Ozarks ’11

Florida? Check. Grampy’s and Grammy’s house for the 4th of July? Check. Colorado? Check. Ozarks? Check. I think we done traveling this summer.

But that does make 13 consecutive years in the Ozarks. And 3 consecutive years where we haven’t added any babies to our entourage. That’s a good streak we have going there.

There are many things I enjoy about going down there for vacation but the one thing that always amazes me is that it is one of the few places where Whiskey Tango and Delta Bravos can both eat in the same place and you really have to look to determine which is which. If you watch them get off their boats, its easy. Whiskey Tango get off just about every type that isn’t a small ocean liner. Delta Bravos get off a boat that usually look like something like this:

As is usually the case, we had a good time. In fact, Grammy let me know her favorite part of vacation is when we arrive and she can start unpacking and organizing everything she’s brought with her. I’m totally serious. Unpacking is her favorite part. Regardless, to most people the only things they have to unpack are their clothes and a cooler. To Grammy that list grows to include pots, pans, utensils, various breakfast cereals, a barbie castle, parachutes, masonry tools, sewing machines and canned goods. I’m kidding about those last things. Mostly…

However there are always 4 or 5 boxes that if I didn’t know better, would lead nearly anyone to believe that she’s not only going camping but she also has to manufacture a tent on site and then construct a base camp. When in reality, she’s staying in a 3 bedroom condo. With a grocery store right down the road.

Most of the girls, and by this I mean all of them except Riley and her fellow 11 year old cousin, played with the platoon of Barbies and Live Dolls everybody brought. Not sure how much action the Barbie castle saw but the girls did make up a game involving the dolls which required each doll to have a talent. As I’m listening, I’m thinking that they’ll start calling out things like, “my talent is dancing and my talent is playing the piano.”

Nope.

“My talent is to be cute,” says my little niece who is about to start kindergarten. Self-esteem she does not lack.

Oh, I have also come to an indisputable conclusion that Grammy would rather get food poisoning than throw food away. Doesn’t matter if we have to bring home grilled meat in 100 degree heat on the boat or eat a tray of chicken that’s been in and out of the fridge for the whole week, we’re not throwing it away. It was so hot the melted cheese on our nachos turned became translucent until it eventually was just an oily stain. But I’m sure it’ll fine to eat later if we put it in a Styrofoam box and wait a hour to put it into the fridge. I mean it was so humid we could chew the air.

We did a family portrait again as we did in ’08 and ’10. All 16 of us. This year Grammy decided she wanted a picture but didn’t want to pay for it. I was cool with that. We took it at the same spot in a nearby state park we used the first two times – despite the fact that most of the area is infested with poison ivy. Yeah, evidently getting 8 children ages 3-11 to smile and look in the direction of the camera wasn’t challenging enough so we need to keep introducing the poison ivy. This year, however, we upped the ante. Dog poop. Everywhere. Evidently our family portrait locale doubles as a dog bomb minefield. So that was nice.

And Tuesday it was 108 degrees. Naturally we went shopping at the Outlet Mall. The Outlet Mall where you walk outside between stores. It was so awesome we decided to go back on Friday…when the humidity was like Cape Gloucester for the 1st Marines back in ’43. Best part was as we’re walking with the girls and one of their cousins, we pass a nice Whiskey Tango family allowing their small son to pee on the wheel of a mini-van. In the parking lot. In front of the Under Armour outlet. No confirmation on whether or not it was their van.

Solution to misbehaving children at a restaurant? Separate them from the adults. Yup. I said it. Less supervision led to better behavior. Maybe someone has already discovered this. Maybe there are theories currently being debating regarding this development. We, however, do not care. We were able to eat in peace. Or as peacefully as you can eat while you are sweating on your food.

Okay, quick, answer this – would you eat a burrito named The Dirty Sanchez? Of course you wouldn’t. It’s funny in a gross way, but no way are eating it. Cost $30 too. But you get a t-shirt with it telling everyone that you actually ate The Dirty Sanchez. You know what that makes you? Delta Sierra.

Last thing – if you are looking for a place to have breakfast, I’d suggest Shorty Pants. Veggie omelet had more veggies than eggs. It was ridiculous. Plus when we walked in, this song was on:

Which of course got me thinking about the summer of ‘87’s top songs.

Here I Go Again – Whitesnake
Midnight Blue – Lou Gramm
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2

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Headed West

We’ve done it twice the last 13 months. But that doesn’t mean Nebraska gets more interesting. The drive to Colorado really is pretty easy. Although its probably more picturesque in December than in July. Nebraska steadily goes from green to brown as you go west. Wyoming is mostly brown. That could be why it’s the dominant color for their football team. Then you go south into Colorado and I suppose it gets greener. None of it is Midwest green so I guess its all kinda brown.

