Thursday, September 29, 2016

Northeast Regional

The other staffer showed up a little after four, reporting that it took her an hour to travel the mile from Penn Station to the Lotte Palace hotel where our control room was set up. I briefed her on our operation, showed her where the high-side and low-side were, where the printers were, which laptop you could print from and which you couldn't and where the support staff was. Our office had basically taken over the entire 37th floor of the hotel, each bureau in a separate hotel room.

I said goodbye to my colleagues and stepped into the elevator, through the lobby and past security, the point of no return. I stopped briefly at my hotel to pick up the rolling suitcase I had left with the bellboy before making my own journey to Penn Station. It was a little past 5:00 and my train didn't leave until 6:30, so despite the warm temperatures, there was no way I was going to get in a cab and pass up the opportunity to walk the mile through New York City at rush hour.

The walk reminded me of the walk Elise and I took through the city after we got engaged. I asked her to marry me in Central Park. Buoyed by our happiness, we walked a dozen blocks or more from Central Park to Times Square, calling our parents on our cell phones to tell them the happy news along the way.

I walked down 5th Ave, past the library. As I got closer to 33rd, I could see the new World Trade Center tower, shimmering in the heat and the distance. I didn't even notice when I passed the Empire State Building.

I entered Penn Station and picked up my ticket at the Amtrak window. I hadn't eaten anything all day, so planned on grabbing a bite at the train station, but the only places to eat were a KFC, Taco Bell, and TGI Fridays. I decided to find a spot at the bar at Fridays with a view of the train board and wait until it was time to board the train, twenty minutes before departure. I ordered what passed for a local beer, I suppose, a Goose Island IPA that had only the vaguest hint of hoppiness. It tasted like skunky Miller Lite and cemented my estimation that D.C. beer is much, much better than NYC beer. (In fact, it's one of my favorite things about my new hometown, the beer scene; I think there are 7 microbreweries in Loudoun County, Northern Virginia alone.)

I drank two anyway, the first going down fast. I contemplated ordering food, but potato skins weren't exactly what I was in the mood for. Plus, I wasn't sure how long they would take and wasn't prepared to order $15 worth of food I might not even get the chance to eat.

Somehow, I struck up a conversation with the guy standing next to at the bar. He, too, was going to D.C. There weren't many of us, come to find out. Most people seemed headed out to Long Island or New Jersey, up to Boston. I sneaked peeks of baseball highlights on the plasma big screen between snippets of conversation I've mostly forgotten. I do remember we shared the fact that we both had three kids. His were 16, 13, and 10, to which I said something to the effect of, "You're me in eight years." (Forgive my math. It's usually pretty good, but remember I was two beers in at this point on an empty stomach.)

I think he did challenge my math. Whatever. But he also said something somewhat striking, not surprising, and definitely relatable, "My 16 year-old. She has no interest in getting her drivers license." I have no idea how this came up in conversation between two strangers waiting for a train, but I wasn't surprised to hear it. I had heard or read somewhere that many Millennials were shying away from driving. I don't exactly remember what was cited as the cause...perhaps they were fulfilling their social needs online. My own half-sister only recently got her drivers license at age 18. Not exactly late, per se, but several years after her triplet brother and sister got their learners permit. Now, she complains online about getting locked out of her car at school and having to take an Uber home.

He described it as a "paradigm shift". "By the time our kids are old enough to drive, cars will be driving themselves," he said. I hadn't thought about it that way, but I suppose he could be right.

He was the one who noticed our train was boarding, and I hurriedly settled my tab and we walked to the platform together, though I was much slower than he was, wrestling a disagreeable rolling suitcase through the crowded train station. We stood next to each other on the escalator down to the platform, and I remember thinking to myself I hoped this guy wouldn't follow me on the train because I didn't know if I could sustain awkward conversation for 3 1/2 hours all the way from New York to D.C.

Thankfully, he turned right at the bottom of the escalator. I turned left. And ran right into a conductor. It occurred to me then that I hadn't rode the train since college. I guess I thought it was like an airplane at first, that I would have an assigned seat. I showed the conductor my ticket and asked, "What do I do now?"

He smirked down at me, "You get on the train, son!" He bellowed.

I picked the nearest car, though I am sure there is some strategy to seating, some place on the train more desirable than others, a quiet place no one will bother you, or a spot close (or far) from a bathroom, or next to the dining car.

