Say Cheese…PLEASE

I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but if you are on our Christmas card list, we spent a bunch of time and money on lying to you. That family photo you are all complimenting? Totally staged. We only have to act normal and respectable for 1/100 of a second and it STILL takes us a dozen and a half tries to get it right.  We’ve been taking portraits since the early 1800s and while the technology of photography has advanced leaps and bounds since the camera was introduced into society, we have gotten worse at taking pictures.  There are photographs of pioneers that are more well-posed than the pictures my family takes.  Back in the day they had to set up a tripod and adjust the lens exposure; they had to load up flash powder and their blinds – the whole time, the subjects of the portrait were patiently waiting for the big POOF of the flash.  We’ve seen these pictures in history books and museums – there are children in them, there are animals, there are uncomfortable outfits.  EVERYTHING we have!  And yet, it takes us seconds to set up a photo and we can shoot a dozen pictures rapid fire in a matter of moments and we still can’t pull this off!

First of all, why do we make it tougher than it has to be.  Put up your tree, sit your ass down, CLICK.  We try to fit themes, make ourselves look more clever than we are, and contort our entire family into poses that have nothing to do with the simplicity of a family photo.  “Deirdre, turn to your left but look over your right shoulder at Chet.  Chet look back at Deidre, but don’t really look at her, look past her like you’re wondering what the future will bring – love, fame, security.  Todd-Maverick, lay on your back in the fetal position – yes, like you’re crowning.  Don’t worry what crowning means, I’ll tell you when you’re older.  Tina-Sue-Bob, perch yourself on Todd-Maverick’s knees like the soul of a Buddhist monk who was just reincarnated as a Great Blue Heron and be sure you hold up the baby Jesus and your Furbee.  Now where did the ferret go?  Is he still wearing his onesie?  Okay, I’ll just set the timer and grab my Stormtrooper helmet and we’ll be all set!”

We also put on clothes we never want to wear.  If my entire family left the house all color coordinated, I’d gag.  I once saw a husband and wife at a restaurant and they were both wearing the same Elvis postage stamp t-shirt.  I made a vow to myself and to my wife right then and there that I would NEVER let that happen to us.  And yet, when picture time rolls around, we are all digging through our closets looking for a red shirt and a Santa hat.

And you know damn well our kids never stay focused long enough to tell you what their names are, let alone hold a pose and a smile for an extended period of time (you know, like 30-seconds).  If you were to see all of the outtake pictures you’d see a small child shaped blur sliding out of my wife’s lap and dashing toward the camera.  Or a set of hands trying to pull the cat into his lap so he can squeeze her until her eyes start going in two different directions.  Our older son can sit still with a (fake) smile on his face for days; his problem is inside his head where the wheels never stop turning.  He’ll be thinking the most random things like a glove advent calendar, where you get one glove a day for 24 days, or a glove coat, gloves that look like coats (apparently he’s been thinking a lot about gloves lately for some reason) and as his mind wanders, so do his eyes.  We have so many pictures of him where he’s facing the camera and smiling, but he’ll be looking somewhere else – not that there’s anything there where he’s looking, he just seems to have forgotten we were taking a picture.

So for those of you who received our card, don’t fall for it.  We just didn’t want to spend money on a picture where the cat was getting shorn by the younger child who was about to bolt out of the room with a handful of fur in his hand, my wife in full-eye roll, me in mid-conniption, and the older boy deep in thought about how he could achieve making the world’s smallest pencil.

“I fell down the chimney and landed on a flaming hot goose!”
“You have all the fun!” ~ The Muppet Christmas Carol

There’s Always That One Person On Your List

We all have one – the person who always has you straining your brain to figure out what you can get them for Christmas.  For me it’s my grandmother.  I’ve posted about her before, but, long story short, she’s a feisty 91-year-old Italian who has a very sharp wit and a solid hand to smack you with if you are not fast enough to dodge her (which, believe me, you’re not).  I love her dearly but, God help me, that lady is tough to shop for.

For one thing, she’s not an “old lady.”  She doesn’t sit around and knit.  She doesn’t have dozens of cats.  She won’t be excited if you send her a care package of prunes.  She’s a one-of-a-kind who still plays on the floor with her great grandkids, dances around the kitchen (usually after a couple two-finger shots of liquor), and can fluently cuss you out in three languages (English, Italian, and her own brand of gibberish).

For another thing, she’s the queen of regifting.  Except she’s savage about it.  A) She won’t usually wait until the following Christmas to regift it and B) She regifts it back to the person who gave it to her.  Seriously, I have a set of Christmas dishes in my possession that my mother gave me…after my grandmother gave them to her…after my mother gave them to my grandmother.  If my mom didn’t read this blog (hi, Mommy) I’d probably wait a couple more years and give them back to my mother wrapped like they were brand new.  Do you see the sacrifices I make just to entertain you guys?  You’re welcome.

She’s a little gentler with her grandkids.  She usually returns our gifts to us and makes it sound like it’s for our benefit.  She is ALWAYS cold (and enjoys proving it by putting her arctic hands on your neck when you least expect it) so I thought she would like some super warm winter pajamas.  I hinted around the subject around Thanksgiving and she admitted to always wanting a set of the footed pajamas.  Huzzah!  I was finally going to successfully buy her something cool for Christmas.  Long story short (again), I ended up buying her three sets.  The first one freaked her out because of the “access panel” in the back.  “What the hell is this?  My culo hangs out.”  The second one was too big.  The third one was probably also too big but she gave it to me with the subtle message to stop exchanging it, “I’m too old for this – give it to your wife, she might like it.  It’s nice and soft and warm.”

