Sunday, November 25, 2007

The War on Christmas

It is Christmas time again, which means joy to some, pain for others and indignant complaints from the liberal far-left who feel every time their all-too-sensitive ears hear the word Christ, they must fear for the safety of every man, woman and child who is being unfairly oppressed by religion. Yes, the stores fill up with blissful shoppers, specials start to appear on TV crammed with Christmasy goodness and sugary happy endings while a tiny percentage of "Americans" rev up the fight to abolish Christmas and all that it stands for. Apparently, Christ is offensive. He offends peoples liberties and prevents them from worshiping their own religions (or no religion at all), and the axiom that helped found this great nation—Freedom of Religion—has been bastardized and metamorphosed into becoming Freedom from Religion.

Heaven help you if you try to celebrate Christmas within its original intentions, going to church, placing a nativity scene on your front lawn or by praying because you’ll undoubtedly offend someone…or that’s what they’ll have you believe. Don’t mention Christ. Don’t mention the Nativity. Don’t mention the three wise Kings who followed a star to witness the birth of Jesus, Lord Savor to several billion people on this planet. And you sure as hell better not plaster a cheesy smile on your face, wearing your best looking sweater with Santa embroidered on it and walk up to some random person to wish them a very Merry Christmas. Some people don’t believe in Christmas and they don’t celebrate it, don’t you know…and they want the rest of the world to share their sentiments…and oh no, we must not offend them by a happy gesture toward the good faith of mankind.

Instead, say Season’s Greetings or Happy Holidays, because, by God, that includes us all… or does it? If you don’t believe in God, does that mean you don’t celebrate Christmas? If you’re Jehovah’s Witness (and they’re 1.3 million strong in the U.S.) and don’t celebrate any holiday, including their own birthday, does that mean they can’t encounter anything that is related Christmas? If you don’t like what you’re watching, change the channel and realize that other people are enjoying it.

What holiday can someone celebrate this time of year besides Christmas? What else is there? There’s Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, an eight-day Jewish holiday beginning on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may fall anytime from late November to late December. It celebrates the re-kindling of the Temple menorah at the time of the Maccabee rebellion. Hanukkah, from the Hebrew word for "dedication" or "consecration", marks the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus IV and commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil." According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.

Then there’s Ramadan, a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when the Qur'an was revealed. The name “Ramadan” is taken from the name of this month, which happens to be December, I guess; the word itself derived from an Arabic word for intense heat, scorched ground, and shortness of rations. It is considered the most venerated and blessed month of the Islamic year. Prayers, sawm (fasting), charity, and self-accountability are especially stressed at this time; religious observances associated with Ramadan are kept throughout the month.

Lastly (I left off the weirdos that celebrate Winter Solstice as a religious holiday), we have Kwanzaa, a festive, non-religious celebration, founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, during which African Americans celebrate and reflect upon their rich heritage. It begins December 26 and lasts for seven days, which is not even during Christmas! Each day focuses on one of seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith (which looks to me like nine).

None of these other “holidays” have to do with Christmas at all, but I respect the fact that they mean something to the people that observe them, so I’m prepared to give them the room that they deserve.

But what room do they deserve? Exactly, how much space on the American conscious should they be allowed to barge in on a Christian holiday? We’ll get to that.

When is the last time someone complained about Kwanzaa or Ramadan, saying that they’re religiously oppressed if they have to acknowledge their existence? You haven’t and if you did, you’d would be forced by society’s politically correct atmosphere to label that person a racist. Why? Because Kwanzaa, though made up and is based on nothing but an idea to unify black people, is a black-inspired celebration, and Ramadan is for the Muslims, and if you disagree with Kwanzaa or Ramadan, you my friend are a racist and relegated to the lowest position on the totem pole of respect.

But really, who celebrates these holidays/celebrations? You’d be surprised how few people are taking over control of this the holiest of days in a majority of religions here in this country. For starters, let’s cut Kwanzaa completely out of the argument. For one, it isn’t a real holiday, it has nothing to do with religion and is a completely fabricated “celebration” designed to perpetuate racial segregation in our society (as are all race-based “holidays”… Cinco de Mayo). Additionally, I’m sure that, of the black population in this country, roughly 39 million of them (or about 13 percent of the country’s people), a minuscule and equally negligible percentage of them celebrate Kwanzaa only and not Christmas at all. So, that leaves Ramadan and Hanukkah….and the atheists, of course, but we’ll get to them later.

According to, there are approximately five million Muslims in the U.S., which is about 1.6 percent of the population. Of this group, let’s assume that they all celebrate Ramadan to some extent as a worst-case scenario for my argument but that of those five million people, half observe a traditional (albeit traditional here is defined in the most capitalistic of ways of buying and exchanging gifts only) Christmas, leaving only 0.08 percent that don’t celebrate Christmas at all.

According to Wikipedia, there are about eight million Jewish people currently living in the U.S., which equates to only 2.8 percent of Americans, and it is probably safe to assume they all celebrate Hanukkah rather than Christmas.

Looking at, they claim that approximately 0.9 percent of the U.S. population is either atheist (they don’t believe in God) or agnostic (they don’t believe in anything they can’t see, touch, etc.). Wow, that’s less than a million people in this country who could possibly not celebrate Christmas or be offended somehow by the religious connotations on which Christmas is based. However, do you know anyone who is atheist, and if you do, have you ever bought them a Christmas present and have them throw it away, or have you ever wished them a Merry Christmas only to get back a lecture about how Jesus couldn’t have been born to a God that doesn’t exist? No, of course not. They probably returned your Merry Christmas wishes with equal aplomb.

