Japan vs. Omaha, A Photo Quiz

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We took two trips recently. One was a family vacation to Japan, where we reunited with old friends, made some new ones and experienced a brand new culture. The other was a trip to Omaha, where we saw some reunited with other dear friends, made some new ones, and got to experience the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting first hand.

Rather than bore you with the nitty gritty details of each, I thought I would bore you with a photo quiz. What is a photo quiz, you ask? Shut up! I ask the questions around here. Here you go:

1. Which of the following breakfast items contained more grams of fat?

a) Breakfast in Tokyo:

Miso soup with clams, tamago (egg) and Tofu.

Miso soup with clams, tamago (egg) and Tofu with scallions and soy sauce.

b) breakfast in Omaha:

A Jumbo Honeybun

A Jumbo Honeybun

Answer: With a whopping 29 grams of fat in the 141 gram bun, this would turn every geisha in Japan who ate it immediately into a sumo wrestler. “Jumbo” doesn’t refer to the size of the bun so much as the size of your buns when you eat it. Evidently, Malcolm wants a badonkadonk.

2. Why was this sign put next to the port-a-potties in a Tokyo?

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Answer: I don’t know and I really don’t want to find out.

P.S. Perhaps this is just an opportunity in disguise. I am thinking a “CSI” type crime drama: “PPP: Tokyo” with PPP standing for Peeping Photo Patrol. Think Ted Danson would be interested?

3. Who is the most bad ass duo?

a) Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger

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Photo: Yahoo finance

b) These two

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Answer: Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger are billionaire geniuses that have made Berkshire Hathaway one of the most successful companies on the planet. They are 85 and 92 years old, respectively, and consume Cokes and peanut brittle like ravenous goats. They are rockstars in the corporate world. Still, Malcolm and Miu will one day have an album cover that looks like this and that automatically makes them the winner. The album will be titled, “Only one of us uses chopsticks.” (Malcolm and Miu were classmates in Paris. That they will continue to be friends despite being a world apart is kinda awesome.)

4. Is this the best beef in the world?

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Yes, yes it is. This is called Ohmi beef, a type of Wagyu cattle that is raised in certain areas of Japan. You’ve probably heard of Kobe beef, but Ohmi is every bit as good, if not better. The name really means, “Ohmi-fucking gawd!” We had it at a Shabu-Shabu restaurant in Kyoto, sliced paper thin and then boiled for five seconds in a broth, along with some veggies. Look at that insane marbling! It was dreamy, that’s why the picture came out the way it did.

Our friends in Omaha served us some fantastic beef from half of a cow that they recently purchased. It was spectacular. It could not, however, compete. That’s because an Ohmi steak, served like the one pound T-bone that we had in Omaha, would cost $700. Yowza!

5. Which was more crowded:

a) this intersection:

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or b) this “meeting”:

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Photo: wsj.com

Answer: They were the same! Too many people! Too little space! The Shibuya crossing in Tokyo is said to be the busiest intersection in the world, with as many as 2500 people crossing the street with each green light. It’s a lot like surfing, except with more surgical masks. The shareholder meeting is also crazy. 40,000 people go to it, filling up the nearly 8,000 seat arena and spilling into overflow rooms. Like I said, Buffett and Munger are rock stars. They had an event at a high-end jewelry store the night before, serving dinner and drinks to people who were free to roam around and check out fancy watches and diamonds, etc. There was no space to eat, so we saw plenty of people hunkered down on the floor, devouring the meatballs and carved roast which was offered at the buffet. Considering the cost of a single share of Berkshire Hathaway stock is more than $200,000, I am pretty sure we saw millionaires and possibly even billionaires eating floor meatballs. Insane!

Lastly,

6. We’ve traveled to many parts of the world and seen many interesting things. For my money, you can’t beat re-uniting with amazing friends. This is my friend:

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She is out there every day, fighting for what she believes in. She inspires me to do the same. Find your friends, eat some steak (or peanut brittle) with them, and conquer the world.

 

The Guy Who Went Up To A Ranch And Came Back With Fat Man Underpants

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We have some friends who live on a real-live cattle ranch in Northern California. We visit them every year, enjoying our time shooting squirrels, riding around on four-wheelers and white-knuckling on horses that walk slower than a squirrel with a broken back. It is an important space for us to leave city living behind and enjoy a spectacularly beautiful area. Here are the quick hits from the weekend:

Yee haw!

We were treated to an impromptu parade consisting of a saint bernard, a dog that antagonizes horses, a tiny dog that thinks he is a Muppet, kids on bikes and a goat named after a dead rapper. Needless to say, such a parade can have no name.

Our bid to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail fell short when, with only 2,649.9 miles left, we went back to the car and had a picnic by a pristine mountain lake.

While offroading and sipping a fine Southern Oregon red wine, we found a horse skull with a bullet hole in it. Malcolm brought it to school, ensuring his reputation in his new class will be, “the kid who brought a euthanized horse skull to school.”

We tried to go to a cowboy bar, but it was closed because the owner got bored and went home.

Sadly, one of the casings went in Judd's wine. Being the gamer he is, he kept drinking anyways...

Sadly, one of the spent casings went in Judd’s wine. Being the gamer he is, he kept drinking anyways…

I demonstrated the proper technique for opening a wax-sealed armagnac bottle by banging it against the side of the house. The wax seal on the particular bottle I brought was soft, meaning the “banging” was more a “light tapping.” Underwhelming was an understatement. (Or was it an overstatement? Either way, not impressive.)

You might be thinking, “Paul, all of these things sound rather subdued. It sounds like you had a perfectly nice time up there, but did anything really interesting happen?”

Read on!

I forgot to pack underwear for the trip. It was not intentional, as our hosts have repeatedly assured me that going commando is NOT a normal part of ranch life. Upon realizing this discovery the first morning, I was forced to consider three options:

  1. Wear dirty underpants.
  2. Wear no underpants.
  3. Find new underpants.

Option 1 had merit. After all, most of the historical figures we celebrate went around wearing undergarments that were not so fresh. Think Thomas Jefferson or George Patton wore clean drawers all the time when the were out there making this country great? Nope. I guarantee this, too, if you ask, “What would Jesus do?” in the same situation, it would be “wear weathered skivvies.” Surely, I would have been in good company if I just decided to grin and bear it for the remainder of the weekend. With all the beef we were eating during the weekend, though, the prospect of a five hour car ride home in four day old underpants was not going to cut it. Option 1: REJECTED.

IMG_4930Option 2 did not seem appealing to me. Many of my good friends profess to a undergarment-free lifestyle, but it is really not something I can get behind. Call me a prude, but I really don’t like the idea of my bits flopping around willy-nilly all day. If I zig, won’t everything zag? This is especially dangerous on the ranch, where trampolines, horseback rides and off-roading are all on the table. I was not going to grin and bare it. Option 2: REJECTED.

This really only left one workable option: I had to find new underpants. This proved trickier than you might expect, as the ranch is at least 30 minutes away from “normal”  underwear dispensaries, like Walmart. Was I 100% sure that I needed to make the trip? Nothing tests your resolve like having to drive an hour out of your way. (I’m pretty sure that that if Lincoln was an hour away from Gettysburg that day, we’d all be talking about the great, “Wilmington Address” instead.) My friend Regina informed me that there were a few closer places that might have what I needed.

The first place we went was a small women’s boutique and there was no chance I was going to walk in and ask whether they had anything that would fit me. The second place we went was a small grocer, and while they had plenty of pants, shirts, hats and socks, they had nothing for the nether-regions. Finally, we went to a place called Mean Genes, a gas station, deli, and, apparently, hunting enthusiast outfitter. I was ecstatic when, amongst the camouflage jackets and vests, I saw numerous packages of underpants. Success!

The ecstasy wore off a bit when I noticed that the underwear for sale was primarily directed at big, fat men. The first set I saw were for XXXL, which means size 52. What the shit? At size 52, I could share the underpants with the saint bernard, and still have room left over for the goat! Poking around a bit, I found some perfectly acceptable boxer briefs that were a mere six sizes too big and settled for those. While not being the most supportive of undergarments, the largesse of my new chonies did have one advantage:  wearing underpants that are way too big really does give you carte blanche for pigging out. It’s like … well nothing actually. Facing a big weekend of eating beef while wearing underpants that are too large has no comparison; it’s one of life’s unique pleasures.

Taking nothing but underpants to a check stand at a gas station might cause other people some anxiety, but I think I handled it like a pro. Here’s how it went:

Clerk: Hi there. Is this it?

Me: Yes, thanks.

Clerk: How is it going, you having a good weekend?

Me: I’m having a great weekend, why do think I need more underpants!

The rest of the time at the ranch was great, we already can’t wait to go back. I may pack differently next year, but the good thing about ranch life is that you make do. Sometimes this means that you find somewhere else to go drink, others, you consider what life would be like with a saint bernard and a goat in your underpants. It’s pretty awesome.

This just doesn't happen in Oakland.

This just doesn’t happen in Oakland, no matter how much I want it to.

Big Daddy Paul’s Guide To Provence

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

Have you ever met someone that you thought you might like, but turned out to be a Nazi who enjoyed burning down orphanages? This is what our recent trip to Provence was like, except the complete opposite. Provence wasn’t a Nazi, it was Mahatma Gandhi, and instead of burning down orphanages, he cooked, gave us foot massages and knew all the lines from Napoleon Dynamite. It was pretty much the best weekend we ever had.

We expected to like Provence, what with all its quaintness and whatnot, but we walked away after the weekend thinking it was one of the most enchanting places on earth. Everywhere we turned, there was some little scene that makes travel writers wet themselves with glee. More a state of mind than an actual place, Provence kept coming at us with imagery that wore down our pent up hustle and bustle until we were  left with a sense of tranquil serenity. (Foot rubs from one of the greatest pacifists ever helped with that too.) I can’t recommend Provence more highly.

“But Paul,” you ask. “How do I get me some of that?” Fear not, dear readers. I have the following list of suggestions that, should you find yourself making plans to go to the South of France, will help you fashion your own perfect Provencial vacation. Thank me later.

If I ever start a band, I am going to name it, "Old stone and shutters."

If I ever start a band, I am going to name it, “Old stone and shutters.”

1. Find some old shit. One of the most striking aspects of Provence is its age. People have been enjoying the high life in Provence for three thousand years, and many of the buildings still standing there date back to the 12th century. That’s old! Old stone buildings and long, rustic walls dot the countryside in Provence and the look is fantastic. Unlike your high school sweetheart, the older and more weathered the features of Provence get, the better they look. Many inns/bed and breakfasts are set in these old, weathered buildings. Find one with a price tag that fits your wallet and stay there. If you find yourself trying to use your accumulated points to stay at the Best Western in Aix-en-Provence, you’re doing it wrong. Your litmus test should be, “Does it look like its original owners died from bubonic plague?” If so, you’ve found your home. We stayed in a 19th century farmhouse called Le Mas des Arts and loved it.

2. Calm the hell down. Upon arriving in Provence, you will probably have a list of things you want to see and do, suggestions for where to eat, and a schedule. You will be tempted to maximize your opportunities and cram in as much as you can while you are there. Don’t do it! Part of the allure of Provence is to relax and enjoy life a little bit more than you are normally able. You can’t really do this if you have an agenda of things you have to do and long days filled with sightseeing and logistics.

Take time to stop and smell the Rosés

Take time to stop and smell the Rosés

Instead of being your normal travel self, try this: plan lazy days. Sleep in if you can and enjoy a little quiet time while you enjoy your coffee or some tea outside, listening to the birds. Putz around a few tiny villages during the day, then enjoy a nice, long, leisurely lunch. After, go back home, nap, read, shoot squirrels,  or do whatever it is that you find relaxing. Make dinner for yourselves and eat it outside. Drink some wine. Have some dessert. Get up the next day and do the same. Sure, you won’t have a completed checklist and a bunch of entry ticket stubs, but you’ll have a much more satisfying holiday. How many vacations can you say left you relaxed and happy? Try it. Provence won’t let you down.

3. Throw out your guidebook and go explore. This one may be tough for some, but you will ultimately be rewarded. For the most part, the most enjoyable parts of our weekend involved stumbling onto things that were completely unexpected. One day, I noticed we were out of dessert. I took off without any idea of where I was going. While I was lost looking for cake, I saw this:
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And this:IMG_6232

 

And this:IMG_6236

All this, on a pastry run! I eventually found a little patisserie on a little square in a little village called Goult that had the most ridiculous tasting creamy chocolate and nut cake ever. If you had told me before hand that there was an patisserie in Goult with an excellent cake there, I would have sought it out and readily agreed with you after. The cake was so much better, though, because of the surprise factor. Sure, there was a chance that I could have stumbled into the French version of Deliverance (“il a une très jolie bouche, n’est-ce pas?”) but even that would have made for some interesting vacation stories after. Let Provence surprise you. Leave your guidebooks next to your Hilton Honors card.

When in Provence, rent a car, and then set out each day on a small, one lane roads following the signs to little villages with hard to pronounce names. Don’t go to the places in Provence, let them come to you. I took 650 pictures in four days, 190 of them turning into something I kept. Pictures of what? How bout this:

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Or this:IMG_6482

4. Avoid other people. People, for the most part, suck. Stay away from them. Definitely don’t stay in a city. Don’t even visit the cities. I even found the mid-sized villages too cramped. Provence is huge area, you have absolutely no need to put up with crowds. Do you like busloads of German tourists arguing over World Cup prospects this summer? How about the Americans who talk TEN DECIBELS TOO LOUD BECAUSE THEY THINK THAT ANY LANGUAGE BARRIER CAN BE OVERCOME WITH ENOUGH VOLUME? Russian tourists are only and always looking for one thing: sex. It’s a fact.

Don’t put up with this. If you find yourself amongst a large group of people, get the hell out of there! The good thing about exploring without a guidebook is that if you run into a large herd somewhere, you have the freedom to bypass it. I look back at our experiences over the weekend and there was definitely a correlation between how crowded a place was and how much we liked it. I have said it before, and I will say it again, “Smaller is better!”

Normally, crappy chipped paint jobs are frowned upon. Here, they are cultivated by decades of neglect.

Normally, crappy chipped paint jobs are frowned upon. Here, they are cultivated by decades of meticulous neglect.

5. Look everywhere. Approach Provence like you are at Costco when they are handing out free samples. Wander. Savor. Try cheese twice! Almost everywhere you look when you are in the small villages there, you will notice something interesting. Walk around and take it all in. Once off the beaten path, you will have the opportunity for unscripted discovery. Take advantage. Just don’t go into stranger’s houses and try to nap on their couch. Evidently, that is still considered trespass.

