SMALL-TOWN DAD

A written record of all the crap my kids put me through

Smalltown-Dad-twitter

The following are mostly my musings on everyday life in small-town U.S.A., with some random stuff sprinkled in here and there. The majority of these posts follow my many misadventures in fatherhood. I wanted to keep a written record of these experiences so that one day, many years from now, I can share them with my children so they can see all the crap they put us through. Enjoy.

Father-and-Son Time

Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Fatherhood, Man stuff | 0 comments

My son, the health nut.

My son, the health nut.

One of the benefits of working for yourself is that on certain days you can choose not to work, which is what I did last Friday.

It’s not that I didn’t need to work; it’s just that my wife was sick and The Animal had been driving both of us crazy. So I figured the best thing to do was to get him out of the house and see if I could drive him to exhaustion in the unseasonably warm, mid-May heat.

I decided to take him for a bike ride. A very long bike ride. With his little legs pumping at about three times as fast as mine in the thick, humid air, I knew he’d be tuckered and rendered harmless out in no time.

After making our way across town, we took a shortcut through the Beaver Cemetery, aka, the Beaver Cemetery, Mausoleum and Fitness Complex.

“Yes!” he said as we entered the graveyard. “This is my dream!” Then he kicked it into hyper-speed, zooming past the lines of tombstones on his Lightning McQueen-themed mini dirt bike.

Popping out on the other side, we passed through the McDonald’s — or “Old McDonald’s”, as he calls it — parking lot and were heading around the back of the Dollar General, when suddenly I heard a skidding sound followed by a crash. I turned around to see the poor little guy flat on the asphalt, his legs twisted up in the pedals.

Cue the tears.

Fortunately, he’s a tough little dude, and I was able to convince him that the large, bloody, gravel-infused gash on his elbow was actually a badge of honor. If it had been my daughter, on the other hand, the ambulance would have shown up already just by following the screams.

Finally we reached Tamaqui park—one of those good, old-fashioned playgrounds featuring the kind of rusty, all-metal equipment that pretty much guarantees you’re going to get gashed, burnt, or knocked out cold. There we found another brave 5-year-old named Alex tempting fate on the iron pipe jungle gym. 

Immediately The Animal approached him to show off of his fresh and still bleeding crash wound. “If you were in my family,” he said to the wide-eyed Alex, “you’d probably die.” 

Boys really know how to make friends with anyone.

It wasn’t long before he grew tired of the swings and the two-rails-with-the-iron-bar-suspended-in-the-middle-by-chains thingamajig, so we jumped on our bikes and rode over to another “new” playground over by the old Vanport school. After spinning him around on the merry-go-round a couple times, I let him go off to play on the tube slide while I sat down and tried not to throw up from nausea. 

In case you're wondering why we call him "The Animal"

In case you’re wondering why we call him “The Animal”

Since we both had to pee, and since I wanted french fries, we headed back over to McDonald’s (Shhh! Don’t tell my wife!), where after using the restroom we split a medium fry and enjoyed a couple vanilla cones. I taught him how to dip his french fries in ice cream, and he taught me how to dip them in both ketchup and ice cream. 

Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

On the way back we stopped at Castle Toys & Games to pick up a present for my nephew’s birthday, and I bought a little more time for my wife. Meanwhile The Animal played with the toys and trashed someone else’s place for a change. (Thanks, Linda!)

By the time we got back home later that afternoon, my wife was feeling better after a few hours of peace and quiet, which is pretty much non-existent in our house these days.

I, too, was feeling great after spending a fun, carefree, work-free afternoon with my little guy. And although he was tired, I think he had a pretty good time as well.

Bloody gashes and all. ~

_____

Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich

 

Father Goose Fail

Posted by on May 6, 2015 in Blog, Fatherhood | 7 comments

You should have seen the rest of the house.

You should see the rest of the house.

I thought about recounting in detail everything that’s happened over the past six days, when my sister, brother-in-law, and their four young daughters came in from out of town and stayed with us. But honestly, it was pretty much all one big, chaotic blur.

And, besides, I’m just too tired.

Instead I’ll share with you one story that basically sums up the past week of my life…

So my nephew Dane had a baseball game on Monday night, and we all went down to watch him play. Of course it was only minutes before the natives, i.e., my kids and my nieces, became restless, so I decided to take them across the street to the playground. That’s right—just yours truly and five kids ages 7, 5, 5, 4, and 3.

Piece of cake.

We hadn’t been at the park for more than five minutes before the 4-year-old, my niece Carina, jumped off the swings and came up to me, her hands clutching the front of her shorts.

“Uncle Val, I have to go pee-pee.”

Of course she did. Unfortunately the closest port-o-potty was way on the other side of the baseball field.

“Sometimes Daddy lets me go outside,” she offered.

“Oh yeah?” I replied. “OK then, let’s just go behind that little shed over there.” So we walked around the back where we knew no one could see. “All right,” I said, “go ahead. Go pee-pee.”

But she just stood there looking up at me.

“What’s wrong? Can’t you do it by yourself?”

She shook her head no. “Daddy usually holds me.”

So I crouched down and held her up off the ground so she could do her business. Everything was going just fine…until, suddenly and inconceivably, she straightened her body out, which caused her to pee all over her little Elmo panties and shorts. And my hands.

After I cleaned her the best I could using her own underwear, she took off to go play again and I stood there holding the urine-soaked undies. 

A couple minutes passed when the sound of a car alarm broke the air. I turned and looked across the field and saw that it was my car that was making all the racket… because it had just been backed into by a large pick-up truck. Splendid.

“Stay right here!” I told the kids as they climbed around on the jungle gym. “I’ll be right back.” So, keeping one eye on the kids, I sprinted across the field, the wet underwear still in one hand and my car keys in the other as I frantically pushed the alarm’s off button. Of course, this being Beaver, I actually knew the guy who backed into me.

“I’m sorry,” he said, looking down at the dent in my hood caused by the tow hitch on the back of his pick-up.

But this was no time to think about exchanging insurance info or anything like that. “It’s fine,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.” Then I turned around and took off back across the field to the kids.

By the time I got back to the playground, the skies had turned dark and rain was imminent. So I texted my sister and wife and told them to come over quick if it started to rain. Then, just as the raindrops began to fall, my five-year-old niece Lucia walked up to me.

“Uncle Val, I have to go pee-pee.”

Of course she did.

I glanced over at the shed for a moment, then down at the soiled underwear that were still in my hand for some reason, and decided it was time to go.

So as the rain fell, I led my flock back across the field and told the kids to stand against the fence while I ran over to to the port-o-potty to get Lucia settled in. Then the rain started to come down harder, so I ran back over to the kids and herded them all into the back of my freshly dented Sonata. Then I ran halfway back and stood there in the rain, looking back and forth between the car and the plastic outhouse until my niece was finished.

Luckily my sister and wife pulled up just then and saved me before any further catastrophes happened or any of the other kids decided that they had to go pee-pee.

And that was one of the calmer episodes of the week.~

_____

Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich

 

In Search of Sasquatch — the 24th Annual Ohio Bigfoot Conference

Posted by on Apr 21, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

So THAT'S why they call it "Bigfoot"!

They don’t call it BigFOOT for nothin’.

So, I went to a Bigfoot conference this past weekend.

Why would anyone do such a thing, you ask? Well, for one, I’ve always been interested in the unknown—Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, U.F.O.’s, the appeal of daytime television, etc. Plus, I was drinking wine and surfing the net one night, and ended up buying a ticket on impulse.

Let that be a lesson to all of you out there: don’t drink and click.

DAY ONE

On Friday afternoon I made the two-hour trip to Salt Fork State Park in Ohio, which has had many reported Bigfoot sightings in the past. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. After all, I had no idea what to expect. What would the other attendees be like? Would it be a serious discussion on the possibility of an undiscovered North American primate, or would it be more like a Furry convention with people running around dressed up in ape suits and Chewbacca costumes? I had no idea.

Once you reach the entrance to the park, you have to drive another 7 miles before you actually get to the main lodge. Driving along, I could see why Bigfoot would be attracted to this area. Not only is there a large man-made reservoir and 17,000 acres of woodland in which to roam, but they’ve also got mini-golf.

After getting settled into my room, I went to dinner at the lodge restaurant and spent most of the time scanning the room trying to figure out who else was there for the conference. I saw a couple likely candidates dressed in camou gear. Then, over at a large table of normal looking people, I overheard one of them mention the word “Bigfoot.” I thought about going over and asking if I could join them, but honestly I couldn’t get up the nerve. I mean, how does one introduce oneself at a thing like this? (“So…you guys here for the Bigfoot thing, too?”)

After dinner I ran back to my room to have a glass of scotch on the porch and build up the nerve to start talking to people. Then, on my way to the meet-and-greet, I swung by the lounge and had a glass of wine, for good measure.

Finally I made my way over to the main conference room, where the event host, Don Keating, was speaking to a group of around 30 or so. From what I could glean from their conversation, it seemed like many of them were regulars at the annual event. Surveying the room, I was surprised to see everything from average looking mom-and-pop-like couples, to a couple of punk-rockers, to a 60-something cowboy dressed in a denim shirt, Wranglers, and a black hat and boots—with real spurs!

At one point during the meet-and-greet, one of the attendees brought up the problem of “Bigfoot politics”, which I learned has the entire Bigfoot community involved in some serious infighting. It got me to wondering if Bigfoot considers himself a Republican or Democrat. But then of course that’s just ridiculous. He’s obviously an independent.

