Kwik-E-Mart

Who Needs The Kwik-E-Mart?

I added a couple Simpsons songs to my van kids’ playlist and Johnny has absolutely eaten it up. Sunday alone we listened/sang along to Kwik-E-Mart a dozen times in the car and more times in the house. Johnny has no idea this is a song from The Simpsons and just likes the song for what it is.

But at bedtime it was the funniest. He requested I sing the Kwik-E-Mart song again and I did. Afterwards, Johnny–likely stalling the inevitable bedtime–had many questions about the Kwik-E-Mart that needed answering. Here’s a basic rundown of our conversation.

J: “Daddy, what the Kwik-E-Mart?”

Me: “It’s a store from a TV show.”

J: “Oh. What store?”

Me: “It’s a fictional convenience store on The Simpsons. Apu works there.”

J: “Apu works there?”

Me: “Well, yes. But in that episode he was fired from the Kwik-E-Mart for selling spoiled meat to Homer. That’s why he sang “Who needs the Kwik-E-Mart.” To put it in the past and move on.”

J: “He got on fire?”

Me: “No, no, no… he didn’t start on fire, he got fired. That means to lose your job. Apu lost his job at the Kwik-E-Mart because he did something bad.”

J: “Apu bad?”

Me: “Yes, Apu sold spoiled meat to Homer and he got salmonella poisoning. Homer enlisted the help of the news team to expose Apu and wore a giant cowboy hat with a video camera into the Kwik-E-Mart and they caught him selling an old dirty hot dog with a band-aid on it. So he got fired.”

J: “He–he–he–he get on fire?”

Me: “Well, no, no. Again, this is a different kind of fire. Like he got fired from his job. It is just an expression to say that someone lost their job.”

J: “What he do?”

Me: “Well, in the episode, Homer and Apu have to travel to India to see this all-knowing Kwik-E-Mart guy and they’re allowed to ask him three questions, and Apu plans to ask for his job back, but Homer uses up all three questions on something dumb. So Apu couldn’t get his job back.”

J: “At Kwik-E-Mart?”

Me: “Yep, at Kwik-E-Mart. But Apu eventually did get his job back when he saved James Woods’ life by diving in front of a bullet at the counter during an armed robbery.”

J: “The Count work there?”

Me: “Huh? The Count?”

J: “The Count work there?”

Me: “No. James Woods the actor took over for Apu to study for a film role as a convenience store clerk. He really wanted to get into the role. But then Apu saved James Woods’ life and got his job back.”

J: “At the Kwik-E-Mart?”

Me: “Yes, at the Kwik-E-Mart.”

J: “Oh. Okay.”

And then he laid his head on my shoulder and started to try to go to sleep as we sang “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, daddy’s gonna buy you a mockingbird”. Except Johnny sprung his head up and interrupted and said “no, no, no… Hush little Johnny, daddy gonna buy you a Kwik-E-Mart” and laid his head back down to hear the Kwik-E-Mart version.

Grenouille

For my nearly 6 years at Callaway, a painting of a frog in a tuxedo hung above the urinal in the men’s bathroom. Why this frog? Who knows. It was even more odd in that the frog and its tuxedo were all the same shade of green. The title of this odd painting was “Grenouille” which I learned is French for frog. I counted that I worked at Callaway 1,350 days. If I used the bathroom even twice per day I probably spent about 45 hours of my life staring that frog in the eye. The very sharp male co-worker will also recall how a dead ant was stuck behind the frame for several years!

Nearly a month after leaving Callaway, I decided to give one last farewell to my co-workers by sending them a painting mocking (or honoring?) the urinal frog. It is as close to an exact replica as I could muster in about 40 minutes of work… except I swapped in my own face in place of the frog’s! I mailed it to the company VP and waited impatiently for them to receive it.

Finally Monday I received word that Callaway had the frog in hand and everyone was in hysterics. The painting was hung up in the men’s bathroom, right above Grenouille. Now I shall ne’er be forgotten at Callaway.

Grenouille, the French frog in a tuxedo!

And the Ryan Glanzer frog in a tuxedo…

Weekend Update: Fishing, Tool Shed, Scheduling

This morning Johnny and I woke up early and headed down the road to Brushy Creek, where we tried fishing for the first time in Texas. I bought a cheap rod/reel that came with a filled tackle box strapped to the side and we set off to catch a whopper! Johnny immediately took a bag of those rubbery worms and threw them in the water saying “here fishy fishy!” We spent three hours out there, casting off in various places, but in the end caught nothing but seaweed. It probably didn’t help that there was a boy scout fishing derby going on at the same time. Too many people. Nevertheless we had fun.

