Thursday, August 30, 2012

Necessary Darkness: Review of Lemony Snicket

The little Goofs and I are driving around listening to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.  We are on book six, out of 13.  They are quick listens and reads and each one follows a fairly similar trajectory.  The main characters are the Baudelaire orphans, three charming and bright children whose parents were killed in a fire.  When the eldest turns 18 they will inherit the vast Baudelaire fortune.  In each story they are placed with a guardian and pursued by their evil cousin Count Olaf who adopts ingenious disguises in order to carry out a dastardly plan to steal their fortune.

So the plots are repetitive and the series does not have the vast import of say Harry Potter or Percy Jackson.  But the fun is really in the journey.  The series is written with witty, wonderful language full of funny juxtapositions and wry observations.  It is sophisticated enough for adults to enjoy and children can really sink their teeth into the rich witty language.  Even the names are wonderful, in one book the children live on Lake Lachrymose.  In another they attend Prufrock Preparatory School where they are placed under the care of Vice Principal Nero.  We are currently listening to Book Six, The Ersatz Elevator.

The stories can be a bit difficult to take because they are unrelentingly dark and whenever something not terrible happens, the reader knows something awful is just around the corner.  It is a world in which adults come in various combinations of creepy and evil, well meaning and ineffectual, or just plain distracted.  The books also present a number of adult phenomena but from the point of view of some rather serious children.  Hopefully few children live in a situation resembling those depicted in Lemony Snicket, but most children will relate to a world of useless and hostile grown-ups.

Finally, my favorite character is the youngest of the three orphans, Sunny.  She is a little girl who cannot quite walk and speaks in baby talk words that her siblings understand as clear and sophisticated concepts.  She also has four very sharp strong teeth.  Biting things is her hobby and she uses her teeth strategically in a number of difficult situations.  She is delightful.

(Sunny is the one biting the snake - because that's how she rolls.)

I listen to lots of books, but rarely have much to say about the audio production, but in this case the audio production is noticeable – for the better and worse.  Tim Curry, who is quite good, reads much of the series.  However, one of the characters, the children’s guardian Mr. Poe, is described as coughing a great deal.  Curry takes this to an extreme, which can be difficult to hear.  The little Goofs and I moan whenever a coughing fit comes along.  The author, Daniel Handler, reads some of the books.  His reading is ok – but his voice is often too soft and I have trouble hearing.  Finally, there are production problems with some of the books and parts are inaudible.  This may be my equipment or the specific reproduction from my library.  But the fact is out of dozens of audiobooks I’ve listened to in various formats these are the only ones I’ve had these kinds of problems with.

On the plus side, Sunny’s loud baby talk exclamations are much funnier heard then read – endearing her to me all the more.  So please, don't let this minor complaint stop anyone from listening or just read them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Toiletry Obsession

Overall, GoofGirl was ecstatic about our family trip to New Mexico and especially her time with her beloved Tia C.  But there was one small disappointment.

GoofGirl has taken up the hobby of collecting hotel toiletries, not only that she has a friend at camp who shares this interest.  They discuss the different soaps, shampoos and lotions available at different hotels.  They bring them into camp to compare and even trade them.  The after-swimming showers are her favorite time at camp since she samples the various items and reviews them.  I urged her to start a blog about it - but GoofGirl demurs, afraid that will make it all trendy and ruin the fun of it.

But the possibilities fascinate her.  Obviously it is a treat to get really high quality stuff like Philosophy lotions.  But sometimes modest hotels have surprisingly good, if lesser-known, products.  This is good because we usually don't stay at the highest-end places.  However, GoofGirl's curiosity is not snobby, when we pass by a "discount" motel, she expresses curiosity about their wares.

One doesn't want to suppress a child's wonder, but we won't be making vacation plans around this and I kind of hope she doesn't take this interest too far.

She didn't mind our power outage wanderings, because it involved staying at a new hotel and thus - new toiletries.  And this is where she had a problem with our New Mexico junket.  No hotels.  My wonderful sister-in-law is putting us up in conditions better then any hotel (clean, separate rooms, lots of food, and free).  For MamaGoof and I this is wonderful.  But for GoofGirl this means no toiletries (although Tia C was happy to let GoofGirl root around her extensive perfume and lotion stockpile.)

