Future Game Junkie?

The little goddess goes a couple times a week to the neighborhood center my wife runs as executive director (making sure the at-risk children and teens with no means have a safe place to be and aren’t on the streets tempted to get into trouble). Now, you might think my wife drags her there so that she can get some perspective on life and not get too comfy in her middle-classedness. Quite the contrary, our daughter loves going there to hang out with certain kids and teens there and to do art projects with the resident art guru volunteer and would probably be there every day as a distraction to my wife if she could get away with it.

What I didn’t expect was that she’d discover the game Plants vs. Zombies there. I guess one of the kids must have downloaded the trial version of the game to one of the center’s donated computers. So I downloaded the free trial for my home PC since she loved the game so much. She finally got to the part where the trial wouldn’t let her go any farther without me shelling out $20 to buy the full version. And, since she’s getting a laptop for her birthday (Shhhhh! Don’t tell her!), I figured I’d go ahead and install it and pay for the full version on her new (and very first hers-alone) computer.

As it happens, the activation code wasn’t a one-use-only thing and also worked on the version I’d put on my own PC. So, she’s been begging to play the game on my computer, displacing me (exactly the kind of thing that led to getting her a computer of her own) and motoring through all these levels she couldn’t access before (hopefully she won’t burn out on the game before she gets her laptop on Tuesday). Periodically, she asks me to sit with her and give her game-play and strategy consultation.

Except that a couple days ago, I had to run to the store and while I was out, she hit a stumbling block on a level and couldn’t figure out how to beat it. Apparently, as my wife tells me, she was quite distressed not simply at being stymied but the fact I wasn’t there to help her out.

Just how seriously does my daughter take this game (and this might be a precursor of her following in daddy’s game-playing footsteps)?

Well, here’s the note she penned while I was at the store:

plants-vs-zombies-noteIf you’re a Plants vs. Zombies player, you probably recognize at least some of her drawings: The load-up graphic from the start of the game, the traffic cone some zombies have on their heads, the bucket that others have on their heads for even more protection from your attacks, the pogo stick of the dreaded pogo-jumping zombies and a balloon that the floating zombies have tied to them.

That’s my girl…

Talk to the Stick

Yesterday, picking up my nearly-8-year-old daughter from summer day camp, she shows me this:

Talking-stick_July2013“This is my talking stick, daddy. We made them today,” the little goddess tells me.

Not much of a surprise there. The YMCA does a lot of craft stuff, and each age group of kids is named after a Native American tribe, so doing something tribal-related isn’t anything new. They don’t do it all the time, and I’m never sure how to feel about it and how much is educational vs. cultural appropriation…but then again, Native Americans out here don’t seem to have the kinds of problems or tensions with non-natives as I’m used to in other places I’ve lived.

“I see,” I say. “It’s very nice.”

“When a person is holding the stick, they get to talk,” she tells me, and I don’t have to be looking at her to know there’s a mischievous glint in her eye.

“I’m familiar with the concept,” I tell her.

“And no one else can talk,” she emphasizes, “when I’m holding the stick.”

I know how much she likes to talk…endlessly at times, it seems.

“That’s for tribal meetings,” I tell her, just a little bit smugly, to make sure she knows I’m on to her. “It’s meant to keep people from interrupting until it’s their turn.”

“I know,” she says. “But I’m holding the stick right now. Only I can talk.”

“And we’re not Native American and this isn’t a meeting and I’m your daddy and I will talk when I think I need to, whether you’re holding that stick or not.”

She pauses mentally as we walk.

“It was worth a shot,” the little goddess says.


Drive-In Me Crazy

One of the nicer things since moving out here to mostly rural/sometimes kinda urban Maine is access to a real, live drive-in theater. For those of you in New York City and such who didn’t think such things existing outside of being seen in 50s or 60s movies, sometimes as a place for some giant monster to eat a bunch of teenagers, they still do exist. Ours is one of the oldest in the nation, and has but one screen.

Last night, we went to see “Despicable Me 2″ but my wife didn’t have the stamina for the second feature (“Monsters University”) since it was a work night. Also, the wee goddess needed some sleep, since she had to leave out with mommy to spend time at mommy’s neighborhood center and distract mommy from serving the needs of at-risk youth. We tried to see the double feature over the weekend, but it turned out that for the first time in the drive-in‘s more than 70-year history, they sold out with 500 cars in the lot.

That’s a lot of preamble to get to the point of the headline “Drive-In Me Crazy,” of course.

Because, you see, our daughter takes full advantage of being in the car and not being able to annoy theater patrons (as at our multiplex) to make constant comments about the movie like how amazing something is or how funny something is or how cute it is, or…”Mommy, Daddy, what’s going on?”