Regardless, the real issue is when the five of us reach the tipping point when everything is annoying and the only thing we want is to be out of the car. Experience tells us that is usually about the Nebraska/Wyoming stateline. It’s a ten hour trip. But, smartly or not, the girls are well seasoned road trippers.

They’ve made the 6 hour trip to the Ozarks every year they’ve been alive. They’ve all made the drive to Colorado multiple times and we’ve thrown in the 6.5 hour drive to Chicagoland a few times too.

Plus we’ve made the drive to Floirda. Three times. When we had babies. And poopy diapers. Back in ’02 we drove all the way to Florida from Iowa. Took three days. Did it in two the last time we drove in ’06. We also had my Dad as a third driver plus we rented a mini-van. Both of those things were helpful. As was a small TV on which a 2 and a-half year old Riley could watch movies. Kinsey was just a month old and was strapped into her car seat the whole time. This trip in ’02 was highlighted by our lunch stop just before we crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky from Illinois. We park and my Dad, Riley and I stroll into McDonald’s for some lunch. You’ll notice that Mom and the one month old Kinsey did not accompany us. If you recall having newborns, you’ll remember that they don’t eat at McDonald’s. When they eat it involves Mom and you can’t really do it in McDonald’s. Well, I guess you can but it would be frowned upon by folks not described as hippies or whiskey tango. So Mom is trapped in the car. We finish eating and start getting ready to leave and Mom sternly lets me know in terms that can only be whispered around children that she’s hasn’t even been out of the car yet.

Last time we needed to have that conversation.

We made the trip again in ’04 and ’06 before we got smart and flew down in ’09. Bails was almost a year old when we made the trip in ’04. So that was nice…

You know sometimes I wish it was still the late 70’s and early 80’s so the kids could climb all over the backseat without being strapped in. Do you remember that? I do. Mostly because anytime I hear Neil Diamond or Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers it reminds of our family trips to Pittsburgh and Florida. I hear “Forever in Blue Jeans” and I almost instinctively ask “Are we there yet?” If we stumble onto “All the Gold in California” I immediately do three things: 1) Sing along, 2) Make a remark about 8-tracks, 3) Wonder aloud about how network execs let the country craze put Barbara Mandrell and Mandrell Sisters on primetime TV. I mean country music really took over the world there for a year or two back in the day. Dallas, Urban Cowboy, freaking Eddie Rabbitt…seriously, that was weird.

Still love Neil Diamond though.

It was Supposed to be Fun

There are many things I don’t understand – the apparent popularity of Florence and the Machine, the lack of recognition for the ’76 Steelers defense, why some people don’t find Anchorman hilarious.

For example, today was supposed to be a good day. And I guess it kinda was but while I was going through it I really didn’t understand how it was spinning out of control so quickly. It really had nothing to do with it being Thursday or even July 7th. Lots of good things have happened on a Thursday. Magnum, P.I. and Thanksgiving come to mind. I assume some pretty cool things have happened on July 7th too. The last time the Pirates won a division title, they won on July 7th and to a Pirates fan that’s a damn big deal to paraphrase Joe Biden.

It really started out fine. Slept in a little bit, which in retrospect, was quite remarkable. Kinz and Bails had our neighbor sleep over plus Rye had one of her friends sleep over too. So that’s a lot of girls in the house. And yes, I’ve made this point before but it can’t be restated enough, that many girls in the house was pretty cool in college, now…not so much. But Rye and her friend Sarah spent nearly the entire night, while I was awake, either in the her room or down in the basement. They’re 11 and far too cool to socialize with three other girls between the ages of 7 and 9. Every day that Rye edges closer to teenagerdom, I shudder.

Literally not figuratively. I shake, twitch, convulse. However you want to describe it. And I’m not talking about the shuddering that happens when you’re anticipating something difficult like watching So You Think You Can Dance with your wife and oldest daughter without a stream of incessant, although witty, put downs coming out of my piehole. I’m talking about the shuddering that occurs when you realize something is going to happen and you have absolutely no earthly notion on how to plan or prepare. Kinda like the French and Panzers. Or Joe Flacco and Heinz Field.

Regardless, the day’s plan was simple. Wake up, get donuts for the girls and a big ol’ Diet Pepsi for myself and then take them up to Ames to gear up for football season. I know, sounds awesome. We ate lunch, picked up some football schedule posters and magnets and then hit a couple stores. Bails got a new hoodie, Kinsey got a couple t-shirts and Riley even managed to find one which fit within the narrow boundaries her 11 year-old mind has defined as cool. I even got a new gold gameday shirt. Compromised my principles and bought a new Nike gold Cyclones shirt. Decided the $8 I paid for it weren’t enough to further Nike’s plans to destroy all tradition in college football by making everybody look like Oregon. But here’s a pic of the gigundonormous scoreboard we just put up. 13th biggest in the country. Just saying.

