Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Funny kid, this toddler son of mine.

He's potty training these days. Went on his own twice last week. These are the waning days of diaperdom.

He's got this book he loves called "The Potty Train." "Chugga chugga pooo- poooo!" He loves that line.
He loves word play and making these silly rhymes. His favorite is Go Away.
"Go Away!" he yells.
"But I want to stay," I reply.
"Go Away!"
And his favorite reply, "Should I go see the Mets at Shea?" I can say this 10 times in a row and he'll chuckle every time.
"Go Away!"
"What, and leave you to play?"
One time I said, "Okay," and walked away. He chased after me, almost instantly babbling in tears. The boy's got separation anxiety issues, which is very strange to me. When I was a baby, apparently, according to my mother, I was very independent and had a legendary habit of wandering off on my own. Jonny is very clingy. He cries when I shut the bathroom door for privacy. Esther says she was a very clingy child. Jonny must get that trait from her.
What's impressive about Jonny is I can say "Go Away" and he will come up with a rhyming response.
Other things about Jonny, in random order as they come to me:
-- He loves jazz music and dances to it whenever I put it on.
-- Like most children, he loves playing hide and seek games.
-- His mother tells me he's using a computer now and can manuever the mouse to play matching games.
-- He loves to sing and does so with good tone and articulation.
-- I'm ever amazed at his verbal skills. So are his teachers at day care.
-- He loves books.
-- He absolutely loves Thomas the Tank Engine and can identify even the most minor characters in the vast Thomas universe. (I've been rather lax posting Jonny pictures online, but have some great shots of him at the Day out with Thomas this past August at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union) I imagine he will be one of those rail fans that have been spotlighted lately in the news.
-- He likes to help out with chores, but does not like help doing them. He likes to figure out how to do things on his own and will often cry in frustration if he can't figure it out.
-- He seems to me to be quite accident-prone. In a 15-minute period last Sunday, he fell and bruised his chin, banged his forehead on a railing, and stubbed his toe, each time producing a wailing crying jag.
-- He often wakes up from naps very cranky and is inconsolable in these moods. These are very trying times as a parent.
-- Outside of a couple biting incidents, Jonny is well-behaved at day care and has as many friends who are girls as boys.
-- He is kind of skinny and his physique is just like mine when I was a little boy. While he's not a picky eater (he'll try just about anything), he is very cautious about temperature. Any cooked food must wait about 10 minutes after presentation and then be tested by his mother or I before he'll eat it.
-- He loves anything associated with Cars or Finding Nemo.
-- He loves to watch sports, at least for a few minutes. I'm ever amazed at his ability to focus. I took him to an Elgin High School football game and he sat on my lap and watched the game for a good 10-15 minutes.
-- Another one of his favorite books is Drummer Hoff. He also likes the Good Dog, Carl series (featuring a realistically-drawn Rottweiler), the Clifford series, and, of course, Curious George.
-- He loves going down to the beach at my place, but is a bit of an aquaphobe (like his mother).
-- He has this nasty, dangerous habit of running away in parking lots and near busy streets. His mother and I have probably lost a year of life in panic the many times he's done this. And despite our stern rebukes, he laughs in evil glee every time.
-- In spite of his mischievousness (who knows where he got that?), Jonny is a great kid, truly the light of my life and reason for being. I love being his dad.
-- He has not had a haircut yet and the top of his head is a sea of blonde curls. His hair is also a good barometer and goes very flat in dry air.
Entries like this are as much for my sake as for his. I wish my parents had collected periodic memories of me over the years. I imagine Jonny will cherish these impressions when he is older. I will too because little memories like these get lost over time. They are more valuable than all the pictures and video clips combined.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Postcard from the edge

For years now, whenever I want a vicarious trail fix I go to http://www.trailjournals.com/ . Journals from my hikes on the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, Superior Hiking, and Arizona Trails can be found there. Use the sidebar to this blog or go the site and type "raru" in the search box.

