July 31, 2008

Thinking about my family

When you have one child you tell people that you have a kid at home. When you have two children you tell people that you have a family at home. This is a big sea change in my thought process about where my life is right now. Things are pretty good and I am surrounded by loving children and a beautiful wife. I don't want to scare any of you but am I becoming a finished dad?

Here are some pictures from this life changing week. I think the most shocking event—just slightly ahead of the whole crowning head thing—was seeing Annie walk down the hall to meet her little sister in her "Sister for Sale" t-shirt. She looked like a ten year old.

Introducing Matilda Claire

Mommy and Baby together at last

Our new family

Too beautiful not to post


I think she would settle for less

Can you believe how much hair Mattie has?

Thoughts on having a family

When you have one child you tell people that you have a kid at home. When you have two children you tell people that you have a family at home. This is a big sea change in my thought process about where my life is right now. Things are pretty good and I am surrounded by loving children and a beautiful wife. I don't want to scare any of you but am I becoming a finished dad?

Here are some pictures from this life changing week. I think the most schocking thing

July 30, 2008

Two No More!

At about 14 hours old Two has grown into a name:
Matilda Claire Poulas

July 29, 2008

It's Cute!

7lbs. 9 oz.
20 3/4" long
No name yet, mom and Two are doing great.

It's Cute!

Here comes Trixie!

Contractions are four minutes apart. Two seems to be getting closer.

Baby come out!

We seem to be in a holding pattern. Two won't come out until she has a name. How about Trixie?

4 real 4 real

6 cm dilated and going to the hospital (had to stop for slurpees on the way).
Um, yeah. We are now timing contractions. We induced last time, so this whole natural labor thing is new to us. Hope this isn't a false alarm, but if any of you have a name idea it may be time to submit them. My sister in law Dani will be posting for me today via text message.


A little bit of cramping since 5 A.M. Hmmmm.

July 28, 2008

Wait, did you say 40?

Ask you average person, hell, your average pregnant person, how long women are pregnant for and they will tell you nine months. Movie titles are based on this and the whole world seems to trust this number. It's like the 52 week year, or the 162 game season. So tell me again how it is that my wife is now 40 weeks pregnant?

Her belly is larger than I would have ever thought possible and you can literally see the baby's head sitting on top of her pelvis...waiting to take the plunge. Every day now we assume that we will witness the birth of "two" and every day we go to bed disappointed or happy, depending on whose camp you are in. I can't wait to meet her, but each day she doesn't arrive is another full night of sleep. My wife on the other hand just wants her out, out, out.

We keep putting ourselves in situations that we can look back on and say, "wow, that was stupid" when we tell the story of "two's" birth day. Today, Dani and I played tennis for two hours leaving Kristen alone. Yesterday we drove out to the Poconos (about an hour and a half drive) just to have lunch, let Annie eat her first handfulls of sand, and turn around to come back again. On Saturday my mother in law and I went out for a walk with our dogs and forogt to take our cell phones with us. All this, so that we can force my wife in to labor by being toally unprepared and irresponsible. Pretty smart, no? I think tonight we are going to drive down to Washington, DC to see some friends.

July 24, 2008

Two Centimeters and Counting

If you refer back, Annie’s Day began with two medium regulars and a dose of Pitocin. My wife and I woke up on a Thursday morning, calm and happy, because we knew what lay ahead of us, immediately anyway. We are a little more than a year removed from an eight hour stretch of joy and pain that changed my life forever and yet here I am again, in the same house with the same worries, waiting.

This time though, our anticipation has no timeline. We sit here every night and watch my wife’s belly roll and we laugh at how “Two” tries to punch and kick her way out. We go to bed flat on our backs, staring at the ceiling, wondering what life will be like tomorrow. While I follow the whir of the ceiling fan, I look back with true dread on the days of last fall when I had my own personal wake up call every three hours. Am I really about to do that again?

June 28, 2007 kicked off the best year of my life; a year in which I learned more about myself than any other. For the first time ever, I woke up every day looking forward instead of back. I finally had a purpose, and I was finally good, no great, at a job. In the past I could fake it well enough, and due to a solid work ethic, accomplish what needed to be done. But underneath I always knew the limitations that were set by my lack of joy in what I was doing. AT&T (22-25) was a train wreck. ADP (25), even worse. JCrew (26-31) went well for me and I was well respected, but deep in the back of my mind I knew that the boredom would surface sooner rather than later.

