Saturday, July 30, 2016

On the road again

We hit the road early this morning and on the way to Pennsylvania, we came across this diner. Like me, it looked normal at first glance. Then we looked at the fine print.

That's right. This wasn't your average roadside diner. No, this was one of those unicorn diners, apparently owned by a guy named Mike. I was tempted to pull over and see if the diner was for unicorn patrons or if crazy Mike was serving unicorn burgers 24 hours a day, but we had a schedule to keep.

Our schedule included a stopover to visit my Uncle Bob.

The boys had a blast playing in his 'secret basement'. Now, before you weird types get the wrong idea, it was just an entertainment room downstairs that had a flat screen TV, stereo equipment and a lot of other breakable shit that made me a tad bit nervous. Especially when I found out that they were playing a game that David had invented called 'Ninja Warrior'. Bob found a solution for my nerves, though, which I called his 'secret garage'.

The 'secret garage' was where Bob stored his tasty home-brewed Pale Ale that would make Doyle jealous. And thirsty.

Before Happy Hour became too happy, we went to go visit Nana and the boys were mega impressed to meet their great-grandmother.

The boys gave Nana a bar of German chocolate and then promptly helped her eat it while they talked about life in Germany. It was a memorable chocolate bar and they enjoyed every morsel.

After Nana-time, we took the Ninja Warriors back to Bob's for dinner and a few more underground battles before bedtime. 

As we were getting the boys ready for bed, Tommy screamed, as he normally does, that he had a wiggly tooth. Peter and David winced knowingly and quickly left the room.

What Tommy apparently didn't know or remember is that Angie gets kickbacks from the tooth fairy. She immediately head-locked him and began her patented pull-twist-yank method that has worked just fine with Peter and David. Unless you ask them. 

I thought I would help Tommy out. After taking the picture, of course.

'Butter Buns, they were just playing "Ninja Warriors". Are you sure that wiggly tooth is one of the ones that's supposed to come out?'

Sorry, Tommy. I tried.

Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That we went to Uncle Bob's, that we went to Nana's and that we invented a new game.
David: It was just great! That we came to Bob and he's so nice, and that I met Nana.
Tom: That we are sleeping by Bob's and he's so cool and that we went to visit Nana.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That we had to leave New York.
David: It was hard to say goodbye to Nana because she is so nice.
Tom: Nothing. I liked the whole day!

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want to visit Oma and Pop-Pop and hope for great weather and swim in the pool.
David: I want to see Pop-Pop and Oma - that's gonna be so cool.
Tom: I want to have fun with Oma and Pop-Pop.

Friday, July 29, 2016

In a New York minute

Day two of our USA trip started out all wrong. The boys had obviously missed the executive memo outlining the basic concepts of travel. To start out with, they didn't sleep in. Their blatant disregard for the sanctity of jet lag didn't bother me in the slightest until they burst into our room at half past early and started screaming frantically about how much they like American cereal. Super. How is their coffee?

After several pots of black gold, we rounded up Puff, Crunch and Pebbles and hit the streets. My gut's first stop was a bagel factory, where the boys found it rather cool to a) actually find a place that sells bagels and b) to buy a bagel that was strawberry flavored. Thankfully, the deep-fried bacon bagel covered in chocolate sprinkles was sold out.

After 'Breakfast for Bonzos', we moved deeper underground. 

Our kids go to Subways all the time, but I don't think this prepared their ears for the real McCoy. 

Shortly after getting on the subway, a guy walked in carrying a boom box. He placed it down on the ground and then began doing things to a pole that I've only imagined Angie doing.

By the time we made it downtown, the morning's sugary milk buzz was wearing off. Luckily, David's adrenaline compass guided us to the Hershey store, home of the World's largest Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Love is...

After an unhealthy shock to their system, we decided it was time for a healthy snack. We couldn't find that anywhere, so we decided to settle for some Yorker cuisine. 

They have 'hot dogs' in Germany, but there is a reason that I put that in quotes. It's not so much the 'meat' they use, but it's a complete FAIL when it comes to the bun. In Germany, hot dog buns crumble into dust when you bite into them. In the States, it's like eating a moist sponge, only it tastes even better. Still, when I got to Germany sixteen years ago, they thought hot dogs were poodles wearing thongs, so I guess there's still hope. If only we could find it...