After getting home I set out to clean out the backyard tool shed for the first time since we moved here. It was filled with rat feces wall to wall, floor to ceiling. I took every last thing out of that shed and swept it and patched some holes and fixed the floor. Johnny is so eager to help with whatever I’m working on. He was out there carrying some fairly heavy flower pots out, and when that was done he was picking up dirt and carrying it out by hand. He sure is a better helper than I ever was as a kid! We got it all fixed up and

We are finding ourselves in some quandaries here lately with our jobs as it relates to Johnny’s schedule. Now that I have the new job we’re having to get extra creative on how we deal with school closings and such. It was only my third week at PA and I already was forced into asking for time off to be home with Johnny, whose school closed Friday for what was certainly Good Friday but described as a staff enrichment day. It would have been a vacation day at the old job but was not at the new one. In a couple weeks, we’ll be back in the same boat with another very similar school closing on a day we both have to work. This is only going to come up more and more over the years, I’m sure, with two parents working full-time and no obvious person in the area to help out. I mean, we have plenty of great people who can help watch him, but in this instance it would call for getting to our house at 3am, getting him ready for school, and taking him to school. I don’t feel comfortable asking anyone here to do that.

One of the best iphone pics I’ve taken! Johnny in deep thought.

A boy in a sink.

Uh-oh, the Muppet paintings are making a comeback. Here’s Link Hogthrob.

Not one of my better efforts… Robin.

A nice cool-ish morning to go fishing.

Little Fella fishin’.

We found the fishing hot spot. A few kids had some luck catching tiny little bass but we didn’t.

The end result of the tool shed cleaning. Should’ve taken a before pic.

Florida Draft Weekend

Months ago, members of our fantasy baseball league had discussed the idea of one day doing a destination draft where we all meet up for a few days. Things began to come together in January and this week it finally came to fruition. Four members of our league–myself, Walsh, Tim, and Pete, met up in Fort Myers, Florida for three nights. Non-league member Feeney substituted as the fifth man after one of the guys had to back out. The destination was chosen because it’s the location of Twins spring training. Walsh spearheaded the travel plans and we decided to stay at an AirBnb house near the water while taking in a pair of Twins exhibition games.

I flew from Austin to Charlotte to Fort Myers on Thursday, and was greeted by Walsh, who came in a day early for other business, at the airport upon arrival. We met up with Feeney and closed down the bars and crashed at a nearby hotel. Friday morning, after breakfast at Sunny’s, we checked into our AirBnb and were quickly united with Tim and Pete who had flown in from Minneapolis and New York. The day was spent hanging out and catching up before heading to the ballpark for the Twins-Orioles night game.

We all found the first game rather underwhelming. The Orioles sent over a lineup of little known minor leaguers, the scoreboard wasn’t working, and the crowd was full to the brim with low-energy senior citizens not making any noise. It was a real minor league sort of vibe at the park! Also, our fifth-row seats behind the Orioles dugout were shoulder-to-shoulder, making for a rather uncomfy seating experience. Nevertheless, a good time was had.

Saturday after breakfast we took advantage of our house amenities and got some fishing and kayaking in early. After some grilling, the live auction draft had begun. It’s much more fun to do in person with a few of the other managers instead of staring at a computer screen alone! At night we ventured way out to the beach for dinner and a few bars.

Sunday it was already time to check out, but not before a second spring training game. This time it lived up to the hype, with great first-row bar-top seats right behind the Twins bullpen. Lots of space to move around, built-in table, up-close access to the Twins bullpen, and for a while anyway, a competitive game with the well-known major league regulars for both teams. I forgot to apply sunscreen to my face and got BURNED viciously.

All in all, a tremendous trip! It has been such a wild few weeks with all this back-and-forth job drama and solo parenting during Lauren’s travels. This trip’s timing was perfect. It was great to finally have a few days to myself with the guys and not have to feel guilty about anything. I thought ahead, thankfully, and built in a recovery day Monday before I have to start the new job Tuesday.

Waiting to check into the AirBnB house.

Waiting for a ride to the ballpark.

Waiting for some action at the Twins/Orioles game!

Pete and Walsh–fast friends!

My kayaking debut.

Kayaking behind the house.

Draft time… more exciting than it looks!

Walking the pier at Fort Myers Beach.

Beers at the sand bar.

Walsh walks on the beach.

Glen Perkins gets some throws in in the bullpen prior to the Twins/Red Sox game.

Our awesome seats for Sunday’s game.

Walsh and bullpen coach Eddie Guardado

The gang says goodbye before parting ways!

2017 MLB Predictions

As I prepare to depart for Fort Myers, Florida for Twins spring training, here are my 2017 MLB predictions! I’m sure this is boring to most of you, but I’m documenting this for my own amusement!

Last year I was pretty successful, guessing 6 of the 10 playoff teams and correctly predicting the NL MVP and NL home run leader, but incorrectly guessed a Giants-Royals World Series. Nevertheless, it was one of my better showings. I don’t see there being many surprises this year; it all seems pretty cut and dry right now. But again, as usual, I hope I’m wrong!