But today I want to highlight a journal that is a little different from the others. A couple years ago this guy hiked the Appalachian Trail and instead of doing journal entries, he did drawings. A whole bunch of them. These he later published in a book.
Check out his trail journal for free at: http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=3968

Also check out his own personal web site, where you can buy some if his art, at: http://www.theartfulhiker.com/

When (and if) funds permit, I will buy a few of his prints to give to friends and family.

I've also followed The Lion King (a fellow AT 2000 hiker) on You Tube. He's posted 42 videos during his year-long hike on the American Discovery Trail. His videos remind me of the boundless generosity most people give out to travelling souls. Links to his videos can be found at: http://walkingwithfreedom.com/

Thursday, October 23, 2008

world traveler

No traveling for me in the near future. Certainly nothing international.

Now is the time to hunker down a bit and work my tail off to pay off debts and advance my career. The wandering Taoist in me recoils at the stupidity of that statement. Money is so transitory, as the credit debacle reveals. Things are too. Greed will never motivate me. Possessions are illusions.

But there is that ledger sheet. And I do love my work and want to succeed. And the trails I've walked, people I've met along the way, and things I've seen, give me an awesome perspective.

I checked out the sitemeter link on this blog and found out people from all over the world read this thing. They are interested in a wide variety of subjects, from psychedelic cartoons to horse farm abuses. No other work I did as a journalist has had more lasting "play," so to speak, than the ones I wrote in 2001 after discovering dead horses in a pit on a country farm. Someone right now has a Craigslist post link to it and a post I wrote on this blog years later.

My 2005 bibliography of Charles Bukowski after his death has caused more people to personally e-mail me with help on their papers, as if I somehow, because I did that assignment and have read 10+ of his books, am some kind of expert on the asshole alcoholic from LA. Gotta love Buk, though. He knew the score.

It's almost November. Cold spell here. Going to have my boy this weekend. We always do a ton of fun things together, like go to the library and trolley museums. The leaves are falling, and now that I have a yard, that means raking. Now that I have a fireplace, I also need to gather up and chop some wood for the winter.

I'm very happy. Work is well. Students are underperforming, but I'm seeing improvements in their writing. The powers that be like what I'm doing so far. And I've been busy, working many 12+ hour days. I'm not overwhelmed. Grades are caught up and I've got nothing to do tonight but read for pleasure and listen to the World Series.

By the way, I'm rooting for the worst to first dream team from Tampa Bay, the (former Devil) Rays.

Back to the travel thing. I decided back in August that I would take a year off from any big trips. In the past couple years I've gone to Arizona a couple times and did an epic trek through Boundary Waters. Although teaching gives me more time off, I am sticking to a frugal budget and doing as much extra work as I can in the time allowed.

If anybody's looking for someone to copy edit their work or to do any freelance reporting, send me a post.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Of Mice and Men

I start teaching Steinbeck's book tomorrow. It will always remind me of my canoe trip this summer in Boundary Waters, because GT and I read it together and discussed it endlessly. I benefited so much from her foreign perspective as she challenged me to explain some the 1930s colloquialisms and misspelled words. Her perspective, while more learned and intellectual (and more militantly feminist) than my students, did give me some clues to words, concepts, and historical background my students may struggle with.

Teaching literature is not as second nature to me as teaching writing, so in this respect teaching Of Mice and Men will be more of a challenge. But in another, more practical perspective, it will be easier because I have a ton of resources at school to help me. The book is required reading for all ninth graders. I pledge, though, not to devolve to teaching literature the way I was taught --read the book, memorize terms and events, take a multiple choice and short answer test, and do related vocabulary definition and spelling terms. While these things are validating, I don't necessarily know their pedagogical value.

In related news, I have been struggling with mice at home. I noticed their droppings on my kitchen counter, and a couple items in my cabinets, including a box of cereal, were chewed into. On Sunday I bought a couple mousetraps and some poison. While the traps have not been sprung, the mice have taken to the poison. The block on the counter is well-chewed and the one on the floor disappeared the first night. I imagine a surviving mouse quoting a movie villain. "Of course, your poisons have no effect on me. I've been slowly acclimating myself to it for years. Thus we can both drink the poison, but you will die!! Mwuh ha ha!"

I hope the rodent problem is solved, but worry the mice will die in my walls and leave a stench behind stronger than the poison.