Excuses excuses

Remember Leo? The one who can barely contain his misery over ski boots, and DESPISES foods that he loved yesterday? He is a different kid today.


There are some things you might not know about this picture.

That the king size slim Jim is his dinner. That he tripped over the legs of his new pjs coming into the store to buy dinner. And that he couldn’t catch himself with his hands because he was holding up said pjs to keep from flashing the folks coming out of the store. That when he fell those folks loudly commented on the “little girl” who “took a bad digger”.

Maybe you can’t see that he had spent two full days in airports trying to get home to Vermont and was woken two mornings in a row at 5:00am to catch flights that never departed.

Maybe you can make out the indentation on his face from the seatbelt of the rental car that we rented to drive from dc to Burlington.

You probably do see the oversized outfit purchased at two different gift shops due to two different spills.

You certainly can’t tell that when he was at hour 14 of waiting in an airport and his parents started talking about rerouting to Texas and his brother cried about missing school that he patted my hand and said…I know you’ll do whatever you can to get us where we need to go.

After 7 of our 10 hours of driving he asked nonchalantly if we are going to move to the cramped house with the roof deck in Denver. He watched Steve and I look at each other and give a mumbly numbly sort of “well…”

So here is a kid with little sleep and crummy food who has been soaked and laughed at and scraped and dragged across the country, whose whole future world might it might not be changing. And it can all be fixed with a king sized slim Jim.

This is the same kid who was rolling on the floor in abject misery over ski boots.



What do you call it?

We went to the Lego movie. Everything was awesome.

Obviously an important part of getting to know any city is checking out its cinema and this one was satisfyingly un-Vermonty. To begin with it had 22 screens. Add to that plush stadium seating, and an IMax and you start to see what I mean.

At the concession stand two young tatooed dudes had to show ID. At first I thought there might be beer back there, but it was only to buy their popcorn. I was wondering if this was policy or profiling, and then the boys and I charged without being carded.

As upsetting as I found this I seemed to be alone in my moderate outrage, everyone else smiled and wished each other well so I decided to get upset about the next regional difference. It might be less important than profiling but it is no less wrong. They call slushies icees here. I mean…c’mon. It is not a cup of flavored ice. It is a cup of slush. Why mess with perfection. If you want to use ice in the title I can accept “shaved ice” but even that seems to have the wrong consistency. It is more blended than shaved. I will say that shaved ice seems to be accompanied by a higher quality syrup than slushies, or icees. I no longer even sneak a sip from Leo’s treat. It just tastes like frozen cough syrup to me. It seems pretty truthful than most places just call them red, and blue now. There is not pretense about fruit flavor.

Oliver picked our seats and now it is not only the dry Colorado air that is causing me nose bleeds. Climbing to the top of the stadium felt like the 300s at Gillette. He also sat us directly behind one of only five other groups in the theatre so I had to spend a fair amount of time keeping Leo and I from kicking their seats. Despite all of that I would recommend the movie, and probably this theatre too if you are in Colorado springs. They don’t scrimp on the neon.

This was not the case for the box stores on the way home. Driving back to our hotel we passed Ta get and Office  ax and Steve asked if they sold kra  gl e there. Those of you who saw the lego movie will appreciate his brilliance.



We are riding in the white Yestermorrow van towards the Pitcher Inn. I have my sketchbook balanced on my lap and am too tired to speak to my friends. Instead I listen to the conversation in front of me. Cameron is studying himself into a new profession. He has returned from the Marines and spends almost half his time at YM learning to build. He is describing the timber framing class and its instructor. His language is course and loving, a bit like the instructor he has brought to life in a few sentences. “He tells us they are paying him to teach us, and so he teaches us. Everything. Not just the ideas, but we are in the woods listening to trees, dropping tools, and generally learning how to unfuck the situation.”

I love this. How real that learning is. As beginners at anything theoretical best practices are at such odds with the trouble we will get ourselves into when we actually practice. It is pretty hard to unfuck things.

Screenshot 2014-02-24 18.54.40Even in the 18 hours of drawing there is a fair amount of fucked-ness. Its not the same as getting entire trees jammed into huge machines, or getting on the wrong side of a massive frame, but that 2 point perspective can be hard. You are going along and then there is that one line that sends you off to the wrong vanishing point and your streetscape goes from looking like Venice to looking like the funhouse.

