Sunday, November 27, 2011

Joshua Tree and the Horrors of the Hamster Tube

As part of our ongoing efforts to resist the easy path of using our weekends to recover from the chaos of the rest of our week, yesterday we got up at 5:30 AM in order to go to Joshua Tree National Park, with our friend Anna.

Joshua Tree is located on the cusp of the Mojave and Colorado deserts, and contains features from both (crazy rocks, cacti, wild-eyed desert hermits that’ll use your bones for patio furniture).  It’s only three hours drive from Los Angeles, so I’m somewhat embarrassed we’d never managed to make it out there prior to this weekend, but it was worth the wait.
Amynah strapped Inara to her front in a baby carrier, and I strapped Sana to my back in another, and we hiked through the relative crowds of “Hidden” Valley and to the if-you-squint-it-looks-kind-of-like-a Skull Rock.
As night fell, I realized I had failed to take a picture of any of Joshua's Trees.

This, and my trip to Death Valley earlier this year made me realize how conditioned we are by the nature we grew up in – the first time Sana was in a Canadian/Eastern North American forest on a trip back to Canada, she was clearly freaked out by the density of trees closing in on her with oppressive verdancy. On the other hand, she was delighted to stomp her way through the desert sands of Joshua Tree, and examine the thorns and brambles of the various types of cacti. For my part, I couldn’t help but be unnerved by the wide-open spaces and the knowledge that there were poisonous snakes of uncertain temperament lurking about the rocks. Not for the first time, I realize that Sana is going to grow up in a different world than did I.

This being the first trip of this sort that I’d attempted with the babies, I was also left to reflect on how much less I learn from trips like these than I used to: I’m a compulsive reader of plaques, but I had to pass by all of the helpful explanations the National Parks people had posted at strategic points identifying the local fauna and flora, as well as historical tidbits (I managed to read on one that Hidden Valley had something to do with cattle rustlers, but got no further than that before having to stop Sana from leaping off a boulder five times her height).

 Skull Rock (official name)

Bum Rock (not official name)

Post Script: Scarier than my paranoia of rattlesnakes and Sana's non-comprehension of gravity was our dinner:  we went to a McDonald's with a play room for children, the centerpiece of which was a three-dimensional pipe maze, complete with netting, ladders and slides. Sana saw the bigger kids playing on it and wanted to go. Because I am both a sucker and a terrible parent, I let her. Of course, I went in with her. Never have I made a bigger mistake: the inside was cramped and redolent of children's hamburger breath and Dr Pepper-scented urine. Kids were appearing and disappearing around the corners like the creature from Alien that was terrorizing Sigourney Weaver in the air ducts. They were shouting at each other constantly, but the sound bounced around such that it seemed we were surrounded by a million of them. Sana freaked out and clung to me the whole way while I tried to navigate the maze on two aching knees and one arm to find the twisty slide of salvation. I had nightmares about it all last night).

Friday, November 11, 2011

You Win or You Cry.

Normally on Remembrance Day, I would try to dig up some bit of Canadian military history to use for the purposes of making some sanctimonious point about the horrors of war and/or the callowness of the politicians who pursue it.* Maybe later. At the moment, I'm on day one of three on my own with Sana, while Amynah is out of town with Inara. Neither Sana nor I are feeling well at the moment, so I will be sacking out early. However, I couldn't resist sharing further photoshop foolishness.

* I'm thinking either the behind-the-scenes diplomatic machinations that set the only Nazi war criminal in Canadian custody free, or the 19th century crusade against an Islamic insurgent in the Sudan that saw Canadian civilian volunteers dying for less than nothing in Egypt. Votes?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

This is what I Ment

I appear to have developed a habit of inventing holidays. Those who know me on Facebook are probably already aware of "Mark Reynolds Awareness Month," in which I make up facts about myself and post one every day for the month of September (a sample: Mark Reynolds has the power to marry people with his mind.")

My latest is "Ment." I have lunch with various colleagues and floor-neighbours of Amynah's - unsurprisingly, there are a lot of Type-A personalities. A few days ago, I was eating with a crew of women that had two PhDs completed, two PhDs in progress and three marathons completed between them (although, that's really two marathons and two half-marathons).

Everyone needs a running coach

For some reason the subject of Lent came up - one of the girls had, despite not being Christian, given up sugar for the last Lent. This led to a discussion of other diets, fasts and personal sacrifices we had made.

