Posts tagged ‘Human Tape Recorder’

And a Happy Birthday To The HTR!

31 October, 2012 | | No Comment

Fourteen years ago, SOBUMD and I were surprised to find that I was right – a baby conceved in January has a pretty decent shot at getting herself born on Halloween.  I think she was more surprised than I was – the Human Tape Recorder held out for nearly 21 hours to make sure she hit the mark. 

As a Sweet Fourteenth birthday present, she got her braces off this morning – and came home to a Tootsie Roll the length of her arm.  Can’t beat that! 

Happy Birthday!

Repeating 8th Grade

24 September, 2012 | | No Comment

So there I was, a few nights ago, in the 8th Grade classrooms of the Human Tape Recorder.  It’s “Back to School” time, that annual opportunity for parents to relive their most horrifying nightmares of middle school directly, instead of through the usual vicarious viciousness we absorb from our unfortunate offspring.  SOBUMD went to this one last year, so it was my turn.  This was particularly excruciating horrifying poignant for me, since the HTR is attending the same secondary school from which I escaped matriculated in 1987 a long damn time ago. 

First up, Spanish.  First time back in a classroom in this benighted school since 1987, and I’m late.  (Who’s surprised?  Not this dad.)  OK, so, Spanish.  At least I’m not having flashbacks; I speak about as much Spanish as the man in the moon, assuming the man in the moon can order a beer and ask about the bathroom in Spanish.  Since el SOBUMD can habla Espanol pretty well and the HTR is learning, I think I’m going to need to learn to habla as well.  Hey, not like I had anything else to work on, right?  The teacher is, shall we say, not what I expected.  And by not what I expected, let’s just say I was looking for Sofia Vergara and found Paula Dean.  But hey, I guess she’s a good teacher.  De nada, right?

The other thing I noticed was the extent to which this and most of the rest of the classes are less focused on cramming everything into the classroom and more on guiding and shaping what is becoming a self-guided study session off-line.  Welcome to the electronic classroom, and god help you if you don’t have a computer and a decent Internet connection at home. 

Next up, Theater!   There are certain advantages to living in this area that the local schools take full advantage of.  The HTR’s Shakespeare class – and it’s listed as theater, somewhat generically, but it’s a full-on Shakespeare course – is going to have a field trip to the Folger Shakespeare theater.  And by “field trip,” they mean “you will perform on stage at the Folger” for a local Shakespeare competition.  The class has picked A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which while often overdone is still probably a better choice for 8th Grade than, say, Titus Andronicus, which is what I would have picked.  They’ll also be learning Sonnet 65, breathing their hot summer’s honey breath, while studying blocking and yoga. 

Whoops, your 12 minutes are up – time for Health and Gym!  The gym teacher seems like a nice guy – now drop and give me 20.  What do they study in gym these days?  Ping pong, Ultimate frisbee, and something called Alcohol Ball – this is not your father’s gym class, if they’re busying learning why Daddy shouldn’t drive after that 3rd Scotch.  

A bright note in this story:   Switching between classes, I got a cheery hello and a hug from an old friend who was the prettiest girl in the school when I was in 11th Grade.  Since I no longer even really remember 11th Grade, this is definitely better.

But enough reminiscing, it’s time for math!  There’s a big sign at the top of this room:  “Fractions are your friends.”  It’s not quite “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” but it’s close.  This is applied algebra through geometry.  The description of the big project left me a little shaken – they need to build a full multi-dimensional tesseract for an A.  Trust me that if you have to derive the area of the convex hull of the vertex-first parallel-projection, this is not your father’s math class.

Next up, Civics!  I don’t know about you, but my high school civics teacher didn’t sport undergrad degrees in Economics and PoliSci from Yale and a Masters in Business from Wharton.  This woman is hard core smart, but comes across as highly accessible as well – she seems passionate about getting these kids ready for not just high school but life, making them resourceful.  I was impressed. 

Now back off, man, we’re going to do Science!  This poor woman’s name is Divya, and while she’s really probably not a Diva, I’m sure she hears that all the time.  This is the standard Matter, Energy, and Motion class that will introduce kids to physics, chemistry, and how to blow stuff up that we all remember.  What’s new is that as part of the grade, these kids will have to enter a national science contest; it’s a yearlong exercise in choosing a partner, choosing a topic, and beating every other 8th grader in the country for an A.  But hey, after winning the Tony award in your Theater class and building a functioning matrix for Time And Relative Dimension In Space through all of space and time in Math, just winning an International Science contest should be a piece of cake.