It’s cute and endearing, but also, as my headline notes, drives me nuts. I like being with my family and enjoying the nostalgia (and cheaper admission price) of the drive-in, but it’s kind of hard to enjoy a movie sometimes when there’s constant chatter, and I feel like I’m tuning out my family at times to focus on what’s happening and not miss out on a good film.

I mean, it’s understandable with “Man of Steel,” since my wife isn’t a comic book fan and needed some explanation of Krypton and all that, and the wee goddess even more so. “Star Trek: Into Darkness” was easier because my father-in-law is a huge Star Trek fan, and so my wife had grounding in that already and enjoyed the film despite not being a sci-fi kind of person typically. So, I only had to answer my daughter’s questions.

But, really, “Despicable Me 2″…you need to make running commentary, little girl? She didn’t really have questions, except wondering early on why Gru was being hauled away, but then we got repetition of dialogue, commentary on how wonderful something was or how she could tell so-and-so was in love with so-and-so because of how the eyes widened and glazed over.

Cute? Yes. Annoying? Also, yes.

But I wouldn’t give it up for anything, and I hope the drive-in can raise the funds it needs to get digital projection equipment and stay in business for next summer and maybe another 70+ years.

Because, really, it is kind of nice to be able to talk without getting shushed by several angry people in a multiplex.

From Goddess to Victim in Seconds Flat

The little goddess was bored after several days stuck mostly inside because it was too hot and humid (for this family, anyway) to go do anything outside, even visit the beach 15 minutes away. She was getting poopy, and so the wife sent her and me outdoors (since mama wasn’t feeling all that well…hmmmm…convenient…oh, OK, she legitimately wasn’t feeling well but let me get my dig in because I didn’t want to go outside and I got bit four times even with bug repellent on!)


Anyway, that’s how we ended up outside with my wee deity spending most of the time doing chalk art. She’s always loved doing it, but one of the artists who volunteers at my wife’s neighborhood center for local youth has been sharing more than just indoor arts and crafts skills with my daughter (who likes to go to the center a day or two each week so she can distract mom from running the place as executive director), so she was really into it.

Also, she was not pleased with the ants walking across her art as she felt their feet would mess her work up somehow. So, she exhaled on them with all the fury of a very mini femme version of the Big Bad Wolf, actually blowing them away, and taunting them with threats like, “How do you like that hurricane? Want more?”

After she had vanquished the ants whom she simultaneously praised for being fans of her work even as she cursed their trespassing (so like a deity, right?), she had this to say:

Yeah, take it like a maaaaa-aaaaan! That’s right: go home crying to your maaaa-maaaa! That’s what you get for crawling on my art!

Less than a minute later…

“Ahhhh ahhhh aiieeeee! Oh! No!” (as she jumps away from a harmless beetle buzzing around then tries to leap away from a mosquito that was already on her ankle attached and sucking).

Such a harsh goddess one moment, and then a panicked child the next. But, anyway, how’s about I share the art with you:

chalk-art_July2013_01The object in the center I assumed to be a golden delicious apple on a table. The petite goddess told me I was wrong. I then guessed pumpkin. Then, after informing me it was an orange, she drew the pumpkin on the left so that I would understand what a pumpkin looks like, apparently, because I’m a mortal dunce. The tree on the right was just bonus material for the director’s cut version of the DVD, I guess.

chalk-art_July2013_02Random yellow smiley face with purple eyes and smile. I know it’s not the sun because no way would my daughter draw a sun with no rays coming out from it.

chalk-art_July2013_03Even though we didn’t see Fourth of July fireworks (don’t worry, just a couple weeks before, we saw a big fireworks show for our local La Kermesse festival)…and even though the fireworks people were illegally setting off in our neighborhood on Independence Day were scaring her, my girl produced some of her own in chalk form.

chalk-art_July2013_04Not sure what kind of flowers these are, but they’re pretty, and the butterfly ain’t bad either.

Dinner and an Analogy

Saturday Night. Dinner at a local Mexican joint with the family. A television screen on one wall playing a Panama vs. Honduras FIFA football (soccer) game.

Daughter: Ooooooo!

Me: What?

Daughter: That guy playing in that game on the TV is down on the ground.

Wife: And?

Daughter: He’s curled up like a teen-aged girl on the bed who’s really sad because her parents told her she couldn’t go to…I don’t know…a really cool party or something.

…I guess I should be glad that she’s been able to get something out of “Jessie,” “Wizards of Waverly Place,” “The Suite Life” and other such fare from Disney and ABC Family that she can apply to real life.

Berries and Cost-Benefit Ratios

One of the best things about summer in Maine is fresh strawberries (also, raspberries and blackberries) and fresh sweet corn on the cob. Sadly, none of these stay around for more than a couple months at best, so you have to strike while the iron is hot and make it to farmer’s markets before everyone snatches them up (especially the berries around this house…the little goddess devours them).

