"Sleep? What's Sleep?"
By our calculations, it must have been the Madonna Inn. You know, since you have no doubt memorized our last form letter, that the Madonna Inn was the really tacky place with the "real rock waterfall shower" where Kate and I stayed the first night of our honeymoon. Of course, it might have been the Marriott where our reception was held. Or Carmel, or Monterey. Perhaps St. Helena, or Cambria. Or maybe someplace in between those stopovers on our honeymoon. But somewhere, it happened. Somewhere along the coastline of California, our lives underwent a drastic change, one that would have repercussions for years to come. We became moonies.
No, no, only kidding! Actually, we conceived a child, a little girl to be exact. Yes, in keeping with our "life in the fast lane" motto, Kate and I are about to become parents on or about the 18th of July. News that would be tremendously exciting, except almost all of you know about it akeady. It has akeady lead us into some very interesting conversations, like the following one (which I swear to God is true):
Kate [thinking for a second and frowning]: Brianna is just becoming too common. Alexandra would be better....
This is called getting "set up." But we did finally settle on Brianna Louise Dickie, a remarkably pretty name that we may even actually use. It also met my criteria for our daughter's name, in that it sounded vaguely feminine and could be abbreviated into a cute, four letter nickname, "Brie." As the saying that has become popular around here recently states: "What does Brie mean to me? Cheese!" Actually, Brianna is sort of named after Kate's sister, Anne Louise.
An additional bonus to the pregnancy besides the "interesting conversation" thing is that Kate's tummy has become more interesting to watch than television. When little Brie gets the hiccups (yes, babies in the womb do get hiccups), it is worth hours of low cost amusement.
Anyway, as soon-to-be parents, we embarked on a long crusade of prenatal education, some of which we are going to pass on here, whether you are personally interested in it or not.
The first thing that became apparent was that those old, sexist, bigoted, trite phrases about women being more serious about the pregnancy and more committed to finding out what is happening to them, while men are more interested in yesterday's baseball scores, is only true if the man is interested in baseball, which I am not. As a result, I have found the time to look at several of the books that Kate has read on the subject. Well, at least to the point where I've sorted them by length - ahhh, importance that is - and stacked them neatly in a place that would be readily accessible, if I could only remember where it was. Fortunately, I received a copy of a really wonderful tome of knowledge on the subject by Dave Barry entitled "Babies and other hazards of sex." The primary point of the book, as I understand it, is that your pregnancy is extremely significant in that it indicates that you have made a really, truly, absolutely major mistake.
However, Kate and I had the opportunity to take several enlightening parenting classes from our hospital at this point that made Dave Barry's comments laughably inadequate in bringing home the stupendous, colossal magnitude of our blunder. We mean, the first thing they did was to give us a half hour long slide show on baby poop. In the endearment category, this rated up there with toxic waste for things we would rather not only stay away from, but would be happy to experiment with electroshock therapy in order to forget about. This was followed by the slide show were they show you all the things that they do after baby is born, the things they won't let you see when you are actually having a baby, because you would probably go insane and attack the nurses with scalpels.
Having babies, we have learned, is extremely - well... - biological.
The part where they tell you what is happening to mom during the pregnancy, rather than the gory details of the actual delivery, is more interesting, and more practical in many ways. (I mean, who the heck is really going to examine baby poop to make sure it looks like the versions in the slides anyway) Again, simplifying things to the point of utter stupidity, the basic thrust was that mom goes through three trimesters. They are characterized as follows:
In the first trimester, mom is sick as a dog (a very diseased, old, decrepit dog), vomits alot, and generally wishes she was dead.
In the second trimester, mom feels better, but is at the stage where she is pregnant enough to show, but not pregnant enough to look pregnant, and as a result feels overweight, imagines people are snickering about her weight behind her back, and generally wishes she was dead.
In the third trimester, mom weighs as much a Sherman Tank, can't move without the aid of a large electric hoist, and generally wishes she was dead.
You may have noticed a recurring theme in the three trimesters if you were particularly alert. You caught it!?! That's right! It is all about mom. No mention of dad at all. In fact, dad seems generally to be the butt of a lot of jokes about the relative insensitivity of the male to the plight of the mom. Our Lamaze class is a little different, in that they call dads "couches" - no, sorry, make that "coaches" - which translates roughly to "Something for mom to curse and scream and throw heavy, pointed objects at when in the middle of labor." Not a position that I'm extremely excited about filling.
I've tried my best to be supportive. Today, I wore my scuba diving belt with thirty six pounds of lead weights to the office in order to get an idea of what it is like to be pregnant (yes, really-truly-honest-to-god). What did I get out of it? Besides being laughed at, that is? And getting a two week termination notice? I found out that nine out of ten people will have the following conversation with you:
Where upon follows a five or six minute conversation consisting mostly of the fact that Kate still has the short end of the stick, and really, I must be some sort of moron to even think for a moment that I was finding out what it was really like.
