Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Reflections

During our post-Christmas debriefing, Regina and I were discussing our favorite part of this holiday season.  For me, it was the build-up.  Watching Dylan's Christmas excite-o-meter bump up another notch with each new open door on her chocolate filled advent calendar was the coolest part.  It was like watching someone blow up a balloon much bigger than you thought imaginable.  For Regina, it was Christmas morning.  When Grady received a gift he appreciated, he settled in and started playing, uninterested in the gifts, the toys, the chaos around him.  Dylan, on the other hand, tore open each gift -- I LOVE IT!!! NEXT!!! -- and watching the yin and yang of those two was the joy for Regina.

Let me rewind.  After our trip to Cabo, we returned and immediately jumped into super-holiday mode.  The first item on the list was the tree-cutting.  Often, that involves lots of peppermint schnapps and hot chocolate, dogs and dads roaming the woods like lost hunters, and a truckload of freezing kids.  This year, we braved it alone.  We slid and spun our way over backroads to get to the perfect super-secret tree spot.  We arrived with a triumphant chest pounding and I turned around to see both kids sound asleep in their car seats.  I slogged through the snow alone, found two good trees, and returned to a truckload of well rested children.

After tree and house decorating, the spirit of Santa really hit.  We had Christmas tunes playing on Pandora radio 24-7 (Regina's favorite, R&B Christmas.  Mine, "Little Drummer Boy" on loop).  Dylan got into the spirit of things by making up her own versions of Christmas carols.  Frosty the Snowman, apparently, is an Old Mermaid, and "Jingle Bells" has just one verse, and it's sung on repeat for hours on end.  Grady loves any music but bangs his head especially hard, like he's at a Def Leppard concert, whenever Christmas tunes come on.  At the Christmas Eve service, Grady crawled up to the alter and sat underneath the piano and danced while we all sang "O Come All Ye Faithful."  At church that night, he got to sit on Santa's lap.  He alternated between crying, because a thin Santa was holding him and not his Dad, and smiling, because, damn, that's a cool beard.  Dylan climbed on his lap and sat, stone-faced, for about five minutes; I think she was disappointed in his thinness.

And all this, of course, brings us to Christmas morning.  Santa had eaten the cookie, decorated with gummy bears and peppermints stuck into inch thick frosting, that we left out for him (oh, my gut), and had filled our stockings.  We shuffled out to the living room and Dylan realized that full stockings = Santa.  When we reminded her that Christmas is also Jesus's birthday, she nearly blew a gasket.  "It's Baby Jee-jus birthday? Yiiiii!!!!"  Grady found his perfect toy, a dump truck, and Dylan spun in a gift wrapped whirling dervish until bed time (mercifully, without any meltdowns -- another Christmas miracle!).  And when it was all said and done, Regina and I sat down and talked about the day.  It's too easy to race through Christmas without much reflection, especially with young kids in the house, and I was thankful that we could reminisce about the past month and put some perspective on the season.  And you thought our "debriefing" meant something else.   Shame on you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cruisin' Cabo

Our trips to Mexico have become so routine that we've established a few Mexico-holiday traditions.  Not "Mexican-holiday" traditions: we don't spend a day making tamales with our family, or watching luchadores hit each other with folding-chairs.  But, our traditions do revolve around food and folding-chairs, so it practically makes us local.

We generally bounce between the pool and the beach, then go out in the afternoon for an early dinner.  If Cabo had early-bird dinner specials, we'd shame the senior citizens with our prompt arrivals.  Then it's a stroll through town and off to bed.  When that routine happens year after year, it becomes tradition.

Grady's been to Mexico before, but not Cabo, and so he was initiated into the fraternity of gringos this trip. For starters, our Cabo-Thanksgiving tradition is eating at El Pollo de Oro.   Except for the taco-stand by the bus stop and the churro vendor on the corner, it's our favorite restaurant least likely to seat a gringo.  Meaning, it's awesome.  We forfeit the traditional turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie for mole' enchiladas, fish veracruz, ribs, and micheladas.  It's a great trade.

The expansion of our family has slightly changed or evolved our traditions.  Regina and I used to get barraged with requests to buy drugs and check out local strippers.  Add one child, those solicitations get cut by three-quarters, add another and they drop to zero.  Now we just turn down requests to see timeshare presentations or beach vendors selling fake silver jewelry.

Our pool traditions, too, have morphed from how many Dirty Monkeys is it possible to order during Happy Hour, to watching Grady cruise the pool chairs and seeing how high I can toss Dylan in the air (while we're in the pool, of course).  And, instead of Cabo Wabo for dinner and music, the Giggling Marlin for upside down tequila shots, and El Squid Roe for ... I forget, now it's Ni How Kai Lan in Spanish and reading in bed.

This isn't by any means a compliant.  I love watching Grady do laps in his lounge-chair playpen and seeing Dylan's confidence in the water expand to the point I get nervous.  And I'd trade a good mole' sauce and a caramel churro for jello shots any day (But the bacon-wrapped hot dogs from the street- stand? Not as good as it sounds.  I'd opt for a jello shot over those again).  And who knows, once Grady is able to swim around on his own, he may just fold up a pool chair and crack it over my head, just like a real luchador.  Now that would be a Cabo tradition worth starting.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

And Now, Bad Poetry

I was cutting hay last summer,
Starting to go insane
From trying to beat the storm clouds
And getting My, My, My Poker Face out of my brain.

When I caught a glimpse of something
From the corner of my eye,
I had to do a double-take:
It was a bird that could not fly.

No, not an owl with a busted wing,
Or a lark run down while day-dreaming,
But an emu, yes, an emu,
And I instantly started scheming.

I'd catch that feral flightless bird
We'd have a unique pet
I'd take it for long walks on Sundays
And teach it to fetch and set.

So, I chased it with a 4-wheeler,
But it refused to be caught
It would not go into the corral
It occurred to me, "Emu's are dumber than I thought."

The emu?  Well, it disappeared.
It bested me in battle,
But then it showed up two months later
Living happily amongst our cattle.

This time I tried a new approach
I flanked it with my car
And Regina ran behind it
To ensure it couldn't go far.

Captured!  I put it in a trailer;
It loaded a lot easier than I thought
And I drove it to our house
Hoping I wouldn't get caught

For emu-rustling, is that a crime?
Could I go to the clink?
I started having second thoughts
Besides, what do emus eat and drink?

But I couldn't let it loose again,
I felt bad for the wing-ed freak,
And my kids think it is such great fun
To have a pet with a giant beak.

If you've never been up close and personal
To a prehistoric beast
Come by our house, but time's running out
The emu's center of our Thanksgiving feast.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Butt-births and Bears

Sometimes I take my job for granted.  An innocent, "It'll be fun for Dylan to go feed cows with me," turns into a week of fielding questions about butt-births and dead-piles.  I don't usually answer the tough questions well under pressure; I stammer out my answers and feel like Christine O'Donnell trying to explain Wicca.  So when Dylan's pre-school teachers ask me about our dead-pile, I usually just start talking about the BCS ranking system or what a great poem "Gunga Din" is.

As you may have guessed, Dylan saw her first live calf birth last week.  Dad, Dylan, and I were feeding the last herd of the day and we spotted a heifer that we thought might be getting ready to calve.  Our years and years of cattle-handling experience told us that we should keep an eye on her.  Oh, and the calf's front feet were Superman-ing out from beneath the heifer's tail.  Another sure sign that she was calving.

We pointed her out to Dylan, who didn't seem interested, and kept feeding.  The heifer hadn't calved when we finished, so I started knotting a make-shift calf-puller from some baling twine.  As I tied my last knot, a little, slimy black calf came shooting out.  Dylan's screams didn't spook the heifer and we waited as the calf shook off some of the goo and the mama licked it clean.

