Monday, August 21, 2006

First Meals

We broke down yesterday and turned on the stove. As predicted weeks ago, the first meal prepared in the new kitchen was scrambled eggs in honor of Ava. Maybe the best eggs we've ever had, her favorite Kraft shredded cheddar/monterey jack cheese sprinkled on top. I was in Manhattan on Friday and stopped off at Orwasher's (78th and 2nd) in our old neighborhood to pick up some of their tremendous Challah bread. We toasted up some slices, the girls like it with cream cheese, and along with the eggs it was just about a perfect breakfast.

For meal #2 we had some early afternoon pasta. My Grandmother on my father's side passed away a few years ago, my Grandfather within the last year. After he died the family went to the house to do the necessary clear-out and everyone had an opportunity to take whatever items they wanted. One of the things that appeared to be going inexplicably unclaimed was my Grandmother's big old aluminum pasta pot, so I took it home with me. My Grandparents were both first-generation Italian-Americans, and this pot had basically produced more boiling water over the years than Old Faithful, across thousands of batches of pasta, particularly on Sunday afternoons.

And now it was in our house and, for some reason, we'd never used it. The maiden voyage in the new kitchen seemed an ideal opportunity, so I took it out of the drawer, filled it up with water and salt and put it on the stove. Madison noticed it, had never seen it before, and said, "what's that big old pot, Daddy? Where did we get it?"

I explained that it used to belong to Poppy's Mommy and Daddy, and now it was ours and we were going to use it to make some pasta on our new stove. She smiled at the thought of that, and when I put the bowl of spaghettini in front of her, Rao's sauce on top, she smiled again. (We'll resume our ritual of homemade sauce every Sunday afternoon next weekend. After two months of a shopping list confined to items that could be eaten raw or prepared in a microwave or toaster oven, we found ourselves a little short of key ingredients as we settled into the new space, so we had to resort to the jar. Sorry Grandma.)

Ava, who wins the award in our family for fussiest eater, doesn't like red sauce. She eats pasta plain, with her "favorite cheese" - the above-mentioned Kraft shredded cheddar/monterey jack combo - on top. Now that we have a fully-functional kitchen we're going to focus on Ava's cholesterol intake, because her favorite foods are eggs and cheese. We want to try to build some pork rinds and lard into the mix if we can by the time her fourth birthday rolls around.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

New Kitchen

There’s a reason people pay a premium for “done” houses. And there’s a reason for all those negative stereotypes and clichés floating around out there in the wind about building contractors. And, importantly, there’s also a reason people continue to go through the hell of home remodeling. Our version of that reason is pictured above.

We’re in the new kitchen one day and it doesn’t seem real. We’re afraid to use it. Afraid we might break it. Afraid that if we touch the appliances the face plates are going to pull back to reveal they are really cardboard props. It’s going to be an interesting weekend around here from the standpoint of sustenance.

I wish we had a true “before” photo, a “this is what the elderly woman we bought this house from lived with for 50 years” photo. Unfortunately we don’t. Feel free to scroll back across a couple months’ worth of postings to see what the space looked like on the first day of the remodel, in mid-June, when the walls were ripped down to the beams, when we still liked our contractor, felt he had our best interests at heart and was capable of single-handedly leading us through the darkness. In the end, it was Gwen who led us through the darkness, holding a Bic lighter up over her head, in the wind.

We had the new guy we hired to remodel the girls’ bathroom over the other night to talk through some final details so we can start ordering materials and fixtures. The job officially starts in late September and he’ll be the third person to work on our house in less than a year. I'm not going to spoil the moment by getting into the specific setbacks and mind-numbing frustrations of our last two encounters - the adult equivalent of pulp in a sippy cup.

Gwen gets the credit for the good results pictured above, and also in our basement, far more than anyone who entered our house wearing a tool belt or reeking of cigarettes. She made these things happen, through her own imagination, sheer force of will, negotiating acumen, endless reserve of patience, and ample funds.

I greeted, regarded and communicated with contractor #3 in a cordial but somewhat detached manner I've developed along with the scar tissue, an approach I like to informally refer to as – hoping for the best, but Preparing To Hate You.

So far no hatred, but it’s early, the game really hasn’t started yet, and we’ll see how this one goes. Happily, this house isn't too big and we’re running out of things to change.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Daddy, are you home tomorrow?"

I get this question almost every night, usually from Madison but sometimes from both she and Ava, and five days out of seven – from the perspective of the questioner – I have the wrong answer.

