Friday, December 13, 2013

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

Yesterday was the Annual Holiday Office Party. I LOVE the Annual Holiday Office Party. This year the big wigs rented out an event center and upped the drink limit to THREE. Rock ON!!

Tending bar this year was our head of HR, which I felt was an unfair kind of entrapment. Fortunately three whole drinks isn't quite enough to get me drunk, but it is just enough to get me really enthusiastic...about everything. So when I heard that the decorations were up for grabs after the party, I really let my Christmas Spirit loose.

"Free tree??!! FUCK YEAH!!"

Some of my recent financial challenges threatened to make this a "no tree" year. This would have been tragic. Liam, in particular, would have been heart-broken, but it's the time of year for miracles!

As the less ambitious hoarders gathered up holly branches and poinsettias, I dashed behind the podium where a veritable FOREST of holiday cheer lay waiting. I grabbed the stoutest looking conifer and made my way to the parking lot under a barrage of questions like "What the hell are you going to do with that?" and "Do you have a truck or something?" Who needs a truck when you have a child's blanket, fifty feet of rope, and an Associates Degree in Fire Technology with an emphasis on knot tying? Idiots.

To call my treasure a Christmas "tree" might be a bit misleading. It certainly is tree-like. Maybe a tree-shaped branch is more accurate, but such a modest holiday decoration has it's perks. Transporting it safely on top of a Toyota Corolla being one of them.


The tree wasn't my only prize yesterday. I'd also been given "Turkey Bucks" (a Safeway gift card). I don't know why my work calls it "Turkey Bucks" when you can use it to buy beer. I stopped at the grocery store on the way home and caught two ladies eyeing the holiday catch skillfully strapped to my roof. One of the ladies nudged her friend and motioned toward my car. I didn't hear what she said but I imagine it was something like "Look at that fine specimen of a Christmas tree. What a lucky fella!". Her friend then probably said something like "and a good father too, no doubt!" Then they both laughed with amusement at my good fortune.

As I drove home beaming with pride my path was crossed by a friend of mine who didn't immediately appreciate my tree. She's a petite 5'2" girl and she was walking her Bernese Mountain Dog, so rather than honk I shouted "Hey! Who's walking who!?"  This is a hilarious joke every time. She obviously got a kick out of it because she shouted back enviously "Nice Charlie Brown Christmas Tree!" Don't I know it.

When I finally got it home I untied it adeptly and bounded up the stairs to my second floor apartment. I don't have a Christmas tree stand so I thought I was going to have to get creative with a broom and some old shoes, but as luck would have it, light-weight flexible trees like mine have a built in stand if your ceiling is low enough.

Next up: Ornaments

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I Hate Walmart. Again.

Last week I was about to publish a post I'd been working on, but then Mike got all eager and posted his most recent story, Gravity. I have forgiven him, even though mine was Very Important!

It was about where you should and shouldn't shop this holiday season (and always!), and I know how much you all value my opinion (read: demands).

So, just to be nice, you can read what I was going to give you but was forced to take it over to You've Been Served instead.

I won't tell you what it's about yet, but it's called...

Happy reading! And, here is a random picture of people enjoying some local shopping, just for fun:

p.s. case you're new to this type of thing, you have to click on the 'I Hate Walmart' above. Trust me. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


The holiday season has begun! Liam had no school Monday so we went to Pump it Up. I've written about this place before, but it had been a while since we'd been there. In a nutshell it's a giant inflatable bouncy house/gladiator arena of death. The place is often rented out for private parties but Monday through Friday they have "drop ins" from 10:00 to 11:30 and we had yet to have made it the full hour and a half. We came close this time though.

There are a few things I have to re-learn every time we go there, mostly to do with physics. It's $7 a head for the kids but adults are free because they encourage parents to get in the inflated playgrounds and keep their own children from bludgeoning themselves and others. They also let the parents play in there a bit, which I love, but it means I have to go in with a heightened level of self-awareness. I can be a bit of a "Lenny" and it's a compounded problem when it's not just my kids that are in danger.

