Wednesday, February 29, 2012

*Yawn* Sox Spring Training

The Red Sox are nine days into spring training at a sparkling new facility under the direction of an energetic new manager. But the ghosts of their disastrous 2011 season stubbornly refuse to fade away. – Peter Abraham, Boston Globe

Those ghosts continue to haunt me. I'm still nursing my grudge about 2011, me and plenty of other members of Red Sox Nation with whom I’ve been speaking as members of the 2012 Red Sox team start Spring Training. I'm usually excited about Spring Training. This year, not so much.

An epic fail last fall which wasted months of the team's hard work. A scandal-ridden several weeks where tales of sloth-like, beer swilling, idiotic antics in the clubhouse surfaced, along with Us Magazine-caliber gossip about the skipper of the sinking Red Sox ship, Terry Francona. Out went Terry. Out went Theo. In came a new GM and a new coach, neither of whom instill confidence in me. Gone are Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.

And I remain ticked, skeptical and desirous of seeing some real contrition from these spoiled multi-millionaires who, with the exception of good guy Dustin Pedroia, don’t seem to care that their poor playing, lack of sportsmanship and work ethic let down an entire region which spends countless hours of their life watching their games, buying their pricey merchandise and, if they’re lucky enough to get the opportunity, dropping many dead presidents at Fenway Park in order to catch a game in person.

I’m actually pretty surprised at the level of irritation I still have against the Olde Town Team. It’s one thing for them to lose well-fought games that don't happen to go their way. That was the story for the first few decades of my Red Sox fandom. As long as the players and staff acted like they cared and put in effort, I didn't lose respect for them. But to lose because you really don’t seem like you care, because you’ve checked out, because you refuse to get into shape and selfishly won’t provide moral support to your teammates, that just doesn’t sit well with me, nor with many longtime Sox fans.

What will it take for me to stop being steamed at my favorite team and not to speak of them with disgust? I’m not sure. Maybe time? Maybe when the likes of Josh Beckett stop childishly complaining about “snitches” telling stories about his bad behavior and look in the mirror . . . wehre he'll see the face of the problem. These are not the kind of athletic role models I want my kids emulating.

The team that once proudly proclaimed it was comprised of good natured “idiots,” is now proving that that's still the case but not in a good spirited, win-the-World-Series and gut-it-out kind of way.

Random &*$# Lenten Observation

You know that you've got a prolific potty mouth when your kids suggest that you give up swearing for Lent.

In the past two years, during the Lenten period, I put a quarter into a jar every time I slipped up and said something naughty. Later, I donated the money, but in a pinch I dipped into it to pay for school lunches.

I must confess, I'm not off to a &*$#%! great start . . . and I haven't even set up the swear jar yet. I think I owe it at least $5.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Quick Hits: NYC School Vacation Trip, Occupy Siblings & Margarita Bombs

NYC School Vacation Trip
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Intrepid. The United Nations. Top of the Rock. Wicked. Skating at Rockefeller Center. Zabar's. A nod to Linsanity.

The Picket Fence Post family headed down to the big city for a few days at the beginning of February vacation and, as was The Spouse's wont, packed so many activities into our brief three-day/two-night stay that I've been rendered exhausted for the remainder of the week as The Youngest Boy keeps bugging about where I'm going to take him next. (Copious amounts of coffee are not perking me up any.)

We packed ourselves into one hotel room -- seriously, New York City hotel rooms are so expensive that we couldn't justify getting two rooms, but at least The Girl got her own bed -- and we were able to make great use of my iPad (I got to watch episodes of Downton Abbey, my new addiction, in bed while the kids slept) in between dragging ourselves all over Manhattan and squeezing in a cat nap at a Starbucks at Rockefeller Center. (No lie. I was so tired at one point I had a very small nap while sitting in a Starbucks. After a latte nonetheless.)

The Girl loved visiting The Met with me, while the boys, or at least one of them, enjoyed going to the Intrepid with their father. (The disgruntled child kept texting me saying he was having a crappy time and wanted me to take a cab across town and rescue him from the horror of touring the museum with his father and brother.) Despite the complaints of that one child, it's a good thing we decided to split up and that I didn't take The Youngest Boy with us to the museum because, while he appalled by the paintings of naked people at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts when we went there several months ago, he would've been downright outraged at the plethora of naked sculptures throughout the Met. Really graphic sculptures too. (Every time we've tried to tell the child that it's art and that the human body is beautiful, he tells The Spouse and me that we're sick perverts.)