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How many places in the world will give your kid a crossbow and teach him how to shoot it?

6. Go to the castle. Having said to not have an agenda, there was one thing we did that was so cool that it bears mentioning. There is a museum at a castle called Chateau des Baux. Go there. It is awesome. They have working catapults and give demonstrations. They have sword fights where (like political pundits on cable news shows) the combatants pretend they hate each other. Oh, yes, they also let you shoot fucking crossbows. Other than the museum of boobs and awesome pizza, there could be no more satisfying museum experience in the world. You will not be disappointed.

The castle is only half of it, however. Below the castle is an art exhibit set inside a huge cavern. Inside the cavern, on 50 foot high stone walls, they project huge works of art, some of it stationary, some of it moving in choreographed pieces. The room is pitch black, so the effect is surreal.

Thing made us go "Hmmm."

Thing made us go “Hmmm.”

The cake topper is that they pipe in loud orchestral pieces to accompany the art and the sensation of seeing it all come together is insane. Other than Emmet Smith’s House of Fantasy Football Art & Bacon Factory, there is no other art exhibit that can measure up.

You will find crowds at the castle and the art exhibit. Thankfully, if you follow my rules, they will be the only crowds you run into in Provence. We have just returned from our trip to Provence, but are already plotting how to get back. Gandhi, get those fingers ready!

Here are a few more pics:
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Annecy In My Panntsy

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

A cool feature of living in France is the ability to find interesting places far removed from normal tourist path.

OK, I just read that sentence and immediately hated everything about it. Oh, it conveys the sentiment appropriately, but does so in a way that would even put Rick Steves to sleep. I am going to try that again.

Do you like cool, old shit and melted cheese? I do, and found a boatload of it in a amazing little town that I had never heard of.

This is closer. I am tempted to leave it at that, but I really think I can do better. Nothing is coming to me right now, though, so I will go ahead and write the post. By the end, I will have a beginning so exciting that Rick Steves will bite the head off an angry chicken. Believe it.

Annecy is a town in Eastern France located at the base of the French Alps. It is directly south of Geneva if you are into maps, (and let’s face it, who’s not into maps.) It is a pretty satisfying mix of old world charm, outdoor adventure spot and place to develop a nasty toe infection. We went there for a long weekend and had an amazing family adventure.

If you like the traditional European experience of wandering around old cobblestone streets dating back to the 11th century, Annecy is a good spot to do it. (OK, I feel your pain, you have been reading this entire post without having been told how to pronounce the name of the town we went to. I will ease your discomfort: Ahnsie. Make the sound like when the doctor is looking at your sore throat, then finish with the way a petite, Mexican debutante would answer a question in the affirmative if she were guessing, {“Si?”} Got it? Make no pause from taking pronunciation advice from someone who doesn’t say the word, “Pronunciation” correctly.)

The textured streets blend quaintly into multi-colored buildings and it seems like every tiny alley you turn down in Annecy is a potential erectile event for Rick Steves. (I’m warming up!) We spent the better part of an entire day just walking, eating and looking at old shit. Losing yourself amongst the bustle in a town like this is such a cool experience that even Malcolm was appreciative.

Annecy is situated near a lake bearing its name and nestled amongst the towering, snow-capped Alps. It is like a skinnier version, less meth-y version of Lake Tahoe. We took advantage of the location by taking (an admittedly chilly) boat ride around the lake and then later heading up the mountain for some time in the snow. Malcolm and Amy were so excited by the prospect of being in sunny, powdery snow that they rented cross country skis and made a lap around the forest groomed course. They had a blast! Where was I and why didn’t I accompany them? This was what I was up to:

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You were wondering when I was going to come back to that, weren’t you? So, this happened, and not only did this little piggy fail to make it to the market, it hurt like hell. It had it all: tenderness, searing pain when moved, pus. So while Amy and Malcolm were off frolicking around the forest on their skis, I sat like a pile of bear turd on a heap of snow. It was a tad embarrassing, but with a toe like this, they really didn’t want to be near me anyways.

Annecy is a tourist destination and the food was reflective of that. We were able to avoid the most overly-touristic places to enjoy Haute-Savoie cuisine as it was intended. Incidentally, Haute-Savoie translates to, “High Cabbage,” so don’t go there looking for culinary sophistication. Of course, catering to tourists means that you have to do street desserts well, and the chocolate-whipped cream laden waffle Malcolm got and took 20 minutes to finish did not disappoint. One of the specialties of the region is/was fondue, and Amy and I played the always dangerous game, “When should I stop eating this fondue so I don’t feel like crap?” The fondue we tried was composed of a few different local cheeses and wine, and the resulting hot, bubbling bowl of velvety heaven was the perfect match for the fresh bread used as the vehicle to get it in our mouths. Malcolm really doesn’t like the funkiness of French cheeses, so the game he played was, “How rare of a burger will they cook  for an eight year old boy?” He really likes his raw meat, and we spent a fun evening sharing a meal that I can totally imagine Rick Steves enjoying (with the stuffed corpse of his mother, which he keeps in his apartment and whom he NEVER gets cross with.)

Annecy has a ton of stuff going for it, and we had a remarkable time there. We will definitely go back in the summer, mostly to partake in the myriad of summer activities available: biking, hiking, boating, golfing, etc. I think there is a little part of Amy and Malcolm that want to find out if they too can develop a nasty toe infection, but they probably won’t admit it. If you find yourself in France wanting something to do besides the normal museum-laden experience, you should definitely check it out. You can even bring your taxidermied mommy!

OK. Pressure’s on for a tighter opening. I think I have it:

Have you been longing for a place infected with gooey, old world charm and outdoor adventure possibilities that even a petite, Mexican debutante would find alarming? I have the place for you.

Bingo!

As much as I would like to leave a picture of my toe as the sole visual evidence our weekend, I cannot. Here is the rest of our weekend in pictures:

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The train ride from Paris to Annecy was around 3 hours, and provided enough time to do some sort of statistical analysis of European football players and the Paris Metro system.

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The first thing you do when arriving in any European city is find the open air market. Check!

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Hello!

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Nice to meet you!

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Tttthhhhattttt bbbbbbboooatttttt wwwwwwwasss a llllllitttlllllleee chchchchchchilllllllllyy

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Did I mention that Annecy has a lot of canals? It’s the best of Amsterdam and Switzerland, all rolled into something French!

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Courtyards. Everywhere.

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I almost got tired of taking pictures. Almost.

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The red roofs of the old town, taken from a nearby chateau.

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You can probably skip the chateau tour, but there were still some intriguing nuggets tucked away.

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More quaint shit

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Get more French than that, I dare you!

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It’s a good thing everyone bought their paint at different Home Depots there.

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Our view at lunchtime at an outdoor cafe.

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We really hearted Annecy

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If only they made ’em this big.

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Little chilly, little rainy one afternoon. Hot chocolate time!

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Sometimes you attack the dessert…

 

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Sometimes it attacks you.

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Of course we stopped at a place with this name for crepes and waffles.

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I’m going to go with, yes!

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Fresh snow and sunshine makes for good scenery.

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And eating!

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Luckily, the Olympics were just on, so they knew how to do it.

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Immediately after this pic was taken, he fell, twisted his knee, and had to be saved by daddy. That’s what happens when you try to set the new world record.

We bought these little gems at the open air market. Kind made the whole toe thing seem like it was for the best.

Copenhagen, More Than Just A Brand Of Chewing Tobacco

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We are getting back up to speed around here, having traveled home for the holidays and now getting back into the swing of things here. Here’s my post from a trip we took back in December.

For Amy’s birthday this year, I got her the best present that anyone could ever give: me! She had to be in Copenhagen for a conference on her birthday and I tagged along to ensure that she wouldn’t be lonely and depressed on her special day. Her parents were in town for a visit, which meant we left Malcolm behind and visited a new place by ourselves. This is Copenhagen:

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They also like celebrating the holidays in Copenhagen. Why all the lights? It's 3:30 pm!

They also like celebrating the holidays in Copenhagen. Why all the lights? It’s 3:30 pm!

If  you are like me, you probably don’t know where Copenhagen is. It is in Denmark. If you are still like me, that probably doesn’t help all that much. After looking it up, I found that Denmark is the land mass that connects Germany and Sweden. If you can look at a globe, you’ll see that it’s about as far north as Alaska, which is about 1,000 miles farther north than I ever want to be, especially in December. It is far enough north that the sun goes missing for long periods of time. Seriously! In Copenhagen, the sun comes out at 9 and goes away at 3, meaning it keeps the same hours as a 20 year-old dog. Most of our visit there was shrouded in darkness.

Despite their unfortunate relation to the sun, we found the Danish (the people, not the pastries) to be warm and welcoming. OK, maybe the pastries are that way too. While the official language is Danish, most people spoke English. (Not that I minded. Danish is quite an interesting language to listen to, sort of a hodge-podge of soft German and other Nordic languages. Imagine Hitler hushedly doing an impersonation of the Swedish Chef, with less table-pounding and more fish tossing.) We went to dinner at a small casual family restaurant the first night and it felt less like a place of business and more like we had been invited over to someone’s house for dinner. The Danes are indeed great.

The only thing good about being dark at 9 am is that you get to sit in a cafe eating and drinking without remorse.

The only thing good about being dark at 9 am is that you get to sit in a cafe eating and drinking without remorse.

On our only full day there, Amy went to her conference and I set out to see some sights. I had coffee and a danish at local coffee shop, mostly because I had see what Danish danish were like. Anytime the name of the food specialty matches the name of the town, I have to give it a try. (Except of course, when I am in Dirty Pig Testicle, Texas. There, I skip it.) The pastries were good, yeasted, and therefore light and airy on the inside, crisp on the outside and deliciously sweet and cinnamonny all through. My pastry experience here was like waking up on Christmas morning, in baked-goods form.

Looks pretty crappy, exactly like it does in Bohemia.

Looks pretty crappy, exactly like it does in Bohemia.

My first stop was Christianshavn, a residential area known for its bohemian atmosphere. After seeing a lot of things described as “bohemian,” in my life,  I have come to the conclusion that this is really just code for “crappy looking.” From what I could tell, the chief attraction in this part of the woods was Christiana, a commune set up by squatters in some old army barracks. There, residents have attempted to set up an independent autonomous collective, complete with its own government charter and lax attitudes towards leashing your pets. As I wandered the paths of Christiana with 20 mangy looking dogs, I saw the “Green Light District,” which is where everyone in Copenhagen goes to score weed. I usually don’t like getting high, but, like urge to sample a Danish danish, I really wanted to see what it would be like to smoke out with squatters who thumb their noses at the rest of the country (pot is illegal everywhere else.) My curiosity only goes so far, though, and as the area was totally scuzzy and it was 10 am, I kept going. Half of the dogs in town followed me.

A twofer! Art and fancy writing in the same tiny book. How lucky was I?

A twofer! Art and fancy writing in the same tiny book. How lucky was I?

My next stop was the David Collection, the largest collection of Islamic art in Northern Europe. I discovered that Islamic art was quite different from other culture’s artistic expressions and mainly consisted of things like tiny picture books, clothing, pottery, calligraphy and coins. Mildly put out by the name, I filled out a feedback form telling them they should change the name of the place to “The David Collection of Old Clothes, Cursive Samples, Tiny Pictures, Pots and Loose Change,” so as to avoid any confusion. The “art” they did have was indeed interesting, although there were so many docents in the museum and so few patrons that the scene inside was pretty uncomfortable. The docents practically begged me to engage them on the exhibits, but I really had nothing for them. Every once in a while, I would note, “Wow, this picture book is really much smaller than the rest” or “I like the way this ‘T’ is crossed,” but for the most part, I was useless. The inside of that place reeked of desperation.

I decided I needed a little blood and guts. Anywhere situated this far north has to have a long and glorious history with Vikings, right? I made my way to the National Museum for what I thought would be an extensive history of the vikings in this part of the world. I was initially intrigued by the early Danish penchant for making tributes. Essentially, in the old days, if you had something you really liked, you tossed it in the bog in the name of good fortune. Got a really nice silver pot? Toss it in the bog! Hey, nice carriage, you should totally toss it in the bog! Where’s your sister? I threw her in the bog, and now my rash is nearly gone! Researchers have had a field day going into the bogs and looking for stuff that people threw in for good luck. I was amazed. I was not, however, amazed at the Viking displays at the museum. There were two rooms, and there was no glorification of violence anywhere. There was no carnage or tails of getting drunk and invading far off lands. I didn’t get to see stories of Eric-The-Red, Eric-The-Mad or even Eric-The-Guy-Who-Just-Tossed-His-Favorite-Shoe into the bog. I was quite disappointed.

One thing that I noticed walking around town was how trustworthy the Danish are. Everywhere I went, I saw bikes parked on the street without so much as a lock on them. Being from Oakland, my first inclination was to steal as many as I could, but upon a bit of reflection, I realized that 100 Danish bikes would not fit in our carry-on baggage. This point was really driven home when I saw a sleeping baby in a stroller parked in front of a store, its owner nowhere to be found. That baby would last 10 minute tops in Oakland before being sold to overzealous infertile San Francisco parents. Perhaps they should include stuff like this in promoting tourism in here: Copenhagen, a place so safe you can leave your baby alone on the street!

This is the National Face of Denmark. Everyone wears it. There really isn't any other face you can make when you are getting pelted in the face with small chunks of ice going 50 miles per hour.

This is the National Face of Denmark. Everyone wears it. There really isn’t any other face you can make when you are getting pelted in the face with small chunks of ice going 50 miles per hour.

One thing that did not disappoint was the weather. While we were there, we saw a steady stream of people getting the hell out of town. A major storm hit there area with temperatures plummeting and winds howling near 50 miles per hour. They closed all the bridges in town, the train station and the airport, leaving downtown Copenhagen a veritable ghost town. No wonder the docents at the Davis Museum were so hard up!

This dish combined beef jerky and bone marrow. Needless to say it was near the top of the list.

This dish combined beef jerky and bone marrow. Needless to say it was near the top of the list.

Of course, no birthday celebration would be complete without a crazy decadent meal. We booked a table at a Michelin starred restaurant and arrived to find that the storm had chased away all the other diners. We had the place to ourselves, meaning the entire wait staff and kitchen was there to dote on us. It was pretty awesome. We had 12 courses, complete with wine pairings, and it was one crazy dining experience. We ate cod skin, beef jerky, sweetbreads, deer tartare, burned artichoke and everything in between. They even made us a nice cake for Amy’s birthday. Amy didn’t remember it though, because we drank enough awesome wine to make us want to invade a neighboring country and pillage the shit out of it. While we normally prefer simpler fare, it was quite an experience to see what fussy food can look and taste like.

