Thursday, December 25, 2008

Some Un-Assembly Required

Mr. and Mrs. Claus went to bed late last night trying to wait out C and S falling asleep. It took another half hour - or two glasses of wine - after the traditional Christmas Eve viewing of It's a Wonderful Life for the low, rhythmic snoring to begin in earnest.

What was nice this year, though, is that there was really no assembly required. We've had assembly for many years and it's not so easy when you're very tired from the wine.

Assembly, however, has been replaced by un-assembly on Christmas morning. It takes me forever to de-wire all of their toys from the packaging with scissors, pocket knives and expletives flying. And I've had very little wine by 8 a.m.

I usually end up frustrated and just yank the thing out, pulling with it scraps of cardboard and plastic attached. And then I thrust it at the kid, "Here! Here's your damn toy!"

It's like something from Currier & Ives & DHS.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and peace on Urf! from all of us to all of you.

When testing out your new computers and iPhones and whatever else the internet lives on, be sure to dial up The Commercial Appeal and read my latest column.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Yes, Virginia ...

I believe in Santa Claus. Of course I do. But I don't believe that Santa coordinates all those elves and toy making and delivering. No, that would be Mrs. Claus.

Luckily, I have a Mrs. Claus here at the house. She does the planning and the buying and the baking and makes the gift decisions. I ... carry the tree into the house. It's a lot of responsibility, really.

Oh, and then, after Christmas, I carry it back out and dump it on the street.

But Christmas around here happens because Kristy makes it happen, and without her, well, all we'd be celebrating is the winter solstice. Maybe we'd make some popcorn, or watch a little TV. Perhaps a trip to Walgreens so the kids could pick out their favorite size of battery. It certainly wouldn't be the time of year filled with wrapped gifts and cookies and a decorated tree.

So, thank you, Kristy. And Merry Christmas to all the Mrs. Clauses out there who, I know, are the busiest and jolliest of the elves.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

True Believer

We all went to Davis-Kidd Booksellers today to get out of the house and do a bit more Christmas shopping. And to find out what 29-degrees feels like.

Davis-Kidd has a great area for kids and I grabbed a book and sat there with everyone watching my kids, as well as several other plague-infested children, run around. There was a kid with a glistening nose and upper lip having a grand time playing alongside my own little typhoid-riddled girl.

But it's that time of year, so what are you going to do? I don't know, and neither did the kid in the t-shirt with his name, or a name, printed across the chest. Yes, Frank and I were at a loss for how to keep the germs at bay.

There's no fighting it. My only advice to you is to not purchase any books from the children's section of Davis-Kidd. If you do, boil them before reading.

It was while sitting there among the Jack-in-the-Boxes, pop-up books and phlegm that I learned that Nick Hornby will no longer be penning the column "Stuff I've Been Reading" for the Believer magazine. This column is a kind of book diary where Hornby writes about books he's bought, books he's read, books he hasn't read and why he has or hasn't read them. It's smart and funny and the writing of it must be, without a doubt, the greatest job ever.

So, since the column has no author now, I'm officially throwing my name into the hat. If there is a hat. Believer magazine, if you're reading this, give me a call, or an e-mail, and let's talk. I'd be thrilled to write for your magazine about books and bookish things. I write now and I consider myself funny. At times. For more money, I could be funnier. I could read more and write longer. I don't know what you paid Hornby, but I'd be willing to take a little less, as I've not (yet) had a novel published, or won any awards. Or had any novels adapted into movies. Or become friends with Sarah Vowell.

So, let's say you're paying him 150,000 pounds (Nick Hornby is British and bald). I'd be willing to go less. Say, 110,000 pounds. I'm no good with weight conversions, but what is that? $300 per column? That seems fair.

Anway, you think about it, I hate to see the Believer caught in a lurch like that. Meanwhile, I'll be over here in the children's section. Just Frank and me, awaiting your call with covered mouths and anti-bacterial-soaked hands.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hocus Pocus

Has anyone seen my eldest? I haven't. Not in a few weeks. He's been away at Hogwarts, where young people go to learn about being witches or Hobbits. Or whatever.

I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books because, well, I'm an adult. This doesn't explain, though, why Kristy has read all of them. Several times. C has read five of them in about three weeks. If you're looking for him, he's right there, at the end of the couch underneath the lamp. Reading.

Or he's in the passenger seat of the Volvo, on the way to school. Reading.

Or he's in his bed. Reading.

Or he's eating a bowl of cereal at the table. Reading.

I don't mean to complain about his new favorite past time. Since we started having kids, I've always hoped they'd become readers, and I always wanted that day to be sooner rather than later. I know that, as a kid, I did the same thing, plowing through book after book without a care as to what went on around me. But I'd like to have a conversation with my son again. And I'd like for that conversation to be about something other than whether or not Edward Cullen won a game of Quidditch in the third book. Or whatever.

Is it wrong to tell your kid to stop reading and watch TV for a while? I suppose I should have him go outside for some fresh air, at least. He could read on the front porch.

He's watching the Harry Potter movies, as well. He reads a book, watches the movie, and denounces that movie as nothing like the book. So he's building that disdain for Hollywood that all readers have, which was inevitable. He's also able to eat a meal without looking at his food, simply staring at the page while his fork goes from plate to mouth, just like a real reader. And he's staying up late to read. He would stay up late anyway, but at least he's reading and not watching reruns of Sanford & Son.

All in all, I'm glad he's reading. Constantly. I just hope those books of witchcraft aren't teaching him anything dastardly. I have enough on my plate with these four kids, I don't need one of them being able to travel to other dimensions via a wardrobe. Or whatever.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Because I Said So

It took me the same amount of time to write my latest column for The Commercial Appeal as it would to run 26.2 miles. Most of a weekend.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Coats

I did not like to wear a coat as a child. Or, at least, one specific coat. It was a pea coat with large buttons which may have had an anchor design on them. The collar was huge and the inside red. It looked feminine and what does a 10-year-old boy need to maintain more than his masculinity? So if I could get out of the house without it, then I would, regardless of the outside temperatures. And that is how I found out that wearing a large-buttoned, naval-themed, possibly woman’s, pea coat isn’t half as embarrassing as looking up to see your mother standing at the classroom door with said coat in hand.

The temperature has finally nosedived and it seems that winter has settled in for the duration. With this downrush in the mercury comes the one thing that can slow getting four kids out the door and to school in the mornings. Neither ice nor snow or a slow-starting 17-year-old car is any match for what this time of the year brings. I’m talking about winter coats. And not the red- or blue-approved colors of the city schools’ uniform that may be worn all day long, but the big, oversized, fleece-lined armor that Memphis kids really only need for approximately eight weeks out of the year.

We’ve been in our morning routine for about five months so far this year and have breakfast, dressing, lunch-making and leaving the house timed down to the second. The whole drill looks like a special ops force rescuing hostages as we spill from the house and pile into the car to speed off.

But when these kids add something as foreign as a coat into the mix, everything comes to a halt. It’s as though I’ve asked them to build the engine for the car that we’ll be escaping in. With mittens on.

There are zippers, the reversible linings, a hood that snaps off, suggesting it may or may not be necessary, and then the problem of just finding the coat. It may have been left at school, or in mom’s van or … what coat?

I think it may make things easier and speedier in the mornings if I dressed them all in a layer of Under Armour the night before and a simple furry Russian hat on the way out the door. I’m pretty sure muskrat is approved wear in Memphis City Schools.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Drizzling Homework

JP has a book report due tomorrow. Not just a synopsis of a book he's read, no. He is required to read a book about a famous American and then write about, make a poster display on and dress up like that person.

Who assigns a project deadline the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend? Sure, it was probably assigned a month ago, with plenty of time to get it done in the weeks before Thanksgiving. But in true Urf! fashion, it was put off until the last minute.

