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:

20161026_194917

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

 

No treats, just a cruel trick

Here’s a picture of my two younger kids last night before they went trick-or-treating.

2016-10-31-18-06-31

Harry Potter and a Rastafarian – quite a contrast. My two older sons are in high school and therefore too old to go trick-or-treating. Which reminds me of November 1st, 1978, when I was a freshman in high school and had “aged out” of the Halloween goody-grabbing process. However, my sister who is two years younger still was allowed to go with her friends. We lived in the sticks of Arkansas so my dad had to drive her 10 miles into the sprawling metropolis of Clarksville (population 6000) in order for her to get any decent trick-or-treating done.

The next morning my older sister, older brother and I had to get up before daylight and make the 60-mile drive to our high school. (There were only four Catholic high schools in the entire Baptist Bible Belt state of Arkansas, and that was the nearest one for us.) While my older sister drove and my brother rode shotgun, I sat in the back seat of our Ford Pinto. (Deathtrap! Actually ours was a Pinto stationwagon so it wasn’t as dangerous, or so I thought.) When we arrived at our high school, I started walking toward the building and my brother, who was walking behind me, said “Whoa, what happened?”

Apparently my younger sister had spilled a Milk Dud… a single, solitary Milk Dud… in the backseat of the car. And yours truly had proceeded to sit on aforementioned Milk Dud for more than an hour, giving the choocolate-coated caramel plenty of time to warm up and ooze into my pants. My tan corduroy pants. The resemblance to a “pooped my pants” accident was uncanny.

pooped-my-pants

Oh, and did I mention that November 1st was First Quarter Awards day? The entire high school student body assembled in the gym and anyone who won an award had to make a long, solitary walk to the podium at center court to claim their certificate of achievement. I was slated to get two awards.

perfect-attendance    pants-22

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to scrape “a delicious blend of smooth milk chocolate and chewy caramel” out of the wales of corduroy pants, but it’s virtually impossible. Thankfully my older brother had an oversized jacket and I wore that thing the entire day, even though it was about 80 degrees outside.

milk-dud-pants

Ever since that fateful day, I have flashbacks every time I go to the movie theater. 

milk-duds-candy-packs-128424-ic

 

 

Love and marriage… and baseball

My father Herbert had two enduring loves in his life:

  1. His wife (my mom, if you’re keeping score at home), Olga (nee Osellame).
  2. The Los Angeles Dodgers (nee Brooklyn Dodgers).

He grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey and was just a subway ride away from his beloved Dodgers during their “Boys of Summer” (a must-read book by Roger Kahn) days. He was 10 when they made their first World Series in a generation, 15 when Jackie Robinson made his historic debut. He cheered “dem bums” on in four World Series match-ups where they wound up on the losing end, before they finally broke through in 1955 and beat the dreaded Yankees in a seven-game classic.

dem-bums

The Dodgers broke his heart when they moved to Los Angeles after the ’57 season. But he found joy in the five World Series they won during the rest of his lifetime.

gibson-homer

He married my mom on October 15, 1960.

herb-olga-wedding-with-uncle-john-arthur

She broke his heart when she died of leukemia in 1968. But he found joy in the four children they had, and their kids’ kids too.

Tonight, October 15, 2016, the Los Angeles Dodgers take on the Chicago Cubs in the first game of the NLCS. I wish Herb were still around to root for his squad. But I know there can be joy after heartache, and I take solace in the symmetry.

A day in the life of a parent of a teenage girl

Here’s how my daughter (#4, the non-blonde) is when she’s around her friends:

DSCN0535

And here is her reaction when she has to be seen with her old man:

DSCN0739