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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hardtack and Johnny Cakes

     While I haven't seen the movie yet, I suppose there is a lot to be learned from Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.  It appears that there is even more to be learned from a Civil War Thanksgiving and a room full of wired, rowdy little boys.
     Several weeks ago, we took our Cub Scout troop to the local Texas Civil War Museum.  Once we fought our way through the gift shop that was strategically placed at the front of the museum, we joined up with our museum guide.  I knew that we were going to get along famously when he introduced himself as our guide through the age of the War of Northern Aggression.
      After some hands-on explanation of black powder rifles and combat formations, our guide was ready delve into the artifacts at hand; but then he hesitated a moment.  Singling out the largest of our young scouts, our guide made a claim that I immediately discounted as a bit of sensationalism. According to the guide, our tallest scout who is only in the 5th grade, is the same size as the average Civil War combatant. Without a McDonald's and Starbucks on every corner of the battlefield, nutritional standards of the day limited the size of most men of the era.  This point seemed lost on most of the boys, but an unsettling tremor seemed to pass through the parents on the fringes while the boys passed around civil war era firearms and gear.
      Clearing the small arms exhibition, we got our first peek at some of the uniforms on display.  In an instant, it was clear that our guide had not been telling tall tales.  Our "towering" Webelo was as tall as the former owner of the uniform, and frankly it would have been a stretch for him to button the overcoat around him.  Imagining our Webelo in uniform, running through war-torn country side, was very disconcerting.
Some men write about Badges of Courage.
I write about waffles.
     Eventually the discomfort subsided, and the parents seemed to settle into the museum.  From my untrained eye, the museum has done an outstanding job and sports some impressive artifacts, including some fascinating pieces unique to Texas' role in the carnage.
     Between the building suspense around the new Lincoln movie, and the cook books I found in the gift shop, I wasn't able to shake the intrigue building in my mind over wartime rations and average build of your average 19th century male.  There seemed only one thing that made sense.  Time to treat the boys to a Civil War Thanksgiving Feast.
     Even in the age of Google and Amazon, it turns out that finding good war-time recipes is something of a challenge.  Measurements don't translate, ingredients have fallen out of favor, antiquated methodology can be an insurmountable obstacle for a guy that sometimes struggles with microwave popcorn.  After several trips to Central Market, countless hours on the Internet and a bit of a domestic showdown with my lovely wife, our feast was ready to serve.
I think Acme Brick uses the
same recipe for its bricks
as the Union used for it
     As a starting point, we were duty bound to serve up some hardtack.  How the Union Army was able to survive on hardtack and win the war is a mystery to me.  If you haven't had hardtack, whip up a batch.  Be sure to eat it before it hardens.  I saw some joking references to hardtack from the War of 1812 being shipped to soldiers on the front lines of the Civil War... but I almost think that could be pulled off.  Roaches and hardtack will both survive the apocalypse.  Johnny Reb had hardtack as well, but they also ate a lot of Johnny Cakes which we made by the bushel-basket full.
     Dried fruit was sometimes sent by soldier's families, so we had dried apples and dried plums.  With a tip of the hat to the saviors of western civilization, we whipped up a batch of Irish mashed potatoes, consisting of boiled potatoes and green apples.  The main course, the highlight of the night, was rabbit stew.  Yeah, real rabbit.  Not boiled chicken.  Rabbit.  The meal was completed with ginger snaps and sweet tea.
     To my great surprise, several of the boys settled on the hardtack as their favorite.  One dad commented while we looked on in amazement, "You like that hardtack?  I guess you are ready to be a soldier then."
     That's when it finally hit me, and hard enough that even I could understand.  In less than a decade, most of these boys will be old enough to wear a different uniform, replete with body armor and modern sidearms. My two sons are included in this group.  Suddenly 18 years doesn't seem to be nearly long enough to contain the substance of childhood.
2nd Lieutenant
Darryn Andrews.
     I thought about men like 2nd Lieutenant Darryn Andrews.  The last time I saw him alive, he wasn't yet 2nd anything, he was just Darryn.  The last time I saw him alive, we were burying his sister.  When he died, he was defending the lives of men not much older than the boys that turned their noses up at my rabbit stew.  I thought of the flag lines I had stood in with the Patriot Guard while a family said good bye to a young man or woman, most closer in age to my own children than to me.  I remembered the face of every mother that shook the hand of every stranger standing in the flag line, sharing tears, hugging strangers, expressing their gratitude where none was needed.
     If I thought it would really work, I would serve all my boys hardtack and Johnny Cakes every day if it meant they would stay little boys for just a little while longer.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Zombie Waffles

  Sometimes the purest joys of fatherhood are all about being cruel.
  For lots of reasons, Halloween is our family's favorite "fun" holiday.  There is no travelling, no temporary invasion of the home by distant relatives, and until recently, none of the frantic, crazed last-minute shopping that makes Christmas such a beating.  And so it came to pass that we recently made the first of many treks to the local Halloween headquarters.
Some participants not as happy as others
about breakfast being used as future blogging
  For the youngest member of the tribe, this was the first year that she would be able to remove herself from perceived threats, and communicate her displeasure.  She was going to be a busy girl on this particular trip.  As with all of the important family trips, we started the day with a hearty breakfast from a local cafe.  Everyone took turns discussing their favorite and most-hoped for holiday costumes.  The oldest boy tried to guess as to the latest innovations in fright technology.  My wife looked forward, with giddy anticipation, to the beginning of our annual "Scare Contest", which in recent years has been marred by controversy and angst.  Once breakfast was consumed and paid for, we were off to the land of fake blood and jellied gore.
Spends a great deal of time in the
Principal's office.
  Upon arrival, the youngest child started to sense right away that something was terribly wrong.  The soundtrack that looped hours of screaming and and scary music might have been a giveaway, or it might have been the full size, animatronic collection of skeletons, werewolves and serial killers greeting shoppers at the front of the store.  Whatever it was, she immediately climbed the entire height of her mother, and perched atop her head.  This was gonna be fun.
  The other children immediately separated to their assigned sections of the store.  The teenage daughter zeroed in on the costumes that seemed to get racier and shorter each year, just to hear me yell.  The boys raced off to see who could find the coolest, newest, most realistic looking props.  The wife disappeared with the baby wrapped around her head like a turban.
Child-care facilities were outstanding this year.
  I perused the big ticket items including the pop-up mummies, the digital mirrors with the green pixilated specters and the like.  Although I have had a life-long aversion to demonic possession (thanks to the Church of Rome) I did chuckle at the poorly engineered version of Linda Blair that was supposed to pop up from a flat surface and engage in animatronic horror.  But the torso was too tall for the base, so the base harmlessly popped up in the air while Linda Blair made seemingly empty threats to disappointed shoppers.
  The leading trend this year, much the my daughter's distress, is the zombified infant.  The line was greatly increased this year, and is nothing short of just creepy and disturbing.  I tried to find a fully articulated model that I could wrap around my head like a turban so that I could show my wife I am as much of a nurturer as she is.  Nothing doing though because as extensive as the line is, the technology has just not caught up to my needs yet.
Poor girl, had to use her butterfly wings
to fight off the zombie baby. Just shameful.
  Then I found the Holy Grail: a zombie duct taped to the top of a Roomba. This thing lurched around the room chasing whoever was closest, and the louder the scream the more aggressive the chase.  If I had the resources, I would employ an army of these beasts at the office.  I must have burned through twenty dollars worth of batteries letting this thing chase the youngest daughter across the store.  Neither my wife nor the store manager were pleased.  My daughter finally managed to take refuge behind the now motionless Linda Blair while the store manager suggested that we make our final selections and move on down the road.
Always looking to be helpful, my son
tries to show this nice woman how
the jumping spider works.
  My daughter is not someone to cross, and I knew that eventually there would be retribution. I just didn't know how soon.  At home that evening, the tribe disappeared while I took my usual late afternoon nap.  I was jolted awake by a small set of teeth gnawing on my forearm.  With crazy eyes rivaled only by those of her mother, my daughter looked up at me and in a guttural, Linda Blair kind of voice growled, "Brains! Give me brains!"  Then she paused and smiled and said, "Brains or candy!"  It took me twenty minutes to climb down off of my poor wife's head.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hair Emergency and Hash Browns

