ACT now

My oldest child got his ACT score this past weekend.

I’m thrilled for him… and happy for my wallet too. Life is not a standardized test, but fairly or unfairly, how well you do on a standardized test strongly influences scholarship offers.

He’s certainly thought that he’s smarter than his old man for many years now, but this makes it official.

Although I told him that I took the test way back in the 80s, before they dumbed it down.

 

Traveling Music

My wife and two youngest children are on a Spring Break trip out west, with our friend Heather and her two kids. Meanwhile I’m stuck in rainy Cincinnati with our teenage sons. (I’m not bitter.) The way my music-loving mind is wired, every time my wife sends me a photo of their adventures, it makes me think of a song.

They started their trip in Las Vegas (where my Raiders are moving):

So naturally that makes me think of “Viva Las Vegas” – but not the Elvis version, the Shawn Colvin version from the Doc Pomus tribute album (and The Big Lebowski credits).

Next up was the Hoover Dam:

I cannot hear the words “Hoover Dam” without thinking of Sugar’s song by the same name.

They spent some time on Route 66:

Then they headed to the Grand Canyon:

That’s your cue, Drive By Truckers…

They’ve been spending a lot of time in Arizona

That calls for a double-shot, twin spin:

 

Yesterday they were in Sedona:

Great scenery… great tune by Houndmouth too!

And tonight they’ll get to Phoenix.

 

Looks like they’re really enjoying their time way out west:

 

And I am too, vicariously, via the soundtrack in my head.

Mad at Bad Dad

My 13-year-0ld daughter Leah is not what I’d call a “morning person.” I suppose very few teenagers are, but she’s the poster child for pre-dawn sluggishness. And guess who gets to wake her up every school day, at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m.? That’s right, her dear old dad. It’s somewhat akin to poking your bare hands into a rattlesnake den, or opening a hornet’s nest with a head-butt. If there’s a right side of the bed for her, we haven’t found it yet.

I try to wake her as gently as possibly, because I know that according to research, teens naturally need a later wake-up schedule. But we’re under the gun if she and her brother are going to catch the school bus at the end of our street at 6:32 (not 6:33… we’ve learned the hard way). Here’s how it usually goes:

6:00 a.m. “Leah, honey, it’s time to wake up…”

6:10 a.m. “Leah, it’s 6:10… I’m going to turn your light on now.”

6:15 a.m. “C’mon Leah, we have to get going.”

6:18 a.m. I stomp up the stairs from the kitchen, and that’s usually her signal to get up and shut her door in my face. I don’t care, because at least she’s up.

But now I have a secret weapon, a brand new musical alarm. It was inspired by my college buddy Vinnie, who used to wake up his teenage daughter Alana by playing the first 12 seconds of Carole King’s “Beautiful” on repeat until she got out of bed.

So I’ve put together my own little morning mashup medley for my precious only daughter, as a reminder that we need to catch the bus:

Yeah, it’s not as sweet and harmonious as a Carole King song, but it gets the job done. Better yet, it combines classic indie rock tunes from the fantastic Royal Crescent Mob and The Replacements (one of my all-time favorite bands) with a snippet from a new song called “Old Friends” from an up-and-coming band out of New Jersey called Pinegrove. (Check out their debut album here.)

Sure, Leah might be psychologically scarred for life, but at least she could turn out to be an indie rock fan!

 

 

Super-conflicted

I’m torn about which team to root for in today’s Super Bowl, sponsored by JET LI.

(Wait, I’ve just been told that the “LI” in “Super Bowl LI” is actually Roman numerals… my bad. Better luck next year, Jet. And Jets.)

