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Matthew’s Close Call

June 15, 2011 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago, Andrea finished making dinner and sat down with the boys to eat.  Benjamin looked at his food and said, “Is this what we are having?” with displeasure in his voice.  We, like many, many parents around the world, had been having a particular hard time getting our kids to eat what we put in front of them, of late.  Ben’s disgust with the meal was the last straw for Andrea, who began to lecture Benjamin about how much work goes into to shopping and preparing a meal and how it takes a big effort to cook two meals every night, one that they like and one that they would eat.  This went on for a couple of minutes as Ben listened quietly.

When Andrea was finished saying her piece, she looked over at Matthew who responded with something like, “I was going to say the same thing, but I am glad I didn’t.”

Traffic Jam on Memory Lane

June 11, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve talked about this here before, but it is the strangest things that bring me back to a time and place, and often, a random time and place.  This week, it happened to me in an unusually strange place…Interstate 78 in New Jersey.

When Andrea and I first moved to Pennsylvania, we both still worked in New Jersey.  I worked in Warren, less than a mile off 78 and she worked in Oldwick, practically right on 78.  Although we started out taking separate cars to work, it soon became clear that we should drive in together, with me dropping her off before continuing on.  Especially as she got further into her pregnancy with Ben (Andrea was less than two months pregnant when we moved…a story for another time.)

We settled into the routine…getting up at what seemed an ungodly hour of the morning (previously, I would wake up about 45 minutes before I had to be at work), climbing into the car, grumble about how the only song the radio stations seemed to have in their catalog was Usher’s “Yeah!” and then get stuck in traffic for 45 minutes.  Andrea often fell asleep as I continued grumbling about the traffic and made sure to make a mental note of every idiot driver I encountered on the road (I was creating a composite sketch in my brain of what a jackass, in general, looks like.)  This went on through most of the winter and into the spring (Usher really must have had some dirt on every DJ on the east coast) until I got a job literally a mile from our house.

I hadn’t thought about it much since.

This past week, I had to go into New Jersey for a conference and make the commute during rush hour.  At one point on 78, a guy cut me off as he clearly was yelling at his kids in the back seat.  All of a sudden, I was back in my Saturn Sports Coupe with Andrea sitting in the passenger seat with black pants and a purple, floral print maternity shirt on.  Her baby-bump as clear as day as she dozed off.  I instantly recognized the man in the other car as the composite jackass in my brain that I had formed six years ago, but now, I understood this man (except for the minivan he was driving) and recognized how frustrating it can be to drive with kids in the car in traffic.  I felt for him.

However, that is sort of a tangent from the point here.  All those years ago, someone must have cut me off exactly as this guy did, maybe even had the same type minivan in the same general location on 78.  And the memories came pouring in…memories I hadn’t thought about in six-years (almost six-years to the day since we stopped commuting together.)  It made me nostalgic for those days when we were brimming with excitement and fear about the baby on it’s way.  I also felt a tug for those days when it was just Andrea and I.  I thought about how, when we got home from work, we would just crash on the couch for the rest of the night.  Sometimes we would (could might be the better word) just run out to a restaurant without planning it.  A few times, we would go to the local YMCA for a swim.

I started thinking about how far we had come.  We were scared to death in those days, but now we are confident parents (mostly).  I was driving a two door “sports” car with barely enough room for the two of us.  We rented our house back then.

Now, I am driving the first new car I’ve ever owned, a car that was chosen more for room than anything else.  The commute is interrupted by two stops to drop off the kids, although I can work from home sometime.  Nothing happens without a detailed plan of attack.  We own our house, which is almost twice as big as the house back then.  And, thanks to satellite radio and Pandora, I can’t tell you the last time I heard an Usher song.