Miracle of Life!  Hooray!  And, on to the next chore.  But not for Dylan, she couldn't stop talking about it.  Now, she'll tell anyone who'll listen about the calf that came from its mommy's butt and it was covered in a plastic bag.  For a three-year old, she's pretty close, and for me, I see no reason to correct her.  If she turns thirty and still thinks that babies come from your butt, we may have to have "the talk," but not yet.

When she isn't talking about the mysterious butt-births at Hanna Bros., she's talking about our dead-pile. The dead-pile is exactly as it sounds: it's a place where our dead animals go.  A ranch cemetery, minus the headstones and manicured lawns.  Unfortunately, we had to take a calf there last week (not the same one we saw being born).  It's not uncommon to visit the dead-pile this time of year, but I guess Dylan hadn't really ever been there.  I told her that all sorts of dead things go there: cows, deer, once, a llama, and horses.  My mistake.  I should have left out the horse part.  I dug a deeper hole (no pun there, nothing at the dead-pile gets buried), when I told her that Olivia saw a bear at the dead-pile.  Now everyone, including her pre-school teachers, has heard the story of the dead bear (it wasn't), the dead baby calf, and the dead horses that inhabit our dead-pile.

Births, deaths ... they're normal conversations for ranchers.  But when I see the question on people's faces when Dylan brings these topics up, I realize most three-year olds -- hell, most adults -- don't see new life and death on a daily basis.  At least, when the time comes, and I'm asked to sign the pink sex-ed permission slip, I'll have nothing to worry about; it'll all be old news to my kids.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

*#$! My Daughter Says

People say weird things.  Want proof?  There are television shows dedicated to weird things fathers say (*#$! My Dad Says), books dedicated to weird things kids write (Mortified), and people sing about weird topics (Rock Me Amadeus/Safety Dance).

Dylan is no exception.  She spouts out random things like a homeless drunk.  Yesterday, she named our couches.  Our living room couches are Kylie and Dalton ... our friends' children.  Fair enough.  She must have run out of friend ideas, because the other couch got tagged with the name Nibeelyoutz.

This morning we put on a new shirt for pre-school.  I cut off the tag and she wanted to keep it.  It read "Fun Clothes For Cool Girls."  Dylan took one look at it told me it was written by God.  She'll also tell me that any gift for her was from "Baby Jeejus."  That one might be my fault for watching too much "Talladega Nights."

I figured I needed to start writing her deep, zen-like comments down when she looked up at me one day and asked, "Daddy, how you got all those hairs in your nose?"  Such an angel.

When my nieces started school, the teacher told the parents that she'd only believe half the things their children told her about their parents if they only believed half the things the children said about the teacher.  Great advice, and so far, in pre-school, Dylan hasn't come home with anything scandalous.  Although, I went to pick her up last week and the teacher asked what happened to our fish.  We don't have a fish, and I told her so.  Apparently, Dylan told the class that her fish ran away from home.  I figured the fish story was fine, especially since she'd just told a stranger in McDonald's that she went to school in Africa.

The best, or worst, happened when my cousin Kerri came up for a visit.  Kerri was wearing a shirt I'd call "puffy," but I think my wife would say "peasant top."  It was a new shirt (are girl shirts called blouses?  I'm never sure.) and, I think, Kerri kind of liked it.  Until Dylan told her, "Pretty soon you're going to have a baby."  Thankfully, Kerri has a sense of humor.  She swore she'd never wear that shirt again and thanked Dylan for her honesty.  I'm sure she won't be back to visit until Dylan's out of the house.

I'm going to keep writing down all the weird stuff Dylan says, just let me trim my unsightly nose hairs first.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Siskiyou Golden Goodness

I can't believe this year's fair is already over.  I still have corndog catsup stains on all my good shirts, and Dylan is reeling from the shaved-ice sugar implosion that she mainlined every day she went.  Grady even joined the fun and had his first corndog ... although that may have been a bit too much for him, considering the two days of diaper-bursting doo-doo we suffered through.  He was a brave little cowboy, though, and didn't complain a bit that he had to miss the diaper derby.

Regina and I have our fun, too.  Not back-in-the-day, stay out late and sleep in the back of a pickup fun, but, instead, responsible parents of two, home by ten fun.  But Dylan, a few inches taller than last year, was privy to an entirely new set of rides, and, consequently, a whole new realm of fun.  I'd always thought she was brave, but she really tested her mettle at the carnival.  We'd hit the super-slides, then run to the Dizzy Dragons, slow down a bit with a spin on the carousel horses, two more slide trips, grab a big kid for a bone-crushing ride on the Bumper Cars, then hop over to the Dragon Roller-Coaster.  She was riding the latter one hot afternoon with her friend Zeppy.  I ran to the truck to grab some water and when I returned I noticed the operator had stopped the ride to tell Dylan something.  I asked Sean, Zeppy's dad, what was up and he told me that Dylan had been standing on the ride.  I cringed.  Sure enough, the dragons took off and as soon as the tail hit the corner, Dylan popped up in her seat.  She looked like those crazies who stand on the wings of airplanes: forward lean, hair blowing in the wind, eyes squinting.

Zeppy wanted in on the daredevil action, so he tried a barrel-roll on the super-slide.  The skreeeeech of skin on hot slide sent shivers down my spine and he wound up with blistered fingers for his cool trick.

Regina and I sing, to Dylan, the only line we know from the late '80s rap song by L'Trimm: "We like the cars, the cars that go boom."  It's an awful song, but Dylan likes the line and has fun playing with the lyrics.  "I like, I like, the kitties in the room."  "I like, I like, the bucks that go boom."  And so on.  This is mostly irrelevant, except it helps explain Dylan's favorite ride in the carnival.  I don't even know the name, we just called it, "The Cars That Go Boom."  It was a pretty simple ride: colorful cars going around in a circle, except they had crazy hydraulics that made them bounce like Dr. Dre's Impala.

Once Dylan got on, it was hard, even for the hardened carnies, to get her off.  Once, after her second-straight ride, she hopped down, grabbed a giant stuffed monkey from the carnie's stash of giant stuffed monkeys, and climbed back in the cars.  She buckled in her monkey and took off, talking to the monkey for the entire ride like they were out for a Sunday drive in their hooptie.

After five straight days (with a few two-a-days thrown in), we'd done all we could do at the fair.  There were a few rides that Dylan was just a few inches too short for this year, and Grady's belly ought to be corndog-ready by next August, so we have plenty to look forward to.  We'll be there, in our shaved-ice stained shirts, riding in the cars, the cars that go boom.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Dylan Day

We had a few thunderstorms this week and it slowed our super-spectacular farming operation down a bit.  The rain took me off the swather -- and away from my Harlequin Romance books on tape, damn you, rain! -- so I went to town to watch Dylan's swim lessons.

Regina picked a nice shady spot on the lawn for Grady to crawl roll around on and we watched, from a safe distance, as about ten little tadpoles floundered around in the shallow end.  As Etna's is a country-pool, the city feels that any water temperature above that of a high mountain glacier-melt lake would do the children a disservice.  Most of the kids in the lesson just shivered, or whined that they wanted out.  Dylan just bounced ... the entire time.  We could power a Lady Gaga concert with the energy she creates during swim lessons.  And it's a good thing she burns energy with her bouncing because she doesn't burn much listening to the teacher or practicing the actual things she should be doing, you know, like swimming.

Because of her short attention span and the Arctic temperatures, Dylan (and most of the class) wanted out of the pool.  I thought she was organizing a mutiny, instead she was wrestling with her buddy, Ashton, when she was supposed to be listening.  I started writing apology notes to all her future teachers.  Regina and I kept our distance from the lesson and just watched through binoculars, otherwise we'd get bombarded with, "I have to go to the bathroom," or, "I think I left something in the oven," or, my favorite, "Those Cumulonimbus clouds in the distance look ominous.  There will probably be lightning soon; we should leave now, just to be on the safe side."

