Wilder by Far

A look at life with the Wilder family. Updated most weekends and some vacation days. You can contact me at movingnorth@gmail.com..

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Location: United States

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Allow myself to introduce, um, myself." - Austin Powers, Austin Powers


The flag the folks at Gonzalez put together after they heard Mexican authorities were getting ready to come take their cannon. Unfortunately for them, the Mexican Army thought they were dealing with the French, in which case this would have meant, um, yeah, come and take it, rather than PRY THIS CANNON FROM THE COLD DEAD HANDS OF A TEXAN. (historical note: Santa Ana lost.)

I’ve got the aftermath of a hurricane to deal with: shingles to replace, siding to fix, Pez® to bake, fence to rebuild, pantyhose to clean, dangerously dangling limbs to lop off trees. Logical response?

Road trip. Otter and Boone would understand.

In actuality, this road trip was planned, cancelled (work), planned again, cancelled (hurricane), and then at the last minute, we had a “what the heck” moment and said we’d do it.

The causes for the road trip at this time and place were twofold: 1) A favored author was visiting Austin to sign books, and 2) The Mrs. indicated that she would begin slowly poisoning me with arsenic if I didn’t take her on a real, honest to goodness, vacation. In her defense, I’m not particularly sensitive to arsenic (unless the hair loss and tooth loss isn’t normal) and I haven’t taken her on a vacation – not where you go visit family, but a true vacation, in something like four years.

So, we packed up the Wildermobile and headed to Austin. As usual, I managed to test The Boy’s ability to hold his bladder. I think this is a good thing for all fathers to do, since there hasn’t been a fatality associated with a bladder rupture since 1932. Although I don’t think this is a true fact (I read it when I was 10 or so in a Mad™ Magazine), it certainly doesn’t keep me from quoting it on long family trips as if it was transported to my mind directly from Heaven above via angelic text-message.

We made it to Austin and found the bookstore where there was a book-signing that I was going to. The author (Neal Stephenson) is notoriously introverted and takes about four years to put out a novel. The introversion thing isn’t good, because that means he didn’t hang out with me after the signing while I convinced him that The Mrs. should co-author a book with him, she could write it all, and he could take 90% of the profits. Instead? He signed my books.

My mistake was taking The Boy with me. The Boy was not only bored by Mr. Stephenson’s readings and Q&A, he was bored out of his skull bored. Threatening him with physical violence at some unspecified future point seemed to work a bit. I wasn’t about to bribe him, since I don’t make deals with young blonde terrorists – that always comes back to haunt me.
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Neal Stephenson, in all his boring (to eight year olds, that is) glory. Frankly, he was interesting, and I think the rest of the fans would have been disappointed if he had broken into a clown act to appease The Boy.

We got back to our tiny, tiny hotel room, and went to sleep. Sure, that sounds simple, but “and went to sleep” is never simple with a three-year-old in the room. There were threats of immediate physical violence that seemed to work a whole bunch better than the threats of violence at some unspecified future time and place.

The next morning, we went to The Alamo. No, wait, that’s in San Antonio, not Austin. Okay, we went to Sea World®. No, wait, that’s in San Antonio, too. Instead, we visited the state capital, where they have a very nice, shiny floor.

Oh, and we also saw the typical resident of Austin. Apparently, to be a resident of Austin you must walk around on the streets carrying a backpack and talking on a cell phone. Who you talk to and what you say is unimportant. What you carry in the backpack is likewise unimportant. You must have them. Why? Because it’s Austin.
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The floor under the rotunda, wherein Texas maintains its status as an independent nation. Actually? That doesn’t sound so bad. I bet we could whip California any old time.
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Looking up at the rotunda. Dang, it’s sure round.

Next: San Antonio
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Sunday, September 21, 2008

"But you're better then normal, You're abnormal." - Fry, Futurama


A guy selling ice for eight bucks a bag. Probably illegal, but what the heck, if I really needed ice I’d have bought some, and been happy about it. Me? I’ve got principles. I’d sell it for six.

Work was incredibly efficient this week – it being easy to get lots done when (on most days) you’re the only guy in the office. There is much less of a line at the coffee bar, and you’re always first in line at the copier and printer.

I actually got very much caught up at work, yet managed to take off early every day to come home to shingle my roof. Shingling is a very silly looking word, yet the actions of shingling allow one to ponder on the mysteries of life, since putting one shingle down is much like putting all of the rest of them down.