The first open seat that I saw was next to a mother and her infant daughter. She expertly cradled the baby, feeding her from a bottle she held in the same hand. She reached for her diaper bag with her free hand as though to move it from the seat next to her so I could sit down, but I made a motion with my hand as though to say I wouldn't take the seat and looked for another one, but the car was surprisingly full.

The woman moved her bag. "I'm getting off at the first stop," she told me. "Then, you'll have the whole row to yourself." I agreed and sat down. The baby immediately smiled at me around the nipple on her bottle, milk dribbling out the corners of her mouth.

I made small talk with the mother as the train pulled out of the station, telling her about my own three kids. At the first stop, in Newark, she didn't get off (I must have misunderstood her), but the elderly couple across the aisle did. They had been on the train since Boston and were now panicking because there was no red cap helping them off with their bags. By the time the train had come to a full stop, the couple had worked themselves up into a full blow tizzy, so I just snatched their bags from them and ran all three of them out onto the platform before they even had time to say thank you.

I settled in, taking my earphones out of my bag. I planned to listen to music, something I do almost religiously twice a day during my daily commute. After running, it's my second favorite way to relax when I'm feeling a little balled up. I also planned to finish the book I've been reading on this trip. I even brought a second book that I planned on starting. I guess I was feeling ambitious (though I did read two nights after the kids went to bed, flat on my stomach on the hotel room carpet by the dim light of a floor lamp).

I've been reading C.J. Cherryh nonstop for almost a year now. I started with the Chanur novels, all six of them, then read Downbelow Station, one of the best sci-fi books I've ever read. How it has not been adapted to a movie or television series yet is beyond me. I'm now going through the Company War books, working my way up to Cyteen. I used to read the Economist before bed, because I felt this need to keep up with current events. Now that I work in current events, I decided I needed an escape. these books remind me of the joy I had when I first read Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock, Dune by Frank Herbert, and the Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey as a teenager.

But despite my best intentions, I didn't open the book. It would take me three weeks to get through the last twenty pages. I watched the scenery go by instead, rail yards, cemeteries, American Legion headquarters, used car lots, suburban New Jersey. The sun set, painting the sky and the clouds golden. The entire landscape took on the same hue as golden raisins.

I texted back and forth with Elise as she was stuck in traffic, taking Clementine to ballet. I glanced up at my phone at one point just as the door between cars was opening and saw that I was next to the dining car where there was a bar. I decided, "Why not?" And carefully got up and bought myself a beer.

I went back to my seat and sipped on my beer with every intention of opening my book. I never did. I was having...

I looked out the window as the sun set and the moon came out. Philadelphia. Delaware. Eventually, Baltimore and BWI.

We would pull into Union Station a little after 10:00. By the time I would get home on the Metro and in bed it would be 11:30. I'd sleep for five hours, get up at 4:30, shower and get back on the Metro to open the office. I wouldn't catch up on my sleep all week, but it was worth it. I think. It's hard to tell sometimes how important or not my small role is. But I can say I got to go to New York and ride the train.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

When I Grow Up

On Saturday, after Peter's soccer game, we watched Sam play with some of his friends from school on the playground. They were in Sam's class last year, but still see each other and get to play together at recess this year.

At one point, Elise needed to tell Sam something and she called for him. Sam was on the other side of the playground and didn't hear her, but one of Sam's friends yelled at him, "Sam! Your mom is calling for you!"

Sometimes, I find it interesting to see how I'm perceived by others. In this instance, as Sam's dad, because it makes me think back to when I was Sam's age and how I perceived my own parents, my friend's parents, and adults in general.

I'm forty-four now. Firmly planted in the terra firma of middle-age. It's not something that happened over night, but through a serious of small steps--when taken in isolation of each other--could lead nowhere. For me, they lead here. I went to college. I moved back home. I moved to Colorado. I went to grad school. I joined my dad's company. I met Elise. Got married. We had a baby. I started a new job. We had another baby. Then another. We moved to Brazil. Then India. Then Washington, D.C. Not necessarily in that order.

And here I am. I don't feel old. I think that once someone settles and stops achieving or wanting to achieve, is content with their lot in life, then the aging sets in. But I'm still driven, competitive, and I think that can keep one young at heart. Maybe I get tired more easily, and if I get up before the kids do and go for a long run, part of my body is screaming for a nap the rest of my body won't let it have. But I think the fact that I get up before the kids do at all must be worth something, right?

