Sunday, August 31, 2008

McCain to US - have a sense of humor!

Here's an equally hilarious (and much shorter) clip here.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Like most good political satire, this is bound to be a tad too subtle for some.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Putting country first?

Ok folks, time for another thought experiment:

Lets start with two factual points. McCain has made a strong claim that Obama's inexperience renders him unfit or at least not ready to lead America. The campaign has also made a strong and persistent claim that McCain always puts country first.

Now lets pretend that McCain is sincere on both counts. How then does one explain his VP selection, Sarah Palin? Was he thinking of his country when he made this choice? The man who, if elected, will become the oldest first term president ever, has chosen to put a person who has admitted to hardly even thinking about Iraq in a position to possibly become our commander in chief should something happen to McCain. Was he thinking of his country when he made that choice?

Let me add here that it is entirely likely based on past history that neither Biden nor Palin will change the vote in any appreciable way for either candidate. That's not my point. My point is, rather, what this choice suggests about McCain's judgement.

Which candidate has shown the most concern for selecting a running mate who is ready to take the reins on a moment's notice? The answer, it seems to me is obvious. The conclusions one can draw are equally obvious. McCain is putting his electoral ambitions way ahead of his country's interests. If you think I'm exaggerating then perhaps a few quotes from Palin herself might hint at why Americans should worry about the prospect of a President Palin.

March 07:
Alaska Business Monthly: We've lost a lot of Alaska's military members to the war in Iraq. How do you feel about sending more troops into battle, as President Bush is suggesting?

Palin: I've been so focused on state government, I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq. I heard on the news about the new deployments, and while I support our president, Condoleezza Rice and the administration, I want to know that we have an exit plan in place;

Sarah Palin, a month ago.“As for that VP talk all the time, I’ll tell you, I still can’t answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day?" -

August 14th:The GOP agenda to ramp up domestic supplies of energy is the only way that we are going to become energy independent, the only way that we are going to become a more secure nation. And I say this, of course, knowing the situation we are in right now — at war, not knowing what the plan is to ever end the war we are engaged in, understanding that Americans are seeking solutions and are seeking resolution in this war effort.

To add a little more context, here's Karl Rove recently critiquing the credentials of Virginia governor Tom Kaine to be Obama's vice president.

"With all due respect again to Governor Kaine, he's been a governor for three years. He's been able but undistinguished. I don't think people could really name a big, important thing that he's done ... [Kaine] was mayor of the 105th largest city in America. And again, with all due respect to Richmond, Virginia, it's smaller than Chula Vista, California; Aurora, Colorado; Mesa, or Gilbert, Arizona; North Las Vegas, or Henderson, Nevada. It's not a big town."

Palin has been governor for less than two years of a state with 600,000 people, compared to Virginia's 8 million. Before that, she was mayor of a town with 6,000 inhabitants, compared to Richmond's 200,000.

This isn't a liberal rant. Conservatives like David Frum at the National Review and Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic are saying the same thing.

Then there's the lame response from the McCain campaign. The suggestion that Palin's experience is somehow equal to that of Obama's doesn't pass the laugh test. Obama cut his teeth in the political jungle of Chicago. He has immersed himself in public policy issues for well over twenty years; he has taught constitutional law at one of this nation's most prestigious universities; and he organized and led for the past 18 months the greatest national grassroots political organization this country has ever seen in a fifty state campaign that defeated the Clinton machine, the most formidable political organiztion in the coutnry at the time.

None of this, by the way has anything to do with Palin's personal attributes which by many accounts are both likeable and admirable. But just because a person is nice and smart doesn't mean that she should be put a heartbeat from the role of commander in chief.

Unless of course McCain was saying all that stuff about experience and putting country first just to, you know, win votes.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

McNasty or McNice?

People in the McCain have been hyperventilating over this tv ad that is supposed to run this evening during Obama's speech. Here's what McCains' Communications director Jill Hazelbaker said about it.

JILL HAZELBAKER: Well, Mika, this is a historic ad. I think this is the first of its kind. Senator McCain is going to speak direct to camera to Barack Obama. I’m not going to give away many more details than that. But suffice to say it’s going to be a very exciting ad, and I think it’s going to get a lot of attention... Well, I'm going to keep a lid on it. But I think it's newsworthy to note that Senator McCain is going to have an ad that's going to air in battleground states around the time that Senator Obama is speaking tonight. And he’s going to be talking directly to his opponent. So, I'm going to leave it there, but it's going be very exciting and a lot of people are going to focus on it.

Ready for the best McCain ad ever? Brace yourselves; here it is.

