Thursday, February 28, 2013

Who Keeps Chuckling?

I've got some great odds and ends from the trusty book-bags today.  Abe Lincoln and some facts, from Nick:

"He was shot," and "he careyed evrething in his hat"

Why we "sellabrat" President's Day:

I've been talking a lot about how different the boys are, case in point, here's a story Nick wrote in class:

And here's the same assignment from Zack:


I have a little more to say if you could stick around for a little longer.  There's a cute "from the backseat" today...

There is an old saying:  "You plan; God laughs."  It's Yiddish, so they say, but I'd guess every culture, every religion, has had its equivalent, because it is a truth.

Now, since I have a cartoon imagination - which makes me silly - I see a kindly Old Testament God, smiling and shaking his head, looking not unlike Santa Claus, mouthing 'no' to my plans.  He doesn't seem mad, maybe a little bemused, but for the most part he seems kindly.  I sense from him that he knows better, he'll hook me up with what I need.  I think that look of bemusement stems from my inability to understand that, yet...

I try to post here on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  I also started adding a retrotoast post on Thursdays.

That was the plan.

It's Thursday today, I didn't post yesterday and, in all honesty, hardly anyone looked at the retrotoasts when I did that, so I'll just post this today.

Often, as I write these posts I come to an awkward crossroads.  I want to tell they boys something, but here you are, my current reader, and I worry that you'll think less of me.  Here's the thing, this blog has no real value.  If I were to put a number on it, it would begin with negative, for now at least.

Right now though, my real value is what I have been contracted to do; why, in real terms, I deserve to be fed.  How, you could say, I earn my keep.  Right now, the laundry needs switched, the sheets in the dryer need to go back on the boys' beds.  I have to vacuum the floors upstairs and need to do the basement as well.  I need to run to two stores.

Someday though, these words, this effort here on this blog, might be more important than all that stuff combined.  When I first started taking care of the boys I remember thinking that I should remember this thing or that thing, mostly to tell them about it, but also to store it in my heart.  I don't, didn't, maybe, and now I wish I'd had a way to do it.  Here, now, I have the opportunity to do that, make memories.

But it takes time, and it takes a plan.

(Who just chuckled?)

So, daily, I ask myself these kinds of questions.  I can't write this post as I sweep and change sheets.  Yet, I can't determine which has more value.  I know that my family and friends enjoy what I write, and I am glad for that.  I know someday these words will mean something to my sons, I've been all through that, I get that.  But, homes must be cleaned, lawns mowed, screens replaced, dinners planned, groceries bought.  Light-bulbs must be changed, wood split, clothes folded, floors scrubbed.  It's an endless list, constantly changing, and, I am the one who is to do it.  That's fact.

Perhaps the hope that N and Z will need this - this message from the past - someday is a fiction.  And, that is why it's difficult to prioritize, and, when I do, the real stuff, the stuff with tangible results, the, as I see it, necessities, always seems to win out.

I consider the consequences of this sometimes and, I don't always like them.  It's as though I choose the material over spiritual, reality over dreams, existence over hope.  And, that's not what I preach.

I have written a number of songs in my day, some good some not-so-good.  There are many my wife likes and several that my sons like.  I play perhaps a hundred or more covers and have forgotten twice that number I'd guess.  The pleasure that music and song-writing has given me over my life is immeasurable.  It made me friends, helped me understand myself, got me laid, showed me the power of words and chords, encouraged my wife to say yes, opened my mind to horizons I never imagined, and yet...

And yet, the other day, I had a great idea for a song, a sweeping five verse extravaganza exploring the changes and influences of five decades of my life.  A chorus came to me, parts of verses, images and rhymes and...  I walked away from it.  I didn't have the time to give it.  It's shameful and sad and it happens all the time.

Maybe, "God plans and I laugh."

Maybe, "God speaks and I don't listen."

This dilemma is not unusual, I'd guess.  The obvious choice is to do the stuff that needs to be done and do your best at creating things in the few stolen hours you may get.

I feel the need to clarify something.  It's not that I don't have any free-time, because I do.  However, that "free" time is punctuated with with phone calls and laundry changes and pizza dough timers and sweeping and shopping and, well, you either get it or you don't.  When I am concentrating on the words I write or the songs I sing I am not considering time, I am considering the words I am writing or the song I am singing.  It doesn't occur to me to do it quickly, or efficiently.

I have been angry lately, that anger that bursts out of frustration, and I think I may know why.  And the reason why is embarrassing, trite, unforgivable even:  I'm not getting my way.