     My son tried to throw me under the bus for hash browns.
     Over the summer, we married off my oldest daughter.  Yes it was a  festive, lovely time resulting in wonderful memories and the union of a new family, and all that other good stuff.  But the weekend also gave me the chance to learn about the wily ways of my oldest son, and that he is one to keep an eye on.
     The morning of the big day presented the opportunity to teach the oldest male child of the tribe some of the most endearing traditions long-held by our family. In no particular order, two of these lessons for the day were to stay gone while the women engage in their frantic preparations for the wedding; and, the search for a classic hot rod after breakfast trumps all else.  The day would become a learning experience for us all...
     On the drive into town on the previous day, I had spied what I believed to be the Holy Grail of Barretts and Barrett-kind, a 1968 Chevy El Camino.  This was the car that called to me like a siren's song, the piece of my father's youth that I sought out as my own, the artifact that had started wars and promised to lead to a breakout of world-wide peace if only I could make it mine.  My father and I have been known to disappear for entire weekends, travel into the wee hours of the night, cruise back alleys and off-road paths, looking for this monument to Detroit ingenuity. And now it was my son's turn to take his place behind the windshield.
     A search as serious as this requires a full stomach.  We found the only cafe in town, and nestled into a booth to try out the breakfast goodies.  The male child wanted one of everything, most of which I ordered. But I drew the line at a double serving of hash browns. He wouldn't eat them all, I probably would, and there was only one, angry Visigoth of a waitress serving what seemed to be the entire town.  This was not a good combination, and I was not paying extra for double hash browns disguised as a minor train wreck. Food,  hot rods, and then a wedding.  There was no room for food fights of any description on the day's agenda.  The boy was not happy, but seemed unsure as to how to voice his disapproval.
     Once breakfast was polished off, and the Visigoth adequately tipped, we were off for horsepower, carburetion, and bias ply tires.  My father and I mapped out the plan of attack for finding what I hoped had not been a central Oklahoma mirage; to my dismay, my son was practically asleep in the back seat, oblivious to what was going on around him.
     Just a few miles south of town, the Spousal EAS system was alerted and my phone practically leaped out of my shirt pocket. With some trepidation, I answered, but weakly tried to disguise my voice.
     Through the phone speaker, I heard chaos of the wedding preparations.  Women of all ages were crying, children were screaming, things were being flung against far walls.  In the background I thought I could hear Sponge Bob being tied to a stake.  Through the clatter I heard my wife say, and only on the very edge of calmness, "Honey, I have a problem here."  I managed to fight my instinct, which would normally have been to quip, "I will say you do."  Since I had left her with her step-daughter and my ex-wife, for once I fought the instinct and instead asked calmly, "What can I do to help?"
     "We are having a hair emergency."
     I breathed a sigh of relief.  Hair emergency.  Not a blown fuse, a small interior fire, or a broken arm.  Hair emergency.  This firmly falls in the category of not my problem.
     "Ok, I'll bite.  What is this hair emergency you speak of?"
     My lovely bride explained that her, one of a kind, high dollar, high precision, ivory handled, teak inlaid hair brush was no where to be found.  Without its magic like qualities, she would be unable to turn the ladies, and primarily the bride to be, into the stunningly manicured wedding party that had been promised all.  I was distracted by a road side snow-cone stand.  I still didn't grasp the emergency.  And then she hit me right where it hurt.
     "I need you to drop whatever you are doing, go to Wal-Mart and get another one of a kind, high dollar, high precision, ivory handled, teak inlaid hair brush or your daughter isn't getting married today."
     My mouth fell open, but no sound came out.  After millions of years of evolution, some part of my brain knew better than to protest, and I certainly couldn't preempt a wedding because I felt the primal urge to find the mythical '68 El Camino.  I heard myself say, "Yes dear. We will be back in just a bit."
     Dear old dad glanced away from the road just long enough to disapprovingly grunt.  The male child in the back seat snapped his head towards me, suddenly fully alert.  Even he sensed that we were speeding towards some crossroads from which there was no return.  Dad glanced across the console at me again.
     A curious wave of prepubescent smugness washed over the headrest from the direction of the back seat. I should have sensed the warning signs, but I was too distracted by the complex mathematical and logistical planning that would be required to find the El Camino and still be back in town in time to save the wedding.
     By the time we rolled into the neighboring town, where I was certain I had seen the mechanical unicorn just the day before I was so antsy I must have looked like a five year old doing the "pee-pee" dance.  The universe was on my side this sunny Saturday morning though, as the El Camino rolled to the curb just as we turned the corner.  The car, the seller, and the buyer converging to the same location in time, just as planned. Then the plan fell completely apart.
     The badges on the car were all wrong.  The top was not original and the color was all wrong.  Worse yet, the original engine had been replaced with a boat motor.  Even if the car were all original, it was $5000 over priced.  The male child was supposed to be learning from this experience, and even though he had no interest in the car, he seemed oddly pleased with all of the world around him.  I started shoving bodies back into the Barrett-mobile, intent now on locating that one of a kind, high dollar, high precision, ivory handled, teak inlaid hair brush and rushing in at the last possible minute in order to save the day and be the hero.
     Fifty two minutes later, hair brush in hand, I burst through the door, expecting a parade befitting a war hero, complete with ticker tape and maybe a marching band.  Instead, I was forced to dodge a flying mega-tray of mascara and a hail of half eaten Jolly Ranchers which stuck permanently to the first surface they reached.  Over the din of crying and curling and polishing and screaming, I heard an accusatory voice say that we had missed pictures and would have to stay after the service.  Uh-oh.
     Just like a rolling thunderstorm broiling across the Oklahoma Plains, a whirling dervish of wives, ex-wives, daughters, step-children, half-siblings, strange children with thick glasses, grand-children and mother-in-laws began swirling into SUV's in a haze of powder makeup and eye-shadow.  I felt my self being swept into the chaos; for a moment I thought I saw a jeweled slipper and a flying monkey in the shadows of the autumn rust haze.
     Somewhere in all the chaos, my beautiful daughter (with hair intact) got married, and took another man's name.
     Then came the pictures.  First the in-laws, then the ex-laws, and then just the children.  Finally, it was time for the Barrett tribe.  Just as we had assembled on stage and the pictures began, the male child looked at me and winked, then said, "Mommy, why is a hair emergency called a 'her' emergency, and why does it always have to take a back seat to hot rod hunting?"  I felt my wife's head snap to the side as though she were giving herself lateral whip lash while my ex-wife bored a hole through my chest.  At least three different style of women's shoes bounced off my forehead as the shutter memorialized the image.
     The next morning, we took the blushing bride and the new son-in-law to the same cafe for breakfast.  I sat in the corner at the kids table while the male child sat with the grown ups.  He got a triple order of hash browns.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Little Brother

