Williamsburg

We’ve been covering this trip Down South for the past 3 posts with the intent of it all culminating in the ultimate parental mistake: pregnancy… just kidding, Colonial Williamsburg.  So, as much as I hate to burst balloons, it turns out the rest of the trip was pretty fun and taking the kids to Williamsburg was not as much of a disaster as expected.  So, in order to move away from the topic of the weeklong trip that probably shaved 4 months off my life, I will sum up a few final observations.

  1. Jamestown is the new Williamsburg

…which previously was the new Jamestown, which was the new England with different accents, unlike New England which is neither, but with annoying accents.

Alright, what I meant was: I think everyone got sick of the whole never-break-character-routine; It’s been lampooned so often that even I won’t try to be funny about it.  Seriously… I’m not going to do it…stop!… Prithee, sir, I beg you, I shan’t jest of yon Williamsburgers.  Huzzah!  Shoppe.

Authentic Colonial Bus

Anyway, the “characters” are still somewhat authentic, but shopkeepers are more likely to pass out coupons to TGI Fridays in town.  One colonial maiden handed us a very nice laser-printed brochure and then assured us that our lightweight double-stroller was a good choice.  I offered, “But wouldst thou pay 100 Doubloons for such witchcraft?” at which point she called security.

It’s also very expensive now.  We opted not to buy the “Super-duper-do-anything-you-want-to” tickets and instead decided that just walking around town and purchasing a tin flute and two wooden pistols for the price of a first-class airline seat would suffice.  Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside any of the buildings that weren’t selling anything; pretty much everything requires a ticket.  Without tickets, we were actually escorted away from watching a squirrel take an authentic Williamsburg dump.

But Jamestown, now that place is awesome!  You can get on the ships there, have settlers talk to you as if they are on all sorts of amazing drugs, and even put on authentic-style armor and helmets, giving you the feeling of being a real settler, covered in thousands of people’s germs.

Settling

The only drawback was Timmy the Native American.  I don’t know what his real name is, but I think Timmy sounds about right.  As we walked to the ships, we passed through the Native American village, where we saw a pasty-white, mop-haired Virginia college student dressed in a buck-skin wrap.

He bent down to try making a fire using the bow method with a piece of worn wood very little confidence.  Naturally my family decided to camp-out and watch, the “Native American”, which caused other families to gravitate.  Eventually, with nervous giggles and not a single successful pass after 10 minutes, Timmy stood up and thanked everyone for watching the show and to come back for more later.  Timmy, don’t ask people to come by and watch the show anymore.  I don’t know what terrible bet you lost, but it’s not worth it.

  1. Kids love pools an inordinate amount. 

“Hey kids, let’s go to South Carolina, North Carolina, Williamsburg,VA and Richmond,VA.  We’re going to see settlers, family members, a farm, a giant amusement park and have so much fun our heads explode!”

“Can we go to the pool?”

“Later… after we get back from buying thousands of fun souvenirs that you’ll cherish for the next 20 minutes!  Then we’re going to eat dinner at your favorite restaurant!  Then we’re going to get a private tour of Williamsburg including an ice cream banquet in a racecar!

“When are we going to the pool?”

“Kids look!  We’re in outer-space and God is standing right there talking to you!  What an honor!  You are truly blessed beyond comprehension!”

“He’s blocking our view of the pool.”

  1. Why can’t dads leave well enough alone?  Early on in life, James was afraid of monsters, goblins, roller-coasters, loud noises, water, wind, soft noises, breezes, air, eating, grass, words, walking, faces, laughter, etc… Thanks to hard work, and exceptional effort on James’ part, at 9 years-old he’s only afraid of roller-coasters.  A reasonable person would say that anyone of any age could be afraid of roller-coasters, and anyone under 10 probably should be.

Well dads are not reasonable people.  Not Dear Ol’ Dad!  Not the man who constantly reminds children about “Back in my day…”  Not the guy who will watch a leg break in half and tell a kid to walk it off.  Not the guy who wouldn’t do half the stuff they want their kid to do, but that’s kinda the point.

So I basically told James he was going on a coaster at Busch Gardens and to prevent myself from feeling like a bully, I made a bet with James: If he liked the rollercoaster, then I would win and get the satisfaction of being right.  If he didn’t like the rollercoaster, then I would buy him a new Nintendo Game.

Come on James, you're gonna love it. It's totally easy!

So after talking with several people throughout the park, we determined that Loch Ness Monster was the easiest real coaster to go on and we were good to go.  As we approached launch, I made deft work of easing James’ fears, assuring him that we were going on a mere toddler ride; something on which you might take a comfortable nap; A La-z-boy of the amusement park variety… As we hit the second loop of the coaster and most of the eastern seaboard heard James’ wails proclaiming his desire to go home, I knew I had lost the bet.

Final Thoughts

So after this trip I am only out one Nintendo game, have gained immunity to children throwing up, and am extremely tired.  I think we built some cherished memories and will strive to keep in better touch with family members and friends who we don’t get to see regularly.  In fact, this trip was so successful, we are already planning our next family vacation… going to the local hotel pool.

Come on Irene

Top 10 Hurricane Irene Related News Stories

Later today Fed Chairman Bernanke will announce a $700 Billion bailout package for Irene if she begins to fail.

10. New Jersey

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is investigating reports that Italy has sent Hurricane Irene towards the United States in retaliation for sending Snookie to Italy.

Additionally, NJ Coastal residents had a bittersweet Thursday when they realized that the cast of “The Jersey Shore” was being evacuated…but they wouldn’t be allowed to stay and enjoy it.

