Thursday, May 28, 2015

"LET'S GO CAMPING!" I said, "IT'LL BE FUN!" (stressing out over two days of relaxation...)

          A few years ago my lovely (and dangerous) wife and I would make at least one or two camping excursions every spring and fall.  There's a campsite on Center Hill Lake less than an hour from here that meets all of our criteria: it's next to a trout-stocked river, most of the campsites are in the shade, the restroom facilities are super clean and well maintained, and (last but certainly not least) they allow adults to bring and consume alcohol in the campground. Most campgrounds around Tennessee lakes are managed by the Corps of Engineers, and alcohol is usually verboten (big time).

           Our nine year-old niece has never been allowed to go camping until now, and it's one of the many things we've promised (threatened) to share with her this summer.  The idea of setting up and sleeping in a tent in the woods appeals to the kid, as does the prospect of swimming and taking nature hikes along the area's trails.  But nothing makes her as happy as the thought of "smores".  She reminds us daily that we've promised "smores" are going to be part of the program.  Smores mean more to her than permission to drink alcohol means to us, because somehow we've managed to reserve a campsite at a campground that definitely allows smores, but not alcohol.  We've been warned on everything from the original reservation form to the confirmation letter we got a couple days back.  Smore's the merrier... but no beer.

            Of course, we assume those silly rules are meant for tourists unfamiliar with the art of drinking without drawing attention... and we're taking certain adult libations anyway.  I look at it like this: if we're minding our own business, sitting around a quiet campfire (enjoying "smores"), or playing Scrabble at the picnic table next to our tent, who's going to know or care if the liquid in my cup is a rum cosmo or iced tea?  I'm sure the Hooey Gods are reading this and making plans to have it explained to me by someone in authority from the park service.

            In the meantime, my task has been to dig out and check over all of the gear we've neglected for the past couple of years.  I took our tent out into the yard, and with my niece's help managed to get the 12' x 16' monster assembled without using too many words she hasn't already heard me mutter in traffic.  Then we put up the screen tent that will cover our picnic table at the campsite, just to make sure all of the gear was functional.  I even got out sleeping bags, Coleman camp stoves, propane canisters, all of the cooking gear, utensils, hatchets, fire starters, flashlights, lanterns, and a zillion other things one simply must have to camp comfortably.  My wife has a list of groceries she intends to purchase in the morning, planning out every meal and snack ("Don't forget the smores!"), and the list is longer than the tent. I've packed up tarps, ropes, tie downs, tent stakes, pins, and made sure everything works.  We've even purchased another queen sized inflatable air mattress, since I vaguely remember our old one losing air pressure the last time we camped.

              I've gotten all of this shit lined up and stacked in the garage, and just to make sure everything fit, I did a test run and tried to load it into the trunk and backseat of the Infiniti. It was futile. There isn't room for half of this stuff, even if we don't try to get in the car with it. So there's the little truck we use to haul off garbage to the convenience center... and I guess we can all squeeze into the front seats, if Sarah doesn't mind having a stick shift between her knees every time we have to go into second or fourth gear.  There's plenty of room in the back for everything, but it's going to be an uncomfortable commute to and from the campsite, I'm afraid.

             But hey!  Did the settlers have comfort in mind when they took to the Chisholm Trail? Did Daniel Boone take an air mattress with him when he cut a path through the Cumberland Gap?  Did Lewis and Clark insist upon an oscillating fan for their tent at night?  No!  Probably because they didn't have any idea those things were possible.  And if those things HAD been possible, no one would have gotten into a wagon on the Chisholm Trail, or carved a trail through the Cumberland Gap, or ever heard of Lewis and Clark, because all of those intrepid people would have been at home on air mattresses under a fan.  With a beer.  And "smores".

             We expect this to be fun, at some point.  We hope the kid enjoys at least some of the trip.  The "smores" part, especially.  And we intend to raise a glass (disguised as tea) at some point, to toast our willingness to do all of this for a kid who will go back to school this fall with at least ONE adventure to talk about, if nothing else.  Hopefully, there won't be any snakes, poison ivy, wasps, skunks, or arrests to discuss with her class.