My two highlights from the trip: Seeing the Broadway show Wicked (which I didn't think I'd like because it's a musical and I'm not keen on musicals, but I wound up loving it . . . in fact everyone in the Picket Fence Post family enjoyed it, which is rare to achieve a consensus) and ice skating at Rockefeller Center even though I fell down on the ice twice, the second time landing really hard on my rear-end. It still hurts, days later. (Insert pain in the butt joke here.)

We tried, and failed, to get tickets to see Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks' new basketball sensation, play at Madison Square Garden. I was told, in no uncertain terms by the two different ticket agents with whom I spoke on the phone, as well as by the Knicks/Ticketmaster web site, that it was "impossible" for me to buy tickets for all five members of my family. Losers. However we still got a taste of Linsanity by stopping by at the NBA store and getting The Eldest Boy one of the Lin T-shirts that the clerk with whom I spoke said is flying off the shelves. (My personal favorite souvenir from the trip: The "Knope 2012" T-shirt from the NBC Experience store honoring Amy Poehler's lead character Leslie Knope from Parks & Recreation.)

On our way out of town, we stopped at Zabar's, the famous NYC deli/grocery store, and bought the most delicious baked goods I've ever tasted. The chocolate babka -- a shout-out to Seinfeld -- was delectable and the knishes were fabulous. It's a good thing that I don't live near Zabar's or else that fanny upon which I fell at the ice skating rink would most certainly balloon if I scarfed down those choice eats on a regular basis.

Occupy Siblings

Perhaps I've shared one too many news casts and newspaper front pages with the Picket Fence Post kids about Occupy Wall Street because after we got home from our trip, The Youngest Boy decided to stage a sit-in in front of his sister's bedroom door, complete with a little tent, an Occupy Siblings protest if you will.

Why was the little person protesting? Not because there's a 1 percent versus the 99 percent thing going on in our household -- though if you asked The Eldest Boy he'd say The Spouse and I are top-hatted, walking stick-carrying snotty 1 percenters while the kids are the powerless 99 percenters whose only option to make change is to protest -- but because he believes his sister is hoarding a bunch of notebooks and he wants her to share the wealth.

"Do you want to join the protest for notebooks?" he asked his brother, who declined as he was playing the role of the counter-protester taunting the Occupier, only he didn't have a snarky sign with him.

The ironic thing: I'm 100 percent certain that if I went to The Youngest Boy's Superfund Site of a bedroom I'd find 12 notebooks buried under various piles of garbage.

Margarita Bombs

The best line of the week came from The Youngest Boy who was telling his brother a story while we were driving home from New York, "And then the guy threw a margarita bomb!"

He meant Molotov cocktail.

Image credit: Photos of NYC by The Girl, photo of Knope shirt, NBC.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jonesing (Again!) for Another Cute Canine

It was the perfect storm with which to rekindle my dormant interest in adopting doggie number two, on Valentine's Day, of all days.

During Valentine's Day afternoon, I took The Girl to a local animal shelter as part of a service project she's working on for church. As part of the tour of the shelter, we got to see where all the animals who are available for adoption are kept and met the critters, big and small, young and old. It was then that I became interested in an absolutely adorable 7-year-old mutt of a thing and a three-month-old, energetic mutt puppy who would likely be a ton of work. I then had the powerful urge to do something completely out of character for me: Impulsively take one of those furry balls of love home.

Some context: The Spouse and I have prided ourselves on having a cooperative partnership. We almost always check in with one another and discuss -- ad nauseum sometimes -- big decisions, purchases, etc. Well, almost all of the time. There was one instance when The Spouse bought a flat screen TV for his home office/man cave without speaking with me beforehand. He just showed up at home with it. On another occasion, he placed a bid on an Orlando vacation rental at a charity auction (and won a week at the rental) without first sending me a quick text about his bid. But other than those two pricey examples, over the course of nearly 20 years, we've made the bulk of our decisions together.