My wife is 5’7″.  My grandmother is 4’9″.  She was just trying to get rid of it and let me down easily.

She even gave me back gift cards!  She loves to go out to eat – her favorite is Red Lobster.  And her favorite person to go with is my oldest son – they’re seafood junkies.  So I gave her gift cards and told her take him out for a  feast; just the two of them.  A couple months go by and she gives them back to me (multiple cards from several different gift giving occasions) and told me take my family out on her.  Though, it’s not really on her…I bought the cards…the meal is still on me, there just happens to be a couple more middle men involved in this transaction.  The real kicker is, a short while later she decided to take my son out to lunch and asked for her cards back.  So I guess I’ll count that as a win…or at least a solid tie.

So, I don’t know what you do for your tough-to-shop-for person, but for mine, I stick to the three Bs.  Books (mysteries – the seedier and more violent the better; don’t waste her time with jewel heists, she wants cold blooded murder), brain teasers (puzzle books that keep her up well into the wee hours of the morning), and booze (because…well…she really likes liquor).

“Wings, Mr. Santy Claus, I need new wings.  Not fancy wings, just plain-jane, low-rent, barely-bent, home-grown, bare-bone, off-the-shelf, two-part, Kmart, no-frills flappers.  They would be an improvement over my own.  As your records should show, I am a bird.  Specifically, a penguin, an embarrassing accident of birth for which I do not blame my mother.  I prefer to blame Congress.” ~ A Wish For Wings That Work

What Happened to My Parents?

I’ve lost my parents.  They’re gone.  Lost them both at the exact same time.  I lost them both in childbirth – when my wife and I had kids.  Now these two people who LOOK like my parents and sound like my parents are living in my old home.  And that whole “if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck” thing is a bunch of malarky!

Let me preface this by saying I LOVE MY PARENTS – they’re my heroes and our boys are so lucky to have them in their lives.  But, let’s face it, they’ve lost their minds.

I remember growing up with these people who were workaholic homebodies.  My mother’s mantra was: “I don’t make plans because something always ruins them.”  My dad’s mantra was: “don’t get stupid” but that was for totally different reasons and has nothing to do with this post and I tried to abide by it…but, if you’ve been reading this blog long enough you know– things happen.  For the purposes of this post, my father didn’t say much because he was usually asleep in his chair by 6:00 p.m.  Even when I was in college, my mother called me almost every day, from home, because that’s where they were.

Now, I have no idea where they are!  EVER!  They are going places planned and unplanned constantly!  There is not an empty square on their calendar and yet they are still up for disappearing on a whim.  Especially if one of my little heathens wants to go somewhere.  Do you know that I have only gone to Chuck E. Cheese twice in my life and once was when I was 37 years old.  The time I went as a child, it was part of a separate vacation trip which also involved my aunt and uncle and cousin.  And I remember, ever since that trip, my mother talked about the terrible pizza, and germ-riddled games and attractions, and how it was too crowded with too many people who might be the embodiment of “stranger danger.”

My kids have also been there twice.  Once when we were driving by a city, an hour away from our home, when we were starving and were already engaged in a full-out day of family fun for our boys.  The second time was six days later when our boys spent the night with my parents and when asked what they wanted for dinner the three-year-old answered, “Chuck E. Cheese.”  Well apparently that was a convincing enough argument for my parents to pile them into the car and drive an hour away from home to have pizza.

Speaking of food, I knew what we were having for dinner weeks in advance because the menu didn’t change.  We ate very few microwavable things because that wasn’t “real food” – the good food is homemade and you needed meat and vegetables every day.  We had desserts in our school lunches (a Little Debbie somethingorother or a pudding cup) but actual desserts with dinners were treats like with a full Sunday dinner or a holiday.  NOW there are times my older son isn’t hungry for dinner because he stopped over to my parents’ house and he filled up on mini microwaved corn dogs, crackers and canned cheese, and ice cream!  They even fed him Kool Aid AND NOT AS A DRINK!  HE ATE IT FROM THE PACKAGE!

I remember being in SERIOUSLY deep trouble when I refused to eat what my grandmother had made for dinner one time (not from my grandmother, mind you, she ended up making me a grilled cheese – she understood I thought ham was gross) but now my kids have more multiple choice options than they give on the SAT!  “I made lasagna, but I thought some people would want ravioli, and Nathan loves spaghetti.  Andrew, do any of those sound good to you or do you want a hot dog?”  “No thank you, grandma, I couldn’t eat another bite after I just shotgunned this packet of pink lemonade powder.”

And I lived in constant fear of not liking something my mother made.  To this day there are things I don’t like that I eat and I never say a thing.  NO, I’M NOT TELLING YOU!  SHE READS THIS!  I’M IN ENOUGH TROUBLE AS IT IS FOR WRITING THIS AT ALL!!!  It was bad enough if I didn’t eat enough of something or didn’t eat something fast enough, I was accused of not liking it. But to actually push something away and say I don’t like it?! That was dangerous ground. My wife and I aren’t that hardcore, but we do make the boys try something before they decide they don’t like it.  I was in the process of telling my mother this when I made my younger son try something different he didn’t want to eat. Or at least I was trying to explain it to her – she was too busy howling with laughter until she couldn’t breath and had tears rolling down her cheeks because my 3-year-old took a bite and gave me the most sarcastic smile and “Mmmmm” he could muster. Needless to say in that battle: Dad 0; Nate and Grandma 1.