When I was a kid, I perceived adults as infallible and omniscient. Now, I am an adult filled with my own disquietude and doubt and know how fallible and earthbound most adults really are. Elise and I don't have all the answers. We fumble along through this thing called parenthood, mostly faking it, generally clueless, and yet we are looked to as having all the answers. When the kids ask me questions, I find myself mostly making up answers as I go along, hoping I don't do irreparable damage. These thoughts aren't driven so much by what seem to be pervasive trends in helicopter parenting and I don't feel inadequate because of my disinterest in helicopter parenting. Even if I wanted to be a helicopter parent, most days I've run hard in the morning and don't have the legs left for it anyway.  

Sometimes, I don't feel grown up. I know I am. I have a career, a family, car payments, life insurance. But the things I think about aren't all that different than what I might have thought about when I was Sam's age: Why hasn't the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced Namor, the Sub-Mariner yet, for instance.

In the end, it's all relative. I'm wiser now than when I was eight, but not as wise as an eight year-old thinks I am.

Pete was sitting at the dining room table one evening doing his homework. He was supposed to draw a small yellow circle, but instead he drew a big yellow circle. He thought he messed up and was disappointed in himself. I told him he hadn't done anything wrong. Size was relative. If he drew an even bigger yellow circle, then the big yellow circle that was supposed to be small would be.

Being an adult is like being the big yellow circle to a bunch of little yellow circles.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

All About Me!

A little surprising that Clementine wrote acai as her favorite food. Must be the brasilerinha in her!

Signing in for school. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Milk Money

The kids were gathered at the dining room table. It could be any weekday evening. After school. Before dinner. Scents emanating from boiling pots or sizzling pans on the stove. Homework folders spread before them, forms to sign, permission slips to permit. Checks for book drives and school supplies to write. Lunches to pack. The late afternoon fall light golden and pumpkin streaming through the leaves in the trees in the backyard, facing their own mortality with their short attention spans.

I brought Elise Sam and Peter's backpacks to unload their lunch boxes for the following day. As I handed her Peter's it jingled suspiciously. She shook it again, and it jingled again, like a piggy bank.

She unzipped the top pocket only to discover a handful of change. About $1.75 in loose change to be exact.

She showed the money to Peter and asked, "What's this?"

"Money for milk," he answered matter-of-factly.

"Did you get a milk today?"

He said he had.

"So where did all this money come from?"

Peter said he got all the money when he got the milk.

"But that's not the way it works. You give the money and get the milk. You didn't get the money and the milk."

Peter nodded his head, "Yes, I did."

We were confused.

"Did you take the money?"

"Yeah, I took the money."

"Peter, that's stealing."

"Noooo...he gave it to me."

Elise; "Who gave it to you?"

"The guy selling the milk."

"He gave you the money and the milk?"

"Yep." Peter grinned slyly, as though he were about to burst at the seams any moment. "I gave him some money and he gave me that money back and the milk."

"Where'd you get the money?"

"From my jar," Peter responded. The kids keep -- and obsess over -- a mason jar in their room for their allowance money. The problem is, neither Elise or I can find five seconds to write out a chore chart. Moreover, in the unlikely event that any of the kids were do actually do any chores, I never have any cash to give to them anyway. It'd be logistically less of a hassle to wire them money into a clandestine overseas account.

It's something we're trying to get better at as everything we've read says that if nothing else, you're supposed to have your children do two things: 1) chores and 2) learn to love. I think we're doing pretty good on #2 and we are trying to bestow more responsibility on the kids. The last thing I want is to raise kids who are completely unable to do anything for themselves. The problem is: most of the time I actually like to do things for them. Maybe it's how I show love. So, I'm trying to rechannel that into a love of of showing them how to do things. The thing is they totally eat it up and are eager to help, especially in the kitchen.

Elise pressed on, "So you emptied your jar and took the money to school to buy a milk?"

"Yeah!" Pete beamed, nodding his head enthusiastically. "The guy said, 'That's more than I was expecting!'" He cracked up as we all busted out laughing, imagining fluffly-haired Pete-o dumping two handfuls of change on the unsuspecting cafeteria worker.

No worries here about Petey being unprepared to face the real world. The boy wanted a milk with lunch and he figured out on his own how to get one!

Monday Morning

Saturday, September 24, 2016

New York New York, Part Two

I slammed the hotel room door with dramatic effect, acting angrier than I was, and I hobbled down the hall, wrestling to put my Tevas on as I made for the elevator.

I think Elise realized fairly early on in the evening -- and certainly earlier than I did -- that we weren't going anywhere because she started dropping hints that she wanted something sweet. When I lost patience with Peter and walked out, I knew all along I was just running to Magnolia Bakery for cupcakes for Elise and I. 