Normally it’d be a no-brainer because I can’t stand the New England Patriots. It starts with their GQ pretty-boy quarterback Tom Brady, who just happens to have a supermodel wife, and already has so many Super Bowl rings that he probably uses half of them as door pulls on his kitchen cabinets. And then there’s the evil Darth Vader  head coach, Bill Belichick, who is a genius with Xs and Os and player moves, but a complete jerkwad outside the lines, especially to the media. Throw in a “Gronk” (yeah, I know he’s hurt but his frat-boy specter still looms large over the entire franchise), a complete pest like Julian “Short Man’s Disease” Edelman, and a bunch of no names that come up big when it counts (looking at you, Malcolm Butler) and it’s very easy to hate the Pats, especially if you live outside of New England and like to root for the underdog. Oh yes, and as a Raiders fan I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the infamous “Tuck Rule” playoff game.

 

But I’m super-conflicted this year because one of the New England Patriots cheerleaders is the daughter of my first cousin. (Does that make her my second cousin? First cousin once removed? Cousin to the nth degree?)

   

Jamie is super-nice and very funny. She grew up in New Hampshire, she now works in Boston and she’s loved to dance since the time she could walk. So it totally makes sense that she would be a Pats cheerleader. But c’mon, this is the Evil Empire we’re talking about.

  

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady chats with Donald Trump (Photo by Donna Connor/WireImage)

I guess I’ll have to split my allegiance… I hope the Patriot cheerleaders have a flawless game, and I hope the Falcons beat the football Patsies by a gazillion points. (Even though I know that odds are the Brady mansion kitchen cabinets will have a little extra bling very soon.)

 

Choco-holic

Graeter’s Ice Cream is a family-owned company that has been a part of Cincinnati since 1870. Their small batch (hand-swirled in two-gallon “French Pot” containers), artisanal ice cream flavors have made them a local icon, and won the taste buds and hearts of ice cream aficionados from coast to coast. Their Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip flavor is far and away their most popular flavor.

Braxton Brewing Company is a family-owned company that has only been around a couple of years in Covington, KY, just across the river from downtown Cincinnati.

Last night, Braxton and Graeter’s unveiled their collaboration beer – Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Milk Stout.

 

The Braxton taproom was packed for the official tapping and release party. Lines went around the block, even in the frigid weather.

I went, partly to get my grubby paws on a couple of four-packs. Partly to witness the sheer spectacle of it. But mainly because I know the family that owns Braxton. I work with Greg Rouse, who is a print production genius at our company in his day job. His older son Jake interned with us several years ago, during the summer after his junior year of college. He graduated from Indiana University’s prestigious Kelley School of Business with a degree in Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation. Greg’s younger son Evan is the wunderkind brewer of the family, starting out homebrewing in the garage of their home on Braxton Avenue (hence the brewery name) and winning all sorts of awards. When Jake graduated from college, it completely made sense for them to start a brewery, with Jake as the “hustler,” Evan as the “hacker” and Greg as the production wizard (sourcing and negotiating prices on everything from hops to bar stools to old-fashioned ice cream parlor milkshake glasses for the Graeter’s beer). And Greg’s wife Tina helps run the taproom. They’re such great people, and I’m thrilled for them. Greg is a very no-nonsense kind of guy, but he’s admitted several times what a thrill it is to be able to work with his sons in a successful business.

Three cheers for family-owned companies. Braxton, may you continue to thrive a century from now, just like your friends at Graeter’s.

P.S. The beer is mighty tasty. The four-pack above is no longer a four-pack. Or even a three-pack. Chocolate is good for you, right?

 

Good luck charmer

This past Monday, Clemson won the college football championship, thanks in no small part to a former walk-on receiver, Hunter Renfrow, who had 10 catches for 92 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the game winner with a second to go.

One day prior to the game, the sports crew at WBTW-TV, the CBS affiliate in Myrtle Beach, SC, did a national championship preview special, and one segment featured WBTW’s Julia Morris interviewing the hometown kid, Renfrow. In an eerie bit of foreshadowing, Morris says “He has a knack for clutch plays, we’ll see if he can make a couple more tomorrow night.”

