Monday, October 24, 2011

Matthew 12:39-41 and Mud In My Shorts

We have great towers of bright green bamboo in the back of our yard, which is at the same time wonderful and horrible. Horrible because new bamboo shoots creep out of the ground everywhere in a twenty-five yard radius whenever the hell they feel like it, and in the spring grow about a foot every day… which means when we’re away for the weekend we occasionally come home to eager young shoots that have toppled over our lawn furniture or pushed their way through my pile of firewood. But wonderful because the tall, older forest sways in even the most gentle of breezes, tapping against each other like wooden wind chimes.
There are birds too, thousands of them it seems, that hide in the dense leaves toward the top, and only let you know they’re there when they all talk to each other early in the morning. This fall there have been mottled grey babies with orange feet that skitter about in the dry bamboo leaves that make a tight mat on the ground beneath the poles. The babies blend in well with the dried leaves though, and they’re pretty hard to see unless they make noise. The dogs, however, seem to be able to find them pretty easily.
So far the only ones that I’ve seen have just begun to fly, and when they’re startled they can escape to higher perches pretty quickly. But we have two hunters in the house, each with their own equally effective strategy. I’ve tried to discourage them from the hunt, of course, but it’s a primal thing, and although they’re somewhat well trained I can’t get this out of their systems.
Stella runs. She bolts when she hears them, makes turns on a dime, and leaps through impossibly small gaps in the bamboo. She’s like a little beige blur, snapping and effortlessly leaping into the air when the birds try to escape. For all her athleticism, she has a pretty low body count so far, which I’m happy about, because when she gets them she locks down with her jaw, and brings the mangled carcasses to me almost bursting with pride. Steve, on the other hand, will gallop toward the bamboo, but slows to a crawl when he gets close – lowering his body toward the ground and stalking them like a cat - head down, shoulder and hip muscles undulating with each step, and he pounces. A hundred and seventy pound pounce, mind you, which is nothing to sneeze at. It’s puma-esque… and certainly something I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of.
A week ago, I fell asleep on the couch. Usually, I’ll make it up to bed at one point or another, but I was beat, and I crashed. The worst part about sleeping downstairs is the dogs decide what time I wake up – and at five-thirty, Steve was up and pawing at my arm to let him outside. So even though I was wearing a t-shirt and boxer shorts and it was raining, I took them outside. Almost immediately, I knew it was a mistake. The dogs sprinted to the bamboo, and the baby birds scattered in all directions. It was just light enough to see them awkwardly flying around the yard, with flashes of white teeth and long strands of Steve’s drool in tow. I tried my best to stop them, yelling at them and trying to catch them, getting wetter by the minute from the rain and squishing around the mud in my bare feet. For a brief shining moment I thought I had Steve – I grabbed his collar when he chased a bird right by me – but I realized a moment too late that grabbing a dog who is the size of a small cow and running at full speed isn’t the best idea. One moment I had his collar in my hand, and the next I was sailing through the air thinking ‘god, I’m an idiot’. Up until this point I was still sort of half asleep. When I landed face first on my wet lawn, in my underwear, I was wide awake. More wide awake than I can remember ever being, as a matter of fact. I got up, cursing. Making up new and exciting curses. Curses never heard before, curses so vile they could strip paint off of furniture. Curses that somehow seemed to bridge the inter species communication gap, because the dogs were transfixed.
When I finally got them inside, Stella went back to sleep as if nothing had happened, and Steve skulked away into his cage in shame. I spent about five minutes scraping the mud off myself in the kitchen, and since there was no way in hell I was going back to sleep, I made some breakfast. When I sat back down on the couch, Steve was still in his cage, eyeballing me in the darkness. I turned the TV on, and in the background I heard... a chirp. And then another one. I turned the light on, and sitting next to Steve on his dog bed was a little grey bird, completely covered in saliva, with the most surprised expression a bird could possibly muster. Steve, it seems, had the baby bird in his mouth the entire time, swishing it back and forth like an Altoid... and when he got bored, he let it go.
So by then it was almost six in the morning, and I was outside in the rain again, in my underwear, cleaning spit off of a bird...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tiny Cakes & Spotted Plates

