Dear Jack: Your Dormant Volcano Finally Exploded!

8 years.

Dear Jack,

Two Christmases ago, one of the things Mommy and I got for  you was an exploding volcano set.

When you decided to pull it out of the closet this past weekend, I did not realize you’ve had it that long.

But you just never got around to taking it out of the box and using it.

So at last, you took some time to paint it and then mix the exploding powder from the packets.

You asked me to make a video of it exploding, as you and your sister touched the “hot” lava.

After two years of remaining dormant, the volcano finally exploded. And it was pretty cool!

 

Love,

Daddy

The Glory of Eating Out: Entertainment, Activity, and Ignorance of Calories

Eating food can easily become entertainment, in of itself.

This Saturday, my wife will finish her final class for her Master’s program.  We’ve been anticipating this day for a year and a half- specifically, we’ve been planning to go somewhere nice for dinner to celebrate.  Though we’ve had our sights set for months on Stony River for a good steak dinner, we remembered recently that we don’t really like steak.  So we instead have discovered a quaint “only in Nashville” sort of place that looks to be more our speed: http://www.12southtaproom.com/

Something I’ve been realizing now more than ever is why eating out is fun.  There are obvious reasons for this, like not having to cook, set the table, or clean the dishes.  And the fact that when you eat dinner out, you have many choices of what you will eat.  All valid reasons.  Yet very obvious.

Here are more subtle reasons:

Environment: Whether or not you truly are a “people person”, or are one and just don’t realize it (People Watching 101), part of the allure of going out to eat is to be around people you don’t know, who serve as background noise and sometimes accidently, as entertainment.

Of course aside from the strangers we like dining near (not with), there also is something soothing/weird in looking at the random memorabilia hanging on the walls- whether it’s old pictures of sad, creepy looking people from the 1920’s, a goofy moose head, or a canary yellow guitar that Tom Petty used to record his Wildflowers album in 1994.  Ultimately, whatever it is, it’s something else to look at.

Activity: Eating good food that we enjoy is more than just about “getting full” or about nutrition.  It’s simply a fun activity.  Yes, we could make the same menu items on our own (with enough Internet research for recipes) and they may taste similar.  But aside from the fact that we’re not cooking it, there is something fun about having someone else serve you.  When someone else waits on you, it gives a sense of “I deserve this” (Password).

Ignorance to calories: Yes, we are overaware that fast food is a killer.  But we turn a blind eye to the nutritional facts at nicer restaurants, essentially all of them.  Even when the meal is low-fat, and even more difficult to pull off, low-sugar, it is still almost guaranteed to be high in sodium- which is linked to heart disease and hardened arteries.  But no matter how nice the restaurant it is, it’s pretty much given that there’s at least 75% of your daily sodium in the meal, at best.

And of course, the serving portions are typically at least twice to three times what a meal should be.  But turning a blind eye to all these nutritional facts makes it much more fun.

So go now, and celebrate, with strange wall decorations, quirky people sitting at the table next to you, and a meal prepared by the salt gods.

A Storytelling of Snake Charmers (or Escapists)

Sometimes there’s no way to get around or over a problem; the only way to get past it is to just go through it.

This past Saturday my friend Tommy and I embarked on our second annual canoe trip on The Harpeth River in Nashville.  The same river that just a month ago flooded much of the western part of the city.  I would love to paint myself as this avid outdoorsman, compensating for the fact (as I’ve established before) that I’m no athlete.  But really, it’s just that I can’t turn down an activity with a friend that allows me to spend several hours breathing fresh air, getting sunburned (just my knees, very badly), and getting to see wildlife.

Especially one that I deem as a lazy adventure (Manspeak, Volume 8: Relaxation).  With the water being as high as it was, very little power was needed on our part to get the canoe moving.  Just basic steering away from rocks and into the best currents.  Like most male oriented social activities, canoeing  kept us from awkwardly facing each other the whole time (Manspeak, Volume 4: Stance).  And gave us something to do when there was nothing to say (which never really happened, because of our mutual love for Super Mario Bros. 2, McGee and Me, and fatherhood).

Two hours into our journey, after relatively no stress whatsoever, I had to do it.  I had to, in typical 1980’s sitcom fashion, speak a line of ironic foreshadowing: “This has been a really laid back trip.  No problems at all.”

Instantly, we look up and ahead.  Two trees had fallen from the flood; one from both sides of the river, blocking the entire length of passage, doubly.  But even in that moment, we didn’t realize that this puzzle ahead was more complicated than just getting past two fallen trees.

We decided the right side of the river promised the easiest and quickest clearance.  I had learned from our last trip that where there was thick, abundant, yellowish foam, it meant there was a decaying animal trapped alongside the river.  As we got closer to the foam, both of us smelled the corpse before we saw it.  A large dead fish, head and tail missing.  Still the size of the pillow you sleep on every night.  Meaning that passing through would ineviditably mean we would have to step in the water to lift the canoe over the fallen tree, we opted to check out the left side of the river blockage as to not get funky fish foam on our sunburning legs.

