Saturday, December 31, 2005


It’s usually this time of year that people always make resolutions for the coming year. OK, I waited until the very last possible day. I’ve been busy. Sue me.

People always end up choosing things with good intentions, but it’s usually things they’re not likely to follow through on. More of a wish list -- except people don’t realize that with resolutions, YOU are the fairy god mother who needs to make the wishes come true.

For January and February, people will eat less (all the holiday goodies having been safely ingested before the resolution kicked in), work out more (it’s cold, what else is there to do?), watch less TV (until sweeps kicks in in February) and try to be nicer to their fellow human beings (it’s all that holiday goodwill carrying over). Come March, all bets are off.

What resolutions? Did I say that? Well I didn’t know they’d open a Cinnabon right next to my office. The gym was too full and I was too fat so I didn’t want all those people to see me in my workout clothes. The dog ate my homework. The sun was in my eyes.

Of course there are those with a very high opinion of themselves who don’t think they need resolutions. Resolutions? Not for me. I’m perfect just the way I am.

Oprah’s got a new thing this year where she tells her viewers to ask themselves "What have you done today to make you feel proud." MLB is an avid Oprah watcher so I’m usually up on what’s happening on the show. I think it’s a worthy effort to make people think more about others and less about themselves. Not a bad goal. We’ll always look out for ourselves but it’s less natural to be watching out for others.

Of course, after this intense period of natural catastrophes, I think many of us have done more (at least more than ever before) in 2005 to help others. How many people who never donated time, money, belongings, etc. to anything before, volunteered or donated to Tsunami Relief, Katrina Relief, the American Red Cross, etc. Sad that it takes such public and devastating suffering of others to wake the rest of us up. But at least it did. It would be sadder if we all just read about Katrina in the paper and then turned to the sports section without blinking an eye. I think overall, we reacted responsibly and admirably.

But back to resolutions. Resolutions are SUPPOSED to be about ourselves. It’s a time to conduct a personal inventory and determine what we need more or less of in our lives. What could we be doing better? It’s a time to be selfish. It’s all about you. If one of the things you think you could be doing more of is helping others, then that’s fine. But you choose that as a resolution because it’s something you think YOU should be doing.

Of course, I could say I’m making a resolution to be less selfish so in that case, I shouldn’t make any resolutions. We have a way of talking ourselves out of anything.

So without further ado, here are my own resolutions:

-- Spend more time with MLB and the kids.

-- Try to play when the kids ask me to play with them. Such requests are often met with a "later" or "tomorrow" response. Before long, they’ll stop asking and I’ll be the one begging them to play.

-- Make sure the people (family and friends) that I love and appreciate, know it. I’m going to try to call, email and get together more.

-- Keep up with my workout routine. For the first time in a decade, I feel fit and have lots of energy. It’s not easy to keep up but I really want to.

-- Write at least one, and hopefully two, more scripts

That’s all I can think of right now. It’s a good start.

Happy New Year to everyone who has stopped by to read this. I hope 2006 brings you everything you want.

Friday, December 30, 2005


Today’s Hanukah gift to the kids was tickets to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. We went tonight. The kids liked the fact that they opened envelopes with the tickets and we said “Go get dressed, we leave in an hour.”

At some point while Peanut was dressing, she asked me “What does spectacular mean?”. I told her that it meant fantastic, super special, big and flashy.

Well the show was all that. The Rockettes were impressive – just the amount of work it takes to get 36 women to move in unison like that. The stage is huge, the musical numbers expansive, the amount of movement and action overwhelming at times. Spectacular? Probably but I wanted to make sure.

I came home and looked the word up. It means “Of the nature of a spectacle; impressive or sensational.” OK, I guess it WAS spectacular. And while I thought it was fun to watch the kids enjoy the show and shout out things they found particularly engaging during the performance, I wasn’t sure it was something I’d ever need to do again. MLB felt the same way.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized how similar tonight’s experience is frequently to movie-going. I love movies. Popcorn “spectaculars” to quiet dramas to quirky independents. And even though I didn’t develop an appreciation for the “oldies” until after marrying MLB, I now count some of them among my favorites too.

However, there’s so much “spectacular” work being done these days but at the end of the day, they have very little resonance. Two vastly different films I saw recently illustrate the point.

I caught “Fantastic Four” on DVD last week and while I enjoyed the “spectacle”, I was sadly disappointed by the film. I loved FF as a kid. I always hoped that as effects got better and better, that they would make a film version worthy of release and admiration. Instead, I felt there was plenty of glitz, but no real heart. We’ve seen in the Spiderman and X-Men films that it’s possible to care about or relate to a character at the same time our jaws are dropping over their super powers. It can be done. It wasn’t here. I heard there’s a sequel in development so I’m hoping that maybe now that they’ve gotten the “origin” story out of the way, they can give our 4 more to engage a viewer than just more things to blow up. A textbook case of spectacular without substance.

On the other end of the spectrum, “Good Night and Good Luck” was not much of a spectacle. In fact, it wasn’t much of anything. On reflection, it probably would’ve made a decent magazine article.

A 2-hour movie? Not so much.
Black and white without much of a soundtrack? Even less so.

I found the story so thin and the pacing so plodding that at times I actually found myself nodding off. At least Fantastic Four had spectacle.

So where I’m netting out here is that spectacle can be pure, unadulterated fun. Like I said, I’m open to all kind of movies. I don’t need every one to deliver a message or change my life. Sometimes, you just want a fun ride. The Radio City thing falls in that category. FF probably does too.

But a person can’t live on spectacle alone. And if everything was only spectacle, we’d tire of films very quickly. We need more to stimulate us than a big explosion or 72 legs kicking in unison.

I happy the kids enjoyed tonight’s spectacular. But I also know that they’ve been engaged (in the way that makes them want to watch something over and over) by films that offer more than just spectacle.

Hopefully we as parents, and Hollywood as the supplier of such content, will provide more substantial “meals” that we can share with our kids to balance out the helpings of spectacle. We’ve always heard that everything in moderation is the way to happiness. Maybe the saying is right?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Buying A Ticket

An aged rabbi goes to temple and prays to God. “I’ve been your humble servant my entire life. Please let me win the lottery.” The next day, he comes back and says “God, I didn’t win. I gave my life to you. Please let me win the lottery.” He comes back again the next day and says “Lord, why? Why won’t you let me win the lottery?” There is a bolt of lightning and a white light. When the smoke clears, a booming voice says “Rabbi, meet me half way here. At least buy a ticket.”

I’ve bought a lottery ticket or two over the years (especially when that Mega Millions goes through the roof) and while I don’t have any expectation of divine intervention to help me win, I still buy it with the mindset that I’ve got just as much chance of winning as anyone else. Why can’t it be me this time?

Yes, ladies and gents. I’m an optimist.

Prepare for the worst but hope for the best. In the lottery example, clearly the odds are against me. But my point is that some people will look at those odds and never bother buying a ticket because, they’ll reason, they’ll never win. Clearly, like the rabbi, they WILL never win unless they take the chance.

I live my life by that principle. Try new things, take chances, swim upstream. While it may be hard work and the odds may be against success, there’s absolutely no chance of success by not even trying.

I’m not sure what makes someone an optimist. Genetics? I doubt it. When I accuse my mother of being a pessimist, she responds “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist. And in real life, everything goes wrong.” Clearly, Mom doesn’t play on the optimist team.