The problem, or problems as happened to be the case, was that Bails and Kinz evidently lost all ability to listen. She struggles in this area anyway but compounding her auditory problems was the fact that the part of the brain that controls her ability to get along with Kinsey wasn’t working properly. It’s usually hit and miss anyway, like Tony Romo in December. We go into the first store and immediately I’m facing threats on multiple fronts. Big metal basket of mini-basketballs, an entire rack of stuffed bears, beads and earrings and finally a giant container of pom-poms. I felt like Gen. McAuliffe at Bastogne. Except it was July instead of December and Iowa instead of Belgium. I’m trying to look for stuff for each of them along with myself. Thankfully one of the women working there noticed I was debating which size to buy on a new shirt and said go ahead and use the bathroom to try it on.

Ah, a private location to beat the crap….I’m mean sternly talk to the girls about their behavior. We get in the bathroom which evidently also doubles as a storeroom and Bails immediately knocks over a stack of empty boxes. I quickly try on the shirts as I tell girls how poorly they are behaving. One of the things I say is how embarrassed I am about their behavior. How I know they are aware of the right way to behave in stores. Suddenly it smells like country flowers.

“Hey, enough with the air freshener. Nobody is even going to the bathroom.”

“Geez, sorry…I just wanted it to smell better in here.”

At this point I turn to hear Kinsey balling her eyes out. “Kinz why are you crying?”

“You said that you are embarrassed that we’re your kids and that’s one of the meanest things you can say.”

“Holy Crap. Kinz, I…”

Before I can finish my thought Bailey starts screaming.

“My Eyes! My Eyes! Riley sprayed the air freshener in my eyes!”

“You’ve got to be freaking kidding me. You sprayed in her eyes?”

“No, I sprayed it above her eyes and it must of just fallen into them.”

We take a minute to compose ourselves and then we check out. Stupidly, I stop at not one, but two more stores. Hey, getting the girls new Cyclone gear is important whether they like it or not. First store seems to go well aside from Bailey having to go to the bathroom.

We take care of that and cross the street to the university bookstore. Nice selection but simply too much room. You know what I’m talking about. Kids, when presented with large amounts of space, forget how to control their motor skills. Recently it doesn’t matter if you catch Bailey’s misbehaving early or not. You can address it, and enforce consequences. She doesn’t care. She keeps going. She’s relentless. She hiding under and in clothing racks, she’s doing laps between the “Enter Here” and “Pay Here” signs by the register, she’s pulling out gum, magnets, pens, etc. as she walks by them.

I turn to the college students manning the register, “Hey, you guys want to buy a 7 year-old? Motivated seller. Whaddaya say?”

Things I learned in Florida

The Gulf of Mexico is like bath water. I had no idea. Until Monday and Tuesday I had never been in the Gulf. My folks have done their fair share of recon since they moved down to Orlando 13 years ago. Two of the cool places they discovered are Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Get a map, find St. Petersburg and go south. That long skinny sandbar you see, that’s where we were. And it was pretty freaking cool. Except for the temperature. Florida in June after all. We ate here.

Name of the place is The Sandbar. Grouper tacos. Mmmm…

Can’t get that in Des Moines.

Then we drove a little south and stayed at a hotel right on the beach. Of course in Longboat Key just about everything is on the beach. Seriously. Its weird to look out your hotel room window and see the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Sarasota Bay on the other. Here’s a shot from the beach.

Weirder than being on a glorified sandbar that has nearly every square inch developed?

We go to lunch before we leave on Tuesday and the local paper is sitting there. Turns out the top local issue of the day for Anna Maria Island is shark fishing and whether or not it should be banned off the island. Lots of “Jaws” references, people saying “chumming” and warning each other to stay out of the water at night.

Again, we don’t get that in Des Moines.

So we’re deciding if we want to go to SeaWorld or Islands of Adventure. We decided just to go eat lunch at Margaritaville at CityWalk after mulling over the $420 is would take to get all five of us into Islands of Adventure. Kids weren’t happy…but then we got them a milkshake and that took care of things for awhile. It was such a simple solution. Like choosing between boredom and watching Die Hard for 54th time.

I’m telling you ice cream and swimming may be the most powerful parental tools on the planet. Need something to ease the sting of not going to SeaWorld? Milkshake. Something to provide motivation to behave during dinner and a few stops at local shops? Ben & Jerry’s. Something to tire them out so they actually sleep at night during vacation? The Gulf of Mexico. Something to fill hours of time at Grandad and Grandma’s house? Pool. Oh, and an assortment of water guns helps too. The larger the magazine the better too. Remember to purchase some type of protective googles for your eyes. 7 year-olds don’t really focus on accuracy while shooting.

