Monday, December 31, 2012

Et tu, Legos?

I love Legos.  Correction:  I love old-school, random piece, let-your-imagination-go Legos. The new-style of heavily-engineered, piece specific, commercialized Lego packs, I could live without.

Don’t get me wrong.  I truly enjoyed building the Lego Friends Café© with my 6 year old daughter this Christmas.  It was a quality hour-plus of child parent bonding and building, including a stretch of time I spent alone cursing the microscopic plastic cutlery while she ate lunch.  When we finished, the family adored our creation, and my daughter played with it pretending to be the waitress.  And when her younger sister joined in, she moved up to the café owner, and the younger one became the waitress. 

Lego Friends Cafe - note the missing front railing and the
paultry amount of flowers in the window box.  
The whole Friends Café fun – construction to grand opening -- was a lesson in engineering, hard-work, cooperation and, apparently, growing a small business.  All with minimal creativity required (other than the imaginary play part). 

Then, of course, our 2 year-old decided to do his Godzilla impersonation. Lego people screaming.  Café parts everywhere. Total construction/play/destruction time: two and a half hours.   Eventually, we cleaned up and put all the Café pieces back in the general population Lego bin, a collection we’ve been growing for a few years. 

The next day my daughter wanted to build it again.  And we tried.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find some of the pieces.  I know they’re in there, somewhere.  Still, it was only a few days since we got the Lego Friends Café package set from Santa.  And parts have already escaped.  A year from now, I’m sure the Café will have gone the way of the Lego Cottage we got a few years ago, never to be built again due to specific missing pieces and lost directions.

And these cafes and cottages are the easy ones.  The Lego aisle at the local toy store has a whole host of ridiculously engineered, pre-fab Lego fun – many of these sets mysteriously packaged in pinks or blues.  There’s the Lego Star Wars, the Lego Ninjago, the Lego Harry Potter, the Lego City series, more Lego Friends … it goes on and on.  And all have intricate specific pieces designed to serve only a single Lego purpose.  But what happens to the Hogwarts castle after it’s built.  Do you display it somewhere?  Hopefully, some place out of reach of the children.

When did Legos become like this?  And what happened to the old Legos?  Remember them?  Back then, we used random blocks to build random structures.  We didn’t care that the house we built didn’t have a flower box, or shutters, or shingles even.  It was a house we imagined and we created.  And we certainly didn’t care that the Lego people we built didn’t have utensils.

Now, most Legos are just disassembled toy models.  Really disassembled.  And once painstakingly put together, you can’t play with them, because if you do they will break and you will lose a critical piece.   

Well, this year, I saw all this coming.  I had an inclination Santa was going to get our kids a well-engineered Lego set with great specificity and limited future creative worth.  So I also found and bought the kids a pack of 650 regular old Lego pieces, called the Lego Creative Building Kit. It has lots of colors and shapes, with a few wheels and a handful funky pieces, but all are versatile and none have any specific, pre-ordained Lego fate.

Ahh. That's more like it. Lego animals created, then caged. 
And guess what, the kids love them.   My eldest daughter has spent countless hours playing with the plain Legos – far more than the pre-designed ones.  She has built cars, houses, people.  She even built really cool animals.  Then, of course, she built a zoo to house them (sorry, PETA). 

All the kids have played with the plain old Legos far more than the Friends Café set.   And it cost about a third as much.

I’m sure the people at Legos will keep engineering, awesomely complex new designs.  And we will keep buying them.  But at least, after each is built and destroyed never to be constructed again, we will have some regular, old-school Legos to fill the void.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Santa Debate: To Wrap or Not to Wrap?

Ah, traditions. You know, Christmas is a time for many things. And all families celebrate the holidays a little bit differently. Some of these differences are small, and some are, as the kids say, ginormous. This is a fact you become acutely aware of once you get married. 

At first, the differences in our household were minor, like whether to use white mini-lights or big multi-colored lights; when to go to church (Christmas Eve or Christmas Day); and whether to eat turkey or ham for Christmas dinner.

But the real humdinger of a difference came along once the kids were born and Santa started stopping by our house each Christmas Eve. It was then I realized the Christmas-celebrating world is divided into two distinct camps: Those for whom Santa wraps the gifts he leaves behind, and those for whom he doesn’t. (Bear with me, my kids read this blog). 

To wrap or not to wrap, that is the great Christmas debate. And I am a proud to say that I was raised as a member of the no wrap club. Over time, I learned this puts me in the minority. In fact, I am sure there are some people reading this blog right now who never heard of anyone who got unwrapped gifts from Santa. Well, now you have. And we are just like you.

See.  See everyone.  Unwrapped toys. 
I rest my case. ... Mic Drop.
On Christmas morning growing up, my brothers and sisters and I would wake early and run for the tree to find toys, roller skates, and big wheels scattered around the living room in little, neat child-distinct piles.  Hopefully, not too little. Under the tree were all the wrapped gifts, from our grandparents, our aunts and uncles, and a few from our parents, which had all been accumulating there throughout the month and would be opened later in the day. But Santa’s gifts were just out there, unencumbered by wrapping paper and ready to be enjoyed. And we loved it, looking around that room at our gifts from Santa and taking in everything our siblings got, as well. Pure joy.