I think my Dad was more of a fatalist. He believed that everything happened for a reason. Didn’t get that job you were hoping for? That’s because there’s a better job out there that you’re meant to get. I’m not sure I buy that approach either because it presupposes that your future has already been decided. If that’s the case, no matter what you do, you can’t change your fate. I think you can.

To a certain extent, I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies. If you say you can’t than you can’t. If you say you can, and convince yourself of that fact, then sometimes you can will yourself to actually accomplishing what you set out to do.

Maybe I missed my calling as a high school football coach? Or a motivational speaker? In either case, I’m sure I would’ve been good at it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Half Full

2005 came in like a lion, kicking our asses starting on New Year’s Day.

It was the year for things to break, plans to be foiled, loved ones to be lost, and promises to remain unfulfilled. If there was a chance for something to go our way or not, in 2005, the smart money was against us. Being the optimist I am, I kept betting on us.

So here I am at the end of December and the year is still kicking my ass. We undertook a major deal at work that someone in their infinite wisdom determined must be closed by year end.

You don’t need to ask if it has closed yet, do you?

The project started off interesting. I worked with people I didn’t usually interface with, dealt with new subject matters and had an opportunity to raise my profile within the company. Not bad things. But it’s December 28th for God’s sake.

Everyone else has gone away for the holidays. Skiing, the Caribbean, Europe. Some even further. On Tuesday, January 3rd, they’ll all return to work relaxed, rested and ready to take on 2006.

Me? Not so much.

I took last week off for vacation (it was my year to mind the fort between Christmas and New Years so I planned for the week before Christmas). I have 17 vacation days left and they only let you carry over 10. When I planned to take the week, I figured that the deal would HAVE to be done by December 19th. Shoulda known better.

Instead, I was called, emailed, faxed, conferenced, messengered, carrier pigeoned and smoke signaled. Any way they could, they reached me. Let’s just say that when I went in to talk to my boss about vacation time, she told me without asking that she made arrangements with HR to have them carry over all 17 of my days since I worked every single day of my vacation. Hmmm, 17 extra days of vacation. 2006 is starting to look better already.

Speaking of looking better, being the glass half full guy that I am (and needing something positive to keep me going until this deal closes), I figured I would try to find some good things about 2005. Here goes:

- My family is happy and healthy
- I’m more than gainfully employed in a stimulating job
- We have made some new friends
- Monkey Boy learned to ride his bike, play the piano, shoot a basketball
- Peanut is learning to swim, to dance and to read
- I’ve lost weight and kept it off
- MLB has gotten more involved with PTA work and she’s enjoying it
- We took some nice vacations, long weekends and day trips
- Although certain things broke, the repairs we were “forced” to make make the house look better and or more comfortable to live in
- While some doors closed, others opened
- Our expectations were lowered so much by 2005 that I just know 2006 is gonna rock – even if it is helped along by comparison.

With all that to be thankful for, I’ll quit bitching about 2005.

I’ll stop being a baby, shut up and finish my damn deal. And when I’m all done?

I’m gonna quench my thirst with this here half glass of water.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Power Of Yes

Last night for Hanukah, we gave the kids books. In past years, we’ve given solely books, figuring that they get so many toys for Christmas, books are an easy thing to buy 8 of, and it freshens up the old bookshelves in just over a week.

Besides, after our first night of the donations (described in my “Best Laid Plans” blog), MLB and I needed a safe evening.

Tonight however, we decided to walk on the wild side again. Thanks to MLB’s creative gift-giving prowess (see “Mary Christmas” blog), she came up with an idea that cost us nothing (except patience) and the kids had a ball.

After lighting the candles and blessing them, we handed each kid an envelope. Of course Monkey Boy’s first reaction was “Are you making us give away money again?”

After assuring him we weren’t (to which he responded he would be OK with adopting more manatees – I think he secretly still aspires to having his name engraved in a plaque on Floyd’s tank), he opened his envelope to reveal Mom and Dad Coupons.

It was a booklet of 5 homemade coupons – 2 redeemable for an extra dessert, 2 redeemable for an extra bedtime story, and 1 redeemable for an extra 15 minutes of television. Monkey Boy read them aloud for Peanut who wasn’t sure she understood the concept.

Since we had just finished dinner and dessert, Monkey immediately ripped out a coupon for extra dessert and helped himself to an extra piece of cake. Clearly, HE understood the concept.

Peanut thought about redeeming one of hers for an extra slice of pumpkin pie (monkey see, monkey do – she’ll usually do what her brother does). But she was really quite full from dinner and the slice she already ate so we talked her out of it.

We hung out for a while after dinner. I played Digimon Rumble on the GameCube with Monkey Boy while MLB played Barbie Fashion Show with Peanut on the computer. Two Christmas presents the kids were dying to play with.

After play time, Peanut was digested enough to start thinking about pumpkin pie again. She forked over one of her dessert coupons and indulged. If Peanut was not getting the concept initially, she was now with the program.

When we herded the kids to bed, instead of protesting and beginning their usual stall tactics, Monkey and Peanut both whipped out their 15 minute TV coupons. They were feeling the power.

After 15 minutes of tube time, we finally got them into bed. Just as I tuck Monkey Boy in, he holds one finger in the air.

“May I get out of bed for a minute?” he asks.

While I was ready for bed myself, I knew what was coming. And he knew I couldn’t say no.

I nodded and he leapt from his bed to his desk where his coupon book lay. He forked over one of his book coupons and away we went into a bedtime story. In the other room, I heard MLB laugh as Peanut pulled the same routine.

After our books, as I tucked Monkey into bed once more, he said “I love these coupons. You guys have to do what the coupon says!”

I’m not sure what lesson was taught tonight. I’m not sure there was one.

One thing’s for sure, now that they’ve had a taste of the power these coupons give them, I’m thinking we go for TWO nights of coupons next year.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Best Laid Plans

So back in my blog entry entitled “More or Less”, I explained how we were going to experiment with the kids this year and try to have them make a donation somewhere instead of receiving a gift themselves.

Last night was Christmas and the first night of Hanukah. Given that they woke up to a living room stacked with more gifts than “Toys For Tots” collects for the season, we decided that anything we’d give them for Hanukah last night would just become “one more” so we laid our donation plan on them.

After lighting the candles and saying the blessing, we explained how this would work. We gave each kid $25 in cash. Then MLB presented printouts from various charitable donation sites she found that she thought might spark the gift-giving desires within our kids.

There was a site where you could donate money toward educational toys for underprivileged villages in underdeveloped countries. Another where you could donate musical instruments to schools in similar underdeveloped countries. Another would let you buy a family a cow so it (the family) could use it (the cow) for farming and for milking. Still another offered the same gig but let you choose other sorts of livestock and farming/breeding animals.

The one that sparked Monkey Boy’s imagination was an “Adopt-A-Manatee” site ( He’s a nature and animal lover and all it took was one photo of these gentle, beautiful giants to make him thrust his $25 cash back across the table at us. It was a beautiful moment.

After a little hesitation, Peanut went for the Musical Instruments. She returned her cash and we were cooking with gas.

This morning, Monkey Boy reiterated over breakfast how cool he thought that it was that he was going to adopt a manatee. He wanted to know if he could pick his manatee? Where did it live? Could we visit it? Etc.

