Monday, July 17, 2006

Random Thoughts

It's crazy, but I'm reluctant to post again because it will bump my Grandma's obit from the top slot . .

Anyhow, I quit smoking 142 1/2 hours ago . . yes, I'm counting the hours. Heck, I'm lucky I'm not counting the minutes. It's been tough, sure, but overall it's much easier than I anticipated (knock on wood) - so much so that I don't have all that much to say about it.

* * * *

My wife's Grandpa passed away on Saturday night. To an extent it was unexpected, even at 86, because he seemed so sturdy. I'd have given him a fair shot at 100, but early in the week we received word that he had terminal lung cancer. (no, this had nothing to do with me quitting smoking - my Grandpa died of lung cancer 19 years ago too)

Anyhow, in the wake of my Grandma's funeral my wife had bemoaned the fact that she hadn't seen her Grandpa in awhile, and was set to call him and invite him to lunch. Sadly, the call came the very next day - had it been delayed by a single night, she'd have taken him out; instead, he was transfered to a hospice.

On Wednesday she went to see him and he was bright and alert. He delighted in the fact that she remembered he liked his coffee "hot and black, like my women" and that he called deuces 'ducks' in Yahtzee.

By Saturday, when we took the kids to see him, he was unconscious and near death. The girls prayed over him, and he passed away that night.

He'll be missed. In the weeks or months to come I'll try to post some of the transcript  of an interview I did with him years back, concerning his service on Guadacannal and other battlefields of WWII.

Man, what a lousy month so far . . .

* * *
Just because I forgot in a previouos post, on Father's Day the wife and I went down to Chicago overnight and saw Madonna at the United Center. It was a good concert, tho' it was tipped too heavily in favor of her newest album. I'll say this for her - she's much hotter on stage than I imagined based on the ghastly pics of her you see online.

* * * *

The one good thing (?) to come out of my Grandma's death was the re-emergence of my once formidable circle of friends. After a four year absence my cousin/good friend Jon and I reunited. Ditto Erv, my friend since 5th grade.  And only a few days later, at my 3rd annual All-Star game barbeque, friends like Roy and Emo came out to say hello.

It was nice to see them all (and my ever faithful friend Tre).

Here's hoping it wasn't all a temporary reunion.

* * * *

On a baseball rant, kudos to Mariano Rivera on his 400th save, which I watched on TV. I wish A-Rod would relax and start hitting, but the NY press and fans seem to be getting to him, as I heard him commit 3 errors today on XM's broadcast.

Speaking of TV, the local cable company bumped the Disney Channel, which has led to much agony among my little ones . .

* * * *

On a political note, I've followed the worsening situation in the Mid-East with awe and dread. Amazing how quickly a (relatively) minor tragedy has spawned the brink of WWIII . . . .

Here's my solution: return the kidnapped soldiers, quit firing rockets into Israeli towns, and everyone goes home happy.

Somehow I doubt that'll happen.

* * * *

We're finished with TeeBall for this year. Grandma's death led to more missed sessions, and now with YaYa's last remaining Great-Grandparent dying, I'm throwing in the towel.

We'll try again next year, but you know what? With as quickly as this summer is passing, I'll enjoy the extra evenings at home.



Monday, July 10, 2006

Clara Zolinski, 1923-2006


My Grandma passed away on July 4th. I'm sure I'll have more to say on her in the near future, but this is what I wrote the night before the funeral.

On the morning of July 4th I woke up to a phone call from my youngest sister.

"Danny," she said. "Come over. Grandma died"

I don’t try to live up to many macho ideals, but for whatever reason I don’t cry. My wife likes to remind me that the only time she’s seen me shed a tear was when the Yankees lost the World Series. But on the way to my Mom’s house that morning I couldn’t stop the tears. I could barely make out the road in front of my car.

My Grandmother did not raise me – I had a Mom and Dad for that, and I thank them for a job well done. But we lived with my Grandma most of my childhood, and she had a big part in many of my memories.

I remember Grandma making oxygen tanks out of empty bread bags for a little boy obsessed with being a firefighter.

I remember her subscribing to National Geographic because she thought it would help us in school. I don’t think I ever opened a single issue, but even at the time I thought it was sweet.

I remember her obsession with collecting recipes and watching cooking shows; this, despite the fact that she never cooked anything but the same 6 meals in rotation.

I remember her sitting patiently every weeknight, watching Dr. Who with her grandson and pretending to be interested.

I remember her pitching soft toss in the backyard to a baseball obsessed young man who should have known better than to be proud of hitting a 70 year old’s pitching.

