Friday, June 29, 2007

YaYa's Play

As she did last summer, YaYa took some classes at UWM's College for Kids program, just like her dear old Dad.

This year: a theater class and Crunchin' Numbers.

I volunteered this Wednesday at the request of the Numbers teacher, but weaseled my way into both classes. It was a nice experience. Usually Lisa volunteers at YaYa's school activite, so I was glad to take an active part in her education.

In theater I got a sneak preview of the performance and costuming. I watched some improv exercises, then helped the kids dye a sheet green for use as foliage.

[I forgot to wear gloves and wound up with green hands. I was called Shrek and Hulk for the rest of the class]

In Numbers I saw why YaYa felt a little overwhelmed. The kids weren't the best behaved, the classroom a little chaotic, and the subject matter (math, including fractions) kind of intimidating.

I was proud of her tho'. I explained that the bottom half of the fraction dentoed the total number of items; the top half, how many of those items were used.

She got it; you could see it in her eyes. One of the questions instructed her to color in 2/2 of a box; lo and behold she thought a second and then said "So I color in all of it, right?"

She was very proud of her worksheet and honestly outperformed the two boys I was helping.

That was good, because against all logic she seems to have low self-esteem and seemed troubled by the classwork earlier in the sessions.

Anyhow, today was her finale, her grand performance in the UWM Theater class's performance of Where the Wild Things Are.

[Note: Cattyness abounds in females. YaYa was quick to point out to us in the days leading up to the play that the narrator  had a lisp and was hard to understand. A nine year old, she stressed, with professional (rather than personal) contempt.]

For your everlasting boredom, here is the performance in full, attended by my father, Lisa, LuLu, and YaYa's friend AnnaBelle.

[neat moment: I took YaYa in my car, Lis followed with the kids. When Lu saw me across the union courtyard she yelled 'Daddy!' and ran squealing 100 feet or more to jump into my arms.]

Please excuse the blurry photo - I lack photo software at this location.

 

YaYa is in front, second from the camera. She speaks the line "And they nashed their terrible teeth" and handles the visual effect of the 'waves'.

 

Some parents showed up late and so the play was performed again. YaYa needs to be prompted on her line, and the 'waves' have disappeared and are improvised.

And again, after a snack and mingle, another performance! Why, I don't know.

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Afterwards we took the kids for lunch in the Union, then headed out for our annual trip to Downer Woods to visit Eeyore's House of Winnie the Pooh fame (minus a very pregnant Lisa).

But first, we stopped out at the fountain near the library, home of many memories of my old childhood visits to UWM.

The kids love Downer's Woods and ya know what - LuLu really honestly and truly believes it's Eeyore's house. She wanted to know if he was home and wanted me to check, but chickened out on my suggestion to knock and say hello.

Then AnnaBelle started saying that Eeyore was dead, and Lu flipped on her. I told AnnaBelle to knock it off, and on the way back she go into it a bit, 'identifying' Tigger and Pooh's houses.

When we exited the forest the girls were ecstatic to see Lis and ran to hug her.

Lis took the kids home, and YaYa and I went to the final numbers class.

A nice day, and a great program offered by my alma matter.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Last Week Saturday

As usual I'm pitifully behind in my posting and this entry will  just amount to 'treading water'.

Last Saturday was my mother-in-law's 61st birthday and we headed over there to present our gift, which included loaning me out for yardwork that afternoon.

Two things of note occured.

First, on a lark I rode a bicycle for the first time in 21 years. I had stopped riding abruptly at 12, once the local ordinance's demanded I ride only in the street. Bleep that, I thought, and never rode again.

Not only was I shaky on the bike this past weeked, casting doubt on the whole 'it's like riding a bicycle' cliche, I didn't know how to brake BECAUSE I HAD NEVER HAD USED HAND BRAKES IN MY LIFE.

My trusty green and gold Schwinn had pedal brakes. I loved that bike. 

Then . . .

During the barbeque Parker began to scream. Lis yelled "Oh my God" and I turned to see my boy's legs covered in swarming ants.

As was later determined by group consensus, no one - not even my 69 year old stepfather-in-law - had ever seen the like of it in Milwaukee.

In Milwaukee, where there are no poisonous spiders or snakes and even the rats are well behaved.

I grabbed him and began brushing them off but they were crawling out of his diaper, his shirt, all over. I stripped him down and got him away from the lawn. A quick glance confrimed he had disturbed a huge ant hill. Not good when he had an ice cream sandwich in his hand.

Normally I forbid the kids from killing insects outside, telling them 'it's their house out here, you're just visiting'.

 But this time I put the word out: 'Kill at will!