We steered to the canoe to the other side, seeing right way that the depth of blockage was even greater.  In our strategy forming minds, we both came up with our own idea of how to get through.  Tommy wanted us to stick to our original plan; to step in the water and lift the canoe over our heads and over the trees, then place it back in the water and hop back in the canoe.

I, however, saw a different means of escape.  Shaking the tree and its submerged limbs further in and out of the water, I came to the conclusion that if I crouched down low in the boat, Tommy could stand on the tree, pushing the canoe through the limbs as I helped keep them pushed down to make way for our path.

Tommy is an easy-going guy.  Or maybe it was my natural older brother demeanor, but I convinced him to do it my way.

And right as he said, “alright, let’s do this”, I replied with “Oh, there’s a snake right there!”

I picked my oar up, placing it on my shoulder like a rifle.  “Look five feet away from the end of my oar.  There’s a black snake wrapped around that branch.  He blends in almost perfectly.  His head is up, and he’s looking at us right now.”

It’s not that he didn’t believe me, it’s just that my head was in the way for a few minutes before he could finally see the thing.  And when he did, he jumped in to “crisis mode” with me.

Of course, a man in Crisis Mode is not a man who gets nervous or noticeably excited.  He is a man who speaks lower and slower as he attempts to play the situation in slo-mo, in order to figure out the best practical solution for the potentially dangerous and deadly problem.

After another five minutes (which seemed like 20) of deliberation, after realizing our wishes of killing the snake with a flame thrower were not part of reality (thanks a lot Contra), that we had to meet this problem head on, we went in to Action Mode, while of course, simultaneously remaining in Crisis Mode.

Keeping our eyes constantly scanning the weather, the bank (filled with a good amount of visible snake holes), and the canopy of tree branches over us for more snakes, we carefully lifted the canoe out of the water and over the fallen tree, sliding in the mud (he was wearing flip flops, I was wearing my ten-year old New Balance cross country running shoes), only to realize that once we set the canoe back into the water, another 12 feet ahead was another (this being the third) fallen tree blocking the entire width of the river.

The snake, now behind us, had slithered off of his resting (preying) place on the branch.  Was he in the water now?  Were his friends waiting up ahead of us?  We tried not to think about it.

We hoisted the canoe over the final tree.  The only way into our vehicular escape module was to hop down a few feet from the tree we were standing on at that point, which meant possibly tipping the boat over.  Thank God, we both landed it and got out of there as fast as we could.

The final hour of the trip involved a lot of head turning at every threat of another lethal animal.  We did end up seeing a doe that froze once it saw us.  I was convinced I would see a great beast out there, like a mountain lion or a blank panther.  Never happened though.

The thing is, I’m typically the last person to ever spot any kind of creature in wildlife.  And despite me being so close to the snake, I’m still amazed I spotted it.  We talked about the possible ending this story would have had if I wouldn’t have miraculously seen the snake.  I would have remained in the canoe as Tommy pushed us through, the snake would have been inches away from my nose- either biting my face and falling into the canoe with us.

When I bought my mountain bike back in April, the girl who sold it to me told me that when her brother was working at Bonnaroo last year, he got bit by a water moccasin.  He had to be airlifted to the hospital and given a $40,000 antidote.  Now he was to pay off that debt on a $30,000 a year salary.

But in that moment encountering the snake on the river, what else could we do?  We couldn’t go over or around the problem, we just had to man up and go through the problem.

Myself and Tommy back in 2008

Parks and Rec: How Growing Up Near DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne, AL Made Me Who I Am

“A crooked chimney standing in the middle of a field once surrounded by walls of work, by laughter and by love…  It once was beautiful, right here.  It still is beautiful, in here.  You once were beautiful, I hear.  I hear it can be beautiful, just remember.”

– “Just Remember” by Sister Hazel

I grew up in the wooded mountains of Alabama, a few miles down the road from DeSoto State Park and the Boy Scouts’ Camp Comer. It was only inevitable that I would forever enjoy hiking and exploring trails, well past the days of Cub Scouting. Barely marked paths are rough draft adventures that offer something more sacred and wild than any tourist attraction I could know.

Whenever I trek through new terrain, I always wonder how few people in the history of the world have stepped where I step. And I wonder how long it’s been since anyone else was there. And what kind of animals cross the path throughout each day.

Saturday my new friend Daniel is coming over. That means two things will happen. We will play New Super Mario Bros. Wii. And we will go hiking in the woods behind my neighborhood. There’s an urban legend that an Indian man has been sighted out there meditating. And wild boars.

