Having It

In reply to my lovely wife’s plea…

Though this summer has not been the very best one of my life, I’m glad to have lived it, and looking forward to the fall and winter. During these last few golden sunny months, people I know have been diagnosed with cancer but are facing it with enormous strength and will and humor; have been burglarized and horribly sick but, again (what is it with our tough friends?), are dealing with it with laughter and fortitude; have faced unexpected surgery but – that’s right – have persevered.

Sure, China spent billions of dollars on facilities that were used for 14 days of sports competition, in a city where babies die every day in poverty, but great powers have always done stupid things to impress each other, and at least this one didn’t involve killing anyone. Gas and grocery prices have increased astronomically, and while they’re not coming down much, they have generated – I think – some real thinking about how to get America out of our terrible growth-at-all-costs morass. The health care crisis in this country continues to spiral out of control, and might spell doom for my children’s generation (truly, even for my own) if it goes unchecked – but, again, there finally seems to be a modicum of political will to figure out some way to provide here what every other citizen of an advanced society already has.

My draining second job will go on a one-term hiatus between January and May, but then pick up right where it left off in June. Over that time, we can tap our small but big-enough savings account, and I should see a nicely-sized raise at my regular job. I have just as much faith in humankind as I ever did, what with seeing my wife work hard alongside other volunteers to skillfully and rapidly solve an ugly situation at the preschool where my daughter goes. My nieces and nephew are poor minority children with no father and multiple medical and mental-health conditions, but they are better off than many kids in their shoes because they’ve got at least two families – my parents-in-law and my siblings-in-law – who are there for them, literally and figuratively. Economic disparity is everywhere I look, not least here in Northfield, but I’m hopeful that by putting a smart man in the White House this fall, we can start to close the gulf between the have-too-muches and the have-too-littles.

And sure, people buy and build ridiculous houses right around the corner from our place, but those houses don’t necessarily make them happier, and certainly don’t make me unhappy – just amused. It’s all a bit depressing, but I fall back on what I know about history and think about how glad I am that it’s not 1938, or 1908, or 1808, or 1508. Those were some tough times, and I’ll bet the summers of those years sucked a lot more for a lot more people than this one did for us.

And but so what makes me happy these days? My wife, even as she hunts for the clouds behind the silver linings, and especially my two girls. Hearing the younger count impeccably to ten in her squeaky little toddler voice is as wonderful as it is a challenge to tactfully answer the older’s question about where mean people go when they die. I’m also cheered by the wonderful weather, by the promise of a snowy winter, by the return of my favorite sports, by my regular job, by hot coffee… Too many things to list, really, but they sum up every day to making everything worthwhile.

Faceplant

I got my olde aull-terrayne velocipede fixed up at the shop today – those new brakes are great. This evening, I celebrated by watching the mountain-bike races from Beijing, which are archived on the NBC website. The races themselves are good, and the setting – a beautiful park smack in the middle of the city and riddled with narrow trails – is amazing. If you don’t have the stomach for four hours of viewing, settle for the montage of crashes in the women’s race, which is fun to watch too.

The Pre-K Vote

I think the voting age should be lowered to 4. The other day, Julia heard an Obama soundbite on the radio and exclaimed, “Who’s talking? I like his talking!”

She has formed a committee of Playmobil figures to make a recommendation as to her views on Biden.

Pitch In

As I headed into the backyard with the girls this afternoon, I called to Julia that I needed to hurry because Vivi was already outside. Putting on her oversized pink shades, Julia told me, “Daddy, when I’m older I’ll take care of Genevieve and you can just relax. I’ll do all the hard stuff with her and you can just pitch in when you want.”

Can I get all that in writing?

Home Again

We’re back home from Summer Vacation 2008. As I told Shannon, “It was great, and kicked my ass.” The ride home was uneventful and not unpleasant. The only downside is that I’ll now have the Barney theme song in my head for weeks after easing the last hour of the drive by run a couple episodes on the laptop.

Neither girl napped a wink on the way home (stop me if you’ve heard this before), but on arriving home, they tore into their almost-forgotten toys and had a great time playing until dinner. After dinner, they were hustled into bath and then bed, where Julia said, “But I don’t want to go to sleep! I’m not *yawn* tired!” To her credit, she realized how ridiculous this was, and relented. After hearing her two songs, Genevieve screamed for about two minutes, then dropped off as well. A nice quiet night, all in all.