As for this whole second dog thing, it's been an on-and-off discussion which I've spearheaded for some time, a subject upon which I get all hot and bothered for while, then something happens (like Max eating baking chocolate and almost dying) when I can't envision how hard it would be to have two dogs, plus two parents with careers and three kids with all their various and sundry activities and I'll drop the notion like a bad habit. But inevitably, the interest will build again and I'll say over dinner, "I think Max is lonely. He'd really like a friend." The Spouse typically humors me. He not-too-subtly ignores the listings for rescue dogs that I e-mail him on occasion as he waits for me to drop the matter.

I really didn't want to drop it yesterday though. I wanted to go rogue as I looked at those two dogs and imagined one of them playing with good old Maxie boy, whose hair is still way too shaggy. (Mental note: Book a groomer's appointment ASAP.) But I didn't act impulsively. I restrained myself and simply thanked the woman who ran the shelter and headed home with The Girl.

However that night -- after enjoying a candlelit dinner with the family, comprised mostly of stuff I'd just picked up at the grocery store -- I couldn't find anything in the vein of a romantic comedy or a plain old romance (because it was Valentine's Day) on TV, and happened upon the Westminster Dog Show. And when that Purina ad (see above) was aired repeatedly throughout the broadcast, I got all sappy, cuddled my non-show mutt of a dog and entertained some more rogue thoughts about going back to that shelter.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Get Me . . . I'm Gonna Be All Positive & Valentine-y

My normal, modus operandi is to mock Valentine's Day as a commercial venture ginned up by card companies, chocolatiers, florists, restaurateurs, lingerie manufacturers, jewelers and other assorted retailers in order to yield one big infusion of cash to tide them over until the next big, gift-giving national holiday.

"Why do we need a special holiday to celebrate love?" I'd ask. "Isn't that what your anniversary is for? And the birthdays of the ones you love?"

The Spouse also subscribes to this way of thinking, resentful at being told that he must demonstrate his love and affection by presenting me with something tangible every February 14, something that wasn't picked up at the convenience store on the way home from work.

But, as I seem to be doing a lot lately (see my previous blog entry), I've been rethinking this attitude. What if, instead of resenting the hearts and flowers and chocolates being shoved in my face by the onslaught of Valentine's ads, I embrace the sentiment instead? Hence, I've decided that. like with my refusal to allow stress and pressure to wreck Christmas, I'm not going to permit my rampant cynicism to put the kibosh on February 14. No, I'm not going to go all crazy and spend days baking all things heart-shaped and chocolate. I'm not planning on slaving away to make a grand, gourmet meal. I'm not making candies for all the children the Picket Fence Post kids hang out with (nor am I buying candies for dozens of children either.)

Instead, I'm going to aim for simple. Simple can be good, enjoyable even. I've purchased The Spouse one gift as well as some sweet tokens for the Picket Fence Post kiddos. Whatever we wind up having for dinner on February 14 -- whether it's frozen pizza, pasta or something easy to prepare -- the whole family can eat in the dining room at a candlelit table (we always have candles in the house) with some Sinatra playing in the background. All I'll do is pick up some kind of chocolaty dessert someplace on that day. That will be perfect.

In my new found spirit of mirth, I even picked up a box of Hello Kitty Valentines and will give them out, just because. (Now that the kids no longer have Valentine's Day parties at school where they distribute Valentines to all their classmates, I kind of miss the little Valentines with cartoon characters on them.) Filling them out makes me feel Lorelai Gilmore-esque. With all this cheerful, pro-Valentine's Day spirit, the Picket Fence Post kids and The Spouse will demand to know whether I've been sipping one too many gin and tonics.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kids & Grades: Do You Offer Your Kids Rewards for Good Grades?

I vowed I'd never do it.

"There's no need to," I reasoned. "It's just expected that they'll do well."

"Why should I bribe or pay or reward my kids for good grades?" I asked. "Doing well in school is the kids' job and, as long as they try their hardest, I'll be okay with that."

Then I changed my mind on this hot-button parenting topic upon which there is no consensus.

Hypocrite, table for one.

My evolution on this matter began last month when I was driving the kids to school one morning and we heard the subject being debated on a local radio talk show. Two out of the three Picket Fence Post kids thought that offering some sort of reward or treat for earning good grades was a simply marvelous barnstormer of an idea. The one, bless this child's heart, said that payment and/or a reward was unnecessary.

