Thursday, November 30, 2006

NaBloPoMo NoMo

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

All Around the Interweb

You can see my girls here and here*.

You can see my feet here.


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

One For Steve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

G Krud

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2006

Christmas Wish List

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

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Tryptophan Comedown

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

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

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Post-Holiday Time Out

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

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

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

Friday, November 24, 2006

JP Menu

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

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

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Tradition of Food

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Eastbound and Down

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

Traditions

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

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

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

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Grazie, Amici

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Saturday Night Loser

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

Friday, November 17, 2006

10,000

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

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

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

Keep reading. Keep commenting.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Night of the Septet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Best Laid Plans

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

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

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

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

[Good luck tonight, Andria!]

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Treat Getting 101

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2006

Monday Morning Bear Hunting

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

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

And this is what JP said:
Okay.

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

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sunday Porch Hunting

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Happy Birthday, Click

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

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Non-Post

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

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Milt

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Something You Should Know

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

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Secret Life

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

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

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

Monday, November 06, 2006

EP

Will the list of things these kids need to learn never end? Just when I think I’ve got a grasp of it all – how to walk, use a toilet, talking, using a fork – something new, something seemingly simple, pops up. Tonight, S said, “Who is Elvis?” Who is Elvis? I never thought about that. I guess I just assumed people were born with the knowledge of Elvis Presley, that it was as innate as breathing or blinking or, in our family, talking. She even lives in Memphis. I’m 36 and have never known life without EP. I suppose it’s time to ramp up the teaching to cover all of the basics before they’re out of the house, and on their own for good, so they don’t embarrass their mother and me in social situations. What’s next? What is that movie The Godfather about?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Hot Lava

I feel I need to warn you people of something in case I ever invite you over to my house. I probably won’t, but I would like to keep up the illusion that you are all just that close to me. Be warned, anyway, that the floors of our house are hot lava. The Quartet has proclaimed it so. You’re perfectly safe on the couch or a chair, beds and kitchen countertops, but the floors, most definitely, are hot lava. Sometimes, if your shoes are declared “hot lava boots” then you are safe. But if not, then I wouldn’t dare it.

This, obviously, is all part of the kids’ imagination, there's no way there could be something as useful as lava on our floors to burn up all the dust bunnies, partially eaten Halloween candy and odd, dirty socks that get left behind. No, this is the same imagination that fuels JP’s writing, video gaming and all of their treasure hunting. But this corner of their imagination is a little darker what with the burning flesh and smell of sulfur. I just wish there was some sort of warning. I mean, I’ll be sitting there reading or even up walking around and all of a sudden the alarm is sounded, “The ground is hot lava!” and I’m either stuck on the couch needing to get up and pee or I’m already up, melting now in lava! This is insanity! Today at Peabody Park, C announced that the ground was hot lava and half a dozen kids disappeared. It was sad.

Does this happen in anyone else’s household? Are there hidden dangers? I know about the obvious, the household cleaners as toxins and hair dryers in the bathtubs and the evil little electric holes in all the walls. But I’m talking about floors that erupt or closets that suddenly turn into iron maidens or a carrot that transmogrifies into dynamite with little or no warning. Is The Quartet just weird? Is it too much Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote?

Perhaps they should embrace their creativity the way Alfred Hitchcock or Stephen King embraced theirs. Perhaps it will translate into untold riches with celebrity and independence in their future or, conceivably, incoherent ramblings and scribblings along with a lengthy stay in Bedlam. Either way, be wary and keep your feet up, because it’s getting warm in here and something is bubbling just below the surface, I fear.

GK & Me






Saturday, November 04, 2006

Three On The Town

We went out to the opening reception for my sister’s art show last night and had a big time. We had the chance to hang out with all the cool people – Shannon and Stacey, Christa, Toby, Heather plus one, the infamous Mary Cashiola and the inquisitive Michael Erskine. All good people, all fun to be around. We were able to do this because we farmed most of our children out to their grandparents and to Stacey, who was at the show, but whose husband graciously agreed to watch JP along with Satchel and Jiro. So we had only GK with us, her first foray into the patchwork quilt of the Memphis art world. One kid? Are you kidding me? Having only one kid is like having no kids, especially when that one kid is five-months-old and can’t demand a cookie or to go someplace private to pee or wonder aloud When can we go? When can we go? When can we go? This is that blessed time when she has to do what we say because she doesn’t know any better, or what we’re even saying.

