New Thing #362: Taking The Family To See The Tree

Rock_TreeIt's easy to do nothing. It's easier to stay at home and rationalize:

"By the time we got the kids packed up and ready…"

or, "It'll be too crowded..."

or, "We can always do it next year…"

And that's how you can live in a place for your whole life and not end up doing the kinds of things that people travel across the world to do in your home city.

There's a lot in New York that falls into that category - stuff I always think I'll get around to at some point but might never do.

That's part of why I wanted to try so many New Things this year.

But visiting the tree at Rockefeller Center is not one of those things.

We've been to the Rockefeller Center tree a bunch of times.

No trip there was more memorable than January 2, 1994. I know the date because I would have much rather stayed home that Sunday watching football (it was the day Emmitt Smith pretty much single-handedly beat the Giants on the last day of the season with what was later revealed to be a separated shoulder), but my mom arranged for all of us to go into the city, visit the tree, and go out to dinner.

There was another good trip in 2002 or 2003 - we took a family picture, including my future wife. That moment is still captured in a "Christmas in New York" ornament my mom got for us (and for her…and I think my brother and sister) that Christmas.

And four years ago my wife and my mom and my sister took my two daughters to see the tree. I was not there because my brother and my dad and I were in Indianapolis to watch a Jets game. (Such a great trip.)

All of this is to say that I've never taken my family to see the tree.

So this year, as part of our Christmas visit to New York, we included a trip to the tree. And it was great. Me, my wife, our three daughters, and my parents took the subway into Manhattan, walked over to Rockefeller Center, then back up 5th Avenue to get back on the train. It wasn't the longest visit, but it was effective - we had a great time.

I liked sharing Christmastime in the city with my kids.

And the best part of it all?

We can always do it again next year.

New Thing #360: Re-Enacting An Old Picture

OriginalThis is kind of in the spirit of a Throwback Thursday…but that wouldn't be a New Thing, since we did that already. But Thursday seems like the appropriate day on which to do this.

I feel like, before it became a mini-fad in the past couple of months, I had the idea that it might be fun to re-create a picture from years ago, with my brother and sister and I as subjects then and now.

But I could be wrong - it could be that I saw someone do it somewhere (it was very popular on Facebook for a short time) and liked the idea so it filed away in the back of my mind.

Anyway, I wanted to try it out, and my brother and sister were game…so we did.

Above you see the original image. Here's what we came up with for our re-take:


My brother had the immediate idea to go into my mom's cupboard and find the original bowl. We're guessing the original picture is from 1984. He also had the idea to ask my dad to lend us a couple of v-neck t-shirts, which lent a hint of authenticity to the experience.

My wife took the picture and did a great job directing us into the proper positions, and I appreciate my brother and sister being willing to help out for today's New Thing.

And some of you may be surprised to see me clean-shaven. There was a beard trimming mishap on Christmas Eve that resulted in the whole thing having to go. I'm thinking of growing it back before school resumes.

Here's the two images side-by-side, 29 years linked by one pea green-colored mixing bowl:


New Thing #358: Drawing The Brooklyn Bridge In Pencil

Pencil_SetOver the summer I bought a 'graphite sketch set'. I bought it at the same time I bought the colored pencils which I used to draw my Fenway Park picture, and the sketchbook in which I drew it.

I was looking for something to take my mind off work, and I thought art might be that something.

Well, I didn't draw Fenway until the fall, and I didn't get around to using the pencils until now. So that didn't quite work out.

But I knew for a long time what I was going to try to draw with the pencil set - the Brooklyn Bridge…and that's part of why I took the pictures of the bridge I did back in October.

I used this picture - the one I felt was most centered and best captured the essence of the Brooklyn Bridge:


(I hope I set this so that if you click these images you'll be able to see the larger images.)

I'm no artist, so I didn't quite know what to do with the pencils, so I followed the instructions on the back of the box. It said to darken with the '6B' pencil, and then use the corner of the eraser to erase certain parts. So I essentially colored a big rectangle, then erased out the archways, and I tried to capture the somewhat overcast skies with the eraser too. Here's what I ended up with:


I think I did OK. I think, if you didn't know what I was drawing, you'd probably be able to identify the Brooklyn Bridge. And I think I did OK with perspective, like the swooping ropes and stuff. (It's been a while since I read the book. I forget what you call those things. Tressles?)