But what about the rest of the population? Why is the War on Christmas such a big deal, and why is it, once again, the majority catering to the minority in this country? There are several reasons. For starters, let’s add up the folks in this country who could rather do without Christmas. Of the estimated 300 million people in the U.S., five million are Ramadan-celebrating Muslims (we’ll assume all of them don’t celebrate Christmas, even though we know that is not possible), eight million are lighting the Menorah and 900,000 atheists on December 25th are probably watching their fellow libs on Fox News. That is only roughly 14 million people that don’t enjoy the Christmas holiday, or about 4.6 percent of the population.

Four-point-six! That’s it. These are the people that are beginning to take control of Christmas, wrapping their fingers around its neck and strangling it into X-mas and “happy holidays” and “seasons greetings.” So, why do the rest of us, the other 95.4 percent of the people in this country, have to cater to those that celebrate Ramadan or Hanukkah or no holiday at all? Why are we forced to care when they don’t seem to care about Christmas and are, in fact, bent on destroying it? Am I adverse to Muslims celebrating holidays in the month of December or Jewish people having themselves eight crazy nights? No, of course not, but since neither Hanukkah nor Ramadan is a holiday that is Christmas-equivalent, why is it grouped with Christmas-related holidays? We have Christmas. You have Hanukkah or Ramadan. Leave Christmas alone and respect the fact that it is a holiday that means something to us, us the majority of the people in this country, us that makes the laws, us that vote, us that pay the taxes, us that define the culture of America… us that’s 95 percent strong.

What does it mean the 95 percent of us. The result was that a few years ago (in the late 1990s), differing factions started the War on Christmas, a despicable battle to remove the religious connotations from the holiday, fought by the same people that brought you the secularization of the church, flag burning as an element of free speech and the removal of prayer in school or religious symbols in our government. You can’t say Merry Christmas randomly to strangers because what if they don’t celebrate Christmas, never mind that they’re carrying bags of freshly purchased gifts and never mind that they feel an odd sense of warmth on the morning of the 25th or that they feel closer to their families and humankind as a whole? Instead, say season’s greetings or happy holidays because you might deny them their human right to be free of religion. That’s like gay people being offended if I were to wish them a happy honeymoon….sure, it doesn’t apply to them, but who cares. It’s a nice gesture, so don’t be a jerk about it; some people that are in the countries that traditionally celebrate Ramadan and/or Hanukkah are getting the equivalent of a punch in the face on their holiday.

Last week, the Liberty Council, an organization that advances “religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family” came out with their list of companies that use the word “Christmas” in their advertisement and stores and those companies that don’t (Click Here to see it). Essentially, what it comes down to is this: a company generalizes the holiday to make more money, they hedge their bets and cover all the bases. Saying “happy holidays” instead of Christmas includes most everyone in this country, but it is a thin veil over their attempt to placate the masses into thinking that the best medicine for this country is a politically correct environment where differences in cultures and religious bases are washed over, homogenized and put on an equal plain. The can’t think of any other way of doing it besides lumping them all together. If pissing off 95 percent of the population in favor of pleasing the other five, then go ahead, business as usual.

However, the Liberty Council provided me with a list of companies I will not shop at this season, or at all, and I urge you to do the same. Pretty soon, our Christmas trees will be called holiday shrubs, Christmas cards will be greeting gestures, and “Miracle on 34th Street” will just be another movie about a fat guy with multiple personalities.

I blame schools, teachers and principals for altering the minds of impressionable kids for the sake of cultural equality (do you think Christmas gets the same parity in schools in Tehran?) and for downplaying the meaning of Christmas just to rename it a “holiday” (the same goes for Halloween…call it what it is and let kids be kids). I blame businesses, companies and advertising for broadcasting the simplest message of consumerism to the largest number of people that may buy what they’re selling in spite of how many people actually are offended by the lack of Christ in Christmas but feel like they can’t say something for fear of upsetting someone of a different culture. I blame the government for cowtowing to the squeaky wheel or special interests groups in the effort to not leave anyone out of anything…when this country was founded on leaving people out of things and making sure that it represents the majority for the good of the common person.

Most of all, I blame myself (and you) for allowing it to happen, for not looking someone in the eye and telling them that a mere holiday is Columbus Day or Memorial Day but that this is Christmas… call it what it is.

So, Merry Christmas, and if that offends you, go to hell.

The Art and Zen of Sleeping In

For whatever reason, I hate to go to bed at night, but I hate it more to have to get out of it in the morning, and since I have so much trouble actually falling asleep, whatever sleep I do get is much appreciated but usually not enough. This is why I treasure those times that I get to sleep in, and though Saturdays have usually been assigned to me as a sleep-in day (Kara takes Sundays), I’ll take advantage of any opportunity to hit the snooze button for “just five more minutes.” They say that people are supposed to get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night and I’d be lucky to average six in any given week, including Friday nights when I stay up way past my “bedtime,” usually watching TV or doing the odd work-related assignment. It is those nights I enjoy the quiet solitude of the house, long after everyone’s asleep, which is why I hate for it to end.

