Sunday, March 24, 2019

Mom's getting old

Angie was on the phone with Gramms today, who kept complaining that she could not hear Angie. 

'I hear you just fine,' repeated the woman with superhero-like hearing. 

After five minutes of this, Angie huffed and hung up the phone. 

'Mom's getting old...'

Angie muttered this as she put down the phone and as she did, she realized that she had been holding the phone upside down. Then she made another mistake and told me. 

'Yup. Mom's getting old...'

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Optical Delusion

Today was the long-awaited trip to Stuttgart to cash in the musical tickets to see 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' that my parents gave the boys for Christmas.

It was a long drive and the stuffed bags the boys were gripping only foreshadowed the impending pillow fight Royale that I recommend to all siblings who are forced to spend more than twenty minutes together in a cramped space. Let's get ready to RUMBLE....

We stayed at the same hotel as last year, mainly because the boys found it so incredibly cool. They got their own suite which was 12 doors down the hall from our room. It has a touch screen TV in every room, including the bathroom and the shower and the floors are heated. How can you compete with that?

Last year, conservative Peter decided to go full-on David on all of us as we were getting off of the elevator on the way to checking out. He surprised us all by waiting until the elevator hit the ground floor and then swiping his hand from top to bottom, lighting up every floor.

He could not control his giggling as we exited. That is, of course, until he ran into Irmgard, the slightly overweight cleaning lady with the cart of fresh towels waiting to take the elevator up. She was not amused. I was. 

Let's just say, it ended with a red-faced Peter and Angie trying to convince the both of us that it was not funny, even though she started cracking up as soon as Irmgard made it to the first floor.

As we made our way to the reception, I joked with Peter that the next time we come, there would probably be a sign stating that children are not allowed to ride in the elevator unaccompanied. Germans are notorious for their rules and signs. Americans are notorious for ignoring rules and signs. I'm not typically one to buy into stereotypes, but we found this lovely plaque shortly after checking in. Peter was thirteen the last time we were there. 

This sign was not there last year. Just saying. 

After checking in, we made our way to the rooms. Yes, rooms. One of the many joys of having a family of five is needing to book two hotel rooms whenever we travel. Thanks, wallet!

Obviously, we went to the boys' room first. There was one single bedroom and in the living room, there was a fold-out sofa bed big enough for two. Peter took one look and pointed at the single bedroom.

'That one's mine.'

David immediately started hyperventilating and his cheeks flushed.

'WHAT??!! Peter! You have your own room at home ALL THE TIME! AND - you had the single room the last time we were here. THAT ROOM IS MINE!!!'

It was either the booming voice or the twitchy eye, or maybe even the spittle clinging on David's clenched jaw, but Peter wisely chose to back down. Tom also chose the path of compromise.

'Ok, but next year it's mine.'

Once David's breathing returned to normal, we left the wild animals to tear apart their hotel room in ways that would have made Keith Moon proud. I Can't Explain. 

Angie and I slipped out to go to the gas station across the street. We thought we would buy some water and juices for the morning. Along the way, Angie insisted on stopping and taking a picture of this wall mural.

'Ah, crap! I guess Peter won.'

Over the years I've grown accustomed to ignoring Angie's useless banter, but this one intrigued me.

'What do you mean "Peter won"?'

'Well, when we drove in, Peter saw this wall and made a bet with me that it was not flat. I bet him that it was an optical illusion and that the wall was actually flat. Looks like he was right. Hee hee.'

'And, dare I ask, what was the bet?'

'I have to do the dishes for a week.'

'So, let me get this right. You made a bet with our first born and the reward was that you do the chores that he is already getting paid to do each week? 

No response. Angie blinked several times. Her left eyebrow lowered slightly.


I have been married long enough to know when it is a bad idea to keep poking a wounded Mama bear that has just realized that she had been conned. Instead, I turned my attention to my other cubs who had huddled up to the hotel bar for our 'complimentary drink'.