Didn’t expect to discover this but Uno’s is awesome. I know it’s a chain and I know that most folks probably think they’ve to a million places just like it. But we don’t have one in Des Moines. Which is really odd when you think about it because Des Moines is like a chain restaurant mecca. But it has these little computers at the table on which the kids, and by kids I mean me, can play games. It has a super easy version of tetris which mesmerized the girls. Plus, it has an abolutely crazy about of healthy options and Bailey says they have the best mac n’ cheese in the world. Not kidding. I was willing to believe her because she doesn’t eat that much and she finished nearly all of it. If Bails eats something its means one of three things; 1) its ice cream, 2) she’s using the force to trick us into thinking she’s eating, 3) its so good it’ll make you break into song.

And my nephew, by the end of the week, had pretty much had it with the girls.

All four of them are out in the pool playing. My nephew inquires with Kinsey, “Let’s play war. Get the guns.”

Kinsey replies, “Okay but first we have to perform our musical performance numbers.”

Country, rock, rap…everything. But they got my nephew to play along with some beat box…

Florida: The Arrival

Two years ago we had an early flight and rushed around the night before getting everything ready. This year I decided to avoid that hassle and we booked a flight for about 11:30. We connected through Memphis and were on the ground in Orlando about 5:20 local time. Which was approximately nine minutes early. Sometimes you can attribute that to luck, a nice tail wind or a pilot who is trying to beat weather.

Our pilot let us know there was severe weather south of Orlando. He didn’t however let us know he planned to race it to the runway. We came in like we were trying to avoid detection by an automated missile defense system. You look out the window and think, “hey, all right, we’re descending, we’ll be on the ground shortly.”

Then you look out the window and notice rain is only one side of the plane and the wings are shearing off the tops of trees. We hit the tarmac and it felt like the plane was dancing from side to side hopping from one set of wheels to the other. Thankfully, the lady next me who was upset she didn’t get to sit next to her husband, narrated the entire episode. And she did it in an especially appealing nasally voice. The same voice she used to talk to her husband, who was seated in the row behind us, the entire duration of the flight. Excellent.

Not as excellent as Bailey on our first flight from Des Moines to Memphis however. Bails, as sometimes happens, goes to the bathroom in a series of trips instead of in one really serious visit. Oh, don’t be fooled, she hit the head in Des Moines before we went through security. Then again, twice, as we waited at our gate. Then again on the plane. Then she methodically, as if she was on some sort of timing belt, bombed our row with silent noxious fumes. Flight attendants were dropping like sacks of wet flour.

“Geez, Bails is that you tooting?”

“Yeeeees. Sorry. I have to go the bathroom.”

“You’ve went about 45 times since we left home.”

“Dad?”

“What?”

“I have to go again.”

As luck would have it, we’re on our descent so she can’t get up and use the plane’s restroom. We land, rumble along for a few minutes and then…

…we stop about 50 feet from our gate because the jet way is malfunctioning.

Great.

Turns out to be a short delay and we’re off the plane in search of a bathroom.

We locate one, send Rye in there with Bails and 20 minutes later Rye emerges first with a look that can only be described as astonishment fused with agony.

“Dad, holy cow, she was in there for like an hour.”

We have about an hour till our next flight and we’re all hungry. Especially Bails because, well, she’s got some extra room now.

We find 4 sandwiches, 4 bags of chips and 2 bottles of water. $42.50. Seriously.

So Mom has all the cash now as we get on the plane for Orlando. And aside from the trip long narration, it wasn’t a bad flight. Got to read a lot Jeff Shaara’s latest awesome book – The Final Victory. If you’re history dumb, and judging by recent test scores most of you are, read Jeff Shaara. You’ll accidentally learn.

Anyway, back to our landing in Orlando. We’re rolling to our gate when the pilot tells us that due to the severe weather he raced to the runway, we might be delayed getting off the plane.

Wait, what? We’re already on the freaking ground. We already landed. Planes can’t taxi through rain?

Regardless, none of us are happy. Least of which is Bails. Why? Bathroom. Lots of fiber in those airport sandwiches evidently.

Then the lights flicker and go out.

“Ladies and gentleman we’ve temporarily lost the air conditioning. As soon as it is operational, we will get it up and running. Thank you.”

Awesome. After a few minutes its hotter than the inside of Anthony Weiner’s pants.

We luck out and get the AC going, get to our gate, disembark, meet my sister, nephew and parents and head to the baggage claim. At which time we make camp and begin making smores.

Why?

“Due to severe weather in the area we are unable to unload the baggage from the flights listed on the monitors at baggage claim areas 30 and 31. When the weather allows us to proceed we will get your bags to you as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.”

I’m not the smartest guy on the planet, my acid wash Guess jeans in high school are proof of that, but why can’t you unload baggage from a plane in the rain? No way the airlines give a crap about our bags getting drenched. Most people aren’t traveling with metal satchels strapped to the backs. So what’s up? I assume lightning is to airports what kryptonite is to Superman. Or capitalism is to Obama. And I totally understand not taking off or landing in lightning. As our descent and previous landing experience already taught us. Man, our pilot musta been like, “Dudes, lightning…buckle up, we’re beating this bad boy to the strip.”