Now granted, I was one of eight kids, and it has been argued to me by some members of the “wrapped Santa gift” majority that maybe Santa was just too tired to wrap all the gifts for our brood. Or maybe he was just lazy in general. (Careful now!  I know what you're really saying.)

As shocking as it may be to some, there exists a whole population of families for whom Santa does not wrap his gifts. Don’t believe me. Start asking around.  You could also just look at pictures of the back of Santa’s sleigh or his bag if you need hard evidence. Notice how half the gifts are unwrapped?

Well, as it happens, my wife came from a wrapped family. And, thus, as Santa's first visit to our house neared, after our eldest child was born, our household's first real Christmas tradition clash ensued. Now, I am a reasonable person -- I like to think so, anyway. And there are many things on which there is room for compromise. The wrapped vs. unwrapped debate is not one of them. Luckily, I convinced my wife it was the better, and easier, way to go. 

So, when Santa comes by our house this Christmas Eve, he will be leaving the wrapped gifts in the sleigh. And when the kids wake up, they will find around the tree toys, dolls and cars, unwrapped and unencumbered, in a few little child-distinct piles. But hopefully, not too little.

(Let me know if you too are from the unwrapped minority.  We must stick together.)



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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Roger Daltrey's Chest vs. Kanye West's Skirt

Every once in a while, something happens to remind you, beyond any reasonable doubt, that you're getting old.  It happened for me rather acutely while watching the 12/12/12 concert for Sandy relief.

Don't get me wrong. It was a phenomenal concert for a great cause, that made me proud to be a New Yorker and thankful for all I have.  But something in particular about it made me feel old.  Like, really old.

It wasn’t when all the cool, brash rockers of my formative years took the stage one-by-one looking wrinkled and worn and hobbled by time.  It wasn’t when I took a moment with each to look them up on Wikipedia, as they worked their way on stage without assistance, to see their actual ages … 67, 68, 69, 70.  And it wasn’t even when my 9-year-old daughter said, as Roger Daltrey’s shirt came unbuttoned, that he looked pretty fit for a grandpa.

Roger Daltrey strips down to Oldies but Goodies.
All those things could have made anyone of my vintage feel a bit old (and out of shape).  But it didn’t.  Seeing all of them hop, and jam, and do windmills on their guitars made me think maybe 70 is the new 40.  Which would make me like a teenager.

No.  Reality crashed the party when Kanye West took the stage and started “playing” music.  And all I heard was noise.  It hit me:  this must be the same noise my grandparents heard when the generation before mine started listening to those crazy English chaps.

I turned to my daughter, sounding like a Jackie Gleason character, and asked, “What is this junk?”  She stared at the television, purposely ignoring me so I didn’t tell her again that she was up past her bedtime.  But I didn’t care about bedtimes anymore.  I was obsessed with the infernal noise.

“Do you listen to this stuff?” I continued.  And she continued to stare.  As each noise-filled song ended, another one would begin.  I kept waiting for a song I enjoyed.  I mean,  he's had four number 1 albums and he's sold 30 million digital downloads, which I think is a lot.  He must play something I'll enjoy. 

Then I thought, maybe it was not him that was the problem.  Maybe it was me.  And that's when I decided to do something about it.

I hit mute.

At that very moment I realized exactly how old I am, or at least how old I am becoming.  Not on the outside, mind you, but on the inside.  On the outside I’m not all that old, relatively speaking.  But on the inside, I am ancient to the core.  And I’m not terribly hip, either -- although that was well established before.

So, what can I do about it?  Well, I have decided to embrace it.  It just seems like the old-person-type thing to do. 

Yes, I admit it: I like The Who better than Kanye West -- and always will.  And yes, I’m going to yell upstairs to my kids to turn that racket down when they play it, and I might even hit the ceiling with a broom.  And yes, when I have the chance, when I see an opening, when the opportunity presents itself, I’m going to hit mute.

If that makes me old, so be it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It Ain't Christmas Till the Fluffy Guy Sings

What’s the single most celebrated Christmas decoration at our house?  
 
The tree, you might surmise.  Or maybe the stockings?  A valiant guess.   Could it be one of the two hand-carved wooden nativity sets we humbly display?  Or perhaps it’s one of the many decorative nutcrackers that have been a staple gift from Santa to the kids over the years?  (The big guy tries to mix in a few wooden, traditional toys).
 
Surely, one of those holiday standouts that we parents hold in such high regard has become the favorite of our offspring, forming a foundation for fond memories of Christmases past.  Certainly, it’s one of these titans of the holiday décor realm that causes the children to clap, parade and dance each year as it is revealed and ceremoniously displayed.  
 
But, no.
 
Based on our childrens’ collective reaction to the mix of various traditional garb and accumulated holiday tchotchke that we scatter through the house for little more than a month each year, the Christmas decoration they get most excited about is a bit less traditional, a little less wholesome, and not exactly an heirloom (yet).   It’s an oddball, really.
 
But without a doubt, their favorite is the piano-playing Singing Snowman.   Hit it.   
 
 
 
That’s right.  Each year I haul down no less than four ginormous boxes, each filled to the brim with garland, ornaments and heirloom-worthy trinkets.  These items, some meticulously wrapped, are unveiled one-by-one, with trembling anticipation and utmost care by us parents, each to be placed on the tree, or the mantle, or the coffee table or another easily visible flat surfaces.  And each year, as we partake in this annual tradition, with boxes half empty and newspaper wrappings scattered about our entire first floor, the question begins.
 