It feels like Sudoku. When you are 7/8 of the way done and all of a sudden there are two 4s in the same row. Your first stab is to erase that 4 and re-check, and then the next, and eventually it is all smudgy and you have lost track. You don’t really know how to unfuck sudoku so you have to look at Skymall instead. How long will they have that huge R2D2? And can he fix sudoku problems.

So Cameron is out in the woods with his “half redneck half hippy” teacher and they are both listening to the trees and unfucking them. We are still in the van bumping along and I can’t even see buildings any more. Just roof lines and shadow lines and horizon lines and vanishing points. The world has come apart into its components.

Screenshot 2014-02-24 18.56.33A few minutes later we are in the basement of the Pitcher Inn (pretty incredible if you are looking for a place to get away for the weekend in Warren VT) and the grand stone foundation has gone from instant textural atmosphere to a huge pain in the ass. I try for a bit and then finally go the Sudoku route and just turn the page.

After a few false starts I have something on paper. The challenge of drawing in real life rather than off of a slide is the framing. Where to start and where to end. The slide tells you. You can crop if you want, but the edges are limited and not generally overwhelming. Editing has never been my strong suit and even when I select the frame in our three dimensional world I find myself squinting and glimpsing past my edges, wanting to include more, to create even more context. As I erase the frame lines and redraw them to add just a little more I lose focus. The drawing is on tilt now.

The instructor tells me if you have to turn your head it is too wide. Just include what is in front of you. Inside I argue with her, imagining shifting, backing up, changing focus. Knowing that what is in front of me isn’t fixed. But, I guess it can be. If you frame it correctly.


We are back in the studio, and class ends without much fanfare. Students filter away and I am left with the interns waiting for my family to pick me up. We are between classes and the interns have reclaimed the space, playing ping pong, debating who will drive tonight to the pub. I slip into the library to work on the puzzle that Lara and I started the night before.  There is something about the quiet of the puzzle after days and weeks and months of togetherness that attract the interns and soon I am surrounded by them, quietly sorting pieces. Every once in a while there is an exclamation of triumph as things come together.

Screenshot 2014-02-24 19.11.24I leave to look for Steve and the boys and when I return my seat at the puzzle has been taken. It is alright though, my family is here.  As I say my goodbyes I ask if I should clean up, pointing loosely at the table where they are gathered. “Its OK” they tell me “We will work a little longer.”

Leo draws from his perspective
Leo draws from his perspective


Blank this

I guess it is a sign of a good vacation when there is nothing to rant about.

We missed a blizzard, walked on the beach, visited houses, went to a pirate party, and cooked for the first time in our kitchen.

We sat around a shell sand dollar checker board and had leo read us questions…if your could learn one language which would it be? If you could go to space would you? If you could have ten siblings or be an only child which would you choose? If you could be 10% smarter or 10% better looking which would you choose?

Oliver: (ignoring the premise of the game) You can’t just snap your fingers and become 10% smarter overall.We all have a variety of strengths and weaknesses.

Leo: we know, just pick one oliver.

Oliver: I guess I would improve some of my weaknesses.

Leo: I think he chose smarter.

Oliver: what would you choose leo?

Leo: smarter, (snapping his finger and pointing at his face which he has cocked to the side) I already look goood.

So tomorrow all four of us will be getting 10% smarter. White cheddar popcorn and sudoku on the flights.

I guess it was a good sign too that they both wanted 10 siblings rather than none. But 5x these two plus a bonus would have made for a much less relaxing vacation.

Another day in Paradise

The banners line the historic island streets. “Another day in Paradise.” It is hard to argue. At 62 it is one of their coldest days of the year and although the breeze might better be described as a gust we are outside, climbing sand hills, swinging, eating lunch at an outdoor cafe. We will not swim. But we will not wear coats. And for now this fact alone makes it feel like paradise.

We have been at the gulf front condo for less than 24 hours and one of my main vacation questions has arisen. Why is housework so easy on vacation?

Is it because we have a smaller space and fewer things to take care of, so a quick broom, tug at a blanket or scrub of a dish puts everything in its place?

Or because we are away from home and other distractions, so cleaning is easier?

Or because we simply have more time on vacation to clean up?

Perhaps a combination of the above.

