Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Birthday Weekend to Remember

It's Sunday afternoon.  Sleeping Joe and I are at Bongo Java.  Old Cold Play on Spotify - "Parachutes."  Good music to recap J.P.'s 6th birthday weekend.  And a weekend it has been!

Friday night, we had a delightful family birthday dinner at Mafiozza's in 12South.  Present and accounted for were Jane and Jim White, Margaret McCutcheon, "Great," Meemaw and the four of us.  The highlight of dinner for J.P. was making a dough ball, watching it cook in the pizza oven, then eating it.  He loved it.

Next, it was home to eat birthday cupcakes from Gigi's and open presents.  And J.P. is all about the presents.  It's crazy, but between Jude and me, our families and the birthday party yesterday at Bounce U (more on that later), J.P. got enough presents to stock 2 aisles at Toys-R-Us.

Yesterday morning, it was off to Bounce U for J.P.'s birthday party.  Our 3rd consecutive birthday party for him at Bounce U, no less.  We suggested we have his birthday party somewhere else, but J.P. insisted he wanted to return to Bounce U.  It's soooo easy to have his birthday party there, because they do everything.  We just show up, play, eat cake, get presents and write a check.  See?  Easy.  

This morning, Jude, Joe, J.P. and I had a birthday weekend breakfast at Bongo Java, my second home. George, one of our favorites who, in reality, is an artist moonlighting as a barrista, made J.P. a special cup of "warm chocolate" (J.P.'s alternative to hot chocolate).  

After breakfast at Bongo Java, J.P. and I headed over to the Bridgestone Arena to watch the Predators' morning skate, before tonight's home game against the Washington Capitals.  It was a promotional event for members of the Predators' kids' club.  J.P. sat with his face glued to the glass for an hour, as we watched the Predators go through the routine of a game day morning skate.  It was a real treat.  

Mitch Korn (the goaltending coach) and head coach, Barry Trotz, each tossed pucks over the glass to J.P., which was thrilling for him.  Patrick Hornqvist, taking a break during a drill, banged the glass and smiled at J.P. and, later, Roman Josi waved to J.P. with his hockey stick.  You could have knocked J.P. over with a feather.  He was in heaven.  Before we left, he got Nick Spaling's autograph in the Predators' yearbook, which topped off a perfect Sunday morning.

Eric Nystrom #24

Patric Hornqvist #27

Rich Clune #16

Nick Spaling #13

Really, just a great birthday weekend.  It's hard to believe it, but J.P. is 6 years old.  Wow.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

JP at 6

John Patrick, my oldest son, turns 6 tomorrow.  Emotionally, I'm kind of a mess.  I feel happy, sad, nostalgic, proud and very, very blessed to have him in my life. 

It goes without saying that I never knew 6 years could pass by so quickly.  Plus, as Jude noted earlier tonight after the boys were in bed, time is going to continue to speed up.  It sure isn't slowing down anytime soon.

J.P. and I went to the Predators-Sabres game tonight.  4 goals by the Predators in the 1st period, including Shea Weber's 19th of the season had J.P. standing and cheering.  He loves the Predators, which is great, because Jude and I do, too.

One of the big differences, for me, as I watch Joe (at 2) and J.P. (at almost 6) grow up is that every day with J.P. is uncharted territory.  In other words, J.P. has already been as old as Joe is, every day that passes, so I've already seen J.P. at the age Joe is, every day.  Joe is his own guy, for sure, but I'm a little more secure with Joe, having been through everything once already with J.P.  To the contrary, every day with J.P. is a new adventure into uncharted territory.

There's so much I love about J.P. 

His love of music, which is something we share.  Just today, as I drove him to school, I played him a new Drive-by Truckers' song, "Primer Coat."  As he listened to the song for the first time, he did what he always does when he likes a song he hasn't hear before - he got quiet, looked out the window and just listened intently.  When the song was nearing the end, he said, "beginning, please, daddy."  And I played "Primer Coat" again.  On the way home from the Predators' game tonight, he told me it was his favorite song of all time. 

His love of sports, which is something else we share.  As I've mentioned in this space before, right about the time he turned 5, the sports light bulb went off for J.P.  Suddenly, if there was a ball involved, he wanted to watch or play a sport.  Baseball, basketball, soccer, football, hockey, tennis, racquetball, etc.

His kindness.  Several parents at Children's House have remarked to me how kind J.P.'s been to their children, all of whom are younger than J.P. 

Watching him with his brother.  J.P. could not be a better big brother to Joe.  He's so patient, loving and gentle with Joe.  He plays with Joe, teaches him words and comforts him when he's upset.  In the mornings, they watch TV together, "Thomas the Train" or "Daniel Tiger."  It's so sweet to watch them snuggled together in our bed, watching TV.  That, in and of itself, is why Jude and I wanted J.P. to have a sibling.  I hope J.P. and Joe are always that close and I think they will be.

His intelligence.  J.P. is, and always has been, so smart and inquisitive.  His mind is like a sponge, absorbing more and more information every day.  He loves to read, to draw and to talk about what he's learned at school.  Lately, he's talked a lot about different presidents, from George Washington to Ronald Reagan and in between.

It's just so hard to believe. J.P. will be 6 tomorrow.  Kindergarten is just around the corner.  And just yesterday, or so it seems, I clutched him nervously, all bundled up in my arms, and followed a nurse down the hall from the operating room to the nursery.  Careful step after careful step, afraid I might trip and fall at any moment. 

J.P., I love you and I'm proud of you, more so every day.  Someday, when you have a child of your own, you'll understand how much pride I take in watching you grow up every day.  My firstborn son.  My #1 guy.