I should probably mention that Julia Morris is my niece, the eldest child of my older sister Jeanne and her husband Michael. And since Julia has been doing sports for WBTW, an underdog Coastal Carolina baseball team won the College World Series, and the underdog Clemson Tigers toppled the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide in the college football championship.

Clearly Julia not only is a fantastic sports anchor/reporter (as you can see from her interview with Hunter Renfrow and other clips like this one and the highlight reel below), but she also has the Midas touch. If any major market teams would like to win a title, they don’t need to worry about recruiting 5-star athletes, they just need to recruit Julia to do TV sports in their town.

 

Literally Christmas

Our 11-year-old son gave our 15-year-old son an Xbox for Christmas:

It’s the thought that counts, right?

 

No money, no honey

This is my 11-year-old son Andrew:

On his birthday, he enjoys cake. But every day of the year, he love-love-looooves apples. We’re talking a 3-4 apple a day habit. If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, this kid is going to top Methuselah’s record. He loves apples so much that we call him “Applehead Andrew.”

Andrew loves apples, and apples are fruit, and fruit is healthy… so what’s the problem? Well, Andrew’s favorite variety of apples is the Honeycrisp. Sure they’re super-sweet and oh-so-juicy… in fact they’re so addictive that I sometimes call them Honeycrack. But it seems like the darn things cost more per pound than caviar.

Sticker shock!

If you’re lucky, you can find ’em on sale for $1.99 a pound. When we see that, we fill our basement fridge with reinforcements… which Andrew quickly demolishes. But usually they’re in the $2.49-$3.49 a pound range. Nearly four times the going rate for most varieties. Why? Well, for starters, Honeycrisps were developed 20 years ago by David Bedford at the University of Minnesota, which still has a patent on them, so growers have to pay $1 per tree back to the university. Honeycrisps also are finicky about climate so they can’t be grown all over, and they’re much more labor intensive (the apples grow so large that the trees require a trellis system, the fruit on a single tree doesn’t all ripen at the same time, they’re more susceptible to diseases so they need more sprayings, and they bruise more easily so they need more TLC in handling/packing). It all adds up to a hefty price tag for these fancy pommes.

I guess we’ll have to suck it up and take out a second mortgage on our house so Applehead Andrew can keep on crunching. I suppose there are a lot worse “Honey” products that he could be bingeing on:

 

Image result for little debbie honey buns

 

Image result for honey cereal

Image result for honeycomb cereal

 

And Andrew’s obsession always reminds me of this fantastic duet about “champagne tastes on beer budget” from the brilliant John Prine and the incandescent Iris Dement:

 

 

Generation Gap

I need your advice on a Christmas gift for my 15-year-old son. He told me he wanted some beets. I couldn’t find the “Doctor Dre” brand he mentioned, so will these do?

I’d hate to disappoint him. But beets are beets, right?

 

They grow up so fast

My mother-in-law put this on our fridge:

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It’s a recent photo of our 15-year-old son Peter (he’s just being a goofball throwing up gang signs – love his sense of humor), contrasted with a photo of him from what seems like weeks ago, but in reality was nearly a decade and a half ago. I know every parent says “it goes so fast” but I usually don’t think about it much, until I’m confronted with it every morning as I grab eggs out of the fridge.

Sure, it makes me sad to realize that our babies are growing up, but it’s also a great reminder to cherish making Peter’s breakfast every weekday morning (2 eggs, scrambled, with cheddar cheese) instead of considering it a thankless chore. Soon enough, he’ll be getting his own breakfast at college (and it had better not be kegs and eggs!).

This trip down memory lane made me think of a great tune from 22 years ago, a song by the Velvet Crush called “Time Wraps Around You.” (Never heard of the Velvet Crush? Neither has 99.4% of America – and that’s a crying shame.) It’s on one of my favorite “hidden gem” albums of all time, Teenage Symphonies To God. 

 

The entire album is pure jangle pop delight, very Byrds-like. You can spin it here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEvr99j7ruPxvmyorUkIeVP_yxNYkHjjJ