Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Cloud of Axe, a Cup of Rum, and Ben

The other night, I squinted through the swirling miasma of Axe body wash clouding the interior of my car. The semi-formal dance at my son's school was obviously an occasion that required him to smell like some sort of mid-range, 13 year-old gigolo.

"The girls love this stuff," he assured me. "Could you close your window? It's kind of cold in here."

This question, by the way, from the boy who is–I am not kidding–allergic to cold and absolutely refuses to wear anything warmer than a sweatshirt, no matter what the temperature.

I gagged, wiped my eyes, and tried to focus on not breathing for the entire 35 minute drive to his school.

If the girls do indeed love the musky, manly, overwhelming aroma of Axe, then I can only assume it is because it deprives their brains of oxygen, thus muddling their thinking. Perhaps the boys are confusing the effects of oxygen deprivation with olfactory delight.

Whatever the truth, everyone within a half-mile of the dance was able to inhale several lifetimes' worth of the heady aroma at the dance. Huge, billowing clouds of Axe swirled dangerously from the entrance to the school, roiling in oily, undulating waves across the parking lot, enveloping everything it reached.

Not wanting to be the next victim of Axe-phyxiation™ (I just invented that word. It's MINE.), I slowed my car and instructed Alex to jump as I drove by. "Tuck and roll!" I yelled over the thumping bass rumbling from the bowels of the school. "You'll be fine. And don't rip your new pants!"

Alex jumped from the car and, I can only assume, rolled into the parking lot, relatively unharmed. Just as I gunned the engine to make my escape before the hungry cloud of Axe could envelope me, a shadowy shape flickered through the fog and my buddy Ben dived through the still open door of my car.

"GO! GO! GO!" he screamed, slamming the door shut as the tires on my super-charged Camry exploded on the Axe-slick pavement. We raced from the parking lot in a desperate attempt to save ourselves.

As we pulled out onto the road, Ben sniffed tentatively at his coat and rolled down his window. "I think some of it is clinging to me. There's only one thing that can overpower the smell of Axe. Indian food."

I nodded and stomped on the accelerator.

Ben has been my best friend since we were 10 years old. He knows me better than anyone. He knows about my weakness for Indian food. He knows everything. Except the exact location of the great new Indian restaurant he heard about.

"It's somewhere over by the mall," he told me with assurance.

That narrowed the possible location down to a few hundred clustered strip malls that swarm around the big mall like ramoras clinging to the belly of a shark.

This is how directions from Ben work and, through some mystery of the universe, they are enough. He once gave Kerri and me directions to a lake house he was staying at. The directions included the phrase, "When you go through town, there's a place where a bunch of roads come together. You'll find the right one. It will just feel right."

And we found it. Just as, after missing it only once, Ben and I found the stark, florescently lit Grand India, or whatever it was called. We snaked our way through crowds of Christmas shoppers and pulled to a stop in the parking lot, the last wispy tendrils of Axe swirling harmlessly off my car and into the night.

We opened the door and a cloud of desperation, tinged with curry wafted out to greet us. Or, possibly, to warn us. Not heeding that warning or the warning that the restaurant contained a sole, depressed-looking customer on a Friday night in the busiest part of town in the busiest shopping season of the year.

We marched in and stood there for a few moments wondering how to proceed. There was a buffet set, with enticing, hand-written signs announcing a variety of dishes, all of which looked vaguely soupy and similar. The sole customer hung his head low over his plate an sullenly moved food to his mouth. No restaurant employees were to be seen anywhere.

We stood for a minute, wondering what to do. "Let's take a seat and see what happens," I suggested, my mind obviously still under the pernicious hold of Axe-phyxiation™. What I should have said, of course, was, "Shall we seek another establishment in which we may find sustenance?"

But alas, we sat down and waited patiently until an angry face popped out of the kitchen door and eyed us suspiciously. "Buffet?" he growled.