I think I get the strategy here. McCain is trying to recapture the high ground, trying to cancel out all that noise about his Karl rove style tactics thus far. Trying to suggest that there's another McCain, not the one you've been tracking in the campaign but a different one who maybe wishes politics wasn't so nasty.
Here's my problem with it. McCain wants credit for taking one day out of his campaign to say something generous about Barack Obama. I don't think I've ever, ever heard Obama give a speech without acknowledging McCain's love of country and his heroic service. The worst thing I've heard Obama say about the man McCain is that he's wrong on the economy, wrong on the war, and that he's out of step with common people. Those are pretty standard political positions that can be argued.

By contrast, McCain has repeatedly cast doubt as to where Obama's loyalties lie. He's alleged that Obama would rather lose a war and win a campaign, that he puts himself above his country, that he trusts himself more than his country, that he's an appeaser, that he's cozy with terrorist organizations like Hamas.

By running this ad he seems to want people to forget all that. Notice the line in this ad, "tomorrow we'll be back at it." I think he means it. It'll be back to the old game plan. It's as if he thinks tearing down a man's patriotism and his character is mere sport. McCain is trying to erase the line between hardball politics and gutter politics. He got smeared by the gutter politics of Bush eight years ago and the only thing he learned from it apparently was that it works.

The old saying holds in this case - when a man says one thing and does another, watch what he does.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ready to lead?

A thought experiment: pretend that the only thing that matters in voting for president is his readiness to conduct foreign policy. Which man is best equipped to lead America as commander in chief?

What exactly are McCain's credentials in this area? He says, "I know how to win a war." When and where has he ever demonstrated that? Please don't say, "He was a POW." That's not an answer to the question I'm asking. I realize that he served in the military, but so did other presidential candidates such as: Jimmy Carter, John Kerry, George McGovern...and George Bush Jr (though out of this group only Kerry and McGovern actually saw combat - neither got elected).
Obama has no military service, neither, by the way, did John Adams or FDR.
It seems to me that most of the credit McCain gets on this front is based on the war hero narrative that has become a staple of the McCain campaign. Where's the substance? Lacking substance, where's the evidence of good judgement?

Consider these quotes as evidence of his serious lack of temperament and judgement needed to be commander in chief.

Former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig,
"I think John McCain is well-known for 'losing it' in a variety of circumstances,"

Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, one of McCain's conservative Republican colleagues and a man who's worked with McCain for years,
"The thought of him being president sends a cold chill down my spine," Cochran said. "He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

former National Security Council counter-terrorism adviser to George Bush, Richard Clarke. Clarke drew on his experience on the NSC to talk about McCain's own judgment after Sept. 11, 2001, saying that McCain was pushing for war with Iraq before the Bush administration had even made its own mind up on the matter.
"Sen. McCain had already decided," Clarke said. "He and his neoconservative foreign policy types that he agreed with are one of the reasons that George W. Bush decided to go to Iraq."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michelle hits it out of the park

After watching first the mother, then the brother, then Michelle Obama come up and speak (all of them) with such poise and unassuming conviction, one commentator said, "They're the Huxtables!" I laughed out loud, but then I realized that he's right.

Here's what's wierd. The Obama's are a traditional American family in every sense of the phrase: two parents, married 18 years, two kids, one house, strong extended family and work ethic, solid values and regard for service and education.
Obama the candidate is liberal, but Obama the man is guided by a conservative temperament. People are beginning to see the enormous gap between the lies being promoted about what kind of people Michelle and Barack Obama are and the compelling testimony they provide about themselves. Good folk, good family, good Americans.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Saving it for the voting booth

At a campground the other day, a man walks up to me, notices my Obama hat and says, "Nice hat." We chat amiably for a bit. Turns out the man is a lifelong Republican and Vietnam vet who has never voted Democrat before, but who has decided to vote for Obama this time around. He's even contributed money to his campaign.
When I ask him what turned him around, he says that it's lots of things, but that it started before Obama even started running. He came across his name included in a Bush publication listing veterans for Bush. No one had ever contacted him, asked him for permission to use his name, they had simply assumed that since he was a registered Republican and a vet that it was okay. That was the beginning of his estrangement, he tells me. "Their arrogance angered me," he says. "It was as if it was inconceivable that I might think for myself, have my own position on things or that I would even bother to be bothered by this kind of thing."
Its runs deeper than that though. He is extremely wary of what he sees as a trigger happy McCain temperament and what it might portend on the foreign policy front. He has developed close ties with Vietnam vets who were POWs, and he doesn't like the way McCain is trotting out the POW experience every time he is confronted with a criticism.
"Most guys I know don't like to talk about their experiences, don't get off on talking about them. In the beginning, McCain said he would be reluctant to speak of it in the campaign but it seems to me the reverse has been the case. It's his response to everything. It's his way of trying to shut people up. And he's been doing it for a long time, ever since he entered politics back in Arizona."
I listen to this guy speak his mind; he's soft spoken and articulate. He doesn't rant, but there is a seriousness about him, almost professorial. He and I trade a few comments about what we see in Obama. The guy doesn't necessarily agree with Obama on some things but he's willing to set those matters aside because he sees something in an Obama presidency that he thinks we desperately need. Optimism.
Then he smiles and tells me that no one in his family knows yet how he's going to vote. "My brother would shit if he knew I'd given Obama money." He says.
"When are you gonna tell him?" I ask.
"I don't know yet. I'm not sure he wants to know."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The deep end