9. New York

“Irene’s been around for over 1,000 miles; who are we to say we don’t want her.  She’s trying her absolute best to destroy stuff, and if we have to toss around a few taxi-cabs to help her, we’re going to”, says pro-union NYC Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

8. Religion

Openly gay television personality, Carson Kressley, has apologized for his insensitive and highly inflammatory remarks. Stating, “These hurricanes are The Lord God punishing the United States for accepting skinny jeans.”

7. Republican Primaries

The 2012 presidential race continues to heat up as former Mass Governor Mitt Romney and Gov. Rick Perry are ousted as front-runners by presidential newcomer, Hurricane Irene.

Says primary voter Sean McTavish, “I was leaning Bachmann, but a hurricane?… That’s just a totally new kind of stupid, you know?”

6. Debt Rating

Despite already facing criticism for the United States debt rating fiasco, in the face of increased winds of over 115mph and multi-billion dollar damage estimates, the S&P ratings agency has downgraded Hurricane Irene to a “Partly-Sunny Breezy Afternoon”.

5. Steve Jobs

Already nervous that the company would lose its perfectionism and drive towards customer service, Tech Analysts expect significant stock price drops after Apple announced its first post-Steve Jobs product: iHurricane

4. Connecticut

Connecticut residents begin applying for Red-Cross aid as up to 2 inches of rain is expected inland.

Says longtime Greenwich resident, Arthur M. Bixwacket III, “First, my butler felt the earthquake, and now this? What is this, Mad Max or something?”

3. Technology Reviews

According to Facebook, it turns out there’s a way to opt out of Hurricane Irene.

First, click on “account” in the top right corner then click “privacy settings”.  Next make sure “custom” is clicked and choose “customize settings”.  Then click on “photo sharing”.  Then make sure that only friends of friends can see photos.  Then go back and undo the facial recognition.  If you scroll half way down the confirmation screen, you’ll see a tiny button… never mind, we can’t find it either.

2. Libya

Hurricane Irene took a dramatic turn east barreling through Tripoli and destroying weakened leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s fortress-compound.

Col. Gadhafi has taken to Libyan state radio reassuring citizens that, “the hurricane is clearly fighting on my side and it was merely giving me powerful hugs.”

1. Delaware

The state of Delaware was greatly disappointed this evening after having to cancel its welcome party for Hurricane Irene.

State Spokesman Mark Alston: “We love guests, anyone really.  Stick around for dinner or whatever’s good for you.  Seriously, anyone.  Just stop on by and hang out.  Park the car and stay, you know?  Just chill, we’d love to have you.  Tell us what you like, we’ll make it.  Favorite music?  We got it.  Just give us a call…just call us…you know?  Stop on in…whatever.  Whatever’s cool for you…”

When asked for comment, Irene stated, “Yeah…I’m just passing through on my way from Maryland to New Jersey.  I may just take I-81 all the way up.”

Dear Burgins

Again, I’m apologizing for posting something today that’s not funny.  Okay, fine…At a restaurant last night with a coworker, Luke announced at the top of his lungs, “I just really farted!”, as we were getting up to leave.  Now I’ll post something that’s not funny.

After a successful visit to South Carolina, we were going to take the kids to visit my grandfather in Richmond,Virginia and spend the rest of the week in Williamsburg.  On the trip down from New Jersey, as we passed through North Carolina, Katie and I talked for a few minutes about me living there as a child.  We decided we would stop by and check out the ol’ stomping grounds on the way back up North.

Between the ages of 4 and 10 I lived in suburban Raleigh.  My younger brother was born there.  I learned to read, swim and ride my bike there. The only dogs we ever had were given away there when my sister and brother developed allergies.  I was very good friends with the son of a major leaguer (Dan Caldwell, son of Mike Caldwell…awesome).  I learned how to be a functioning person there.  I was a lucky kid.

I made countless friends, and I left countless friends.  I made amazing memories, and I had difficult memories.  And because my time there ended as quickly as it started, the friends and memories faded both, and over time became one.

I do have some old NC friends on various social networks, and I follow along enough to make me feel like I know what’s going on.  However, there are those major moments as adults where you know that’s not the case…

I am going to make a bold and unequivocal statement:  Chris Burgin was my best friend ever besides my wife (no offense Chris).  If I had stayed in North Carolina longer, this might be different, but I left during the most carefree and least stressful days of my life, so the memories are fond.  Here goes…

I am going to write an open letter to the Burgin family.  I could send this letter personally, but it would miss two points.  One, I actually have a small audience, and I want you all to know about these great people.  Two, everyone has a Burgin family in their life, and I strongly suggest you reconnect or thank them if you can.  I’ll go back to making jokes in a couple of days…

Dear Burgins,

Thank you for having my family over at your house on such short notice.  Mr. Burgin, my father gave me your number, but I couldn’t muster the courage to call until we were too close for you to say no.

The fact that you said it would be no problem if we stopped by meant the world to me.   Moreover, knowing that Chris was in town visiting with his wife and new daughter, well, that was indescribable.  I know it was no big deal to you, but for me, you did something I never thought possible…

When I was 26 years-old, my mother passed-away.  She was my biggest fan.  She knew that, despite the fact that I had blown nearly all my academic chances, I had the ability to pull it all together and show the world that I would be successful if I would just try.  She knew that I’d meet a person who appreciated my overly sarcastic and self-deprecating sense of humor.  She knew that I’d love being a father as much as I claimed I would and she wanted nothing more than to be a grandmother.  She died the same day I met my wife and began to grow up.

I don’t necessarily have regrets in life, but the fact that I can’t see my mom meet my wife and kids really gets me.  Like my mom, you were a memory frozen in time, with which I could never share my life.  Since my time in Raleigh ended when I was so young, that memory was always happy and a source of fun stories.  Like sitting on the front steps of your house every day at 3pm waiting for Chris to come home from school, or having a, “Boys day out”, with our dads, or riding our bikes to the gas station to buy several dollars worth of candy and Yoo-hoo and getting too sick to ride all the way back home.