No Need for Parody

As the Olympics show over and over and over, Americans as a group are prone to inadvertent self-parody. Blogging offers a wide field for this kind of dubious accomplishment, but it’s easy to find other examples. Athletes, for instance: on Wednesday, I laughed as two American hurdlers held up “we’re number 1!” index fingers during an interview after the 110m final in which they finished second and third.

A certain kind of Christian comes up close behind the grandiose athlete, and even overlaps him to some extent:
Xian TKD
Someone smarter and meaner than me can figure out a funny way to combine turning the other cheek while clad in sparring equipment.

And then there are the real-estate developers. Worst of the lot.

Exhibit 1: The only “shores” are the sides of the cement-lined drainage ditches. Nice big-sky views, though…
Horizon Shores

Exhibit 2: “Now Renting”? Really? Don’t you mean “Now Accepting Deposits on Which We Hope to Earn Enough Interest That We Can Prevent Foreclosure on This Half-Completed Pile”?
Really?

Compare and Contrast

Shannon and I had a wonderful night-and-morning out. Our only regret was that we unknowingly came home two hours before Shannon’s mom expected us. We coulda read magazines at the coffeeshop until noon! Now that we know this, we may try to cash in our unspent chips the next time we can trick Nonna into taking the kids.

Anyhow, we did have a very busy, fun, and relaxing time. I got as much sleep as I’ve have in years, and that was just the unconscious part of the 18 hours. We also had a great dinner (see below), decided on the spur-of-the-moment to go see a strange but good movie (a truth of thirteen years of marriage: Shannon’s openness to impromptu decisions is directly proportional to her state of relaxation at the time the decision is made), had a great slice of cheesecake after the movie, read in bed for a few minutes at the hotel, went to sleep early, got up late, and then got coffee at a nice coffeeshop in Moorhead. Oh, and I didn’t have to listen to a single second of baby-monitor noise!

With all that said, dinner tonight back at the house – exactly 24 hours after dinner out yesterday at Timberlodge Steakhouse in Fargo – was an eye-opening study in contrasts.
8/21: I had just one dinner companion, my lovely and charming wife, though a number of other diners – all approximately twice our age – were also at the restaurant, taking advantage of the early-dining specials.
8/22: I had six dinner companions, including my wife, my in-laws, one of the girls’ cousins, and the girls; only two of these companions would have been able to use AARP cards at the restaurant, though three might’ve been able to order from the kiddie menu.

8/21: My wife was the most beautiful woman in the joint.
8/22: My wife was the most beautiful woman in the joint, though Nonna and the girls are all pretty cute, too.

8/21: I had a delicious meal that was entirely prepared by someone else (the kitchen staff at the restaurant).
8/22: I had a delicious meal that was entirely prepared by someone else (Shannon’s mom).

8/21: I didn’t have to pay a dime for my food, thanks to a gift card to the restaurant. (I did have to pony up a tip.)
8/22: I didn’t have to pay a dime for my food, thanks to the generosity of my mother-in-law. (I did not have to pony up a tip – or even do dishes.)

8/21: Someone else brought me all of my food, over the better part of an hour.
8/22: My mother-in-law brought me my soup, but I filled the rest of my plate myself, and only had time to hurriedly enjoy one big helping of everything.

8/21: I enjoyed a rather good $2 glass of house merlot.
8/21: I would have paid $22 for a shot of whiskey.

8/21: After finishing my meal, I held my wife’s hand over the table while we decided on going to the see the movie.
8/22: While finishing my meal, I let Genevieve hold onto my pinky finger with one slimy hand because she was apprehensive of her teenaged “boy cousin,” who showed up at the table just as everyone else was winding up.

8/21: An hour after finishing my meal, I was settling in at the movie, wondering if I had room for popcorn with melted butter. (Answer: no.)
8/22: An hour after finishing my meal, I lying on the floor of the living room, wondering if last night’s time off would help me keep from getting P.O.’ed during Genevieve’s inevitable bedtime meltdown. (Answer: no.)

8/21: I thought continuously about how great it was to be away from the girls, missed them a little bit more each hour, and frequently voiced my thanks that Nonna could take them.
8/22: I thought continuously about how great it was to have been away from the girls, enjoyed being able to enjoy them again, and frequently voiced my thanks that Nonna took them.