So MLB took Monkey upstairs and they went online to try to make his donation and find out more.

Sure enough, they gave lots of photos of manatees and you were able to pick the one you adopted. Monkey picked a big guy named Floyd. Next, he learned that for his $25, he not only would help feed and maintain Floyd, but he’d also get:

-- A photo of his manatee
-- The manatee's biography
-- An adoption certificate
-- A membership handbook
-- Four newsletters throughout the year with updated reports on his adoptee

About this moment, MLB and I exchange a look wondering just how much of this $25 is actually going to find its way to Floyd. He’s a damn big animal. I’m sure he could eat at least $25 of fish and vegetables per day. Nevertheless, in for a penny, in for a pound. So we pushed on.

But then this donation thing took a turn we weren’t expecting.

All of a sudden, Peanut asks: "If Monkey Boy gets all that stuff, what do I get for my donation?" Not a bad question given the context.

After checking out the Musical Instruments site and finding all you get is a receipt for your taxes, we explained that the whole idea wasn’t to GET something for the donation. It was supposed to be about doing something for someone or something else and not yourself. It was to drive home the idea that there were other people and things in the world less fortunate than we were and it’s a good idea, during this time of year when we’re getting so much, to remember these other people and do something, however small, to make the world better for others.

Peanut nodded. I think we almost had her convinced.

That is, until Monkey Boy asked if they were going to engrave his name on a plaque on the tank where Floyd lives.

We explained to Monkey that you’d have to give much more than $25 for them to do something like that. He accepted this answer.

But Peanut decided to drop her plan to donate musical instruments and adopted a manatee named Lily instead.

Just in case.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy Festivus!

Today was quite festive in our house. Christmas and the first night of Hanukah on the same night. How often does that happen?

Since I'm serious suffering from food coma, I thought I might just share a few images of the day.

First up are the menorahs on the traditional Christmas table cloth.

Next is our prized collection of "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" ornaments. These haven't made it onto the tree because the kids have too much fun playing with them.

We're one of those couples who buy ornaments wherever we travel so our tree becomes a travelogue for us.

Our tree fell over earlier this year and we lost some of our dearest, most treasured ornaments.

Of the ones that survived, this is one of my favs since it reminds me of the trip MLB and I took to the Grand Canyon before the kids. We rode the mules down to the bottom of the Canyon and stayed at the Phantom Ranch. I don't think they do the mules these days so we're glad we got to do it when we did.

This chile pepper star is from our trip to San Diego a few years back. A really fun trip and a wonderful city to visit. We were wandering the shops in Old Town one night and spied this ornament. It captured the flavor (pun intended) for us.

Last but not least, here's our happy family in front of the tree.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah to all!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Mary Christmas

As I mentioned in previous posts, today is MLB’s birthday. Yes, that’s right. Christmas Eve.

“That sucks!”

“What a gyp?!”

Those are usually the kind of responses MLB gets when she tells people when her birthday is.

Most people reason that when your birthday is on the eve of the biggest gift-giving day of the year, odds are people will just give you a COMBO gift – “It’s a Birthday/Christmas present.” So when everyone else collects two gifts for the two occasions, the birthday girl only gets one.

That might be the case in some families, but not in MLB’s. They’ve always been very strict about NOT combining the two holidays. In fact, the 24th is EXCLUSIVELY MLB’s birthday until evening when they go to Christmas Eve mass. Cards and presents are given, Happy Birthday is sung, cake is eaten. It’s just like her birthday is on some random day.

But what I’ve come to learn over time is that MLB IS Christmas Eve. She so takes the season and the holiday to heart that I jokingly call her “Mary Christmas” this time of year. From ornaments, to wrap, to cards, to trees, to baking. This holiday is so much a part of who she is, I’d swear she was a long lost elf if not for the fact that she’s 5 foot 9.

While she may not have a little North Pole workshop for making gifts, she does have an extraordinary knack for finding the perfect gift for each person.

Some people sweat this time of year mercilessly. What do I get for my mother? What do I get for the kids? What do I get for the person who has everything? It’s torture for them. They dread it.

Not so for MLB. She’s so incredibly gifted (pun intended) at gift-giving, I keep telling her that she should write a book on the subject. I’ve seen “gift suggestion” books in the Barnes & Noble but none of them offer the creativity that comes so naturally to MLB.

Here’s just an example: I’m a huge movie buff. One year for Hanukah, MLB got me eight t-shirts from different film festivals around the world. She planned this for a year, calling each festival around the time it occurred and ordering over the phone. Sundance, Berlin, Hamptons, Nantucket. To get the Cannes Film Festival shirt, she tracked down by phone some guy in a tent on a beach in France. Only problem, he didn’t take credit cards. After explaining this project she was working on for me, she convinced this guy to ship her the t-shirt from France with an invoice and she would (and did) later send him payment.

She knows better than anyone the pleasure of catching someone by surprise with a gift. It’s exactly what they wanted even though they didn’t consciously know they wanted it. If there isn’t a little Santa’s magic at work there, I don’t know what it is.

In any case, because MLB is this way, we all try just a little harder to come up with something special for her when this time of year rolls around.

Happy Birthday, MLB. Hope you liked your birthday present AND what Santa leaves for you by the tree.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Good Person

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He would’ve been 72. Dad’s been gone almost 16 years already. Cancer.

So on this day, I thought it appropriate to remember him here. There are lots of great, funny stories I can tell. We laughed a lot together.

Looking back, I think I classify my relationship with my Dad in three phases.
First was purely as THE TEACHER. This period ran from birth until I was 14. Dad was a teacher and he taught me lots of things throughout my life. While lots of life lessons were taught, I also fondly recall him teaching me to ride my bike, to play tennis, and to play the basketball game HORSE out on the driveway.

Second stage was as ONE OF THE GUYS. I have two brothers, one older, one younger. During the summer of 1980, the four “men” of the family traveled cross country and back by car for 7 weeks. Mom’s job only let her take 2 weeks of vacation so she flew out and met us mid-trip for that period. During that trip, a father and his 3 pubescent boys became FRIENDS. I’m not saying we didn’t have a good relationship with him during THE TEACHER years, it’s just that we had never spent 24/7 with each other for that long ever before (or ever since). It was an adventure – and rather than feeling he needed to “mature” us during that trip, Dad allowed himself (and us) to just be guys. There were baseball games, whitewater rafting trips and fart jokes. We talked, sang, argued and laughed. It was an amazing time and it changed our relationship with my Dad forever.

The third stage was as a PEER. Unfortunately, just as we were getting started with this stage, Dad’s illness went into overdrive. I graduated college and for the first time in my life, had a full time job, responsibilities. My conversations with Dad were changing. We were exploring and feeling out the new phase of our relationship as two adults. We talked about life, about the future (mostly mine). It was an exciting time for me and this new phase promised to be very rich. Dad’s death unfortunately cut this phase short and I often wonder today if he were still around how he would react to things, situations and people in my life.

While I’ve always enjoyed writing, which was encouraged by both my parents since I was little, I attribute Dad with turning me on to reading more mature books. While I read lots as a younger kid, I wasn’t reading many non-school mandated books as a young adult. Dad was a voracious reader. He had a book with him wherever he went. In the evenings when he was home, we’d often find him in the living room sipping a scotch and pouring through his latest novel. Dad even took a year’s sabbatical from teaching to try his hand at writing a novel.

