Thursday, June 28, 2012

Story Time

I'm a really great dad, in theory.  I'm totally the dad that builds forts, takes them to the park, hurts myself for a laugh, and reads them any story they want.....except when I'm not.  Then I'm a selfish deadbeat prick.  Liam will look up at me with his big blue eyes and ask "daddy, outside?" and I have to tell him "not today pal, daddy needs to watch 'Arrested Development' reruns and drink".

Until recently the reading to them part has been particularly taxing.  Don't get me wrong I've never turned down a request.  As everybody knows, reading to your children is right up there with feeding them on the list of "Things to Do to Keep You Out of Shitty Parent Jail" so of course I've been doing it.  I just haven't been that into it...not all of the time anyway.  Some of those books suck butt.  I've taken to hiding some of the really hideous ones or just changing the entire story as I go (SPOILER: In my version of We're Going on a Bear Hunt, the bear makes out really well in the end).  But just recently there's been a shift.  I've really started to dig the reading.

I think this is because of two things: 1) Liam has started reading along which is way cool and 2) we've weeded out all the real crap through a kind of natural selection, a kind of "Board Book Darwinism".  In fact we're pretty much down to just two.  The first is Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers ("Uppy-down as Liam likes to call it).  It's the story of a boy and his penguin who dreams of flying.  It's cute, funny, heart-warming, and best of all really really short.  The next is, of course, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.  Yeah, I know.  Look, I didn't want to love it either but I can't help it!!  It's not even a story, it's just a little bunny kid saying "goodnight" to all the crap in his room.  Fucking stupid, right?  You'd think so but I love the great green room and so does Liam.  It moves along at a nice pace and there's something just so goddamn fun sing-songy about it, "...a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush"  Hee-hee!  But my favorite thing is Liam's little squeaky voice reading it to me, "...g'night staws, g'night aiw..."  I honestly want to find an island where no one says their 'r's and raise him there.

If I've been slow to embrace the story time I'm not going to feel too bad about it.  I plan on making up for it soon enough.  I figure four more years will be adequate time to wait before we launch into Harry Potter.  They'll be old enough by then, at least for Sorcerer's Stone, and that should give me enough time to really nail down all of the voices.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Father's Day

I have a finite capacity for responsibility and I think I surpassed that three years ago when Erin started crowning.  Now I'm a home owner, a father of two, and a mess.  I call most days a success if I manage to feed and wash myself.  I've been especially befuddled these past two weeks since I've started my new job.  When the people I supervise start doing unflattering impersonations of me (which is inevitable) it's going to be of me staring blankly at numbers on a line, slacked jawed and unresponsive.

But this past weekend was Father's Day so I got a reprieve.  The boys did NOTHING for me (the bastards) but Erin was especially nice to me all day.  She did things like not visibly protesting when I ordered my cappuccino 'full caff' and letting me have the first bite of a sandwich I'd made for myself.  That evening she insisted I do my favorite thing in the world while she made dinner and told me that I was "not allowed in the kitchen".  No problem.  I parked myself on the couch with a bottle of wine and the two boys and watched 'How to Train Your Dragon' (or as Liam calls it 'Dwagon') which is, by the way, a perfect film.

Erin didn't want me to know what she was making but I guessed hamburgers pretty easily (actually bacon-burgers smothered in spicy chipotle aioli, divine!!)  What was unexpected was this:

Home made It's Its!!!  With Dulce de Leche ice cream??!!!  My god.

I don't know what inspired her to make this but it was truly miraculous.  Not only was it delicious, but it required total concentration to properly enjoy.  The kind of calm that typically takes years of meditating at high altitude to achieve.  It was very Zen.

Normally checking-out from reality like this isn't something a father of two young boys can afford, but that's the beauty of ice cream.  As long as there's enough for the kids too, they won't require your attention for at least a good fifteen minutes.


P.S. I'm hosting Pub Trivia at The Wurst tomorrow night!!...because the best thing for a father, overwhelmed by the responsibility of adult life, is to hire a sitter and spend a weeknight at a bar.  Come see me!


Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Pizza King

Even though I'm kind of late getting into my 40 Days of Writing writing today, and even later on the whole 'Father's Day' thing, I'm going to tell you about my dad. I mean, you know about all of my brothers, and my sister, so why  not one more family member?

