Wednesday, July 12, 2017


I knew that I ought to take one of the ranch trucks to our mechanic when I hauled the horses to town for Drill Team completely without brakes.  Bill, aka Wild Bill, aka Mad Mac, is an excellent mechanic who has a filterless vocabulary.  Whenever we leave his shop, I smell like reservation cigarettes, the kids have their pockets full of gumdrops, and I have to remind Dylan and Grady to never repeat anything they just heard.  This trip to Bill's was no exception.  I told Bill of the problem and he took a look at Big Blue.  "Fuck!  Fuuuuuck!  Goddamn you fucker!" he shouted from beneath the front end.  I wasn't entirely sure who he was talking to, but I assume it was me.  Dylan's eyes widened, and I gave her the "Don't tell your mother" look.  She was surprised, but not shocked; she's been going to Bill's with me since she was a baby.

But let's face it, we live on a ranch, in the country, where people name their pets things like Dammit (my favorite), or Shithead (or worse, but that's another post on racism, not swearing).  I've tried to shield the kids from hearing cursing, but one day in the corrals while we're working cattle sets us back three years.  I've also tried to rationalize swearing: I'm a rancher with an English degree, it's my duty to swear!  That argument makes little sense, I know, but it's the one I'm most fond of.  I also had the "swearing in context" conversation with the kids.  I was only 23% sure they really understood what I was getting at.  We talked about cuss words in songs (fun!), cussing on the ranch (mandatory!), and swearing at school (you'd better not).

But then this happened recently.  Again, it involves pulling a stock trailer to town, this time with Dylan's fair heifer in the back.  On the way I looked out at our neighbor's freshly cut grass field and saw a feral hog running right towards us.  We don't see wild pigs everyday, so I pointed it out to the kids as I slowed.  The hog didn't slow down, ran smack into the fence, bounced off, made a right turn, and kept on running.  Now we were driving alongside the singleminded pig as the kids leaned out the window to watch it and cheer it on.  I realized, a little too late, that we were both heading for the same gate-less corner.  Surely the pig will yield the right away, I dumbly thought as I banked into the corner.  For a second, I thought I was right, that the pig did, in fact, see the big truck and trailer coming, slowed or veered, and kept on going its merry way.  That's when the trailer ran over the hog.  It bounced up like I'd hit a large boulder and I yelled, "Shit!" I watched, in the passenger mirror, as the pig rolled out from the trailer and I looked at the kids and said, "Did you see that?  Holy shit!"  Remember, I was still driving, but I was spending a lot of time excitedly checking my mirrors and looking at Dylan and Grady.  That's why I ended up stacking the truck into the neighbor's fence.  Pretty sure I said a little worse than shit as I heard the screeeeech of wire on fender (GDFS is my go-to swear when it really hits the fan, so that's most likely what I said).  But see?  Swearing in context.  What a valuable lesson for the children.  I backed out of the mess with a scratched up truck and the pig ... it just kept on running.  And I'm 100% sure the kids understand my "context" explanation now.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Paradise City Dance Party

When Dylan and Grady announced that Etna Elementary was holding its first-ever Valentine's Day Dance, I feared it was going to be like the last school dance I attended.  I had visions of low lights, bathroom vomit, spinning disco balls, and awkwardly trying to dance to the slow-fast song, "Paradise City."  Thankfully, the reality was pretty much the opposite.

For starters, this was most likely the first "real" dance any of these kids had ever attended.  No one had any idea what was supposed to happen, which made it great.  It started as all dances do: with no one dancing.  But there were snacks, I know because I was generously offered cups of pretzels by the snack patrol boys at least seventy-five times.  The girls mostly huddled in little groups and the sweaty boys chucked bouncy balls at each other.  A couple of the bold parents herded a few kids into small dance circles and pretty soon those circles got larger and larger and the boys who weren't playing on the climbing wall joined in and then, BAM, a conga line formed and it was on like Donkey Kong.

Kids bounced around, parents worked out old moves and the cafeteria suddenly transformed into Soul Train.  I was even asked to dance!  Does it count that it was Grady who asked me?  It does.  Dylan and I danced to Bob Marley (of all things) and Grady and Regina squeezed in until the four of us swayed and sang, "This is my message to you-oo-oo."