Copenhagen was definitely not on my list of places to get to while we are in Europe, but I am really glad we went. I can imagine going there in the summer, when the weather is nice and the sun shines all night long, and enjoying some good beer at a nice outdoor restaurant without having to worry in the least about where I had parked my child. We’ll have to go back.

 

Barthalona, It’th Thimply Fantathtic

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We went to Barcelona last weekend. They talk funny there. Not funny-interesting, either, like,

“These cookies taste funny Malcolm, what did you put in them?

Chili powder and macadamia nuts.

Rrkay.”

I found the language spoken in Barcelona to be hilarious. Instead of the “S” sound they make a “TH” sound, making comic gold out of otherwise uninteresting sentences (“For thith reathon the Thpanith Empire wath thaved from dethtruction.”) Are you kidding me? I would watch C-Span all day if it sounded like this! (Thee-Thpan!) Most people sound like they have a handful of ham in their mouth when they talk, and I loved every minute of it.

Why  do they sound that way? Usually, it’s because they have a handful of ham in their mouth! Only, it’s no ordinary ham. While it’s called ham, it’s totally HINO (Ham In Name Only.) They call it jamón iberico. I call it Porcstasy.

Pork in a cone? You bet your sweet bippy!

Pork in a cone? You bet your sweet bippy!

The ham in Spain, the really good stuff, comes from special pigs with special legs that forage around the forest eating special acorns. They lead very pampered lives up until the point at which they are slaughtered. Those special legs are then left to cure for up to four years. (!) After curing, they are brought to a market and stuck in a special vice where artisan butchers slice off paper-thin portions one customer at a time.

Pig in a polk!

Pig in a polk!

One savory sample and your eyes roll into the back of your head while you exclaim, Mary Conchita Alonso Elizabeth Mastrantonio! The acorns give the jamón iberico a truly unique flavor, a rich nuttiness that even the Koch brothers can’t touch. The icing on the ham (mental note: invent icing for ham) is that it is surprisingly high in the mono-unsaturated fats that are actually good for you, meaning that each delicious bite makes your mouth, heart and colon all smile. With so much going for it, we enjoyed quite a bit of ham during our trip.

A blast even without the biggest star.

Forget Messi, Malkie was the big star this weekend!

The main non-ham related reason we were in Barcelona was to watch a soccer match for Malcolm’s birthday. It was supposed to be a slaughter: Malcolm’s soccer idol, Lionel Messi’s FC Barcelona squad was up against one of the cellar dwellers of the Spanish League. It turned out that Messi and several other stars on the team were out due to injuries, meaning a) Malcolm was really bummed at not seeing his hero play, and b) I was excited because the tickets were a lot cheaper. That probably means that I am a bad person, but as long as it’s only “probably,” I am fine with it. The home team still won 4-0 and Malcolm had a great time. He will forever be able to say that he got to watch FC Barcelona win on his birthday, and that is pretty cool. Later, after the game and dinner, Malcolm ate an entire dessert sampler by himself. He had quite the birthday, and will probably be talking about it non-stop, until he starts planning his next birthday (next week!)

Huh?

Huh?

By far the highlight, sightseeing-wise, was the church designed by Antoni Gaudi. It’s called Sagrada Familia, which translates roughly to, “You are not going to believe this nutty fucking church.” With it, Gaudi seemed to turn science, art and reality on their respective heads. You walk around looking at everything in/on the church and wonder what happened. It all just looked so … weird. (I imagine it’s the same sensation Lady Gaga’s OB-GYN has during her annual pap smear.) After we left, the three of us just let out a collective, “Whoa.” to what we had just seen. I think I liked it, but I couldn’t tell whether I actually enjoyed the aesthetics of it or just appreciated the different-ness. I loaded some pics to follow the post in case you are interested in seeing some more. Gaudi was an insane genius person.

I don't know why there are so many songs about rainbows, but thanks for asking!

I don’t know why there are so many songs about rainbows, but thanks for asking!

It seems like we spend the rest of the weekend asking our tour guide stupid questions. We didn’t know who defeated the Romans and the end of the Roman Empire. We didn’t know Spain was neutral during World War II. We couldn’t understand why, if the foundation behind the construction of Gaudi’s church was devoted to Joseph, the church didn’t have more Joseph statues. (The Paul society will be erecting fat-faced statues in every house I ever lived in, I guarantee you that.) I wish you could have seen some of the looks the guide shot us, they were quite amusing. There were times when she contorted her face in disgust at our ineptitude that she looked like a baby excreting in its diaper. The good thing about hiring a guide, though, is that you are paying them to answer all your questions, even the dumb ones. Our guide earned every cent.

When confounding the guide became old hat, we ate. We had a few unhammy meals, and they were pretty awesome. We had delicious paella, outstanding tapas and, after a trip to the Picasso Museum where I proudly announced, “I don’t get it,” we had a proper Spanish lunch. Lunchtime in Spain is a 2-3 hour saga in which the entire country shuts down to enjoy a multi-course meal. I thought it was for sleeping, evidently, it is for eating! Our Comida included the best pork dish ever. Pork shoulder was cooked in pork fat for several hours until until it had the consistency of pulled pork, then it was topped with some crispy pork skin and served with mushrooms and a red wine reduction. To eat it was to feel the sensation of hugging a pig in heaven. Malcolm and Amy had a delicious fish cooked in a thick layer of salt. I don’t remember the dessert because I was in a wine-aided bout of porkphoria. Our lunch lasted 2.5 hours and it made us miss our intended tour of some additional sights. We didn’t cram some more touristy stuff in because we’d rather eat than tour. Period.

You’d think that with all these cool experiences, though, that we would have been the toast of the town. Instead, we were hated in Spain with the fuerza normally reserved for members of the Inquisition, Franco’s secret police and people who don’t like soccer. People would ask us in questions in Spanish or English, and, after giggling about the “TH” sound thing, we’d respond in French. Then we’d correct it to English, translate it into shitty Spanish and then back to English. Then we would try to hide. This is a very difficult way to conduct simple business and generally made things intolerably difficult for everyone involved. We were not popular.

After trying so hard to learn the French way of doing things for the past month and a half, we found it very hard to switch gears. I have to admit, when we got off the airplane in Paris, and were welcomed with, “Bienvenue a Paris!” it was a welcome relief. Barthalona, you are thuper to vithit, but Parith ith where our home ith.

Here are some more Gaudi pics:

IMG_3338

Huh?

IMG_3341

Wha?

IMG_3351

Whoa

IMG_3363

This looked like a tiki hut, except with, you know, the son of god crucified underneath it.

IMG_3371

Look at that brass!

IMG_3347
Ooh
IMG_3374

Aah

 

Me thinks this quite the spectacle.

Me thinks this quite the spectacle.

Amsterdam, Not Just For Perverts Looking To Get High

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories, Uncategorized

Amy had a conference in Amsterdam this week, so Malcolm and I joined her for the weekend. Our weekend was really fun, including experiences that were high-brow, low-brow and every brow in between. Here are the random highlights:

I wanna rub my face on that seat!

I wanna rub my face on that seat!

We took the high speed rail to get there and back. Impressively, the trains go 200 miles per hour. Even better, the seats are wide and made of red velvet. The train ride felt like three hours of lying around in a comfy smoking jacket. Malcolm read and played Top Chef on the computer. I fondled the seats.

We stayed with Amy at her conference hotel the first night and woke up to a breakfast buffet that catered to the international crowd. Our breakfast consisted of ramen noodles and broth, pain au chocolate, crusty bread with smoked beef and gouda, pineapple, eggs, bacon, sausage and beans. The businessmen at the table next to us were disgusted. I was too!

Hotels rarely have this right outside their door.

Hotels rarely have this right outside their door.

Most people in Amsterdam stagger around with visions of zebras and giraffes because they spend too much time in the coffee shops. We did so because we rented a houseboat on a canal across from the zoo! The houseboat was pretty cool inside and located in an up and coming area of  restored old brick buildings. This place was really one of the highlights of the weekend. Never stay in a hotel in Amsterdam!

Malcolm and I went to the NEMO children’s museum on the waterfront. It was the greatest single argument in favor of birth control I have ever experienced. Even the Chinese kids there thought it was crowded.

I want to rub my face on that croquette!

Food is always better when you’re not sure what’s inside.

I ate a croquette for lunch one day. If you’ve never had them, they are deep fried log rolls with a strange gooey substance inside. Mine had chunks of ham thrown in every so awesome. Later, I saw them in vending machines and totally wished I had ordered mine from a vending machine. It’s not all that often where you can get fried food from a machine. Next time!

We spent Friday night at the Van Gogh museum. They turned the lobby into a club, complete with cool lighting and a dj. They even served drinks! They gave Malkie a scavenger hunt to do, requiring him to find certain paintings, identify whether the painting mad him feel happy or sad and even taught him/us about brush strokes and art history. Our night at the museum was really the coolest thing we did during the weekend, mostly because we stayed out past 10 pm.

That food was just for us. I'd say we were gluttonous, except that would require too much work

All that food was just for us. Gluttony, it’s what’s for dinner.

For dinner one night, we had an Indonesian rice table (“Rijsttafel.”) Imagine going to a southeast asian restaurant, opening the menu, and saying, “OK, I’ll take it.” They brought us 21 dishes! You get just a few bites of each, but it is a great way to taste your way through southeast Asia, even when you are in Northern Europe. (Indonesia used to be a colony of the Netherlands when it was called the Dutch East Indies.) But you are not thinking of colonization when you are eating. You’re thinking, “Damn, this is some good lamb satay.”

We took Malcolm to the Anne Frank house, waiting for nearly an hour in line. I guess I should say that it was only an hour. When we saw the line later in the day, it had almost doubled! We had prepped Malcolm about Nazi and the treatment of the Jews by having him read Number the Stars He seemed to understand what happened to the family but the most pressing issue he had was to figure out where in our Paris apartment we could stay if the Nazis ever came for us. Be prepared!

We had Dutch pancakes for lunch one day and thought there were awesome. Amy had camembert, ham and leeks, Malkie had chocolate and I had bacon, banana and chili pepper. They were awesome, although eating too large of a chunk of chili almost cost me my taste buds. The pancakes were somewhere between a crepe and a frittata. The place we went to, aptly named Pancakes!, was totally charming.

zzzzzzzzz

zzzzzzzzz

By the time we made it to a canal boat tour, we were pretty worn out. Malcolm fell asleep and I almost did too. I would say 80% of the boat dozed off at one point or another.

We walked around the Jordaan, taking in the tiny cobblestone streets and canals. It was cool, except if you are seven years old. Then, it totally sucks, unless you can find a cheese shop that has pesto gouda. Then it is awesome.

I want to rub my face in those frites!

I want to rub my face in those frites!

For an after-cheese snack, we had war fries (oorlog frites.) At Vleminckx, they make one thing, fries and have done so since 1887. There’s probably a guy on the streets of NY that has been selling the same batch of hot dogs since the 1940’s, but to make one thing, and one thing only for that long a period of time? That’s bonkers. The fries are crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and slathered with mayonnaise, peanut satay, and onions. I can’t explain why they taste good. Just trust me.

After some searching around, we found a sports bar that showed the Barcelona-Real Madrid game. We drank beer and ate cheeseburgers and watched the game. The guys next to us started smoking weed, and I can’t imagine how Malcolm didn’t get a contact high. He said he wanted to get home via giraffe and thought my name was Tinderbox.  It didn’t help that there many weirdly costumed people at the bar, including one man dressed in a giant inflatable penis. I sincerely hope none of it makes its way into his weekly journal he keeps at school. I think we are too new at the school to have that much explaining to do.

After dinner our last night, we got chocolate covered waffles and ate them on the steps of a church. Chocolate covered waffles are to dessert what crack is to cocaine. There are light like a donut, except crispier on the outside and slightly chewier. They are also sweet. Really sweet. Sweeter than hugging your favorite aunt at Christmastime. Eating a dessert waffle makes you want to dance with everyone you meet, even if they are dressed as a giant inflatable penis.

The one I kissed was much cuter. (And bloodier.)

The one I kissed was much cuter. (And bloodier.)

We took the tram home and during the trip the tram ran smack dab into a Halloween parade, forcing us to wait 30 minutes as the parade went by. As we sat there, hundreds of zombies came by and spread blood on the tram window and tried to scare us. Malcolm was terrified. I danced with some witches and kissed a zombie through the glass. It was hilarious, and in no part made more enjoyable by the waffles, Belgian beer and second hand smoke.

We managed to pack quite a bit into our little weekend, some good, some gooder and some just plain old Amsterdam weirdness. Coming home was totally surreal, though. Our home was in Paris. In case you aren’t sure, that’s in France, and it’s where we live. Nuts, all.

The Boy Who Went Up A Mountain A Pervert And Came Home A Whiffle Baller

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

Best title ever? Probably so. I’ll probably have to delete the post once Malcolm starts surfing the internet on his own, but until then: enjoy!

We went camping this weekend. Amy had to go to Europe for work, so Malcolm and I joined some of my friends with kids for some roughing it on the Yuba river. I don’t know if you can call it “roughing it,” considering we had access to decent bourbon and premium salami, but since I packed neither shoes nor deodorant, I noticed a difference from a normal weekend. Who’s got two thumbs, flip flops and stay at home dad musk? This guy! (Now that I write that, I see a tremendous opportunity for a new cologne: SAHD musk. Marketing campaign will go something like this: For the man who doesn’t need to impress anyone. Salami. Funk. SAHD Musk: the scent of unemployment.)

I am hoping this is a normal thing with kids, but Malcolm does very odd things when he gets excited. I wish that he expressed his excitement in a productive manner, like, say, helping me unload the car or making guacamole. Instead, he tends to get a little pervy. As we were getting dinner ready the first night, Malcolm and some of his little buddies went down to the river with the other parents playing the part of chaperone. After about five minutes, my friend Greg came back and said, “I think that you should know that your son was groping me down by the river. I would have let it slide but he did it three times and it got really annoying.” Pausing and wondering whether I wanted to know, I caved and asked where Malcolm touched him. He told me Malcolm grabbed his junk and then jabbed him twice in the butthole with his finger.  We had been there all of 20 minutes and Malcolm’s first notable act was to treat my good friend like a home schooled proctologist. I tried to hide my shame by doing what comes naturally. I jammed my finger up Greg’s butt and told him that’s how we roll on the Yuba. He wasn’t impressed. The last thing you want to do when you are trying to enjoy the great outdoors with your fiends is have to explain to your child that he shouldn’t be tickling anyone’s prostate. Malcolm has a history of shenanigans like this (his schoolmates call him Clarence Thomas) so I had to banish him to his tent to contemplate whether he was going to spend the whole weekend acting weird or if he could calm down a little. There was some occasional semi-clothed wrestling with one of the other kids, but for the most part he turned it around.