"Dad, where’s the Signing Snowman?"
 
A nervous silence falls over the room.  Then comes the sound of newspapers rustling as the children overturn the paper wrappings, dive into the boxes and scour the partly-decorated landscape.  Their voices eventually crest, in a high pitched whimper, “Where is he?”

This year, the Singing Snowman was actually missing.   He was nowhere to be found, not in any of the giant boxes, nor the accompanying bags.
 
He must've gotten lost on packing-away-Christmas-junk day last year.  But how?  Did he hide out and find his way to the basement toy repository?  Did he end up with the Easter box?  Or, did I subconsciously discard our fluffy little Liberace?  Did I bag him up “accidentally” with the yearly Christmas garbage, a collection of boxes, wrapping paper and tiny plastic harnesses used to keep dolls in their packaging, and take him to the curb?   Could I do such a thing – even subconsciously.  (Yes.  Yes I could.)
 
But, alas.  I didn’t.
 
Finally, in the attic, behind one of the box of retired décor – the one I consolidated on a particularly ambitious January day a few years ago and have refused to move since – the Signing Snowman was found.
 
Thank goodness.  Christmas can happen again.  And the children can sing, dance and parade around to a bad rendition of "Let It Snow."


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Central Casting Called, They Want Their Bad Guys Back

Much ink has been spilled in recent weeks as political pundits wax on about what the GOP needs to do to appeal to more people.  Apparently, the party just now realized that cornering the market on the old-rich-white-dude vote is not a recipe for national success.

So they are engaged in a public conversation about what they can do to appeal to women, Hispanics, the middle class, and, generally, non-old, non-rich, non-white, non-dudes.

Here’s one quick idea.  Maybe Republicans should stop anointing leaders who seem like they were pulled from the “bad guy” central casting file.   It’s just a thought.  

And, no, I’m not talking about Mitt Romney, necessarily, who we now have renewed fondness for since he became harmless again.  Though he certainly fits the bill, too.  Sure, on paper it seemed like the right year to run a CEO from an equity firm that displaced workers through outsourcing.  But it just wasn’t to be.

I’m referring to the current crop of congressional leaders who have emerged in the post Romney-era to carry the torch for the Grand Old (White Dude) Party:   Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.




You might remember them from their stellar bad guy performances in earlier films, "Pre-Existing Condition" and "Nightmare on Main Street."

So, my Republican friends, are you saying you couldn’t find anyone who came across as even slightly sympathetic?  What about Paul Ryan.  True, he was rumored to be a vampire and is politically to the right of Attila the Hun, but at least we got the impression he's a nice guy.

Boehner (sadly pronounced BAY-ner) and McConnell make us miss the cuddly Newt Gingrich, or that lovable Trent Lott. Sure, Newt and Trent were described as the epitome of evil back in their day.  But in hindsight, we know better.



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday Trip to NYC ... Take 2

Last year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, our family decided to try something new and traveled into NYC to take in the family-friendly holiday happenings around Midtown Manhattan.  We found a dream line-up of pre-Christmas fun that included FAO Schwarz, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, the American Girl Doll store (have I mentioned I have three daughters), followed by dinner in Little Italy.  The kids just loved it and talked about our NYC trip all year long.  

The only snafu was finding a place to eat lunch around 5th Avenue, and of course the crowds in Little Italy.  Still, we had such a fun time we decided to make it an annual part of our holidays. 

This year we set out to repeat the fun, improving on our plan by packing a lunch and having better dinner options.  We decided to start at FAO Schwarz, then stroll through Central Park to the Holiday Market at Columbus Circle, take a train down to Bryant Park to take in more shops and enjoy the skaters, after which we'd go up 5th Avenue to the American Girl Doll store, and finally back to the car and home.  It was foolproof.

What happened, however, proved definitively that a year of anticipation and months of preparation are a sure way to ruin a perfectly good time.

Don’t get me wrong.  We had fun on our second annual tour of the NYC tourist traps.  And someday we may even laugh about it.  But we also learned a few things. 

First, we learned that the tall buildings in New York are not only excellent at funneling modest breezes and turning them into wind tunnel like gusts, but that these same buildings are also especially skilled at blocking out the lower-in-the-sky winter sun.  These two attributes can apparently work in tandem to make a typical 40-degree November day feel like the forecast for the Iditarod.  And while my coat was able to keep out the cold, I had no covering for my ears to block the constant complaining. 

Second, we found out that the Christmas Market at Columbus Circle doesn’t open the weekend after Thanksgiving, bucking the trend of holiday shopping centers.  No, these particular shops open a week later than that, after the initial holiday crowds have dispersed.  Of course, we learned this little factoid after dragging four children (three were actually dragged, one was on my shoulders) on a trek along the southern end of Central Park to the place where the market’s buildings stood empty, waiting to be filled with holiday commerce and joy.  It is worth noting that the journey along this end of the park is a lot longer than it looks on a map, and also smells of equine urine and droppings.  

