Saturday, January 31, 2015

Clam Freakin' Chowder

It all started last June, when Angie flew to Ireland to rock it proper at Caroline and Thomas' double birthday bash. They served New England clam chowder, which was delicious but prompted the question as to whether New England clam chowder was better than Manhattan. To make a long debate short, Angie considerately blurted out a generous offer.

'Manhattan is also delicious and I'll prove it. You guys are all invited over to my house to try Steve's homemade Manhattan clam chowder.'

Angie recapped this for me when she got back and even managed to smile before I could respond.

'"My house"? You're offering for me to cook soup for your school's faculty and you didn't find it appropriate to refer to it as "our house"? How many people did you invite to your house?'


'Including us and the kids?'


Getting clams in Germany is as difficult as one might think. Luckily, we have some friends who work on the U.S. base who can occasionally help out with some things that are hard to find in Germany. Like seafood.

As with most things at the Zoo, it took a little time to actually organize anything. We finally nailed down the date and up until a week ago, I thought we were more or less ready. That's when Angie remember a rather important detail.

'I totally forgot - we have vegetarians coming. It's okay, though, I talked to Ute and she gave me the recipe for her pumpkin soup. I'll make it.'

'Well this should be interesting.'

'You're going to need to help me.'

'Even Superman has his limits.'

So yeah, this morning, before I went shopping, I asked Chef Angie what she needed to make the pumpkin soup. She raced off to get her 'recipe' and beamed proudly as she read off the list.

'Carrots, garlic, onions, a pumpkin, ginger, curry, broth, salt and pepper.'

As we unloaded the groceries, Davey strolled in and proved once again that he is not a normal child.

'Bwahaha! The golden Kiwis and passion fruit are mine. All mine!'

After Fruit Boy pranced off with visions of smoothies dancing in his head, I turned to my new cooking assistant and asked her for the recipe. She raced off to get her 'recipe' and beamed proudly as she read the recipe out loud.

'Carrots, garlic, onions, a pumpkin, ginger, curry, broth, salt and pepper.'

'Butter buns, that's the list of ingredients. Where's the recipe?'

'What do you mean?'

'Well, for example, how many carrots should we use?'

'I don't know.'

'How many cloves of garlic?'

'I don't know.'

'Hmm, I'm noticing a pattern. Why don't you call Ute and ask her exactly what she does to the ingredients once they've been purchased by men with equal amounts of strength and patience?' 

Angie hung up the phone and returned to the kitchen with a level of enthusiasm that I have not witnessed since the salary review talks I used to hold back when I was a people manager without a budget.

I eventually kicked Angie out of the kitchen. Not because she wasn't being super helpful; more because after an hour in the kitchen, she smelled like anger and frustration. And not in that order.

'Woman! Go bathe. I'll finish up in here.'

For a change, Angie actually listened to me. As she was bathing, we got six cancellations ranging from sick sickoes to being out of the country to Angie not informing her colleagues they could have brought their spouses. I had been worried up until then that a pot of clam chowder, a pot of pumpkin soup, a bowl of pesto pasta, a bowl of aglio e olio pasta, a big-ass bowl of shrimp and a tossed salad might not be enough for eleven plus five. Hello leftovers.

We gave 7:00 pm as the starting time and were completely shocked when everyone showed up on time. All five of them. Plus Sebastian, who was a token invite because I know how much he can eat.

After dinner, we put the kids to bed, although in all honesty, I should state that we tried getting the kids to go to bed. After their third attempt, I laid the law down.

'If you come out again and ask me if it's okay if you drink water from the bathroom sink, I will have Mama freak out all over you. You know what this means, so you decide.'

The boys decided wisely, which meant that I could photograph the wild life. Some animals were timid.

Others were not.

Other animals cackled like Broom Hilda when our cat was accidentally locked out on the balcony in the freezing cold and he had to jump up and down in front of the door to be let in.

This of course reminded me of the time that Angie accused me of killing Lukie, our last cat. Retelling that one led to a lot of other stories, ending with the one about how I had to shut down my Hotmail account after pulling a prank on Angie that backfired big time. The ladies cracked up, but I think it was more of a pity laugh.

Speaking of, it was a pity to end the laughing. All in all, it was a great night. We had enough food, nobody killed the cat, and hopefully a few New Englanders enjoyed the Manhattan side of life.
Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That Mom's teacher friends were here.
David: That we had so many people here for dinner. 
Tom: That we could have ice-cream. 

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That I got the hiccups. 
David: That my belly hurts.
Tom: That Simba bite me.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want it to snow.
David: I want to play something fun with Luca.
Tom: I want to play Batman.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Show me your mussels!

Barb and Leif got back from their honeymoon yesterday and rather than unpack like normal newlyweds, they invited a bunch of us over to flex Leif's birthday.