I looked at Ben and shrugged. "Sure," he said to the angry face.

Our kind host irritably jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the general direction of the buffet table before disappearing back into the suspiciously silent kitchen.

We made our way to the buffet and, with less enthusiasm than should have been expected on such an occasion, filled our plates. I will not bore you with a review of the individual dishes, but neither of us will be returning there.

With 2 hours left to kill before we had to pick up our kids at the dance, we decided that the only reasonable option available to us was to head to the Chinese food place across the street from the school and use alcohol as a solvent to wash the taste of dinner from our mouths.

We pulled into the parking lot and Ben pointed to another restaurant in the same building, which, I feel compelled to point out here, is only 1,000 yards from the school.

"That's a really good Indian place," he said.

Once in the Chinese restaurant, we pushed through the crowd at the bar and settled in at a table for 8 in the back of the lounge. Once the Mai Tais were delivered, we scoured our mouths and talked.

And talked

And talked

And talked.

Although we have been friends for over three decades,  we usually have a lot to talk about. And when we don't, the silences that settle upon us are comfortable. I've found that the older Ben and I get, the more different we become, but those differences do not separate us. If anything, they make us closer.

The talk spiraled from art to food to old friends to stuff I'm not going to write here because it's none of your darned business.

As the evening wound down and the time to gather our kids came upon us, we sucked the last of the rum from the ice cubes in our sweating glasses and walked into the cold parking lot.

"Have you ever noticed how talking to other adults is usually really boring?" I asked Ben.

"Yeah!" he laughed.

Then I launched into a mind-numbingly boring story about repairs I had recently performed on my car's exhaust system.

And you want to know what a good friend Ben is? He didn't even comment on how boring my story was and the bitter, unpleasant coincidence of the fact that I had just commented on how boring adults are.
At least, he didn't comment out loud.
That's what kind of buddy Ben is.

We pulled into the parking lot of the school, the Axe fog now diluted by swirling puffs of exhaust from parents who–it appeared–sat in the parking lot, diddling on their cel-phones with their engines idling for the entire dance.

Ben jumped from the car and made a dash for his truck before the fumes could overwhelm him. We collected our kids and made our separate ways home.

It wasn't until the next morning that I discovered Ben's hat in the passenger seat of my car. I would hate for him to have a cold head and think that we'll have to get together again so I can return it to him.

After I wash the Axe smell out of it, of course.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Even Less Fun Than It Appears

Here is how it went:
This always seems much funnier in cartoons.

Me: Whoa... oh, oh, AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! [Incredibly foul word, yelled loudly and emphatically with great passion and volume.]

Kerri: What was... Holy [slightly less foul word, because she is a lady]!!

Me: [Piteous moaning, punctuated by repetition of the same word, but with less passion and volume.]

Kerri: Are you okay?

Me: I think so. I can still feel my toes. They hurt. So do my knees. And my butt. Does the ceiling look really bad?

Kerri: It doesn't look as good as it did before. Are you sure you're okay?

Me: It's only an assumption at this point, but aside from the incredible pain and the blood seeping through my pants, I appear to be okay.

Kerri: You're sure?

Me: Yes.

Kerri: Then, can I take a picture?

Me: [More moaning, a few more oaths and foul words.] Yeah. I guess. This will probably be funny later. I'm glad I wore pants today.

My generous neighbor–whom I now hate–gave us 100 square feet of very nice hardwood flooring that she had leftover from a job at her house. So, I had to install it. The only place that seemed reasonable, and was under 100 square feet, was in the upstairs hallway of our 200 year old house where nothing ever goes smoothly or without bloodshed.

I considered just leaving it like this, but the blood-stains clashed with the walls.

Naturally, this simple flooring project evolved into an elaborate horror show of ripping up old flooring and then, in a surprise turn of events, slipping on the nail-studded exposed floor joists and falling through the ceiling in a hilariously painful manner. I didn't go all the way through thanks to a strategically placed stud that allowed me to break my fall with my crotch.