I remember how much she loved pork chops, and how happy I was to bring her a plate of them from a restaurant where I worked.

I remember her constant attempts to slip cash into your hand whenever you did her a favor.

I remember when she was the only person, other than my wife, to flat out tell me that I wasn’t living up to my potential when I had a dead end job.

I remember how she never kissed anyone but her husband with her lips, sucking them in even for a kiss on her great-grandson’s cheek – and how that very same woman jokingly announced at a Thanksgiving dinner that her husband had gone bald because he kept bumping his head on their headboard.

I remember how she claimed for decades that she and my Grandpa had never fought.

And I remember how she recanted that stance when counseling me after a fight with my wife, because her grandson was more important to her than an idealistic memory.

In a lot of ways my Grandma was overshadowed by the memories I had of my Grandpa. He died when I was nine, and I remember all of the good times and very few of the bad.

I lived with Grandma for 17 years, and I know her faults every bit as well as I know my own. I like to joke that Grandma was the 2nd greatest arguer our house ever produced – almost as good as me.

But in hindsight, I’m grateful that I know the good with the bad.

My Grandpa gave me an exaggerated ideal to live up to, but my Grandma gave me a greater gift: the chance to see that even the best of people make mistakes, fail, and never reach perfection. She taught me that even our hero’s are made of flesh and blood, and that gave me liberty to forgive my own faults and try again.

For that – and everything else she did for me – I thank her.

And I miss her already.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

MJS Entry

Ok, what follows is a lesson in how NOT to audition for a writing job. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel held their second annual open audition for columnists. Unlike last year, when I did my dangdest and still feel miffed at losing out, I barely paid attention to the contest. My wife and Dad kept encouraging me, but until the last day I didn't even have a word typed out.

And this, my friends, is one of two sorry a** examples of how rusty, unmotivated, and lousy I can write when the mood strikes me.

Like most Milwaukee natives, my opinion on the Parks system is strangely contradictory.

On one hand, I’m proud of the vast expanses of green and timber that help break up the monotony of city life.

More often however, I take the parks and what they mean to the city for granted. To be honest, most days I tune them out as I drive by, almost as if they didn’t exist at all.

Judging by the current state of the parks, as detailed in the recent Journal-Sentinel series on their future, that last part might be dangerously close to reality.

You’d think I’d pay more attention, since almost every memory I have involves a park. I grew up across from Pulaski, saw concerts in Wilson with my grandfather, played in Kosciusko (and like many kids, argued about the pronunciation. To me, it’s Ka Shoe Ko. Sue me.).

I marched in parades at Humboldt, proposed to my wife at Sheridan, take my kids to play at Copernicus and Burnham, used Washington as a landmark daily for a year, and camped at Whitnall.

And yet, other than noting my wife’s complaint that the restrooms at the park were locked last weekend, I didn’t have a clue they were in trouble. If you’d asked me, I’d have told you the biggest crisis facing our park system were the blasted geese and the droppings they left behind.

(note to the reader: once this current crisis is over, we have to talk about the geese. I genuinely hate them. If I was a vegetarian, they’d make me want a steak).

Ponds are full of lime and weeds, windows are broken, pavilions are locked, attractions like the Domes are curbing maintenance, pools are in danger of closing, and the only real publicity of late has been the horrifying shooting at South Shore.

So what to do?

Money. The Journal-Sentinel proposes a quarter of a percent sales tax with revenue to go directly into the park system.

If the parks were new, or looking to expand, I would welcome the tax. It would be well worth it, for myself and the community.

And yet, as columnist Patrick McIlheran points out, only 8% of my county taxes - taxes paid in one of the most heavily taxed cities in one of the most heavily taxed states - goes towards the park system.

As recently as 20 years ago, a full 29% went to the parks.

No doubt social services have eaten part of the missing 21%, as Milwaukee’s population continues to fall victim to the suburbs, and those that remain share more of a burden with less ability to pay.

But I too have to look to the County pension scandals of recent years and wonder if this is a case of shifting priorities - or just shifting the blame.

Would adding to our overwhelming tax burden genuinely help the parks, or help the next round of crooks line their pockets?

If you think I’m paranoid, then you haven’t lived here long enough.

Mayor Barrett has already publicized his belief that any tax increase must do more than help ‘only’ the parks. To my biased ears, that reeks of more than just ‘mission creep’; it says to me that this is just another hackneyed attempt to fuel an oversized, unproductive local government.

It’s one of the few reasons that this life-long Milwaukeean would ever consider leaving the city.