I’d say that I suffer from insomnia most days of the week, but I only have half of the four generally accepted symptoms: waking up feeling unrefreshed and frequent awakenings (I’ve never had a problem falling back to sleep, and waking up early goes against everything I’ve know to believe).

With Kara hobbled by crutches and in a high degree of discomfort, I lost my sleep-in day this weekend so that I could get the kids up in the morning and wrestle them up some breakfast. Since I felt sorry for her, I didn’t put up much fuss this morning, especially after thinking that maybe, just maybe, the gods would grant me asylum from getting up early—just a few of the usual grumbles that I sputter every morning. But no such luck, and I was up a little past seven, changing diapers, making breakfast and keeping the peace. It felt like a regular week and instead of answering Matthews multiple question about where mommy is, I told him she was asleep instead of at work. His response: “Let’s go wake her.” No little buddy, it’s her day and her leg hurts, though I wanted to wake her and take over the warm side of the bed, I figured I’d pay for it later if I did.

Nope, sleeping in would not happen for me this weekend, but I was promised a make-up sleep-in day for next weekend, where I’d get both days. I may just put one of those days in the bank and cash it in when I really need it.

Since I’m a night owl and such a fan of sleeping in (and I have been since college), I’ve created a great five-step strategy for making the most out of my morning to sleep in. With these few simple steps, sleeping in can be a very worthwhile endeavor, something anyone can enjoy.

1. Be prepared. What’s worse than having to get out of bed in the morning is having to get out of bed in the morning because you have to go to the bathroom. It’s like nature cheating you out of what you feel you deserve. Sure, you can sometimes hold it for another half-hour or so, but the discomfort begins to outweigh the pleasure of snuggling into the warm covers and once I’m out of bed and my feet touch the cold linoleum of the bathroom, I’m up for the day. The last thing I do before I go to bed, regardless of what time it is, is to go to the bathroom. It is exactly what our mothers tell us to do our whole lives, and this time it actually makes sense. I try not to drink anything too late at night, and if I do have to go to the bathroom in the morning, I try to do it about three hours before I have to get up (giving me exactly one cycle of REM sleep left). And if you have an alarm clock, make sure it is off, or you might just think it is a workday and get up to start your routine. One more thing I found helpful to keeping me in bed a little longer is to have a bottle of water on my nightstand, as I frequently wake up with a soar throat and a dry mouth (because I sleep with the window open).

2. Create an environment. There are a couple of things I demand for a good morning’s sleep in: darkness and quiet. The darkness is sacrificial and I can sleep through ambient morning light, but I can’t sleep in direct sunlight…a fact I don’t have to worry about since my bedroom window faces west. If light bothers you, close the blinds before you go to bed, and make sure the window is shut if you awaken easily by noise (which I do). Most times, I try to make sure the dog is in the house in the morning, because she likes to be around the family and will complain if she’s outside and there’s something going on inside. Having a quiet house with two kids is nearly impossible, but once they’re ushered downstairs, only the loudest of screams will filter up through the floor and disturb me. Sometimes I shut the door if it is especially loud downstairs and I am especially tired, but it usually makes me feel claustrophobic—not that my bedroom is small, it’s not, it’s quite big, but with the doors shut, I feel trapped and closed in, which does not lead itself to a relaxing sleep-in experience.

3. Keep covered. If I know that I’m going to get to sleep in the next morning, I’ll make the bed the night before. It sounds redundant to make a bed you’re just going to get into and mess up (And shouldn’t the bed be made from the morning? Yeah, ours usually isn’t), but when the next morning arrives and parts are sticking out from under the covers because of an especially messy bed and you have to wrestle around with unruly blankets that are twisted and turned, you’ll never get back to sleep again. Plus, all that wrestling with the covers just lets the warm air escape and the cold air flood in, which leads to the next point.

4. Cherish the warmth. There is nothing worse than getting into a cold bed, especially after you took all night to get it warm, only to have to get up in the morning to go to the bathroom and return to icy sheets. That happened to me this morning. Since I had to get up early while Kara slept in a couple extra hours, I planned to sneak back upstairs after she took over the morning’s parental duties to get another hour or so of sleep. When I did make it up there, the sheets were artic, and although I made the best of it, they never completely warmed up (we have a California King, and that’s a lot of real estate for my body to heat up). As long as I didn’t move around too much, I could generate a warm spot until I had to get up again. I’d advise against an electric blanket, because by the time morning comes, it is usually too hot, and nobody can sleep sweating in a furnace.

5. Be selfish. Realize that you’re sleeping in for your sake and you’ve established this as your time, so make it clear to those that may disturb that time. Whether or not you had a long week, or you’re just catching up on some sleep debt you accrued over the course of the week or you just feel like being a lazy bum for a couple hours, understand and appreciate that you need some personal time. Some people take personal time by gardening or pulling weeds (and if that’s you, please come over and spend as much personal time as you feel you need in my backyard), while others just need to sit there and stare at the wall for a while, regaining personal strength and focus. Me? I like my one day a week that I get to sleep into 9:00 or 9:30 without the world I know shattering down around itself. I stay up too late and get up too early the rest of the week, so I’ve earned these harmless two hours of idle nothingness and slumber.

To me, sleeping in is one of those little personal joys that people hold onto for themselves. I don’t go to Starbucks and savor a coffee-flavored indulgence, nor do I take walks in the park by myself or sit on a bench in the mall and blank out. I sleep in, and I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I don’t feel guilty about it.