As a treat, we decided that a lunch at Dotty's was in order.  Now, Dylan, like most three-year olds, says some pretty random things.  She'll ask me if I know how to pronounce words like, "daddy," or "Dylan." "Daddy, can you say 'Daddy'?  Say Daaa ... deee.  Good.  Now say, 'Dylan'."  Our friend, Wayne, came in for a burger and joined us at our booth.  Just as Wayne took a big bite of Cowboy Burger, Dylan said, apropos of nothing, "My Mommy has really big ...."  I'll stop right there.  Dylan didn't stop right there, and I shot ice-tea out of my nose I was laughing so hard.  Regina turned red and Wayne, ever the gentleman, swallowed and politely said that he wasn't going to agree or disagree with that.

The day was topped off with Dotty's soft-serve cones and Grady got his first taste of ice cream.  He liked it a little too much and I think the magical powers of it helped sprout his third tooth and has him (nearly) crawling.

I can't say that I was happy that we had so much hay get wet, but the little respite from counting how many squirrels I'd pureed that day while listening to bad crime fiction was nice.  The clouds all blew away and I've been hauling, baling, and cutting hay since, but I'm already planing on my next lunch at Dotty's, and if it's with Dylan, and friends are present, I'll be sure to get take-out.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Therrible Threes

Regina and I grew up in, quite literally, two different worlds.  While I always think it's strange that she didn't grow up reading Cowboy Small and Ferdinand, or never really watched MASH and Three's Company, she thinks it's absurd that I didn't listen to Depeche Mode, have never played Monopoly or Scrabble, or have never read, or watched, Sybil.

Do you know about Sybil?  I looked it up on Wikipedia and learned that it was a TV mini-series, based on a popular novel, about a woman who had thirteen different personalities.  After skimming the paragraph Wikipedia devoted to the history of Sybil, I finally understood why Regina sometimes gives that nickname to our daughter.

The terrible twos?  Please.  The Therrible Threes are a force that BP couldn't even cap.  On any given day, we see 8 - 11 of Sybil's, I mean Dylan's, personalities.  The range runs from the sweet and cuddly girl who tells us she loves us and gives kisses, to the comedian who farts on our laps and makes up stories about blueberries, to the toddler-demon who screams non-stop for what feels like hours and throws punches at anyone who comes near.

Today, while I was cutting hay, I received a text:  Do they make boarding schools for three year olds?  At first I thought it was my old friend Kevin (see: Country Livin') seeking advice.  It wasn't though, it was Regina suffering through pre- and post-swimming lesson tantrums.

Grady is easier to predict.  If he's kept fed and rested, he's happy.  Exceedingly happy.  Tom Hanks in Castaway wasn't as happy with his first meal off the island as Grady is about just being fed, anytime.  But, he's one, and easy to predict.  We can limit the number of Dylan's personalities that we see on any given day with the same prescription as Grady: diet and rest.  But miss a nap or throw a Jujube candy into the mix and her head spins completely around and we have to have yet another exorcism.

We hear from parenting veterans that the terrible twos are a myth perpetrated by grandparents to distract young parents from the real storm of a three-year old.  The young parents get through the twos, are so proud of their awesome parenting skills that they pat themselves on the backs, and then those pats lead to a caress, and that caress leads to baby number two.  All before the oldest turns into a three-year old.  The grandparents laugh, knowing they just suckered their offspring into giving them another grandbaby to spoil.  It's crazy logic, but it's crazy enough to work.

And here we are, in the middle of this gale and all we can do is lower the main, baton down the hatches, and ride it out.  Dylan still shows enough of her good side that we feel like there could be a lull in the storm (someday), and we hope that by the time she's worked her way through these crazies, we'll have time to gear up for Grady's threes.  Until then, I'll watch The Sound of Music (Regina even calls it un-American that I haven't seen that one), learn to play Scrabble, and put on my black eyeliner and listen to bad 80s electronic music.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Country Livin'

Once, in my cut-off jeans and sunburned back, I hopped in my inner-tube and floated a river (like a modern day hobo) that was relatively close to a large city.  So close that I could hit it with my empty Natural Light cans.  Which I did.  The point?  Tubing rivers is rad.  Also, and I'm not bragging, but since I've seen "the other side," I think that makes me kind of an expert on country living.

Some things have happened this summer that I'm sure wouldn't happen anywhere else but the country.  The first is the ongoing issue of "The Potty."  We have what could be construed as a liberal-potty-policy.  No neighbors = no boundaries and when Dylan has to go and we are outside, or even inside but near a door, she uses the "potty-tree."  Our "go wherever" attitude backfired last week in Ashland.  We'd spent an afternoon in Lithia Park with the passed-out hippies, the creek splashing new-age crystal geeks, and the Tai Chi show-offs.  Before we left, Regina took Dylan to the restroom while I held Grady.  Suddenly, a lion attacked ... or that's what Dylan's shrieks sounded like.  They continued, and reverberated nicely from inside the restroom where Dylan threw herself on the floor.  The screaming continued as Regina dragged her back to where Grady and I waited.  Had something horrible happened?  No.  Dylan just wanted to pee on a tree.  Granted, we were in Ashland, home of the liberal potty policy, and would have been applauded for our forward-thinking parenting skills had we let her fertilize the oaks, but we decided that we have to draw the line somewhere.

Another great thing about living in rural America is the colorful characters we have.  I know, they're everywhere; I've seen the San Francisco homeless population, but country-colorful is different.  We have cowboys, hippies, loggers, cops, mountain men (and women), addicts, saints, thieves ... and that's just in the typical family.  Take, for example, Kevin.  Recently, Kev accidently sent me this series of texts:
3:21 PM "Hey this is my second phone u can call it so save it n now I can communicate again."  
Then, at 5:05 PM, "Hey this is kevin tryn 2 tell ya I got a phone."  I don't know Kev, and I don't like how he spells, so I ignored him.  Mistake.
At 11:07 PM, I was in bed, but Kevin wasn't.  "Hey did ya get those text its kev?"
From there, things went downhill rapidly.  11:37 PM, "U goin 2 respond or am i just the guy u hate or something."  Yes, Kevin, since you keep waking me up with your texts, you are the guy I hate.
He continues.  2:18 AM,  "So u wont say anything 2 me or wht it is kev i still want 2 talk or wht i guess u just thnk whtever or something u can have any1 so i guess do wht u want with who u want because u can have wht u want."
Two minutes later:  "N btw i havent been around because u want our kids around my tweaker bro than u care about anything else besides ur freedom dnt ignore me i will blow up ur phone chick dont temp me."  Apparently, ignoring stupid people tempts them.
Four minutes later:  "so wht u got some1 else or something figures u alway had every1 u wanted instead of me i new u would never talk 2 me so f u 2 always prove ur worth never talk 2 me u dnt want me bac or otherwise u would talk n give a s@#* chick"
The next, seven minutes later, gets ugly.  I'll paraphrase.  Kevin goes insane when he's ignored and, as a cry for attention, threatens suicide.  He does this again two minutes later when he texts that he's going to drown in the "stupid water" and "u dnt care ... lol."  LOL?  Kevin, come on.  Finally, at 2:31 AM, he threatens suicide for the last time.  I know, I should have called and talked him off the ledge, but by then Regina had turned off the phone and I was sleeping.  He ends with, "... when u find this message i will b dead because ur dumb n will never look lol so whtever."  Whatever indeed.
This seems sad, right?  But there's a rainbow at the end.  Kevin called my phone the next day and immediately realized he had the wrong number.  Party on, Kevin, and stay away from your tweaker bro.  Whatever.  LOL.  When I Googled his number, I found that he was from the Jersey Shore of Nor Cal: Redding.  I'd of bet a crisp Ben Franklin on that fact.