     My favorite breakfast is raw bacon.
     Well, let me re-state that.  My favorite breakfast story involves raw moderately raw bacon.  Several years ago, when I was still in law school, my little brother was stricken with the thought that he and I needed to take our father on a camping trip.  To put this idea into context, the closest the three of us had been to camping together was that night in 1982 when Dad locked himself out of the house and the three of us thought we were going to have to sleep outside until Mom showed up to save the day.
     Having some camping experience in my background, but having had even more experience with travelling with my father, my brother and I agreed that regardless of what happened, we were leaving for out trip no later than 2:00 pm, so that we had plenty of time to arrive at our destination and still have daylight to set up camp.  At 6:00 pm, we were still standing in the middle of Academy Sporting Goods while Dad tried to decide between the all-inclusive titanium mess kit with a built in space-age one size fits all spork, or whether he was going with the jewel-encrusted flatware set that had been carried to the summit of Mt. Everest just after returning from a mission on the space shuttle.  I think he also bought a package of socks for the weekend.  By 9:00 pm that night, while we were setting up tents under the glow of headlights and watched as a den of hungry wolves began to circle, I was wondering if this camping trip were such a good idea.
     There are a few less obvious hazards involved in setting up camp so late at night.  For instance, we were unaware at the time that the camp just above us was populated by a family of Baltic origin with little in the way of English skills or camping experience.  We also failed to notice the worn trail between our camp site and theirs.  So, at 3:00 am that morning when the bears showed up at the neighboring camp site to partake in the bags of food that had been left out, the three of us woke up to the the yelling of Russian curse words, banging of pots and retreating bears brushing up against our tent as they ran away on their well-travelled trail that we were sleeping on.  I am pretty sure there was at least one Yeti running with the bears.
     The next morning, while smirking at the mess in the Baltic Hinterlands, we ferried our food stuff out of the car and down to the camp site to make breakfast.  Although we hid this from our respective wives, my brother and I were beauty in motion as we hustled around the campsite preparing breakfast.  We moved like a well-oiled, spatula wielding, breakfast cooking machine.  My father however, is less used to cooking and even more unfamiliar with the ways of the hardy camper.  In my minds eye, breakfast looked like a time-elapsed photo with my brother and I bustling around while dad supervised from his perch at the table.
     In my own haste, I lost track of what my brother was doing.  Before I knew what was going on, he was serving my father a big helping of bacon.  Pasty white, limp and lifeless raw bacon.  He was half way through his first piece before I could stop him.  I flung the jewel encrusted flatware, pots, pans, condiments and raw bacon aside in a gallant effort to save my father the ravages of raw bacon and took over the bacon duty before my brother could infect us all with Mad Pig disease, or some such ailment.
     I tell that story every time the family gets together, especially on camp outs.  It is my favorite breakfast story.  (In protest, Dad still claims the bacon was just fine and tasted great.)
     My little brother took his own life last February.  Today would have been his 38th birthday.  Go out of the way to eat breakfast with your loved ones, the next breakfast is never guaranteed.  For good measure, go ahead and cook the bacon a few minutes longer...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day 2012

Copyright 2012 Conde' Nast
     I nearly blew the vein in my forehead for Father's Day.  That one that bulges out at work whenever, well, pretty much all the time I am at the office.  The vein that tells me it is time to go sit and stare into fire. 
     Saturday morning found me refereeing a dispute between my sons, coming to grips with the pending marriage of my oldest daughter, and worrying over my niece and nephew facing their second Father's Day without their dad.  And I hadn't had any coffee.  Bad things are sure to follow.
     While still trying to figure out the cultural "magic" of Twitter (mostly trying to figure out how it is supposed to help me sell enough books that I can send my law license back to Austin), I happened across a story relating a recent controversy because Wired magazine ran a special issue about fathers, just in time for Father's Day.  Applauded and encouraged dads. Perhaps even celebrated fathers for a paragraph or two.  It seems that someone got twisted because Wired was running the risk of alienating mothers.  I can't find the link now, if you are really interested, Wired's Geek Dad blog has a podcast about the sordid affair.  But the whole issue peeled the scab off of the wound started long ago by the portrayal of fathers in Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.  Wired has parenting blogs, one for Geek Dads and one for Geek Moms.  Check them both out.

When paying for a billboard is out of the question...
      Having resolved the dispute between the male children of the tribe, I started to pick through my breakfast, still trying to shake off the growing sense of unease.  So I returned to the more comforting arms of Facebook, looking to see if there were any new mentions or reactions to Barge Pilot.  A former employee of mine had posted a short rant about men that don't pay child support and and don't pay any attention to their kids, all substantive and righteous concerns.  Something rubbed me the wrong way, and suddenly breakfast was no longer the highlight of my day.

Powdered sugar, for the softer side of Dad!
     This over-wrought rendition is my long hand version of why, rather than putting together a breakfast story I am leaving behind some fun pics and links.  While it is probably too late to order that mondo-cool multi-purpose tool with a built in hammock hidden in the handle, it is never too early for a tasty little breakfast treat.  Celebrate Father' Day with some Awfuls and Pannycakes!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Barge Pilot is Retail!

Even though Barge Pilot won't be available through Amazon for another week, I have a few copies that can be purchased for Father's Day gifts directly from the printer!  Hurry over to CreateSpace for your early copy!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Grand Theft Waffle Iron

From Kyle Katz' Vintage Cookbook Covers and Illustrations
      I accidentally developed a waffle that is hallucinogenic.
     As usual, I blame this one on my wife.  At the end of a 12 hour road trip that was capped by a funeral and some rather unpleasant family drama, I dragged my road-weary body into the house and collapsed on the couch.  Knowing that comfort food would serve as a "pick-me-up" my lovely bride offered to make me a waffle.  Of course, by all means, let us feast upon the beauty of the modern American waffle!  I nearly lept off the couch with joy in my heart and a spring in my step, the hint of a joyful tear misting the corner of my eye.
     At one point I had actually done the math, and it went something like this.  On the average in our household we eat 3.5 boxes of frozen waffles every month.  When you multiply that by 4 kids and one hungry father, and then divide the square of the root by one wife who rarely eats breakfast, and round up to account for statistical variations based on the wobble of the Earth's orbit and the phase of the moon, what you get is a lot of frozen waffles.  We consume enough frozen waffles that Wal-Mart's board of directors sends our household Christmas cards every year, the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association (VMSMA) wants to name its scholarship program after our kids.  We were once disqualified from a contest where the prize was a year's supply of butter, there weren't enough cows to produce what we would have used.  We eat a LOT of frozen waffles.
     As I started to share the details of my day with my bride, I expected to see her unburden the freezer of a box of pre-made, frozen waffles.  Imagine my surprise then when I saw a real live waffle maker sitting on the kitchen counter.  This was the heavy duty waffle maker you see in hotels, the kind where the kids can pre-measure the waffle batter, drop the top, flip the handle, and have a perfectly made waffle in three minutes.  This was the waffle maker that bards sing of.  I thought I even heard of chorus of angels chanting as the night parted and a beam of sunlight reflected off of the brushed nickle finish.
     I checked the frame for a metal tag that I supposed would have read, "Property of La Quinta."
     "Where did this come from?  Did we borrow this from the neighbors, or steal it from the new hotel in town?"
     My wife grinned incredulously and quipped, "You got this for me on Mother's Day a couple of years ago! Don't you remember?"
     Clearly I didn't remember.  Who could blame me?  After all the boxes of card board flavored fake waffles, the hours I spent slaving over a hot toaster to make waffles for all the members of the tribe... And besides, this marvel of modern machinery sitting before me still gleamed in the sunlight, having been used so little and stored away some in the family archives, it still has that new car smell to it.  At my age, a couple of years ago could have been when Miami Vice was still in production.
     Now I had a choice to make.  I could either say something really stupid to my wife about why in the world haven't we been having waffles for at least one meal a day?  Surely she didn't think that this waffle maker was like the Holy Grail, of such significance that it must be hidden away and shielded from the eyes of the non-believers?
     For once, I made the right decision.  Rather than brow-beating the woman who was making me a waffle (and who was also the only person that knew at this point what had gone into the batter), I proposed a little contest that would ensure that the waffle maker got used at least once a week for the remainder of the young summer.
     It was time for a gourmet waffle cook-off!  I launched into creation mode, throwing open cabinets and drawers.  Nothing was off-limits, fruit, vegetables, adult beverages, pieces of Barbi dolls that were laying around.  All the racket woke the children, the baby cried as though she had finally seen the monster under her bed lounging on the couch reading Cosmo.  I expected them to jump for joy at the discovery of the long lost waffle maker.  They were not nearly as excited as I.
     Once my waffle hang-over recedes, I will learn to make real live waffles for the children.  Although the Wal-Mart board is broken hearted, the VMSMA is rejoicing...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Breakfast with the Great Gatsby