Fortunately, with or without my support, Kate's pregnancy has been remarkably easy. She never really suffered from morning sickness at all. And we passed the second trimester relatively painlessly by replacing her entire wardrobe with looser fitting outfits. We are two thirds of the way into the third trimester at this point, and although Kate is certainly not comfortable, her excellent physical shape (we continued to work out at the club until a few weeks ago) is making it tolerable.
Additionally, watching my little nephew Andy grow up over the past year and a half has helped us to understand the joys associated with a child. We watched Andy start in the "little blob of flesh" stage, mature quickly into the "little cesspool of disease" stage, and then finally crawl into the "little whirlwind of destruction" phase, which looks like it may last a while. As a result, we are really looking forward to having our own child and leaving it at Kate's mom's for about eighteen years.
"Well," I can hear you saying, "enough about this baby stuff. Surely something INTERESTING has happened to you in the last six months!"
We did get a chance to visit Yosemite National Park. Actually, Kate, my mother, and I were visiting Kate's Dad and Stepmom, who bought a new house near Yosemite. We took a day to hike around the number two attraction in the state of California while we were there. It was a marvelous sight despite the heavy drought (mirror lake was a dust bowl, and none of the waterfalls had running water). El Capitan, probably the most photographed, natural feature in the world (with the possible exception of Kate's tummy) was absolutely astonishing; likewise, half dome was worth the four mile hike it took to get to it. Highly recommended, if you get the chance to see it.
We've also had a number of dinner parties. One in particular was interesting. In the tradition of the Champagne tasting party and the Cognac tasting party, we decided to hold a wine tasting party, and simultaneously invite over some couples we don't get too much of a chance to see. We tried five wines, three Chardonnays (ZD, Christophe, Glen Ellen) and two Sauvignon Blancs (Murphe-Goode, Hanna), ranging from $3.99 a bottle for the Glen Ellen to $16.00 a bottle for the ZD. Unlike our previous attempts to make people (including ourselves) look like pinheads, there was a surprisingly tight correlation between everyone's guesses.
Out of seven people, there were only a two who mistook a Sauvignon Blanc for a Chardonnay. Everyone rated the Hanna Sauvignon Blanc as absolute dishwater (although, __^ at $8.00 a bottle, it was not a cheap Sauvignon!). Likewise, almost everyone picked the ZD Chardonnay as number one. The Chrisptophe and Glen Ellen were split between second and third, with the Murphe-Goode Sauvignon coming in fourth.
The bottom line; wines actually do vary greatly - and noticeably - in quality and taste, and it is possible for even "wine peons" to tell them apart... but it isn't necessarily correlated with the wine's cost.
Skiing this year was a little of a bust, since it was ruled out for Kate by the doctor. Kate insisted that I not skip the entire season, however. As a result, I did get to Mammoth one weekend, and went night skiing twice.
Then, there were some less exciting activities in the past six months as well.
When you get right down to it, people are capable of truly amazing feats of stupidity. Particularly in the area of those experiences that they have over and over again, but never seem able to learn from. Getting sunburnt, for instance. You would think that one time on the beach would be enough to convince even the most obtuse individuals to protect themselves against the sun, and yet people get fried again and again.
Likewise, allergies fall in the category of things that people seem to think will magically disappear. In this case, "people" is a nice euphemism for "Dave." And allergies are, more specifically, allergies to horses, as will become obvious in a moment.
Ben Stern wanted to see "Medieval Times" for his birthday. For those of you who have never experienced this particular event, it is a special kind of dinner show. You pay inordinate amounts of cash to sit in a large arena, where you are served a simple meal of chicken and spare ribs - with no silverware. The idea here is that you actually are in medieval times, like around the early 1900's or so, and since Emily Post hadn't published her famous book on etiquette, people's concept of good manners was to avoid spitting in their partner's drinking cup. So, in order to simulate the fun and good humor of these simpler times, everyone was expected to eat with their fingers, burp constantly, and generally act like pigs. Now that, I think you'll have to admit, is a party.
Obviously, the staff at this place wanted to take people's minds off the fact that they were paying a lot of money in order to eat more or less like college students in the university cafeteria, which could be done in any number of places for a fraction of the cost. So they added a clever floor show that, when you get down to brass tacks, was nothing more than a lot of handsome, heavily muscled, brain dead individuals hitting each other with sticks.