Take this stick, sneak right up behind Greg and...

The rest of the weekend went a bit smoother. The kids played. The parents drank. We swam in a cold river. We ate marshmallows and other yummy camp food. When the kids went to bed in the tents, the grown ups sat around the campfire discussing important issues like, “What’s the theme song to the show, Growing pains?” and “Should we allow the Schwarts boys along when Amy can’t come?” The kids there ranged from a few months old to fourth grade, and, despite the age difference, they got along fabulously. They organized themselves into imaginary games and for some of the scarier missions, the older kids led the younger ones around by holding their hands. It was some truly cute stuff.

With my selective memory, I will remember this weekend as the weekend that Malcolm took up whiffle ball. We played a game with the older kids and dads, with people generally pitching as fast as the could. There were strikeouts, dramatic tag outs and some epic home runs. (Not by me, mind you. I put the whiff in whiffle ball out there.) I did have the foresight to draft Malcolm on my team, meaning I didn’t have to suffer the indignity of having him strike me out, which some of the other dads did.

On Monday, after we had arrived home and I took Malcolm to school, Malcolm asked me if we could go to the park and play some whiffle ball. My heart leapt! When kids ask their parents to do stuff that parents really like to do, whether it’s work on crafts, read, play music, cook or throw rocks at the neighbor’s cat, the parent is overcome with an emotion that is often lost in the day to day routine: sheer bliss. Malcolm asked me to play whiffle ball and I was in nirvana. After school, we played for 90 minutes straight at the park near his school. It was awesome. Afterwords, Malcolm slapped me a high five and said, “Daddy, that was really fun.” The smile grew across my face, my spirits soared and I couldn’t help but think, “Well that sure beats a finger in the butt.”

Ranch Enthusiasts

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

Every Memorial Day, we visit our friends Regina and Judd. They live on a cattle ranch near the California-Oregon border. Together, they do three out the following five things: raise cattle, grow alfalfa, function as the guidance counselor at the local high school, murder bad guys that the mainstream police can’t catch, and tattoo each others chests with pro-racism messages. (I’ll leave the guesswork of which ones fit to you.) It is one of our favorite weekends of the year, as evidenced by our prior trips here, here, and here.

Most of the time, we go up to the Hanna Ranch to experience life in the country, complete with guns, “barrel-food” and a bar where people on dates often wear the same outfit. (Apparently, camouflage hats and vests are the hot fashions for both men AND women in some places!) I sometime help Judd out with his chores around the farm, Malcolm spends a little time on the back of the horse and Amy wears non-skinny jeans. It’s a welcome change from our normal weekends.

Who's ready for some vomit-free fun?

This year’s trip was a bit different. Malcolm has a nice little tradition of throwing up in the car on the way up. This year? No nacho cheese Dorito-colored vomit worked its way into every crevice of the back seat. Similarly, he showed little interest in cruising around the ranch to play with all the old trucks and tractors dotting the property or going for a horsie ride. We didn’t go for our family four wheeler ride and I only pressured Judd to take me out squirrel hunting once. I didn’t even sneak out at night wearing Judd’s clothes and cowboy hat to pretend that I was a real rodeo cowboy. (Bulls weigh somewhere around 2,500 pounds. I find it is much easier to ride them at night, while they are sleeping!) This year was different.

This year, we had gourmet weekend away. Regina and Judd arranged for babysitting one day and we went wine tasting with them and some friends of theirs from the local college. While sipping fine pinots, we made comments like, “Does this taste more like saddle or wet wool?” We learned the proper way to pronounce the word, “Qatar.” Hint, it doesn’t rhyme with guitar. We pretended that we were too highbrow for corn dogs and moose munch. We even laughed at some poor schmuck in Ashland that took a drink from a fountain, thinking it was fresh spring water, only have it turn out to be sulfuric nastiness that smelled and tasted like a Nascar fan’s butt. Poor sap. All his friends were laughing at him, probably because they were so jealous that he was so good looking and fun to talk to. Anyways, it had been a while since we had been wine tasting and we had a great time.

When they weren’t whisking us around Southern Oregon showing us how the 1% lives, the Hannas  treated us to some pretty stellar food around their place. They served us farm eggs in the morning and roast lamb, hearty Brazilian black beans superb pasta and, get this, bacon-wrapped venison tenderloin for dinner. I am pretty sure I would eat anything that started with the words bacon-wrapped, even if the name of the dish ended with the words, “salmon vagina.”

Ummmm, yes.

When we finished stuffing our pie holes with dinner, they brought us homemade lemon bars and white chocolate fruit tarts. While we were eating the amazing food, we drank excellent wines and expertly crafted cocktails. I thought we had checked into the Scotts Valley Four Seasons.

You may be asking yourself what Malcolm was doing while we were eating like royalty. I am proud to report that I have no fucking idea. He was quite content to muck about with the Hanna kids around the house. We occasionally received word from the Hanna five year old that Malcolm wasn’t sharing and there were reports that he removed his pants at one point, but, for the most part, the kids did an excellent job of entertaining themselves. This meant we got to eat, drink and be merry with our pals on the Hanna ranch, and were we treated to a ridiculously fine time. What’s better than a weekend where your kid has a great time and you get to have fun doing grown up stuff (besides bacon-wrapped salmon vagina)? Nothing, we can’t wait for next year!

10 Things To Do With A Sick Kid

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

Malcolm was sick this week. Ordinarily, this would have been no big deal, and we would just sit around the house doing drugs (if only Ibuprofen,) and watching movies. This was not, however, a minor illness and we had some pretty big plans around here, so the week turned out to be quite the carnival of fun. If you are wonder what to do next time your kid gets sick, wonder no more!!!

1. Go to baseball camp. Most doctor’s recommend rest in a peaceful environment for sick kids. I say, “Bah!” to that. We sent Malcolm to baseball camp on Friday after mistakenly believing his fever had subsided. (That Ibuprofen really works!) When I picked him up from camp, his counselor called him the, “Strong, silent type.” I knew something was drastically wrong. Most of the kids leaving the ball fields that day had red faces because they were sun burned and tired from running, but Malcolm’s was due to a 104 degree fever. When sending your kid to camp with a dangerously high fever, I recommend putting him/her in long, black polyester baseball pants and a sweatshirt like we did, too. It surely makes them feel even worse.

Things not oft heard in an ER: "No seaweed for me, daddy!" and "Can you get the wasabi off of this tuna for me?"

2. Eat sushi in a weird place. (FYI, this does NOT mean jamming sushi in a non-traditional orifice!) After getting home from camp, Malcolm crashed. Even though he was sick and fell asleep at 4:30 in the afternoon, I decided we should keep our big plans for the night: eating sushi and watching the movie, “A Perfect Game.” When he awoke from his nap, his fever spiked to 104.6. To me, that sounded more like a FM rock station than a safe temperature for a human being, so we loaded Malkie and the sushi into the car and headed to the emergency room. We were all pretty hungry when we got there, so while we waited for our turn we ate sushi in the waiting room. Being the classy individuals we are, we used our “white trash chopsticks” (which is another way of saying our thumb and forefinger) as the preferred delivery system. Not all of the families in the waiting room were nauseous in the ER waiting room before we got there, but after we left surely everyone wanted to throw up. Oakland Children’s hospital waiting room people, you are welcome!

3. Take a road trip. The ER doctors assured us that Malcolm had a virus that would work itself out in a day or two, and that we were totally cool taking the week long camping trip we had planned. I am not sure if most people would look at their feverish, lethargic child and decide that the best course of action would be to load the kid in an RV for a five hour drive, but we are not most people. (Does that make us least people?) The trip was pretty weird. Malcolm just sat there. He didn’t watch movies or play games on my phone. For nearly five hours, he stoically looked out the window like an inmate being transferred to a new facility. Strange.

4. Eat fast food. I know when I am sick, I like soup. Some people like crackers. We fed Malcolm a cheeseburger and chocolate shake. Technically, the In And Out “burger” lacked a meat patty and was therefor a grilled cheese sandwich, but still. After four nights of sickness, we attempted to get Malcolm better by pretending he was no longer sick. It didn’t work.

5. Build a crappy fire. I brought a shit-ton of firewood for our camping trip after collecting the wood from a tree that a neighbor chopped down a few years ago. This wood was big and needed chopping, though. I tried using the hand axe we brought and the only thing I succeeding in doing was giving myself four blisters. A fellow camper took pity on me and gave me a better axe, but I still couldn’t break up the giant logs. Having seen the Shining, I thought that if if something is made of wood, you could chop through it with an axe, but evidently, this is not the case. I felt like the guy trying to cut a strip of beef jerky with a spork. I eventually scrounged a meager amount of kindling together and after setting it ablaze dumped some giant logs on top. This succeeded only in making a huge amount of smoke. Fun fact: smoke is bad for sick people. Malcolm was up all night crying and coughing, coughing and crying. We felt awful, but not as awful as Malcolm did. We were getting quite concerned for our little boy.

6. Don’t eat s’mores. Along with “Not Bathing,” s’mores are one of main reasons that people go camping. Malcolm adores s’mores and would probably agree to get really sick if it meant that he could have s’mores when he got better. Under the “pretending he is better” theory of parenting, we offered him s’mores the first and second night of the camping trip. He said (and I quote), “I don’t think I want any s’mores. I just want to go to bed.” Under normal circumstances, I would giddily accept such a request as it would inevitably mean that there were more s’mores (is that redundant?) for me, but this just broke my heart, much in the same way Hillary must have felt when Bill Clinton said, “You know, I don’t think I’m going to get any interns this summer.” Something was definitely wrong.

7. Eat burned bacon in a weird place. (Same thing goes with the orifice.) On Tuesday, I committed a cardinal sin: I burned the bacon. You can end up on whatever side you want with the whole “flabby vs. crisp” bacon debate (I am unapologetically pro-crisp) but no one likes their bacon burned. I burned the bacon, and as we sat down to eat breakfast on Tuesday to this sad reality, Malcolm had a coughing fit so severe that he threw up a pile of foam. I didn’t recall serving him any salmonella-infected foam, so I took this to be a bad sign. I freaked out and demanded that we immediately take him to whatever urgent care facility they had nearby. Luckily for us, there was a hospital ten minutes away, so we packed Malcolm and the burned bacon in the truck and made our way to our second urgent care facility in a week. While we waited for Malcolm’s tests, Amy and I took turns eating in the waiting room. The people there would have preferred that I eat sushi, telling me, “Dude, burning the bacon is a dick move.” I didn’t disagree.

Who needs a camping chair when they have perfectly good beds at the hospital?

8. Play games. We had planned on playing a lot of Scrabble and Yahtzee, but at this point in the week, we were forced to play “Chest X-Ray,” “Get an IV installed” and “The Blood Drawing Game.” After a spelling bee, we learned that the proper way to spell Malcolm’s malady was “P-N-E-U-M-O-N-I-A.” When the doctor told us this, I excitedly fist pumped and exclaimed “Yesssssss!” not because I wanted my son to have pneumonia, but because it meant that he had an illness that he would get some medicine for. Having a child with an undiagnosed illness is way worse than having a child with a diagnosed illness, even when the illness sounds serious and has two consonants in it that normally don’t go together. The doctors again told us that we could continue camping, but just to take it easy (and probably avoid crappy fires.) After filling up prescriptions at the local pharmacy, we headed back to the campsite.

9. Hang out with friends. Most people don’t expose sick children to their friends. We do (remember, we are least people!) We had traveled with our friends Marj and Tracy to the campsite and decided to stay for as long as Malcolm was up for it. Marj and Tracy were amazing, putting up with our stressed out psyches and even giving up their bedroom in the RV so that Amy and Malcolm could hide from the other campsite fires. I hope we don’t repay them by giving them pneumonia.

If you have to pick a place to be sick, we did pretty well.

10. Pretend you’re not sick. Malcolm get incrementally better each day and enthusiastically demanded we do such things as hang out at the beach for an afternoon and golf. He eventually got his appetite for s’mores back and even found the strength to play 10-20 games of Yahtzee a day, sometimes by himself when we all got tired of playing. He beat me at white trash bocce ball (two whiffle balls and a pink golf ball) and even played a little pretend baseball by throwing the whiffle ball into his camp chair. He still took pretty long naps each day and went to bed pretty early, but we felt better at the end of the trip knowing he was on the path to recovery. Sometimes pretending you’re not sick works and sometimes it doesn’t. It finally starting working on Wednesday, and our trip was pretty fun until we finally left on Saturday.

I am sure that in the days preceding your next vacation, you will actively attempt to get your kid sick. It really isn’t as glamorous as I make it sound. Give me a healthy, s’more eating kid, some decent firewood and crisp (unburned) bacon any old time.

Two Cowboys, A Truck, Two Glasses of Pinot and a Gun

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

For those wondering whether this is somehow code for a cute story about Malcolm getting into a goofy situation in the park, it’s not. I know you have questions, so I will answer them.

Who are the cowboys? The cowboys are yours truly and a guy named Judd. Who is Judd? He is a real life cowboy and works his family’s cattle ranch with somewhere between 400 and 4 million head of cattle depending on who’s telling the story. He married my high school neighbor Regina and we visit them (and their two little cowpokes) every year for Memorial Day.

This is me, last year, doing what cowboys do. Luckily the camera angle doesn't reveal where I am scratching myself!

You may be thinking, “Yes, Paul, Judd may be a cowboy, but are you?” Let me set the record straight. When I visit the ranch, I am no candy-ass. Sure, I may girlishly shriek at the sight of spiders around here, but I get after it when visiting the Hannas, getting my hands dirty while performing a wide array of ranch tasks. (I make sure to avoid visiting during insemination season!) On Saturday afternoon a neighbor’s herd of cattle wandered onto Regina and Judd’s property and Judd and I sprang into action and tried to confine them. I was magnificent, showing those stupid cows what’s what, and actually got them into a nearby pen. Afterwards, I asked Judd whether it made me a real life cow herder. He shrugged and said, “we just say cowboy.” Can you believe it? That’s right, I am a real life cowboy!!!!

Sunday afternoon, Judd wanted to treat us to the latest haute cuisine in their neck of the woods: barrel meat. I don’t know what you think of when you hear this term, but evidently for them, it involves hanging a roast in a metal barrel over coals for long periods of time, combining a barbecue and a smoker for some really good flavor. To make it all work, we needed some hooks to hang the meat with, and this required we visited Judd’s brother who lives up the dusty gravel road form Judd and Regina.