I understand, of course, that my, “no, I have to go to work tomorrow,” response is not wrong from the standpoint of our reality and the need to generate the economic support necessary for us to continue in the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed. But it’s hard to do justice on here to the hopeful eyes, the plaintive tones and the crestfallen reactions that play out in our house as part of this recurring dialogue. And I’m actually lucky enough to have a job that keeps me local most of the time, and without a commute that would cancel out the hour or so we spend together every morning and severely curtail evening tuck-ins and story time as well.

I have friends who travel for work extensively, one fraternity brother in particular who is on the road to international destinations for at least a week or 10 days a month, others who typically leave home before their kids are up to catch morning trains, return after they are asleep and get to reintroduce themselves on the weekends, maybe.

I’m in a far preferable situation when it comes to family time, but even five days a week in the office are too much for Madison and Ava. My kids are fortunate in this regard, but they feel deprived, and they are too young to understand or fully appreciate all the evidence to the contrary.

A friend and former colleague of mine who was in between jobs a few years ago and evaluating employment alternatives came up with a great turn of phrase that has stayed with me and is worth repeating. He mentioned one possible destination we both saw as probably unfulfilling but almost certainly lucrative, and said he had a “fiduciary duty to the residents of 28 Pine Lane” to fully investigate the opportunity.

I guess that fairly well sums up our situation. As much as I’d like to tell Madison and Ava what they want to hear – that we have a Tuesday or Thursday of Play-Doh or Noggin ahead of us – I have to recognize that I have a fiduciary duty to the residents of my house to get out of bed, kiss them goodbye and go make the money necessary to buy the swing set they play on, and the gum they chew, and the Skechers on their feet. [I'm not even getting into professional fulfillment or job satisfaction here because this is being written from the girls' perspective, and to document this daily exchange, and while Need To Earn Money is something they can sort of see at this point, it's a little early for these broader concepts.]

And, money aside, I still get the question almost every night, and it’s a moment I don’t relish, because while it passes quickly, and the girls are basically old enough to get where I have to go each day and why – what it means for us today and in the future – the bottom line is that they would rather have me around. The fact that Gwen would often willingly, happily, (ecstatically?) trade places with me is off point for this posting and something I’ll have to probe in a future entry.

I’ve taken both Madison and Ava to the office, usually for a few hours on slow Friday afternoons, and they’ve enjoyed meeting the people I work with, drawing on paper with colorful markers, watching television and going down to the company cafeteria for chips or frozen yogurt. When I first went to my father’s office as a kid, one Saturday afternoon, I remember being so captivated by the Tang they had in the little kitchen area and the big water cooler that I forced my mother to buy some of the wondrous orange powder “that the spacemen drank” so we could have it at home. I can still taste it.

Remember that scene in Kramer vs. Kramer when Dustin Hoffman takes his son to his new office, that one in the city with the big window and the view, and the kid is just blown away? There's something about an early visit to an office environment - even without a view of Manhattan - that has the odd ability to totally captivate children. Pens seem cool. Paper is so readily available it's like you landed on another planet or something. Maybe it's the mystery of finally seeing the place where a parent or guardian goes every day, the place they "live" when they're away from the family. Maybe it's just the metal, the glass, the muted color choices, bad industrial carpeting or pale manila folders. Whatever it is, it's real.

When I come home at night Madison sometimes asks about my day, what I did and who I talked to. She’s interested in hearing about these things and when I tell her that I had meetings, or spoke to people on the phone she wants to know whether the men and women she’s met in the office were involved, and what we said, and why.

As I tucked her into bed earlier tonight, and after she had told me all about her day, Madison once again asked me whether or not I was “home tomorrow.”

“No, honey, I have to go to work, I’m in the office tomorrow, but there are only two more days this week and then I’m home for two days.”

“Two more days this week after tomorrow, or including tomorrow?”

“Including tomorrow. Tomorrow is Thursday, then there is Friday and the next day is Saturday and I’m home that day.

“Home for how many days?”

“Two days. Saturday and Sunday.”


It felt good to deliver the news. Late in the week it always does. And we haven’t even gotten into the notion of Labor Day yet…

Sunday, August 06, 2006

First Trimester

No, not that kind of trimester. As of this week I’ve been at this blog thing for three months, and the experience has been so great and fulfilling that I thought I’d write a little bit about it to mark the milestone.

When I started with my first entry, late on a Wednesday night in May, I had no idea whether or not I’d even come back for a second posting, let alone return to the space more than 30 times to document and celebrate all manner of moments and developments happening in and shaping our lives. Being able to put Ava’s “Dad! I’m counting on you!” line in print was, alone, worth the effort, but there’s been so much more than that, and it’s just beginning.