Drawing the bridge turned into a family activity - I had barely started before my 7-year-old and then my 5-year-old were doing their own Brooklyn Bridge drawings, based on mine. I like looking at the developmental spread of the 3 final products:



I'm also pretty proud of how theirs turned out.

New Thing #357: Lucius

LuciusLast week my brother posted about a few new shows he was playing early in the New Year. Not long after that I was switching through the radio stations in the rare break we take these days (with my kids in the car) from the all-Christmas music station.

There was a song on 92.5 - the independent radio station here - called Turn It Around.

And when the artist - Lucius - came on the screen, I thought it looked familiar.

So I got in touch with my brother and found out that it was, indeed, the band that he would be playing with in just a couple of weeks.

A couple of notes about Lucius to start, since they're really this week's Music Monday New Thing.

Turn It Around is a pretty catchy song, and I listened to a few of their other songs online. There was a set they did for the NPR Tiny Desk concert, and a couple of other individual songs performed live.

They sound like a pretty fitting band to play with my brother - they seem like they would complement each other well.

Meanwhile, I think it's another great step for my brother. It's one of two shows he's doing in the first weeks of January associated with WFUV, and I think it adds a nice little symmetry to my year. (OK. I suppose it does so for his year too.)

Remember back in January he turned me on to The Lone Bellow, who then started to get significant radio play and national exposure on TV, and then he opened up for them in a show in Rhode Island this summer.

There was his set for JetBlue, which now that I'm thinking about it might not have happened this year, but featured other bands like Iconapop, who became a big radio presence this year…and 2013 did feature a bunch of people who were happy to tell me that they saw my brother on the TV on their JetBlue flight.

So it's fitting that as we're set for 2014 Matt's developing another relationship that could be high-profile.

And hopefully, soon enough, it will lead to radio play for him.

Here's the info for the show with Lucius…and check out his website if you're interested in what else he'll have going on in the New Year.

New Thing #356: Seeing Black and White In Color

ColorizedI grew up watching a lot of I Love Lucy. I feel like it was on Fox 5 on weekday mornings, and of course it was on Nick at Nite.

But I don't know if my brother and sister and I would have watched it if it wasn't my mom's favorite show.

She loved I Love Lucy - she's seen all of the episodes hundreds of times…which means we've seen them tens of times.

But until Friday night, I'd only seen them in black and white.

I'd almost forgotten CBS was airing colorized versions of a couple of episodes. My mom had told me it was going to be on, and I thought I'd check it out.

But I forgot - it was the night that began my winter break, and my wife and I watched an episode of Modern Family (we're about halfway through the first season, and I think it's excellent, in case you were wondering), and then I was flipping through the channels and caught the last half-hour or so.

We missed the Christmas special, but we saw most of 'Lucy's Italian Movie' - which you might know as the "grape-stomping" episode.

I'll say this about the show - it holds up well. There were a few laugh-out-loud moments - both in scripted jokes as well as Lucille Ball's slapstick.

But I don't know if I appreciated seeing it in color. Sure, there was Ball's famed red hair, and it was interesting to see the title screen in pink, which I suppose is how it was meant to be seen, but I have a weird thing about black and white.

It doesn't matter that I knew Lucille Ball had red hair. It doesn't matter that I knew the sets of the shows back then and the people themselves were made up of multiple colors - to me those shows are always in black and white. When I imagine them, I imagine them in my mind's eye in black and white.

It's mostly sporting events from the 1950's or earlier where this happens - I know what Yankee Stadium looks like in living color, but if it's from video before the '60s, I can only see it in black and white. I know what colors the uniforms were and the skin color is, and the bats and the grass and the walls...but I just can't place the proper colors to black and white film.

I wonder if that happens to everyone or if it's just me.

And that's just my generation. I wonder about people who lived through black and white as the only option and how they reconcile their colors.

I don't know if it's a big deal or not…and I don't know if anyone else thinks about this. But that's what I think about when I hear or see something about colorized black and white television shows.

And whenever they're on I'll try to check them out to satisfy my curiosity.

But even after I see them in color, they'll always live on in my mind as black and white images.

