"Hark, now hear the sailors cry,
smell the sea, and feel the sky
let your soul and spirit fly,
into the mystic."
― Van Morrison
When this started back in May, we didn't think much of it, other than it was expensive and time-consuming and not something we thought would last very long.
Two evenings a week, for two hours at a pop, we took our daughter to gymnastics team practice, an experience my wife and I frankly didn't love but that our little girl seemed to enjoy more and more. I must admit, we pondered how we could pull the plug on this commitment and steer our girl toward something requiring less capital outlay and fewer commutes across town.
Then our daughter surprised us all, as she has a habit of doing. In her first gymnastics meet, she absolutely killed it, accepting five medals (including first-place all-around in her age division) to the thunderous applause of a crowd of parents and kids.
Just look at the smile on her face. The pride. The joy.
Lesson learned: Don't ever think of re-routing or getting in the way of a determined child, especially one as spunky and bold and dedicated as our budding gymnast.
As I worked on our pool this afternoon, vacuuming its surface and cleaning its filter and treating it with overpriced chemicals, my poor heart was sinking. Though the sky was clear and the sun bright, the water was nippy, its summer heat stolen in recent evenings by cooler weather.
In fact, I watched a steady mist rise from the pool this morning as I got comfortable on the couch with my coffee. That mist was most certainly evil, dropping the pool's temperature with each vaporous emission, plundering the pleasures of my backyard oasis.
It's true we live in Florida where it stays relatively warm through the winter. But cool weather does indeed arrive, and once our pool falls below 75 degrees, as it will stay until March, nobody around my house is taking a dip.
"It's such a bummer," my daughter says.
I know, I know. Pitiful us. Our swimming pool doesn't feel like a hot tub at the moment. Clearly we're a bunch of spoiled brats. But oh what fun it is to slip into the warm water for a swim, or splash around with the family, or just float in the sunshine. It's a minor luxury we've grown accustomed to and one that's hard to give up, if only for a few months.
I have a confession to make. I read too much. More specifically, I buy too many books. We've actually run out of bookshelf space at my house, and my wife is starting to raise an eyebrow every time another package arrives in the mail from Amazon.
But I just can't help myself. The rewards are much too great to hold back. For example, I recently bought a couple of titles by the late James Dickey, the poet and author of Deliverance. I've known his name forever but never taken the time to explore his work. I bought a book of his poetry and, the real gem, a volume called Sorties containing his personal journals and a handful of essays. This discovery has been nothing short of life changing. Yeah, I know that sounds dramatic. But man, this guy is a literary monster!
Dickey is deeply informed and intelligent, imaginative, opinionated, a real jerk and, most of all, extremely talented at putting words together in a way that illuminates the dark crevices of our lives. And by the way, he was apparently quite an impressive guitar player. Among my favorite excerpts from Sorties:
"Alert and relaxed: that is the secret."
"The main thing is to ride the flood tide. Only a few get a chance to do this and one year of it is worth a thousand years of mediocrity."
"What we all want is savage delight."
"The ability to cut away the literary frills and affectations and to say something necessary: that is the mark of a great writer."
"At the age of 48, one becomes aware of a singular, distressing, strange and exhilarating thing: the world and experience gets going faster and faster. Life is speeded up, the lid comes off and one has no recourse but to go with bodily desire, imaginative abandon, frustration and death."
CLICK HERE FOR MORE GREAT DICKEY QUOTES.
We weren't sure what to expect all hunkered down in the hallway in the dark, a battery-powered radio by our side. We knew it was barreling toward us, but we'd never ridden out a storm like this one before.
And then it started. It whistled. It roared. I think it even snarled. For about an hour, the house shuddered and trembled as we clung to each other, my wife and me and our toddler son. After all was said and done, the damage at our house was minimal, thankfully. We lost a few shingles from the roof and a single beam in our pool enclosure was left dangling, its screws ejected by the force of the storm's 100-mph winds. Lots of neighbors weren't nearly so lucky.
Ten years ago today, Hurricane Charley whirled into Florida and over Orlando on its path from the Caribbean Sea up the Atlantic Seaboard. It would be the first of four hurricanes to strike Florida in a period of six weeks.
These days, on my drive to work, I still see Charley's imprint. A small forest along south Apopka-Vineland Road is frozen in time, many of its tall pines bent and twisted and unable to right themselves, a whole decade later. I imagine all of us in Central Florida that fateful night, even the trees, have vivid memories of that violent visitor from the tropics.
I've never been so distracted.
There I'd be, trying to eat a sandwich, have a conversation or pay attention to my kids and ... boom! ... out of the corner of my eye comes the bold, body-slamming beauty of the Rocky Mountains, their snowy tips and dark contours dominating the horizon.