As a former journalist, I have to admit that post-blog I find myself thinking in terms of entries, as we move from day to day. Someone will say something, or something will happen – a trend will emerge or just an opportunity for some additional depth or historical context out of my own childhood – and I’ll say to myself, “that’s an entry… I have write that one up.” I’ll grab a piece of paper and whatever I can find to write with and start scrawling down ideas or quotes. Invariably, if she’s nearby, Madison will ask what I’m doing and why I’m taking the time to memorialize her latest observation on the rapture of Skechers or most recent lament that we won’t let her have a real pet or any Bratz Girlz toys.

The girls know about the blog, I’ve shown them the photos I’ve posted on here and when I’m working on an entry in our home office they are prone to coming into the room, looking at the screen and saying something like, “is that the blog?” before demanding that I immediately close it out and switch to so they can play games, watch an online video or pick out some printables.

I started small on the distribution of the URL, a few family members and close friends, and the list has grown over time and the things I’ve heard back have been so positive and complimentary that I’m sure they’ve fueled the effort. Again, back to the journalism roots, it’s great to take the time to knock out an entry, push “publish” and know that the people we are closest to in our lives will, at some point, find their way to this current information and understand where we are and what we’re up to.

It has been terrific having a place to document little moments that would otherwise blur and eventually disappear, replaced by the relentless march of the here and now. Little lines like the one Ava delivered yesterday when we were driving in the car, as she looked out the window and found the sun throwing her reflection up against the glass – “Daddy, I see pictures about me in my window.”

Or the time during our recent vacation in Vermont, when we were trying to pick a dinner location after a long and occasionally challenging day that had us in and out of outlet stores, always with the kids, managing through multiple destinations and unscheduled Britax naps and other assorted logistical setbacks. We have yet to find a real bulletproof dinner destination up there, where both the kids and we can eat well and leave satisfied. At one point, after discussing and dismissing a half dozen possible options, I said to Gwen, “I really don’t care, wherever you want to go, you pick.” To which she replied, “I really don’t care, either, but wherever we go I’d like them to have a liquor license.”

So we’re three months into this thing, and I’m looking forward to taking it full term. Nine months will hit in February, Ava will have just turned four and Madison will be a few weeks away from six. God and my employer willing, we’ll just be back from our annual week in Aruba with my parents and assorted other relatives, and will be in the final stages of planning our first trip to Disney, which we’re hoping to accomplish in March or April of next year. Ava has an aversion to large costumed characters, a condition we discovered after she spent entire Barney, Dora and Wiggles live shows with her face buried into each of our armpits, her arms wrapped around us and clutching for dear life, so we’ve put off the formal introduction to Mickey and Minnie in the hope that she'll eventually come around.

And who knows what else we’ll be doing six months from now? You’d like to think our kitchen renovation would be complete by then but who can really tell. The girls will hopefully have a new bathroom. Depending on her persistence and level of persuasiveness I may have acceded to Madison’s wishes and taken a job selling paint at a Sherwin-Williams store. Madison’s first school bus ride, Ava in a new pre-school program, friends and family, cousins, holidays, everything that weaves together to create the fabric of life.

And, now that I have this little forum, this living vehicle, I know it will all be covered on here.

For parents out there who can find the time and have the slightest inclination, here’s a parting thought – do this. Get yourself a journal to write in or, if online works for you, go to, take 30 seconds to establish your own little place on the Internet and start creating your record. Share the URL with others if you want, but more importantly do it for yourself, and for your kids, and ultimately for their kids, because you don’t get these moments back, and while you can certainly remember the high points, the remaining 98 percent will get away from you.

Like what Ava just said to me. We’re at my parents’ house this weekend because they’re refinishing our floors in the area of the kitchen – part of the above-mentioned renovation – and I’m sitting in the family room on the laptop writing this anniversary entry. Over the last five minutes or so there has been a scurry of mobilization to go out on my parents’ boat… swimsuits are going on, sunscreen is being applied and Ava just came over to me and said, “Dad! You can play your computer on the boat because it’s time to go!”

Think about starting a blog, or a journal. And don’t forget to take a lot of pictures. And shoot tons of video, for your family’s own historical record and also to get your kids comfortable in front of the camera so they are appropriately prepared for an all-but-certain starring role on reality television.

**[Editor's note. Heard from the wife on some of the more recent postings, this one and also "What did she say?" She's concerned that she's being presented as someone who is either "shopping or looking for alcohol," and wanted to express that she is not entirely pleased with the way her character is being edited and depicted here. We will strive for some additional balance and context in future installments.]

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Life Aquatic

Two years ago Madison spent most of the summer sitting on the steps of my parents’ pool. She would occasionally allow me to carry her into the water and around the shallow end, but was most comfortable resting within the safety and tranquility of that white three-step semi-circle.