When I was in 7th grade I think, Dad handed me “The Dead Zone” by Stephen King.

“Read it”, he said, “I think you’ll like it.”

Dubious, I took it anyway and gave it a shot. It changed what I thought about books. To this day I’ve read virtually everything King has written. I found lots of other favorite authors along the way as well.

When Dad died, we found he had been in the middle of Stephen King’s “The Dark Half”. The bookmark was still in the book. I took that one and read it but always left the bookmark in Dad’s spot. It wasn’t until years later during one of my many moves that I realized the bookmark must’ve fallen out. While not all of King’s novels are great, I still read them all. For me and Dad.

So I hope that anyone out there reading will join me in wishing Dad a happy birthday today. I know he knows we’re thinking of him.

Dad was truly a good person. That’s why we had those words inscribed on his headstone.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bob The Builder

I’ve never been a Bob. Always Rob, Robert (when Mom gets mad at me) or Robbie (from those who knew me as a kid). Maybe that’s why I don’t share Bob’s famous building skills.

Admission #173 – I’m not handy.

There, I said it. I’m just not. On most things, MLB is way handier than I am.

Of course, she’ll read this and say “That’s not true, dear. You’re handy.” I love her for saying stuff like that to bolster my wounded male ego but I know it’s not true. I think she also says it because if she doesn’t, I’ll quit trying.

It’s a few days before Christmas. Why the rant about handiness?

As I type, I have two bloody fingers wrapped in bandaids, a big splinter in my left palm and a gash in my right wrist that I didn’t even notice until 5 minutes ago.

How’d I get the injuries? Putting an addition on the house? Building a sleigh for Santa? Nope. I mounted some framed pictures on the wall and hung some pre-fab shelves from IKEA.

Lame, I know.

My Big Brother is handy. He’s so handy he gets tagged hanging all the stuff my Mom ever wants hung in her house. (Hey, maybe there’s some upside to this non-handiness.)

My Brother-in-Law is Mr. Handy. He’s a contractor and has a work truck loaded with more tools than the local Sears. Whenever I get in a jam (usually at 10pm on a Sunday night), I call him to talk me through shutting off the gas line or doing something else to save the family from Rob-inflicted peril.

I have no excuse. So I’ll blame my parents.

My Dad wasn’t especially handy. At least not that I recall. He was pretty good with car maintenance (another gene passed along only to Big Bro). But overall, handiness wasn’t a trait prized, valued, nurtured in my family. Maybe it’s the Jewish thing again but school and studying were the major priorities in our house (both my folks were teachers at some point in their careers).

Biology? Get to work.

Metal shop? Must you?

I think the theory was always that if you study really hard and become successful, you’ll always have the dough to PAY someone to do the things you can’t do yourself. I frequently tell MLB that I’d rather pay someone to DO a house project rather than paying them to DO IT OVER after I’ve tried and failed.

There’s always the odd chance that I’ll get it right and we’ll save both time and money.

But really, let’s be honest. How frequently does that happen?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


If you ever find yourself in the New York area during the holiday season, you must (MUST I SAY) check out the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show.

Trains, you say? Yes, I say.

I'm not train buff or fan myself but trains are just a way to get people to the Botanical Gardens. The show is a spectacular display of New York City landmarks created ENTIRELY from plant materials.

The Statue of Liberty with her gown made of corn husks.

The majestic Brooklyn Bridge made of branches, vines and twigs.

When you look at these lovely recreations and actually SEE what you're looking at (acorns, flowers, orange slices) you'll see it really is a creative masterpiece.

I led Monkey Boy's Cub Scout Pack through a tour there last Sunday and even 7 year olds found it cool.

If you get a chance to see it, don't miss it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Not A Day Over

[Experiencing technical problems]

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Star is Born

Last night was Monkey Boy's first piano recital.

When you've only been taking lessons for four months, "recital" is a bit of an overstatement. Monkey Boy's performance was to consist of that modern classic masterpiece "Cuckoo" -- sixty seconds of harmonious bliss. It also holds the distinction of being the first piece Monkey Boy learned where his left hand is doing something different than his right hand.

Not so easy.

And while Monkey practiced dutifully with MLB every night after dinner for weeks, he always stumbled at this one part.

Over and over.
Once more from the top.
Now just the left hand.
Then just the right hand.
Now together.

We were all hearing Cuckoo in our sleep leading up to the big day.

Saturday was a rehearsal at the church where the recital was to be held. In the car on the way over there, Monkey Boy (who was nursing a 102 degree fever) was psyched. Even if his body was under duress, he assured me he was ready, able and mentally prepared for the challenge before him.

But when we got into the room, all of his confidence turned to nervous energy. Other kids and parents started to arrive and Monkey Boy realized we weren't in the living room any more, Toto.

Being one of the youngest and newest students, Monkey Boy was called up to play first. He nervously sat. Then he was asked to stand again and bow the way the teacher had just told them all.

Finally, he sat back down and began to play --


He started with his hands in the wrong position so what came out was just plain wrong. He and everyone else in the room knew it. (Did I mention the poor kid had a fever?)

The teacher stopped him from playing, helped his hands find the right starting notes, and he began again. At this point his confidence was shot. He played tentatively, softly, and darn it -- got stuck in that same rough spot he always gets stuck on.

It was not a stellar moment.

In the car going home, I reminded him this was his first recital, he had a fever, the sun was in his eyes, etc.

Cut to the next day.

We made him take a nice long nap in the afternoon. For those of you who aren't familiar, 7 year old boys don't nap, so the fact that he willingly took a nap should give you an idea of how crummy he was feeling.

After his nap, we fed him dinner, he took a nice hot shower, put on his "fancy" clothes including a nifty gray clip-on tie. He looked like a million bucks.

In the car over there, we reminded him how hard he worked and we told him how proud we were that he had come this far. He was quiet, pensive.

We go into the church and some violinists were warming up (this teacher has both piano and violin students perform at this recital together). Monkey Boy and Peanut sat and watched quietly. The room began to fill.

Finally, the teacher welcomed everyone and announce the first performer. A young boy who wasn't at rehearsal the day before. Suddenly Monkey Boy looked at me with a panicked expression. "I have to pee!"

I grabbed his hand and led him to the back of the church. We saw a young boy (older than Monkey) standing in the hall outside a "single serve" bathroom.

"Is this the only bathroom?" I ask.
"I think so" says the other boy.

From inside the hall, we hear the first performer begin to play. Monkey Boy's stress is visible on his face.

A woman comes out of the restroom. I explain to the older boy that Monkey Boy will "go on" before him and ask if Monkey can use the john first. The older boy senses Monkey's tension and agrees.

Monkey Boy does his business, washes his hands. He comes out and smiles at me.

Cue the Rocky music.

He grabs my hand and I lead him back into the auditorium. No sooner do we sit down than the teacher calls his name as the next peformer.

He rushes up to the piano and sits down. Just like the day before, the teacher makes him get back up and take a bow. He does and sits again. The teacher tells the room that Monkey will play that modern classic masterpiece "Cuckoo". Then he turns to Monkey Boy and nods for him to begin.

Monkey Boy does -- and plays every freakin' note PERFECTLY!

It was smooth, clear, forceful. Sixty seconds of absolute bliss.

