Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Bluegrass Boys

The Rutledge crew ventured to Kentucky last week to see family and friends in Nashville, Clarksville, Paducah and Glasgow. It was a three-state, six day journey that enabled us to get out of Raleigh for the first time in ten months and allowed the boys to see many, many faces for the first time. Some highlights of our whirlwind adventure:

  • 1,080 miles by air
  • 390 miles by car
  • Three great aunts and uncles in Nashville (great-great aunts & uncles to the boys)
  • Aunts, uncles, grandparents in Clarksville
  • Carrot cake from Mary Margaret tasty enough to write home about
  • The boys napping with Aunt Melba and Aunt Susan
  • Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, nieces, nephews, neighbors, & co-workers in Paducah
  • Gus and Aunt Ashley as napping buddies in the recliner
  • Owen and Granddaddy sneaking in a nap as well
  • Birthday cake and presents (Have I ever mentioned that Amy is two days older than me?)
  • A great political discussion between Derek & Billy
  • A barbecue festival downtown on the river
  • Whiffle ball, hide-and-seek, Red Light/Green Light, and card tricks
  • The Jefferson Davis Monument
  • Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, a second cousin, high school friends, and neighbors in Glasgow
  • A typical Kentucky thrashing at the hands of the Florida Gators (19 years and counting....Go Big Blue)
  • More birthday cake and wacky birthday ice cream
  • Heartburn from so much birthday cake
  • Gus rolling over for the first time
  • An unwinding, late-night visit to the hot tub with a glass of wine in the rain
  • A humorous gas-passing exhibition for fellow travelers in the Nashville Airport
  • The boys' certificate from Southwest Airlines honoring their first plane rides

It was really good to make the trip back. We were really tired by Monday afternoon when we arrived back in North Carolina, but it was a fulfilling kind of tired. We have many, many pictures and yet only captured a fraction of the activities on our camera -- here are a few. Cheers everyone!

Nana wraps up Owen after a bath in the sink.

Aunt Rhonda and Uncle Ken get to see the boys for the first time.

Granddaddy shows Owen the art of "le nap."

Uncle Derek and Mason practice card tricks.

GJ and Pappy get some quality lap time with their grandsons.

Uncle Joe and Aunt Teresa meet the boys for the first time.

Pappy and the boys take in the breeze from the front porch.

Tucker was in great hands with our neighbors Chad & Claudia while we were gone. He was happy to see his mom and dad when we got home and was proud to show off a renewed, old talent of pulling my shoes out of the closet. Here he is posing in front of seven of my shoes -- all left shoes by the way. Odd indeed -- what a dog.

And finally, the boys crashed hard upon their return home.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Cereal Adventures

The boys have started cereal the past week. It is pretty much a nightly crap shoot whether they are going to eat happily or scream in unison between bites. They are still accustomed to sucking to get their food, so they try to suck on the spoon when it is brought to their mouths. It's pretty humorous. Here are some of the pictures to illustrate our nightly adventures. Even Dan the Man got into the feeding act when he was here this past weekend. Cheers!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Catch Up

It's been a week since our last post. Needless to say, it has been a hectic seven days at the Rutledge household. Owen was sick last week, followed by Amy. Gus caught a small piece of the bug towards the end of the week, but he & I seemed to avoid the worst of it. Still, there was a prevailing lack of sleep going on in our house for most of the week.

Last Tuesday marked the beginning of the rice cereal experiment for the boys. It is our first attempt at feeding the boys solid food. The first night was a disaster with both Amy & I ending up with most of it on the floor, on the boys' faces, and on their outfits -- little made it to the mouths. Owen screamed his way through the feeding, stopping only when the spoon was in his mouth. It was quite humorous -- now at least. We'll try to get some pictures up to illustrate -- funny stuff. Towards the end of the week they seemed to warm up to cereal a bit more.

Friday night we got a call from our friend Dan Wilkerson who had a three-day leave from Fort Bragg. He drove up to visit and get some R&R. Owen & Gus behaved much better this visit. The last time Dan came up the boys weren't sleeping through the night so this time was much more relaxing.

And on Sunday the boys got to meet our buddy Dave Jenkins and his dog Mack. It was good to catch up with Dave who we hadn't seen much in the past few months since he moved to the sprawling metropolis of Selma.