Cowboy Matt

Cowboy Matt

Later on I introduced myself to the man in the cowboy hat, who I was surprised to find out was from nearby Coshocton, Ohio. His name was Matt, and he was kind enough to share his Bigfoot story with me.

Back in the mid-1970s, Matt, his cousin, and his neighbor were out walking some elevated railroad tracks in Port Washington, Ohio, when they looked out and noticed a large white animal crawling through a cornfield. Matt went off to investigate, leaving his cousin and neighbor behind. By the time he had gotten to where he had seen the animal, however, it was gone. So he turned back. As he got nearer to his cousin and neighbor, he could hear them yelling out to him. Apparently, as Matt had been approaching the mysterious creature, it stood up on two legs and walked off. The boys said it was all white and hairy with a black face. 

Matt’s been coming to the Bigfoot conference every year since it’s inception in 1991. He’s never seen anything like what he saw that day in the cornfield again, but he told me he always keeps his eyes open now whenever he’s out hunting or fishing.

Around 9 o’clock that night we went outside for a little Bigfoot discussion around the bonfire. It was there that I met Pete, a pediatrician from Trumbull County, Ohio. 

“You wanna see some pictures?” he asked, sitting down next to me and pulling out his cell phone. Some of a photos Pete shared were of strange, unnatural wooden structures out in the woods near his home. Several others, however, featured dark, shadowy figures peeking out from behind trees and blending into the foliage around them. I have to say, they really did resemble some type of humanoid/apelike creature. Of course, I don’t know Pete from Adam, but he seemed like a decent, honest guy to me.

His 8-year-old daughter, though, wasn’t impressed. “There’s no such thing as Bigfoot,” she said. Funny—my 5-year-old son had said the same thing to me before I’d left the house earlier that day. Kids—what do they know?

I also met a woman named Sandy who had driven almost six hours to the conference with her sister and nephew from Belews Creek, North Carolina. Sandy told me how there had been numerous sightings around her town, and she also had found bizarre wooden structures in the woods near her home, which “a Bigfoot researcher had verified as real.” Her five-year-old nephew then told me an amazing story of how he actually chased Bigfoot around his house! 

“What did he look like?” I asked him, wide-eyed. 

“Big, brown, and hairy,” he replied. Then his mother whispered to me that “Bigfoot” was actually just his uncle who had dressed up for the boy’s Bigfoot-themed birthday party. 

Balloon popped.

I also met a fellow writer from Cleveland named Natalie, who was with her husband and two boys, one of whom — get this — was named Valentine. Talk about a rare sighting!

Speaking of “big feet”, later on I went back to my room to refill my wine glass (i.e., a plastic beer cup) and on the way back ended up spilling it all over myself when I tripped coming back up the steps.

Maybe I had Bigfoot on the brain, but this boulder looks suspiciously like the big guy himself.

Just a normal boulder? Or ancient monument to Bigfoot? You decide.

DAY TWO

After breakfast on Saturday I headed out for a hike on one of Salt Fork State Park’s many scenic trails. It was a beautiful day to be outdoors and, who knew—maybe I’d run into the big fella out in the woods? Salt Fork has thousands of acres of woodlands with dozens of caves and outcroppings, which are just perfect for a large, hairy, primate to hide in or use as shelter. At least that’s what they tell me.

Along the trail I ran into a man walking his dog. His name was Pastor Kirk, and he was wearing a camou shirt and carrying a sidearm. His dog, a yellow lab/bloodhound mix, was named Stonewall after the famed Confederate general.

When I told him why I had come to Salt Fork, he seemed intrigued. Either that or he was just holding back laughter. I never was that good at reading people.

Pastor Kirk did relay a story to me, though, about a friend of his who had seen the so-called “Salt Fork Monster” years ago. According to her, it was around 9-feet-tall, muscular, and completely covered with long, white hair, much like the description Matt had given me of his encounter the evening before.

I kept my eyes peeled as I hiked almost four miles. But unfortunately Paster Kirk was the only primate I came across in the woods that day.

The Bigfoot conference officially began later that afternoon. I’d paid for a VIP ticket, hoping that it would give me exclusive access to Bigfoot evidence. But as it turned out, all it gave me was my name in the program and the opportunity to sit in one of the first three rows. I opted to sit in the back, just in case I needed to slip out to the lounge every now and again. (Hint: I did.)

The first speakers were Todd Neiss, founder of The American Primate Conservancy, and his wife, Diane, founder of Stocking Hominid Research, Inc

Todd, in his own words, was a “former skeptic, turned believer, turned researcher.” Back in 1993, he was serving as a combat engineer in the National Guard in Oregon, when he had an encounter that changed his life. During a field exercise, he came upon three 8- to 9-foot-tall, manlike, hairy black creatures out in the forest. They had arms that hung “well below their knees”, and they were so big and muscular that they “looked like body builders”. Todd, an Iraqi War veteran, says he got a really good look at the creatures, watching them for approximately 25 seconds before they went out view. He wasn’t the only one who saw them either; his sergeant and three other soldiers did as well. Now, when he’s not working as an military analyst, he’s out in the woods researching. 

“I would give anything to see these things again,” he said. 

The highlight of Todd’s talk came when someone in the audience asked him to recreate the thunderous “WHOOP!” he had heard out in the woods, which Todd believed to have come from a Bigfoot. That alone was worth the price of admission.

SquatchStik

‘Cause who wouldn’t need a Steelers colored Squatch Stik?

During a break in the action, I chatted with Eric Altman, director of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society and host of the “Beyond the Edge Radio” show. Eric was manning a table of supposed Bigfoot footprint casts. One in particular caught my eye because it had been cast in Ross Township, Allegheny County, not far from my home. Eric told me that there have been quite a few sightings in Beaver County, too, including one in 2013 in Brady’s Run Park, not five miles from my house.

I also spoke with a man named Steve from the Southeastern Ohio Society for Bigfoot Investigations (SOSBI), who showed me a photo on his smartphone that was taken with a heat-sensing FLIR camera. It showed two large figures moving through the woods, which Steve believed to be a family of Bigfoots — one male and one female carrying a baby Bigfoot — that he had encountered during one of his night investigations. 

The next speaker was Carl Johnson, paranormal investigator who used to be on the SyFy Channel’s popular show “Ghost Hunters”. He’s also co-founder of the Big Rhodey Research Project, which centers around finding “Rhodey”, the name given to the supposed Rhode Island Bigfoot, first seen by co-founder Dina Palazini in 1982.

Carl has never seen the creature himself, but he claimed to have had a Bigfoot “sound encounter”, where he heard the footfalls of the creature as it approached him out in the Rhode Island woods. He likened the sound and the force of the footfalls to those of an elephant’s.  

The event’s keynote speaker was Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum, associate professor of Anatomy & Anthropology in the departments of Biological Sciences and Anthropology for Idaho State University. When it comes to the Bigfoot community, Dr. Meldrum’s a rockstar. He is the author of Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, and is widely considered as the leading scientist in field of Bigfoot research. He is also the editor of the Relict Hominoid Inquiry, which, according to the website, promotes research and “provides a refereed venue for the dissemination of scholarly peer-reviewed papers exploring and evaluating the possible existence and nature of relict hominoid species around the world.”

Just one of the many Bigfoot relics Dr. Meldrum brought with him.

Just one of the many Bigfoot relics Dr. Meldrum brought with him.

As I mentioned, Dr. Meldrum takes a highly scientific approach to Bigfoot research, and his presentation, which focused on “The Good, Bad, and the Ugly” of the current state of Bigfoot research, was very professional. Part of the “good” that he shared with us was that conservation officers recently found what they believe to be Bigfoot footprints and scat in Wyoming. Unfortunately the scat was rendered unidentifiable — at least as far as DNA testing goes — after a dog peed on it. (Crap.)

He also talked of The Falcon Project—a groundbreaking project he’s involved with, in which they’re designing and building a 35-foot-long, helium-powered drone to aid in the search for proof of Sasquatch. Unlike normal drones, which are noisy and can only fly for minutes at a time, the Falcon will have a flight time of 8-10 hours and be able to hover silently above the forest and use its camera’s to monitor for any Bigfoots wandering around below. Personally, I would have went with the name “Bigfoot Brother” (Get it?) instead. But then again it’s not my project.

I left Salt Fork right around 8:30 that evening, right as the sun was starting to set over the horizon. And, I have to admit, I was hoping — and somewhat expecting — to get a glimpse of the “Salt Fork Monster” along the side of the road as it made it’s nocturnal rounds of the park. But, alas, all I saw were a few deer. 

Oh, well. I guess it was for the best. I mean, who would believe that I just happened to see Bigfoot while I was at a Bigfoot conference?

That would just sound ridiculous. ~

_____

Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich

A Beastly Encounter

Posted by on Apr 2, 2015 in Blog | 4 comments

Look from darkness

Looking up the path, I could see the beast staring down at me, saliva dripping from his mouth.

Just moments earlier I had left my house to begin my weekly long run. The plan was to head out Dutch Ridge Road into Brighton Township. I didn’t want to risk the busy main hill, however, so I decided to take the safer route up Galey Boulevard, the winding path that leads up into Windy Ghoul.

As I reached the bottom of the twisty, wooded path, I realized I’d forgotten my pepper spray at home. In the past I’ve had a few close calls with dogs while running, so I always like to bring along the small spray bottle, just in case. 

Oh, well, I thought as I began my ascent. I’ve never seen a dog along here before. I’m sure I’ll be fine.