Finally, it’s time for English!  This former Peace Corps ESOL teacher is teaching the kids to think through literary analysis.  While she’s focusing more heavily on non-fiction, she assured us that research and poetry are embedded throughout all the lessons.  Mind you, these lessons are embedded throughout the students’ wikis and blogs – once again, this is not your father’s English course.  At least they don’t need to win this year’s Pulitzer for an A in the class. 

I left school with a sense that technology is creeping ever more quickly into the classroom, a sense that the classroom is creeping ever more quickly into the real world, and a sense that I’d forgotten my assignment notebook and left my gym shorts at home again.  I’m sure it will be a great year for the Human Tape Recorder, but I wouldn’t go back to 8th Grade for all the cardboard cafeteria pizzas in the world.  Not even if my Spanish teach looked like Sofia Vergara.

A Study in August, Part Three

13 August, 2012 | | 1 Comment

On to the beach!  We made it down the shore in record time, stopping only for gas and hard liquor.  SOBUMD wanted to make sure there was some vodka for her cucumber vodka martini, and when I mentioned this to the lady ringing me up at the Jersey Liquor Store (everyone talks to the hat – in New Jersey, I’m the most interesting man in the world), she recommended that I get her the Cucumber Vodka on which they were running a special.  Knowing that we could put it to good use one way or another, I concurred on the cucumber and we motored on. 

We arrived at the Shore House at the precise moment I intended, which was Gin and Tonic o’clock – my scheduling skills are excelled only by my driving.  Following a settling in and unpacking period that lasted approximately 14 seconds, the Reigning Queen of Pink and the Human Tape Recorder were in the water, and Number One Son had retreated into a room with the iPad, not to be seen again until dinner.   We commenced relaxing immediately. 

We relaxed all day and into the evening, and picked right up relaxing the next morning where we’d left off, but with Scrapple on the grill, eaten on the deck with coffee and crumb cake.  It’s hard not to be relaxed in the face of an early morning ocean breeze, facing a lagoon, while munching on hot grilled meat product and crumb cake. 

The relaxation came to a screeching halt when we realized we were nearly out of beer.  A trip to Long Beach Island was planned, conceived, and executed in short order, leaving many of the tribe at home in the water.  Once on Long Beach Island, we found fudge, tee-shirts, bracelets, and beer.  Unfortunately, while putting the beer in the back of SOBUMD’s minivan, the handle that opens the hatch in the back snapped and broke in my hand. 

This would not be a big deal, but for the fact that you can’t open the hatch from the inside, and that the van’s power door not only isn’t ‘power’ any more but also does not open from the inside, and that the struts need work, and that the horn only functions on alternate Wednesdays while Mercury is in retrograde, and that it’s an 11 year old van with more than a few dings in it.  Without a simple way to get things into and out of the van, its utility is greatly diminished and its days numbered. 

We returned with our loot, sending the brilliantly diminutive RQoP into the back of the van to pass things over the seats to us.  Beer was consumed, new cars were researched, and relaxation recommenced.

Next up was a trip to Wildwoods, NJ, evidently an icon of beach life on the Jersey Shore that I’d never heard of, but since my experience with the Jersey Shore has been heretofore limited to last year’s situation and Snooki’s tan, that was hardly surprising.  We loaded kids, aunts, uncles, and towels into vehicles – some easier, some harder – and headed to the beach. 

Once in the water, we found dolphins swimming just offshore with us.  Number One Son, who does not usually like to get his head, hair, or face wet, decided that he liked the waves once he was past the point where they broke over his head.  He pulled me with him to this point – the fact that we were halfway to the continental shelf bothered him not at all.  The Human Tape Recorder and the RQoP also reaquainted themselves with their inner barracudas.  My response to a wave coming up that’s 5 feet over my head is to duck and cover.  Theirs is to dive into it headfirst. 

And We're Dancing on the Top of the Wildwoods Sign

And We’re Dancing on the Top of the Wildwoods Sign

The beach rolled on for a few hours, after which we moved the party to the Wildwoods Boardwalk.   This is a magical place, by which I mean “very likely to remove your money from your wallet.”  We enjoyed the local cuisine, such as battered, deep fried Oreo cookies, along with a few life-restoring and badly needed pints of Guinness and the Snow White diner.  We were served by a few of the local Olgas – all the wait staff at the beach seem to be imports from Eastern Europe.  They make great roast beast hogies, command of the English language notwithstanding. 

I also noticed that after two days in New Jersey, my every other word to the kids is “fuhgeddaboudit.”  Perhaps I should keep my commentary concerning commands of the English language to my self. 