But why can’t you unload bags?

Anyway, we’re waiting in baggage claim and look over and a couple is sitting against the wall doing the same thing. Except they have two puppy’s with them. And one is in the process of making a deposit at Brown’s National Bank. Yeah, he looked like a small furry U-boat laying mines.

What. The. Hell?

Thankfully, after about an hour we had our bags and were on our way to my folks house. We’ll see how the rest of the trip goes…

5th Grade Adversity

Adversity reveals things. It teaches things. It also tests the patience and endurance of those employing adversity as the teacher of lessons. There is some adversity in our house right now. Granted, it is not the same kind of adversity felt by General Ewell who upon replacing Stonewall Jackson right before the Battle of Gettysburg, failed to take Culp’s Hill on the night of the first day. Or by Chuck Noll’s Steelers in the ’77 off-season when Mel Blount threatened to quit, Jack Lambert held out and Andy Russell retired. It is not even the adversity felt by the Dukes of Hazzard casting team in 1982 when they replaced Bo and Luke with Vance and Coy.

Its 5th grade adversity. And it is relentless.

Riley wants a phone. The only other person in her class without a phone finally got her’s this week. That makes her the island fortress of Corregidor of 5th graders and phones. She’s the last holdout. On the way to dance class…oh yeah, Mom decided to sign her up for some “technique” classes this summer. Super. Awesome. Result? Improved technique and another dance class to go to during a summer which was slated to be free of dance classes. Woo wee. I am super excited about this. Anyway, on the way to dance class she tells me, “Dad, even the girl who says all the bad words and mouths off to the teacher has a phone. Even the kid who lazes around and never turns in his homework has a phone.”

“Well, maybe they shouldn’t.”

“I behave. I do my homework. And I’m the one without a phone.”

“Well sometimes waiting for something is good. You don’t realize it at the time but if you have to wait for it, you’ll appreciate it more.”

Truth is that I kinda think a little adversity is a good thing. I mean we’re talking about a phone. We’re not forcing her to go to school to confront a roving band of bullies armed with nunchucks and bad attitudes. Its not like she’s driving in the demolition derby with Fonzie and Pinky Tuscadero desperately trying to avoid the dreaded Mallachi Crunch…

A little while of being the only kid without something will teach a little humility and further cement the fact that just because other kids have something doesn’t mean that you’ll get it too. There’s always going to be the kid with a new car. There’s always going to be the girl with the purse more expensive than a second home. There is always going to be kids who get the Atari 2600 before you…or maybe that was me…oh man, remember Missle Command? What the hell was Atari thinking making a game about intercontinental ballistic missle attacks in the middle of the Cold War?

Was the Atari 2600 the cell phone of 1980 back when I was finishing 5th grade? Was it a new bike? My Huffy Thunder Road probably wasn’t as cool as I thought it was.

Regardless, it’s not like we’re making her use cans and strings to talk to her friends. She has a freaking iTouch. It’s not like we’re a couple luddites who are fighting against technology. This is, after all, a blog. But I’m not on twitter. Because, well, I simply don’t give a crap what most people are thinking on an hourly basis. Unless its the negotiators in the NFL lockout. Although, if it only takes 140 characters for you to express yourself then you shouldn’t. But that’s just me…

But back to my point about waiting for things…

“Rye, when I was 16 I didn’t get my driver’s license right away.”

“Why not?”

“Because Grandma and Grandad were unfeeling tyrants who didn’t give a crap about my needs as a 16 year old boy.”

“What?”

“No, I’m kidding. We lived in New York and were moving to Illinois about a month after my 16th birthday and I guess they thought it would be better if I just went through driver’s ed in Illinois.”

Truth is I have absolutely no recollection of why but I had to wait a full 4 months after I turned 16 to get my license. Plus I’m a Dad and make up half this crap anyway.

Anyway, big night tonight. Kinz has three friends coming over for a sleepover. Then next week its the last day of school and softball playoffs!

Softball Update

I realized that I haven’t really given an update this spring on the girls’ softball season this year. Not that anyone has been clamoring for it but we have had a few interesting things happen this season. Now the season isn’t over yet but it is hard to imagine anything will top Grandma’s experience during the opening day parade.

Rye’s team got to ride on a ladder truck for one of the local fire departments. That’s what happens the Chief is your coach. Kinz and Bails had to settle for pickup trucks. But they all were armed with bags of candy to throw to the throngs of parade watchers along the route. And by throngs I mean parents, grandparents and other folks attracted to parades.

We get the girls to their assigned vehicles and take up position right near the start of the parade route. Other things present: large oak tree, small children and…dog poop. All of us managed to avoid the dog poop. And by all of us I mean Mom, myself and grandpa. Grandma suddenly sticks her arm out at Mom and I and says, “oh my gosh, this is dog poop.”