But Kevin, with his excellent spelling and grammatical skills, doesn't hold a candle to the couple in the Raley's parking lot yesterday.  He drove some Mad Max-style import with a giant fin and racing harness seatbelts.  Cables held the hood down and I tried to guess the car's original color based on the small patches of paint between the primer and the places a grinder had hit.  The cute couple (matching black wife-beater tank tops!) ran in for cigarettes, and when they returned they sat in the car and lit wooden matches on their teeth.  Over and over.  Then tossed the spend matches out the window.  And I thought lighting matches on my fly was cool.

And finally, horses.  I love the fact that my kids learn to ride horses before they learn to ride bikes.  I love that Dylan gets excited about going for rides and named our newest foal Princess Banana.  We try to show Dylan and Grady more than just ranch work and rodeos, so for the 4th of July, we went to Grant's Pass to the horse races.  Races are everywhere, I know.  But the GP Downs are country to the core.  There are no fancy hats or juleps or even a well groomed infield.  GP had corndogs and a dead grass infield that doubles as a high school football field in the fall.  It's the only racetrack I know of where the odds of a horse finishing or breaking a leg are even.  Second, the spectator area feels like a prison-yard.  It's concrete and hot and weedy and surrounded by chain-link.  I always expect to get shanked when I'm there, which really adds to the excitement.

This country life may be weird, but it's our weird and we love it.  Dylan will teach Grady how to fertilize our trees and how to ride a horse, and the next time Kev texts, I'll send him your way.  Who knows, you might just make a country friend.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Grady 360

No, the Grady 360 isn't a cool new snowboard trick that I've invented on my private half-pipe (thanks to my sponsor, Red Bull) hidden in the Colorado mountains.  Nor is it a sexy new dance move, created on my private dance floor (thanks to my sponsor, Southern Comfort) hidden in the basement of my parents' house.

The Grady 360 is ... drum roll, please ... the days it took for our little Meatball to pop out his first tooth.  Not that we were nervous about having a ten-year old with falsies, but if you typed in the letter "T" in the Google search bar on our computer, the history would show repeated queries of: Teething, when does it begin?  Tooths, anyone? and, Toddlers, can they wear a grill?

We were reassured by plenty of experts (our pediatrician), non-experts (parenting blogs), and strangers (the People of Wal-Mart) that some babies don't sprout teeth until as late as twenty-seven.  Although, those babies were fed a steady diet of Pepsi and meth in utero.

So now, let the dominoes fall.  Let the teeth grow like the dandelions in our yard, let crawling commence, and let his cooing and baby-Chewbacca speak turn into something we can comprehend.

I guess, sadly, this is Grady's first big step out of the baby-baby stage.  It's been a slow step out (a baby step? Oh, clever), but now that threshold's been crossed, I guess the next big milestone will be this: click here

Thursday, June 3, 2010

FFA (Food & FireArms)

I'm always glad when our friends Paul and Amy tell us they're coming up from Oakland to visit the ranch because I know we'll be eating well, drinking plenty, and laughing so hard we'll all get the "Grady-laugh" (laughing with no sound).  But my excitement for poop jokes and bourbon is nothing compared to Dylan's excitement to see her homie, Malcolm, Paul and Amy's four-year old.  His arrival falls just short of Santa's in terms of pure thrill.

As soon as they pulled up to the house in their Bay-Area Monster Truck (Prius), Dylan and Malcolm started playing; you'd never have guessed they hadn't seen each other for a year.  Dylan even gave him the country moniker: "Buddy."  They make a scary pair -- he's wicked-smart (who else can name every player on the Giant's AAA Fresno squad?) and Dylan's a bit of a diva.  They shared a bed, and would laugh and giggle, despite our pleas to get some sleep, until way past their bed times.

It was probably from lack of sleep, but, like all couples, by day three they hit a rough patch.  Just before nap time, Dylan informed everyone that, "I don't want to sleep with my boyfriend anymore."  Malcolm was a little hurt, but I gave her a high-five and told her to never, ever, forget that sentence.

Malcolm and Dylan weren't the only cute couple.  Paul made a mint julep and, although it was a brief encounter, the tasty drink and I were inseparable for nearly fifteen minutes.  Okay, that wasn't so cute, but you should have seen Paul with my .22.  Adorable.  We went out to shoot a few squirrels and I've never had more fun just watching someone shoot.  His skills had improved so much since last year that I accused him of either finding another rancher friend with a ground squirrel problem or joining a gang.  Since they live in Oakland, I suspect the latter.  It was especially great when he'd get out the truck to re-create what, exactly, the squirrel did when he shot it.  Regina and Amy weren't as amused as I was, but I just don't think they appreciate good improv.

The King and Queen of cute had to go to Grady and Amy.  It was especially fun to see Grady become smitten.  It was a full blown boy crush, complete with drool and lots of face grabbing.  Amy didn't seem to mind the attention and I think the country fresh air and rejuvenating spa (air blasting through our lines exfoliates nearly as well as 80-grit sandpaper) made up for the oatmeal slobber stains and cheek scratches he gave her.

Dylan's already talking about the next time she sees Malcolm.  She must like him because she's already learned who Madison Bumgarner is (left-handed pitcher for the Fresno Grizzlies).  Grady gets a far-off look in his eyes when Amy's name gets mentioned and Regina and I are trying to work off all the food and drink we consumed.  We'll see our friends again, but in the meantime, we're comforted by the knowledge that somewhere out there in the twilight, Paul is standing guard, .22 in hand.  Waiting.  Waiting.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Poo Juice

I'd fully anticipated the title of this post to be something like, "Boy, Ten Months, Foregoes Crawling and Walking for Running!" or "Grady Jay and the Twenty Teeth."  I mean, he's ten months, at some point here our odds have to be pretty good that he'll cut a tooth (4:1 odds in Vegas) or crawl (a longshot at 9:1) soon.  Instead, he's perfectly content being toothless and stationary.  We don't mind, Dylan's active enough for two and Grady makes for a really cute baby.

There are so many great things about having a baby around that they make the grueling stuff bearable.  But, there are some thing I won't miss.  There are the obvious things: changing poopy diapers, watching Grady rub food in his eyes and hair when he's both tired and hungry, remembering the diaper bag for every outing, and the 2:00 AM parties in his crib.  I think, given some time, we'll even look back on those things with fondness, or will have scrubbed them from our memories altogether.

There are a few less obvious things that we won't miss.  Babies are fun to hold, right?  Yes, and Grady is a great hugger and snuggler, but when your baby weighs as much as a big sack of Costco rice, pretty soon your shoulders look like Serena Williams' and your back feels like the cobblestones in Pamplona.  Also, it took some time, but I'm at a point where I really don't mind changing diapers.  I don't crave it, and I still employ some great evasive techniques whenever I smell a big diaper bomb ("I'd better go check the... [hay, horses, still]").  But what I really won't miss, more than anything, is the Diaper Genie.

If you don't know, the Diaper Genie is a semi-air-tight garbage can for diapers.  We use ours, primarily, for the poopy ones, so when it's full, it's literally a festering tube of rotting crap.  It's horrible.  Yesterday, I shoved an especially full diaper through the plastic jaws and into the tube, but it was full.  The sensical thing would have been to open it up, remove the full plastic tube of diapers, tie off the plastic and start new.  The country thing to do is forcefully shove the diaper into the full tube.  You know what happens when you do that?  Poo Juice.  Yes.  The solids and fluids inside those fermenting diapers leak, and when they get compresses, the fluids rise and you get poo juice on your hand.

It's the last remaining thing about infancy that gags me.  But if that's all I can't handle, we'll let Grady stay a baby for as long as he likes.  And if you're in Vegas, put a twenty down on a bottom tooth by July.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The First Weekend in May

There aren't too many weekends that match the sports spectacle of the first weekend in May.  The Kentucky Derby and the May Rodeo always fall on the first Saturday and Sunday, respectively, and they're both big events around here.  I know, those can't match the hype of March Madness or the Super Bowl, or even the T20 World Cricket Finals, but they're even better.  Trust me.