As promised, I'm posting an unprecedented two days in a row... there's a reason though - I haven't just turned over a new leaf. We had our tea party for Ava today, and although we talked to the kids & our friends about why we were having a tea party, we made it as upbeat of an occasion as we could. There was a glitch or two along the way (as there are in all things around here), the kids spent every unoccupied moment asking if they could lick the batter, or the frosting, or the pans... basically anything that wasn't moving or washed already. Plus, after Sara and Lily spent the morning putting balloons, streamers, a pinata, and the whole table setting outside, the skies opened up and we had torrential rains until the party was long over... and our friend Renata had to brave some flood waters to make it here, but we dragged everything out of the rain just in time, and being inside with the dogs was just as nice.
In the end, we had an afternoon I hope Sheye would have wanted, and Ava would have liked to come to. There were spotty plates, tiny cakes, bottles and bowls with drinks and sweets, paper cranes, flowers, our Kimono Twingy, and sparkly tiaras... and all of us crowded together around a table to remember the best of times and a princess we never really knew. All that said, today was a gift for us, and a gift for Sheye - for helping us remember the important things, for showing us what strength and love really are, and for sharing your journey.
Pics from today are at the link below...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pies, Tea & Photos Of The Clatter

Eventful summer, somewhat. We spent most of it away from the house – not on vacation necessarily, just outside, causing trouble. We did our share of escaping though – we went camping, to the Poconos, and to LA to see my sister and her family. All in all, there’s just too much to say. Which is my fault of course, because I put this blog on the back burner for a while.
It’s a shame, really because in a few short months Lily managed to set herself on fire and learned to swim (not at the same time), Sam got the lead part in Peter Pan, Sara turned 40 in spectacular style (thanks to some wonderful friends of ours), and I became a park ranger. All of these things (unfortunately for you) are part of much longer hilarious stories.Two things, though, are recent and worth sharing. For one, my parents came up this week to hang out, and so that my father could help me start construction on our outdoor pizza oven. A few months ago, while I was in the ‘daydreaming about a pizza oven’ stage, I envisioned a rather short process. After all, even though I have almost no masonry experience, it’s just a pile of bricks. Once I did a little research, it occurred to me that it’s a really big pile of bricks – and when I got some plans, it occurred to me that it’s a really big complicated pile of bricks. Unfortunately, since I’ve been talking about it to anyone that would listen, I sort of had to follow through with it… plus, the prospect of having a wood burning oven in the yard is just too mouth watering to back down. But we had a plan. On Wednesday we started, got some basic frame ideas together, dug some holes for foundation supports, and bought some lumber. After a day of mental (and a little physical) work, we had a couple of drinks and sat on the couch until about midnight revising our plans. By the time we went to bed, we had all but nullified the physical work done that afternoon.
The next morning it was back to the drawing board, and we spent a couple of hours drawing plans for the new foundation, followed by a trip to the lumberyard again. When all was said and done, and my parents were on the road home, we managed to accomplish a lot or nothing at all, depending on how you look at it. Even though we didn’t have pizza (actually, we did… from a pizza place down the road) I feel pretty good about what we did, and I have to admit I had a really good time.
The other thing that’s worth mentioning is our trip to California, which was great… filled with cousins chasing each other around, great weather, sand crabs, and tasty waves. For those of you that have spent any time hanging around Manhattan Beach, you know there aren’t really any negatives to being there. Well, I missed the dogs, but that’s about it. Instead of running you through the day-to-day, there’s one thing I should mention. On the last day we were there, my sister (who writes a few blogs) made ‘A Pie For Mikey’, which was a peanut butter pie to celebrate the life of a fellow food blogger’s husband who passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. She made the pie with a little help from everyone there, as a gift to us, a gift for Jennie, and a gift for Mikey. I couldn’t help thinking about Ava that last Saturday in California. Ava was the daughter of Sheye Rosemeyer – she was born just after Lily in 2003, and died from a tragic accident in 2007, a few days before Lily’s 4th birthday. Sara and I started following Sheye’s blog right around the time that Ava died, and have watched Sheye and her utterly heartbroken family put their lives back together over the last four years. Since then, every August we have talked in passing about celebrating Ava’s birthday, as her mother had wished everyone to do, as a day to cherish your family. We never quite got it together though, and always saw pictures of ‘Ava’s Tea Parties’ from all around the world long after her birthday had passed us by. So tomorrow - thanks to the inspiration of my sister, who managed to do something for someone across the country in the middle of the hustle and bustle of her busy life – we’re having a tea party for Ava’s birthday. Sheye has come up in conversation in our house in the last few years more then she will ever know - in conversations about love, loss, and us. Unfortunately, the summer is quickly coming to an end, but we’re putting everything on hold tomorrow and having some friends over to spend a few hours celebrating a pink superprincess, telling stories about the summer, and trying to be glad, give thanks, and cherish. Pictures to follow…