In Germany, you are able to drink beer, wine and champagne at the ripe age of 16. Oddly enough, Peter, who is now fourteen, was the only one not trying to convince the bartender to give them an alcoholic champagne.

After enough bubbly to float a small armada, I asked David to take a picture of Angie and me. Peter then decided it would be funnier than that time when that guy threw both of his shoes at George W. Bush to give Mama bunny ears on THE only picture that we took of us together. I honestly don't know where they get it from. 

In a bizarre twist of events, we were actually on time. We even had enough time to document this rare moment. Yeah! No bunny ears!

The boys lately have perfected the fine art of fighting each other over anything and everything. This evening's drama started when David wanted to sit next to Tom and Peter insisted on sitting in the assigned seating listed on the tickets that I had randomly handed out. Tom stood quietly by and enjoyed the pre-show drama as his two older brothers argued about who could sit next to him.  

In the end, Peter won, as is evident by his 'I won' smile. David lost, as is evident by his 'I hate you, Peter' smile. Tom called it a draw, as is evident by his 'everyone wants to sit next to me' smile.

The show was amazing. A tad too much singing for my liking, but Angie tells me that's normal in a musical. Thanks, Butter Buns!

The show ended rather late, so we made our way back to the hotel to settle down restless animals. We got the boys tucked in and explained again that we just down the hallway and that if they needed anything, they could just call us. Angie and I then took bets on who would call first and how soon that would be. Thirty minutes later, Tom called. I won. 

'I can't sleep.'

Angie lost the bet, but instead of doing the dishes for a week, she had to go over and get Tom to go to sleep. Not surprisingly, that turned out to not be that easy. Peter and Tom were sharing the sofa bed, only Peter had turned sideways and had spread-eagled Tom out of any sleepable space. Angie peeked in the single room and saw that David was fast asleep. Then with one whisper, Angie both completed her mission and shattered David's dream of having one night alone in his own room.

'Do you want to crawl in with David?'

Angie flaunted her way back into our room looking prouder than Mary.


'Bravo! But you're explaining to David in the morning how his single room turned into a double.'

Luckily for everyone, no explanation was needed. The boys were super excited about the breakfast buffet, which is really awesome at this hotel.

After chowing down, we still had some time before checkout, so we decided to check out the new 'game room' that was not there last year.

When we walked in, there was a man sitting on a bench next to the dart board with a laptop and headset. He didn't register that five other humans had suddenly joined the room and that the three smaller ones were picking out sharp pointy things to throw at the dart board.

'Um, excuse me. You might want to move.'


'Because my kids are crap at throwing darts and that looks like an expensive suit.'

The man then huffed like a little kid and stood up with his laptop.

'This is unbelievable.'

'Which part? That my kids want to throw darts in the game room with a dart board as the centerpiece or that you didn't consider going to the conference room next door to take your mega important call?'

The self-proclaimed important man did not respond. He amused me with one more huff as he stormed out of the room. Ba-bye!

After almost half an hour of poking holes in the wall around the dart board, we decided to leave. We walked across the street to the parking garage and along the way, we saw an Irish pub with the same name as the one where Angie hosts a pub quiz every week.

'Hurry up, Steve. The guy at the checkout said that we only have thirty minutes to get out of the parking garage.'

'That's not what he said.'

'Yes, it is. Do you wanna bet?'

Roughly ten minutes later, we were pulling out of the parking garage and got to the turnstile. Angie shoved the ticket in and the display lit up: 'Insufficient funds'. Angie half-glared and half-smirked at me before hit the 'Call' button.

'Yeah, I'm sorry. My husband is a MORON and didn't understand the concierge at the hotel. We paid for the parking and checked out about forty minutes ago and ...'


And that is the not so hilarious story about how I will now be doing Peter's chores for the next week.
Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: The musical, definitely. 2nd best thing was the room & the darts.
David: That we didn't really fight, it was super fun, and the room was cool, and that I learned magic tricks today. 
Tom: The musical and the cool room with the cool breakfast and, actually, everything.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That we had to leave so early because of dance school (which was cool). 
David: The drive. 
Tom: In the musical when my belly hurt. 