This week we get ready for our trip to Kentucky on Wednesday. We are looking forward to relaxing with family and friends and introducing the boys to those who have not seen them. The plane ride there may take a year or two off our lives with two little ones, but we'll make the best of it. Happy Monday everyone.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Sick Day

It has been a most trying day to say the least. Our little firecracker Owen has been sick the past 48 hours with congestion, coughing, and sneezing. He was restless last night as he sniffed, hacked and wheezed his way to short bursts of sleep. As this is our first experience with the "sick child" phenomenon, Amy and I were up most of the night checking in on him regularly.

Today Amy took Owen to the doctor where we learned he had contracted a virus that we will have to let run its course. Add Owen's cold-like symptoms and overall irritability with a relapse of Gus's acid reflux condition causing him to scream inconsolably during feedings and it spells a long day for the Rutledge herd.

I tried to work at home today to help Amy out, but found myself mostly dodging unhappy infants between teleconferences with work. When I did get the chance to help out by trimming Owen's monster fingernails, I clipped too close on his thumb causing it to bleed steadily for a solid five minutes. If there's one thing worse than not being able to comfort your child, it's not being able to comfort him and you're the reason his face is bright red and he's screaming for the heavens. Sigh. Later in the day we nearly filled our drawers when we saw spots of blood on his shirt and thought he had eaten the band-aid we had placed on his thumb. Luckily the band-aid had come off on one of his plastic rings and he was just happily gnawing away at his bleeding thumb.

Parenthood -- I guess there's no other way than to live through it. That's what we're learning.

"Who me?"

Yes, little booger I'm talking about you. Get well soon champ. Sorry about the thumb.

Mills vs. Ophelia

On Friday we were lucky to be visited by two dear friends, Jeff and Janet Mills from Louisville. They stopped in for the night on their way down to Charleston for some R&R. It was the first meeting with Owen & Gus and the first time Janet had been to NC to see us. It was a relaxing time filled with Amy's quesadillas, homemade peach salsa, Belgian ale, and good conversation.

Jeff and Janet were cautiously watching The Weather Channel to keep an eye on Hurricane Ophelia reports. Initially the forecasters projected Ophelia sweeping directly over Charleston. By the time they left on Saturday though, the storm was downgraded to a tropical storm and appeared to be headed north -- good news for our friends (and family who live in Charleston), potentially bad news for the Outer Banks portion of our state.

Nothing like time with old friends for a shot of rejuvenation.

Janet chills out with Gus and Tucker.

Jeff experiences first hand the writhing contortions of Owen.

Picnics, Ducks & Andy Griffith

Last week when I had a break from convicting chihuahua assassins Amy & I took time out to meet for a lunchtime picnic. We met at Pullen Park in Raleigh which was the first public park in North Carolina. The place is gorgeous, with a small lake, paddle boats, trails, a train for kids, and a carousel originally built in 1920. Being transplants, Amy & I often don't know enough about the history of Raleigh so it's good to get to a place like Pullen and learn about it.

The boys enjoyed being out in the fresh air as the heat of summer has started to break here. They mimicked their home behavior by waiting right until we sat down to eat to practice their dual shrieking banshee impersonations. At least other people at the park got to share in it.

Dad & Owen stop for a (rare) pose.

Amy & Gus hunt for wild, rare ducks.

Gus practices his "please take me home with you" look.

North Carolinians love their Andy Griffith, so much that they erected a statue of Andy & Opie. Side note -- in the 2000 race for governor here, a close election was blown open when our governor ran an ad with himself and Andy Griffith. He won the election going away. Moral: Get the Andy Griffith endorsement and you'll go far.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Jury Duty

I experienced a first this week -- jury duty, or jury "service" as the Charles Kuralt-narrated video explaining the process preferred it to be called. It was a very interesting experience -- one that gave me a good feeling for having served the public good by performing the old civic duty. But it was also one that left me somewhat frustrated at the realization that this is the process we have to judge guilt or innocence.

