Friday, July 31, 2009

Camping on Cape Cod

The kids and I are getting ready for a five day camping trip to Cape Cod. Strewn about my apartment are fishing poles, duffel bags, sleeping bags, a camp stove, two tents, and my infamous camping box. Inside the camping box are plates, pots, a frying pan, toilet paper, a sponge, matches, flashlights, and a cyanide capsule should I decide to end things mid-trip.

Yesterday I made the mistake of taking Aidan and Fiona grocery shopping for the trip. I do not know how this happened but someone they won control over the grocery agenda. While we have plenty of marshmallows, hot chocolate, ingredients for smores, and for some reason, three boxes of pop tarts, I have no idea what we are going to have during meal time. Maybe the four of us will have to live on smores and pop tarts.

This trip was originally going to take us to Montreal. I had hoped we would be able to do some camping and enjoy a cosmopolitan city as well. But, as with many people this summer, economic reality compelled me to scale back our vacation to more modest proportions. So a camping trip to Cape Cod it is. Besides, it will be nice not having to spend nine hours in a car with my daughter asking me "are we almost there yet?" Instead, I will spend an hour in the car with my daughter asking me "are we almost there yet?"

Dad has a new gig. I am the Mortgage Industry Examiner for the Boston Examiner. Check me out at Tell your friends. Read often.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Beach

Ahhhhhh....the beach. I love the beach. The smell of the salt air, hot sand underfoot, and the sound of the ocean rolling ashore has always been a source of renewal for me. Unfortunately, until a few weeks ago, due to circumstance and some really crappy weather, I have had not had much opportunity to go to the beach this summer. But now I go as often as I can.

My first trip was about three weeks ago. The day had been difficult and fraught and the previous 12 hours had beaten the crap out of me. However, as I sat on the beach, the warm sun on my shoulders, winter had finally lost its grip on me and I felt like a new man (that I was next to a very hot woman also helped as well). Since then I have returned as often as possible.

Yesterday, I took Aidan and Fiona to the beach. This visit was as crazed as my first visit was peaceful. We have a rule when we go to the beach; Take as little as possible. Which means for us, one towel each, small cooler for snacks and drinks, one blanket, one frisbee, and that's it. I am amazed at people who pack for the beach as though they were going to climb Everest. I saw more than one parent, burdened with bags and backpacks and coolers, lugging wagons behind them with their little kids trailing behind. I thought of a great business I could start...beach Sherpa. When you arrive at the beach you could hire your own beach Sherpa who would carry your stuff to and from your car. Hell...with the way the mortgage business is going I just might take a stab at this myself.

So like many other simple pleasures, we over complicate going to the beach. We have taken the perfect combination of sand, sun, and salt water, and imposed upon it the logistical demands of a Himalayan mountain expedition. When all you really need is a towel, a bottle of water, and two great kids (or one really hot woman).

Dad has a new gig. I am the Mortgage Industry Examiner for the Boston Examiner. Check me out at Tell your friends. Read often.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Dad

My brother, one of my sisters, and our families gathered today to celebrate my father's 77th birthday today. Whilst he has some health issues I hope I am as active as my dad is when I am 77. He still fishes everyday, he has an extensive garden, and he raises fruit trees. While I wonder if he is happy I do think he is satisfied in his retirement.

As I watched my Dad talk to his grandchildren and to my brother and sister I found myself imagining what my Dad's life was like when we as my age at 42. The sole provider of a family of five, my Dad enjoyed only a modest income. He lived frugally, he made due with what he had, and if what he had broke, he figured out a way to fix it. My Dad, as my former boss would say, knew how to get the sh*t out of buffalo nickel.

Now that I face all of the same issues I imagined that my Dad had to handle, I better understand some of the reasons why he acted towards us the way he did. The pressure of hanging on to a job, making ends meet, and providing for a family is enormous. Add cardiac trouble to the mix, my Dad must have been under a tremendous amount of pressure to ensure that we were provided for. While I do not think he dealt with that pressure in the best way, I am now able to see that he handled things as best he could.