I'm not sure why I'm complaining, though. I had nothing to do with it. Kristy is the Homework Parent around here, especially when it comes to big projects like this. As a child, I always waited until the 11th hour, and at the thought of a school project being assigned, even now, my throat starts to close up, I break out in a sweat and I begin calculating the number of hours before bedtime of the night before that homework is due.

When everyone left for the library this afternoon, there was talk of the American subject being Daniel Boone or Abraham Lincoln. It turns out JP wanted that American to be Leonardo DaVinci, which isn't possible, so he settled on an American artist. He chose Jackson Pollock, which, really, is probably the perfect artist for a seven-year-old.

He checked out a book, read it and wrote a report that doesn't even mention booze or underage women. He made an authentic-looking Pollock painting and, as a costume, he and C covered a T-shirt in paint, which he will slip over his uniform for his presentation tomorrow.

It's a pretty good package he's put together. I'm sure it will garner an A tomorrow ... and then $28.4 million in 60 years.





Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

We at Urf! wish all of you and your families a happy and safe Thanksgiving. After the turkey and dressing and the cranberry and the ravioli and the desserts, you can read just what it is I'm thankful for over at The Commercial Appeal.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hello

GK says hello to her cousin Harper down in the swamps of Southern Florida.


video

Friday, November 21, 2008

Daddy's Great

That's right, I feed my kids chocolate for breakfast. So what?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Candy Pain

More than a day on the calendar, more than any bird roasting in the oven and more than any parade, the holiday season is marked around here with the first bag of Christmas M&Ms bought.

And that time was last weekend. I made a trip to Sam's and came across a three-pound bag of the festive treats and couldn't resist. I brought them home and put them into the Christmas tin we've had for years. Merry Christmas to all.

Last night, as dinner was being prepared, GK sat on the counter playing with that tin. The lid is tight enough that even I have trouble getting the damn thing off when it's time for a snack. But GK sat there and shook it up like a chocolate maraca.

And then it opened.

M&Ms rained down on the linoleum like milk chocolate hail, like a pugilist forfeiting his red and green teeth, like a Rankin/Bass retch. About two pounds of candy made a racket that was almost deafening. We all just stood still and watched until the bouncing and the clattering stopped, and then GK said, "One fell." All anyone in the room could do was to look away, trying with everything we had not to laugh at her understatement.

It's difficult to be angry when your youngest is so funny, but I'm sitting here now wishing I had some M&Ms and suddenly it's not so funny. A little sad, actually. I might have to make a special trip to the store to get some more candy, and a new musical treat for GK.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Because I Said So

There are many times when GK is picked up from school looking cuter than when I dropped her off. I'm not the most adept at dressing a two-year-old, partly because I have no idea if pink matches blue or red or purple, but also because she's two and I just don't think it really matters what she looks like. Who is she trying to impress?

I wrote about it for The Commercial Appeal today, so check that out.

Yesterday was one of those days she ended up better looking than she started. This is how her hair looked when I picked her up.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Politics of Puke

I spent eight hours at about 10 different polling stations yesterday working on small stories for The Commercial Appeal's website. I interviewed democrats, republicans and independents. I interviewed black and white and east, north and south Memphians. I talked to old - very old - poll workers.

Last night I sat up listening to two very good, very gracious speeches. But this morning I'm just sick to my stomach. Literally. I had an episode of illness this morning that was violent. That's the only way I can describe it. When the bad stuff wants out, boy, does it want out!

I'm here today to talk about someone who makes a difference more than any one man in Washington ever could. That someone is my 10-year-old son, C. I know I just wrote about him not long ago and how disgustingly good he can be, and that no one wants to read repeatedly how much better someone's kid is than their own kid. But he really is better than your kid. Sorry.

Kristy goes in to work an hour before the kids and I need to leave the house in the mornings and I spend that hour fixing lunches and breakfasts and making sure everyone is dressed for school. Kristy was good enough to make lunches since I was too nauseous to stand, and then C spent the morning making breakfasts and tending to GK when she woke up and prodding the other kids to get dressed for school.

During all of this is when my violent episode hit. The kids must have heard it and must have been afraid for their Daddy's life. Maybe. Maybe not. But I was.

There was no way I could spend a half hour in the car getting these kids to school, so I was just going to have them stay home. My concern was that I would lose consciousness at some point and my kids would be the only people there to help. Or to not help, as the case may be. And they know where I keep my wallet.

I let Kristy know that I thought it was a good idea if she came home, which she did and took the kids to school. That was life saving because it allowed me to just lie in bed all day feeling like my head was in a vise.

I'm feeling about 30% better now. Thank you Kristy and thank you, C, especially. Now that is a ticket I could vote for!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Vote for Pepsi

We went to the RiverArtsFest downtown yesterday and had a great time. C spent the night before with a friend and then had to go to another friend's house yesterday to work on a school project, so he didn't join us. JP was very upset about this, he missed his brother.

However, he perked up nicely and worked on some sidewalk art in front of the Folk Alliance headquarters.



Here, JP illustrates his love of Pepsi. You can see the little symbol there above the "Pepsi." I'm trying to work this one into a pay check with the ad placement.



In this one, he's written "Vote Joshua." Not a bad idea, I'm actually leaning toward a write-in tomorrow.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

None of Your Business

With the election only a couple of days away, it seems there's just no getting away from it. Trust me, I've tried. So, I decided to ask the one person whose opinion I trust, my two-year-old daughter, who she is voting for this time around. It went like this:

Me: So, who are you voting for in the presidential election?
GK: None of your business.

Short and sweet, and spoken with all the passion of someone not yet old enough to vote. And so very true. As a kid, I'd ask my parents that very question and I always got a very similar answer . I'm not sure when it became okay to ask someone who they're voting for, but it ranks right up there in impoliteness, for me, with asking someone how much money they make.

And, I believe, it's the height of arrogance to think that anyone would care who you're voting for. Or that you could possibly change someone's ideology simply because you watched an extra half hour of Fox News or took one more directive from The Oprah.

Having said that, I spent most of last week trying to get people to talk to me about the election for a story that should run in tomorrow's Commercial Appeal. And on Election Tuesday, I'll spend the entire day at as many polling places as possible to ask people who they're voting for and why, so if you see me, say hello and tell me why you feel compelled to stand in line for so long. These little stories will be found updated all day on the CA's website.

So it seems that I don't care who you're voting for unless I'm paid to care, which may be indicative of a particular party or ideology, but who's to say which one?

Friday, October 24, 2008

What To Wear

There is something I need those who take care of GK during the day to know. I need them to know that I dress her every day and that I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm okay with not putting stripes and circles, or whatever, together, but colors baffle me.

There's also the fact, though, that she's two, and I don't think it really matters what she wears as long as she's warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

I usually try to warn Kristy when I'm really uncertain about a wardrobe because she is the one who picks GK up in the afternoon and I don't want her to be too surprised by what she might see there. Today, though, I didn't think to tell Kristy because I thought I did okay. I put a brown shirt with purple hearts (thank you, Chloe) and blue pants on her. I found out this evening that this wasn't a good idea.

It's not so much that I stand there and study the choices before deciding on what would look good on her; it's mostly that I have three other kids and they all have to eat and get dressed and have lunches made for them, so that I'm lucky, really, to get a pair of pants and shirt on her and not two shirts or no pants.

So I'm trying, just not very hard because, like I said, she's two.

I should also focus more on her hair, too, probably, but that's a problem for a different day.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Because I Said So

I couldn't sleep the other night, and was fishing about under the davenport for my retainer that I was quite sure must be under there. Shoulder deep in broken remotes, waffle parts and toenail clippings, I felt something adhere itself to my arm hair. Pulling back, I found an Al Gore for President contribution envelope stuck to me, and on the back was written about 15 inches of funny in an illegible script. So I sent that in to The Commercial Appeal and they printed it next to my picture!

