Perfect for when you need a book to help explain to your children the terrifying effects of nuclear fallout, malignant tumors, leukemia, chemotherapy, diplomatic ties between Cuba and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Ukrainian mullets, the cruelty of the American embargo, and the benevolence of aging communist dictators.

To see more pages from this book, click here.

1. Yes, I know his nose is dripping.

2. No, Daddy didn't dress them today. Daddy dresses them every day, you old bag.

3. Also, Daddy doesn't "have his hand's full today." Daddy is managing just fine. And stop calling me "Daddy." It's creepy. Go get a Maurice Salad at Macy's and leave me alone.

4. It is great that I'm giving Mommy a break, isn't it? The break is called HER CAREER.

5. Do not touch the children, please.

6. Seriously, get that wadded up tissue you just pulled from your purse away from my son's upper lip before I cut you.

7. I understand you think my children are dirty and ill-shod. I just don't care.

8. My "poor" dog isn't going to die if he doesn't get water in the next 30 seconds; thanks for giving him what's left of your Aquafina, though. Cesar Millan should give you a medal or something.

9. I don't begrudge you for judging me, or even privately condemning my actions. What I don't understand is your apparent compulsion to approach strangers and start telling them what you think. I would never suggest you aren't entitled to your opinions, but when you, say, accuse me of being a bad parent for riding with my kids on my bike, you place me in the double bind of either politely listening (and thus tacitly approving your unwanted intervention) or rudely dismissing you (thus confirming your suspicions about my negligent character). I suppose you think you're doing it "for the children" but half the time you make my daughter cry. I may be a negligent parent, but you definitely are a mean old lady that makes children cry. So get back on your broomstick and leave us alone.

10. If I ever hear you suggest that "he just needs a good old-fashioned whoopin" again, we're going to test out your theory that violence is a solution for impudence, you and me.

Jam Tomorrow Jam Yesterday

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, July 21, 2010 |

Could you do me a favor? Please, if you know me in real life, don't ever say you never read my blog and then ask what I've been up to. I know you're just being polite, and I know that if you never read this website it's unlikely you'll ever take note of this request. It's not that I'm bothered by you not reading: I actually find that refreshing. I'm totally cool with it. It's just that when you ask what I've been doing lately I can never seem to think of anything to say that doesn't make me want to reach out and grab your fist to punch me in the jaw. I am legitimately happy with what I'm doing with my life right now, but the minute I have to articulate what I've been up to out loud I realize how silly it all sounds and then I remember I've been sharing such silliness with the entire Internet for years. I guess that's why I love my blog: it lets everyone who actually cares know exactly what I've been doing, so I never, ever have to talk about it.

But occasionally someone still asks. "Oh, you know," I'll say. "We're just about over the hump with the potty training. . ." It's taken me far longer than it should have to learn that a grown man cannot utter the word potty in the presence of another without any subsequent conversation being drowned out by the horrible sucking sound of his testicles shriveling to the size of a subatomic neutrino.

An old friend who lives far away got stuck at the airport a few days ago and when I went to see him at his hotel he said, "So I haven't read your blog in like three months; what have you been up to?"

I shrugged and spoke truthfully, "Oh you know, just jamming."

I could have left it at that and hoped this guy thought I was talking about guitars or something, but I lived with him during those few misguided months I spent trying to learn to play the banjo, so he knew better than to think that I could "jam" on anything more sophisticated than a kazoo. I could have tried to say it in a Jamaican accent, I guess, but from me that would have sounded even lamer than jamming on a kazoo. So I went with the truth: "Yeah, I've been making a lot of jam."

It's right here that I should insert some lame statement about how I'm comfortable enough with my masculinity to admit that I love making jam, but the reality is that I'm not. I've been a stay-at-home dad for nearly four years, and I'm afraid that at this point any sense I have of feeling masculine is akin to a Scottish Terrier remembering what it feels like to be a wolf. Sure I tear things apart or try to build something once in awhile, but the reality is that day in and day out I'm far more likely to be found wearing an apron and sterilizing the lids of my mason jars. If that doesn't sound emasculating enough to you, try to imagine me doing it while singing this song to the kids, often with the dance moves.