I could go on for hours listing all the ways that mark just how far we have come in six years, but the point is that they were simpler times for us back then.  They were very sweet times.  Even though I absolutely hated that commute with every fiber of my being, I briefly considered not taking the new job back then because I knew I would miss the commute in with Andrea.  That time was almost an intimate time.  A time when we could talk about our past, the changes coming and the hopes we had (and, also, of course, our bulldog Edgar who made the commute with us one morning when I had to take him in to see his old vet for a follow-up after an operation.)  We would sit there and imagine what it would be like to live with this little baby.  The traffic, as much of a pain as it was, forced us to slow down our lives for two hours a day when we were steamrolling towards a big new adventure.

As I think of those days and then think of Benjamin and Matthew (and even though Ben was with us the whole time), my emotions shift.  When I think of those giggles and smiles,  suddenly, the memories of that morning commute seems lonely and even a touch sad.  When I think of that house we commuted from, I just see emptiness.  The memories of those days are sweet and while sometimes, for brief flashes, I wish for simpler times, I wouldn’t trade the chaos of our lives now for all the world.

It’s funny, as I was proofing this and trying to figure out how to wrap this up, Don Henley’s “Taking You Home” came on Pandora…some of the lyrics seem fittingly appropriate.

I had a good life
Before you came
I had my friends and my freedom
I had my name
Still there was sorrow and emptiness
'Til you made me glad
Oh, in this love I found strength I never knew I had

And this love
Is like nothing I have ever known
Take my hand, love
I'm taking you home
I'm taking you home

...

I'm taking you—home
Where we can be with the ones who really care
Home, where we can grow together
Keep you in my heart forever

Happy Donut Day

June 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve posted this in different places the last couple of years, so I thought I’d post it again, even though it doesn’t have much to do with being a daddy.  Although, I do seem to imply that I’d rather spend the day with a box of donuts rather than my children.  Hmmm…

There are two things in this world that I love above all else: Donuts and ice cream. Now, some of you might be surprised that I did not say something sappy like “my wife and kids” or something macho like “the New York Mets and New York Giants,” but I simply cannot deny who I am. I love donuts and ice cream. They are always appropriate and almost always available. When I am at work, I cannot be with my wife and kids, but I can be with a dozen doughnuts. I can’t watch football in the summer nor baseball in the winter (nor, for a couple of months, anything at all), but I can have ice cream any time I want . Besides, ice cream doesn’t disappoint me in September.

So, since Friday is National Donut Day (it’s the first Friday of June…make sure to mark June 1st for next year …I like something in a glaze and my size is a dozen…make that a baker’s dozen), I wanted to do something to honor the donut. At first, I thought about running a live blog, commemorating the events of the day, starting at midnight (“First donut of the day …a nice glazed French cruller. Light enough to not disturb your sleep and cause heartburn, but satisfying enough to compliment a tall glass of whole milk”), continuing into the first big decision of the day (“Okay, Dunkin Donuts’ is on the way to dropping the kids off at daycare, they have a drive through and I could use a real nice cup of coffee but on the other hand, I could swing by the Giant after I drop off the kids and really put in the time needed to pick out the perfect half dozen and maybe even stick my face into the case to really take in the fine sugary aroma.”), on to the next big decision (“While I am getting my lunch at Wawa’s, do I get one of the ‘fresh’ donuts or should I get a box of the Entenmann’s crumb donuts?”) and finally the dinner selection (“Beer is already heavy in yeast, as well as the pizza, so I will go with a chocolate glazed cake donut that will really bring out the hops in the beer”). However, I thought there would just be too much material to cover on Donut Day, and I do want to make sure I have a chance to enjoy it.

I thought about getting a few dozen donuts and handing them out to the various people I encounter during the day, but I am fairly certain that would have ended with me being too shy to hand them out to strangers and then ultimately having to go to a hospital to have my stomach pumped because I ate six dozen donuts by myself.  Throwing them out is an act of pure sacrilege…you must honor the spirit of the donut every day of the year, not just on this, the Holiest of days (ouch, yes, that pun even hurt me).