You can read it all here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Magic Potion

I fed my two-year-old daughter ice cream for breakfast this morning because she asked for it. But then that two-year-old dressed herself for daycare without my help. If this works out, then I'll go with the ice cream breakfast, take the easier morning and deal with the bad teeth and hyperactivity later.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A (Mostly) Good Boy

My 10-year-old son, C, is acting lately like a 13-year-old girl. He's moody, sensitive and quick to get upset. Very upset.

His mother and I can't say anything negative to him without him pouting that he can't do anything right. This is an odd thing for him to declare because, really, C does everything right. Sometimes I just sit in amazement at what a good kid he is. He willingly leads his brother and sisters in games, he looks out for his baby sister and helps with other people's kids as though they were his own siblings. He wants to help more around the house. He loves to read and is earnest in his school work.

It's almost disgusting how lucky Kristy and I got with our first kid. I feel guilty just talking about it with the rest of you, as though I'm rubbing it in your faces. As though I had anything to do with his good behavior. And I feel a little guilty complaining about his mood swings because, really, he's about 98% perfect.

It's that two-percent of sulking that needs some work, though I know it will get worse, much worse, before it gets better.

The Next Step

Here's the rumpus.

I don't talk much about myself here. Sure, I talk about what I think about and what I like as far as books, music and movies. And I talk about how I raise, or endeavor to raise, my kids. But I don't discuss a lot about what I do.

Or did.

In the last couple of weeks, I've sold my retail business. It's something I'd been working on for over a year and it's finally finished. I bought the little cigar shop almost 10 years ago, taking it over the day after C turned one. It had its ups and downs, I met a lot of good people and made some close friends. My kids saw that it is possible to make your own way in this world.

But it was difficult, it required a lot of my time and thoughts. I worked six days a week for the entire time I owned it, foregoing vacations many years, and that was time away from my kids.

So now I'm going from working for myself to ... working for myself. I'm going to try my hand at freelance writing. This is both thrilling and frightening, and possibly ludicrous, choice for someone who is 38 with four small kids. However, I am lucky to be surrounded by supportive people who assure me that I've made the right move and that they are here to help.

I feel good about this. I look forward to the next stage of my life, of spending more time with my family and doing something that I have always really wanted to do.


[photo by Chip]

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Happy Birthday?

GK, like all of my kids, says a lot of things. A LOT of things. I feel as though I should be documenting this toddler's vocabulary as it expands day by day but, damn, she says a lot. She has a cute little voice, too. It sounds like a cross between the chipmunks, Chip and Dale, from the old Walt Disney cartoons and Jim Henson's assistant to Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker.

And I understand about a third of it all.

She rambles and rambles on the way to school, on the way home from school, while we're getting ready for school, while she's getting ready for bed. I have no clue what she's talking about. However, whatever it is she's talking about always ends up back around at her birthday party. I don't know what birthday party she's talking about, she's never really had a birthday party. Yet the point of every conversation seems to be her birthday party.

It's fun, as we drive down the street, to point out a building and ask GK if that's where her birthday party was. Because it was there, and she'll go on and on about it ... I guess. "Bee bee bee bee bee bee ... birthday party ... bee bee bee bee ... poot ... bee bee bee ... birthday party ..."

One day GK will be a grown woman and she'll ask me what her first words were as a child. I'll probably shrug and look helplessly at her mother who will answer. And then I'll interrupt with "birthday party!" and they'll both assume I've had a stroke.

And one day she'll be a grown woman and won't want to acknowledge her birthdays. That's no fun. So for now, at least, she is welcome to believe she's had as many birthdays as she wishes.

[This is the 500th post on Urf!.]

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Broken Code

I don't cook. Since we were first married, Kristy has been the cook in the family. I don't demand it, I don't even ask for it. I don't have to, she just does. And she does it well.

Yesterday, however, we made our way to the Memphis Farmers' Market and I couldn't help myself when it came to the eggplant. It was gorgeous. So we bought a couple of large ones and tonight I slathered them in garlic, olive oil and pepper and broiled them up. Those that I didn't over-broil were pretty good. Kristy made a red sauce and polenta, which was even better, I thought, than the eggplant.

S was the only kid to sit down and eat with us, the others having partaken of pizza and already in the bathtub by the time everything was ready. S tried everything, like a trooper, and then finished her eggplant. And then asked for more. She really seemed to enjoy it.

So, for one night only, I break the Parent Code and claim a favorite child. A best of four. I proclaim S my favorite.

Don't worry, this will all change tomorrow morning when she's too late waking up, too late getting ready for school, loses a shoe and makes us all late walking out the door. This I know. No one will be my favorite come 7:55 a.m.

Tonight, though, S is it.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Let Me Tell You About My Pad ...

JP doesn't like me. Either that, or I'm just not cool enough for him to waste his breath on when it's not absolutely necessary. The latter is something I expected, but not for another seven years or so.

I picked him up from piano today and, as we walked the halls of Downtown Elementary, I asked him about his day, about homework and about piano. His answers were succinct: Good. No. Fine.

Then we went to the computer room to pick C up from computer club and suddenly JP was animated and forthcoming and laughing. Is C cooler than me? I don't think so. I was picking him up from computer club!

This happens all the time. I can't get JP to open up, but when he's around his siblings or friends, he's the life of the party. Can't shut him up, and I've tried.

So what do I do? I eavesdrop. On the drive home he and C were talking about these comic book-journal-sketch pad things they'd recently gotten at a book fair. In it, you could design your dream home and they talked openly to each other about their plans. JP's plan for the master bedroom in his house involves a flat screen television, hot tub and bed that folds up into a couch.

I'm not sure I designed my own dream bedroom at seven-years-old, but I'm pretty sure that if I had, it wouldn't have looked like that. A TV I could see, but I'm not so sure size was an issue. I don't know that I'd dream of a hot tub. A pool, maybe. And a sofa bed? What's the point of that?

Maybe JP doesn't talk to me about these things because I ridicule him. If not to his face, then to the internet. Could he be reading Urf! at school? Did he even wish for a computer in his dream master bedroom? He probably won't answer if I ask him. He doesn't talk to me. But, he chats up his peers, so I would suggest, with his large screen television and hot tub, that you parents out there hide your daughters ... sometime in 2019.

Because I Said So

A big Thank You to Drake & Zeke of 98.1 The Max for mentioning me and my column on their morning program today.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eating Well

When I was just entering adolescence, there were nights my mother would look at me across the dinner table and say, "I hope you never order spaghetti when you go out on dates someday." What she was witnessing must have been an awful sight. I'm sure all I thought at the time was, I hope I have a date someday.

I now know exactly what it was she was seeing. When C eats, it looks like an animal grazing, his face a mere inches over whatever it is that's for dinner. Only this animal can use its hands. Or, rather, this animal has hands, but they're somewhat vestigial. More like flippers, really. With his elbows on the table, he's able to bring the pizza or chicken or forkful of pasta up to his face and very, very close to his mouth. What results is a face covered with gravy or sauce or an oil of some kind, like a praying mantis trying to eat a fish. It truly is an awful sight.

I kid him in this way because I know this will pass, and because I helped make him and kidding him is my right. Over time he'll learn manners through our gentle reminders and fake vomiting sounds. We may make him start eating in front of a mirror, or using a bib. I may take dinner in the other room until he's 30 or so.

It passed for me, this mastication mess. I learned how to eat properly, eventually using a napkin and getting that fork in there the first time. And now I almost never order spaghetti on my dates.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cat 2

I’m not sure how it happens, I’m usually too busy to study it in the mornings, but sometime between the kids waking up and us all leaving for school, the house becomes landfall for what appears to be a category 2 hurricane.

As we walk out the door, I survey the damage like a president making an official visit. Blankets, cups, toys, books, articles of clothing and a paper plate or two are strewn about. Water has collected, there’s a smell, and our getaway begins to look like an evacuation. The house is uninhabitable for the day. I’m not even sure how we make it through the morning.