No trip to New York is complete without getting mugged in Central Park. We didn't get mugged, but our trip to New York is not yet complete. Instead, we had a picnic and gawked at gaggles of crazed locals racing around the park trying to catch Pokémons.

After twenty minutes of explaining to David why he could not join the Yorkémon hunt, we moved to a cool water park to cool down the cool trio. I didn't need a water park. Obviously.

After a cool time at the park, we decided to spice things up a bit. We met Doyle at a local Mexican restaurant that served beers that I've never heard of. Luckily, Doyle's liver is a drinking encyclopedia when it comes to local Pale Ales. Somewhere between nachos and Margaritas, two thirds of the herd got a tad bit tuckered out.

We managed to make it back to the J&D ranch before the animals completed tranquilized themselves. After getting them into their stables for the night, Doyle took Angie and me to the roof for a metropolitan sunset. Talk about your 'New York minute'.

Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That we could go to Manhattan and that we visited so many shops.
David: That we were in Central Park.
Tom: That we was in the Central Park.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That Tom was bugging me.
David: That I was in the end a bit fighting with Tom.
Tom: That I was at the end fighting with David.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want to visit Uncle Bob and have fun. 
David: I want to visit Uncle Bob and Nana.
Tom: I want to visit Uncle Bob and Nana.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Out of Heidelberg

To be honest, I was a little surprised that we managed to get to the airport this time without any last minute hiccups, like finding out six days before your flight that your children do not have valid passports. Or having your patient-challenged wife check the Homeland Security ESTA application the night before flying and noticing that a) you got her birthday wrong and b) you used her maiden name. This is the same wife, by the way, who managed to break two of her toes two days before our last trip to the States.  But I digress. My point was that it was nice to finally board an airplane without anyone doing anything silly. Well, almost.

After vocally encouraging silly posers to 'get on the plane and stop embarrassing your mother', I found my seat. As luck would have it, I had a seat on my own and Angie was stuck in the middle section one row back with the boys. By luck, I of course mean that I did the online check-in last night, which included seat assignments, and I thought that Angie would enjoy the bonding time with the boys. Nine and a half hours of bonding, to be exact.

Shortly before takeoff, I noticed a curtain separating my seat from the front section. Just above the curtain rod was a sign that said "STOW DURING TAKEOFF". Since we were taxiing out, I thought I would simply do what the stewardess had obviously forgotten to do. I started to slide the curtain to the stow position, but as soon as I touched it, the whole thing came crashing down.

The stewardess, who was buckling herself in, whipped around and gave me a look that told me that she is obviously married. I shrugged my shoulders and turned to Angie for support. She didn't have a whole lot of that, but she did whip out her camera and cackled loudly enough for the pilot to notice.

I tried reattaching the curtain, but the stewardess started angrily snapping and motioning for me to put the curtain down. Luckily I am used to women snapping orders at me, so I dropped the curtain to my feet and patiently waited for takeoff.

Shortly after takeoff, I noticed a wagon coming down the aisle serving champagne and an option of two snacks. As it got closer, I could see that one was a nice looking chicken-pesto dish and the other was some type of beef in a red wine sauce. My mouth was watering and I was about to turn around and ask Angie which dish she was going to have when the cart stopped at the row in front of me and then returned to the front of the plane.

Some people learn something new every day, but my brain has been 99% full for some time now, so I'm still surprised on those rare occasions when it does happen. Angie never is, but I tend not to dwell on what could possibly surprise her brain. Anyway, what I discovered is that the curtain that my muscular biceps had inadvertently ripped out of its tracks was actually there to separate the Business Class from the common folk.

When we landed, Angie and I, but mainly Angie, were running a tad bit short on patience. When we got on the AirTrain to get from the terminal to the rental car, Tommy asked what would normally be a normal question.

'Papa, what is an AirTrain?'

'It's a TRAIN that's in the AIR!'

Maybe it was my tone, but David giggled and Tommy suddenly stopped asking questions. 