Being the type who takes great pleasure in undermining the decisions of others when they make me feel bad about MY decisions or lack-thereof, I pointed out that giving up something you like is much easier than forcing yourself to do something you hate. At that point, I had one of those flashes of personal insight I have learned to dread.

"Of course, it's not like I've ever really given up anything I like. I don't even know what I would give up," I said.

"Peanut butter!" said Amynah, sending a chill to my soul.

Now, I am not hooked on peanut butter, by any stretch.* But it is my go-to thing to make my breakfast carbohydrates palatable, and I will often rely on it when I don't feel like cooking. To put that in context, I feel like cooking maybe twice a year.

All right, challenge accepted. Only, I am contrary, and so I cannot have Ment (Mark-Lent) be the same length as Lent. Having it be shorter wasn't unacceptable either. And so, I will be abstaining from all peanut products until the New Year.

It gets worse: having somehow talked myself into a peanut diet that I did not want, I then pointed out I still needed the "thing I hated" to make it a fast/self-compelled personal growth that would be acceptable to the standards that I was quite happy to hypocritically apply to other people.

There were ridiculous and strict rules attached to this. The "thing I hate" has to be something from which I do not derive a benefit that I care about, and is far outside my comfort zone (i.e. reading classic novels instead of spy novels does not count, writing more does not count). Anything that would benefit me professionally or financially was also out. Whatever this was, it had to be as pointless as it was unpleasant.

Yeah. So now I'm getting up at 6 AM, three times a week, and running. Dear Lord, I hate running. If God/evolution had intended us to run, God/Evolution would not have given us the ability to throw spears at the things we were running from.

The problem with this is that the human mind rationalizes: as such, I am already turning what was supposed to be character-building suffering for its own sake (like self-flagellation or a hair-shirt) into a health crusade, and my peanut-butter fast into a semi-diet in which I've cut out most snacking and desserts.

I worry, if this trend continues, that I'll be one of those spandex clad health nuts measuring out their days according to their mileage and caloric inputs, or that I'll have to find something even more pointless and painful to make up the second part of Ment. Where does one buy a hair-shirt anyway?

 * Anyone who knows about the several hundred dollars that were spent shipping peanut butter to Strasbourg is encouraged to not talk about that right now.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Older and smarter, but not quite as mature, as a two year old

Guess who finally sprung for Photoshop? Guess who isn't very good at it?

I don't work on Fridays, and last week Amynah was invited to give a lecture out of town. Thus, I was left with Sana and Inara entirely on my own. Of course, Friday happened to be one of the three days a year it rained in Los Angeles, so we were trapped inside.

I was fully expecting to be overwhelmed, but I went remarkably smoothly.* Sana was respectful of Inara's allotted crying times, and vice versa, so I never had to cope with a simultaneous melt-down, which is of course the closest thing we on Earth have to a self-perpetuating energy source, albeit one too hazardous to human health and hearing to harness for good.

We played games. We ate lunch. I read stories to Sana. Sana "read" stories to Inara. Inara and I caught up on some bonding time while Sana had her nap. It was all very peaceful. The only moment of drama came when I was putting Inara in her swing, and Sana somehow managed to fall headfirst into a toy chest and get stuck. At the sound of her shrieking, I turned to see a black box with legs flailing wildly in the air.

That story has an unhappy ending - my reflexes kicked in before my brain did, and I pulled her out within two seconds instead of grabbing my camera and taking a picture of the hilarious sight with which to embarrass her once she reaches her adolescence, as a responsible parent would have. Fingers crossed for next time!

(In case anyone is curious, the background in the photo above is the view turned 180 degrees from the chapel pictured in this post while Sana took flight in early July, at Inara's "Welcome to Earth" Barbecue).

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Don't touch that dial!

I'm probably not the first to observe this, but something I've noticed about parenting is that when it comes to your child's development, you are in a perpetual state of being nostalgic for the easier past ("the past" being anything from 1 week to 1 month ago - one's memory doesn't stretch back further than that) while simultaneously looking forward to an easier future. You can't wait for your baby to learn how to crawl, and once she does, you immediately yearn for the days when you didn't have to inspect the carpet at a micro-level to make sure there's nothing nays and swallowable down there. You eagerly await their first steps, and then freak out because all of the furniture has to be wrapped in cotton lest they bump their heads. And finally, you yearn for them to talk, because then you get a peak into the soul that has been co-habitating with you for the last year or so.

