Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Urf! Is This Many

Four years ago today I sat down and started pecking out what I thought were funny little stories about what my kids were doing and saying, and what I thought about it all as a new-ish father, right here under the masthead Urf!.

And they are funny, most of them. Just take a look for yourself down there on the right hand side of this page, click on any month from 2006-2008. Last year wasn't so hot and this year isn't shaping up to be, either, as far as consistency goes. This drought is mostly because of what this little blog has spawned, which is something approximating a career. Urf! became, for me, the bi-weekly writing of the column "Because I Said So" in The Commercial Appeal, and that has become more and more freelance writing work (much of this good fortune is also due to Stacey Greenberg and Fertile Ground) which keeps me busy and up to my neck in deadlines.

I always wanted to be a writer. I didn't tell many people that at the time, but since I was about 15 I wanted to write for a living. I went about it all the wrong way. In fact, I didn't really even go about it at all, and I still tell people that I'm lucky and really just fell into what I'm doing by accident.

This blog has archived the growing of my family. Apropos of that, we spent today preparing to grow. We dug and we dragged found materials from the woods behind our house, we shoveled and we planned. The family garden is 193 square feet (so far) of good earth. We have become an agrarian society who will, this year, attempt to reap and sow a cheese pizza.

The past four years have seen many changes. We've become larger as a family over these years, found new interests and focus, worked as any family needs to to maintain order and sanity, and grown richer. Not monetarily, by any means, but in ways that I can't even describe.

I look forward to the next four years. I hope they'll be documented here (if the internet is more than a fad), but if not, I'm sure they'll be written somewhere and I'll try to let you know where.

Thank you to everyone who has stuck around for four years and laughed with me at my children, watched them grow and become interesting little people. Thanks to all of you who came late but have stayed for the party. You've become a part of our lives and we consider you all a part of the Urf! family.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Three Minutes

My friend Amy Ballinger-Cole sent me an e-mail a while back to suggest I enter NPR's Three-Minute Fiction contest. It's a writing contest in which you look at a provided photograph and write a story of no more than 600 words inspired by that photo. The winner was to have their story read on the air.

Here is the photo:

At first I just laughed at the notion of writing for free. HAHAHA! And then I thought, "Well, I do dabble in fiction" and then, "It's short, so it will be easy and quick, and then I can get back to watching The Oprah."

So the next morning, somewhere between sleep and waking, when it seems some of my best ideas come to me, I wrote most of this story in my head. When I first saw the photo, I immediately thought of a racing form. I also figured that 98% of the other entrants would see it as the interior of a coffee shop, so I eschewed that location. In the reflection of the glass, you can just make out a BA, which led to the title, which came out of I don't know where. Probably more sleep than awake.

I like this quick little story. I managed to touch on four generations, at least two states and a couple of countries. I referenced war, death, fear and gambling, and yet got in just a hint of humor. All of this came together to win me naught. Not even in the top 10 or so, although there is the slim, outside chance that my story is referenced in the story about the contest and winner:
"Stories poured in from all over the country — stories about cafes and trains from London to Maine. There were lost loves and lost newspapers, detectives on stakeout, and racetrack bums looking to make one last big score."
Win or lose, I still like the story and it was a fun exercise. And it became like a writer's workshop around here for a day or two with the other writers living in our house entering the contest as well (read the entries from the rest of our round table here: Sassy and SAM).

So here's my story, Basil's Baby, inspired by that photo. It's the sort of thing I do when no one is paying me to write. Enjoy.

Basil's Baby

I knew which horse to bet on as soon as I opened the racing form. Even before I looked at records or jockeys or lineage, I knew I would bet on Basil’s Baby in the fifth. Betting on a name is probably the worst way to gamble next to horse color, but how could I not? I’d woken my daughter every morning of her two years by calling her Basil. I’m not even sure why or how it started. As a prep cook, I was usually getting home when it was time for her to wake up. Leaning over her, smelling of spice and root, I’d whisper in her tiny ear, “Basil, come on, baby, daddy’s home.”