              But first I'm going to have to explain the gear shifting thing to her.  We might not get out of the driveway...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


            A couple of weeks ago, angry paranoids in the Lone Star State were gathering in little noisy mobs to demand action by their state's elected officials. They had been told President Obama was planning to "take over" the state of Texas under the guise of a military preparedness operation called Jade Helm for the purposes of gun confiscation. They put enough pressure on the governor to cause him to call out the State Guard to defend Texas from the U.S. military.

            Then it started raining.  Rained like hell, actually.  More rain than drought stricken Texas has seen in years, all at once. I'm surprised televangelists aren't trying to blame the resultant floods on God's wrath for efforts to undo the sanctity of traditional marriage.  Or maybe it's God's punishment for immigration reform.  Or because the President is left handed. Hard to say about the wrath of imaginary superbeings these days. They used to make their motives known, now we can only guess.

             Half of Texas went under bayou water for a day, and suddenly those who didn't have the foresight to build arks in their backyards found themselves at the mercy of the leaky heavens.  Thousands of homes were destroyed, businesses ruined, and an unknown number of people drowned.  

              But you know what you don't hear much about now that the rains have stopped and the flood waters are receding? You don't hear too many people bitching about the federal government.  Or the threat of impending martial law.  Or gun confiscation.  What you hear is "How the hell did this happen?"

               The city of Houston floods a lot, they say.  That's what happens when you pave over everything that might help absorb rising tides in the bayous. Interstate highways turned into canals, and neighborhoods that haven't seen a puddle since Carter was in the White House found themselves Hummer deep in muddy water.  

               How's a self respecting ammosexual supposed to keep his powder dry under those conditions?

               You just watch... that sneaky Muslim Kenyan in the White House will use this emergency to send troops into Texas.  They'll come disguised as clean up crews carrying shovels and brooms, too.  

                So the secession movement is still on, folks.  We'll get back to the tinfoil hat podcasts just as soon as we figure out how to get the water out of our fallout shelters.

Monday, May 25, 2015

THE GAMER KID EXPLAINS SENIORITY TO HER UNCLE (Memorial Day musings on everything other than Memorial Day...)

            It's Memorial Day, and already we've had ourselves quite enough of this Hollerday Weekend.

            Earlier this month a judge in probate court told the adults in the room he was giving us all a three week timeout, a cooling off period in which he would decide whether or not we were all capable of playing nicely with one another.  Apparently not.  Fifteen days into the three week "Thou Shalt Not Text, Call, or Visit" edict, my lovely (and dangerous) wife's sister (and bio Mommy Dearest of the niece we've taken guardianship over) has managed to ruin two perfectly good weekends with text messages.  Sigh.  In her defense, however, it might be possible that the term "week" means something different on her planet.  Perhaps her home planet revolves around its sun in, say, 200 days, instead of Earth's 365.  That might explain why her definition of three weeks could scale down to 15 Earth days.  We're pondering whether or not to file a complaint with the court so that she can explain this discrepancy to the same judge who warned her to knock it off back on May 7th.

             Our niece Sarah has been released from the bondage of elementary school for the summer, and yesterday she knocked out the last vestige of scheduled activities by performing a piano recital at a local music shop.  Dozens of parents and friends packed into a standing room only makeshift recital hall for the show, as about twenty young people performed their assigned tunes for the crowd.  Sarah has been practicing screwing up for the past month.  A song she had down pat weeks ago had morphed into something chaotic and jangled, and the more she worked on it the worse it seemed to get.  They say if you recite the word "rhinoceros" two hundred times, you eventually forget what it even means or why you're chanting it like a mantra.  I believe that's what had happened to the kid and her recital piece. She had it like she owned it a couple of weeks ago, but now? It was some foreign piece of music and every attempt at rehearsal was like a sight-reading of a new and evermore complicated tune.  We fully expected a nervous breakdown to occur on stage.