However, MamaGoof and I were convinced to take a little side-trip to Santa Fe and stay overnight without our kids (twist our arms why don't you).  When Tia C dropped us at the hotel, GoofGirl's eyes were huge, "But what kind of toiletries do you think they have?"

She soon found out.

Monday, August 20, 2012

When the Goofs Go to New Mexico

I am pretty serious about travel, and was getting excited about the Goof Clan trip to New Mexico.  I tried to share my excitement with the little Goofs, telling them about ancient ruins, beautiful old churches, and natural wonders.  But the little Goofs had other priorities for our trip.  They mostly just want to hang out with their Tia C and all of my talk of adventure was at best a distraction and at worst terrifying.

At one point, GoofGirl told MamaGoof, "The way Daddy is talking about this trip, I don't think I want to go a anymore."

So I decided I needed to lighten things up bit. In my Gilbert Gottfried voice - because that makes everything funny - I announced our itinerary:
On our first day, we'll go to Ruined Shack Trail National Monument.  It is eight miles up a mountain to a ruined shack.  Ruined, but not abandoned, there is a crazy old hermit living there and he'll throw rocks at you till you leave.  This is good, much better then if he talks to you, because his breath smells like a crazy old man who lives in a ruined shack in the middle of nowhere.  And don't throw rocks back at him, he's part of the park so that's a federal crime.
Then you hike up the mountain for eight more miles.

How do you only hike up, without coming down?  Because it is a wonder of nature.  Also, it is on Rattlesnake Mountain, where you are guaranteed to be bitten by a snake.

On our second day we'll take a break from walking and visit the Holy Turkey Bone Museum.  There is a Native American tribe that worships the turkey and has done so for thousands of years.  Each turkey the take it's thigh bone after it dies and paint it gray and carefully preserve it.  They've been doing this for nearly 4000 years, so there are about 200,000 turkey bones on display.  The consistency of their work is amazing.  You've got to see it to understand it.  There are just miles of corridors at this museum with ancient turkey bones on display.  Best of all, it is only four hours from Albuquerque so we'll have to get up early to see the whole thing.

Then on our third day, we'll see the Lost Village of the Conquistadors.  The people who live there are descendants of the original Spanish conquistadors who came to New Mexico over 400 years ago.  They aren't lost, they just don't like anyone and tell everyone who comes to see them to get lost.  And if you don't leave right away, they poke you with their spears.  You haven't been to New Mexico if you haven't been poked in the tuchus by the lost conquistadors.
This bit of self-mockery (I'll make a podcast available if my fans demand it) improved the little Goofs' mood and reduced their anxiety about our trip to New Mexico.  But then, GoofBoy, looking over my shoulder as I paged through my copy of 100 Hikes in New Mexico, saw this picture.

He ran screaming to his sister, "Look, it's the ruined shack.  Daddy wasn't kidding, all that stuff is real! He's taking us to New Mexico to kill us!"

"Only if the Lost Conquistadors don't get you first!" I told them.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dog Bites Goof

Yesterday our neighbor's dog bit GoofGirl. This was not good, but it could have been worse. He just nipped her. Our health care provider determined that she didn't need to come in. The neighbors were extremely apologetic. They had been holding the dog when GoofGirl went to pet it. But the dog was at the end of her leash (behavior wise that is), she was overdue for her walk. She had been adopted from a shelter and had probably not been treated well earlier. Also, GoofGirl had been playing with a cat earlier in the day, so who knows.
One reads about neighborhood feuds and lawsuits starting over incidents like this - but not here. The neighbors felt terrible and began producing documentation that the dog had her shots - we weren't worried. They offered to replace GoofGirl's shorts. No need there, we've lost half of GoofGirl's summer wardrobe because she keeps playing with the gerbils at camp who have been chewing through her shirts.
The big problem is that GoofGirl
has only just overcome some anxieties about dogs. I really didn't want this to set her back. She was pretty upset, understandably.
We talked about how dogs have personalities and this one isn't mean but was upset about something.
"I know Daddy, but I still wish I hadn't been bitten."
"But you won't start being afraid of Declan again?" Declan is her best friend's dog. GoofGirl's concerns about him were a big problem since it made her afraid to go to her friend's house.
GoofGirl looked at me, her eyes flinty, "Of course not! Declan doesn't bite."
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fatherhood Fail! A Bad Morning

Today was the last day of camp.  Why camp ends at the beginning of August is a not clear to me, since school doesn't start at the beginning of August.