It was one of those weird moments like when you’re at a restaurant and somebody visits the buffet and brings back something yet to be indentified. They taste it, gag and then say, “Omigosh, this is horrible…taste it.”

We made her ride home with her hand out the window.

But back to the parade. The rest of us cleaned up on the free candy. If your goal is to wave at your kids and take pictures, you can pretty much choose any spot along the route. However, if the accumulation of ridiculous amount of candy is among your goals, then we had freaking pole position. Logic tells you that if you’re near the start of the route, the kids will be a little over anxious and unload far too much of their loot the first chance they get. Here’s a pic. That’s us down in the corner below the tree.

Anyhow, once we got past Grandma’s poopy hands, the season has gone pretty well. Well, except for May 7th. Bails came down with something the weekend before. It started with lethargy, morphed into some tummy rumbling manifested through the technicolor yawn and finally ends with frequent trips to the toilet as the evacuation process moves to the rear exit.

Kinz then wakes up the morning of the 7th with an upset tummy. Hmmm…we’ve got Rye’s game at 9, Bails’ game at 10:30 and Kinz’ game at 12. She’s going to be out at the fields for awhile. We give her some Gatorade and waffles. Hydration and carbs…mmm. Settles her tummy for a few minutes but then, during Rye’s game, she says her tummy hurts too much and she doesn’t think she can play. It’s about 9:30.

“Hey, she’s not going to make it until noon out here. I’ll take her home, let her take nap and we’ll make the call later.” Mom says cool and Kinz and I head for my truck.

Later turned about to be about 40 yards.

“Dad, I don’t think I’m going to make it.”

And each word she said had more urgency and came at a faster rate. I take a look back to the bathroom near where we had been sitting and then to my truck. We’re dead center between the two. Quick thinking on my part led to the following:

“Okay, kiddo, you’re throwing up in the grass. Let’s go over here.”

One hand on an ash tree, the other on her knee and the stomach cavity relinquished its conents.

Otherwise, things are going pretty well. In a strange twist of fate, and I’m not talking about John Travolta’s and Olivia Newton-John’s ill-fated 1983 attempt to recapture the magic of Grease, all the girls ended up with jersey #1. Rye with a black Jaguars #1, Kinz with a navy Bulldogs #1 and Bails with a neon green Fireflies #1. At Kinsey’s and Bailey’s level they move the girls around the diamond to help them learn all the positions. But at Riley’s level they start settling in. Rye’s coach has her moving between 2nd base and centerfield. Here’s a fairly representative indicator of her skills at second.

Neil Walker is Awesome

Kinsey, dispite her cute smile, blond hair and diminutive statue…has displayed some healthy competitiveness on the field not to mention a pretty good swing and a helluva an arm. She’s got a gun. Last week she’s playing 2nd base when she cleanly fields a grounder and threw out the batter at first. She gave a couple fist pumps and jumped about three feet into the air. Which was about the same amount of feet she over threw the girl playing 1st base earlier in the inning when she fielded her first grounder. That may be why the coach moved her over to shortstop on Thursday. Result? She still over threw the girl playing 1st base and hit the fence. She also spent a couple innings catching. Kinsey’s team has a girl, Megan, who is a pretty good pitcher. Accurate and fast. So Kinz walks in there wearing the catcher’s armor and takes one off the knee, then the helmet, then another off the chest protector. She knocked a few down and cleanly caught a few too. She said she was pretty scared but she figured she had to be tough to help her team win. Yes…it brought tears to my eyes.

Bailey seems to do a little better in the infield than the outfield. Although its really a catch-22. Not many balls make it to the grass which leads some lapses in concentration but then there is the infield dirt which leads to a lot of diamond art. But when she actually is lucky enough to see some action in the field, she’s locked in. For example, two Saturdays ago she was playing pitcher. All three hits went to her. She got her glove down and fielded each one. Likely due to the base fundamentals she learned last year from her coach…which was also me in case you forgot.

First one she threw to an unmanned first base. Girl playing first forgot to cover. Throw was on line but that’s kind of a hollow victory. Second one is dropped by the girl playing first. Finally on the last one, Bails fields it and just takes off running at the batter as she ran down the first base line. Tagged her out before she got to the base. Enough was evidently enough…

So everybody, including us, is still having fun. But this week is the dreaded recital week…

May’s Approval Ratings

May’s approval ratings in our house are volatile. It’s not really May’s fault either. Same with Thursday. As I’ve said before, I used to really like Thursday. In college it was the start of the weekend, it used to be home to Magnum, P.I. and currently contains Archer. But it’s also claimed the girls’ dance class for the last few years and that association alone has beaten down Thursday’s approval ratings down near Rashard Mendenhall’s.