See how hilarious my knee looks?

Warning, you just looked at a disgusting picture. Sorry. I should have warned you sooner.

So far, the free flooring my neighbor–whom I used to like a lot–gave us, has cost us over $250 in materials, not including medical supplies. And we're just getting started.

Next time, she can keep her left-overs.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Heavily Salted Lake & Lightly Salted Peanuts

Come on. Gather 'round and I'll tell you a story. A story full of intrigue, excitement,  full body searches, and lightly salted peanuts.

A long, long time ago, my buddy, the author and illustrator Dave Biedrzycki (pronounced "Smith"), sent me a top secret email that contained email addresses for some of his favorite author visit contacts. As instructed, I read the list, committed it to memory, and ate it -  which was more difficult than you might think and resulted in me having to buy a brand new computer, thank you very much, Dave.

After I got the new computer up and running, I sent out emails to those people on the list, detailing the many wonderful reasons they should have me come to their school and talk to their students about how to be an author. Just a few days later, I got an email from Donita Hughes at Grace Lutheran School in Sandy, Utah asking me to come visit.

Thanks, Dave!

Donita told me about their annual Author Festival and said that they'd fly me out there to talk to the students at the school.

I thought, "How cool is that? I can get one of those full body searches from the TSA that everyone seems so keen on these days. And probably some peanuts on the plane! I'm IN!"

I made my arrangements, packed my bags, and headed off to the airport. Then I remembered that I still had several months to go before the visit so I went home again.

Last Sunday, all my months of eager waiting were finally over. I headed off to the airport all atwitter with anticipation. And a small measure of dread. I haven't flown in a LONG time and I'll admit that I was a bit concerned by all the horror stories I'd heard about TSA screening. I didn't want to go through the full body scanner (Public Service Announcement: The scanners are OPTIONAL. Anyone can opt out. You don't need extra radiation in your body, people.)  and I had heard that the TSA folks made the opt-out process unpleasant.  I'm happy to report that all I did was ask to opt out, they took me around, gave me a quick, polite pat down and sent me on my way. No problem.

Once in the airport, I was free to wander around aimlessly until my flight was ready for boarding. My quick flight to Detroit was made even more delightful by two packets of complimentary "Lightly Salted Peanuts - Warning: Contains Nuts".

Detroit Airport, for those who have never had the pleasure, is a garden of earthly delights for the weary traveler. I began my adventure by traveling through the eerily green, throbbing Tunnel of Love.
Many fellow travelers did not appreciate the disco party I tried to organize.
I'm not certain that the airport officials actually refer to it as the Tunnel of Love, but I enjoyed it so much that I can think of it in no other terms. The lights along the tunnel changed color in time to the music thumping through the speakers. If not for my dedication to my job, I may have skipped Utah entirely and spent 3 days sitting in the tunnel, lost in its transcendent beauty.

But I had a duty to uphold and a school to visit, so I forged onward to the next terminal so I could find my gate. Rising from the tunnel, I beheld...

A mall.

At least, I assumed it was a mall. It had all the mall requirements: fast food, stores full of overpriced stuff, and hoards of people wandering aimlessly, staring at their phones. I was distressed by this until I saw a flash of red zip past over head. See it in the picture? Look closely. That's right. A little train zips endlessly back and forth, back and forth, back and forth high above the heads of the ordinary peasants forced to labor on their own two legs.

With several hours until my flight, guess who spent quite some time riding back and forth on the train?


Oh yeah, baby. Reaching a dizzying top speed of maybe 9 miles per hour, I felt like a superhero racing to and fro in the airport, searching for bad guys.

I didn't find any, however. Probably because the TSA guys were busy patting them all down.

Delta also has a help center that graciously provides temporary housing for people who have missed connecting flights.
I napped here for a few minutes.

In my wanderings, I also discovered that Detroit is nothing if not generous with its water supply.

