Sunday, April 23, 2006

#125 - An Hour (or Two) in Jellyville

Life is interesting in Jellyville. I spent some time there yesterday, and I can tell you that Jellyville is nothing approaching a utopia, even though its primary citizen appears to have totalitarian control over all aspects of life. Everything has a purpose in Jellyville. However, those purposes appear to rotate at random, depending on the whims of its benevolent dictatress.

I found out, for example, that not only does Hogwarts exist in Jellyville, but so also does Hogwarts Junior. "There's a Hogwarts Junior?" I asked. "Yep. That's for kids who are six, seven, eight, nine, and ten," came the reply. "Does anyone else know about this?" I inquired. "Only Jellyville people," she replied.

Convenient, I must say. People in Jellyville have a lady president. Or they will, at least, when said primary citizen reaches the proper age. Whatever that may be. I think she's still a little fuzzy on the whole political process. "When I'm the president, I'll make sure everyone does their chores," said the future world leader. This is sound thinking. Also it probably lets her off the hook since everyone else will be doing chores, but she'll be doing president stuff. I didn't bother to ask her whether I was included in the masses of chore-doers.

There will be playgrounds in every store in Jellyville. There was a deplorable lack of playgrounds in every store we visited yesterday, although Payless at least had a video of Toy Story II playing while we were buying shoes for Citizen Prime. I let her take her wand into the shoe store on the premise that no one expects to see wands in a shoe store and I therefore won't be made to pay for it. She kept it hidden in a secret pocket of her denim jacket until the jacket got a little warm in the store. Then Daddy had to hold it. Daddies are jacket holders in Jellyville.

I put my foot down when we went to WalMart, though. "No wands in WalMart," said The Daddy. "Kids who go to Hogwarts Junior can take their wands everywhere. I wonder if Doodle would like me to turn her into a puppy?" She listed every one of her friends and wondered out loud what they'd like to be turned into. One friend would be an elephant, and the other one would be an ant, and of course, being friends, the ant and the elephant would have to hug, and wouldn't that look funny? An ant hugging an elephant? But maybe she wouldn't want to be an ant, so I could turn her into a chicken instead.

Daddy led Citizen Prime deep into the bowels of WalMart in a desperate search for a garden lighthouse. Since the gardener came I now have a basically blank slate with which to work, and Mrs. Woody and I love lighthouses. WalMart just happened to carry a solar-powered lighthouse that was perfect for our purposes, and we picked one up for an early Mothers Day present. "There are lots of flowers in Jellyville," came the pronouncement when we wandered through the Garden Center. "They're mostly purple, but we have some pink ones, too, so Doodle will like them." I wonder whose favorite color is purple?

My visit with Jellyville was a brief one, but highly instructive. I suspect it will not be my last. Jellyville, as a concept, has been around for a few weeks now. I'd like to bet it goes back even further, but I've only actually heard the name for the last couple of months. The town has been taking shape, I'm sure, for a few years, and it's social structures have been refined over the months as Jelly's own real-life experiences have broadened. She has a little network of friends whom she loves dearly. Her sister alternately is her best playmate and her most annoying nemesis. If Jelly is Citizen Prime, then Doodle is Secretary of State.

In constant motion, the imagine-verse is. If Hubble ever finds it, I suspect many current mysteries of science will finally be answered.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

#124 - Hail the Conquering Hero!

The gardener comes tomorrow.

I believe it happened when the neighbor's cat went missing. Normally this sort of thing does not invoke any real emotional response from me, except for the occasional snort as I attempt to hold back the booming guffaws just begging to come out. "Your cat, you say? Missing? [snort] [choke] [cough] Oh, I'm really sorry to hear that." But when the neighbor points out that, even were the cat alive, it would be impossible to see through the six foot jungle growing in my yard, I tend to pay attention.