In tenuous situations like these, when I have to move, I try to time it carefully because the energy transference from a 225lb man, through a big inflatable castle, and into the descending feet of four preschoolers landing at the same time, is remarkable. It reminds me of the experiment where you drop a basketball with a tennis ball on top of it.

To make it easy I mainly just hold still with my arms at my sides, but that's problematic too. I end up creating a sort of black hole into which children are drawn.

As you can see this is due largely to the deep pucker I create in the fabric of space-time/bouncy-house, but there are other forces at play as well. Namely, I've found children are drawn to the novelty of a professional basketball player sized man/boy who's clearly excited to be playing in his socks in the middle of a weekday. This oddity is irresistible to boys ages 3 to 7 and, to be honest, it give me the willies. I can NOT get enough of my boys running at me full speed and launching into a spine wrenching embrace, but little snot-covered mystery kids doing the same thing gives me the creeps. I usually just fling them off instinctively, like when you find something wet on your hand and you're not sure what it is or where it came from.

By the one-hour mark the Ritalin starts to wear off and a few of the 7-year-olds start getting a bit frothy, but generally the other kids there aren't too bad. The chubby sweaty 6-year-old with the "Awesome Crusher!" monster truck t-shirt apologized immediately after kicking a soccer ball into Finn's face as hard as he could. Fortunately all the balls there are made of a special squishy material that only stings for 30 seconds.

It's getting kinda 'Lord of the Flies' in here. Little help?
About an hour and fifteen minutes into playtime the boys were starting to wilt. The intense jumping, flipping, and rolling gave way to a kind of lazy wrestling.

I figured it was time to try some of the other options offered up at Pump it Pump. This was the first time I'd been there with the boys where they got tired before they got injured so we'd never explored the three other options. Option one was the air hockey table. Finn tried to make a grab for the puck while two other kids were playing and immediately got his finger smashed.

So much for injury-free
Option two was the game where you pay a dollar to maneuver a claw down on top of a shitty stuffed animal so you can watch the jaws snap shut an inch above their target...every fucking time.

Option three was "The Vortex". This is a cylindrical chamber into which you trap your children while violent winds blow at them. They're happy to go into the thing, but the time it takes you to get your two dollars fed into the machine is exactly the amount of time it takes for the kids to get completely freaked out and start screaming for freedom. At this point you have a choice: either hold the door shut as they bang at the glass, tears streaming in the wind OR eat your two bucks and let them out. I went for the latter.

So we didn't quite make it for the full hour and a half, nor did we escape the place injury-free, but it was still worth it for the nap that followed and for something else so sweet that I hadn't noticed until that day; the boys really rely on one another. It's so cute it melts my brain. It made me think about their past two years together. From the beginning it was rough for Liam. He was not into this whole "having a brother" thing. But now they're the one constant in each other's lives and they're starting to show real affection for one another, in that lion cub kind of way. Who knows, maybe we'll see a hug by Christmas.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Midlife Crisis: Part Two

I just celebrated my 39th birthday and decided to buy a bike. Living in wine country means there are tons of cyclists, many of whom are good friends of mine. Consequently, I was able to score a great deal on a used bike and can now draw from my friends' vast library of knowledge and personal anecdotes to complete my transformation into an "avid cyclist".

I can admit the timing of all of this is highly suspect, what with my marriage ending this year and my 40th birthday looming on a not-so-distant horizon, but I swear this isn't really a midlife crisis. I had a proper midlife crisis just before my kids were born, so this is more of my midlife "crossroads". What's the difference you ask? I'm not sure but I think it might have to do with the clothes.

I was promptly informed that I need to get a "cycling kit". I thought that was a neat idea! A cycling kit must be some kind of combo bike pump/tire patching/key holding/card carrier/bike light type thingy that you strap your frame, right! Wrong, it's this:

and this...

aaaaaand this...


Why why why why why?! Am I going to be fired from a cannon? I understand there's some function to these things, such as padding, but why so many colors? Why so very tight? What's with looking like a stock car with too many sponsors?

