Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Making America Loud Again: Discovery

Today was all about discovering new things. Patrick, along with myself, was surprised to discover that Peter, like Gizmo, can become quite the ass when you put him in water. 

This was Peter's evil grin directly after he had given Patrick an unwanted chlorine eye-bath. The next gleefully wicked head-shot came shortly after he had thoroughly baptized David without his permission.

Normally the second-born child would simply delegate the love and vent his aggression on the third born. The problem with that sound logic is that the third born in this case has been training hard-core for three hours a day, six days a week, for the last five years. David never stood a chance. 

At one point, Evil P decided to take break from tormenting younger humans to use the bathroom. Along the way, he discovered that my parents had recently installed surveillance cameras that were digitally capturing his nefarious and tortuous escapades for all of eternity. Smile!

The next discovery came in the bathroom. Over the years, my dad has decorated the entire house in what one can only be described as eclectically-bizarre with a dash of bat-shit crazy. The toilet closet was no exception.

Take another look. This truly frightening sculpture of Van Gogh sporting a Russian medal is hung at exactly the eye-level of a grown human that is standing.

If this is not the best deterrent to standing and peeing ever, I don't know what is. I used the bathroom shortly after Peter and I certainly sat the hell down. 

Tom also made a discovery of his own. I call this one 'Don't-fall-asleep-if-your-brothers-are-total-asses-and-have-a-ball-point-pen'.

After lecturing Things One and Two on the dangers of ink poisoning their sibling, we rewarded the entire crew with frozen sticks of milk-chocolate, because, you know, that's what good parents do. Right?

Time flies when you're doping up delinquent young-ins and before we knew it, it was time to free up three beds at the Johnson ranch.

Knowing that my parents had just dealt with a week of loudness, we decided to give them a bit of quiet time. After saying goodbye to Christine, Patrick and Stephanie, we hit the road and invaded the northern side of Carolina.

For reasons only privy to Tom's arguably faulty brain, he decided to drive around a roadside market riding a tricycle that he had found in the corner collecting cobwebs.

After nearly getting kicked out of a rather nice and rustic roadside market, we ventured on to a beach close to where they claim the first plane was flown.

The boys had a blast. They're city kids, so drinking a gallon of sea water and inhaling sand particles was something new and strangely exciting for them. It did build up a mighty fierce hunger so we were all glad to come back to the ranch to find Pop-Pop manning the grill and flipping burgers.

After almost twenty years of living in Germany, I have discovered the root cause of why German burgers suck. NEWS FLASH - IT'S THE BUN. In the land of Deutsch, the buns are crap. Entschuldigung. They either turn mushy because the patty is too juicy or they crumble because the bread is too dry. The buns in America are probably not even made using real bread, but they are delicious so I don't care. I also prefer American peanut butter which looks and tastes nothing like the real peanut butter you can find at Aldi. And don't even get me started on mustard that is not yellow, the lack of which also prevents German burgers from even competing with what my dad brought to the table.

After the old man and the BBQ, Pop-Pop tucked the boys in bed and started to read 'The Old Man and the Sea'. 

It's not exactly the most riveting story and the boys had spent all day in the sun and had bellies full of burgers, so it was not a shocker when they conked out after the third page.
Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That we went to Kitty Hawk and had a good time. 
David: The beach. 
Tom: That we went to the Kitty Hawk beach. 

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That Patrick and Stephanie had to go. 
David: The drive. 
Tom: That I got smacked by a couple of huge waves and water came in my nose and my neck and everywhere.  

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: Go to the mall. 
David: Go to the mall. 
Tom: Go to the mall. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Making America Loud Again: Landfall

Being the Johnsons, we did not trust ourselves to wake up in the middle of the morning in time to make it to the airport for our flight to the States. To shorten the drive and decrease the odds of inadvertently leaving any children behind, we stayed at Grams overnight. At 4:00 in the morning, my alarm went off. Our flight was scheduled to take off at 7:30 in the A.M. from Frankfurt, which is only about 25 minutes away at that God-awful hour.  I checked my phone, wishfully hoping for a flight delay. I then rubbed my eyes and checked again. WHOO-HOO!! Our flight was delayed until 11:00! Thank you, American Airlines!

I then reset my alarm and got three more hours of that beauty sleep that Angie keeps telling me I don't need. We also called Heidi and Klaus, who had graciously volunteered to let us park at their place and have them drive us to the airport. They live about five minutes from the airport, so this saves us some seriously ridiculous parking fees. Klaus was also loving the extra beauty sleep that Heidi keeps telling him he needs.

As I slept, I had a nightmare and flashed back to our last trip to the U.S, where Angie had impatiently thrown a stuffed teddy bear at a TSA agent while going through customs, causing a complete lock-down that ended with bomb-sniffing equipment being brought to the scene and us missing our connecting flight.