Since the lights were already fully on, and the DJ was just a boom box playing Pandora, no one knew when to quit.  We finally checked our watches and realized maybe the best thing about an elementary school dance on a Tuesday afternoon was that last-dance came early.  There were no weird slow songs to wind this sucker down, just some pop candy song from the radio and a time to clean up announcement.  What a perfect ending.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Dylan and the Impossible Load or Grady and the Overdue Transformers

I have packed, on my back, mule deer across the Colorado wilderness; I have carried a very solid Grady, on my shoulders, into and out of mountain lakes; I can toss heavy bales of alfalfa hay and I can lift Lardo the giant St. Bernard into the bed of my truck, but what I cannot do is carry Dylan's backpack.  It's ridiculously heavy.  When I looked inside, I found books.  Books!  Who reads physical books these days?  Apparently she does, despite also having a Kindle.  I curse JK Rowling, Percy Jackson, and every new volume of Lumberjanes for their weighty tomes.  If you lifted her backpack, you'd swear she was smuggling ... what?  Bars of gold?  Dumbbells?  A fine hammer collection?  The Washington Monument?  They test the tinsel strength of LL Bean's stitching, but, thankfully, so far, nothing's burst.

Who wants to see photos of kids reading?  No one.
Here's a couple of them playing in the snow.
You're welcome.
Last I checked, Dylan was reading 6 books at the same time.  Six.  I get confused when ESPN runs a ticker tape while sportscasters are talking, but somehow she's able to keep Ron Weasley's love life, Ghosts major plot points, and Queen Elizabeth's suitors all straight and in order without confusing Henry VIII as a quidditch player and Hermione Granger as a spirit.

My Virgo-ness (read: OCD) tendencies finally got the best of me and I snapped.  Actually, I thought my vertebrae snapped when I tried to pick up Dylan's pack to put in her home lunch, and I knew this had to end.  Actually, my first thought was that I'd take her on my next hunting trip and let her pack out a deer.  It certainly would be a breeze compared to the library she's been packing around.  Regina was more practical (ug, Virgos, amiright?.  Oh wait, that's me too).  She came up with the 2 book rule.  Yeah, I know, we have to punish our kid for reading too much.  The horror.  But at this point, we're just trying to save her posture.

Grady's love of books runs just as strong and he is like Dylan, who reads then re-reads everything.  Grady is on a Star Wars, Transformers, Batman book loop at the school library.  We get overdue notices every other week and I swear I've returned whatever book they're asking for.  Yeah, I returned it, but he's checked it out eleven times since then.  At least the rotating loop keeps his backpack at a manageable weight.

So Grady can keep stashing library books underneath his pillow and Dylan confessed tonight that she's reading 3 books right now.  I can live with that, as long as she does the heavy lifting.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Juddy, Don't Take Your Guns To Town

The thing about military checkpoints in Mexico is that they don't spook me.  They shouldn't, of course.  I'm not smuggling illegals in my chassis or heroin in my spare tire.  They sometimes lead to fun surprises, like the time Regina and I stopped and one and inadvertently agreed to give an entire platoon a ride in the back of my truck.  But, they're also manned by boys with automatic rifles who look like they're learning to shave and frequently feature a guy in a sandbagged bunker with a .50 caliber trained at passersby.  So, yeah, they can be a little intimidating.

Checkpoints work like this:  The non-smiling military man in full camo and a shemagh around his neck leans into your window and says something unintelligible in Spanish.  I look blankly, then turn to Regina for support.  Then, in English, the non-smiling man asks, "Where are you going?"  I tell him, and usually because I know we'll repeat the blank stare game for at least another round, preempt any further awkwardness by asking if we can get out of the truck.  We enjoy the break, generally.  Regina and I stretch, the kids play, and the military check out our beat up camping gear before they send us on our merry way.  But when the non-smiling man takes something from your console and gives you a look of both fear and WTF, then you know you've really f'ed up.  The thing?  A single bullet, forgotten from a hunt three months prior.  The look on his face told me they were going to tear the Titan apart, piece by piece until they found the rifle that accompanied the bullet.  I told him he could keep it, which was dumb.  Regina, suddenly fluent and chatty, told them I was the greatest American hunter who ever lived and I was taking a break from a grueling season to visit their beautiful country.  Or, she said, "My husband's an okay hunter and a bit of an idiot.  Have mercy on him."  Either way, it worked and so began our Christmas in Baja.