When you brought me into your house with my kids, I wasn’t immediately aware of what was happening.  Chris, I was surprised by your giant smile and infectious congeniality.  It was exactly as I remember, but something I never see from adults in New Jersey.  Mr. Burgin, I’m sorry that you had to walk around with my kids the whole time, but you were making sure that the children were having as much fun as possible on your watch; again it was just as I remember.  Mrs. Burgin, thank you for hanging out and helping Chris and I remember details of our childhood; you were helping us as always.

Laura, I’m sorry I didn’t really take the time to talk.  I was being enormously selfish and I would like to really meet you at some point.  You and Chris have a really special thing going and your daughter’s adorable.

There are times in my adulthood when I look back on my time with you guys and I think about how selfish I was.  There was no novelty in being at my house with my different aged or different sexed siblings, so I would use your family as an escape.  Besides a couple of bumps and bruises and being blessed with an overly precise memory, I can hardly remember a bad time I had at your house and I’m sure I never said thank you.  Those words would never be enough.

After we left Raleigh the next day, Kate asked me if it was weird having the children running around your house.  At the time it was not.  Like old times, I was absorbed in the moment sitting in the rec-room chatting with Chris.  As I thought more about it in the car, I began to tear-up, which leads me to the point of this letter:

Despite our best wishes, we can never revisit frozen memories.  I will only be able to imagine my mother meeting my wife and children.  I can even choose which version of her: The 1990 version, the super happy one, the dancing mom, the sick one.  The problem is no matter how many times I make her meet them, they will never meet her.  They will never know my great-grandmother.  They will never live in my child-hood house.  There are many things I can talk about very fondly and they will never be able to connect with.

But they did meet the Burgins.  They did see your house and meet you folks almost exactly as I remember.  They were welcomed in with the same booming voice I loved as a kid.  They got to meet my best childhood friend and the mom who tolerated and supported our shenanigans with a smile.  Your family made a dream come true that I didn’t realize I needed.

Thank you Burgins for always being there.  And thank you for rarely telling me to go home despite the fact that I was at your house literally every single day of the year.  Thank you for not getting visibly angry when we asked about having a sleepover every single weekend.  Thank you for indulging me on this trip by allowing me and the herd to interrupt a family visit with the first grandchild (Eloise is adorable!)

I know the visit was short, but being so far from nap-time, Katie and I were sure the kids were on the cusp of destroying something or just melting down.  I wanted to stay longer, but I felt like something would ruin it.  I knew it was time to leave, but as it turns out the kids weren’t ready yet.  As we were walking out, James looked up at me and asked if we were ever going to visit again.  He said he had an awesome time, which made me happier than I could have imagined.  So Burgins, my final thought is this: Can we have a sleepover next Saturday?

Love,
Ben

A Bad Trip

Okay let’s get into it.  Strapping your children into a car and saying “We’re going for a 12 hour car ride” elicits a feeling of great stupidity that reverberates through your body until you have made up your mind that the ride will be terrible before it even starts.

Well guess what?  It’s way worse than you thought.  I shouldn’t speak for all car trips, but this one ruined me.  Next time the kids want to go somewhere more than 15 minutes away, I’m doubling my life insurance policy and wearing a hazmat suit.

Left to their own devices, there is nary an activity that 2 year-olds enjoy more than drinking lake water.  The day before we left, Leah was setting lake-drinking records.  As if not convinced of her bodily harm, we then crammed her full of McDonalds and strapped her in for an overnight ride to South Carolina via Hell.

About 1 hour into the ride as the kids tuckered into sleep, Leah began to whimper and cry in an “I’m trying to fall asleep, but I can’t” way like clockwork every 15 minutes.  Being my father’s son, I looked over to my lovely wife and said, “We are going to stop and give her too much Benadryl or I will have no choice but to drive 150mph with my teeth clenched weaving in and out of traffic in immature frustration.”

Well imagine our great relief when Leah started vomiting uncontrollably all over herself.  We pulled over to a service station putting our diapered daughter on the curb asking her to just sit there while we cleaned out the car.  The biggest lesson I learned is when you see parents doing something completely irresponsible such as parking their ass-naked screaming daughter by herself on a convenience store sidewalk at 10:30pm, they may not be total deadbeats.  Second biggest lesson: Don’t have kids.

Sick Leah

"Dad, don't worry about me... worry about your hairline."

Actually, after continuous sickness for 30 minutes and our new rule, “One pull-over for every two throw-ups”, she stopped and fell asleep.  She did wake up at 3:30am, adamant that only Barney would pacify her for the next two hours.  Say what you will about Barney, but a nasally-voiced, child-bearing-hip-jumping, yelling, gadfly, purple dinosaur singing stick-to-your-brain dental-drill nonsense is a pretty good way to stay awake if not cause heart-attacks.

The rest of the car ride was slightly uneventful, so I will now use the rest of this paragraph to talk about the stupidity of driving overnight.  Don’t take two 5-hour-energy drinks at once if you have never taken hallucinogenic drugs before.  Also, do not think that 1 hour of sleep qualifies you to take over driving duties at 2am.  Katie, if I ever catch you driving a steady 24mph on the highway again I will shred your license.

We finally arrived in Greenville, SC around 9am the following morning and drove to the sister’s house that was graduating from Clemson.  Having non-child friendly items all over your house isn’t highly recommended when the Idiots come to town.  We’re not talking crystal candlesticks, computer accessories, and wine collections.  We’re talking pieces of a major automobile project in the dining room.  They also have a giant habanero garden in the back.