I suppose it’s a right of passage for grandparents to do outrageous things for the grandkids. They played by the rules and it was a hard job being a parent – now they can take it easy and let someone else deal with the tough stuff. My grandfather used to schlep gallons of water from his house for my sister to drink because she didn’t like how ours tasted (they lived 5 blocks away – it was the same water). I’m sure my mother and father would tell you how ridiculous that was if my dad could hear you over the sound of every musical Christmas decoration he let Nathan turn on simultaneously or if my mother wasn’t so busy making Andrew some iced tea – not like regular iced tea – like brewing a cup of tea like you were going to drink it hot, cream and sugar added, and then adding ice cubes to it to lower the temperature down to a cold drink…

“If I’d have known how wonderful it would be to have grandchildren, I would have had them first.” ~ Lois Wyse

If I’m Tired Again, Am I Re-tired?

I already messed up my summertime blogging goal but I had an amazingly awesome reason – I was at my parents’ retirement party.  Yup, they both broke away from the workforce on the same day.  You’d think on their last day, they’d follow their usual schedule just to make it official and to have a countdown of the minutes like New Year’s Eve; but, of course, my parents couldn’t follow “the plan.”  Dad left work 3 hours early and Mom stayed 45 minutes late.  Of course, as far as my parents are concerned, they were both right on time.

My parents are some of the hardest working people I know – there were YEARS that I remember neither one of them taking a sick day.  I remember staying with my grandparents on nights and weekends when my parents had to work odd shifts.  My dad worked all sorts of jobs: metal factory, plumbing supplies, modular office manufacturing.  He had some really interesting jobs like making the big light up signs that businesses use on their storefronts and working in a factory that made those super cool self checkout stations (I LOVE those things).  My mom had the same career for forty years…she sold drugs.

They both were had to deal with– long hours, going to work and coming home in the worst weather, missing important…

She worked in a pharmacy!  She filled prescriptions!  Pharmacy tech. She wasn’t like a drug dealer…no, like the legal kind…oh God…

Anyway, they both paid their dues and I’m very proud of what they went through to make sure my sister and I wanted for nothing and never knew how hard they struggled until we were older.  So, after all the years they did everything for us, when they asked us for one simple request, of course we had to do it for them.  They simply asked to let this event go by without fanfare.  No party, no big acknowledgement, just let them punch out and go home…

…yeah, we totally ignored that and started planning a barbecue.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – respect their wishes, they ask nothing of us, yadda yadda yadda, we gots to get our party on.

My sister and wife took care of the food prep, my brother-in-law was going to run the grill, and I was in charge of the decorations…bwahahahaaaaa.  Game on!

We had to make sure both of them were equally represented – pharmaceuticals and plumbing supplies.  Piece of cake.  First thing I had to do was decorate my sister and brother-in-law’s deck.  Patio lights! Easy peasy, right?  Wrong!  Can you believe they don’t make pill bottle lights?! So, like they say, when life won’t give you pill bottles, buy them on Amazon!  Okay, so that might not be what they say but it’s what I did anyway.  Who loves his parents enough to order pill bottles in bulk off the internet and most likely land himself on an ATF watch list?  This guy!

lights

But how do we ensure equal decorative representation for the padré? Luckily my sister has the same twisted mentality as I do (no doubt we’re related) and suggested a toilet for the chips.  Of course the dip would be kept up in the toilet tank.  Who loves his parents enough to make a toilet they can eat out of?  This guy!

IMG_5317

My brother-in-law and I ran to the liquor store for some crappy wine (we’ll save that debacle for another night) and we were good to go.  The family showed up, the food was cooked (only one minor out-of-control grease fire), the cake was decorated, and we waited for the guests of honor.

The looks on their faces as they drove up made all the planning and work worth it.  Because after all the years of raising us, all the sacrifices they made, all the hours they worked, all the bills and paychecks they had to shuffle, all of those feelings of exhaustion they overlooked to play with us, all of the literal blood, sweat, and tears that were shed so we didn’t have to – my sister and I finally learned the greatest lesson from our parents: that same angry look they gave you when you didn’t listen that scared the hell out of you as a child is ABSOLUTELY hilarious and fulfilling to see when you’re an adult and ignore their one wish to not have a retirement party.  TOTALLY worth getting grounded in my 30s.

“The trouble with retirement is that you never get a day off.” ~ Abe Lemons

Top Ten Places Where You Rethink Having Children

I promise, promise, promise it is not my intention to only do Top Ten Tuesdays.  My schedule WILL loosen up a bit soon and I’ll go back to my normal ramblings.  Things have been SO CRAZY lately and, the bright side, I am gathering so much more ammunition for this blog once I get back into the swing of things.  One of the things that has caused such a disruption in the writing schedule is the fact that I am still a parent.  I am still a parent because, apparently, we aren’t allowed to sell them on eBay. BUT they are good inspiration for things such as this week’s list:

THE TOP TEN PLACES WHERE YOU RETHINK HAVING CHILDREN!