While my Dad and I do not enjoy a close relationship I do admire him for what he has accomplished. I do however, wish I were closer to him. We both have sharp edges to our personalities and those edges often grind against each other. He is not shy about sharing his opinion about some of the choices I made in my life. But I learned a long time ago that I need to be my own man...a lesson I learned from my Dad.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

At The Tilt'n Diner

I love diners. I like the shine of a diner's stainless steel components. I like the retro feel. I like that the waitresses call you "hun."

And I love the Tilt'n Diner.

I met a client at the Tilt'n Diner last night. Located in Tilton in central New Hampshire, about 30 minutes north of Concord, the Tilt'n offers a wide range of diner fare. Its always good and its always reasonably priced.

So I drove 2 hours to Tilton to meet a client. I had been courting her for months and last night we met to discuss disclosures. A divorced mom, she and I had much in common. I found that we talked more about life after divorce than we did about mortgages. We chatted for about an hour, she signed the disclosures, and she then left for home. I remained to have dinner.

As I sat in my booth I could not help but think of the last time I ate at the Tilton Diner. It was three years ago this summer. After having just moved out of the house I had taken my kids on a vacation to New Hampshire. They were still very uncertain about what their lives would look like after I moved out and their mom had moved back into the house. I wanted to assure them that things were going to work out ok.

For myself, I remember feeling anxious about having to support two households and about creating a new home for myself and my kids. As I drove home last night I thought about my kids and how they have fared the last several years. I am thankful that after some very turbulent times that their lives are settled, they have a routine, they seem to be as comfortable with their mother as they do with me, and that they are certain that their Dad will always be there for them.

I was also thankful I ordered the homefries. They were almost as good as mine.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ice Cream

It was at 3:15 this morning when I arrived at a critical decision that I am sure will effect the rest of my day; I decided to have a bowl of ice cream.

I was having trouble sleeping. That I am up again at 5:30 typing this posting is evidence further still that my sleep is not what it should be. I guess I have a lot of things on my mind and I am excited about the day in front of me. On most nights 3:15 is closer to my bed time than it is to the time I get up. So I decided upon my favorite sleep aid.

Something choc-a-block full of sugar may seem like a strange thing to have when one is having trouble sleeping. Not for me. I realize that for most people ice cream evokes images of ice cream cones eaten on bright summer days. For me ice cream is a comfort food, a reward earned at the end of a hard day. Yes, there have been times when I have abused ice cream (eating a half gallon right out of the box while watching an episode of House is a cry for help) but when used properly, ice cream can provide a comfort like nothing else.

The psychology of comfort food interests me but why ice cream does it for me I have no idea. I have been known to pass on it in the middle of the day, but after a long day, there is nothing better than sitting up late at night (or early in the morning) with a big bowl of smooth, creamy, icy cold ice cream.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My Brother

My brother is a regular guy who goes to a regular job. He has a regular house, with four regular kids, and a regular wife. He has a regular life.

I used to think that guys like my brother were...well....saps. While I worked my deals from my home, the beach or from California, my brother was at his desk. While I was dating artists, dancers, or soccer moms, my brother went home to his wife. While I got to enjoy being both a bachelor and a dad, my brother brother got to enjoy the privilege of being a great father and an awesome husband.

I was at his office the other day dropping off his boys from their visit with me. Along his sideboard are a bunch of photographs chronicling his family life. The images of my brother, his wife, and his three (now four) boys told the story of a loving family dedicated to each other. On his desk were the remnants of my brother's lunch. Apparently he had forgotten his lunch that morning so his wife made the 40 mile round trip to make sure he had something to eat. Keep in mind that this woman gave birth two weeks ago.

My brother will never be rich or powerful but he is one of the most successful men I know. Looking at his life I find myself wondering who is really is a sap.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Herding Cats Through Boston

Yesterday I gulped hard and decided to take my kids and my nephews to Boston see the Tall Ships. Now my kids are used to my eccentricities and were not at all surprised that I wanted to go and look at sailing ships. My nephews, on the other hand, did not know what to make of my idea.

I was more than a little nervous about going into town too but I gathered up my courage, fueled everyone up on an eggs and bacon breakfast, wore them out a little in the pool, made muffins, grabbed a dozen bottles of water, and we set out for Boston.