At the wonderful camp my children attend - and it really is nice (not that this stops GoofGirl from complaining) one of the traditions is that the last day is Luau Day.  The festivities begin with each bunk doing a skit.  The skits are usually some combination of funny and cute - the exact ratio depending on the age of the bunk.

As a good Dad with a flexible job, it is my solemn duty to go to this event and videotape it for posterity (future generations will want to know).  Because it was raining, the festivities could not be held in the usual outdoor amphitheater and were instead held in the gymnasium - which unfortunately has the acoustics and airflow of an industrial laundry dryer.

Still, this is a Dad's duty and GoofGirl was pretty excited about her skit - she apparently was the "Slimeslugger" and had to wear a costume that consisted primarily of food coloring.

So I sat on an uncomfortable chair, simmering as I waited for my children's sketches to come up.  I knew GoofBoy's group was early and sure enough I faithfully recorded him and a bunch of his cronies head to the front of the room, yell at each other for a while, put on some music and jump around, and then sit down.  Usually the sketches have some sort of point, but it was very hard to figure it out in the massive din.

Then I sat and waited.  I watched a lengthy series of groups walk to the front of the room and interact incoherently.  I thought of The Cave in Plato's Republic.  Then I had to go to the bathroom.

There were announcements about which group was going next, but in the aural funhouse it was tough to know who was coming or going.  I was sure I had plenty more time - in fact it would be in the natural order of things that if GoofBoy's group went early, GoofGirl's group would be about last.

I knew I would deal with the battering of sound and fury much better with just a brief expedition to the little boy's room.

You know how this went.  If I was there for even three minutes - that was how long GoofGirl's bunk's skit was and I missed it.  She told me it was ok, but she didn't sound it.

I was mad at myself.  This was a test and I had failed.  The flesh was weak.  I could deal with losing a morning of work, but not to see GoofGirl as the Slime-Slugger when that was the whole point of things!

There is nothing to be done about.  GoofGirl was a bit anxious because she had stained her clothes with food coloring and I promised to tell Mama Goof (who takes laundry very seriously) to go easy.  But somehow, this didn't make up for anything.

So be it, I'll just have to learn to live with myself.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Power Outage III: Lemons to Ocelots

The great blackout of 2012 continues to be a topic of great discussion in these parts.  Fortunately, after a refreshing stay at a refugee center in Baltimore we recognized that power wasn't coming on again anytime soon and decided to make the best of it.

I have a brother in Philadelphia who I don't see very often, and he has a pair of delicious daughters who the GoofClan simply can't see enough!  Since we were pretty certain power wouldn't return anytime soon, we made a little impromptu trip.  We had some great quality time with my brother and his family.  As always, my elder niece stole the show, and GoofGirl really enjoyed playing older sister.

My niece has been dubbing people as different fruits.  She determined that I am a strawberry.  My brother marveled, she had never called anyone a strawberry before.

Also, I picked up a pair of foam swords so my brother and I could whack each other with them.  Our wives rolled their eyes - but our daughters loved it.

Day of the Ocelot
I also fulfilled a promise.

GoofGirl wanted to see an ocelot, and I promised her something special.  The Brandywine Zoo, a nice little zoo not far from my brother had an ocelot and so we went.

I was a bit concerned, as GoofGirl had told me at great length, ocelots are nocturnal so I was concerned that the ocelot might be sleeping.  GoofGirl would be disappointed, and she would share her disappointment with us in excruciating detail.

But we were extra-lucky.  The ocelot was wide awake and patrolling its enclosure.  What's more, one of its keepers was out front answering questions.  I asked her if she had ever been bitten by an animal.  She told us how in her first job at a zoo, she was doing outreach and a kid bit her, but never an animal.  This ocelot is not tame, whenever it can it grabs birds that come into its cage.  It has also been taught (not trained, cats are not trained) to go to certain parts of its enclosure for certain activities, like feeding time and medical checks.

I kept the nice young woman talking at great, great length while GoofGirl scouted out the security arrangements.  Unfortunately, there did not appear to be any way to smuggle the ocelot out.

I only promised we would see this gorgeous cat, not that we would take it home.