The Twins are in good position to win 10-15 more games than last year–which isn’t saying much after a 59-103 record in 2016. I like that they finally have a front office that’s embracing some analytics, but I don’t think the payoffs will happen overnight. I still don’t like their lack of a real veteran clubhouse leader, but I give them credit for trying to lure Mike Napoli to Minnesota with a solid offer. What veteran guy like that would want to sign here, if even for a few more bucks? I just don’t see the Twins getting close to .500 this year, though I hope I’m wrong.

AL East W L GB NL East W L GB
Boston 94 68 Washington 99 63
NY Yankees* 87 75 7 NY Mets* 86 76 13
Toronto 86 76 8 Atlanta 78 84 21
Tampa Bay 81 81 13 Miami 74 88 25
Baltimore 74 88 20 Philadelphia 65 97 34
AL Central W L GB NL Central W L GB
Cleveland 103 59 Chicago Cubs 103 59
Detroit 82 80 21 St Louis 83 79 20
Kansas City 79 83 24 Pittsburgh 82 80 21
Minnesota 71 91 32 Milwaukee 73 89 30
Chicago WS 68 94 35 Cincinnati 61 101 42
AL West W L GB NL West W L GB
Texas 91 71 LA Dodgers 100 62
Seattle* 89 73 2 San Francisco* 95 67 5
Houston 85 77 6 Colorado 81 81 19
LA Angels 77 85 8 Arizona 73 89 27
Oakland 69 93 16 San Diego 59 103 41

AL Wild Card: Seattle def. NY Yankees
NL Wild Card: San Francisco def. NY Mets

ALDS: Cleveland def. Seattle, Texas def. Boston
NLDS: 
Chicago Cubs def. San Francisco, LA Dodgers def. Washington

ALCS: Texas def. Cleveland
NLCS: 
LA Dodgers def. Chicago Cubs

World Series: LA Dodgers def. Texas

AL MVP: Josh Donaldson, TOR
NL MVP: Javier Baez, CHC

AL CY: Chris Sale, BOS
NL CY: Clayton Kershaw, LAD

AL MGR: Terry Francona, CLE
NL MGR: Bud Black, COL

AL ROY: Yoan Moncada, CWS
NL ROY: Ozzie Albies, ATL

AL HR Leader: Miguel Sano, MIN, 45
NL HR Leader: Nolan Arenado, COL, 47

AL Batting Champion: Mike Trout, LAA, .343
NL Batting Champion: Adam Eaton, WAS, .350

G-g-g-g-g-ghost!!!

I’m a pretty big sucker for ghost stories or really anything supernatural. As I have said many times before, growing up in that ancient farmhouse, I encountered many unexplainable events (at the time, anyway). One time I woke up in the middle of the night, turned on the nightlight, and at that very moment a baseball rolled off a shelf. Another time I woke up and rolled over and my old console TV turned on with full-blast volume on a static channel.

So naturally I’m TOTALLY buying in to whatever it is that’s going on with Johnny lately.

I wrote recently about how we were getting ready for bed one night and he was being goofy and running around hooting and hollering when all of a sudden he stopped dead in his tracks and stared out into the hallway. He claimed he saw “white Humpty Dumpty”. His eyes were locked in on whatever it was for 10+ seconds. When the saga was over, he got eerily quiet and clingy to me. I tried to get some answers out of him. “What did he look like? Where did he go?” He said it was a boy, but he was very rattled by whatever happened and I dropped it.

And tonight it happened again. We had just finished a video chat with Mama who’s in California for work. We were downstairs this time playing around with a blanket. He was being equally silly, when all of a sudden his eyes fixated on something and he was in his own little world for 15-20 seconds. I looked right where he was looking and there was nothing but a blank wall. “Dat Humpty Dumpty. He want me to go play.” Uh… what?! Since I couldn’t see whatever he saw, I asked where Humpty was. Johnny just kept staring right ahead and said “He right there.” Nope, nothing. Nothing but a wall. No possible way he was seeing a reflection or no way something in the distance was resembling a Humpty Dumpty. “He go now. He go see his Mommy and Daddy.” I again tried to coax some more information out of him while it was fresh in his mind. Johnny went on to say that he saw a boy that was all white, and this time added “he da scary Humpty Dumpty.” And again he became silent and just sat on my lap clutching my arms staring me right in the eyes with a helpless look on his face for a very long time. He never really did perk back up after that. Normally I can easily get him to laugh with some songs or voices but he was very upset by whatever he saw.