After a half hour or so of flushing, I tired of standing around in the stall and wandered off to my gate where I was whisked away to Utah on another flight featuring even more lightly salted peanuts.

Utah–for those of you, like me, who have only been over or around it before–is really, stunningly lovely.

Here's the sunrise view out my hotel room window.

Have you ever seen prettier lights on a Wendy's restaurant?

No, but seriously. Look.

 My delightful hostess, Donita  picked me up and took me to Grace Lutheran School where I was greeted by even more amazing views.

Has your school got a view like this from the parking lot? If so, hire me so I can come to your school to verify your claim.

And here I am with Donita. Please note that she is much more photogenic than I.

A brilliant picture of up my nose and the lovely Donita.
Everyone in the school was wearing tattoos of Twelve Terrible Things in a brilliant, but slightly flawed attempt to win my "Free Books For Life" Contest.

It was hilarious, but I had to disqualify them because the winning tattoos cannot actually peel off.  I'm a stickler like that.
Donita said that she suspected there might be some upset parents if they tattooed all the kids without permission.
I say you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
We have agreed to disagree on the matter.

They had also created a wonderful bulletin board.

I seem to have hit a nerve with my dislike of Wal-Mart and cell phones. Sorry, guys. I'm not sure why they object to my barnyard pets, however. Probably because I didn't buy them at Wal-Mart and supply them with cell phones.

I particularly enjoyed this child, stranded in this locker in his undies.

And this brilliant rendering of a scene from Fame, Fortune, and the Bran Muffins of Doom.

My new friend Lilly also had me sign her cast.

Maybe someday she can hock this on eBay.

The kids and teachers were a lot of fun and I had an awesome time, but all good things must come to an end - though I've never been sure why that is.

The day wound to a close and I staggered back to the hotel (and by "staggered" I mean that Donita drove me) and I suffered through a few grueling minutes in the hot tub. Nobody said that being an author is easy.

Donita picked me up for dinner and reported that I had managed to displease at least one student because I had yet to post anything on my blog about their school. It had, after all, been nearly an hour.

But now it's written. Here it is. So, you happy now, kid? Huh? Huh?

I dragged Donita, possibly against her better judgement, to a great Indian restaurant where we enjoyed a toe-curlingly delicious meal. She then gave me a brief tour of Salt Lake City where I saw, along with the mind-bogglingly huge headquarters of the LDS church, the most amazing spectacle I have witnessed in my entire life:

A single street corner with 3 separate taco carts on it. THREE!!!

I could be wrong, but it appears that Salt Lake City may be the new taco headquarters of the universe.

There was also a Himalayan Restaurant that I'm dragging Donita to if I ever go back to Utah. At least, I'll go there if lightly salted peanuts go well with yak milk.

I saved some from the flight home. Just in case.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Let's Get This Party Started. And Ended.

Obviously, my life as an author and illustrator is filled with a constant, endless maelstrom of parties, one after the other, each more opulent, decadent, and luxurious than the one before it. I spend all my waking hours wandering from one party to the next, sampling delectable foods, drinking the finest wines, and chatting intelligently with the best-looking, best-smelling people on the planet.

Yesterday, however, I attended a party that eclipsed all the others.

Because it had bran muffins at it.

And not only were there bran muffins, but my mother was there throwing the bran muffins at innocent, hapless passers-by.

It is fortunate that my mother has fairly bad aim or I'd likely have a lawsuit on my hands.

Yesterday was the Book Release Party for my new chapter book, Fame, Fortune, and the Bran Muffins of Doom.

See how Book Release Party is in uppercase letters? That's how awesome the party was.

A book release party is just like a huge, fancy cocktail party, but without the cocktails and fanciness. In exchange for the fanciness and cocktails, you get a bran muffin thrown at you by my mother. I've never actually hosted a book release party before, always opting in the past to simply sit alone in my studio and silently hope that millions of people would spontaneously arise, walk to the bookstore, and purchase my books in bulk.