It does make me believe in the general laws of conservation, because although I am much tidier than normal the boys are the opposite. Despite a complete lack of swimming or showering they have unrolled the beach towels from their inviting basket on the way out the slider and scattered them throughout the living room.

Sandwich crusts, chips, popcorn, goldfish, and yogurt containers stretch to each corner of the condo, on windowsills, bathroom counters, the couch, everywhere but the kitchen. They are like puppies marking their territory. Everything has to be sniffed, and peed on.

That is another thing though about paradise. So far all of the pee has been in the toilet.

It really is magical here.

This isn't even the gulf side of the island!
This isn’t even the gulf side of the island!

A picture leads to a 1,000 words.

Looking at this I can barely breathe.

I seek out the light against the buildings. Focus on the proportion of the bricks. Try to get into the rhythm of the…what are those called? Escape stairs? Fire escapes.

See- they need an escape. Lots of escapes, long zigzags of metal means to escape.

I know I am in the minority. My mother moved to NYC and is in a constant state of disbelief that I don’t want to visit her in the city. There is everything there. I know about the culture.  I know about the places to eat, and the experimentation and every single kind of person on earth all together in the one place on earth.

But it just doesn’t have any earth. Right right, I know about central park.

Its just that it is all so close together.

The stacking, the pavement, the gum on the sidewalk. The pushing and rushing, and head down-ness. The clicking of feet. The PURPOSE of it all.

I guess I will stick with Shelburbia.

I only got to 200 words. You guys need to do the other 800. That picture. How does it make you feel?


Open Road to somewhere

So 7/100 might not seem like much of a milestone, but I will take it. A week. A something measured in a universal way. I am not above make your own milestones. I often do in Notabli with the kids. “First time he used a napkin” “Baby’s first print ad.”

I am looking forward to post 10 which might just contain the words SUCK IT SILAS. Because he (or someone else and I am too busy lazy to check) told me I could only write 9. Since this is only post 8 I have to wait a bit before that creative masterpiece is public. I look forward to the day.

I realize I am confused about the motivation behind this 100 day challenge. I woke up with a pretty strong headache and wanted to skip writing. I figured I could just throw up three links to great new tools ( trello, fontsquirrel and best best best best of all unsplash) I am working with this week and call it a day. That seems against the spirit of the enterprise though. Am I trying to create a habit of logging in and hitting publish? Or am I trying to actually write every day? I think that was a rhetorical question.

So through this headache I will try.

I’ve been thinking a lot about travel this week. Mostly the crappy little details of booking rather than an entire trip, the act of being somewhere else. I like the second part but not the first part.

I am turning 40 soon and Steve and I are talking about using that as an excuse to go to Europe for a week. My mother offered to take the boys for 5 or 6 days which I have rounded up to a week, and even still the trip feels like more of a hassle than it is worth. We want to visit Alex and Darren in Manchester for a bit, but then (no offense guys) see another city. Adding together all of the transit it seems like we won’t BE anywhere at all.

Our last big trip was to Istanbul, a year ago now, and that was the way to do an 8 day trip. Get an apartment. Get a guide for the first two days. Learn the historical crap for 2 days. Pretend you live there for 5 days. With family.

It’s the pretend you live there part that appeals to me. I am probably not alone when I say I don’t really love being a tourist. Shuffled from site to site, craning my neck to see whatever small detail is factoring into the story, filing back into whatever transport has been arranged. Next. I prefer to wander, eat, take pictures of gutters. Have you noticed how much a gutter tells you about a city?

That would be a tour I would like, a downspout and gutter tour.

At a beer tasting last night a group of us were talking about airbnb. Not just using it to find a home base, but browsing it to take an imaginary trip. Do you think virtual trips are so far off? You watch video on your laptop, eat the pastry that the organizer has fed-exed to you, and walk around with headphones playing the chatter of another language as your background noise for the day.

I’m pretty sure no one would ship a gutter.

Its the kids though that make the months plus long travel more difficult. Assuming you care about their school attendance which I seem to be so/so on (I’m distinctly less concerned than my 8 year old who doesn’t even like to leave the classroom for the approved walk to the library to return books) you are limited to summer travel. For those of us that live in Vermont skipping even a day of summer is anathema. We worked damn hard to earn this summer. Grey, ice, freezing rain, the wrong kind of snow. Snow on cars and other places where instead of looking pretty it is just cold and very soon wet. The long, light filled days of summer are the payoff for our 7 months of suffering.