As to lessons I learned during the hurricane that I pondered on the roof:

I like frosty-cold beers that are at exactly 34.4°Faherenheit, served in a mug that has been frozen to at least 8°Faherenheit. The hurricane taught me that warm ones that had been in the bottom of a fridge for two days are okay, too.

FEMA is utterly, well, a Federal Bureaucracy. More good was done by Home Despot® and your local grocery store than FEMA ever thought of. An example: when giving away ice and water, where do you select to give it away? A parking lot of a store where people already go to get food and that’s easy to get in and out of? Maybe one that doesn’t have power? No, not if you’re FEMA. If you’re FEMA, you pick City Hall, a building whose location is known only to the Mayor and the Planning Department. Because in an emergency, you really need to have the building permit people involved. I could go on and on about FEMA. But I won’t.

Speaking of FEMA, don’t I qualify for a FEMA charge card that I can spend on beer and video games?

Don’t shingle when it’s really hot.

Don’t even think that anyone is going to help you during a disaster. The best you can do is to plan and have a closet full of Pez®, beer, chocolate treats and water so you don’t become part of the problem. We were set up for a month of really hideous living, but fortunately the power came back on 66 hours later. We were lucky, being in the first 20% of people to have power restored. Our neighbors went nearly another week, and I think they got desperate enough that they ate some family pets. Dunno, it was that or take-out. (The restaurants came back up pretty quickly.)

You can cook a hot dog over a scented candle, but it often ends up tasting like jasmine-hot dog.

Get your shingles early, before the rush.

There is a reason that folks during the Revolutionary Era spent weeks reading Plato. There was also a reason they had an average of seventeen kids. Not much else to do at night.

If your child has a birthday during a hurricane, tell them that it’s “good for their character.”

Most people like to have a gas can full of gas, me, I like to have a spare car full of gas.

No one checks to see if your registration is current on your pickup that you never drive just after a hurricane.

The whole “four-way-stop” at dead traffic lights is over-rated. I think the law of the jungle should apply. The guy with the crappiest car goes first.

I really don’t need electricity. I could get by with just enough for my fridge. And my television. And my computer. And my air conditioning. And the coffee maker. And the lights. And the blender. Don’t really need all that much electricity.

When the power comes back on after 66 hours, you feel just like turning everything on for the heck of it, turn on the A/C and then prop the windows wide open. Turn the oven to 475 empty. Dunno why, but it feels nice.

So, things are getting normal, quickly here. I’ve still got fence to build, siding to put on, and a roof to finish, a three-year-old listening to Yanni (why??) a dog sleeping in a trash can, and a frog in the pool.

But that’s as normal as it ever gets around here.

More to come.
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Monday, September 15, 2008

"I want to give mankind the gift of electricity." - Harry, 3rd Rock from the Sun


We’ll miss you, Mr. Oak. You gave shade, oak nuts, oak fries, and oak electricity. May your cellulose rise to meet your roots.

Wow. Didn’t see that coming.

Oh, wait, we did. On radar, on the radio, on the Intertubes. As I said, it was unlikely that we’d stop until the power stopped or the beer ran out.

I still have beer.

At 6:20PM, the lights went out. They flickered on, off, on, off, on, then finally, utterly, off.

We dug out candles (the last of the ones left over from our attempt to forestall the coming dark ages presaged by Monica Lewinski) and hunkered down around a crank-radio we bought for emergency (Y3K?) purposes.

Then, we put the young ones to bed, and sat around a candle-lit table and listened to the radio. There may be nothing more boring than listening to radio announcers talk about a storm you can’t see (that’s worse than frigging baseball on the radio). So, we dug out The Mrs. laptop and began watching John Adams, the HBO© miniseries. We saw John Adams and Ben Franklin duke it out in Summer Slam™ 1778, and then went to bed.

Oh, we went outside first to encounter the winds. They were moving about sixty MPH, and it just seemed like the storm wasn’t trying hard enough.

So, after a bottle of pinot noir, I shouted, “Is that all you’ve got?” at the top of my lungs, into the wind.

The next morning, I lounged on the couch, tired from waiting for the hurricane. Still no power.

After our next-door-neighbor, Gladys, came to check if we were dead from carbon monoxide poisoning, I ventured outside.

Siding gone. Shingles gone. That metal stuff that goes underneath the shingles on the edges, gone. Fences (two) gone. There were so many palm fronds outside, it looked like the Skipper and Gilligan’s hut exploded.

My neighbors faired better, for the most part. My whole, “Is that all you’ve got?” defiance must have come home to roost. Never, ever, ever, taunt a hurricane. They will mess you up.

