Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year's Eve

Four things I accomplished in 2006, in no particular order:

  1. Welcomed a daughter into the world.
  2. Opened a third of a bookstore.
  3. Had back surgery.
  4. Started a blog.

I don't do new year resolutions because I believe it's just setting myself up for failure. Besides, I only knew of one of the items on the above list at this time a year ago.

Tonight, by default, our friends are coming over to our house. I will eat homemade sushi by Warren and drink clear spirits. Welcoming the new year in with friends and family just seems right.

I hope you all have a happy and safe New Year's Eve and a prosperous and happier 2007.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Reading Is Fundamental

It’s Thursday night, which can mean only one thing – Thursday Night Dinner With Elizabeth & Toby. It’s been that way for years, and so it was tonight. After a dinner of muffaleta, gyros, hummus and falafel, Elizabeth played Candyland with C, JP and S. And after that, naturally, the kids wanted to play another game with Aunt Elizabeth. However, Elizabeth wanted to sit and talk with the adults, so JP found a game to play with just his siblings, but C didn’t want to play without Elizabeth, so JP and S were going to play by themselves. Now, here’s the problem, and here is where it gets difficult for me to talk about it, for no parent wants to admit to the shortcomings of his own offspring. This game had cards with directions that would need to be followed, but neither JP nor S can read. In fact, neither can GK. That’s right, three out of four of my kids are illiterate. I don’t know what the current national average is, but it seems that three-fourths of the kids in one house not knowing how to read is pretty high. I’d like to blame the schools, their teachers, but the truth is I first have to look at myself, their father. And then immediately at their mother, who is also a teacher! She should know better! She teaches kids all day long, you’d think she’d be able to teach her own four-year-old how to read a simple sentence. C can read just fine, I should mention, and we’re all very proud of him. Well, his mother and I are proud, his sisters and brother just think it’s funny when he holds the papers with the funny black spots in front of his face and silently moves his lips.

Kristy and I are avid readers, and we’d like to think that our children will be just as enthusiastic about it, but the truth is we’re off to a slow start. We don’t expect them to jump right in with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ayn Rand or Somerset Maugham, but something a little more difficult than being able to recognize a picture of Queen Frostine would be welcome. Especially for JP, he’s five for Pete’s sake! I can see it coming, no matter how far off it seems, though. Why, just tonight, GK was slobbering all over the latest issue of The New Yorker, and we all know it’s just a small step from gumming a magazine cover to pretending to understand the cartoons within those covers.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Franny, Zooey and Me

Could a day be any lazier? On the third day of my Christmas “vacation” and the fourth day of what is being called The Two Weeks of Big Daddy, in which I am not required to get The Quartet up, dressed, fed and to school/babysitter in the mornings because their mother is a teacher and off the same two weeks for Christmas that they are, I woke up at almost 10 o’clock. Unheard of. Shortly after that, our regular plumber showed up to snake the pipes, thus relieving me of the clogged drain headache for a nominal fee. And the rest of the day? Well, I spent the better part of the morning and afternoon listening to Miles Davis and reading, for the 538th time in my life, the Zooey portion of Franny and Zooey, and I couldn’t have been more pretentious if I’d sat down to actually pen a letter to the editor of The New Yorker. The old paperback copy I have is worn, tattered and stained in places, and has traveled with me as much as Kristy has. More specifically than simply reading, though, I thumbed through to the lists and the portions immediately surrounding those lists. I love a good list and Salinger is tops when it comes to this. There is the scene in the bathroom with Zooey and Bessie Glass, which I find a very touching mother/son exchange even though he’s being an ass to her, where she takes inventory of nearly every item in the medicine cabinet. It’s almost a full page and though anyone who knows me will tell you I don’t want anything intimate to do with any bathroom anywhere, there is something very familiar and comfortable about this list and this location. There is also an itemization of articles found in the two large pockets of Bessie’s kimono. It reads like any junk drawer catalog found in any kitchen in any house. Is there anything more reassuring than a kitchen junk drawer? The final list of goods – furniture, knick-knacks, wall hangings, bric-a-brac – is to be found in the Glass’s living room. It may seem like so much clutter to some people, but to me the room has always felt lived in, lived in by a close and familiar family. No matter how many times I read this book, I look forward to walking into the Glass’s living room and feeling welcomed.

So that’s how I spent my morning and early afternoon. A bit later, Team O-G came by bearing food, so we let them in and sat around talking about our Christmases and families. We planned out New Years and admonished the kids for running in the house, being too rough, not sharing, being too loud and eating what they shouldn’t where they shouldn’t. These verbal warnings have become part of our conversations, like punctuation, just as unnoticeable as it is necessary. I've barely left the house in the past 72+ hours, yet we’ve spent much of this time with friends and family, and it is exactly as this time of year should be.

Another part of the book that has always registered with me is the scene where Franny is talking to Zooey, as Buddy Glass, on the phone. She mentions Zooey’s cigar smoking and Buddy (Zooey) says, “The cigars are ballast, sweetheart. Sheer ballast. If he didn’t have a cigar to hold on to, his feet would leave the ground. We’d never see our Zooey again.” Our friends and their family, and my own kids, have become my ballast, keeping me sane, balanced and grounded. We’ve all had a good year together and I look forward to 2007, to the visits, the conversations, the good times and to the unexpected.

Monday, December 25, 2006

One Last Piece of Christmas ...

I'm afraid I'm breaking a confidence here, but this is the note C left for Santa last night:

Dear Santa,
There is food for the reindeer in the lawn. Santa, last year my dad said a man with a big white beard gave him money for us. Was it you?

Circle
Yes No

P.S. Merry Christmas!


The backstory:

I can't remember if I wrote about this in an earlier post or not, but with 205 posts to look through, I'll just put it down here again. Some time back I had a customer in, an older man with a white beard. We chatted as I rang him up and I must have brought up my four kids because when he paid, he put the money in my hand, turned around and walked towards the door. I realized he'd paid me for what he'd bought but also given me a $100 bill. When I called him back to tell him of, what I assumed, was a mistake, he said, "Spend it on your children," and left. I had never seen him before and haven't seen him since. That night I told the kids the story of the Very Nice Man and took them to the bookstore for them to pick out what they wanted.

To tell you the truth, I forgot all about this episode until I read C's note to Santa last night. He not only remembered it, but placed that man as Santa. How about that? As I pondered his note, I wondered what to circle. What Santa should circle, Yes or No? Do I prolong his believing that there is a Santa and that he is with us year round, or do I circle No and let him know that there are randomly good, generous, people in the world? It seemed like such a simple question and I probably read too much into it, overthinking it, as I usually do. I believe I circled the right one, though I believe I'll keep some things just among C, Santa and me.

I'm Moe Green!

Christmas mostly went well today. I didn’t get much sleep last night, so morning came a little earlier than it should have, but The Quartet was excited about their visit from Santa. They dragged their toys around the house, ripped open paper and oohed and aahed appropriately. For much of the morning I lay on the couch with my pocket knife and the patience of Job as I opened boxes, cut tape and untwisted those damn ties that keep toys in their packaging. I talked to family on the phone, sipped coffee and read Dickens. And then Kristy did a load of laundry and, just like that, I was ready for the season to be over. In just a few seconds all the planning and anticipation for this day ended when the washing machine drain backed up, sending a torrent of water all over the kitchen. I wanted the toys put away, the Christmas music turned off and the tree hauled away. It was as though the real world rushed in on that waterfall and washed the Most Wonderful Time of the Year away. Perhaps I should back up, though. Back up to last night and the steady rain that lasted All. Night. Long. Because, you see, when it rains here, it doesn’t just saturate the yard and soak the front porch. No, it leaks into the living room. This is a wonderful new development that caused me to wake up every 15 minutes or so last night just to make sure it was still raining and that what I had put under that leak to catch it was still doing its job. So, we had water coming down and water coming up, and if I’m going to live surrounded by this much water, I might as well move onto that sailboat that I plan on living aboard someday.

The washer overflowing did get me out of traveling to Kristy’s grandmother’s house, though, as I elected to stay home and tend to the mess. I ended up straightening the whole house, which I found cathartic after two days of being as sloppy as the season calls for. Later, GK and I settled in bed to watch one of my favorite Christmas movies, The Godfather, and we both agreed that our favorite scene is when Michael Corleone protects his father in the hospital after he’s been shot. (Last night she watched It’s A Wonderful Life for the first time and we both agreed that one of our favorite parts is when George Bailey tells his father that he’s a great guy. And then today she understood it completely when I grumbled about how it was “Another banner day for the A’s!” and questioned why we have to live in this “drafty old house anyway …”) Oh, but first, today, I took time to hook up the new DVD player that Kristy and I received for Christmas so we could watch our movie. Now, years ago I built in 8’x8’ bookshelves with adjustable shelving, and some of this had to be removed and rearranged in order to take the old player out and put the new one in. While I was doing this, the TV fell to the floor, followed by a shelf and a large selection of CDs. Almost all of my Elvis Costello CDs, in fact. Does anyone know where I can get jewel cases that hold a bonus disc? Several of those broke.