I woke up sweating, but tried shaking off the anxiety by telling myself that nothing similar could possibly happen again. Of course, I've also told myself the same thing about family members embarrassing me in public, so I'm obviously shit at paying attention to ominous foreshadowing.

A short side note, and I am not trying to assign blame at all, but... it was ANGIE who was in charge of packing the suitcases for the boys. The only mistake that she will never own up to is that she allowed each of them to pack their own carry-on.

Sensible Peter packed earphones, a pillow, a book, and a sweater in case it got cold on the flight. Not-so-sensible David packed a bag of potato chips, fifty individually wrapped Life Savers, a soda, and three decks of magic cards.

Tom was really the joker card. Was he going to lean more towards Peter or more towards David? In the end, Tom chose the by me-self path, and that one told his ten-year old brain that what airplane folk needed the most in their carry-on were water pistols. Two of them. And nothing else. 

This is Tom, quite tickled with himself that he had been chosen out of all the people going through security to be invited to a personal interview with a security agent that was not quite as tickled. Oddly, though, he didn't address Tom. No, no. I was slightly less than tickled to have that honor.

'Sir, you are not allowed to bring weapons of any kind on an aircraft!'

'Okay, but come on! They're brightly colored plastic water guns and obviously look nothing like a real weapon. Besides, they're not filled with any liquids.'

'Sir, you're gonna have to take a step back. I'm calling in the Federal Police, they can decide.'

I glanced over my shoulder to make sure that my lovely wife was not wielding any stuffed animals.

'No problem, Sir. I'll wait here patiently with my delinquent third-born.'

A few minutes later, two heavily armed police officers showed up. After a few brief explanatory exchanges, the officers lowered their weapons and had a peek into Tom's carry-on. One of them then stood up and glared at the security agent that had initially stopped us.

'Oh, come on! They're brightly colored plastic water guns and obviously look nothing like a real weapon. Besides, they're not filled with any liquids.'

I vaguely tried to avoid smirking and failed miserably. Instead, I avoided eye contact with the red-faced security agent, quickly collected Tom's arsenal of dangerous plastic weaponry and fled the scene with my fugitive family to our gate.

Despite Tom's lack of attention to detail when it came to what was allowed in your carry-on luggage, we actually made it to our flight twenty minutes before boarding. Being the wise and seasoned sailor that I am, I asked my merry bandit of seamen if anyone needed to hit the head before embarking on our voyage. When they didn't understand my jargon, I asked if anyone needed the bathroom. Tom and David signaled their interest.

When we got to the restroom, there was a cleaning lady standing by the sinks and repeatedly hitting a green button on the wall. I am witness to strange things on a daily basis so I simply ignored this and went on with my business. When I was done, I went to wash my hands. The lady looked a bit startled and quickly pushed her cart out of the bathroom. I washed my hands and then had a closer look at the buttons she had been frantically pushing. 

That's right. The buttons were to allow patrons to vote on just how satisfied they were with the cleanliness of that particular restroom. The green button was a smiley, which apparently worked well. It made me smile.

After visiting what was beyond a doubt the most satisfyingly clean bathroom ever, we boarded a shuttle to take us out to the plane.

We had a brief layover in North Carolina where we had to clear customs. One short hop later and we landed in Norfolk. While waiting for the bags, the boys began to wonder if the belt would be rotating clockwise or counterclockwise once it started. I don't remember which way was correct, but as is apparent with this picture, Mama was right. Again. 

After collecting our bags, David and Tom raced across the room and began attacking an elderly couple that looked a lot like Oma and Pop-Pop.

About a month ago, Christine and I were talking and we realized that her visit with my parents and our visit were going to overlap. Her kids go to a U.S. school and ours go to a German school, so we had always thought that there was never a possibility for the cousins to see each other during the summer break. We were wrong, though. There was a one-day overlap, and they made the most of it.

Holy shit! Zoom in and check out Tommy. I'm quite sure that this is the same glimpse that pterodactyl victims witnessed seconds before having their entrails presented to them.

The cousins had an absolute blast for several hours. The evening ended with the only respectable way I know of to feed ten humans - pizza.

After dinner, my dad brought out a homemade strawberry-Jell-O-sugar cake that highlighted his utter lack of wisdom when it comes to winding down hyperactive cousins. The only thing that saved the day was that our wild ones had not slept on the plane and were losing power quickly. Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow! 
Ladder Talk: 
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That we arrived and that we saw Patrick and Stephanie - that was a surprise. 
David: The surprise with Stephanie and Patrick and Christine and jumping in the pool again. 
Tom: That we came in and that Patrick and Stephanie were here. 