The day was spent in shock, like the day they announced that Val Kilmer would play Batman®. It was horrifying. No Internet!! Beer starting to loose that frosty-cold taste. Ugh. Welcome to Houstonistan.

We listened to the radio, which mainly told us that the power company wasn’t going to do anything that day (though, that afternoon, The Mrs. indicated that the power had flickered while The Boys and I went out to reconnoiter. Sorry that we missed it, but we did find that there was power on either side of us, not three miles away. No stores were open, and we had no phones. Thankfully, one of the previous announcements for hurricane preparedness had told us to have “food, water, and ammunition” (I am not making this up). We had food for a month, water for a similar time, plus more ammunition than the Pakistani army. We were set. The only thing we were missing was sweet, sweet propane for heating the grill.

Eventually, washing came up. I avoided the subject. The Mrs. doused The Boy and Pugsley with coldish water (they howled) and then we ate cold Spagetti-O’s® and sat around in the dim candlelight. Living in the 18th Century was rapidly losing it’s charm.

The radio had limited information. The hosts kept telling us to check their website for more information, even though 98% of their listeners were without power. Perhaps the average person has a hand-crank satellite Internet connection?

Then FEMA came on and indicated that you could contact them by calling (no phone!) or by Internet. The Mayor of Houston indicated that within 24 hours they would have 24 trucks of ice in, but he didn’t say where they’d be. He didn’t know.

A representative from our power provider indicated that we might be out of power forever, really, since they had no idea where that mythical lightning in the wire came from. It was really a mystery to them. They even indicated that changing a light bulb might require Federal authority. They began blaming FEMA for the problem. (In actuality, they said that it might be four weeks until the power was back on, in which case I would be looking for a suit of armor, a mighty steed, and a really cool battle-axe.)

That night, perhaps the coolest person in the world (a next-door neighbor) delivered salvation in a can. Propane.

On night one, The Mrs. and I had grilled hot dogs over candles. It worked okay, but our hot dogs tasted a bit like apple potpourri.

Now, ugh, Mongo have fire!!

The next morning I made coffee for The Mrs. and I. It improved our disposition greatly. Then I cooked ribeye steaks that I’d gotten on sale and frozen. That helped our disposition more. Ribeye for breakfast? Mmmmm.

I took The Boy and Pugsley to see if we could get a generator. This act in Houston (currently) would be like searching for Paris Hilton’s virginity – just not there anymore. Lowe’s® was open, and had a generator. Nah, just kidding. They had bottled water and some Chiclets©.

I came home, and began cleaning up Gilligan’s hut in the backyard. It was horrible, little pieces of red shirt, but the white cap came out whole.

It appears that hurricanes smell like sex to fire ants (jerkusantus invictus). I got bit five times pulling branches out of my formerly fire-ant free backyard. I then unleashed a genocide of Biblical proportions on them, making the chemical warfare of WWI look like a Disney production of The Little Mermaid® in Candyland™.

I went back inside, and the power-gods deigned to tease us again. The lights flickered during dinner (T-bones and bratwurst saved from spoiling through immolation).

The utter lack of information was maddening. Anecdotal reports of FEMA commandeering truckloads of generators. Reports that Responders (I am ever so tired of that word) being stuck without food – you’da thunk they would have thought far enough ahead to stock up their patrol cars with Snickers®, pantyhose and Pez™ before heading to Houston. No. A Congresscritter was on the air complaining that the responders didn’t food, and wanted THE PEOPLE WHO HAD NO POWER TO COME TO THE NICE AIR CONDITIONED AND POWERED PLACE AND BRING THEM FOOD.

If you’re a responder without chow, you’re part of the problem, not the solution, bubba. I was not feeling sympathetic as I threw out $200 in spoiled food.

Power? That was a myth at this point, the electric company representative, and never really existed. Those things that you call “outlets”? Used for hanging meat to feed short animals. The representative suggested burning furniture to boil water to create steam to power a crude generator. I would have built one, but I had no power for my welder.

We went to bed early. Nice.

The next day I went to work, to an office with power. And ice. And TV. I charged the laptops so the kids could watch Garfield© DVD’s. I had hot coffee. A functioning microwave to dry my socks. I’m not sure why I came home. Oh, yeah, the fam.

I got home and told The Mrs. that, indeed, there was more electricity running about today then yesterday. I then loaded The Boy into Wondertruck and we went in search of shingles. I saw a power company truck go wandering by. A bit of hope filled my evil soul.