There, I hope that kills any strange notion you might have that a man making jam could actually be macho or sexy. But for whatever reason, I have really been enjoying it. It's relaxing. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. It will let us enjoy the fruits we picked this summer next January. And it appeals to my completist tendencies: at some point I decided I would try to make jam out of every possible fruit that grows locally, and that has meant a lot of fun day trips to u-pick farms out in the country (I've already written about picking strawberries, sour cherries, and mulberries). But it's also driven me to go after some more exotic fruit, like our recent attempt to pick red currants and gooseberries.

Read More (it gets sexier. much sexier.)

Camp Report, Part Two

Posted by jdg | Thursday, July 15, 2010

Put five city slickers in canoes on an Appalachian lake and have them camp in an isolated hillbilly ghost town abandoned after the TVA dammed up its river and somebody is going to joke about squealing like a pig. It's such a given I actually spent a few weeks scouring eBay for a vintage black life vest like the one Burt Reynolds wore so that my contribution to the inevitable comedy would be subtly sartorial rather than explicit. See, I feel the same way about hillbilly clich├ęs that I do about ghosts and leprechauns. They may not actually exist, but why say too much to tempt their wrath? 

We didn't see any other hikers once we left the river and set up camp. We were in the most isolated part of the national park, many miles from the nearest road. There were four other empty campsites and we joked to the member of our party whose bachelor-week this was that the next site over had been reserved for a Hawaiian Tropic bikini spokesmodel retreat. Sadly, the bikini team hadn't shown before dusk, and a few guys who had no business fishing had lost a few lures and caught no fish. They drank rye and tequila and joked about white lightning and aggressive bears (both of the ursine and human varieties) and as they quieted down in front of their fire out in the darkness a barred owl attacked something that screamed like a woman while it died.

In the night I heard footsteps, either a bear, or a witch, or one of my friends returning from a piss. At dawn I woke to see two strange men staring at our campsite from a comfortable distance. When they saw me watching they turned and walked to the most distant campsite and I heard a pulley sing while they raised their packs up on the bear line. They had been wearing full camouflage. We hiked a few miles up the stream that day, fishing halfheartedly as we went. We didn't see those mysterious men along the creek, though later when we took our canoes out to go swimming in the warm, green water of Lake Fontana we saw their small skiff tied to a tree. 

That night we returned to camp and while thinking about starting a fire the men walked over to our campsite with their hands full in front of them. When they got closer I realized they were carrying thin paper plates mottled with grease stacked between layers of food. "Y'all hungry?" one of them asked in the sort of deep drawl we Northerners sometimes struggle to believe is actually real. "We got a whole lot a hushpuppies here. Some taters and trout, too." They noticed our fishing poles. "Any luck?" they asked and my friend who caught a small-mouth bass regaled that small glory.

"We didn't catch anything worth eating," one of us finally admitted. 

"Well, we got about eight trout we ain't gonna eat and you're welcome to 'em," one guy said, and true to his word they brought over a bag full of the lovely rainbow trout we'd been struggling to catch all day. We tried to offer them something in return, unopened lures and fishing line, but they wouldn't take any of it. "If we're too loud tonight," I said. "Please let us know." But it turned out they were already on their way back to their boat, then home.

The forest is so indifferent you grow fearful. Vulnerable. Ignorant. We'd been joking around all week about hillbillies and cornholing, and then the first two good old boys we come across in the woods treat us with the mercy of Jesus Christ, quite literally, and we don't even have to listen to any parables.

The trout stared blankly at me while my friend filleted them on a stump, and I was grateful for the oil and batter he'd packed in his massive plastic tubs. The fish were delicious.

Camp Report, Part One

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I was hanging out with an old friend a few weeks ago and he started telling me about a canoeing/backpacking trip he was planning with a bunch of our college friends. "I wish I could go," I sighed with the resignation of a browbeaten steer.

"Why can't you?" my wife snapped later.