Doctor: “So what brings you to the ER?”

Me: “My son seems to have shoved habaneros in his nose and dropped a carburetor on his foot.”

Doctor: “I’m gonna call the police.”

Me: “No, they were at the home of someone who doesn’t have children!”

Doctor: “Ah.”

If it doesn't hurt, it's not vacation!

Anyway, we had a ton of fun there.  We were able to celebrate the completion of Elizabeth’s Ph.D., which is something I could have never done… mostly because I am busy being part of the real world and I don’t hate myself.  I’m Kidding Elizabeth!  It would probably take you five minutes to tear this blog to shreds and write something 50 times more insightful.  Katie, the kids and I are very proud of Dr. Aunt.  To all you readers out there, her research in education is probably the only thing helping your school district these days…besides Republicans (super-sarcasm-bomb!).

So South Carolina was great.  We were able to meet lots of new people, eat delicious food and celebrate a momentous occasion with family.  We were able to meet our new nephew Alex who was, frankly, pretty boring; not a lot happening at 2-months old.  We also got to see Alex’s older sister Sarah, who is turning into quite the beautiful little lady.  She is also right on track with Leah’s worldly sensibilities which cover a 3 step process:

1)      Grab toy from Leah making her cry.

2)      Give Leah a hug.

3)      Have Leah grab toy back from Sarah, making Sarah cry.

4)      Leah gives hug.

5)      Repeat.

Although I have limited knowledge, I hear that females continue trying to perfect this technique into their mid-forties.

Overall, South Carolina: Visit – Car trip = Total Success.  We were sad to leave everyone, but we will have many more shenanigans to write about at the upcoming 17-people-sleeping-in-one-house-Thanksgiving-extravaganza featuring the annual-rotating-interreligious-dreidel-spinning-championship… super fun and super nerdy.

As for this trip, on our way up to Williamsburg, VA, we stopped overnight at my childhood home of Raleigh, NC. which was shockingly profound.  I hate to upset any of you dear readers, but my next post will probably be serious.  I hope you stick around, but if not don’t worry; I’m sure that Republican jab made a few of you leave as well.  And as for you Republican readers, don’t worry I’m sure most of the Democrats dropped off when I wrote that part about not trying hallucinogenic drugs.

Knock-Knock…

This exchange really happened:

Luke: Knock Knock.

Me: Who’s there?

Luke: French fry.

Me: French fry who?

Luke: French fry lettuce! Nailed it. (Flashes peace sign)

There comes a time in every person’s life where they finally learn the format of a knock-knock joke.  It is at this exact moment when every other person in the household comes to hates them.

As far as I know, there is only one way to turn a 3 year-old’s knock-knock discovery into a positive: use them as car-trip entertainment.  Luke’s first foray into mind-numbing childhood humor comes at a perfect time; we are planning a 12 hour car trip to South Carolina and we were having trouble thinking up ways to occupy everyone, and as much as I hate his knock-knock jokes, Kate hates them even more.

When James was four, he discovered knock-knock jokes, but they usually involved a cat and a cat not having food rather than french-fries and lettuce.  One car ride, I asked him to tell one of his knee-slappers and Kate got really angry.  Naturally, out of deference for my wife’s feelings, I asked him to tell the jokes non-stop for the next 2 hours.  I lost 4 lbs from laughing so hard.  When we get back from  South Carolina, I should have the body of a high-schooler… and a fresh divorce.

Which gets us to the next point: What’s worse, driving 12 hours or flying with children ages 8, 3, and 2?  Taking a 2 year-old on a plane is probably fine.  Slathering yourself in salmon oil and honey and putting yourself in a cage with the best-trained movie grizzly bear is also probably fine, but if something goes wrong, you can only blame yourself.

"Geez, the drink cart's on it's way, Leah."

When Luke was 8 months-old, we brought him on a 3 hour flight to Florida for a wedding with no issues.  Well, no issues on the plane.  We spent the two hours before the flight refusing to feed him and making sure he didn’t fall asleep.  What the other passengers in the terminal saw was a deranged man in a suit running around poking a screaming baby’s ears telling him to, “JUST HOLD ON A LITTLE LONGER!”

I think I saw the surveillance video of me on America’s Most Wanted last year.  So we’re going to hold off on planes for another year or two to make sure we don’t have an excuse to behave like we’re on PCP.

So, why South Carolina?  One of my sisters, Elizabeth, is having her Ph.D. graduation ceremony and the family wants to celebrate her hard work, dedication, and stupidity for inviting my children to her house.  “We wish you and your walls the best of Luck Eliz!”

Afterwards, we will be travelling up to Richmond to visit my grandfather on his farm and then staying in Williamsburg for the rest of the week.  I know, when you think 2 year-old entertainment, you think maids churning butter in days of yore.  I’m sure I will have plenty to update regarding this obvious lapse in vacation judgment.

As this week continues, I’ll continue writing about the trip and posting more, but for now, I’m going to focus on the task ahead.  I have to pack up the car and fill up the tank.  I’m going to make sure that the kids are all tired out so they can sleep in the car.  We’re going to get them dinner and eat on the road.  But mostly, I’m going the make sure Luke practiced his knock-knock jokes.

Happy Birthday

So my wife’s birthday was today.  I know you read about my previous romantic gift exploits, but today I really nailed it.  Of course, she picked everything out; I just showed up, but I’d say it was a total success.

Gift #1:  Night Before Birthday, Dinner at a Rod’s (Madison Hotel)

  • Average dinner price is high enough to claim as a tax deduction.
  • Each of the 50+ paintings on the wall are worth more than my house.  I think my placemat was a da Vinci.
  • Nearly 10% of the Brazilian rainforest went into making the bar stools.
  • Dress-Code: Fancy, yet stuffy. Cummerbund required.