I thought about keeping the kids home with me and doing the traditional Donut Day festivities, like frying up our own, leaving flowers at the empty donut cases at the local gas station where they used to deliver Krispy Kremes every morning, and making a chain of donuts and hanging it around the tree in front of our house. You can make your own chain of donuts by cutting a donut ring, link it up with another donut and use a nice royal icing to close up the donut. You keep going until you have a donut for every year since the Salvation Army started Donut Day. This year, I would have to have made 74 links in my donut chain.

Sadly, I have to work today. I can’t afford any more vacation days in this economy.

So, I thought I would just write about donuts and offer some thoughts about them. For the record, donuts can be spelled either “Doughnut” or “Donut.” Archeological evidence seems to indicate that donuts can be traced back to ancient Native American tribes in the southwest. However, the donut as we know it, was introduced to the U.S. by the Dutch as “olykoeks” which translates to oily cakes.

My personal favorite brand of donuts is Giant, a grocery store here in Pennsylvania. These underrated donuts are freshly-made, soft and delicate, practically melting in your mouth. I am fairly certain that they are cooked, not in oil, but in the tears of laughter from angels that has been heated by the flames of the Olympic torch. The flour used in these noble creations must have been grown on the plains of Elysium and the sugar taken from the great banquet tables of Valhalla. They are not overly weighed down in sugar glaze like a Krispy Kreme and they aren’t as heavy as a Dunkin Donut. They are perfection. I must wipe a tear from my eye.

Don’t get me wrong …I love Dunkin Donuts, especially their apple donuts with the filling inside and toasted coconut on a sugary glaze on top. Their bow-tie donuts are fantastic…two donuts, interlocked to form a gooey, squishy knot in the middle. And, if you are in the mood for a great cup of coffee, really, nowhere else can top the combination DD offers (don’t even get me started on their Coolatta’s).

Although very good, I believe Krispy Kremes to be overrated. There, I said it…that feels good to have that off my chest…even though I am a stock holder (my four shares are worth $33.28 as of market close on Thursday …I wonder how many donuts that buys). These donuts are good, but I feel that the heavy glaze really insults the delicate little rings. A little less glaze or maybe just dusted in some cinnamon and sugar and I may have a new favorite.

A friend of mine reminded me this morning of Maple Donuts. This is a chain in the York, PA area. Some also had a little diner attached. It was a popular place to hang out in the middle of the night in college. They made national news during the OJ Simpson trial when the put up billboard with black backgrounds that said “Free OJ” in big white letters and “With the purchase of a donut” or something like that in very little letters. They also stirred up trouble when they offered “Powdered Pontiffs,” Pope- shaped donuts covered in confectioners’ sugar, when Pope John Paul II was visiting the U.S.  I was never a big fan of their donuts, but I have some fond college memories from there. Plus, how could you resist a donut with a sense of humor like that?

Speaking of York, the Giant grocery stores (I think) there had my favorite all-time donut. They took a normal chocolate glazed cake donut, sliced it in half and then put a light, fluffy icing in the middle…pure genius. These were a favorite at bake sales in college. I could never resist a table full of sorority girls, the field hockey team or the women’s tennis team offering up these wonderful little creations …There were times where I think I may have passed out once or twice in front of their table. Who am I kidding …I could not resist them when a fraternity, the rugby club or the male tennis team were selling them, either.

Earlier, I mentioned “fresh” donuts at Wawa’s. These are decent, but they are unreliable. They claim that they are made fresh daily, but sometimes, they just don’t seem that way. A few weeks back, I found out why. I went to our local Wawa’s around 10:00 PM and saw them delivering the “fresh” donuts. Yeah, they may be made fresh daily…but it looks like it was the day before. I have since boycotted Wawa’s donuts …Don’t mess with my donuts, Mr. Wawa! (I am a big fan of your coffee and bacon, egg and cheese biscuits, however, although it seems my local store has stopped making them).