Because when you're an author, you never know. You never know if you'll ever have another good idea. You never know whether your next book will get published. You never know if people will like your book. You never know when you'll have to give up this foolish dream of being an author and go get a real job. There are a lot of things that you never know.

It's always frightening to unleash a book into the world. It's frightening and exciting and thrilling and terrifying and amazing all at once. Sort of like getting a burrito from a sketchy looking street vendor at midnight in an unfamiliar city.

This most recent book, in particular, was scary for me. After 14 years of creating picture books where the word count rarely broke the 800 mark, I had written a chapter book with over 20,000 words in it. I'm no math whiz, but you can see for yourself that that is almost a seventeen-bajilliondy-thousand percent increase in the total number of words. It was a big change for me.

The book was nearly five years in the making (I'm certain about the math on that one). It was a daunting process to create it and I was (and remain) nervous about it. When Advance Reader Copies of the book were released to reviewers, the very first review of it was, for want of another word, a stinker.

The reviewer hated the very things that I loved so much about the book.

That hurts.

And when it's the first feedback you get after releasing your work–the work that you spent so much time on, worked so hard on, and are so proud of–it's upsetting. It makes you question your work.

So I was nervous going into this Book Release Party. I was haunted by questions: What if nobody shows up? What if it's just me and a small group of mildly disgruntled bookstore employees? Will people really like the book, or are they just coming for the free bran muffins?

So I hounded my friends and family incessantly, reminding them about the party, offering bribes, prizes, free stuff, anything I could to make them want to give up some precious free time on a Saturday and come to a bookstore and have bran muffins thrown at them by my mother.

Arriving at the Toadstool Bookstore (my favorite book store in the universe), I was greeted with a brilliantly rendered sign, welcoming everyone to the party.

I'll bet Stephen King never had a sign this cool at a book signing.
And a sweet display of my books.

And after that, things just got better and better. Loads of people showed up. Friends, family, old high school friends, people I didn't know, people I should have known but didn't, and random street lunatics who wandered in, thinking Stephen King was signing books.

Many of the people that came were kids who I did not know.

My good friend Tim "Mr. Putnam" Putnam is a fifth grade teacher. He  read my book to his class and  told them all about the book release party. I believe his actual words to his students were, "If you want to pass fifth grade, you'd better be at that party." Or possibly, "Anyone who doesn't go to that party will never get recess again."

I don't know what his exact words were, but they had the result of many, many kids dragging their parents to the store and many, many parents telling me, "This is all he has been talking about for the past three weeks." And, "I've heard so much about how funny this book is." And, "Excuse me, where is Stephen King?"

But the kids loved the book. Or they were very good liars. Which made up completely for that lousy first review, because I didn't write the book for reviewers. I wrote it for kids and they liked it. So stuff that up yer nose, Kirkus.

I was even able to gather up an unsuspecting band of victims to help perform a dramatic reading of a selection from the book.
These kids were AWESOME. And please note the happy crowd that gathered for this auspicious event.

It was so cool that I gave every kid who came a homework pass like this.

Please feel free to print this out and give it a try with your teacher. Let me know how it goes.

I raffled off an original piece of art from the book. Kelly, the proud winner will likely have it laminated and use it as a placemat or something. At least, that's what I'd do.

Kelly is probably wondering where she can hide this in her house so nobody will ever see it.

My pal Brennan was kind enough to bring me a mask being offered with another author's book. He declined to let me draw a booger on his mask, however.

I may start wearing this everywhere.
I was flattered and humbled by how many people showed up.

And I was amazed at the number of kids who lined up and asked my mother to throw a bran muffin at them; something that likely need a word of explanation.

When I am writing a book, I often toss in names of friends and family members as characters. Sometimes they remain, sometimes they go.  In this book, there is a cranky old lady living next door to the main character. She constantly foils his plans by throwing bran muffins at him and his friends. I named the old lunatic Mrs. Annand.