So what would you wear?  Jeans and a tee-shirt of course, just like the rest of the country.  I showed up in tails and a top-hat.  Did I miss the memo or something?  I feel like I’m championing the values of generations that died before I was even born.  My grandfather and I have been kicked out of Friendly’s for wearing ties.  He says that going out is an experience and should be enjoyed as such.

One time Katie and I went to a ballet and families were walking up to us asking us if they could take pictures with the Victorian Couple in funny costumes.  I was wearing a suit.  “Come see the ballet!  Pants preferred, not required.”

Victorian couple eats at friendly's

"Be still my kumquat, and let us delight in a fish-a-ma-jig sandwich."

Funny story:  We went to see “The Change Up” after dinner.  At one point, Jason Bateman’s character walks into his law-firm wearing pleated, tan slacks and a navy blazer.  His boss says, “Change your clothes.  You look like a Jew.” (ACLU, it was a joke, don’t get your yarmulke in a twist).  Well guess what this Jew was wearing to the movie…Congrats honey!  You married a stereotype.

Gift #2:  Pajamas

Katie wanted new PJs.  The problem is that I went shopping for them the morning of her birthday while she was out treating herself to a manicure.  Meaning I had to bring the kids to the mall.  Not a terrible situation, but it did get me thinking.

  1. Why do kids have to smack the glass at pet stores?  You know what? I’m not going to be funny here.  I don’t know why kids decide that although the puppy is staring at them from less than a foot away, they have to shout, “Here Puppy!” and pound the glass thousands of times.  But they do it, and it probably scares the crap out of the dogs.  These things look miserable and unhappy and I don’t like it.  I’m sorry if any of you readers own a pet shop, but I hate them.  I wish upon you an eternity of living in a Chuck E. Cheese ball-pit.
  2. Why did I feel bad about buying her PJs at Sears?  Is this just marketing?  Sears couldn’t possibly sell decent clothing…they sell power generators.  Like, “Oh, don’t bring your car to Neiman Marcus for a tune-up.  They have Elizabeth Taylor changing oil back there.”
  3. Why do kids hate dads?  Every time I opened my mouth, Leah looked at me and said, “Momma?” and started crying.

Gift #3:  Medieval Times

Yes Kate, not the kids, chose Medieval times.  She has been completely unable to shift her viewpoints from childhood to adulthood, and worse, she has one of the shortest memories ever.

“Hey Ben! Let’s go to the carnival on the hottest day of the year on a Saturday at noon with our kids and a few extra for fun.  I used to love doing that when I was a kid!”

Then I politely decline and she acuses me of hating the children.  Six hours later she arrives home crying, hair significantly grayer, missing her shirt and half of our kids.  “Why would you let me go?!  I need to stop doing this to myself!”

So when she suggested Medieval times I was a touch chagrined, because as it was her birthday, I had to oblige.  “What a great idea!  Medieval Times!?!?!? We should totally bring our kids to a giant gift-shop that charges a $200 admission fee!!!!!”

Despite almost never pulling off these kinds of excursions successfully, and after leaving Leah with a sitter, Medieval Times was awesome.

I should have seen it coming, but a good way to occupy a 3 year-old and an 8 year-old boy is to let them watch men destroy each other with axes and require them to eat food with their fingers.  I may never again feel the success I felt when James asked where his spoon was (win #1) and I told him there is no silverware at Medieval times (win#2).

Rib Bones

"Dad, tell the maitre d' I'm missing my dessert spoon."

The only negative is about halfway through, I started feeling bad for the actors.  Like some sort of ironic Batman, everything they do is awesome, yet they can never tell anyone their true identity.

Woman:”Hi What’s your name?”

Man:”My name is Eric, beautiful.”

Woman:”You must work out”

Man: “Yep, I am an accomplished equestrian and athlete.”

Woman: “I love your accent”

Man:”Uh huh, I speak with a slight English accent.  I’m a steadily employed actor.

Woman: “I think I want to know you better…”

Man: “I’m the Red and Yellow Knight at Medieval Times.”

Woman: “That’s enough.”

Besides the knights getting rejected, we had an excellent day and I think Katie had a good time… we’ll see if she comments.  The movie we went to was funny, especially since it was about married couples in a rut…and it referenced Jews in blazers.  The kids were able to help me get a few pairs of excellent PJs by hiding out in clothing racks.  We were able to secure generous financing for the dinner the night before.  Katie seems happy too.  She even invited some new actor/athlete friend over for dinner later this week.  I still don’t know why she wanted to go to Medieval Times though…

A Man’s Castle

You all know that I’m installing a second retaining wall behind my house.  And by “I’m”, I mean “a landscaper”.  And by “installing” I mean, “robbing me”.

I’m starting to find that owning a house serves two purposes.

1) To be a temple for growth, happiness, family, ideals, dreams, memories and love.

2) To obliterate your bank account.

I don’t want to rehash an old subject, but house repairs hurt.  It’s not just financial, it’s convenience and pride related.  The best part is some readers will be asking, “What house repairs?  We spent 3 years looking at houses, picked the best one, paid 35% below asking price, everything is in tip-top shape, and we have been slowly taking care of decorating right down to the perfect napkin rings.”  You are A) a liar, or B) Ned Flanders.  For the rest of you, lets take a tour through my home.  We’ll start outside.

Things are going so well I'm renting my second house!