Yet here I was, 13 months ago, being handed a new life by an accomplished woman and a society whose rules are changing. Sure, there are plenty of men who look at my life and consider me less manly than they are, but for the first time my brain and my heart are comfortable. Without the drive of my wife, none of his would have ever happened and, chances are, I would still be miserable and anxious.

Much of my stress free life is due to the joy of spending so much time with a person as beautiful as Annie and the sense of accomplishment and pride that I get each time she learns something new or touches someone else (read: Trish) the way she touches me. Whatever it was that caused the anxiety in my life—I think it was knowing that I never tried to work at something I loved—is gone now that I write every day.

So here we are, two centimeters and counting, and the script of my life will be flipped again. Perfection will be gone and be replaced with, well, something less than that. I am afraid to return to older posts and read about how miserable I was in the beginning. I prefer to think of the second half of Annie’s first year, when the rewards of our labor began shining through. There is a bright side. I have always said that I write better when sad, so this space (whenever I can get to it) should improve dramatically.

July 23, 2008

Home is where the heat is.

It's a rainy day here in New Jersey. The air is heavy and conjures thoughts of Louisiana and what, for now, still feels like home. I think that Annie has adjusted easier than I have. We have been here for over a week now and I am just beginning to settle in to my (our) new routine.

I'll lay it out for you. In Shreveport I was the boss. Between raising Annie, and cooking, and cleaning, there wasn't much that I didn't have a say in. Unfortunately it seems that I enjoyed this role a little too much, because here at Grandma and Grandpa's there are now many bosses, many opinions, and theoretically many chances for me to relax. I don't seem to do such a good job of this. Even when I am in the same room as Annie and someone else is in charge I feel like I have to constantly watch her. It's funny, with strangers I don't tend to hover, but around my family I do.

The best example I can give you of how crazy I am is that I am obsessed with making sure that everyone (7 people at last count) closes their doors in the proper manner (twist the knob, pull the door gently closed, release the knob, dammit) thus allowing Annie to reach her full sleep potential.

In the spirit of self improvement that has been the hallmark of my new life as a stay at home dad, this is what I have to work on next. It's time to let go and trust the other members of my new extended family. I have to trust that they also have Annie's best interests in mind. They do right?

Oh, check this out from Wordle. It's an interesting way to aggregate copy from an RSS feed, in this case Unfinished Dad.

And last week Greg from Daddytypes posted the Sesame Street version of Feist's 1234. I wanted to link to it then, but time seems to be slipping. The video is definitely worth seeing if you love Sesame Street or Feist or your children. I think that must cover most everybody, no?

July 22, 2008

Traveling With Bob, Day Three

Okay, so day three of Traveling With Bob has taken me a while to write. When you add my propensity for procrastination and a new house full of people to distract me, it is easy for me to take a few days off from writing. That being said, I will try and sum up the memory of my last day on the road with my dad. It was the longest of the three and one of the few times in my life that I have ever been truly pissed at him.

We left Cincinatti at 8:30 in good spirits, having just spent the night with family. We were treated to a pancake breakfast and some fresh coffee, and we hit the road with our very own map of town, compliments of Uncle Gary. It seems that map loving runs in my wife’s family. We all pored over the best route to take out of town while we scarfed down breakfast. Our first mini-goal for the day would be Columbus. It should be noted here that the population of Columbus is a shade over 73,000 people and that all three VanHart children attended school there at The Ohio State University. On the family’s many trips to Columbus, they always traveled on Routes 71 and 70.

We were told the trip would take us just over an hour and a half, covering about 100 miles. It being a Monday morning and our leaving a metropolis (of sorts) traffic was not an issue. Yet when we were about 20 miles outside of Cincinnati my father opened the map for the first time during the trip. I should say, opened and understood the map for the first time during the trip. No, I should say, opened and thought he understood the map for the first time during the trip. He confidently told me that there was a way around Columbus that would save us “at least a half hour.”

I questioned him, though half heartedly, about this choice, but finally relented after a somewhat reasoned dissertation on miles and the, get this, amount of trucks that drive in and out of Columbus. As I was agreeing I knew he was wrong. Why did I go along? I was taking advice from a man who hadn’t traveled in years and who spent the previous two days telling me he couldn’t figure out my map—it is laid out sequentially rather than confining each state to a single page no matter its size. I went along because he is my father and he knows that the good old days of blind trust are over. I went along because he used to work in the steel industry and his truck explanation was at least slightly plausible. I also went along because he’s a pain in the ass.