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Living The Lie

Every season came with surprises when my father was involved. As a dad, he could do all sorts of things you would expect a dad to do – he could build furniture, fix cars, explain what BTUs were, and hunt – all of which, I can’t. On top of all that, he had a doctorate in Physiology, so there were all sorts of random questions that he somehow knew the answers to... and how to stay comfortable no matter what the temperature was, was one of them.

In the dead of winter, on the coldest days, my father had a rectangular piece of slate about two inches thick, as foot wide, and three feet long. What it was from, I have not idea, but my father’s basement is filled with all manner of things – wood scraps and wiring, tools, glues oils and greases, and every spare part for every thing any of us ever owned... so it could have been from just about anything. He would put it in front of our fireplace and let it heat up, and then with a pair of work gloves he would carry it upstairs and tuck it under our covers, one bed at a time. When each bed was warm, we would scurry under the covers – and if you could manage to squeeze yourself into a small rectangular shape – you would be completely toasty warm. Awesome.

Unfortunately, he also had a plan for the summer. I’ll lay out his theory for you... If the cool air is outside, you have to get it inside, obviously, I’m down with that. Fools (he thought) let all the fans in the house blow inward. I know, I know, I am thinking the same thing you are... don’t you want the outside air in? You do, but here was his plan. Apparently, if you let all of the fans blow inward, you aren’t really letting the cool night air inside... what you’re feeling is all an illusion... because you can only have so much air in a house at one time. What you should do, according to my father, is have one fan blowing in, and at the opposite end of the house, have one fan blowing out. That way, instead of inflating the house to the point where it might violently explode and send a shower of mustard yellow siding shards all over the neighborhood, there was a small jet stream localized on the second floor of our house. In theory, it sounds like it might work, right? Sure it does. Until you are the youngest person in the house and are outvoted by your older and wiser sisters and you have to be the ass with the ‘out’ fan in your room. Don’t think I didn’t protest, either, especially after spending a night drowning in sweat in what seemed like a convection oven. But my father, completely enamored with his airflow plan, refused to budge. “Just you wait”, he would insist, “in a few hours the whole house will be cool as a cucumber.” Unfortunately, his idea of ‘a few hours’ was actually the hours that remained between whatever day it was, and October, when the house would magically become cool again.