Last year she more or less had her run of the pool, even jumped off the diving board a few times, but always when assisted by a floatie or noodle or some other form of artificial buoyancy. There was a young woman who lived a few doors down from our old house and offered swimming lessons in her family’s pool, and last summer we brought Madison there every week or so to jump start the process and get her comfortable in the water.

So far this year she’s been doing well in the shallow end, swimming around, dunking her head under the water and coming up smiling.

But today was something different… today was a first… today she swam under her own power in the deep end for the first time – swam all the way across the pool, from the steps to the diving board and back. Once, then twice, three times… I lost count.

At some point between laps Madison asked me how long the pool had been out there in Grandma and Poppy’s backyard. “Hmm,” I said. “I guess they put this in about 28 years ago.”

“Twenty eight years!?” Madison said. “You mean like back when there were dinosaurs?”

“No, Maddie, there weren’t any dinosaurs back then.”

“Oh,” she said, reaching out to begin another glide across the water. “I love this pool, Daddy.”

This was all the more sweet for me because it happened in the pool that came into my life when I was a kid… the pool that was with me through high school and college. The pool I floated around in during Live Aid weekend, running back into the house every few hours with a towel wrapped around me to throw a new tape in the VCR.

We’ve happily spent more time in this blue rectangle of water since the kids were born than in all the years that came before. And, today, I’m pleased and proud to say, Madison owned it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Madison General's Warning

We have two smokers in our family, really in our lives, my grandmother on my mother's side, who we have always called Namie, and my mother's sister, Diana. They have both smoked for as long as I have known them, so we're talking 40 years worth of cigarettes at this point, with basically no real negative health impacts yet, knock on wood.

As new parents after Madison was born we were always very careful about exposing her to cigarette smoke, for fear that a stray puff or two could permanently compromise her growing lung tissue or induce a case of SIDS. As a newborn, Madison rarely visited Namie's house and when she did I made sure to call at least an hour ahead to make sure my grandmother opened all the windows to provide for proper ventilation and from that moment on conducted any necessary smoking in the backyard until we had arrived, visited and were well clear of the premises.

As I've said on here, Madison notices everything, and within about a half second of noticing something she asks about it. So it was not surprising when a few years ago she wondered aloud about these little white burning things protruding from Namie and Diana's mouths when they ducked out of family functions to stroll the lawn or - during winter months - huddle inexplicably in a frigid garage.

We took our parental responsibilities in this regard very seriously, and from the first inquiry drummed in the idea that cigarettes are terrible things, that they make people sick and that, once people start, it is very, very, very hard to stop. The messages took hold with Madison, who happily has developed a real aversion to smoking and cigarettes that of course we hope will endure. I ducked into a Casa del Habano while on vacation in Aruba earlier this year to buy a couple of cigars for the casino, and when I got back to our hotel Madison was so unnerved by the sight of Fidel's finest sleeping in their little zip-lock bed - "Daddy you're going to smoke?! Like Namie?! Smoke?!" - that I decided they would never rise.

We were talking last night and she mentioned that she'd been in a friend's Mommy's car earlier in the day and saw this strange box that people can use to put their cigarettes in after they are done smoking them. I told her it was called an ashtray and her eyes lit up at the notion that there was actually a word for such an unspeakable thing. She was very specific on the point that there were no cigarettes in the box in her friend's Mommy's car, just some loose change and cracker crumbs, but wanted me to know it was there and that she understood some people used these things for cigarettes.

I explained that a long time ago all cars had these little boxes, and also lighters so people could smoke cigarettes in their cars as they were driving, but that basically no one smoked anymore - just a few older people who hadn't been able to quit - so they really don't put these boxes or lighters in cars today. I told her it was good that people had stopped smoking because it causes bad health effects and can make people very sick.

She asked whether or not Namie or Diana had ever had any "bad health effects" from smoking and I said not really, not yet, but they were very lucky. And then she said this:

"Daddy, we should tell all the stores that sell cigarettes to stop selling them, so there we be no more to get. And we should find out where Namie gets her cigarettes and talk to them, so when the ones she has are gone there won't be any more."

Pure and unassailable poetry... from a five-year-old.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Summer Vacation 2006

Half beach, half mountain, all good.

Storming the narrow "roads" of Ocean Beach, Fire Island with cousin Jack.

First shovelful on the way to China. "Daddy, how long would it take to dig that far? Like a whole day?"

Flying through mountain air with aid of bungee cords.

Bumper boats!

Different state, same slide.

Final moments... a short walk along a Vermont stream before a long car ride. Everybody go potty?