When we got to the rental car hub, we told the boys to sit on the bench and behave. I guess we should have been more specific, because Tommy interpreted our instructions to mean that he could mount his new suite case and zip around the waiting area making race-car noises.

For better or worse, Angie and I are used to tuning out disobedient children, so we ignored Tommy Samsonite and went to pick up our rental car. I had booked this online with Advantage and was quite proud that, after spending multiple hours, I had found a deal that would cost $1,500 for three weeks, with unlimited mileage and insurance including Angie as an additional driver, in case I decided that cruising on the sidewalk would be fun.

'Hi, the name's Johnson - I'm here to pick up our rental car.'

'Do you want unlimited mileage?'

'Yes, I already booked that.'

'Mmh. I don't see that. Would you like insurance?'

'Yes, I already booked that.'

'Mmh. I don't see that. Would like your spouse to be able to drive?'

'Not really, but I already booked that.'

'Mmh. I don't see that. Your total is $3,000. How would you like to pay?'

After nearly ten minutes of arguing with the staff that their offer was nowhere near what I had booked, we walked away. Then we went down to Budget and asked for the same exact deal.

'No problem, Mr. Johnson, that will be $1,530 and your spouse is, of course, covered without charge.'

And with that, we were on our way to Jen and Doyle's, the coolest kid-less married types in New York. The boys were dead, but they managed to keep it together for pizza.

I was dead, too, but managed to keep it together for beer. 

After a delicious culinary welcome to New York, we made our way back to Jen and Doyle's. Peter had insisted on bringing his oversized pizza pillow with him, so he was all set. Luckily, David and Tom found an acceptable alternative. Her name is Olive.  

Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That we flew to New York to visit Doyle and Ms. Jen.
David: That we came to New York with Doyle and Ms. Jen.
Tom: That we went to visit Ms. Jen in New York.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That we had to fly for more than 8 hours.
David: That Tom was annoying me in the car.
Tom: That we needed to drive and fly for so long. 

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want to eat Captain Crunch and maybe go to Central Park.
David: I want to have a lot of fun with Doyle and Ms. Jen.
Tom: I want to have fun with Doyle and Ms. Jen and Olive.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

So, how was your day, Butter Buns?

'So, how was your day, Butter Buns?'

'Well, I thought since it's the first day of the school break that I could sleep in, but NOOO. I had to leave at 8:30 this morning to take Tommy to training at 9:00 for THREE hours! And, by the way, that's the same schedule for every day this week. Did I mention that already? Yeah! Then, after I dropped Tommy off, I went into school to prepare a budget request for next year. While I was there, Peter was supposed to get a haircut at 11:00 but somehow managed to leave the house without any money and without his keys. Luckily he had his cell phone and tried calling me several times. I didn't see this until 11:05, though, when I was leaving the school to pick up Tommy. I thought I would have plenty of time to watch the end of Tommy's training until I saw that I had had six missed calls from Peter including one text message that said "HELP!". I called and calmed him down and told him to get his hair cut and I would meet him there with money before I picked up Tommy at 12:00. I then raced back home and thought I would take my bike to the barber shop to save time, but I could not find it anywhere. So then I ran all the way over there. No Peter. Of course not, right? So I asked Florin where Peter was and he told me that David had just picked him up. And I was like "What!! David was supposed to be waiting at the bus station to be picked up at 11:00 for a birthday party!! And he doesn't have keys either!". I then went to pay and realized that I only had ten euros on me and the haircut had cost twelve euros. I explained to Florin that I would be back to pay him later. He told me to just forget about it, but I assured him that I would be back. Then I raced back home and found Peter and David on the steps almost ready to cry. David explained that he had waited and waited and the dad that was supposed to pick him up never came. Then I looked at my phone and saw that I had several missed phone calls from the dad. I called him back and he explained that he had waited and waited and David had never showed up. See, I had told his friend's mom that David would be waiting at the first bus station after the Congress Hall. The mom had understood that to mean the first bus station after the bus station called Congress Hall and had told the dad to wait at the Marstall bus station. Anyway, the dad at that point was about halfway to their house, which is about 40 minutes away. He then turned around and picked up David. Before walking to the bus station with David to make sure he actually got picked up, I gave Peter the missing money for his haircut and told him to go pay it. I also gave him my keys and suggested strongly that he not forget my keys in the house. David got picked up and I took off to get Tommy at 12:00 and picked up two of his friends who were coming over for a play date. I dropped them off in the garden and told them that I was running to the store around the corner to get something for lunch and would be right back. When I came back, the kids were not in the garden, but the garden hose was on full blast and flooding the sidewalk next to our cellar, which was probably also getting wet. I turned it off and stormed upstairs to find one of Tommy's friends soaking wet from his head to his feet and giggling. Tommy wasn't wet, but he was covered in mud and also giggling. I cleaned up that mess, got them fed and then sat for a moment thinking about where my bike could be. Then I remembered that I had taken it last night to Johnny Mac's pub quiz and then walked home with Paula. So then I went to pick up my bike from the pub and found that someone had kicked the basket and bent the railing. So I drove home and spent a good twenty minutes unbending metal. Then I came upstairs to find that Tommy had spilled soda all over his gymnastics outfit, which he needs again tomorrow morning. So then it was laundry time. Oh yeah, I also mopped the floors, don't they look great? It was about that point that Peter suddenly "remembered" that he had a geography report due after the break, but he did not have the sheet of paper explaining what he had to do and he, of course, could not remember. So then I spent the next thirty minutes looking up parent phone lists and having Peter call all of his friends to find someone who actually knew what they were supposed to be working on during the break. This didn't work, but that's okay because then David came back home with splatter all over his pants. When I asked him what that was, he said "oh, a little bit of mud, but mostly vomit". Apparently, one of the other kids sitting next to David had vomited three times on the way there. So, yeah - laundry time again. I just finished the second load. So, how was your day, Jelly Belly?'