Have you ever seen a person stopped still on unicycle or tried to balance a rake upright on the palm of your hand?  Balance is not static, the unicyclist makes small adjustments to stay still; the rake seems still, but, soon you are running behind it trying to keep it upright.  Balance takes work, energy.

Maybe I've got the whole thing wrong.  I know that both of the ways I wish to go are right and just.  I teach the boys to celebrate their creativity; I laugh at their silly songs and bad puns, I encourage their writing efforts, I listen to their imaginations and make it clear to them that dreams are important.  I also teach them to take care of their things and to understand that sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

Maybe God is laughing in delight, laughing in pride that you would plan such a thing, dream such a thing, hope such a thing.  I imagine him leaning his head back, roaring and laughing, all the time because he sees where all this is going.  And it is right.

And... I probably am getting my way.

From Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..."  Facebook page:

Nick, at breakfast: "I think we should have a Reconciliation Party tonight to celebrate."

Mom: "What would you want to do at this party?"

Nick paused for a moment to think, then came up with this gem: "Play Pin the Bible on the Priest."

I believe my response was:  "I'd play that..."

(Thank you for sticking around and be sure to leave a comment, I always appreciate that.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Another Future's Perfect Post

The old man sits in an even older swing which he himself had repositioned on the porch when he was first married so many years ago.  He'd used loop-ended steel screws anchored into the rafters securely and he knows it.  As a boy he had been goofing off on a swing much like this one, swinging madly with another boy, now forgotten, and it had pulled from the ceiling above and launched him and the forgotten boy across a patio scraping his knees and making him bite his tongue.  He never wanted that to happen to anyone else, especially a little boy.

The porch itself was just a slab and a few posts to support the roof when he and his wife had moved in.  He had added posts and cross pieces at waist level, "beer can height" he had once joked, and screened it all in, finishing with screen doors that slammed shut with a big long spring.  He could hear the slams echo in his memory; he smiled when he realized that each door banged uniquely and he had always been able to recognize which door it was, the one to the backyard or the one into the garage, an important skill when wrangling toddlers or teenagers.

Looking around he realizes, perhaps for the first time ever, that none of the screens need replaced.  None are pulled out around the edges where a child or a cat had leaned against them like a wall; none are dented in the perfect hemisphere of a baseball or, worse, a soccer ball; none punched out where a log had fallen from the winter firewood pile when a boy had tried to grab the perfect log from the middle of the rick.

He tries to think how many screens he has replaced over the years and remembers the summer he repainted and re-screened the whole porch, which was necessary every ten years or so, with the help of two soon-to-be-first-graders.  What a fiasco that had been; a wonderful, chaotic, messy fiasco which brings tears to his eyes as the smell of paint on blond boys comes back to him.  They'd been so painfully bad at it but had worked so earnestly at it and he'd been so proud of them.

He realizes that it has been about ten years since he last did that job.  Helped then by capable young men in their late twenties who did most of the work as the old man watched and answered questions.  He smiles remembering the time before that when they were in their teens, screening and painting to earn enough money to buy a car between them.  He nearly laughs out loud at how different the questions were; simple questions about girls and music and girls when they were teens; more complicated, unanswerable questions about hopes and dreams and fathers and love, when they were young men.

He sighs and shakes the memory from his head and looks out over the long backyard where two grown men stand, grinning idiotically as they stare at a dilapidated old shed.

"Boys," he will forever call them that even though they are grown men with boys of their own now, "that stuff isn't going to move itself."

"We're on it, Dad," Nick says, and, the old man realizes, has always said, with just a touch of attitude.

It will soon be the old man's eightieth birthday and his family is giving him a new shed for the backyard.  Secretly, he doesn't know why, probably because the old one doesn't look very good, but, it still stands, the doors still shut, the roof still keeps out the rain, sort of.  Actually, he realizes, it does need to go, and yet...

The years flip back calendar-like and he watches the two men get younger; first, confident, strapping young men; then less confident strapping teens; then gangly, hormone-ravaged tweens; momentarily they become bewildered ten year-olds; and then finally his mind stops screechingly on an image in his memory that makes him choke up, a memory that makes his heart ache, a memory that he had long forgotten.

Sometimes, he realizes, the aching melancholy that is memory is so heartbreaking not because of the event remembered, but in the sadness that comes with realizing you had forgotten it for so long.  He lets it flood over him although he knows it will lead to another flood of tears down his tired, wrinkled cheeks.