I'm secure enough in my masculinity to admit that Leif's mussels were mighty impressive. But were they yummy? Hmmm, let's let Tommy answer that one.

Okay, Tommy couldn't really judge because there was no way in hell his brain was putting 'those disgusting squish-thingies' into his mouth.

Angie totally loves mussels, even if they aren't as hairy as she's used to, so she had no problem gobbling up Tommy's entire bowl as the mature-types waited politely to be served.

After dinner, Barb launched an awesome slide show of their now sinless adventures in Australia, followed by an X-chromosome invite for her Mom, Angie and Leif's sister Jil to join her in the kitchen for some wine. Angie loves that type of thing, so I wasn't that surprised when she was the first one in the kitchen. Show me your whine!

Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That we went to Barb and Leif's dinner.
David: That Leif had a birthday.
Tom: That I played kaka-choo and that we build a cave. 

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That we could play outside for only ten minutes and then it rained. 
David: That we couldn't go today to the movies.
Tom: That David fart in the cave.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want to play at Arman's place. 
David: I want to play a game with Luca in the garden.
Tom: I want to play in my cave and play with Peter and Arman.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Define normal

Most normal parents do not allow, let alone encourage their kids to play with their food. In case it wasn't already common knowledge, here is the documented proof that Angie and I are not normal.

Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That Alessio, Chiara and Sarah could stay for dinner.
David: That we had so much fun with the spaghetti.
Tom: When you did the pasta helicopter and it flied across the room. 

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That my leg hurts. 
David: That Alessio and Chiara couldn't spend the night.
Tom: That Alessio and Chiara had to go home so soon. 

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want to build a cave.
David: I want go to Luca's.
Tom: I want to build a puzzle, but a hard one.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


I came home from my first day back to work and was saddened to find that Peter had melted into a blubbering puddle of tears and misery. Hmmm, looks like happy hour will be delayed again.

After twenty minutes of snot-filled hysteria, I finally got to the heart of the panic attack. Somehow, Peter Klutz-owski had managed to delete his precious Minecraft World, which he has been arduously building up for the last three months.

I have saved Peter's world enough times to warrant a trophy or a medal or at least a colorful certificate. So far, though, I've gotten squat, so I was a bit reluctant to don the cape yet again. Until he asked me for help. 

I made sure that Angie wasn't looking and then I snuggled up to Google for a few hours. For any dads out there facing a similar crisis, the anticlimactic solution is... delete the app and restore it from iCloud. My advice, though, is to make it seem way, way more complicated than that when you save your son from drowning in his own tears.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Building up an appetite

We spent last weekend looking at sofas. By that, I of course mean that Angie wanted to look at sofas and dragged my wallet out kicking and screaming to hold her hand while she picked out our new sofa. For giggles, we brought the boys.

First, and mainly just to amuse Angie, we went to a real sofa store and spent hours looking at things made of leather that were all more than three times our budget. Then we did what most normal families do if they have three pre-teens and headed to the bargain rack at IKEA.

In addition to a new sofa that will be delivered sometime in February, Angie felt compelled to buy a bunch of boxes. You know, just to keep me busy on my last day of my vacation. If you ask Angie, there is very little that she doesn't know, but what she didn't know is that I have no problem with child labor when it comes to handiwork.

I had charged the power drill and brought out all of the cool tools that Opa gave me years ago in futile hopes of me actually learning how to use them. That's when IKEA broke the construction crew's bubble.

'Oh, sorry guys, but we don't need any tools at all. You only need a hexagon key and IKEA was clever enough to include one.'

I have to say, that completely took out the excitement for Tommy and Lauri. I still cracked the whip, of course, and told them to get back to work.

If I were Mr. IKEA, the first thing I would do is, of course, change my name. After that, I would ban any furniture that can be assembled without the use of a jackhammer or a chainsaw, preferably both. Yeah, both would be pretty cool.

After a hard day of deciding how IKEA should run their business and watching small children build my wife's furniture, nothing hits the spot more than a Happy Meal. Unless you're Tommy, who decided today, for the first time ever, that he did NOT want a Happy Meal.

But why did we go to McDonald's in the first place? Well, tonight was also Angie's trial lesson at the gym, which is conveniently located across the street. Me being the sensitive version of a honey badger thought she would appreciate her first workout in decades even more if she knew that I was across the street stuffing my face with burgers and fries. I was wrong.

Anyway, back to me waiting in line with Tommy, who seemed adamant about his decision.

'I don't want a Happy Meal!'

When it was our turn, Tommy felt compelled to drive home his point with the poor girl at the register.

'I don't want a Happy Meal!'

'Um, okay.'

After her unsolicited confirmation, Tommy disappeared with the big boys to find a table suitable of his newfound manliness.

The confused woman turned to me and shrugged.