So what the hell happened? Is there some logical explanation, like his imagination running wild, him just being overtired, or maybe he just has poor eyesight? Is he just messing with me? I do believe that he is communicating with some sort of kid ghost. I mean I could understand if he mistakenly saw something, but where did this backstory come from? And why does he look so freaked out afterwards? I’m not running to list the house for sale, but… I’d be lying to say it isn’t bothering me!

I asked on our neighborhood’s Facebook page and a shocking number of people within a couple square miles of us claim their houses were/are haunted. One woman claimed she regularly sees clothes hangers spin around at night. Another woman says her aunt who was killed in a fire has visited her multiple times. Another woman said she and her daughter both have seen a green man in a pointy hat and it caused them to move. A man said two girls have visited him many times. There were easily a dozen others, some who messaged me privately to tell their tales. Are all of these people lying or crazy?

So, if it is a ghost–and I do believe that they are real–I hope it’s friendly, at least!

Mom & Dad’s Visit Highlighted By Home Repairs

Mom and Dad visited last week for a few days, but it wasn’t your typical trip where we go show the out-of-towners all the fun Austin sites. After a long day of flights Saturday, we put ’em right to work! Well, technically they offered to help with some projects… just not sure we envisioned our big project would occupy virtually every waking second of daylight for the duration of their stay. Another key to their visit was driving my old Impala back to South Dakota to attempt to sell. I could have just sold it down here, but it’s a hassle to sell vehicles in my spare time, trying to coordinate with people on Craigslist. I’ve done it twice before and both times it sucked.

We’d been wanting to re-do our backyard patio overhang for a while. Some of the ceiling was starting to rot and we were slightly worried it would one day collapse on us. So, we started tearing it apart, and sure enough there were quite a few suspicious looking boards that were rotted. It still was probably pretty safe structurally, so we left the core components in tact and swapped out some of the most egregious looking rotted wood. We also put on a whole new ceiling which involved cutting around all eight skylight windows. New ceiling fans were installed too. After two full days of work, the hardest part was finished. Now, we just need to put up the trim around the outer edges and windows, paint/stain, and install some corbels.

We made sure the Glanzers ate well, however, with meals at/from Jardin Corona, Kerbey Lane, Rudy’s, Tacodeli, and Pourhouse.

When it was time to depart on Tuesday morning, Johnny and I tagged along as far north as Waco so Mom could tour the Magnolia Silos from the TV show Fixer Upper, of which I am not familiar. But it seemed to attract quite the crowds. We had lunch somewhere and then headed back to Austin while Ma and Pa headed north. Last report was the Impala held up on the long drive back to Carpenter.

Thanks for the manual labor and car selling, parents!

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Dinner with Gramps and Gran at Jardin Corona, where the margaritas were flowing like wine.

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Ma and Pa had a few margs too.

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Johnny was a little taken aback when his balloon tiger at Kerbey Lane started to come undone.

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We managed to get a ton of lumber in the Chrysler, but Dad had to unsafely sit in the back end on the wood.

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Ma hard at work hammering away on her vacation from work.

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Grampa takes a timeout to blow bubbles.

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Precision is key when sawing ceiling boards.

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Johnny got into the act with his play tools (and some real tools).

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The current state of the patio is a big improvement! The new fans look great. I want to stain the ceiling but Lauren’s leaning towards a fresh coat of white paint.

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We arrive at the Magnolia Silos in Waco.

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Johnny checks out a Magnolia truck.

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THE SILOS OMG!!!

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One final hearty meal in Waco before sending off the grandparents.

Thanksgiving, Muppet Paintings, Little Helper Tower, Christmas Tree

For the fourth straight year, we spent our Thanksgiving out in the west suburb of Bee Caves with a friend’s family, the Millers. (It kinda struck me as to how weird it was that this was the second time we’d been out to their house for Thanksgiving since the last time we had been to either of our own families’ houses! Well, soon enough.) Thanks again for your hospitality, Millers!

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Johnny pays a final visit to a neighbor’s Thanksgiving display, or “Pumpkin Family” as Johnny likes to call it. We visited it at least once per day for a month. And now it’s a Christmas display that we need to visit.

I finished Johnny’s Muppet Wall over the four-day weekend. I then bought some strips of industrial-strength velcro and adhered the paintings to the wall. I can certainly say doing 25 paintings was not my original intent. I did the first 3 paintings in one night in August and that was going to be it, but 3 turned into 6, and then great aunt Alice said if I could do 6 more, she’d be able to use the picture to make a quilt. But after 12 I kept expanding to include more and more characters. There are dozens of more characters, but no remaining ones are well-known, certainly not to a 2-year-old. The most rewarding part of the project was waiting for Johnny to wake up each morning to show him the new ones. He would see me coming in his room with a canvas and pop up out of bed with a huge smile on his face. And I got 150+ likes on Facebook. I don’t plan to go into business painting more, but I could look into selling prints of the existing ones. Several friends have expressed great interest.