I reached out to my sister Maggie who just started riding a fancy bike herself and asked her what she thought. She jokingly suggested I show up on my first day wearing one of these:

I thought it was hilarious and shared it with a friend who has been coaching me through this transition. She immediately touted the benefits of wearing a "bib."

"My cycling coach wore bibs," she said.

"You can't be serious," I thought to myself.

I once saw a 300lb man wearing something like this and nothing else. He was on a bike and riding up a slight incline toward a winery I used to work at. He was straining only slightly less than his outfit.

Maggie assured me that all I needed was a pair of padded shorts and a helmet so I'm following her lead. The lumpy neon alien look can wait until my kids leave for college.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Trying New Things

It's important to try and keep things fresh in a relationship. This doesn't just apply to romantic relationships, you've got to spice things up with your kids too. I just had the boys with me 9 out of the last 11 days and I could feel things starting to get into a rut so we tried some new activities.

#1 - Reverse Planking

This was both fun and thrilling. Fun for obvious reasons, and thrilling because there was real danger of being crushed by the caffeine deprived bleary-eyed public, unprepared for errant toddlers in their paths. I jumped up a little too late to retrieve Finn from underfoot of a well-dressed woman whose peripheral vision was obscured by a massive cashmere scarf. She stumbled and I apologized, but she assured me saying "it's okay, I own corgis". I have no idea what that means.

#2 - Hide and Seek

Liam has become adept at counting all the way to thirty, which is plenty of time to hide oneself in a one bedroom apartment. After three rounds I thought all the hiding places had been exhausted until I found Liam's clothes laid out in a path leading to this: 

I'm not sure that he needed to take his underpants off to fit, but he's clearly the pro here so I kept my mouth shut.

#3 - Drinking from a glass

To be fair this was just for Finn. Liam is adept at this as you can see.

Finn however, struggled.

But eventually triumphed.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Halloween 2013

Quick Sidebar:

Remember on 'Laverne & Shirley' when Shirley left the show to pursue a lucrative solo career but they kept the title of the show the same? Well despite the fact that I'm the only one who writes on this blog anymore, I'm keeping the 'Pair' in 'Pair-Ranting'.

Amanda's been too busy to write on the blog lately because she's taking a class on blogging. I think it's safe to call that 'irony'.

Anyway, I'm proud of her and I wish her great success. Who knows, maybe some day her name will as much of a household name as Cindy Williams.

Back to Halloween:

I'm a trend setter! So our first Halloween was waaay back in 2009 when baby Liam was just three months old. Check it out!

Since then the "Sexy Condiment" look is all the rage!! You're welcome mothers.

And NO I'm not a sexy crayon, I'm SEXY MUSTARD. Why would a sexy crayon be with a sexy Hot Dog on a Stick Girl and her hot dog? Moreover, why would something like a "sexy crayon" costume even exist??!!

Ah, okay.

The trends in Halloween costumes didn't used to be quite so puzzling. As a child of the 80's I can recall some definite trends but they all made sense. Things like Freddy Kruger and Jason from Friday the 13th were pretty common, but we did sexy back then too with Madonna and Flashdance.  What the hell is this?

I still have a few years to sort it all out before the boys can start making really bad decisions on their own. It won't be anything like the above, of course (thank god I have sons), but I could see them wearing stuff that's in poor taste and just plain stupid. Until then I intend to impose awesomeness upon them.

Okay, that was last year and it was a complete failure. Look at Liam's face! Erin and I had insisted on the 'Family Costume' for the last two years and the reaction from the boys has ranged from indifference to abject misery. In fact last year, before I caved and bought Liam a t-shirt at the Wurst so he could tear away his vile costume (Luke Skywalker, come on!), the desperation in his cries had me honestly wondering if he was violently allergic to third world polyester. It turned out the force was just seriously not with him.

So this year Erin bought the boys costumes for them. No theme this time, and certainly no dated pop-culture references. They were in heaven.