     I think I inadvertently introduced my children to class warfare.
One of the boys, peering longingly at the ChrisCraft collection.
     A friend of mine recently gave me the heads up about a Car and Boat show at one of the local marinas on locally renowned Eagle Mountain Lake. Free admission, free hot dogs, great times promised for all! While I certainly like cars and boats, I really like free stuff.  When faced with the option of either spending Saturday morning doing chores at the house, or being outside doing anything other than chores AND that carried the promise of free hot dogs, the children by extension decided they like cars and boats as well.
     With the wife off playing bride's maid for the day, I loaded the children into the Nissan Urban Assault vehicle and off to the marina we went.  The red-flags popped up immediately, and I guess I should have seen trouble coming.  On the drive over, I had a very enlightening conversation with the blond-headed teenage member of the tribe.  She has decided she wants to go on a trip to Washington DC next year and learn something about the nation's history.  To prevent putting the cart before the horse, we have a chat about her general understanding of US history, and more specifically, about US government.  Within 15 minutes, I was red faced and spewing forth about the failure of the public school system.  (In defense of public schools, my sons who are quite a bit younger, were able to answer or guess at most of my questions.  It could be that the blond headed child has simply entered the early stages of teen age insanity that will grip her and force from her all reason and logic, until she reaches the age that she starts paying her own bills.)
     As I wound down from my diatribe, I noticed that the scenery had changed dramatically.  The houses bordering the narrow road were larger and better kept.  A hint of professional landscaping was in the air.  Children were clean and well-fed, parents were relaxed and happy behind their wrought iron gates, unicorns danced joyously among the pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.
     The "marina" as it turned out, is a private boat club fully stocked with a guard shack, a stop sign, and a golf cart for high-speed pursuit.  Other than the cars set up for the car show, I am pretty sure our Nissan troop transport was the oldest car in the place.
     We made a pass through the cars on display first.  There were the requisite number of American muscle cars, some of which the kids could name from memory.  They suddenly came to a screeching halt though when we got to a pair of vehicles manufactured by Triumph.  The steering wheel was on the wrong side.  There was a seat in the trunk.  I could almost hear the boys snickering, "Silly Brits."  While I tried to focus on the wood paneling and the difference in engineering, the boys were looking at a second Triumph, one appointed as a limo.  The boys pointed to some thing in a cup holder in the back seat area, and asked what kind of drink was waiting its passenger.
     "That is no drink boys, that is fancy mustard called Grey Poupon."
     The cynic inside me rolled his eyes.  Grey Poupon.  Really?  The boys really started snickering at the name.  I grimaced at the vehicle's owner and suggested to him that I was chaperoning underprivileged children that belonged to someone else.  Anyone else.
This was the only boat at the show that we could afford, and
even that with significant financing.
     We quickly moved on to the boats, which really stole the show.  ChrisCraft boats.  Loads of wooden trim.  Stylishly appointed.  Beautiful to behold.  I have been secretly working on a project to obtain a boat for the family, which the kids are vaguely aware of.  The boys suggested I make an offer on one of these lovely gems.  The cynic inside me was crying from laughing so hard.  One of the ChrisCraft did bear a "For Sale" sign.  But it was as old as I am, had no wood trim, and looked like an extra from a 1970's version of Miami Vice.  And it was $15,000.  My inner cynic was rolling on the floor. Er, well, the pier anyway.
     Nearing lunch time now, the kids were looking towards the well-appointed buffet line, having temporarily forgotten the acquisition of a boat.  That's when the day fell completely apart.  Buffet line.  No hot dogs.  Money is changing hands.  Stacks of chocolate chip cookies were at the end of the buffet line, beckoning my children like the finish line at the end of a marathon.  I thought I was going to have to wrestle the three year old to the ground when I saw the sign that said, in brutal finality, "Buffet - $8.00 a plate".  I hadn't stopped for cash, given the promise of FREE HOT DOGS.
     Now we were on the verge of a crisis.  The three year old has her mother's temper, and she had been promised free stuff.  She had seen the cookies and nearly had them in her tiny little grasp.  This was not going to end well.  A hundred dancing bottles of Grey Poupon did a shuffle through my head, taunting me with the free hot dogs that never were.
     Desperate to avoid a confrontation with the security guard, I quietly told the kids we could get snow cones, if we left right that instant.  Snow cones, the elixir of life.  The treat that trumps everything with the exception of home made ice cream.  The children happily chirped out their orders: cherry, rainbow, spider man...  When it came my turn to order, I paused for a moment, and unable to stop myself, asked the little snow cone girl, "Do you have any Grey Poupon?"

Friday, April 20, 2012

Breakfast on the Trail - pt 2

Best flight instructor, ever.
     I used to be the "fun" parent.  I once bought one of those discount rate introductory "flight lessons" just so my two oldest daughters could fly in a small private aircraft.  Every kid should fly at least once.  Now I am the guy who tells his kids not to walk briskly with the scissors while I put miniature corks on the end of each one of the forks in the flatware tray. I'm not sure when I became that guy, although it could have been in Rod Schoen's Torts class in law school where I learned all of the gruesome things that people can do to themselves, or to each other.  I think that was also when I developed my irrational fear of lightning, pencil erasers, and the Cincinnati Bengals.  (One of my dedicated readers, Tammy York, author of 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Cincinnati, assures me that I have far more to fear from Les Nessman than I do the Bengals).
     So I wasn't overly surprised to have been the wet blanket once we hit the trail.  Descending from the "trail head" at Sansom Park, there is some fairly rocky terrain and the going can be steep when you have lots of small kids in tow.  We managed to get all of the kiddos to flat ground without piling up at the bottom of the hill ala' Three Stooges style.  Within minutes we emerged from the trees and crossed the main trail to admire the local water feature.  And that is when my latent over-protective parenting kicked in.