Of course, once you're actually in and among those mountains, twisting along the roads and hiking trails of Rocky Mountain National Park, all bets are off when it comes to concentration. The mind wanders from peak to peak, floating with the crisp, cool air. Nothing matters but the quiet grandeur of this magnificent place.
My family just returned from a five-day vacation in Colorado, where we spent quality time with Kerry and Mary, my brother- and sister-in-law, who are recent transplants to the state and who served as our advisers and tour guides. They took us hiking and mountain biking, introduced us to the local craft beer scene, showed us the many charms of the towns along Colorado's Front Range (Windsor, Fort Collins and Estes Park) and essentially kept us outdoors as much as possible. On our last day, I even squeezed in an excursion down to Denver by myself, spending an afternoon hitting that city's bars and bookstores and walking its crowded streets and questionable alleyways.
Returning home wasn't easy. I'll be honest: I'm pretty bummed our trip is over. It took me 48 years to finally get to Colorado, and it felt as much like home as any place I've ever been.
Countless others have fallen in love with the state's breathtaking geography, fresh-air offerings and spiritual gifts. Even the anticipation of a visit to Colorado stirs the emotions. As Jack Kerouac wrote in On the Road (before crossing from Nebraska into Colorado) ... "And soon I realized I was actually at last over Colorado, though not officially in it, but looking southwest toward Denver itself a few hundred miles away. I yelled for joy. We passed the bottle. The great blazing stars came out, the far-receding sand hills got dim. I felt like an arrow that could shoot out all the way."
Through the window I see a few things I'm probably not supposed to see. Backyards where kids are playing and men and women are living their lives on private patios. The loading docks and dumpsters and rear entrances of office buildings. Walls crawling with vines and weeds. Homeless camps.
Suddenly the out-of-the-way is in-your-face, at least for everyone on the train. Riding metro Orlando's new commuter system, SunRail, reveals a diversity of sights and scenes you typically don't encounter when you stick to the main roads.
I decided to take a leisurely spin on SunRail last week, venturing from downtown Orlando to Altamonte Springs and back. Snaking along freight-train tracks through unfamiliar neighborhoods, industrial districts and a few desolate spaces, my short ride on the rails was a pleasant diversion and a great way to see Central Florida from a new angle and at a brisk clip.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about trains. I've been reading stories about train travel or pieces in which riding the rails provides an underpinning to the action and unfolding drama. My thoughts often turn to childhood memories of trains, too. As a kid, nothing was as magical as visiting my grandmother's house in Thomasville, N.C., just across Main Street from some very busy railroad tracks, and hearing the locomotives rumble by us, shaking the house to its foundation, their whistles and horns blowing a hellfire storm. I was told of a rare passenger train that came through town in the middle of the night, doing amazing speeds and showing itself to only the lucky few who stayed up all night to see it. Never did I lay eyes on that mysterious visitor. I imagined it as a dark and silent and otherworldly presence flying like a bullet through the sleeping town.
"The train goes fast and is going fast when it crosses a little trestle. You catch the sober, metallic, pure, late-light, unriffled glint of the water between the little banks, under the sky, and see the cow standing in the water upstream near the single leaning willow. And all at once you feel like crying. But the train is going fast, and almost immediately whatever you feel is taken away from you, too.” ― Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men
"Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it. Those whistles sing bewitchment: railways are irresistible bazaars ... Anything
is possible on a train.” ― Paul Theroux
Old Railroad Joke: "Ladies and gentlemen, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that both engines have failed, and we
will be stuck here for some time. The good news is that
you decided to take the train and not fly!"
Today I dropped off my son at elementary school for the very last time. Yep, I got a little misty eyed as I drove away. These kid milestones are heartbreakers, I tell you. It was almost six years ago that my wife and I prepped our boy for kindergarten at this same school. And now fifth grade is over, his elementary years a closed book, just like that.
My son, ever so composed, doesn't get what all the fuss is about. “I'm ready for middle school,” he says.
My daughter has two more elementary years ahead of her, so today only means one thing to her – the beginning of summer break – and she's not at all moved by my sentimental swirl. “Bye daddy,” she tells me, like it's any other day.
I realized that this morning was one of the last times I'll drive both of my kids to school together. By the time they cross paths again in middle school (for just a year), they'll be riding the bus regularly or maybe carpooling with friends.
One of the most enjoyable parts of my day has been dropping the two of them off at school on my way to work. We dial in their favorite radio stations and sing and laugh and argue and sometimes just stare out the car windows together. If they're being bad, I make them listen to “dad music.” You should hear the groans.
Bounding from the car this morning, my son and daughter paused just long enough for a quick photo and then shot toward their classrooms, leaving the backseats of my car still and silent and utterly deserted.
The clinking of bottles and glasses. The cheery chatter of bar patrons and good friends who've come out to listen.