In the afternoon, Kristy will appear like FEMA to clean and sanitize. Or at least push the debris to the side so the pathways are passable. They’ll have to be so that supplies can be brought in and replenished. We’ll need more provisions to get us through the night. And it would be best if all of those rations came individually wrapped so that those wrappers can be blown about tomorrow when, inevitably, another storm will wreck havoc.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Change

I've been hearing a lot about change lately. Every time I turn on the television it's "change ... change ... change ... change, change, change ... change ..." And change is good, my kids are always asking for change.

There's a lot changing with me right now and you'll find out more about it when I'm ready to speak of it. Until then, enjoy my latest column in today's The Commercial Appeal.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Reading is Fundamental

Sometime back, the powers that be over at The Commercial Appeal did away with the books page in the Sunday edition. Oh, sure, there's still the back page of Viewpoint which is handy for a short listing of literary events in and around the city, and a few book reviews written by faceless people far from here, but there's no room to spread out, to delve into story and character and theme. No space to shake the dust off a classic's jacket.

However, all is not lost for the literary-minded. A ragtag group of Montags have overtaken a corner of the CA's website and named it "The Shelf Life." It's a place where the spines are aligned and no dog-earing is allowed. Try not to spill your espresso on the keyboard.

Occasionally I have time between all the lunch-making, laundry, lawn mowing, chauffering and working to read a book. I recently read Paul Auster's latest novel, Man in the Dark, and I wrote about it for "The Shelf Life."

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Funny Boy

Last night at dinner I was telling everyone about a story I'd heard on NPR on the way home about a Harry Potter lexicon that a fan was seeking to publish, but which had been blocked by a New York judge, saying it was too close to the original work.

Kristy began explaining the lexicon and Potter lore to us. There is a lot of information about Harry Potter to grasp, apparently. More than I needed to know, anyway. More than anyone living outside of their parents' paneled basement needs to know, really. But Kristy has read all of the books at least twice and is a font of Harry Potter knowledge.

In my own sarcastic, sardonic manner, I referred to the lexicon as a "nerd-clopedia." And, without missing a beat, C said, "Did you get yours yet?"

The comment caught me off guard and, as my chest swelled with pride, all I could do was laugh. Even though it was aimed at me, it was very funny, smart and timely. Smartass comments are practically a rite of passage in this family and he nailed it.

C took a brief step out of childhood last night, just like that time that Harry Potter made that potion ... or used his wand or whatever to put that spell ... on a Hobbit or Sleestak ... or something like that.

Friday, September 05, 2008

JP & Me

Back when C was the only kid we had at Downtown Elementary, I would pick him up from school most afternoons and he would come back to work with me. At least once a week we'd stop on the way home at a Midtown coffee shop and have an espresso and a hot chocolate, and we'd usually play cards and talk. It was a nice way to get a little one on one time for each of us.

JP started piano lessons again yesterday. I'll be picking him up on Thursday afternoons and I thought yesterday it would be nice to spend some time with the boy.

We stopped by a different coffee shop and I had a double espresso while he enjoyed a chocolate milk. And we both sat staring at each other. It's not that we don't like each other, of course, just that neither of us are very good conversationalists, I guess. I'm better with people closer to my age and he's better with the aid of a television or with his brother nearby. So we just sat, somewhat awkwardly, looking like I was about to have the talk with him. Or he with me.

I asked him about his day and the field trip he'd taken. And then we sat some more. I think I said something like, "This coffee is hot" and he nodded.

Finally I asked him if he wanted to play a game on my phone and he leaped at the chance. We were both relieved, I think.

I'm sure he appreciates the time alone, or will grow to should we keep it up. Maybe over time we'll come up with our own inside jokes and an easy conversational style together.

Or maybe I'll just get him his own phone.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Because I Said So

Somewhere beyond the sea
Somewhere waiting for me
My lover stands on golden saaaaaands
And watches the ships that go sailing ...
There is little The Quartet loves more than my mellifluous singing voice. "Just like Bobby Darin, Daddy," they say all the time.

The only other thing they like as much as me singing to them is me spending long stretches of time away from them, and that's what I wrote about in my column for today's The Commercial Appeal.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Duck!

We took The Quartet to the Memphis Redbirds baseball game yesterday. It was fun, but as is JP's nature, he's always thinking about that next thing. What are we going to do after this? He was unhappy, pouty and said he didn't want to be there.

Rather than saying out loud that he'd rather be at home playing computer games, however, he seized on the episode last April when his sister was hit by a foul ball at AutoZone Park, and said he was scared he was going to get hit by a ball. I told him that was highly unlikely. I told him that if a baseball hit him that day then I would buy him his very own computer.

And then I spent the rest of the afternoon prepared to throw my body in front of that kid, because I could take a contusion much easier than I could the bill for an Apple.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Keys Are By the Door

These kids cannot keep their hands off each other. The living room has become like a cage match. And not the good Pay-Per-View, ultimate fighting kind, either. Nobody's paying to watch this; I'm not making any money here.

And they won't listen to my threats, so I've made a new rule: I will not drive any children to the emergency room. So if one of them gets hurt, then they have to wait until one of their siblings is old enough to get their driver's license. And that one of their siblings is able to pass the test. They'd better take it easy on C, you don't want him getting injured as he's the nearest in age to being able to drive.

There it is, a new law, written in stone. Kids, you may now begin ignoring it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

SAHD

It's my understanding that that acronym up there stands for "stay at home dad." I'm not one of these. In fact, I work six days a week, and have for about nine years now. But GK's school was closed this week and, though we had childcare for Monday through Wednesday, we were left in a lurch for today and tomorrow.

So I stayed at home to be a dad.

GK and I began the day by taking the older kids to school, and then made a run to Office Depot for some supplies. We dropped those off at my store and took a minute to sit and read the paper.

After that we went to Cafe Eclectic to have an Americano, Eggs Florentine and some of their homemade doughnuts with local auteur Craig Brewer and his family. Brewer and his family actually sat about five feet away, so I guess we weren't together together.

We went to the playground at Overton Park from there, but GK was only really interested in the water fountain, so we didn't stay long. We went home to read books, do the dishes, watch some Blues Clues and dance around to CDs before she fell asleep and I could finish reading my book.

I was only a SAHD until 2:30 when I dropped her off with her mother at school. I'm good at being the sole parent for about six and a half hours as far as I can tell. In that six and a half hours, GK ate a waffle sprinkled liberally with chocolate chips, a couple of doughnuts, two cookies and an ice cream sandwich.

Perhaps she should have run around more at the park. Perhaps she should learn to prepare her own lunch. Perhaps I should have asked Craig Brewer for some fathering advice.

Hopefully I'll get a call back tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The GK Advisor

Time for more help from two-year-old GK!

GK,

With your perspective as a child, perhaps you can offer insight into a question that has baffled me for years: why are children so freaking loud?

Harley Fontaine

GK: Why are these people so loud? I live here with three children and their chatter is incessant. When they occasionally stop talking, it's only to screech and wail.
Me: Are you suggesting to the writer that you don't add to the din around here?
GK: Who?
Me: Mr. Harley Fontaine. He wrote the letter asking you a question about loud kids.
GK: Letter? I'm telling you to go in the other room and shut those kids up for once. I'm trying to pay attention to the rhetoric at the Democratic National Convention.
Me: Have you decided for whom to vote this November?
GK: That's really none of your concern.
Me: But I'm your father.
GK: And, yet, I wouldn't vote for you.
Me: I'm not running.
GK: Thank you for that.
Me: You're being very disrespectful.
GK: Close the door on your way out, those kids are on my last nerve.

[To have your questions answered, please write to gkadvisor@gmail.com.]

GK: Lock it!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Most Mistake

The Commercial Appeal has released their special section Memphis Most in today's paper.

I worked on this section for two and a half weeks. Halfway through working on it, I lost almost half of what I'd written, yet still managed to finish three days before deadline.