I’d like to think that the experience made me a tougher person. At the very least, I have some ammunition when I’m arguing with the kids. “You know, when I was young my fans only blew out. I didn’t have any of the fancy ‘wind’ or ‘coolness’ that you two have, I had to sleep in a pool of my own salty warm sweat, and I was happy to have it.” On the flipside, we’re edging towards spoiled over here. The kids don’t have air conditioning in their rooms, and they always ask to sleep in the guest room in the summer. Which they can’t. If it’s ungodly hot, we’ll set up the bed and let them sleep there – but they have fans, windows, and sweat glands – so they’ll be fine. It’s a battle though, because Sara becomes too cold at around 68 degrees, and too hot at 71 degrees… so she is convinced that the kids will die if left exposed to the outside air, and has been know to feel the kids while they are sleeping to see what their temperature is. Which is always hot enough to give me a sad puppy dog look, so that I’ll feel guilty enough to install central air before they die in their sleep. Luckily, she’s worn out the look, and I’m completely unaffected.

I still think about those summers when I was a kid though, and might just start blowing the fans outward… that’ll teach ‘em…

Sunday, May 08, 2011

He Thrusts His Fists Against The Posts

I left a while ago, went to a lake a couple of hundred miles from home. Just for a few days - because I had the time, because I wanted to get away from a lot of things, because I wanted a deep breath, and because I needed to. I went from the beginnings of spring here in Berwyn to the clutches of winter up in the mountains, and what was supposed to be a fishing trip of sorts turned into a hiking/fishing trip, as I had to search for spots where the ice floes yawned open into clear water.
In between seasons on the lake was an odd time to go, it turns out, and I noticed as soon I shut off the car engine in front of my cabin. Without the skiers or the summer crowds, the lake was completely deserted, and for three days I didn’t hear a single human voice aside from my own… so I searched for water and fished, soaking in the quiet, occasionally noticed that I was talking to myself, and found myself thinking (among other things) how difficult life on this lake must have been before supermarkets were a car ride away and people had phones in their pockets.
Most of the time I fished, didn’t catch much, but fished anyway. I got in the habit of leaving the cabin light on too, since I was down on the shoreline the first night when darkness rolled in and without the lights of any neighbors I struggled to find my way through the cold back to the cabin. When I was inside, I fashioned meals out of what I caught and what I had carried in, and wondered what Sara and the kids were doing back at home… and every morning I woke up there I sharpened hooks, tucked my pants into waterproof boots, stepped out into the crisp air and thought about them getting ready for school and work. I came home after a few days, and got back just in time to pick the kids up from school and take Lily to her dance class -and aside from the lingering scent of lake water I was back into the swing of things. In the end, I got some of what I was looking for, and remembered why I would rather be here... but most of that is stories for another time, and maybe a different blog.
Sara, since I’ve been writing here, thinks I have a ‘blog voice’… that the way I act and the things I say here don’t match… and maybe that this blog is just a place where I write how I wish things would be instead of the way they are. It’s true, I guess. I tend to romanticize things, fill in gaps of stories that I don’t remember or that were too boring the first time around – and certainly don’t always write about the struggles we have from day to day and the mundane parts that go along with them. The reality here is that we work every day to steer our lives, the kids, and our relationship in the right direction, and we still hit roadblocks, just like everyone else. She drives me insane, occasionally, and I’m sure I do the same to her. More than sure, actually. But as I go back and read old posts, and think about the 21 years (holy shit!) we’ve been together, I don’t think I’ve ever had a blog voice when it comes to her. Even though she might not know it all the time, and I certainly don’t say it all the time, I am completely and hopelessly in love with her. I’ve had regrets in my life, moments that have shaken me to the core and moments that have changed who I am as a husband, father, and human being. But given the choice, knowing all of the mistakes I have made, I would do them all again because they have gotten me here… here where I get to wake up and see her every morning, and where I get to watch each year roll by with her next to me. So I might have a blog voice, and I might say things just to make you want to read my next post, but no matter what else I need to embellish, I have never had to do that with Sara… because whether she believes this post or not when she reads it tomorrow morning, I cherish every day that I’m with her.
(and if you’re reading this before I’ve gotten out of bed, happy mother’s day!)