New Thing #347: My Wife's Company Party

The holiday party at my work doesn't include spouses. And I'm pretty sure my wife's former office job didn't have a holiday party that I attended.

So it's been a while since we went to a company party together.

But that's exactly what we'll be doing tonight.

As I write this I'm reminded that one of my earliest interactions with my wife - before we were even dating - revolved around a company party.

It was during our time at Channel 7 - and maybe she switched weekends so that she could attend the company party? I don't remember exactly. Anyhow, we ended up working a weekend together, and I remember working up the courage to talk to her. I think she criticized what I was eating for dinner. I ate some pretty unhealthy stuff back then.

We did not spend any time together at that company party - I don't think I ranked high enough in the company to even be invited. (And I'm pretty sure that was the last one ever - I worked there for three more years and there never was another holiday party.)

But, I'll be honest, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it. I didn't know enough people, and that's not the type of social scene I have enjoyed for most of my life.

So you might think I'm dreading tonight - a party with a bunch of people who my wife knows and I've never met.

But I don't care. I really don't.

I've decided I'll dress nicely and be an adult. I've found I'm often no longer the youngest person in the room, which I had felt was the case for a long time. Tonight I'll just be another adult there. People will either want to talk with me because I'm their equal and they'll want to hear what I have to say, or they won't, and I'll be fine with it.

I'm just going to enjoy a night out with my wife.

If that happens to come with a little extra socializing, I'm at a stage in my life where I'm ready to handle that.

New Thing #340: Family Movie Night

PlanesThere's just one thing standing between my family and a regular movie night: We don't really like movies.

Me? I think I've stated before that if I'm spending more than an hour or two sitting and watching something it's a sporting event, not a movie.

My daughters? Well, they've found that movies are often quite perilous, and they can do without the peril.

But last week we ordered in, we cooked up some popcorn, and we ordered up a movie.

As the girls get older I could see this becoming more of a regular occasion.

We watched Disney's Planes.

It wasn't the greatest movie I've ever seen, but it was short on peril.

And that fact alone means it was a great choice (though my wife and I had no idea about that fact when we picked it).

Let me make this clear - Planes was fine. It just wasn't great. But it is SUCH a family-friendly movie…and there are not a whole lot of family-friendly movies these days.

And while Planes was a New Thing, more important was the fact that my whole family watched a movie together.

(We did this a year or so ago when we watched Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, but with Planes we were able to include my youngest daughter…although to say she watched Planes would be a bit of an exaggeration. At least she was in the same room this time.)

I know of other families that do movie night. I'm hoping this now breaks the ice so that my girls will give more movies a shot and we can make it a more regular occasion.

New Thing #339: A Holiday Light Addition

Snowflake_WallFor a few years my holiday house-decorating routine has been the same: Icicle lights hanging over the garage.

The colorful lights shaped like a tree under the living room, where the sparkling ball hangs at the top.

There's the string of snowmen in the living room window, and the wreath on the door.

I love it, but I was always on the lookout for just the right thing to add to the display.

This year I found it.

It's the snowflake you see at the top. You'll remember, once I successful climbed a ladder last month, that nothing was going to stop me from reaching the previously unreachable parts of my house.

And when I found this snowflake in the store last week, I knew it was going to be perfect for that one spot that seemed a little bit empty among all of the Christmas lights but I just didn't know how to fill it.

Some_Assembly_RequiredSo it all came together perfectly, until I got home and opened the box and saw this:

I guess I expected the snowflake to come right out of the box ready to go on the wall. But, alas, some assembly was required.

So I put together the pieces and decided it didn't matter if I messed up (no two are alike!), and went outside to hang it up.

I only planned on putting up the snowflake and not the rest of the lights, but the girls got excited, and once I dug out one thing I figured, why not take out everything, and so it all took shape:

The icicle lights hanging over the garage.

The colorful lights shaped like a tree under the living room, where the sparkling ball hangs at the top.

The string of snowmen in the living room window.

The wreath on the door.

And the snowflake hanging underneath the window.



New Thing #337: An Advent Calendar

Advent_CalendarWhen I was growing up we had a simple little Advent calendar. It was a square piece of felt that hung on the wall with 25 pouches, and there was this little mouse that moved from square to square.

We liked having it out each year - well, at least I did.