Which also happens to be my mother's name.

And the name stuck. My mother felt compelled to clear her good name and prove that she is not a cranky, muffin-launching lunatic by coming to the party and throwing bran muffins at kids. I'm going to have her explain the logic of that to me at some point.

After she runs out of muffins.

But it worked. Kids lined up–I am not kidding, they lined up–to have muffins thrown at them.

Kids are weird like that.

And people are awesome like that.

It was an amazing day. Frightening and exciting and thrilling and terrifying and amazing all at once. In the next book, I'll make sure the cranky old lady next door throws something better than bran muffins, though.

Maybe burritos.

A sincere thank you to everyone who came out and made it such a fantastic time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And Bears. Oh, My.

You'd think that a sign like that would be enough to scare most people away, so they'd go back to their houses, drop onto the couch with a bag of chips and a quart of dip and say, "Well, I made an honest effort to climb that mountain, but I just didn't wish to be listed as a Bear Related Incident."

Because "Bear Related Incidents" are not often written up in the papers like, "In the fourth Bear Related Incident reported this summer, a small group of local hikers was given a rare treat yesterday along Galehead Trail. A trio of friendly, bow-tie wearing bears rolled out of the woods on unicycles just 20 feet away from where the hikers were taking a granola break. The bears juggled, played instruments, and made balloon animals for the hikers before heading back into the forest."


Bear Related Incidents are generally a bit more grim and contain fewer balloon animals and more carnage.

I saw this sign for what it was. A sign. A sign to abandon this silly notion of hiking along bear-infested trails. Julie–who is giddy with the prospect of completing her quest to summit all of NH 4,000 foot mountains within the next millennium–did not listen to my plaintive wails. She forged onward and upward toward the craggy summit, a scant 5 miles directly above our heads.

And she made me hike it twice.

I don't want to sound bitter about this, but I want to be very clear about the fact that I AM BITTER ABOUT THIS.

We climbed that bear-crusted mountain twice and it's all Julie's fault. Then, she had the temerity to berate me for not writing about the first time we hiked it.

Actually, she had the temerity to berate me for not writing about two other hikes, as well. So to get her off my back, I will cram 3 hikes and 4 mountains into this one, bear-filled post.

Long ago, we dragged my son, Alex along with us to hike North and South Kinsman Mountains. I had just purchased my very first pair of hiking boots and was delighted with their shiny awesomeness to the point that I included them in almost every photograph that I took on that hike. I didn't want the boots to get upset and give me blisters.

Scenic View of My Boot.
Lonesome Lake. And my Boot.
This gentle 10 mile stroll took us past Lonesome Lake and the Lonesome Lake Hut. While approaching the hut, if you listen carefully, you can hear the haunting sounds of a bunch of hippies sitting on the roof, singing a Grateful Dead song.

Arriving at the hut, you are greeted with a stairway to nowhere.
Complete with Doorknob.
My suspicion is that this is how the hippies who run the hut get rid of unwanted hikers.

"Sure, man," they'll say. "You can stay here for free. Just head up the back stairs and the first room you come to is all yours."

Then they climb back up on the roof for another 3 hour rendition of Truckin'.

I tried to send Alex into the hut this way, but that kid is way too smart for those kinds of shenanigans.
Plus, he could smell free food from about a mile down the trail. I tried to convince him that it was just the aroma of hippies, baking in the sun, but being a 13 year old boy, he can sniff out food scents at 1 part per bajillion in the atmosphere.

Who can resist the siren call of a free, cold, leftover pancake? Not Alex. He ate them all. Not true. Julie and I both had one, too. Don't judge us. It was a long hike.
They also tease you with the idea that there may be clean spoons on the premises, but there are none.

Heavy with pancakes and redolent of hippie stink, we headed onward toward the summit where we found a guy enjoying the splendor of nature by checking his email. 