Guess what? I was really right. Route 22 south of Columbus takes nearly the identical path of Routes 71 and 70 and it goes through such thriving cityscapes as Amanda and Zanesville. Timeout. This was where in the story I thought I would rant the most. I had planned on telling the story of our trip to Cooperstown, NY when my brother and I were younger. When I held the map in my teenage hands and confidently mapped out a shortcut home using all small, direct roads. My dad knowingly went along, and hours upon hours later, when we walked through the door exhausted, a lesson had been learned. Two actually: that shortcuts are always longer in the end, and that they are the only way to actually see the country you are traveling through. I have lost some of my zeal over the past few days, so instead of elaborating, I will show you the map of our route and tell you that it took us over two and half hours to cover the ground that on the highway was slightly less than one and a half.

By the time we got back on the highway it was 2:30 and we were both tired, frustrated and, at least for me, incredibly bitter. Part of this was my fault, having underestimated how much I would miss my baby and super pregnant wife, part if this was my Dad’s fault suggesting his crackpot shortcut, and yet another part was my inability to tell me dad exactly how I feel. He and I are different men. Whereas I talk, he, um, doesn’t. Whereas I explore—places, people new ideas—he stopped doing that long ago. Whereas I discuss what I’m feeling, he is bottled up tight with a snug fitting cork on his emotions. So when I told him over Big Macs how bitter I was for having wasted the morning, he was surprised and maybe a little hurt. Somewhere inside, I’m sure he was thinking about the Cooperstown trip and the joy we got out of those old, scenic roads, despite their windingly slow nature. But there was no pregnant wife then, no baby, no responsibilities. The point was that if I felt those things and it seemed important to tell him, then I should do so, even if this only made one of us feel better.

After my fourth Big Mac of the week, (Honey, the only reason I ate so many is that having not flown in 30 years, my Dad’s ears still hadn’t popped five days later. This caused myriad problems during the trip, not the least of which was my having to repeat half the things I said, but also caused him—out of embarrassment—to not ask the girl at McDonalds to repeat herself when he couldn’t hear her. So when she asked him if he wanted two #1’s, and two Big Macs, and a twenty piece chicken McNugget, and two large Coke’s and—Jesus Christ—three large fries, he just nodded his head deafly and paid. It was only when he got to the car that he questioned the sheer weight of the sacks he lumbered out of the restaurant with and the $25 tab) I let the old man have a turn behind the wheel. His job was to get us to Pennsylvania.

Amazingly, we did this with no hiccups and soon I was back behind the wheel cruising towards Harrisburg and home. Things in the car had calmed down thanks to full bellies and my breaking of the 8 mile per hour rule. Also, in my head I had decided that no matter what, we were getting home that night. If all continued to go well, we would be home by ten. And you know what, it did. We blitzed Harrisburg and Hazleton, soon coming to the familiar ground of the Poconos and Route 80.

Sure, along the way my Dad tried out a few more shortcuts on me. Some potential winners (taking Route 81 up to 84 and coming in the “back way” to New Jersey) and some out and out fucking bombs (taking Route 76 all the way to the Northeast Extension of Route 476 and then heading north—a move that would have cost us 40 miles). Maturely, I ignored all of his suggestions and stuck to the basics. I had a baby to see, not the Amish countryside.

Despite all of his antics and our good natured ribbing of each other, we made it to his house by 9 P.M. and I was in the door of mine by 10. I stomped my feet a little to loudly, by accident of course, and woke up Annie, thus having to go to her new room and settle her down. As I held her in my arms and she looked up at my brimming eyes as if I were a stranger, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before my grace period of perfection would be up. It took over 30 years for my father’s to run its course, but I was blindingly devoted and a little sheltered. I hope that by raising Annie to question her surroundings she will discover my fallibility a little sooner and save me the embarrassment of the two of us being fully aware of it when it passes.

July 18, 2008

Grandma and Grandpa

Let's take a little break today from the Traveling With Bob series and post some pictures of the reason we are all here. Annie's second, first birthday party is tomorrow, so things are a little too busy for a long post.

