Friday, January 31, 2014

But it's a good kind of weird, right?

You know, I'm happy that Ethan got some of my creative, non-conformist genes, because the world has enough round pegs. But it's also nice that Samuel got some of Jen's calm, rational science and engineering genes, because our household would be too crazy if both boys were like Ethan.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Frank Lloyd Wright blueprint

Several years ago my late friend Bob and I pooled our money and bid on a set of original Frank Lloyd Wright blueprints of Fallingwater that were being auctioned off at Bonham's. We were the second highest bidders, but we had to drop out at $10,000.

Bob and I talked about how much we regretted not getting a third investor to go in with us.

Well, in memory of Bob, I got I finally got my Frank Lloyd Wright blueprint.

The bad news? It's not Fallingwater. The good news? It didn't cost $10,000.

It's an elevation sheet of a private home in Michigan that was built in 1950. It's got great, swooping horizontal Prairie lines, a beautiful deep blue color, and "Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect" printed across the bottom. It's a poor man's Picasso.

Jennifer won't let me hang it in the living room because she says our apartment already looks like a blueprint gallery: the Chrysler Building, Elvis' racquetball court at Graceland, and most recently the old DeLorean factory in Northern Ireland--Samuel's Christmas gift.


You know what they say: blueprints are like kids and dogs--you can't have too many. And if I had more money we'd have more of each.

My new FLW blueprint is on the office wall above my computer, right across from Elvis.

Here's to you, Bob.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Crowded bed

Ethan came into our room last night at 3am and asked if he could sleep with us.

Jen takes her half of the bed no matter what, so if Ethan's there my half is reduced to a quarter, and I have to sleep on my side. It was fine when the boys were little--I enjoyed cuddling with them. I recall once when we checked into a hotel, and instead of queen beds our room had one king-size bed, and I was happy about it. But that was then, this is now. At 12, Ethan's too old for cuddling, and I need room to sleep.

I'm pretty sure we're in the final throes of this ritual anyway. Just as 2013 was the last year he wanted to hold my hand, I have a feeling that 2014 is the last year he'll want to sleep in our bed. God forbid he should want to sleep with us when he's 21. But in the meantime...

I waited until he fell asleep, then put my arm around him.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ella and Fin

We had guests this weekend: 7-year-old Ella and 5-year-old Fin. (And their parents, of course, but that hardly matters.)

They discovered toys in the boys' room that hadn't been played with for several years. I'm sure their parents were happy to see our cache of toy swords and portal guns.

Ella loved the bunk beds and used them strategically.

Samuel introduced Fin to the wonderful world of Minecraft, then showed him how to do science experiments.

It's fun to have kids in the apartment, to hear shrieks and squeals, to clean up glue and glitter and little army men off the floor after they leave. I think Samuel feels the same way; he and I would be happy as clams running an orphanage.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Iowa trip

What a week.

It started with hernia surgery last Wednesday, which I was not looking forward to, and which exceeded my expectations for pain. I could barely move all day Thursday, and God forbid I should cough or sneeze.

Stupidly, I'd planned a trip for Friday morning. I don't know, I guess I figured I'd be fully recovered by then.

I hobbled onto the company Learjet to Des Moines with another employee. We were joined by a mom and her five-year-old son, who has cancer. They were from Iowa and had spent the week receiving treatment at Sloan-Kettering.

That was the last time I complained about my hernia surgery.

I spent Friday afternoon at the office in Des Moines, then drove the two hours to Iowa City and met my brother and nephew for the Iowa/Okie State wrestling dual that evening. I couldn't even complain about my two-hour drive, since they'd just driven 17 hours from Colorado. Damn.

We watched a great match (great = Iowa won), had a bite to eat, then they drove back to Colorado and I checked into the Heartland Inn. Seriously, it was called the Heartland Inn.

Saturday morning I was the guest of honor at Iowa City Public Library's Family Storytime. Kathy, the librarian, was gracious enough to read "How About a Kiss for Me?" and "Ten Tiny Toes." I read the manuscript of "Beep, Beep, Go to Sleep," which will be published next year. There were probably 20 little kids there.

Kathy shares my love of babies and toddlers, and it was nice to meet a kindred spirit. Carl Sandburg said that a baby is God's opinion that the world should go on, and that is the way I feel about it as well.

I couldn't take photos of the kids, but here is a playhouse made of books in the children's section:

The library is at the end of a walking mall, where all the college bars are located--or at least were located when I went to school at Iowa 20+ years ago. Funny, I never knew there was a library there.

The most popular bar when I went to school was The Field House. It's now vacant. I still had library babies on my mind as I passed by, and for a second I thought, "You know, I probably hit on the grandma of one of those little babies back in 1987." I know, gross.

This is the "Heff House," named for one of the eight wrestlers, including me, who lived here in 1987-88. At the time it seemed ready to fall over in a gust of high wind, but miraculously it's still standing. It actually looks better than it did then.

This is the side entrance to Carver-Hawkeye Arena--the doors we entered for morning runs and afternoon wrestling practices. All my memories of Iowa are pleasant 25 years later, but at the time...I do recall occasionally approaching these steps on cold winter mornings physically and mentally exhausted, filled with trepidation and self-doubt. Now...just a sore hernia scar.