We stay here.

So we travel quickly, where the proportional of hassle to new-culture-submersion is high.

What do you do? Have you unlocked the best trip length for you? Do you float through new places or drill down into them? Do you leave with an understanding of their government? Or a suitcase full of fabric? Or both.

My dinner conversation turned from calories to more when my friend told me had had been listening to Plato’s republic and decided to “get ripped.” I cant decide if this is the funniest thing I have ever heard, or the most profound. But it wakes something up in me. The idea that any iconic philosophy can be relevant to small or shallow parts of ourselves. It opens up the idea that historical and high minded thought can impact each one of us in small and immediate ways.

That is what I want from travel. To learn about something big and broad and outside of myself, and make it relevant in some particular way. Maybe this is what I want beyond travel.

Maybe I need some aristotle instead of a plane ticket to manchester. Or both.


Injury Prone

I hear his high cry from down below. Why me? Why meeeeeee?

We are in the parking lot of uncle Chris’ apartment in Chattanooga. We have arrived a minute or two early and the boys are ready to conquer the playground. Almost before I can soak in the amenities that this modest complex has (pool, playground, large picnic lawn) Oliver is wounded. A shin bump, a toe turn, oh wait…the double hand scrape.

He is so pitiful. His thin wavering wail, the snot and tears mingled. His exhaustion from starting the day at 4:30 am is lowering his functional age to about three. He manages to get his broken self down the playground stairs to meet me in the parking lot and bury his snotty face in my last clean pants. I don’t mind, this sort of sadness is so uncharacteristic that it is like a visit from our past and I pat his blond head and talk right over him.

Please note baby toe position, and if I didn't crop it out the carousal in the background
Please note baby toe position.

Chris has the baby.

On my way here I wrote a fellow blogger about my deep dislike of babies. I told her they were useless until they are 18 months at least. I realize that this might just be a story I tell myself for humor or self protection after the miscarriages. I have spent time with both of the boy’s cousins recently and I REALLY like these babies.

When we started with our pediatrician I remembering asking her what age was her favorite. She was not yet a mother, and pretty much any answer she gave would have set herself a future trap, but she told me “four months.” I looked down at Oliver’s wrinkly red premature face and realized that was a long long time away. Until it wasn’t and I held a 6 month old in her office and felt like he had already peaked. I knew then I shouldn’t have asked that trap question nor should she have answered, but I did and she did and I took my overaged baby to another doctor the next checkup and didn’t go back. I tell myself it had something to do with doctor gender, but I think it was that shred of an idea that my baby was already too old for her. I’d rather someone who at least pretended to maximally enjoy all of his patients and that led us to the great hugger. Dr Brad. Who loves you.

In any case this particular baby is 4 months and I get what the pediatrician meant. He is wide eyed. WIDE EYED and with us.  He is a great kind of selfish. He has a self. But it doesn’t demand anything more than looking at our big beautiful world. He is self-ish. Not selfish. Did I pound that point home?

So I do those baby things, trail my finger in his powder soft skin fold, kiss kiss kiss kiss his downy head. Sniff him on his head to avoid his sour milky smell. Show him the baby in the mirror. Have you EVER seen ANYTHING as incredible as that baby in the mirror? EVER? NEVER!

Then in a minute the world has turned upside down and nothing is right. That bottom lip is out so far. The cry, his own version of Oliver’s why meeeee? echos through the apartment. I laugh at him. He is just so utterly sad. The saddest baby on earth.  The saddest baby in the entire universe and beyond. Something has injured his psyche. It is his parents game to play, the new mom’s version of hot and cold. But he doesn’t even give the clues. Not hungry, not tired, not wet, perhaps hot or cold.

I think it is none of those things. Whatever it is it will pass and he will be wide eyed again, screeching out at the mirror baby or the cousin Leo.

My boys like to recount their bruises. More count actually than recount. It is not the story, just the suffering that they want to revisit. How can these sturdy bodies host all of these scrapes, scabs and discolorations?

We leave the three cousins with Grandma, who is true to her boys’ insistence that she would rather be feeding, burping, swaddling, and murmuring ascent to whatever word pile of stories my boys are spilling out than pretty much anything. Chris and Kim give swaddle demonstrations, bottle instructions, and show off the video monitor.