I think my brother and sister did too.

For a while now, I've been looking for something similar for my kids to enjoy each year around Christmas.

This year we found this one.

I found it at Target - it's not the highest quality, but it'll do for now until I find the perfect one.

As you can see it's shaped like a Christmas tree, and you move a snowflake from pouch to pouch.

The big decision now is whether we count down to 1 (as in days until Christmas) or up to 25 (the big day!).

There were other choices at Target - one was shaped like a tree, made out of glass or ceramic, and another was wood, shaped like a house.

The problem with them was they were both the kind that had doors that opened up.

And my wife and I are in no state these days to come up with 25 little surprises for each day leading up to Christmas. (Or 75, because I'm not sure we could convince the girls to get into a 3-day rotation. Though we'd have to, wouldn't we? Still - we can't even do 25.)

I always envisioned an Advent calendar that hung on the wall.

And that's what we found for now. It's just not exactly what I had in mind.

But the good news is that while I'm out looking for the perfect Advent calendar, at least we have this one to use until we find it.

New Thing #332: Helping Prepare Thanksgiving Dinner

CranberriesI love Thanksgiving. By far it's my favorite holiday.

This year, we're hosting.

And I love hosting Thanksgiving.

But I know that I've never been all that much help.

Usually when we host I'm in charge of "taking care of the kids"…which basically means "watching the parade"…so basically, my way of helping prepare Thanksgiving dinner at age 30 is really no different from how I helped prepare Thanksgiving dinner at age 7.

The first time we hosted Thanksgiving, I'm pretty sure, was 2006. We had both my family and my wife's family for dinner…and November 2006 would mean we had an almost-two-months-old baby.

I was a great host - I can be quite charming - but I wasn't very helpful with the food. (I am also a great cheerleader - I made sure to tell everyone that day how much work my wife was doing.) I did do a great job of making sure people had plenty to drink.

Another year we hosted I ran a 4-mile race in the morning. I came back just in time to watch the second half of the parade with our daughters - I think there were two that time.

Now we're hosting and there are three children.

I told my wife I'd help. She told me I could help scoop squash out of a cooked squash, or I could boil the cranberries because then apparently they pop and become cranberry sauce.

I picked the cranberry sauce.

Yes, that picture above is the cranberries in a pan. That's what I thought I was doing with the cranberries - cooking them in a pan. I guess I'm not being all that helpful. (By the time you read this on Thanksgiving Day I will probably have made my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner! And then I'll be watching football.)

But it's a step in the right direction.

And let's not underestimate my charm as a host. That's like cooking three turkeys.

New Thing #331: Watching My Daughter's Swim Class

little_flippersEvery Wednesday morning since the beginning of the school year, my wife has taken my youngest daughter to swim class. It's something I've never been involved with because usually on Wednesday morning I'm at school.

This week, though (and for the first time ever actually), Thanksgiving break for me was Wednesday through Sunday.

That meant I was available to see what swim class looks like for a 2-and-a-half-year-old.

It's a 'Mommy and Me' class…and part of the instruction, I believe, is for the parent to know how to handle their child in the water.

So I don't think the possibility existed for me to actually take her into the water.

But I didn't really want to do that anyway.

My wife did the class, as usual, and I sat in the viewing area with my other two daughters.

It's a great place - it's called 'Little Flippers Swim School', and I think we first discovered it through some birthday parties we attended there.

The pool is 4-feet-6-inches at its deepest point - my daughter's class takes place in the 3' 9'' end. My wife likes the water - she says it's warm.

The pool is closed off by a glass window, so the other two girls and I could sit in the seating area watching the class. It's a great set-up - there are all these chairs and there's a little play area and there's a TV for the kids.

I got to see my daughter do a back float, jump into the water, put her head under, and do other things with little toys that from my vantage point I'm not really sure I could figure out what she was doing.

I like seeing my youngest daughter getting comfortable with the water. My oldest two didn't really start getting into a pool and learning how to swim until this past summer.

Now I feel like they can all enjoy a pool if we were to go somewhere where they could swim….or they could hold their own if there were some kind of water emergency.

I don't think any of them will be winning any Olympic competitions anytime soon. (Especially my youngest: she cries when she has to jump in the water. So once we get past that maybe we can talk Olympics. Or maybe we can get an accommodation where she doesn't have to jump in and can just start the races from the wall.)