Carouselers

Shannon and I are packing up for our night out and away from the girls, which will start pretty soon now. The four of us had a nice morning at the Red River Valley Zoo. Here are my better three-quarters in front of the rather grand carousel there, having seen the camels, the llamas, the baby goats, and assorted other creatures.

Carouselers
Carouselers

This will be my first-ever night away from the girls when not on a business trip, and as far as I can recall, Shannon’s first-ever night away from Julia except when in the hospital delivering Genevieve. It goes without that this really doesn’t count, and that she’s never spent the night away from Vivi (or both girls, for that matter). I imagine that the two of us will manage the sleeping all right (hotel bed, no infernal baby monitors humming), but I’m a bit worried about whether we’ll remember how to eat dinner without the distraction of monitoring two toddlers. We’ll soon see!

Mystery Coil

In my numerous walks and couple runs around Moorhead, I’ve noticed objects like this in the overhead lines.

Mystery Coil
Mystery Coil

I naturally wonder what the hell it is. Some options:

  1. It’s part of the city’s (decent and cheap) municipal wi-fi service.
  2. It’s a way to manage the civic problem of the many, many people who are sticking their bare feet up on the dashboard of vehicles using Moorhead byways.
  3. It’s an attempt to make the grass grow on any, some, or all of the incredibly patchy lawns in this town.
  4. It’s a public-health effort to prevent suicides among the readers of the horrific stories on the front page of the Fargo Forum. (Thankfully, the paper requires registration to read the articles, so I can avoid hyperlinking to the gore.)
  5. It’s a means to try to help the city’s coffeehouse baristas remember more than one item in an order. On three different occasions, I’ve had the barista need me to repeat a two-item order two times; on one of those occasions, I had to say it a third time. Gawd.

What’s that? People are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan? Perhaps that’s related to these mystery coils, too…

(Update, 8/22: According to a well-informed commenter, this is a “fold-back” created with “extra fiber optic cabling that has been relooped on that strand” to make repair or replacement easier later. I LOVE THE INTERNET.)

Straight Lines

I’ve snuck in a couple runs while here, mostly just to maintain some fitness before a more-intense couple of weeks that will end with a 15km road race in early September. For simplicity’s sake, my runs here in Moorhead have started at my in-laws’ house and consisted of tours of eastern Moorhead. About all I can say of the area as a place to run is that it’s flat and that you don’t have to worry about missing a turn.

Highway 52 Running Path
Highway 52 Running Path

Cashless Economy

I spent a couple hours this afternoon finishing the grading for my online course, a task which became slightly less onerous when I was able to do it at a nice little coffeeshop here in Moorhead. Though the people-watching wasn’t as good as it is in Northfield or in Minneapolis, there were some good moments. For instance, the author of some crazy-seeming “political” books stopped in and surfed on one of the public computers for a good hour. (His van was parked across the street.)

A few minutes after that, a young-ish woman came in with two cute kids. She went up to the counter and loudly asked how about the price of a certain (complicated, girly) drink. When the barista told her, she energetically hunted in her purse for some money, only to discover she didn’t have enough. Throwing the expensive-looking bag on her shoulder and clutching a big Blackberry-type smartphone in one hand, she trooped back out with the kids. I guessed to a friend that she must have all her money in bonds; he snarked back that she probably blew all her cash filling up her Tahoe or Excursion.

Marathon Swimming

Among the other new events in the 2008 Olympics is the marathon swim – a 10,000 meter (6.2 mile) open-water swim event for women on August 19, for men on August 20. The races are so long that they can’t be held in the Water Cube, where a 10,000 meter swim would entail 200 laps lengths (thanks, Mr. Mayor!) of the pool. Instead, the marathons will be held in the basin where the rowing and canoeing races were earlier held; marathon swims are usually held in lakes, rivers, and oceans, so this is a bit of an odd place to race.

I haven’t swum in years, but this event intrigues me to no end. The technique for feeding racers is incredible (coaches use long sticks to hold food and drink out to the swimmers), a 16-year-old American is a medal possibility in the women’s event, referees can inflict yellow and red cards on swimmers who don’t race fairly, and of course swimming for two hours (in water that might be nearly 90 degrees!) is an enormous physical challenge – heightened by the fact that the swimmers are jostling constantly with one another. Oh, and the races often end in sprints. I’m sure NBC won’t cover more than a few minute of the races on TV, but I’m going to make a point to watch them online.