The truth is, I could have sat at that little red pushpin of a table all day long eating chicken nuggets and staring out the window at people walking past. If that 12-piece box of nuggets I’d gotten had never run out, I never would have complained. But I needed to get to the OTB to get this bet off so I could get back to the hospital. I had to be there when she woke up, the IV clinging to her arm like a parasite, and her so scared.

And I needed Basil’s Baby to come in at those odds so I could pay for it all.

My great-grandmother taught me how to bet on horses. I must have been 7 years old. Her husband had passed away and she decided she needed an escort when going out, so she taught me to look at track conditions and blood lineage. She explained the art of handicapping and how to pick a sure thing. And that there is no such thing as a sure thing. She taught me to never, ever bet on a horse’s name.

Grandma also shared lessons of family and need, and the risk of letting someone close. Love and loss traveled hand in hand for the old woman, losing a son in Korea and a husband so near retirement to an unnamed cancer. The Ballingers moved from Hot Springs, Arkansas, to Memphis to work for the International Harvester plant and it was an envelope with a red IH imprinted on it that grandma would show me when we went back to Arkansas to visit family and the track.

Grandpa’s pension check was sizeable. “Don’t risk it, can’t win it,” she’d say, sitting in a club seat and sipping Crème de Menthe.

Basil’s Baby was slow out of the gate but came on strong on the outside for the last quarter mile. She was beautiful, all silver muscle and mane, even on the little monitor in the dirty corner of the OTB.

I stood in line at the window to collect my winnings and thought how I’d still rather be sitting at that small table pouring over the racing forms, losing myself in statistics and breeders names, and eating chicken nuggets slowly through the afternoon.

My daughter was waiting in that big, white bed, though. Just a little sprig of a girl, my sweet Basil.

I went back to the hospital with enough cash in my pocket for the medicine she’d need. I silently thanked my great-grandmother and the horse I’d just chosen by name only.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spring Forward

This is a public service announcement from me to you reminding you to move your clocks forward ahead tonight. I reminded the kids this afternoon and JP asked how far ahead, so I told him 3 days. "When you wake up tomorrow, it will be Wednesday," I said.

I love the age when they believe everything I tell them. It doesn't happen to be JP's current age. The older kids haven't believed a word I've said since they were 4 years old. That's the age when they learn to roll their eyes and ask to go ask their mother for the real answer. I still have a couple more months with GK.

C asked how far we move the clocks back in Fall and I told him 3 days. Duh. "So that would also be Wednesday?" he asked.

A reminder again, today is Wednesdaylight Savings Time, so turn your clock forward to the middle of next week.

Or don't and just go ask your mother when you want to know what time it is.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Herb Garden

We spent last Sunday working in the courtyard. These are before and after pictures of the herb garden there. You can see the rosemary right there in front and some sage over to the far right. I imagine there will be some after-after pictures later, when it's full of greens, purples and reds. The rocky area to the left will be cacti and succulents.

This is where I'll spend a lot of time this spring and summer, just sitting and staring with my thoughts until the kids figure out where I am.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Thing 3

S's class celebrated Dr. Seuss's birthday yesterday and the kids got to dress up as their favorite character. In our house, S is Thing 3, but for the day yesterday she was Thing 2.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Mr. Dad

For the past couple of months, The Commercial Appeal has dropped the ball when it comes to paying me. Dropping the ball, it seems, is easier than dropping a check in the mail. It has been straightened out, and will be straightened out, but in the meantime I received a bonus the other day that will hold me over.

A couple of weeks ago I went to S's classroom to impress her classmates with my job. It was career day and I feel certain that a whole room full of 7-year-olds now want to do what it is I do for a living. Whatever that is.

S brought home a big card the class made for me that reads: Thank You Mr. Dad. And they all signed it and drew pictures all over it.

I think it's one of the nicest things I've received in a long time. As far as the CA goes, it's one of the only things I've received in a long time. Maybe I'll send this card in to MLGW and see if they are as impressed with it as I am and will apply it to my next utility bill.