Huddled Masses enjoying picnic lunch
on floor of Time Warner Center as
well-heeled holiday shoppers stare.
Third, we discovered that, should it ever be too cold to picnic outside in the Columbus Circle corner of the park, there aren’t many indoor places to eat a packed lunch.  In fact, there isn’t even one single bench within the mall-like Shops at Columbus Circle in the Time Warner Center around which a young family can gather to eat their pre-made sandwiches that were caringly placed in bags with their names on them.   The only real option is for the family to huddle in a corner of the mall and eat the measly sandwiches while hoping to avoid the unwanted attention of the mall’s crack security force.

Forth, we found out that if you are in the area of Columbus Circle with four children and a stroller, and you hope to take the subway to Bryant Park – a short jaunt on the 1 Line Downtown -- you really should not take just any elevator down to the subway platform.  Because there is a good chance that platform only serves trains going Uptown.  And if you find yourself on the wrong platform, you and the stroller and the children will take another four elevators, connecting countless platforms and dark passageways, before you arrive at the platform for the 1 Line train bound for Downtown.

Fifth, we learned that the bathroom line at the Bryant Park plaza and skating rink is about 40 minutes long, that the hot chocolate sold there stains almost anything, and that children really do not enjoy watching other people go ice skating.  A taste of what the time at Bryant Park was like:  Please can we go ice skating. No.  Please can we go ice skating. No.  Please can we go ice skating. No.  Please can we go ice skating. No. ... I have to pee.

Sixth, we figured out that the many workers at the American Girl Doll store on 5th Avenue have no possible way to clean the floors of said store once the doors open and the constant parade of spoiled brats spills in for the day, as they all beg their weak-minded parents for overpriced dolls.  By the time our children arrived at the store around 5pm and commenced begging, the carpet resembled the floor of a movie theater after a food fight.  It was certainly no place for that one two-year-old boy to show his exhaustion and disinterest in dolls by rolling around between shoppers and crawling like a dog.  His poor parents!   Did I mention that it was our two-year-old boy.

As a final lesson, we learned first-hand that there actually are bad restaurants in Manhattan.  Like, really bad.  I know it’s a shock. All the talk of how good restaurants are in NYC I was certain even the bad ones would be okay, especially for a family of Podunks from Syracuse.  It turns out that isn’t true.  In fact, a bad restaurant in Manhattan is probably worse than the typical bad restaurant someplace else.  We learned this one at a quant-seeming irish pub/restaurant within a block of 5th Avenue when we had the worst meal we've ever had in our entire complete lives.  To top it off, it was expensive.  Really expensive.   Like, did I miss the lobster course, expensive.   We could’ve bought an actual American Girl doll, plus two tacky outfits, for that price. 

Of course, the leisurely post-meal walk up 5th Avenue, past the windows at Saks, past the scaffolding-clad tree at Rock Center and under the hanging star on 59th street, made it all worth it.  Truly, the kids loved it, and will surely talk about for a year.

Our second annual holiday trip to Manhattan was certainly one for the ages.   Heck, someday, my wife and I may even learn to laugh about it.  And next year, we’ll be sure to do it even better.  If anyone has suggestions on how, please let us know.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

The rise in the popularity of local foods, specialty farms and artisan producers spurs one recurring thought: I should have been a cheesemaker.

Oh, but what kind of cheese, you ask. And that's a good question.  With milk, salt, cultures, rennet (have to look up what that is) and time, a well-skilled cheesemaker can produce any type of cheese imaginable. There are the basics: Cheddar, Gouda and Colby. And the Semi-basics: Asagio, Feta, and Chevre. There are the blues, and the spreadables. There are hard, soft, semi-hard, semi-soft. You can add semi- to pretty much any description and there is probably a cheese out there that fits. Semi-funky? Yep.

A whole world of local, artisan cheeses exists out there. It’s a world my wife and I explored recently as we traveled the Finger Lakes Cheese Trail.


Artisan cheeses from the Finger Lakes, made by the brave few
who followed their cheesemaking dreams. From this photo you
can also surmise, despite dreams, I am not a photographer.   
Of course, the day trip through New York’s Wine and Cheese Country was done under the pretense of a birthday gift getaway for my beloved.

We stopped, tasted and bought cheese at the Muranda Cheese Co., the Lively Run Goat Dairy, and the Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Co., among others. We also popped into a few wineries and ended our day at a distillery where people stand around “tasting” shots of whiskey. My wife enjoyed the trip. And she did not once suspect that I was actually scoping out a drastic life change.

Drastic may be overstating it. All we have to do is trade in the house for a farm and a bunch of cows, goats, or even sheep. Get the equipment. Learn the trade. And in about three years or so we may just be able to enjoy our first raw-milk, artisan Gouda-style cheese. Not smoked, though. My wife doesn’t like smoked cheese. And I always do what she wants. Of course, the first batch will be a prototype. Once we’ve sampled it, we’ll tweak the recipe, change the feed-stock we give the cows, goats or sheep, and maybe add in some scallions to half the second batch. Then, voila, we’ll have the perfect artisan cheese ready for sale.  Once we do a little clever marketing and break into one of the major grocery chains, we’ll be off and running. I figure in about 12 years, we’ll break even.

Hmm.

Being a cheesemakers sounds tougher than I first imagined. Of course, we could just go on the cheese trail once a year, and stop by the farmers’ market on the occasional Saturday. But where’s the adventure in that?

For those not interested in making the quick buck as an artisan cheesemaker, you could opt to just start a vineyard. Good vines can take a decade to reach full production. That’s even before the grapes are pressed and the wine aged. Although our trip along the southeastern shore of Seneca Lake makes me think that market may be getting a bit saturated. A decade from now, who knows.