The streets were full of police. At least five on each corner. Large, black armored vehicles blocked off entire intersections. Intermittently throughout the day, emergency vehicles released banshee-like howls -- not sirens, per se -- but a deep-throated, guttural hiccough of impending doom. It was a combination of the UN General Assembley and the terrorist bombing in Chelsea. It seemed at the same time like both a war zone and completely normal, and the New Yorkers took it completely in stride; I wondered if anything phased them. Or me. Because, though my cell phone bleated a push alert on the night of the bombing -- two, in fact. One when the first bomb went off and a second when the second bomb was successfully dismantled -- I was otherwise mostly unmoved. This is the day and age we live in where a bomb goes off in the middle of the night and my only complaint is that it interrupted my sleep. It alarms me to wonder what it will really take to shake the American psyche. Because even mass killings in suburban shopping malls are so common now that they don't even make headlines or register in a collective consciousness. 

I weaved my way back through Rockefeller Center to Magnolia Bakery. As I was standing in the cupcake line I glanced at my phone. I'd received a text message from Elise," Return at will. Children are all asleep. I still love you."

Elise recently revealed in a post on her blog on her EHP website that she was close to walking away right before we left for India. We were in New York City, too, coincidentally at the time. I had meetings there before we boarded the plane at JFK for Chennai. You really should read it in her own words, but as we were watching the ice skaters at Bryant Park, she just walked away under the weight of it all. I knew she had left and needed space. I knew she had left but didn't realize at that time how close she was to not coming back. In my mind, I never doubted that she wouldn't come back, but in reading her account, I'm now not as sure. She went to Starbucks. I know on some level she would never walk away... Just as she knows on some level neither would I. But it was never in my character to even entertain the idea; I have no other being apart from all this. 

On my way back to the hotel from the cupcake shop I stopped for a beer. I walked into Bill's Bar and Burgers, the same place we had dinner our first night in New York. I found a spot at the bar and ordered a beer. Unbeknownst to me, as I saddled up to the bar, I had taken the barstool of an officer from the NYPD.

I immediately offered to give it back, but he insisted I stay. I drank my beer quickly, guiltily. When I asked for the check, he questioned my early departure. "I have to get back," I told him. 

It was the truth. All of it. 

Fall Soccer

Friday, September 23, 2016

New York New York

Last week, I had to attend a work conference in New York. Though I knew it would be a lot of work for Elise, I really wanted her and the kids to come. I didn't know when the kids would get a chance to come to New York City. Elise was hesitant, knowing I would have to work most or all of the time we were in the city, but once I found out, I would have Saturday morning off, I was able to convince her to come. 

We decided the take the bus up. Elise had taken the bus before and raved about it. The seats were spacious and comfortable. There was wifi and electrical outlets to power your devices, and at 4 1/2 hours, the ride went by fast. 

I booked us a bus for 1:30. I would leave work an hour early and cab over to Union Station where the Bolt Bus departed. Elise would pick up the kids from a half-day at school then race home. The kids would empty their backpacks of lunches, notebooks, and folders, then quickly fill them with their blankets, pjs, and stuffed animals. Then she would take an Uber to Union Station where we would meet. 

But when the Uber driver pulled up to our house at 12:30, he refused to drive Elise and the kids anywhere unless they were in car seats. Of course, this never crossed my mind. I don't know if I still thought maybe we were in India where three kids would pile on to the back of a scooter and zip through the city, but -- ironically enough -- right after Elise texted me to tell me that the Uber driver wouldn't take her and that she was now hurriedly marching three kids to the Metro station, I saw a commercial for Uber in the taxi with a mother and daughter climbing into the back of an Uber car. Without a car seat. 

I told Elise over text she would never make it to Union Station on time if she took the Metro. I got a quick text back saying there were no cabs at the Metro station! (Of course there weren't, but there are always cabs there!) I finally got a text as I was stuck in traffic near the Capitol saying she was in a cab and on her way, I glanced at the time on my phone: 1:10. Then, I got the text saying that Clementine had fallen in the sprint to the Metro station and skinned her knee. She was having trouble keeping up, so Elise sat her on top of her rolling suitcase and pulled her along...that is until she fell off. Of course, prepared mother of three that she is, she had a band-aid and had patched her up. 

I met Elise in front of Union Station at 1:30 exactly. The five of us ran through the station to the back where the buses pull out. Just in time to see the 1:30 bus pulling out. It was stopped at a stop sign and I even asked the bus driver of the 3:00 bus if we could still get on....he shook his head and said, "Nope." And sure enough, the bus sighed, then lurched out of the station. 