The other thing we noticed was the price of the rides – remember what magical means?  Some of the children wanted to ride a roller coaster, some others wanted to walk through a haunted ship.  Since the cost for these two activities came to more than $120, we had to explain that this roller coaster and SOBUMD’s next car had just became an either or proposition.

Katniss Drills 'em at the Dart-n-Die

Katniss Drills ’em at the Dart-n-Die

In lieu of rides, the kids played some of the “everybody wins a prize” arcades; they seemed particularly drawn to the “Throw Darts and Pop Balloons” event.  Number One Son took a particular delight in the opportunity for wanton destruction, popping two out of three of his targets.  Since everyone wins a prize, the lady in the booth showed him his prize options for hitting two balloons – to which he replied, “No thanks; I’m only in it for the popping.”   The RQoP stepped up and declared that she’d add his two pops to whatever she got, and then of course pulled a Katniss and drilled three for three, walking off with a bear the size of her head.  

I Want a Job in the Department of Love

I Want a Job in the Department of Love

Once full of fried gooey goodness and tired from the waves and water, we started the long boardwalk back to the car.  On the way, we ran into one more example concerning one’s command of the English language.  Really?  The Department of Love?  Can you get a job there?

Driving back to the Shore House, we contemplated the Cheshire sunset as the sun slipped from the clouds and back to the Earth, through a hole in the pocket of the sky, accompanied by the strains of the new Green Day song on the radio.  It was a wonderful end to the day, and we looked forward to seeing if there was dessert waiting in the crab trap we’d baited before we left. 

There was, but he was too small and we had to throw him back.  Some days, everybody lives.

Next up, a drive through the marshes!  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with that new Green Day song everyone’s talking about.




A Study in August, Part Two

11 August, 2012 | | 3 Comments

Nothing says vacation like beer for breakfast.  If that’s followed by a beer with lunch, hey, we’re not going anywhere.  But that’s not today’s topic, though – today, we’re talking trucks! 

1968 International Scout

1968 International Scout

The first part of our trip was to Pennsylvania, where SOBUMD’s father was busy having a birthday.  SOBUMD’s brother, the Very Industrious Uncle, had gotten him a framed picture of a 1968 International Scout.  It was yellow and white, part of an old advertising campaign for International – cute picture.  We then found reasons for Opa to check on something downstairs while the rest of us stepped outside; he joined us in a few minutes to find an immaculately restored yellow and white 1968 International Scout in his driveway, with a big Happy Birthday balloon attached to one of the wipers. 

A Very Happy Opa

A Very Happy Opa

To say that Opa was speechless would be to court understatement.  The Very Industrious Uncle had spent the past 6 months restoring the Scout, finishing just in time for the birthday presentation.  I don’t know about you, but the last time anyone gave me a car for my birthday, I was maybe seven, and it was an International Hot Wheels.  I mentioned this to Opa as he took me for a spin in the Scout; he said “Yeah, me too!”  He may have slept in it that night; not sure.  For the record, we got him a tee-shirt, which we managed to forget to bring with us. 

The next day dawning bright and clear, we made our fond farewells to Oma, Opa, and the Scout, which the three lunatic children believe is their new cousin, and headed East to the Jersey Shore and the shore house of the Very Industrious Uncle.  The trip was only a few hours, not as long as the drive up, but we still had time to continue listening to our eclectic playlist and trading verbal banter and witty repartee.  The Human Tape Recorder noted the lyrics to a Sheryl Crow song, which included the phrase:  “maybe there’s something wrong with you.”  The HTR declared that she could tell the song wasn’t written by a teenybopper, since a pop-teen type would have written it as “maybe there’s something wrong with ME.”   SOBUMD and I mentally high-fived each other, considering this a sign that we’re raising confidant kids, or at least damned observant ones.  

Number One Son influenced our song selection as well, asking me what Reno was and why one would shoot a man in it.  (Having killed any number of six packs just to watch them die, I felt compelled to play him the Folsom Prison Blues, with the Man in Black himself, along with yours truly singing base.)  Number One Son also used the time in the car to expound on several of his many of his points of view.  For example, the topic of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder came up (as it so often will in our family).  Talking about OCD, Number One Son had this to say:  “It should really be called OCS.  I view it less as a disorder than a syndrome.”  If you know a more certain sign that you have OCD than arguing about what it should really be called, I’d love to hear it.  Meanwhile, the RQoP – who received a full sized upright vacuum cleaner for her birthday a while ago, so she could better clean her usually immaculate room – could not be reached for comment.