The important thing is that each and every one of us turn the local food craze into our own unrealized dream, so we can enjoy artisan local products with a sense of longing and brimming regret about our own career decisions.

Ah, Gouda. I could've made that.


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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dad, the Spider Assassin

I have nothing against spiders. Honestly. But you wouldn’t know it from the scores of carcasses I have discarded down the drain in the past few months.

It’s not personal. I am but a hired gun – or at least a hired paper towel, which is then pressed firmly between my thumb and fingers to finish off the little buggers. I have grown accustomed to the work. Though, you never really get used to the “pop.”

I used to try to convince my clients that spiders really aren’t that bad. Good luck with that. A four-year-old girl will never believe that the spider she found on her ceiling has no qualms with her. It doesn't matter when I remind her that spiders could even help keep other bugs away. She's not buying the spider's side of the story. She just wants it gone.

“Daddy!” she shrieks. “Spider!” And I go to work.  

Dangling from the ceiling, crawling along the window sill, scurrying across the floor -- no spider is safe. I grab my trusty paper towel, napkin, or, in a pinch, toilet paper. And I begin the hunt. 

“Where is it?” 

The child points, and cowers beneath the covers. I have to squint to even see the darn thing. I swear my kids are exceptional at noticing spiders. They must get that from their mother. With a quick swipe, squeeze and flush, the job is done, the client relieved.

Certainly, I don’t want to live in house that is “infested” as my wife describes it during the months when spiders seem to just appear. I just don’t notice them. What is that small black spot on the crown molding? I really don’t care.  In fact, I usually hope it’s a spider. Better that than chipping paint or evidence of a leak. Those jobs are much tougher on the soul than killing a spider.

But, I swear,  I have nothing against them. It is just a job to me. And as much as I’m good at it, there is one part I will never quite enjoy. 

Pop.


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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Warning - Holiday Season Levels Rising

It's time we all admit the battle over “when Christmas season should begin” is lost forever. What began as a slow creep over the past few decades has gained seemingly unstoppable momentum. This year, the harsh reality set in as Holiday music started blaring on November 1st, broadcast over every easy listening station and piped through all the speakers at our various shopping arenas, turning fall Christmas-list-making families into zombie-like gift buyers. 

At the current rate of change, the Christmas Season is projected to start just after Labor Day by 2020.  It’s frightening, but true.

As we know, the first casualty is Thanksgiving, which has now been fully enveloped by its Holiday brethren. And Halloween is under threat. Don’t believe me. Target had trees and lights up even before the candy corn went on clearance this year.

Of course, all those who’ve been sounding the alarm bells for some time -- the ones who we all considered, well, alarmists – are being proven right. Maybe they were a bit overboard with the dire warnings about the disappearance of Thanksgiving. But with Christmas swag replacing cornucopias as acceptable turkey day decor, they can smugly say, “I told you so.” Because they did.

It’s not just the general décor that has changed. Thanksgiving Day itself is a mere wisp of what it used to be.  In the olden days (about two years ago), we used to watch the Macy’s Parade, have a family feast, and see the Detroit Lions lose a meaningless football game as everyone napped. Then we’d end the day by stuffing our faces with more pie than humanly possible while engaging in colorful discussions with extended family.  

Now, all that is asunder -- at least the last part. Sure we still have the parade, and the turkey, and the Detroit Lions, and even the pie-eating. But rather than one or two family members storming off in wine-infused disagreement, hoards of them pile into the car and head to K-Mart, were sales begin at 8 pm. These are people, mind you, who wouldn’t find themselves dead in K-Mart the other 364 days of the year. And that’s just the warm up. This year, plans are in place to move up the annual Walmart stampede by a whole twelve hours. That’s when daring shoppers crowd the streets of Pamplona in the hopes of being crushed by giant HD televisions. I might have my ludicrous traditions a bit confused. But the point is clear:  Black Friday, has now become Black Thursday Afternoon.  And Thanksgiving has changed forever. 

The only question left, what are we to do about this seasonal calamity? 

The obvious solution:  we should move Thanksgiving.  If we do so, we can create an impenetrable wall of holidays in October. Consider this:  the 10th month already has Columbus Day and Halloween. If we move Thanksgiving to October, we would forever halt the slow creep of Christmas. Of course, in this plan, we would leave Veteran’s Day on November 11th, as it would be an affront to our veterans to do otherwise – and, that holiday would also create sufficient resistance to slow the further advance of Christmas.

Moving Thanksgiving may sound drastic. But it is our only hope.

Then again, there is one other thing we could do. But, nah. It’s too crazy. It would never work. 

But I'll put it out there, anyway.  Since we are just brainstorming. Here goes. We could all stay home on Thanksgiving and ignore the Black Thursday afternoon sales. We could set our alarms for 7 a.m. on the actual Black Friday, and all meet at the mall at 8 a.m. – like we used to.  (I’m not suggesting this so I alone can get the deals. I swear).  And we could turn off the Christmas radio stations and let them know we will listen to them the day after Thanksgiving, thank you very much.  If they want to extend the season, they could go back to playing Holiday music until New Year’s Eve, rather than switching to slow songs that make me want to hurl on December 26th.  That would be nice. 