I’m not inspired by sporting events where the players and coaches switch teams each new season. So when another guy chooses to hang out with me, I will find a way to incorporate some sort of exploration of the wild.

In 2001 my dad and I spent a Saturday morning exploring the undeveloped, unmentioned land in between the Interstate and main street of my home town. I had never talked to anyone who knew what was back there. Forty-five minutes into the hike, we found what we didn’t exactly know what we were looking for.

We looked up and it was as if it just suddenly appeared. An old abandoned house with no power poles or roads leading to it, but instead, an isolated railroad track ran right in front of the house.  Only a few miles from civilization, yet completely forsaken. The entire house was covered in moss. We dared to step inside.

The front door was already open. The couch in the living room was rotted out. The floor of the back bedroom and bathroom was gone. The only proof of recent life was in one of the kid’s bedrooms. Blue shag carpet. Tinker toys. And the local newspaper, The Times Journal, from 1986.

Mentone, AL

The year I started kindergarten was the last time a family had lived there, evidently. In a way, my dad and I discovered it. If anyone in my town wanted to know details about this forgotten house, they would have to come to us. Otherwise, for all practical purposes, it doesn’t exist.

And it’s that sort of discovery that is the motivation for my constant attraction to hiking the woods. It’s what I do. I thrive on it. Not hiking a three day excursion through Catskill Mountains surviving on Cliff Bars and filtered urine. But just finding simple forgotten pockets of wilderness wherever I am.

Today I spent my lunch break from work hiking in the woods behind my office building and found a mysterious soccer field with no parking lot or road leading to it. And an old pony stall. And a frozen baby snake. Perfect.

And as I was searching for pictures of Canyon Land yesterday I stumbled into a new discovery about myself. I am fascinated with abandoned amusement parks. While I didn’t successfully find many pictures of Canyon Land, I did come across several others that fellow abandoned amusement park enthusiasts have taken the time to post. These wonder-playgrounds that once brought thousands of people joy now sit tucked away on the corner of town.

Maybe I romanticize the situation. I see them like Cinderella waiting for someone to come along and save them, bringing them back to their full potential. Like Jim Carrey in The Majestic, I imagine bringing the lost back to life. But for now, these broken-down Ferris Wheels and rusty roller coasters sit quiet like Atlantis.

Below is a collection of the beauty and wonder I see in abandoned amusement parks.  Sometimes creepy.  But what a life they once saw.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on this, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

People are the Meaning of Life, Part 4

The funny thing about enemies is that sometimes they end up becoming our friends later on. Once we trudge past the hurt, forgiveness, awkwardness, new beginning, and a block of time that helps wash away the instant stigma that used to come to mind when we would think of them, we can find ourselves in a situation where we almost think to ourselves, “What did we use to fight about, anyway?”

We as a nation have hated England, Germany, Italy, and Japan in past wars. But now it’s hard to imagine considering any of those countries as enemies, because in my lifetime, they have only been friends of America. Ironically, our country now depends on our relationships with them- not just in military alliances but also in trade.

I feel like I’m the only person in history who actually saw Mel Gibson’s 2006 movie Apocalypto, in which the concept is “there will always be an enemy, whether it’s within one’s self, in his village, in his nation, or outside his nation”. That idea is something I have kept in mind when I find myself brewing against a person who doesn’t see things the way I do, whether the other person is clearly wrong or not. Knowing that on any other day, it just as easily could be me that’s a hazard to myself, because I woke up that morning subconsciously deciding that day would suck because I thought it was Saturday but it was Thursday instead.

Ultimately, the lesson I have learned from dealing with “enemies” is this: It’s always a humbling experience. Being humbled is painful and uncomfortable, like be pushed into a swimming pool in the winter with my clothes on. And to be humbled is to be humiliated, to some degree. Because sometimes the only way to move past the antagonistic part of a relationship with a person is to stop trying to show them that they really are wrong and instead adopt this new branding of “we’ve both been wrong/we’ve let things get out of control/this has just been a big misunderstanding”. That goes against everything inside of me, but has proven the most effective way for me to have one less enemy and gain one more ally.

The Enemies we encounter in life, for the most part, are here to enhance our lives. As we learn to deal with them, we learn to better communicate and react to Bigger Enemies, along with treating our family and close friends better as well. People are the meaning of life, and annoyingly, even our Enemies help that to be true.

dog rat cat

Comfortable Friday


 

Of all people, I should appreciate the quirky American tradition so many offices participate in once a week called Casual Friday.  After four hard days of working while dressed in a restricting long sleeve shirt, tie, and pants (or at least a polo shirt and khakis), the dress code nearly disappears on the 5th day.  Jeans, t-shirt, and flip flops are completely acceptable.  Goofy.  Just plain goofy.


 

The whole idea behind dressing professionally for work is to establish a mentality for the workers to act the way they dress. It also helps draw lines between superiors and those who answer to them, as managers and bosses tend to dress a little nicer, accordingly. But then that all goes away on Friday.  The playing field is leveled out, according to appearance.