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The paintings, from top left: Statler & Waldorf (in their box seat overlooking the others), Zoot, Scooter, Floyd, Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth, Janice, Animal, Sam the Eagle, Sweetums, Gonzo & Camilla, Fozzie, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, Lew Zealand, Pops, Walter, Beaker, Bunsen, Mahna Mahna, a Snowth, Pepe Prawn, Rizzo Mouse, and Crazy Harry.

With the painting project over, I moved on to Lauren’s longstanding request to build Johnny a “little helper tower” so he can help out with cooking in the kitchen. It’s basically a glorified stool, just with different platform levels and safety railings. The first one I tried from Ana White’s website called for lots of Kreg Jig holes to be drilled into the sides of flimsy 1×2’s which caused them all to split. So I made my own plan using bigger boards and dowel rods and came up with a winner. The platform can be adjusted to be on three different levels, though the top one would be pretty dangerous.

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Johnny puts his Little Helper Tower to use after Baxter was forced to test it.

We also had time to put up the Christmas decorations. Johnny accompanied me to Home Depot on Black Friday where we bought a huge 10-foot artificial tree. I had long lobbied for an artificial tree–use it many times, makes no mess, don’t have to worry about weird city disposal regulations–and this year Lauren finally agreed since we’ll be departing the house a week before Christmas. Johnny spotted a “big tall man in hat” at Home Depot–a gigantic resin nutcracker. It was on sale for just $19.88, marked down from $59.99, so I bought the damn thing. Johnny wanted it to be set upright in the van next to him on the ride home, but it immediately tipped over when I turned and made a loud crash, startling John.

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Johnny refused to pose for the photo until I bribed him with watching a Humpty Dumpty video. He then jumped in and gave me one of his best ever pictures!

Germany Recap & Photo Gallery

I was convinced by Lauren that this September was the best chance we’d have for many years to do a big German trip. It was an eye-opening experience for sure, having never traveled outside North America before! Here’s the detailed recap of our experience.

Monday, September 12/Tuesday, September 13
After a half-day of work, we said our goodbyes to a very sad Johnny and gracious aunt Alice and kicked back in the Austin airport before boarding our British Airways flight to London. The flight, which departed Austin at 6pm, was about 9 hours, 20 minutes long and we didn’t have much leg room. The plan was to sleep most of the way as it was an overnight flight, but I only managed about 2 hours. After passing through 6 time zones, we touched down in London at what was now about 9am local time, and had only a brief time to go through the international screening and find our next plane to Berlin. That was a short flight of just 90 minutes and we had touched down mid-afternoon, having lost another hour to the time zone change.

We cabbed it to our hotel, The Dude, where we checked in and rested up after the exhausting travel. We were greeted with a bottle of wine, courtesy the Glanzers, for our upcoming anniversary. Pretty sneaky of them! It doesn’t seem like sitting still for so many hours should be so tiring, but somehow it is. We wandered briefly around our hotel neighborhood and found a German restaurant called Reinhard’s for dinner. Afterwards we returned to our American-themed hotel bar for a drink and then turned in early.

Wednesday, September 14
Our first real full day of the trip began with breakfast at the hotel restaurant. €16 for some eggs and toast! (a single € was the equivalent to $1.12, as of that date). After that we wandered over to nearby Museum Island, home to five famous museums. We had a difficult time finding out how to enter the museums, but eventually got into the Pergamon, which featured the largest reconstruction of a museum exhibit ever, the Market Gate of Miletus. I got in trouble for touching it… oops! Also in the museum was the Mshatta Facade and Ishtar Gate. Next, we visited the Neues Museum, home to many works including the famous Nefertiti Bust. Lauren and I had to go a bit at our own paces; Lauren preferred to stop and read every placard in its entirety while I was more interested in just doing a quick pass through most halls.

Next we stopped for lunch and a few daytime beers at Jedermann Restaurant where we sat outside on a nice sunny day and enjoyed the famous local delicacy, the curryworst! Next we walked down to Checkpoint Charlie, a famous crossing point of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. We walked around and read a lot more placards and got the history of the checkpoint, and then interacted with some remaining pieces of the Wall. We even posed for photos with the border guards. No one else was doing it, so once we stepped up a large crowd started photographing us. The fun and games were soon over as we walked over to the Topography des Terror, a museum built on the former site of the Gestapo (the Secret State Police). The museum featured indoor and outdoor exhibits telling the history of Nazi Germany and took a couple hours to get through. After a very educational day, we ended with dinner at DasMaisterstuck. I had the spare ribs while Lauren tried a variety of sausages.