We could also … Oh, who are we kidding. This option will never work. It's just crazy talk. Let’s move Thanksgiving.  It’s the only realistic solution.

But let’s also remember, the enemy here is not Christmas. Properly contained, it is the most wonderful time of the year.  Free to set its own limits, however, it becomes less so.  Working together, I believe we can contain it. 

There is still hope.  God bless us, every one.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Secessionists Take Steps to Become the Poorest Nation on the Continent

Reports are coming out that many outstanding citizens of the United States are reacting to the will of the people by literally taking their ball and trying to make a new home.   I say, let’s let this one play out. 

Personally, I like the present make-up of the country, from a geographic perspective at least.  But this whole red state secession movement could be a good thing.

Think about it.  Most of the good people of our fine country agree on the need to improve our education system, increase student test scores and reduce our environmental impact, all while also cutting the percentage of uninsured and driving down poverty rates.   We can do all that in one fell swoop by just letting the really red states go their own way. 
This map is not funny, but sure makes the point.

Just think how much better kids from the US would rank in science and math if we didn’t have “Fox News” nation dragging down the average. 

It’s not all upside, however.   This new loose confederation of Red States – let’s call it Texassippi – will almost certainly become the single biggest drain on our international aid budget. 

I mean, how could we stand by and watch as the poor people of this new and impoverished nation suffer under the despotic rule of their misguided leaders.  Leaders who rely on slanted, party-controlled media and who clearly prefer one party rule to democracy.  

We’d have to help them.  It’s just our nature.  So, maybe it’s not such a good idea after all.   We just can’t afford it.


Here's other articles you may enjoy: Government Shutdown Edition - A Fox Leading the Hen House, The Father, The Son and President Obama, and First of All, on the 1st Amendment.

Monday, November 12, 2012

So You've Started a Blog...

After a recent post on Facebook, several friends said to me, “You should start a blog.”  At first I didn’t know whether to take it as an insult.  I mean, blogging seems so 90s.   I have actually used those exact words to subtly insult someone.  Recently.  Why don't you go start a blog.  It’s kind of the modern version of “Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares.”

Who starts a blog, after all?  I mean, when you’ve got a world of FB friends ready to read (or at least scroll past) your most random and pointless thoughts as it is, why blog?  With a few strokes of the key pad, your precious gem of writing filled with logic and humor is right there posted for the world to see.  Just below the “Cat jumped on the counter today” post by that person from high school you don’t remember.   You know, they really should consider segmenting Facebook into cat lovers and, well, the rest of humanity.   

Maybe my random thoughts are getting lost in a FB world of other random thoughts - thoughts that are even more pointless and inane than mine.  Dang it.   Maybe my friends who told me to start a blog weren’t telling me to shut the hell up.  Maybe they liked what I wrote.  And not push a “Like” button liked, but actually liked.  And maybe they are right.  Maybe I should start a blog.  

I mean, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, blogging is definitely old school.   And I am nothing if not old school.  Right?  Just the other day I was explaining to my 9-year-old daughter that Run DMC and Aerosmith were actually the first ones to do the rap-in-a-rock song thing that is ubiquitous these days.   And as she stared blankly at me, worried that someone might see us talking, I thought: Man, I am old school.

There is something almost endearing about starting a blog - and liberating for the writer.  My posts would no longer be judged by the number of “likes” I can get.  They’ll just be out there, being read by nobody and not judged at all.  It could work.      

And that’s how I decided to start this blog.

My first confession is that I actually tried starting a blog before – a dad blog on parenting.   After about four posts, I decided I didn’t know what the heck I was talking about.  I mean, my kids are loud and never listen to me.  Why should anyone else.  

With this blog, I am not going to limit myself to parenting drivel.  Any drivel will do.  Politics, parenting, travel, food, fishing, house work, real work.  What the heck.  There are no limits.  It’s exactly the opposite of what I’d advise someone starting a blog to do.  I’d tell them, be focused.  Have a point of view.  Specialize.  Maybe start a blog about home organic gardening for single moms.   Or write reviews of good places at the mall for a husband to sit while his wife shops.  That’s what I’d tell them.  But me.  I’m a generalist.  So I am going to ignore that sage advice and just write about anything I want.

Ah, it is liberating.  I hope people like it.  And I mean really like it, not hit a “Like” button like it. We’ll see.      

(Note: everything below this post was pulled from Facebook, or from the now defunct parenting blog I tried and failed at months ago.  Everything from now on will be original to this blog only).

Here's other articles you may enjoy: Vegas, Baby!, Dog Responds to "Mystery Poo" False Accusations, and Tip of the Hat to Single Parents, and Thanks to My Backup,

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Father, The Son And President Obama

Pulled from a recent FB post I wrote:

I am not big on posting things that are too political or religious on Facebook. I always figured that’s what Twitter is for. But as someone who has worked in politics, I felt a need to respond to the friends and family on Facebook who think “God has forsaken us.” It is a bit more complicated than that.

Your right, God the father, or OTG as we call him in politics (Old Testament God), is a bit on the conservative side. And OTG is a pretty dependable Republican vote. But he has a son. And, as you know, JC went out in the real world, saw the pain and suffering, and devoted his life to helping the sick and the poor. He’s become a pretty dependable vote for the Democrats. In fact, sometimes he votes with the Green Party. Let’s just say JC is bit left of center.