My dad - Gene, or Geno if you're in the know - is a very mellow, laid-back kind of a guy. I inherited a few things from him...the mellow, laid-back thing; a dry, sarcastic sense of humor; protruding upper canines (affectionately dubbed 'The Janik Teeth' by yours brother Chris has them too, yay!). Aside from the teeth, this is a good study in Nature vs. Nurture, since I didn't grow up with my dad. He was around - sometimes closer than others - but my time with him was sporadic and consisted of weekends here and there or some weeks clumped together in a summer.

I could go into all of the ins and outs of growing up in this fashion, but instead I'll just give you a Top 5 list.

My Top Five Memories of Geno:

1) Dad's good friend Michael had some land out on Rupert Lake, on which they'd erected a Teepee. Dad patiently taught me to swim there. When dad was living in the area (for a while he lived in his home state of Ohio) we spent a lot of time swimming in Rupert Lake. Naked, of course. Afterward, dad would walk out of the lake, brush all of the extra drops of water off of his arms and legs, and then stand in the sun, arms outstretched, to air dry. I would stand beside him and do the same. I didn't realize that nudity was out of the norm until much later, and I'm so glad for it.

2) One night Dad, Michael and I were laying in the Teepee, preparing for sleep. I looked out and saw a shooting star, and was young enough to believe that it had fallen to the ground - I was so excited about this! Michael and my dad discussed this with me, and tried to decide who among them should go retrieve the star.  It was finally decided that it was too far away, we would have to wait for the next one. I fell asleep watching the sky for falling stars.

3) On one visit to my dad's home, where he lived with his new wife, I had a meltdown. I have no idea what triggered it, but I do distinctly remember sobbing into my father's lap, crying "why can't you and mommy be back togetherrrrrrr? Why can't you be married agaaaaaaainn????" I wish I could remember what he told me because whatever it was, it worked, and I'd like to be able to tell my own kids this when they echo similar sentiments to me.

4) As a too-young child, my dad let me drink coffee - I claim this is why I'm so short today. Also, he always let me suck the foam off of his beers - I claim this is why I'm not a huge fan of beer today.

5) My dad is famous for his pizza. When I was 19 and preparing to move to California, he and his wife invited me to live with them for my last few months in town. I spent the time having an affair with my boss, staying up late, slinking in during the wee damp hours of the night, then unable to sleep because I'd had so many rum n' cokes at Club Soda. I'd sit on the edge of my bed listening to Radiohead's Exit Music (For a Film) from their OK Computer album far too loudly. Sometimes I would perch on the end of the bed, crying while I listened. I wasn't very discreet. No one ever complained or mentioned any of the above. I'd wake up in the afternoon with a tiny latte waiting for me next to the bed, in a sweet little espresso cup on a saucer.

One morning, however, my dad woke me up because we'd agreed to make pizzas together that day, and we needed to start on the dough early. My time in Kalamazoo was drawing to a close, and for the first time ever, he seemed slightly anxious.

I shuffled down the back spiral staircase of his old Victorian house, which dropped me into the kitchen. He had everything ready - olive oil, corn meal, flour, rolling pin, bootleg Grateful Dead tapes from shows we'd been to together.

My head was groggy and I was terribly hungover. He cheerily began to explain to me what we had to do, and tried to instruct me so that I could learn, hands-on. I apbruptly backed away and stepped into the adjoining laundry room to vomit a little bit. When I came out again, Dad was visibly disappointed. After a few more failed attempts at pizza preparation, I realized that he wasn't disappointed that I was dog-sick hungover, but that I wasn't absorbing this Tradition Passing Moment. I think he said something to the effect of "this is the time we have together to do this thing that is important" or...I don't know, I'm sure it was meaningful. I just couldn't grasp it because I was trying so hard not to throw up anymore and wanted so desperately to be back in bed that I may  have wept. Eventually he let me go back to sleep. I could feel his shoulders slump as I made my way back up the spiraling staircase, Casey Jones plonking in the background.

I never did master my dad's pizza, but we've collaborated on a compromised version many times now. He visits me in California twice a year, and its been fun getting to know both him and myself better as both of our lives change and evolve. He's a pretty great guy.