I know a lot of readers think that I must be making all this shit up, but our life really is this hectic. Luckily, I am well versed when it comes to dealing with wives that are borderline certifiable after their first day of "vacation". I am sure that I responded the same way that any loving husband's liver would.

'Wanna beer?'

Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That Bailey came over and that we played together on the playground.
David: That I finally made it to the birthday.
Tom: That Jan-Mathis and Janick could play by me.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That Mom freaked out about my Geography report.
David: That someone threw up on me.
Tom: That we let the water on,

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want to play with David
David: I want to have fun with Luca.
Tom: I want to have fun by gymnastics and have fun with Simeon and Constantin.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Smart, hypothetically

So, I have this hypothetical friend - let's just call him Angelo. He used to take part in testosterone testing for medical research, so he's got enough hair on his chest to choke a Persian cat and he's been known on multiple occasions to make Chuck Norris flinch.

Now Angelo's wife - we'll call her Stephanie - hates cooking and has been known to ditz out from time to time. Today was one of those times, according to Angelo.

It all started a few days ago, when Stephanie's Smart car key's battery died and she needed to use the spare key. Despite being a total bad-ass, Angelo is extremely sensitive to damsels in distress, so he immediately whipped out his cape and ordered a crap-load of Smart car key batteries on Amazon. They arrived yesterday, so Angelo replaced the dead battery and handed over both sets of keys to Stephanie.

'Take both in case you have any problems, but make sure to test both of them.'

'Okay, Angelo. Thanks again, you're the greatest. Can I touch your biceps?'

'Later. You better get going.'

Stephanie confirmed that both keys work and then drove her daughter - we'll call her Tomalina - to gymnastics practice. The sun was shining so when Stephanie got out of the car, she decided to put her coat in the trunk.

I should pause here briefly and explain how a Smart car key works. It has two buttons on it - one is to lock and unlock the doors and the other is to open the trunk.

In Stephanie's defense, I'm sure she was daydreaming about her husband's abs when she got out of the car. She pushed the first button to lock the door. Then she pushed the second button to unlock the trunk. Then she put the key into her coat pocket - the same coat pocket that held the spare key with the new battery that she had just tested. Then she took off her coat and shoved it into the trunk and closed it.

