Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dinner for One

     The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?

     The same procedure as every year, James!

Every New Year's Eve, we continue to refine our 'Dinner for One' routine and let me just say, perfection is a long ways away.

Last year, for example, I made my dad's 'Shit-Hot Chili' but somehow forgot that we would be feeding children, who tend not to eat anything sporting a habañero. It's probably the tilde.

This year, I remembered to scoop out the ketchup with meat sauce before adding the ingredients that gives it its proper name. 

Last year, we were forced to watch 'Dinner for One' on TV. Considering that they show the fifteen-minute skit every hour on the hour up until midnight, this might seem like an easy task, especially to the less unfortunate kid-less folk. Envy isn't the same as hate, is it?

This year, Angie bought the movie, so that we could watch it in the unplannable 'calm of the storm' that hits shortly before the feeding hour. 

Last year Sarah made a salad. Her kids loved it. Our kids looked at it in puzzled awe and bemused wonder, but of course picked out the cucumbers. 

This year, la Principessa figured out how to get my boys to eat a salad. Kinda.

This time they were picking out the cucumbers and the nacho chips, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. Maybe next year she can put Nutella in the salad dressing.

Last year, Sara brought Jell-O instead of a cake.

This year, she brought a cake instead of Jell-O.

Of course, she misspelled Frono and the first slice tasted like soap, but hey, you gotta start somewhere.

She of course argued that it was our spotless knife that must have still had dishwashing liquid on it. Yeah, that, or maybe you ran out of icing and decided to use liquid Dove. 

Last year, Sebastian didn't get a Christmas gift. It's okay, he also didn't give any. Instead, he donated a bunch a money to help people needier than Angie.

This year, he tried to do the same, but I just pretended that we were married and ignored his wishes. Besides, Sebastian's a hard-core Trekkie and it's not every day that you find a pizza cutter that is shaped like the USS Enterprise (NCC-1601).

Another person totally digging the post-Christmas gift exchange was Tommy.

See, shortly after dinner, Sarah had asked him if there was anything that Santa had forgotten.

'Yeah, a rattle snake.'

'Of course. Silly Santa.'

Rather than ask how Sarah happened to have a stuffed rattlesnake in her purse, I simply moved on.

By the way, I do know that it was the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) and not the (NCC-1601).  I just wanted to mess with hard-core Trekkies for a paragraph or two.

Last year, we spent about ten minutes watching children with no patience trying to melt lead by holding a spoon over a lit flame.

This year, well, we pretty much did the same thing.

Last year, when the kids got bored, Sarah and Angie took over for them. The kids clearly had no interest in this tradition, but Sarah and Angie clearly did. I think that they secretly rooted for the kids to give up so that they could get their fun on.

This year, well, they pretty much did the same thing, only this time they didn't have to wait as long. 

After another hour of fun and games that ended with classic snippets like 'stop doing that to the cat!' and 'no, it's not time yet', we made our way down the street to our absolute favorite spot for blowing stuff up.

Along the way, we passed these guys and Angie only thought she was whispering.


At least the guys were either nice enough or tipsy enough to let me take a picture. Frono!

Last year, I was the official time-keeper, resulting in a multitude of problems. The first problem was clearly that the kids were asking me for the time every 30 seconds. Problem number two was that I don't wear a watch, so I was digging my phone out of my coat on a bi-minute basis. The real problem, though, was that it was mighty cold outside and my sensitive hands wanted to stay buried deep in my coat pockets.

This year, I simply delegated the task to one of Santa's helpers.

Last year, I had to light every single firework that went off. Multiply that fun by three and add a lot of spastic screaming. Yeah. 

This year, I brought along a big fat candle and let the boys unleash their inner Pyro all by themselves. David was the first to volunteer.

This all smelled like a good idea until Peter came running up to me holding a smoldering firecracker.

'Papa, this one didn't...'


See, I had failed to tell Peter that if you drop a firecracker into the snow and the fuse gets a little wet, it does still work, it just takes a few seconds longer.