Thursday, September 15
It was more Berlin sightseeing as we departed bright and early for the Reichstag Building, a government building that features a popular dome that gives great 360º views of the city. We walked the dome with our audio guides, stopping to look at buildings and sites all the way to the top. Pretty cool! Next we walked over to the famous Brandenberg Gate, which is one of the more well-known structures in Germany, and got a look at the US embassy. We made another stop at the Memorial for Murdered Jews, which was even more depressing than Topography des Terror. It featured an above-ground memorial of 2700 giant rectangular stones you could walk through. Underground it featured some brutal stories of individual Holocaust victims.

For lunch we parked ourselves on the patio of Löwenbräu Restaurant. Löwenbräu is one of the world’s oldest breweries, dating back to the 1300s! So I paid them tribute by drinking a couple liters of beer along with a pork schnitzel. We then hopped on a hop-on-hop-off bus and toured the city. These buses are the most touristy thing a tourist can possibly do, but they are convenient and you do get to see a lot of sites in a short period of time. So we rode around town on the upper open-air deck (my first double decker bus experience!) and made a complete round back to Löwenbräu before making a brief stop at a chocolate factory and then retiring to the room to rest. For our last dinner in Berlin, we chose a tiny neighborhood Italian restaurant called Marechiaro. It was a quaint, cozy establishment and a nice break from all the German food.

Friday, September 16
Friday we departed our hotel and took a cab to Sixt rental car, where we were excited to take our Mercedes-Benz C-Class car down the Autobahn. Well, this car idea… it was a bad idea. First of all, I couldn’t fit behind the wheel so Lauren had to drive. Then we got out onto the roads of Berlin and realized WE DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO DRIVE THIS CAR. It wouldn’t go over 30kph and Lauren was driving this thing down busy city streets in one of the biggest cities in the world, getting honked at. Everything was in different places than an American car, and it was all labeled in German! We had no choice but to pull over and try pulling up a YouTube video. I was literally searching for “how to drive a Mercedes Benz”. Lauren finally found something that told her to push a button that released some sort of speed cap and allowed her to go faster. Once we finally got out of town and onto the Autobahn, Lauren was going fast!! For a while. And then traffic came to a screeching halt. And it never recovered. We inched our way into Nuremberg, hours later than expected.

Nuremberg was to be the stop-off point for the night between Berlin and Munich. It is known for its historic medieval buildings. We stayed right downtown in the fun area in a Radisson hotel for the single night, and immediately set out to explore the city. It really was an amazing city to see in person, though we got in late and didn’t get to do as much exploring as we would have liked. I had read good things about an Irish pub called O’Shea’s, so that’s where we went for dinner and enjoyed some good old burgers while listening to American country music and drinking beer. I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep that night for some reason, lying up in bed tossing and turning until 4. At one point I realized I had forgotten my laptop at the hotel bar and ran down in a panic to retrieve it (thank God someone had turned it in to the front desk).

Saturday, September 17
Lauren and I had the whole day planned out in advance. We would get up really early, eat a hearty breakfast, drive leisurely down to a big yarn store, stop off at a concentration camp in Dachau for some history, and get into Munich to start the next part of our journey…

Except Lauren, who noticed how late I had been up the night before, decided to let me sleep in! How kind, but we didn’t leave the hotel until 11 and then it got very rainy, we got stuck again in horrible Autobahn traffic, and didn’t arrive in Munich until 3. We found the hotel and dropped off our luggage, but returning the rental car was even harder than driving it. We saw the Sixt to return the car to, but there was nowhere to park the car. I had Lauren literally drive up onto the sidewalk while I ran into Sixt to ask someone where the car goes. They gave me a map to a nearby parking garage and we drove the car to the top level. Only there were no attendants, so we had no idea what to do with the car. We parked it and found a single orange box with some German words on it. Unable to decipher the instructions, we had no choice but to walk the keys all the way back to Sixt. Such an ordeal, that car.

We were hungry for lunch and stopped in at Augustiner am Platzl, a giant traditional German beer hall. We enjoyed some sausage plates, sauerkraut and beer while a loud band played festive music. Next we popped into a clothing shop to see about buying some authentic German garb for Oktoberfest. Some very helpful associates fixed us up with perfect fitting outfits for a reasonable price. We wandered around in the rain desperately trying to find our hotel, which proved to be difficult due to the large circular city center and my horrible phone’s lack of battery or internet connection. But, we made it, and that night we went out for a delicious dinner at another classic Bavarian restaurant/beer hall, Der Pschorr, where I enjoyed venison and Lauren enjoyed sauerbraten.

Sunday, September 18
The big day was upon us… Oktoberfest! The authentic, original, best Oktoberfest in the world had just kicked off the day before and we were excited to take it in. We got all dolled up; Lauren in her dirndl and I in my lederhosen. I had been told countless times to get there early if you want a seat in a beer hall, and really, what’s the point of going if I can’t get in one of the giant beer tents? The ten biggest breweries in Munich each have a giant tent with thousands of tables and beer flowing and bands playing and people dancing. It is hard to describe the atmosphere there, but it was a place of merriment for all. Yes, there are other cities that do similar things, but only Munich attracts over 7 million people from all over the world annually to theirs.