Happy Father's Day Geno.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Addicted to Love

They say that admitting you have a problem brings you half way closer to resolving it (no. no body says that.  that's just stupid).  So I have to admit I may be addicted to my family.  This past weekend I was on my own for four days.  Every year my wife goes camping with her family and the kids and I sit it out.  Sure they're my family too but not when they're camping.  Ugh, even the word sounds dusty and uncomfortable.  Family Camp is awesome, that's different.  Real camping is for homeless people (wow that was insensitive).  So back to my addiction.  While they were gone I barely slept and when I did I had horrible nightmares, I barely ate, and I just felt generally uneasy and depressed.  Only after they walked in the house and I did the close hugging, face rubbing, IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou thing until they were fighting to get away from me like Pepe Le Pew's cat girlfriend, did I finally feel normal.  In fact I immediately ate a sandwich, fell asleep, and dreamed of unicorns.

I don't think I'd been alone in over three years.  In anticipation of the impending weekend I had fantasies of parties in the city with old friends intermixed with slovenly wine and movie marathons.  That didn't happen so much.  I had occasion to celebrate what with the new promotion but not yet the means.  In fact I had $20 which wasn't even going to get me the gas I needed to leave town.  So in Healdsburg I stayed.  I partied a bit (huge thanks to the people that came over and cooled off in my pool after the Adult Lovemaking Seminar compliments of Tod Edwin) and there was a movie and a little wine too, but mainly just the aforementioned withdrawal symptoms (add to that schizophrenic-like parenthetical interjections in my blog.)

It probably isn't healthy.  Wasn't it Thich Nhat Hanh who said, "train yourself to let go of the things you fear to lose" (no. that was Yoda). If so I'm going to need a really good 12-step program, or better yet a 12-month "Learn to Love Camping Seminar."  Todd?

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Most Important Day of My Friend's Life!

Everyone knows how I feel about marriage. In general I'm fairly 'meh' about the idea. But lately people seem determined to change my mind, and my dear friend Josie is no exception!

Josie got married on Saturday, woo hoo!! But whatever, this isn't about her, it's about meeeeee!

I love an occasion to get all dolled up. Well, scratch that - I love the point at which I'm actually dolled up. I hate the preparation and panic attacks leading up to that moment, but it's usually worth it.

Here I am, with the Back of the Bride
Since I'm not one of these women who has things like dresses just hanging in my closet, I almost always have to borrow something for special occasions. Josie herself offered to loan me something and told me to help myself to her (gorgeous, awe-inspiring) selection, but warned me NOT to take the wedding dress. Laaaaame! Also, she's teeny tiny. While I've trimmed down a little since my days of 'I'm depressed so I'll eat this entire Neapolitan pizza from Mary's Pizza Shack while I watch Billy Elliot and cry into my pillow', I'm still pretty swarthy next to Josie.

I decided to buy a dress, since this was a Big Day. Also because people in Healdsburg wear really expensive clothing and always look exceptionally well put-together, and I generally feel like a holey-pilled-cardigan-wearing crazy-cat-lady grandmother from Arkansas next to them.

In preparation, I got myself a manicure and pedicure. The ladies at my manicure place were kind enough not to comment on the troll-like aspects of my feet, as usual. This place is great - they always offer me a hot stone massage for my obviously overworked legs. After I refuse, they give it to me anyway! Yes! I am totally on to these women! As if that wasn't awesome enough, while my nails are drying, they always massage my shoulders. This could be awkward and creepy, but they are so good at it!  I mean sure, sometimes they cluck at me and tell me I'm getting kind of fat, but I love getting a bargain - so paying for nails and getting all kinds of extra rubdowns is my kind of deal.

As for the dress itself, after only spending about two hours and trying on approximately 49 dresses in my local used clothing shop, I found one that would work. An only-slightly-outdated Trina Turk dress, in various shades of green - normally a color I can pull off really well...just not these particular shades. But for only 24 bucks, who cares?! And it only had a few small reddish-orangey spots near the front hem, which I didn't notice until I got home. I think I still could have made this work - but, long story short...