Or you need to go pick your own.

Pick-your-own berry farms are pretty accessible in the state, and so yesterday me and the wee deity girl went to one about a half-hour away while mom was busy at work (truthfully, it was a work day for me, too, but I work from home and I hadn’t yet gotten pages to proof, so my morning was free).

Now, certainly, my back was in agony after about an hour. My right knee, which had been sketchy for a couple weeks, wasn’t too happy either. But at around $2.25 per pound, it was worth the trip, the time and the pain, as a quart-sized container can cost around $7 at a farmer’s market. With the 18.5 pounds the goddess and I picked during our hour there, we probably got at least 10 quarts for $41, so yeah, that’s worth it. Especially when your wife can make a kick-ass strawberry sorbet, now a strawberry lemonade as well, strawberry shortcake…oh, and freezing some for smoothies as well as putting a bunch in the fridge for snacking.

My wife took one for the team and did all the slicing off of the leafy tops at home, since the little girl and I did all that time in the hot sun and sweaty humidity.

Here are a few pics:

strawberry-picking_July2013_01  My girl, doing what she does best during one of these outings…eating strawberries while I’m busy picking them. Still, I will give her credit for picking about 2 pounds worth of our haul (I think I’m being generous) as well as providing me with conversation/comic relief.


They look so sweet and innocent, these bushes…and so low to the ground and unfriendly to middle-aged bodies. Believe me, after only an hour, I can say that whatever their pay, farm laborers should be paid more, even if it means my grocery costs go up.

strawberry-picking_July2013_03This is what 18.5 pounds of fresh-picked strawberries looks like. I had them mounded pretty high in that flat. In half an hour of driving back home, only two rolled free. I may suck at a lot of things, but packing and space management aren’t two of them.


I’m not the handiest guy around. I have a stuffed-full tool box, but no heavy tools like a table saw. I have no problem checking car fluids, topping them off and changing burnt out taillights and such, but I can’t fix any mechanical part of a vehicle for crap. I put together all the assemble-it-yourself furniture from Target or wherever like a pro, but build a porch?…forget it!

However, the list of things that need attending to in our house (built in the late 1800s) has grown long enough, and our income hasn’t grown fast enough (to hire someone else), that it falls upon me to tackle a frighteningly long honey-do list.

Naturally, with a little goddess in the house, her needs go right to the top of the list, and so today I began peeling off wallpaper from the bedroom that had been her brother’s and will soon be her newer, larger, more bad-ass room (he’s 21 now and always welcome here, but it’s time for his sister to move up and he can use her old room, which will become the guest room, when he is in town). In some places, this means multiple layers of old crappy wallpaper, of course, and the previous owners had painted over the outermost layer just to make things more fun for me.

Good times.

All things considered, I’m doing pretty well (particularly since I’ve been doing it so far with only fingers and a Swiss Army knife…just call me MacGyver), and think I can be down to bare walls before July 4th, then move on to spackling and some plastering, and then painting and decorating. Goal is to have it ready for her birthday near the end of July.

I know I’ll be happy when it’s done. And who knows? Maybe my wife will be proud of the end result instead of make fun of me.

But just in the spirit of sharing, here’s what we look like around 20% through the wallpaper removal process:

2013-06-27 21.11.112013-06-27 21.11.222013-06-27 21.10.51

Bears Gotta Roar Sometimes

This was first week of the little goddess going to the summer camp run by our city’s Parks & Rec Department.

The last week, too. It will be back to the YMCA in the neighboring community soon.

But that’s the kind of thing that happens when you have a week of a little girl in a whole new situation and caregivers forgetting the difference between containment/control and enjoyment/enrichment, when your girl is run like she’s in training on a hot-ass day, when you are part of a blow-up with one of the camp site directors and then you go into an emergency meeting with the director of the entire summer camp program and the two of you become the bear parents…with mama bear particularly fierce.

And if you notice from the date of this post, the girl started camp this week, and it’s only Wednesday.

We haven’t bailed on something this quickly since the wife and I ended up finding roaches were infesting the first apartment we rented together, right after we moved in.

On the face of it, the camp should have been perfect. People in the community are always raving about it (at least how “safe” it is), several of the little goddess’ school friends would be in the same camp, the cost was less than the YMCA (which is who we turned to for daycare in the toddler years, preschool and last summer’s day camp needs), and the camp was closer to our house.