That and, you know, the weather.

And why an add-on to the sales tax? Recently the Common Council spoke of taxing cigarettes to pay for ‘costs’ incurred by the city. It was, to put it mildly, a ridiculous and hypocritical idea, with most of the ‘costs’ sounding suspiciously like poppycock, but if there is going to be a park tax why not make take it from this (or any of a hundred) other tax ideas our politicians spend their career?

If there is to be a sales tax, fine. But prove it to me.

Prove to me that there’s no other way, that union raises, managerial incompetence, and political whitewash play no part in the decay of a once proud institution.

Prove it to me, and I’ll gladly pay the tax.


Long Ramble

So where was I? A lot happened over the fourth of July - good and awful - but I don't feel up to writing about that yet. I'm gonna try to keep this post coherent, but I warn you: it may ramble in places.

After Middle Child's party, the month was pretty hit and miss. School let out (hard to believe YaYa is finished with TWO years of school already) and we made sure she had a week or two to just mosey around before starting any activities.

We had a freak hailstorm - actually, that might have been in May - and got these neat shots.

Awhile back I'd called to get YaYa into TeeBall, only to be told registration was closed and I'd have to register her in person on the first day. So I show up and naturally, the class is full. Nevermind that the lady on the phone said there were 23 openings left when I was turned down. That was not only frustrating but embarrassing - I had to walk YaYa away and explain why she couldn't play with the kids. And I'd splurged and bought her a brand new pink batting helmet too!

So we played on the swingset for a bit, then stopped at a nursery to buy some flowers which I then planted in the backyard.


Parke continues to wreak havoc everywhere he goes. Mind you, he is the happiest, most pleasant, easy to take care of baby in HISTORY, but he does LOOOOVE trouble. While (at this early point) he doesn't appear to be the brightest of the offspring, he seems to have an affinity for anything mechanical. He loves to take things apart, put things in their place, and generally fiddle with things.

This has its downsides: we had to replace our toilet because he jammed a shape-sorter so tightly into it that it couldn't be removed without breaking the toilet and flooding our bathroom . .

He doesn't talk much. 'Dada' is about it. He's a massive eater, downing amounts of food that rival his Daddy - and he's less than a 10th my size. Naturally, unlike his sisters he refuses to eat any vegetables. Basically, he walks; he poops; he smiles; and he eats. :)

 I can sum him up in only a few words: cheerful, with a wide smile he gives freely for any reason, and awesome size. In my words, he's 'a monster' lol . . . his shoulder span and frame hint at a giant full-grown man down the road. Heck, he's already wearing a size 5 diaper, a size his sisters NEVER reached, 'tho I concede that has more to do with his boy-parts making the smaller size leak than anything. What more could a guy ask for in a son? After all, as I've always said, "I bred for size".

 I do feel a slight disconnect with him tho'. Why? A bit of initial awkwardness after raising two baby girls, the fact that I've never been able to gel with a kid until they turn one, and the new(er) job all played a role. So did his aversion to cuddling or being held. I've said that I think all I am is the guy who puts him to bed, because it seems like the only time I hold him is to walk him to the crib. :(  

But, I'm working on changing that, and have made a concerted effort to reconnect with the kids, especially Parker.

Middle Child is just a doll. She continues to be generous and very vocal (her favorite thing lately is to call Mrs. 'Mamacita', and me 'Daddycita'). She is also very mischievous and enjoys taunting her sister, and while still doting on Parker has become annoyed with some of his actions. "Naughty Baby!" she yells, pointing her finger dramatically while scowling and squinting.

YaYa alternates from darling, intelligent angel to spoiled selfish 4 year old in the blink of an eye. Always athletic, she adores her ability on the monkey bars and is always in a state of motion.

Oh, I did eventually get her into a TeeBall program, only instead of Saturday mornings it's Tuesday and Thursday evenings - right at her bedtime. The results were predictable, with her wigging out and asking to go home midway through.

Oh yeah - I also got drafted into being a coach. Normally I'd love it, but it's hard to instruct the kids when your own four year old is lying on the ground yelling "Daddy take me home!"

Other than that . . .hmm...we went to see Cars for their cousin Sam's birthday. I thought the movie was boring, and Middle Child was asking 'is it ova?' ten minutes in. Afterwards we attended a birthday partty for the boy next door, and the girls took nice looking swipes at the pinata. Heck, one guy asked if YaYa was in baseball, she swung so nice.