I can't come up with one way to tie Thomas the Tank Engine to a hamburger. It's just too big of a stretch, but whatever. For now I'll concede. I don't want to ruin Halloween for the boys just yet by forcing them to partake in my fantastic ideas, like dressing as the cast of Monty Python's Holy Grail pushing a giant wooden rabbit. They're young and easily scarred.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Harvest 2013

There were three things I planned on NOT doing. The first was to not blog until after Halloween because the running dialogue in my brain lately has been less like Lesley Gore and more like Morrissey and no one wants to hear me whine like a sad sack. Second thing was I was not going to make any wine this year because I haven't had the resources (money) or the space (something larger than my kitchen pantry) to do it in. The third thing was to avoid the use of annoying wordplay while blogging because it makes people mentally gag (i.e. less Lesley, more Morrissey). Heave.

So Sunday morning was harvest day. Here's a picture from last year's harvest day:

As you can see it was a little slice of poetic wine country bliss. This year, however, harvest day was a train wreck that caught fire, exploded, and polluted the groundwater.

These days Erin is living in a bit of commune out in the vines and one of her neighbors manages the vineyards for a high end wine producer in the Alexander Valley. As luck would have it, this guy found himself at the end of the harvest season with a few tons of premium Alexander Valley Syrah unsold. He offered this to Erin for free. FREE! We just had to pick it. She found this out on Thursday so we had little time to hustle together the equipment and the space we needed. I tracked down a few bins for picking and fermenting, a mini crew of three, and a friend of mine loaned me the all important crusher/destemmer so we could actually turn this fruit into wine.

On Saturday Erin's neighbor took me out to the vineyard. I wasn't going out there to inspect the quality of the fruit or anything, it was free after all, I was just going to see where it was so I could get started first thing in the morning. When I saw the fruit though my head exploded. It was gorgeous.

It's hard to tell from the picture, but hanging on the vines was beautiful Syrah, perfectly ripe and delicious. He estimated there was about three and a half tons and I could take all I wanted. Too good to be true.

The next morning I got the boys up early, made breakfast, and dashed over to Erin's house where Grandma was waiting to watch the boys for me. Erin's landlord had agreed to let us use the garage on the property. Everything was falling right into place and I was starting to get really excited. The vineyard was less than a mile away so Erin's father and I loaded up the truck and headed out. Erin was supposed to be the third member of our crew but she got stuck in the city overnight and wouldn't be back until noon. "Crap!" I thought, "All that fruit and just the two of us picking?"  The solution to this problem quickly presented itself.

As it turned out, Erin's neighbor had apparently found a last minute buyer who had harvested during the night. Mercifully he'd left a little bit behind. It wasn't much but it was still FREE so I quickly recovered and set to picking. In the end we had only one quarter of a ton. Better than nothing!

I wasn't going to be able to do my usual two barrels like I have every year for the past decade or so. The amount we picked would probably only produce about 30 gallons, but with the money I'd saved by getting FREE GRAPES I'd be able to buy enough wine for the rest of the year to supplement this year's meager yield.

That's it
We took our little bin home and I set up the crusher/destemmer and went to go get Liam. Finn was napping which was just as well since he's a liability around wine making equipment, but Liam was eager to be a part of our annual tradition. It's sort of been my fantasy to have the boys grow up with an appreciation for wine making. I want them to one day talk about their early fond memories of watching their daddy at work. I positioned Liam safely behind me in the bed of the pick up, grabbed my shovel, proudly scooped the first shovel full of fruit into the crusher, and flipped the switch.

It spun around for 5 seconds before completely seizing up, never to turn again. In my haste I hadn't bothered
to check to make sure the thing worked. I'm guessing it's owner hadn't lubed it in a while because it was rusted solid. I climbed down and did what I could to try and get it going. This amounted to turning it on and off again a few times. All it did was make that humming sound machines make when they're trying to work but can't. It sounded like a constipated robot.

So I stared at it for a long while.

A long, long while.