When the piece was over MLB and I restarted breathing. Monkey Boy stood, smiled radiantly, bowed once more and took his seat again. Peanut gave him a huge hug and a kiss. As did we.

His feet didn't touch the ground the rest of the evening.

As we're leaving the church later, he tells us he wasn't even afraid. He pretended he was playing for us in the living room.

And now that he had done this, he was thinking that maybe he would try out for a play at school.

Oh yes, my friends. Yesterday, a star was born.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Shoes for Boys

As a general matter, I dislike shoes.

We don’t wear shoes in the house. Whenever I’m home, I’m either barefoot or have a pair of slippers on (mainly in the winter when the floors get chilly).

Shoe buying is the most boring kind of shopping I know, and it usually involves pain. With the exception of slippers, most shoes I ever recall buying hurt when first purchased. After several wearings and bandaided heals, toes, whatever, usually you can break them in (although I’ve often wondered if they’re really actually breaking in your foot rather than the other way around) so you’re at the point of tolerance.

When I was a kid, I distinctly remember my entire footwear inventory being comprised of the following:

1) Black shoes (for times when I needed to be dressy, e.g., parties, temple, weddings, bar mitzvahs)

2) Sneakers (for anything and everything else)

So simple.

OK, you can probably add to that the seasonal pair of soccer cleats and snow boots. But honesty, that was it.

When I reached into my closet for some footwear yesterday, I was momentarily struck by how much this had changed. I now have:

“Boat” sneakers (thinner and more lightweight, used mainly for biking in the morning)
Black casual shoes (older and newer)
Brown casual shoes (older and newer)
Brown loafer-types
Black “dress” shoes (2 pair)
“Water” shoes (that stretchy black material)
“Walking” shoes (LL Bean or something)

How did this happen? When did this happen?

When I went downstairs, I found more!

Brown hiking boots
“Duck” shoes (for the really wet weather)
Timberland “work” boots
Old sneakers (for gardening, lawn work)

Again I wonder, how did this happen? Who let all these shoes into the house?

As I ponder this, my guess is that the Invasion of the Shoes (SAVE YOURSELF) was probably led by a search for more comfort.

And I must admit that with the advance of “business casual” in recent years, the shoe world (within the larger, global World Of Rob) has gotten a bit better for men. In honesty and fairness, I must give a shout out to Skechers for making some of the most comfortable “business casual” mens’ shoes I’ve ever worn. Dare I say it? Many of their shoes are actually comfortable from the first moment you try them on.

So if you come by the house and we ask you to take off your shoes when you come in, I hope you’ll understand that the request, as Dr. Freud would likely tell you, is a manifestation of my deep-seeded resentment of shoes.

Oh, and we also prefer to keep the floors clean.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Quiet Time

Hold on for a sec.
Could someone please answer the phone?
I can’t now, I’m late for a meeting.
I’ll get that to you this afternoon.
Who’s supposed to be answering my phone?
Sorry, what was that?
Tuesday’s no good, how’s Thursday?
Take a message.
You need it by close of business???


Do you ever feel like there’s too much life in your life? I like my job and my life in general. There are just times when it starts to overwhelm me.

But you know what I’ve found helps keep me sane these days?

The Quiet Time.

Every morning (at least Monday through Friday), my alarm goes off at 5:30am. I leap out of bed to silence it. MLB usually rolls over and slides right back into REM sleep.

I grab my sneaks and tip-toe downstairs into the den to ride my exercise bike. It’s a brutal routine at times. But do you have any idea how quiet it is at 5:30 in the morning?

As I sit on the sofa lacing my sneakers, I frequently stop just to listen.

Rain falling this morning.
The furnace just kicked on.
I can even make out the swollen stream next to the house rushing by.

And that’s it.

No birds this time of year but I don’t mind them when they’re around. I consider them part of the quiet.

When I hop on my bike, I usually click on the TV. It helps distract me from my task. But when the riding’s over and I get on the floor to stretch, I shut it off again.

And the Quiet Time resumes.

After the exercise, my heavier breathing adds sound to the room. So does my thumping heartbeat.

Another hour or so and I’m back to the cacophony of the city. But that’s cool. My next Quiet Time is just 20 hours away.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Good Riddance

An end of the year meme I got from a friend. Some of my answers surprised even me.

1. What did you do in 2005 that you'd never done before? We visited Oregon, my first time in the Pacific Northwest. We went camping with our kids.

2. Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year? For the first time in forever, I actually did. I lost 25 pounds and have kept it off for 6 months so far. I’ve already made some new ones.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Two of my sisters-in-law's siblings had their first children.

4. Did anyone close to you die? Unfortunately, yes. MLB lost her father in May. I lost my grandmother in February.

5. What countries did you visit? I didn't visit any other countries this year.

6. What would you like to have in 2006 which you lacked in 2005? A shower that doesn’t leak. More organization in my life. More “down” time to the extent such a thing still exists.

7. What date from 2005 will remain etched in your memory, and why? May 3rd. It’s the date on which MLB lost her father. In addition to helping her through her grief, we had to tell the kids their grandfather was gone.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Finishing rewrites on my optioned script so I can finally move on to something else.

9. What was your biggest failure? Not doing some essential repairs/organization at home.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? I remained fairly healthy this year (knock wood), except for a few bad colds.

11. What was the best thing you bought? A new bed. It’s amazing how much better we’re sleeping ever since.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? MLB, my kids, my manager, Hurricane Katrina relief workers.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Our government. Our President. My town Supervisor. The people and corporations that used Hurricane Katrina for crime, mischief and/or financial gain.

14. Where did most of your money go? I wish I knew. My guess is taxes, the mortgage, car payments, etc. – general living expenses.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? My script was getting read by agents for some A-list stars and directors. Monkey Boy learned to ride his bike. Peanut started reading. Going to Disney World last February.

16. What song will always remind you of 2005? Everything from Rob Thomas’ Something To Be album.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: Happier or sadder? Thinner or fatter? Richer or poorer? I'm happier because 2005 is over. 2005 was really rough personally and professionally. I’m hopeful for better things in 2006. I’m significantly thinner (shed 25 pounds this year) and feeling more energetic and healthier because I’m working out 5 days a week. I guess richer than last year even though we were hit with a number of significant house expenses this year.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of? Writing. Rewrites on my optioned script were so draining that 2005 is the first year in the past 4 that I didn’t complete a new script. Spending time with MLB and the kids. I fortunately get to spend a good amount of quality time with them but it’s like crack to me. I always want more.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of? Losing my patience. It kills me when I yell at the kids for doing what kids do.

20. How will you be spending Christmas? At my house with MLB, the kids, my Mom and MLB’s Mom and brother. It will be small but magical. Monkey Boy just learned the “secret” of Santa this year but a big part of him still wants to believe. Peanut is completely and blissfully innocent when it comes to Santa. They’re counting down the days.

21. Did you fall in love in 2005? I fall in love with MLB every year. I know it sounds SO corny but I swear on my life it’s true.

22. What was your favorite TV program? Lost and The West Wing. Great writing, great characters. Definitely appointment TV.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year? No, I still hate everyone equally. Just kidding. I don’t think I can say I “hate” anyone.

24. What was the best book you read? State of Fear by Michael Crichton. I only got to read a handful of books this year (assuming you’re talking about the hand of someone on the bomb squad) but this was the best. It wasn’t my favorite of Crichton’s books but you’ve got to give the guy credit for the work he puts into his books. Whether you agree with his theories or not, they never fail to make you think.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery? The Garden State soundtrack.