That’s when I heard it—the sound that all runners fear: the metallic jingle of a dog collar. I looked up and there, at the top of the path, stood the biggest Doberman I’d ever seen. Not the usual lean, streamlined version, mind you. I’m talkin’ Dogzilla. A Doberman on steroids. And it was looking right at me.

Wonderful.

I was wearing my tight black running pants at the time, which, although great for when the temperature drops, quite honestly, make me feel a little self-conscious. I’m always worried that people think I’m running in yoga pants. Now, seeing that Barry Bonds of a dog staring down at me, I felt completely naked standing there in my thin, polyester/spandex attire. Instinctively, I brought my hands down to protect my…well, you know.

What the hell am I going to do now?

Just then a petite woman turned the corner from behind the dog and looked down to see me standing there frozen in fear and shielding the family jewels. 

“Don’t worry!” she shouted. “He’s real nice. His name’s Rambo!”

Oh, sure. Rambo the friendly Doberman.

And with that Rambo came bounding down the path at me, the earth quaking beneath the weight of his monstrous paws. He stopped right in front of me, his heavy doggy breath fogging up the air like a locomotive. Keeping one hand in front of my groin area, I slowly reached out to let him smell me as I awaited the inevitable attack. After a few tense moments, very carefully, I began to pet him. 

“Good boy, Rambo. You’re a good boy, yes…” my voice cracking like a pubescent schoolboy.

“Sorry about that,” said the woman, finally catching up to her dog. “I usually have him on a leash.” 

I managed a half smile. Considering he probably outweighed her by 50 lbs., I doubt a leash would’ve done any good had Rambo decided to have me for lunch. 

He didn’t, though—thank goodness— and moments later I was back to my run, my heart pounding a little harder than usual. 

Meanwhile, the woman continued on her walk as Rambo the Doberman went off to maul a deer.

Or a Chevy. ~

_____

Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich

Pittsburgh Pucks & Plates

Posted by on Apr 1, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

April Fools! It’s the annual Pittsburgh Guest Blogger Event!

Today’s guest post comes from Tasha Eakin of The Foodtasters, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. You can see my post over on A Librarian’s Lists and Letters, where I talk about my love/hate relationship with being a work-from-home freelance writer.

Follow all the Pittsburgh Guest Bloggers out on Twitter using #PghGBE.

Enjoy!

Pittsburgh Pucks & Plates
by Tasha Eakin

Over the past year, we have met and collaborated with so many creative and interesting people who all share a love and passion for both food and Pittsburgh:  Nicky D Cooks, Parmesan Princess, The Hungry Hounds, Friendly Pittsburgh Foodie, Pennies, Pints, Pittsburgh, Ya Jagoff!, Downtown Pittsburgh Living, and Everybody Loves You to name a few!

The Food Tasters is turning four years old this month.  In celebration, we are expanding our focus on utilizing our humble blog as a platform to help promote and support local, independent small businesses  (visit our new little sister website at Eat Local | Shop Small) as well as fellow food bloggers and writers in the Greater Pittsburgh area.  So, we’re taking this blog-swapping opportunity to introduce you to our favorite father and son team of Pittsburgh foodies:  Larry and his son Alex, also know as “Pittsburgh Pucks & Plates”!

Biophoto-Larry & Alex

Bio:  A lifelong Pittsburgher, Larry Broderick’s love of all things food and hockey is only surpassed by the love of Amy, his wife and Alex, their son.  Larry’s 20 + year career in the hospitality field had afforded him ample opportunities to cook professionally, of which he never took advantage of, stating “I can cook for three people at once, that’s it”.

Now working for North American wide Extended Stays Hotels, Larry often invites his clients to one of the four Pittsburgh locations and cooks a meal in the kitchen that are located in every single room.

Embark with him and his trusty, 11 year old sidekick/son who is always ready, willing and hungry to try any type of food. Enjoy the dry humor, hockey references and a very unique take on “adult” food by a young man and his Dad.

One of Larry and Alex’s favorite restaurants is the Thin Man Sandwich Shop located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.  Following is a loving review written by Larry and Alex…

“Pittsburgh is known for a certain sandwich, you know the one. 

Last May, Alex and I were “dahn da strip” foraging for something to cook as it was boys’ night.

Rabbit? Frog Legs? Seafood Salad?

Then that song ventured into my head, you know the one.

I like Big Sandwiches, I cannot lie. You other foodies can’t deny….

Then as if a hunger beacon rang out on 21st Street and Smallman, I saw the red-circled logo with the chipper fellow eating what I’d deem a BIG SANDWICH. 

Thin Man Sandwich shop….hey! I’ve HEARD of them???

ThinManWindow

Thin Man Sandwich Shop, 50 21st Street, Strip District, Pittsburgh PA 15222
(Photo Credit:  The Food Tasters)

Oh baby, I wanna get with your sandwich

And take your picture eating it

My homeboys tried to warn me

But that sandwich you got makes me so HUNGRY.

We ventured in. Greeted that time, and the 14 times we’ve returned since, like Norm from Cheers, the entire Thin Man team was beaming from ear to ear. Ready, willing and more than able to make suggestions, cook your food and do it quickly!

DanAndSherri

Sherri and Dan are the two COOLEST, FRIENDLY, KIND and genuine Chefs and restaurant owners Alex and I have met. 

Owners & Chefs Sherri and Dan Leiphart, Thin Man Sandwich Shop
(Photo Credit:  The Food Tasters)

That day Alex went with the Thin Man, the stud of the chalkboard menu: Chicken Liver Mousse, Local Bacon, Frisee, Red Wine Vinaigrette on a Baguette.

TheThinManSandwich1

The Thin Man, Signature Sandwich
(Photo Credit:  The Food Tasters)

I tried something from the taste bud defying seasonal menu, Mushroom & Asparagus Ragu with Garlic Scapes, Reisling and Tarragon Butter on a seemingly just made roll.  Cause when you notice that sandwich was stuffed, deep in the bread it’s wearing – I’m hooked and I can’t stop staring!

ThinManMushroomAsparagus

Mushroom & Asparagus Ragu, Seasonal Sandwich
(Photo Credit:  Thin Man Sandwich Shop)

Since our initial trip, Alex has found a new friend on the chalkboard of sandwich greatness, while it is undeniably gourmet comfort food in sandwich form, the Il Bastardo. He loves it, I love it, anyone that’s tried it will say the same, I still say he orders it because he now knows the English translation, and that is HILIARIOUS to an 11 year old boy! How can you possibly not LOVE, ADORN, CHERISH mortadella, American cheese and the most PERFECT runny egg?

IlBastardo1

Il Bastardo (with bacon), Signature Sandwich
(Photo Credit:  The Food Tasters)

IlBastardo2

Il Bastardo (with bacon), Signature Sandwich
(Photo Credit:  The Food Tasters)

My last three sandwiches have been off the seasonal board which seems to change every 3 months, hence the name SEASONAL board, I suppose?!  Beef Cheek Hash…

ThinMan2014BeefCheekHash

Beef Cheek Hash, Seasonal Sandwich
(Photo Credit:  Thin Man Sandwich Shop)

… and an absolutely stunning Egyptian spiced lamb pita that Chef Dan said “is very time consuming preparation wise, but hopefully worth it”.

ThinMan2014EqyptianSpiceLambPita

Egyptian Spiced Lamb Pita, Seasonal Sandwich
(Photo Credit:  Thin Man Sandwich Shop)

Worth it about 1000 times over Chef!

Honestly my fellow Pittsburgh Foodies… when yinz got out-of-towners wanting to go for a sandwich, do them a favor and go to The Thin Man Shop!

Well, use me, use me

Even though I’m an average foodie

You’ll be seen on Smallman Street dancin’

To Thin Man with romancin’

And you want a gourmet sandwich throw down,

Dial 1-412-586-7370

And kick them nasty hunger thoughts

Baby You’ll go Back!

Baby You’ll go Back!”

You can follow Larry and Alex’s food adventures over on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

If you would like to collaborate on an idea or have a recipe that you’ve developed and would like us to share, please contact us!  We would love to hear from you.

~The Food Tasters – Pittsburgh 

_____

The complete list of Pittsburgh Guest Blogger participants:

The AP CollectionBeezus KiddoPittsburgh Happy HourOrange Chair BlogIn Pursuit of SimpleLucy QuinThe Wheezy RunnerPittsburgh is BeautifulLast Minute PanicThe Almond Eater A Body of One’s OwnLunges, Long Runs and LattesDowntown LivingEmily LevensonParmesan PrincessOh Honestly, ErinSole for the SoulCrank Crank RevolutionThe Pittsburgh Mommy BlogYum Yum PGHYa JagoffGardening in High HeelsSean’s RamblingsPittsburgh Taste BudsThe FoodtastersMy Blog n’atThe Fashionable Eyejelly jarsDon’t Forget to EatSmall Town DadJosh’s WorldThe Steel TrapIn Pursuit of Happiness101 AchievementsA Librarian’s Lists and LettersPennies, Pints, Pittsburgh30-Something therapyRed Pen MamaNicky D. Cookseverybody loves you…

 ThinMan1-2

My Fortress of Solitude

Posted by on Mar 25, 2015 in Blog, MY HOMETOWN, The Freelance Life | 3 comments

My home away from home.

My home away from home.

Ever since I quit my job to become a freelancer I’ve been spending a lot more time down at my local library. Back when I was still in the rat race, I rarely found the time to take advantage of this incredible free resource right here in my hometown. Now I go there so much, my clothes are starting to smell like old copies of The Hardy Boys. And that’s a good thing.

When I was a kid my mom would take me down to the library all the time. I’ve been writing since the first grade, and I always found it so inspiring to peruse the stacks of books and pick out a new adventure for the week. I used to get so many good ideas just reading the titles. Sometimes I’d even lift a title and use it to write my own version of the story. And, as a matter of fact, I still do. Currently I’m working on my next book, The Grapes of Wrath. It’s a sci-fi/horror story about a winery where the vines are evil and turn on the owners. Stay tuned!

Now that I’m a dad, I get to take my own kids to the same library, which is pretty cool. Of course, they’re still young and just learning how to read. But I’m hoping that bringing them there will sow the seeds for a lifelong love of reading. Plus, it gives me a chance to read while they play on the library’s iPad.

Here’s five other reasons why I love my local library…

You never know what you’ll see.
There’s always some interesting characters down at the library. Last time I was there, this dude was actually walking laps around the stacks for exercise. And a couple months ago I actually saw a hawk poop! Outside the library, that is.

They’ve got books. Lot’s of ‘em.
This may be a little obvious, but sometimes I think people forget what an incredible resource their local library is. The librarian is so knowledgeable, the volunteers are friendly and helpful, there’s a ton of free DVDs to choose from, and, of course, let’s not forget the books. I mean, with such a huge selection to choose from, why would anyone ever purchase a book? Wait a second. I’m a writer. With books for sale. On second thought, forget what I said about not buying books. 

Quiet is the law.
As a writer and someone who relishes a little alone time every now and then, being at home all day with the kiddos can be a little…what’s the word I’m looking for?…oh yeah, maddening. That’s why I love my library, where being quiet isn’t just a suggestion—it’s the law. It’s like having my very own Fortress of Solitude (see: Fiction, Juvenile, comic books).

No distractions.
When I try to get some writing done at home, I have a tendency to get distracted by things like…my kids, the dirty dishes, my kids, doing laundry, my kids, weeding the garden, my kids, and, oh yeah, my kids. But when I go to the library to work, I can really focus on the task at hand without all those little things (i.e., my kids) back at home to get me off track. 

A community treasure.
Libraries aren’t just repositories for books (I learned that big word at the library, by the way), they’re gathering places. They’re community centers where people can come to read, relax, learn, share information, and enjoy the company of their neighbors. A library is a free resource that’s there solely for the betterment of the community. How cool is that? 

Plus, the bathroom is always really clean. Which is nice. ~

This get anyone else's heart pumping, or is it just me?

This get anyone else’s heart pumping, or is it just me?

_____

Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich

The Big Four-Oh!

Posted by on Mar 18, 2015 in Blog | 4 comments

Steeler Kid

Whatever happened to this guy?

I really didn’t want to write another one of those cliché-ridden blog posts about turning 40. 

You know the kind I’m talking about. The ones that claim how “40 is the new 30,” or that 40 really isn’t that old after all. 

No, it’s not. And, yes, it is. 

Honestly, turning 40 doesn’t bother me. I mean, we’re all on the same sinking ship anyway. Why worry about it? Even though, from what I’ve been told, just a few days from now…

  • My sight will suddenly start to get worse…
  • I won’t be able to drink like I used to…
  • I won’t be able to keep the weight off anymore…
  • My memory will begin to fail me…
  • I’ll start saying things like “Back in my day…”
  • I’ll neither like nor recognize any current music, and…
  • I’ll begin to find myself napping more and more.

But like I said, I’m not worried. Heck, most of those things started years ago.
(Everything except the eyesight stuff. So far.)

In case you didn’t notice, though, I am a writer. (No, really.) And, being a writer, I have a tendency to, well…write about things like this. But rather than waste your time with more of the same old same old, I decided instead to waste your time by taking a look back at the decade that was and comparing it with my 20s. Doing so would enable me to understand in what ways I’ve grown, as well as in what ways I’ve remained as immature as ever.

So here goes…

Drink of choice
In my 20s:      Milwaukee’s Best Light, aka “Beast”
In my 30s:      Cabernet

Number of jobs
In my 20s:      13 (yes, thirteen!)

In my 30s:      2

Number of offspring
In my 20s:      Zero
In my 30s:      Two

Hobbies
In my 20s:      Drinking; collecting vintage Star Wars toys (not joking)

In my 30s:      Drinking; collecting vintage typewriters

Physical accomplishments
In my 20s:      Sometimes went entire months without getting off the couch

In my 30s:      Rode a bike from Pittsburgh to D.C.; ran three marathons; didn’t pass out while my wife gave birth (twice)

Favorite place to celebrate my birthday
In my 20s:      Las Vegas

In my 30s:      El Paso Restaurant, Chippewa, Pa.

Average books read/year
In my 20s:      Five

In my 30s:      Fifty

Ideal day
In my 20s:      Riding quads and drinking cheap beer 

In my 30s:      Going to the Children’s Museum with my wife and kids (and then drinking cheap Cabernet)

Ideal evening
In my 20s:      Tequila Club followed by Beer Pong

In my 30s:      A bottle of wine and a good book

Go-to karaoke jam
In my 20s:      “Sweet Child O’ Mine” – Guns ’n’ Roses

In my 30s:      “Piano Man” – Billy Joel

Thing I looked forward to the most
In my 20s:      My next beer

In my 30s:      My next nap

After reviewing the above list, I think it’s safe to say that the past decade was definitely a time of personal growth and maturation. It was also clearly a time when I became extremely boring. 

So with this I bid adieu to my 30s. We had some good times together. Thanks for the memories.

As for the gray hairs and frequent urination….those I could do without.

_____

Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich

How Loverly

Posted by on Mar 4, 2015 in Blog, Fatherhood | 3 comments

Singing lesson

Well, it’s finally happened. Not that I’m surprised, really. I always knew that one day I’d have to pay for the transgressions of my past.

My daughter’s new favorite song, you see, is “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” — Eliza Doolittle’s cockney-laced fantasy from the 1964 classic “My Fair Lady”. Boogieface sings it around the house, in the car, when we’re walking around town…you name it. She really does have a nice voice, and recently we’ve been sending her to voice lessons with our good friend and professional singer Kelly Burgos Harper.

That said, incredibly cute as it may be to hear my daughter singing this classic tune, for me it’s like a bad dream come true. I’ve been trying my best for almost 30 years now to forget that this song even exists. Now I wake up in the morning with it playing in my head, like some kind of broken record nightmare.

I actually wrote about it in my book about surviving eight years of Catholic School. I guess we’ve come full circle…


HOW LOVERLY
(Excerpted from Cageball, Poker, and the Atomic Wedgie — And Other Tales of Catholic School Mischief)

By the time I was 13 years old, Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School—or S.S.P.P., as we called it—was like a second home to me. I was in my eighth and final year at the institution. Somehow I’d survived through seven long years of temperamental nuns and despotic rule, and finally I was on the brink of freedom. I was under the impression that S.S.P.P. was just like any other school. As far as I knew, everyone had nuns for teachers and had religion as a daily class. Little did I know that just up the street at the public school there were kids who had never even seen a nun. Lucky them.

Catholic school: two words that together conjure up images of plaid skirts, white button-downed shirts, and not-so-saintly nuns bruising knuckles with the swift stroke of a ruler. This wasn’t the case at S.S.P.P. Don’t get me wrong, we had our share of ill-tempered teachers. But when you misbehaved, they didn’t hit you with a ruler. Instead they would scream and yell at you and send you out in the hall, where there was a chance you’d encounter Sr. Peggy, the school principal, which was never a good thing. And we didn’t have any mandatory uniforms, but there was a strict dress code. Luckily, it didn’t involve plaid. We were required to wear what people today refer to as “business casual,” i.e., no tennis shoes, t-shirts, shorts, or jeans. This may seem perfectly reasonable to you, but to us it was an infringement of our civil rights. If we were going to be stuck in school for six long hours a day, the least they could do was let us wear something a little more comfortable.

Of course, we were used to all of this by now. We were the eighth-graders; the elders of the school; the elite, both mentally and physically. Somehow we had survived through seven-plus years, and now we were in the homestretch. It was a wonderful feeling, walking down the hall with your head held high, the other kids looking up at you in awe. Soon we would be moving on to high school—land of jeans and tennis shoes. We just had to survive a couple more months of this nonsense.

Of course, the teachers didn’t see it that way. To them we were just a bunch of immature, hyperactive children, who required a daily regimen of strict discipline. This disparity of opinion led to an ugly struggle of wills between teacher and student.

Take music class, for example. When you’re 7, 8, or

even 9 years old, public singing is totally acceptable; in fact, it’s a lot of fun. When you’re that young, you have no inhibitions, and you don’t get embarrassed if you’re a little off tune or if you forget the words to a song.

But somewhere along the line everything changes. Suddenly the last thing you want to do is sing your heart out in front of your peers. This takes on special significance for a 13-year-old boy, surrounded by other 13-year-old boys, who are salivating at the chance to pounce on the slightest imperfection. At that age, attempting to hit a high note could end in disaster, leading to years of alienation, shame, and ridicule. And our music teacher, Mrs. Peterson, didn’t exactly get her selection of songs from the Billboard Top 40. “Big Rock Candy Mountain” and “Puff—the Magic Dragon” are all fine and dandy if your favorite TV show is Sesame Street. But when you’ve 13, “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” loses its appeal as quality entertainment.

One particular morning, Mrs. Peterson introduced us to a new song that would haunt me for years to come.

“Good morning everyone,” she said as she entered the room. Never one to waste a moment of class time, she immediately made her way over to her dusty and slightly out-of-tune upright piano. “Okay, let’s open our books and turn to page 15, bottom of the page, ‘Loverly, from My Fair Lady. Let’s see what you can do with it.”

Loverly? What kind of word was loverly? If she thought we were going to sing this stupid song, she had another thing coming.

As Mrs. Peterson began to play and sing, we were perplexed by her strange accent. “Awl I wont is a room somwayer, fah awhy from the cool noight ayer…” I looked around at my classmates who tried to hide their snickering. Of course there were your typical teacher’s pets and kiss-ups who sang aloud, totally oblivious to the humiliation they were bringing upon themselves. Others were simply mouthing the words and pretending to sing—a good trick if you could pull it off. But most of the class was just standing there, mouths clamped, unwilling to sing a single note.

It didn’t take long for Mrs. Peterson to lose her patience. “What’s wrong with you people?” she said, banging her fists on the keys. “You used to sing so beautifully. Are you too cool to sing anymore? Is that it?”

Of course, no one was actually stupid enough to answer her. Instead we just stared into our books, struggling to hold in our laughter. The last thing you wanted to do was to make eye contact with her and be singled out. The best defense was to try to blend in with the crowd.

“OK, let’s try it again,” she said, turning back to the keys. “And this time I better hear all twenty-five of your voices. Is that clear?!” Once again she started in with that embarrassing accent, playing the piano with one hand and using the other to direct us like some sort of conductor.

We continued our protest, however, for the remainder of class. We weren’t going to sing this ridiculous song no matter how mad she got. We had our reputations to consider. For the next thirty minutes Mrs. Peterson kept playing the song over and over until “Loverly” was forever ingrained into our brains. To this day, every once in a while, I find myself singing it in my head for no particular reason. It’s torturous.

You know what would be loverly?—If I could just get that song out of my mind. ~

_____

Copyright © 2013 by Valentine J. Brkich

Surrendering to the Mess

Posted by on Feb 25, 2015 in Blog, Fatherhood | 2 comments

Disaster Area

That’s it. It’s over. I surrender.

I can no longer keep up with the ever-growing, all-consuming mess of toys that has taken over my once beautiful home and infiltrated every nook and cranny therein. It was a valiant fight, and one that has brought many a gray hair to my head. But sometimes you just have to know when to wave the white flag.

The battle began years ago, as soon as my kids were old enough to crawl. They’d make a mess, usually by emptying out a cupboard or toppling something over, and I’d be right there, following close behind to clean it up. I like things neat and tidy, you see. it just feels good having everything in its place. And, whenever possible, in right angles. And preferably square with the walls.

Clean = good. Messy = bad.

But as my kids got bigger, unfortunately so did the messes. Right as I’d pick up the last LEGO, my son would dump out his Matchbox cars all over the floor. The minute I placed the last of my daughter’s stuffed animals back on her bed — in order according to size and height, of course — she’d set up a baby doll tea party right in the middle of the bathroom floor. Lovely.

Craft Time

It’s craft time!

For years I tried to keep my head above water and manage the mess by disposing of any toy that hadn’t been played with over a reasonable period of time—say, six months or so. Whenever the kids weren’t looking, I’d fill a cardboard box with these neglected toys and sneak it down to the darkest, scariest room in the basement, hoping they’d never realize their toys were missing. Then, when spring came around, I’d mix the hijacked toys in with all the other junk and hope that someone would take them away before my kids became wise of the situation. Whatever was left at the end of the day would then be carted off to Goodwill, where it could go forth and clutter someone else’s life.

And, you know what? It worked.

For a while.

But then a birthday would come along, or Christmas, and despite our desperate pleas to the parents and in-laws for mercy, a whole new mountain of toys would come flooding through the door to take up residence in the living room and, in turn, send my anxiety through the roof.

In a last-ditch effort for a somewhat-clean home, last year my wife and I decided to move both kids into one bedroom and turn my daughter’s old room into a playroom where they could keep all of their toys in one place. All six million of them. (It’s a big room.)

But of course, the playroom just became a staging area for their daily mess attacks, and gradually the toys found their way back down the stairs and into the living room, where they’d take up permanent residence and send me stumbling head over heels in the middle of the night on my way to the bathroom.

Tent City

My living room is under there. Somewhere.

And it’s not just the toys that drive me nuts. It’s the pop-up tent cities, made from every blanket and sheet in the house. It’s the craft-tastrophies that turn the dining room table into a construction paper killing field. It’s the dozens of cardboard boxes, sliced up, shaped, and taped into boats and Box Trolls, caves and cars, spaceships and suits of armor.

There’s simply no escaping it!

Therefore, in order to preserve what’s left of my sanity and to survive the remainder of these fully-nested years, I’ve decided to throw in the towel, so to speak, admit defeat, and give in to the mess.

And you know what? It’s actually been quite liberating. Sure, my house looks like a garbage dumpster all the time now. But at least I’m not stressing anymore over the little things, like all the little invisible LEGOs buried deep down within the fibers of my living room carpet, waiting to jab an unsuspecting victim right in that oh-so-tender part of their foot.

I just wear shoes indoors now.

So if you happen to stop by my house anytime in…oh, the next decade or so, please, excuse the mess. Because it’s staying where it is, right smack in the middle of the living room floor…and in the foyer…and on the kitchen counter…and on the dining room table…and…

_____

Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich

A Day in the Life — A Live-Tweeting Adventure!

Posted by on Feb 17, 2015 in Blog | 2 comments

My writing desk

Your front-row seat to adventure! Or at least some pretty nifty typing.

Ever since I left my full-time job last June to set out on my own as a freelance writer, I’ve had a difficult time explaining to some people exactly what it is that I do for a living:

Random Curious Person: “So, you’re a writer, huh?”

Me: “Yep.”

Random Curious Person: “You mean..like books and stuff?”

Me: “Sometimes. I’ve ghostwritten a couple books. But mostly I do a lot of website copy, editing, blogging, marketing content, and whatnot. I also do some speaking and consulting on things like writing, social media, and self publishing.”

Random Curious Person: “Oh. OK. Well, that’s…great.”

Me: “You still don’t have any idea what I do, do you?”

Random Curious Person: “Um…no.”

(The part of Random Curious Person was played by my mother.)

In light of all this confusion, I’ve decided to give you — my loyal readers — an insider’s look at my daily life so that you can get a better feel for what I do every day.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, February 18, I will be LIVE TWEETING my entire day from the moment I wake up until the moment my head hits the pillow. (Hint: Don’t be expecting anything to exciting.)

To take advantage of this unique opportunity to see just what it’s like to be freelancer/stay-at-home-dad, all you have to do is follow me on Twitter at @valentinebrkich. If you’re not on Twitter (and if not, what’s wrong with you?), you can also follow along over on my Small-Town Dad Facebook page (if you’re not on Facebook, well …I can’t help you).

(By the way, Live Tweeting is also one of the many services I offer to help companies market their products and events.)

Don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind opportunity to get an insider’s look into the life of a freelance entrepreneur!

And don’t worry—there won’t be any Tweeting during my trips to the restroom. That just wouldn’t be professional.

See you all tomorrow beginning at 5:20 a.m.!

Hurts So Good

Posted by on Feb 11, 2015 in Blog | 3 comments

 

Russ Medical and Sport Massage, 971 Third Street, Beaver, Pa.

Russ Medical and Sport Massage, 971 Third Street, Beaver, Pa.

“How’s the pressure?” asks Rick, owner and Head Torture Technician at Russ Medical and Sport Massage Clinic in Beaver, as he digs into what feels like a grapefruit-sized knot in my upper back.

“Guh…” I manage to grunt in response, my face buried within the padded head rest of the massage table.

What’s funny is I’m actually paying for this.

I’ve had back issues for as long as I can remember. I actually recall being in grade school and my teacher telling me to sit up as I slouched in my chair, my back muscles week even then. But then of course the bell would ring and we’d be off to lunch or to the gym, bouncing all over the place as kids do, and everything would be fine.

Things didn’t really become unbearable until after sometime after college, when boring desk job after boring desk job (around a dozen in all) found me hunched over a computer all day with little or no movement. Years of this sedentary (and rather depressing) lifestyle, combined with the usual stresses of adulthood, have transformed my back into a twisted tangle of knots and tightness that has me in a constant state of pain and discomfort.

Hence my always pleasant disposition.

It was this perpetual state of discomfort that first led me to the ancient art of massage. As with most people, I was reluctant to try it at first. Quite honestly, I was intimidated by the idea of peeling off my clothes in some dimly lit room and allowing some stranger to put their hands all over me. I mean, I’m not in college anymore.

But eventually, upon the recommendation of my wife and others, I decided to give massage a whirl, and I’ve been a big fan ever since. It’s truly been a godsend for my back issues.

I’ve really only had one bad massage experience over the years, and that one was my fault. We were on our honeymoon in Cancun, and my wife thought it would be romantic to go to the spa together. I was dealing with some awful sinus bug I caught on the flight down (nice, right?), and I really should’ve just stayed back at the hotel. But then again, I didn’t want to spoil the mood. So, despite my better judgment, I agreed to the massage. Of course, as soon as I was facedown on the table, my sinuses began to slowly drain out all over the floor below me. My Mexican masseuse didn’t speak English, and I didn’t know how to say “Kleenex” in Spanish, so I just let it go. Literally. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most relaxing massage I’ve ever had.

But other than the legendary Mucous Massage, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences on the table. The only problem now is, Rick and his team have pretty much ruined massage for me anywhere else I go. Not because other therapists don’t know what they’re doing. It’s just that the good folks at Russ Medical and Sport Massage are especially good at bringing the pain.

The good kind of pain, that is.

Massage Table

One of Russ’s torture chamb…um, I mean… massage therapy rooms.

The first thing Rick does when I come in is examine my posture, which usually resembles that of Quasimodo. In an instant he can recognize if I’m leaning a particular way or if my feet are flayed out or if my one shoulder is higher than the other.

“Hmmm…yes…” he begins, a fiendish smile growing on his face. “Well, sir, it looks like your medial-collateral flexitoids (I made that up) are abnormally tight. Your posterior latissimudes (me again) are all out of whack, too. But don’t worry, we’ll get you fixed up good as new!”

And by that he means that he’s going to beat the you-know-what out of me. But again, in a good way.

Despite my lousy attempt to replicate Rick’s vast knowledge of human muscular anatomy (see above), he and his team really do know what they’re talking about. They’ve taught me a lot over the years, and they always surprise me when they discover tightness or soreness in a muscle I didn’t even know I had. They put the “deep” in deep-tissue massage.

And I’m constantly amazed when I tell Rick my back hurts and he makes it better by manipulating a completely unrelated area. Like my pinky toe. As Rick likes to say: it’s all connected.

My hour on the table always flies by, and I find myself wishing I had another hour (or three) of therapy to go. But I usually change my mind later on in the day, after the endorphins wear off and suddenly I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

Hit by a truck in a good way, that is. ~

_____

Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich

 

Typecast Tuesday! – My Top 10 Books of the Past Year

Posted by on Feb 10, 2015 in Typecasts | 0 comments

Typecast Tuesday

(Photo Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich)

(Photo Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich)

Typewriter Man

Posted by on Feb 6, 2015 in Blog | 3 comments

Sapling & Sons, Beaver, Pa.

This place is gonna be clickin’ and clackin’ this weekend! Come on down!

So I went on my first typewriter house call the other day. Funny. Never thought I’d hear myself saying that.

It’s a good thing I’m already married.

It was actually a favor for my friend, Lisa, who’s holding an event this weekend at her awesome “Snail Mail Supply Co.”, Sapling & Sons, located right on the charming main street of Beaver.

Called “Love On The Run”, the free event invites guests to stop in on Friday and Saturday and type a love note to their sweetheart on one of various antique manual typewriters. The notes will then be rolled up and put into glass bottles and hand delivered to your Valentine (no relation) free of charge on February 14. How cool is that? They’ve even got a few of my typewriters on display in the window. (All of which are for sale, in case you’re interested.)

(I didn’t think so.)

So, of course, just to make sure their typewriters were all in working order for this special event, they called upon yours truly, since I’m probably the only person around who collects typewriters and actually still uses them on a daily basis. Seriously. And I’m not even a hipster.

Ever since that newfangled doodad known as the “personal computer” came out, it’s become harder and harder to find anyone who knows anything at all about these dinosaurs of the writing world. That said, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a typewriter expert, despite how cool that would sound. Most of what I know about typewriter upkeep actually came through just tinkering around with my own collection. I caught on pretty quick, too. It only took me a few days to figure out how to replace a ribbon the first time.

I’ve also learned a lot from Richard Polt, author of the forthcoming book, The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century, and whom I harass on a weekly basis with questions like, “Where do you locate the serial number on a Smith-Corona Galaxie 12?” (A: It’s stamped into a vertical metal panel near one of the ribbon cups), or “How do you replace the pull strap on a circa 1920s Royal 10?” (A: Use an old shoelace)

One of the machines on which I worked my magic, i.e., I got the "E" key to stop sticking.

One of the machines on which I worked my magic, i.e., I got the “E” key to stop sticking.

Again, it’s a miracle I’m not single.

Basically, all Sapling & Sons needed me to do was adjust the margins on a couple of their machines and make sure they were in good typing order for their event. I barely got my hands inky. For some reason, the whole time I was there I kept picturing myself as that toy-repair guy in “Toy Story II” — you know, the crusty old man who made a house call to Al’s Toy Barn to sew Andy’s arm back on and get him looking good as new?

Did I mention how lucky I am to be married?

Will typewriter repair become a new career for me? What am I saying?! I don’t even have a career.

Anyway, I seriously doubt there is much of a market for someone with a basic knowledge of typewriter maintenance. For now I’ll just stick with what I do best.

Whatever that may be. ~

_____
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich

Saving Storm Shadow

Posted by on Jan 30, 2015 in Blog, Fatherhood | 2 comments

At home in my desk.

 

“Hey, Dadda—what’s that?!”

Shoot. He saw it. My 1984 G.I. Joe Storm Shadow action figure.

I’d been hiding it inside my desk drawer where I knew it would be safe and where, every now and again, I could catch a glimpse of it and recall those oh-so-wonderful days before things like mortgages, electric bills, and chronic back pain.

“Um…well, that’s Storm Shadow,” I said. “The dreaded white ninja and personal bodyguard of Cobra Commander himself! He was one of my favorite toys when I was a little boy.” (Still is.)

The Animal’s eyes were aglow. “Wow!” he said. “Can I play with him?”

“What?” I reacted as if he’d asked to play with a butcher knife. “Oh, I’m sorry, pal. But he’s not for playing with.” My son stared at me, dumbfounded. “He’s over 30 years old,” I explained, “and I don’t want you, you know, losin’ him or anything.”

You see, I am quite familiar with my son’s work. Case in point: I’d already watched him take my once-pristine Matchbox car collection and transform it into a die cast junkyard. Whoever came up with the phrase “with kid gloves” definitely didn’t have my son in mind.

Eventually, though, I came to my senses and decided to let him have it. I’m a grown man, for cryin’ out loud. I don’t need to hang onto some stupid action figure for nostalgia’s sake. (“Toy Story 2” was on later that day and it got to me.)

Broken Storm Shadow

My beloved Storm Shadow. Half the ninja he used to be.

What was the big deal, anyway? After all, Storm Shadow is a toy, and toys are meant to be played with. What’s the worst that could happen?

A few days later, my son came up to me holding Storm Shadow’s torso in one hand and his legs in the other.

“Um, Dadda…your ninja broke.”

“Yes, I see that,” I replied, as he handed me the remains of my cherished toy. It had taken The Animal just three days to destroy something that for more than 30 years I had kept in near-perfect condition. Knowing his record, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I was devastated. But I wasn’t about to just toss him in the garbage. (Storm Shadow, that is; not my son.) Upon closer examination of the bisected figurine, I realized that the broken rubber band that had been holding him together was exactly the same size as those little multi-colored rubber bands my daughter uses to put her hair up, and which I’m always sucking up with the vacuum. Although I’d never attempted surgery on an action figure before (or on anything else, for that matter), I had to at least try to save my old friend.

So I washed up, grabbed my philips-head screwdriver, and went to work.

Storm Shadow in Pre-Op.

Storm Shadow in Pre-Op.

 

It was a complicated procedure and one that required the complete disassembly of the once proud ninja warrior. It took about a half hour to thread the tiny rubber band into place and then screw everything back together. When I was finished, my beloved Storm Shadow was as good as new! Or at least as good as a 30-year-old action figure can be.

It was my proudest moment, next to the time I managed to change out the innards of my commode without flooding the house.

Of course, now that Storm Shadow was whole again, there was no way in the world I was going to share the good news with The Animal. I mean, I know toys are supposed to be played with and everything, but I’m also pretty sure they appreciate not being torn in half by rambunctious preschoolers with a history of toy abuse.

Believe you me, Storm Shadow is much happier spending the rest of his life safely inside my desk drawer.

Trust me. I know him better than anyone. ~

_____
Copyright © 2014 Valentine J. Brkich

Storm Shadow Good as New

Storm Shadow in post-op, just before being moved to his recovery room, i.e., my desk drawer.

 

Typecast Tuesday! – Small-Town Verse

Posted by on Jan 27, 2015 in Small-Town Verse, Typecasts | 4 comments

Today’s typecast brings us another edition of Small-Town Verse. This little poem features one of Beaver’s most famous visitors, Rudyard Kipling, who stopped in our fair town back in 1889. “Musquash” was the fictional name Kipling gave to Beaver in his book, “From Sea to Sea” (1899).

A Moment in Musquash
(typed on my Smith-Corona Super G)

Super Ghia

13 Things That Are Easier Than Parenting

Posted by on Jan 21, 2015 in Blog, Fatherhood | 1 comment

My Living Room

My living room on an average day.

It’s funny, you’d think parenting would get simpler as you go. After all, most things tend to get easier with practice.

Not so. Not only are my kids becoming more unmanageable by the day, but the strain of the job itself, i.e., being a stay-at-home dad, is really starting to get to me. Imagine a hammer beating you over the head repeatedly from sunup to sundown. It’s sorta like that.

That said, I came up with a little list of things that, although extremely difficult, are still way easier than being a parent. Enjoy.


13 THINGS THAT ARE EASIER THAN PARENTING

  • Learning Mandarin
  • Photographing Bigfoot
  • Brain surgery
  • Solving Rubik’s Cube blindfolded
  • Getting through an entire episode of “The Bachelor”
  • Licking your elbow
  • Understanding Faulkner
  • Bowling a 300
  • Explaining Twitter to your grandma
  • Understanding the appeal of Kenny Chesney
  • Domesticating a badger

_____
Copyright © 2014 Valentine J. Brkich

Typecast Tuesday – My Fridge is Smarter Than Yours

Posted by on Jan 20, 2015 in Blog, Typecasts | 0 comments

Recently I began a new daily habit based on Claudia Altucher’s awesome new book, Become An Idea Machine: Because Ideas Are The Currency Of The 21st Century. The book prompts you to come up with 10 new ideas a day on a random theme. The goal is to get you thinking and help you exercise your idea muscle, so to speak.

I thought for this week’s Typecast Tuesday, I’d share my answers for the latest prompt: list 10 New Technologies for Smart Refrigerators. Hopefully we’ll see some of these at your local appliance store in the near future…

10 New Smart Frig Technologies

(From the keys of my late 1960s Hermes 3000)

Hermes 3000

The Animal — Five Years In

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 in Blog, Fatherhood | 0 comments

Please don't feed The Animal.

Please don’t feed The Animal.

The other day we celebrated my son’s fifth birthday. Boy, time sure does fly by. It’s hard to believe that, just five years ago, I still thought I wanted four kids.

Funny how things change.

The following is a quick recap of how we celebrated The Animal’s big day:

– Even though we had his official party the day before, we set aside a few more presents for my son to open the morning of his actual birthday. Because heaven knows he needed even more toys just a couple weeks removed from Christmas.

– After we dropped off Boogieface at school, we took The Animal to breakfast so he could have his favorite: the Funky Monkey (think chocolate chips, bananas, fudge sauce, and whipped peanut butter) from Waffles INCaffeinated in Beaver. Or, as my dad calls it, “The Waffle House.” (He also refers to the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe as “The Pancake House”.)

Funky Monkey

The waffle never had a chance.

– Returning home, I actually did a little work (Yay, me!) whilst my son took in six episodes of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, his favorite show. And, no, I didn’t force him (no pun intended) to like Star Wars. He decided that all on his own. OK, maybe I nudged him a bit.

– When The Animal was finished binge-watching, we did battle on his brand-new Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtle Battroborg, which, according to the manufacturer’s description, puts “turtle power” in your hands through “precise katana controller movements.” This thing is actually pretty cool. You get to make these Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtle robot thingies fight just by swinging around a sword-handle-shaped remote control. To be honest with you, the whole thing kind of freaks me out. I mean, it can’t until the government has a whole army of life-sized remote-controlled Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles to do their bidding? Who’s to say they don’t already?

– Next we swung by my daughter’s school to take her out of class early so we could all go bowling. Because, you know, priorities.

At the arcade.

Helmets are optional in PA.

– After The Animal and I bowled our way to victory over the girls, we hit the arcade, which is basically Las Vegas for little kids. With all the noise and flashing lights, I felt like I was in the slots room at Caesar’s Palace. And, much like Vegas, we blew through our money limit faster than you can say “rip-off”. Speaking of rip-offs, after earning a bunch of tickets playing games, I actually thought the kids would be able to get something half decent in the arcade store. But apparently all 225 tickets buys you nowadays is a flimsy paddleball, two plastic rings, a balsa wood F-18, a handful of Tootsie Roll Frooties, and a couple monkeys with parachutes you can never repack. Thirty bucks well spent.

Paddle ball

Made in China. Notice how the red and white “stripes” look more like flames? Coincidence? I think not.

– Now that the kids were hungry and all wound up from video games and candy, we thought it would be a good idea to go shopping for school uniform pants for my daughter at Old Navy. I spent the next hour chasing them around the store as they hid in the clothing racks. In hindsight, we probably should have done the mind-numbingly boring activity first.

– Finally we headed home to grab some dinner and spend the rest of the evening assessing the mess and wondering where in the heck we’re going to put all these new toys. At least that’s what I did. The kids just played and had a great time as usual.

It’s good to be young.

_____
Copyright © 2014 Valentine J. Brkich

DOH! Oh, Dear.

Posted by on Jan 7, 2015 in Blog, Fatherhood | 5 comments

Backseat Singers

My back seat is alive…with The Sound of Music.

“What’s the matter with you kids?! What—are you just too cool to sing anymore? Is that it?”

It’s been 30 years now, but I can still see Mrs. Deelo standing at her piano at the front of the classroom, glaring out at us as she expressed her frustration. I really can’t blame her. For years in music class we’d sung so enthusiastically and uninhibited. Then, right around 7th Grade, the hormones kicked in and our mouths clamped shut. I’m sorry, but there was no way I was going to be caught dead singing “Edelweiss” in public. That’s the kind of thing that can follow you for life.

Mrs. Deelo absolutely loved musicals (still does) and she couldn’t understand why anyone else wouldn’t share in her passion for the genre. She’d show us scenes from “Singin’ in the Rain”, “My Fair Lady”, “Mary Poppins” and others, and then teach us the songs during class. Far and away her favorite musical was the “The Sound of Music”. We must have watched that movie a dozen times, or at least that’s how I remember it. “My Favorite Things”, “Do-Re-Mi”, “So Long, Farewell”—we sang these silly songs so often I thought I’d never get them out of my brain. It took me almost 30 years, but finally I was free.

Then I did something stupid—I showed the movie to my daughter.

Boogieface also loves musicals, you see—“Annie” and “Mary Poppins” being two of her favorites. But after watching both of these at least 100 times apiece, she was itching for something new. So we decided to borrow “The Sound of Music” from the local library to see if she liked it. She did, and, much to my surprise, so did my son. To tell you the truth, I even found it to be somewhat enjoyable after so many years of separation, particularly the looming WWII storyline, which appeals to the history buff in me. (Liesel’s not too hard on the eyes, either.)

Since they liked it so much, for Christmas we decided to get them the soundtrack on CD so they can hear their favorite songs anytime they wish. Unfortunately, they wish to hear them ALL THE TIME. No joke. The CD is now on loop inside my car, and the kids insist we listen to it anytime we go anywhere. Over the past few weeks I’ve heard “Do-Re-Mi” so many times I wake up in the middle of the night singing it in my head. “My Favorite Things”, ironically, has now become one of my least favorite things, and I’ve even caught myself singing my own favorite songs with a British accent.

Take it from me, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” really loses its edge when you sing it like Julie Andrews.

I’m worried that it’s having physical effects on me, as well. At my daughter’s gymnastics class recently, one of the other students whispered to her mother — get this — that she thought I looked like Captain von Trapp! I feel like I’m in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Of course, I could just put my foot down and refuse to play the CD in the car, as is my right as The Daddy. But I have to admit, there’s something undeniably sweet about my seven-year-old daughter singing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”, and my four-year-old son contemplating, through song, how one can possibly “solve a problem like Maria.”

We see Mrs. Deelo just about every Saturday upstreet at the cafe, and, of course, she was delighted to hear that her love of the movie has been passed along to another generation. So I guess she won in the end.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain, though. I mean, it could be worse. At least they’ve forgotten about “Let It Go”. For now. ~

_____
Copyright © 2014 Valentine J. Brkich

Nutcracker Fail

Posted by on Dec 17, 2014 in Blog, Christmas, Fatherhood | 0 comments

Winethroughastraw

It doesn’t get any classier than wine through a straw.

So for the past few years my wife and I have made it a tradition to take our daughter and niece downtown to see The Nutcracker just before Christmas. They really get a kick out of it, and it’s a nice way to get into the holiday spirit.

And, believe me, I need all the help I can get.

Last year my nephew was upset that he wasn’t included. So this year we decided to bring him along and my son, too. I wasn’t sure it was such a good idea, though, considering just a couple weeks earlier we had taken The Animal to a kids symphony performance at Heinz Hall, and after just five minutes he asked if we could “leave and go to Tropical Fun Zone”. We barely made it intermission before throwing in the flag.

With that miserable experience still fresh in my memory, I was certain The Nutcracker would be a disaster. I mean, two hours of ballet? We’d be lucky to get out of there alive.

After arriving at the Benedum Center, my brother-in-law graciously bought the adults a round of red wines, which, with the purchase of a souvenir plastic sippy cup, we were permitted to enjoy inside the theater. (Classy, right?) Then we took our seats, wondering just how long it would take for The Animal to cause a scene and send us heading for the door. It was inevitable.

For the first 25 minutes or so it was smooth sailing. Then I noticed my son was beginning to squirm around in his seat and glance in my direction. Uh, oh. But just then the giant mice appeared on stage for the big battle scene, which renewed my son’s interest in the play. At least momentarily.

KidsatTheNutcracker

But by the time the sugar plum fairies were doing their thing, The Animal was once again becoming restless. My 8-year-old nephew, who by this time was hiding his face inside his fedora, had apparently had enough as well.

Somehow we made it to the intermission without any major incident. But I knew we were just biding our time. After refilling our red wine Big-Gulps®, we headed back inside for the second act and waited for the other shoe to drop.

Of course after two glasses, i.e. sippy cups, of wine, there was no way I was going to make through the entire performance without having to hit the little boys room. So right around the Chinese dance scene, I snuck out to relieve myself.

That’s when it happened—the embarrassing moment we were all fearing. Only…my son had nothing to do with it.

As I made my way back into the darkened theater, I turned the corner and started up the stairs to my seat. But with it being so dark, and with red wine coursing through my veins, somehow I missed a step, tripped, and went crashing down to the carpet below. I popped up immediately, trying to act all nonchalant about it, but the damage was done. Pretty much the entire theater had witnessed my clumsiness and was now shaking with laughter in their seats. The lady in front of me was literally wiping away tears.