I tried to explain this to the kid with no eyebrows, but I guess having your fingers in a pile of snow and screaming your head off makes it hard to concentrate on retroactive words of wisdom.

Ah, well, as I mentioned, we continue every year to refine our 'Dinner for One' routine. If Peter is willing to look at a firecracker by next year, he'll at least know now not to hold onto it once it's been lit. Until then, he'll just have to make the peace sign with his left hand.

Last year, we tried to force nature to go to bed right after the fireworks. What a crap idea.

First off, they were wound tighter than a two dollar watch. Second, the A dolts then went on to party until the clouds turned purple again, which was about the time that the well-rested night-shift came on duty demanding breakfast. And you all know who's not allowed in the kitchen.

This year, I encouraged them to stay up as long as they possibly could, hoping this would extend my unneeded beauty sleep. Kids are like adults in that sense, though. As soon as they knew that they could stay up and get away with it, all five of them racked out. Game over, man.

Last year, we played poker directly after getting the kids to bed. 

This year, we decided to play Clue first. Despite all odds, guess who had a clue?

To be fair, Angie has only been practicing this game with the boys for the last two years.

To be unfair, she went from proving to everyone that she wasn't clueless to making farting noises on a champagne glass.

She wouldn't give up and kept claiming that she could play a beautiful melody. You call it whatever you like, Butter Buns, it's lovely.

Last year we ended New Year's surrounded by good friends, good times, and Angie's poker gloat.

This year it was thankfully the same.

Every New Year's Eve, we continue to refine our 'Dinner for One' routine and let me just say, perfection is a long ways away - hopefully.
Ladder Talk: [Sorry, no Ladder Talk tonight - maybe next year]
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: ZZZzzz...
David: ZZZzzz...
Tom: ZZZzzz...

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: ZZZzzz...OW, MY FINGER...zzzz...
David: ZZZzzz...
Tom: ZZZzzz...

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

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Walking in a Winter Weirdoland

This morning started out like any given Sunday - Angie tried making me a coffee and failed. I shouldn't add, but of course I will, that we drink instant coffee, which really boils down to two steps; boiling the water and then pouring it. 

In her defense, she did start to boil water before she completely lost her focus. I tried my damnedest to help her find her focus, but she was too busy explaining to me how I would be spending my day.

If you've ever had the mild displeasure of dealing with me pre-coffee, you'd probably think twice about picking that top o' the morn to run your itinerary by me. Angie has met 'Morning-Me' at least once daily since we've met and still hasn't figured out the proper sequence of caffeine first, day plan second.

'So, instead of going over to Ute and Alex's nice, warm apartment for coffee and cookies, I thought we could pick them up and, you know, go out hiking in the snow.'

I'm a firm believer of gut instincts and first impressions. The first thought that comes to your mind is normally one that will piss off other people, but only because they can't handle the truth. That's where I come in.

'Hmmm... that smells like a bad idea, Butter Buns. The kids are just going to nail one of us in the neck with a snowball and you know how sensitive my ears are.'

'That's nice, but I've already texted Ute and she's breaking the happy news to Alex as we speak. Let's go.'

Rather than continue the recap of my one-sided chitchat with Master, I'd like to simply show Exhibit A and let a jury of my peers make their own conclusions as to whose gut was right.  

First impressions turned out to be a theme on today's hike. Tommy spent a whopping four minutes in the frozen forest before announcing his.

'It's cold!'

I was about to congratulate Chill-boy on his observation when Ute intervened with an approach that I had seriously not even considered.

My first impression was more like a first-world complaint.

'Shit! I forgot my hat.'

Luckily, I've been through cold-weather survival school, so I know how to endure the elements.

I have my Mom to thank for the nice Cashmere scarf. And I have Angie's cackling to thank as a reminder to never dress up as a Babushka in front of my wife's camera again.

As Hyena-gal was winding down, I thought I heard Ute mention the word 'moon'.  

I, of course, immediately scanned the woods for my three boys, certain that I would find one of them engaged in an act that would soon be making the pages of 'Papa's Book of Unfunny Things'. Then I followed Ute's starry gaze.