Yesterday Annie got to spend some much needed time with my parents. They haven't seen her since Christmas and she hasn't had a chance to explore their yard full of ponds, fish, rocks, plants, and seemingly edible mulch. Needless to say, everyone had a blast.

July 17, 2008

Traveling With Bob, Day Two

Day Two: Crossing off two things from my list and The Dad Show explained

Before we left for our cross country road trip I told you that my father isn’t much for talking. During the meat of our trip there were whole stretches in which we would go an hour or two and the only sounds came from the stereo, the humming tires on the road, or the dog. This was never awkward, but I found myself thinking of ways to get the old man to open up. Unfortunately, before we left I told my family that I would be attempting this and so every time I asked him a question it felt like an interview instead of a conversation.

Despite his near silence for much of the trip, there is one scenario in which my dad becomes positively fucking loquacious. I call this The Dad Show in honor of what my wife calls The Joe Show, because despite our obvious differences, I am very much like my father. He may stay silent for much of the day while I have verbal diarrhea, but once we have a crowd, there pretty much isn’t any stopping us. Take day two for example. We were on the road for 9 hours—much of it silent and determined due to our late start the day before—and yet when we reached our destination my father rubbed his eyes, brushed his wispy hair back with his hands, and—Boom!—he was on.

But back to the beginning. Day two dawned a little cooler in Memphis and I could taste the coming Northeast already. It’s possible that it was just the previous night’s barbecue though, because I forgot my toothbrush in the car the night before. Mmmm. We had a quick bite of cardboard, shaped to look like a muffin, some household cleaner, colored like coffee, and hit the road. It was 9:30. The late start made me a little bitter, but I sometimes have a difficult time taking a backseat to someone else’s needs. By needs I mean that we had to take two quick laps around the hotel to loosen up my dad’s back. How could that make me bitter? Where was my sympathy? Would I relax more as the trip went on?

Our itinerary for the day would take us east through Tennessee on Route 40, then north on 65 through Kentucky, and finally finishing up in Cincinnati after a stint on Route 75. Before we began our trip, my father had one request: to see a civil war battlefield. We have been talking about doing this for years and missed our opportunity to take a drive to Gettysburg when I lived in Washington, DC and on the first day of our trip the plan to see Vicksburg, Mississippi was derailed by our late start. The drive through Tennessee seemed promising in terms of history and we didn’t have that many miles to cover, or so we thought.

We reached our first historic battlefield after just two hours on the road. I happily pulled off the highway to make the short side trip to Shiloh. However, we soon found out that it would be a 130 mile detour on back roads. I looked to my Dad to see if he would give me an out and there were no words forthcoming. It was up to me to make the decision. Having a baby on the way, it was quite easy. Shiloh was out. The detour, sightseeing included—it must be quite a solemn place—would have cost us at least three hours. This would have jeopardized our chances of making Cincinnati that night, and I had two extremely special things to accomplish there. The first was to see my wife’s cousins who I have become close with. The second, well, you’ll have to wait until later for that.

With the brown, somber Shiloh sign in our rearview mirror, we continued on. After an unfortunate stop at a combo A&W/KFC, we were halfway between Nashville and Louisville. I was disappointed that our trip didn’t allow for more sightseeing (Nashville would have been fun), but I did get to cross off my 34th visited state when we made that sad lunch stop in, appropriately, Kentucky. I was now only two states behind my wife, as she has been to California and Florida and I have not. Are you shocked by that sentence? Am I the only person you know who has never been to those states?

Once we reached Louisville, we were only two hours from the end of day two. The hills were getting larger, the traffic thicker, and I could just tell that there was a Dunkin’ Donuts in my near future. Sure, I had consumed three or four or six cups already during the drive, but when it comes to things that fill you with memories of home, exceptions are made.

My surprising knack for identifying areas populated with a Dunkin’ Donuts population proved accurate as within a few miles that beautiful orange and purple sign broke over the horizon like a beacon of hope and sugary, creamy coffee. And yet, I never even mentioned stopping for it. I never even took my foot off the accelerator. You see, my Dad was tired and we were less than an hour from stopping. Coffee—the way I like it—could wait. It had been six months since I last saw a Dunkin’ Donuts, but it was time to put my Dad to bed.