It was somewhat like being a first-time parent again, with people congratulating me and oohing and aahing and even looking at us like we don’t know what’s in store once this little bundle of joy discovers free will. They had no idea that there were three others out there, lurking, waiting to pounce with demands and questions and sticky fingers as soon as our over-burdened, hunched backs were turned. That in our home, under our sofa, there is a whole world that is as-yet undiscovered, where The Others live – the other shoe, the other Stegosaurus, the other cookie I was going to eat last week. Or even that we had been up since six that morning, preparing waffles and lunches and backpacks. But it was nice, too, to just show off one of what we’ve made. Like any good collector, the impressiveness is in the collection itself, the group that you’ve amassed which tells people you’ve got what it takes and that you lack the willpower to say no. But it’s also good, every once in a while, to single out one piece and say to the person next to you, “Look what I have. It’s one of a set, but no less spectacular by itself. Gaze upon it, make a face at it and smell it, does it smell like it pooped to you?”

Dinner at Los Compadres after the show was fun as well, though eventually cut short by the irascible GK. We did manage, though, to eat and to converse like adults with our friends, and after a couple of beers we even stopped worrying about wiping off the pacifier that had fallen to the floor for the 48th time before sticking it back into her mouth.

These are the things you do to be normal again, to be an adult with more to say than Eat your dinner! Pick that up! Let go of your sister’s foot! Every so often we need to get out and spend time with our friends. Sometimes you can’t shake all the kids and, sometimes, there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Painting and Such

Tonight, The Quartet's Aunt Elizabeth has an art opening at Perry Nicole Fine Art. The kids are very excited and proud of her, they find her colors to be interesting. You can see more of her work here and read an interview with her here. C is especially captivated by her paintings as he's quite the artist himself. He doesn't have his own showing coming up any time soon, but with years of practice ahead and some careful guidance from his aunt, I believe we may be attending one some day. Anyway, stop by the gallery tonight if you get the chance, it's sure to be a great show.


Perry Nicole Fine Art
Friday, November 3, 2006
6:00 to 8:00 PM
3092 Poplar Ave Suite 16
(next door to La Baguette)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Goodnight Moon

This is something I've wanted to get down solely for posterity's sake. Consider this just a bit of journaling, if journal were, in fact, a verb. Each night, when it's bedtime, the three older kids each picks out a book for me to read to them. Afterwards, the light is turned out and this is how it goes:

C says
Goodnight, S, I love you
Goodnight, JP, I love you
Goodnight, Daddy, I love you

JP says
Goodnight, S, I love you
Goodnight, C, I love you
Goodnight, Daddy, I love you

S says
Goodnight, JP, I love you
Goodnight, C, I love you
Goodnight, Daddy, I love you

I say
Goodnight, S, I love you
Goodnight, JP, I love you
Goodnight, C, I love you

We all say together
Goodnight, Mommy, we love you
Goodnight, GK, we love you
Goodnight, Maduro*, we love you

This is how I end every day, and no matter how crappy my day was, this makes it better and makes it all worth it.

*Maduro is the dog

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

NaBloPoMo

Fussy has proclaimed November National Blog Posting Month and I have signed up to participate. What this means is that I will be writing a post a day for the next 30 days (why couldn’t February be NaBloPoMo?). Can I do it? Looking back, I see I wrote 32 posts in April, but I was a younger man then. In reality, the onus is on The Quartet. They are required to significantly amuse me 30 times this month. Can they do it? They better, their dinner will depend on it every night. Nobody eats for free during November.

Another aspect to NaBloPoMo is directed at the reader, both of mine, as well as all of the others out there who, for some strange reason, have yet to start your own blog. You are asked to de-lurk, that is, to read as many posts as you can (a list of participating bloggers can be found at fussy.org) and to comment. Come out from behind the protective veil of World Wide Web Anonymity and say something nice about what these people are writing.

When I began Urf!, I never planned to write as much as I have. I only wanted to write when I had something specific to say, usually when The Quartet did something funny or amazing, but mostly funny. I vowed not to be one of those writers who writes what I ate for breakfast or simply lists what I’m listening to on my iPod, if I had one (is NaBloPoMo a gift-giving event?) just to be writing something. There are those blogs out there – many, many of them. NaBloPoMo won’t push me to that. I signed up for it as a challenge, but I won’t continue with it if I don’t have anything to say. You have my word on that, both of you.

Now, back to my omelet and Elvis Costello …