For the next 15 minutes Parker clung to his Mother and I. I mean he was all but superglued to us, his fists clenched against our shirts. He began to have what I'd call a panic attack in an adult: difficulty breathing, sweats, terror stricken eyes.

For the rest of the day he refused to set foot on the lawn and banged away at the door to the house.

It was a disturbing incident on many levels.

Before we left I forced him to walk on the lawn, hoping to help him overcome his fear.

That night tho' he woke up at 2 a.m. screaming and swatting at his legs. For the first time in ages (a year or more) I carried him to our bed.

(Even then we didn't let him spend the night with us and moved him back around 4 am)

You wouldn't believe it from this post, but it was a pretty fun day with the family.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Our Tea Party

I'm skipping all over the place here, in subject matter and chronology. My wife is pestering me to write about the house but I'm so sick of the subject (having just lived it) that I'd rather puke up my dinner and have it for breakfast.

On that pleasant note, here's some pics of a tea (apple juice) party LuLu held with a set she got for her birthday.

The quote of that day: "I went to a real tea party once when I was in England," Lisa told Lu, hoping to impress her.

Lu glared at her. "This IS a weal tea party" she retorted.

 


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Friday, June 15, 2007

Book Review - Spare Change

 

Spare Change

By Robert B Parker

Penguin Group

320 pages

 

Ten years ago Robert B. Parker, the creator and author of the Spenser novels, seemed to have fallen into a creative rut.

 

He still kept to a publishing schedule of a novel a year but to long-time fans they seemed to have larger type, run shorter in length, and feature limited character development.

 

For lack of a better phrase, he appeared to be writing more out of habit than anything else.

 

The chances of a novelist, twenty-five years into a successful career, suddenly coming across a creative second wind are slim at best.

 

Somehow, Parker made it happen.

 

As the '90's drew to a close Parker increased his output to around two books a year. He expanded his repertoire to include two new protagonists, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall, a young adult novel and a handful of non-series books.

 

His latest work Spare Change, is the sixth Sunny Randall novel, a series originally created as a vehicle for Helen Hunt (the movie was never made).

 

The title refers to a Boston serial killer who, as a calling card, would leave three coins behind with his victims. Spare Change seemed to abruptly 'retire' twenty years ago without being identified. Now he'sback and again taunting the man once charged with stopping him, Sunny's father, retired officer Phil Randall.

 

"Hi Phil: You miss me? I got bored, so I thought I'd re-establish our relationship. Give us both something to do in our later years. Stay tuned. Spare Change."

 

Soon Phil and Sunny identify a man they believe is the killer and a cat and mouse game develops, with Sunny dangled as bait for the suspect.

 

On one hand is Sunny herself:  attractive, capable, and convinced she's got the right suspect; and on the other a lonely man who may simply crave attention - or be out for blood.

 

At the heart of every Parker novel is the internal search for the characters 'center'.  In Sunny's case this revolves in large part around her relationship with her ex-husband Ritchie. Although he is now remarried, neither can seem to distance themselves from one another and as the Spare Change case grows so does the likelihood of a renewed relationship.

 

The case also causes her to examine her role within her own family and the enabling behavior of her father.

 

The plot of Spare Change is straightforward but intense and features a brisk pace I don't remember from Parker's earlier Randall efforts. Even the early revelation of the killer's identity causes only a slight bump in the narrative flow, and the crime's resolution is crisp and attention grabbing - even if the book's ending itself is anti-climactic and unnecessary.

 

As usual there is too much psychoanalysis (Parker, if nothing else, is a fan of the therapist's chair), far too much devotion to a canine, a convoluted romantic situation modeled in part on the author's own unique marital situation, and the standard assortment of Parker regulars.

 

Even with those flaws Spare Change stands as a fine introduction to the series for new readers and a solid and impressive continuation of it for Parker fans.

 

YaYa's K5 Graduation

[First off, let it be known to history that the time-stamp on these and all my photos from May/June of this year are YEARS off. I assure you, unless I stepped into a wormhole it is NOT March of 2004. ]

My YaYa has graduated from Kindergarten, in a very nice ceremony held in her school library.

Ditching the stereotypes of schoolchildren, they sang very loudly and without the trace of shyness. The songs were very cute - yes, some brief video exists, if only I knew how to load it here! - but I forget their names. [Lis, if you remember drop the titles in the comment section]

Here's YaYa with her teacher Mrs. Charney

and her proud parents.

I don't remember my Kindergarten graduation, if I had one. I do recall graduating from pre-school and changing seats with my best friend Danny Kellogg. 29 years later, I'm in the audience. My how time flies.