I broke my eight mile per hour rule for the home stretch and we sailed into North Bend, Ohio at 6:30 to the open arms of the VanHart clan. I won’t gush about them, but instead try and describe them in one sentence. The VanHarts are the best combination of zaniness, intelligence, wit and love that I have had the pleasure of encountering. Their three children feel like true siblings and I couldn’t wait to see them. Having said that, it is time to tell you the real reason for our stop in Cincinnati. For the uninitiated—a group that no longer includes me—it’s called Skyline, and it’s chili.

Before we could go out for chili we had dinner with the family and The Dad Show commenced. You know The Dad Show is beginning when I become the subject of as much good natured derision as he can muster and the old New York accent sneaks out as if he were back on the corner with his childhood friends. Soon enough, everyone was laughing at what an idiot I was for passing up on Shiloh because I couldn’t wait to stop at that A&W/KFC, the new hotel we stayed in the previous night was now a dive, the barbecue we ate was terrible, I only drove for one hour that day, I never paid for anything, and all I wanted to do in the car is talk, talk, talk. Believe it or not, this is love.

This went on for about an hour and then it was time. Dad went to bed and we kids went out for Skyline. If you aren’t from Cincinnati, or a lover of Greek food, Skyline may sound a bit strange. It is like no other chili you have tasted. In 1949 a man from Greece settled in the area and opened a restaurant in which he combined the traditions of his homeland with those of his new country. Born from this is a chili that is sweetened with cinnamon and other spices and tastes much like moussaka. If you have had moussaka and liked it, you’re still with me, but here is the best part: it’s served over spaghetti and topped with beans, chopped onions, and a six inch mound of shredded cheddar cheese. I was in a Greek inspired, Midwest Heaven. I stole a menu.

July 15, 2008

Traveling With Bob, Day One

When I secured the last lock on the moving truck we said goodbye to Shreveport. The temperature was 97 and the sweat made our shirts hang from our bodies like weights. We had been cleaning and, sorry, watching other people pack our things for six hours. For the final two, we stood in the sun watching the men tuck the last of our things into four gray, plastic cubes like a giant puzzle of our lives. It was time to set the air conditioning to 4, hit the recycle button, and put some miles between us and the South.

I was happy to have a partner for the coming three days’ drive and even happier that it was my father. It’s funny, over the last 32 years I have lived under his roof for more than 20 of them and never have I spent even one full day alone with him, let alone three. I was looking forward to sharing some quality time and getting to know him again.

When I was younger, I thought his quiet nature and reserved attitude was tough and cool. Now, however, I was faced with 72 hours with just him and an iPod. I had a feeling I would get more out of the iPod. My goal was to get him talking about, well, anything. I didn’t expect him to tell me his life story or to reveal some mystery to me about my family’s origins, but I was hoping that he would unload some of the burden that he carries with him every day.

We didn’t get on the road until 2:45, so day one would be short. Our goal—Memphis. The miles—360. The time—hopefully less than six hours. There was one thing waiting for me there that I had been thinking about for weeks. Some true Memphis barbecue would be the perfect end to our first day on the road. That’s my kind of motivation.

The beginning of the drive through Arkansas rewards you with your first views of rolling hills and, for my dad, the first views of oil derricks in his life. This was just one of a few times on this trip where I realized how old he is getting. I don’t know why seeing those wells made me think of this, perhaps because it made me think of the differences between our views of the world. I love to live in new places and see new things; he loves to be close to home and enjoy the things he has. Now, at 62, he was seeing an oil field for the first time and I found myself wondering what else he hasn’t seen, and whether or not this made him sad.

After a few hours of steady cruising on my part, it was time for my dad to take his first shift. The speed limit in much of the south is 70 miles per hour and I am comfortable breaking that by, don’t laugh, exactly 8 miles per hour. I set the cruise to 78 and assume that I am bending the rules enough to satisfy my need to get where I’m going without getting a ticket. My dad though, is pretty much a speed limit guy and I knew that this was going to wear on me before long.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t considered the implications of our timing until we entered the city limits of Memphis and, unlike in Shreveport, people started driving like they were in a rush. It was dark and our windows were a little dirty, so my dad had some trouble seeing. We were only a few miles from our hotel and I laughed the whole time because my dad wasn’t afraid of not being able to see the street signs or of the lights “blinding” him. He was just pissed that I hadn’t cleaned the windows. My stomach hurt because I knew that we were both at fault—I should have thought about the windows and his 62 year old eyes—and yet we were both yelling at each other as the “city drivers” hurtled past.