This is Jen's and my first apartment together, in 1990. As I pulled into the parking place, it strangely felt like home for a few seconds.

This is the Iowa Book Store in downtown Iowa City. I took this picture just to show that you can't throw a rock in Iowa City without hitting something black and gold. I'm not suggesting that you throw a rock in downtown Iowa City.

On Sunday I watched the Iowa/Indiana dual, then said goodbye to Iowa City and headed back to Des Moines. There were three--count 'em, three--conservative talk radio stations on the AM dial. To be fair, there was also NPR. Enough. I punched FM and listened to classic rock.

When I got to Des Moines it was only 6:30, so I saw "Saving Mr. Banks" at the suburban 16-plex. I know it was a highly fictionalized story, but it was emotionally touching for me for several reasons.

First, I really admire what Walt Disney accomplished. I try not to idolize people, because that's a fast way to be disappointed, but I do idolize the things that people do. I admire the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and the movies of Steven Spielberg and the creativity of Jim Henson and Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney.

Walt got it. He got the importance of bringing joy into the world, of celebrating happiness. You can't magically wish away the evil of the world, but you can align yourself with joy. You can foster it and share it and make it meaningful. That's what Walt was about, and I'm on the side of that.

Second, I'd just spent the weekend in Iowa City seeing all the places that I'd experienced when I was 25 and my greatest fear was settling for a life of mediocrity. I wanted an extraordinary life. I wanted a life filled with passion and intensity and creativity and adventure. I didn't want to go quietly into the night. Going to Iowa to wrestle was my attempt to find a path in life that had meaning for me, a road less traveled.

"Saving Mr. Banks" was about the trade-offs between doing what we all have to do--like being an unfulfilled banker (P.L. Travers' dad) or delivering newspapers at 6 in the morning as a kid (Walt Disney)--and doing the things that make us feel alive and magical--flying a kite, riding in a spinning teacup, shaking hands with a princess. The euphoric sting of a mat burn in the shower after winning a wrestling tournament. Seeing your child smile.

I am blessed to write children's books. It's not Disneyland, and it's not Fallingwater, and it's not even The Muppets, but I'm proud of it. It makes me feel like my life is a teeny bit extraordinary. I am blessed to have a family that I love, and that loves me. I am blessed that Samuel and Ethan don't have cancer and don't have to fly across the country for treatment. I am blessed to be married to the beautiful woman I met 25 years ago at the University of Iowa.

Everything else I can deal with.

It was a good weekend.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Dog haircuts & baths

We're finally starting to get the hang of the dog-grooming thing. Jen is, anyway. I inadvertently created a large swath of bare skin across Bailey's belly, but Jen did the tops and sides and faces, and they don't look like Edward Scissorhands. They're not going to win any dog shows, but let's face it, they weren't going to no matter what.

Did I mention that they've smelled like pee for the past month? We took care of that too.

The finished product: two well-groomed, slightly damp, emotionally frazzled, fresh-smelling Spaniels.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

RIP, Phil

A song sung so perfectly it makes your hi-fi speakers rattle...

When someone hears it for the first time a thousand years from now they'll say, "Damn, they were good."

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Christmas in the Midwest

Let me get the negatives out of the way so that we can all move on and be happy:

1. A curse of death upon Spirit Airlines for charging for carry-on bags. Did I say checked bags? No--carry-on bags. Here's my holiday message to them:

You suck.

Here's Bailey the night before our trip unsuccessfully trying to warn us. He is so smart.

2. A curse of death upon Hertz 24/7 for canceling our rental car reservation by text message shortly before we were to pick it up at O'Hare at midnight. No replacement car. No offer to get us a rental car through Hertz. Just a holiday FU. Back at ya, Hertz 24/7.

 3. A curse of death upon the Wisconsin Dells/Lake Delton police for their speed trap as you exit the 65-mph freeway directly into a 35-mph zone. As a responsible parent, I told Samuel and Ethan, "We don't have to pay it as long as we never come back to their crappy state, and there's nothing they can do about it." (I paid it anyway. But doesn't the guy in the picture below look like a total doofus?)

 Okay, let's put the negativity behind us.

Christmas morning was fun, even though our jaded kids are too old to come screaming down the stairs at 8am anxious to open their presents. They slept 'til 11 and it was afternoon by the time we opened gifts.

Ethan got the horse head he wanted. That's a positive for Ethan, but a bit troubling for everyone else in the world.

Samuel missed out on a horse head, but he got an original blueprint of the 1981 DeLorean factory in Northern Ireland.

It was nice to spend quality time with family while tethered to our laptops and mobile devices.

We experienced the local culture in downtown Prophetstown. The guy on the left is my brother-in-law. Everyone in the Midwest looks like him. No one wears polo shirts and Nike running hats like me.

We even got Ethan to crack a smile once. It was more of a smirk, but it still counts.

We had fun at our post-Christmas getaway to the indoor waterpark resort.

Despite their best evil efforts, the money-grubbing corporate and municipal grinches failed to dampen our Christmas spirit.