I borrowed some shoes from a friend, then went to another friend's house to borrow some accessories... then her dog ate the shoes I'd borrowed, which meant that A) I'm an irresponsible and shitty friend and you should never loan me your favorite pair of shoes, and B) I needed a new outfit! With my dress being such weird greens, those were the only shoes that would have worked! (You're starting to understand why I get panic attacks about getting dressed up?)

I ended up just borrowing a dress, shoes, accessories and makeup application skills from the Guilty Dog friend. Except for my chonies, everything I wore was hers. Head to toe, baby! And I looked fantastic in her stuff! I received many compliments, seeing as how people aren't used to seeing me in heels. Or dresses. Or makeup. With my hair looking nice. Thanks Linda!

During the (sweetest) wedding (ever) itself I managed (barely) to contain the swirling well of emotion that I tend to keep deeply buried under cold, hard stone inside my sternum. Afterward we made our way to the reception, where I was recognized as the totally famous blogger that I am. Sort of. By one person. A little bit (shout out to Renee!!)

Anyway! Receptions are usually my specialty. I have this tradition of 'Freaking the Bride' during Love Shack, or any comparable canned wedding song. Oakland Bride - yep. Manhattan Bride - yep.  Mike's Bride - yep! Catholic Church Bride - yep!! Perhaps I've mentioned this to Josie before, and so I'm sure she chose to have a great, lively band playing Irish jigs JUST so that I had no excuse to Freak her on the dance floor. You simply cannot Freak to Celtic music! I settled for a kiss instead.

Aw, smoochy kiss...

Josie obviously wanted more, though, and went in for the real deal. Where I was all 'oh, ha ha, a kiss? Well okay', she was all 'Let's Do This', as you can see:

Look at her! She's TOTALLY into it. Sow those oats, sister!
After that I went for a cool-down walk, and discovered an adorable little playground. Anyone who knows me knows that I love me some swinging, especially in idyllic settings.

la la la...swinging....

I immediately thought of my current facebook profile picture, which features me swinging in Hawaii. I said to my boyfriend "oh, I need a new profile picture, this is perfect! I can take a new swinging one to replace the old swinging one!" He took this:

WHOA!!! That is one Not At All Flattering shot! Thanks baby.

Aside from that one photo, it was a really beautiful night. I saw many old friends, met some fabulous new ones (Irish people - So Fun!), and saw two beautiful, madly-in-love people tie the knot. Also, I got a free dinner.

(Congrats to the Bride and Groom - I love you guys!)

Friday, June 8, 2012


My measly A.S. in winemaking from Santa Rosa Junior College has done more for me since Monday than my prestigious B.A. in English from UC Davis has done for me in fourteen years.  Go Aggies!!  Within days of me having to shrink my resume font from 12 pt. to 11 pt. in order to fit in that extra line, my current employer posted a job opening that required an "associates degree in chemistry or equivalent".  That's me!  The rest of the requirements were basically a laundry list of phrases describing me.  Erin thinks it's too much of a coincidence and therefore the position must have been created with me in mind.  I think that's ridiculous, though the bullet reading "must have an inwardly over-inflated sense of self importance balanced with an outwardly self deprecating sense of humor" was kinda eerie.

So I got a promotion.  TODAY!  I interviewed for that shit and they were like "okay".  For the 'professional artist' readers the promotion I'm talking about isn't like the one you did for your friend's band, this kind is where the people I work for give me more important stuff to do and more money.  My new title is "Quality Lead Assistant".  No, I have no idea what that means.  But then again all the best jobs are just three impressive sounding words mashed together.  What does "Chief Executive Officer" even mean?  It sounds like half of The Village People.

In a nutshell I'll be doing some lab stuff, some wine making stuff, and some middle-managing (eww).  In an even smaller nutshell I'll have my own desk but I'll still have wine stains in my underpants.  What's funny is people are going to give me that head-tilt of concern and ask "but...I thought you wanted to be a winemaker?".  I'd like to think I always have been.  My close friends can attest there's never less than enough home made wine in my garage to kill a small army.  But I get it, I am supposed to be a professional winemaker at some edgy family-owned winery that makes impressive and expensive small lots for the culturally elite.  Well, I had that job but it went away.  Those charming little dream family wineries tend to be a bit dysfunctional.  Actually more like Long Day's Journey into Night dysfunctional.  In my case that meant that after earning the title of Assistant Winemaker for said winery I was binned with a week's notice and no severance during the peak of the recession.  "Thanks for the past five years of your life but this business is HARD.  Good luck and congrats with the new baby!"