In 1973, I watched Secretariat win the Triple Crown, I was two and a half, and "Secretariat" became my favorite word.  I've tried to continue the tradition and get Dylan excited about the Derby, but her short attention span can't last through the three hours of pre-race hype.  Hell, my short attention span can't last that long.  But, I did get her to watch Mind That Bird's 50:1 upset win last year and I bribed her to sit down, finally, as the horses entered the gate this year.  Calvin Borel  is our new hero -- although I'm worried that she'll yell, "Ride the rail, Borel" to any adult male who is under 5'3''.

The other tradition is the May Rodeo.  It's the first local rodeo of the year and I grew up riding in its parade and getting bucked off by its calves.  For months, Dylan has been telling us that she was going to ride a sheep.  The thought seems harmless enough, riding a big fuzzy sheep is like sitting of a soft cloud. But I know the scary truth; I've been helping parents pry their children's fingers from the top rail of the chutes and putting them on the backs of pissed off lambs for the past ten years.  Mutton Bustin' is like being a passenger on the back of a runaway dirt bike.  Sooner, and not later, the kids fall off, face first, in the arena dirt.  There are always tears, often blood, and not much reward except the Queen gives you a silver dollar, which, to little kids, might as well be a shiny stone.

Greg was always against his daughters riding sheep -- not for any kind of righteous-cattle-rancher reasons -- but for simply practical ones.  I thought he was crazy.  Mutton Bustin' is nuthin' but fun!  Right?  Then I started paying attention to what happened after the terrified kids left the chute, and then I had a daughter.  I told Dylan she could ride a sheep, but I dragged my feet.  Besides, I figured she'd chicken out once she saw the reality of it.  So, I took her behind the chutes, and we stood on the catwalk and peered down into the bucking chutes at the lambs.  Her confidence didn't waver and she still wanted to ride, so I had my friend set her on the back of one, just to get a feel for it.  She still insisted that she was having fun, then the sheep moved.  Just a little, but she knew it wasn't anything like sitting on the back of a horse and she wanted off.  Viola!  My plan worked.

The rest of the day was spent watching the show.  I skipped out on my normal rodeo duties and enjoyed the rodeo from the back of a flat-bed.  Dylan spent the day eating.  When I asked about her favorite part of the rodeo, she said, "The dip."

Grady got passed around until he hit nap time, then, like a good cowboy, fell asleep on the front seat of the truck.  Dylan wasn't too far behind.  The dirt, snowcones, and excitement wore us all out, but I think Dylan's officially hooked on rodeos and now she can't wait until the last Saturday in July so she can Mutton Bust again, if only for a few seconds.

Friday, April 30, 2010


Lacy, my niece, just turned twenty.  The fact, I think, bummed Greg out a little.  You know, the whole "it all goes too fast, blink and they're twenty," thing.  I started playing the numbers game in my head: Greg's fifty, Lacy's twenty.  When Dylan's twenty, I'll be fifty-five.  Fifty-five!  I'll probably be wearing those gigantic side-flap sunglasses that old people get at the optometrist's office and peeing ten times a night by then.

Dylan just turned three.  This fact didn't bum me out at all, although I couldn't quite match her enthusiasm for a birthday party.  We decided to combine everything Dylan loves into one party: cupcakes, Easter eggs, and presents (basically: candy, candy, and presents).  Her presents were a great representation of her very princess-girly side and her country-girl side.  Along with a ton of dolly's and dresses, she also received a pair of chinks (Chaps, for you city-folks.  Quit dialing the ACLU.) and a huge Lego set.  The day after her party, I thought I'd step out the back door of the house and shoot a few squirrels.  Dylan was still in full party mode and wearing, I think, her party dress from the day before.  When I told her what I was doing, she wanted to come with me.  "Let me get my dolly first, Daddy," Dylan told me.  Dolly's and dead squirrels, together at last.

Grady, too, has hit a milestone.  Sort of.  I'd written about Dylan at nine months (75% in weight, 95% in height) and I remember her as a pretty big baby.  Maybe big isn't right: solid is more fitting.  She was often called a boy by strangers, and on several occasions, I got a, "Oh, he's going to be a good football player."  Grady is just big.  At his nine-month check-up last week, he was 95% in weight and 60% in height.  Kind of a flip-flop of Dylan, and he's never been confused for a girl, but I do get, "Oh, he's going to be a football."  I hope they mean football player, but he very well could be the football.  He's shaped for it anyway.  He's all hips, thighs, and smiles.

This morning, Regina and I watched Grady as he toppled over from a sitting positing, then struggled, like an upside down turtle, to get himself righted.  He finally got himself in a comfortable position and grinned at us.  "I love that he's staying a baby for so long," Regina told me.  I hadn't thought of that.  I'm always wondering, "What's next?" -- teeth, crawling, school, girlfriends, cars, graduation, twenty -- when I should be looking at what is now.  Maybe I'll do that a little more often, as soon as I can find my giant side-flap sunglasses.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Zombie Raccoon

I've mentioned the raccoon before -- it was one of the scattered animal remnants in our yard and the same vicious beast that attacked Chowder the day after Christmas (a result of coal in his stocking, I'm sure).  This guy was certainly more tenacious dead than alive.  He's been buried (twice), hit with a tractor and disc, run-over by traffic on our lane, dragged, stampeded, chewed up and barfed out, burned, and finally, bagged.  He has been, needless to say, a lesson for Dylan in ... something.  Probably something gruesome that will scar her.

"There's the raccoon that bit Chowder, Daddy," she'd tell me, every time we passed its bloated figure.  "He's dead now, sis."  "Yeah, you shot him."  This was the conversation we had, almost daily, as we watched Mr. Raccoon stay perfectly preserved in the cold months of January and February.  I should have tossed him in the dumpster then, but he made such a great conversation piece.

By March, I'd buried him in the alfalfa field, but the disc unearthed him and helped speed up the decaying process.  The dogs decided, then, that he was sufficiently rotten and would make a fine meal.  Dylan quit talking about him until the spoiled meat nearly killed Scout (Raccoon - 2, Dogs - 0).  That's when I decided that a good old-fashioned witch burning was in order, not to exorcise any demons, but I figured cooked raccoon had to smell better than the decomposing one the dogs unearthed.

Dylan was stoked.  "We're burning the aa-coon, Mommy!"  Regina didn't ask any questions -- she's learned she's better off not knowing -- and Dylan and I set off up the lane with a gas jug and a lighter.  We piled on the sticks for the cremation and watched the black smoke climb.  For a week Dylan told everyone she met that she'd burned a raccoon.  I shrugged like I had no idea what she was talking about.

Today, nearly four months after its demise, I found half of the raccoon in our yard.  The fire hadn't done much for its looks or in cooking it; it stunk.  Dylan was glad to have her old friend back, but I told her to stay away.  This thing is not real.  I'm at the end of my list for ways to dispose of dead varmints.

I have to look on the bright side:  Dylan's learned about life-cycles, the meanness of cute wild animals, proper grilling techniques, and the perils of eating rotten meat.  All valuable lessons for a country girl.  The raccoon will offer one last lesson: plastic is better than paper for bagging up zombies.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Merry Easter

Originally, this post was going to be titled "March Madness" (despite the ever-looming threat of a *gasp* copyright infringement lawsuit from the NCAA) and I was going to write about what a nutty month March was.  By nutty, I mean plagued with illness.  Dylan and Grady fought through fever, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, breathing treatments, ER visits, antibiotics, and giant boogers.  I thought April would bring wellness to the Eastside gang, but apparently bronchiolitis follows the Aztec calendar and doesn't give a rat's ass about April.

So, instead of writing about the hilarious and wacky adventures of two tired parents with their sick kids, I thought I'd write about Easter.