10.  Sporting Events

You’d think a place where things are supposed to be loud and obnoxious is the perfect location to bring your little minions without worrying.  You thought wrong, Hoss!  First of all, a hot dog costs a small fortune and I believe you need to give up a kidney if you want to feed the whole family and, let me tell you, the pickiest eaters end their hunger strikes as soon as they walk into the stadium.  You could be convinced that your child is the next Gandhi until the food venders walk by your seats and all of a sudden they’re as dangerously expensive as having a seizure at an auction!  Hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, cotton candy, ice cream, drinks in a collectable spinning glow-in-the-dark wearable gallon jug with free refills to guaran-damn-tee that they will have to go to the bathroom during all of the best plays of the game forcing you to take them to the most vile bathrooms on the planet where you explain why everyone is peeing in the same metal bathtub while simultaneously playing a game of “don’t stare at that.”  When you finally give up and head for the car, your child will have an aching stomach, an armful of souvenirs you had to remortgage your house for, and a fresh set of vocabulary words courtesy of your seatmates whose only coherent bits of drunken ramblings contained four colorful letters.

9.  Disney World

I went to the Magic Kingdom when I was a senior in high school.  It was AWESOME!  My sister and brother-in-law went after they got married and didn’t want to leave.  What did we have in common?  We went without children.  It is certainly the happiest place on Earth…unless you’re a parent.  Then it’s expensive and hot and full of things that make children cry.  According to a survey that I’m completely making up, the things that make small children cry are being uncomfortable, being too hot, being hungry, waiting to do things, wanting things you won’t buy them, being tired from a hectic day, and hearing other children crying because of all the aforementioned reasons.  And, thus, we realize the magic of Disney is powered by children’s tears and parents’ broken souls.

8.  In Bed

Get your minds out of the gutter.  I’m talking about good ol’ comfy sleepy time goodness!  Bad dreams, bed wetting, strange noises, monsters in closets, thunderstorms, or no freaking reason at all and all of a sudden you have a mini-tyrant squeezing under the covers and taking up twice as much room as you do even though they’re a quarter of your size.  Now this little tyke with whom you’ve tried endlessly and unsuccessfully to perfect their aim and timing to kick a soccer ball or swing a baseball bat can catch you with a punch to the throat or a kick to the groin LITERALLY with their eyes closed!  I remember when I was little and sought refuge in my parents’ bed, it was the best sleep I had in my life…now I know why.  I might need to bunk with them again for a while.

7.  In the Car

No, we’re not there yet.  No, we’re not stopping for snacks again.  Of course we can listen to your music, especially that one annoying song and I wouldn’t dream of not putting it on repeat.  No, we’re not there yet.  We have three and a half hours to go.  No, I don’t know how many seconds that is.  Please don’t count until we get there.  Which one of you…oh God, roll down the window.  We just stopped for the bathroom and you didn’t have to go!  No, we’re not there yet!  About two minutes closer than the last time you asked.

6.  Work

There are few experiences more humbling than bringing your children to where you work.  This is the place where you get paid to come across as a person who has their act together.  You might even be the boss!  And then they come in.  Remember that vocabulary from the sporting event or the time you told them you weren’t pulling over at the rest stop and they had an accident or what your pajamas look like?  Now is their time to share all of this information with your coworkers.  Things you don’t even remember happening will all of a sudden come into light.  And, let’s face it, kids are cute and always have your coworkers’ attention – so they have a captive audience ready to absorb every excruciatingly embarrassing detail.

5.  Family Gatherings

You’d think you’d be safe with family…you’re not.  Even if you have awesome kids and you think your parenting game is strong – this is the place where your reality gets body checked into the boards!  Because, now, there are probably more than just your kids there and they’re related so their powers are amplified!  So.  Many.  Children.  All the parents are huddling in fear as this mini mob, hopped up on juice boxes start chucking frisbees and water balloons all over Pawpaw and Meemah’s backyard.  And they think they are just “so adorable” and “kids will be kids” and “you were a handful too.”  Well, that’s all well and good, but they have to come home with ME after YOU washed solid bricks of red dye #5 down their gullets with a bath of Jolt Cola!

4.  Church

I’m sorry Lord, it’s not you, it’s me.  Actually, no.  It’s not me, it’s them.  I can’t remember ever going to church when there wasn’t a screaming child testing the building’s amazing acoustics or yelling out that they have to go potty during a moment of silence (yes, I remember, this is a little pot calling the kettle black situation seeing as what I did during a moment of silence).  And there is so much for them to trip over and bump their head on which leads to a cringeworthy echoing thump which resonates for a moment of shocked silence from the child before the wailing starts.  There are also SO MANY people that your child can “tell the truth about.”  I know it’s a church and there’s the whole “thou shalt not lie” thing, but it’s not a lie if we just don’t talk about that man’s funny looking pretend hair or that lady’s wiggly arms. Churches need to make drive through blessing stations for parents…we need all the help we can get.

3.  Movies

First of all, you will have very few opportunities to see any movies that don’t contain singing woodland creatures.  But, once in a while, you’ll be interested in something your kids want to see.  Lego Movie?  Finding Nemo? AWESOME FLICKS!  But it’s almost better to force yourself to go to the awful movies, because you won’t be able to pay attention anyway.  You’ll also have issues seeing because NO CHILD ever says, “Hey let’s sit toward the center so that we have the best position.  No, it’s either front row or back row.  And, like the sports outings, they’ll want armloads of snacks, but they’ll use your arms as the snack caddy.  So you’ll be passing and taking back popcorn, candy, nachos, and slushies for the film’s entirety. You will also be questioned like a crime’s primary suspect about who someone is or why they’re doing what they’re doing or what’s happening. Haven’t they watched as much of the film as you have?!!  You didn’t direct it!  If they would just keep shoving popcorn in their mouth and paying attention they would know!  And, hopefully, there isn’t a surprise at the ending, because that’s when the inevitable potty break will occur.