But, again, it was Christmas and the kids had fun and that’s what really matters. I should probably apologize to them, though, for being so short-tempered. An apology, also, to Kristy. And to Aunt Katherine, Elizabeth and Favorite Aunt Carol, all who called after the washing machine flooded us out, taking all of my patience and cheer with it. Merry Christmas to all of you while it lasts, because it’s technically over in just under two hours. A time, we know, when elves take a vacation, but all plumbers, hopefully, go back to work.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all my readers from across the map, from places like Port Hueneme, Albuquerque, Naples, Marlborough, Chicago, Memphis, Coppell, Fargo, Palaiseau, Staten Island, Blacksburg, Cincinnati, Springfield, Fort Collins, Guadalajara, Weesp, Chagrin Falls, Lake Zurich, Aurora, St. Louis, Tallahassee, Tulsa, Tucson, Roseville, Alameda, Bristol, Chalgrove, Westchester, Atlanta, and one, curiously, from the North Pole. I wish a safe and happy holiday from my family to yours.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

My Favorite Things

Here we are, Christmas Eve Eve. The holiday season, which began sometime back in mid-September, I believe, is almost over. In years past, by this hour of the festivities, I’m so ready for it all to be over that I could scream. But I took a different approach this year, I began with my head in a different place. Being in retail, this time of year is about one thing and we all know what that one thing is so I’ll try not to harp on it because it doesn’t have much at all to do with good tidings, figgy pudding, peace or joy. This year, though, I tried to focus more on family and friends and fun. I put myself in the mindset of The Quartet and saw this time of year, truly, as the most wonderful time of the year. We decorated, we baked, we laughed and we sang. We talked about Christmases past and about what Santa might be inclined to drop off this year. I let the business handle itself because it always does whether I worry about it or not and, as of close today, it did just that. So I’ll take the next three days off to play with the kids, visit with family, be Santa Claus and watch It’s A Wonderful Life. As much fun as the season has been this year, however, I will say this, if I hear Barbra Streisand sing “My Favorite Things” one more time I’m going to cancel what’s left of this holiday. And as I sit down tomorrow night to read ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas to the kids, I’m also thinking about putting on John Coltrane’s 13:47 version of the song from 1960, one of the best recordings ever, and have them listen to it as the only version which should ever be played, whether it’s Christmastime or not. Though fun should be the norm this time of year, there also needs to be a few hard and fast rules in this house – no blinking lights on the tree, all cookies should be chocolate chip, Daddy eats Santa’s cookies and no Streisand. Ever.

Amy

We received a Christmas card yesterday from Kristy’s oldest friend, Amy, who I found out reads this blog, which surprised me. Kristy has known Amy since high school, since before she even knew me, and I’ve known Amy as long as I’ve known Kristy – 19 years. In fact, they came as a pair when I met them, inseparable, and I felt I had to get Amy’s approval to date Kristy, even more than I had to get Kristy’s father’s approval, which it would take me seven more years to get, once we were married. Amy moved away to Illinois before they graduated, and I remember comforting Kristy while she cried as though she’d lost a sister, because that’s just what had happened. They grew older, married good men and had beautiful kids, and they still stay in touch. They don’t see each other much anymore, which is too bad and a little strange for someone who has entire summers off, but they’re both talkers, so they call a lot. In fact, wherever Amy is right now, I’m sure she’s talking. Kristy is too, as I type and nod.

We went to visit Team O-G at their house last night. Stacey lit the menorah and included us in a bit of their Hannukah tradition, which also included beer and homemade treats. The Quartet seemed fascinated, partly because it involved fire, I believe, but mostly because it was at their friends’ house and they love nothing better than visiting friends and their friends’ toys. After the lighting, they ran around and played and argued over Candyland. Candyland should be the Switzerland of childhood, yet they managed to argue. But this passed, as all arguments pass, though it makes me wonder, as they grow, what they will continue to argue over. Bicycles, girls, boys, grades, whose turn it is to drive, who will pick up the check, who got drunk at the annual Christmas party and said something inappropriate to whose wife. There’s no guarantee that our kids will stay friends with Satchel and Jiro, or Miss M or M(Click) or Clara or the Chockleyblog Kids or anyone else we’ve corralled them with, such is the fickleness of friendship, but it’s a good start. They’re learning the importance of friends, whether they know it or not, and they’re learning how to deal with peers, whether their parents realize it or not.

Certain friendships were just built to last, like Kristy and Amy’s. Will JP stay Butch Cassidy to Satchel’s Sundance Kid? Only time will tell. But so far it seems to be a friendship that can survive even Satchel moving JP’s piece back a few spaces on Candyland when he knows he shouldn’t have.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Magic?

Here are a few concepts The Quartet can’t seem to comprehend: my desire to sing, dinner, quiet, bath time and, apparently, Christmas. Kristy went shopping the other night, and told them she was going, but when she arrived home they asked – nee, demanded – to see what she’d bought. “They’re Christmas presents,” we explained, needlessly, one would think. But they wouldn’t have any of it, especially S and JP, who whined and cried. Then, today at work, I received a big box of goodies from Aunt Katherine down in the swamps of south Florida. When I brought it home and it was opened to reveal brightly wrapped Christmas gifts, The Quartet, again, wanted to know why they couldn’t open those gifts now, now, now. How did this all start? When did they start expecting gifts just because it’s a Wednesday near Christmas day?

JP didn’t want the gifts because it’s almost Christmas day. He could care less when Christmas is, he just wants whatever is inside that paper because it’s something for him, something he needs. This attitude brings me to the conversation we had last night where he tried to convince me there is no Santa Claus. I assumed it was a rumor he’d heard from his buddies, though he wasn’t giving up any names. I assured him Santa is real, he is watching yet wouldn’t deliver to any kids who didn’t believe, and that even his mother and I believe in the fat man. I think he may have drifted off to sleep rethinking all of this, if not the magical aura of a Santa and what he means to kids all over, then at least the fact that he may not get any loot if he doesn’t play along. And loot is what that boy wants.

The other day, at my wit’s end, I threatened S with calling Santa if she didn’t stop doing whatever it was she was doing at the time, or didn’t start doing whatever it was I wanted her to do, I forget now. She laughed, goaded and called my bluff. So I picked up my phone, flipped it open and dialed my store. I was closed so, thankfully, no one answered, but I pretended to leave a voice mail for Santa explaining that S was not behaving and should, therefore, be left off any Nice list he might be compiling. She’s jaded and didn’t seem to buy it. What I’m wondering now is if it’s okay to forgo just one Christmas to make a point. If one of the kids gets nothing for Christmas for just one year as an example, then wouldn’t it make all subsequent years more pleasant? Like in The Godfather III when the Andy Garcia character shoots one of the guys who broke into his apartment to get the other guy to tell him what he knows. I’m not suggesting anything so drastic, or quite as violent, but you see the connection? It’s all about proving a point. By making an example of one kid, one year, all other Christmas seasons could be virtually hassle free.

I know this isn’t Currier & Ives, but things just seem to be getting out of hand and I’m wondering if it’s not time to make these miscreants an offer they can’t refuse. I’m not going to give the whole Commercialization of Christmas lecture because we’ll hear plenty of that over the season, but these two are four- and five-years-old. Shouldn’t the anticipation of the big day be as exciting as the day itself and all of its promises? I also understand being a kid and just wanting the presents, I know I did as well, but I knew instinctively that they weren’t to be opened until Christmas morning and that was a big part of the magic.

I still have a few days to instill that magic into the kids. I’m not sure how to do it. I’m sure, though, that I won’t have Andy Garcia shoot one of them, that’s out of the question. But perhaps on Christmas Eve we’ll make some cider and popcorn, gather around the TV and, instead of watching It’s a Wonderful Life as has become our tradition, we’ll watch The Godfather III. Maybe they’ll glean a bit of holiday magic from an elf named Vincent.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Open Letter

Kids,

Can I renounce my fatherhood? Not for good, mind you, but just while I feel like crap? While I have this cough and my sinuses feels like they’ve been stuffed full of those tiny little infant socks that are found lying around the house, rendering me unable to breathe? I’ll come back to reading at bedtime and getting you ready for school and changing the diaper and outfit you just destroyed as soon as my throat stops hurting, I promise. I’ll also stop snapping at you for every little thing, probably, although maybe you could meet me halfway and stop acting simian for just 10 minutes. Don’t jump from couch to chair, and there’s really no reason to put an empty cup in the refrigerator. Ever. Stuff like that. Things that may or may not be getting on my last nerve due to my illness. I know you all like it when I cough that stuff up in the morning. It’s like a magic trick, like when I pull a coin from your ear, but it’s not so magical – is kind of gross, in fact - and I’ll be much more fun when all of that stops.

I know that none of you are doctors (yet) but there may be a way you could help to heal me, though it involves quiet, something you will presumably learn about in medical school one day, assuming any of the four of you are capable of learning that concept. You may also be able to help by staying away from me, approximately 1190 sq. ft. away.

Give me just a few more days, kids, because this usually doesn’t last too long, and it only seems fair considering you brought it home to me. All of you with your hands caked in snot, some yours, some once belonging to other kids, and hacking up whatever it is your buddy was hacking up a week ago. Once it passes, I’ll be the same old lovable Daddy who occasionally gets irritated for no good reason at all. And isn’t that really what we all want?

Sincerely,
RJA

[This is the 200th post on Urf!]