But I would guess even Missy Franklin started in a class like this…so you never know.

New Thing #328: Going Up On A Ladder

Window_ShutterI'm not a climber. I've seen climbers - children and adults.

You turn around and next thing you know they're high atop the nearest structure.

That's not me.

First of all, I was never very good at finding the foothold - even climbing fences as a kid.

But secondly - and most importantly - I am afraid of heights.

It's not a crippling fear. I'll go up on the roof if it's enticing enough…I just won't go near the edge. (I had a friend who lived in midtown Manhattan for a number of years, and we went to the roof of his apartment building once. I couldn't believe how unsafe it was to be up there - the ledge wasn't all that high. But I could have lived up there, I loved the view so much.)

So it's not the type of fear that will prevent me from experiencing something worth seeing, for example...but it is the type of fear that will keep me from doing something like bungee jumping or skydiving.

Or from climbing a ladder, for the most part.

I say "for the most part" because there are going to be times, I've come to realize, when in my current state of husband and father I'm going to have to climb the ladder.

Especially when, as you see in that picture above, strong winds this summer ripped our shutters off the exterior of our house. (Imagine my surprise when I realized after seven or eight years of living here that our shutters were decorative and not practical. Thank goodness for these storms, saving me from having to embarrass myself by trying to close the decorative shutters someday.)

I made a cursory attempt to fix the shutter a few weeks ago, reaching up to the nail with the shutter and falling a bunch of feet short. It was then I knew I was going to have to take the trip up the ladder. Also, not pictured, a more recent storm knocked a screen off of one of our bedroom windows.

So I took out the ladder. (An ordeal, because it was tucked away in the back of the garage because, you know, I don't ever use it. I bought it one weekend - I think it might have been a Thanksgiving weekend, actually, a few years ago - when there was some tree trimming that needed to happen because some branches were getting too close to the house. I chickened out of the climbing of the ladder when my brother and my dad, both visiting and helping me with the yard work, were much more eager to climb it.)

I steadied it against the ground, then against the wall, and then re-steadied it. My daughter came out and said, "Are you scared to climb it?" And this is an important part of fatherhood - it makes me braver. "No," I said. "I'm just making sure it's really safe." Me_On_LadderAnd then, with my daughter watching I marched right up that ladder and placed the shutter back on the nail. (And then I took a quick peek to make sure any neighbors weren't watching and I snapped a "ladder selfie" to prove I had done it. Kind of wish I had either smiled or not. Not crazy about the in between look there.)

You can see the shutter on the far left on the top picture is also pulling away from the wall. I climbed over there and played with it for a few minutes, but I couldn't do anything about it right now. Then I went around to the front of the house and used the ladder to fix the screen on the bedroom. Then I went to the corner of the house where some overgrowth had gotten tangled up in the gutter near the chimney. I used a step stool on one side of the house and the tall ladder on the other side. I was able to clear a little bit out but the fun and games were over when I knocked a brick off the chimney (yes, our chimney is falling apart, I discovered) and it hit me in the head.

That was the end of our ladder fun for the day.

The screen will probably blow off in the next storm. The shutters will definitely both come down with the next gust of wind.

But that doesn't really matter. My daughter saw me climb a ladder like a man. When other kids talk about the dad things their dads do, like climbing ladders to fix shutters, she can share a story too.

Maybe I'll even get adventurous and use the ladder to hang this year's Christmas lights even higher!

But then I think that ladder's getting returned to the back of the garage for another few years.

New Thing #318: Throwback Thursday

Eating_CookiesIt kind of came out of nowhere, but then it had staying power. I feel like it popped up on my Twitter feed one day, then the next week there were a bunch more, and then later it spread to Facebook, and now almost everyone is doing it.

Except I hadn't done it.

Until today.

I'm talking about Throwback Thursday, or #TBT, as it appears so often.

So today, we're taking a trip back in time.

I think one of the things that makes me such a good teacher (yeah, I said it. What? I am.) is the fact that I was a…um…weird child.

There was a lot going on in that head of mine.

So when I deal with children who seem to have a lot going on, I think back to little Johnny and it helps me tap into my reserve of patience.