[Hey, I think I managed to upload the video after all! . . er, no. I guess this is video of YaYa and her friend Meadow performing a play at Lu's 4th birthday party. I'll move it to that entry when I get around to writing it]

One goofy thing - they had the graduation, then had three days of school afterwards. What's up with that?

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Gone Fishin'

Lisa did something that freaked me out a few weeks ago.

In her newfound obsession with Craigslist, she located a new friend for LuLu after reading a classified ad looking for a 4 year old playmate.

Against all odds it turned out to be legitimate, and LuLu's picked up a new friend.

Last Sunday her father invited me and the girls fishing. For my gals it was their first time ever, and it's been a good 10 year layoff for me.

We were supposed to meet after church, but when Mass was cancelled (just that specific mass, due to the church festival) we had an hour to kill at the park.

Much of the time was spent on the playset, but we also had a rollie-pollie bug that got YaYa's attention.

It is a beautiful park, and not too far from home, only 5 minutes or so.

Just as we were about to go (the meeting time had passed) Lu's friend showed up and in a short while we were fishing.

First to catch anything: Lu! Her pole snagged a tiny fish in the brief moment after a bad cast.

Not bad! Especially since I myself have NEVER caught a fish!

Then YaYa snagged one, this time a bigger one with sharp barbs on it's back (a bluegill I think).

C'mon people - couldn't I catch one just once??

That was it for the 'success' part of the day. The girls LOVED it, which shocked me and led me to regret giving away my fishing poles when we moved.

They stayed patient and well behaved nearly the whole time, 'tho they resorted to playing a racing game near the end.

Much thanks go out to Jim, LuLu's friends Dad, for the invitation, and I guess to my wife and Craigslist too!

Book Review of Scavenger

I've been chewing up novels lately. Spare Change by Robert B Parker, The Good Guy by Dean Koontz, Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child, etc.

I know I wrote a brief opinion on Scavenger earlier, but here's a full length review that should be published in a Yakutat (Alaska!) newspaper this week.

BTW and irrelevant  - I gag at the sight of the pic on the sidebar. I really neeed to update that.

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Scavenger

By David Morrell

349 pages

Vanguard Press, $24.95

 

 

Few novelists have had a career as long and successful as David Morrell. The award winning author of 28 novels and self described 'father of the modern action novel', he can also boast of creating one of fiction's most recognizable characters: John Rambo of First Blood.

 

Morrell's reputation is spelled out in praise from the likes of Stephen King, Michael Conelly, and Lee Child on the dustjacket for his newest book.

 

' . . . crack open another instant classic,' one loving blurb reads.

 

Not quite.

 

In Scavenger Morrell brings back Frank Balenger, the hero of 2005's Creepers.  Frank is now romantically involved with Amanda, the woman he rescued in the previous book. No sooner do they grow comfortable then she is kidnapped and awakens to find herself at the mercy of the Game Master, an unseen enemy who manipulates a group of six people into locating a 100 year old time capsule. They have 48 hours to do so, and refusing his wishes isn't an option.

 

Meanwhile Frank is on a quest of his own, to find both the Game Master and Amanda, all the while with the police viewing him with suspicion and another unknown enemy doing her best to stop him.

 

At times Morrell seems so intent on keeping pace with the plot's 48 hour deadline that any true focus or intent is lost. Like Creepers, Scavenger has a premise worthy of a good dustjacket sales pitch; a historical mystery, a relatively obscure but fascinating obsession (in this case, geocaching), an established hero, and a creepy bad guy.

 

What it doesn't have is a plot more developed than that of a network TV show, characters worthy of emotional attachment, or a satisfying resolution.

 

Morrell has never been known for delving deeply into the souls of his characters, preferring to let the action speak for itself, and Scavenger is no exception. Most of the time this method works just fine, as there is little need for psychoanalysis while traipsing through the mountains with a madman on your heels.

 

It's only when the characters react out of some unexplored but overpowering urge that the method fails. One of the men subjected to the Game Master's perverse, Saw-like gameplay acts out in ways that scream for an explanation longer than a mere sentence or two. Because Morrell fails to provide that information, the actions seem out of sorts and contrived.

 

The rationale behind the Game Master is the only legitimate attempt to explain a character's behavior, and sadly this too fails, mired in an over-the-top comic book explanation.

 

Like Creepers, Morrell ends the novel with an author's note, this time stretching for more than ten pages. Ordinarily a glimpse into an author's mind would be a satisfying and welcome end to a great read.  In this case, however, it comes off as little more than an extended and self-serving rationale for a failed project.

 

Scavenger is fine for a brief and disposable summer read, but an 'instant classic' it is not.

The Ghost in the House

My wife is convinced our house is haunted.