The Woodyettes put the final stamp on the deal. They love to follow Daddy outside from time to time. They pretend to be Dora the Explorer carving a path through the trackless wilderness immediately behind our house. They followed me out a couple of days ago and had to send up signal flares so I could find them and guide them back to the house. Fortunately for me, I had been up on a ladder at the time, poking my satellite dishes back into alignment after they got sprinkled on a few days before. Made it easier to spot the flares.

That's when I called the gardener.

I've been meaning to do this for quite a while now. I simply have no time or energy to take care of a yard any more. (There are a number of reasons for this, none of which are important to this story.) Suffice it to say that I have not put mower to lawn once so far this year. And it's been a rainy winter/spring. To add to my stress, our community has rather tough standards about appearance and have been known to send me nastygrams in the past whenever I've let the mowing go for more than a month. There was only one thing standing between me and a professional service that would cut everything down and haul it away:

The phone.

Now, you have to understand that I consider myself to be a complete techno-geek. I adore anything and everything electronic. I have three home computers and my laptop from work, all on my wireless network (although the one desktop stays wired just in case). My wife and I have cell phones. The girls have walkie talkies with up to a three mile range whenever we go on adventures. In my TV cabinet I sport a reasonable 27" screen, satellite receiver, VCR, DVR, and wireless TV adapter so I can beam whatever is playing at the moment to our personal DVD player in our bedroom whenever Mrs. Woody gets sore and needs to lay down. I don't really need a new stereo because whatever CD I choose to play can be played on any of our computers, the DVR, the personal DVD, and/or the kids' mini-boombox. I have four remotes that are worked in various combinations depending on whether we're watching a DVD, satellite, or making DVDs out of our personal video tapes. The Woodyettes have two remotes. (No, Bob, you're not alone!)

But I despise the phone. I really have no idea why this is, and I'm sure there's counselling available for this problem, but I don't care. My phone is like Charlie Brown's kite, or Calvin's bicycle. It sneers at me every time it rings and knows that the call is for me. The phone is my enemy, and no amount of diplomacy will make me accept it as a functioning part of our family. Which explains why it's taken me nearly three months to call a service to come and make my yard look less like an abandoned homestead in Winslow, Arizona.

We had our taxes filed before the ink was dry on our W-2s this year, and the refunds were not terribly long in coming. Mrs. Woody immediately began a list. (I have mentioned Mrs. Woody's propensity for list-making before. They're worth their weight in gasoline, which is saying something.) The list included all the things we really, really need to do with this tax money this year. Mrs. Woody needed a new laptop to handle all the school stuff she's got planned. We desperately need a new bed because the current one keeps attacking Mrs. Woody. She keeps waking up with fresh injuries and I'm just afraid that one of these days some well-meaning member of the church is going to see one and report me to the Bishop.

We also need our dryer repaired. It went on the fritz about six weeks ago, and I have to keep sneaking over to use the dryers in our club house after dark. This is expensive because it costs $1.00 a load (quarters only!) and about $27.00 in gas to drive the 1/8th of a mile and back. It's also uncomfortable because the ladies who always seem to be using the Excercise Room at about that hour might get the idea that I'm stalking them or something.

And, of course, if we had any money left after all of that, I wanted to hire a gardening service. It's gotten much worse since we returned from vacation. I used our vacation as a mental balm to soothe my conscience. I reasoned that what with being sick on and off all winter long, and with the stresses of preparing to leave on vacation, that my lack of yard work was somehow justifiable. I felt that, if cornered by our community 'coon dogs, I could use those excuses to fend them off until I could gather my courage, dial a few numbers, and invite some quotes on getting our yard cleaned up. So, when we returned from vacation and found that, to my surprise and chagrin, the yard had not simply shrivelled up but had instead multiplied and replenished most of the earth and a few neighboring planets, I knew I had to act.

So, last Saturday I actually picked up a phone and grabbed the latest copy of the Pennysaver. I circled three likely looking numbers and then waited for the phone to dial them. When that didn't work, I actually dialed the numbers myself, and was surprised (not a little!) that I had the fortitude to actually call all three of them. I had to leave messages at every number, but that didn't really matter. I had done it! I had actually used a phone to call someone I've never before met and ask them to stiff me for every penny they can get! I was a hero!