     While we stood on the point overlooking the water, and admiring the waterfall on the far side of the river, my oldest son jumped over the edge onto the outcropping about 5 feet below us.  From where I stood, the ledge he was standing on looked about 4 inches wide.  Without missing a beat my successor to the throne, the heir apparent, simultaneously starts throwing rocks into the water with one hand while handing rocks up to the three year old so that she could join in the fun as well.  Like any three year old, when she throws, her whole body tends to follow and I had images of her pirouetting into the murky water some ten feet below.  Meanwhile, my son had started jumping on the edge of his own precipice, seeing how much of his own foothold he could kick into the water.  I could feel the back of my neck tingling and was certain a stray bolt of lightning was seeking me out.
     All of the splashing and thrashing about, aside from irritating all the anglers near the waterfall, had stoked the interest of all types of wildlife.  Turtles started to surface and looked to be putting together a pool to see which kid would fall into the water first.  Fish were jumping about.  Then other unidentifiable bits of nature started to circulate our direction.  We have about a gazillion poisonous snakes in the immediate area. There are alligators around here. Or maybe they are crocodiles.  We have jackalopes.  Between Lockheed Martin and the winged members of the US Armed Forces, I am certain there are several nuclear devices, unmanned submarines, and laboratory-developed mermaids armed with assault rifles in the lake that feeds this little stream.  When I spotted the half-alligator, half-chupacabra licking its lips, it was time to go.
     Returning to the trail, we forged ahead into the trees looking for better access to the water and for connecting trails that run along side the Trinity River.  Within just a few moments though, the trail and the flowing water diverged.  Ahead of us I could hear a deep, pulsating grumbling.  Whatever it was, it sounded like it was directly in front of us.  We weren't far from the home of the locally infamous Goat Man, another concern never far from my mind.  The noise was growing louder.
This grainy photo, taken while I was at a full-trot and pushing kids
out of my way, shows an abandoned lean-to formerly inhabited
by the Lake Worth Goat man.  It might even have been the location
 for the Blair Witch Project.  Really.
      Just off the trail, I discovered the remainder of a primitive lean-to. I am fairly certain I saw the little totems and decorations used on the Blair Witch Project hanging from nearby trees.  I shuddered as the growl continued to grow in front of us.  Fortunately, the small children all seemed oblivious to either the growing noise or the lean-to village.  I could hear something in the woods behind me shadowing us.  I realized that a half-alligator/half-chupacabra, aside from being amphibious, would be an ideal hunting partner for the Goat Man.  The deep growling was just ahead of us now, right around the next bend.  Whatever was creeping up behind us was getting closer.  It sounded as though the entire Cincinnati Bengal line backer core was having tackling drills on a giant base drum.  I bravely decided to allow my wife to lead the group forward.
     As we turned made the bend, the growling, grumbling colossus revealed itself.  Through the chain link fence separating Sansom Park from the nearest residence, turning and twisting and thrashing and clamoring, stood the biggest, dirtiest, meanest looking... central air conditioning unit I had ever seen.  So maybe it wasn't the Goat Man, but I am still certain his chupacabra blood hound was stalking us.
     Ten minutes later we stopped for breakfast on the trail, rather than becoming breakfast on the trail.  Thankfully, the kids were none the wiser to the grave danger we stared down that fateful morning.  Good thing they had me there to protect them.  Really.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Breakfast on the Trail - part 1

     So, here it is Spring again, and I am parenting MacGyver style. 
     Now that Barge Pilot is in the final stages of production (insert polite golf clap here), I have some time on my hands and thought that maybe I should devote some of that time to my children.  I was recently inspired by that hiking roustabout Andrew Skurka and realized that breakfast could only be better on a local trail, watching the sun rise over the D/FW metroplex, greeting the day when everything was fresh and shiny and new. My mind raced at the possibilities, granola and fruit while lounging by the water, or maybe we would huddle under a grove of trees and cook... well, something over a quaint campfire. If I played my cards right, maybe I could even use the trip as a justification to buy Skurka's book, The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide: Tools and Techniques to Hit the Trail. This was going to be a trip to remember.
     In order to match up all the different schedules, all we needed to do was to be up, get dressed, find flashlights, find the battery stash, replace the dead batteries in the flashlight with fresh ones that we would pick up along the way, gas the Nissan troop transport, buy the breakfast ingredients, pick up the niece and nephew, allow ten minutes for a wrong turn and step onto the trail about 8:00 a.m. No problem.
     About ten minutes before 9:00, I rolled out of bed in dire need of coffee and donuts. It was clear that, in true MacGyver fashion, we were going to have to creatively adapt to the new situation. In my case, that meant quietly waking the boys and getting them dressed so that we could sneak out of the house without the female members of the tribe and still have some hope of finishing the breakfast hike before sunset.
     I think it was the jingle of the keys that woke the three year old, right before she ran out of her bedroom yelling something that sounded like, "I want to go Daddy! Please good father, do not employ your silly mis-directions to trick me into going into another room while you and my brothers steal away without me." Well, it sounded like that to me anyway.
In the distant background, Lockheed Martin and the drums
of war. Somewhere in the woods lurks Goat Man.
     So we waited as the women folk donned hiking attire; curled, straightened, dyed then bleached hair; changed outfits; located sunglasses; changed outfits again; made several phone calls; changed outfits again; and, just prior to loading into the Nissan, wondered out loud why weren' t we boys ready to go yet.  A quick stop for 5 gallons of gas (about $100), and some quick trail snacks (it was too late even for brunch), a pit stop to pick up the niece and nephew and at long last... TRAIL BOUND!
     In the spirit of minimizing our "carbon footprint" with the Nissan Battalion, we chose Sansom Park which isn't too far from the house.  The park is in sore need of a good cleaning, but it has some great hiking trails.  The area is locally renowned for its proximity to Lockheed Martin, and not incidentally, localized sightings of the infamous Goat Man.  More importantly, given the encroaching sun, the park is close to lots of places to get a late lunch...
    Join me for Part 2 of Breakfast on the Trail, where we herd 6 small kids over a rocky descent, share a stirring moment with 3 strangers, two turtles, and a half-alligator/half-chupacabra, battle the Goat Man, all while in search of the perfect breakfast spot!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Barge Pilot - Just around the corner!

Haven't really had time for breakfast lately, what with the dodging the tornadoes and making a living and such.  Oh, and there is that little issue of finishing up my first novel, Barge Pilot, which I hope to have to the publisher in a week or so. I do have the proof copy of the cover though, so that excites me greatly!

The proof version of the cover for forthcoming novel Barge Pilot.  My good friend and unpaid editor David Swanson liked the alternative version, so if course this cover was the natural choice.

By way of fair warning and full disclosure, Barge Pilot is not the same kind of fare that you will find in this blog.  Barge Pilot is a lot darker, and there aren't as many happy endings as I hope you will find here.  My younger children won't be reading it anytime soon...  I have been reading a book lately that you may find entertaining, Learn Me Good by John Pearson.  It appears that Pearson also has a follow up, titled Learn Me Gooder.  Maybe that will be my present to myself after I get Barge Pilot completed.  If you can forgive this shameless self-promotion, breakfast should resume by the end of the week!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Coupes and crepes