Last evening I took Tess and Colm to rec swim. On the way there, Tess pestered me about whether I'd take her to the deep end so that she could go off the diving board. I told her that the only way they would let her in the deep end was if she passed the test.
"What's the test?" she asked rather disingenuously since I had already told her several times over the past several days.
"Swim the length of the pool (25 meters) freestyle without dog paddling."
"Will you give me the test?"
"Sorry sweetie. Only the lifeguards can give you the test."
When we got in kid pool we went through our usual variety of diversions. I would be a shark and swim underwater after them. They would hop on top of me; I would dive for the bottom taking them with me until they couldn't hold their breath any longer and would break away. They would go down the water slide too. But they also spent a fair amount of time showing me how well they could do the freestyle and backstroke. Each time I praised Tess for doing the freestyle well she would say something like, "I want to take the test."
"There's a lifeguard. Go ask her."
I could see her working up her nerve but not quite getting there. A bit later however I found myself with Colm at the other end of the kid pool from the water slide where Tess was. I looked over there and saw her standing next the lifeguard chair, talking to the young woman. I was too far away to hear anything but I could tell that Tess was asking questions. The lifeguard inclined her head indulgently toward Tess as if concentrating on hearing what she was saying. She responded patiently to Tess's questions. It was sweet seeing this teenager and my daughter together. I was a little surprised in fact to see that Tess had initiated this conversation with a stranger on her own. When she came back to me and Colm her eyes glinted. She reported to me that everything was exactly as I had said. I complimented her on finding out.
"Are you going to take the test?" I asked.
"Not yet."
We played some more. I suggested that Tess try a practice test in the kid pool which is about half the length of the other pool. She did it. I was mildly surprised, still I doubted that she could go 25 meters, at least not on her first attempt. With about fifteen minutes to go before closing I warned the kids that we'd be leaving soon. Tess absorbed the news and then got out of the pool and went back to lifeguard. Colm and I watched from the edge of the kid pool as the lifeguard got down from her chair and escorted Tess to the deep pool, just a couple of paces away. Tess climbed in. She did a couple of bobs down to the bottom of the pool. A good idea, I thought. Then she gave me and Colm a quick look, grabbed hold of the edge of the pool and pushed off. Right from the start she was strong but she was also headed diagonally across the lane. She bumped into the lane floats, corrected and kept going. Her stamina was impressive but even more impressive was her focus. She kept going, breathing on her right side as she lifted that arm high out of the water. The other arm barely grazed the water's surface. The lifeguard walked alongside her. Colm said, "Is she doing it?"
"I think she's doing it."
She did it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dreaming it up; putting it up

It's done, the bathroom. It started out innocently enough. We just wanted a new tub. That was the beginning, but if you read this blog you already know about tile heaven and hell.

What a process. We took the tiles down to the basement where we snapped some chalk lines on the floor and commenced mocking up our bathroom design to scale.

Our contractor/friend Peter then gave us a morning training session and let us use his saw. After he left the fun really began. Beth laid the tiles, I cut and delivered them.

We saved a lot of money doing it ourselves. We also picked up some skills.

As things went on we both gained confidence in what we were doing and began enjoying seeing things round into shape. It was tricky laying those small, odd shaped decorative tiles but we really wanted a colorful accent to the field design. The only stressful thing was whether we had enough tiles. Beth thought she had brought way more tiles from Portland than we needed. It didn't take long for that notion to give way to the realization that we actually had almost exactly the number of field tiles we needed. It made for some careful work measuring, cutting and laying. When we laid the last tile we had exactly four tiles left over. Four.

Yesterday and today we grouted. The fixtures aren't on yet and we can't seal the grout until the weekend, but the tiles are in place and looking good. We couldn't be happier with how it all turned out.