If you look at the section itself, in the paper, I wrote every syllable from page 18, Most "Memphis" BBQ Sauce, to page 36, Most Boundless Beer Selection. That's 34 categories; nearly 9,000 words. And, if I may, it's all pretty good stuff.

For some reason I was left out of the list of section writers on page 1. I'm not sure yet why that is, but I hope to find out soon. In the meantime, the categories I was responsible for are:
  • Most "Memphis" BBQ Sauce
  • Most Beloved BBQ Joint
  • Most Prime Steak Dinner
  • Most Enticing Burger
  • Most Savory Slice of Pizza
  • Most Sensational Sushi
  • Most Profitable Business Lunch
  • Most Satisfying Biscuits
  • Most Revered Sunday Brunch
  • Most For The Money
  • Most Craved Catfish
  • Most Romantic Restaurant
  • Most Delicious Deli
  • Most Tempting Bakery
  • Most Vietnamese Restaurant
  • Most Bountiful Buffet
  • Most Fine Dining
  • Most Italian Restaurant
  • Most Indian Restaurant
  • Most Kid-Friendly Cuisine
  • Most Thai Restaurant
  • Most Chinese Restaurant
  • Most Mexican Restaurant
  • Most Mediterranean Restaurant
  • Most Japanese Restaurant
  • Most Exotic Cuisine
  • Most Scrumptious Seafood
  • Most Wholesome Health Food
  • Most Popular Pub
  • Most Cosmopolitan Night Club
  • Most Masterful Martini
  • Most Fanatical Sports Bar
  • Most Bona Fide Blues Club
  • Most Boundless Beer Selection

Friday, August 22, 2008

Little By Little

I've had to learn on the fly how to make the morning routine run as smoothly as possible. And I'll do whatever it takes. When the older kids were smaller, it was competition: who could get dressed first, who could get to the car first. It helped to propel them to where I needed them to be by a certain time so we could get downtown, or wherever else we had to be, on time and with little or no whining, complaining or insubordination.

I've learned this week that GK needs a task. It seems to take her mind off of the fact that her mother isn't in the house and that she's about to be left someplace. So she now spends the mornings delivering and fetching things. She seems to enjoy taking the kids their lunch boxes and I parcel them out one by one. She runs, calling out to them with their box in hand, "S! Your lunchbox!" When that's done I have her go get a brush or her shoes or whatever else I can think of.

This week has been rough, though increasingly better, and today was just beautiful. She did her various duties at home, chattered all the way to the big kids' school and then no crying when I dropped her off. Finally.

When I left her she was chattering away to one of her favorite teachers, Miss S, saying, without stopping or breathing, "That my lunchbox, My bag, My mommy's name is Kristy, My pants, My shoes, Saw a rat in the kitchen ... "

Of course, this is the start of the weekend, so she has a couple of days to forget all about how much she doesn't mind being left. But I imagine each day and each week will get easier and easier. I have a good imagination.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Blurb

I get some nice comments about my column for The Commercial Appeal, though not on their website, of course. For some reason people stay away from commenting there, but do so in person and through direct e-mails. It's very nice and I'm appreciative of any recognition.

Last week a guy came into my store, made a purchase and then said, "Are you the one who writes that blurb in the paper every couple of weeks?" I could almost sense my mother swelling with pride.

So, again, thank you for reading and check out the latest blurb freshly published today.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tarzan

For my birthday last week I was given a Tarzan the Ape Man box set, the old movies starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan. I grew up on these movies, watching them every Saturday afternoon that they were on, and was eager for my own kids to see them.

C and I settled in Sunday morning to watch a couple as the other kids bounced in and out. When Weissmuller makes his first appearance in the first movie, he comes swinging in through the jungle. And C says, "It looks like he's on a trapeze." Well, of course he's on a trapeze, but it took me years to figure that out. C spotted it in the first five seconds.

I don't know if these kids today are just used to the CGI special effects and digital animation, and expect everything to at least look real, or if they're just less willing to suspend reality.

He seems to know that sea sponges don't wear pants, square or any other shape. He understands that a spider bite doesn't result in the ability to climb walls, shoot webs or wear your pajamas in public. And he has been made to understand that there is no semblance of talent on American Idol.

So why pick on Tarzan? Why point out what's wrong with my childhood heroes? I don't go around making fun of Dora.

Okay, actually I do. And he can certainly expect more of that from now on.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Last Week

I'm not a fan of writing the posts just to tell you what I've been up to lately without going into detail. I've just been too busy lately to pick out one thing and extrapolate, yet I feel that some things need to be put down for posterity.

I'm probably wrong about that, but here we go. A few things from last week:
  • The kids began school and GK began at a new sitter that Kristy found online only two days before. GK was miserable going to this woman's house. And, apparently, this woman was miserable as well because only two and a half days into it - that's about 16 total hours worth of effort - she let Kristy know via e-mail that she was done watching our daughter as of the end of that day. Having that much notice was really helpful, but Kristy scrambled and got GK back into the place she stayed last year, which is fine, just more than we can afford. We'll figure something out.
  • I took the Volvo to be inspected a couple of weeks back and it failed due to a broken lens cover on the front driver's side turn signal, so I was unable to renew the tags. This city is really on top of things, a murder every two days on average, but they're not going to let me get by without that piece of plastic covering the bulb, by God. But I digress. On the way to school the other morning, just around the corner from our house, I noticed a police car turning on the road behind me, so I turned into the next parking lot so as not to have him behind me at the upcoming stop sign and notice my expired tags. C asked what we were doing there in that lot and I told him, which probably won't win me Parent of the Year.
  • Thursday was my birthday, and I got to begin that day by taking GK to her new (though old) daycare. She completely melted down when I left her, which was a great way to start my day out. That was followed up by a visit to the neurologist to find out what can be done about the numb index finger and thumb on my right hand. He prescribed steroids, thus quashing my Olympic dreams. There's no way now I'll be able to pass for a 15-year-old Chinese gymnast.
  • I ended up having a very nice birthday with cake and ice cream and presents and friends and family.
  • I put a wounded rodent out of its misery with a Louisville Slugger.
  • The Google kicked me out of their AdSense program. They sent me an e-mail telling me that "... we found that your AdSense account has posed a significant risk to our AdWords advertisers." I have expired car tags, a murdered rodent on my hands and Google running scared. This city makes you mean.
  • The kids finished out their first week of school and it was a rousing success. They all survived, they're all happy with their teachers and they all have most of their school supplies.

It was a hectic week and one that made it difficult to keep up with, both in real time and here on the interweb. There was a lot going on, and almost too much to handle on any given day. But it was better than being a rat.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Socially Studying

When I got home from work yesterday I asked the kids how school was and C chimed in right away, "My teacher is really cool. He taught us Social Studies and I didn't even know it. He was just talking to us and we were learning."

Isn't that the best way to teach and to learn? To talk to the kids like they're small people instead of puppies to be trained? To converse with them instead of lecturing or forcing a text book down there throats?

I think it's going to be a good year.

Monday, August 11, 2008

School Dazed

Today is the first day of school and the morning went as well as I could have dared hope.

Waking The Quartet up two to three hours earlier than they've been used to this summer was fairly easy. The excitement of new backpacks, lunchboxes and shoes had something to do with this, I know. I have no delusions that every morning will be so simple.

Everyone was dressed, fed and out the door in a timely manner. I took the older kids to school first. The building was packed with parents and children, teachers outside their rooms greeting their newest wards, and, though it appeared chaotic, it was surprisingly quick and easy to get in and out.

S was a bit hesitant as we entered her room, but her teacher was one of JP's last year and, so, familiar to her. And once she saw one of her friends, she was all set.

JP handled Day One as he handles everything - in stride. He said hello to his teacher, hung up his backpack and found his seat, no doubt ciphering just how long it would be until he could get himself back in front of a television.