26. What did you want and get? I wanted to take some fun vacations and I did. Even a weekend away feels like a vacation sometimes.

27. What did you want and not get? A break. Lots of things seemed to break, wear out, get lost, not work out this year. From one thing on New Year’s Day to the next and the next and the next. It was a year of dealing with problem after problem (and some are still not done being dealt with).

28. What was your favorite film of this year? Wedding Crashers was pure unadulterated fun. Revenge of the Sith was a very satisfying ending to the Star Wars saga. I loved watching my kids watch (and later quote) Madagascar. I also think Brokeback Mountain was exceptionally well done.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old did you turn? I turned 39, but at the moment can’t really recall what I did.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? To have my screenplay set up somewhere. Maybe in 2006.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2005? Comfortable. Sweaters, turtlenecks, khakis, jeans and button down shirts.

32. What kept you sane? MLB. She is my rock. And the kids too – they always help me keep things in perspective.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Can’t say I really fancied anyone this year. MLB is a huge Oprah fan and I do admire the things Oprah has done to help others.

34. What political issue stirred you the most? The war in Iraq. I still can’t figure out what the plan is (assuming there even is one). Also, the bungled handling of Katrina victims. What a mess.

35. Whom did you miss? My dad. He’s been gone 15 years but I think of him often when I’m with my kids, knowing how much he would eat them up if he had lived long enough to see them.

36. Who was the best new person you met? The new head of my department on the corporate level. He’s smart, tough but also a very decent human being. Most people lose the “decent” when they get to his level.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005: Always do your best. It never fails to surprise and impress others. Even if it doesn’t bring external rewards, the internal rewards pay dividends.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Big Foot, Loch Ness and the Holocaust

In a speech yesterday, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (nice name) made oodles of new friends when he called the Holocaust a “myth”. That follows his statement in October that Israel should be “wiped off the map”. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing Mahmoud (mind if I call you Mahmoud?) won’t celebrate Hanukah later this month.

In the same breath, this guy asked please, pretty please, won’t the United Nations let us build weapons-grade nuclear material? We won’t use it for actual weapons. We just want to power atomic reactors to make electricity so we can watch Dick Clark drop the bomb, er, ball on Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Actually, considering this guy also said about the West “we hate your hollow civilization” I’m thinking he’s probably gonna skip Rockin’ New Year’s Eve this year (unless, of course, they have Kelly Clarkson on the show. That girl has spunk!)

In one of the few instances of the Dubya administration saying something I agree with, the White House issued a statement saying that Iran developing nuclear weapons is probably a bad idea. Germany, one of three EU countries which have been leading U.S.-backed nuclear talks to reign in Iran’s proposed nuclear program, called Mahmoud’s statements "shocking and unacceptable."

While some Iranians have expressed the view that Mahmoud might want to take it easy on the “myth” rhetoric and “wiping countries off the map” business given what just happened to their neighbors in Iraq, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, stood by his homeboy Mahmoud and called for Palestinian militants to step up their fight to drive Israelis out of Jerusalem. Anyone for a nice peaceful game of dreidel? Anyone?

Just when there was hope that things might settle down in the Middle East, this knucklehead starts mouthing off. I can’t help but feel that when you’ve got a president of a country intentionally making outrageous and inflammatory comments, it’s not going to resolve itself with egg nog and caroling at the Ayatollah’s house on Christmas Eve.

Before you know it, “weapons of mass destruction” will become the most searched term on Google again and Dubya will use it as a way to get his brother into the White House in 2008.

Nothing good will come of this. I know the Holocaust is no myth, but maybe peace and stability in the Middle East is.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Better Late Than Never

Oh, hi. Sorry, I’m late.

That’s getting to be a bit of a habit for me lately. My whole life I’ve been punctual. If I were meeting you somewhere, I’d be the guy who’d show up 5 minutes early just so I wouldn’t keep you waiting. In school, I’d be the one to get to class early. Get a good seat, catch my breath, gab with my friends, read a magazine. It was a pretty good system.

In the case of meeting someone, I always viewed it as being respectful of the other person. Why should you have to wait for me? If we agree on a time, we’re both adults. We should do what we need to do to be there at the designated time. No sweat, right?

It would piss me off when certain friends were habitually late. Sure, things happen. But when it is a recurring pattern throughout our lives, it’s clear that either (a) you don’t have your act together, or (b) you think your time is more important than mine. To this day, I know that when I’ve arranged to meet certain people at 1:00, I don’t have to bother showing up until 1:10 and even then, I’ll wait for 5 minutes.

Much to my chagrin, somehow over these past few years, it’s been harder and harder for me to get places on time.

The kids are part of it. Inevitably, someone needs to go to the bathroom one more time, drops a glove somewhere, needs help tying a shoe or putting a seatbelt on. After realizing we were constantly rushing the kids out of the house, stressing them and us out, MLB and I decided to try to be proactive about this. We usually factor in an extra 15 minutes whenever we need to leave to get somewhere to allow for these kinds of delays. You’d think that would suffice.

It doesn’t.

And while I think the kids are part of it, I can’t really blame them when I’m by myself and I’m late. There’s always one more thing to do. One more call to make. One more email to send.

As I consider this, I think it’s probably because I try to cram 65-70 minutes into every hour. It’s kind of like convincing yourself that if you fold a map over on itself, you’ll get to your destination sooner. It’s a nice idea but doesn’t really work.

It’s a little disease I have called the inability to say “no”. (More on that another time.) Suffice to say that like many people these days, I’m so overcommitted that things will need to slide from time to time, until there’s a 25th (or 26th or 30th would be really nice) hour added to each day.

So if I’m meeting you, I promise to try not to be late. If I am, please don’t take it as disrespect. Consider it the opposite. I’m letting something else slide while I come meet you.

And I promise not to hold it against you if you show up at 1:15.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


The weather is starting to creep me out.

Years ago we heard all those warnings about global warming. Did it get any warmer? Not that I could tell.

But this past year has been pretty freaky. From devastating tsunamis, to powerful and extended hurricanes to wacky tornado patterns. Not that there are many GOOD tsunamis, hurricanes or tornados. It’s just that they’ve been SO bad this year.

We had two solid weeks of rain in late July. My toes were starting to web.

It was over 70 degrees a few weeks ago in New York. It’s not supposed to be 70 degrees in November.

I recently read Michael Crichton’s book “State of Fear” in which he debunks the “myth” of global warming. Yes, I know the book is fiction, but it’s also chock full of footnotes to various scientific studies and texts. His arguments are compelling. Maybe global warming really is a load of crap.

What isn’t crap is all the extended weather freakiness. I’d blame it on George Bush if I could but I haven’t found a logical link there (yet). It’s gotta be something.

Did we piss Mother Nature off in some way? Maybe it’s pollution? Or all the cell phones? Maybe Mother Nature’s going through menopause?

After several years of mild winters with relatively little snow, the past few years have increased in intensity. We had something like 11 full-scale snow storms last winter. We just had our first storm last Friday and it has me seriously wondering what this winter in the year of weather freakiness has in store for us.

Snow blower? Check.

Shovels? Check.

Salt? Check.

I’m all set.

But just in case I think I’ll power down my cell phone for a while.