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Belated

Let me begin by saying Happy Birthday, Aunt Carol.

They say when a person loses his sight, that his other senses are heightened. I wonder if it works that way for social skills as well. If, by ignoring one aspect of your life, it will make you better, more competent in another. My day to day life is so full of me that I seem to let almost everything else fall to the side, or so it feels. I’m not saying that what I do is extraordinary, anything that anyone else doesn’t or wouldn’t do given the same circumstances, but from the minute I wake up in the morning I’m responsible for my kids – feeding, dressing, homework gathered up, out the door to school – from there I go to work, to a business with my name on it and which I am solely responsible for. After work it’s home to laundry and dishes and baths and bedtime. While all of this is happening, people around me, friends and family, are achieving goals, reaching milestones and suffering problems that I’m not there for. Sometimes they’re having significant birthdays, as Aunt Carol, one of my favorite people in the world, did two days ago, the day I meant to call her and say, simply, Happy Birthday. But I didn’t. I forgot. What makes this even more unbelievable is that my family, being so large, has its own calendar with everyone’s birthday listed. In the back of this calendar is a listing of everyone’s contact information. So what’s the excuse? I was busy. That’s always the excuse. Work, kids. Is it a good excuse? Not at all. People deal with all of this on a daily basis, it’s called Life. Some people, obviously, have a better handle on theirs.

Again, I’m not looking for pity. I try to be a good father, husband and businessman, but there are times when it all becomes overwhelming. I’m lucky to have a partner in all of this, though I tend to heap the burden on my own shoulders, unnecessarily, most of the time. I would like to be there for the milestones of today, no matter how large or small, instead of concentrating on what needs to be done tomorrow. These are times when the best thing I could do is just step back and listen to the music instead of feeling the need to be the conductor.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

World Domination, One Blog At A Time

Thanks to Click (Daily), Bar-B-Log and Memphis Blogger for their help in my quest to take over the interweb and, ultimately, the world.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

JP Lassoes N

Today, JP brought home an N in conduct from kindergarten. And as I write that, I picture the mother in A Christmas Story whispering over the phone to his friend’s mother the unthinkable word that Ralphie had exclaimed earlier that night when the lug nuts went flying. And I picture all of you screaming in horror as you read it, your tinny voices coming through cyberspace to let me know you feel my pain and share my horror. Now, it’s not all that bad, an N, it simply means Needs Improvement (I think, but it could also mean Numbskull or Nerd), and JP, of all The Quartet, needs improvement. He seems out of control lately, being more physical than normal and he’s developed this lovely habit of asking “What?” after everything we say. But back to the N. The little note in his folder says he forgot his homework, which was complete, yet sitting on our dining room table – apparently you don’t get credit for that – and being “ugly in Spanish.” I’m not sure if he was misbehaving in Spanish class or if the Spaniards simply consider him unattractive, but it apparently pushed him over the edge of S (Satisfactory) and into the land of N. So I sat him down tonight and explained that I know he can get Es (Excellent) in conduct because he’s gotten plenty of them and I expect him to get more of them from now on, and no more Ns. I’m pretty sure he understood because he said “Alright” after every sentence I spoke. And then he chewed on his sleeve and walked out of the room on his toes.

I wouldn’t dare tell JP to second guess his teacher or that what she says in her classroom, much like a ship’s captain, isn’t law. But she, and the school, do have some inane rules. When he’s gotten an S in the past for breaking one of these, I haven’t said much at all because, well, they’re stupid. One rule that really irks me is that they can’t talk in the lunchroom. No talking in the lunchroom? That’s what lunchrooms are for! It's where you talk about how crappy the food is, how stupid your teachers are and how pretty the girls are … eventually. It’s the chance every day, along with recess, for these five-year-olds to blow off some steam. So when he says he got an S for talking in the lunchroom, I give him that stern, fatherly look, but what I really want to say is, “Really? What did you talk about?”

Tomorrow is another day. Another chance for an E. I feel a little bad about putting so much pressure on him. He’s just learned the alphabet and now we’ve already got him loathing certain letters. But it’s better he learn it now, we don’t want him walking out of that first performance appraisal with the multi-billion dollar corporation he’s gone to work for just out of college (on scholarship!) to find out that, though he met his fiscal goals for the quarter, he got an N in conduct and that, really, is what matters.

Other things N might stand for:

Narcoleptic
Nudist
Nappy
Nowhere
Nabob
Ne’er-do-well
Naval
Navel
Newhart
Nerf

Monday, December 11, 2006

Real Life

Some nights aren’t so fun. Some nights are laced with tension and raised voices. Sometimes parents spend that time between work and bedtime imploring the children to be quiet, to stop touching each other and for everyone to respect everyone else’s space. Nights when a third-grader spends three hours working on a project for Science class and all they can do with the six-month-old is stand up and hold her because she won’t allow them to sit down or to put her down because she is the one actually running the show around that house. She is the wizard behind the curtain. But then when The Wizard does finally start to drift into sleep, they need the other three children to just. be. quiet. And they won’t. They won’t because it’s not in their genes and because they know that that is the precise moment when the parents really, really want them to just shut up for a few minutes. And this is exactly how it is put forth. This would be the same night that the five-year-old shoves the eight-year-old in the back, propelling him forward, headfirst into the bookcase in the living room, causing it to rock back and forth and threaten to tip over. Shoves him even though he was just told not to touch his brother. This act causes the father to lose it and use a word he probably shouldn’t while sending the five-year-old to his room. Later, when the father and five-year-old are sitting together on the couch watching television, they’ll discuss bad words and the five-year-old will make the father laugh out loud. The six-month-old is snotty. Still. And coughing. Again. And the father wonders if this is the 19th Century and she has the TB for which the only respite is taking the fresh air. He thinks this because he doesn’t understand medicine and, for having four children, doesn’t really understand children. Not tonight he doesn’t. He doesn’t get why they won’t eat, listen, stop touching each other or just do what their mother and father tell them to do. Why, when you tell the four-year-old something is black, she insists it’s white. Why the infant insists on rubbing snot all over her face like an unguent. Tomorrow night it might be clearer. Tomorrow night it will probably all make sense and be something for him to laugh at and write about on his little blog. But tonight, real life has gripped him with all the stress and tension of being a parent. Tomorrow night will be different.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

MRD

I spent last night at the roller derby. Seriously. Not just me, though, but Midtown Memphis seemed to move en masse to the Funquest in Collierville to witness The Legion of Zoom take on the PrissKilla Prezleys in a Memphis Roller Derby pre-season match. It was loud, fast and more fun than I expected. I still don’t understand the rules or how the point system works, but there were a lot of points, final score was something like PP 12,349 and LoZ 11,958. Anyway, the Z Girls lost, which is too bad because my sister is on that team. So is Stacey, who also took away a broken fibula and tibula, which shows you how rough these ladies can be. I was surprised that it was Stacey who broke a bone because I really expected the break to belong to Elizabeth. When we were kids, none of us was really athletic, but certainly not her, and when she skated out onto the floor for the first time last night, the look on her face took me back to our childhood when she was trying to ride her bike for the first time or playing any sport or just, you know, running. And then she got out on the rink for the introductions and her team had this little choreographed number where they all rip off their oversized blouses to reveal their more revealing roller derby uniforms. I didn’t care for that part at all.

Also last night, through the forces of good beyond our control, we found ourselves with only one child for the weekend. The three older ones were in Nashville, which is just a hair west of the Funquest in Collierville, with their grandparents. After the big show we, along with pregnant Andria, took GK to a bar because we know what good parenting is all about. It was fun to watch all the pretty people at Bosco’s look on in horror as we walked in with a 6-month-old to interrupt their bad dates and cell phone calls. But she was good. She had just been to a roller derby bout and that made her just a little more hip than the rest of them, despite what they thought about themselves.

It was a very interesting, very raucous time. Not too raucous, though, it being Collierville and with every other person at the bout wearing a black T-shirt stating they were SECURITY, as though there was some trouble to be expected at the Family Funquest this night. But the spectators there were good, enthusiastic Midtown people. People like us, Click, Mr. and Mrs. artbutcher, S.A.M. and The Admiral featuring Miss M, The Saucier, Harry from Elliot’s, Mel, Heather, Julie, Warren and the rest of Team O-G, and the Chockleyblogs (technically from East Memphis, but not that far east!). Everyone was there to cheer on Moxie Dynamite, Smashimi, Angelina Rolie and all the other funny names. We look forward to the next match but hope that the Memphis Roller Derby is able to find a venue closer to home so we can keep the scales from tipping too far east.

[editor’s note: I just spoke to Stacey who spent the night in the hospital and is due to have surgery any time now to put a metal plate in her leg. She’s the Bionic Blogger now. Good luck, Stacey!]