The case involved a guy who shot and killed his neighbor's dog, lied to the police about it, lied about owning the air rifle that killed the dog, then admitted and apologized to the act a day later saying it was an accident. The prosecution called a 14-year old boy and his mother that owned the dog and had watched the aftermath of the dog suffering, the policeman and animal control officer that investigated the case, and the veterinarian who performed the autopsy revealing that a gunshot had killed the dog. The defendant never testified, and there were no defense witnesses.

In North Carolina the law allows a person to be charged with misdemeanor cruelty to animals or felony cruelty to animals, with the differentiator being whether the act was one of malice or not. That was the jury's task -- to find the defendant guilty of a felony, a misdemeanor, or not guilty.

It was obvious the guy had shot the dog -- intentionally or not -- and we all agreed he should be charged with at least a misdemeanor offense. When the question of malice came up, six of the twelve (including myself) thought the defendant had acted out of malice. The other six did not think it was an act of malice.

Malice was defined to us as one of many things.

  • Hatred, ill will, or spite
  • the condition of mind which prompts a person to intentionally inflict serious harm or serious injury upon another without just cause, excuse or justification
  • the condition of mind prompting a person to intentionally engage in an act inherently dangerous to the health and safety of another with reckless indifference to the probable consequences of that act and without regard to any social duty
To me, the issue was cut and dry. I argued that a person who fires a gun in a subdivision at a yapping chihuahua -- regardless if he was trying to scare the dog and didn't intend to kill it -- was guilty of an act inherently dangerous to the health and safety of another with reckless indifference to the probable consequences of that act and without regard to any social duty. I looked at the case from a more literal perspective. Others disagreed though. They looked at the issue more broadly than just the definition of the law. They thought the guy made a bad choice, obviously regretted it, and shouldn't be tarnished for life with a felony on his record for that bad choice.

Deliberations got heated at times. After 2+ hours the two groups with differing opinions agreed that we weren't going to convince each other. So we found him guilty on the misdemeanor charge and called it a day. As a result I left the courthouse with an empty feeling like I needed closure. I didn't feel like our decision was the right one. On the positive side though, it was quite a lesson in dealing with different opinions and personalities in a group setting. Maybe Charles Kuralt would have at least applauded that.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Ode to Kentucky Football

I've been a Kentucky football fan since I can remember. I grew up loving the atmosphere of a college football game in Commonwealth Stadium -- the tailgating, the student section, the band, the rivalries, My Old Kentucky Home, and the gut-wrenching losses that leave you feeling empty and beaten. I believe the Kentucky football fan is one of the more tortured souls among sports fans. Like a Cubs fan waiting a lifetime for a World Series and like the recently pardoned Boston Red Sox fan, the Kentucky football fan endures like few others.

My beloved parents for example have been season ticket holders for 15 years or so. Every summer the application arrives for them to renew their seats. And every summer the discussion ensues on how C.E. just doesn't know if he can stand the losing anymore and Jane wonders if she'll even bother with the trek to Lexington by the third or fourth home game. Then the newspapers pump out some optimism about the players being faster this year. Talk shows hype players putting on 15 lbs. of muscle in the offseason -- the team has finally bought into the system you know. Before you know it logic and reason are ditched on the shoulder of the Blue Grass Parkway and a new season begins.

I share this passion for Kentucky football from 600 miles away -- it's in my blood. The flag flies outside my house on gameday, and the college football package is ordered on cable. The lack of logic and reason is not limited to the Bluegrass state after all. Deep down I believe the endless string of heartbreak losses -- and this is a long, long list -- will finally end with some Big Blue good fortune. A win to erase the hail mary loss to LSU, the fourth quarter Lorenzen meltdown to Florida in 2003, the Billy Jack Heisman -- er Haskins -- near upset of Tennessee in 1995, the Marty Moore dropped interception to Clemson in the Peach Bowl, the last minute loss to Steve Spurrier's Florida team in 1993, and last year's near stunner in Knoxville against Tennessee. I told you this was a long list -- and these are just the disappointments that I can remember. Kentucky football heartbreakers certainly go back further than my memories.

So as I sat to watch the Louisville game yesterday with Gus in my lap I wondered, "Should I be passing this on to my son? Shouldn't he have a clean slate and not be bound to a college football program so intertwined with disappointment?" Nah. The kid needs to learn the harsh realities of life just like the rest of us. Sure enough by halftime Louisville had pounced on the Cats 28-7, and I thought the rout was on.