Monday, December 12, 2005

More or Less

Is it possible to have too much?

I’m not talking about money. I guess it’s not possible to have too much money because you can always give that away.

I grew up in a middle class suburb of New York City. We always had enough to eat, our clothes were not holey (although as the second of 3 brothers, I wore my share of hand-me-downs – at least I wasn’t the third one to get them like my little bro was). We had lots of home birthday parties but were more than happy with them. We took family vacations – maybe not to Europe but we had lots of fun trips together. The point is, we didn’t necessarily have the latest this, or the newest that, but we didn’t care.

I look at my kids and their friends and it amazes me how much these kids have today. Playrooms overflowing with toys, shelves bursting with books, more clothes than they can wear out before they grow out of them. These kids go with their families to Vail for ski vacations, rent houses in Italy for a week, etc. The only place I ever flew to on a plane as a kid was Florida because my grandparents lived there. Other than a driving trip to Montreal one year, I never stepped foot outside of the United States until I was in college.

One thing I want to clarify here is that with few exceptions, my kids and their friends don’t really seem to ASK for stuff. It would be one thing if these kids were constantly nagging and begging for the latest, newest, best. But it’s more that parents and family members are just constantly giving.

Every parent wants their children to have things they never had. But are we sending the wrong message? Are we instilling in our kids an appreciation of what they have? How can these kids understand what it’s like not to have when they don’t even need to ask to have things showered upon them?

There are signs of hope. Monkey Boy’s friend recently turned 8 and on his birthday party invitations, asked people to bring a donation to Katrina Relief instead of a present. I’m sure it wasn’t the kid’s idea but I think he was OK with it. Mom and Dad convinced him he didn’t need 15 more board games or PlayStation cartridges. They promised they’d take care of him with a nice present. And you know what, that kid collected more than $750 for Katrina Relief. Not bad for an 8-year-old.

MLB and I are working on this too. We donate to charities. Before the kids were born, we used to volunteer at a soup kitchen periodically. When Monkey Boy and Peanut get a bit older, we’re going to try to start that up again. We work with our kids to donate toys and clothes when they grow out of them. This year, for one of the nights of Hanukah, we’re going to let the kids choose between several different charities to make a donation in lieu of receiving a present.

I’m glad we can afford nice things. I think we’re very fortunate. I just fear what happens to all of these kids when they grow up. Once they’ve been ingrained with an expectation that things will shower upon them, what are the consequences if/when it stops?

If we give them less, will they love us less? I sincerely doubt it. In fact, they may value the things they have, and the lessons we teach them, more.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Room

Clean your room. Wash your face. Change your shirt. Think about the countless times you heard this as a kid.

What’s this obsession with cleanliness all about? Don’t panic. I shower daily and tend not to wear clothes more than twice before washing them. I grew up just fine.

Except that now that I’m a parent, suddenly I hear the same words come out of my mouth to my kids. Why? I tell myself that it’s because I want my kids to be clean and healthy. I want them to look presentable. I also know that if they don’t clean up whatever it is, I’m gonna have to do it.

But while all of these are good reasons by themselves, I think there’s a more basic truth at the core of these kinds of commands. Parents make kids do this stuff BECAUSE THEY CAN.

Follow me here. Want to watch TV? Go clean your room first. Want dessert after dinner? Better clear the table and load the dishwasher. Want to go to Timmy’s birthday party? Better go wax the car. OK, Monkey Boy is 7 years old so I’ll have to wait another year or two before I can have him wax the car. Peanut is only 4 so the dishwasher is already pushing it. But you can see where I’m going with this.

As a parent, I have ABSOLUTE POWER. How freakin’ beautiful is that? Don’t worry. I try to be fair. MLB is always there to whip me into shape if I’m not. It’s not overparenting. I’m teaching them valuable lessons in cause and effect. Actions and consequences. Making choices.

And because I can. Bwah-hah-hah.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Festival of Lights

Hanukah is traditionally known as the “Festival of Lights”. We light our menorah every night for 8 nights, adding one new candle until the big bon fire finale on the last night. My kids, Monkey Boy and Peanut, alternate nights deciding what color candles to put in the menorah. Monkey Boy likes to alternate colors – red, blue, green, white – occasionally really mixing our holidays by using alternating red and green candles. Peanut prefers to pick all the same color on her nights – usually yellows and pinks until “her colors” run out.

It occurred to me last night while driving home from the train station that the name “Festival of Lights” probably more appropriately belongs to Christmas. Drive around the suburbs in December and you’ll see I’m right. Some neighborhoods are so festive they turn night into day. (Good thing we’re not having an energy crisis.)

Don’t get me wrong, I like the lights. Even the house on the corner with the weedy lawn looks festive dressed in glowing multicolors. Though I must admit I’m not a huge fan of the twinkling lights. They make my brain hurt. Some houses have so many patterns twinking in different directions, I’m half positive I’ll come down with Tourette’s Syndrome just watching them.

Yes, lights are as much a part of Christmas as they are Hanukah. I just don’t love putting lights on the tree. Weaving in and out the branches, the sap Crazy Gluing the light strands to your palms, making sure you’ve got equal light distribution top to bottom and left to right. It’s downright stressful. Fortunately, MLB recognized several years ago that I lack the Christmas light gene and has been pretty accommodating. She can do the whole tree in less than an hour with perfect light distribution. I still usually get the task of stringing lights along the post and rail fence that lines the front of our property, but at least that’s in a straight line and only requires the deft turn of a twisty tie every 2-3 feet.

At the moment the fence lights are strung but I can’t get the damn thing to light up. Hope I get a non-freezing day this weekend to go down the fence looking for bad bulbs. In either case, it looks like that darn Christmas light gene deficiency strikes again.

There’s something to be said for the low-tech beauty of eight candles in a menorah. Even I can light a match.

A best of
exceptional entry.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Numero Uno

My friend, Nic, recently wrote in her blog about making homemade Chicago-style deep-dish pizza (wish I knew how to embed links but I don’t so you’ll just have to click on the link for Nicolle on the right). Her account was full of photos and totally got me craving pizza (damn you, Nic, for not including the recipe). That craving led to a little deep thinking on the subject.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to reach this conclusion but pizza is, hands down, THE perfect food.

Nutritionally, it’s got your breads, fruits, vegetables and dairy covered. Add some meatballs, pepperoni or, dare I say it, bacon, and you’ve got the meat food group in there as well. And the olive oil is good for your heart. It’s a whole meal in a triangle!

It’s extremely versatile. What other food do you know that can be made with any kind of vegetable (mushrooms, garlic, eggplant, broccoli), any kind of meat (beef, pork, fish, foul, shellfish), and virtually anything else (pasta, corn flakes). Plus, the most amazing combinations seem to work on a pizza. Bacon and onion? Ham and pineapple? Garbage pizza with everything but the kitchen sink? Don’t knock it ‘til you try it. There’s regular pizza, breakfast pizzas (bacon & eggs, corn flakes), dessert pizzas with chocolate and fruit.

Just layer on the sauce, lots of cheese and anything else you can think of. Pizza is even good cold the next morning.

It’s also so convenient. Grab a slice and go. Eat it like a New Yorker by folding the slice in half lengthwise and you don’t even need a plate or a napkin. Utensils? Who needs ‘em. Pizza is downright ingenius.