Not in a Poltergeist/Exorcist fashion, but haunted none-the-less.

I should start out by mentioning that she is not prone to a strong belief in the supernatural or occult. You won't catch her bragging about being abducted by UFO's - in fact, she's so anti-those things that she despises any form of Sci-fi as garbage.

But she believes our house is haunted.

She's reported hearing footsteps when no one is upstairs, heard whispers in her ear while in the living room, and been exposed to mysterious bumps and noises around the house. Her Mom agrees and provided some of her own evidence to back her up.

I don't agree with their assessment. I don't disbelieve in ghosts per se, although I view their 'existence' as contradictory to not only Christianity, but atheism and most religions - and personally I reject them because I hate the idea that any God would make you spend eternity rattling chains in an attic..

I chalk up the noises to the creaks and moans of an old house and reckon the whispers were a rare figment of her imagination.

But I suppose our home suits itself to a haunting, if such things are real. It's 115 years old and at a minimum two people have died there (both my great-grandparents on my maternal grandma's side).

I'm going to cling to the notion that if the ghost exists, it's benign. After all, my ancestors would have no cause to wish me harm.. . except, you know, for tearing apart and remodeling their house.

I'll admit, I myself have heard the mysterious bumps in the night (isolated, it seems, to the Northwest corner of the house, which would seem to provide a clue to a terrestrial explanation of some sort).

You're sitting there, minding your own business, and boom. It sounds, for all intents and purposes, like one of the kids was screwing around and dumped something off their dresser.

But, uh, their all sitting there watching Spongebob with you. And when you go upstairs, nothings amiss.

I should also mention one genuinely terrifying moment. About 2 am one night my wife woke up screaming, saying that someone was in the bedroom. In about 2/10ths of a second I was out of bed and, scared out of my mind, ready for anything. I saw something streak across my vision and I went to the doorway to intercept it, but there was nothing there.

Sure, it was spooky and intense. But . . .

My explanation: my wife often holds entire, non-sensiscal conversations in her sleep. I think she woke up mid-sentence and in that horrifying twilight between dreams and reality, mistook one for the other.

The streak I saw was very light, possibly white - which just happens to be the color of AngelCakes, our cat, who often comes to rest in our room or YaYa's. She could easily have been startled by our reactions. Lord knows she could avoid me and slink off to other parts of the house in a second. In my half-awake state I probably wouldn't have noticed.

So is the house haunted? No way to answer that, it's all subjective. If it is, here's hoping they keep to their own realm.

On this subject at least, I'd prefer to be kept in the dark.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Just Baseball . .and weather

Man, I've got a lot to catch up on. The various celebrations related to LuLu's 4th (and Golden) birthday, more of the house story, soccer pics and more.

I'll try to get to some of it this weekend.

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I took some time off work to watch MLB's 1st televised amateur player draft. Not the most exciting time I've ever had, but interesting and something I'll repeat. Since at least '04 I've drooled over Baseball America's annual draft preview issue, and I enjoyed following along with the magazine as name after name was called.

Not sure I agree with the Brewers pick of Matt Laporta, but whatda I know?

Later in the evening I had the distinct privilege of watching Alex Rodriguez hit a grand slam in the 9th at U.S. Cellular in Chicago.

I had the TV on mute, and tuned in just in time to see ARod dump one into the seats.

Followed immediately by shots of thousands of White Sox fans streaming for the exits, conscious that the game was now out of reach.

Of course, the announcers spent the bottom of the ninth praising . . . . Derek Jeter.

Man, I loved that guy. But all this Jeter-love at ARod's expense is muddying the waters. It's getting to the point where I don't even like hearing his name.

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Equally beautiful - watching A-Rod hit a 2 out, 2 strike pitch in the 9th to put the Yanks ahead of the Red Sox at Fenway.

Almost as beautiful - having him hit it off Jonathon Pappelon (sp?).

I find nothing more annoying/childish/asinine than the 'competitive' stare that yahoo displays on the mound. Makes me want to smack the schmuck.

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Might I point out that with all respect to the horrific tornadoes in other parts of the state, yesterday's "perfect storm -batten down the hatches - here comes the big one" drama was living proof of why I ignore TV meteorologists.

First there was the mayor of Milwaukee holding a press conference about preparing for the storm, then dire prediction after dire prediction from TV folk warning you to chain down your grills and put your lawn furniture in storage to avoid the high winds.

Here's what happened. At 11 o'clock we had some lightning, about 10 minutes of torrential rain, some wind, and that's all folks.

Come the AM everyone was alive and well and only a few twigs (not even branches) had been shaken loose up and down the block.

Whoo-hoo.

And you wonder why I question 'global warming' . . .