Make the most of it. People will still call you a lazy bum, but you’d might as well enjoy it while you’re doing it…. it’s the second most fun thing to do in bed (the first thing being watching TV, of course).

Sleep in.

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Dog is a Racist

Elsa barks. Anyone who has ever rang the bell or knocked on our door… or merely walked by the front of the house could tell you that Elsa is fiercely adamant about protecting her property. God help you if you peek over the wall unannounced; you may just see firsthand what she ate that day. Lately, I’ve been paying a closer attention to Elsa’s barking pattern and I’ve noticed a key personality trait: She’s a racist. She barks more ferociously at black people than any other race, and I’m surprised to discover this.

Surprisingly, I’ve given the topic a lot of consideration, and I add up more examples to confirm or deny my theory every time the bell rings. It isn’t as though a black man rings my bell every day, and I can count on one hand how many black people have come to the door this year (four of them have been “former gang members/drug dealers/inner-city victims” trying to sell me magazine subscriptions,” one was the Terminex guy, while the other was a Jehovah’s Witness—whom I, in a rare mood, actually enjoyed talking with).

And each of those five times, Elsa literally wanted to disembowel whomever pushed their finger on the button, and somehow, she knew their color before I opened the door.

Normally, when someone rings the doorbell, like the UPS guy (Mexican) or a random salesman (usually white), she barks, albeit loudly, but just regularly, as if to say, “Go away. I’m in here. We’re not interested. Step one foot in here and I’ll be forced to take matters to the next level. Don’t make me come out there, because I will and you and me will exchange words.” It’s just regular, irritated and agitated barking to exclaim that she is in charge of all that she can see and she isn’t going to give it up without a fight. But it isn’t terrifying and it doesn’t emanate a sense of urgency or danger. The hair on the back of her neck doesn’t stand up and her tail isn’t curled under her legs, ready for action. She’s just bouncing around, excited, and her bark is relaxed, almost rudimentary and pedestrian, just a matter of course.

Regardless of who is at the door, I always let her peek her head out first when I open the door. For one, it freaks people out who are stupid enough to still be standing on the porch, and I find that funny; and two, it’s like pointing a loaded gun out the door. When people see Elsa standing there showing her teeth and leveling at them a serious stare, especially after hearing her, it usually throws them off and makes them nervous, and I like that. Some have even start stepping back as they talk, keeping at least one eye on Elsa, my loaded gun.

However, when a black person rings the bell, she goes ballistic like she wants to tear through the door and rip whomever’s out there to shreds. I don’t know how she knows, but there is a marked difference in her demeanor and level of barking. It’s ferocious, vicious, dangerous.

Oddly, it happened twice today. The first time was around 2pm this afternoon. Matthew was in mid-nap and Natalie was enjoying Playhouse Disney on the computer in my office. I was on the couch, reading a book, and no sooner did the bell ring—that split second the reverberation of the ding-dong filled the house—Elsa hit the roof. Her initial bark was so violent that it literally made me jump, which isn’t easy to do with merely a bark. By the time I got to the entry hall, Elsa stood at the door, rigid and howling with anger, the most fierce and brutal of barking that I knew instantly who was at the door.

And I wasn’t wrong. He was a black guy with dreadlocks and a nice tie. Not only was he not standing on the porch by the time that he rang the bell, but he was about 10 feet from the porch. Both of his hand were in the hair in a very defensive manner when Elsa thrust her head out through the narrow crack in the door. And I had to really hold onto her, as I could feel her yanking on her collar. In haste, the guy blurts out, “I’m selling magazines and newspapers. Are you interested?” “No thanks,” I replied. “Good day,” he said and left without hesitation.

Later tonight, the bell rang again, but this time, Elsa wasn’t in the house. But that didn’t stop her from trying to chew through the brick wall and sound out so that everyone on the street knew she was pissed off that someone she finds especially threatening is coming too close to her domain. Yeah, this guy too was selling magazines for those poor inner-city youths (and corporate America who is exploiting them).

But I don’t get it. Why is my dog a racist? Is it something that is inherent to German Shepherds specifically or to all dogs in general? Do all dogs bark fiercely at black people or is it Elsa? Perhaps certain types of people emit a certain aura that dogs negatively react to. Maggie, the Sheppard we had when I was a kid, used to bark at people wearing hats, which I thought was weird and wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it.

So, is it just German Shepherds? It would be easy to make the connection between the historical origins of racism in Germany during the middle part of the last century to the fact that she was a popular breed among Germans (who can’t picture an Nazi SS officer with a German Shepherd at his side?), but I can’t make that assumption because I think racism is bred from society’s reaction to stereotypes and not through genetic breeding. If that were the case, I think Elsa would bark at Jews more than anything, and I’m sure there have been a few to ring the bell here. What stereotypes has Elsa developed to make her bark more cautiously at one race over another? None. She doesn’t have any contact with black people, so what makes her bark so violently at them?

Kara suggested that Elsa’s racism spurns from the fact that she hasn’t seen or been around very many black people in her life, which is true, and she is merely reacting to the fear of change, the fear of seeing something different. I argued that it was impossible for her to have that predisposition because she starts barking like a dog trained to kill long before I open the door and long before she sees exactly who is on the other side.

As it is now, at least I can tell if I’m about to be sold a magazine subscription by the tone of Elsa’s barking.