I prepare to mock them for that particular technology which displays the baby who is literally on the other side of the wall, but Grandma gets there first. “In my day we would just open the door.” And sets the monitor aside, presumably to be used by my kids as some sort of imaginary cockpit device. Steve and I call out a “have fun” and not even Leo insists on a kiss.

So we set off.

As much as I love Chattanooga I cant move here. I would weigh 600 lbs. They fry everything. My internal monologue about ordering a salad for dinner is totally set aside at Brewhaus where Chris’ beer is bigger than his head and even the pretzel is bigger than the plate. For some reason we are talking about basset hounds at dinner and I remember the website about basset hounds running.

This is where I want to credit the photographer. Click that link.
This is where I want to credit the photographer. Click that link.

Look at those dogs run. Even their toes are funny. Eye folds, long ears, jowls. I think we have bred them for our own amusement.

We talk about Howard Zinn and the liberal view of Christopher Columbus. I am so steeped in this liberalism that I have absolutely no rebuttal to why this is just emerging into public consciousness now. Do any of you know? I fall back on the Oatmeal comic. Always an excellent source for political discourse, and Steve tells Chris and Kim about how I explained lethal injections and the electric chair to the kids in the car earlier today. The boys would have gone on for quite a long time asking questions, but my mother in law was riding shot gun. I am already a liberal, rich, jew, and now I am spouting out the steps of the death penalty? So Steve tries to stop me, and I let him because I had run through my information and google was offline. Oliver helps out by playing the “guess what color I am thinking of game?” and Leo once again shows me how he is my son when no one guesses :” the color of poison that kills people under penalty of death.”

I am being killed by something other than lethal injection this trip…but it is the most lovely death:

Reason no 1 that I would weigh 600lbs if I lived in Chattanooga
Amongst many reasons that I would weigh 600lbs if I lived in Chattanooga this is the winner winner chicken dinner.

Chattanooga menu:

  • Aretha Frankenstein’s biscuits, gravy, eggs, sausage (it was supposed to come with fried potatoes but they had run out)
  • Pepperoni pizza
  • Fried chicken, french fries, beer
  • Key lime pie
  • Bacon donut
  • Fried chicken, pulled pork, ribs, brisket, slaw, potato salad (this is lunch folks)
  • Pretzel, schnitzel, spaetzle, vodka

After the Brewhaus, which in quite a diverse city is populated entirely of white people making me naturally question Naziism. (btw- snopes says the Coors family is right wing but not actually KKK-y)

Walnut Street Pedestrian bridge. Site of great views and moderate foot pain.
Walnut Street Pedestrian bridge. Site of great views and moderate foot pain.

We walk across the pedestrian bridge, or almost do. But I get foot pain. I have completed day 5 of  the couch to 5 k program, and as I hobble along I remember the warning that I had to check at the beginning of the app. “You are a fat ass, you will follow our program exactly. If you feel like you can run further, don’t. If you feel like you can run more frequently you won’t. You have spent the last 20 years on the couch. Any step more than we recommend will leave you hobbling on the bridge. So sit your ass down until your next run.” Or something like that. The fit people laugh at me as I explain this.

So after some pool we head back to relieve grandma. As I try to buckle my seat belt I scream in pain. Even though I have already received foot sympathy Chris and Kim ask after my pain. When I talk about my strange isolated right ring finger knuckle problem, bruise? Arthritis? and Steve looks back at me quizzically I want to cry out Why meeeee? But instead shoot him this gem: “You KNOW, my teacup injury, I have been telling you about it for SIX MONTHS.” The laughs fill the car. Tea cup injury. It doesn’t conjure the right image. The cup is a mug, and quite solidly built. Instead they help me come up with another story.

I am a basset hound dog walker. I manage 10 dogs at a time. The right ring finger basset is quite a runner. Its amazing I am still alive.

In case you worry Chattanooga is all about eating we also hit the carousal, the aquarium, the discovery museum, played football and went swimming. Shockingly no one was injured so those stories can’t make this post. If you are not worried about your weight I HIGHLY recommend visiting or relocating to Chattanooga. Warning though- Griffin may have already peaked.

Prompts for you:

Chris Columbus, deified in 1930, or an actual mad explorer?

Would you ever own a basset hound?

Fried chicken or BBQ for eva?

Have you been to Chattanooga?