Once we were safely in our La Quinta—a hotel my dad was convinced was going to be a dive, because he never heard of it—we asked the clerk at the front desk where we could get some authentic, slow-cooked meat. Fortunately, there was a place nearby that served big ol’ plates of dry rubbed ribs, pulled pork, and catfish. After a few minutes of what I refer to as “The Dad Show,” in which he told two women, in the most exaggerated manner possible, how I almost got him killed by not cleaning the windows of the car, we left for Corky’s. I will elaborate more on “The Dad Show” later in the week, because it relates to something that my wife has always said about me.

Corky’s definitely didn’t disappoint. We went back to our very nice La Quinta with our bellies stuffed full of the best barbecue I have ever tasted, a couple of house-brewed amber beers, and a secret pact. We had been through a long day of packing and driving, and though true to my fears, we didn’t talk much, we had bonded. We bonded over time spent sweating, and working, and the monotony of the road. We bonded over a near accident that we were both too stubborn to admit fault in. And we had bonded over meat. We bonded.

Hello New Jersey

Hello again New Jersey. Hello Dunkin' Donuts. Hello Yankee Games. Hello traffic. Hello Grandmas (there's 9 of them). Hello cool weather. Hello J Crew. Hello Grandpas. Hello mountains higher than 503 feet. Hello higher cost of living. Hello old friends. Hello people who don't like to say hello.

We made it back to NJ last night at 10 p.m. We logged 13 hours of driving our last day. The trip is a long story that I will begin tonight with Day 1 in the three part series "Traveling with Bob."

July 11, 2008

Goodbye Shreveport

Goodbye Shreveport, Louisiana. Goodbye heat. Goodbye Trish. Goodbye two-meat plates with beans and potato salad. Goodbye Bryan. Goodbye parking on any available patch of grass. Goodbye land of SUV's. Goodbye Clyde Fant Parkway. Goodbye James. Goodbye Muffaletta. Goodbye Kings Highway. Goodbye Murchisons. Goodbye Cane's. Goodbye Strawberry Pie. Goodbye bugs, seriously, goodbye. Goodbye Shreveport, Goodbye.

I'll be on the road for three days with my father. He doesn't really like to talk. Yeah, should be a great time. I'm sure the bonding will be abundant. I will be back to you on Monday.

July 9, 2008

Annie's babysitter/Gymboree teacher, Bre, gave us a very thoughtful goodbye gift today. She has been photographing Annie for the last month or so and gave us a CD filled with pictures. She also framed her favorite one and wrapped that up for Annie to open.

I love this gift. However, I do have an issue with something. Her photography is so much more artistic than mine. I must be boring. Anyway, below are some samples.

I'm not sure what we will do when we get back to the Northeast and don't have someone like Bre to not only babysit, but to impart her kindness and joy on our baby when we aren't around. So, get out my list of things I'm going to miss and put Bre on it.

July 8, 2008

Goodbye RW Norton

Aunt Dani and I went to the RW Norton Gallery today for a walk and some photo ops with Annie. If you haven't been, the Norton gardens are the most serene, well kept spot in Shreveport. I have taken Annie to a lot of parks and most of them are lacking the same major ingredient for fun in the South. Trees. When it is 97 and humid a little shade goes a long way. So, get out my list of places I will miss and put the Norton Gallery on it.

July 7, 2008

Saying Goodbye

It is bound to be a busy week here in Shreveport as we are gearing up to leave early Saturday morning. Consequently, I don't think you will get much of the flowing, witty prose that you normally see here. Instead you will get updates, picture and anecdotes. How does that sound?

So far it is shaping up to be a great week for tales of our town. First, my father arrives on Thursday to drive back to New Jersey with me. You should know three things about him. One, that he doesn't own a single pair of shorts. Wait, that's enough. The thought of a native northerner in Shreveport with only his jeans stands on its own, I think.

The second reason this week is poised to be off the chart in the anecdote department is that I have started doing a little tour of Shreveport monuments, both connected with my life here and not. Saturday night I went to the Cub for the first time and met my friend Bryan's (more on him later in the week) drinking team. It was a great night and as Yankees we were quite welcome. However, the highlight was the random 50 year old guy who was grabbing my sister-in-law's butt and trying to explain to us the difference between saying the N word with an A on the end as opposed to an ER.