However there's a child, whom I shan't identify, who could use a little help in the motivation department when it comes to academics. Providing something tangible -- nothing big, we're not talkin' a flat screen TV or an iTouch or anything like that -- just might help incentivize this child and could ultimately prove beneficial, I thought, revising my earlier no-money-for-grades point of view.

I decided, without telling my offspring in advance that I'd gamble and see how this scheme would play out. I had to keep in mind, however, that if I offered an incentive to one kid, I'd have to do it for all three of them, so whatever I did, I'd be setting a precedent. (It must be noted that The Spouse was not on board with this plan, at all, though he said he wouldn't stop me from making this my private deal between the kids and me.)

The new era of throwing a little somethin' behind my hearty congratulations for good grades began this week when The Youngest Boy got his report card and fared well. I told him that I was proud of him and that, as a reward, I'd take him out for ice cream after dinner, along with any other kid who happened to be home at the time. (The Girl was at basketball practice, missed out on the ice cream and was mighty steamed.) When we got home, I quietly slipped the kid a 10-spot and told him, "Good work." (The Spouse rolled his eyes when I told him what I'd done.)

Last night I made The Youngest Boy completely re-do an assignment because I said he'd just phoned it in and not tried very hard. He didn't disagree with me, in fact, he smirked a little when I called him on it. And he re-did it without a fight. The beginning of a new era indeed.

What do you do about good/bad grades?

Image credit.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Can My Wolf-It-Down Family Eat More Slowly, Mindfully?

I had to laugh when I read an article in the New York Times promoting “mindful” eating. In my house, people eat as though bands of marauders are apt to rampage through the kitchen at any moment, stealing all the “good food” from the table (leaving behind the veggies and anything “weird” looking) and leaving my family bereft and hungry.

To say that we are gulp down our food at a rapid clip is as much of an understatement as saying that Donald Trump has a slightly inflated ego.

The Spouse in particularly is guilty of this. He does it so often that I frequently mutter under my breath, “Slow down!” (When I’ve had too much caffeine during the day and/or am on a tight time schedule, he does the same for me.)

So when I told him that the New York Times said he should put down his fork in between bites, as I oftentimes suggest, he accused me of ad libbing. But I wasn’t.

“Try this,” the article began, “place a forkful of food in your mouth. It doesn’t matter what the food is, but make it something you love – let’s say it’s that first nibble from three hot, fragrant, perfectly cooked ravioli.”

“Now comes the hard part,” writer Jeff Gordinier continued. “Put the fork down. This could be a lot more challenging than you imagine, because the first bite was very good and another immediately beckons. You’re hungry.”

Gordinier said if you take the time to chew the food s-l-o-w-l-y, appreciate not just the taste and texture of the food, but its smell and appearance on your plate while remaining silent, you’ll likely enjoy your food more AND eat less in the process.

This made me wonder if in my family, where eating is practically a competitive sport – that’s when The Youngest Boy isn’t talking 447 miles per hour as he scarfs in order to tell us the latest fifth grade boy joke about Uranus and something likely involving balls (it’s a comedy sketch a minute at our dinner table) – this could ever work, even for a single meal.

A lot of factors are against it, one being the fact that dinner is usually sandwiched in between youth sports practices, pending homework assignments, The Spouse having a mere 10 minutes to spare before he has to run out again, etc. Another obstacle is that The Youngest Boy has precious little patience with just sitting there like a civilized being and eating at a thoughtful pace. He's got a lot on his mind and on his super-secret To Do list.

I even wonder if The Spouse and I could achieve “mindful” eating on our own, what with being interrupted every other minute (because the kids haven't seen their dad all day and all want to tell him stuff). I guess it’d have to be while we’re out at a dinner someplace, alone.

Do you think you could get your family to slow down, to put down the fork between bites, and actually enjoy the food? Or is this just some Martha Stewart-esque pipe dream, particularly for the Picket Fence Post family where we go 10 rounds with The Youngest Boy in order to get the kid to eat two carrot sticks?

As for the article’s suggestion that the first part of the meal be consumed in silence . . . yeah, that’s not gonna happen my friend, not in our house.

Image credit: Jennifer May/New York Times