'Oh, that moon. Well, that's a relief!'

Peter's first impression instructed his face to plant itself in frozen water. The strange thing is that his brain accepted this challenge.

After confirming that he can't fly, Peter posed for a chilly reenactment of the three monkeys.

'See no evil' would be Peter, because he was looking, surprise, surprise, directly at the camera. 'Speak no evil' would be David, because his lips were thankfully frozen shut. My tiniest baboon decided to take an alternative approach, which I like to call 'Snow is Evil'. 

On the last stretch, Tommy un-thawed long enough to try and whack Mama in the face with a snowball. Unfortunately, small children tend to fall down easily when confronted with indifferent moms.

Angie took the nice attempt in stride and even managed to look sympathetic. Kinda.

Peter is a VERY just kid. When he sees his kid brother at the playground getting beat up, he normally does not laugh and point fingers. When he sees his Mama smugly stroll past a fallen brother, though, he takes retaliation to a hilarious level.

Shortly after Peter's icy revenge, we tackled an innocent couple and forced them to make us look beautiful. Hey, one of out seven ain't bad.

I won't single out the beauty; you'll just have to use your top-right imagination. I also won't point out that Ute, who had just eye-witnessed Peter's brutal attack on his own mother's neck, was slightly distancing herself from the pack. No, no. I'm fine. I'll just kneel over here in the sprint position.

After our frosty hike, the boys volunteered Alex and Ute to serve them hot chocolate and cookies. On the drive down the mountain, an Audi driver passed our car and the two cars in front of us. The road is slightly bigger than a bicycle path, it's covered in snow, and in places can be rather steep.

After the next curve, traffic had pretty much stopped. I put on the brakes and made what I thought was a witty comment.

'I bet there's a wrecked Audi around the bend.'

Tommy didn't get it. 

'Where's the Audi?'

'No, Tommy. There is no Audi.'

'Huh? We saw it. It passed us.'

'Yeah, I mean that the Audi did not crash.'

'But you said it did.'

Spoiler alert - there was no crash; the traffic was simply backed up because half of Heidelberg had also had the brilliant idea of walking around in an outdoor freezer. The extra traffic did mean that I had an unexpected twenty minutes to try and explain concepts like wit and humor to Angie's children.

As Alex and Ute transformed milk into warm energy, David decided to play a game of solitaire marbles and Tommy decided to watch. And give unsolicited commentary.

The problem with solitaire is that, in case the name didn't give it way, it's meant to be played alone. In addition to wit and humor, Tommy also does not understand 'alone', let alone 'leave me alone'.   

The real eruption didn't begin until Peter also tried to intervene with his thoughts on how the game should be played. At that point, the War Games were thankfully interrupted by the Hunger Games. Looks like Tommy'll win.

Holy hell! Check out the Jaws of Life on that boy! Rudolf might have been popular for his bright nose because Santa needed to see through fog, but I guarantee you that Santa would call on Tommy if he ever needs someone to chomp through a blocked chimney.

Everyone (uncool people excluded) has heard the song 'Born to Be Wild'. It starts with 'Get your motor running...' which is exactly what happens to Tommy when you fill his tank with hot chocolate and cookies.

Tommy spent the next five minutes zipping around Alex and Ute's collections of breakable stuff before getting in Peter's face and playing a game called 'I'm not touching you!'.

Okay, I do admit it - I showed them this game, but it's way more fun when I do it.  The way it works is you get right up in someone's face and start moving your hands all around them, kinda like you're going to tickle them, but you don't make contact. Then you just keep repeating 'I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you' over and over again until a) the other person laughs or b) the other person punches you in the face. Either way, the other person gets a good laugh.

After cookies and games, we exchanged Christmas gifts. Tommy got a cool Darth Vader sweatshirt, that he absolutely had to put on. That's when Alex made an embarrassing discovery.