C had gone upstairs to the 5th grade by himself and GK and I went to check on him after depositing the other two. He is not, sadly, in the same class with his two running buddies whom he's been with every year since kindergarten. He was already seated, so I just waved to him and couldn't speak to him to find out if this is a problem. Something tells me it is, though he'll soon see that they'll have lunch and CLUE together. He'll do well, he always does.

We left the school and GK was being chatty and sweet and was the kind of happy that makes me want to spend all day with her. But I couldn't. I had a chiropractor appointment and had to be at work, so it was off to the sitter.

GK was less than thrilled with being dropped off. This is a new sitter for her, but that isn't really the point. She cried at drop-off nearly every day last year. I know she doesn't cry for long, I know it's just the moment of being left behind that upsets her. But it's that moment that upsets me as well. Has been ever since I began dropping C off at daycare 10 years ago.

I hope they all had a good day. I hope they'll all forgive me for being the one to abandon them every morning. It's for their own good. They'll see that one day, though it may not be until they have their own kids and are dropping them off at my house for me to take care of and to explain that their parents aren't really bad people for doing so. They're just cheap.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The GK Advisor

Another helpful hand from two-year-old GK.

Me: So, what do you think?
GK: I'm sorry?
Me: I just read you a letter from a reader asking your advice.
GK: My advice?
Me: I posted a while back on this blog that if anyone needed advice on any subject that they could write and ask you a question.
GK: You have a blog?
Me: Yes.
GK: Fine. These curlers have to set for about 15 minutes anyway, so shoot.
Me: Here we go. Chris writes, Dear GK, can you help me with the fewer and less predicament? Are there fewer calories or less calories in my beer? Please help!
GK: You know, this makes me think of a piece I read in The New Yorker not long ago about the reclusive physicist, Garrett Lisi.
Me: Really? How is it relevant to the question?
GK: Oh, it isn't. I just automatically start thinking of something else when you're talking.
Me: I see. So can you help Chris?
GK: He's a grown man concerned with the amount of calories in his beer. I think the only thing that will help him now is to take stock of himself, and of his wife's closet, to see if any of her skirts match those pumps I imagine he's wearing right now.
(Ding!)
GK: My hair is ready. See you later, old man ...

[To have your questions answered, please write to gkadvisor@gmail.com.]

GK: Bring me my mojito!


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Hit Me

Sometime in the last week, Urf! attained the 50,000 hits milestone. If I had a penny for every one of those hits, then I'd have $500. And if I had $500 then I'd actually only have about $485.16 ... it's a long story.

Oddly, on days that I have a column in The Commercial Appeal, my daily hits here actually drop. Perhaps you have a low threshold for me, it's certainly understandable.

Regardless, I have a column in the paper today. If you can stand any more, then please check it out. I actually get paid for that and I could use all the pennies I can get.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Do I Laugh Now?

Who among us hasn't woken up some mornings - eyes sleep-encrusted, pillow drool-soaked - wishing we could, instead of being ourselves, just for one day, be Fred MacMurray?

Ah, to be cool. Really cool. 1940s Film Noir cool, with its gin-soaked, clipped speech and wide-brimmed Fedoras. Not 2008 Facebook cool with its poking and whiny pleading for acceptance.

I feel, mostly, that I would be closer to 1960s television Fred MacMurray than 1940s Billy Wilder Fred MacMurray. I would find it easier at this time to pull off the cardigan and Canadian pipe look, living with my kids and a crazy, man-servant bachelor uncle; easier, certainly, than the look of a grey flannel suit, flask and Chesterfields, a sultry Barbara Stanwyck draped over my shoulder.

But father doesn't always know best, does he? In yesterday's post, I'm afraid I may have given the impression that I did, and that the day, and its errands, ran smoothly due to some wisdom or foresight of mine. Truth be told, I couldn't have done it without the teamwork of my Quartet.

To drop a dime on myself, as Walter Neff might say, I had to turn down the car radio on the way to registration to ask the kids what grades they were going into. I didn't want to look like a total chump when we got to school.

They each sounded off in turn: First! Second! Fifth!

Afterwards, as we sat in the McDonald's drive-thru line, C told me exactly what and how to order all the kids' meals. Right down to letting me know the number of boys' and girls' Happy Meals.

I'm also not 100% certain that it was a good idea to let the kids feed most of their lunches to those three squirrels at the park, but it seemed to make them happy.

The children, not the squirrels.

They're good kids, and I really do try to know best, but sometimes I flub even that.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Solo Daddy, Day Two

Just like in those old suspense movies, today was quiet. Almost ... too quiet.

This was the smoothest school registration I've been to in six years. The first one, when C was just entering kindergarten, began with me standing in line at the Fairgrounds at three in the morning sometime in February to secure him a spot at Downtown Elementary.

And each subsequent year, I've had to produce something to prove that my kids exist; a birth certificate, social security card, DNA sample, retina scan. Something. Every year, even after C had been there for a few years.

Except this year. Kristy printed out the necessary forms and filled them out ahead of time and I took them into school and dropped them off. The end. It was as simple and tidy as it should have been every year.

So after this short jaunt, I decided to take The Quartet for a picnic. It was 98 degrees outside, why not?

First, thought, I drove past the auto inspection station to see about getting the Volvo inspected to renew the registration. The line was too long, again. I've done this every day since early last week and that line is always too long. I just don't have the patience to sit in my car waiting for the government to do its work.

What I do have the patience for, apparently, is sitting in my car at the McDonald's drive-thru waiting for a high school kid to assemble four Happy Meals.

We went to Overton Park, at a picnic table near the Doughboy, where we ate our lunch and fed French fries to a few squirrels. The kids loved that part.

It was a good day. A good way to spend one of the last days of summer vacation. Tomorrow, Kristy is taking the kids to work with her, so I get the day off. I'm almost sorry about that.

Ask GK

Two-year-old GK has a knack for getting her opinions across. I often consult her on matters of finance, politics, the heart or entertainment options. She never fails to let me know just what she thinks.

Here are a few examples of our conversations from the past:

Sketches of GK
Politics and Poop
Upon Returning Home From Work Yesterday Evening ...
GK Critic

My thinking is that, as helpful as she's been to me, I'm sure she could help all of you as well. She's well-versed on many subjects, so if you have any questions at all for a two-year-old, please E-mail her at gkadvisor@gmail.com.

Ask for her advice, her opinions, her thoughts. Go ahead, you give it a try now.


Me: GK, what do you think about all of this?
GK: All of what?
Me: Writing an advice column for my readers.
GK: How much advice could the two of them need?
Me: I have lots of readers.
GK: And they all have problems.
Me: Probably so.
GK: That wasn't a question.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Snake Bit

It's an annual happening. This is the week, as it is every year, that Kristy goes back to work, but the kids still have another week of summer vacation left, and I am in charge of them.

It's never pretty.

It's like snake handling. You can look at those poisonous serpents through the safety of aquarium glass all you want, but at some point you just have to reach in and grab one. Or four. This is the week I reach in and attempt to control the vipers.

This first day began well enough. I was up before any of them and showered, ready for the day ahead. I even did the dishes and some laundry. GK slept late and was upset by the absence of her mother when she awoke, but she quickly got over it and settled in to watch Sesame Street (Gabi seems ... older, doesn't she?). The other kids woke up, ate, got dressed and were ready to leave the house in a timely fashion.

I had a chiropractor appointment to have this ice pick, or whatever it is, that's jammed into my shoulder looked at. A chiropractor appointment with four kids in tow, it turns out, is counterproductive.

You know how when someone else's kids are jumping around, and acting like sociopaths, and the parent says, "I don't know what's gotten into him, he never acts like this" but you know for a fact that the kid always acts like that? Maybe that's how my kids are perceived, because I found myself saying, "I don't know what's going on with her" after S was scolded by the doctor for hitting JP, an aggression I couldn't see as my back was to them at the time.