I sputtered something about the kids but she brushed it off. Her mother was off for the summer and would be more than happy to watch them during the day. Other than a brief trip to Virginia last February, I hadn't been away from the kids for more than a night since my son was born. I'd like to believe that they can't survive without me, but I thought about those babies that survived years living with wolves in India and figured my kids could survive a week with their beloved Nana. Whether she would survive a week with my feral children was another matter, but I was already starting to look forward to the liberation of a trip where any incidents of outdoor urination would be due to a lack of proper toilet facilities and not my toddler son's inability to hold it. Having spent so many years as a baby roadie/beast of burden I quickly decided I was going to bring as little as possible on this trip. I had just finished rereading some old Hemingway books and decided I didn't want to bring any of that modern camping crap. None of those $9 titanium sporks or LED-flashlights attached to Lycra headbands. This was my big chance to return to the great outdoors, and I've always been dumbfounded by all the equipment they sell to make the great outdoors as comfortable as your own living room. What's the point? I wanted to bring stuff made out of natural materials and none of that REI/Moosejaw crap. Yeah, I'm basically that Luddite jerk who sees your 4-oz poly-down mummy sleeping bag and says, I liked things better when they sucked. The night before I left, I set out everything I planned to take with me for a week in the woods of North Carolina:

Top row, from the left: my beloved Wolverine 1000 mile boots, old-fashioned waxed-canvas bedroll, Filson tin-cloth packer hat, Spanish goatskin bota bag. Middle row: 6'x8' plastic tarp with two tent stakes and 30 feet of para cord, old wool Hudson Bay point blanket, Archival Clothing rucksack, Laguiole pocket knife (juniper-wood handle), vintage boy scout shorts, four bandannas (two were made by my wife from chambray remnants), J.Crew Irish linen camp shirt, blue jeans; Bottom row: Filson lightweight wool socks, my grandfather's WWII mess kit (marked with the names of the African and European cities where he saw action), moleskin notebook, mini canvas sack full of hunter's sausage, Zingerman's salami, sardines, Heinz beans (the British kind), Greenfield Village hobo bread, three hard cheeses from Zingerman's, garlic-chipotle sprouted pumpkin seeds from the zen monks in Hamtramck, lighter, toilet paper, three tea candles. Packed into the rucksack, it all looked like this:

You'll notice there's no tent or sleeping pad. When we first arrived in darkness at our campsite on the southern shore of Lake Fontana, the friends we were meeting from southern states had already set up camp, and I just threw the bedroll on the ground and slept right there under the stars. I woke to find my Japanese friend had abandoned his tent and was sleeping in the back seat of his Volkswagen Jetta. The ground was too uncomfortable, he said. "Didn't you grow up sleeping on a grass mat every night?" I asked him. America: apparently it turns you into a total wuss.

In the morning we decided to abandon that first campsite (and our cars) and canoe across the lake to a more isolated backcountry campsite in the national park. Supposedly the campsite was in the middle of an old ghost town. It quickly became apparent that my whole "pack as little as possible" theory was something I'd built up in some isolated castle of smugness. We were loading the canoes and my friend Ryan pulled three gigantic plastic tubs out of the trunk of his car and started loading them into the canoes. "What the fuck, Ryan?" I asked, and he (rightfully) got pissed after I basically ordered him to consolidate his three massive plastic tubs down to two massive plastic tubs.

He had enough giant pots in there to cook more than enough gruel for the annual Knoxville Orphanage camping trip. As he petulantly shifted his belongings from tub to tub, I felt like Janeane Garofalo ordering Paul Rudd to pick up a plate he tossed on the floor:

After canoeing all morning, we arrived at the boat landing where Hazel Creek turns into shallow white water and learned that our campsite was half a mile up the trail that followed the stream. That meant we had to lug those massive plastic tubs and all our other stuff half a mile up the trail. Instead, we foolishly decided to keep the gear in the canoes and row them through the shallow water upstream, requiring us to get out of the canoes and drag them pretty much the whole way.