It had started innocently enough, with a wooden pallet a friend needed to get rid of.  The old man, maybe fifty-one then, had thrown it in his truck and taken it home.  He'd initially planned to cut it up for kindling but, soon realized the wood was too green and moist as it was.  He'd dragged it into the backyard and leaned it against the shed where he knew the sun and wind would dry it out.

He also knew, the moment he put it there, what he'd done: it was a perfect ladder leading up to the only slightly raked top portion of the shed's roof.  He had hesitated, but only for a second, recognizing the wildness that ladder represented, seeing it through his still boyish imagination for the stage, or castle, or ship, or plane or lookout or... all those things he knew it would, should, become.  He left it where it was, knowing.

The old man remembers that day in winter, early February, it was warm, not too muddy and they'd been out throwing a ball.  Smiling now through tears he recalls how wonderfully predictable they always were.  He'd known that the instant they saw that pallet they were on their way up there, and ultimately they would fall off, or, far more likely, jump off.  That first time, they just climbed up and down a few times, and, oddly enough, they had asked for their writing journals and were collecting stick-swords, and stick-guns, and stick-spears and arranging them on the roof.  The journals, he'd later find out, were for battle plans and equipment inventory.

The next time they found themselves on the shed, they asked the old man to help them remove some of the low hanging branches from a tired old Catalpa which hung above them dripping beans.  Under their careful direction he lopped off several that were in their way or in their sight lines.  The old man had been sure not to cut off too many knowing the giant leaves of the old tree would shade them.  Finally they had room to dance and move and stretch their dreams.

Memory is difficult to explain, even to ourselves.  It so often seems out of focus, jumbled.  Sometimes it seems to almost accost us, coming so suddenly and powerfully.  The old man reels and he lets the images roll over him.

He remembers several more adventures on the roof, quick images which slow as he remembers that they got it in their heads to jump off, as the old man, once a boy, had known they would.

He is watching then, as now, from this porch swing as the process began.  He urges the memory to show him more of itself and in so doing it becomes so real.  Nick, perhaps the wilder of the two, is sliding down to where the roof pitch is more of a steep slide than a slightly-off floor as the very top of the roof is.  About all that is holding him there is his jeans clinging to the shingles.  He shouts something, lost to memory or the wind, or both, and Zack's head pops up and Nick slides down.

His face is terror and freedom, shock and joy.  He lands, softly in the mud.  Zack shouts something, Nick seems to nod and down Zack slides and plops into the mud beside Nick.  They rejoice.  Like a slide show, the old man sees them jumping, at first from the lower spots and then, finally, a wild, unbridled leap from Zack from the roof's very peak.

"Awesome" sings on the breeze like a chant or prayer of thanksgiving.

They old man cries now.  He cries because he is old and can no longer jump from a shed roof.  He cries because he was once young and had jumped from a shed roof, free for a second in the wind.  He cries because little boys will always jump from a shed roof; they have to.  He cries because up until a few moments ago in time, he'd forgotten how important jumping from a shed roof is.

He is crying because, as his old eyes focus away from the memories, through the tears and out over the yard, he sees two grown men, hands in the air like wild boys jumping off the shed, laughing in the mud.  The whoops come riding on the breeze and the real present hits the old man.

The real present where he is eighty, where men are acting like boys because they learned that was alright, the present where sheds are replaced, shifting sweet memories out of neglectful isolation.  The real present where a little blond-haired seven-year-old looks up at a crying old man and says:

"What's wrong, Grampa?"

"They boys are jumping from the shed again, that's all."

The child follows the old mans' gaze and sees his father and his uncle jumping into mud off an old shed.

The old man waits, knowing what the boys will say, what all boys will say, what he'd say if he could:

"Can I jump off the shed, too, Grampa?"

In an instant he remembers one more overlooked detail about the shed and the jumping.  He, as a father, had hesitated.  When they asked to go on the shed he almost said no.  He'd nearly run and caught Nick as he began his fateful slide.  He'd been afraid for them, afraid they'd be injured, perhaps more afraid that they'd be reckless, worried the most that they'd like it too much.  They'd been fine, though.  It was the year they jumped from rooftops and dreamed of being knights.  And that was right.

"I am sure you can, son.  Run on out there.  And tell your Dad I said it was alright."

He dries the tears as more boys and ghost-boys and man-boys and dreams of boys and hopes of boys leap joyously, inevitably, perfectly through time and space as they must.

He stands up and walks slowly through the screen door, smiling as it bangs behind him, and approaches the jumping madness.