While driving to Boston I had made 4 rules for myself;

  1. We were going to stay in town for 4 hours. Not a minute more. Not a minute less.
  2. Consequences for bad behavior would be delivered calmly and swiftly. I promised myself that I was not going to swear like a fish monger in front of my brother's children.
  3. I imposed a $50.00 spending limit on myself (except for parking and gas). This meant no crappy souvenirs and no matter how badly I might need them, no oysters and martinis for me.
  4. I promised myself that I was not going to ask the kids what they wanted to do. I needed to run the show otherwise chaos would ensue.
I was able to keep rules 1 and 4 easily. We checked out several of the Tall Ships, talked about which ones were my favorite (most of us liked the Portuguese barque Sagres). We then made our way over to Fanieul Hall and had pizza from Pizzeria Regina. The kids watched a street performer while I called the office. While I was able to calmly deal with the minor incidents of misbehavior I knew that I had no shot at not swearing. Besides it was fun listing to my nephews giggle when I told a driver in front of me to get his head out of his ass.

My $50.00 spending limit went to hell went we went to the North End. Oliver suggested cannoli and hot chocolate at Cafe Vittoria. Up until that point I had spent about $25.00 on lunch, sodas, and a bag of Doritos so I figured why the hell not. I ordered chocolate chip cannolis and a round of hot chocolates for everyone and I got myself a cappuccino. We talked about Italy, and soccer, and poops (remember...I had 5 boys with me....poor Fiona, what she had to endure these last two days). The very nice waitress gave me the bill....$45.00. So with the $10.00 tip I left her (she earned it having to wait on my crew) my budget was blown to only $20.00 however.

Walking back to the car was a challenge. The kids were bouncing all over the place. Oliver, walking along side of me, said "Dad, after giving them hot chocolate and cannoli and expecting them to behave in the car would be like throwing five superballs into a phone booth and expecting none of them to bounce into each other." So we played red light green light in Columbus park to take the edge off of the sugar rush. I have a very smart kid.

Now breakfast is ready and the kids are stirring. By 5:00 t0night my nephews will be at their home and my kids will be with their mom. The idea of having a quiet apartment to myself is less appealing than I thought it would be two days ago.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Swarm of Locusts

Two Pounds of Pasta

3 pounds of Meatballs

1 loaf of Italian Bread

1 Salad

1 Batch of Brownies

4 Liters of Soda

1 Half Gallon of Ice Cream

That is what my kids and my three nephews consumed last night for dinner. It was a wild day here yesterday. I got my nephews at my brother's office at 10:00. Grabbed my kids from a sleepover at my ex brother-in-law's at 12:00. Brought them back to my place to find a pizza delivery guy at the door (the ex wife ordered pizza for us...more about the reason for her good mood in tomorrow's post). And then we had an afternoon of whiffle ball (in the rain) and swimming in the pool.

I took time in the afternoon to pull dinner together. I had made the meatballs and sauce the night before and had picked up bread earlier in the day. I was concerned that I was making too much food. Hahaha....boy was I wrong. Those six kids descended on my dining room table like the world was about to run out of food and they needed to get their share. Dinner was wiped out in ten minutes. As it was evident that there was going to be barely enough food for dinner I had a bowl of raisin bran.

The kids played outside until 8:00 and then I threw them in the pool again. My six year old nephew had enough sense to fall asleep at 9:00. My daughter was asleep at 11:00. I had to have the boys shut off the Wii and go to bed at 12:30. They were awake until 1:00. My six year old nephew got me up at 5:45. He saw that we had Star Wars here and had to watch it at 5:45. He is letting me watch it with him, however I upset him earlier as I have seen the movie about seven hundred times over the last ten months and am able to recite much of the movie from memory. He would rather hear the actual actors say their lines rather than his uncle. So I have found another person who does not appreciate my talents.

So I am off to make lunches for our trip to Boston to see the Tall Ships. I am going to bring some raisin bran for me.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Lately my oldest son has faced a series of really grown up issues. The latest concerns a friend of his he has known since kindergarten. This is a really sweet kid who has been Oliver's best friend for years. He has stayed at my house, I have cooked him dinner, and he has been a constant in my son's life.

This spring this boy started to experience some difficulty which made him sometimes uncomfortable to be around. He reached out to Oliver and my son responded by sticking by his friend, spending hours on the phone with him and even visiting him in the hospital. I was very proud of him.