2.  Restaurants

Your little one would probably eat a hot dog for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day if you let them.  But if you order them a hot dog at a restaurant it’s like you’re asking them to eat eels.  They only want to eat one thing…whatever it is you ordered.  And YOU KNOW they don’t like what you ordered but they insist it’s what they want, so you share and they hate it and you try to hold back a massive “No &$#*, Sherlock! That’s why we ordered you a hot dog!”  And I think restaurants challenge each other to see how many projectiles they can put on their tables – sugar packets, creamers, salt and pepper shakers, jellies, crayons, silverware, and on and on and on…and on the floor they all go.  They’re volume inexplicably goes up a few hundred decibels and you can feel the eyes from other tables turning your way.  You swallow your food so fast that you forget what you ate by the time you make it back to the car but you’ll be sure to remember what your little minion ate because they shoved some in their pants to be found later.

1.  Grocery Stores

To be honest, I don’t like going grocery shopping even WITHOUT kids. But having them with is a whole new challenge.  You put on cartoons and they turn into catatonic lumps on the couch.  You bring them to a grocery store and all of a sudden they have ninja-like reflexes and everything within their reach is coming off the shelves.  And everything is liquid in glass or millions of pieces of dried goods in easily opened boxes and the poor pimply-faced high schooler hasn’t finished your clean up on aisle 3 before aisles 4, 5, and 6 are in need of his attention.  And WHOEVER thought up the grocery cart with the car on it is the antichrist!  It’s irresistible to children and impossible to drive through the store!  And the checkout lane designer who loaded it with balloons and candy?  OH HOOOO – there is a special place in Hell for you, my friend!  Do you know who designed these things?  Grandparents!  Because they remember what we were like and they are silently adding obstacles to our daily lives as payback!  Very sneaky, Grams and Gramps, very sneaky indeed…but remember, when we ship you off to the retirement home, we’re sending the grandkids to spend time alone with you and there is nowhere for you to run!  Game on…

“Be nice to children, for they will choose your rest home.” ~ Phillis Diller

Shell Shocked

I hope you all had a happy, sugar-laced Easter.  Personally, I was in heaven.  You give this man some lamb and chocolate coated marshmallow eggs and he is a happy camper.  Yeah, I said lamb – I’m that guy – bring it on PETA!  And that goes double for you marshmallow rights activists!

However, my favorite part of the holiday has to be the Easter Egg Hunt!  It has taken a huge turn since I became an adult, though.  One of the things I looked forward to the most as a child when I thought about growing up was being one of the egg hiders!  The annual egg hunts were always a big deal to my family.  We always had one with all the cousins at my grandmother’s house and all of our parents stuffed and hid a hundred little plastic eggs all over the place.  And these people were ruthless!  There were eggs in people’s pockets, up inside ceiling tiles, buried in houseplant dirt, and even once inside the purse of someone who left before the hunt was over!  But, oh how their tunes have changed now that we are no longer the little ones.  This weekend my cousin and I were discussing egg hiding strategies and these HYPOCRITICAL FORMER EASTER EGG HUNT BARBARIANS tell us to be nice because “they’re just little kids.”  So were we…so…were…we…  Sure, we may have used the words “drywall saw,” “long stick and duct tape,” and “drive around and make them chase you” but I’m still standing beside the fact that those would have all been AWESOME hiding places.

My parents also always took me to an egg hunt that was sponsored by a local men’s club that the whole town could go to.  This one was a wee bit more chaotic.  It was like all of the nice old grandpas who were members of this club wanted to give the local children a memorable holiday event but also wanted to relive all the fun they had storming the beach at Normandy.  These guys got up before the crack of dawn with bushels of Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs and a couple handfuls of classic plastic eggs wrapped in special foil and spread these treasures over a couple treacherous acres of muddy, swampy woods.  When the hunt was set to begin, they lined up all the children – about a hundred or so – on one end of a field across from the woods and running along side of a rocky embankment down to a frigid creek (these were the 80s, kids, before we worried about things like insurance and lawsuits – we weren’t pansies like you). They had also strewn a couple candy eggs around the field just far enough away for kids to be able to reach their top running speed before reaching the target. There weren’t enough for all of the kids, or even a tenth of the kids- just enough to cause a few really epic melees!

Then a booming voice came over the bullhorn and signaled us all to abandon all sense of self-preservation and run like hell into the fray in the hopes of finding a special egg so that you could trade it in for a genuine hollow milk chocolate bunny EXCLUSIVE to winners of this hunt (and anyone who shopped at any of the local grocery, drug, or five-and-dime stores).  The bush league kids ran straight for the decoy Reese’s Eggs in the middle of the field – diving across the wet grass and clunking their heads together in the hopes of being the first to the ten cents worth of chocolate. Some of the loose canons did kamikaze dives down the rocks into the icy creek – these kids were the nutbags in your classes in school; the ones who would show up on the first day in a cast on some part of their body and stories about the screws the doctors had to put in them over the summer.  The pros made a beeline for the woods; we knew how this worked.  The prize eggs wouldn’t be out in the open and they wouldn’t be gained by the easily distracted kids just looking for their sugar fix.  Nor would they be in the really treacherous areas like a craggy drop-off into a hyperthermia inducing mini-river. They would be in a rotted out log or a knothole in a tree or possibly at the mouth of a woodchuck den in a pile of leaves.  Oh yes, it would take a true egg hunting Rambo to find these coveted trinkets.