'Yeah, ignore him. Give him a Happy Meal and throw in a pair of those Ninja Turtle glasses.'

'Um, okay.'

Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That Arman could come over.
David: That I could play Monopoly with Tom and Mom.
Tom: That we played Monopoly. 

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That Tommy kicked me in the nose. 
David: That Tommy kicked Peter in the nose.
Tom: That I accidentally kicked Peter in his face.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: To straighten up my Mine Craft world.
David: I want to do the 8th level by Pokemon.
Tom: I want to build a puzzle and then build another puzzle.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mr. What

A day out with Papa normally starts with a) I'm bored or b) Angie is about to launch a cleaning frenzy and it's time for me to get the hell out of Dodge. Without giving it away, I would just point out that spring is a long ways away. 

'Hey, Tommy - you want to go to shoot some pool?'


Tommy's latest thing that drives me nuts is that he says 'what?' to everything you say to him and I do mean everything. The other day I got so annoyed that I called him 'Mr. What'. I shit you not, he answered my name calling with 'What?'.

Tommy's first lesson was how to rack.

'Okay, the one ball goes at the top. Then around the edges, you just randomly rotate stripes and solids and the eight goes in the middle.'


My patience was eventually able to explain to Mr. What how to set up a proper rack. Unfortunately, Tommy has inherited Angie's stubborn defiance of how things should be done and decided to follow her approach by simply doing things the way he thought they should be done. At least he met me somewhere in the middle and agreed to randomly place the striped balls. The solids, though, they had to be placed in numerical order going counterclockwise.

'Counterclockwise? But Tommy, that doesn't make any sense at all! If at all, then clockwise.'


Rain Man completely ignored me and organized the balls the way that his brain wanted to. Whatever, at least the one ball was in its proper place.

The next challenge was trying to show Mr. What how to chalk a cue stick without breaking into a sweat, but his brain had already come up with its own method.

The next problem had less to do with the genetic wiring of Tommy's brain and more to do with the fact that he is not yet tall enough to hold the cue correctly. Unless you ask him, of course. Then he would condescendingly explain to you that his 'grip and stab' approach works just fine.

'Really, Tommy? Because you just missed the cue ball completely. Again. And this time I caught it on film.'


There are many, many reasons why I am glad that I never chose my wife's profession and in one simple pool lesson, Tommy managed to cover just about all of them. When we got to aiming, though, Tommy reluctantly allowed me to give him pointers. Thank you, Master Tom.

With the right billiards teacher, even an overly opinionated six-year old can bank the eight ball into the corner pocket to win the game.

'That's great, Tommy, but you really don't need to stick your tongue out to aim.'


Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That Arman and Moritz came over.
David: That I could go with Sami to the ice-hockey game. 
Tom: That we was by the cats and I played Monopoly with Peter and David and, oh yeah, that you taked me to the pool play place. 

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That my belly was hurting. 
David: That Lauri wanted to go eight minutes before the end of the game.
Tom: That Simba scratched by playing Monopoly and that really hurt.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want to play with David, Tom, you and Mama some Clue.
David: I want to have fun and play something with Luca.
Tom: I'm going to play with Lauri.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Danger Dave

Destructo Dave evolved into Danger Dave today after accepting a 'triple-dog dare' bet from his two brothers. But there are two important pre-reads before we get to the main chapter.

First, we recently watched 'The Christmas Story', a classic Christmas-brotherly-hate-love type of movie that cracked me up even before I had anchors. I mean children.

In one scene, a group of kids that are about David's age are huddled around a frozen pole in the playground, wondering if it's really true that your tongue will freeze to a metal rod if you lick it. Dares are tossed back and forth until the ultimate challenged is laid down. 'I triple-dog dare you.'

The second noteworthy point is that I had made chili for New Year's and there were some leftover hot peppers. For the last two days, the boys had been challenging each other to cut up one and eat a slice, despite warnings from muscular men with more chest hair than ALF that eating one of those hot peppers would burn the holy hell out of their mouth.

It wasn't until today that Peter remembered the key to unleashing Danger Dave.

'Davey, I triple-dog dare you to eat a hot pepper.'

Just for the record, I'd like to point out that it's Angie's boob and not mine that is cutting up the death pepper for our second born.

We gave David a moment of silence to pray for mildness. 

I'm no jeanyus, but I'm pretty sure that the gods were either not listening or they were too busy laughing. I was doing both. 

Immediately after accepting his dare, Danger Dave tore out of the kitchen like a bat out of my world and did several laps around the apartment before I was even able to photograph his pain and suffering.

David then made a common mistake that many underage daredevils make and ran to the faucet to try and soothe his water hole.

While laughing and photo-capturing the moment, a song got stuck in my head and like Oscar Wilde, I simply couldn't resist. 

'The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire.
We don't need no water, let the...'