I purchased $43,762 worth of shingles, $2,121 worth of nails, and some bottled water and then headed home. I saw . . . our porch lights on.

The mythical lightning had returned.

More to come.
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Friday, September 12, 2008

"Okay, our next nominee is Ike the Genius." - Mr. Garrison, South Park

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The baked goodies section at Tärgét©. Apparently, hurricanes make people crave baked goods, since the bread aisle was also out of stuff – not a bun, roll, or slice of bread in sight. I think that all the Atkins© dieters just went nuts and decided that hurricanes are carbolicious.

I’ve decided to create an experiment as Ike© bears down on Houston. I thought I’d blog until the power or beer ran out, primarily because I want to create a record of this, and I know that the hundreds of billions of people that I claim read this blog would be waiting with bated breath, or, if they were fishermen, baited breath.

The Mrs. and I have been through blizzards, tornadoes, floods, and a full-bore locust invasion. We’ve even had our lives interrupted by a volcano. But never have we experienced a hurricane.

Thankfully, we have plenty of beer, but more on that later.

The latest forecast in my area is that we will have sustained 45-65 MPH winds (6,000-18,000 km/hr), 4”-8” (0.02mm-0.04mm) of rain. I have no idea what mileage my house will get at that speed, but the water sure will make it slippery. Given the nature of a hurricane, I wanted to see what the heck people were doing out there to prepare. I dragged the (very) reluctant The Mrs. and we went out to make some bank payments.

Surprise! The banks are closed. This, my friends is madness – probably the start of a Mad Max sort of existence for us. I think I might begin to hack the Wildermobile apart and install a flame thrower and harpoon gun.

Most businesses were, however, very much open. Home Despot®, probably the most useful store to have open with a hurricane headed our way, was closed. This is quite similar to closing a McBurger in the Box© during lunch hour. No duct tape for me.

Target was open. The main missing items were larger flashlight-type batteries, bread, and beer.

In an unusual twist of fate, Tärgét™ had plenty of my brand, Natural Light© (motto, “It’s beer if we say it’s beer. Besides, it’s cheap.”).

I like Natural Light®. It’s got a crisp, clean taste, and next to no C2H5OH. The Mrs. makes fun of me for that, since two of her Heinekens© are enough to make me silly. I’m a beer lightweight. She makes fun of me for that, too. For some reason, Tärgét™ was selling 30 of the for $2.96. Really.

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Some businesses were boarded up, like this one. Most just left acres of glass uncovered. That would be the same with almost every house in our neighborhood.

We finally went home. On the news, we found out that there was a curfew that would take effect at 7pm tonight, which might preclude our ordering pizza. These hurricanes can be darned inconvenient.

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A defiant business.

As I picked up the things outside that might become 70mph missiles, I ran into our neighbor, Gladys Kravitz. She was in a panic – and told me in no uncertain terms that my house would likely collapse at the nearest hint of wind. After it flooded.

She’s so cheery to have around. As to the flooding part, I actually did check the FEMA maps before I bought the place, and it says it’s more likely that we’ll get a decent Congress than a flood here. But, keep in mind that these are government maps.

Right now, slightly windy.

More later.

3:36 PM Friday update – the city of Houston just announced that they will curl up into a ball and provide no more services (like ambulances, or fire trucks, or police) after the wind hits 30MPH. Guess they’ve never heard of Kansas or Oklahoma where that’s an average day.

3:54 PM Whoopsie-date - the city of Houston, avid readers of Wilder By Far, corrected their statement that they would leave the taxpayers to the wolves at 30MPH windspeed. It's really 50MPH. That makes it all better.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

"It feels like one of those mattresses where you can bounce a bowling ball but the glass of wine doesn't spill." - Shawn, Psych

The Boy, rising from the bottom of the pool like some Leviathan of the deep. Don’t worry, he’s really small and doesn’t eat people, or anything

I woke up yesterday, late. It was my job to take The Boy and Pugsley off to a birthday party. Birthday parties are nice, in that what parent doesn’t want to spend a Saturday morning around crowds of yelling, crying, keening, careening kids instead of sleeping in doing work around the house.

As I went outside, I had the most curious discovery: it wasn’t a million degrees outside, in fact I didn’t think the outside ambient temperature could sustain nuclear fusion, unlike most other days.

I could leave the tinfoil radiation shield inside.

I know, I know: I prattle on endlessly about the unceasing, scorching heat of Houston. But, really, it is hot here. I have run the air conditioning in our house in EVERY MONTH of the year. So, I thought I would tell of one of the few days I go outside and don’t feel like my skin is melting off.

