pumpkins. I heard a chittering sound and something that certainly wasn’t a leaf hit me on the head.

I thought perhaps a bird had made me its bathroom, but no such luck. I patted my head and, my when my hand came away unbefouled, I looked up at the tree just in time to catch a bit of the green covering that encases pecans in my eye. For the next few days every trip to the garden was an adventure as a squad of special forces squirrels scampered around the upper branches of my tree, dropping natural bombs on me and screeching at me when I threw the projectiles back into the foliage. I even released my hounds in the hopes that their size would be enough to scare the thieves off, but alas, my baying hounds were reduced to whimpering scaredy dogs at the hands of these efficient intruders.

And so, out of options, I resigned myself to losing my pecans. The squirrel squad stayed in the upper branches, audible but barely visible, so I allowed myself to believe they’d leave the lower ones for me. Or perhaps not even notice them. No such luck though. I had about three weeks to keep dreaming pecan pie dreams, but this morning I stepped out and immediately noticed that the branches were hanging much higher than they had been.

Not a pecan to be found. And the surreptitious squirrels had also vanished. Where is the love? If they were going to steal my pie fixings the least they could do would be to stick around so I could watch them chase each other around the tree trunk. I got the message. I’m a pecan tree haver to them. Nothing more and nothing less. I guess it’s ok though. I can stand to lose some weight anyway and from what I understand they’ll need to gain some for the winter.

Maybe it’s a symbiosis after all.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…appreciate your animal neighbors, even if they seem nefarious at times.

A don’t…bother making room for skunks. There’s no benefit at all to be had from them.

The Haunted Garden

I see them sometimes through the kitchen window. A flash of green when the wind blows just right or a glimpse of brilliant red-orange as the setting sun catches one off guard. They are odd, for ghosts. Whereas most ghosts are described as cold to the touch these are quite oppositely hot. And, as I learned the other day, they are mostly benign until you work up the courage to disturb them.

I encouraged the haunting on purpose. I literally cultivated it. I waited patiently through the long summer watching them mature through their otherworldly stages of pale yellow-green to a deep, verdant green to orange and finally, two days ago, one exuded the most shockingly vibrant shade of red I’ve ever seen. It was still a bit green at the tip so I begrudgingly gave it an extra day.

That night my dreams were haunted by the ghost of what could’ve been. I could’ve made salsa that day. I’ve been dreaming of making salsa ever since I first set out my onions and hardened off my tomato plants. These ghosts I grew were the last bit I needed to satisfy my hunger for a fresh, homegrown sauce with a luscious kick. I tossed and turned and hoped and, finally, slept a time-killing sleep.

A noble virtue is patience, usually, however this time it did not reward me. When I went out yesterday to pick the first ripe pepper of the season I saw that I had been beaten to the fruit by some sort of burrowing bug.  I pronounced many curses upon it and, out of spite, picked the pepper to deprive the pest of further enjoyment. I found an untouched bit near the stem and defiantly tore it away. I touched my tongue to the juice on the ragged edge of the tear…

…And quickly realized that the curses I placed upon the bug were moot. That creature had cursed itself and I had now also fallen victim to the curse of  Bhut Jolokia. I pronounced, then, many counter curses to no avail. I hacked and spat and struggled to breath. My pores wept. My every breath haunted my tongue as the air supplied the ghost new fuel with which to burn. I tried many things to exorcise it. I tried to breath through my nose. Thanks to the curse of seasonal allergies, though, the nose that had been plugged as if with a cork mere moments before was now draining like a bottle of champagne after the cork has been popped. I gnawed on bread and guzzled the holy water of the pepper world, whole milk. All for naught.

Upon my eventual recovery I counted the peppers I had left. Nearly thirty. Thirty ghosts hanging silently, eerily upon the plant. The very sight was terrifying. Perhaps they’d make good Halloween décor, I supposed. I could hang them under a sign that says BOO! Anyone familiar with these particular ghosts would run screaming at the sight.

In the end, though, I know what will happen. I’ll harvest them. I’ll make salsa. I’ll eat it. I’ll share it with friends. And enemies. I’ll suffer. I’ll scream. I’ll counter curse and exorcise.

I’ll do it all again next year. I’ve read a lot about the benefits of peppers. Whether it is true or not the fun of spice is, to me, as fun as being horrified. I’ve spent many a sleepless night haunted by movies or books or stories told by friends. And though I’m regretful in the morning it isn’t long before I again crave the novelty of terror.

My haunted garden is scary. But amongst its benefits are the destruction of monotony and the opportunity to try to “beat” a fearful pepper.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…face your fears. Even if takes a lifetime to beat them, you’ll learn something about yourself every time.

A don’t…forget the importance of a little spice, in your cooking specifically and life in general.

P.S…a don’t…think that the cheesiness and cliché of the last few lines is lost on my. This has been a traumatic re-telling and my brain has become fearful of going deeper on the subject.

Living Jack-O-Lanterns; In Answer to Why I Say Why Not.

The picture above is of a budding pumpkin. It is the first to have appeared in my garden and is of a variety that boasts the ability to grow to upwards of half a ton if properly cultivated. I don’t hold any misconceptions about my first attempt being successful at growing it to maximum size, but my research shows that this variety of pumpkin consistently produces fruits that weigh a few hundred pounds. If I can successfully grow just an average pumpkin of this variety, which I now realize I haven’t mentioned is called Dill’s Atlantic Giant, it should be sufficient to satisfy my goals.

Goal one is to make a living Jack-O-Lantern. I’ll hollow it, carve it, coat the inside with something to control the slime factor, then place my kids inside with flashlights. Not only will I have the first ever (as far as I’m aware, anyway) living Jack-O-Lantern with the potential for responsive lighting, I’ll also have the first Jack-O-Lantern that I know of with intuitive sound effects. I think that the kids will enjoy this greatly. They can pop out and scare people and just have a generally entertaining Halloween experience.

Goal two is to figure out what to do with the pumpkin shell after the holiday. I need an idea that doesn’t involve carrying it anywhere. So far I’ve entertained a few ideas for using it as a planter. I could either coat it with some sort of resin and attempt to make a permanent pot or just fill it with dirt and let it serve as a planter that will also provide some food to the plant I plant in it as it rots away.

Perhaps, if my neighbors don’t begin to complain, I can turn it into some sort of time lapse art project. Or it could serve as a combination bird bath/street side urinal for the homeless. This is the least desirable of all, so I hope one of the other ideas will work.

I likely wont have to worry about any of this at all because my green thumb is more brown with a greenish tinge.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…try new things even if you expect only very limited success.

A don’t…pee in my pumpkin if I am somehow successful.