The Maiden Voyage of Tango

I wasn’t worried anymore about pulling the trailer. If I kept the speed reasonable and minded the trailer brakes on the hills, everything would go smoothly… as long as I didn’t have to back up. I didn’t think I was quite ready to test my abilities at that skill level, which is one of the reasons we picked Butterfield Ranch RV Park near the Anzo-Borrego State Park (Southeast of Julian), because they had pull-thru sites, nice and easy, pull up, pull out. No backing. I wasn’t ready.

It was our first time out with the trailer, and we spent a lot of money outfitting the rig for our trip, buying most everything you’d need for a second house it seemed. I figured it would be a good investment in buying plates and pots and most everything we would need instead of taking them from the house when we went out. That way, we wouldn’t have so much to pack, just our clothes and food, and we can get going quicker.

With Kara’s guidance, I hitched up the trailer to the truck on Saturday morning and we left around 10:40, about an hour behind schedule. Of course, a few miles down the road, we started mentioning things we had forgotten, like the mug and hot chocolate for Kara, the small first aide kit we put together, a corkscrew for the bottle of wine I brought and an opener for the two beers chilling in the fridge. Oh well, there’s more than one way to open a beer if you don’t have an opener, and if you get desperate for a glass of wine (which we also forgot), you can push the cork into the bottle.

In Temecula, I turned east on Highway 79 and headed for the desert. Thirty miles later, we came upon the town of Winchester…which wasn’t supposed to be there…then we saw a sign that we were well on our way toward Hemet, which really wasn’t supposed to be there. As it turned out, we weren’t supposed to be there, and I had taken a wrong turn.

The first turn on our first trip and it was the wrong way.

We were headed north, as there are two Highway 79s, a north and a south, with two exits on the 15, one for each. Who knew? Maybe me because I had been down to Temecula 100 times, but never noticed that the highway had two exits, and my hand-drawn map obviously didn’t show the difference. The whole time, Kara was looking on the wrong 79, so everything looked a-okay to her, but when we had to turn on Highway 74 (which the 79 shares for a while) toward Hemet, we knew something was wrong.

Now that we figured out we were going the wrong way, it was easy to hop on this littel road, R3, and head south back to the correct Highway 79 and continue on our way. It was nearly the same mileage to take R3 as it was to go back to the 15 and find the right Highway 79...and I hate going back. We drove through Hemet (stop and go traffic with a dozen traffic lights, of course, but the benefit was that I could adjust the trailer brakes) but no R3. No sign that said R3. No sign that said Redoc or Aguanga or Highway 79 to the south, just street after street. Then Hemet was in the rear-view mirror and we were in the desert again. Okay, do we turn back? Did we miss it? We were both looking for it, so I doubted that we missed it. Kara and I consulted the map and came up with a different plan, the third one for the day.

Plan C was to keep going on Highway 74 past Highway 243, around Lake Hemet, and an additional 30 miles to Highway 371, which would take us south to the Holy Grail that the 79 was fast becoming. Who knew that Idyllwild lay in the way, or that the elevation would change from 1596 feet in Hemet to Idyllwild's nearly 5000 feet in only 10 miles or so? Not me, because I wasn’t looking at the map, and I don’t think Kara noticed either because it is a camp map from AAA. The name Idyllwild is obscured by a notation that there is a campground in the vicinity and the elevation marker is ambiguous…it just looked like a nice clean straight level road to the next highway. Who knew it wasn’t?

Well. It wasn’t. Apparently the road to Idyllwild is a freakin’ mountain road, two lanes, narrow, with steep switchbacks and other cars and craggy rocks lining the road. Oh yeah, and giant drop offs on Kara's side (I'm glad I didn't have to look down them) with no guard rails, and the few pullouts were merely graded dirt plots cut from the hill. On top of it, the trailer is as wide as the road, so I had to thread the rig through the needle every time a car came by with sometimes only a foot or so to spare. We just went slow, around 40mph most of the way, though there were a couple of turns Kara said I probably took too fast, and she was more than likely right.

Then we had to come down the other side. I adjusted the trailer brakes so they wouldn’t drag so sharply when I put on the truck brakes, and I even used only the trailer brakes so I didn’t wear out the truck's. It was thrilling and a little scary...but I must admit some parts were kind of fun (if you forget the fact that there's three tons of trailer behind you). Kara and I talked about a book she was reading to get our minds off of some of the nerve-wracking parts of the road, but mostly it was quiet. I watched the needle on my gas gauge swing down like a samurai sword and I knew this little extra excursion was going to completely screw up the gas schedule I had considered. We were only going 220 miles round trip, which means that we would have had plenty of gas to make it. I figured, after the extra-curricular travel up the hills, my fuel economy would completely tank (no pun intended), but I didn’t account for this 60-mile detour, nor did I figure into the equation a giant elevation change. The odds of us running out of gas on the way home suddenly increased substantially; it didn’t help that I didn’t fill up the tank all the way that morning. Since gas is so damn expensive, I reached the pump’s $75 dollar limit before I completely filled up.

Needless to say, I started to worry, which was compounded by the fact that the last gas station I saw was in a distant memory.

Once on the other side of the mountain, we turned south on Highway 371 and entered the desert. It was pretty and aptly desolate, aside from a few houses and dirt farms. We turned onto the correct Highway 79 finally, and we were back on track. It was a nice smooth road with a few hills, but nothing like we had just been through. I thought I had joined the ranks of veteran RVers via our trial by fire in the Idyllwild mountains, but I had one more test to go through, unknowingly, that wouldn’t happen until our trip home.