I'd forgotten how fun Easter is for kids.  It's a candy-fueled melee that ranks right up there with any holiday that overloads children on chocolate and attention.  Our cousin Julie tried to explain to Dylan that Easter wasn't just about the Easter bunny and candy.  She told Dylan about Jesus and the resurrection.  Dylan listened, then said, "Julie, that's weird."  I think the Jesus side of Easter finally stared to sink in on our way to the Thamer's for our Easter party.  It started snowing pretty heavily and definitely looked more like Christmas than Easter.  Dylan conveniently combined the two and sang, "Baby Jesus is Coming to Town" the whole way up.  It felt like Ricky Bobby was serenading us from the back seat.

Dylan skipped any food that wouldn't give her a sugar-high.  Regina and I kept waiting for the crash, but (Easter miracle) the meltdown never happened.  She waded through mud and poop so she could pet a newborn lamb and didn't care that her shoes got mucky, she hunted Easter eggs in a blizzard and didn't freak out over her new frilly socks getting soaked, she actually had competition in hunting eggs this year and didn't care that every egg wasn't labeled "For Dylan Only," and she ate jellybeans instead of ham and didn't care ... okay, maybe that was the secret.  Jellybeans to kids are like bourbon for adults, they make you not care.

We finally came home in our one-horse open sleigh and, now, despite that it's April and we were supposed to leave the bad voodoo of March behind, both kids are back on antibiotics, steroids, and breathing treatments for round two of bronchiolitis.  But it's better this time around.  We have baskets full of candy, a little sunshine has melted our April snow, and I won't have to worry about any copyright infringement lawsuits for using "April Madness" in a post.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Yard O' Death

Yesterday morning I looked out our bedroom window and swore; I thought the dogs had scattered our garbage across the lawn again.  I envisioned spending the morning picking up smelly diapers, coffee grounds, and old Lotto tickets.  I even entertained the option of trying to mow up the garbage like it was fall leaves.  It was early -- maybe 6:00 AM -- and my eyes were a little blurry and when I rubbed them clear I saw that the "garbage" was nothing more than the usual assortment of dead and decaying things that litter our lawn all winter.

It's disgusting, and quite possibly unhealthy, but we have four dogs that feel it's necessary to provide us with lawn ornaments.  We'd settle for gnomes and flamingoes, but they prefer the macabre.  Yesterday, as we all sat outside and soaked in a little afternoon sunshine, I heard Regina gasp.  I looked up to see Chowder bringing in a fresh decoration.  Horses, like dogs and good cats, are buried on our ranch, but somehow Chowder, or bears, or the wild neighbor boys, dug up one of our old faithfuls and exposed an entire foot for the dogs to bring in.

Currently on our lawn (and I just inventoried), we have parts of the raccoon that attacked Chowder the day after Christmas, a complete coyote skull, half a cow skull, an assortment of large bovine bones, twenty or thirty chewed up shed antlers, several freshly killed squirrels, the hoof, and a pile of feathers from some dim-witted bird (the cats felt like they needed to contribute as well).  It's like a touch-and-feel Natural History Museum.

I have great promise for Dylan's soccer skills because she's A) 1/4 Brasilian, and B) has learned to run and weave around the bones like Pele through defenders.  Aside from the smell of rotting flesh and the flies they attract, the upside is that our kids are getting terrific anatomy and skeletal lessons.  Dylan can differentiate between coyote and cow teeth and Grady can tell you that magpie feathers taste very different from pigeon feathers.

I'll have the lawn mower ready soon, but if I want to save my blade, I'll need to clean up the bones first.  It's amazing what a little spring-cleaning will do.  The smell will go away and friends will feel that it's safe to visit again.  I'll probably bury the bones and carcasses so they don't keep reappearing and someday, a thousand years from now, some robot-archeologist will excavate them and conclude that a horse-cow-coyote-bird-raccoon creature once ruled Hartstrand Gulch.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Boys Night In

With Regina out of the house for the weekend, I did what any guy would do: I called up my friends for a guys night out.  Sounds wild, right?  And just a few years ago, it would have been "Fight For Your Right (to Party)" crazy.  Things would have gotten broken, blood would have been spilled, feelings would have been hurt.  Now, it means calling up your friends whose wives are also out of town and telling them to bring their boys over for pizza and Coors.

Immediately after the wolf-pack arrived (four boys, two dads), the power went out, which turned the party into a Man vs Wild survival-fest.  Grady's food was warmed on the wood stove and our night out for pizza changed to a night in for crackers and cheese.  We considered BBQing some road-kill or eating one of the horses, but when someone mentioned that Coors has the nutritional equivalent of a "pork chop in every can," we decided we'd leave the grill off.

Dylan passed around flashlights and I dug through our pretty-smelling candle and sharp-knife drawer until I found enough Christmas candles to illuminate a runway.  Flashlights and open flames are the ultimate in fun for little boys, and it was easy to keep track of where they were playing (we'll include Dylan in with "the boys" henceforth).  Finally, the batteries died on the last flashlight and one of the boys started singing "Happy Birthday" and blew out all the candles.  We were in total darkness.

Our manly survival instincts kicked in as we found our way through the dark without running into walls, tripping over toys, or colliding with each other.  The boys found their sleeping bags, Dylan found her princess bed (which instantly removed her from the wolf-pack club), and the adult-boys found the cooler for more Coors, or pork chops, whichever.

When our wives returned we had soot on our faces, awesome B.O., and beer breath.  They regaled us with stories about pedicures and wine tastings and when we were asked about our evening, we just grunted as a reply, 'cause that's what wolves do.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Baby Olympics

Now that the winter olympics are over and I no longer have an excuse to check my trap-line for Johnny Weir's next costume or quit work at noon so I can catch the China v Sweden women's curling semi-finals, I've actually had to spend "quality" time with my family.  Realizing that I can only stand losing so many straight games of Candyland without having a breakdown, I've come up with the Baby Olympics.

Baby Olympics were inspired by Steve Holcomb, pilot of the US men's four-man bobsled team, which won a gold medal.  He looks like a meatball stuffed in a spandex body suit, with a beard.  In short, he looks like Grady in thirty years.  And I thought, if Steve can do it, so can we.

Actually, I haven't told my family about our olympic training regimen yet.  Right now, I'm scouting out the competition to see if we have a shot at the podium.  I joke, but parents do this all the time.  "Oh, your little Joey walked at five months?  Our Zeus walked at five weeks, then composed an original song about it."  I figured if parenting is always going to feel like a competition, why not get corporate sponsors and train for it?

As a baby, Dylan was always a heavy favorite for gold, or at least a strong contender.  She teethed, sat-up, crawled, walked, and spoke on or before the "normal" range.  She kicked a lot of diaper in most categories, but one friend of hers started walking at seven months old.  We had the IOC investigate and they found he was using performance enhancing formula and stripped him of his gold medal.  Dylan came out of the '08 Baby Olympics like Michael Phelps (with a lot of medals, not stoned).

Grady is another story.  He's the Uganda of slalom, the Jamaica of bobsled.  At eight months, he's toothless and can only sit up if you form his body into a tripod, and even then he topples.  Someone recently asked me if he was crawling and pulling himself up on things yet.  I just walked away.

Baby Olympics even extends to parenting.  I once read that Dave Grohl (see: Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures, etc.) could change a diaper in seven seconds.  "I can top that," I told Regina.  I can, but when I do the diaper is so loose that it leaks pee like a crab pot.  I'll have to be happy with the silver on this one (see: US men's/women's hockey).

The Eastside Gang might not make the podium every event, but we've got lots of grit and try.  If you come to visit and hear Dylan humming the National Anthem while Regina's mixing a bottle (another new competition), and I'm changing Grady out of his jammies and into his red, white, and blue spandex body suit, just put your hand over your heart and sing along, it'll be quite a show.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Poop Card

Dylan has a new trick.  Whenever she's napping, or, rather, not napping, and needs an excuse to come out of her room, she plays her best card.  No, it's not the race card.  Telling us she can't nap because she's Scots-Irish-English-Brasilian-German really doesn't go to far with us.  Dylan, in a brilliant strategy, plays the poop card.  What can we do?  "I need to poop!" always works because A) we don't want to call her bluff and wind up with a turd in bed and, B) see A.