So there is always a big debate in Heaven this time of year about which candidate to support. Tensions around the dinner table are on the high side, if you follow me. And all the campaigns call into their house asking for their vote. But here is what so many people forget: because as it turns out, the real swing vote there is the Holy Spirit.

These results simply show that HS is down with getting more people health coverage and cracking down on Wall Street excess. God hasn’t forsaken you. It’s just that this year, anyway, the “helping the poor” thing moved HS more than some other issues. It’s true, HS is tough to predict. Kind of like Soccer Moms, or lower –income independents. Some of us are still trying to figure out how HS went for G.W. Bush in a second term. One theory is that HS just didn’t vote that year, tipping the results to OTG. But that’s just a theory.

Anyway, I hope this helps bring some clarity. And remember, next election, focus your calls and prayers on HS. That should make things better for you.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We are so Outta here

One big loser on election night: Vermont. You can almost hear everyone packing up their VW vans to move to Colorado.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I Need a Play Date

A few years ago, I didn’t even know what a play date was. First time I heard it, it sounded kind of weird.

Now it’s one of the first words I hear after meeting parents with similarly aged children. We should do a play date.

While I used to resist such things, say “sure lets,” but never really plan to call. Now, I snatch up play date offers like they are rare pieces of gold.

You mean you want to interact with me while our kids run around like the little demons they are (sometimes). You betcha. Just say when. How about tomorrow?

As parents of young children, my wife and I find one of the hardest things to do is to make friends. I know it sounds weird. What the heck do I need friends for, right. Well, after a while the people you have been friends with kind of disperse. Some move, some have kids, some don’t. Others have kids and even live nearby, but you never see them because everyone is just so busy.

I ran into an old friend from way back a few days ago. He has kids too, around the same age, and he lives within a few miles – though it is the next school district over. After we parted, saying we should get together, I did the math on the last time we got together. It was four years before. Clearly, we aren’t going to be getting together any time soon – at least not with regularity.

Yet, you need friends. My wife and I are solid and close. But I imagine she gets sick of me every once and a while. Besides, she likes to do boring stuff like shop and knit. I like to fish and drink beer. You know, guy stuff.

We certainly need friends. But making new friends is hard for people like us. By that I mean people with several children. So what do we do?

We have committed to finding and making new friends. But how?

The Answer: Play dates.

The parents who ask us to have play dates are the same ones we are likely to see at all the kid-centric events for the next few years – at soccer games, school gatherings, the library. They would make perfect friends, right?

So, whenever a play date is offered, we jump at the chance. Unsuspecting parents come over to get a break from the monotony of their own parenthood and fall onto our list of potential friends.

So far, it seems to be working. We are still in the play date phase with a few couples. But one of these days we hope to become actual friends.


Here's other articles you may enjoy: 5 Signs Your Child Has Become a “Tweener”, My Kid Wants and iPhone, and I Don’t Know What To Do, and Learning Lessons from a Little Boy.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Is that your what-the-F-did-he-just-say face?

On Politics

We can all agree that the president lost the first debate – and no, that was not a typo.   The real question is why.

Detractors are saying he was unprepared, or that he is out of his league when faced with the successful businessman, storied governor, savior of the Olympics and one-time prep-school Mr. popular, Mitt  The Sh*#  Romney.

But I saw something else up there.   And, no, this is not spin.  I already admit he lost.

Rewind the tape to the first five minutes of the debate.  After the two strut out, shake hands and thank the fine the people of the university and the universe for allowing them to argue in public.   Watch for it and you’ll see it.

It happens right after Obama references the $8 billion dollar hole in the budget the Romney tax cuts for the rich would cause - a number, by the way, that was not made up by Obama, but rather has been around for a while and is generally accepted as true. It is the moment that set the tone for the debate.

It was when Mitt Romney flat our fibbed about the size of his tax cut, sounding like a well-practiced teen denying a truth in such a convincing way that even the all-knowing parent begins to doubt the truth.  Romney gave the, I-don’t-even-know-what-you’re-talking about defense.  He did it convincingly.  Like a professional fibber.   And the president began to doubt reality.

In an instant, BO looked confused, bewildered, and unsure.  And that’s when the what-the-F-did-he-just-say face happened.  The President of the United States was just lied to, and he didn’t know how to respond.
 
He knew what his campaign had told him: You’re winning, don’t attack, stay above the fray.  He probably wanted to say, "What the F did you just say?" But he couldn’t.

So he looked inward. Maybe his facts were wrong. Maybe it wasn’t $8 billion. Maybe these aren’t the droids I am looking for. Maybe.

His ship was rocked.  His plan foiled.  His debate lost.  All because he never expected such a bold-faced lie from his opponent.  Not in the first five minutes, and not on something as widely known as the $8 Billion dollar hole his tax cut and budget would cause.

Maybe next time, he will expect it. 



 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Freaking Television

“Can I watch a show?”

That is the first question I get in the morning, and the one I’m most often badgered with throughout the day. The moment there is any idle time, a lull in the action. Can I watch a show. Rainy days are the worst.

The answer is usually no. We’re not strict anti-television parents. Far from it. But the kids ask so often that the usual answer is just no.

When the first kid was born, we decided we would not let our new child watch television at all. Then we got our first Baby Einstein DVD, and it so stopped the crying. We softened our stance.