You find a couple Reese’s Eggs here and there – in a mud puddle, on a rock, uncomfortably close to a small pile of what looks like but probably isn’t Milk Duds – and you quickly eat them to gain sustenance for the long, arduous task ahead.  It was always cold and rainy and windy on the day of the hunt. The woods were dark and silent save for a snap of a twig, a scurry of a small woodland creature, or a wheezy puff of some asthmatic kid’s inhaler. You rub some mud on your face to camouflage yourself from your competitors.  You wander deeper and deeper into the woods.  How long have you been out here?  Hours? Days?  You check your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle digital watch and see that you’ve been at the mercy of nature’s harsh elements for almost twelve minutes…you are a true survivor.  You reach down and unwrap a Reese’s Egg – you take a small bite trying to ration it, you’ll need it to last.

Screw it.

You shove the whole thing into your face like the fat kid on Willy Wonka – modesty be damned, this is war and no force in Heaven or on Earth will deny you that peanut buttery goodness.

Finally, you see it – a glint of foil deep between the roots of an old evergreen.  You quickly check your surroundings making sure that there aren’t any egg hunt snipers waiting to see you make a move for the treasure just so they can swoop in and steal your bounty.  Your path is clear to the egg and you scouted a clear exit route back out of the woods.  You go for it – lunging at the coveted bauble (sure, you hit your head off the trunk of the tree- so what, small price to pay) and you turn and race out of the woods.  You race back across the open field past the concussed bodies of the candy fiends who have lost the Walmart version of the Hunger Games. You grab a neglected Reese’s Egg from the hand of an unconscious hunter and shove the whole thing, wrapper and all, into your mouth for a last burst of energy (and another step closer to giving yourself diabetes by noon) to make it across the footbridge. The bridge crosses the creek and you allow yourself a glance down to the creek bed where more unfortunate hunters are licking their wounds and congratulating each other on gnarly hang-times as they jumped off the rocks (you’re pretty sure you can see a bone sticking out of one of them). You make it back up to the pavilion and hold out your hand. A hush falls across the crowd. You are handed a boxed bunny. You nod your thanks to the head gamemaker and he nods his approval in return.

You tear open the box and pluck the little sugar eyes off the bunny’s smug face with your dirty, bloodied, frost bitten fingers and then bite off the ears to savor the sweet taste of victory…and diabetes.

“Sometimes I think that the one thing I love most about being an adult is the right to buy candy whenever and wherever I want.” ~ Ryan Gosling

Aged to Perfection

Today I had the great honor and privilege to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday.  I’ve written about her before and her feisty ways and it never ceases to amaze me how she is still living in a full, two-floor house, still driving, still dancing, still going out and raising a ruckus with her friends, still playing and helping raise her great grandsons, and still living life to the fullest!  She is truly an inspiration.

It’s mind-boggling to think about everything that she has experienced.  When she was born you could get a house for $7000; a car for less than $400.  Marilyn Monroe, Queen Elizabeth, and Mel Brooks were just born and Harry Houdini, Rudolph Valentino, and Annie Oakley just died.  She has seen 14 presidents get elected, 2 territories become states, and the Berlin Wall go up and come down.  Most impressively she has been around to see all 9 of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s marriages and all 17 of Michael Jackson’s noses!

When she was my age there were no personal computers or cell phones, so today really got me thinking about what things are going to be like when I’m 90.  The year will be 2069 and it will be a wondrous place, my friends.  I will wake up early and grab a mug of fresh hot coffee from the Tim Horton’s attached to my garage – after having developed a location in all of the free business areas and still not being able to keep up with the demand of people’s addictions they just started building a franchise on everyone’s property.

I’ll turn on my television wall to see what is happening on the news.  President Trump, finishing up his 12th consecutive term in office, will be tearing down the wall along the Canadian border to solve the maple syrup shortage.  The wall along the Mexican border remains strong and intact ever since the day Mexico built it to keep us from fleeing into their country after Trump’s first election.

The people mourn the loss of Taylor Swift, however her funeral is interrupted by Kanye West who wanted the world to know that his wife, Kim Kardashian, had the best funeral of the year.  Her final wishes were to have an open casket and to be completely nude.  All of the West children: North, South, North-by-North, AFC, Go, and Wild were the pallbearers.

I’ll try to keep my day low key – I’m sure my family will have a party for me later, but I would really just like to go see a movie.  Most likely it will be the 50th installment of the Fast and Furious series.  I’ll be standing in line for my ticket behind a bunch of people chain smoking unfiltered cigarettes in an attempt to quit their addiction to vapor inhalers.  I’ll use the thumbprint pad to remortgage my home to purchase my ticket and a Venti (Starbucks has made the use of the word “large” illegal) tub of crunchy Organic Bulgar Wheat Germ and naturally unsweetened Acai berry slushy (since snack food is no longer allowed to be purchased anywhere…thanks Obama!)

I’ll get into my self-driving, electronic, zero emissions car and cruise on over to one of my kid’s houses and try to act surprised that they threw me a party.

***For the record my grandmother didn’t even try to act surprised.  In her mind I’m sure she was thinking, “I’m freakin’ 90 – you’d BETTER have thrown me an epic shindig!”***

I’ll demand the cake first – I’m 90, try and stop me – and then whatever else they made that’s supposed to be good for me…if anyone even hints that I’m not eating right, I’m grabbing another fistful of cake and shoving it into my gaping maw!  I will continue sitting in the corner eating cake hunks like apples until I bellow out a crumb-spewing “PRESENTS!”  I will have dropped hints to strategic family members, so I’ll have a pretty good idea of what I’m getting.  My two sons (who will both be very well off since I forced them into medical schools so that they can share the financial burdens of my retirement years) will be sending me on a trip to Disney World (not the park, the Walt Disney Corporation actually bought the lower east quadrant of the country and renamed it) so that I can see the Rolling Stones in concert (Mick and Keith, still going strong).  My less financially sound friends and family I will expect Bills and Sabres tickets from because, after about 6 losing decades, those tickets should be pretty cheap.