You'll notice there are no sandals or water shoes in that photo of my gear up above, so that meant I had to stumble through the razor-sharp algae-covered rocks on my unusually-tender bare feet. After getting attacked by a massive wolf spider and falling on my ass in a foot of water, I finally got my comeuppance while begging one of my friends to throw me his mandals from the shore so I could get out of the river.

"Are you sure?" he asked. "I'm pretty sure they didn't have mandals in 1923."

I decided not to point out that the mandals would not have been necessary if everyone had just packed their gear in expensive waxed-cotton-twill rucksacks rather than massive plastic tubs, because as my feet sank into the squishy wet layer of leather between them and the rocks, I suddenly knew what heaven felt like.

At camp, a sign said that the next couple sites upriver were closed because of "aggressive bear activity." I set up my tarp and took this picture:

Notice the protective "bear wall" and casually-placed bottle of rye. "You're going to blog about this, aren't you?" my friend asked. He forgot to add: "Douchebag." We spent two nights there on the shore of Hazel Creek. Several times I watched a 4-inch beetle scoot deftly across my bedroll and when I got home I found dog ticks in my skin. The experience was everything I wanted it to be, and then some.

More tomorrow.

Five and a half & two and a half

Posted by Wood | Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Hi, everyone. It's Wood. It's been years since I've posted anything here on the main page. Jim left a few days ago on a camping trip with a handful of his best friends, guys he's known since his freshmen year in college. He was reluctant to go and pretty convinced that we couldn't possibly survive and manage to eat three meals a day without him. He was also worried about not being able to post here, and he made me promise that I'd write something. So far -- with my mom's help -- the kids have been fed and well cared for, and the only missed meals are the ones that Gram refuses to eat. Now if I can just post something here, maybe Jim won't wait four years before taking a break again.

Lately, more than usual, at the end of every day with the kids I wish that I could freeze them at their current ages. It isn't that I'm sad they are growing older, it's just that I don't trust myself to remember how incredible they are right now. It took me several hours last week before I could remember the name for asiago cheese; there is just no way that thirteen years from now, when Juniper goes off to college, I'll be able to remember more than a detail or two from this summer. Sure, I'll have the photos and the videos that Jim takes, but it's their perfectly age-appropriate personalities that I'm afraid I'll forget.

The girl, at nearly five and a half, is big and capable. She can swim, she can ride a horse, she can pump on the swings, she can do a handstand, and she can shimmy up a fireman's pole at the playground until she's far above our heads, calling out for us to look! and see! how high she is! before she gracefully glides down. She is small and scrappy, and the thing I love most about her right now is the way she practices her new skills over and over again on the playground until she gets them perfect.

The boy, at nearly two and a half, has opinions about everything and is no longer content just to tag along with his sister. He is the essence of two: obstinate, quick to scream every time he perceives injustice, and sometimes so frustrated that he curls up on the ground and sobs. He scowls and tells me to "go away" when I stop him from dunking toys in the toliet or drawing on the walls. But at bedtime, he is so sweet he is like a different child: he rests his head on my shoulder and sings me songs and whispers "I love you too," right before he curls up with his blanket and goes to sleep.

I am eager for their next ages; I can't wait to see what they're like at ages seven and four or nine and six. Already, I can sense that a few years from now, our lives will be easier with less minute-to-minute child-tending. The kids will both be able to dress themselves and buckle their shoes and get themselves snacks from the kitchen. Gram will stop dunking toys in the toliet, and Juniper will prefer to spend her summer afternoons with her friends, instead of with us. I love watching them grow, I just wish that I didn't forget everything so fast. I wish I could always remember what our house sounds and feels like with a five and a half and a two and a half year-old living in it.

The gardens so far

Posted by jdg | Friday, July 02, 2010

A good friend built my daughter a raised bed in a sun-filled spot next to his house, and told her she could plant whatever she wants there. At the same time, we got together with some of our neighbors and started a community garden in our neighborhood. I'm father to a couple kids who refuse to eat pretty much anything that's green, so this was done with some hope that seeing food grow from seed to plate will encourage better eating. The excitement definitely caught on, and for the first few weeks we were over at "her garden" every day to water the plants and check for weeds.

Click here to read the full post.