As I have told you, this town is amazing with regard to its Racism. There seem to be three camps. The non-racist, the outwardly racist (See Uncle Daddy below), and the racists with an explanation, like the guy in the bar with his unique lesson in semantics. Sadly, as a white male I seem to be part of an expected xenophobic fraternity and its members always seem comfortable trying to indoctrinate me.

Speaking of...Bryan and I played golf at another monument to my year, Olde Oaks, and were paired with two Rednecks (their term) named Uncle Daddy and Junior. The specifics of the enlightened conversations that ensued should never be printed anywhere, let alone here. I'll leave it up to you to fill in the blanks.

Oh, here is what is looks like when you combine a baby who loves bananas and playing "So Big."

July 3, 2008

Camp Dani

Our time in Shreveport is coming to an end and over the next week and a half I will reminisce more than many of you will enjoy. Today I sit here thinking about how lucky we have been to have families that love us enough to visit this far away, sweltering city. Technically, it isn’t all that far away and during the winter the weather was superbly mild, but in case anyone in S’port hasn’t noticed, it's not exactly easy to get here.

You can’t even fly directly to New Orleans from here—you have to go to Dallas (West) or Memphis (North) or Houston (Southwest) first—so you definitely can’t book a direct flight to New Jersey. Most of our visitors have connected through Memphis. Sadly, the Newark to Memphis to Shreveport run is cursed. My brother in law Steven spent six hours on the second, supposedly one hour, leg of his trip and then his outbound flight was delayed, then cancelled, then delayed again the next day. When he left us he was 10 pounds lighter from a stomach ailment and about 10 years older from dealing with the wondrous service of Northwest Airlines.

This isn’t a post about Steven though. This is a long overdue post about his big sister Dani, who this week, is on her second tour of duty in The Next Great City. Apparently I have taken her love—of my wife and I, of Annie, of travel—for granted and have never mentioned her willingness to lend a hand in this space.

Naturally, her trip began as most other’s have and she was delayed for four hours before stepping foot on a plane. This time she was held up by sleepy pilots and the fact that said pilots needed to be shuttled from JFK to EWR by plane—a distance of 33 miles. How did they do this exactly? Did they connect though Boston? Or maybe they took a Cessna? I would love to know the answer. Editors Note: A quick Orbitz search reveals that you can do this for as little as $795 and see scenic Pittsburgh on the way. It only takes six hours.

It boils down to this: She, and the rest of our visitors, have put up with a lot to spend a little quality time with Annie. However, we have had plenty of guests who love that crazy little kid to death, and after a few minutes of her equally active imagination and motor skills revert to sitting on the couch while she and I play. Not Dani. She, as I like to say, is in it to win it. I definitely have to be careful to not take advantage of her generosity. I do have three golf dates this week though.

While here, she never hesitates to change a diaper o’ poop, put Annie down, walk Zoe, offer help with dinner, clean up (something that I’m not sure she’s had much experience with), or teach us something new. So far this week I have learned to juggle, defend my positions on Federalism, and enjoyed plenty of new music. It is sort of like being at camp. I hear that tonight there's a bonfire and marshmallow roast planned.

So thank you Dani, you’ll be leaving us soon for the greener pastures of New Zealand and we will all miss your passion, commitment, and ability to bring out the best in all of us. Don't worry, we are already putting the idea in Annie’s head that a big trip is in her future. Maybe she can grow up with a Cajun/Kiwi accent.

July 2, 2008

New Shoes and a Tantrum

It occurred to me today (when Dani told me) that there has never been a picture of Annie crying here. Most of the people that know us think that Annie is some kind of perfectly behaved baby. Little do they know that she sometimes (often) wakes up at night and is good for at least a few (maybe five) tantrums a day. The following pictures are proof. Take note of the new shoes that said tantrum kept me from photographing. Oh, and let's all lament the loss of baby-hood that wearing shoes foretells. I will miss that little barefooted southern belle.

July 1, 2008

The Chicken Dance

Annie received some great gifts at the Louisiana version of her birthday, but none were better or more polarizing than the card from Grandma Jo and Grandpa Bill. If nothing else we know that Annie has classic musical taste and a future as a wedding DJ.