Recently I learned that this boy was hospitalized again, however, Oliver had not been in touch with his friend for a few weeks. I nudged and poked and prodded him until the other day when he told me why he had not spoken to his friend. Oliver told me that he was uncomfortable talking to his friend and that he (his friend) was not acting like himself.

I tried my best to explain to Oliver that people go through good times and bad times in life. I explained to him that to be a friend means to stick with your friends even when they are going through hard times. I was brutally honest with Oliver when I told him that the last thing his pal needed was to have his best friend run away from him.

We discussed his friend a bit more and he decided to call him. Right now Oliver is one a sleepover at his friend's home. They were both delighted to see each other when I dropped Oliver off yesterday afternoon. I am delighted that I have a son who sticks with his friends.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Keep That Chum Line Going Chief

Its the Fourth of July and I am watching Jaws...again. I like good movies for a bunch of reasons...the biggest being is that if you pay attention you are able to get something new out of the movie each time you watch them.

This time I realized that part of Jaws' appeal is that our perception of the natural order of things is turned upside down. Our place on top of the food chain is challenged by a great white shark. Instead of our plying the ocean for food instead we became food. The citizens of Amity are panicked and don't understand why the order of things have changed. The mayor (who is, next to Quint, is my favorite character) refuses to recognize that the great white had turned the tables on him and that his island's beach goers and fishermen had become prey.

Sitting here watching the movie I realized that I have become prey. A series of personal, financial, and professional setbacks has left me bewildered and confused. I had grown accustomed to having at least the illusion of being on top of the food chain. I ran my own business. I made my own deals. I set my own schedule. I lived life on my terms. I used to make life happen and now life is happening to me. I changed without realizing it, and a lot of blood, my blood, spilled into the water while I refused to recognize that I had become prey.

So, in a manner of speaking I am now off to hunt the great white. I am going to have to re-invent myself if I am going to reclaim my accustomed place in the food chain. I only hope I do not end up like Captain Quint.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Talk

Grown up questions from my kids are coming at me fast and furious this week. Here is one of the topics Oliver threw at me last night.

The inevitable has happened...Oliver has started to ask me about girls. He has always had an interest in girls but he is now at a point where he is seeking me out for advice. Why he thinks I would be a good source for advice is beyond me. My own track record with women is spotty at best. We have had THE TALK and have revisited the topic of sex from time to time. While I am about as comfortable as I am going to get about this I was unprepared for last night's chat.

Anyway... there are two girls who apparently like Oliver. One has been a classmate of Oliver's for a few years and the other is a grade ahead of Oliver and has known him for years. For some reason he feels as though he needs to choose one of these girls in whom to be interested. I tried to assure him that this was something he was too young to worry about and all he simply needs to do is be honest and be kind. He then asked me what I would do and how I would choose between the two

I tried to give him the pat answers I imagine most Dads give their sons in these situations. I told him that its important that that the person be nice, and smart, and funny. Oliver persisted. He wanted to know what was important to me. I tried to put him off but he chased me down a conversational alley and the only way out was to turn around give him what he wanted and then I could be on my way. Besides...Oliver approached me as a young man so I thought I owed him the courtesy of treating him like a young man.

Then I gave him the secret to the relationship universe. I told him that if he met someone for whom he was willing to do anything, sacrifice anything, made him feel capable of doing anything, who made him feel more comfortable with himself than he had ever felt before then he would walk around with the feeling that he had just hit a home run. I tried to convey to him the idea of what it was like to be with someone who made him feel like his best possible self and what a powerful gift that was. I also told him that is what is important to me...but that everybody is different and that with experience he will better understand whats important to him. I told him that I gave him an adult answer to an adult question but that as a teenager it was more than enough for him to like and care for someone.

I had realized that my son and I had our first conversation about love and that it was a more important conversation than then the ones about sex. And I think he got it and I think he understood that as a teenager there are some feelings that he should not worry about. He asked if I had ever felt this way before. I told him I felt this way about him, his brother, and his sister. Oliver told me that was not what he meant and I stopped him short as he was about to mention a name. Oliver realized he already knew the answer to his question. We spoke for a while longer. He then went of to bed. I remained in my chair to ponder.