That's right. Go ahead, Alex, try all you want. Truth is that Angie forgot to change Tommy's shirt for the last few months and now the damn thing won't fit over his head. I keep telling Angie that we need to just butter up that boy's noggin and yank it off like a loose tooth that's ripe for picking. She doesn't listen, though. She just stares at me like she has no idea what I'm talking about.

Like me, Alex has many hidden talents, but one that we only stumbled upon today is that he is quite proficient at uncorking children's heads from their hoodies.

David also got a Star Wars shirt, but his head apparently hasn't spurted recently. Peter got a book of illusions, which captured his brothers' attention. Trust me, this is not an easy feat.

After a while, Tommy got worried that the rest of us were getting bored and decided to wow his Ute by doing the splits.

See, Tommy has been doing gymnastics for the last three months. Apparently, one of the first things they teach you is how to make other males wince.

Shortly after Tommy's splits, we also split. We had to make it back to the zoo for a virtual meeting with Pop-Pop, Oma, Vena, Christine, George, Patrick and Stephanie. They couldn't all fit on the screen, though, so I suggested that Patrick and Stephanie jump on the stage with Santa Clause.

This evening ended like any given Sunday - Angie tried bringing me a beer and failed. I shouldn't add, but of course I will, that it was me that forgot to stock the fridge, so I had an unexpected hour as the freezer transformed warm beer into Papa's milk.

Since Tommy was asleep, I couldn't use my unexpected time to continue our lessons on wit and humor. Instead, my thoughts drifted, as they sometimes do.

My thoughts can be a bit strange, just ask Angie. Sometimes, they even like to hum along. Today's melody would most certainly be 'Walking in a Winter Weirdoland'
Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That we went up to the Königstuhl.
David: That we could call Vena, Christine, Pop-Pop, Oma, Patrick and Stephanie on ooVoo and that we could walk Alex and Ute to the Königstuhl. 
Tom: That we was on the Königstuhl with Ute and Alex. 

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That my ear hurts.
David: That Simba scratched me.
Tom: That I didn't was so good by the phone call with Patrick and Stephanie.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: To wake up and everywhere is snow. 
David: I want to play with Luca and my brothers 'cause I have a new Yu-Gi-Oh deck.
Tom: To play with Simby, the Bimby-Gimby.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Lights, camera, action!

Lights, camera, action!
     - the traditional cue to the members of a film crew at the beginning of a take

Christmas morning started out a bit like 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' - dark and loud. 

The twilight crew huddled in the hallway and vocally whined their displeasure at needing to wait while Angie made the Director a coffee.
'Okay, guys. We only get one take, so make it work. I'm going to go set up the camera - I want a shot of each of you seeing your gifts for the first time. Peter, you're up. Then David, then Tommy. And remember - no peace signs and no silly faces.'

Peter came out first and totally nailed the scene.

David came out, but he apparently got confused and thought he was trying out for the role of a music conductor with a fat lip. 

This didn't help Tommy, who decided to follow suit by showing me his 'Kung Fu Panda' pose.

David was the first one to unwrap his Nintendo grin.

Soon after, Peter also had a starry look in his eyes.

For Tommy, well, to be honest, he could unwrap a bag of potatoes and still go nuts, so there was no telling what actually peaked it for him.

For Angie, it was simple, since I only gave her one gift.

It's called a YUYU bottle and it is the only full-body hot water bottle available on the market. Trust me, nothing says I love YUYU like giving your lady a pink worm. You can hug me later. 

David didn't wait until later - he power hugged Peter after receiving his glass-cased box full of precious stones, fossils, and cement. 

David then opened a gift from Santa, but his thoughts must have drifted back to the one that Peter had given him and he went in for take two.

Take three came shortly after the last wrapping had been shredded, when all three boys pile-drove the Director's personal assistant with a group hug.

I wasn't jealous at all. I could have totally snoozed on the sofa and let my children squeeze the love out of me, but someone had to document the memory, right? Don't answer that.

'All right, boys. Cut! Let's break up this disgusting display of affection and go get some Turkey!'

'Huh? Are we going to visit Nil?'