I promised The Mrs. that she could sleep in and relax while I took The Boy and Pugsley off to the birthday party.

My alarm went off. I began to calculate in my head when I would need to get up so I could make the party on time. “Okay,” I thought, “a half-hour to drive there, fifteen minutes to pick up the present, fifteen minutesssssss toooooooo gettttttttt zzzzz square root, snort zzzz.” This was all followed by a dream that I had to go back to high school because I’d left my pants there and they can’t award an official diploma if your pants are still in your locker. That’s where I left my brown corduroys!

Snooze alarm goes off, and again I repeat my rudimentary attempt at mathematics. Then, on some snooze attempt, I actually look at the clock, and realize that I was going to be late, unless the Wildermobile was retrofitted in the airport parking lot with some sort of hyper-velocity warp drive.

I jumped out of bed, ran and got The Boy and Pugsley moving. The Mrs. got up and assisted me as I Google®-mapped the party location, and we were off. (I must admit that the whole Google©-mapping of the location was built upon numerous forays off into the void of Houston, where you just can’t guess your way there, like you could in Fairbanks – there are no moose to follow here.)

Since this was a third-birthday party, and Pugsley is three, I let him pick the present. I even think, at some sort of rudimentary level he realized he was picking out a toy for another boy, since he hasn’t been pining to get in my trunk to get the toy back out. (He’s had enough of the trunk. And enough of duct tape.)

We got to the party and I talked to some friends while The Boy and Pugsley scampered dutifully amongst the blow-up bouncy-houses that was the primary feature of the party palace. After ingesting soda, cake, and ice cream (Pugsley turned down the pizza as too “healthful”) it was time to go. In total, I think Pugsley had eaten the equivalent of sixteen cups of sugar. I ate my weight in pizza. Just helping the hosts not to have to take it home, right?
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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

One quick, non-partisan, Alaskan thought . . .

Give 'em Hell, Sarah!!!

Monday, September 01, 2008

"You're lucky you got air conditioning in here like mother nature intended." - Eddie, Vegas Vacation


Pugsley wheels about his Tonka® dump truck. Which also has no AC. Do you see him complain?

This is the post wherein I describe what a despicable dastardly man I am.

As opposed to the 456 previous posts when I describe the same thing.

Anyhow, The Mrs. has a car she cannot part with. It’s our old, Alaska, Wildermobile. It’s got 147,000 miles and change on it, and she loves it dearly. It’s a four-wheel drive (perfect for navigating around Houston, at least after the nuclear apocalypse) and it’s been to the Arctic Circle and to Houston, as well as a myriad of points between. Not many cars have driven that much around our sweet continent.

Now, however, it’s developed a problem.

A summer problem, so in Houston that includes every month except January in a leap year.

It has no AC.

Oh, sure, you say, “What a whiner The Mrs. is, sitting in the hot, hot, humid, humid Houston afternoon t pick up her child. Why I once had to commute in the seventh circle of Hades. I didn’t have air conditioning, and I didn’t complain a whit.”

Okay, nobody says that.

I have made attempts.

When I found out our next door neighbor owned a car-fixing shop, I asked if they did AC work.

“Nope. When it needs work, it’s generally shot.”

Not only do they not fix that stuff, they don’t replace windows, or work on engines, or do body work. I’m not really sure what it is they fix at the car-fixing shop. Perhaps they specialize in replacing windshield wipers?

So, I went and grabbed a can of Freon (actually it’s not Freon, it’s R134a, which isn’t Freon at all, but sounds like a stupid name that George Lucas would have for a silly robot-muppet thing). Nothing. I then put it in the car’s air conditioning system. Still nothing.

Perhaps it wasn’t enough Freon. The Boy and I put a second can of Freon in. Presto. The air conditioning was spitting out chunks of ice and single-handedly reversing global warming.

The Mrs. was very pleased the next day when she picked up/dropped off our son.

The day after?

Nothing. The AC was again spitting out air warmer than the reception Al Gore gets from the three members of the Al Gore fan club at the Al Gore fan club meeting.

So, despite the fact that our sunspot count has reached a low not seen in at least 100 years (and, of course, sunspot counts are directly correlated with global temperature) thus it’s likely we’ll have some super cold weather shortly, not a bit of that weather will occur in The Mrs.’ car.

So, I’ll have to (shudder) take the car in to get it fixed, even though when the glaciers come to Texas, it’ll be silly to have AC.
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