Driveway

If you go into our driveway too fast, your car will bottom out.  If you go into our driveway too slow, your car will bottom out.  If you walk your dog into our driveway, it will bottom out.  I think the people who built our house got the concept right:  House is higher than the road, must make incline.  Unfortunately, every time we pull into our driveway, we are essentially crashing into a wall.   The car doors close so fast on the incline that my wife hoists the children through the sunroof.

Front Steps

Our house was built in 1953 on a plot of land that housed the earliest known steps in the Americas… at least that’s what it looks like.  The past 2 years were the perfect storm of bad winters and infants.  So what do you do when you’re not getting enough sleep and you have to shovel the house out every two days?  Keep a 400-500lb layer of rock-salt on everything and let nature take its course.  The added benefit is that you get to pick out new masonry work every spring!

Kitchen

Pop quiz: You’re trying to sell your house, but your kitchen floor is partially ripped faux-brick linoleum, the cabinets are made out of compressed foam (really) and only have half of their hardware, and the oven doesn’t open all the way because it gets stuck on the windowsill.  Do you:

A)  Inexpensively reface everything?

B)   Focus on one problem and really do it well?

C)   Paint the top half of the walls lime-green, the bottom half darker lime-green and add a brown chair-rail 6′ off the floor?

If you chose “C”, then we want our money back, jerk.  I’m like 99% sure we weren’t high out-of-our-minds when we bought the house, but the kitchen makes me wonder.

Bathroom

Ah, the Pink-Wonder… I’ll always miss your toilet, which was not affixed to the floor and whose seat fell off, often while seated.  I shall look back fondly at the times I was pretty sure the tub would fall through the floor and I would wake up naked, on top of the 40 year-old refrigerator in the garage.  Your smell was so acrid, contrasting perfectly with your whimsical pink style, from which nothing escaped.  Here’s to you Pink-Wonder.

She has been one of our only household successes.  After part of the ceiling came down under the tub, we had no choice but to take the plunge (haha!).  The problem is that we overshot it relative to the rest of the house.  Now, when we have people over, we host them in the new bathroom.

Bathroom Remodel

Before ..................................................... After

Basement

It is not my goal to get really angry so we’ll keep this short and sweet.

1)   Never had water in the basement.

2)   Week after getting carpet installed, had water in the basement.

Dear Home-Depot,

Your recent carpeting deal was so good we decided to re-carpet every week.

Love,

The Idiots

Sun-Porch

I’m not exactly sure what to call this “room”, but we call it the sun-porch.  The front walls are made out of storm-windows, the back wall is the house siding.  If you were locked out of the house, you could probably send a small child in the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor.  Or you could just push the porch over if you wanted to be messy about it.  Also every spring all the spiders in Northern NJ host a spider convention here.

It ends when I bring out the wet-dry vac to clean up the room for our annual “Let’s Eat Dinner in the Porch Extravaganza” where we realize that we hate eating in there… it’s gross.

See you guys next year!

There are other aspects of the house that are hit or miss, but I’m forgetting an important part.  I may be complaining, but I’m lucky to have a place to live at all.  I work a white-collar job in NJ (insert joke), I have a roof over my head and food to eat, and I have great family and friends.  There’s a lot to be extremely grateful for.  Here we go…

The living room is nice and we’ve been known to snuggle around the fireplace… like when our heat went out on the coldest day of the year two years ago and I was charged $600 just to put a new pump on the water heater.

Or the garage has a workbench and tons of storage space and it’s just perfect…  if you want to ruin all of your belongings with mold.

The backyard has tons of potential and it gets bonus points just for housing my smoker and grill.  So what if it’s a giant/overgrown hill.  After paying more than what a new-car costs, we’ll have a beautiful stone wall on that we can look at from the sun-porch…  as long as the spiders aren’t using it.

I need to stop being so grateful…

Kids these days…

I’m turning into my dad.  The past two posts have supported this conclusion, and this one just proves it.  We’ve covered that physically I’m just starting to get a touch older.  We all know I’m about as mature as I was 30 years ago.  But opinion-wise I just turned 75. Grumpy is my middle-name and I’m here to tell you you’re wrong.

This is very different than my previous points of hitting a physical hill or being immature.  They’re basically conditions that help me pretend I can win the next Olympics, despite not being able to run up the driveway.   Suddenly I’m able to tell you not only why I didn’t win the Olympics, but why “kids-these-days” are ruining it.

First, let’s focus our attention on the worst, most mind-numbingly childish brats on the planet: D.C. Politicians. My 401k is going down faster than the titanic filled with cement.  The debt-ceiling can be raised, we can also cut spending, we can also close tax loopholes.  Ruining the economy to make sure we don’t head in the direction of ruining the economy is pretty classic.  I mean, I feel like I’m watching my kids fighting over who gets to hold a stick of dynamite.

Alright, back on track… no more political stuff…for a little while…maybe.

Kids are spoiled and they don’t know anything.  They whine, we give them whatever we want.  Are they even trying anymore?  There are many topics I can cover regarding their incessant whining, spoilage and terrible taste, but if I list all of them, I’ll probably start randomly withholding dessert and assigning time-outs to objects around the house.  I’ll hit the ones I happen upon most often.

Television

Hannah Montana.  All done.

School

“Oh man, it must have been so hard at school today.  I can’t believe you had to finger-paint a picture of paint smudges.  I hope you didn’t injure yourself, let me get you a glass of iced-tea.  Everyone’s gifted in your class?!?!  That’s amazing! Oh, you also started taking ‘Calculus for Computer Programming’ in third-grade?… Well… we were so smart we didn’t even have to take that.  Brat.”