If I am forced to buy a box of donuts off a shelf in a grocery store, then I would have to go with Entenmann’s crumb or chocolate donuts. For “not fresh” donuts, they are fantastic. When I was younger, my brother and I would cut my neighbor’s lawn or shovel her drive way for cash and a box of donuts (or some other cake or cookies…her husband worked for Entenmann). If I am honest with myself, at that age, I probably would have shoveled three feet of snow for just the box of donuts…what could be better than working that hard in the cold and heading back home to a nice warm fire with a box of donuts to go with the hot chocolate? These days, it would probably take two boxes of donuts and a cream filled French Crumb Cake, which are impossible to find in a supermarket.

I have made donuts at home several times, and have been mostly disappointed by them. And it usually takes eating about a dozen of them before I realize how disappointed I am with them. I have gotten the dough just right a few times, but I think there must be a trick in the oil you use. Mine never come out with that nice delicate “crust.” I still need to do my research.

I like to cycle (I need to work off the donuts, plus, I like to pretend the wheels of my bike are two giant glazed donuts) and every year, the local bike club, the Lehigh Valley Wheelmen, holds an event on Labor Day called “The Donut Derby.” It is a 36-mile ride with two rest stops. At the rest stops, there are donuts as far as the eye can see. For every donut you consume, three minutes are taken off your final riding time. The only rules are that the donuts need to be eaten at the rest stop and you are listed as “Did Not Finish” if you don’t keep the donuts down while riding. It is the perfect event, although I have had disappointing results. The first time, I was only able to do five donuts. The winner did 17. It took me a while before I could look my brothers in the eyes after that. They know my love of donuts, and they were so disappointed in me, as was I. The second time I did it, I ate a more respectable 10 donuts, finishing in the top 10 for donuts consumed. What’s more, my average speed was 18.5 MPH, by far my fasted ever for a distance of 35 miles or more, and that wasn’t even using the DAT (donut adjusted time). It was one of my most proud days.

So, yes, I love donuts, and I am not sure I could tell you why. I think it may be the variety you can get them in or the understated sweetness. I realize that I may have a problem, but I figure there are worse problems I could have. I do love donuts and I was happy to share my love of them with all of you. Happy National Donut Day! (Only three months to the Donut Derby and seven and a half months to Fasnacht Tuesday!)

And one last thought …Homer Simpson is my personal hero.

Checking In

June 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I can’t believe that in the last three weeks I have posted only three times.  That is definitely off my goal of posting three times a week and my average of twice a week that I had been at before May.  I don’t even really have a good reason except that time to write has escaped me and when the time has been there, I have just been too tired to write.  However, regardless of my energy level, being a father has rolled along and new memories have been created and plans for a wonderful Summer have been put into place.

In the last few weeks, Benjamin and I went with my brother and niece fishing for flounder, we had our first sleepover with one of Benjamin’s friends, we’ve begun truly exploring our neighborhood, Andrea has wrapped up school for the year and Matthew has continued to render anyone who has tried to discipline him, helpless with his cuteness.  Ben’s kindergarten graduation is next week, Matthew will be going to his first Mets game and two trips to the beach are on there way.  So, I have a lot to catch up on and a lot of material coming down the road which I will get to soon.

However, I just wanted to check in and write something.  Writing for the sake of writing?  Yeah, definitely…Sometimes it helps to get the mind clear.

As the last month has proven, it can be easy to get lost in the rhythm of life…to let it slip by without examining it and taking note.  But watching my boys grow up, learn and live has just been amazing.  Even when things are the most hectic at work or my mind gets clouded in stress, I’ll find myself thinking about the funny things they say or their sweet smiles or remembering their laughs, and my day gets instantly brightened.  It can be so tough raising kids at times…I’m not going to lie that it is always the dream.  However, within 20 minutes of being away from them, I start to miss them.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  I promise to try to post a few more in the coming week.