Football_Boys These pictures don't necessarily reflect that kid - because I was always at my most normal around my family. (Entire cookie shoved up into my cheek in that top picture notwithstanding.)

With my family I was funny, I was fun…I was myself.

At school I had friends and I think I got along fine - but…I don't know…I think I was  belligerent sometimes with kids. I'm not sure I was ever all that comfortable in social settings, school or otherwise.

I think I might have been on edge a lot.

But that might be overselling it.

Because I did OK - I attended high school with no one who knew me from grades 1-8. That gave me a chance to figure out how to handle people (and present myself to them) and then by the time I got to college I was pretty socially well-adjusted. It's there that I met life-long friends and of course afterwards when I met my wife and kind of hit my social stride.

3_Of_UsI was probably around 8 in this picture above, because we moved out of that house by 1986. That dude would never believe he'd be pushing 10 years of marriage to a great woman with 3 wonderful children.

I wonder what I was writing on that paper there. Probably something weird, like license plate numbers - I liked copying down license plate numbers.

But who knows - maybe there were shades of future John in there somewhere….

Nah. I never use yellow legal pad paper these days.

New Thing #275: Father Of A 7-Year-Old

BdayThe fall of 2006 was awesome. The Mets were the best team in the National League, and my wife and I were expecting our first child.

As they so often do, the Mets went on to break my heart.

But for the first time in my life, playoff baseball took a backseat to life.

Because that October, which could have ended in agony because of the Mets, began with a bliss that has continued for seven years.

All right, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. It hasn't been seven straight years of non-stop bliss.

Being a parent is harder than that.

But it has changed my perspective on so many things.

The sadness I felt about the Mets not advancing to the 2006 World Series was quickly quelled when I looked at the newborn baby in my lap and that type of perspective-changing continues to this very day:

If I have a bad day I now have three little girls who help make things a whole lot brighter.

Today my oldest daughter turns seven. Which doesn't seem like that big a deal because in many respects she's had the maturity of a seven-year-old since she was three years old.

I'm incredibly proud of all three of my daughters, but if the younger two follow the lead of the oldest as they mature, my wife and I are going to be even more blessed than we already are.

And with that, the birthday series of 365 New Things In 2013 comes to an end.

And as I compiled the links to the previous three, I realized that this might be the only year of my life where my age is the product of the ages of my oldest two daughters. (35 = 7 x 5)

See? Just blessed.

New Thing #272: Putting Hair In A Ponytail

Hair_PreI'm not a perfect dad, I know that. But I'm proud of my parenting these past seven years.

I read in Sports Illustrated this week how Joe Flacco - who missed the birth of his second child a couple of Sundays ago because he was quarterbacking the Baltimore Ravens - said he hadn't changed very many diapers for his two kids. That seems foreign to me. (Though perhaps signing million-dollar contracts would change the expectations around the house. But that's not in the cards.)

Anyway, I'm very involved with my kids. So I have that over Flacco.

Except in one area: My children's hair.

Saturday morning my wife left for work earlier than usual. We thought we had everything set for Saturday's dance class - I knew where the tights and leotard were, I knew where the tap and ballet shoes were - except for one thing:

I remembered shortly before it was time to leave that my daughter was supposed to wear her hair up for dance class.

Once before I had tried to do the hair of one of my daughters. My oldest asked for side ponytails - kind of like pigtails, I guess. It did not turn out well. And it was a school day, if I remember correctly. The hair was falling out of the elastics before we even got out of the car at school.

So I know my limitations. I let my wife handle the hair on a day-to-day basis.

I've never had long hair. I don't know how to handle long hair. And I'm kind of afraid of messing it up even worse by trying to ponytail it.

But on Saturday we had no choice. So, camera ready to document my success (or lack thereof), I brushed out the hair. Then I kind of grabbed the part that looked like it might become a ponytail. That's what you see in the picture above. It also kind of looked like the way my wife does it at that point, so I had a good feeling.

I got the elastic and put the hair through - that went fine. It's always the second pass through the elastic that's tricky for me.

It wasn't the most perfect hair-through-elastic performance in history, but it worked. We had hair in a ponytail. And it only had to last an hour.


It did.