To get there, we piled into Judd’s truck, which has elevated crappiness into a work of art. I could describe in detail the rust, the large dents and holes in the body or the curious metal “button” which is used to start the truck, but let’s just suffice it to say that Judd’s truck is the kind of truck where you can drop a handful of bullets in it and it doesn’t really matter. Every time I get in the truck, I instinctively reach for the seat belt, giving Judd fits of laughter. Wearing a seat belt in this truck is like wearing a mouth guard to a “Get Kicked In The Balls” contest. Sure, it might be a little safer, but is it really worth the ridicule?

Of course, we couldn’t just get in the truck and drive to Judd’s brother’s house without bringing our drinks with us. It was a little chilly that evening, so we had already moved on from the beers we were drinking (while herding the cattle). What does one drink while driving a dirty truck up to a neighbor’s house to retrieve some meat hooks to cook barrel meat with? We chose pinot. With wine glasses in hand, we piled into the crapmobile and made our way up the dusty road.

Shortly after our trip began, we were ambushed by a pack of rabid, gun toting communist squirrels. (By that, I mean we saw a squirrel by the side of the road.) Luckily, Judd’s gun was still in the truck, and he pulled over. Quickly grabbing the gun and balancing it against the side mirror, he took the squirrel out. I didn’t know what else to do, so I raised my wine and we clinked glasses. The absurdity of toasting pinot noir in a crappy truck while shooting squirrels made us giggle in the way two junior high boys giggle when they find free porn in a garbage can. We continued our way up the road, stopping every now and again to shoot vermin, clink wine glasses and giggle some more. It was epic.

If you are like Judd’s wife Regina, you probably think that we are crazy. To her, pinot was NOT the right wine to be drinking under such conditions. (She suggested Barbera.) I disagree, for everything about our little excursion was absolutely perfect.

Thanks Regina, Judd, Dylan, and Grady for making our annual trip to the farm an awesome weekend!!!

Road Trip From Hell

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We visited Amy’s parents this weekend in Reno. It was awful. Very awful. Pretty bad. A real piece of shit. Mind you, it had nothing to do with Amy’s parents, they are probably my favorite in-laws, especially since they put up with our demands for unlimited free babysitting. No, we had a bad weekend, and it was all due to our horrible trip up the mountain and is resulting effect on all of us.

We knew that the weather was going to be less than stellar on Friday. Even so, the lure of unlimited free babysitting pushed us to go, even if it meant we were going to brave traffic and putting on chains to get there. Things went pretty smoothly until we needed to put the chains on the car. This, in and of itself became an obstacle, as Amy and I argued over whether we should pay someone to put chains put on the car or not. I wanted to feel like a “man” and do it myself and avoid paying $30 to have a “real man,” do it. The resulting fights involved many go rounds of raised voices and hurt feelings. In the end, I realized I fighting for the luxury of going out to the snow and wrestling with our car and cheap cables. Ten minutes (and $30) later, we were on our way.

After a grand total of ten minutes, the traffic ground to halt. We sat in our car, Malcolm watching his movie on a DVD player, and Amy and I reading our books under the dim traffic lights we were thankful to be close to. We were less thankful for the traffic lights when, after an hour, each of us peed in the snowbanks in full view of our neighboring cars. Is there anything more disconcerting than making eye contact with complete strangers while evacuating your bladder? I think not.

Traffic finally got moving again 30 minutes later, and for a short while we slowly made our way through the mountains. At the top of Donner Summit, we heard a loud bang and then a steady thumping noise. I pulled over and realized that our tire chain had broken. Not knowing what else to do, I called AAA, only to find out that they didn’t cover it since it wasn’t a “mechanical problem.” They did put me in contact with a tow company, but the tow company said that they were too busy to come and help us. They suggested we call a cab to deliver us some new chains. I told them to go fuck themselves.

After some quiet reflection of what our lives were going to look like for the next 20 hours or so, a highway worker stopped by to ask if we were alright. I said that we were not, in fact alright. He told me he could call the Highway Patrol and a tow truck, and I nervously agreed, knowing that he was probably calling the same company that I had just had a few choice words for. So we sat. And we sat. Getting a little hungry (and being on Donner Pass,) I was a little fearful that we would have to begin the arduous process of selecting which one of us we were going to have to eat. Being the fat one, I was worried that I would be the obvious choice. Fortunately, the burrito I purchased for Amy to eat as lunch was gargantuan, leaving her to continually snack on the old burrito carcass instead of my leg.

After an hour and a half, we called Amy’s parents to bring us a new chain and some bolt cutters to remove what remained of the old chain. They lived pretty far away still, so even this option was going to take quite a while to execute. Luckily, another highway worker came by in a little while and saved the day. In a move even MacGyver would have been proud of, he tied a bungee cord to the broken chain, and voila, we up and running again. After unsuccessfully attempting to hug the hairy, stinky highway man who saved the day, I realized that there was indeed something more disconcerting than making eye contact with strangers while you pee.

We met Amy’s parents who agreed to follow us as we limped toward Reno. At around 11 PM, we heard the sickening sound of the other tire chain breaking off. I didn’t know if it was the cheap Chinese chains we purchased five years ago, or the real “man” who may have installed the chains improperly, but just to be safe I cursed the chain installer and every Chinese person on the planet. Luckily, Malcolm had fallen asleep for this portion of our disaster trip, and although he lurched forward every now and again to see what the hell was going on, he was generally a non-issue for us.

My first thought was to just keep going at five miles an hour. Nothing bad could happen at five miles an hour, right? When Amy calculated that we were still six miles away from Jean and Scott’s house, she realized that it would be another hour at that pace. The thought of spending another hour in the car was about as appetizing as having your affections rebuffed by a hairy highway man, so we decided to make our way to a nearby gas station to try and replace the newly broken chain. We immediately proceeded to spin out on the off ramp.

Ah, the promised land...

It was now 11 pm and I was done. I was done with the snow, the chains, the real men, the public urination and Amy’s constant attempts to tenderize my thighs to ensure a plump, juicy meal. We dropped the car off at the Boomtown Casino, not really caring if we ever came back for it. We piled into Jean and Scott’s car and finally made it home. Home sweet home.

I wish I could say that the rest of the weekend went smoothly, but the lingering of effects of intermittent sleep and a midnight bed time turned Malcolm into a complete dickwad for the rest of the weekend. He was whiny and irritable, and acted like a two year old. Sadly, I probably acted the same way, yelling at him or anyone else when they didn’t agree with me.

I don’t think we will ever be invited to Reno again. To tell you the truth, as long as there is snow on the ground, I don’t really mind.

I Don’t Know If I Am Proud Or Ashamed That My Son Plays Boggle On The Iphone

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

I used to think that giving your kids a million kinds of technology was ugly parenting. I would see kids playing games on their handheld Nintendos, Ipods, and PSPs and I thought, “Wow, their parents must be really fucking lazy. Tsk, tsk.” Having traveled all over the western United States in the past few weeks and asking Malcolm sit through things that no four-year-old easily consents to (like seven hour long car rides or lengthy waits at the doctor’s office to get his stitches removed), I now know that the parents weren’t lazy. They were fucking smart.

It’s a fact. Little gizmos make your kid tolerate situations they would otherwise drive you crazy in. Four-year-olds are hard wired to run, scream, and talk about their butts. This does not bode well for long airplane rides. Under the circumstances, you can either corral their fragile little attention spans by showing them Mary Poppins, or risk having your aisle-mates learn that your new nickname is “Poopy McPooperstein.” Sure, I could stash the technology away and try to to occupy Malcolm’s time by reading to him and playing games, but such heroic efforts at parenting are better left to people who aren’t busy downing as many rum and cokes as they can between takeoff and landing.

Additionally, “regular” parenting will always entail your child having at least one tantrum during plane flights. I swear, if there is anything I hate in this world more than the stink-eye that single airline passengers shoot you when your kid is screaming in their ear, it is the the patronizing tone that other parents use when they take it upon themselves to instruct you on what you should do to make your child happy. Lose, lose. Much safer to just plug the kids in, sit back and let the rum take its course.

Monsters, Inc. Life saver, or gateway drug?

In light of this reality, Malcolm now has a portable DVD player and my old Iphone. I try to limit what he can do on each of them, vetoing both his attempts to watch “Showgirls” on DVD and play “Ragdoll Blaster” on the phone. The downside is that he now asks for each constantly, and I am, for the moment, resisting. These tools are useful ways to survive significant hurdles, like sitting in the car for 15 hours in a three day span. They are not, for now, used for more mundane things like driving to summer camp or waiting in the car while I knock over liquor stores. Maybe one day Malcolm will win out and I will have to deal with a child that has absolutely no patience, but then again, that’s what rum and cokes are for, aren’t they?

You Think Your Day Was Bad

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

It was Saturday, and my eye wouldn’t stop twitching. It wasn’t twitching in a good way like it does on Christmas or the morning of our fantasy football draft. It was twitching, and for a brief, glorious moment, I didn’t know why. Then, I remembered.

I remembered that our cars and garage had been ransacked the night before. We had been back in town for a grand total of three hours when someone came down our driveway, opened up each of our cars and rummaged through them, going so far as to open the one suitcase remaining in the trunk in a search for valuables. Finding nothing but my sunglasses the thief then opened our garage hoping to find some good loot. Luckily, both the garage and our cars are in such a state of disrepair that the thief was unable to find much of anything worth taking. Joke is on you, thief!

I cursed my inattention to detail, but then cut myself a little slack because we had returned from our trip at midnight the night before. Why were we so late? We missed our original flight home. We were scheduled to fly out of Kalispell, Montana but after arriving a whopping three minutes after they closed the ticket counter (still 27 minutes before our departure time!) the good folks at Horizon Air decided to cancel our entire reservation and, as luck would have it, there were no seats out of that airport for five more days. Fortunately, there were seats available in Missoula (120 miles away) so we rented a car, drove like Helio Castoneves through Arizona, and made a connection to Seattle. In Seattle, they got Amy on an earlier flight to San Francisco while Malcolm and I had to beg and plead to let us on the last flight out of Dodge. Fortunately, the gods smiled on us (owing mainly to my story that mommy was “in heaven now” and that we were still getting used to traveling alone) and we got two seats to Oakland. We got home late, but it was sure better than spending a night in Seattle.

I then remembered why we missed our flight. Actually, there were two reasons. First, Amy and her mom (on my insistence) waited in line at a Mexican restaurant for what seemed like an eternity for a lunch. Even if we hadn’t wasted 20 minutes on a couple of tacos and a quesadilla, we probably would have made our flight, which explains why I took it upon myself to “run into” a Super-Target for some Children’s Ibuprofen. For anyone who hasn’t been to a Super-Target, “running into” a Super-Target is just about as easy as “running into” the Library of Congress for a newspaper. We had no chance, really.

This looks too eerily similar to a mugshot that I have no doubt will one day be taken.

The memory of  why we needed the Ibuprofen then came to mind. Earlier that day, Malcolm walked right in front of someone throwing a bocci ball, opening a gash on his forehead worthy of a IFC combatant. His face stained with blood, we took him to a local trauma center to get stitched up. (Since it was Montana, I was glad that he wasn’t getting worked on by a taxidermist!) Malcolm was brave, but I was braver, as I had to hold his head down while watching the doctor repeatedly poke Malcolm’s wound with a needle to give a local anesthetic. Yowza! Somehow I managed to avoid both vomiting and crying. Maybe I would have if I knew what the rest of the day would hold for us. Looking back at it, I was lucky to get out of it with a stolen pair of sunglasses and a twitchy eye. Some of us didn’t make it through so well.

FU Glacier Park

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

I hate Glacier National Park. I know I shouldn’t hate something as sweet and innocent  as a national park, but I do. (It’s like hating a puppy!) I hate Glacier Park more than I hate cilantro. I hate I hate Glacier Park like your in-laws hate it when you get to drunk and take off your pants. I hate Glacier Park, and sadly the feeling is mutual.

It wasn’t always this way. I madly pursued Glacier for a while. The first two times I went to Montana, our attempts to make it to Glacier Park were thwarted by snow. Both visits took place in June. Let’s recap. Snow. June. Obviously, some sort of conspiracy was taking place to keep me from the park. Fear not, I was assured, for if we visited just a little later in the season the weather would be fantastic and our trip to the park would be spectacular.

This year would have no excuses, as we were in Montana in August and my sources here told me snow in August was about as likely as coming upon a hairless moose playing an organ. On Monday, seventeen of us made our way to Glacier park, anxious to take in one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Our trek got off to a difficult start when we decided to all take a shuttle up the mountain together, but had to wait 50 minutes for a shuttle with enough space to accommodate us all. Undeterred, we slowly made our way up to the top of the park. During the ride, we began to sniff out some clues that the weather was not going to cooperate with us. One of the waterfalls (which, I was told, usually flows downhill) was actually shooting water uphill, owing mainly to epically strong winds blowing the stream 20 feet into the air. We also noticed that mountains behind us kept disappearing into a thick, dark storm.

At 4:30, we finally reached the top, at which time the shuttle driver informed us that a weather advisory had been issued for a storm that would soon blow through. Not really sure what to do, we quickly ran into the visitors center. Once inside, the skies really opened up, drenching everything in a cold, windy monsoon. Then the thunder and lightening started, followed shortly by a hail storm. It would have been really sad, except for being able to witness the steady current of underdressed hikers return to the visitor center drenched and freezing. Can anyone say, “Wet tee shirt contest?” I did, many times, although my fondest memory is not seeing the mother of two boys in a see-through tank top, but, rather, hearing her kids (while sobbing and shivering uncontrollably) shout, “WWWWWWhy ddddiiiiiddddd  yyyyyyyou mmmmmakkkke usssssssss gggggggo onnnnnnn a sssssssstuppppid hhhhhhhike? WWWWWWWWWWWWWeeeeeee hhhhhhhhate yyyyyyyou!!!!!”

Thanks for bringing me to Glacier Park, daddy.

After huddling in the visitor center for about an hour with the other thousand or so tourists trapped by the storm, we figured we were going to need to stand back in line to catch the shuttle back down the mountain. When we got in line there were 20 or so people in front of us. When the last remaining members of our group made it into line, there were about 75 people in the line. When the first shuttle came, it picked up a grand total of seven people. I did the math and at that rate, (with shuttles coming every half hour) we were going to be on a shuttle in 90 minutes, while the rest of the group would get back sometime around Thanksgiving. Luckily, the park figured out that they needed to get everyone off the mountain and sent every shuttle they had to pick up passengers. Eventually, we piled into a shuttle and the trip down the mountain was wet and cold, sad and quiet.