Now, we're perfectly willing to admit that they were very big sticks - certainly a much larger stick that we would want to be hit with - but still, not the type of thing most people would brag about seeing to their friends. So, in order to make it even more challenging, they hit each other with the sticks from horseback, a famous twist on the simpler theme of bashing each other with clubs that came to be known as "jousting." The point the staff was advertising here, of course, was to again make the point that back in medieval times, people did all sorts of really stupid things, and that everyone should be very happy about paying money to see and participate in some of them, because if they weren't, big burly men would start hitting them with the sticks. So, needless to say, we were having a really good time.
Even before we had a chance to see these people trash each other, I had a premonition that there was something basically, fundamentally wrong with participating in this type of activity. Maybe it had something to do with the large sign outside that read "WARNING - this show involves large numbers of huge, hairy, sweating horses in a confined, airtight area. We are not responsible for problems or deaths caused by allergies." Or something to that effect, although it was phrased a lot nicer.
We hadn't even thought about this particular aspect of the show up until then. Jeff Stern, another known serious-allergic-reaction-to-animal-fur type, glanced at me with that "how could we have been so totally stupid?" look. "What do you think?" he asked. I thought for a moment, grimaced, and replied "Let's try it, and if it gets too bad, we can retreat to the bar and drink until we can't tell whether we're having an allergic reaction any more." "Great idea" commented Jeff.
We actually made it through about half the show before scrambling out of our seats, gasping and wheezing, and running for the exit. Drinking cognac on the bar patio, however, managed to relieve our suffering dramatically.
All kidding aside, even half the show was worth the price of admission. The arena was divided into six color coded sections; we were in the green section, which meant we were suppose to cheer for the Green Knight. The Green Knight, however, was easy to cheer for, since he was the official bad guy (all the other Knights were good guys). Above and beyond the fact that he was always introduced as "the vile and uncouth Green Knight," he acted like an evil knight. For instance, after a competition between the knights, the winners would be given roses to throw to the women in their section of the stands. The Green Knight rode over to the red section, leaned far out to hand a rose to an excited young girl in the first row of seats... and then snatched it back again when she stood up and reached for it. With an evil snicker, he rode over to our section an tossed the rose to someone in our section. Great fun.
Most of the competitions during the first half of the show were games done from horseback. Picking up rings on the end of a lance, or riding by a target with a spear at high speed and trying to impale the center circle were standard examples. It was difficult, it was amusing, and it was, odd as it may sound, beautiful. The arena was short enough that the horsemen would have to get their steeds up to speed very quickly. From a stand still, the rider would suddenly rise in his stirrups, and the horse would take off in a fantastic display of power, muscles bulging, rear hooves ripping up sand from the floor and sending it flying. They would move together in perfect unison, the rider absorbing the horses motion without apparent effort, his lance holding a straight, unwavering line. These guys could pick up a two inch diameter ring with the end of a twelve foot long lance two times out of three. I suddenly understood why some people are nuts about horses. The power, the grace, the beauty - a truly remarkable demonstration of man and beast in perfect harmony.
We also took one short vacation, recognizing the limited probability of anything like that for a while when we become tied down with little Brianna. We elected to spend some time in San Diego with Ben and Teresa Stern (and meeting Jeff and Ah'son Stern, Terry Lyzen, and his girlfriend, Jill, on one day as well). We spent a day and a half touring La Jolla, walking along the waterfront cliffs and beaches, and visiting the shops and little sidewalk cafes that inevitably seem to crowd the nicer areas on the Californian coast.
We also had an opportunity to stop at one of the spots from which macho, larger than life size guys and gals maim themselves for life by jumping off a cliff in hanggliders. Interestingly enough, modern materials and aerodynamics engineering has evolved the parachute into its own version of a hangglider. The old round chutes gave way a few years ago to the square chutes (the kind I used when I did my first and only skydive) that provide the capability to steer, and to control the speed of descent to some degree. The square ~-^,chutes have now in turn given way to something that looks like large gull wings; in a strong breeze, they fill out and soar like a kite. People on the cliff would literally get the wing in place with a few helpers hanging on to them for ballast, then just soar upwards into the sky.
On our last day in San Diego, we headed down to Sea World in order to experience first hand the joys of having a two thousand pound walrus spit on us. Actually, having a brain exceeding the size of a pea, we stayed out of the "blue" or "splash" zone in the the different shows, and thus found the walrus spitting to be a rather amusing part of the show, a view many spectators in the blue zone did not share. The Killer Whale show was as spectacular as always, and the sight of one of the trim, athletic trainers riding straight into the air on the nose of a mammal that weighs then times as much as our car, inches away from razor sharp teeth the size of carving knives, quickly brought up memories of many "Far Side" cartoons.
Well, that kind of sums things up. As you may or may not know, chances are high that you won't be hearing from us for a while. Busy or not, we'll try to keep in touch! And don't forget our next, exciting issue:
"BLISS FIVE - A thorough dissertation on the color and odor of baby poop"
Till next time...