May, not to be left out, is making a serious run. Back in the day, May could solidly position itself as my second favorite month. October, of course, ranking first due to football, the smell of burning leaves and pumpkin beer. May is Scottie Pippen to October’s Michael Jordan. It’s the first really warm month of the year, it always foretold the end of school and it will forever have my birthday. That combination has given May an advantage in regards to say February, which is obviously the crappiest month of the year. Although I’ve always struggled with which birthday was my actual favorite. Hmmmm….back in ’80, Dad took my friends and I to see The Nude Bomb but in ’83 I went to Return of the Jedi with my buddies. Which, by the way, still ranks as my favorite Star Wars movie. These are the quandaries in which I often find myself.

Anyway, back to May sucking. When you combine dance class, dance recitals, dance recital rehearsals, gymnastics, softball (games and practices), band and orchestra concerts along with all the field trips school schedules for May to kill time…well you have a month that sucks worse than that Steve Ontiveros/Manny Trillo double-play combo the Cubs once fielded.

Oh, and Mom and I both have jobs. And mine, for reasons beyond my control, is far busier than normal this May.

Now the girls have been taking dance lessons from the same teacher since they were in preschool. It’s a small dance studio – both in numbers and square footage. I’ve detailed the square footage challenge more than once. The folks who run the studio are great and far more patient than I would be…but organization and detail are not something at which they excel.

For example, Thursday, in yet another hit to its approval rating, was the day Bailey’s and Kinsey’s class received their dance costume for the upcoming recital. Each of the girls had to try on their costumes to make sure they fit and then practice their performance wearing the costumes.

Sounds logical…but it went poorly.

You take 13 girls age 7 through 9 and give them blue sequined, shiny, feathery leotards with the expectation that they will get dressed in an orderly manner while keeping the four pieces to each of their costumes separated from one another then you’ll likely be more disappointed than I was after seeing National Treasure 2. Especially if your labeling system is a sticky note on the plastic bag in which each costume was delivered. Because, and I’m only spitballin’ here, I don’t think the adhesive on the sticky notes is engineered to be permanent. It’s like counting on Joe Flacco in a playoff game against the Steelers. At some point, it’s just going to fail.

Thankfully, Riley was present to help the other two get dressed. Or at least mostly dressed. The four pieces of the dance outfit are a leotard, a jacket-like thing, a feathery head piece and a feathery thing that kinda looks like a teeny skirt.

Only Kinz came up with the feathery skirt on. Neither had a head piece or a jacket. So I send Rye back downstairs to the dressing room to round up the rest of the costumes.

She returns with a look of outright astonishment on her face.

“Dad, it’s like somebody blew up a giant blue chicken down there. There’s feathers everywhere.”

Great. We both head down in futile attempt to find two head pieces and a skirt type thing among the blue feathery carnage.

Stunningly, we come up with one head piece, one jacket and a skirt. So, if you’re keeping score at home, we’re missing a head piece and a jacket. I spy a jacket , undefended, sitting on a chair. Straight snatch and grab mission. Turns out it was Bails jacket anyway and her teacher had left her head piece sitting on a desk. So we’re all good.

Until it was time to leave.

“Girls go down stairs and get your clothes on quick. We need to get home, eat and get Bails to her softball game.”

They listened in a general sense and came back up stairs. Bails sporting just one shoe.

“Bailey where’s your other shoe?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean? Didn’t you see it in the changing room?”

“No. It’s gone.”

“Get back down there and find it.”

She returns after a few minutes. Still wearing one purple converse sneaker. This does not make me happy especially after the whole blue feather fiasco. I head down the stairs, into the dressing room and begin a search.

I’m thinking I must be part American Indian. I could be on Mantracker. Took about 14 seconds, but I found the shoe.

So all we had left for the weekend was 6 softball games between Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon. Naturally that came with some complications. But that’s for a forthcoming blog post…

The Royals

I was asked by a buddy the other night if our girls were all excited about the royal wedding. To be honest, this is not something about which I have been thinking. Tonight is the first round of the NFL Draft. Plus, to paraphrase Lt. Frank Drebin: “No matter how silly the idea of having a queen might be to us, as Americans, we must be gracious and considerate hosts.”

I remember the Charles and Diana wedding. Got up early and everything. Mostly because my Dad went out the night before and bought us all doughnuts. And guess what? Doughnuts were good, wedding was dumb. Didn’t get it then, don’t get it now. From where I’m standing, it seems a bit like…treason.

I don’t want to go off on a rant here, but…the fascination with the wedding is like giving the Jefferson Memorial the finger. These are royals. I realize nobody else really gives a crap about history and what it means anymore – especially the teacher’s unions – but dammit, my girls will.

We fought a war against royalty. And despite the media’s efforts to coronate the Kennedy’s, we don’t have royalty. So a whole bunch of Americans skipping work and getting up early to watch a royal wedding seems a lot like taking a crap on George Washington’s grave. To me anyway.