Then something unexpected happened. The Cats came out and took it to Louisville in the second half. They cut the lead to 10 points. The halftime adjustments had them moving the ball in the second half, and their defense was stuffing Louisville's high-powered offense. By this point I have Owen in my carrier as both boys need to experience the ups and downs of rabid sports fandom. The Cats cut the lead to seven and block a punt. They're about to score and quiet the naysayers and doomsdayers with a stunning upset!

Fumble. On the two yard line.

Ok, that's more like it. That's the disappointment a true Kentucky fan has come to expect and endure. See, to a Kentucky fan it's not really if you win -- it's how close you get to winning when it's unexpected and how some play inevitably occurs that separates actual victories from moral victories. I explain to the boys that this is a very important lesson, and they've just read chapter one.

Chapter Two is the upbeat one where we realize that despite the loss, the Cats never should have been in the game to begin with. Kentucky was a three-touchdown underdog with a snowball's chance. Their young and untested team had too many unanswered questions to put up a fight. And despite all this, there is hope and promise that this season could produce some unexpected promise. It's the chapter that keeps you coming back for more, wondering if maybe that next big game could be the one that erases the laundry list of heartbreakers.

I'll be back for more chapters -- Owen and Gus likely will as well. After all, it's in the blood that bleeds blue.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Thoughts on a Wretched Week

The events in the world this week have made this one of the most difficult I can remember. Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath have consumed our television and radio and our thoughts and discussions the past six days. In addition to the hurricane and despite receiving little media coverage, there was more tragedy in Iraq this week when more than 900 Shi'ite Muslims were killed in a panic-filled stampede amid rumors of suicide bombers on a bridge over the Tigris River. This week magnified human suffering.

Like most Americans I suppose, the situation in the Gulf Coast captivated me despite the equally tragic situations elsewhere in the world. Every outlet I turned to for information -- TV, radio, the internet -- was covering the hurricane. The technology we have in this day and age is phenomenal -- we see photos in newspapers, live camera feeds from helicopters, streaming video on the internet, personal accounts on blogs. Yet despite all the technology that connects us, I still felt disconnected and helpless as I watched on television as people were desperate for help.

By Wednesday when little to no help had arrived in New Orleans, I grew very frustrated and angry. There is no excuse for the slow response to the victims of the hurricane. The government's lack of response for five days led to increased suffering for those who did make it out alive and deaths to other people that could have. In the twenty-first century in the richest and most technologically advanced society in the world, it is hard to believe we couldn't reach the people hit the hardest by the hurricane.

In a scathing editorial Sunday, the Times-Picayune in New Orleans published an open letter to the President that was highly criticial of the government's response. I share the opinion voiced here that the government, whose fundamental purpose is to serve the people it represents, failed the people in Louisiana this past week. I also share the opinion with many people critical of President Bush's reaction to the tragedy. I do not blame the Bush administration for the tragedy itself, but I do blame the president for a defining lack of leadership in the hurricane aftermath. When he finally toured the Gulf coast after returning from his vacation, he once again fell back on talking points, platitudes, and rose-colored, disingenuous analysis of the situation -- just as he does when he talks to Americans about the realities in Iraq. His response on camera to FEMA director Michael Brown this week, "You're doing a heck of a job Brownie." It is time for people to demand answers, not talking points and photo ops.

I hope two things come out of this tragedy in the Gulf -- accountability and frank discussion. For the first time in a long time, I was impressed with the way the national media covered the hurricane. The media helped bring images and stories to the forefront that many in charge with the national response would not have known about otherwise. The reporters were aggressive, demanding, and fair which is absolutely what we need the media to be in our society. The second outcome I hope for is frank discussion -- discussion in the government with facts about what went wrong with the response, who was responsible, and what we can do in the future to prevent another mismanaged response. I also hope there is frank discussion about race -- the overwhelming majority of the people left behind in New Orleans were poor and they were black. If we hide from that reality, it only does us a disservice and further deepens the plight of poor, black Americans.

Hopefully we see some leadership in the coming months to move us in the right direction.