Lauren and I did get there early and had prime seats at the Spaten beer tent. Even though we were inside a tent, it did occasionally leak rain and we had to pop open our umbrellas! They only serve a few different beers, and only in 1 liter mugs. I downed my first mug by 9:00, and second before 10. We were alone at our table for a while before a dozen German-speaking folks sat with us and attempted in vain to make conversation. These people ended up being VIPs of some sort and were rubbing elbows with Frau Spaten, the heiress to Spaten brewery! She shook hands with me and Lauren and gave us some free beer coupons. I drank beers 3, 4, and 5 later that morning. Yes, 5 liters of beer in one sitting.

At 1 we got up and left our seats and wandered around the rest of the fair grounds. I was already quite intoxicated by this point. I did things such as pose for pictures with a horse while quoting 30 Rock, and pour a cup of coffee in a shrub. We sat down for more beer outside another beer tent (there were some outdoors spots open due to the rainy weather), when a bus load of 90-year-old square dancers from Florida sat down with us. We actually had a long, friendly chat with an elderly couple while enjoying some chicken and beers #6 and 7. At 4:00, we returned to meet up with our German friends at the Spaten tent again, and things were really picking up. The place was shoulder-to-shoulder, people were now dancing on the tables and benches, and the band was playing American pop songs. Everyone was having such a rollicking good time! I decided then, after beers 8 and 9, to try to make my way onto the stage to take over for the singer and show the crowd of 6,500 how a real American sings. My plan was thwarted though and I was told to leave the stage despite an attempted bribe of €100. Later yet, Lauren met a fellow American and they unbelievably came to realize that the man’s aunt is Penny Steele, who made our wedding cake… small world! I then got up to do something and fell down on my ass in the aisle. I may have had another beer at some point. It was definitely time to go. I don’t recall much about our return to the hotel, but Lauren got us there somehow, she herself impaired though obviously in much better shape than me. We both pretty much collapsed on the bed and slept for 14 HOURS. And most miraculous of all, we weren’t even hung over the next day. An Oktoberfest miracle! I just wish we would have gotten to see what happens at night; we had left long before things would have gotten really rowdy, I’ll bet.

Monday, September 19
We got a late start, to no surprise, and had lunch at a Thai restaurant next door. We spent the chilly, rainy afternoon on another hop-on-hop-off bus, but it certainly didn’t meet the standards of the Berlin bus. The rest of the day was very low-key, and we had our final dinner of the trip at Haxnbauer, where I enjoyed a half knuckle of pork and Lauren opted for the goulash and spaeztle. It was an early night to bed.

Tuesday, September 20
Up at 4. To the airport by 5. On a plane from Munich to London by 7. We then sat at the London airport at a bar for 3 hours. They don’t give you much warning as to what gate the plane will be at. At 10:45 they announced the gate. By the time we arrived to the gate at 11:15 the plane was nearly fully boarded… we actually almost missed boarding despite sitting around for so long! We then sat on the plane for 9 hours, 40 minutes. We sprung for exit row seats, a wise investment, and even moreso because there was an open seat in our row, so we got to sprawl out even more. The plane flew with the curvature of the earth and went over Iceland and Greenland and northern Canada, rather than just straight over the ocean. I watched a bunch of Better Call Saul on the on-flight entertainment. When we made it back to Austin, our bags were among the very last to arrive. But we passed customs and burst through the doors to see Johnny and Alice waiting for us! You could tell it took Johnny a couple seconds to process that he was actually seeing us again after 8 whole days, but he was soon very excited and raced up to hug us. It was good to be back.

Summary
Overall, a really great trip and a lot of interesting experiences! I would highly recommend Germany as a tourist destination, and I think mid-September was a good time to visit. I think we did the right amount of planning–we had a lot of things on a list to do, but didn’t plan out every step of the way and left room to explore. If we were to do it again, I’d definitely take a train between cities and maybe hit up Prague or Zurich or Salzburg. That pretty much goes for any future foreign trip–no rental car unless absolutely necessary! I would probably try to do two days at Oktoberfest but keep things a little more in-check, and I would probably try to learn a little more of the language, though it was barely an issue as almost all Germans seemed to speak a good deal of English.

And back on the home front, we received daily reports from Alice letting us know everything was going just fine. Sounds like those two had lots of fun together and he hardly noticed we were gone. But we sure missed him. Hopefully that’s the longest we’ll be apart until he’s off to college!