Cripers, I almost forgot. My mother-in-law retired from the IRS midway through the month and we had a big gala. The mild mannered Grandma even rode a Harley around the parking lot for the occasion!

I'd post pics of it, but no one has sent me any and my own camera was low on power ...

The arrival of my kids out of state cousins for the events let to a week of fun with the extended family, but also caused YaYa to miss the first week of UWM's College for Kids Young Astronaut class.

She did attend the second week on campus, and she really did enjoy it. I attended the creative writing class when I was a kid, but YaYa seems very science oriented. She made crystals, launched a bottle rocket, and learned a lot.

Example: "Daddy, what does I-S-S spell?" she asked me. "Nothing" I said,  "No, it spells International Space Station," she stated proudly.

The first day of her class I had off, and the family and I wasted the two hours perusing my old campus. A lot has changed, and a lot remains the same. We played at the fountain - the same fountain I remember my Dad taking me to when I was in College for Kids - and walked through the 11 acre Downers Wood Preserve.

Neat fact: in the woods is a house made of sticks. "Eeyore's house!," we all declared.

My niece Caitlin also spent a few weeks with us over the course of the month and was a big help with the kids.



Middle Child's 3rd Birthday!

On the 4th of June Middle Child - aka Lu, LuLu, Livvie, Livvie Lu, Liv, Munch, Kewpie Doll, O-Livia, Olivia - celebrated her 3rd Birthday.

It was a family affair conducted at our house with an aquatic theme.

Take careful note of this next pic: Mrs and I spent HOURS trying and retrying a Jell-O recepie for a fishbowl of Jell-O that was SUPPOSED TO look like the real thing, gummy fish and all.

They lied. We wasted X number of Jell-O boxes on two failed attempts, and finally compromised with this lame dessert:

Next to our wedding cake, this was the most expensive cake I've ever bought, ~$47.

Outside, while I barbequed chicken, the kids played on the swing, a Slip and Slide, a wading pool, and an inflatable trampoline.

Inside, because of the heat most of the adults stayed in the vicinity of the kitchen table. We all joined in to sing Happy Birthday.

My girl opened her gifts outside . . .

This is but a smattering of what she got:

Happy Birthday LuLu!

Bleeping May

I thought the month would go well - I really did.

Just a few days prior I'd gone to 7 Mile Fair (a huge outdoor/indoor flea market) with the family and walked away with a huuuuge Barbie house and a pricey toy for Parker for only $11:

and then on the 1st, Parker took HIS FIRST STEPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But, that was just about the last happy moment in the entire month. :(

For starters, on the very day Park took those momentous baby steps, the Mrs. and I got into our worst arguement in YEARS, one that spilled over into much of that first week of May.

Then, the owners of my business returned from their winter sojourn, and my stress at work quadrupled.

Just when both issues seemed resolved, a horrific day: an accident at work that claimed the life of one person and injured another. I will say no more about it, except to note two things: I have lost a lot of faith in the news media, based on the widly innacurate versions (plural) of events that circulated, and two: it is extremely frightening to face a dozen news cameras as they hozer near your face, just creaming themselves for some sensationalistic tidbit . .

So the rest of the month is, basically, just sleepless nights and sad days . .

A few momentary bright spots: YaYa and I marched in a Memorial Day parade (well, I marched, she rode on my shoulders)

and YaYa had her recital. I posted a pic of her in costume once before, but what the heck:

I was never so happy to see June 1st . . .

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Easter 2006

When I last left you, we were touring the candy factory . . .

On Good Friday we followed our ten year old tradition of dyeing Easter Eggs with all the kids in the family.

Here's Parker as he watched the fun:

Then, naturally, came Easter morn . . here's Parkers:

and Middle Child's

and YaYa's

Here's a pic of the girls on their way to dinner with my family:

and what I consider a GORGEOUS shot of my youngest girl:


I was horrified to hear that Pam aka  His1Desire passed away after a relatively brief battle with lung cancer.

When I first started on AOL Journals Pam was the one and only person who answered my emails when I pleaded for help navigating around my blog. Because of her, this site improved dramatically. I'm forever grateful to her, and regret that my discomfort with her illness limited the amount of time I spent on her site near the end.

She is missed.

I'm Back

I know it's been nearly three months since I last posted, but I assure you I have no one to blame but myself. Many a night, when I should have been writing, I wasted away time watching TV or (less often) actually sleeping at night. But rest assured, I missed Slapinions.

Anyhow I have a lot to say, and a lot of pics to load, so bear with me: I'll try to do this in chronological order.

Nice to be back - hope someone is still reading! :)