 

If the way a person dresses does indeed reflect their initiative and performance at work, why play around with that once a week?  The answer:  It must not really make a difference.  Often, Friday is my most productive day of the week.  And I’m dressed like it’s Saturday morning.


 

Last week’s rerun of The Office addressed some of the tackiness that often accompanies Casual Friday.  Meredith’s lack of clothes, Oscar’s nasty feet, and Toby’s clashing colors.  It just makes me laugh: the double standard of dressing professionally for 80% of the work week and dressing like a slouch for the other 20% of it.


 

Typically on Fridays I wear my comfortable, worn-in/worn-out jeans (circa 2002 so they’re that light shade of blue that used to be the standard), along with a comfortable t-shirt (usually something I got for free from an event I participated in during 2002 and should now only be wearing to wash a car or do yard work in) and my 2002 Etnie skate shoes I wear not because I skate, but because they’re so comfortable- I refer to them as my Marshmallow Shoes because they’re so soft and cushioned.  The obvious recurring theme: clothing from the year 2002.  The other obvious recurring theme: comfortable.


 

Casual Friday is really Comfortable Friday.  If I dressed casually on Fridays, I would wear slimmer fitting darker jeans, an untucked collared shirt, and sneakers.  But I don’t.  And while I call it Comfortable Friday, “comfortable” can easily become a synonym for “sloppy”.  Sloppy is in the same word family as “slob”.  Slob Friday.  But I’m not complaining.  Some people like to play dress up to look and feel important at work.  For the rest of us, there’s Friday.


casual Friday

 

Manspeak, Volume 2: Heroism

Subconsciously I view handymen and auto mechanics as super heroes. Because the only thing I can build is a Lego house and the only vehicle I can fix is a Lego car. While I’m not a “slow learner”, I don’t learn new skills quickly. It takes daily practice for at least several weeks before I master something new. So to see a man who gets daily exposure to these expected masculine events, I can’t help but have admiration.

Any laugh track infused sitcom that features a typical “dad figure” has had at least once episode where there is a need for home repair and the man of the house rises to the occasion (against the advice of others in the household, namely the wife). Of course, the man botches the job for the comedy highlight of the episode: On Who’s the Boss, Tony “fixed” the toilet upstairs but smashed a hole in the floor which he fell into, causing only his butt to be visible from the living room ceiling by his family below. On Perfect Strangers, Larry “fixed” the shower but it caused the shower head to shoot water across to the other side of the bathroom and blasted Balki in the face, who decides to just stand there with his mouth open and drink the water instead of move out of the way. And as for Home Improvement, “man hilariously attempts home repairs” was the theme of every entire episode.

The fact that under-qualified men continue to try to fix things when they don’t really know how to, is a universal issue. Why? Because it is a man’s job to fix things. It is literally the way men were wired. A woman says to a man, “Our garbage disposal isn’t working right. I think we should call someone to come fix it.” The man hears this: “You’re a man, capable of figuring out how to fix this, but instead, I’m going to call another man to get the job done because he’s more qualified than you”. Shrinkage follows at just the thought of another man walking in the door with his tools.

A man walks around with this hidden fear that he will not be successful in life. In all ways big and small. If he can’t successfully make the evidently simple home repair, he fears he may be seen as insufficient, incapable, and useless. When he longs to be the hero. And hiring someone else to do the job makes him feel unnecessary. May seem a little over the top, but being a man, I recognize the tendency of thinking in terms in worst case scenarios about this stuff.

This also explains the all too familiar (yet somehow not cliché because it’s so true) story of the man who won’t stop to ask for directions. It’s a man’s job to explore and find his own way if he’s lost. A major sense of accomplishment if he can do it. And just for the record, he’s not lost. He’s either taking the scenic route or the short cut (depending on how much time is delayed).

One of my proudest accomplishments regarding home improvement was when I turned down an aggressive salesman who knocked on the door one sunny Saturday morning. If I signed a year-long contract right then since his company was already in the neighborhood, his company would regularly spray my house for bugs for the low, low yearly fee of $545. He inspired me to immediately drive to Lowe’s and purchase a 5 gallon sprayer for $11. Needless to say, I now consider myself a professional bug killer.

Last week as I was getting ready for bed I heard my wife scream loudly from the stairs. My initial thought is that someone broke into the house. I ran over to the stairs to find the intruder to be a wolf spider. A very large scary spider that appeared quite afraid to end up lost and confused at the top of the stairs. I took on the form of the 1984 no nonsense straight-faced Bill Murray, racing downstairs to transform the vacuum cleaner into a proton pack with which I sucked up the monster with great force, feeling the vibration of the thump as it was crushed to death by my weapon. I was a hero. An ego trip shortly followed.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

rock