But we were headed to the beach, down the shore, where all these concerns would melt away.  We needed no further proof that we were well away from the Washington DC craziness than driving past a sign for a business called “Hell Yeah Watersports.”  Within a 100 mile radius of the DC area, that same company would have incorporated under the name “Safe-n-Legal Watersports.”  Luckily, we were north of Atlantic City, where you can still call ’em as you see ’em. 

From here, on to the beach!   I’ll leave you with Johnny again, with those Folsom Prison Blues.


Weekend Notes: Stormy, with a chance of trees

22 July, 2012 | | 2 Comments

As so often happens when real life gets in the way of my otherwise irrepressible blogging impulse, I’m a little behind.  I blame the weather, the Higgs Boson, and Mitt Romney’s hairpiece, in that order. 

We’ll start way back on Father’s Day weekend, which was fantastic.  What made it such an epic adventure?  Four things. 

First, we got to see the neighbor’s new place.  They’re going to remain neighbors, but they’re building a new place on some land out West, between us and the House in the Woods, about which I’ve written before.  On the land they bought stands – well, leans – a very old place that will fall down shortly if Mike doesn’t help it fall down sooner. 

This Old House

This Old House

There are a few treasures to rescue before that happens, though – such as the license plates on the floor, from 1940, the glass ornaments still hanging over the mantle, and some road signs that clearly predate unleaded gasoline. 




The earliest record of this property is something in the 1820s; Mike and Lynn are the second owners, if that tells you something about the place. 

From there, we moved on to the House in the Woods, where the second epic thing happened.  Among many other very cool things I received for Father’s Day, SOBUMD and the kids bought me a machete.  Everyone should have one!  It’s long, sharp, and very flexible.

The third epic thing was just being there with a machete out at the House in the Woods.  Since the Very Clever Grandparents were in Switzerland, we brought our neighbors with us, and got to show them the wonders of the place.  One of those wonders turned out to be a turtle trekking across the lawn in the rain, holding his head up high, presumably so he wouldn’t drown.  He was making good time – took him about half an hour. 

WV Bear Spider - So Named Because They Eat Bears.  For Breakfast.

WV Bear Spider – So Named Because They Eat Bears. For Breakfast.

We also saw one of the West Virginia Bear Spiders, so named because they mostly eat bears. He was in the screen room, reading the paper and drinking a cup of coffee.  Oddly, he had the room to himself.   Mike and the Human Tape Recorder and I climbed the local mountain, to see what we could see – which turned out to be the other side of the mountain, just like the song says.  I thought it would be more exciting, tell you the truth. 

RQoP does her best Ophelia

RQoP does her best Ophelia

While we were doing that, the Reigning Queen of Pink became reacquainted with her more aquatic subjects, and a good time was had by all.

And fourth, FOBUMD’s sole request while we were out there was that we mow the lawn.  This lead, inexorably as the day leads to the night, to my being perched on the tractor.   Now I know for many of my loyal readers, riding a tractor mower power thingy packs all of the emotional charge of taking out the garbage or mucking out the shed.  I, on the other hand, have never ridden one of these things in my life.  It turns out that you really have to slow down quite a bit to take the beer from your child’s hand when she brings it to you.  Aside from that, it makes very good time – there are gears and turbo boosts and all sorts of things I never knew about.  When it moves into high gear, I really came close to spilling my drink!  Such drama!  Such excitement!  And of course every time I came near the house, I waved my hat around like Slim Pickens riding the nuke all the way down at the end of Dr. Strangelove.  So, nice tractor.  Who knew?

The following weekend was reported in near-real time, with SOBUMD going under the knife.   I’m glad to say the surgery was an unmitigated success and that in the month since, she’s recovering well and feeling better than she has in a long time.  She’s tap dancing and taken up parkour, which really amazes her doctors since she couldn’t do either of those things before the operation. 

The next weekend, still unreported, was to follow.  

Derecho.  It even sounds wretched, dirty, and unpleasant.   It was all of those things, plus fast.

You may have heard that there were epic storms here on the East Coast a few weeks ago – this is true. Nearly half a million homes in NoVa were without power, including here at the Big Ugly Man Doll. Winds up to 80 mph, trees down everywhere, mircobursts, 2 fatalities within a few miles of us, a bunch more between here and Ohio. 

Not what I meant by Tree House

Not what I meant by Tree House

Our neighbors had one of the old giant oaks cut their house in half; they were in the basement and unharmed, but the house and car are pretty much gone.