We are going to start inviting people over to have a shower or a bath.

p.s. the colors in these photos vary due to whether or not I used a flash...I decided to use examples of each...the flash tends to bring out the mosaic colors while bleaching the field tiles. Natural light seems to display the field tiles more truly but leaves the mosaic tiles rather dark. If I was a better photographer, I could probably resolve this issue.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Getting to know you...Obama and McCain

People who think that Obama is some kind of closet socialist should listen to this exchange he has with a Democrat activist.

Obama is no ideologue, which is why I like him. It's also what troubles the woman questioner in the video. She senses, correctly I think, that Obama is willing to compromise with what she calls a "Republican minority". Implicit in her comment is the idea that it's "our turn" to impose a new agenda. I don't think that's how Obama operates, and that's what keeps the left just a little nervous about him.

Also, notice how well he listens to a very long, three part question and how he responds in detail, at length, and directly to each part. The man knows how to listen to criticism without becoming defensive, he's at ease sorting through a whole laundry list of assumptions, and he is up to the task of articulating difficult and nuanced positions.
It's not just that he is good with words (though he is); it's that he seems to have reflected deeply about what he talks about. Plus, he displays a level of self control and discipline that suggests something fundamentally trustworthy about whether the man is equipped to perform well in the Oval Office.

McCain's reputation for having a volatile temper is only one of my concerns. The more I watch him the less impressed I am with his grasp of things. When he wanders off script, he borders on being incoherent at times though he has become adept at sometimes turning such moments into self deprecating shtick about being senile. Good for a laugh or two if you're doing standup comedy, but not all that reassuring when it begins looking like a pattern. I'm not saying that McCain is too old; I am saying he lacks coherence, not just in choosing his words, but in conveying what his vision for America really is.

I continue to be amazed by the claims that we don't who Obama really is. Obama has written two memoirs (actually written them, I might add). McCain hired Mark Salter to "co-write" his story. In addition, the task of getting to know Obama has been poisoned by a hatchet job currently on the NY Times best seller list. (It would be nice if the Times would differentiate between books that are sold in bulk and those that are actually purchased by individual readers.) Meanwhile, McCain's biography has basically been boiled down by the media to two or three memes, POW, war hero, maverick...end of story. Do people really know McCain as well as they claim they want to know Obama? You'd think they'd show a little more curiosity.

If there is a candidate that has shown the nerve to walk out in front of the public in an unscripted and improvisational manner, speak meaningfully and substantively about not just policy but also personal convictions and values, that candidate is Obama. I remember how in the previous election cycles Bush supposedly connected with some voters as being the one folks might most enjoy having a beer with. McCain seems to get the benefit of that litmus test these days. I suggest that we find a better criterion for voting this time around.

The end of summer

Living with children makes you feel the passage of time differently. There seem to be benchmarks everywhere you turn. Just last week for example, Tess went off the ten foot high dive at the Cove pool (no pics unfortunately). Colm is starting to sound out words. Always, it seems, Tess or Colm is arriving somehow. Arriving at some understanding, some prowess, some desire. It's easy and tempting to live vicariously through their exploits. Mostly it inspires me to live like them, alert to the cues that life is offering me.
We took a day hike to Black Lake in the Elkhorn Mountains. Nobody else was there, we had the place to ourselves. The kids and the dog ranged all over the place, climbing boulders, swimming in the cold moutain lake. Tess got blisters from her sandals and had to walk most of the way barefoot. Instead of quitting the hike, she did it.
These kids are ready for a backpacking outing.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Royal intrigue at the Cherry Fair

Every summer Cove hosts the Cherry Fair. The fair marks the end of cherry season with music, arts and crafts booths, food and a parade. Children under 10 are invited to be in the parade as cherry fairies.

All the fairies are assembled afterwards on a stage where a drawing is held. One lucky girl is chosen to be Queen Anne and a boy gets to be King Bing. All the fairies are given glittery fairy dust which they hold in their hands and then toss in the air to lend a little magic to the people gathered there.

Beth's marimba band, Kupenga, is a fixture at the Cherry Fair; so too are our kids who love putting on wings and riding on the hay bales on the cherry fairy float through the main drag in Cove.

This year Colm was named King Bing and he was given the king's royal hat to wear. He was as surprised and pleased as anyone, well almost anyone, and therein lies a short tale.

After the naming of the King and Queen when all the ruckus had died down, I took the kids and Sammy to play across the green field to a place where a spring runs under a large oak tree. While they practiced jumping over the creek in ever wider spots, I watched Colm sporting his very large and very warm hat and his even larger and warmer smile.
When he came nearby I said to him, "Wasn't that great that your name was chosen this year to be King Bling?"
Colm just kept smiling but Tess who overheard me piped up. "Yeah, I picked Colm's name out of the hat."
She said it matter-of-factly as if she were preoccupied with something else, that something else being teasing Sammy with a stick.
"You what?"
"I saw his name and I picked it," she explained.