Friday, March 25, 2011

From Six to Nine

I’m not much of a dancer. I’m sure if you know me, you’ve figured that out already. To be honest, I never really got it… I used to go to dances, dance at weddings, and all that – and I don’t think I was ever the guy that people used to stare at because I was bad, I was one of the people that was sort of middle of the road and just blended into the background. The problem is, it’s one of those things that you just can’t seem to avoid, and every once in a while I just find myself in a dance-type scenario. Oddly enough, I find myself in karaoke-type scenarios too, which I find even less appealing – so much so that I have made a mental list of things I would rather do that sing karaoke. Like, for example, inseminate an elephant… or take a rollercoaster ride with a mouthful of fishhooks.

But I digress… For the past three years Sara has been taking Sam to the mother son event at his elementary school, and every year they have some competition or sports related theme. Every year she stresses about it a bit, and every year they end up having a great time… and all the while, in the background, I knew that eventually the time would come for the dreaded Father-Daughter Dance. Now don’t take that the wrong way, I wasn’t dreading going to an event with Lily, I just wished it was something like a Father-Daughter Fish Fry… or a Father-Daughter Movie and Funnel Cake Spectacular. But she was excited, and since I adore her, I was excited. So she got a new dress, I got a vest to match and my dusty tuxedo cleaned. I bought a corsage, got a haircut, cleaned my car, and showed her my best dance moves. She rolled her eyes.

The day finally came, and when we walked into the first room it was like stepping into one of Lily’s most elaborate fantasies. There were servers walking around with trays of snacks, a cotton candy machine, dark and white chocolate fountains, candy tree centerpieces, American Doll and gumball machine raffles, and every girl that she knew preening around like it was a miniature prom. We roamed around in there for a bit, plucking food off of silver trays and getting our picture taken – and when the crowd started to shift onto the dance floor we wandered in to the dance.

Now, from Sara’s description, the mother-son event was a rough and tumble collection of games that the boys ran to in rapid succession. Basically, it sounded like excitement and sweat. The dance floor at Lily’s event was Walt Disney on acid. Disco lights, taffeta, braids, ribbons, red sequins and elementary school gossip all swirling around in one frenetic soup. Lily, unlike me, came to dance. She practices moves at home whenever a song comes on – and depending on her mood, she floats around in graceful, dramatic swooshes - or rhythmically thrashes across the floor using furniture, Sam, or the dogs as props in elaborate gyrations around the house. So we danced. For hours. When she dances at home, it’s usually just to keep herself amused… but having Lily as a dance partner is like trying to land a Marlin. She wiggles around, twists and whirls with wild abandon, and dips at random points in her routine, and expects me to catch her as if I was knew it was coming. Needless to say, I sweat through my tuxedo, as did most of the other dads, who all looked a bit like weary soldiers leaving the battlefield as we all made our way back to the car when the dance was over.

But she held my hand the whole time, and not like we were walking through the mall, she held my hand like she meant it. When there was a break between songs she grabbed onto my waist as hard as she could, and when she said goodnight to me she wrapped her arms around my neck so tight I could see stars. So it turns out I like dancing after all, and you know what? I can’t wait till next year.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lions, Lambs, and Paper Dolls

I haven’t written in a while, not out of laziness or lack of drive to post – but more because of my lack of direction. I started this blog ages ago after my sister started one, so that I could fill people in on what was happening with my wee kids and get things off of my chest. Lately though, I’ve been struggling to find things I want to write about… no one wants to hear me complain all the time, or listen to the same old rehashed stories of my humdrum day to day life. Funny thing is, I think about the blog all the time… almost every day, as a matter of fact. I shape stories in my head as things happen during the day, and turn them over and over in my mind until they shatter into too many pieces to type. So I’ll start again, work backwards a bit, and see if I can gather some together.