Our power was out for 55 hours or so.  The storm hit Friday with the biggest lightning display I’ve seen in years, augmented beautifully by the blue-green glow of the transformers blowing.  Once we got through Saturday morning and were able to get some reports of the extent of the outage (more than a million people), we realized the power wasn’t coming back in the next few hours, and packed everything critical in the fridge and freezer into coolers.  We then drove to the house of the Very Clever Grandparents, who live in in downtown Washington DC, but were of course still in Switzerland.  Part of what makes them Very Clever involves living in a house on the same power grid as the White House.  The power doesn’t go out down there – at least, it hasn’t in the last 40 years.  One of the neighbors told me the lights did blink, once, in 1972.  Another thing that makes them very clever is that they nearly emptied their fridge and freezer before they left, which happened to leave an enormous amount of space for our stuff. 

Getting back in the car from moving the food over, we noticed a bolt in the right front tire.  On to the local Sears!  At Sears, at the mall, they had cell service to hit the Internet – for the first time in hours.  (SOBUMD was frantic without her security iPhone working.)  The mall being the only place with air conditioning for miles around, it was a huge mess.  We ate angry cookies and generally sulked at everyone until the tire was fixed, leaving promptly for the cool air conditioned embrace of my folks’ house in DC – which the kids call the House in the Hood. 

That night, Number One Son had only one question for me to relay to the VCG in Switzerland: what’s the password to the WiFi?  He was hoping to connect my iPad to the Internet – it’s amazing how quickly the Web has become such a part of everyday life that the lack thereof is seen as a “critical” must-fix issue.

Speaking of which, it’ll be interesting to see what shakes out of that storm.  The 911 service in most of NoVa went dead – people were asked to bring emergencies (or reports of same) to police/fire stations. Cell coverage was spotty at best, AT&T lost a few towers – and the POTS (plain old telephone system) went down as well. In the absence of Internet, cell, and dial tone, 911 not working seems redundant if no one can call anyway. 

We were thinking the power company would have the power back on Sunday.  It turned out that Sunday was the day they were hoping to have estimates on when they’d have the power back on.  We went home to feed the cats (who were remarkably sanguine about the lack of power) and scrub the fridge – after all, how often do you have the luxury of leaving the doors open for an hour and taking all the food out?  When life gives you lemons, put an “organic” sticker on them and sell ’em at a premium.  Back to DC for another evening of cool air. 

Trees down all over Post

Trees down all over Post

Power was restored Monday morning; I came home, turned the AC back on, fed the cats, then drove to my job.  The Army Post I work on looked like it had been shelled; probably 50 trees or more were down, roofs and fences blown off, roads blocked, and no power. 

Post roofs, post storm

Post roofs, post storm.

I executed a tactical retreat to my corporate office for a bit, then drove back to DC and collected SOBUMD, the Three Lunatic Children, our clothes, and the first round of food – planning to go back that afternoon for the perishables. We got back to the mostly air conditioned house (it was almost down to 80), and put things away. We turned on computers, unpacked, relaxed for a few minutes.

And the power went out.

It was still out 4 hours later when we were discussing dinner.  (“I ain’t cooking.”  “Me either.”  “Right.”)  We tried calling a local, well-established restaurant and got an answering machine.  I tried again.  Same machine.  Right, they’re down.  With *still* no Internet data service from the cell towers, the Human Tape Recorder was able to text a request to a friend (whose name we will refer to here as “Laura” to protect the innocent), and thus acquire the phone number for Mike’s American Grill.  We retired there with the neighbors, eating and drinking just as though there would be power when we returned. 

And there was. 

It has stayed on since then, amid plans for generators and tree-repelling roof shingles, through the 4th of July, and through this region’s longest stretch of 100+ degree days in ages.  Trust me that those three weekends, back to back to back, while fun – in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” kind of way – were exhausting.  Father’s Day weekend I’d replay anytime.  The surgery and the derecho, well, sometimes those Choose Your Own Adventure books didn’t have such happy endings, you know?  This one did, though – as part of the Great Thawing of the Food during the power outage, the sole remaining turkey in our freezer was defrosted, brined, and smoked when the Very Clever Grandparents returned from Switzerland – we had a quick Thanksgiving dinner smack dab in the middle of July!   

The remaining weeks and weekends since all that have been busy, crazy, and hotter than Joan of Arc.  But we’re caught up, as much as one can ever really catch up since we’ve captured the Higgs Boson, and we now return to our regularly scheduled programming.