I rewound to the moment on stage 20 minutes earlier. I hadn't registered that it had been Tess who had been given the task of selecting a name out of the hat. The man who had read Colm's name aloud had so badly mispronounced it that Colm didn't recognize it. Colin, he said. I did however. In our excitement to get the word out I shouted out the correct pronunciation. "Colm!"
Colm looked at us. The man seemed to grasp dimly that an error.
"Coleman." he said into the microphone.
I saw Beth say something like O my God, Colm won?
"Colm!" I yelled again.
Tess began pointing at Colm. Then the hat came down over his head, then the smile set in, then the King and Queen were posed side by side and then the cameras started clicking. Everyone cooed and clucked over the cute couple neither one of which had the slightest idea who their partner was. It had all been miraculous and hilarious at the same time.

Now, however, all those warm fuzzy feelings were being displaced by a new kind of wonder. I was looking at Tess aka the King Maker. She was looking at me like, "What?"

Friday, August 15, 2008

Baracky II

I've noticed McCain and his surrogates repeating the refrain that everyone needs to lighten up. Maybe he'd get a chuckle out of this then.

Feeling it

Last night Beth and I decided we needed a break from tiling the bathroom, a project that has consumed the better part of a month. We took the kids out for dinner, and then we took the van up to Morgan Lake to see the shooting stars.
We'd read that there was an asteroid shower happening about now. It was one of those clear, hot August nights. We made it to the top just in time to see the last sliver of red evening sky in the west. The moon was full and intensely bright which made for limited star gazing. On a whim we decided to park near a field up away from the lake. We put down some blankets and pillows and laid there in the tall grass looking up. We found the North Star and the Big Dipper. We didn't really see more than two or three shooting stars but we did track some planes and a couple of satellites across the sky.
It was ten o'clock and the kids had fallen asleep. I went back to the van, fetched a couple more blankets. Beth looked at the sleeping kids, the stars and the moon, we felt the cool air, and we just decided to spend the night there. Sammy curled up with us. I can't say that I slept all that well on the rocky ground and the moon shining into my face, but I remember waking up early in the morning to a dark sky, the moon finally fled, and the Milky Way ghosting the sky overhead. The silence was impenetrable save for the far off horn of a freight train passing through the valley far below.
When I awaken for good, I can make out through the willowy grass surrounding us, the east sky turning pink, the sun still off in the wings behind the blue mountains. Sammy follows me around. His yellow coat is perfect camoulflage in this grass. Across the road from where the van is parked he spots some cows grazing on the other side of a barbed wire fence. I realize that this is his first encounter with cows. He goes to investigate, stopping well short of the animals but not before one of them notices him and raises a wary head in his direction. I whistle Sammy back, and he comes ears flopping.
The rest of the family sleeps a little longer while I hang out in the van. A bit later, I manage to interest Colm in walking towards home and letting the girls catch up with us in the rig. Colm skips along in his yellow flip flops - it's his favorite gait, and the one that I find most expressive of who seems to be. Sammy ran after and around his boy, veering off once in awhile to investigate the brush along the road.
As we hit the summit, the sun comes up and hits us squarely in the eyes. From there we have a view of the Grande Ronde Valley, still slumbering for the most part. We begin our descent. I wonder how long before the van would putter up behind us. Colm takes my hand as we descend. That little gesture has become for me the one that reaches furthest inside my heart. I've written about it before regarding Tess. To feel his little hand slide unbidden into mine is akin to being awoken sweetly by the whisper of your real name. As we walk lazily down the gravel road, Colm said, "Daddy?"
"I feel like I know everything."
Neither of us breaks stride. In this quiet light everything seems possible, everything seems like it's just waiting to happen.
With Colm, you often get wordings like this which hint at far more than he perhaps intends, but which leave you feeling like a tuning fork that just been struck. A few minutes earlier he had coined the word "tomorning" and then immediately corrected himself with "this morning". Not because his word wasn't good English; rather because it wasn't what he meant. You also often get the last piece first, especially if he's been spinning something about in his head for awhile.
I wait and ponder the ramifications of feeling like you know everything.
Colm elaborates.
"Yeah. You know when you give those reading lessons?"
"Uh huh."
"It's like I only need one time, and I know it."
"Yeah. I know the feeling. Sometimes once is enough."
"Yeah, sometimes."
We continue down the steep grade together hand in hand. A minute or two later, we hear the van coming. We turn and watch it crest the hill, we hear Beth downshift and head down towards us, the engine winding up. Tess is waving out the passenger window, smiling broadly, relishing her chance to ride shotgun while Beth drives. Both Sammy and Colm seem excited by the strange perspective of the moment, seeing half the family inside the moving car, being on the outside looking in. I can imagine Colm wondering, "Is that I look like when I'm in there?" I shepherd boy and dog the side of the road.
As we load up, Beth says, "You guys went a long ways."