 Sana has been learning to talk these last few months, and for the most part, it's great. She's funny, not too demanding, and as reasonable as a two year old can be - she seems to accept our explanations of why she can't have OBJECT X right now, but she can have it later. Which is great, especially as often, when later comes, she's forgotten she wanted it. The drawback is that while we have been enjoying making ourselves understood, we can no longer pretend that we don't understand what she wants.

 For a long time, the only way Sana was able to express that she wanted to listen to music was to yell "Yay! Yay!!! YAY!!!!!" at increasing volume until we gave her something to Yay about (the cheer became synonymous with music from the weekly live bands at our local farmer's market, where Sana learned that one applauds at the end of a song. She makes no distinction between pre-recorded and live music when according this courtesy). When in the car, "Yay!" means Raffi (a Canadian children's singer). I am deeply, violently, sick of Raffi. So, after a certain point I started interpreting "Yay!" as a request for music in general, not her music in particular. In this way, I was able to avoid having to listen to "The Numbers Rumba" or any songs in which duck sounds were a key element for weeks at a time, bringing them out only when Sana was in a particularly foul mood.

 Unfortunately, Sana somehow learned Raffi's name. God knows, I've never said it, but somehow she must have got on the Internet while I was sleeping and figured it out. So, the other day, she started yelling "Yay!" and I put on some commercial rock station, and she said: "No Dada! No radio! Raffi! No radio! Bad girl Dada!" That was a message as clear as day, sadly, however confusing it was for my gender identity. Feigning ignorance of her wishes cannot save me now.

While I'm desperately trying to turn her into a hipster (Arcade Fire - that's happy music, right? Adele?) I fear that my own car is going to become a roving sanctuary for Justin Bieber, just as I remember my Dad grimacing through my older sister's affection for Michael Jackson and Boy George. The only way to save her is to encourage her to become as near as possible to the pop-culture illiterate I was.

 I'm not much of a car guy, but perhaps someone can tell me - is there any currently manufactured model in which there is no radio or CD player at all?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Mark-tricks: Resolutions

When I first started this blog, it had a clear purpose: to keep the friends and family I'd left behind in Canada up-to-date on my new life in France. And, incidentally, to make people jealous about all the adventures I was having in France.

In the last few months of my time in Strasbourg, it turned into something else - an attempt, to capture everything I loved about my life there: the history, the architecture, the lifestyle and, of course, our new friends, French or otherwise. If I could write it all down, I thought, at some point in the future I could look at those posts and capture an incredible time in my life.

The flurry of writing I did on this blog reached a fever pitch in the spring and summer of 2006, and then... pretty much stopped. Without Strasbourg and my imminent departure therefrom* to inspire me, all I had to write about was pollution, traffic, and urban sprawl.

What about Sana? I hear you ask: well, of course I had Sana. I also had another site that was paying me to write about her. Not wanting to scoop or repeat myself, I didn't write about my family here. And besides, the world does not need another "Daddy Blogger" (I cringe, even as I type the words) inviting people to fawn over his sensitivity and/or adorable children? Not in my view. The world also It also doesn't need another politics blogger, or entertainment blogger. It does need another Canadian history blogger, but I'm not exactly well placed to write about that from here, am I?

My professional blogging obligations ended with that site. And so I ask myself, why do I care what the world needs? I have been allowing cobwebs to gather on my writing. Why not become a Daddy blogger? There's no better way to record my daughter's lives. Why not write about politics? Everyone likes a good debate, right?

Writing more here might help me keep up on some other goals as well. In the last few weeks I have undertaken to: start exercising three times a week during the only hour available to me (i.e. 6-7 AM). I have undertaken to abstain from the greatest source of joy and spiritual sustenance in my life - yes, I'm quitting peanut butter, in all its forms, until January. I'm going to put in more effort into my freelance writing. AND, I've been harassed into writing a novel. Which is, uh, being thought about very hard.

I might write about those things. I might write about other things. But I need to keep writing about something, lest what skills I have atrophy entirely.

Please bear with me while I get my mojo back.

NEXT UP: Anything! Anything at all! Idunno... Hallowe'en, maybe?

* I was totally expecting spellcheck to tell me I'd made that word up. Apparently I did not.