Sent from my Samsung smartphone on AT&T

     "What is a crepe, and why should I eat one?"
     Suddenly the one-liners from Talladega Nights came flooding to mind. Not wanting my father to start a scene, I told him, "It is a fancier wrap for your breakfast burrito, just without the burrito."
     The crepes suggestion had started off as a bad joke, but was taking on a life of it's own.  Following breakfast, me and dear old Dad were headed to the Dallas Auto Show.  Since I tend to make fun of anyone or anything related to Dallas, and knowing that I couldn't even afford the concession prices at the auto show, never mind the vehicles on display, I was looking for some way to have a little fun with the subject matter.  For all I knew, any car show in Dallas might feature food servers dressed like Larry the Cable Guy walking around with platters of pate'.  Somehow crepes for breakfast just seemed the perfect connection to get the day started.  Dear old dad was not convinced, and stuck with his breakfast burrito order.  I thought I would have some fun with the waitress and ordered crepes for myself.  When she gazed towards the windows, looking awfully confused, that's when I realized she thought I was ordering drapes.
     "Not drapes, dear.  Crepes, you know breakfast crepes."
     "We gotta fruit salad, but no grapes."
     "I don't want grapes.  You know, crepes, those fancy thin pancakes with a filling in the middle?"
     "Fancy pancakes?  You some kind a Jean Girard fan or something? You know he ain't a real race car driver, don't ya sugar?"
     "Never mind, just bring me a breakfast burrito.  Hold the burrito and put in some fruit salad and whipped cream instead."
     An hour later, we are standing in line at that Dallas Auto Show, waiting for the doors to open.  Staff members were scurrying around trying to handle last minute preparations before the show started.  One guy was running around up front barking orders into his walkie talkie and pointing at people in an alarmingly threatening manner.  Clearly he was the head honcho.  I know this because he had an ID badge with his picture on it, with the caption, "Head Honcho."
     The Head Honcho spied the two of us at the edges of the well-heeled crowd, and clearly we were not part and parcel of the show-goers.  He pointed at the two of us in an alarmingly threatening manner.  Dad smiled and waved, I started looking at the floor, suddenly intensely interested in the floor wax.  Head Honcho charged at the two of us, pointing now with multiple fingers on both hands.
     "You two! Why are you standing around, get over there and grab your mops!"  Dad smiled and waved again, like he was in on some private joke with Head Honcho.  I pushed him to the side door where Head Honcho was pointing, which was propped open by one of those mobile janitor work stations with the trash can in the middle and the mop bucket on the front end.  Safely inside, I pulled the cart in behind us, and let the door slam closed before Head Honcho could make eye contact again.  With eyes adjusting to the light, I could make out a small platoon of Larry the Cable guy lookalikes scurrying around with silver trays filled with pimento cheese finger sandwiches.  A few looked our way, but we looked close enough to Larry that they believed us to be one of them.
     Dad was already headed towards the large exhibit room where the cars were on display.  Since I didn't have a ticket, a ticket stub, or a badge that said Head Honcho, I grabbed a mop in case anyone asked how I got into the exhibit hall.  To my horror, Dad found the last remaining Segway reserved for security guards, and took off into the midst of the exhibit at full speed.  Fortunately, I had exited the staff quarters right behind one of the aisles where the non-vehicular exhibits were set up.  Sandwiched in between a satellite TV vendor and a travel agent, was a group of electric wheelchairs.  I jumped on one at the end of the row and took off after the old man, the broom handle firmly jammed in the seat and the broom up in the air like the orange safety flag on a child's bike.  I turned the corner, and the broom nearly knocked a Scion off of its low hanging perch above me.  I pulled the broom handle out of the seat and laid the broom out in front of my wheelchair.  As I forged into the crowd, I imagined that I looked like I was heading into a geriatric jousting tournament.
     Even though the Segway was much faster than my wheelchair, the old man wasn't hard to track.  I simply had to follow the trail of freshly scraped paint, busted rear view mirrors, and the parade of Larry the Cable Guy lookalikes that had been knocked to the floor by the marauding Segway.  I could hear security running along behind me, and it wouldn't take long for them to catch up.
     Fortunately, it didn't take long to find dad.  He was shoe-horning himself into a roadster that was about three sizes too small for him.  When I finally talked him out of the roadster, I was ready to call it a day and head home.  And we might have made it to, had we not found the concession stand.
     "Look there, son.  They serve crepes!"
     We never stood a chance.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The True Spirit of Breakfast

Breakfast all day. I couldn't agree more...
Sent from my Samsung smartphone on AT&T

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bologna Cups and Vermin

     I found a rat in my boot this morning.
     This was not one of those nasty, filthy rats that crawl in through the attic, tear things up and chew through the electrical wiring before causing a house fire and burning the house to the foundation.  No, this was one of those nasty, filthy rats that the wife buys as a pet for the infant daughter, that is released into the "wilds" of the home, free to nest in my boots before finding its way into the attic and chewing through the electrical wiring so as to cause a house fire that burns the house to the foundation.  One of those kinds of rats.
Rat rod, as opposed to common rat. I would
much rather have preferred to find this in my
 boot instead.
     Being the patient, understanding father that I am, I suggested to the infant daughter that she return the rat to its cage before I step on it and send it to rat heaven.  Shaking the fresh rat crap out of my boot, I launched into a tirade directed mostly towards my loving bride.
     One of the long standing arguments that she and I, well, mostly I have had all revolves around the sordid morning routine and lack of a good, solid breakfast on school days.  The argument usually devolves into some variation of the following:
     "I sure wish you would get up with the kids in the morning.  They need to eat breakfast and they need supervision."
     "They do get breakfast, they eat it at school.  And, by laying here asleep, oblivious to anything the children do that doesn't constitute assault and battery, I am teaching them responsibility."
     This is usually the point where my jaw drops, and I am faced with the mental decision tree.  Path A is where I counter her twisted logic with real, live grown-up logic.  Path B is where I launch into an angry, sometimes mean-spirited, diatribe on the deterioration of traditional family values accompanied by the blurring of traditional family roles wherein I manage to insult and anger my soul mate to the point that she starts shoving vermin into my underwear drawer.  Path C is a quiet shaking of the head, a shrug of the shoulders, and some door-slamming as I lurch out of the house.  You will note the absence of Path D.  You know, the one where I feed and supervise the aforementioned children.  This is my story, get your own blog...
     After the 20th or 30th replay of this brief eruption, my wife and I did have an interesting conversation about why this was such a burning topic with me (aside of course from finding family pets nesting in my footwear).  As it turns out, this all stems from a rich, long cherished childhood memory of the year that my mom took an interest in breakfast.
     In the last year or so before I was just too cool to associate with my parents, or my younger siblings, Mom started the school year by making a hot breakfast for us every morning.  Day 1 was bologna cups.  A piece of bologna shoved into a muffin tin, with an egg inside the bologna.  My children can attest to my vile dislike of bologna, but still I looked forward to my bologna cups. Day 2 was a piece of toast with a circle lopped out of the middle by a cookie-cutter, with an egg placed in the hole.  One of my top 5 breakfast treats to be sure.  Day 3 was pancakes (long before they became known as pannycakes) topped with yogurt rather than syrup.  That was tasty goodness, nearly as good as Cheerios served over vanilla ice cream.
     As I thought more of the matter, I realized the brilliance of my Mom.  Here she took an extra 10 minutes out of sometimes hectic mornings to impose a little calm and stability.  I realized how her extra effort set a reassuring tone for the day, and made us feel like going off to school was something important, something to be valued and honored by the entire family.  I tried to think back over all the important life lessons that Mom surely must have taught us over a bologna cup, but the memories blur a bit under the rush of modern life.  For the benefit of my children, I searched hard for the poignant insights and the deeper meaning in Mom's breakfast routine, but without any luck.  Finally, my frustration mounting at missing the big picture, I asked my Mom about her motivations, her perspective, her goals in that wonderful year of school morning breakfasts.
     Mom paused a bit, looked around the room a bit, then finally admitted, "I just got sick and tired of you eating Cheerios and vanilla ice cream. If you wanted poignant insights and deeper meanings, you should have been a Jesuit."
     When I finally left the house this morning, the rat was safely stowed away.  I am pretty sure my daughter was eating Ramen noodles when I hit the door.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Crab Legs for Breakfast