              But like a basketball or football player who sucks in day to day practice sessions only to dazzle under the glare of the bright lights, Sarah has proven to be what sports junkies call "a gamer."  She may not practice like a pro, but when the lights are on and the audience is assembled, she's flawless.  We stood agape at the edge of the stage and watched as she played her piano piece perfectly, then walked over to us as if to say, "What? Me worry?"

              So last night we celebrated with a barbecue here at Chateau Squatlo.  I managed to grill burgers and hot dogs without burning anything, and Cindy's dad (Sarah's Papa Bill) joined us for dinner on the screened porch.  And that's when I learned yet another lesson from the kid.

              As she and I took our seats at the porch table, Sarah asked why the adults always get the "twisty chairs" on the porch.  We have two chairs that swivel, and rest are boring, fixed chairs of similar design.  I was eager to chow down, so I simply replied:


            She paused for just a second, pondered my response, and asked, "What's seniority mean?"
            So I told her, between chews, "Seniority means we've been here longer than you, we were here first. Therefore, we get the first choice of seats."

            Without batting an eye she said, "Well, I'll be able to enjoy them longer than you."

            And that, dear readers, is just about the best rebuttal to a seniority claim that I've yet heard.

            She intends to outlive us, thus holding the ultimate claim on the "twisty chairs".

            Happy Memorial Day to all, and may your homes be forever sister-in-law free.  Unless you have one you like, in which case nevermind.

Friday, May 22, 2015


            If you look up "empty nest syndrome" you'll quickly find that it is not an actual clinical diagnosis or medical condition.  Rather, it is simply an expression coined to explain the feeling of depression and loneliness some parents feel when their kids leave home to strike out on their own (as most do these days... striking out is a lot easier than it used to be...)

           My lovely (and dangerous) wife and I never really went through any form of "empty nest syndrome" after our own kids were no longer sharing a house with us full time.  We managed (in our own ways) to fill our time with other distractions, and since we still got the opportunity to see our kids on a regular basis, it wasn't all that hard to get used to.  When the two of us decided to stop circling one another like satellites to marry and share the same address, we found having a child-free house to be a liberating thing.  We could come and go as we pleased, do whatever made our tiddlies wink, and didn't have to censor our words or deeds in any fashion within the sanctity of our own home.  We were unencumbered adults, without school schedules or any of the other headaches that afflict folks with kids.

            Of course, that changed recently.  We took guardianship of a nine year-old back in early December after the death of my wife's mom, and for the most part it's been a fun (yet challenging) endeavor.  It's not something either of us had in our plans, but what do you do when someone leaves you a child to raise?

             So for months we've dealt with juggling the logistics of work to accommodate school schedules, field trips, piano lessons, play practices, voice lessons, stomach viruses, head colds, doctor appointments, school projects, and the million other little inconveniences that come with having a fourth-grader living under your roof.  And from all accounts, we've handled the change better than we might have been expected.  

             But today is the kid's last day of school before summer break, and it's only a half day at that.  It just occurred to me that in less than two hours my wife will drop off our niece, and then return to her job.  Instead of having a few hours of privacy every day, I'll be expected to entertain, feed, and (trust me on this) listen to a nine year-old.  Instead of having an empty, quiet house to myself, I'll be sharing it with a noisy, demanding little person.  Everything I do will be questioned, and any request I deny will be followed by a whiny "But WHYYYYYYY?"

             I'm already dreading that word.  Think I'll load up a squirt gun and make a new rule: ask me "why" I've said "no" and you get a squirt.  Ask twice and I go for the Super Soaker.

             I'm getting depressed just thinking about it.

             So my question is this... If "empty nest syndrome" describes the depression parents feel when their kids finally leave home, what should we call the depression and dread that comes from knowing the kid will ALWAYS BE HOME...?

             I'm mixing a batch of Bloody Marys in advance.  Maybe if I give a couple to the kid someone will determine I'm not fit to handle these extra duties...

             Or hey, I could go get a real job like my wife's!  Then we'd have to make arrangements for daycare of some sort!  Yeah... I could go back to work!

             I'm pretty sure it would be less stressful.

Thursday, May 21, 2015