Elise and I saw missing the bus as a mixed blessing. Everyone went to the bathroom, we found a breezy spot to eat the egg salad sandwiches Elise had packed, then ran to Starbucks. 

At 2:20, we got in line to wait stand-by for the 3:00 bus. As the line of ticketed passengers grew, we started to question whether or not there would be enough room for the five of us on the next bus. We debated buying new tickets to guarantee spots on that bus, but decided to try and luck, and fortunately, we were able to get on. 

The bus was nice. However, much to our dismay, we realized that the bus wifi wasn't strong enough to watch Netflix on, and there were no movies downloaded to the iPad. I know I know....we should have packed toys, and, in Elise's defense, she did buy Sam a new Harry Potter coloring book, Clementine a new sticker book, and Peter a new sketch pad for the trip. Sam ended up reading most of the ride, and in a moment of parenting stupidity, I gave Peter my iPhone to play video games. Though it bought us an hour of two of relative solitude, it wasn't worth it when I had to take the phone away, as all three kids were thrown into conniption fits. 

The next few hours passed slowly. Clementine played with stickers before eventually falling asleep as the sun set. Peter writhed in his seat, trying to get comfortable. Sam read until his face was framed by the glow from the Kindle he was borrowing from his mother. Things picked up when we reached Newark and we drove by the airport, followed by our first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline, and I think I was excited as the kids. 

Traffic wasn't too bad (we were going in the right direction...into Manhattan at 8:00 p.m. rather than away from it), until we hit the Lincoln Tunnel then joined a long queue of Greyhounds pointed toward the city. 

We got off the bus at East 33rd between 11th and 12th. Our hotel was Midtown east, and it took us awhile to find a cab as the first one we were able to flag would only accept cash. We eventually found a cab and piled in, and a few minutes later, we were at our swanky $600/night hotel (work was paying). Elise and the kids played it cool while I checked us in, then we all headed upstairs. Sam would sleep on a pallet of blankets on the floor while me, Elise, Clem, and Peter would all pile into the king size bed. I would sleep more soundly squeezed between Peter and Clem with Sam sawing logs on the carpet than I would the one night I had the whole bed to myself when I woke up with a start at 3:00 in the morning, unable to go back to sleep. The quiet was deafening and the space was crippling; no one was twitching or rubbing up against me. 

We forced the kids out to grab a bit. The air was brisk and woke them up a bit. We pulled into a burger place a block from our hotel to celebrate our first night out in the big city, but the kids grew bleary-eyed shortly after the food arrived. Both Peter and Sam were threatening to lie down on the booth benches. I couldn't carry both of them back to the hotel room, so we quickly got the check and decided to call it a night. 

The next morning, the kids (almost) slept in until 7:00, then spent some time watching cartoons. We headed out for breakfast at a deli across the street from our hotel, Isadora's, for genuine New York-style breakfast sandwiches, gooey cheese and eggs with bacon or sausage on a roll. Sam ordered the #6: eggs, sausage, and pancakes and barely left anything. 

We left Isadora's and walked, ending up at Rockefeller Center and (of course) the Lego store! We had to indulge the kids, and -- as far as Lego stores go -- it was a pretty good one with a convincing replica of the skating rink at Rockefeller Center made of legos. Elise did (very) little shopping, before I had to peel off and head back to the hotel to shower and get ready for work. 

I hugged Elise and the kids goodbye in the sun on the corner of W 53rd and 5th Ave. They would go on to the MoMa where they spent most of the afternoon coloring and doing crafts and to a playground in Central Park. We would hook back up for dinner at one of the places Elise and I ate at when we were young and in love in the city, Dos Caminos for margaritas. 

Peter was a handful the entire weekend for some reason, and was generally pretty miserable the entire time I was around him. I don't exactly know what it was. He complained that his teeth hurt, but he went to the dentist a few days ago to see how the tooth behind the baby tooth that had been knocked out in Brazil was coming in, and the dentist said it was fine. He may have just been out of sorts, too much new too soon; they had just started school, and maybe it was one change too many in too short an amount of time. He whined and complained through dinner at Dos Caminos at such a volume even margaritas couldn't drown out his misery. 

They would go to the Central Park zoo on Sunday, but when we reconvened for an early dinner, everyone was too tired, too ornery, and too unhappy to go anywhere. They wouldn't stop fighting and generally not listening to anything Elise or I would say. They were exhausted. We had pushed them hard. And Elise and I grew increasingly frustrated with them. We put Pete in the shower, hoping that would improve his mood. When it failed to do so, we pulled the plug and would make the command decision to stay in the room on our last night in the Big Apple. 