'What?! You're the one that cut the pepper up and served it to him on a dish.'

After a rather heated debate that I totally did not lose, I now understand that motherhood draws the line at the offering stage. Once the offering has been gobbled up by Danger Dave, the appropriate response is apparently to try and help him.
Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That I could straighten up my Mine World and build my library.
David: That we could look at the sofas.
Tom: That we played Memory - the new one. 

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That we had to look at so many sofas.
David: That the pepper was so hot on my tongue.
Tom: That we didn't had a sofa.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want to play with Arman.
David: I want to play with Luca.
Tom: I want to puzzle one puzzle with space on it.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

An Ode to Johnny

It's never easy losing a good friend. When that person is also a myth and a legend, you rally up everyone and raise a glass. Along the way you cry some, you laugh some. This doesn't make it any easier, but having a pint in his pub, with his friends, telling his stories, somehow made it seem that, for a brief moment, he was there again with us. Rest in peace, Johnny.

Aaron was the toastmaster, and he kept things simple.

'The toast is - count to one-two-three, and everyone as loud as they can to say "We love you, John!".'

On the count of three, the pub erupted with a collective love toast for our dear friend. Then we swapped stories for hours on how he touched so many lives.

One time, after a lengthy deployment, John showed up at our door bearing gifts. He had taking a liking to the Zoo and was an avid reader while down range, so he came well-prepared with an assortment of gifts for the boys, a fire-proof oven mitt for Angie and a t-shirt for me that said 'You say Psycho like it's a bad thing.' Yeah, he knew us well.

Another story making it's way around the pub was 'Famine Day'. I didn't want to do it injustice, since I only know it second-hand, so I asked Damo for a first-hand recap.

'Ah, that was a funny story. It was a Tuesday or Wednesday, I can't really remember exactly. Johnny, Hatch, Chris and I were exchanging emails on meeting up that Friday at O'Reilly's. We had finally agreed to meet up at 9:00 PM and for some reason, I hit "reply all" to the last email with "Bring sandwiches!". I really don't know why, it just seemed funny at the time. I honestly thought that the email string was done and that we would be meeting up at the pub on Friday. Then, Johnny responded with "Sandwiches???". That's when I couldn't help myself and responded with "Yeah, didn't you know? It's Famine Day Friday - you have to bring sandwiches out to feed the hungry.". I then called Hatch and let him in on what was going on. Hatch then replied all and said "Of course, I didn't forget - I'm bringing Tuna sandwiches." Friday finally came and I had honestly forgotten about the whole thing. I was walking by the Bismarkplatz when Johnny Mac (a different Johnny) came up to me and said "You're going to Hell for your sins, Damo". I asked him what I had done now and he explained "Johnny is up at the Irish pub handing out sandwiches to complete strangers."

And this, my Zoobies, is how Famine Day started. Thanks, Damo!

It is also a testament to what a big heart Johnny had. Someone told him to bring sandwiches to feed the hungry - no problem. He marked it in his calendar and showed up with enough to feed the pub, not to mention Anne, Niall, and the other puzzled staff.

Famine Day has became so legendary that there is now an official Famine Day celebrated in Heidelberg on November 14th, if you ask Nicky. If you ask Karen, it's the 12th and Aaron would argue that it's the 17th.  The date doesn't matter, though. The important thing is that we now carry on the tradition and all of us aging pub-crawlers make a few dozen sandwiches and show up at the pub, sometime in November, to feed the hungry. 

Speaking of the famished, Angie raided the pub's kitchen for cucumbers yet again, warranting Karen's patented 'look' and prompting me to give recognition where recognition was due. Yes, I placed it directly above the kitchen door.

I'm not a betting man, but I'd wager a bottle of my beloved French's mustard that Angie would have been less than tickled to see my impromptu creation. Luckily, she was too busy swapping memories and Baby Guinness' with Sebastian and Tracy to witness my fait accompli.

After a few hours of heavy-duty consumption, Angie was ready to get her witch on. Angie had once amazed Johnny with this bar trick that ends up with ash magically appearing on your hand.

To make a long story weird, Angie also baffled Tracy, who then shouted rather loudly that Angie must be a witch. Luckily, Angie took the insult in stride and tried her best not to cackle like a witch. Um, fail. 

Johnny Mac was also in rare form. See, he normally does not allow any (AND I DO MEAN ANY) photographic evidence that he exists, but, for reasons most likely related to influence, he allowed this shot. Thanks. 

It's never easy losing a good friend. When that person is also a myth and a legend, you rally up everyone and raise a glass. Along the way you cry some, you laugh some; if you're lucky you might even get a hug from Johnny Mac. This doesn't make it any easier, but having a pint in his pub, with his friends, telling his stories, somehow made it seem that, for a brief moment, he was there again with us. Rest in peace, Johnny.