[Photo of Elizabeth by Click(Daily). Photo of GK by Sassy Molassy]

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Yes, Ma'am

The Quartet was running through the house this evening, which is one of their favorite past times. Kristy and I keep talking about needing a larger house, and here these little people are able to get up a good bit of speed while doing lap after lap through the rooms. Kristy was in the kitchen preparing supper - a lovely casserole - when the kids came tearing through (lap number 16, I believe). "Stay out of the kitchen!" she said, in that soothing voice of hers. And one by one, the kids answered back, "Yes, ma'am!" Yes, ma'am? While we try to teach our children to be polite, we've never stressed that they should address us with yes, ma'am or yes, sir. Where had this come from? Then I realized they were mocking us. It all made sense, because they absolutely learned that from us.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mustaches For Kids

It was brought to my attention today by my brother-in-law, The Quartet’s uncle, that there is an event underway in the great city of Chicago called Mustaches For Kids [editor’s note: it was also brought to my attention this evening that this topic was brought up last Saturday night well into a couple of bottles of wine with friends and family. It became much more clear today].

Brave men citywide will collect pledges from friends, family and colleagues to benefit Off the Street Club, Chicago’s oldest boys’ and girls’ club. All the participants need to do is grow and maintain a classic Magnum P.I.-style mustache for a month.

I, for one, think this is a fantastic idea and should quickly be franchised to the Memphis area. My wife, however, does not. For more than a decade, I’ve sported some sort of Van Dyck or, more recently, full beard on my mug. But there was a day, just before we got married, that I shaved. Shaved almost all of it off. All but the ‘stache. She walked into the house that fateful day, got one look at me lounging on the sofa in my robe and hairy lip, turned around and walked back out of the house. She opened the door just enough to tell me to go shave, that she wouldn’t look at me until I did. So I did – I was young and na├»ve. And I’ve never tried it again, although there was the briefest mention of it on a train ride back from New Orleans with that same brother-in-law, but that’s another story for another day. The fact is, I believe it may be time again. Not now, but next fall when the mustache-for-charity season begins in earnest.

I’m pretty sure The Quartet would like to see me in just a mustache. They’ve never seen me without a beard. GK, I know, would be confused by it as it would be less hair for her to try to pull out of my face with her tiny little, vise-like fingers. They have no idea who Tom Selleck is, but they’re all big fans of Groucho Marx and Gordon, from Sesame Street, has always had a mustache. And, besides, it’s for charity! Who can say no to that? The Quartet’s mother, that’s who.

From the Mustaches for Kids website:
Mustaches for Kids is an international volunteer-run, Mustache-growing Children’s Charity. In eight fulfilling years, the Mustaches for Kids proposition has enjoyed steady expansion throughout the US and Canada - continental progress not unlike the measured, deliberate growth of a Mustache. In that time, Mustaches for Kids, owing to the efforts of an impressive community of Growers, has raised over $150,000 for various children’s charities.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Independent JP

One of the things we’ve been working on with JP lately, and when I say “working on” I mean “harping on and teasing relentlessly,” is his being more independent. Now, we don’t expect him to work or fend for himself totally, or even help out with rent. He’s only five-years-old, so he’s got another five years before he has to think about that. But there are certain things he should be able to do without us – get his own cookie, get out of the bathtub, and find his own clothes in his drawer, for example. C is good about doing things on his own, once he’s reminded that he can. S can, but refuses. That’s just S. JP doesn’t seem to have any clue that he is capable of walking into his room on his own and locating a pair of socks because his feet are cold.

Tonight I happened on him as he tried on this new-found independence. He was getting his own drink of water from the kitchen sink. I watched him from the dining room as he hoisted himself onto the sink, holding himself up on just his elbows. His legs swung from side to side as he traded the cup from hand to hand and turned on first the hot water, then turned it off, then the cold water, traded the cup back to the other hand, filled it, and turned the water off. He looked like a 1980s-era Soviet gymnast fighting to keep his balance. Either that or one of those people who are born without any limbs but have learned to live on their own regardless of their limitations. But that may be demeaning to the people with no limbs because they are surely more capable than JP is right now. He is the one most likely to come to me in our 1200 sq. ft. house and ask where someone else is. Chances are he had to step over or around that person to get to me to ask his question.

I have no doubt he’ll grow into his own independent nature, and I know it’s not right to put so much pressure on him. It’s just that there is a lot to be done around here with four kids so we tend to expect them to help out, by helping themselves if not each other, at an earlier age. The sooner JP can help himself to the simpler things, the easier life will become for us and him. And the sooner we know that he can care for himself, the sooner we can send him to the Czech Republic to begin training for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Four Families

I can’t seem to get tradition off the brain lately. When I was young I never thought I’d be one for tradition, though I enjoyed the elements without really realizing what they were at the time. I think I saw tradition as a rut, something to avoid more than something to embrace. As I grew older and became a parent myself, as you’ve read, I learned to love what our family is about.

My great-grandparents had four children - Joe, Charlie, Jeannie and Shirley. These people are now The Heads of the Four Families, families of Zanones, Fachinis and Hollahans. Among them they’ve bred and raised a legion of kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. Every year the Heads of the Four Families get together for a Christmas feast at the home of one of the siblings. It rotates from year to year. This has become their tradition. This year, they are in Memphis and I would love to be a part of that dinner, but, alas, I’m not invited. No kids are. No grandkids. No great-grandkids. No one is even sure what they discuss at these dinners, whether it’s the best way to get their fortunes safely into offshore banks, what new land acquisitions were made the previous year or who needs to be “dealt with.” But most probably they talk about us. Not me, particularly, but their offspring and their offspring’s offspring and their offspring’s offspring’s offspring. And they laugh at us. I know they do. I would. It is our God given right, as parents, to laugh at the little people we produce and to laugh at them for as long as we feel is appropriate. My sister and her husband live nearby and our tradition is, and has been for years, dinner together on Thursday night. When we get together we laugh at The Quartet, our four little jesters, and I know this will never change because they are funny and we are just a little bit cruel.

So tonight The Heads of the Four Families are having a feast over at Aunt Jeannie’s house and they’re reminiscing about their very long lives and discussing investments and, knowing them, sharing cooking tips. But they’re also laughing. Laughing and enjoying each other’s company, which I think is great and the most wonderful tradition of all, even though much of that laughter, I’m sure, is at our expense.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

NaBloPoMo NoMo

Well, here we are, at the end of November and the end of NaBloPoMo. I did it, 32 posts/30 days. I thought I’d be saying “I told you so” at the end of this but the truth is everyone has been supportive and even helpful. It was always nice when someone sent an instant message at 11:30 at night to ask where the hell that day’s post was while I sat there frantically trying to be witty. That’s just the kind of pressure I needed. But it’s been fun, really, and a good exercise for a frustrated writer. It caused me to really pay attention to what The Quartet was up to as well. And I don’t mean like whether or not they were buckled in their seats in the car or choking on their PB&J or who was playing with which kitchen knife. I mean other things, like when C is explaining his day to JP or when S is threatening C or when JP is explaining his lunch to GK. These are the things that make a good post, I think. And what was discussed during NaBloPoMo on Urf!? Well, we talked about painting, bedtime routines, art, hot lava, Milt Hinton and Elvis, house hunting, group babysitting, one funny mom, friends and a lot about Thanksgiving and traditions. I hope you had fun, all 2,743 of you who joined me, Kristy and The Quartet for the month of November. I know I did, and I’ll try to keep it up. Maybe not daily like this because it really is a lot of work, but I’ll do my best to keep it fresh and interesting. Thanks again to all of you and to Fussy for organizing this.

While writing took up a big chunk of November 2006, it wasn’t the only thing I accomplished. Here’s a list of 24 other things I did this month:
  • Made 50 dozen ravioli
  • Drove 940 miles roundtrip to Greensboro, GA
  • Shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
  • Approximately 29 loads of laundry
  • Located the leak in our roof, but did not fix it
  • Taught C to play blackjack
  • Made my sisters cry
  • Purchased a Sticky Fingers CD
  • Took possession of a rusted-out 1986 Honda Rebel
  • Smoked cigars
  • Argued both sides of the election fence
  • Read half of one book, started another
  • Sang Baby It’s Cold Outside with Zooey Deschanel
  • Read 1,000 blogs
  • Watched The Godfather ... again.
  • Researched the building of a Tesla coil
  • Worked on three short stories
  • Sewed a button back on
  • Took notes
  • Seduced a Romanian spy
  • Repaired the oven
  • Came in third in an ultra-marathon
  • Sudoku after sudoku
  • Calculated Pi to infinity (okay, that one's made up)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

All Around the Interweb

You can see my girls here and here*.

You can see my feet here.


*I can only lay claim to S, on your right.

One For Steve

I was talking to a friend today who has a situation at home. He’s married to a woman who has three children of her own from a previous marriage and the oldest child is entering that netherworld of puberty. This age, of course, exacerbates any little problem in the home and he’s dealing with some of that at the moment.

When I was 13, my parents were divorced. And not long after that my mother met a man who would eventually become my sisters’ and my stepfather. This was not a completely smooth transition in our lives. I’ve come to realize, in my adulthood and, more specifically, my parenthood, that most of that was my fault. But I was ravaged by puberty at the time and was in very little control of anything going on with my body and mind. When Steve came into our lives he was … young. I’ll leave it at that. I can not imagine becoming part of a family with three children the ages that we were at the time with no handbook or manual of any kind. It took a tremendous amount of guts and love for my mother, which I appreciate to this day.