I’ll thank them for the party and go home to curl up in my Snuggie and binge watch Netflix.  They will most likely wait until I’m gone to sigh and roll their eyes because they know, with all of the advancements in medicine and technology, they are going to have to put up with me for many, many more birthdays.

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” ~ Satchel Paige

Old, New, Borrowed, and Ham

I had the perfect ring (even though I was scolded by a jeweler for buying tanzanite during a time of war) and I was ready to propose.  I was home and I was planning on asking her in the morning.  It was late on a warm summer evening.  I was on the porch with my father and grandfather – the two men I looked up to the most, my heroes; the two guys I’m glad I was with on the eve of the most important day of my life.  My father speaks out calmly through the darkness, “Are you ready?”

“Yeah, I think so,” I reply.

“Did you ever think she’d say ‘no’?”

“…………….well, not until right now.”  I figured that was as good of a time as any to go to bed and lie awake for the rest of the night.

The next morning we were getting ready to take a short trip, but I didn’t want to wait; we had been together a long time and I didn’t want to wait a second longer than I had to.  So I went over to where she was living at the time and proposed.  It was the perfect moment: just the two of us…and her landlady who joined us just as I got down on my knee.  The three of us shared a hug.  It was magical.  Hey, did your proposal get crashed by your landlady?  No. You’re jealous.

We had a year to plan– we wanted the wedding to be the same day as the anniversary of our first date, which was also the same day I proposed.  Awwww, how sweet, right? (plus we only have to remember one day – good planning, huh?!)

We started planning immediately after I proposed.  Our wedding party was going to be massive!  If you counted us and the flower girl and ring bearer, it was seventeen people.  On top of that, we were going to try and pay for most of it ourselves.  And on top of THAT, I’m a control freak who really isn’t too good at organization and time management.

Luckily, my wife and I have large families and lots of friends with eclectic hobbies – including florists, photographers, videographers, DJs, cake designers, and musicians.  CHA-CHING!  We got a ton of good deals with all of that!  Then we took care of invitations, decorations, and favors ourselves.  That left the tuxes and gowns (which we had a friend’s mom cut us a good deal), the reception hall, the food, and my wife’s gown.

The gown was easy!  My wife is brilliantly thrifty.  She found a white prom gown that she fell in love with and found a seamstress to make a train for it.  It was gorgeous!  And her seamstress was a little person.  No, that’s not a criticism and no, I’m not going to make any distasteful remarks about little people.  But this a fact that will be important later.

As for the food, we wanted it to be simple.  Pasta, veggies, cold cuts, and cookies.  However, my mother wanted ham.  No, that’s not entirely true.  We needed ham.  Apparently, it’s a wedding staple, and my mother looked at me like I had an arm growing out of my forehead when I told her we weren’t getting any.  She looked to my father for backup, but all he cared about was having fresh shelled peanuts on the tables (which we had brought in from a professional peanut roaster just for him, but the caterers lost the bags, and he hasn’t let us live that down yet).  I was unaware that all weddings have ham.  And even though my wife is a vegetarian and I’m not a big fan of ham (now bacon…that’s another story), we saw the err of our ways and added ham to the menu.

Finally, the big day arrived.  The guests were arriving and I was hanging out in a little prep room in the front of the church.  One of my groomsmen came in with this weird look on his face, “You have a wedding crasher and…um…she’s…” he held his palm down by his knee.

“What?  Short?”  Both my wife and I have a lot of Italian blood; short people at our wedding would be the norm!

“Yeah, but like not just regular short.  I asked her if she was here for the bride or groom and she said she’s just here to see the dress.”  Then it all clicked.  Apparently, the seamstress makes it a point to crash all the weddings of the brides whose gowns she works on.  Hey, did your wedding get crashed by a little person?  No. You’re jealous.

The ceremony was about to begin and it was a thousand degrees outside (no air conditioning, by the way).  My aunt (our mistress of ceremony) went out to get things prepped for the candle lighting and face-planted at the altar.  Our mothers had a difficult time with the child-proof lighters, which might have been a good thing considering my wife almost tipped the candles over and burned the church down…probably wouldn’t have been the best omen for our marriage.

After the ceremony we decided to drive to a very scenic spot by a lake to take our photographs.  My cousin was our photographer, so I was already familiar with his work – plus he lives far away so it was cool just to have him there.  Because the wedding party was so big, we just teamed up and drove cars instead of renting a limousine.  Upon arriving at the spot we realize we had lost two groomsmen AND the photographer.  The two groomsmen were also cousins and were the transportation for the photographer.  Their car was there, but they were nowhere to be found.  The bridal party fanned out and began a search party.  We looked everywhere and couldn’t find them.  Keep in mind, this was back before cell phones were so popular so we just stood around trying to figure out where they could have disappeared when all of a sudden we see them walking up the hill from a local bar each carrying an order of buffalo wings. Now, to this day, I’m not upset that they ditched us to go get wings. However, coming back without wings for the groom on his wedding day?  Inexcusable.