After about 30 miles, we only saw one town, Warner Springs, before we turned on S2. From S2, it was 29 miles to Butterfield Ranch, our final destination. Four hours had gone by, when I planned on it only taking two. Until now, the kids were having a good time. They slept for a while and enjoyed the scenery. Natalie had a bloody nose because of the altitude change and the dry weather, but Matthew was a good camper. However, they were both past hungry, and since the trip should have been over by noon (it was after two), Kara didn’t bring anything with us in the truck for them, no juice or snacks or anything. Plus, Natalie had to go to the bathroom, which is no big deal because we were carrying one with us. I pulled over and Kara took care of the kids’ needs before we pressed on down the road again.

We turned south on The Great Overland Route of 1848, which is kind of cool knowing that the road we were on was once used as a stagecoach route 150 years ago, and finally made it to Butterfield Ranch. We checked in and the woman at the counter—one of those leathery middle-aged tough-as-nails women that I wouldn’t be surprised to find on the back of a horse (or the horse on the back of her)—she told us to set up anywhere.

Anywhere to us was Space 141, off in the corner, away from everyone else, but just across a road to the spectacular vistas of the Anza-Borrego mountains. The campground was mostly dirt, but it had a bunch of trees that provided little shade, and thankfully it wasn’t hot at all, around 80. I would have prefered more grass for the kids--because I don't like to get needlessly dirty (they do as it turns out, but I don't). It took a few a few tries to get the trailer lined up in the spot, and we switched from another spot because the sewer wasn’t lined up to the back of the trailer (i.e., we were facing the wrong way).

Kara started on a late lunch for the kids and I set up camp. I dropped down the awning, set out the chairs for each of us, plugged in the electricity, water and sewer. Of course, the sewer was sloped in the wrong direction and I didn’t have anything to fix it… oh well, I worry about that tomorrow. Also, the trailer was leaning to the left, and I didn’t have anything to level it, so I jacked up the front as high as I could get it, lowered the stabilizer jacks and told everyone to make the best of it. It was hardly noticeable, but there was a little puddle of water in the sink that wouldn’t drain down on its own. I got out the table and barbecue and set out a light for later.

After lunch (ham sandwiches), we suited up and headed for the pool, as I was looking forward to splashing around in a heated pool with the kids. On the way, we toured their collection of old fire trucks and an assortment of antique wagons and farm equipment. When we got there, the pool was about 15 degrees; I had to chip off a layer of ice with my feet before I could step into it. It was suck-air-in-through-your-teeth cold! I got up to the bottom of my swimsuit, about mid-thigh, and could not go any farther; there was no way I was going to let that water cross the equator. I wouldn’t be right for a week. Natalie splashed me a little bit and I thought I was going to pass out. I noticed that when Matthew hopped into the water, his entire stomach sucked in and he took a big gulping breath and his skin stretched over his ribs. It was impossible to enjoy, since I couldn’t move, so we went up to the front office and asked where they hid the heated pool. Sheila, the tough-as-nails woman, sent us to the back of the campground, beyond the group camping section to a relatively vacant part of the campground. The pool was hardly what I would call heated, but it was warmer than the first one and tolerable once you got used to it. It also had these interesting swimming bugs. They looked like beetles, but with big wide legs, and they were able to dart through the water easily. The kids found them exciting and funny to watch, especially when they started to come near us. Kara discovered the Jacuzzi, so we all moved into that and had a good time; that’s what I call heated!

After about an hour or so, we went back to get ready for dinner. I fired up the barbecue and enjoyed how quiet it was, sitting on a chair and listening to a whole lot of nothing. Looking around, there were maybe 12 other campers in the vicinity, and I saw some lights on in a few of the cabins they also offer. The kids were enjoying trailer life, and they both couldn’t decide if they wanted to go out or go in, so they kept going out and going in…which irritated both Kara and I, so much that we had to institute a “stay out or stay in” rule. Matthew, chose to stay in at that moment, but while he was looking out the screen door at what I was doing, he leaned on it with his hands. Before, Natalie hadn’t latched it completely, so when Matthew leaned on it, the door swung open and he tumbled out into a somersault. I'd have to guess that it would have been about a two-foot fall if it weren't for the metal steps, and as quick as I like to think I am, I wasn’t able to catch him before he hit the first step with a clunk. His head hit the step and I grabbed the rest of him before he could fall any farther. When I caught him—this is what scared me—I heard a crack. Either it was my arm, which does crack upon occasion, or it was something of his, but I instantly worried that he broke something… especially since we’re 40 miles from anywhere, and we only have a quarter tank of gas left.

He didn’t cry until Kara held him, and then boy did he! I'm glad we had chosen to be off by ourselves. I checked to see that all his parts moved, and in a few minutes he was back to normal…albeit, with a lesson learned, since he was much more cautious around the screen door from then on.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it for Matthew. Natalie opened up the screen door and it swung out and whacked him in the side of the head—he cried, and he thumped his head on the kitchen table—he cried. I think that’s all, but each time, it added to the stress of the trip… and I wondered how my parents did it all those years. They had two Matthews to contend with.