2016 NFL Predictions

Before I forget, here are my 2016 NFL predictions. Last year wasn’t very successful, picking only 7 of the 12 playoff teams and thinking the Vikings would beat the Colts in the Super Bowl. The NFL playoff teams seem so predictable right now, especially the AFC. So I hope my predictions are way off and we get that Chargers vs. Vikings Super Bowl!

AFC East NFC East
Patriots 12-4 Cowboys 9-7
Jets 9-7 Eagles 7-9
Bills 7-9 Redskins 7-9
Dolphins 5-11 Giants 6-10
AFC North NFC North
Steelers 13-3 Vikings 11-5
Bengals* 10-6 Packers* 10-6
Ravens 7-9 Lions 4-12
Browns 1-15 Bears 4-12
AFC South NFC South
Texans 10-6 Panthers 12-4
Jaguars 9-7 Buccaneers 8-8
Colts 8-8 Falcons 6-10
Titans 6-10 Saints 4-12
AFC West NFC West
Chiefs 12-4 Cardinals 13-3
Broncos* 11-5 Seahawks* 10-6
Raiders 6-10 Rams 5-11
Chargers 5-11 49ers 2-14

PLAYOFFS

Byes: Steelers (1), Patriots (2), Cardinals (1), Panthers (2)

Wild Card Round: Chiefs def. Bengals, Broncos def. Texans, Vikings def. Seahawks, Cowboys def. Packers
Divisional Round: Steelers def. Broncos, Chiefs def. Patriots, Vikings def. Panthers, Cardinals def. Cowboys
Conference: Chiefs def. Steelers, Cardinals def. Vikings
Super Bowl: Cardinals def. Chiefs

Electric Mayhem, Backyard & Birthday

I went back to the garage Friday night to create some more Muppet magic. I had such a surprisingly good time painting Floyd, Animal and Dr. Teeth a few weeks ago that I decided to do it again and paint the rest of the Electric Mayhem band. I was just sitting out in the garage drinking a couple beers, listening to some good music, had my baseball on MLB.TV with the volume down, and just went to work on Janice, Zoot, and Lips. Several hour later I emerged with these gems. Not to zoot my own horn (ha ha) but Zoot turned out really dang good. Lips looks pretty good too but he sorta looks dead or passed out. But hey, that’s pretty much what he looks like. I have intentions of doing six more of these… Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy, Gonzo, Scooter, and Sweetums. I thought about doing six more after that (Sam the Eagle, Bunsen, Beaker, Rowlf, Camilla, and Rizzo) but Lauren thinks 18 paintings for Johnny’s bedroom could be overkill.

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Janice, Zoot, and Lips. Several months ago I definitely would not have known the names of Zoot and Lips. But I kinda got into the Muppets as much as Johnny lately.

Johnny’s birthday presents just kept rolling in this week! He received cash from great grandma Bell, an awesome ride-on CAT digger from great-aunt alice and great grandma Joyce, a Cubs t-shirt, coloring book, and jean jacket from Lauren’s uncle Dave and aunt Jodi and cousins Brian and Jenna, and a Step2 playhouse from Daddy and Momma. We are fairly overwhelmed by the number of gifts coming in and have decided to put away a bunch of his older toys for a while!

I was able to come close to putting the finishing touches on that playground area. Let’s take a moment and try to remember what that area looked like previously. Not too horrific, but those above-ground planters were of no use to us, and the wood was very rooted. They needed to go.

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The previous back corner of the backyard was inhabited by two rotted above-ground planters. Nice at one time, but no longer very useful.

After ripping those planters out by hand and clearing a ton of dirt, I was able to lay down some mulch. And now…

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My hard labors have paid off… Johnny has a nice play area!

This is the first true self-accomplished home improvement. We had the hardwood floor put in and lots of new appliances installed and rooms painted, but this one I did by hand and worked my ass off doing it. May not seem like that big of a deal but it took 3-4 hours per weekend for 3-4 months!

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WIPEOUT! Johnny gets a little carried away going around the corner on his new Harley trike.

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Momma and Johnny easily fit together into my comically large shirt I ordered on Macy’s for less than $5 just to get my order over $50 in order to save over $20.

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Johnny loves his new CAT digger! Just needs to grow into it. Give it a month or two.

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Ride-on-toy overload. John Deere, CAT, beagle, and Harley Davidson. What’s a boy to choose?

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Typical… Saturday morning driving practice. If this was rural SD I’d totally let him try. But… it’s the 12th largest city in the US, so no.

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I STUPIDLY let Johnny do this to me. Yes he let go and it snapped me in the eyes and it HURT. What was I thinking…

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Johnny, Baxter and Momma all try out the new playhouse we picked up at Toys R Us today. I wanted to go for a bigger playground type thing but this won out!

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Dude loves his new outdoor play area.

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What else are you gonna do sitting in a shopping cart for an hour? Make us laugh!