New Thing #268: Grilled Cheese With Bacon and Apple

Grilled_CheeseOur farm share has left our house with a surplus of eggplants and apples. This led my wife to put out a call on Facebook for any recipes calling for a surplus of eggplants and apples.

She received a number of creative responses, and at left you see the end result.

It's a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and apples.

Now, I've had different variations of grilled cheese before - anytime something has avocado I jump at it, and I'm pretty sure at some point I've had a grilled cheese with avocado. I've especially had it with bacon. (Bacon and tomato is a favorite.)

The apple and bacon was a new combo, and it was fine. But when it comes to using up our surplus of apples, I'm really looking forward to my wife's apple crisp...or maybe an apple pie. Those are apple creations I just love.

You might notice, though, the griddle upon which that grilled cheese sandwich is cooking. I'd like to tell you a little bit about that. (I should mention before this tangent that my wife also cooked up some eggplant and potatoes together and sliced them up like fries. That was pretty good.)

About ten years ago or so, my wife and I were engaged, and we went to places like Macy*s to register for our wedding in anticipation of being showered with gifts.

It was surprisingly fun for five minutes or so, because they give you a scanner and you get to scan items into your registry. There are only so many plates and cups and silverware sets you can scan, though, before it gets boring. So my wife took over after a few minutes, and I think she even went back to a couple of stores by herself to complete the registry.

But one thing caused me to take notice: this griddle.

I stopped and exclaimed, "We have to have that!" She laughed. She thought it was nonsense.

But, in the first of what would become a ten-year pattern of initially poo-poohing and then not only accepting but loving my forward-thinking ideas, my wife pulled a full turnaround.

I'll admit - the griddle sat untouched for a long time. A year, maybe two.

But then she started to use it to make pancakes. Occasionally it was used for burgers. Grilled cheese. Since we've had our daughters it makes an almost once-a-weekend the very least it's out a few times a month.

And, I don't mind telling you, that griddle may just be the most-used item of them all from our wedding gift registry.

It's a great underdog story.

New Thing #263: Bringing Two Girls To School

BackpacksMy two oldest daughters attend the school where I case you didn't know that. The oldest is in first grade - this is her third year at the school.

The New Thing here is that my middle child started pre-K this year - so now my commute is dependent on getting two children ready in the morning.

So far, it's been OK.

But it's certainly an adjustment.

I used to get to work pretty consistently at 7am.

I liked getting there more than an hour before any students - I got so much done in that quiet hour-plus, and then during the day I had opportunities to be social because I had lots of time before school to get done what I needed to.

Then I started taking my daughter to school, and I wasn't leaving the house until 7am.

Good-bye, free time.

Now I spend most free minutes during the school day slamming to get work done because I know before school isn't an option...and there are few days I can stay after school without family obligations to pull me away.

Luckily for me, the girls enjoy the activities offered after school, so if I'm in a bind and need to stay, I don't feel guilty about it. Also, they had some practice this summer with a long day and commuting between school and home with their camp experience.

And I'm sure I'm healthier because of the chauffeuring of my daughters. With the time I'm saving by leaving later I'm eating the solid breakfast that I know I've written about multiple times before. If I was on my own I'd be having Dunkin' Donuts way too much and I'm sure I'd weigh too much right now.

Sometimes it's hard. Sometimes one or both girls are slow to get going in the morning. Sometimes they want to listen to the radio while I want to listen to podcasts. Sometimes I remember a jacket for me and forget that I'm also responsible for two other little people and they're not exactly dressed appropriately for school and colder fall weather.

But almost every day for nine months I get to drive in the car to and from my place of work with two of my favorite people in the world.

And that's worth a rough morning or two.

New Thing #262: My Middle Child Is 5

Sept_19Five years ago on September 18th my wife called me at work to tell me she was going into labor. It wasn't totally unexpected - our second-born was due on September 15th - and my wife had first experienced phantom labor (is that a thing? I think it's a thing.) as early as September 10th or so.

But the fact that for most of the month of September the doctor was telling us she was  due "any day now" (this is the only one of our three daughters we knew was going to be a 'she', incidentally) had us on pins and needles.

But finally, at just before 12:30 on this Thursday afternoon I handed over my lesson plans to the sub being put in place for me and I went to meet my wife at the hospital.

It would be about another twelve hours before we had ourselves a baby.