Saturday, August 09, 2008

climate blogging from the Olympics

ESPN has a climate blog going during the Olympics in China. Various staff writers like Pat Forde and Chris Sheridan are contributing impressions having to do with the air over there. Check it out. It's funny, in a sad kind of way.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Heaven and Hell

Almost a month ago, we hired a contractor to replace our bath tub/shower. This meant that we would also have to replace the wall tiles surrounding that area. Being somewhat challenged as long term planners, we had given no serious thought to new tiles before hiring the contractor.

I was a little apprehensive about this approach, but Beth seemed certain that seeing the bare walls first was an essential part of getting ready to tile them.

We left on a week long camp trip and returned to find a new tub installed and the walls not quite ready for tiling. At the time I remember thinking that we were close to being finished. the scales have fallen from my eyes since then. Pete, our contractor, wrapped up the prep work for the tiling in a few short days, left us a bill, and told us to call him when we were ready to order tiles. He offered to install them or to train Beth for a day and then leave her to finish the job. We learned later that Pete doubted we'd be back to him before a month was out.

After Pete left we slowly descended into what I've taken to referring to as tile hell. Tile hell is actually not a horrible place, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. It is composed of myriad materials, colors, textures and shapes of miraculous variety. Glazes, glass, grout,Mexican, Moroccan, mozaic, matte: the lexicon of tile hell encompasses everything from aesthetics to zeitgeist.
Going to tile hell means that you must pay. Not for your sins but for your dreams. How much you pay depends on how good you feel about yourself. One Moroccan tile website asks visitors to click one of three project options before entering the site: $50,000.00 or more, $25,000, or $10,000.00 or less. Shipping alone would have cost more than many if not most of the other options we looked at. At the other end of tile hell are Mexican tiles which cost less than a dollar per tile but which are porous and need constant maintenance.
What I have learned is that your stay in tile hell depends in part on whether you believe in tile heaven. Choose a color or a material in haste, repent at leisure. The surest way to tile heaven is to go to tile hell and stay there as long as it takes to learn what it is you truly yearn for. Some people get in a hurry because they can't imagine living without a shower for a few days. We're going on three weeks now and I have to say that after some initial irritation over the disruption I haven't given it a second thought. We've got a solar camp shower in the back yard. I also pedal to the college and use the locker room there whenever it suits me. We throw the kids in the wading pool or go to the river or to the grandparents' house. Not feeling panicked about stuff like bathing is an important aid to spending one's time in tile hell wisely.
I should say that I don't feel that I personally have gone to tile hell, purgatory perhaps. Beth is the one who has taken the plunge, made that dramatic descent from which there is no certain exit. The reason is, I believe, that Beth cares deeply about things that remain mysterious and even abstract to me, things such as color and design and light and texture. In short, she is an artist, and as such her relationship to her ambient visual surroundings is not unlike that of a plant that needs light and uses it photosynthetically to transform itself.

Because Beth needs these things, she is predestined to languish for a time in the depths of tile hell where she is tortured by the multiplicity of possibilities. Colors spawning like salmon, designs morphing endlessly, and themes triggering counter themes and so on until there seems no way to get a handle on the beast that was once just a bathroom. Of course I haven't even mentioned the implications for the bathroom floor and the wall colors.

This is a necessary part of finding the way to tile heaven, provided of course that you don't succumb to the temptation of settling on something for the sake of ending it all. Settling will get you a functioning bathroom, which, if that is all you wanted in the first place, makes going to tile hell a waste of time. If you go to tile hell and come back with something less than you wanted, you'll be tormented by your bathroom for as long as live in that house. In fact, rather than getting you out of tile hell, settling for something less than you want locks you in there.