Fast forward a year later and I find Fetzer Vineyards.  They're environmentally sustainable, they're huge, they offered to pay for my school, their benefits are amazing, and they've been around forever (for a winery).  Not to mention there's a hippy-esque love that runs through the place that I kind of like.  Very 'Kumbaya' but in a way you don't mind.  Also people never leave that place.  The average number of years worked there by just the people in my department is over a decade, and some people have been there three times that long.  I learned this when I started and saw it as a good sign.  Anyway it's been three years since I got laid off from my last job and I'm finally back to making what I need to be making and I'm at a winery that isn't going anywhere but up (hopefully, we just got purchased by Concha y Toro.  I'm Argentinean!!).  While the small wineries are like nightmare families I'm finding the big successful companies to be more like...well, big successful companies, which is great because I have plenty of family at home and they're kind of counting on me.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Shit Happens

About a year ago, I was preparing for a trip to my home state of Michigan. I'd been dumped five months earlier, and was starting to believe the unsolicited advice I received surprisingly often that I just needed to 'get laid' in order to get over the insult from that. I was talking to my oldest friend Jessica, making plans for when I arrived, and advised her that maybe it was time I tried sex again. She thought this was a grand idea, and added that perhaps she, too, should give it a whirl.

This presented some problems. We both have a decent amount of baggage. On a recent visit to my land, she and I had driven to Mendocino in hopes of seeing some whales, and spent a lot of time commiserating on the trials of being unexpectedly single. "How will I ever get someone to love me again?" was a mutual concern. "How long will I have to suck in my tummy and shave my legs before someone likes me enough so that I can let myself go again?" was another. Then there was talk about uncontrollable issues like morning zits and surprise-farting and allllll those things we'd taken for granted in our relationships and assumed we'd never have to worry about again. 

But, sometimes shit happens, and there we were. We knew that if we ever got someone drunk enough to ask us out, we'd have to deal with telling them about all of the dumb things that had landed us on that bar stool, and it made us very weary. So in planning our forward movement into the world of the dating, we decided that it would be easier to get all the guesswork taken care of upfront. "Let's make T-Shirts with our personal affliction on them" we decided. Yes! She and I love coming up with T-Shirt ideas! Here are a few favorites from that trip to Mendocino:

Be the Naked You Wish to See in The World

Fuck Those Whales, Let's Get Drunk!

There's So Much Junk in my Yahoo

We started brainstorming ideas for the T-Shirts that would soon find us new boyfriends without our having to explain our depressing pasts. We figured something concise and honest would be our best bet. For mine, we came up with:

For Jessica's shirt, we had to get a little more creative. We didn't want her main goal to be mistaken for pity-baiting, so a shirt that simply said 'Widow' was out. We decided that a quick one-two punch would be best:

We realized that, even with our fantastic mystery-eliminating shirts, it still might be intimidating for a guy to ask us out without the much-needed male friend/wingman. Fortunately for us my second-oldest friend Frank's longtime girlfriend left him. There's a ton of material for Frank's shirt, what with his being divorced with two kids as well, since his wife decided she was a lesbian and all. Oh, AND he's a cancer survivor. Frank thought his shirt should say this: 

Divorced + Lesbian-Maker + 2 Kids + Cancer = Get Lost

but I thought that was a bit wordy, and in fact somewhat discouraging. In the end simplicity prevailed:

I didn't end up getting lucky on that trip to Michigan, hard as my friends tried to make it so. As it turned out I still needed a couple more months to gear up anyway. But still, I have the BEST friends, how would I get through anything without them? We've been laughing in the face of heartbreak and tragedy since about 1983, and I don't think we'll ever stop.

In fact, I think I'll make them a special T-Shirt. Actually, no - I'll make them something way better!

I think they'll really like it!

**want a shirt of your own? Go Here!**

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cereal Killer

Yesterday Finn gave me a quick refresher course in You're Doing it Wrong 101.  Monday is my one day a week where it's just me and the boys and I know I'm supposed to just keep it simple.  I'm not supposed to make any plans beyond the basic needs for survival and entertainment, but for some reason yesterday I thought to myself "hey, I've got the day off, I should take care of some business."  What am I, new?