      Sometimes, breakfast is a good way for kids to learn the fallibility of dear old Dad.
      Many, many, many years ago when I was a wee lad about the age of 5, I clearly remember wandering around the kitchen early one Saturday morning looking for something to eat and wondering how long it would be until I could drink coffee. I couldn't have been looking too hard, chances are the Bugs Bunny show was on commercial, leaving me with a short window to scavenge for food.  I was listening intently to the television in the other room, making sure the commercials hadn't run their course.  From the other end of the house, I started to hear an alien noise. Shuffle, shuffle, scrape.  Shuffle, shuffle, scrape.
     We lived in a small town in Oklahoma at the time, and I was learning that weird stuff lived in Oklahoma.  I was fairly certain then, and even more so now, that the first public admission of a yeti sighting was somehow related to Oklahoma.  Roswell, NM, might lead the nation in reported day-time UFO sightings, but Oklahoma as a state is just plain weird.  The noise was getting closer, and I wasn't sure how far I could run on an empty stomach.
     Shuffle, shuffle, scrape.  The noise was getting closer.  Shuffle, shuffle, scrape. I could hear the bleating of the Road Runner from the other room, but now I was too afraid to move.  Shuffle, shuffle, scrape. Whatever it was, it was at the end of the hallway and was about to make the corner.  Shuffle, shuffle, scrape.
     First came the feet, followed closely by a set of scrawny, hair legs that were burnt like red sausage links.  My father emerged from around the corner.  He was sitting on the floor, shuffling his feet along a few inches at a time, scraping his butt on the ground behind him.  He was engaged in some oddly disconcerting reverse crab walk, but he looked like a lobster.  Other than his pasty white feet, he looked like he didn't have an inch of skin that hadn't been sunburned beyond all limits of human decency.  If I had been of an age to watch war movies, rather than Bugs Bunny, I would have given him a triple dose of morphine and told him to walk (or crab walk) towards the light.
     "Son, I need you to make me some toast."  This was gonna be fun.
     "I don't know how to make toast, Daddy."
     "Sure you do.  Get two pieces of bread and put them in the toaster."
     "I don't know where the bread is."  It was in the green bread box along with the bills, where it had been all of my fragile young life. A scrawny, burnt arm extended towards the bread box, the single finger shaking to punctuate the pain.
     I stood in front of the counter, two pieces of bread dangling at my side.  Dad sat on the floor watching me. This was the first time I was aware of being taller than him.  I could have kicked him over with my pinkie toe.  We stared at each other a long time, Dad's eyes pleading for sustenance.
     "Put it in the toaster son."
     I looked around lost.  Where was that coffee pot?  The toaster was on the counter about a foot away from the bread box.
     "I can't reach it Daddy."
     Growing exasperated, but still patient, "Scoot a chair over and stand in the chair son."
      I may have laid the two pieces of bread on the floor so that I could move the chair towards the counter.  I probably stepped on them in my bare feet before crawling up onto the seat.  But now I was really taller than dad, if I had known Pat Burleson at the time, or had I known about the future of MMA, I could have delivered a fatal flying half-burrito scissor headlock haymaker by jumping off the chair and landing in the middle of the old man.
      Dad didn't miss a beat.  "Wipe the fuzz off the bread, then put it in the toaster and push the handle down."  A few minutes later two perfectly toasted pieces of morning goodness popped out of the toaster.  I plunged the handle down again for a second cycle.  Burnt toast for a burnt man. I hopped down out of the chair and started towards Dad with the dried out bread.
     "Put some butter on it please, son." A knife! I get to use a knife. Sadly, and the reason this story still scars me to this day, the old man was wearing nothing but his briefs.  This also meant that he didn't have his wallet on him, no chance to get compensation for missing out on an entire segment of Bugs Bunny.
     While I had my head buried in the refrigerator looking for butter, I heard the old man ask for some jelly as well.  I grabbed the ketchup bottle.  After some more protests, pleading and patient instructions, Dad finally got to eat before shuffle scraping back to his bedroom to let the peeling begin.
     Fast forward three decades, 2 wives and 6 kids of my own.  Ladle in a healthy dose of technology and let boil.  Last summer, I had to stay home with the female children of the tribe while my wife took the boys to Cub Scout camp.  It was the dead of summer in one of the worst droughts in Texas history, I was on the verge of a career meltdown, and I couldn't take my boys to camp because I had a conflicting trial setting.  And then the blond headed child and her juvenile delinquent friend decided to throw a book of matches into the raw fuel.
     The girls shook me down for the last five dollars in my pocket so that they could walk down to the corner convenience store and bait shop to grab us all some donuts.  When they returned some time later, I was still on the couch staring at a blank television screen, mumbling to myself incoherently.  They were making quite a show of enjoying their donuts.  Enjoying their summer.  Living pre-teen summer dreams.
     "Where are my donuts?"
     "They only had these two small packages. There aren't anymore."
     I am fairly certain that my mini-Vesuvius registered on the Richter scale hidden in the basement of Lubbock's City Hall.
     At some point in my diatribe, I made passing reference to the location of the change from my last five dollars.  There was none, they said.  The donuts they were eating in front of me also consumed all my cash.  My eyeballs melted from the rage.  I started reaching for a blunt instrument, when the girls doubled over in laughter, threw my donuts at me and ran off to another room.  I wallowed in a slow boil while I ate my donuts, thinking the episode was now over.
     Technology can be a cruel executioner.  The girls really thought this out, because they were running the recorder on their stupid little iPhones as this low point in parenting played itself out.  Then they emailed the sound files to my lovely bride.
     After contemplating whether or not she should activate the CPS SWAT team, my wife called the girls to find out what was going on.  After the females of the tribe shared a hearty laugh at my further expense, my soul-mate, my life partner and my confidant gave the girls a further piece of advice.
     "Tell dad his breakfast isn't complete just yet.  Go get the ketchup bottle."
     A burned up, crispy dad with patience and a self-immolating impatient dad.  You can learn a lot at breakfast.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Donuts with Dad