Normally, I'm working when Dylan goes down for a nap, so when Grady started running a fever last week and didn't go to daycare, Daddy took the call to stay home with the monkeys and witness, first hand, Dylan's nap avoidance techniques.  The other get-out-of-bed trick she uses is: The Random Question.  Usually, the question involves Santa, but sometimes it's, "What do you call your birthday?" (answer: April 24th), and is followed by the Mumbling Question, as in, "Where did Mommy mum mum uum...."

So, on the first sunny days of winter, I sat in the house with a crabby boy and a stir-crazy girl.  After the first day's stab at a nap, I decided Dylan needed a little outside time.  Alone.  "Daddy, I chewed on my sock," she told me as I tried to get her dressed.  Sure enough, in her bed, I found a soggy sock.  In the year's most obvious question, I asked, "You put this in your mouth?"  She looked at me like I'd just asked if she'd like cookies for breakfast.  "Save yourself," I said, "go play."

We spent our days with naps, poops, puzzles, coloring, chalk, and, when the fog would finally burn off, I'd send Dylan outside for a run around the lawn and a jump on the trampoline.  This only lasted two days, but the fog and Grady's fever kept us cooped up indoors for most of the time.  I completely understand why, in the far north of Canada when the snow melts in the spring, local authorities go door to door to see who's murdered whom over the dark, dark winter months.  No wonder Dylan's chalkboard illustrations of the family closely resembled police chalk outlines.

A fun as fevers, nap-tricks, and cabin fever are, my days with the monkeys wasn't all fun and games.  Grady's fever kept climbing and I finally took him to the clinic.  He had massive congestion and an ear infection.  Despite knowing what we were up against (and why we hadn't had a good night's sleep in a week), knowledge wasn't really power.

When Regina came in from work on Friday, she took one look at me and said, "Take me to bed or lose me forever."  Okay, she didn't, and I often confuse our life with Top Gun, but she was wise enough to tell me to get out of the house and go for a bike ride.  Instead, I played beach volleyball, then flew my fighter-jet super fast and made the fat guy in the control tower spill his coffee all over himself.

By tonight, Grady seems to be nearly over his fever and Dylan's been able to at least go outside and feed cows.  She even got to spend the afternoon (after another non-nap) with her cousins up the gulch and have a chocolate chip cookie dinner.  Watching your kids fight a fever (real or cabin) always sucks.  Grady just needed antibiotics, rest, and time, while Dylan just needed to figure out how to successfully play her Brasilian-Irish card.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Monster Truck Valentines

Valentine's Day is, by far, the most awkward of all holidays.  I'm never sure to what lengths I should go to impress my bride.  A chest waxing?  Private dinner at Chez Panisse?  A monster truck, suspended by a hot-air balloon, ride?  If I believe the media hype, nothing short of a twelve-carat diamond, twenty pair of frilly thong chonies, and a giant teddy bear holding a red heart submerged in Dove chocolate, will do.

My last non-awkward Valentine's Day was in 1993, just five days before I met Regina, and that nearly ended in a misdemeanor.  Since then, I've had mild panic attacks each February 13th.  Did I get enough?  Will the hot-air balloon hold the monster truck?  Is she still into Scott Baio lunch pails?  Will St. Valentine fill my stocking? (No, that's not intended to be innuendo.)  Of course, it always turns out fine ... small gifts, a great dinner-date, followed by food induced comas.  Ah, love.  But, honestly, the excitement of Valentine's Day is usually right up there with Arbor Day or carpet shopping.

This year, though, Dylan added a new and unexpected element to the day: she made it fun again.  It started with a Valentine exchange at daycare.  We spent the night before "making" cards for her buddies.  It made me think of the Valentine cards I used to make with my mom.  We'd spend hours glueing heart shaped doilies to red crepe paper, each personally decorated with glitter and crayon.  The memory depressed me, only because I sat with my daughter, taping M&M's to Walmart cards that she'd scribbled on.  We didn't even get to use yummy practical Elmer's Glue.

I got over my lack of Valentine's Day artisan skills as soon as I saw the loot Dylan collected.  Valentine's Day = Candy.  I did not know that, but it's good enough for me.  To reinforce the point, Regina brought home cupcakes that our neighbor -- a high school junior -- made and was selling at school.  If God laughed so hard that he shot milk out his nose, those milk drops would fall to earth in the form of those cupcakes.  That's how awesome they were.

Valentine's Day finally ended, after a four-day sugar bender, with a mommy and daddy night out.  Every Valentine's we go to New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro, one of our favorite restaurants, for some serious eating and excellent wine.  This year's meal was one of the best.  I won't go into the menu, mostly because I can't pronounce or spell half the things we ate.  I felt compelled to eat whatever Regina couldn't finish, so by the second course I had to loosen my belt, by the third I popped a belly button on my shirt, and by dessert the over-eating cramps started.  I could only say, "Oh, that was good .... Oooohhh, my stomach hurts," the whole drive home.

Now that I share my Valentine's Day with the two women of my life, I have a renewed sense of appreciation for the holiday.  Dylan and I get tons of sweets, Regina and I always renew our wedding vows (we don't, it just sounded sweet -- we do get a great meal though), and all without the dread of finding the perfect heart-shaped gift or the fear of a misdemeanor.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ranch Diagnosis

We, like most ranchers, try hard to keep our cattle in the best health possible.  They're fed well, have clean water, are given salt and minerals to make up for anything lacking in their diet, and are vaccinated and dewormed regularly to prevent sickness.  If one happens to get sick, we try our best to treat it as quickly as possible.  There are some rare occasions when a cow or calf is sick and doesn't respond to treatments, or when one is unhealthy and we (or the vet) cannot determine the cause.  My uncle has two catch-all diagnoses for these animals.  If it's a calf, it must be an unclaimed twin.  If it's a cow, she's swallowed a wire.  Whether these two options are probable or not usually require further investigating, but at least they offer some kind of answer.

Grady has "swallowed a wire," or, in the non-cow diagnosis, he's teething.  Or so we thought.  He's been teething now for two months with no sign of a single tooth.  He started in December.  First, he broke his sleep-through-the-night rule, then he started drooling like a Labrador looking at a duck.  A tooth! we thought.  We ran our fingers across his gums every day, awaiting its arrival.  And we waited.  The drool piled up, our fingers got sore from Grady trying to eat them, and nothing.  It's nearly February and he's still as toothless as a crack-head.

We took him in for his six-month check-up yesterday.  You know those Test Your Strength: Swing the Huge Mallet as Hard as You Can and See How High the Ball Rises games at the fair?  That's like weighing Grady.  "How high do those scales go?" I finally asked.  Turns out, they go high enough, but Grady's a weight-savant.  97% in weight (and that's as high as our doctor's chart went).  If he were twice his age, he'd still be average weight.

No one at the pediatrician's office seemed concerned about his chubby-toothlessness, but Grady must have developed a little complex from all of the fat-jokes.  He spent most of the night, and morning, throwing-up like an actress getting ready for the award season.  Poor little buckaroo.  He's resting now, but it sucks to see your kids sick.  Unless, of course, barfing is symptomatic of teething.  If that's the case, welcome chompers!  Probably, though, he's just swallowed a wire.

Monday, January 18, 2010


When my cousin, Scott, first moved to the ranch we gave him Lucky, his first horse. Like many Appaloosa horses, Lucky was night-blind. Unfortunately, he was also a little day-blind too. He had little cow-sense but was broke, sound, and willing to go. He turned out to be a good horse for Scott and a decent metaphor for the "new guy"; neither knew a lot about cows but both were willing to try.