I had to walk over to work afterwards because there were some things I had to get done. These kids all know that they are to behave and stay quiet when they're at the store because there are customers who have questions and I need to be able to talk to those people. The kids know this, they just don't care. The girls ran throughout the place while JP called out to them from the mezzanine. And, of course, you have to watch GK with the inventory, that girl loves a panatela.

We walked over to Roma for lunch. I ordered five slices, an order of pepperoni breadsticks and drinks, and the kids actually behaved for all of this. At one point GK, finished with her meal, got down to dance around and wave at people. This was too cute to cause a problem.

Once at home, though, things really heated up. These kids can't keep their hands off of each other, constantly in each other's personal space, pushing and hitting. Once it all went too far and S's hand was slammed in a bedroom door, I sent them all to separate rooms, where they stayed for the rest of the day. Or until 3:30 when Big Mama got home to relieve me.

I went to work. Alone.

Tomorrow is school registration, which is always a treat. Stay tuned ...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Girls

I have two girls, S, five-years-old, and GK, two. They are stubborn and bossy, respectively.

Last night, S talked to her mother in a manner that mothers should not be addressed. I sent her immediately to her room and left her to think about it. Later, I told her she could come out if she would go and apologize to her mom. She went in the kitchen, but just stood there while Kristy talked to her. When she was finished, I asked Kristy if she had said "I'm sorry" and she said no. So I put her back in her room.

A bit later, just before dinner, I went in and asked if she was ready to apologize and she said no. That girl would rather sit in solitary than say she's sorry.

Eventually she was sprung without my consent. I would have left her in there all night, because I'm stubborn like that.

GK's hobby is telling everyone what to do and then watching as whatever it is is carried out. This morning she and Kristy were in our bed and I kissed GK goodbye and she said, "Kiss mommy." Well, I was going to. I don't need to be told to. But then it looked as though I was just doing what she said, which is what she likes.

Kristy does the same thing. If we turn a movie on, as soon as the DVD starts if the volume is too loud, she'll tell me to turn it down as I'm already reaching for the remote. But then it looks as though I was just doing what she said, which is what she likes.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Like Herding a Platoon of Cats

Kristy is at home all summer with our four kids. It's one of the greatest perks of being a teacher - summers off. It's also what helps this family function, there is no way we'd be able to afford childcare for two and a half months while the kids were out of school.

I couldn't do it. Taking charge of those four kids all day every day would end tragically. You'd all hear about it on CNN. I have to be at work all day, every day; I consider that a perk.

Today she has our four kids plus Mr. Baby, and she's taken them to Davis-Kidd Booksellers. I just found out that C's friend tagged along as well. So Kristy has left the house with six kids, which is insane. And, yet, she can handle it. She's half drill sergeant, half shepherd and half school marm. She is Big Mama.

How does she do it? What's her secret? I have no idea. And I don't think I want to, because I'm afraid it might then be expected of me.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Machu Picchu

Ninety-seven years ago today, Hiram Bingham discovered Machu Picchu, the lost Incan mountaintop city.

Common belief is that Machu Picchu was a getaway for Incan royalty. A little respite from the day-to-day, humdrum routine of corporate Peruvian life.

Memphis's own Machu Piccu is the Gulf Coast of Florida, Mississippi and Alabama, with its white sand beaches and copious Budweiser. My people and I just spent a week at this sea level retreat and I had a little something to say about it in my column, "Because I Said So," over at The Commercial Appeal.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

G is for Growl

What was that? That noise emanating from my youngest.

Two-year-old GK has begun the lovely habit of growling when she doesn't get her way, when she's upset or frustrated. It's primal, it's gravelly. It's like someone is running a rasp over the short end of a megaphone.

And it's useless.

Does she think we're new here? That we'd give up, throw in the towel, surrender just because she learned a new, albeit otherworldly, noise? Does she think we're French?

We've been through the crying and the tantrum-throwing, the screeching, whining and pouting. GK bores us with her new noise. We laugh at her growl.

She's going to have to become more creative with her anger to hold our attention. What concerns me is that she's smart enough to do just that. I'm not sure what it will be, but I fear it will involve implements. Sharp, shiny cutlery. Possibly some gun play.

This little girl needs things. She needs water in her sippy cup, she needs Blue's Clues turned on, she needs her mother's undivided attention all. day. long. And she's not willing to wait for any of those things.

She wants them now, she said with a guttural timbre.

Monday, July 21, 2008

You Can Go Home Again, Unfortunately

We made it home. Perhaps one or both of you noticed I was gone all last week. We spent the week with three other families - seven adults, 10 kids - on the white sand beaches of Dauphin Island.

I already miss it.

There will be more to come, I'm sure, about the sand castles and the boogie boarding and the morning coffee on the deck and the late night bonfires. But right now I have a ton of work to do and, frankly, I'm still in mourning over not being on the beach right this minute with a cool drink and almost a dozen kids frolicking just out of my range of responsibility.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Cold Storage

We've slowly been outgrowing our home. We've run out of closet space, under-the-bed space, bathroom space and personal space.

Recently, however, we've outgrown something I never even thought about. We are absolutely out of room in our refrigerator. I always thought we'd have more than enough room in that box since we don't really have more than enough money for food, but we've somehow managed to overfill it. That big, white appliance is crammed full with a couple of gallons of milk and the same amount in juice, leftovers, bacon, condiments, simple syrup, eight cups with two fingers each of chocolate milk, a few eggs, some more leftovers, 10 jars of pickles and pepperoncinis, and a beer.

We bought this fridge almost 11 years ago after moving into this house; it's your basic cold storage with no ice or water from the door, no gallon-sized door storage, not even an ice maker. The problem - "problem" - is that it works fine, so there's really no reason to replace it other than we need. more. space. The other problem, of course, is that we can't afford one of those big refrigerators that we really need.

Just the other day, a friend had reason to get rid of a small, dorm-sized refrigerator, so we happily took it off her hands. And the only place we had for it in our house was on top of the other fridge.

So there it sits. The annex. Just like your grandmother's new TV sitting on top of her old TV. It's like a refrigerator attic.

It's the perfect place for juice, a condiment or one jar of pickles.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Visions of C

C just returned from a long weekend with his Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Toby visiting with other family members at a mini-reunion in Statesboro, GA. By all accounts, he behaved himself on his first out of town trip without either parent. I knew he would.

He also had a blast, as I knew he would. I used to take trips like this as a boy, visiting family out of state without my parents. It's a great learning experience I think, that little taste of freedom, though without having to be too responsible. Just the right amount of freedom for someone his age. You learn initiative and a bit of self-reliance, and the whole experience is a character builder as Favorite Aunt Carol would say.

He can't stop talking about things that were said and games that were played and food that was eaten. He played with his cousins, Terryn, the Little Lady and Ben and Eric from way up north. He visited with Nonna, Mimi & Pop and played in the pool with Uncle Johnny just as I used to do.

It's a weekend he'll always remember. It's the very vacation that I can remember.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Most Stupid

Okay, listen up, I'm going to tell this story once and then I don't really want to speak of it any more. And if anyone says, "You should have ... " then I will leave four hungry and summertime-sleep-deprived children on your front door step.

I'm working on this big freelance project for The Commercial Appeal. They're putting out their annual issue of "The Memphis Most" highlighting the best Memphis has to offer and I'm charged with writing pieces on various restaurants in 34 categories.

I've had about two-and-a-half weeks to work on it and have been doing so diligently. Earlier this week I was working on it, in fact, and decided I wanted the Word document saved into a specific file instead of on the desktop of the iBook G4 where I'd been keeping it.

So I "Saved As" under the same document name but in a different location.

Then came tonight. I booted up and, while I was thinking about what I was going to write, I started mindlessly moving icons on the desktop around, deleting some, just doing some general housekeeping.

I moved the document called "Memphis Most" into a folder in my Documents. And then the little dialog box popped up to tell me that there was already an item by that name and did I want to replace it?