     I dragged myself in through the front door, briefcase wrapped around my neck like a black nylon noose, my motivation and hope for a fruitful career dragging along somewhere behind me.  The children had already had the fast-food of the day for dinner and it looked like I was on my own.
     The latest animated brain leach was playing on the television so I dropped my few belongings in the entry way and wandered into the kitchen in search of something more sustaining than Ramen noodles.  I think I must have finally settled on saltines and peanut butter, because I distinctly remember a set of sad, puppy dog eyes peering at me from over the super-sized jar of Jiffy.
     "Daddy, do you have to work tomorrow?"
     Oh crap, here we go again.  Another field trip/career day/school wide musical presentation/awards assembly that I was going to have to miss all because Bank of America expects to receive timely and consistent mortgage payments.  I am pretty sure I have already secured my spot on the Mount Rushmore of good intentioned fathers who were over-promised and underperformed to their families and to themselves.  This was going to be just another pebble on the rock pile, but that wasn't going to make me feel any less crappy about it.
     "Well, see son, I have court in the morning and all these people are depending on me to keep their homes and their cars.  So, uh, yeah, I have to work in the morning, but what's up?"
     "You know how they have Muffins with Mom?  Well tomorrow is Donuts with Dad. Can you come?"  A whiff of opportunity fluttered past, there may be a way to salvage this after all.
     "Donuts with Dad, huh?  What time?"
     "I think like, 7:00 am or something."
     7:00 am.  Quick man think!  If I get up 30 minutes early, skip shaving, eat two donuts in three bites, hop onto my lap top while driving to work to check on docket updates, buy and train some carrier pigeons to send last minute scheduling changes to clients, beat myself up in the court house bathroom a la Liar Liar style to explain to the federal judge why I was late to his court, I can pull this off!
     "You bet son.  Let's do it."  Looking somewhat shocked I was actually going, the male member of the tribe bounded off to absorb in the loving rays of the xBox 360.
     I don't know how long Donuts with Dads has been around, or when the first Donuts with Dads took place.  I don't remember having it when I was growing up, so my first jaded instinct is that Dunkin Donuts, or that upstart Krispy Kreme (before the questionable accounting) must have started the tradition.  Jim Dayton captured some of our secret fantasies about what should really happen at Donuts with Dad.
     Cue the airy crack of dawn sound track.  The next morning, at 6:45 am, I woke up both the boys.  Mind you, we should have been leaving at 7:00, but a particular spouse who will remain nameless sometimes likes to mess with me just to get a reaction.  Clothes mostly fastened, hair brushed with the swoop of a hand, off we went to Donuts with Dads.
     In record time, I rolled into the school parking lot and found the spot closest to the door.  After the cloud of white tire smoke cleared, I couldn't help but notice that the only other cars in the parking lot belonged to assistant head janitor and to some of the cafeteria ladies.  No worry, we were here to claim donuts and laugh heartily as men with rolls of fried sugar are inclined to do.
     Glancing at the clock, I was anxious to get my diabetic's delight and then get on the road.  The boys decided that they couldn't take their backpacks in the cafeteria and trundled off towards the central holding cell for the general population.  About the same time, the teacher's aid responsible for monitoring the holding cell aka gym walked in the door and scowled when she saw us.
     "You can't be here till 7:30! My shift doesn't start till 7:30! Why are you here before 7:30? And no donuts till 7:30!"
     I smiled that helpless Dad smile that was intended to communicate: a) I am here with my sons, you gotta give me some credit for that; and, b) I was told 7:00 so back off of me.  I said nothing, which I am sure communicated: I am a mindless dolt that wanders around in a bleary-eyed haze, oblivious to the notes you send home in my child's back pack; and by the way is there any bourbon to add to the coffee?  We departed for the cafeteria before she could mace me.
     As good luck would have it, the donuts came out 10 minutes early.  Mind you, this was actually 20 minutes late according to the schedule I hatched the night before.  Fortunately, I had opted against showering or looking for clean clothes, so I still had time to spare.
     While we finished up the prime donuts and drinks that we were able to snatch by being first, I started taking stock of my surroundings.  I tried not to make eye contact with the kids who filtered in from the holding cell, they had neither father nor mother with them and were not allowed to have donuts.  Across the main aisle, I saw one kid sitting with just his dad, foregoing any early morning tom-foolery with his buddies so that he could have some dad time all to himself.  And dad?  He was so engrossed in his blackberry that I thought the mother ship had just beamed him the cure to cancer and the cell phone number of a top-notch publicist.  Dad wasn't just answering a text or an email.  He spent enough time on that thing he could have been reading War and Peace.  Well played Dad.
     The boys and I bantered back and forth a while, they brought me muffins from the table, I stole sips out of their chocolate milk.  Not exactly Dad of the Year stuff, but we were having fun.  And then Rag Tag sat down at our table.
     Rag Tag was smaller and younger than my two sons, based on their reaction I wasn't even sure they knew who he was.  Rag Tag was a quiet fellow, with dark hair and dark eyes.  He didn't say anything when he sat down, but he was watching us intently.  He was eating cereal, so I assumed he must have escaped from the gymnasium meter maid that had assaulted me earlier.
     While he was watching, I made a show of taking a bite of donut from one of the boys when they weren't looking.  Rag Tag grinned at me, and I asked him if he needed help opening his cereal.  He flexed his arm to show me his mighty guns, and then returned to struggling with the cereal container.
     Finally, Rag Tag told me, "I don't have a Dad."  Both my boys were quiet now, looking at me and waiting to see what I was going to do.  And then, making a circling motion between me, my boys and Rag Tag I said the lamest thing to ever come out of my mouth.
     "That's ok, bud.  Between the four of us we can share."
     Rag Tag was quiet a minute and then told me that he actually had two dads, giving first names of people I wouldn't know even if they had been standing right behind me.  We talked for a while, and I told Rag Tag that my oldest boy had two dads and some guys just got lucky that way.  Rag Tag gathered up his cereal and went back to join his mates from the holding cell.  Well played Two Dads.
     Donuts with Dads.  I don't care if was a marketing gimmick by Big Doughy Sugary Industry insiders or not.  It is worth it.  Go. TYGKEMXZYGCS

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Awfuls and Pannycakes

     "Daddy, daddy! I want awfuls for breakfast!"
     It was early one Saturday morning, and I was standing in the middle of the kitchen, bleary eyed and lost in the haze of a caffeine free zone.  Awfuls?  What in the world was she saying? Awfuls? Surely she wasn't so jaded to her parents' cooking, at the age of three, that she had taken to calling breakfast awful.  Sure, Mom uses the smoke alarm as a kitchen timer, when it blares, dinner has reached the appropriate level of char.  With mom snoozing, and my breakfast specialty being cereal, there was little chance that I was going to burn the house down before noon. I continued to swim against the currents that normally kneel to the authority of caffeine.
     One of the male children of the tribe bounded into the kitchen, somehow freeing himself from the captivity of the Xbox 360. His eyes were darting back and forth like a junkie looking for a fix, small beads of sweat forming at his ragged hairline.  He looked quickly between the golden haired girl and myself, clearly on the edge of some momentous decision.
     In the whiniest voice he could find, he pleaded, "No daddy, not awfuls. We want pannycakes."  The three year old turned abruptly at her chair and took a swing at my heir apparent, missing him and nearly falling out of the chair and into the floor.  Awfuls and pannycakes?
     Finally it hit me.  Awfuls and pannycakes.  The children were placing their orders at the Dad Short Order Grill and Buffet.
     Pannycakes had been a long-running joke in our household.  The oldest son had years earlier requested pancakes by referring to them as pan-a-cakes.  With some good natured ribbing, pan-a-cakes had evolved into pannycakes.  Apparently, to three year old ears, waffles translated in awfuls.  Now we were making progress.  The three year old was able to communicate her desires, and she was not insulting my stunted kitchen skills. Now we just had to improve her upper-cut.
     Pannycakes were out of the question.  Not only was it too late in the morning, but I have never successfully cooked pannycakes without intense supervision.  That was pretty much always true about awfuls as well, at least until the motel chains started offering those cool, self-timing waffle irons with the pre-measured batter cups and the nifty rotating housing.  Those are mostly idiot proof.  Although there was that one time at the La Quinta in Joplin, Missouri, that nearly ended in a visit from the local fire department...
     Thanks to the modern food industry, frozen waffles are a golden elixir to a three year old.  Real live awfuls, straight out of the toaster! Awfuls all around! Awfuls for the small children, awfuls  for the older children.  Most importantly, awfuls for dear old Dad.  I might even endear myself to my lovely bride and make her some awfuls if she got out of bed before noon. For a moment, I thought about mailing frozen waffles to the older children who live elsewhere.  While they might see the humor, I decided the US Postal Service might not.
     Somewhere well into the third awful, it hit me. I love my children.  I really love breakfast. All of those wasted evenings spent trying to have a family meal together only to have them wind up like a daily version of the Festivus of Seinfeld fame.  Breakfast, especially on the weekends, is the time to exploit the fruits of parenthood.  The kids aren't running off to school or cutting their hair with scissors that are left out on the counter.  Dad isn't worried (at least as much) about paying the mortgage, finding a tie while racing out the door to court, or having a catastrophic stress induced fit because the cat crapped all over the freshly cleaned laundry.
     At the age of 41, and with 6 children on the roster, I should have figured this out already, but here we are.  In some ways, breakfast has already become a primary tool in the arsenal of parenthood, I just hadn't realized it at the time.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that breakfast had been a connecting point in so many ways.  It is a sacrosanct routine with my parents when we get to see each other.  One of my favorite memories involved my now deceased little brother and raw bacon.  As it turns out, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.  So, settle in and enjoy future extra helpings of Awfuls and Pannycakes.