But the first day of camp was a disaster. I’m used to picking up a happy daughter even from school…and especially from day camp and summer camps in the past. She was miserable, though at first I thought it was sunscreen in her eyes, which was indeed a problem. However, my wife (since she wasn’t driving) had a better view of things with the little girl in the car, and when we went to get frozen yogurt, she still had the better view, sitting across from our daughter. So that, combined with mama bear instincts, let her figure out our girl wasn’t happy at all.


There are multiple reasons, but let’s get to the core one: Kickball.

More important, kickball in 90+ degree whether with high humidity and bad air quality.

Among other uncomfortable things, my daughter was apparently presented with a choice of playing kickball in the hot sun at the peak heat of the day…or sitting on the blacktop in the hot sun. Now, the Parks & Rec folks insist there were other activities available inside and away from the sun, but if they had really communicated that to my daughter, she would have jumped at that opportunity. She wouldn’t have suffered a hot activity that was making her miserable.

Moreover, she talked about how they kept “encouraging” her to play kickball. From what it sounds like, it was more like pressuring her.

The second morning of camp, my wife and I took the on-duty site director aside after dropping our girl off, and this was a woman who barely looked old enough to drive (turns out she’s just out of college). We asked about policies and procedures regarding the heat, and where the line was between being “encouraging” kids and “forcing” them to do things. Instead of answers to any of the questions, we got platitude about our “special treasure” (and how we of course would want to make sure she’s all right) and nervous giggles and deflections.

Not a single straight answer or specific policy could issue forth from this “director.”

Basically, the woman had no answers, no ability to comfort or communicate clearly, and apparently no ability to deal with irritated parents (especially a black woman, who instantly becomes “scary person” to young white women around here especially), which made my wife become a bit irritable and sarcastic and caused the young lady to tell my middle-aged mama bear partner, “I don’t like your tone”…as if my wife was a schoolchild.

We demanded a meeting with the overall camp director that afternoon, who was easier to talk to but who clearly had decided he was going to side with his staff no matter what (“I can’t believe she would have been like that,” he told us) and had apparently decided in advance that my wife was an evil bitch (“Even you apologized for your wife’s behavior on the phone with me earlier,” he said to me in the meeting, which I hadn’t; I acknowledged my wife got heated when our questions weren’t answered. That’s not apologizing for someone). So, we got the meeting, and the director heard our words but we know full well he didn’t listen to them and doesn’t care to even question whether his program has flaws in how the kids are handled and the parents are treated.

So, we’ve readjusted, and there are only a couple more days to deal with these people and we now have some alternate plans worked out. But now my wife has had to be pegged as “angry black woman” again simply for doing what any parent, mama bear or otherwise, should do: Look out for their kids and demand good treatment of them. I don’t get pegged as anything scary, of course…being the white guy, I’m just a parent, even though I called them to task on all the same things my wife did.

The irony of all this is that the “city” we live in, Saco, is more affluent than the “city” where the YMCA is, Biddeford, which has a lot of poverty. Lots of people from both communities don’t like to cross the river to go into the other city. People in Saco are especially guilty of this; amusingly, Biddeford’s downtown is way more useful and vibrant right now than ours. Point is, though, so many people here see the Parks & Rec program here as golden, but would never consider using the YMCA program in Biddeford. Never mind that at the YMCA, the counselors interact with and support the kids; the ones here at Parks & Rec seem like mere crowd control.

But I don’t want my daughter getting an experience like she’s in a minimum-security youth facility. I want her to be somewhere where people see her fondly and give her choices, and the kids aren’t simply herded and worn out for the ease of the counselors.

Sometimes, mama and papa bears have to roar. But I prefer that we don’t even have to growl, because most of the time it’s much better to just calmly snuffle and grunt and go back to our dens and deal with daily bear business.

Always look out for your kids…and always look for the people who will do the same on your behalf when your kids aren’t with you.


Today was the last day of school for the little goddess, and a half-day at that. In a rare tag-team pickup, the wife and I were both there to get her, and we see this miserable little face looking at us from our vantage point in the pickup line. A face that bursts into tears as she comes over to us.

She’s leaving her current elementary school for a new one next year (just a few blocks away, but the district breaks up the K-2 and the 3-5 grades into separate schools), which means she’s leaving the teacher she’s had for two years now.

You’d think her teacher had died or we were moving to some distant nation, given that she cried for at least 45 minutes straight, not even consolable with the reminder that we have her teacher’s email address, we all live in the same town, and she can visit her old teacher from time to time before or after she goes to her new school.

Suffice to say that when the goddess gets sad, she insists on staying sad for a while and she has a remarkable ability to re-trigger herself to keep the cycle going.

The teen years are clearly not gonna be conducive to my peace of mind or sanity.

But for now, thank God for streaming on the iPad and her favorite kid-friendly sitcoms to distract her and turn the tears to hiccups and…finally…a mere memory.