The funny thing about a Smart car key is that when you click on the button to open the trunk, it does not open the car doors. So, if you are ditzy enough to lock your coat with the car key AND the spare key in the trunk AFTER you have locked the door, there is no way to open the car without calling ADAC to have them break into your car.

In a completely unrelated story, here is a picture of my lovely wife picking up Tommy from gymnastics training. Today.

Ladder Talk:  [David spent the night at a friend's house]
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That I went to Sasbach and had a good time.
Tom: That I had gymnastics.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That Arman had to leave so early.
Tom: That Mama locked all of the keys in the car and we had to wait so long.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want to maybe go to Tommy's school festival.
Tom: I want to have fun at my school festival.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Don't forget your rain pants!

Last summer, I was volunteered to help organize our department outing. I knew from previous experiences that this pretty much meant that I would be donating my sweat and tears for weeks without anything more than a 'Thanks - you did such a great job, you should do this again next year!'.

And that's pretty much what happened until two weeks ago when I was given a ticket to a soccer game at the SAP Arena as a thank you. Normally the company tickets come as a pair, but this time it really was 'a' ticket.

I thanked them politely but explained that if I couldn't take my son, I would rather that they give the ticket to someone else who could use it, which they did. 

I thought nothing more of it until two days ago when I got a text message telling me to come pick up two tickets to the Hoffenheim vs. Hertha BSC game today. 

Both Peter and Tommy have been to the stadium, so I decided to give the extra ticket to one of my other buddies.

As David and I were getting ready to go, Angie pried herself away from Facebook long enough to get her nag on.

'He needs to put on long underwear.'

'Oh, come on, Angie!'

'Well, at least have him put on his rain pants.'

'Rain pants? Why? Most of the stadium is covered.'

'Yeah, well...Ute has season tickets and she's gotten soaked several times.'

'Okay, how about a compromise - we agree to take the rain pants and you don't ask later if we left them in the trunk of the car. Deal?'

We never actually shook on it, but I'm pretty sure that rolling her eyes and walking away from me huffing like the Marlboro Man was her special form of compromising.

It was cloudy and spitting rain the entire drive to the stadium, so I was beginning to worry that this might be the one time a decade when Angie is right. When we parked, I was even tempted to pop the trunk and grab Davey's plastic pants, but I'm a natural born gambler. Besides, most of the stadium is covered, right?

As soon as the game started, the clouds broke and suddenly sun tan lotion would have been a more appropriate and mother-approved nag. Luckily, our seats were covered. 1:0 for Papa.

After ten minutes, David took his coat off, looked up at the sky and sighed.

'Don't forget your rain pants! Ute got soaked!'

Next to mine, it was the funniest mocking of Angie's nag box that I've ever heard.

We cracked up for a full two minutes before taking a selfie to seal the bonding mimicry.

Hoffenheim was not favored to win, so I was pleasantly surprised when they spanked Hertha 2:0. David one-upped me, though, by being more than pleasantly surprised.

No game is complete without devouring something that will later require Rolaids or Pepto-Bismol. Sometimes both.

While we were busy screaming mild obscenities at losing teams, Angie was at her parents with Peter and Tom. This was fine and dandy until David and I got home and realized that someone had stolen my keys and cleverly placed them inside our apartment in an obvious attempt to have it look like I had somehow forgotten my keys. Damn them!

So, yeah - I tried calling Angie about 30 times, but unlike normal humans, she does not use her phone for phone calls. She only uses it to play games but, in her defense, she doesn't like the sounds that Bubble Mania makes, so I was totally understanding of why it would be on silent. Again.

It was actually David's impatient bladder that drove me into action. 

'I need the bathroom.'

'Oh, okay. I think they have one of those at the Pub.'

Something tells my liver that I might be 'losing my keys' more often.

Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That we went to Bensheim and that Tom and I had a good time.
David: That we were at the soccer game.
Tom: That we was by Grams and Opa.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That Mom and David and Tom and me got into a fight.
David: The end of the day.
Tom: That David and me wasn't so good to each other.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I'm gonna have a good day and play Munchkins with the family.
David: Have fun at Heidi's.
Tom: I want to have fun by Heidi.