We finished our pictures and drove to the reception, and my wife and I entered to the dulcet tones of Ozzy Osbourne.  We ate, we danced, we sweat (no air conditioning there either, by the way), we had our cake taken away from us before we could eat it…it looked so good too, and I needed something to get the taste of ham out of my mouth.  We had a full contact garter toss and the lucky catcher (who technically was never invited to the wedding…) tackled other guests to grab victory!  And, of course, like I wrote about in yesterday’s post, I blew out my knee on the dance floor.

As the evening was winding down and coming to an end, we retreated to my parents’ house to open the gifts and cards with just our parents and sisters…and an Abraham Lincoln impersonator.  Nope, there’s no other story to go along with that.  He’s a family friend and when I came downstairs from taking a shower I was surprised to see him there.  Hey, did your intimate family gathering get crashed by the 16th President of the United States?  No. You’re jealous.

“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.” ~ Winston Churchill

Old is Awesome

I can’t wait to be old.  Old people are so cool!  No, not like the ones who rifle through the milks looking for the latest expiration date and then pay by check in the checkout line or the ones who complain when a restaurant gives them too much food (seriously, doggy bags have been around for a long time, surely you can handle this situation).  But I’m talking about the awe inspiring examples of what people used to be like before our marshmallowy squishy excuse for generations came around.

I had some great examples growing up with my grandparents and even a great-grandfather to study.  I can only hope to attain a level of badassery that they possessed.

I suppose it started before my great-grandpa, but I don’t know much about my family tree that far back.  My Grandpa John’s name was Carl…let that set in for a moment…this man was so cool, I didn’t know his real name until I was almost a teenager.  He was straight off the boat from Sweden and he is technically a survivor of the Titanic.  Technically he was supposed to be on that ship.  Technically he needed to take a later trip.  So technically he survived the Titanic.

He was a man of very few words.  I only remember him saying things like, “Hi,” “Bye,” and “Beer, please.”  He lived to be 99 (I know, way to drop the ball, Gramps) and he was active for most of those years…overly active…like he probably shouldn’t have been on roofs in his 80’s.  Yeah, I said roofs…plural.  One time his roof needed fixing and he didn’t need any help fixing it, so up on the house he went.  My grandmother was worried sick, not because he was on the roof, but because she couldn’t find him.  She looked all over the house, all around outside, and he was nowhere to be found.  The man was in his 80’s – he could have wandered off who knows where!  But good ol’ Grandpa didn’t want to get in trouble so as soon as he heard his daughter was looking for him, he pressed himself up against the part of the roof where he couldn’t be seen.  Eventually, he was caught and scolded.  Not as badly as when he did it a couple years later and was forced to come back in through a window instead of down the ladder thus tracking tar through the house.  He learned his lesson though – when it came time to take down the television antenna from the house, he got tired of his family yelling at him not to…so he tied a rope around one of his grandchildren, anchored them in the attic, and had them do it.

The man was fearless and never was it more evident then when we decided to celebrate one of his last birthdays with a cake containing all of the necessary candles (I think it was somewhere around 95 – I can’t remember exactly – more than 90, less than 99 and definitely more candles than should have been lit at one given time).  He was the only one who didn’t scream when all of those pretty little flames banded together to create one giant birthday fireball.  He just sat there with a little grin patiently waiting for a charred piece of wax-encrusted cake.

He is certainly not the only tough knot in the wood of my family tree.  For the past few posts, I have mentioned Pop – my grandpa.  Awesome guy and tough as nails.  He is the guy I think of when it comes to badassery.  I’m sure the following sentence isn’t used often, but one day I came home and my parents told me, “Your grandfather was hit by a semi; don’t worry, he’s fine.”

A.  Semi.

He was driving cars from an auction back to a dealership (as he did nearly every day) and he hit an icy patch at the end of an on-ramp and slid into the path of an on-coming 18-wheeler.  He was driving a little, sporty car (his favorite) and the car was torn in half.  The semi driver stopped as soon as he could and ran back to the scene of the accident knowing there was nothing he could do for whomever was in that car.  Well, I guess technically he was right.  My grandfather met him on the road while he was looking for his hat that got thrown off his head and tossed into the part of the car that was turned into confetti. The semi driver asked if Pop had seen what happened to the people in the car…Pop just wanted to know if the guy could help him find his hat (in his defense, it was a pretty cool hat).  The next day my grandmother and I got him to agree to go to the hospital to get checked out.  When the doctor asked why he was there, Pop told him that he had gotten in a car accident with a tractor trailer.  The doctor laughed and waited for the real answer.  He stopped when he looked at my grandfather and saw that he was serious.  He was taken for x-rays and it’s a good thing he went to the hospital when he did because the bruise on his hip needed some ice.

I don’t think I could ever measure up to those two guys.  I’m pretty much a pansy who hates being on roofs now and whimpers whenever a semi drives by me.  However, I do think I’m probably going to take advantage of my age like my grandmother does.  My grandma (who will soon be 90 and who will NOT be getting a cake with 90 candles…lesson learned) does more than embrace her age – she exploits it.  She still drives on her own and even plays soccer with my son in her backyard.  Now, granted, I’ve been in the car with her when she decided that traffic rules don’t apply to her after a certain age including the “we always drive on the right” rule (I told her that I know she feels like she’s had a good long life, but I would still like some more of mine) and I have caught her standing over my son’s prone body looking down on him (in her sweater, long skirt, and sneakers) mockingly telling him, “Well, we could tackle in soccer when I was a kid!”

I have a long way to go, but it’s going to be fun when I get there!

“Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” ~ Mark Twain