Music

I listened to Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots, darn it, and they played instruments.   They sang songs that were so meaningful, no one had any idea what they were talking about.  I mean, sure The New Kids on the Block were around when I was growing up, but only second grade girls liked them.  I would never be caught dead turning up the radio when Kelly Clarkson’s Since You’ve Been Gonecomes on.  I would certainly not be slapping the steering wheel and singing into a pretend microphone.  I would never feel the freeing sense of independence as it crescendos through a thumping chorus until goose-bumps form and tears well-up in my eyes.  Seriously, it wasn’t me.

Darn you Kelly Clarkson, you beautiful independent force of womanhood!

Video Games

Remember telling your mom that you couldn’t pause a video game and she just had to take your word for it, because she didn’t even know what a video game was.  You could literally miss an entire dinner, just because she didn’t know the concept of a pause button.  Unfortunately sometimes you really couldn’t pause the game and when you had to go to the bathroom…well, I mean, you kept playing, but you were pissed (haha, get it!).  Yeah, kids now-a-days can pause whenever they want.  They can also save whenever they want.  They can do anything they want.  I’m pretty sure the games will just declare you the winner as long as you ask nicely enough.  I remember Kid Icarus actually dying over 50 times before I had brought the game to the cash register.

I'll be down in a minute! I CAAAANNN'TTTTT PAAAUUUSSSSEEEE!

Spoiled Kids

This one really chaps my rump.  You know what the worst thing is in the world: Not getting the exact model of BMW you wanted for your 16th birthday as a reward for not dropping out of school.  At least that’s what it sounds like when I hear the local punks talking outside the 7-11. Do you know how hard it was for me to get a car?  I had to ask my parents literally handfuls of times and then I only got a used Audi.  Worse yet, they’re going to crash that beemer 6 or 7 times before the year is out.  I never crashed my car after I got my license.  I crashed my mom’s car before I got my license.  That’s not spoiled, that’s creative.

Here’s the thing; I just like thinking kids have it easier nowadays because when we become parents we care about any of this for the first time.  If my parents wrote this article, I’m sure their list would sound eerily similar:  “We had to draw pictures on the cave walls for entertainment… I had to beg my parents to let me use the horse and buggy… Good music?  I saw Beethoven in concert twice.”

There’s a lot of material here, and I don’t feel like going any further through the list.  I’ve already got my blood-pressure pumping.  (Don’t worry, I’m on medication).  Basically, I’m going to do my best to keep my kids from becoming full-brat and the only method I have is telling them how good they have it.  I’m going to try not to let this stuff make me too emotional…that’s Kelly Clarkson’s job.

When I grow up…

I’ve started this blog about 5 different ways.  I know I want to mention that I’m a Harry Potter fan and how as a 30 year-old I should feel embarrassed.  I keep trying to write a joke, but –

“Haha! Nerd! You like Harry Potter!”

– it’s kind of writing itself.

The problem is that I like a lot of the same things my kids like: Transformers, video games, bodily functions, arts and crafts, jumping off of things, smashing into stuff, eating pizza, iCarly, and the word “Dude”.  And I’m not totally convinced that I’m much different than most other males.

Sure Harry Potter has it’s detractors among adult guys and I get it.  To ensure something is air-tight masculine, it shouldn’t involve wizards, witches and butter-beer unless it’s porn, in which case they add a certain je ne sais quoi.

But I’m not concerned about being perceived as cool.  If I just go with my relatively paunchy gut then I get excited about this stuff.  I don’t think I ever grew up.  I’m not totally convinced most other guys have either.

I just went to the wedding of two high-school friends last night.

-Tommy, Julie, if you’re reading this, the evening was beautiful; I couldn’t be happier for you both.  Also, I was the guy who got cut off from the cheese-steak and slider station.  I hope you didn’t have to pay extra.-

Dress code was orange-tie optional

The wedding illustrates my point I think.  One of my friends from high-school who I hadn’t seen in five years, walked up to me as the night was wearing down, put his arm around my shoulder, and this happened.  Really.

Friend: “Ben, why aren’t you dancing?”

Ben: “I don’t know if” –

Friend: “Ahahahahahah, I just farted on you!”

Ben: “Hahahahahahahahahahahah!”

Not only wasn’t I fazed, but I was appreciative of his sharing his “joke” with me.  If someone had walked up to my wife and said, “Ahahaha, I just farted on you!” She would have sprayed them with mace.  (Happened to me last night).

I’ll always be appreciative of that joke.  The same way that I’m appreciative of doing that with/on my kids.  Of course my interests aren’t limited strictly to such areas.  My likes and behaviors have barely evolved since I was a child; When we ask Luke, the three year-old, to put his toys away, he generally picks up a lego or two and puts them in our shoes.  The rest of the toys, he flings randomly at the walls, to dissipate the overall mess.  When Katie tells me to take care of my laundry, I generally shove a couple of dirty socks into a pair of shoes, and fling the rest of the clothes under beds/dressers.

Allow me to go a step further, and posit that women are actually the same.   Okay, then why does it seem that women are not as childish as men?  The answer is because they seem that way even as kids.

My almost 2 year-old daughter is way less childish than I am.  Leah, cleans up after herself and actually uses baby-wipes on her dolls’ pretend messes.  I am likely to clean up a barbecue sauce spill by sucking it off my pants.  When I try to dress Leah in the mornings, she cries and kicks and usually refuses to put on either her shirt or pants.  When we finally make it out into the living room, I am generally greeted with a frown on Katie’s face, when she says, “Leah was trying to tell you they don’t match.”

Men and women are just bigger versions of children.  Know what my favorite thing is in the entire world?  It rhymes with “Zex” and it takes place in the bedroom… that’s right, The Peter Pan’s Flight Ride at Disney World!  I’m still attracted to the wonderment afforded by all of those things.  I know my daughter interacts with the world on a more mature level than I do, and my two boys, interact at about the same level as me.  If I ask my daughter what her favorite thing is in the world, she’ll say shoes.  If I ask my sons, they won’t hear me, because they’re punching each other in the crotch.