I strode manfully into the living room and collapsed on the couch from the sheer exhaustion of it all. "Well, Honey, I did it." Mrs. Woody gave me that politely puzzled look she gives me whenever I say something for which she has absolutely no frame of reference. Did what, exactly? "I called a few gardeners to come give me a quote." That got the desired response. Her man had actually come through in a clutch situation. It was 4th down and long, and her man had just thrown a Hail Mary pass right into the arms of a waiting receiver in the end zone! And I don't even like sports metaphors!

"That's wonderful, Woody. Now we can get the house cleaned up enough to call the dryer repair guy."

Sure. But maybe tomorrow. Today I'm still exhausted from slaying the dragon.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

#123 - More Vacation Thoughts

March was a looong month.

March was the run-up to this week's vacation. As every good programmer knows, that means having deadlines on every single project in your goody bag. Plus extra meetings, just to make sure you have no chance of completing any one of those deadlines.

Boss: So, how are things going?

Me: The alligators have made it to nose level.

Boss: Good! Let me know if I can help with anything!

Me: [stunned silence]

Boss: And don't forget, we have that briefing with our Big Boss tomorrow. Let's meet all afternoon to plan our agenda.

Me: [heart attack in progress]

Boss: Can I get you a drink of something?

Me: Arsenic. Rocks. Dirty glass.

It got to the point where I spent the entire last week before we boarded the train staying up all hours of the morning to get actual work done, so I could be adequately prepared for all the meetings everyone wanted to have the next day. Consequently, my memory of the train ride from Los Angeles to San Antonio went something like this:

Depart Union Station in Los Angeles.

Close eyes.

Open eyes. "Where are we?" "Palm Springs."

Close eyes.

Open eyes. "Now where are we?" "El Paso."

And so on. I snoozed a lot on this train. Which is good, because, as I mentioned, the Sunset Limited has just about the worst on-time record of any train in Amtrak's fleet. We were told to expect anywhere from 5 to 12 hours' delay getting in to San Antonio. This is because the mainline on which the Sunset runs is owned by the ever-efficient Union Pacific Railroad, which bases its freight schedules on the sun dial which stands in front of Griffith Observatory and only operates on sunny days. I just slept through most of the delays.

We were actually pleasantly surprised to arrive at San Antonio only 90 minutes behind schedule. At one point, somewhere between El Paso and Del Rio we think the train was actually levitating just above the tracks so the engineer could make up the time. And I don't think it had anything to do with magnetics, either. I suspect the rails just got too hot for the train to keep running on them. So the train was doing the same sort of not-really-making-any-contact shuffle that I used to use when running across the hot sand at the beach every summer.

On arriving at the hotel in San Antonio we were greeted by a very friendly security guard (the thought of even needing a security guard in a hotel bothers me somewhat) who couldn't wait to inform us that the entire hotel had been overrun by cheerleaders. All shapes and sizes, and all of them in town for some state-wide cheerleading competition. He then cheerfully informed us that some of them had been reported for practicing in the halls, and that he hadn't apprehended them yet, although he knew who they were. How comforting. Despite the chilling aspect of a hotel full of cheerleaders, we managed to get a pretty decent night's sleep.

We visited the Alamo, of course. One cannot visit San Antonio and NOT visit the Alamo. There's no law against it that I know of, but you would probably feel somehow unpatriotic if you didn't pay your respects there. So we did. And it was well worth the effort to find a decent parking space. The tour of the grounds and the "shrine" are a humbling adventure. The Alamo is one of those pieces of American history with which I have never connected to my satisfaction. It's always been one of those stories that you grow up with, but have a hard time identifying with. No longer. To see the barracks and the main hall where those men defended their young republic is truly awe-inspiring. Texans identify with this event in ways Americans rarely do any more. But I get it now.