My mission?  To convince the Santa Rosa Junior College that they owe me a degree.  I just finished their program two weeks ago but there's been some confusion regarding the details of my completion.  I couldn't take their junior college level Organic Chemistry class because it conflicted with my work schedule so I took an online Organic Chemistry class through UC Berkeley, naively assuming Cal's educational standards were up to snuff in the eyes of our local junior college's strict standards.  Luckily I prevailed and my degree was given the okay, but I had to pay the price for my arrogance by spending three hours in the school counselor's office waiting room yesterday, with Liam and Finn.  They were not amused.

They survived, just barely, and I got them home for lunch but the damage was done.  By two in the afternoon Liam was napping but Finn was inconsolable, and I realized I hadn't eaten anything all day.  I went with my old quick-meal standby, cereal, which was stupid because it requires two hands and Finn wasn't going to allow me to put him down any time soon.  I tried holding the bowl in one hand and slurping from it like a pig but Finn let me know what a good idea he thought that was by pulling the bowl a couple of inches away from my face then quickly letting go, causing me to split open my upper lip on the bowl's ceramic edge.  I recovered after a few minutes and decided to get a spoon.  This meant that I had to set the bowl of cereal down to eat from it but the only surface high enough to allow me to eat while standing was the top of the refrigerator (yeah, I'm tall).  This worked out okay for two bites but by the third Finn decided to grab the bowl again and dump the entire thing down my front.  After that we had the following telepathic conversation:

"Now what did we learn today daddy?"

"Are you kidding me with this shit pal?"

"Hey! I've got a belly full of sweet potato puree and I'm NOT AFRAID TO USE IT!  Answer the question!!!"

"Today we learned that we don't try to take care of important business on Mondays"

"That's right.  Good job daddy.  Now go get yourself cleaned up."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Chez Anything

Everyone knows that the last week of school is basically just parties, throwing away the unused portions of the No Child Left Behind workbooks, and last-minute, rushed promises during dropoff on the blacktop to get together for cocktails over the summer. By the parents, people! Not the kids - that would be totally inappropriate!

But during Jonah's last week of school, he had a project due. And it was the best project EVER!! It was called The Anything Project, and the rules were simple: Do Anything That You've Never Done Before. Woo Hoo! Jonah chose cooking, since he'd been wanting to learn to cook for ages. I'd promised to teach him back when I had a gas stove, but then gave up when I moved to a place with electric. How does one teach to cook with an electric stove, I ask you?! Well, I figured it out, for the sake of education.

As always, Jonah decided to step it up a notch. Rather than just some boring old cooking (he practiced that when he made scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast) he opted for a whole restaurant! He made Evie his little waitress-slash-hostess, draped a white towel over her arm, and planted her by the door to wait for our guest (he thought more than one guest might be too much to handle...), with strict instructions: "when he arrives, answer the door by saying 'Welcome to Chez Anything!' (grand sweep of arm) 'May I start you with a drink?'" Needless to say, our one guest was impressed.

He made a menu...and poured mom some bubbles.
As it should be.

He chopped the bejeezus out of some Romaine!

Chop, Chop, Chop. Olives, Red Pepper, Carrot

He tossed that sucker!

That's some Penne, baby!

And some sauce! It's even heated!!

Jonah insisted that we all dress up. I wore heels. Heels, people! And makeup, though it didn't last long after I mashed it all over his handsome face.

It was a great, fun and, not surprisingly, delicious meal. Afterward there were games. Every game that we own, in fact. After a while, we started mixing them all up. This one was called: How Many Wooden Haba Animals Can We Stack on Top of the Connect Four Game?

Jonah and I were the only ones that stayed in our fancy clothes

Finally, I had to stop having fun to step into my job: Busboy. I picked up dirty plates and glasses, did dishes in my dress and heels, and cleaned up after my chef. Just like the old days! Thank you, La Cantina in Paw Paw, Michigan. You prepared me well.

If you'd like to be a guest on our next restaurant night, make your reservation now - it's very exclusive: One guest per seating. One seating per night. One night per month.