Best of all, pizza is FREAKIN’ DELICIOUS! Kids, teens, adults, old folks – everyone loves pizza. What’s not to love? I looked it up and Americans eat approximately 100 acres of pizza each day or about 350 slices PER SECOND. That’s a shitload of pizza.

Some other neat facts:

-- On average, each American consumes 23 pounds or 46 slices of pizza each year (I’m way over my share).
-- The most popular topping is pepperoni, accounting for 36% of all pizza orders.
-- Pizza is a $30+ BILLION per year industry.
-- There are approximately 70,000 pizzerias in the U.S. (that’s 17% of all restaurants!)
-- Approximately 3 BILLION pizzas are sold each year in the U.S.

It’s an international hit too! Some favorite worldwide pizza toppings:

-- India: pickled ginger, minced mutton and “paneer” (a form of cottage cheese)
-- Japan: mayonnaise, potato and bacon together; eel and squid
-- Brazil: green peas
-- Russia: “mockba” - a combination of sardines, tuna, mackerel, salmon and onion (Tic tac, anyone?)
-- Pakistan: curry (big surprise)
-- Australia: shrimp and pineapple
-- Costa Rica: coconut (I thought they were just big meatballs!)

And did you ever notice how pizza has this amazing way of always smelling appetizing any time. You could’ve just eaten a 9 course meal at the city’s top restaurant. If you stroll by a pizza place and get a whiff, you know you want some. As full as you are, there’s always room for a slice.

If you’re like me, you’re totally jonesing for a hot slice of heaven by now. I know what I’m having for lunch.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Look, Ma. No Hands!

There’s something wonderful about the minds of children (and writers) that allow them to take the simplest of subjects and see it in a new light. Most people spend their lives taking things at face value, as presented. But kids tend to pick something up, turn it upside down, try to wear it on their heads, make it talk, etc. I’m constant amazed at the things they come up with.

I’m one of the leaders of Monkey Boy’s Cub Scout den and at a meeting the other night, this phenomenon visited upon us. The other leaders and I were leading a discussion about simple First Aid. Now we’re not talking tourniquets and splints, mind you – these are 7-year-old boys. Before we knew it, they’d be applying tourniquets left and right, losing circulation and limbs. Who wants that kind of liability? No, we were talking about washing and dressing a simple cut.

When one of the other leaders mentions that it’s a good idea to wash your hands before treating your own or anyone else’s injury, Monkey Boy blurts out “What if you don’t have any hands?”

Before you could say “bandaid”, the rest of the boys seized on this idea and the conversation quickly jumped the rails.

“You’d have to do first aid with your feet.”
“You could use your teeth.”
“Or your nose”
“Yeah, but what if you had hooks?”
“On your nose?”
“No, instead of hands”
“Cool, or lobster claws?”
“Yeah!” (The boys start miming lobster claws on each other)
“Or alien hands?”

Now I have no idea what alien hands are, but somewhere between lobster claws and the alien hands, the other fathers and I went from trying to restore order to completely losing it. The entire group, kids and dads, were laughing so hard tears streaked our faces.

I’m not sure they’ll remember the first aid lesson but we sure will. And the amazing minds of children.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tis The Season

Something about December. No matter what kind of crummy day I may have had, I inevitably find myself humming Frosty, Rudolph or one of the other songs of the season as I walk through Rockefeller Center on the way to the train station at night. What’s a nice Jewish boy from New York know about Christmas? Plenty. My Lovely Bride (MLB) is Catholic and over our past 13 and a half years of marital bliss (plus extra time while we were courting), I’ve been exposed to more Christmas than you can shake a mistletoe sprig at.

I freakin’ love Christmas. I mean, come on. I grew up thinking we Jews had it made with 8 presents, one per night (although in my family, that evolved to 2-3 big presents, then to 1 really expensive one, then finally to a check delivered weeks into January after we tied Mom and Dad down, thrust the checkbook into their hands and told them we’d skip college and spend the rest of our lives behind the counter at Arby’s unless they ponied up with the cash.) But I digress…

Christmas in MLB’s family is unlike anything you’d believe, but everything you’d dream Christmas could be. It’s family spending quality time together, 24/7 holiday music on the stereo, driving around looking at lights, eating and eating and eating some more, homemade pies…and the PRESENTS. The unbridled generosity is overwhelming. Everyone is so thoughtful and generous in their giving, it starts to creep into your thinking the other 11 months of the year. You start taking notes whenever you hear a family member compliment something or mention that they liked something. By the time November rolls around, we’ve usually got a good list going of things you just know the other person forgot mentioning, but they’re gonna love the fact that you remembered. Isn’t it amazing how one thoughtfully selected gift can mean more than a dozen others? (More on gift giving another day.)

And what I’ve found pretty funny is that while many of my Jewish friends would never have a Christmas tree of their own, they LOVE to get invited over to trim the tree, drink hot cider and egg nog and share in the Christmas tradition. They’re not “allowed” on their own but by coming to my house, it’s not like THEY’RE actually doing it. They’re simply being good friends by coming over and helping US out. Whatever works for them. I’m just happy that the holiday has come into my life and I get to share it.

Guess I should’ve expected that when I married a woman born on Christmas Eve.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Thinking in Spanish

I've come to the conclusion that playing the piano is a lot like learning Spanish. Follow me here.

Me llamo Roberto. Son las once y media. Abre la ventana.

With the exception of some numbers and maybe some dirty words if I think real hard, what you've just read are the sole remnants of 5 years of studying Spanish. Makes you wonder why.

The reason I think is that while I had accumulated a number of words, conjugation of verbs, etc. at the time, I never made the leap to actually thinking in Spanish. Anytime I wanted to say something, I'd have to think about what I wanted to say, and then translate those words into Spanish. What a pain in the ass.

A few years ago, I took a stab at piano lessons. I was already in my 30s but it was before I had kids and it was something I always wanted to learn as a kid but never did because we didn't have a piano and my parents weren't inclined to get one. I did OK with the lessons but it was a very analytical process for me. Which finger? What note? What key is this? I aspired to be like many great pianists who could just sit down at a piano and their fingers would find the keys. It becomes so ingrained in them that it doesn't need to be analytical anymore.

My son, Monkey Boy, just started taking piano lessons this fall and already he's miles ahead of where I was when I quit when he was born. I know they say it's easier for kids to learn anything compared to adults. It amazes me to watch him play, because he hears the song in his head as he plays. When he gets lost during a piece, I realize in many cases he fumbles to find his spot because HE'S NOT LOOKING AT THE MUSIC! Maybe the gift for kids is that they're learning so much at the same time (to read, ride a bike, speak Spanish) that they learn how to "think bike", "think Spanish" and "think piano". There's so much they don't know that when they learn something it's more complete learning because they're not trying to go from a place they're comfortable to a place their not.

In any case, I've found the process fascinating.

Me llamo Roberto and I wish I could play piano like I'm thinking in Spanish.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Why Not?

Not enough time...

Too much to do at work...

Haven't started my holiday shopping...

The sun's in my eyes...

When my friend Pooks posted that she was doing the Holidailies challenge, I came up with about a dozen more reasons why I shouldn't join in. Crazy, I thought. There's just no way.

And yet, here I am. What the hell?

I've never run out of things to say and I might actually enjoy this. Hope you find something interesting here. Maybe even something familiar.

More to come.