And I did.

And then I immediately didn't want to and I undid it, but it was too late. I had moved the old document into where the newer document was residing and it overwrote it. I lost about a week's worth of work.

So, I have one week before deadline to interview people, rewrite everything, write my column for next week and take care of some other things that I'm not even at liberty to talk about right now.

All of this to say, if you need me for anything in the next week, I'm busy. Sorry. I'll have more free time in about two weeks, but for now just don't expect much from me.

I'll just be sitting here, alternately typing and beating my head on this keyboard.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Lucky Number Seven

I guess the way it's normally done is to have a birthday dinner, then birthday cake and then open birthday presents. Had we made JP wait until after dinner yesterday to open his gifts, his head would have exploded. He began asking about opening his present the evening before, his voice vibrating and his hands shaking.

And then, yesterday morning, there was this exchange:

Me: Good morning.
JP: Can I open my present now?
Me: Happy birthday, JP!
JP: Can I open my present now?
Me: I'm going to go for a quick run and you can open it when I get back.
I returned and wasn't even in the front door yet.
JP: Can I open my present now?

So we let him open his new electric keyboard in the early morning hours of his birthday. Later that evening we ordered pizza per his request.

Delivered pizza and people giving him stuff, it's the perfect JP Day. I hope he had a great one.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Happy Birthday, JP!

Seven years ago today, without the aid of any pain relievers whatsoever, I had a baby boy.

Happy Birthday, JP, I love you!

You can read about him here, and you can look at him here.


It's my grandfather's birthday, too. He's ... more than seven. Happy Birthday, Pop!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Warm Waters

When my sisters and I were kids, it seems like our mother made us take swim lessons about five different times. Perhaps we were slow learners.

Mom, if you had us take lessons so often because you were concerned for our safety around bodies of water, both large and small, then I thank you for your concern over our well-being.

If, on the other hand, you used it as a means to get some time away from us for a few hours a day, a few weeks per summer, then I applaud your resourcefulness as a parent. Well played, Elaine.

My three older kids began two weeks of swim lessons today at the Y. I feel like swimming is something I should be teaching them to do; to be cautious and to respect the water, but also to have fun. I just don't have the time.

So, instead, I'll be in charge of teaching them to shower every day, immediately after swimming in the big, urine-filled public pool.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I've Got the Blues

From day one, it seems, we look forward to "the move out." The day when our kids take that last leap into the great unknown, known to us as "not living in my house anymore."

Okay, I wouldn't say from day one, because that first day they're cute and sleep a lot. Sometime around day two, however, they cry and start passing that meconium by the bucketload. It's from this day which I speak.

Before our kids move out, though, there's that other blessed moving day; the day when their friends move out. It's an event that you don't even realize at the time. In fact, it's several days later when you register that you haven't heard Steve's condescending tone, or that irritating yodel his dog makes. You have said goodbye to Blue's Clues and not even noticed.

The quiet is calming.

For us, that day of goodbyes has come and gone three times. It's not so hard; you forget about them. Eventually it's like they were never around at all. Out of sight, out of mind.

But then, they come back. You didn't even know you still had their DVDs tucked away, and yet, there's your youngest, sitting there, transfixed by what she sees on the screen. You sit down next to her and she looks up, hoping you see what she does. She wants to share this wonder with you. And then she's amazed when you are able to mimic Blue's call, that you can sing along with the mailbox. Truth be told, you're a little surprised at yourself for remembering the song verbatim.

It's wonderful to see your child so happy, to see her discovering new things. The world opens up daily to our kids and we're lucky to be on hand to witness.

But those moments pass and, once again, you find yourself in the kitchen, beating your forehead against the refrigerator door, trying to force Pepper's voice out of your skull.

Soon enough they'll all skidoo out of here again, I'm sure. Steve, Blue, Slippery - they'll all be gone. To them I say, "Good riddance."

And I say it in the silly accent of a table spice.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Aggravating


Elizabeth gave me the game of Aggravation tonight as a very, very early birthday gift. It's a game we played as kids, but that I haven't been able to find for sale here locally. We found this on E-bay and laughed about it, and then she surprised me with it. The box lid is taped together, and the dice are yellowed, and this might be the exact game we once played.

As kids we also played backgammon, Battleship, Mastermind, checkers, chess, Stratego and a plethora of card games.

Lately I've been playing some of these games with The Quartet. It's been a way for me to reminisce, and a chance for me to set them up for the board game beating of their lives.

Or so I thought.

Read more about how this all went down in the latest installment of my column "Because I Said So" in The Commercial Appeal.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mothersville

In January of 2003, my wife created Mothersville, a retail shop and safehaven for expecting women.

In February 2005, her friend Andria graciously and ably took that store over so she could go back to teaching.

Mothersville will close this Saturday.

For just over five years, the shop, and the women who have run it, have seen many soon-to-be, and brand new moms, and have assisted them through the ups and downs of motherhood. They’ve helped them, and the community, tremendously and I couldn’t be more proud of them and what they’ve accomplished.

Running a small business doesn’t stop at five o’clock. You take the worry home with you, you sleep on it and you wake up with the stress. At the time Kristy opened Mothersville, we had three children and I had a business, and I would joke that we had five kids when you took those businesses into account.

Kristy came up with the concept and got it rolling (with a newborn in her sling); Andria has carried through with it, expanding on it and growing it as much as was possible (with a newborn in her sling). She kept it alive against amazing odds for as long as the market would bear. And maybe just a bit beyond that.

We owe these women our admiration, our thanks and, possibly for many of you, your very sanity.

In the face of closing, Andria is running a sale all week. Many of you may be thinking you’d like to take advantage of that sale, yet are worried you’ll appear as a vulture picking at the carcass for doing so. I’m telling you to forget that line of thought. The best thing you could do to support her right now is to go in there and buy up as much stuff as you can carry.

And then, on your way out, be sure to give her a hug and thank her for everything she's done.

Mothersville
800 So. Cooper
mothersville.com
901-272-0081

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

4958

Back in January I wrote that my boyhood home was for sale and that, if the trends in that neighborhood were any indication, it would probably be torn down.

It was.

My sister drove by the other day and took this photo. That's where I lived as a boy, except there was a house there.



My own kids have lived all of their lives in one house, but hopefully they won't live their entire life in this house. When we do, eventually, move, I hope to have lots of photos and memories of our time in this little box.

And now you can join us in these visual memories by visiting Urftography , where I hope to put up a picture a day a la Click(Daily), or clicking on that little Flickr link over there to your right. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's Hot, Hot, Hot

Big Mama and I are going 'round and 'round. It isn't about the kids or finances or anything like that.

It's the air conditioner.

She will run that thing 24 hours a day trying to get the temperature inside the house down to 72, even when it's 97 degrees outside. We live in a 1,200 square foot box that's been wrapped in metal since sometime in the 1950s when aluminum siding seemed like a good idea. We have no trees. It's like spending a night in the box, except it's all. summer. long.

There are things that make cooling the house even more difficult, like using the oven and the fact that we're poorly insulated and the windows are for crap. But mainly, it's the kids. Isn't it always the kids?

They use the front and back doors like ... well, doors. But not doors to the inside of our house or the backyard. They use them like they're doors to a time machine or Candy Land or Narnia or someplace much more exciting.

They go out, they come right back in.

And, sometimes, they just stand there with it open as though it's the refrigerator door. And they may very well be that confused.

I threaten them with locking the door, whether they're on the outside or the inside. This generally evokes laughter or rolling eyes or the occasional obscene gesture. But I'll do it! I'll lock these kids out of my house in a heartbeat. Sure, it's hot here. It's very hot. But there's a hose out there and they know how to use it. There are shady areas in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, I'll be in the cool house where it's 77 degrees at best, but trying so hard to get down to 72, when Kristy will then ask the AC to go down to a reasonable 68.