I was tired. It was getting dark. I barbecued some chicken, while Kara made some rice, salad and some vegetables. For whatever reason, either the barbecue or the stove, but the smoke alarm went off, and the whole trailer smelled like the oven was burning off a layer of plastic newness. It was a sickening smell, so she finished it in the microwave…in which the tray wouldn’t spin around because it was still taped down. Ah, camping. I guess we’re learning.

Natalie got rice everywhere (and got in trouble for it) and Matthew put a ketchup hand on the wall (and got in trouble for it), but it was a good first dinner, kind of like a rattlesnake roundup though, since Matthew wasn’t in his regular chair and was all over the place.

We had had dinner, and I was ready for bed. Driving up the hills on an unknown road toward an unknown destination in an unknown part of the state I had never been to was taking its toll. But the campground was hosting a star gazing party at 7:30 and I was looking forward to that most of all. We got the kids in the wagon, gave them both flashlights to carry and we met Glenn, an art dealer and amateur astronomer with one of those giant barrel-shaped telescopes that automatically tracks a star or planet, etc. There was about 25 people there and he gave an interesting talk about the various constellations and the stars in the sky. Natalie only wanted to see where the North Star was, and she was elated to finally get to see it “in nature.” But by this time, Matthew was beyond bored, so Kara took him back to the trailer (plus, she said that as soon as they started to leave, he said, “I pooped!” which he did).

Don’t take this to be arrogant, but I think that I’m a pretty smart guy, and it was especially evident by the questions some of my fellow campers asked of Glenn, the amateur astronomer. It was completely dark out, with a half-moon, so you could only see shadows of the people around you, and maybe that gives people an anonymity, but the first question from the lady sitting next to Natalie and I was, “What’s a falling star?” Are you serious!?! What's a falling star!?! Then someone asked what the Milky Way was, and how long does light take to get to the earth…someone said six months…and then someone asked about the age of the earth and everyone was amazed at the concept of the speed of light. Did these people skip Seventh Grade Science class, or did they never look up at the night's sky? I was fairly dumbfounded, but Glenn was patient (and his son Nick even answered some of the questions). It was interesting to look at the various constellations he pointed out with a green laser pointer that looked as though it actually reached up and touched each star he pointed to. He showed us the comet that is currently visible and we looked through the telescope at the Seven Sisters constellation. After that, Natalie wanted to go back, because she was getting tired and it was getting late. Plus, she was happy to see the North Star.

On the other hand, it made me want to get a telescope again.

Once back, the kids watched a movie, and Matthew then went to bed. At least that was the plan. It took him nearly an hour of constantly getting out of bed, sitting up, calling for us, Kara having to lay down with him, two cups of milk and a few threats to get him to fall asleep. Natalie went easy. She always does now. Kara and I stayed up a little later and watched “The Hoax” (with Richard Gere) and went to sleep around midnight. For whatever reason, I made a crazy assumption that the kids would sleep in. I figured they were out of their element and tired from the trip and that they’d just take their time waking up, like they do at home sometimes. Unfortunately for me, every little squeak, rustle of the trees or indescribable thumping noise kept me awake…that and Matthew woke up twice, once around two and again at four. Then, both of them got up earlier than normal, around 6:30. Damn. I was so tired, and on top of being sick for most of the week, my throat was thick and scratchy, I wanted to lay in bed longer (I did manage to squeeze out another half-hour or so before I got up).

Kara made all of us a great breakfast of sausage, eggs and hash browns (tater tots actually, but what’s the difference), and then we took a nature walk down a nearby trail toward a 1500-year-old old Indian camp among the boulders. The trail got a little rough and we turned around at a deep gully the kids wouldn’t have been able to go down. I climbed up a nearby hill to take a couple of pictures of the valley and we headed back to camp.

Getting the trailer ready to leave was easy. I packed it with the idea that everything has its place, and if you put the things back where they're supposed to go, it is quick and easy. Kara got everything inside stowed away, while I put up the carpet, the awning, the chairs and table, etc., unplugged the power, disconnected the water line and then dealt with the sewer. Just how exactly do you make it go uphill? I’ve been downhill from it quite a bit in my life so I know that it rolls downhill, but never back up. I didn’t empty either tank while we were there, and I did that on purpose, thinking that the force of the liquid would be enough to make it up the hill. For the most part, I was right, but toward the end, I had to help it along, which isn’t entirely pleasant, but necessary. I also brought along an extra hose to wash out the slinky after everything had drained, so the fresth water hose wouldn't come in contact with the slinky. All in all, it was a clean experience. I kept a second bin for all the sewer equipment, that way it stays separate from all of the other general stuff I needed, which I kept in another bin. Yes, I'm damn organized.

We were ready to go, but what about the gas situation? I asked Sheila at the front office where the nearest gas station was, and she didn’t really know…which is reassuring. We could go up the hill to Julian, which was 30 miles away but 4200 feet up. We could drop down to Agua Caliente Springs towards the 8, but who knew if there was a gas station there… plus that’s the opposite direction from home. Sheila had her assistant call the one gas station in Warner Springs to see if they were even open, and while she was doing that, the kids each enjoyed a popsicle….while daddy stressed about having to call AAA to bring us more gas. The Warner Springs gas station was open, and it was 33 miles away.