We finally got home without seeing anything. People still tell me that Glacier is a beautiful place to visit, but they are clearly full of shit. Glacier is an awful place that no one should ever visit, and I hate its guts. The next time we head up here and Amy’s family suggest we go up there again, I’ll tell them that prefer to do something a little more enjoyable, like a colonoscopy or maybe have a mountain goat chew off one of my fingers. Glacier, for all intents and purposes, is dead to me.

Big Daddy Paul Goes To Montana

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We are in Montana this week. Amy’s dad was born here, and a lot of family still remains. We are here to help celebrate Uncle Stu’s 50th wedding anniversary, and we are having a great time. Here is what you need to know about Montana:

Vampires– There are a shitload of vampires here. Big ones. Sure, they managed to hide their unearthly ways under wool-lined jean jackets and lumberjack hats, but I could tell that Montana has a pretty significant vampire population. I though this place was the big sky country, but the bumper sticker ought to read: “If you own a truck and enjoy sucking blood, Montana is the place for you!”

It's like "On Golden Pond" except without all the crotchety old guys around!

The Lake– We are staying on a cabin on a lake. The lake is called Ashley Lake and I would like it even if it were called Lake Shania Twain. We have swam in it, boated on it, jet skied it, and this reporter has even used it as his personal bathroom. The water is a but on the chilly side, but quite nice when you have been drinking beer all day. Amy has been longing for a solid lake-cabin experience and this is like porn for her. We are all having a blast.

Malkie’s First Crush– Malcolm has had girlfriends before, but never this serious. The object of his affections is a 17 year old high school senior who endures his insatiable appetite for baseball. We’ll call her Halle. He follows her around like an old dog keeps after a baby with a steak around it’s neck. She doesn’t appear to mind that he is totally obsessed with her, hopefully he’ll grow out of it by the time he is 30.

Amy’s Family– I know everyone hates their in-laws, but Amy’s family is horrible. They are all super nice and super friendly, and make me sick. Where’s the drama? Where is the creepy uncle that hits on anything that moves? Why isn’t anyone screaming at each other? I have been here for 48 hours and not one single alcohol-related injury has occurred. This isn’t a family reunion, it’s a freaking special on the Hallmark network. My greatest fear is that all their positivity will somehow rub off on me and that I will return to California a kinder, gentler person. Can you imagine?

I’m going to do my best to torpedo the rest of the week, but it’s going to take a lot of work on my part. These vampires is good folk.

There Is No “I” In Yosemite

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

Actually, having read that I change my mind. There is an “I” in Yosemite. There is also a “me,” (spelled backwards) which means that you won’t be hearing about all the natural beauty of Yosemite on our recent trip there. No, you’re going to hear all about me and the wonderful choices I make in life.

The first wonderful choice I made was to skip buying gas outside the park. I am not a brave man, and can easily see myself wetting my pants in the face of real danger, but for some reason, I love to test the limits of a tank of gas. Besides my love of fried food, binge drinking and the occasional murder of a postal delivery worker, it is my only vice. It also explains why we have run out of gas as often as we do (no fewer than three times in the last two years!)  Our trip to Yosemite was no different, and although I had ample opportunities to stock up on gas prior to heading into the wilderness area, we found our arrival at our Yosemite cabin greeted by the “You’re out of gas” beep from the car and no way to make it to the nearest gas station. We called AAA, and had to pay nine dollars a gallon to partially fill up the tank, but honestly, I haven’t learned my lesson. I will test the gas tank again someday…

The next wonderful choice I made was to not have an 18 month-old baby. There were a number of toddlers with us at the cabin, and holy cannoli, they suck! People say that Malcolm was once that age and I have a number of pictures of Malcolm documenting it, but I must have blocked it all out of my memory. For good reason, too, as they are constantly stumbling around trying to either kill themselves by falling down stairs or eating something terribly dangerous. Of course, if you have the temerity to thwart their destructive plans, you are congratulated for your efforts by loud shrieks or even a spoon in the eye. I could have been more helpful to the toddler parents in attendance, but honestly I couldn’t think of a way to placate the little monsters. I don’t know how we survived toddlerhood, but I am glad we never, ever have to go back.

The last choice I made was, indeed, a good one. At the last minute, while packing the car, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we brought our bikes and went on a bike ride together? I did some quick research on the internet and found that biking in Yosemite is a easy/fun thing to do and, even though we hadn’t really ever travelled with our bikes before, we loaded them on the back of the car and set out.

Which is larger, El Capitan, or my backside. You be the judge!

When we go to the park, we took two rides and had a fantastic time. Malcolm isn’t riding a bike yet, but we attached a jump bike to the back of mine, and we rode around seeing the sights of Yosemite, getting to see places we never would have got to if we had to walk. The really good thing is that Malcolm totally enjoyed himself and even got the hang of working the pedals. I know that this was only one event, but we all liked it so much that I think we are going to be bike vacationers going forward. Of course that will require us finding a toddler free vacation spot and actually having enough gas to get there, but at least we have plans. Big ones.

Vacations For Stay At Home Parents

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We just got back from 10 days in Hawaii, and we had a blast.  You may have noticed that my posts have left a little to be desired during that time, as I was more focused on reading shitty John Grisham books than fine tuning posts to ensure maximum entertainment value. Sorry about that, (especially the shitty books part. Seriously. If I ever pick up another Grisham book, please stick a spoon in my eye!) I am back now, and I promise you that things will promptly return to normal around here. More loving/loathing of Malcolm, more hand wringing over the future, and possibly even more pictures of my legs. (You love my legs, admit it. You do.)

One thing I noticed on vacation is that us stay at home parents get kind of a raw deal on the family vacation. Working folks go “on holiday,” as our friends in Europe quaintly say, and get to leave their daily routines behind. The holiday for a stay at home parent looks a lot like a regular week. Wake up, yell at kid. Eat breakfast, yell at kid. Motor through lunch to rapidly bring about nap time, and then hang on for dear life until the child’s bed time. Then, and only then, does the real holiday begin. Sure, vacation means that your significant other will be there to take some of the load, but watching your significant other try to operate as primary caregiver isn’t relaxing to watch, it’s more like the feeling a bull has while watching a cow get artificially inseminated. (First day back and I am already making metaphors that are both confusing AND disgusting. Still got it!)

As you might guess, I have some advice for how to maximize your time on vacation if your vacation involves the sad reality of traveling with your spouse and children. First, take mini vacations. Hide from your family and don’t tell them what is going on, they’ll make do. Take a walk, go golfing, or make a detour from the grocery store and hit a dive bar for happy hour. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as your family isn’t there to ruin it. I once spent two hours locked in the bathroom claiming I had diarrhea, when in fact, I was just reading “The Client.” Carving out significant “Me” time is one of the best things you can do for yourself, and will make you a way better parent for it.

Second, travel with family friends. We went with some good friends who have a three-year-old, and the times that Malcolm and the boy Henry played together were actually quite nice. We got to actually talk to our friends and even snorkeled a bit. Bonus! Traveling with another family also means someone else will occasionally cook dinner, figure out where to go during the day, and may even help you sing karaoke in a tiki bar in Hanalei after midnight, if you find yourself in that sort of situation.

Don't get mad at me, his didn't have any rum in it...

Lastly, get good and drunk. Having too much to drink at home during the week is a pathetic way to go through life, and while I do it all the time, I don’t condone it. Drinking too much on vacation is just letting of a little steam, especially if you drink something wildly different. In Hawaii, we drank a lot of fuzzy frozen drinks, and even rationalized the large intake of fresh pineapples and coconut milk-based drinks as merely the healthy pursuit of anti-oxidants. I don’t think we’ll start drinking every day at 4 pm (which really means noon, except that we are too ashamed to admit it) but for a long week, it’s kind of fun. We were on holiday from sobriety!

Traveling without your kids is simply not going to be a reality for most people, but hiding in the bathroom, pawning your offspring off on your friends, and binge drinking are all excellent ways to ensure that you holiday is a success, even when your kids go with you. Now that I think of it, I can do all these things in may daily life here. Bring on the summer!

Things I Like About Vacation

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We are on Day 4 of our Hawaiian vacation, but I can already pinpoint the things I like about our time here:

Not wearing pants.

Not wearing socks.

Not wearing underwear.

The feeling of the ocean/pool when you are finally comfortable in it.

The feeling of the ocean/pool when you have just peed in it.

Reading a crappy book.

Pretending to read a smart book while you are actually reading Entertainment Weekly.

After starting up a conversation with a stranger, realizing that you like them.

Watching the people sitting next to you (who’s accent you hate) get up and leave.

Anything with the words “macadamia nuts” in it.

Barbecuing by the pool.

Falling asleep at 9 pm.

The way waterlogged crocs sound like two massive whales having sex.

The phone never rings.

Lying on warm sand.

Eating outside.

Using the word, “Aloha” to mean anything you want, (eg, “Aloha” at the grocery store means, “Kindly point me to the pork rinds.”)

Fixing sock tans.

The smell of sunscreen.

The smell of coconut soap.

The smell of unlimited salami sandwiches.

Hearing the your kid’s laughter while running away from waves.

Air conditioning.

Ruining rental cars.

Pistachios.

Rain in the hot tub.

An automatic garage door opener.

Drinking fuzzy drinks with dinner.

Drinking fuzzy drinks in the afternoon.

Finking druzzy frinks for breakfast, followed by naps the rest of the day.

Speaking of which, I better be off for some drinking and sleeping! Aloha!

Funny Vacation Gear

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We have had it good up until now. Malcolm has been pretty low maintenance so far when it comes to packing for vacation. He never had a must-have blanket or a pacifier, or even a favorite stuffed animal such that if we forgot said item while on vacation, a riot would ensue. Sure, there have been times when I forgot to bring enough diapers on the airplane (in my defense though, who would have thought he’d shit seven times in one flight? Seven times!!!), but for the most part, things have been pretty flexible as to what to bring on vacation.

Is this guy dressed for the beach?

We’re not so lucky anymore. Malcolm is obsessed with baseball. Not obsessed like me, as in I follow the team, watch as many games as I can and get really depressed when the Giants don’t win the world series. No, Malcolm is obsessed in a “Hey I like you so much that I want to cut off your face and wear it on top of mine” sort of way. His love of the game is all consuming, so if we are not playing baseball outside, we are playing pretend baseball inside.  I have played around 1400 innings of pretend baseball inside, so it brings me about as much pleasure as taking a breath or making a sandwich. As such, I needed to make sure there were abundant opportunities to play real live baseball here in Hawaii.

That meant I needed to bring our baseball gear. If TSA searched our bag (which they surely did) next to the sunscreen and my teenie bikini, they would have found Malcolm’s aluminum bat, our mitts, and a bevy of baseballs which we’ll use to practice while we’re here. Just to make sure we had enough options at the beach, I also brought our fat plastic bat and a whiffle ball. I didn’t want those nosy TSA people to think we are weird baseball people, so I put some lube next to the bats with a note attached that read, “For our German friends.” Truth is, we ARE weird baseball people and I just need to come to grips with it.

Of course, when you give a kid an inch, he takes a mile. When we got here, Malcolm asked where his bases were. His bases weight approximately 500 pounds and I knew there was no way I was going to sneak it by TSA (Germans are weird, but nobody is that weird). So, after a brief period of disappointment, I was able to sell Malcolm on the idea that huge Hawaiian leaves were way cooler than our silly old bases in Oakland. He reluctantly agreed, and now, while others are at the beach, or frolicking in the pool, we are down at the rec center, playing baseball with real baseballs and metal bats. A little on the odd side, but I guess it could be worse. He could be into ice skating!

Any of you bring weird stuff on vacation?

Country Living

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

Our friends Regina and Judd live on a ranch near the Oregon-California border, and we have a cool trip there every Memorial Day. This year was no different, and here are the three things I liked best about our trip this year:

1. The posse. I try to always travel with an entourage. Some say it’s because I like to have a stable of yes-men telling me how funny I am or how my skinny jeans definitely DO NOT give me a muffin top. Others speculate that I want protection for the army of would-be haters that are waiting in the wings to give me a beat down for all the trash I talk about play date disasters. Whatever the reason, I like a crowd and trips to the Hanna Ranch satisfy my incessant need to be amongst a throng of adoring fans. Sure, the posse at the ranch consists of seven dogs (ranging in size from lap dog to Saint Bernard,) but a crowd is a crowd. Instead of securing women for me to sleep with, like Tiger Woods’ entourage did for him though, our posse slobbered all over our legs and left dead baby squirrels lying all over the yard. Not perfect, but at least they didn’t tell me I looked fat. It’s actually kinda cool to see so many sets of eager eyes watching you when you leave the house, and I am considering getting Amy an entire wing of the local animal shelter for her birthday.

2. The circle of life. Evidence of life and death are everywhere on a farm, and the Hanna ranch is no different. When we arrived, we got to see a two week old foal hopping around the stable. Very cool. We also got to see a lot of dead squirrels, some from the hunting prowess of the posse and some from my icy resolve while firing Judd’s .22 to thin the herd of pesky ground squirrels who ruin the footing in the cow pastures. We saw young deer everywhere around the ranch and dined on venison from the buck Judd took down last year. (Venison sausage: tasty, squirrel on a stick: not so much!)  It’s not often you have to stop a soccer game to check to see  whether your child has picked up part of a dead animal, but it’s pretty interesting when it does.

3. The company. Judd and Regina are a fun enigma. They have traveled the world, read political science magazines and enjoy fine food and wine. They also are also surrounded by the interesting realities of country living. You are just as apt to talk about midnight raves on remote islands in Thailand as you are to discuss why it is perfectly acceptable to go to a veterinarian for a busted finger. Malcolm and their daughter Dylan had a blast playing with each other too, leaving us free to consume large amounts of alcohol and figure out whether our next event was going to be horseback riding, four-wheel off-roading, or trampoline gymnastics. Judd was even gracious enough to teach me how to swear at an 1800 pound bull, which I did before wetting myself when the bull immediately got up and started chasing us.

Visiting old friends is always an enjoyable experience, but even more so when it involves activities that are drastically different than your ordinary life. Some of you out there know Regina and Judd, and I highly recommend you make it up to the ranch sometime soon. If you can, you’ll have a posse there waiting for you.

P.S. If you are interested in learning more about the country life, check out Judd’s blog. It’s a hoot ‘n nanny!

Making a Splash At Spring Training

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

One of the worst things you could ever do as a parent is spend a bunch of money on something you think your child likes. More often than not, your investment is met with a tantrum and the announcement that your child (who recently had expressed that the thing, whatever it is, was the best thing on earth) didn’t want it and wants something else instead. Our house is littered with evidence that you should never, ever give your kid anything that they say they want: puzzles, dinosaurs and a million other useless pieces of cheap plastic crap. Kids suck that way.