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: To go to training and, if the weather is okay, to go play some hoops. 
David: I want to see my friends again. 
Tom: I don't want to go to school. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Dinner for 18

It all started a few days ago when Angie informed me that Simone and Flo would be coming over on New Year's Eve. The next day, Angie was on the phone with Katherina.

'Sure, you guys can come over. Lauri can also spend the night.'

The next night was quiz night, and Kristina spontaneously needed an alternative plan for New Year's Eve. Angie came to her rescue. 

The day after that, we went to dinner with Tobi and Erica, who are visiting from the States. On the way to the restaurant, Tobi asked a question disguised as another question.

'So, Steve, are you guys making chili again this year?'

'Yes, Tobi, we would love if you and Erica could join us on New Year's Eve.'

And that's the funny story about how I voluntarily ended up making chili for 18 humans on New Year's Eve. The recipe I use is one that my dad handed down years ago. It actually won 1st place in a Virginia chili contest in 1981. My dad even named it - 'SHIT HOT CHILI'. Over the years, I have scaled up and adapted the recipe to accommodate nine people, which is our normal guest quota. I included the recipe for 9 people at the end of this blog. If you ever find yourself needing to make it for 18 people, just double everything and your 'before' picture should look something like this.

Despite fully justified assumptions, the beer and Tequila are not for the cook - they are the secret ingredients. Ok, full disclosure - the recipe was conceived when my dad was still drinking like the sailor he was at the time so it may not be needed at all. I wouldn't know - I've never been brave enough to stray from the original recipe. I photocopied this original recipe many years ago. It was covered in grease stains, sweat and comments written by my dad in all caps, his go-to writing style. One of them stood out for me.

October 4th, 1981

I think about that every year that I make this recipe. Angie and I often get caught up in the chaos of raising kids. Every now and then we get a moment to ourselves and I'd like to think that we cherish those kid-less moments together like my parents did so many decades ago. None of that shit happened on New Year's Day, though. I was busy kicking Angie's ass out of the kitchen so I could make 3 pots of SHIT HOT CHILI.

It's not a party at the Johnson's Zoo until the police show up or someone breaks something. While I was adding the SHIT to SHIT HOT CHILI, Peter decided to try breaking his foot by launching a Kung Fu Panda move in the hallway. The good news is, he did not break his ankle as we initially thought. The bad news is that his overly muscular dad snapped a few shots of him being carried to the sofa by his mamma, who is now shorter than him. When the hell did that happen?   

Peter tends to over-nurse his injuries, but when Tobi and Erica showed up with bags of sweets from the U.S. of A., Hop-along Pete rose to the occasion and secured his place as the primary gift-receiver.

At first, I was fully on board with Tobi's plan to bribe our kids into loving him. That was before the sugar snacks were distributed to the greedy masses. Talk about your all-time backfires. 

Being the wise parents that we sometimes are, we timed the sugar high perfectly so that the low came crashing down just before it was time for our yearly 'Dinner for One' showing. For those of you that have not heard of it, it is a comedy skit making fun of the Brits that has somehow become a standard New Year's Eve show that every self-respecting German family must watch. No British person that I know has ever admitted to hearing about or seeing the show, but that's besides the point. Roll the film!

A weird coincidence - 'Dinner for One' has a run-time of, you guessed it, 18 minutes. After almost twenty minutes of border-line silence, it was time to prep for blowing shit up. I assigned the work package of filling refillable lighters to two of the few remaining sober adults.

After another twenty minutes of border-line contemplation, we were ready to get our crackers on. We loudly made our way down to the park in front of the City Hall building at the end of our street. Shortly before midnight, I looked over and caught Peter stuffing his face with rockets. I of course whipped out my camera but I was too late.

'Ah, come on, Peter. One shot'

'Ok, but don't get my teeth.'

'Um,...Weird, but ok.'

Feel free to zoom in on the picture and let me know in the comments if you see any teeth. I won't tell Peter though - he seems to be a tad self-conscious about his grill.  