Then came the Wiggles. Our first kid loved the Wiggles, including this bizarre crush on Jeff – the one that sleeps a lot. Wiggles ruled our house for a solid two years. It was mildly entertaining, though I couldn’t help but thinking me and three friends with fake instruments could do as good a job. I mean, how hard is it to sing about spaghetti?

Our kid became a Wiggle junkie – images of teen aged girls screaming for the Beatles haunted me. I didn’t want to raise a future groupie.

The Wiggle phenomenon made us once again re-evaluate our television rules. We cut back, set more standards and established guidelines. But it was too late. Our oldest child was already a television junkie. Personally, I think she came out that way -- prewired to become a zombie whenever the television was on. After all, she comes from a long line of television watchers.

With the second child, we decided again not to plop her in front of the television unless we had to – like for child care management. We ended up turning on the television more often than we would have liked. But busy parents have few options.

Luckily, by the time our second kid was of TV watching age, the Wiggles were in the where-are-they-now category. Apparently they are still there, with a new front man. But we have managed to avoid them. It helped that the second kid immediately preferred Wonder Pets to grown men signing bad songs. And once she discovered the Backyardigans – it was all over. For the uninitiated, the Backyardigans are a real step up from most of the crap we show our kids. A ringing endorsement.

When the third kid came along, she was lucky if she ever engaged in age-appropriate viewing. Her older sisters ruled the schedule. It wasn’t until they went off to school that she got to choose what she watched. Unfortunately, she chose Yo Gabba Gabba. Mind-numbing stuff. The only thing it’s good for is taking a quick dad nap. Makes me kind of miss the “fruit salad” days of my early dadhood.

As for the baby boy, he is still too young to be truly entranced by the digital babysitter. Though, all he ever really sees is Suite Life On Deck. God help him.

Nowadays, the eldest is still the one who asks to watch a show most often, and clearly the dictator of the programing, which means Phineas and Ferb, the Suite Life and their spin-offs and the god-awful Pair of Kings, the premise of which is so absurd it makes Lost seem like a reality show. All of this barely fills the void in her life left when Hannah Montana ended, of course.

During the school year, the oldest is only allowed to watch television on weekends. But in the summer, all hell breaks loose.

Clearly, we have lost the war on television. All we can do now is minimize our losses and win an occasional battle.

We still maintain a ban on certain programs, because they are purposely obnoxious or dreadfully boring – Sponge Bob and Kick Butowski fall into the first category, Thomas into the second. The worst are the Disney shows that stray into “dating” themes. Like I need my six-year-old learning about breaking up with a boyfriend. No thanks.

But, we’ve learned that a little television is not the end of the world. I watched a lot of television when I was a kid. The currency of quotes I learned helped me make friends and impress people in the decades that followed. I’m sure “Sweet Niblets” has replaced “What you talkin’ bout, Willis?” on the common-usage scale.

The challenge is limiting the television so it doesn’t rule everything. So when they ask if they can watch a show, I usually say no.
 

Friday, August 31, 2012

A solution for the vacation conundrum

On Parenting

Need a vacation from your vacation. Don't worry. It happens to all of us.

Taking the kids on the road always sounds like such a great idea.  We can get a way.  See new places.  Relax.  Oh, to relax. Even for a mere moment.  It is more precious than gold to any parent.

Wait. Relax? 

Did you forget that you will have your offsrping with you as you truck down the highway headed for a hotel room one-tenth the size of your actual house?  Or even a tent.

What exactly are you getting away from, again? Just the actual house?

Don’t get me wrong, I love taking a vacation with the kids.  It’s the stuff that makes life so great.  And as the regular and mundane daily existence fades in memory, it's the vacation memories that will linger.  As with all good memories, the fondness of those memories will almost always grow as time goes by. Remember that time we drove to Florida? That was great.

None of that, however, takes away the immediate pain of a vacation with children -- the “knock-it-off-or-I’ll-turn-this-car-around” moments that bring us all to our on-the-road breaking point.

Ah, vacation.

My wife and I learned some time ago that the best way to enjoy our vacations was to bring one of the sets of in-laws. My parents or her parents, whichever one is able.  It is a must.

These built-in baby sitters love the kids and actually want to spend time with them – even on vacation.This allows us to have a night out, read a book, actually sleep in.  Whatever.

Without them, it just would not be a vacation – more a kid-filled family adventure. Which can be fun as well, but is hardly a vacation.

This summer, our family went on two vacations. One week-long break at the beach, and a long-weekend in the mountains. Her parents came to the first, mine to the second.

And thank god they did.  Sure, it adds some personalities to the mix, and after a week it can get tough dealing with extended family and all their flaws.  And at some point the relaxation quotient is reduced by the tension factor. 

But, for a few days it is well worth it. 

We were actually able to do the things that help us relax.  We actually went out to dinner, just me and the wife.  She read a book.  I went fishing - alone.  One day, we even slept in until 9:00 a.m.  It was like we were in college again.    

We also did tons of stuff together as a family.  We swam every day, walked the beach, watched the sunset.  We went on hikes, rode in paddle boats, and I took the kids fishing. 

The children loved every minute of it.  And the grandparents did too.  They actually cried when they had to say good-bye to the little rascals.  I felt like crying, but for a different reason.

Still, we had actual vacations this summer, filled with wonder kid-filled memories – and a few without.