For some reason, we thought it a good idea to fly down to Arizona last weekend, taking Malcolm to his first ever Spring Training. Sure, he loves baseball, but the hefty cost of the airline tickets and tickets to the games all but insured that Malcolm would arrive down there and claim that he wanted to watch football. I’m not sure what, exactly, I was planning on doing if we got down there and he balked at baseball, but I do know it was going shorten his lifespan.

Much to our delight, he enjoyed the trip! We went to three games and spent as many as six hours at the ball park, taking in batting practice, the games, and the abundant presence of fake boobs. Seriously, Scottsdale must be the silicone capital of the world, which I find way more endearing than, say, Noxubee County, Alabama, whose slogan is, “home of the dancing rabbit festival.” Sure, we had to bribe Malcolm every now and again by plopping him down in front of a ice cream cone or blue raspberry lemonade (can anyone tell me why raspberries are all of a sudden blue?), but then again I was usually plopped down in front of nachos or this little bad boy (what I refer to as the “Anus Buster” a concoction of a cheddar-jalapeno bratwurst with mustard, onions, sauerkraut  and jalapenos slopped all over it.)

Great going down; the next day, not so much.

Perhaps my greatest satisfaction with the weekend was the fact that, while we weren’t watching baseball games, we were playing baseball. We rented a house with our friends Marj and Tracy and we spent a good deal of time in the mornings and evenings playing the baseball in the back yard and watching Tracy and Marj’s dogs hump each other. It’s hard to stay focused when your center fielder and third basemen are fornicating, but we all managed to join Malcolm in a game or two over the weekend. He loved it! Watching sports with your kid is fun, but sharing in the sport by actually playing it together is even better. I really hope that Malcolm keeps doing stuff with me, as I am having a blast sharing the things I like best with him.

Maybe next year Malcolm will even get his anus busted.

Instead Of Seeing A Movie, Take The Bus

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

I needed to run to the airport to pick up a rental car today (our car is in the shop for a few days and I need a car to pick up and drop off Malcolm at school.)  I could have taken a cab, but with the rental car costing $17 a day, a $35 cab ride to the airport would have killed my margins. So, I decided to take the bus, and I learned a ton of cool tricks.

First, I learned how to pay absolutely no attention to your kids, except to punish them.  Stick them in a seat on the bus with nothing to do, then swear at them when they start looking for something to do.  Tell them that you are gonna smack that look off their face.  Also, it is cool if you smoke while zipping up your kid’s sweatshirt, so much so that you can see the smoke go in their little mouths.

I also learned that you can throw your trash anywhere!  While waiting for the bus, I saw the local kids demonstrate the proper technique for dealing with garbage.  Finished with that Egg McMuffin? Throw it in the street.  Done with your soda? Chuck it in the gutter!  Why, you can even empty most of the contents of your backpack right there onto the sidewalk.  See that garbage can right next to you?  Lean up against it, if you want, but under no circumstances should you throw refuse into it.  You can even throw your empty bag of chips onto the floor of the bus.  The possibilities are endless.

I also learned that people will not respond if you start acting completely crazy.  You should try it, it’s quite liberating.  The guy sitting in front of me mumbled to himself in Spanish the entire time he was on the bus, and every once in a while he took a swing at some phantom person in front of him.  A woman who looked suspiciously like George Clinton got off the bus and proceed to yell at the woman (who was nursing an infant) who was previously sitting next to her.  “You a bitch.  I heard you talkin shit about me touching yo baby.  I didn’t touch yo baby, yo baby kicked me.  I’m goin to the doctor already, I oughtta file a claim against yo sorry ass, bitch.”  No one paid any particular attention to Lady George Clinton, but I did.  I made sure to keep my distance, because I was afraid that if I got too close to her, a raccoon would jump out of her hair and terrorize my face.

I eventually made my way to the car rental counter, although I admit I got off the bus a stop or two early.  I had such a goofy time, I decided that I am taking Amy on a date that consists of nothing but riding around on buses.  At a mere $2 a pop, it is the best deal in the entertainment world today.

Love the Sleepover; Hate the Sleepover!

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We visited with some friends at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin festival this year. The festival was OK, lots of pumpkin foods, drunken hillbillies, and a sad little parade.  A raccoon ravaged my friend Austin’s garage, suggesting again that the raccoons of the world are out to ruin any fun that I may have.  I say that knowing that I was not the one shooshing the raccoon during the middle of the night armed with nothing but a tiny flashlight.  Way to fight the good fight, Austin and KC!  Malcolm enjoyed a never-ending supply of sweets, so he thought the weekend was a smashing success.

The one real noteworthy thing that transpired over the weekend was Malcolm and his 2.5 year old friend Henry slept in the same room.  For most of you, sleeping the in same room as someone else isn’t that big of an accomplishment.  That’s what prison teaches us, eh?  Henry, however, had not, so this was his first foray into cohabitation with someone other than his parents, and Malcolm played the role of the experienced older gentleman.  So, here it all is from friday and saturday nights:

The Good

Malcolm and Henry stayed in their room after it was their bed time.  This allowed us to socialize with Henry’s parents, who we like talking to and drinking wine with (although not necessarily in that order.) It laid a good foundation for the next step, a sleepover at either their house or ours.  The sleepover is perhaps the greatest invention in the history of parenting an only child: you get to leave your kid at someone else’s house and go out and enjoy yourselves, and then sleep in without having to pay for it!  The boys did not hurt themselves or the furniture, and even slept in til 7 am both days.

The Bad

The boys did not go to sleep quietly.  They stayed up until 10:30 or 11 each night, and were quite excited by having a little buddy to sleep play with.  They screamed, the squealed, they wrestled.  The second night, we all took turns going in the room and threatening them until they finally fell asleep.  Saturday night, the boys refused to go to sleep after it came to light that one of their stuffed animals had lost an eye.  Quite the animal enthusiasts, those two.  All told, the boys lost 5 hours of sleep over the weekend, and it showed.

The Ugly

To say that Malcolm was a train wreck on sunday morning is putting it lightly.  I would classify Malcolm on Sunday morning as a train running to a jumbo jet, and then crashing into a nuclear submarine, causing it the whole thing to explode.  He whined all morning long, and when we loaded him in the car to go to breakfast, he began biting, scratching and hitting anything he could get his hands on.  He threw our camera around the car like it was a football.  He was like a caged raccon! His tantrum extended to the return home (we did not stop for breakfast out of fear that he would have torn the restaurant apart, and that is saying something, because we were going to a biker bar!)  At home, he ripped every piece of clothing out of his drawers and even snapped a rubber band on Amy’s face.  He was in pretty rare form.

In the end, I am glad we did it, as the next time we get the boys together it should be easier. With the weekend safely under our belt, we can expect a lifetime of boys happily sleeping together, enjoying our friends, and drinking wine, although not in that order.

Camping

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We went camping again this weekend, our second time this season.  This time, the group was mixed with both parents and non-parents.  (In my younger days, I used to call these different groups: people and people with kids; it’s sad how times have changed.)  The campground, Samuel P. Taylor state park, was set on the side of a hill in a great big redwood forest.  As a result the sun went down at about two o’clock, and I mistook this to mean it was already happy hour.  We started eating guacamole and drinking beer early, and it made for quite a night.

By the time the kids went down to sleep, we were good and drunk, roasting marshmallows and playing a dangerous game of “That’s what she said.”  I joined in the fracas, but became confused when I had a fleeting thought that two of the women there were lesbians.  (I couldn’t tell whether they were lesbians or not, as it was getting cold and EVERYONE was wearing jeans and flannel shirts.)  How does one approach saying, “That’s what she said” when some of the listeners are gay? I struggled with this metaphysical dilemma for exactly five minutes before my beer and wine induced mental narcolepsy hit and eliminated all traces of thought.

One by one, the parents with kids there peeled off and went to their tents to either respond to a crying baby or prepare for an early morning crying baby.  I would like to note that Amy and I were the last parents standing, but quickly faded when the non-parents exclaimed with glee that it was only 10:30 and that there was plenty of night left to party.  Amy and I immediately thought, “10:30!  Woa, it’s way past our bedtime.”  We immediately withdrew to our tent.

Nobody slept much that night, because our campsite was overrun by a never-ending gaze of raccoons.  (Yes, I looked it up; a group of raccoons is called a gaze. Bust that out at a party and you will be championed conversationalist of the night!) When I first heard the raccoons, a mere ten feet from our tent, I figured they would eat whatever was left at the table and then move on.  When the sounds of rummaging through all our belongings did not subside, I poked my head out of the tent and flashed our flashlight at them.  They turned to me, and sauntered off, as if to say, “alright boys, the gig is up, let’s get outta here.”

In reality, they just went and got their bigger, tougher friends.  By the time that I got back into my sleeping bag, a larger group was making quick work of everything they could get their dirty little fingers on.  They must have found something crispy, because I could hear the crunch of their tiny little jaws like someone was crinkling paper in my ear.  I poked my head out of the tent again, and when the flashlight trick didn’t work, I began throwing dirt and pine needles at them.  Now, I don’t know what raccoon laughter sounds like, but I am pretty sure they laughed at me, “Look at fatso!  He thinks he scare us by throwing soft pine needles at us! Oooh scary!!!”  This pissed me off ( I have a history with raccoons) and I got out of the tent to physically remove them from the premises if need be.  They casually left the campground, looking back over their shoulders to see if I had gone back to the tent yet.  When I finally was back in the in my sleeping bag (AKA my fart locker), I heard them again, and decided that I was outmatched, outwitted and was going to let them have their way.

I eventually fell asleep, and I when we woke the next morning, the damage was quite astonishing.  They had pried some chips out of the storage container, unzipped a cooler and ravaged the yogurt and milk, and rifled through the garbage that we had neglected to throw in the dumpster.  It was dirty, messy, exhausting, but fun.  And that’s what she said.

The Lake Was Mighty Angry That Day My Friend

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

My friend Leo has a sweet vacation pad in Jamestown, and he graciously invited some of the softball guys and their families up for the weekend.  We went and decided on Saturday to go boating on Lake Tulloch, thinking that we would spend a lazy day swimming and touring around the lake.  The weather was perfect, the water inviting and so we set out in our rented pontoon to find a slice of the lake that we could call our own.  Then, we saw the wave. 

A power boat pulling two adrenaline loving kids in inner tubes  barreled in front of us leaving a wake that looked like it was the size of the empire state building.  We were heading full steam right at it, and Leo, who was driving, cut the engine in a seemingly wise effort to slow the speed at which we hit the rapidly growing wall of water.  Instead, the nose of the boat dipped into the water, and the now tidal wave sized wake hit us like paddle hits a fraternity pledge’s bare ass.  I was sitting in the front of the boat, holding my friend’s seven month old, and held on for dear life as a wall of water smashed through the boat, destroying everything in its path.  People in the back of the boat watched in disbelief as the wave crashed off the ceiling of the boat (!) and swept through, drenching everyone and everything on the boat.  Some say that a second wave hit us equally hard, but I was so focused on not shitting my pants that I really didn’t notice.

The aftermath resembled the chaos of D-Day, with all of us wandering around looking shell shocked and wondering what to do.  Daniel, the father of the infant I was clinging to, jumped up, and, with the vacant look of an infantryman looking for a missing limb on the ground, muttered that the boat was going down and we needed to get to the back of the boat.  The parents of the six kids on board scrambled to make sure that their loved ones were indeed still on on board.  Of course the seven year old with us jumped up and down and immediately asked if we could do it again.

Daniel and Suzi’s camera got doused, and every towel, diaper, and extra piece of clothing we had on board was sopping wet.  A couple of articles of clothing had washed out of the boat, and, after retrieving them, we cautiously made our way over to the side of the lake to swim.  In an unsuccessful effort to dry out our stuff, we transformed the boat into a shanty town by hanging all of the wet stuff from the top and sides of the pontoon.  The people who drove by didn’t see the disaster strike, and stared at the ridiculous collection of towels and clothing that hung all around us.  We had a relaxing time the rest of the day, although talk of the rogue wave was never far from our lips. 

At the end of the day, we ran into a flotilla of young people in boats basking in the sun, playing loud music, and generally acting hip.  We didn’t really have the heart to join them, as we knew down deep inside that we had almost been done in by a motorboat towing some kids.  We cautiously made our back to the dock and kissed the ground upon our return to dry land.  Back at the sweet pad, we smoked cigars, drank whiskey, and reenacted the whole event as often as we could. I hope we can do it again next time!

Road Trip!

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

Amy is San Diego hanging out with her college gal pals this weekend.  If you don’t already know this, Amy had a 10 bedroom apartment her senior year, and most of them get together once a year to celebrate the fact that they still talk to each other.  That meant I was fully responsible for Malcolm for the extended weekend, and since he had no school this week, I punted.  I decided to bring him to Bakersfield to visit my parents.  They have wanted to show Malcolm around to their friends, and I decided that I would be the bad son no more and offered to bring the child to their doorstep.

We had to get there though.  Malcolm is in the annoying phase of childhood where he is either asking, “why?” or is asking when we are going to get there.  I could not handle this for the 4+ hour trip down there, so I did some strategizing.  I decided to use the airplane trick and brought his portable DVD player.  Having him watch a movie would not only give him something to do besides get on my nerves, it would also allow me to listen to a book on tape.  So, just prior to hitting the road, we headed over to the library to pick him out a movie, and grab a book on tape for me.  He immediately chose “Castle in the Sky” which was done by Hayao Miyazaki, the man behind Ponyo and the Curious George movie. I felt a little strange showing him a movie that I had never seen before, but I figure there was no way in hell the guy who made Ponyo would make a slasher movie with lots of naked chicks in it.  For me, I got a John Grisham novel, which is a little on the fluffy side, but not too bad considering my only other option was from a russian novelist who had more syllables in his name than the book had words.

I loaded up the movie, put in the CD, and we hit the road.  Everything was going swimmingly until I started to notice that something wasn’t quite right.  Malcolm kept saying, “This isn’t my movie!”  I thought the comment strange, but he kept watching it, so I figured it was no big deal.  We stopped for lunch and he seemed to be enjoying the movie.  By the way, if you are ever on I-5 and need to stop for a meal, never, ever eat a place called the Apricot Tree.  The food there sucked, more reminiscent of “weird things you find on the side of the road” than “restaurant food.”