Steve and Mom went on to have two more children, my brothers, and we became seven. Let me say here, however, that my brothers have two different parents than the ones I grew up with. I seem to remember more rules being in place. I may be wrong about this, and I’m sure my mother will let me know that I am, but that’s the way I recall my youth. It’s difficult being 14 or 15 and having someone new telling you what to do and how to do it. I argued and fought against it, though in all fairness, I think I would’ve complained no matter who was telling me what to do. The truth is, we were all learning how to deal with this new situation as we went along and that’s always tricky, and not always pleasant. There were many good times, don’t get me wrong, but it’s me making an ass out of myself that is the clearest for me. I guess this is my apology for not making the transition any better than it could have been.

Years later, when Kristy and I moved to Florida for a couple of years just after we were married, I worked for Steve. He was a good boss and, because we were both adults by then, we got along really well, and I enjoyed being with him and talking with him. I looked up to him for having started his own business and he talked a lot about entrepreneurship and why people work for themselves vs. someone else, and it all made sense and stuck with me. Some years later I would be looking at buying my own business and he was the first person I called for advice.

Other than being so good to my mother and bringing my brothers into our family, the other thing I will always be grateful for is the way he’s taken care of my younger sister. She was only eight-years-old when they were married and our own father was really … um … far away, so Steve took over. And he’s done a wonderful job. He cared for her as though she were his own blood and now I believe she is - they are as close as father and daughter can be.

There are only a few men I’ve looked up to in my life – uncles, grandfather and my stepfather – and they’ve shaped me into the man and father that I am. I hope I’m doing okay. I really am trying. Children, in general, scare me, and the thought of The Quartet becoming teenagers petrifies the hell out of me, but I hope I can pass through that test with all the courage and aplomb that Steve has.

Four things about Steve: 1) he has a handshake that makes your knees buckle if you’re not ready. I used to warn my friends about it, 2) I believe he could sell anything to anybody, 3) he mumbles, 4) he once snuck a beer to me when I was too young to drink, but old enough to know better.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

G Krud

GK has the crud. She’s coughing, wheezing and snotty and it’s mostly in the morning, when she first wakes up, and I’m the first one she sees. So today, after school, Kristy took her to the doctor and the doctor prescribed an inhaler and steroids, keeping her from competing in the Tour de France, but in no way impeding her entry into Major League Baseball.

Is there anything harder than seeing one of your children sick or hurting? Who among parents would not rather be sick themselves than have to worry about their five-month-old’s coughing and crying? So I stopped by the Walgreen’s to pick up her prescription after work and was given a few bags, which I took home. Naturally, because I can’t be trusted with any sort of take-out, whether it be cleaning supplies or food, what I was given was wrong. The inhaler was for an adult and not the mask that is more appropriate for small children. I took the inhaler back for an exchange, which took an inordinate amount of time. I waited nearly 20 minutes even though there was no one ahead of me and I wasn’t exchanging actual medicine. I was exchanging the means of conveyance for medicine into her mouth. It was as though I was buying a spoon, but had to wait for approval. But I digress. The child-sized inhaler, it turns out, would cost $25 more than the adult-sized inhaler, bringing the total to $45 for something that, again, is not actual medicine. Exorbitant, you say? I agree. Yet here are the pharmacists, extorting money from me for my child’s health. What am I going to say in that situation? “No, that’s too much money for my baby to be well.” Of course not. So they’ve got you. They got me. But I got the medicine GK needed and I hope it helps. And I hope that tomorrow a major drug manufacturer comes into my cigar shop and really, really wants a cigar. It will cost him $45.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Christmas Wish List

I've been talking to The Quartet about Christmas and what they may want, if anything, this holiday season. Turns out all they really want is this letter from Marlon Brando, who had immense talent, to Charlie Sheen, who has none at all, that is being auctioned. The letter is an apology from Brando for not being able to attend Sheen's 26th birthday party. It begins, "I'm feeling like a very large turd on a very thin stick ..." So, if anyone is feeling particularly generous, the current bid price is $1,100. The Quartet believes it will look great hanging in our dining room. Thank you and Merry Christmas.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Tryptophan Comedown

How do you people do it? How do you go back to work after five days off? I own my own business and am not acquainted with things such as paid time off and vacation days or calling in sick to the boss on that first day you’re supposed to be back at work from vacation. In fact, I usually take only a handful of days off every year. But I’ve been off since last Wednesday for the Thanksgiving holiday and I’m not sure I can go back to my normal life now. Not only is the thought of going back to work for another stretch of six-days-per-week work weeks grueling, but I’m also feeling strangely melancholy after the holiday, as though I’ve left something important behind and may not be able to get it back. I know that depression is normal after holidays, and this could be a bit of that. I just hope it goes away soon. We had a wonderful time with family, but we’ll see them again, and there is still more of the holiday season to come. We went to a friend’s house for brunch today and wound up spending the entire day there talking, eating and playing games, so it was as though we eased out of our vacation, which was nice, and back into the icy-cold water of reality. I learned four things about our friends today: 1) The Admiral makes perfect pancakes, 2) S.A.M. has enough trivia in her head to choke a Mastiff, 3) even if someone lives a block from a restaurant, she’ll still drive to pick up the take-out, and most of that drive will be spent trying to parallel park between a large empty space and nothing at all, and 4) an audio engineering professor’s house is oddly devoid of any music on the hi-fi.

There is about a month of the Christmas holidays to come and my goal is to enjoy them and the time with The Quartet. Being in retail, this month is usually all about numbers and worrying that they’re not right (they never are), and I’m tired of that. I’ve been doing this for eight years and I feel that I’ve missed out on a lot at home and with family and friends during the holidays, and it really needs to be the other way around. So this year I resolve to face the season head on with decorating, visits to Santa, baking, dreaming with the kids and celebrating with friends.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Post-Holiday Time Out

We just debarked from our eight-hour drive and I believe I’ve spent too long in too confining a space with these people. I’ll be at The Madison Hotel if anyone needs me. Not that The Quartet was bad on the return home from Georgia, just the opposite, in fact, but they were all right there on top of me, breathing down my neck, farting in my space. I love them dearly and I love the Thanksgiving holiday, as I’m sure you’ve been able to tell, but I’m only human. I need a time out. I feel as though I’m hungover, that I’ve been drunk on family for four days and now I’m in the gutter, stinking of ravioli, toddler and cigars, and all I can do is curse the light. Like any hangover, the light from the TV, emitted from Manny, Diego and Sid the Sloth for the fiftieth time is burning into my eyeballs. And the noises. The various sounds these kids make are at foghorn level in my brain tonight. JP was just bouncing S’s shoes she left behind on the wood floor and I threatened to make him eat them if he kept it up. This is contradictory to the previous threat I made to sew his lips shut if he didn’t take all parts of his clothing out of his mouth. JP has a habit lately of chewing on his sleeves, or whatever scrap he can fit in his mouth. I can’t get him to eat a banana or meatloaf, but a cotton/poly blend seems to be the perfect snack. And now S and her mother are arguing over whether or not Ice Age 2, The Meltdown is a cartoon or a movie.

I know this all sounds very harsh, and probably drops me from the short list for Father of the Year, but I have to tell you people the truth. You don’t want me telling you that everything comes up roses after 96 hours of constant contact. You don’t want me to start lying now, do you? Well, I can’t. I can’t lie to you and I can’t lie to my kids, so when I tell them that they’re going to have to sleep on the front porch if they don’t calm the hell down, then that’s just the way it’s going to be.

And now, on this cartoon or movie or whatever it is, they’re showing the baby mammoth who’s all alone because she doesn’t have any parents for some reason or other, and I already feel guilty about what I’ve written because this little creature has big, sad, lonely eyes, but no parents. Yet at the same time JP, for no reason at all, falls off of the couch and it sounds like somebody’s thrown a sack of potatoes on the floor and I swear to him that I’m going to glue him to that couch if he doesn’t calm down. And then C asks some questions about something else and S whines because no one is helping her put her pajamas on and I’m ready again to send them all the way of the mammoths, with their mouths sewn shut, sleeping on my front porch.

Friday, November 24, 2006

JP Menu

I’ve written a lot about food this weekend because it’s Thanksgiving and I’ve been hungry. Here’s a complete list of what JP has not eaten over the last three days:

Turkey
Ravioli
Prime Rib
Dressing
Cranberry sauce
Green bean casserole
Mashed potatoes
Burgundy mushrooms
Ham
Sausage pinwheels
Pocky
Pecan pie
Pumpkin pie
Chocolate pie
Chocolate cake
Ice cream
Cereal
Chex mix
Chili
Salad
Red wine
Coffee
Tums

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Tradition of Food

One of the side dishes to our Thanksgiving turkey and ravioli is conversation. Since I was a child, much of this conversation has turned to stories from Depression-era and early life in Memphis. I’ve heard many of these stories many times but I always want to hear them again. This year is no different and the talk turned to why we have ravioli on Thanksgiving. My mother had heard that it was because her grandparents, my great-grandparents, who owned Zanone’s Restaurant in Frayser, made and sold ravioli on a regular basis, so it wasn’t on their family’s daily menu. It was something special for the holidays. That would put the tradition as starting around the late 1960s, early 70s. This story is not accurate. My grandmother, Mimi, says that it was because her grandparents (my great-great grandparents), Charles Francis and Rosalie Cerisola Zanone, who lived next door to them when she was a child, made the ravioli just for the holidays because the process was so labor-intensive and at that time there was no good way to freeze the ravioli, so anything that was made had to be eaten immediately. They lived on Chelsea, at Morehead, in North Memphis, in a house bought for $3,500. This was 1939.