And now we're visiting with family in McKinney. It's a beautiful town and the surrounding countryside is expansive. The humidity I could do without. I'm not a big fan of any humidity above single digits. I live in California where any hint of humidity is instantly replaced by smog. That's what's missing here in McKinney; they don't have enough smog. No wonder my lungs are going crazy. Have no idea what to do with all this filthy oxygen.

Anyway, we board the train once again day after tomorrow. Back to civilization and smog and deadlines at work. We'll miss our loved ones here in Texas, but they're really only a few states away. We will see them again, and probably sooner rather than later.

We are motivated, after all.

Monday, April 03, 2006

#122 - Training for Vacation

It's finally quiet here. We have had a meeting of the cousins here at Grandma's house, and the energy levels were reminiscent of Manhattan Project forces in the desert. Apparently, when you get boy cousins in the same room with girl cousins, the mix can be explosive. And these cousins aren't even old enough to be of the hormonal variety. They're just ENERGETIC.

The boy cousins have gone home for the evening. It is, after all, a school night, and the boy cousins aren't on a nice, relaxed homeschool schedule. Our Woodyettes are, sorta, but this week it's v-e-r-y  r-e-l-a-x-e-d. This is homeschool on quaaludes. Technically speaking, Daddy is on vacation this week. We left last Friday on the Sunset Limited. The Sunset Limited used to run from Orlando, Florida to Los Angeles, California. Thanks to Katrina and about a hundred other natural disasters last year, the Limited now only runs from Los Angeles to New Orleans. We only needed it as far as San Antonio, Texas. Mrs. Woody has tried a few times to get the Woodyettes interested in a little school work, but so far their output has been, well, Limited. I mean, limited. Too many distractions, I'm afraid, to have them get serious about doing even a few pages in their current unit studies so far.

The boy cousins belong to my sister, AnoelleB of BurrHouse. They are three high energy bundles all under the age of seven. Since moving to Texas last year they don't get to play with girl cousins too often. There just aren't any living within hailing distance in any direction, so this is a real treat for the kids. My sister brought them over to Grandma's house today so they could play while she made dinner, including a beautiful Almond Roca birthday cake for Grandma. Happy Birthday, Grandma! Happy twenty-ninth! Again! Grandma and Grandpa Bob were on their way home from a visit to the Pacific Northwest and had no idea of the devastations being perpetrated on their humble abode. They will be picking cake crumbs out of the carpet for a week.

In the meantime, Woody was trying to remember what he was supposed to do on vacations. Relaxing just feels so... so... unnatural anymore. I read a short book, feeling guilty all the while that I wasn't doing dishes or vacuuming a room somewhere. I got over it, however. Besides, the kids were building up to a pitch that nearly required inserting sharp metal objects in my ear canals or risk having my drums burst on their own. They were being awfully cute for the most part, but there was the occasional flare up.

SCENE: The living room of Grandma NanZ. Woody is sitting on the couch, reading. Suddenly, a blood-curdling screech, followed by the sort of wail that requires long, rasping intakes of breath between howls.

Boy Cousin 1: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! [inhale] aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Boy's Mother: Oh, now what?

Boy Cousin 2: Mommy! Joseph fall down! Hurt head!

Boy's Mother: Oookay. What really happened?

Doodle Woodyette: I wasn't there!

She said that because of a similar incident earlier in the day, wherein the smallest boy cousin (he of iron lung) fell off the guest bed. She had been playing a game with him, and figured it was her fault he got hurt. That's probably true, but it's also probably true that he would have gotten hurt some other way whether she helped him or not.

Aaah. Vacation.

So we have another few days in town here before we get to jump back on the Limited and head back for Los Angeles. Grandma and Grandpa will have their home to themselves once again, and their floors will be clean. They will visit my sister and her family frequently, on my sister's turf to minimize stress on the carpeting. But everyone will miss our girls, and we, in turn, will miss everyone here. We frequently use vacations to remember just how precious our families are, and how much we enjoy their company. Of course, each family has its own dynamics, and it's always a relief when we can be on our own, where the rules of engagement are familiar and we can enforce (or relax) them as needed. Then we'll go back to missing our family.

That's when we plan the next vacation.