We're all tuned up and the microphones are hot.
Once again we're launching into a set of songs, guitar in hand and vocal chords primed.
It was 15 years ago that we last stepped onto this small stage squeezed into the corner of the narrow, dimly lit Loaded Hog in downtown Orlando. Tonight, Guitar Dad and his better half are among a group of local musicians invited to play on the occasion of the bar's closing night (demolition and reconstruction of some newfangled watering hole begins shortly).
Sure, it's great to be back at The Loaded Hog. Most of all, it's great to be back in front of a lively, enthusiastic audience of music lovers. My wife and I used to perform regularly in bars and at private parties, before kids and other grown-up responsibilities intervened. Nowadays, we mostly just play and sing around the house, entertaining ourselves and enjoying the magic of music within the confines of home. Which is fine, of course. But I'm reminded, right here on this tiny, creaky stage, just how little compares to the buzz, the excitement and the sheer adrenalin of performing for an appreciative crowd of smiling faces.
Here's hoping our next gigs won't be so few and far between ...
"Music is the shorthand of emotion." – Leo Tolstoy
When my wife and I moved into our smallish house in Orlando – 15 years ago today – we had no illusions of staying for long. It was just a starter home, fine for maybe three or four years. After all, we got it for a good price and figured we’d surely need more space in due time.
Then the housing market went berserk, pushing prices beyond any level of sanity and making a change of address all the more challenging for us. At the same time, we got really busy, with careers and mostly with raising a family. One kid, then another. It seems like several years – years of diapers and preschool and reading Dr. Seuss at bedtime – passed in a total blur. I honestly don’t remember much of the detail.
As our children grew, they became more and more attached to our home, and now they won't even consider the notion of moving. Neither will my wife and I. We actually paid the house off a few years ago, and the last thing we want is the weight of another mortgage.
“All of my memories are here,” explains my 8-year-old daughter, who has a knack for quickly verbalizing the essence of a situation. I ask my son, who’s 11, what he likes about the house. “Everything,” he says without even looking up from his Apple Jacks. Who knew kids could be so sentimental?
It’s true that my family has shared lots of memorable and miraculous moments in our cozy bungalow, as well as a few things I’d rather not recall. The bottom line is this … our house is a member of the family. It’s 2,000 square feet of comfort and familiarity and peacefulness. It lives with us, breathes with us, laughs with us and is always there to take us in and calm us down.
So, here we are, 15 years and counting in our starter home.
I’d say we made a pretty good purchase.
"One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much
in five minutes as in five years." – Tom Wolfe
“No, I don’t want to go to the beach. I just want to stay here.”
My son was in his typical fight-it-like-hell stance, begging us not to drag him into some extended family activity. The argument inspired my daughter to do the same. We want nothing to do with your ideas, they informed us. Computer games and iPods lurked along the sidelines.
Of course my wife and I are the bosses, and we stopped asking them what they wanted to do and told them instead. “All right, let’s go for a bike ride on the Cady Way Trail near downtown,” I said. “It will be fun for all of us. I promise.”
After the prelude of pumping tires and adjusting helmets and filling water bottles and driving across town, we set out on our bikes, sunshine on our faces and a breeze pressing our cheeks. And damned if I didn’t see smiles all around. There were moments of frustration and rebellion, like when my daughter decided she had had enough (only to resume riding quickly afterwards) and when my son began sighing with great pangs of pain, “I’m so hungry. Are we almost done?”
But we made it. Seven miles together on our bikes. Under a gift-from-God clear Saturday sky. “Hey daddy,” my son called to me from behind as we neared our parked minivan. “I did have a little bit of fun riding. Just wanted you to know.”
Great, I told him, thinking to myself “I told you so.” Later, at lunch, I asked if anyone had a good time on our bike ride, and the kids threw up their hands, like they were answering a question in class. “I did,” they said, almost in unison.
There’s not much of a lesson here, I guess, other than never give in to a kid – or give up on a good idea. Especially when you know what’s best for those little rascals. Oh, and when you don’t know what else to do, get outside and ride your bike!
Lucy hopped on a skateboard for the first time today. I really think she's getting the hang of it. Just might have a little skate rat on my hands. I'm one stoked dad!
"I consider skateboarding an art form, a lifestyle and a sport." - Tony Hawk
"Skateboarding helps a ton with balance and precision. It gets your senses to be spot-on and it's also a great way to take my mind off things." - Shaun White
"Once pool riding came in, y'know, that's like all we wanted to do." - Jay Adams
Took a spin on my Telecaster this morning, cranking it through my ancient TS808 Tube Screamer and my tasty Fender Blues Deluxe. The wife and kids quickly closed the door, migrated to the other side of the house and stayed the hell away.