My great-grandparents eventually made their way to the big house on Charlotte Circle in East Memphis, where I spent a lot of my time as a kid with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all over the place. I remember my great-grandfather, Pampa Charlie, standing in the kitchen with his apron on, stirring his slow roaster full of gravy. And I remember my great-grandmother, Mimi K, in that same kitchen, putting a plate of brisket and spaghetti in front of us, imploring us to eat. We ate, because we knew there was cake and ice cream to follow the food. As I grew, I realized that my own grandfather, Pop, was an extraordinary cook. He facilitated my appreciation for prime rib, quail and these wonderful burgundy mushrooms he makes. But he could cook anything.

I don’t cook, though I’d like to. I’ve tried, but it’s never taken. Every time I’m around family, though, the talk, and the activity, always turns to food and eating. I think I might have to have another go at the cooking, and Pop just gave me a slow roaster today so maybe it’s time to get my apron out. I’d like The Quartet to grow up with, not only the appreciation of good food, but the tradition of good food and the memories that are dished up with it.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Eastbound and Down

We left the house this morning for the 500-mile trip to my grandparents’ at 8 a.m. This is an hour later than I wanted to leave because Kristy was cleaning. I’ll say that again – Kristy was cleaning the house. This is because her sister and her family are coming to town and staying at our house since we’re not there, an idea I’m completely against. I love her sister as if she were my own, but right now there are people who are not me in my house, touching my stuff. Can you even imagine? I’m trying not to think about it. I’ll try not to think about it for the next four days.

The first stop occurred at 8:15 so Kristy could clean up S who had just puked, mostly into a plastic bag, but partly on herself. This happened approximately every 45 minutes to an hour or so, all day. How do you make an eight-hour car trip with four kids longer? See to it that one of them drinks scotch all night the night before or has a stomach bug, we’re still not sure which. I need to apologize, first of all, to everyone who was trying to eat with their children at the playland inside McDonald’s in Jasper, AL, for taking my own kids there. S has some sort of stomach virus, which your children all probably have by now. If not, you can expect it to show up tomorrow, all over your giblets. And JP has had a nasty cough for a couple of days and he was doing that all over the slide, stairs and ball pit. I would have offered to pay for all of your lunches, but there were a lot of you and I’m not made of money. So, again, sorry about the vomit you’ve no doubt experienced, and for exposing Typhoid Mary to your McRib.

I really don’t mind long road trips. I kind of enjoy them, actually. And I realized why on this one. For eight hours, all that is required of me is to drive. To drive and to sing to my family (that’s probably not required, more of a perk for the kids). It is completely acceptable for me to bark out orders, “CD change!” “Coffee!” “Quiet that baby!” So why did that change this time? Why did Kristy spend the afternoon asking me (me!) where her water bottle was, and where the extra napkins were or if I could hand her her purse? I’m driving, woman! I was so confused by everything going on, it took me until we arrived at Mimi & Pop’s to think about earplugs. Earplugs! Of course!

Just outside of Social Circle, GA, I saw a trailer abandoned on the side of the road with one of its tires missing. The trailer had been hauling, and was still piled high, with tires. So, considering the vomit and the demands on my time, the trip could have been worse. I could be stranded right now, someplace between home and irony.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ravioli Hijacked

Stacey has commandeered the ravioli for herself. Read all about it over at Chop Fayn.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Traditions

I received several complimentary comments on the previous post from those parties involved in the Zanone family ravioli making yesterday. We spent the day talking about our Thanksgiving traditions, and what struck me the most was the lack of any real holiday tradition in their lives. They have pizza for dinner or go off alone for the weekend. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is sometimes the only time I can get together with my family to talk and catch up and laugh together, but listening to them yesterday and reading their comments this morning made me want to cancel my plans. They made me want to cook turkey and dressing, green beans and mashed potatoes and, of course, ravioli. To have them all over to spend the day eating and drinking and laughing while we tended to the kids and made our own memories. But I don’t get to leave town or work and all the pressures associated with it very often, so they can all kiss it! I’ll be in Georgia!

I just got an E-mail from Pop with directions to my grandparents’ house, and then I went on Mapquest to double check it and, what do you know, it was right! Not that I don’t think he knows how to get to his own house, but why would you tell this many people exactly where you live? They might show up. They might stay. They may not ever leave. But we promise to be good, to eat only what we really need to survive and to clean up after ourselves. But I can’t promise we won’t leave because visiting my grandparents is just about my favorite thing to do all year. What do we do at Mimi & Pop’s? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. We sit, we talk, we eat, we laugh, then we eat some more. When you run a business six days a week, as I do, it’s impossible to get away from it. You have to leave town to do that.

So this Wednesday I’ll be packing a wife and four kids into the minivan to drive south and east. Everyone I mention this to thinks I’m crazy for doing so. It’s really not so bad, though, since some genius decided to put a DVD player inside Mazda MPVs. The older kids will sit and stare at that little box mindlessly and silently, speaking only when their bellies are empty or their bladders are full. GK, however, can’t keep those oversized headphones on her tiny head and her carseat faces backwards, so none of the words she doesn’t understand make sense to her anyway. So she’s the wild card during this eight hour drive and I explained that to her this evening. We sat down and went over the directions to Pop’s, I showed her how to use Google Maps and then I explained that when we get in the car Wednesday morning, it is for the long haul. We won’t be getting out until almost dinner time and that I needed her to stay calm and quiet and just enjoy the afternoon drive. I even told her that she could pick a few CDs to listen to as long as those CDs were from a previously approved (by me) selection. And GK looked right at me, grinned a big, toothless grin, and pooped. So I believe we’re on the same page. Regardless, we’re leaving at 7 a.m. sharp the day after tomorrow, so she’d better get used to the idea. And she better get all that poop out of her system as the crying will be bad enough, I don’t need a dirty diaper riding shotgun as well.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Grazie, Amici

When I was in my teens, I learned how to make the Zanone family ravioli. My great-grandfather, Pampa Charlie, was ill at the time and couldn’t really leave the couch in their apartment. I made the dough for the ravioli per his instructions, no small feat with my scrawny wrists and forearms, though I managed to knead it into submission. I took it to Pampa who said it looked good. That was all I needed. My great grandmother, Mimi K, great aunt Jeannie, and I spent the afternoon putting the ravioli guts onto the thin strips of pasta that had been rolled out, folding them over, crimping the edges and stabbing at the tops with the tines of a fork. When it was all complete, which is a process taking hours, I took some to Pampa and he said it was perfect. That was all I needed.

Today we made our annual batch of Zanone family ravioli. This year, however, Kristy and I did something different and invited friends over to help. Our extended family. The cast included Shannon and Brian, Stacey, Andria, and Elizabeth, my sister, who led the instruction in the beginning. I hope they had fun, it was what the holiday season is all about to me, gathering with friends and family to eat, drink wine and talk. All of their offspring were here, too, so we had eight kids running around the house as well.

After the preparation and construction of the ravioli, we had a big feast. Kristy did the cooking of the gravy and ravioli with GK strapped to her back, which is doubly impressive. Ravioli cooking is nothing new to Kristy, she’s probably been doing it for as long as we’ve known each other, some 19 years now. She’s worked on so many batches that when I needed a list of ingredients at work the other day so I could go to the grocery, she E-mailed a list from memory. It was dead on.

My sister and I may be the only family members of our generation who know how to make the ravioli and we both relish this tradition. What I learned today is that C is eager to take up the reins. This was the first time he was allowed to help and, at age eight, he jumped right in and kept up with the adults, never tiring, never losing interest. His ravioli turned out as well as anyone else’s, too.

So thanks, again, to our friends. We hope you enjoyed a taste of our family and that you will come back next year, if not sooner, to lend a hand again. I’ll tell you that you all did great, and I hope it means as much to you to hear it today as it did to me 20 years ago.

Photo courtesy of Click(Daily) who makes a mean piece of pasta.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Saturday Night Loser

I sat down to write an original, readable, witty post this evening. I really did. But I'm just so tired from putting together the guts of our family's homemade ravioli, which I'll post about tomorrow. It's not so much being tired, though, but the fact that I sat down in front of the TV to write and Saturday Night Live is on, and I believe it has sucked all the funny out of me. So now I'm tired, humorless and I smell like onion and sausage. But tomorrow's another day, a day of ravioli making with friends, and a full day to try and get funny again.

Friday, November 17, 2006

10,000

Last night was a milestone of sorts for Urf! It logged its 10,000th hit to the site since its inception on April 1st of this year. Now, I’m not even sure what that means because I know there’s a difference between unique visitors, page loads and return visitors. My ego would like to believe that 10,000 different people have found their way here and enjoyed what they saw, but I know deep down that there are about three people who have come here over 3,000 times each. What I do know is that since the advent of NaBloPoMo 17 days ago, the visits per day have nearly doubled, expediting the race to 10,000.

Thank you to everyone who has visited, but especially to those of you who return again and again to keep up with my family and me. When I first started writing Urf!, it was mainly to regale my sisters and mother with funny stories about The Trio, and later The Quartet, but the readership has grown and nothing delights me more now than, hopefully, making a few people I don’t even know laugh or cry, depending on the subject, or simply nod knowingly.