When we got back into the car, I put Malcolm’s movie back on, and noticed that I couldn’t really understand what the characters were talking about.  Upon closer examination I realized that it was because the movie was in Japanese.  Although the movie did have english subtitles, apparently Malcolm couldn’t read them and he did not understand a single word that had been said in the 1.5 hours that he had watched it.  I suddenly realized why he said that it wasn’t “his” movie.  I changed the options and when the characters started speaking in English, Malcolm excitedly asked to watch the whole thing again.  I had recently done the same thing for Amy for a few episodes of “The Wire” so I let him begin anew.

We finished the trip with him happily watching the Japanese subtitles which, for some reason, began to appear on the screen.  I happily learned about the intrigue of a billionaire screwing his entire family out of their inheritance and giving his whole estate to a unknown missionary in the rain forest.  Things got a little dicey when I started to get a little tired and began chewing sunflower seeds to stay awake.  I didn’t have anything to spit them in, so I took off my hat and began spitting the seeds straight into it. Every now and again, Malcolm would ask if we were there yet, but he didn’t listen to my answer and his heart really wasn’t into it.  We arrived in Bakersfield in pretty good shape, and since we were both involved in story telling of some sort, the trip went pretty quickly.  In case you were wondering, I was even able to remember to dump out my hat before putting back on my head!

A weekend in the country

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Paul is a Dork, Travel Stories

 


 

We have rancher friends.That’s right, there are people in this world who don’t have strip malls, traffic woes, or neighbors that aren’t relatives. My high school friend, Regina, and her husband Judd, live on a ranch, complete with cows, horses, tractors and lots and lots of alfalfa.They met in college, and after a stint traveling the world, they settled in to work the land on Judd’s family farm.Now, they are raising a family in the country and seem as happy as two squirrels in a gunny sack.I’m not sure that the squirrel/gunny sack reference is used properly, but I have heard them use the expression and wanted to repeat it here.

We visited Judd, Regina, their daughter Dylan and the unborn fetus that is expected to arrive sometime in July.In addition to the humans, the Hannas are also made up of 5 dogs, 16 or 17 orange cats, a bunch of horses and the countless number of deers and squirrels that run around their farm eating their crops.(More on the squirrels later.)

For the past two Memorial days, the Hannas have graciously invited us up to the ranch for what Regina has called, my “Mancation.”You see, as a stay at home parent, and self proclaimed liberal wacko, I have become somewhat of a candy-ass.Going to the ranch, allows me to get in touch with my inner macho stud, and I spent the weekend doing manly things.I’m not sure Amy liked what she saw, as she likes her little sissy husband, but it’s definitely good for me to get out there and live it up.

We arrived at the ranch on Friday night, and were treated to hamburgers, in what was the first course of our red meat orgy that lasted the whole weekend.I knew we had arrived in Etna when the people we passed on the road to the Hanna’s house all waved to us, even though they had no idea who we were.In the country, you wave to everyone you pass on the road, as if to say, “Hey there pardner, welcome to paradise.”Wanting to seem like a local, I waved back at everyone.I reckoned I was beginning to fit in.

Our first full day on the ranch began with venison sausages (a result of one of Judd’s hunting trips) and Regina’s homemade scones.We then went outside to check out the new baby horse, Sugar.Sugar was only a few weeks old and was easily the youngest horse we had ever seen.Malcolm had a great time watching and attempting to feed hay to the horses, but became concerned when we wouldn’t let him ride the still-way-to-skittish foal.To rectify this, we saddled up one of the older horses and lead the kids around the yard on a leash.Malcolm had a great time, and, considering he was deathly afraid of riding the horses last year, he showed a lot of guts riding by himself.

When the kids went down for a nap, Judd forever changed my life by introducing me to the greatest thing ever: shooting squirrels.Squirrels are a scourge to ranchers.They dig lots and lots of holes in the ground, and this presents a hazard, as the cattle will often fall into the holes and hurt themselves.Injured cattle are impossible to deal with as they way 14 million pounds each, and moving a cow with a broken leg is about as hard as getting me to go to church.In case you are still outraged that I would go squirrel hunting you can pretend that we out to protect ourselves from these:

To remove the scourge, ranchers have developed a unique method of reducing the squirrel population: they shoot them.Ordinarily, I eschew gun violence as a mortal sin, but since I was on a mancation, I happily obliged Judd.

We started out behind the Hanna’s house, outfitted with a .22 rifle with a bitchin’ scope on top. Judd, of course, laughed at me because I shoot lefthanded for some reason.I think he was a little impressed, though, when I actually got one, and soon all the squirrels in the yard were either dead or hiding.From there, things got interesting.Judd took me in his 4 wheel drive truck and we roamed the nearby pastures looking for miniature game.Whenever either of us saw a squirrel, Judd stopped, and if it was on my side, I took the gun, balanced it against the window frame, and fired.If the squirrel was on Judd’s side, he would do the same.We had a great time stalking our prey, laughing and telling stories, although I felt like in some respects like Sarah Palin hunting moose from a helicopter. Our helicopter was little more country, though, as Judd’s ranch truck is completely covered in trash, spent .22 casings, and mud. This is how I imagined we looked:

After our bountiful excursion, we returned to the house, where Judd and Regina had arranged for a babysitter to come and look after the kids while we went out eat at the Etna brew pub.That’s right, we actually got a night out drinking good beer and enjoying each other’s company.I tell you, as far as hosts go, Regina and Judd are the bomb.We returned to a quiet house to drink premium bourbon and hear more stories about life on the ranch.

The next day, Judd and I went to move pipe.A little known fact about a
lfalfa is that is doesn’t grow without water.Well, most people know that, but I didn’t.To water the acres and acres of the stuff, they employ a system of huge pipes attached to large wheels.The pipes needed to be moved twice a day, and we would head out there, disconnect the water supply, move the wheels forward 30-40 feet, and then reconnect them. Moving the pipes during the day isn’t all that fun, but getting there sure was.To get to the fields, we rode 4 wheelers, and I had a great time buzzing around in the fields, pretending I was racing ATV’s.Judd must have thought I was pretending to help him move the pipes because it took twice as long for him to get everything done with me there.

We took Judd’s truck to the barn where the ATV’s are stored, and Judd laughed at me because I instinctively reached to put on the seatbelt each time we got in the truck.I put on the seatbelt the first time I got in, but I decided that since I was on mancation, seatbelts were for sissies.I have never felt so alive.

We arrived back at the ranch to witness Judd’s little cousin beginning the process of breaking a cow for the big 4-h show later in the summer.Cows don’t really like being broken, and it takes a lot of work to get the cow comfortable around humans and a harness.Malkie was intrigued by the whole thing only because of the sheer volume of cow shit he witnessed coming out of the cow’s ass.

Later in the morning, we saddled up the horses and all went out for a ride together.Dylan rode on Judd’s lap, Malcolm rode on Amy’s lap, and I cried all the time without a lap to ride on, as I am not very good at riding horses.The only thing that made it cool for me was that I had not packed any long pants, and got to borrow a pair of Judd’s Wranglers for the ride.Yep, I wore Wranglers.Mancation indeed!The ride went well, except for the fact that my horse was a complete asshole and kept walking right under trees, subjecting me to the scrapes and scratches of the branches hanging down.I am pretty sure my horse smiled every time he walked under some branches.

Judd and I went squirrel huntin’ again during nap time, and Amy I and also went out for some off-roading in the 4 wheelers.During our little jaunt, we saw the ranch’s “dead pile” where they drag all the cows that die in the fields.While staring at the remains of a two day old carcass, we saw a small black bear running away.He have been sampling the steak tartar before we got there, as bear sightings are rare there. We also saw some wild turkeys, but they weren’t in season so I couldn’t shoot at them from Judd’s truck.

On the way back, we stopped at Judd’s nephew’s birthday party.Judd, his two brothers, and his parents all live next to each other, so going anywhere usually involves stopping at someone’s house and seeing what they are up to.The birthday party had begun to quiet down, so we sat in the yard drinking shitty beer and watching the kids jump around on a trampoline.Everyone in the country has a trampoline, and Amy, Malcolm and I even took turns showing our poor coordination.I was beginning to get the hang of it, but left the trampoline in shame when, on one of my jumps, the trampoline bowed so low that my butt actually touched the ground.

We capped off the evening with some steak, watermelon and a nice little tantrum by Malcolm.Malcolm was pretty well behaved for the weekend, so the fact that he only had one meltdown was pretty acceptable to us.Earlier in the day, however, Malcolm was on my lap on the couch when, for no apparent reason and no real notice, he threw up on my and the couch.I’m still not really sure why he did this, maybe it was his body reacting to the steady diet of red meat.

The next morning, we packed up the car, got a quick chicken fried steak and eggs from the local breakfast haunt, and said our goodbyes.Regina and Judd were great hosts, talented cooks, and nice friends to spend a weekend with.There was talk that the previously once a year event, “Etnapalooza” may be reincarnated, and if they do, I suggest that you try and make the trip and join us.Of course, you must be man enough to want to.

Malkie visits a Farm!

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We visited a farm!A friend of mine from high school married a cattle rancher/alfalfa farmer near the Oregon/California border. We hadn’t been up to see them in a number of years, and we figured the timing was right to take Malcolm up there.

The trip got off to a rocky start when we stopped for lunch at a Togo’s at a truck stop along highway 5.You know you are in for a bad dining experience when you say, “we stopped to eat at a truck stop…”I guess we would have been OK if we had found a place to eat chicken fried steak, but instead we opted for sandwiches instead, since I remembered liking pastrami sandwiches at Togo’s before.Here is our ordering experience:

We waited for 5 minutes in the drive-thru before someone came on over the intercom.

Hi there, welcome to Togo’s, may I take your order?

Ya, can I get a turkey avocado sandwich please.

2 minute pause.

Would you like everything on that?

No onions please.

What size?

Regular.

Would you like cheese? We have American, Swiss and Provolone.

Provolone.

4 minute pause.

Hello?Are you still there?

Yes.

One turkey sandwich with Cheddar.

No, a turkey avocado with provolone with no onions please. [What the hell, cheddar wasn’t even an option!]

Ok, I’d also like a large pastrami sandwich with no pickles or tomatoes.

What size?

Large.[I just said large numbskull. What’s wrong with these people?]

OK, what kind of bread would you like?

A regular roll please.

What kind of bread would you like?

[Didn’t they just ask this? We should leave right now.]A REGULAR ROLL PLEASE!

White or wheat?

WHITE!

What size was that again?

[Oh, go fuck yourself!] LARGE!!!!

OK, a large pastrami with no tomatoes or onions.

[Listen you retard, it’s a sandwich.This is not that tough.]No, I want onions, I don’t want pickles.

No pickles or onions.

[ARE YOU WRITING ANY OF THIS DOWN? I AM SERIOUSLY GOING TO SHOOT YOU IN THE FACE!!!] Whatever.

To my surprise, this was the worst tasting sandwich I ever ate, with the bread tasting like it was made in Russia in the 70’s and the pastrami looking more like discarded gristle than sandwich meat.I was so seriously irritated, I can’t believe I didn’t drive off, and was mad at myself for giving those people money. Oh ya, Amy got American cheese on her sandwich.

The rest of the drive went smoothly and we arrived in Etna at our friends ranch early in the evening.The Hanna ranch is a perfect place for Malcolm.It had 3 horses on site, 2 Saint Bernards, 2 other dogs and what seemed like 16 orange cats.That kid was swimming in animals!I must admit, though, that the sight of a sweet, energetic Saint Bernard charging at you at 100 miles an hour, is a bit terrifying (especially if you are only 3 feet tall).Malcolm handled it well though.

My friend Regina lived across the street from me in high school.She married Judd, her college sweetheart, and moved up to the ranch when returning home from traveling the world after college.They have a cute little girl named Dylan who I mistakenly referred to as a boy after receiving the birth announcement.Judd and Regina live on a ranch that Judd works with his father, uncle, brothers, and other family members.The cows roam on grassy mountains and are natural, meaning they don’t get any hormones or antibiotics.It’s cool that there are still family operations like this.Reading books like Fast Food Nation makes you think that raising cattle is more like operating a huge cattle farm.

While we were there, Malcolm enjoyed playing on the myriad of abandoned tractors they have dotting the countryside.It’s one thing to have a matchbox tractor, it’s quite another to sit in the seat of a real live caterpillar that has a steering wheel the size of a kitchen table.

The highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly the ride in Judd’s new swather, a 20 foot tall, highly maneuverable tractor used to cut hay in the fields.Luckily for us, Judd also can use it to cut weeds in the front yard, which he did with Malcolm sitting next to him in the cab.Malcolm had the distant look of determination in his eyes, while zipping around the yard, that I had the first time I inhaled keyboard cleaner.He had a blast, and is still asking if he can go for tractor rides.I stupidly told him that we were going to get one for our backyard one day, and he hasn’t let me off the hook yet.

We visited a whole bunch of animals while there.We saw, at one place or another, horsies, cowses, goats, sheep, chickens, bunnies, squirrels, and even honeybees.We had grand plans of getting Malkie up on a horse, but he completely freaked out when he got near the tall beast.I guess I would to, my daddy had taken me to go see Yao Ming, and then all of a sudden, tried to put me on his back.Oh well, we figured next time we’ll be ready for the horses.

While there, we went for ice cream one afternoon. Dylan had never had ice cream before, so she didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to try to eat the cone in one bite. I had never seen anyone’s jaw open that far before. Malcolm wanted to re-enact an Oascar fave, so we got him one of these:


I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!!!!

We had some good adult time on the ranch too.Judd and Regina got a baby sitter to look after the kids, and we even had an adult’s night out!They have a brew pub, so we got handcrafted brews, while talking about traveling, books, and politics.Ah, who am I kidding, we talked about poop and nipples the whole time, but in my mind, we were very cosmopolitan.Judd and Regina are an interesting ranch family though.Regina is Brazilian, so she kinda sticks out like an Alpaca in Manhattan.Judd teaches English at the local college and listens to books on tape while he cuts hay in the summer.There is just so much to absorb that we peppered them with questions like we foreign exchange students.I actually poked Amy in the ribs to get her to shut up after asking Judd 10 questions back to back about cows.[What kinds are t
here?What colors do they come in?What happens when their dicks break?]Judd was glad to see us leave, feeling like the Spanish inquisition had just moved on.

I really liked Etna, we had a great time.It’s the kind of place where everyone honks at you from the road to say hi (even if you’re not in a bikini).There’s no fashion pressures, as a camouflage hat and sandals with wool socks are the norm (provided, of course that somewhere on your body there is either a reference to a farm equipment manufacturer or a woman with exceptionally large breasts).Malcolm was constantly amazed and loved every minute of it.I would brag about how well behaved he was too, except that he spent a good deal of the weekend trying to kick the living shit of sweet little Dylan.Part of me wanted to leave Malcolm up there.Maybe next time.