It wasn't like twelve straight hours of labor.

In fact, one of my favorite stories about the birth of our second daughter is how laid back it was.

Whereas for our first-born everything had to be perfect - the right music had to be playing, we had to do the correct breathing exercises, I had to make sure I didn't pass out - by the time we had our second we were old pros.

I liked to joke that with the first we had all kinds of CDs to make sure the ambience was just so - with our second, we sat around waiting for the contractions while watching 'Hole In The Wall' on Fox. (This was a show with a wall that moved towards a person on a plank. The wall had a cutout of a person in a weird position. The person on the plank needed to assume that position to make it through the titular 'hole in the wall' or else get knocked off the plank into water or muck or something. I'll never forget that show or the role it played in our family's life.)

Anyway, our daughter was born a little after midnight...and she is certainly worth all that waiting.

Today she turns five.

They were five pretty quick years - faster than an approaching wall to a contestant on the short-lived Fox show "Hole In The Wall."

And in about two weeks' time, I'll be telling you a similar story about how fast seven years have gone by.

New Thing #257: A New Saturday Morning Routine

Ballet_ShoesThis past year has been a pretty busy one. I think I've told you that before - and I also think I've said this before:

I'm not looking for sympathy, I'm just stating fact.

I get up early every morning, work is busy, and sometimes I go to bed too late.

As the week goes on it gets harder and harder to wake up in the morning...and it all catches up to me by Friday.

All of which is to say, by Saturday morning, I'm ready to sleep in.

But beginning today, that won't be happening.

As of today, I'm the parent in charge of taking my daughter to her dance/tap class.

This isn't terrible for me - remember, I enjoyed it when I took her one morning last year.

Even had I not enjoyed it that first time I'd be ready for it now - because watching the recital in which she participated would have convinced me the time invested in it was worth it. That recital was awesome.

It was also in May.

So we're looking at a new Saturday morning routine, beginning today, lasting all the way until May - that's the stretch in which I'll be in charge of Saturday morning dance dropoff.

This year both of my daughters are doing dance, actually. (My wife will be doing the other dropoff - it's after school.) That means both girls will be participating in this year's recital.

So if you're looking for me on Saturday mornings...I'll be waiting for my daughter at the ol' Dancer's Workshop.

And I wouldn't count on seeing much of me on Saturday afternoons either...chances are that's when I'll be sneaking in a nap.

New Thing #253: Writing A Letter From The Tooth Fairy

You might not want to read this one around the might shatter some myths. At my house, like many others, we are in the practice of lying to our children about certain fantastic people who enter our house while they are sleeping to leave them things.

The Tooth Fairy is one of those people. (Are fairies people?)

This is a hard parenting decision for me, because for much of my young life I was frightened to death of these people.

So I will not be too upset when my children no longer believe in the lies I spew - in fact, it will be sort of a relief.

But for now, I guess I'm all-in.

My oldest daughter is probably the most like me as far as apprehension about magical beings. Not apprehensive like doubtful. She fully believes in them, which is probably why she's so scared of them. (Clearly only the most intelligent of us who fully comprehend what is happening are the ones who experience this fright.)

She wants the benefits of the Tooth Fairy without actually experiencing the Tooth Fairy. Which is complicated (she's shedding teeth these days like Tony Soprano in one of his dreams), but fine by me. Tooth comes out, we leave it far away from her bed, she wakes up and there's money, and we don't talk about it for weeks or months until the next tooth comes out.

Except that recently, she has seen from a couple of her peers that the Tooth Fairy sometimes leaves notes. And you can just see it on her face: "Why does the Tooth Fairy love them more than me?"

My wife had a great explanation: "Well, you really haven't wanted to have much to do with the Tooth Fairy."

My daughter thought this over, and after her most recent tooth came out last week she wrote a letter: (Warning! It's adorable.)


Well, now of course the Tooth Fairy had to write back. So I went to work. I crafted a handwriting style for the Tooth Fairy. I tried to strike a balance between caring and teeth business.


I'm not going to say I'm the best Tooth Fairy going right now...I'm just saying Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson had better just recognize he might have some competition for any future Tooth Fairy movie roles.

The only drawback is the amount of time it takes to get into my handwriting character. Maybe my children will stop believing before it's time for me to write another note.