At one point, I got so fed up and frustrated, I walked out, something I had never done. 

Monday, September 12, 2016


Nanny has come to visit, and her arrival has coincided with (finally!) the coming of fall.

Weekends are always a whirlwind, but this weekend seemed a little more of a whirlwind than usual. Even though I had taken a mental health day, a the first in six months on the job. Unfortunately, I spent the day cleaning house.

The boys get out of school at a little before 4:00, but by the time they ride the bus home and we pick them up at the bus stop it is 4:30. Sam had his first soccer practice Friday afternoon at 5:00, so we had to get snacks in the other two and Sam in his shin guards and cleats and run him back to the school in time for practice. This year -- 3rd grade soccer -- he is playing 7 on 7 with goalkeepers, so it is a huge step up and one that I think he is really excited for.

Sam has always had a natural athleticism, but when I watch his at soccer practice, I can tell that he is listening to his coach (seemingly, much more than he listens to Elise or I) and that he is a smart player. He's not the fastest and he's not the first one to rush into a crowd of boys swinging at the ball, legs flailing, but he knows where he's supposed to be on the field and when he's open. I think he'll do really well in 7 x 7's, if we can keep him from wanting to be goalie.

After practice, we piled into the car and rushed to the airport to pick up Nanny. We got there just in time to sneak up on her and surprise her at the baggage claim belt.

The only thing Nanny really wanted to do on this visit -- or so she maintains -- was go to the farmers' market. Fortunately, Falls Church has one of the best farmers' markets around. If for no other reason than the fresh doughnut food truck. We dragged the kids out of the house even though the last thing they want to do on a Saturday morning after the first week of school is get ready to go anywhere. It was incredibly, horribly, dreadfully and unseasonably hot with highs forecast in the mid-90s.

We wouldn't last long. Peter spent most of the morning complaining of a stomach ache the origin of which no one of could discern. Ultimately, we figured out the first week of school had thrown off more than their daily had interrupted Pete's poop cycle so drastically, the poor kid hadn't pooped in almost a week. We let him lie in bed for awhile and watch TV, fed him fiber and filled him with water and juice, but it was only after we left the house that he finally decided he needed to put, and the trip to the bathroom in the community center was actually a welcome respite from the heat.

We headed home after not much more than an hour and with some flowers and a basket of peaches for some much needed R&R. Elise had a photo shoot in Georgetown that evening and I had volunteered to cook dinner though Elise had recently critiqued my evening meals as flavorless.

I may have written about cooking here recently. I used to love to cook. Working most of my young life in various restaurants in Florida and Colorado instilled in me a...not a love affair with cuisine, per se...but with an appreciation for good food and good beer. I used to cook for Elise when she was working full-time for an interior design firm in West Palm. But things changed when we had kids. Time was at a premium and I didn't like to rush. I started to feel like I was Iron Chef and was always making meals with three starving children begging me for food, hands outstretched in search of alms. It was no longer fun, and creativity was thrown out with the bath water for the sake of expediency. At our current rental house, we have a gas grill tied into the house's gas main and I've really enjoyed grilling, but perhaps my menus have become a little too simple.

I aimed to rectify that Saturday night. But just as Elise was about to walk out the door to go to her photo shoot, she vetoed my allowing the kids to watch TV and seemingly sinking any hopes of being able to prepare the gourmet meal I had planned in peace.

I got on the floor of their room with all the lego men and started to play. All three of them (Clementine freshly awakened from her nap) were drawn in and I had them roped into "not-so-silent", sustained play in no time. I snuck away and started on my prep. As the not-so-silent plant became less and less sustainable, I turned on some music. Clementine and Peter spent some time having a birthday tea party for Bacorn (the giant stuffed dog my dad gave the kids one Christmas) with Nanny. Sam read on the couch. Soon, Clementine would join me in the kitchen, and we would dance...father and daughter.

I cranked up the music which lead to an impromptu dance party in the living room. Dinner would be on the table soon: Baked Arctic Char with mashed sweet potatoes, sauteed brussel sprouts with bacon, cilantro pesto and corn salsa. Elise seemed sufficiently pleased.

First Day of School

Sam and Peter's first day of school. 3rd and 1st respectively (Clementine offering moral support).

Clementine! I am told she wrote out her whole name when signed herself in this morning, "Clemementine".