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: That we had to fly almost the whole day. 
David: Finding out that Patrick and Stephanie had to leave the next day. 
Tom: That the waiting in Germany for the flight was really long. 

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: Go in the pool. 
David: I want to have fun with the rest of the time with Patrick and Stephanie and go in the pool and, oh, yeah - eat a dill pickle. 
Tom: Go into the pool again with Patrick and Stephanie. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Sweet Sixteen

At the stroke of midnight, I exchanged the following texts with my dear wife, who was just wrapping up another Irish Pub Trivia night and, apparently, eager to get paid.

'That's great, honey. Happy Anniversary!'
Ladder Talk: [No Ladder Talk tonight...]
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...
David: ZZZzzz...
Tom: ZZZzzz...

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

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...'

Friday, March 8, 2019

Be careful of what you ask for...

David was in class today and the teacher brought in a device that measures noise. Then, she made the mistake of asking her students to get loud to test the device.

As expected, the kids began screaming their heads off. Surprisingly, this did little to move the needle. What the teacher did not know is that David's father has a chest of hair that makes llamas jealous. Okay, that has nothing to do with this story, but hey, it's my blog.

The other tidbit of intel that the teacher was lacking was that years ago I had shown David how to whistle with his lower teeth. I remember this vividly because for the weeks following our father-son knowledge transfer bonding session, Angie, Peter, Tom, and even our neighbors had thanked me repeatedly for sharing my skills. What the teacher did not anticipate was that asking David to be as loud as possible was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. To make a long story short - the bull charged.

Whistler's Mother's lost stepchild took off within seconds, sending the noise-o-meter immediately into the red while the teacher screamed at David to stop. Be careful what you ask for...

Friday, February 1, 2019

Dances with Mothers

For more than half a year now, Peter has been disappearing on Friday nights to go to a dance course. In Germany, this is traditional for kids his age. It culminates in a big fancy schmancy event in the City Hall - somewhat similar to a prom, except that for some reason parents are allowed to attend.

It's a big deal and you definitely can't go alone. Shortly before Christmas, Peter finally mustered up the courage to ask Momo, a girl in his dance class, to go to the ball with him. Her 'yes' resulted in two months of preparing and by preparing, I of course mean freakin' the freak out.

'I don't have a suit that fits! Aaaaggghh!'

'A tie?! I don't have a tie! I don't even know how to tie a tie. Aaaaggghh!'

'These shoes don't match my suit! Aaaaggghh!' 

'My hair is too long! Aaaaggghh!' 

'Flowers! We need to order the bouquet! Aaaaggghh!

Me handing him a brown paper bag and asking him to breath in it did not calm him down as much as I thought it would. My wallet helped, though, and Peter acquired a complete new wardrobe that he will undoubtedly outgrow in the next two months. It was worth it, though. He looked quite debonair and Momo looked exquisitely radiant. Our little baby's all growns up!

Shortly before the ceremony began, Peter asked if I knew any ball dances.

'Hell no. But when I was your age, I could breakdance with the best of them. I'll show you later, if you want.'

I ignored Peter's lack of a response and went to the bar to get two glasses of wine for me and one for Angie. When I got back, Peter had disappeared and we watched from the balcony as the festivities began.

Peter had explicitly forbidden me to take any pictures of him dancing with Momo. I can even understand this one. I've been known to be quite the pesky paparazzi when given the chance. Peter's mistake was not to include Mama on his black list of exclusions.   

'Hey, Peter! Over here! Come on! Show me them pearly whites!'

Peter kept ducking and weaving throughout the first dance. The next song began and Angie somehow got confused and thought that she was now Peter's new dance partner.

I changed tactics and moved to the balcony. I mean, come on - that's why zoom lenses were created, right?

'Hey, Peter! Up here! No, over here! Perfect! Great! Now I want you to be a TIGER!'

As the third song began, Angie once again offered her seasoned dancing services to Peter. For the second time tonight, he responded with a non-verbal gesture that said more than words ever should.

Unfortunately for Peter and, quite frankly, everyone else there, they did not play anything that I could breakdance to. At one point, though, they did play a version of 'The Macarena' that had my name written all over it.

I never made it to the dance floor, though. Like Batman, Angie appeared out of the shadows and forcibly convinced me to take her home, presumably so I could bust out me moves in the privacy of our own home.

'God no! I'd rather cook food than watch you do the Robot again.'

'Ouch! You really need to have Peter teach you the delicate art of communicating using only your face. He's really good at it.'
Ladder Talk: [No Ladder Talk tonight - Peter was busy dancing on Cloud 9 and David and Tom were spending the night at friends]
1) What was the best part of your day?

2) What was the worst part of your day?

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?

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.