A few minutes later, the clock struck twelve and all hell broke loose. It was Matti's first New Year's with the Zoo and I don't think he was prepared for just how loud it gets downtown. He raced across the street and took shelter under the City Hall awning until it was all over.

The rest of the fireworks blowout went as it normally does with one exception. Peter and David discovered that if you drop fireworks in the sewer, it make a very loud explosion. Matti was not impressed. 

To anyone that lives across the street from City Hall that had their water pipes inexplicably burst on New Year's Eve: 'um, ... sorry 'bout that.'

As soon as the smoke cleared, it was clear that Matti was having no part of joining us for the after fireworks party. We also lost Kristina who was off to celebrate Johannes' birthday at Vater Rhein's, the best place downtown to get a mean bowl of spaghetti at 2 o'clock in the morning (so I've heard). And then there was thirteen.  

The hour after fireworks is typically wasted trying to explain to adrenaline-pumped post-generation Z types why they need to go to bed. I give Peter points for trying a new approach this year.

'But I'm taller than Mom!'

'You're right. Angie - time for bed!'

Angie laughed a little too loudly. Peter sighed defiantly and raised his hands in the air. I then reminded Peter of the family rule that children cannot ignore their parents even if said parents occasionally ignore each other. Okay, it's more than just occasional and that exception only tends to work in one direction, but that's not the point. GO TO BED!!

The whole 'veins popping' trick always worked with my dad and I thank him each year for teaching me that trick at an early age.

After an involuntary rendition of 'So Long, Farewell', the von Trapp kids retired to their sleeping quarters to continue on with rather loud activities that bore no resemblance whatsoever to anything remotely related to sleeping. But, hey! Their door was shut.

I'm sure that in one of Sebastian's previous lives he was a high-ranking official of the Star Trek Fleet Command, but in another life, I'm quite confident that he was a bartender specialized in making gin and tonic's for ladies who had already consumed copious amounts of Champagne. Move over, Brian Flanagan.   

Two and half gin tonics later, someone asked Simone to get half naked so that we could check out one of her tattoos. She found this funny.     

Three gin and tonics later, Angie yanked on one of the left-over Christmas crackers and proudly displayed what she started calling a dog-horse.

After grinning like the village Trump for almost a minute, Angie started making what I can only hope she thought were dog-horse noises. I've never heard a dog-horse but I can state confidently that they do not sound anything like what was coming out of Angie's mouth. 

Needless to write, the night was involuntarily winding down. Even Simba knew it was time to find his human warm bottle, also known as Simonelina. 

Simone was the domino piece. She toppled, followed by Angie. Sarah went home. Sebastian and I stayed up and took pictures of marquee signs made by wild animals that only make sense to the inner circle of The Johnson's Zoo. Frono!

3 Kg Ground Beef
4 Steaks (cooked)
2 green pepper
2 red pepper
3 medium onions
6 celery stalks
6 cloves garlic
3 cans peeled tomatoes (400 g)
5 boxes tomato sauce (500 g)
2 tube tomato paste
3 bay leaves
1 TBSP garlic salt
2 TBSP parsley
3 TBSP Oregano
1/2 jar jalapeno peppers
2 Habanero peppers (diced)
1 TBSP Tabasco sauce
1 TBSP Cumin
1 TBSP Cayenne Pepper
2 TBSP Chili Powder
1/2 Beer
8 cl Tequila (4 shots)
3 cans kidney beans

Cook steaks - 4 minutes per side on medium-high heat. Cut into tiny pieces. Brown and drain ground beef. Add to a pot. All other ingredients go into a blender. Throw everything into a big-ass pot and let simmer for 3 hours, uncovered. After 3 hours, add the kidney beans (with juice) - cook for one more hour. Enjoy!
Ladder Talk: [We were lucky enough to get the animals locked in their room - there was no way in hell I was going in to try and do Ladder Talk]
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ....
David: zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ....
Tom: zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ....

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ....
David: zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ....
Tom: zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ....

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ....
David: zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ....
Tom: zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ....