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.

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

The Many How-Manys of Parenthood

Posted by on Nov 13, 2014 in Blog, Fatherhood | 3 comments

Sapling & Sons, Beaver, Pa.

Writing credit: Josh Hara, @yoyoha

So the other day I stopped at my favorite new shop in town, Sapling & Sons — Snail Mail Supply Co., when I saw a card with the following inscription:

“PARENTING IS MOSTLY JUST INFORMING KIDS HOW MANY
MORE MINUTES THEY HAVE OF SOMETHING.”

Brilliant.

I got to thinking about how true that statement is, especially the “how many” part, and as a result, I came up with my own list of parenting how-manys that the average parent encounters throughout the course of his or her parenting career.

How many (insert rimshot sound effect) can you relate to?

THE MANY HOW-MANYS OF PARENTHOOD

How many…   more peas they have to eat before they can be done.

How many…   more shows they can watch before they have to turn off the TV.

How many…   times you’ve told them not to lick your face!

How many…   more minutes they have to be in Timeout.

How many…   more days until their birthday.

How many…   more days until Christmas.

How many…   more days until Halloween.

How many…   pieces of candy they can eat.

How many…   candy wrappers you’ve found behind their bed.

How many…   times you’ve told them not to touch Daddy’s typewriters!
(OK, maybe this one just applies to me.)

How many…   lights you’ve had to turn off today already.

How many…   more minutes they have before they have to come inside.

How many…   crumbs you’ve found in the couch cushions.

How many…   LEGOs you’ve stepped on in the living room.

How many…   times you’ve reminded them to flush the toilet!

How many…   sippy cups of curdled milk you’ve found around the house.

How many…   more miles until we get there.

and, of course…

How many…   glasses of Cabernet you’ve already had, and it’s only Tuesday night. ~

_____

Copyright © 2014 Valentine J. Brkich

My Disney Adventure: Part IV – A Magical Ending

Posted by on Oct 29, 2014 in Blog | 6 comments

Halloween at the Magic Kingdom

DAY 6 — Day Off / Magic Kingdom Halloween Party

When we planned our Disney vacation (and when I say “we”, I mean my wife and my sisters), we decided to include a day off at the hotel where we could relax, recharge, and frankly, sleep in past 7 a.m.

Wood.

Wood.

That day had finally come, and after sweating our you-know-what’s off at the parks for the past few days, we were all looking forward to a day at the pool. Of course, the night before a cold front goes through and drops the temperature by 15 degrees. Add in a steady breeze and it’s just cool enough that no one wants to get in the water. Actually, it would’ve been the perfect day to be at one of the parks. Figures.

Later on we headed off to dinner at the Whispering Canyon Cafe over at the Wilderness Lodge resort. If you like wood, you’d love this place. As soon as you walk in you feel like you’re vacationing at a secluded lodge somewhere in the great American Northwest. The food was great, too. One of their more popular dishes is a big frying pan full of meat. No joke. Just one tip: Don’t ask for any ketchup. Trust me on this one.

After that we headed back over to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. As the rest of my family entered the park and took off for the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride, Cass and I struggled to navigate our double stroller against the flood of people who were trying to leave the park. This is when I first came up with the idea for the Disney Stroller Cow-Catcher (patent pending).

Castle Halloween ShowNighttime at the Magic Kingdom is simply (wait for it) magical. The fast rides seem faster, there’s no scorching sun scorching you, and the light show on Cinderella’s Castle is…well…just YouTube it. These guys really know how to put on a show.

My favorite part of the night came after I took The Animal on the inaccurately named Tomorrowland Speedway. Believe me, there’s nothing “speedy” about this speedway; a more appropriate name would be the Tomorrowland Lawn Tractor Ride. Not only is it surprisingly sluggish, but the cars are extremely difficult to control, too. When the ride was over, my son actually turned to the next riders and said, “Watch out — that car has a mind of its own.”

We didn’t get out of the park until after 11 p.m., and the kids didn’t get in bed until almost midnight. But of course I still stayed up until around 1:30 still, drinking wine and watching reruns of American Pickers. I figured there’d be plenty of time to sleep when vacation was over and I was back home at “work.”

 

DAY 7 — Magic Kingdom – Take 2

Merida might want to take it easy on the Aqua Net.

Merida might want to take it easy on the Aqua Net.

For our final day in Disney World, we decided to head back to the Magic Kingdom. As soon as we got to the park, my folks watched the kids for a bit while Cass and I ran off to ride Space Mountain, aka The Neckbreaker.

After that we spent the day re-riding some of the kids’ favorites and getting more autographs from various Disney characters including Anna and Elsa (Frozen), Merida (Brave), and, of course, the main mouse himself, Mickey. FYI, in case you didn’t know, Mickey actually moves his mouth and eyes now when you meet him! Funny it took so long, since that creepy narrator in the Carousel of Progress has been doing it since 1964.

At the end of the day, I went up onto the Walt Disney World Railroad platform to take in the stunning view of Main Street U.S.A. and Cinderella’s Castle and reflect back on the week that was. I had fully expected (and almost hoped for) a disastrous, frustrating, and completely exhausting vacation. Instead it turned out to be an amazing, magical, and completely exhausting vacation. Usually by the end of the week I can’t wait to come home; this time I kept wishing we had another week to go.

Goodbye Magic KingdomActually — and, again, I can’t believe I’m saying this — I think it was my favorite vacation ever.

That said, it wasn’t all “magical.” I mean, my knees ached the entire time; I hardly slept all week; I ate way too much red meat; the sun was scorching and merciless; and the crowds were surprisingly large for mid-October. But overall Disney far exceeded my expectations.

Heck, just look at how much I smiled. My official tally for the week, give or take a smile, was right around 1,249. And for a guy who prefers to keep his smiles inside, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Well done, Disney World. Well done. ~

PS: Thank you to Art of Animation Manager John for driving the 20 miles from the resort to the airport to hand-deliver my son’s Elmo backpack, which he had left out in front of the hotel as we were leaving. They’re not paying you guys enough. (Or, maybe they are. I really don’t know. But thanks anyway!)

_____

Copyright © 2014 Valentine J. Brkich

My Disney Adventure: Part III – Animal Magic

Posted by on Oct 29, 2014 in Blog, Fatherhood | 0 comments

Cinderella's CastleDAY 4 — The Magic Kingdom

This was the one I was most excited for. The other parks are great and everything, but when I think of Disney I think of the Magic Kingdom. I mean, Mickey lives there. Enough said.

We started out the day with a FastPass+ for Under the Sea — Journey of the Little Mermaid. Again, this one was just my speed: slow and no spinning. Plus, you get to sit inside a big seashell! What’s not to like?

Next we hit the Haunted Mansion, a Disney World icon. It was so cool and spooky, and just scary enough to make my kids nervous, but not enough to make them cry. Which is really what you want in a haunted house.

Me and The Beast, aka, The Animal

Me and The Beast, aka, The Animal

After that we headed to Enchanted Tales with Belle, an interactive experience where they pick people out of the crowd to help reenact the Beauty and the Beast story. I was chosen to play one of Belle’s guards; The Animal, appropriately, was chosen to play the Beast. Fortunately, other than letting out a fearsome roar, the little guy behaved himself and didn’t get us ejected from the park.

Uncle Rob meeting one of his heroes.

Uncle Rob meeting one of his heroes.

Throughout the day we explored every corner of the Kingdom, hitting old favorites like Thunder Mountain Railroad, the It’s a Small World ride, and even the Hall of Presidents, which is very cool and also somewhat creepy.

For dinner, we met up with everyone at Crystal Palace, where the kids were delighted to meet Tigger, Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore. Meanwhile, outside a raging storm soaked our double stroller, rendering it useless. Coincidentally, we decided to leave the park a little early that day.

Before heading out though, we took the kids into the Emporium on Main Street U.S.A., where Boogieface bought a pair of Minnie hands and The Animal purchased a bucket of little green men from the Toy Story movie. For once were home at a decent hour, which gave the kids a chance to hit the sack early and Daddy a chance to hit the box ‘o wine a little early.

So it was a win-win-win kind of a day.

 

DAY 5 — Animal Kingdom

The closest I'll ever be to Nepal.  And I'm OK with that.

The closest I’ll ever be to Nepal.
And I’m OK with that.

When I heard we were going to Animal Kingdom, I had no idea what to expect. I figured we’d be seeing a lot of exotic creatures, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that one of them would be a Yeti!

Pretty sure this is where we'll be staying next time.

Pretty sure this is where we’ll be staying next time.

As soon as the park opened, we took off for Expedition Everest, one of the park’s premier rides. Off in the distance I could see the majestic peak of Disney’s Mt. Everest eerily cloaked in fog. (Actually, I think it was humidity. How could it be 90 degrees at 9 a.m. in the middle of October?! Only in Florida.)

As we went to get in line, we noticed that there wasn’t any line, and so we ended up going right to the front. I don’t want to give anything away (There was a Yeti!), but let’s just say it was pretty much my favorite roller coaster ever (Did I mention the Yeti!?). So much so that I rode it three times in 20 minutes! Not the smartest idea, considering I get sick on the swings at my local park. I was nauseated for the remainder of the day, but it was worth it. (Yeti.)

Actually, the whole Asia section of the park was so incredibly realistic, I now feel no need to actually visit the continent in person. Thank you, Disney!

Some of the wildlife we saw at dinner.

Some of the wildlife we saw at dinner.

After starting the day with a big dose of adrenaline, we decided to dial things down a bit and take a leisurely ride on the Wildlife Express Train. At the first stop, we asked the engineer if we had to get off or if we could just relax and stay on for the entire loop, which seemed to annoy him for some reason. “Stay on if you want,” he said. “You ain’t gonna see nothin’.” Sounds like somebody’s rode the train one too many times.

Next up we did the Kilimanjaro Safari, which, just like the Asia section, was so realistic I now feel no need to ever visit the African continent. Thanks again, Disney!

Our next stop was DINOSAUR, a raucous, whirlwind of a ride that takes you back in time to find, capture, and bring back a Hadrosaur. When it was over, my son turned to me and said, “That…was…AWESOME!”, followed immediately by, “Let’s not ride it again.”

That evening all sixteen of us gathered at the Animal Kingdom resort’s Sanaa restaurant, where we could view exotic wildlife while we dined on wildlife. (I had the giraffe; tastes like chicken.) However, with eight hungry, tired kids all worked up after four straight days of wall-to-wall Disney, believe me, the real wildlife was inside with us.

Eventually we made it back to the hotel. I’ll let you guess what happened next. (Hint: box o’ wine)

Next up… All things must come to an end.

_____

Copyright © 2014 Valentine J. Brkich