"How are you all getting up there so fast," he asks of no one in particular.

"We found this old wooden palate underneath these leaves and sticks, Dad.  Look, good as new."  His sons stand on the roof, happy boys.

"Yep," the old mans' voice cracks again, marveling that the wood is still so strong, "that's how it all started..."


If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy the first one called The Future Perfect Post in which I imagine some old oak trees.  In The Future's Still Perfect Post I find some old costumes and in Juxtapost (A Future's Perfect Post) I remember a Christmas yet to come.

Friday, February 22, 2013

CitiBlocs (or Unpaid Endorsement)

I wonder if you have ever heard of CitiBlocs?  Well, they are little pieces of wood you can build with; they are all the same size and dimensionally they all match up; their width is three times the length, the thickness is, like five three or four times the width and if you... oh for heaven's sake, I can't explain them...  check out the website if you need to, or, better yet, here is something Zack made with them:

Yep, it's a Greek Temple, probably to the God of Wii.  I think it's Ionian, stylewise.

It's got a really ornate roof.

And he is very proud of it.  Duly, I would say.

 He also made this:

Yep, I know what you're thinking:  Well, now he's just showing off.  At first, he wanted to make the structure as it was shown in the booklet that comes with the CitiBlocs.  However, he quickly determined that he could do better and proceeded to add another pagoda-like level, oh, and he also wanted to use all the blocks (or in this case, blocs), which he did - including the couple of dozen coveted red ones.

Zack is a results guy; he wants to get to the next race on a video game, level-up, get a new costume (he really likes having his Wizard101 costume just so), complete a task.  He envisions something and then makes it so.  And, I admire that.  He is also a multitasker, the whole time he was doing this he was paying attention to - and advising -  Nick who was playing a Wii game.

Here's the thing, if I would have been shown the picture in the instruction book and told that if I finished this I would get, say, a big juicy steak...  I'd go hungry.  I would weep before I even started.

I get frustrated at Z sometimes, he can be, well, rigid shall we say?  He has a playground sense of justice, things are either black or white, and he is a natural-born litigator.  Of course he's cuddly and sweet and funny and soulful and loving, but... he does frustrate me.

I really enjoyed watching him create this.  His look of casual concentration, the tongue stuck out while adding a particularly tricky to balance or cantilevered piece; the look in his eyes as he quickly assesses how a piece will stay where he wants it; the stillness of his body as he places the red capstone; the pride and joy on his face as he enjoys the overwhelming sense that is accomplishment.  He gets that, he likes that, he faces down a challenge and gets it done.  He's that guy.

This is what Nick made with the CitiBlocs:

I think it is a scale model of his latest installation at MoMA, "Magical Road to Happy Land."

From Marci's  "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

Dad: "Who are the two president's we celebrate on President's Day?"

Nick: "Abraham Lincoln and William Shakespeare"

They wrote 'The Two Gentleman of Gettysburg' together, right?  It's a musical, I think...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mixed Messages (or Postis Interruptus)

What I'd like to be doing is writing this post.  What I am doing is watching the boys as they jump on a giant pile of pillows, beanbags and cushions from all the basement furnishings.  It's sort of violent and very physical and, sometimes, that is what brothers need.  It is also dangerous and foolhardy of me to assume they won't get hurt.  They will...

I wanted to show you a couple things from the book-bags today but I really don't know if I'll have the time before I have to run to the ER.

I'll try.  I found this in Nick's bag the day he had to go to school and Zack didn't:

("Hold on, hold on!  Daddy, am I bleeding here on the side of my face?")

I like the poster Nick made.  It says: 

("Arghhh, my foot!  I am going to wing some more stuff at you.  Hiiiiiyaaaaa!")

I love...  My cats Baily and paige beacuse (because, so close) thay are 1 year old thay need atenchin (attention).  I allso love...  My famley beacuse thay are so nice.  Today I am going to my nana and papas house.  Esept for zack I don't like him.

("Practical joke number thirty-one and your going down.")

Nick told me he was really irritated when he went to school and Z didn't and his teacher kept asking him to do stuff to bring home to his brother.

("Are you sure my face isn't bleeding, Dad?  I hit it up against that sticky stuff, what's it called, Velmo?")

("What in the world is Velmo?")

Zack made this at school last week:

It seems to be a Winged-Mayan-Thundergod who owns an oversized or out of perspective monster car.  His minions seem to be attacking a Colonial Williamsburg home.  The sun is falling from the sky.