Seriously, do you boo when you hear Yankee Rose, David Lee Roth’s 1986 anthem to Lady Liberty on the radio? I bet these royal watchers do.

Am I the only one who took Schoolhouse Rock to heart?

I understand the Brits are our best friend in the world right now. I understand we’ve been allies for almost 100 years, but c’mon they like their beer warm, go to soccer games and they still have royals!

I’m not sure the girls really understood or really cared about my quick lesson on Valley Forge and it’s applications to the current debate over the federal budget, but I did it anyway. Hopefully it sticks…

And finally my top three songs from the spring of ’86:
1-Go For Soda
2-Be Good to Yourself
3-Your Love

And yes I realize Go For Soda came out in ’85 but I didn’t discover it until the spring of ’86. So it counts. Plus it freaking rocks.

Rock of Ages Easter

I’ve made this argument before but Easter kinda gets left behind in the Holiday playoffs. Corporate America still hasn’t figured out the correct formula to commercialize it. My theory? Its day keeps changing. With Christmas and Halloween, it’s the same day every year. Regardless, Easter is about celebration and happiness. And candy if you ask the girls. But then again, they say the same thing about Christmas and Halloween.

Mom and I inadvertently added a good dose of hair metal to really make Easter rock this year. Why? Partly because of my floating day theory mentioned above and also because upon seeing Jersey Boys last summer, I remarked that it would be pretty freaking cool and far easier to get me to attend a musical if all the songs were hair metal. And it was okay to wear shredded jeans. So Saturday was a good lesson in being careful about what you say out loud.

Turns out Rock of Ages is a musical with nearly all hair metal. And, truth be told, live hair metal is pretty damn cool. A recorded David Coverdale introduced the show, in which he explained the glaring omission of Def Leppard songs. Def Lep wouldn’t give them the rights to their songs. Booooooo Joe Elliot. No explanation on the equally glaring omissions of Motley Crue and Tesla. Anyway, most of the time you just get the standard turn off your cellphones message. I’m going off memory here but we got this:

“Furthermore, please silence all cellphones. Text messaging during the show makes you look like a douchebag. And, if you have one of those “bluetooth” thingies in your ear… please, c’mon. You look like a dick.”

Its awesome because its true.

The story was pretty thin but who freaking cares! How many times do you get to hear Just like Paradise live? If you’re me, the answer is twice. July of ’88 Alpine Valley, Wisconsin and Saturday.

How many shows feature the narrator wearing a “Hooray for boobies” shirt? Or a set with a Meister Brau beer sign?

But I gotta say that Dee Snider would not be happy about the liberal use of the horns. I mean everybody in the show was flashing the horns at the end. And remember, it was a musical. Which means just about everyone in the show wasn’t metal. Just because you belted out a pretty good version of Here I Go Again doesn’t mean you get to flash the horns. Especially if you list “The Sound of Music” on your resume.

Inappropriate horn flashing aside, I call home to check on the girls at intermission. We left them at home, by themselves, the latest episode in our attempt to introduce independence and responsibility. Riley answers the phone.

“Hey Rye, it’s Dad. How’s everything going?”

“Really good, we’re just getting ready for our pedicures.”

“Um…………Ah………..try to stay in the bathroom and off the carpet when you do that.”

“Okay, talk to later.”

Show wraps up and we head home and discover that something is amiss back at the ranch. The girls rooms are not only clean but they actually used the putting away cleaning strategy instead of the pushing everything to sides of the room cleaning strategy.

No toe nail polish on the carpret. No one is crying. In fact, everyone is smiling. Kinsey and Bailey wiggle their fingers and toes in front of me….”look Dad, mani’s and pedi’s!”

C’mon man, I just heard I Wanna Rock live.

But before I could contemplate my future and the amount of nail polish it will contain, I was overwhelmed that the girls behaved while we were gone.

Reason?

Only thing I can come up with is that the combination of the joy of Christ rising from the dead and power of hair metal joined to create harmony in the universe.

Last thing – we’re at church Easter morning with our family and Mom’s sister and her family. Ten of us. At one point the minister calls up the kids for “Children’s Time.” Riley and her fellow 5th grade cousin obviously did not go up because they’re too old and cool for that anymore. Anyhow, the minister is asking the kids about Easter and jokingly asks if the reason they are all at church is because its “April Fool’s Day.” Kids all say “noooooooo, its Easter” and the minister says, “Hey, you guys know any good April Fool’s jokes?” My 2nd grade niece raises her hand and proceeds to tell the whole congregation:

“When your friend is sleeping, you can take their hand and put it in some warm water and then they will, um, wet their bed.”

If that wasn’t enough to make Easter memorable, she decided to use a brick and to help her retrieve a plastic candy filled egg placed on a window ledge at an altitude too high for her to reach. Result? Broken window.

My reaction? “Oh, please tell me that wasn’t Bails…”

Oh and just 37 people at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house this year for Easter…