As I check now, I’ve got 10,075 hits today from such diverse locales as Potomac, MD, Camden, NJ, Casa Grande, AZ, Moscow, London, Vietnam, Klagenfurt and Goteborg. So welcome to Memphis, y’all, come on in and make yourself at home. But remember, there are only 1200 sq. ft., so some of you may have to stand over there against the wall, behind the high chair and next to that pile of shoes and dirty laundry.

Keep reading. Keep commenting.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Night of the Septet

First of all, let’s have a big round of applause for Andria who, from what I hear, was the Funniest Mom in Bartlett last night. Secondly, let’s have a big round of applause for me. At 7:30 last night, I was left with six children in a 1200 sq. ft. house. At 7:32 we had one busted lip, and it wasn’t by my hand, which isn’t at all how I expected that to go down. Satchel and JP were on their 21st of what would become 3,185 running laps around our house and ran smack into S while rounding a particularly tight corner. At 7:35, The Admiral showed up to drop the seventh kid, Minnesota, off. She was not at all happy about that, though she recovered nicely after he left. And that’s all I’ve got on the timeline, other than at 11:00, when Kristy returned home to take a freshly awakened GK from my tired arms and allow sweet relief to the L4 and L5 discs. Everything in between is one big cheese-pizza-dripping, Pringles-crumb-infused, Over the Hedge blur, or, nightmare.

The kids weren’t necessarily bad, they were just being kids, though confined kids. Kept separately, they’re fine, like puppies. When you have one puppy to manage, you have to command its attention to get it to do what you want it to – sit, stay, pee outside. It needs to focus on you, the master. But when you get more than one puppy, they get distracted, they nip at each other and chase each others' butts. Kids are just like this. Another example is prisoners. Segregated in their cells, they’re harmless, which is why they only get an hour each day in the yard together.

So these kids ran and played and treated my home like a jungle gym, or a prison yard or a newspaper. Two new rules were quickly declared: no running in the house and only I am allowed to open the refrigerator. These two rules were quickly dismissed by the gang. But what could I do? The animals had become a pack. As I said, Satchel and JP were focused on their ultra-indoor marathon, while S and Minnesota spent the first hour and half viciously fighting over things – toys, space, C, you name it. Jiro touched every DVD in the house and at one point was pulled from the third tier of the metal shelves in the kitchen. C led the boys in all sorts of inappropriate indoor games, games like “tag” and “sprinting around like an idiot and running into furniture and other people.” To my credit, there was only one incidence of a possible missing child. At one point I couldn’t readily find Minnesota, but it turned out she was in the kitchen, playing quietly, which completely threw me off.

As insane as this good deed, this social experiment, of mine seemed at the time – and that time lasted through most of last night – it did afford me the opportunity to learn a bit about these children who my kids will grow with and, quite possibly, bond with as lifelong friends. Here is what I learned:

  • Minnesota goes all in with anything higher than a pair of deuces.
  • Satchel can't hold his liquor.
  • Jiro can take a punch.

The night finally wound down when Warren came by to spring Satchel and Jiro from this minimum security lock-up and, through little-known parenting secrets, I finally got GK to fall asleep without breastfeeding. The remaining kids changed into their pajamas, all the lights were turned out and we watched a DVD, one that Jiro had left nearby.

Sometime during all of this hilarity, I received a text message from Stacey that read “Andria rocked the house” which was good news indeed. But this post isn’t for Andria, my generation's Bea Arthur. And it’s not for me, either. This post is for my grandparents, because they raised seven children of their very own, and to me, just now, that seems like the craziest idea ever.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Best Laid Plans

Our good friend, Andria, has entered Nick at Nite’s Funniest Mom in America 3 search tonight at the comedy club called Comedy, TN. She is very funny and we wish her luck. However, I believe myself to be very funny as well. I’m not a mom, obviously, but in an effort to not be upstaged, I agreed to do the funniest thing I could think of. I offered to babysit all of our friends’ kids so they, and Kristy, could go cheer her on. Funny punchline? I thought so, but they took me seriously and so tonight I’ll be in charge of, as far as I can tell, seven children, ages five months to eight-years-old.

I don’t mind doing it, I’m willing to take a bullet – or seven – for my friends, but be aware that there are some rules that will need to be observed. The rules are:

  • I will order pizza. Pizza is what’s for dinner, so if your children want something else then you’ll have to provide it. And if you're providing a steak, medium rare, with garlic mashed potatoes, then bring me some of that, too.
  • I am the ultimate authority in my house. What I say goes, and if your child leaves here saying words you didn’t know he or she knew, and they say they learned them from me, then they’re lying, and should really know better.
  • I will not bathe anyone’s kids.
  • We will watch a movie of my choosing. That movie will be Pulp Fiction.
  • Any bumps, bruises or Band-Aids that your kids come into my house with will be documented and you will be required to sign off on this list. My attorney will witness the signatures.
  • The kids will stay out of my room. That’s where I’ll be.
  • I will begin taking children in any time after 7:30 p.m. Do not bring them any earlier, I have to stop by the liquor store on the way home from work.
  • Pick your kids up after the show. This one is the most important. And, please, when you pick them up, take care not to wake me.
  • Your kids’ pockets will be searched on their way out for any of my stuff.

This is the kind of undertaking I believe my Aunt Carol would assure me “builds character,” and therefore this babysitting is gratis, if gratis, in fact, means insane. I wouldn’t dream of taking anything from my friends so they can go out and have a good, though brief(!), night out. The competition prize, however, is $50,000, and should Andria win I will require half of that amount for pain and suffering.

[Good luck tonight, Andria!]

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Treat Getting 101

Kristy had a meeting after work yesterday, so I had to pick C, JP & S up at school. I walked the two blocks to their school, and on the way back was treated to this exchange:

S: Daddy, I got a treat today at school.
Me: A train?
S: No. A treat.
Me: You got a tree at school?
S: No! A treat!
Me: Why do you get treats?
S: We get treats when we’re good at school.
Me: So why did you get a treat?
S: Because Eli was being bad.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Monday Morning Bear Hunting

JP brought home a stuffed bear from school last Friday – Tuggles. I’m not sure why he did this, why his school is adding to the clutter in our home. I think he was led to believe it was some sort of reward, that because he was well-behaved all week, he got to bring this stuffed animal home for a couple of days. It was also an assignment of sorts, though. He was supposed to tell all about his weekend with Tuggles, from Tuggles’s point of view. Which means his mother made up a bunch of stuff that JP did with the bear all weekend and jotted it down.

And here is what Kristy said last night:
JP, why don’t you put Tuggles in the living room so you won’t forget him tomorrow morning? You have to take him back to school.

And this is what JP said:
Okay.

And this is what I said this morning before we left the house:
JP, don’t forget your bear. Do you have your bear?

And here is what JP said in the car, halfway to GK’s sitter’s house:
Daddy, did you get Tuggles?

I can’t tell you what I said immediately after that, but it must have been a long ride for him having to listen to the Responsibility Lecture all the way back home, then to the sitter's, then to school. And that is why my kids were late to school this morning.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sunday Porch Hunting

Sunday is my day to do what needs to be done around the house. I work six days a week, so there are things that get neglected around Castello Urf! and I have one day in which to take care of those things. I currently have approximately 1,000 projects planned for the house. Almost 283 of these are half-completed, leaving me with 717 that need to be started. Sunday, however, is also the only day I have to do fun family stuff. Since school began back in August, we’ve had a difficult time just keeping up with general house cleaning, so my plan for today was simple, because thinking simple is the only way anything is going to get done around here. Today I planned on clearing off the mountains of detritus that cover the table and piano in the dining room, along with my usual laundry, dishes, and other daily chores. But what did I do? Well, since Kristy and I found ourselves with only one child on hand this morning, we went to breakfast at Brother Juniper’s. Then we drove around Midtown looking at houses for sale, eventually picked up the other kids and met friends for a picnic at the Duck Pond. So nothing productive got done. But it was a very relaxing day.

Because we’re not really ready to put an offer on a house, due to personal financial “situations” and our own house being well over 717 projects away from being saleable, we simply looked at houses as we drove by. No need to waste an agent’s time at an open house. More accurately, though, we drove around looking at front porches. Having a nice, inviting front porch is a requirement for us, which is odd coming from six people who currently use one bathroom. Multiple bathrooms is a requirement as well, but we couldn’t see all of that from the Mazda. We use our front porch as an extension of the living area in our house. We’ll sit out there on pleasant weekend mornings to read the paper and drink tea. It’s a nice place to sit when friends come over to talk while our kids run in the front yard, and there’s nothing nicer than coming home from work to see my family sitting out front awaiting my arrival.

What we’re looking for in a new house is, not only a place large enough to raise our four kids comfortably, but also a place for friends and family to congregate. We want to be the default location for holidays, birthdays and when people just need a place to meet up before going out. We want a house that’s comfortable enough for our kids’ friends to come over and hang out. I think what I may be looking for, when the time comes, is my great-grandmother’s house. I don’t ever remember being at her house when others didn’t just drop in. And there was always something to eat and conversation waiting on the visitor.