Lily’s been sick for the past couple of days, and not just the regular sick that a little attention and a tissue will fix - the throwing up, fever kind of sick that reminds you that you’re a parent. I took the days off and stayed with her, because Sara’s done her share of sick time, and I was the first one covered in vomit on Monday morning - it’s sort of like the lotto that way. If you find dog poo on the floor, you clean it up instead of waiting for someone else to do it – and if you get thrown up on, you’re ‘it’ for the day.

We’ve seen enough sick to know when not to panic. There were a few years where thermometers and Tylenol sent us into a tailspin, and I was sure that the night nurses at CHOP knew our voices and medical history by heart. But we know sick. We know hospitals and x-ray machines, stitches, blood tests, ice packs, and casts. We know what band-aids will fix, what fear looks like, when to make Jell-O, and when to drive through red lights. Yesterday I made Jell-O, and she survived just fine. The sick part is easy to manage, it’s the kids that are a wild card. We had our Jell-O, and she slept. We had crackers and watered down juice, movies and blankets, and she slept - slept with a passion, the sleep of the dead – and while she was sleeping I ate something besides crackers and Jell-O so she wouldn’t see. By the time we were getting ready for bed, she had long since stopped throwing up, but was still pale and limp on the couch... and when I asked her if she wanted me to carry her up to bed, she looked at me and let a single round tear well up in the corner of her eye, and when it was big enough it broke free it rolled down the side of her cheek and into her hair. Which killed me. She didn’t cry or complain, the day and the sickness won, and she just gave up. This morning, as expected, she’s once again a lion.

All the while, in the background, Steve is growing.  When we decided to bring home an English Mastiff, the world seemed to collectively raise one eyebrow at us. To a certain extent, everyone was right. He’s absurdly large, and gets bigger as you stare at him. He is clumsy as an ox on Rohypnol, can eat an entire chicken carelessly knocked off a counter before it hits the floor, can drag Sara across the street even with a choke collar on, and has succeeded in turning our everyday lives into a cartoon. He is passionate about the eyes on stuffed animals, and will gently gnaw them off when no one is looking. He drools when he drinks, when he thinks he is going to get a treat, when he thinks he is going to get walked, when he sees another dog, and whenever he feels like it. And not just drool – long, thick strands of viscous slobber that wobble about from his jowls and refuse to disconnect until they’ve found purchase on something clean or expensive. He has kept me up nights, swallowed Christmas tree ornaments and DS games without chewing, tested our patience at every opportunity, and somehow has managed to make up for every bit of it. He’s patient and loving, attentive, and will actually stand up and give you a decent hug if you don’t mind washing drool off the side of your neck.

In the midst of the chaos, destruction, and spurts of Green Day Rock Band, I’ve been trying something new. It’s not a New Year’s resolution or a grand life change that I’ll toss out the window in a month, and it’s not even something I’ve talked about. It’s just a thing. A little thing. I have all this stuff here, kids, wife dogs, house, friends, bacon… you know, stuff… and I’m trying to focus on the stuff that’s important for a change. It doesn’t always work, and it’s easy to forget, but sometimes it’s really paid off. Like Christmas, for example. I didn’t ask for anything, and truly couldn’t think of anything I really wanted. I wanted the kids to have fun, and thought some surprises along the way would be cool, but that’s it. In the end, we had a great morning here with the kids, and at my parents house I got one of my father’s photographs (which is really the only thing I wanted) and a cookbook my mother made that left me completely and utterly speechless – which isn’t easy to do. But it isn’t just that. I’m incredibly frustrated at work, but have reminded myself every morning that it’s good to have a job, and it could be worse. I try not to just come home from work, but remind myself how glad I am to be at home… and when Steve knocks over and eats the entire contents of my kitchen trash can, I try to take a deep breath and remind myself that I have one less bag to carry outside. In forty years I think I’ve squandered away more than I’ve deserved, and maybe in lieu of a mid-life crisis Ferrari, I’ll just try to get what I deserve, and appreciate what I have.

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