At the end of the performance, right as the lights came up, everyone in our section turned to get a good look at the idiot who had fallen flat on his face. How nice.

So in the end it was me and not my son who ended up making a big scene. Who woulda thunk it?

But what can I say? Like son, like father, I guess. ~

_____
Copyright © 2014 Valentine J. Brkich

It’s the Most Wonderful Time…Blah, Blah, Blah.

Posted by on Dec 11, 2014 in Blog, Christmas, Fatherhood | 7 comments

Earning their keep

 

I’ll admit it. I wasn’t looking forward to it—our annual Picking Out The Tree Day.

Sorry. I’m just not into the whole Christmas thing. Jesus, yes. Everything else, no. Go ahead, call me a Scrooge. But it’s all just so tiring. The whole holiday season makes me want to take a long nap. As a matter of fact, everything makes me want to take a long nap anymore.

We got off to a late start that morning. Personally, I thought we should get there right when the tree farm opened. But who listens to me? So by the time we arrived the line of cars stretched all the way out to the road. It took a half hour just to inch down the long gravel driveway to find a parking spot in the muddy grass. Then I waited in another long line for a saw and a cart as the couple behind me got in a heated argument about whether or not their tree stand at home was green plastic or red metal.

My wife can easily spend an hour going over a restaurant menu, so selecting the “perfect” tree out of literally hundreds of options can take some time. So after wandering around for a while, we finally whittled it down to a few worthy candidates before settling on a majestic Frazier Fir way in the back of the farm. (Or maybe it was a Douglas Fir? Eh, who cares?) It was beautiful! The perfect Christmas tree! So I took out the handsaw and killed it.

Then began the long slog back to the barn to have the tree bound, drilled, and strapped to the top of our Sorento. The kids wanted to help, so I let them pull the cart most of the way. Honestly, I wanted to do it myself so we could get out of there ASAP and get something to eat. But I have to admit it was kinda cute watching them struggle to drag our pine-fresh kill up the muddy slope. Heck, let’em earn their hot chocolate!

On the way home we stopped at the Log Cabin Inn and caught some of the Steelers game while munching on cayenne-crusted Fire Fries and boneless wings. You know, health food. Meanwhile I savored a 20-oz Southern Tier Winter Somethingorother as the kiddos sipped on their hot cocoa and played with their Squinkies on the bar. Great parenting, right?

Christmas Tree 2014After that we went home to prop up the dead tree in our living room and decorate it. I wish I enjoyed this part. I really do. But I don’t. I really, really don’t. Mostly because of things like having to go right back out into the cold to buy more lights because, of course, we don’t have enough lights for the tree, even though we had more than enough last year. Funny how that works.

In the end, however, it all came together as I hoisted The Animal up to the top of the tree, where he somehow placed the angel perfectly without pulling the towering pine down on top of us. Though he did try.

Maybe one day I’ll look back longingly on days like these. But for now I’m just glad it’s over and I can finally relax. That is, until we have to take the tree down in a month or so.

But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. ~

_____
Copyright © 2014 Valentine J. Brkich

Typecast Tuesday! — Small-Town Verse

Posted by on Dec 9, 2014 in Typecasts | 0 comments

Greetings, and welcome to another edition of Small-Town Verse!

Today’s offering was inspired by a day of “working” at my local library. This is my life now. Enjoy!

(Written on my 1958 Hermes 3000)

Hermes 3000

I Saw A Hawk Poop Today

The Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum

Posted by on Nov 25, 2014 in Blog, Fatherhood | 0 comments

Western PA Model Railroad Museum

Boogs, aka Toothless, was all smiles at the Western PA Model Railroad Museum.

When the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum (WPMRM.org) asked me to bring my family to their facility and write about it, I was honored. But I was also a little wary. After all, the last time I’d taken The Animal to a model railroad display, we hadn’t been there five minutes before he reached into the layout and broke off one of the miniature trees. That’s just how he rolls.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when the greeter at the WPMRM told us about their kid-friendly main level, which features a bunch of hands-on activities for the little ones. The Animal, of course, would’ve made it “hands-on” no matter what. But still it was nice to have permission.

Located in Gibsonia, the Western PA Model Railroad Museum is a train-lover’s paradise. As soon as you walk inside you purchase your ticket at what looks like an old-fashioned train station ticket counter. Glancing around the room, one of the things that catches your eye is the museum’s gift shop, which has an entrance that looks just like a red caboose. All around the room vintage toy trains are on display inside glass cases, where they’re protected from dust and, more important, the callous hands of rambunctious little kids. (Not that I know anyone like that.) There’s also a seating area where you can just sit back and relax as videos of trains are projected on the wall, if that’s your thing.

There's something you don't see everyday. At least I hope not.

There’s something you don’t see everyday. At least I hope not.

Also on the first floor you’ll find an HO-scale Thomas the Tank Engine train the kids can operate with a switch, along with a wooden train set they can get more hands-on with. There’s also a cool miniature N-scale layout beneath a plexi-glass dome.

The best part of the main floor, however, is the large, O-guage Lionel layout, which has buttons the kids can press to operate the various trains. It also features an imaginative, anything-goes type of theme with things you might not expect to see in a normal train layout, like the Incredible Hulk saving a school bus from plunging over a cliff, and a menacing T-Rex towering over a doomed Ernie from Sesame Street.

If you’re looking for something a little more realistic, you can head upstairs to the museum’s “Mon-Valley System” layout. This impressive, 4000-square-foot model accurately depicts Western PA railroads and towns back in the 1950s. Starting in Pittsburgh, the layout takes you from the old Smithfield Street Station, past the J&L Steel Mill, and then on to McKeesport, Dickerson Run, Connellsville, Ohiopyle, Rockwood, Meyersdale, and up over the Allegheny Mountains before ending in Cumberland, Md. I was especially interested in this particular rail path, since back in 2010 I rode my bike along the same route as part of a larger ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., which I barely survived.

The detail of the M-V display is remarkable; you could literally spend hours discovering all the little scenes that are meticulously crafted throughout the layout. Of course, it only took us about 15 minutes as the kids — my two plus our friend’s daughter — basically ran through the whole thing as they took part in the museum’s 27th Annual Holiday Train Show Scavenger Hunt. Luckily the entire display is safely behind glass, so The Animal wasn’t able to go Godzilla on everything.

All in all we had an awesome time at the museum and pretty much had to drag the kids out kicking and screaming. Best of all, we made it out without having to pay for any damages, which is always a plus.~

Abby disregards the "LOOK but don't touch" rule.

So much for the “LOOK but don’t touch” rule.

The kiddos search for hidden treasures in the Mon-Valley System layout.

The kiddos search for hidden treasures in the Mon-Valley System layout.

The Animal searches for a way past the glass barrier as his partner-in-crime, Abby, looks on.

The Animal searches for a way past the glass barrier as his partner-in-crime looks on.

_____
Copyright © 2014 Valentine J. Brkich

Skip Like a Man

Posted by on Nov 19, 2014 in Blog, Fatherhood | 16 comments

Walking to School

Working from home certainly has its advantages — a 30-second commute, showering every other day, afternoon naps, etc. But the one benefit I never expected was being able to walk my daughter and niece to and from school every day.

We only live a few blocks from their school, so unless it’s pouring down rain or we’re in the midst of yet another polar vortex, walking just makes sense. But of course you can’t just send a couple first graders off to fend for themselves (at least that’s what my wife tells me). So yours truly gets to play chaperone.

I should point out that during our daily walk there is very little actual walking. I don’t know how much time you’ve spent around first graders, but a nice leisurely stroll isn’t in their nature. They prefer to skip, run, hop — basically anything but walk. It’s exhausting just watching them.

Every day it’s pretty much the same story: As soon as we step out the front door, both girls — each as cute as a button in their Catholic school uniform — grab my hands and start dragging me down the block. Meanwhile I’m still waiting for that first cup of coffee to kick in.

“Let’s skip, Uncle Val!” says my niece.

“Yeah!” says my daughter. “And sing ‘We’re Off to See the Wizard’ again!”

That part is my doing, actually. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about the act of skipping that puts me right smack on the Yellow Brick Road. (Cut me some slack—I grew up with two sisters.) Of course, once you do something that your kids enjoy — i.e., skipping down the street to a song from a musical — you better get used to doing it over, and over…and over again.

Each time we come to a street crossing, “The Rule”, according to the girls, is that I have to sprint across the street and pull them along with me. They love this. It always gets them giggling and screaming way too loud for 8 o’clock in the morning.

All the way to school there’s more running and jumping and giggling and skipping. The skipping in particular always draws befuddled looks from the other parents driving by. I mean, you’d think they’d never seen a grown man skipping down the street before.

Finally we arrive at school, and I give each of them a kiss and a hug as they make their way into the building. Then I make the return journey back to my house, which, now that I am sans kids, is much more leisurely and far less conspicuous. Six and a half hours later I return for the pick-up, and we get to repeat the entire process, only this time in reverse. It’s basically the only exercise I get all day.

Just think: If I hadn’t quit my full-time job and set out on my own, I never would have been able to work in my underwear. And, oh yeah, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to walk my girls to school and back every day and experience all the wonderful silliness that goes along with it. Sure, my masculinity has probably taken a hit, with all the public skipping and everything. But that’s OK. The girls think I’m funny, and that’s all that really matters.

Let’s just see how funny they think it is when they’re 13 and I’m still right there, skipping alongside.~

_____

Copyright © 2014 Valentine J. Brkich