If it's not on Facebook, it didn't happen. Better let everyone know where I am.

His friend, who sadly does not appear in any of my photos because my boot was getting jealous, was hiking with an ingenious contraption that allowed him to broadcast Metallica from his backpack for everyone within a half mile to enjoy. It was the first hike I have experienced with a soundtrack, if you don't include the hippies singing the Dead.

Which I don't.

I was visited again by the strange and terrifying Sweat Bunny.
As we sat, perched on the ledge, overlooking miles of stunning landscape, awash in the soothing strains of Metallica, I told Alex that if he made binoculars with his hands, they would actually work because of the odd properties of light at higher elevations.

That kid is so gullible.

Someday he will appreciate how hilarious I am. That day has yet to come, however.

Julie taking a picture of herself behind Alex and my boot. Metallica was still playing in the background.

A delightful feature of the mountains we were on is the fact that they have more than one lake on them. Lonesome Lake, as I mentioned, is home to the rare and elusive Mountain Hippie.  Much farther up the mountain is a tiny lake whose name I cannot remember and do not care to look up right now.
Bonus, Hippie-Free Lake.
It was thither that we hiked next, as it was on our way home and seemed far enough away from the Metallica guy. And if not, we figured we could drown him in the lake.

Once there, Julie–perhaps addled by the thin mountain air–attempted to walk across the lake.

Even the classic hand position did little to help Julie walk on water.

She almost made it, too. She only had about 1,000 yards to go before she sank.

On the shores of Hippie-Free lake was a delightful little campground where you would be guaranteed not to find any obnoxious people "camping" in RVs with 72" flat screen TVs mounted to the outside.

The campground amenities included one water spigot, one pit toilet with the delicate suggestion that the toilet is available for "solid waste" and that "liquid waste" might be more effectively disposed of in the woods.

There was also a giant house-like structure on the shore of the lake where you could seek shelter from hippies should the need arise.

My boot at the log cabin where President Lincoln was probably not born.

It was a very cool place, although Alex was reluctant to take up permanent residence there, despite my claims that he could play his lousy music all the time and it wouldn't bother me any more.

The rest of the hike was a simple glide across several hundred miles of hellish terrain, followed by ice cream, as is the custom.

Julie, perhaps still suffering the effects of the oxygen-deprived atmosphere of the mountain, actually got Cappuccino Crunch and Play-Doh ice cream.


I'm sure that you will all join me in wishing her a speedy recovery.

Let us never speak of this ice cream abomination again.

Instead, let's talk about the bear-filled mountain that Julie made me climb.


Remember that?

Yeah. Me too. We went on this hike, originally planning to summit Galehead and South Twin in one spectacular, thrilling climb. It was a long climb to Galehead Hut, then the trail split into a Y. We planned on going up one way, then back down and up the other way.

But we didn't and I'm not one to cast blame, but IT'S ALL JULIE'S FAULT!

We hiked up and summited South Twin and then went home. So we had to go back to hike Galehead a second time. The next time, we tricked Alex into coming along again by telling him that there would be more free pancakes.

There were not. Instead, there were bear warning signs and suicidal mushrooms and mud that looked like delicious chocolate cake.

Rather than write about two more hikes that were essentially the same hike, WHICH IS ALL JULIE'S FAULT, I'm going to combine them into one dizzying and confusing post.

Our hike started off with Alex, or without, depending on which one you're talking about. And I don't know which one I'm talking about yet, so we'll have to see how it all goes.

Was Alex there?

Or not?
 The hike started out as a gentle stroll
Nice and easy.
Before banking slightly upwards toward the sky.

Less easy.

The trial itself was littered with dozens of mushrooms that had decided that life as a mushroom was not one worth living.

It appeared that these mushrooms had given up all hope, climbed into the trees and cast themselves downward, littering the trail with their carcasses.

It turns out that we were all wrong in thinking that, however. Seriously. Who ever heard of suicidal mushrooms. That's just crazy talk.