So here’s what we’re looking for in a house when it’s time: big porch, two bathrooms, four bedrooms, friends and family, inviting atmosphere, no projects. Do they account for all of this in the listings?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Happy Birthday, Click

Tonight was the birthday party for Shannon, who is pushing 40 now. A real, grown-up party with beer and a band and friends and some more beer. Kristy tried to arrange for a sitter – her parents – but, inexplicably, they were going to a concert at The Coliseum. So, not only were our kids still at home, but their cousin was along for the ride. I really wanted to go to the party and Kristy wanted to go to the party, and what did Kristy say? “Go. Have fun.” How about that? Just one reason I love this woman so much. So as a possible topic for the concession speech for the Husband of the Year award, I left her alone with five children. I feel terrible about that. But that party was a lot of fun.

Here is who was at the party: friends and family, pierced people, bald people, Asians, Ultimate Frisbee players, artists, roller derby queens, a newspaper maganate, moms, dads, grandparents, film makers and musicians. Click was there, of course, as was Elizabeth, Toby, Hamlett, Julie, Stacey, Warren, Heather (who has a brand new baby and a brand new URL that I have not been made privy to), Rodney, Christa and Mr. and Mrs. Dwayne (with all these bloggers, it was as though Memphis Blogger had made out the guest list). I had a long talk with Hamlett, wherein we decided that the internet was indeed an amazing thing that seemed to encompass the world. Then he and I talked movies with Dwayne. People danced like The Peanuts outside in 30-degree weather and tonight, for the first time ever, I was recognized as the author of Urf! And it was by one of my favorite commenters, a lovely woman, the mother of Brian, who I even told the real names of The Quartet. I was told by others that they feel like they know my children, though I assured them this is all made up, that I’m really a single 21-year-old living in my mother’s basement in a split-level ranch house just outside Minnetonka, MN. And then I was given some advice on what to write about. We discussed back surgery and I showed my scar, right there in the Dixon kitchen, to Warren.

All in all, it was a great night. I only wish Kristy could have been there. In a strange twist, most of The Quartet was going to spend the night with their grandparents later in the evening, leaving just a manageable GK at home. When everyone asked why I was leaving the party, I explained this to them and they all understood. Maybe I’ll have a party like this for my next birthday. Maybe I can get 1/16 of the people to show up. And maybe, just maybe, one of these fine people will write about how much fun it was on their blog.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Non-Post

As you may know, November has been declared NaBloPoMo month and, in keeping with this, I've posted every day for nine days so far. No big deal, really, I've had plenty to say each day. But there is the pressure of having to write instead of solely wanting to. Writing is what I enjoy, I do it here and elsewhere, like in Microsoft Word, where the document just sits on my desktop, so don't look for it in any magazines or lists of top-selling novels. In addition to posting on Urf! every day, Stacey has enlisted a few of us into a sort of writers group - an essayist, humor writer, poet and fiction writer - with the goal of each of us finishing a 3,000+ short story for the Memphis Magazine fiction writing contest. She has also asked for an essay for her 'zine, Fertile Ground. I'm also working on a 3,000+ word essay for a book on retailing that a friend of a friend asked me to do. On top of all of this, my business is in a state of flux, something I'm not ready to talk about just yet, but is causing me a large number of headaches and heartache. And then there's Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday right around the corner. So all of this is swimming around my head just now, along with the Negra Modelos I had with our eight friends and 10 kids earlier this evening. This is why there is no post today. I had a couple of ideas to write about at breakfast this morning with The Quartet's uncle, and I even thought about writing them down so I'd remember them, but I didn't, and now they're lost. I promise a full post tomorrow. Something clever, something witty, something worthy of your time. They can't all be gems.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Milt

When I heard the exhibit "Milt Hinton: All That Jazz" was coming to The Stax Museum here in Memphis, I immediately wanted to go. But it doesn't open until next week, so I'll have to wait. I then thought of taking a child with me to see it. Not all of them, mind you, I'm not fully insane yet. But which one? C is the obvious choice, he's the oldest and would better comprehend what he was seeing and possibly even remember it when he's grown. S is another choice because we've been having some problems lately with her not getting enough attention, having once been the baby of the family and, suddenly, as if without warning, becoming a big sister. So I thought it would be a nice afternoon for S and her Daddy to stroll through the museum reading about the various images we would see. JP was never really an option. If it doesn't have an ON and OFF button or chocolate on it, then he's just going to spend the time asking when we can get back to the ON and OFF button or the chocolate whatever. GK isn't yet ready to spend that much time alone with me and no lactation.

I want my kids to learn about Jazz because that's what I love and because they're mine, I made them. Or, I helped to make them. And one of the reasons I helped to make four kids is because of a lack of birth control. The other reason is so I could impose my interests on them for as long as possible. And at the forefront of the list of interests is Jazz. The first tune C ever heard was Monk's Straight, No Chaser and when he was just a newborn, Ken Burns came through Memphis to give a lecture on his excellent documentary about the genre. Afterwards, I had him inscribe the accompanying book I'd just overpayed for to C. S's calming music as a baby was Django Reinhardt and GK seems taken with Chet Baker. When I listen to music at home or in the car, I like to tell them who's playing on any given track. I know they're not remembering it, but I'm hoping it somehow sinks in, through osmosis, I suppose. I want the good stuff to take hold in their minds - Armstrong, Holiday, Coltrane, Davis and Hinton himself - before some psychopath gets hold of them and tries to convince them that Spyro Gyra or Kenny G is Jazz. It's my job to teach these kids both the things they'll need to survive in this world and the things they'll need to enjoy this world. And for the latter, we might as well take a field trip. Hinton's photographs at Soulsville U.S.A. sounds like as good a place as any.


The following excerpt was shamelessly copied and pasted directly from Stax's website:

Vicksburg, Mississippi, native Milt Hinton was regarded as the Dean of Jazz bass players and played with thousands of the world’s greatest jazz artists during his esteemed career. But Hinton also was a shutterbug and documented his colleagues for decades until his collection grew to more than 60,000 images.

"Milt Hinton: All That Jazz" will feature some 50 images of many of the world’s greatest jazz artists in various stages of their careers, including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday during her last recording session; Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Pearl Bailey on stage together; and other magical moments that helped skyrocket some of the greatest talents of all time.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Something You Should Know

Something you should know about S, should you ever find yourself in her lair, God help you. She has the uncanny ability, when she’s angry, of projecting that anger onto something or someone else, someone seemingly unaffiliated, something completely random. Take tonight, for instance. I walked into my house after a frustrating day at work to my loving kids who greeted me with the chorus, “Daddy’s home!” Kristy had to go to the grocery and was waiting with GK packed up in her carseat/carrier thing. It was your classic tag team maneuver - like a revolving door, I walk in and she walks out. And here’s what happened in that split second of the hostage hand-off: I mentioned ice cream (she was going to the grocery) and S went ballistic for some ice cream right then. I told her she could have some after dinner and that only fueled her fire, causing her to scream and curse in Italian (not really, but it wouldn’t surprise me). It was explained to me then that she initially wanted to go to the grocery with her mother and sister, but no invitation was proffered, so instead of taking it out on her mother, who was out the door now, speeding towards the van, she lashed out at me and the ice cream she felt she so richly deserved but was in no way entitled to. Let me say that the women in my family can become vocal where ice cream is concerned and S has inherited that trait, times 10, I believe. Her demands started out loud and only got louder. So let this be a lesson to all of you. Should you find yourself in the wilderness and come upon S, remember that she may have been told recently that she can’t stay up until midnight, that she cannot have JP’s toys or that she must take a bath, and that this may be the reason that she is gnashing at your jugular with a fire in her eyes. So I implore you, please, please travel with ice cream at the ready.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Secret Life

There are things about our children that we cherish, things that Those Without Children will never understand – the way they call out when you come home from work, the cards they make for no reason at all, chocolate coated grins. This is why we have kids. We don’t realize it at the time, but they’re the things that make all of the other stuff, the hard stuff, bearable. It’s also what we have in mind when we tell Those Without Children why children are so wonderful and why we tell our own kids, when the time comes, that they will love being parents, too.

These things about our children that we cherish, however, are also what makes the other thing we cherish about them seem contradictory. Because what we may cherish the most about them is when they’re asleep for the night. Because that can truly be the only time for ourselves. It’s our secret life. We’re like Batman, but instead of bothering with crime fighting, we’re bothering with ice cream or a glass of wine, rated R movies, books and, of course, the internet. It’s the chance to relax, not answer any questions and wrap our minds around more than what damn clue Blue is looking for now or where the rest of the Silly Putty went. There is no Bat Cave, but there is a couch that I can now stretch out on and the TV remote that is mine, all mine. And sometimes, if I want it, there’s just silence. Nothing more. Just sweet, sweet silence. But TWC don't get this. Free time is something that becomes taken for granted and they walk around at all hours with their Batman costume on - a Saturday afternoon or Tuesday evening about 6 p.m. - with the utility belt all cinched up nicely and cape in place, sipping their white wine spritzers, or whatever cocktail is currently de rigueur these days. We know better, though. We know that Batman's secret identity shouldn't be flaunted, it should be protected at all costs.

As much as we love our kids, hearing their laughter, their squeals of joy, sometimes the steady rhythm of their breathing during sleep is the best sound of all.