We got underway and made it to Warner Springs without incident, and I started to look for the little gas station. I was following a motorcycle, and he turned on his signal to make a left turn into what I thought was the parking lot for the gas station, because the whole area was thick with pine trees and I couldn't really tell where it was. I saw the gas station sign on the left and made a weird assumption that the motorcycle was turning into the gas station also. At the last second, the rider changed his mind and went straight. Well, I continued with the turn and it wasn’t the gas station I was turning into, but instead a country club parking lot! By the time I figured it out, it was too late. I had done it. The lot was narrow and filled with cars and golf carts…with no way out, well, no easy way out that is. I tried to pull around the lot, but there was no way the trailer would follow without taking out a couple of cars on the left. I had to stop about a foot away from side-swiping a truck with the trailer, and we sat there for a second, wondering what to do. I was hoping the parking lot might be connected to the gas station next door, but it wasn’t, and the only way out of this lot was back up the sloping driveway, back towards the way I had come in. I got out and walked around a little to find the best route that had the least dangers. The image below shows the gas station and the country club parking lot. The red line shows how far I had made it into the parking lot before I realized that I couldn’t go any farther and the blue line shows the route I took to back out again. You may not think that it looks that bad from this picture but remember that it was Sunday. The lot was full of cars. Just great.

Put simply, I learned how to back up the trailer, which was the one thing I had tried so hard to avoid on this trip. I had a couple of options, but I went for a reverse three-point-turn because it seemed the easiest and it used the widest part of the parking lot. Kara got out and directed me on the radio, and she learned how to do that really well. Of course, at one point, she said, “Come towards me,” and the only problem was that I couldn’t see her in either of my mirrors. There were a few uncertain moments and some confusion on my part as to which way the trailer was going and which way I wanted it to go. Had the kids been awake (they both fell asleep soon after we left the campground) they would have learned a couple of new words, but it was actually easier than I thought it would be. There were trees on the right, cars on the left, a narrow space to aim the trailer into behind me and people all around, but I took it slow and methodical and we got it out of there. Kara got some dirty looks from a few pretentious golfers on their carts because I was blocking most of the driveway while I turned around, but it went well. I squeezed the trailer next door to the gas station and paid 50 cents more than normal for gas. Because of that, and the fact that I was using an antique gas pump (I had to flip up the handle, remember those?) that only pumped a gallon every 45 seconds, I only put in 15 gallons, which was more than enough to get home.

Which, an hour later, we did just that. Overall, it was a good first trip, and if we hadn’t taken a wrong turn at the beginning, I'm sure it wouldn’t have been as memorable.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

This is Halloween

As usual, I would have been happy dressing up for Halloween as a parent. It’s easy and costumes are readily available. However, a week or so before Halloween, Natalie insisted everyone dress up for trick or treating, and since Kara always dresses up for school, I was the one that had to find a costume. As luck would have it, I have everything I need to be a cowboy, from the boots to the leather vest and handkerchief around my neck to the sheriff’s badge on my vest. All that was missing was a gun and holster, but it isn’t a good idea to go walking around with that these days, especially with the itchy fingers of Johnny Law trolling the streets (damn fascists).

A week earlier we went out to Temecula and picked some pumpkins, paid a small fortune for them, but perhaps it was worth it because the kids had so much fun. And they got to ride a pony, which was their first time . They did very well.

For Halloween, Natalie was a princess, of course, and Matthew went as a shark, one of his favorite animals. She loved wearing her costume, but Matthew, not so much. But he’s a trooper and toughed it out, though we couldn't get him to wear the teeth-studded hood. But then again, trick or treating wasn’t that tough of a job for us, because we went out for approximately 20 minutes, visiting only eight or 10 houses on our street. Natalie was more excited to race home and give out candy than she was getting it, and Matthew didn’t really understand the concept yet, as he spent the whole time rather perplexed at the goings on.

But even Elsa got into the spirit. I tied one of those chemical-induced glow sticks to her collar and she went as The Green Lantern, a crime-fighting quadruped. Here are some of the pictures:

The Poker Party

Sometimes, I feel like Mary Tyler Moore. I’m not entirely successful when it comes to parties, and if you're a fan of the sitcom, you'll understand my allusion. I’ve gone out on the limb before to host a party, and they’ve not ended exactly as I expected, nor have they started just the same either. However, this time, I decided to call on a core group of trusted friends to come to a poker night at my house. Nothing fancy, nothing extravagant, just poker in the garage with some pizza and some assembled drinks.

It went surprisingly well, on top of which, I only lost a dollar, which is unusual for me. Imagine that, an entire evening and it cost only a dollar! Some left with less (ahem, Rico) and some finished the night with much more (nice going Scott), but all in all, we enjoyed nearly six hours of fun poker with close friends, from Anaconda to Midnight Baseball to Chicago to Acey-Ducey, and everyone is still able to pay their bills and leave the table without feelings of remorse. There was pizza, chips, dip, beer and a mixed collection of grain alcohol with Brian’s newly introduced Route 66 to drench the thirst of us all. It is too bad my brother-in-law couldn’t make it, but he was stuck fighting the good fight for the safety and sanctity of our country.

It lasted longer than I expected, as we just finished up a moment ago, and I hope that it becomes a regular event. Neighborhood poker, especially low stakes (our buy-in was only 22 dollars), is a great way to enjoy the company of good friends, all of them I are my brothers in one way or another, while not breaking the bank or having to explain to Kara why we have to move to a smaller house because I bet the mortgage.

A good time was had by all... even Rico...better luck next time!

However, the low stakes didn't distract from how serious game got at times! Check out the pictures.

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