All was very quiet. A fly buzzed by. Over in the vines some laundry flapped gently in the breeze. There was something about the laundry I didn't like. I felt like the towels were shooting each other knowing looks and motioning toward me. Go to hell laundry.

I realized Liam had been looking on for a while as the reality of my situation was settling in. I glanced over at him and he had the same pained expression on his face that I had. I regarded this for a bit and realized I don't give him enough credit. He understands more than people know. His empathy for my situation at that moment clearly demonstrated that fact. Then I realized he'd just crapped his pants.

I stripped him down right there and took him up to Erin's bathroom. I pre-treated what I could and tossed all affected areas into a laundry basket. In the end this included his underpants, his pants, both socks, both shoes, and the bathroom rug.

After getting him dressed and putting on A Bug's Life, I went back down to stare at my busted crusher some more and to assess. I had a quarter ton of grapes. I had no way to process them, no where to put them, and no means to move them even if I did have any place to store them. I had a truck, a crusher, and some borrowed bins I had to return that night. And upstairs I had one napping son and one freshly de-pooped son, both of whom were going to be hungry soon. Time to cut my losses and go home.

I made one last futile attempt to salvage the whole mess by asking the Facebook community if anyone could use my grapes. It's times like these when you're frustrated beyond belief that you hope for some small consolation, and having someone use them for something would have been nice. Just the fact that I was glad not to have been stuck with more was some consolation. I had a few bites on Facebook, but nothing practical.

Free Grapes Anyone?

The only thing left to do was dump them, and that's when I got my consolation. Liam thought it was hilarious. I figured the easiest way to dispose of a quarter ton of grapes was to put them back where I found them, so I had Erin drive the pick up truck down the rows between the vines while I shoveled the grapes out the back. We were only going about 5 mph so I thought it would be safe enough for Liam to ride back there with me. He stopped laughing hysterically just long enough to shout "BYE GWAPES!!" after each shovel full. My hero.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In a Funk

I've been struggling with writing lately. I like writing this blog as a kind of 'scrapbook' for my kids, but I don't feel like I've had anything to write about that they might one day want to read. I told Amanda I've been wanting to share some funny anecdotes about my boys but I've got no material. "Well those are lovely. It's pretty much your 'thing'. Try branching out! It'll be fun!"  She's always so supportive.

I guess I could stand to branch out a bit. Now that Liam is fully potty trained I've lost the main source of my usual material. So I've been reflecting on what life has been like lately in an effort to come up with a story worth sharing.

I went to my high school reunion last week. It was fine.

Let's see, what else?

Erin and I met with our mediator.

Shit. No. Okay, I've got this.

I haven't been feeling healthy so I decided to do a two week cleanse: no gluten, dairy, sugar, or meat!


Okay, I'm going on sabbatical until Halloween. For now here's that clip of Louis C.K. from Conan. He talks about how it's good to be sad sometimes, which I completely agree with, I just don't want to blog about it. Generally I find people who give advice on how to parent, and how to live your life, completely and totally insufferable, but Louis CK is the exception. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shotgun Finn Turns Two


I'm not having it. Liam is a little boy now and I'm okay with that, but Finn is not allowed to be. No more growing up! Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning baby!!

Having a birthday on a Wednesday is crap so I took the boys to Berkeley over the weekend to indulge with the grandparents. We went to Tilden park which is a strange mysterious sort of neverland tucked away in a valley just behind the Berkeley hills. We started with feeding the farm animals:

After I snapped these shots of Liam I turned around to find Finn eating his celery stick. Classic.

Next was the carousel:

Then the steam train:

Finn was a little apprehensive on the train and insisted that I hold both of his hands the whole ride. It couldn't have run long enough. Once they were properly enchanted by all the wonders of Tilden, it was time for ice cream cake, singing, and the blowing out of candles (with a little assistance):

This morning Erin sent me a text that she was thinking about Finn's birth. She summed it up perfectly with one word: "amazing". It was truly amazing, but so has every day been since. I love you so much baby Finn it's ridiculous. Happy birthday pal.