And frankly, I’m happy to be unencumbered by some fake-cool version of adult-hood.  It’s the reason why I’m still writing this blog.   A few weeks ago, Luke asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I told him that I was grown up and that I had a job.  But ever since starting this blog, I’ve realized that I’m not defined by what my job is, but rather what I still want to be; it’s not too late!  So I’m gonna keep writing, keep eating old french-fries out of the couch, and the next time my kids ask what I want to be when I grow up, I’m going to give them the responsible answer: Harry Potter.

Ben as Harry Potter

Destroying my credibility one picture at a time.

Man vs. Guilt

I am a guilty person by nature.  It may not be apparent by reading this blog, but I apologize to people in my head for thoughts I haven’t even finished having.  That is not a joke.  I also regularly get stopped in the middle of a multi-minute disclaimer before speaking my mind.  Put me in the wrong situation and the guilt starts growing exponentially until I start throwing money at people and crying uncontrollably.  I wrote an email to a cousin I haven’t seen in 5 years yesterday, and her first words of reply were, “Oh, Ben. So much Jewish guilt in that email.”  Really.

Which is why my current situation is all the more surprising.  I don’t feel guilty at all.

“Well, why would you?” one might ask

Because, I am sitting in an easy chair, wearing a button down shirt with unwashed-for-a-week warm-up pants and black socks, a KFC Variety box on my stomach, lights off, watching Man vs. Food on T.V., writing a blog, all while Katie has the kids in Connecticut.

“But, you’re getting fatter, shouldn’t you lay off the KFC?”

Totally.  In fact this Sunday, while I was eating 2 full racks of ribs, I was thinking, “Man I should eat less KFC.”

“Maybe Man vs. Food is not a good show for you to watch.”

The Nanny is not a good show for me to watch.  It’s terrible.

Fran Drescher Man v Food

"The Nanny" is worse than watching a hamburger

Anyway, the point is that I’m not feeling guilty in the slightest and I think I know why; I’m in my thirties, I have 3 kids, I have a wife who loves me (jokes on her!), I work moderately hard and I like KFC.  This is a very cool time in my life where I’m psyched about what I have, AND I’m willing to accept my reality.

When we’re first born we have no concept of reality.  Poop in your pants?  Check.  Crying for no reason? Check.  You’re a baby and you’re living the high-life.

Then, between 2 and 25 years-old we go through this magical period in our lives, where we have a hard time accepting reality.  You’re three feet tall and can climb like a you-know-what.  You just stood on a rocking chair and fell off, requiring six stitches in your chin.  The only logical solution?  Try it again… with roller-skates.  As a twenty-four year-old you do the same thing, but you’re probably taller.

Then there’s this ridiculous period between 25 and 27: the ultimate in mind and body synchronization.  It is not unheard of for a 26 year-old to learn computer-programming, lose 10-20lbs, run a marathon, eat unheard of amounts of food, drink several cases of beer, add 837 friends on facebook and have sex, during lunch.  As Charlie Sheen would say: “Winning”

Charlie Sheen also said this: “Duh! So, we’re asking you now, what are some of your favorite lines that this warlock brain produced?”

Good point Chuck.

Then as our twenties end we begin to realize that we’re peering over the physical hill.

Now, before I start getting tons of emails from you geriatric 40-60 year-olds, I’m not talking about mental peaks, just physical.  I’m glad 60 is the new 40 and you all have your slick cell-phones and know how to Skype with your great-great-grand-kids, but besides Harrison Ford, I have never seen a 50 year-old jump.

Right before 30 we start noticing that the ol’ metabolism is slowing down and the ol’ appetite might be picking up a bit.  We start saying, “I need to diet”, “I need to go for a run”, “I need to not be hung over for 6 days after having a glass of Chablis”.

Then something magical happens: we continue growing mentally.  We might pick up a spouse or a hobby and realize that life is a lot more than rock-hard abs, sex, partying, eating whatever we want, and roller-skating on rocking-chairs.

Over the past month I have blown out my knee running, playing with the kids, walking up stairs, talking with the landscaper, eating potato salad, and imagining someone blowing out their knee.  If I challenged my grandfather to a test of physical abilities, it would end with both of us falling asleep in front of C-SPAN.

But you know what? I’m not feeling guilty.  I have a friend who says “don’t push the river”, and he’s right, I’m not even sure I can swim anymore.

I’m underselling myself on purpose, but here’s the deal.  Every morning I wake up and have some aspiration that I’m gonna start running again.  I believe that somehow I’m going to start watching what I eat.  I am currently signed up as the captain for an ActiveForLife team at work (and if any of my team members are reading this, I… um… am completely kidding). But then, sometime after having my 9th cup of coffee, I realize, “uh oh, I’m not getting any more awake”, and by the time I’ve finished eating lunch, well, let’s just say you don’t want to check if I’ve unbuttoned my pants.  I’m not that much older, but suddenly my baseline is what a 25 year-old feels like after getting hit by an asteriod.

Honestly, I started running recently and at times it’s been pretty successful, and if it wasn’t 108F outside I’d be doing it right now.  But I don’t need to, I’m going to try again tomorrow and I might be successful or I might not.  I’m accepting that instead of running, sometimes this is going to happen:

Relaxing

Can't...reach...keyboard...

I’m gonna keep doing what I do and not feel guilty for it… except that part about the geriatric 40 year-olds… which was a little mean… probably too mean…  sorry about that… seriously… really sorry… I’m not crying… IT’S DIRT IN MY EYE!…  GO AWAY! I DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY!…


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