It's not easy to watch someone you love go to tile hell, cast about, flounder, question and despair. All you can do is remind them that there is a tile heaven and that they'll get there one day as long as they don't abandon the struggle.
For Beth, the way to tile heaven opened up inconspicuously one evening as we ate dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. I remembered that the waiter there, a friend of ours named Tyrone, had once laid tiles for a living. I suggested to Beth that she talk to him. He recommended that Beth talk to a local gift shop owner, Kelly, who has contacts in the remodeling world. Kelly told Beth to talk to Jamie, an interior decorator in Baker City. Jamie introduced Beth to a custom supplier called Pratt and Larson based in Portland. Beth went online, looked over their offerings, and ordered samples. The samples arrived, and they were absolutely beautiful. They were also out of our price range. The tiles alone would have cost almost $1500 for our measley 60 square foot job. It seemed that we were, once again, thwarted.
But then Beth discovered that Pratt and Larson had a seconds store where surplus or unwanted tiles were sold for next to nothing. The problem was that their inventory changed everyday and the possibility of finding enough tiles of the same color to fill our entire order was uncertain at best. The other problem of course was that a trip to Portland would cost about $150 in gasoline. We let the idea percolate overnight. The next day I went golfing in Pendleton with by brothers and my dad. I got home mid afternoon just in time to learn that Beth had been invited to accompany her brother who was driving to Portland for three days - and he was leaving in fifteen minutes. Beth looked at me with a twinkle that suggested to me that the stars might be aligning. Behind her on the stove top I saw canning jars boiling in a pot and a batch of fresh apricot jam cooking. Beth showed me the cookbook with instructions on what to do, gave us all kisses and was gone on her quest for tiles - there lay the way to tile heaven.
Beth had six hours on one day, Saturday, to find the tiles to wall our bathroom. Her plan was to stay there all day, break only for lunch, and report back that night. She called me around two in the afternoon. Her voice was dreamy. She had been gathering tiles all day - square tiles, rectangular tiles, round tiles, star-shaped tiles, large and small, decorative tiles, even some glass tiles, enough for at least two different bathroom schemes, more if you improvised combinations.

It was all good stuff. She was happy with everything and to top it off, the total cost was less than $25o. She had come; she had seen, and she had conquered.
In an email later that night, Beth described how pleasurable it had been to spend hours simply handling beautiful things, digging through boxes of tiles, finding things familiar and surprising. She had nearly forgotten about lunch. Slowly, tile by tile, a palette began to emerge. By the end of the day, Beth had filled at least eight boxes. Several times people had come up to her to ask for help, assuming that she worked there.

"I felt like I belonged there," she wrote.
"You do belong there," I wrote back. The there I was referring to was tile heaven.
Beth came home Monday evening. We unloaded the boxes on the front porch. The next day found her sitting there, her bare legs bent, leaning on one arm, gently laying tiles on the floor, creating different patterns like she was filling in some enormous jig saw puzzle without having a model to look at.

I joined her for awhile and played at making a tiny mosaic of my own.

We are not yet ready to call Peter as there are clearly many decisions left to make. But as I watch Beth play with her tiles on the porch, it is clear to me that she has found and brought home a piece of heaven.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Driving into trouble

Last week I took Colm and Tess to the driving range and putting green just hit some balls. Both of them seemed mildly disappointed that we didn’t golf for real. What I discovered is that this meant not just golfing but riding in the golf cart. Normally I walk the course, but with Beth out of town it really came down to ride the cart or stay home. Easy.

I was eager to play again after having thoroughly stunk up the place a few days earlier with my brothers and my dad. One of my brothers offered to let me hit with his clubs, but I knew the fault lay with my swing. I just had no idea what the problem was. With two holes to play my dad passed along an observation. He suggested to me that I needed quieter hands, especially on my back swing. Despite a terrible round overall, I hit the ball solidly those last two holes. I was almost elated. I had something to focus on – quiet hands. I couldn't wait to put those quiet hands into action again.

I set up the kids with a putting contest for our round of nine holes. Two M&Ms for the winner of each hole, one for the loser. My first drive took off like a laser splitting the middle of the fairway and coming to a stop about twenty yards from the pin. Chip and two putt made par. I was off to a good start. Meanwhile Tess and Colm were haggling over who was closest or whether they should measure after the first or the second putt.
Tess won. Colm affected a scowl though it was hardly convincing. The second hole brought another par – on in regulation but a ten foot putt to save par. Quiet hands. Colm took the second putting contest. Everyone was feeling good. It carried through the third hole, another par for me. As I drove us up the steep cart path to the fourth hole tee box, I was beginning to wonder where this round might be going. Tess and Colm were wondering out loud when they were going to collect their candy. I opened the bag and put it in the glove box.

I grabbed my driver and went to tee off about twenty yards away. As I lined up and prepared to take my club back I heard a scream and then the sound of the cart motor. I looked back and for a second I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The cart which had been parked facing me was driving 180 degrees away, crossing the path and headed for the sage brush. Tess was behind the wheel screaming, Colm was nowhere in sight, the cart wobbled precariously as it hit the rough ground and then it pitched down and over a slope along a steep side hill. By the time I had absorbed these facts my club was on the ground and I was in a full sprint. My biggest fear was that the cart would topple over. I reached the cart grabbing it’s rear frame just as it came to rest high centered on some sage brush. Inside, Tess was gripping the wheel and Colm was trying to clamber off the floor. Both of them were crying.