Once, we were gathering cattle out of one of the alfalfa fields and a young cow bolted. Scott turned Lucky loose and the Appy, amazingly, spotted the cow and followed in hot pursuit. Greg and Grant trailed behind and when the cow ducked under a wheelline pipe, they eased up. Not Lucky. He pinned his ears back, leaped, and cleared the wheelline like he was in steeplechase. My brothers were shamed into spurring their horses on to do the same. When they all had landed safely on the other side and had the cow pointed back to the herd, my brothers looked at Scott like he was nuts. He didn't know that most eighteen-year old, blind Appys can't leap over small sticks, let alone a wheelline, and Lucky didn't know that Scott wasn't some old top-hand from the Rio Grande. The joke around the ranch was the neither knew any better. Scott was Lucky; Lucky was Scott.

Grady is the same way. He thinks that his big sister is the coolest thing since pee-pee tee-pees. We think it's because he doesn't know any better. Dylan pokes, smothers, head-butts, and smacks the little man around, but from the look on his face, you'd think she'd just offered a tub of applesauce and a warm bottle.

I was "in charge" of the rug-rats one day while Regina was out and turned my attention away for only a few minutes (I swear). When I turned back around, Dylan had stacked several large books on Grady's face, a giant, smothering pillow on top of that, and a blanket, which covered Grady's entire body, topped it off. My heart raced faster with each layer I pulled off. When I finally cleared the last, and largest, book from Grady's face, he was grinning ear to ear. Attention from my sister, his look told me, I love it!

This morning, Regina set Grady in his bouncy chair. Dylan was keeping him entertained and things were going well until Regina caught Dylan pulling the bouncy chair all the way to the floor, then boooiiiing, letting loose and using Grady as a human catapult. Fortunately, he's too heavy to really fly and he thought what his big sis was doing was the funniest thing in the world.

This mauling will continue, I'm sure, until he's old enough to retaliate. As long as he's happy with it, though, it's hard to get too angry with Dylan. She gets occupied with entertaining her brother, Grady's happy at being knocked around, and we get a few minutes of uninterrupted time to do things like use the bathroom or cook dinner. Besides, Dylan hasn't hurt him, yet. Maybe Grady is just lucky. Or, Lucky is Grady.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stinky Pork Chops

As if naming your children isn't difficult enough, we've discovered the process of nicknaming to be equally as difficult. We've tried the shotgun approach, where we have them shoot a shotgun, then record the first word that comes out of their mouths when the recoil hits. Grady's was "Whaaaa," and so was Dylan's. No, wait, that's the wrong shotgun approach; what we've done is just try out a whole bunch of nicknames on our kids, and see which one sticks.

Dylan's nicknames started before she was born. We were in Mexico, Regina was pregnant, and the thing in her belly wouldn't stop flipping, jumping, and bouncing around. "Like a little jumping bean," I said, and viola, Dylan's first nickname, Bean, was born.

Just ask Dylan, and she'll give you the complete run-down on who-calls-her-what. "Mommy calls me Boo Boo or Stinky (I'm really hoping the latter one doesn't stick), Daddy calls me Sis, Eileen calls me Beanie-Weenie, Grandma calls me Dilly, and Julie calls me Bean." Whew. It's a lot to remember, and now Dylan's become so inundated with nicknames that she answers to just about anything.

The Hannas are notorious nickname givers. As is the case with most made up names, the nicknames we make up aren't always the recipient's first choice. I have friends who are hesitant to join us for our "cowboy lunch" because they don't want to learn what name we've given them. Like scientists naming new species of bacteria, we try to fair, clear, and concise. No one will confuse Spooky with Doodle or Andre with Mouse.

Grady, at six months, has already earned a few nicknames. Like Dylan, he received his first while he was still in the oven and we were in Mexico. Unlike is sister, who used the womb as her personal trampoline, Grady was a little more subdued (hell, cornered wolverines are more subdued), and, because of his easy nature and because Regina's belly was so perfectly round, we started calling him Turtle.

It was a cute pre-birth name, but hasn't really held. Now, he gets called Snorkel, Bubby, Pork Chop, Baby Brother, or Beef Cake. I don't really think any of those will stick, unless he never grows out of his baby fat, then Pork Chop might last.

I grew up being called Buzzard because I'd misheard the lyrics to a song and thought "Well, Mister," was "Well, Buzzard." An easy mistake, and I didn't mind the name. When you're seven, Buzzards are pretty cool. I was also called Juddy, which isn't really a nickname; almost every boy gets the "y" added on to his name, then he outgrows it. I outgrew Juddy in high school, then I turned thirty and it came back like a bad case of athlete's foot. Now, to most people in the Valley, I'm Juddy. Regina changed it Jubby when she saw how I wrote my name when I was five. I'll take Jubby any day, and I'm just glad that as I get older and fatter Pork Chop and Stinky are already taken.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fat Babies

I hate to generalize, as all generalizations are stupid (Oh God, the English dork humor, make it stop), but it's true: Mexicans love babies. You can walk down any street in Any Town, Mexico, and everyone, especially the timeshare hawkers, will tell you how bonita or guapo your kids are. But what we learned last week is the only thing Mexicans love more than babies is fat babies. Hence, Grady loves Mexico. He spent last week getting pinched, adored, and squeezed by every tourist and local in Mazatlan.

Dylan, too, loves Mexico. Iguanas! Frijoles! Sand Snowmen! We stayed at a place that had loads of kids her age and we learned that children have secret signals they give each other. It took some super-decoding, but here's what we came up with: 1 cautious wave means "Can you ditch you parents and play?" 2 little waves means "Meet me at the kiddie pool in half an hour," and a shy look from between your father's legs means "Hey, you're not a child, you're a midget. I ain't fooled."

Dylan, through secret waves and bribery, made a few friends around the pool, despite only knowing Dora-Spanish. She'd ask, in Spanish, if they knew of any animals that needed rescuing, or if they had a backpack that turned into a kayak, receive blank looks, then jump on their backs for horsey rides. If only meeting adults were that easy. Then again, that's how I met Regina.

Our vacation wasn't spent, entirely, eating and swimming. Mazatlan is famous for its Pulmonias, which are just convertible taxis that look like a VW Thing and a Bumper Car had an illegitimate child. We took one downtown and cruised the Malecon like teenagers on a Saturday night (even if it was a Tuesday morning). We then pushed the stroller over bumpy sidewalks and down three foot curbs around the Old Town. There's an open air market there that's been around forever. The thing about open air markets is they are, literally, out in the open air. This means that the pinatas, sugar cane candy, pirated DVDs, and serapes are all out there. And so is the meat. Hog heads, livers, chicken feet, fish eyes ... sure, they're all on ice, but they attract the open air flies. We have a corner on the ranch where we drag all of our dead animals; even in July, it doesn't smell as bad as that market. We hightailed it home and made it back to the pool in time for the end of happy hour.

We were there for New Year's, which, if you have two children, means absolutely nothing. The best part was getting little wistful over breakfast on New Year's Day as we watched the vomit-stained party-goers make their walks-of-shame back to their hotels. To be young! we thought. As we were eating, a young, attractive couple came in and sat down. They'd obviously been out all night, but really didn't look any worse for wear. The guy asked Regina if we were just getting in from a night of partying as well. His girlfriend looked at him like he'd asked us if our children were for sale. She pointed at Grady in his car seat, "They have babies," she told him. Nevertheless, we chose to take it as a compliment that young people still look at us and think, "They might be able to go out and party all night," and not as an insult that we looked so disheveled people assumed we'd just been on an all night bender with our kids.

Life, or at least our week, in Mazatlan was great. Dylan and Grady got in plenty of swimming and telenovelas, and Regina and I got complimented on our ability to make "big babies." We ate like the apocalypse was coming, napped like we were retired, swam like the polar ice caps had all melted, and spent evenings in our underwear, watching the tangerine sun drop into the ocean. We're definitely going back, and if Grady continues his mashed-foods intake, he'll be the most loved baby in all of Mexico.