See, a few years ago, Mama flew to Turkey to attend Nil's wedding. This completely confused Tommy, who at the time explained to our neighbor that 'Mama went to eat chickens'. He now knows the difference between a chicken and a turkey, but he apparently still has some poultry-country issues to work though.

'No, Tommy, we are not going to Turkey. We are going to eat a turkey.'


'Never mind, you'll see.'   

When we got there, Judy had the meat thermometer in.

'It's been in for hours, but it's not done yet; it's supposed to reach 180 degrees.'

I noticed that the oven temperature was set to 160 degrees and was still wondering how the inside of a turkey could be hotter than the oven when Peter asked if I would like to see his Christmas Cactus Man.

'I would love to.'

Dinner was great and the boys behaved rather well, except Tommy, who almost nodded off in a pile of mashed potatoes and gravy. I guess staying up until midnight the night before and waking up at 6:00 in the AM can really tucker out some people. Not me.

After dinner, Barbara broke out her new Polaroid camera that she got from Jil, Leif's sister. She warmed up things with a shot of Angie holding the world's smallest iPad.

Next, Barb scored a metro shot of pure manliness (yes, I photoshopped out the chest hair).

That's when Peter came racing up, shaking like a, wait for it..., Polaroid.

'Ooh, ooh, can I take a picture? Huh? Huh? Can I? Can I? Please!'

'Sure, Peter, here you go, but just be careful that you don't...'


That's right, Butterfingers dropped the camera. Tommy's sensitivity radar picked up on what had just happened and immediately tried to calm his brother, who was thankfully not wearing mascara.

'Oh, that's not good, Peter. Why did you do that?'

The good news was that it landed on the lens. Oh, wait a minute, sorry; that was the bad news. The good news was that Opa, Barbara and Leif are collectively quite skilled at figuring out how to snap tiny plastic pieces back into their proper place.

I wasn't jealous at all. I could have totally fixed the camera and saved Peter from even more tears, but someone had to document the memory, right? Don't answer that.

If you've never witnessed pure relief, just check it out. Both of them, actually.

After the curious incident of the camera that goes bonk in the night-time, two things happened. First, Barbara decided to attach the safety strap to her camera. Good idea.

Second, Tommy awoke from his Christmas lumber. See, after almost falling asleep at dinner, Tommy had disappeared to build his Lego alligator that would have taken Peter two and a half minutes to build. Tommy is the youngest of three brothers, though, so he still insists on doing all things 'by me-self'. This of course meant that the rest of us were able to enjoy two and half hours of silence as Tommy remained focused on deciphering the picture-by-picture instructions.

What goes up, must come down. And what goes dark for two and a half hours must come out loud and wildly proud of his self-built Lego-gator. 

After that, all bets were off. The Genie was out of the bottle and it was wired for sound. At one point, he honed in on Grams as his victim of choice and kept racing up behind her to see how close he could get to her neck before she would turn around. As it turns out, I think that Grams has played this game before. She at least took my preferred approach and simply ignored the insane giggling and head poking.

After an hour of Tommy's version of hide-and-seek where nobody was really seeking, I announced the upcoming release of the Director's Cut.

'Okay, guys. We only get one take, so make it work. I'm going to go grab the bags of food that Grams has given us - I want a shot of each of you putting on your shoes and coats. Peter, you're up. Then David, then Tommy. And remember - no hiding and no more farting noises.'

Peter came out first and totally nailed the scene. 

David came out, but he apparently got confused and thought that he was supposed to whack his brother with his shoe.

This didn't help Tommy, who for some reason decided to reenact a scene from 'Raging Bull'.

Even Scorsese knows when it's time to close the curtains.

'All right, everyone - that's a wrap!'
Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That today is Christmas and that we got so many presents.
David: That everyone had fun and it was the best Christmas I had until now. 
Tom: That we got presents and that it Christmas was. 

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That I didn't get the Lego set with Hulk and Captain Falcon. 
David: That we couldn't stay longer by the cats.
Tom: That I got a belly-ache.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want to build my Legos.
David: I want to play with Luca.
Tom: I want to play with my presents from Christmas Day.