The rest of the vacation was all shrimp tacos and cold beer.  We met great people who invited us into their home for Christmas and fed us pie; we smirked at the young studious kids getting off the giant "research vessel" parked out in the bay until we realized it was the Sea Shepherd and they were probably spending their holidays hosing down whale poachers; we ate fresh sea bass that Regina caught; we visited great-great-grandfathers grave; and we drank wine on the beach while the kids build sand castles.  I could have stayed another month (and when we returned home to -10 degree weather, I wish we would have).

Our trip home took us from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific ocean, and over a snow covered mountain range (something I'd never seen in Baja, but impressed just one person: Me.).  My Spanish is just bad enough to misinterpret most things I hear or read (See: checkpoint anecdote above), so I passed the long hours of driving by interpreting the road signs for Regina.  Some read, I think: Don't Drive Like a Jerkwad, Your Family Waits For You.  I like that someone in the roadsigns division decided to make that one personal.  You!  Yeah, you, Carlos.  Slow 'er down, buddy.  Usually, a few kilometers past the first one would be be another, less stern warning that, Drinking and Driving, You Know, Might be Bad.  Mr. Roadsign maker must've had a few Coronas when he came up with that one.  And my favorite sign, but definitely the most lazy, just read: Obey the Signs.  Okie dokie.  Thanks.

So, we obeyed the signs, drove up through Baja's wine country, which we thought would be like driving through Alabama's wine country, and we were a little more than surprised at the great wines we tried.  Granted, we had to use 4-wheel drive just to get to some of the vineyards, but they were Napa-gorgeous when we finally rolled in.  We sampled and bought more than a few bottles to take home.  So when we passed through our last military checkpoint -- the border -- with waaaaay more than our allowed 2 measly liters of wine limit, I didn't bat an eye when the guy in aviator glasses asked if I had anything to declare.  Nope, I said and smiled as I drove on.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Losing Our Marbles

Over the winter, Regina and I noticed our kids had blue faces.  It certainly wasn't from the cold -- we couldn't get them to go outside -- it was the light from their tablets, glowing softly on their angelic faces.  So, in an effort to get them breathing fresh air, Regina came up with Marbles.  Not to play, although that would have been an improvement, but as a reward system.  Essentially, the kids earned a marble for completing different chores, and each marble was worth ten minutes of screen time.  For example, if Dylan went outside and shot twenty arrows, she could go inside, collect a marble, and shoot a thousand virtual arrows.  Sound a little hypocritical?  You bet it is, but it also worked.  Sort of.

Dylan treated it like a new, fun game where her goal was to collect as many marbles as possible.  She currently has enough in her jar to watch all ten hours of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and probably have a few marbles left over to catch the first three hours of Titanic.  She saves marbles like they're her personal IRA and she really wants that sweet condo in Boca Raton.  Grady, on the other hand, takes the "If You Got It, Spend It" attitude.  He earns a marble, plucks it from his jar almost immediately, and sits down to ten minutes of The Lego Movie.  He watched the movie, in short chunks, over the course of four months.

Their enthusiasm, and ours, wore off pretty quickly.  The jars of marbles are still around, I know because I knock one over about once a week, but they're no longer a viable form of kid-currency.  But, an amazing thing happened -- when they realized they couldn't play Minecraft (Dylan), or snap a thousand photographs of, say, your shoe (Grady), they started to drift toward their bookshelves and pretty soon they were asking for more time to read, or another trip to the library.  Granted, they've always loved reading (Brag alert: Dylan leads her class in AR points by double), but now they burn through books like ISIS in a Salman Rushdie library.

Did the marbles work?  Absolutely not.  We're back to reminding the kids that their pets need to eat everydamnday and that, yes, they should do their homework before dinner.  But the fact that the local libraries email regularly to inform us of their overdue books, and that I'll probably break a hip one day from slipping on an errant marble, is only a small problem.  I'm calling Marbles, whether they horde or spend, spill or rattle around the dryer, nearly a win.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sugar & Spice

Dylan just turned 9.  Yikes.  What does a 9-year old Eastside girl get for her birthday?  Guns and knives.  Not exclusively, although that would have been awesome.  She also got, I don't know, other stuff that wasn't gun or knife related, like books and crafts.  And those gifts perfectly tell the story of our Dylan.  When she's not crafting, she's reading, and when she's not reading, she's shooting.  I'm really just trying to raise her to freak boys out, even though I know this will backfire, because up here, "I'm a good shot," is a sure-fire way to get a boy's attention.

A couple weeks ago I took the kids to the bow shoot that a local organization sponsors.  The Siskiyou Bowmen have a few courses that you walk through and shoot 3-D targets.  Think miniature golf, but with weapons.  They also have a kids' shooting competition, with three different age groups.  Dylan is in the middle group.  I stood back and watched as she was the only kid to hit the bullseye on her first shot (or any shot, for that matter).  She won her entire age group and came home sporting a new Siskiyou Bowmen hoodie as her prize.  I was awfully proud of my little junior badass.

We've introduced Dylan to the world of BB guns.  For me, a BB gun was a great tool for shooting my friends, but I'm really stressing to her that "shoot the bellybutton" wasn't as fun a game as it sounds.  She's been spooked by shooting rifles, mostly because of the noise, so BB guns are a nice introduction.  I honestly thought she might not be interested in it at all.  She'd thank us sweetly for the gift and hide it under her bed with her Lalaloopsy dolls.  But, like her bow, she loves target shooting.  I took the balloons from her party outside and she was in love at first pop.

With her new birthday knife in her pocket, and her bow and rifle by her side, I sometimes feel like we're raising a nutty survivalist.  Then I see Dylan with her nose in a book or making animals out of paper clips and old erasers and I breath a sigh of relief -- whew, she's definitely nutty.  No, I know she's balanced.  And unless I see her studying the pages of 1001 Uses for Your Bunker and crafting tactical tomahawks for the family, "For when shit goes down," I won't worry.  She's the perfect balance of smart and tough, cute and killer.  So when the zombies attack, the Canadians invade, or Donald Trump gets elected, and you see a cute girl in braids holding a bow, get behind her, she'll get you through.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Grady Jay Day

Ok.  I know, it's been awhile since I've written.  Is it because as children get older they get less and less interesting?  That can't be true.  I'm still the idiot parent who yammers on and on about my kids to whoever's unfortunate enough to stand behind me in line at Target.  It's laziness, pure and simple.  I wish I had a better excuse -- I've been putting all my energy into my Fulbright application, it's rush-season for Somali pirates and I can't decide which band of thieves to join, the Jehovah's Witness wouldn't leave -- but I gots nothing.

Back to the kids.  It's been a pretty epic Spring for them, and Grady's had a few "firsts."  It started with the G-man losing his first tooth.  I'm not the parent who tries to yard out a tooth at the first sign of any wiggle (see: Regina); I let those suckers go until they're hanging by a strand of saliva, then casually tug it out.  I love the look on a child's face when he or she loses a first tooth.  It's always, "I lost a tooth!" followed by, "No one told me there would be blood!"  Grady's was the same.  We were just happy he didn't swallow it.  You can sure tell he's a second child by the way the Tooth Fairy responds these days.  Here's a conversation the Tooth Fairy and Regina had the morning after Grady's tooth came out:  R: Did you remember Grady's tooth?  TF: Um. R: How much money do you have?  TF: (digs through pockets) ¢.47.  R: (sigh) Here's a few bucks.  TF: (pretends to dig chonies out of Grady's dresser and hides cash under tooth box)  Me: Hey!  The Tooth Fairy left you some money!

Grady also got to be a Prince for the high school's basketball homecoming.  Princely duties include wearing a tie, hanging out in the weight room for three hours, and crowning the Homecoming King.  The best part was during introductions, the little Prince and Princess got their bio's read.  Delaney, the supercute Princess, wanted to be a Nurse Anesthetist when she grew up.  The crowd was so impressed they literally "ooooh-ed."  Grady wanted to be a cowboy or a Bumblebee Transformer.  Maybe not as high a career aspiration, but still, a pretty good goal.  He didn't get the "oohs" when the announcer said "Bumblebee Transformer," but Grady gave a big fist pump when he heard it and I could see a lot of high school boys thinking, "That's really a job?  I need to go see Regina."

The announcer should have read, "When Grady grows up, he wants to be the next Banksy," because the walls of our home are getting tagged by our little graffiti artist.  There's no detective work involved to find the culprit, he writes his own name.  Our car doors, the windowsills, and several walls all have his little-boy handwriting -- and sometimes a little abstract art included as a bonus -- on them.  The bright side is that we're really noticing an improvement in his penmanship with all the practice.  The downside is, well, obvious.

*Turns to annoyed stranger in line behind me at Target* So, yeah, the kids are great.   Have I told you about Dylan?  Oh, you've got to go wash your cat?  Ok, sure.  I'll catch up with you next time.  And I promise I won't wait three months to yammer on about my kids.