We eventually found out that these mushrooms had been destroyed by the evil Gargamel, who has prowled the woods of New Hampshire for decades in search of Smurfs. We know this because Smurfette herself told us.

She even posed for a picture before Alex grabbed her and ate her.

 Being a constantly starving 13 year old boy, Alex naturally mistook Smurfette for a tasty piece of Nature Candy and ate her. He desperately needed to get the bitter taste of Smurf Tartar out of his mouth, so I directed him to a pancake that someone had helpfully left by the side of the trail.

More Free Pancakes!

He was not amused.

Arriving at Galehead Hut, the taste of Smurf still burning Alex's mouth, he refilled his water bottle.
It may sound like a simple thing, but water is, it appears, such a precious commodity on the mountain that they guard it with an ingenious trap.

Alex is desperate enough to wash the taste of Smurf away that he risks filling up at the Sink of Damocles. Please note the sword dangling precariously over his head

You'd better REALLY want that water.
The hut also provides a wide selection of books. And every single one of them is about hiking. Because after hiking all day, what could be better than reading about more hiking?

The view outside the hut on the first hike was somewhat limited.

The second time, that same view was significantly improved.

On hike number one–did I mention that I had to do this hike twice BECAUSE OF JULIE?– we arrived at the summit of South Twin to find several thru-hikers making their way along the Appalachian Trail. The peculiar, stinging odor of thru-hiker is visible as fog on the summit.

Thru-hiker stink clouding up the view from the summit.

The climb to the summit of South Twin was brutal, something I will never admit to Julie, because then she will know that I actually didn't really want to do that second summit, even though we were this close.

We only had to get to that little hill in the background.

But BECAUSE OF JULIE, NOT ME, we had to come back a second day and do it all over again. The summit of Galehead was actually something of a let-down.

Guidebooks refer to this as an "enclosed summit". I refer to it as a "rip-off".

To keep people from demanding a refund, Mother Nature has thoughtfully provided a scenic lookout, easily recognized by this natural signal.

Once at the lookout, Alex and Julie were overcome with the desire to look like models from an ad for hiking clothes.

Would you buy clothes from these two?
My own modeling attempt is less successful.

Hiking pirate!

Alex, however, kept trying.

Alex attempts to model for an energy drink commercial.

And fails miserably by gagging, an activity that advertising people do not care to associate with their drinks.

Before we descend to the cars and ice cream, Julie assures us that we are not, no matter what it looks like, in any way, lost.
No. We are not lost. Julie just wanted something to read. A map was handy. That's all.

And see that knee brace Julie is wearing? Sometimes during a hike, her knee bothers her, so she keeps that brace handy in case she needs it. The problem, of course, is that she failed to read the directions before putting it on. As a result, its usefulness has been compromised somewhat.

Julie tries in vain to slip the knee brace on over her head. Duh, Julie.

Still not working right. Duh, Julie.
If anyone knows how to use that stupid thing, please tell her. It's really annoying listening to her whimper and moan about how much pain she's in during the hikes.

We made our way down the mountain, Julie limping along and adjusting her knee brace every few inches and Alex complaining about how hungry he was. I directed Alex to some delicious, fudgy chocolate cake that some helpful person had left in the middle of the trail.

Mmmm. Tasty.

He was not amused.

We trudged endlessly through the woods, talking exclusively about ice cream until we came to the lair of The Bog Monster from a Scooby Doo cartoon.

We laughed heartily as it rose up from the murky depths and ate Alex.

Nice knowing you, kid.
Back at the car, I took the opportunity to remind Julie that we had to hike that mountain twice BECAUSE OF HER. Plus, I sort of blamed her for my son being eaten by a Bog Monster. We were just packing up to go get some ice cream when Alex staggered out of the woods.

Yay! He didn't get eaten!
I was so happy to see him again that I bought him some Play Doh ice cream.

He was not amused.