Tess explained that Colm had slipped on to the gas pedal while trying to reach the candy in the glove box on the driver's side. The cart's wheels were cranked right and had turned away from the tee box and begun to arc around. Tess had tried to straighten it out, sending it and them across and down into the sage brush. It was a brief but terrifying ride for both of them. Colm was upset as much my his role in triggering the incident as anything else. He stood still, his chin lowered nearly to his chest, tears streaking his cheeks.

There in the prickly sage brush, high above the rest of the course with a commanding view of the Grande Ronde Valley, the furthest point from the clubhouse, holding each of them, consoling them, collecting my own wits, still not quite able to believe what had happened or worse, what had not happened, I simply embraced our good luck. As the kids quieted down and I carried them back to softer and safer ground, I pondered what to do next. There was no way to back the cart up the way it had entered. Perhaps we’d have to trek back to the clubhouse and get help. I scouted the slope down to the closest point with the winding cart path. It looked steep but passable. I hopped in the cart which teetered as I settled in. I pushed on the accelerator but the wheels only spun. I went back and leaned into it, pushing for all I was worth. I felt it moving. I was a little worried that it might take off without me but I managed to dislodge it, get in and drive cross country to the path down below. The kids watched and their expressions seemed to lift as they saw me driving back to them on the cart path.

“Who wants a ride?” I shouted.

“I do,” said Tess. Colm scrambled in behind her.

“Wanna drive?” I said.

“No way,” she laughed.

I looked at Colm and said, “You?”

He shook his head trying to conceal a smile and he said meekly, “I want a M&M.”

I parked once more. The kids jumped out, and I retraced my steps to the fourth tee and attempted to regain some kind of focus. Quiet hands, came the message from my suddenly unquiet mind. A few minutes earlier I had intimations of a special round. Those intimations had been on the mark; they just hadn't had anything to do with golf.


Picking up the game

Last May I bought a baseball glove and a ball for Colm as a birthday present. It was premature. He didn't show any interest at all; I'm not sure he even knew what the game was.
Last week he announced that he wanted to play baseball. We fished out his glove; somehow I found mine as well, and we headed out to the street. His new glove was stiff which made it difficult. We were playing with a hardball which made it a little dicey too what with the ball landing on his toes or caroming off his chin. Playing catch seemed a little premature so I tossed him some easy grounders on the street. It was fun and sometimes funny to play with him.

Colm asked me if I played baseball. I said I did. He asked me how high I could throw the ball. I shrugged. He pointed to the power lines overhead.
"Throw it over that and catch it!"
I enjoyed being goaded by my son in this way. I did it. He beamed. We went back to grounders. Colm kept getting further and further away until each ground ball's journey to him took on epic dimensions. At the end of our first baseball practice together, Colm said again, "I wanna be a baseball player."
Tess came out a bit later (she's a late sleeper these days) and said that she wanted to play to. We took our gear down to a nearby softball diamond and improvised a game. I showed them the bases. We ran around them calling out their names "First base! Second base! Third base! Home!"
I improvised a game with them and called it baseball. I pitched; they hit. When one of them hit it he/she ran to first. The next batter stayed at the plate hitting until he/she had moved the base runner all the way around the bases to home - that meant three hits. On the third hit the batter took off for first and so it became the turn of the runner who came home to bat his/her teammate around. Tess and Colm had a blast. They hollered in from second base, "Bring me home!" They swung the bat with an almost religious faith that it would connect with something. The first few times, contact with the ball startled them for an instant. I'd shout, "Run!" and they'd snap back into the moment and dash away. Before going home I got out some tennis balls and hit them some fly balls in the outfield. They stood transfixed by the towering flight of the balls, only running after them when they landed on the ground. All in all a pretty fun intro to the game of baseball.
For the next few days, Colm made a point of getting out his mitt and tossing the ball in the air. Each day he threw it higher and higher, and each day he caught a higher percentage of them. I showed him some fundamentals for fielding a grounder, mostly how to get low, how to slide from side to side, how to get in front of the ball and how the take the ball into your glove, straighten up and throw it back. This morning we went out in the street again. Tess was still sleeping. I watched him doing all the things I'd shown him.

He's a sponge.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

kids, dogs and pickup trucks

Tess, Colm, and Sam waiting for me to take them for a ride.

There's something iconic about this combination.

If you're curious about the book on the dashboard, it is The Beautiful Struggle - a father, two sons, and an unlikely road to manhood by Ta-Nehisi Coates.