("Hey, Dad, how'd you get that alien picture I drew on the computer?  NICK!  Stop hurling pillows at me!")

It seems to be an alien.  Named Gressery.

(Thunk...  "Good God, Nick, are you alright?  Don't break the concrete floor with your head.")

("I'm alright, Dad, my head is harder than it looks.  I think I did see stars though, that's my first time for that.")

I can't seem to remember my point here...  Oh, I remember.  It's funny how you can think one thing about something a kid has done and be so thoroughly, profoundly, wrong.  Nick's note seem like such a sweet little Valentine's note...

("Velcro, that's it, not Velmo, Velcro.")

("Well, that makes more sense.")

... and then he zings his brother.  And I was way off on what I thought Zack's picture was.  Just goes to show how easy it is to misunderstand, misinterpret, mispronounce - it's "greasery" - or flat out mistake one thing for another.

("You spin with that big couch pillow that way, and I'll go the counterway, and then we'll get closer and closer until we wap each other.")

Well,  I gotta go.  I do not see this ending well here at all...  somebody's gonna get scratched by that Velmo.

Is "counterway" a word?  It should be.

From Marci's  "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat in the middle of an epic pillow/cushion battle..."

"I am adding pain to your list of things to do today."
(7yr old smack talk)


"When I get out of a world of pain, you will be in big trouble."


Friday, February 15, 2013

Little Starfish

Here's a book Nick needed to make:

Little Starfish
Nicholas Peebles

“Hi!  I’m Starler, sorry for the interruption.  I lost my parents, will you help me find them?”
“YES,” I said.
“Thank you, thank you!”
“Do you know anything about your parents?”
“I lost them at birth,”  Starler said.
“So sorry.  I need to go up for air,” I said.
“Okay,” said Starler.
I went up for air and twenty seconds later I went down again.
“My friend Sam the Sea Lion will help,” said Starler.
We went to Sam’s house, knocked on the door… rrrrrrrrrinnnnnng. We went inside, we discussed the problem to him.
“Hmmmmm,” Sam said, “I think I’ll be able to help you find your parents.”
“I’ll use my sub,” I said.

“Here we go again,” My friend Tod said as we drove away, “he has no experience!”
“So?” I said.
“Tell me why there is a missile on this?” Starler said.
“In case we get into trouble,” I said, “See.”
I pointed to a red button that said EMEGENCY on it.
“Uh, I think this is an emergency,” Tod said.
There was a big eye in front of the sub. I pressed EMERGENCY and the missile out, it hit him.
“Hooray,” we cried. 
“We must be near his den,” Sam the Sea Lion said.
About two minutes later.  Oh, we have weapons in our sub, Now where was I?  Oh, yeah.
About two minutes later we ran into another octopus.  We had no missile!  We got our weapons.  In one strike of the octopuses tentacle we sank and sank and sank.

We sank too far down.  We found a message, it said:  ‘to open the gate to Atlantis you need to get a shell to open the gate.’
“Okay,” I said, “I gotta shell.”
The gate opened, we went inside.  It was  so pretty.  We went inside the temple, to our surprise there was no one there.  There were dolphins and starfish and lots and lots more.
Oh, we went with our weapons.
We went back to our sub.  Now we went upward, we went to the shallow water.  We looked in caves.  We didn’t find anything.
We went to the medium level, we looked in caves, we did not find anything again. 
We thought we were lost, until Starly spoke up:

“I think we need to go to the bottom of the sea to find my parents,” Starly said.
We went down.
“We have our missile,” I said.
“Yay,” we said.
About an hour later we saw the same eye, again.  I pressed the button that said EMERGENCY, the missile shot.
“Yay!” we shouted.  Then we went farther down.
Then an hour later we hit the bottom.  UMF!
We looked in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 caves.  We saw some other family Starly knew, The Cloths, The Stars and the The Hints.  The last name Starly is Bottombumper the First.  Because it was the first starfish to ever have the same last name.
Then we saw 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 more caves.  We went through all of them except the twelfth one.

We looked through it, it was his family cave.  Carved into it was:  ‘Bottombumper the First.’
“Hello,” they said.
“Our baby!  Oh, thank you, thank you thank you!”
Me and Tod said, “We need to go up for air.”
“It was a great day,” I said to Tod.
“Yes,” said Tod.
We told everyone in our neighborhood.

He had a lot of fun making this and is very proud of it.  I typed in the text and made it into a booklet for him.  I love it.

It is said that the nut doesn't fall very far from the tree, I love my little Nick nut.