Happy birthday.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Joe at 2

My baby boy, Joe, turns 2 years old tomorrow.  Officially, he turns 2 in less than 2 hours, although he actually was born 2 years ago tomorrow afternoon.

As I write this, I'm listening to a "Trampled by Turtles" playlist on Spotify, which is appropriate since "the Turtles" are kind of the soundtrack to his life the past year, anyway, at least for me.  I strongly suspect that 20 years from now, in my late 60's, I'll play "Trampled by Turtles" with a glass of wine in hand and tear in my eye, remembering the first 2 years of Joe's life.

It's been one hell of a ride so far.  Not always easy, most of the time fun but always memorable.  Joe's been easier, in some ways, than J.P., but harder in other ways.  Certainly, for Jude and me, we've been more laid back with Joe, having been through everything before with J.P.  However, it's been more challenging for us, dealing with 2 children as opposed to 1.

Joe's been sick more than J.P., mostly because J.P. brings all kinds of germs home from school at Children's House and gives them all to Joe.  When he was 6 months old, we had a terrible 2-3 week stretch with Joe when he had RSV.  Jude and I were up every night with him.  I slept downstairs and we worked in shifts, Jude taking the first half of the night and me the second.  Like yesterday, I can remember strolling Joe around the hall and den downstairs at 3 or 4 a.m., because he would sleep fitfully, sitting up in the stroller.  Damn, that was hard.

I've said many, many times that my favorite age (so far, anyway) with kids is 12 months - 2 years.  It's been a great year for us with Joe.  It's funny, but he does everything a little faster than J.P. did, mostly because he's trying to keep up with his big brother.  Joe walked earlier than J.P.  He talked earlier than J.P.  Like J.P. at that age, Joe is so bright.  First it was words, than complete sentences as he learned to communicate with us in ways we could easily understand.  J.P. has always been able to translate words or phrases Jude and I couldn't decipher, which is pretty cool.

Joe's such a good natured kid, just like J.P. was at that age.  He has his moments, but for the most part he's always laughing and smiling.  He's more aggressive than J.P. was at 2 and less afraid to try new things, which I suspect is pretty common for a second child.  Whatever J.P. does, Joe wants to do.  Whatever J.P. says, Joe say.  I laugh at dinner, when Joe mimics J.P., calling them "Pete and Repeat."  Truly, it's "monkey see, monkey do" with the 2 of them.

I treasure so very, very much the times Joe and I have shared, just the 2 of us, times he won't have any memory of (except when he reads this blog) but that I'll remember for the rest of my life.  The many, many weekend afternoon walks we've taken in the neighborhood while he napped in the stroller.  When it's been cold outside (and this winter, it's been really cold), the many times on Saturday and Sunday afternoons I've driven with him in the neighborhood until he's fallen asleep, then strolled him into Bongo Java and worked and sipped coffee while he slept.  The times he's slept in the stroller on weekend afternoons while I sat at the bar and had a beer or glass of wine at Mafiozza's, Urban Grub, blvd., P.M. or Chago's Cantina.  Just peaceful, beautiful times I've spent with Joe, just hanging out with him while he slept.  Times I'll never, ever forget.

Even more so than J.P. did at 2, Joe absolutely loves to go to church.  We're at St. Patrick Catholic Church every Sunday because it's such a special place to us and such an important part of our lives.  Curiously, we've never had to stay in the "crying room" with Joe, as he's almost always quiet during church and rarely cries of fusses.  It's almost uncanny the way he pays such rapt attention to Father David Perkin and sits contentedly through the homily, just taking everything in.  Future priest?

I'm so blessed, blessed beyond belief to have the 2 sons I have.  Jude is such an amazing mother to the both.  One of the true joys of my life is to watch her interact with J.P. and Joe.  She's such a natural mother and so very good with both of them.

Joe, my baby boy, happy 2nd birthday.  Your dad loves you, pal.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Neyland Stadium

I'm pulling out all the stops to try and convince/persuade/coerce J.P. into becoming a Tennessee Volunteer fan, like me, and deserting the Vanderbilt Commodores.  So far, I've not had much luck. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures, though, as you can see from the photo below.

Jude had a presentation to make in Knoxville last Friday, so we decided to drive up Thursday night, and I would spend the morning with the boys while she was giving her presentation.

One of our stops was at Neyland Stadium where, as luck would have it, a guy working in the "Vol shop" let us into look at the stadium.  Notice J.P. is wearing a Vanderbilt sweatshirt.


J.P., on New Year's Day, wearing his spring baseball cap (Indians) and his Jeffrey Taylor Vanderbilt basketball jersey, while we threw the football in the front yard.

Christmas 2013

It's New Years Day and I'm sitting at PM w/Sleeping Joe by my side, drinking a Czann's Blonde and watching people walk, run and bicycle up and down Belmont Boulevard on what has turned out to be a very pleasant afternoon.  Classic rock-n-roll is playing in the background (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc.) - the songs of my youth, literally.  Now playing is Steve Miller Band's "the Joker," which was on the second album I ever purchased (Steve Miller Band's Greatest Hits).

I'm feeling mellow and a little nostalgic today, as it feels like several parts of my life are coming to a  end.  2013, certainly, is gone.  My favorite time of the year, October 1 - January 1 is over.  The Christmas season is over.  My boys are growing up, too quickly it seems.  J.P. starts school next fall, which officially marks the end of innocence for him.  My weekend afternoon interludes w/Sleeping Joe are almost over.  In all likelihood, we'll move in 2014, leaving behind a house and a neighborhood that has enriched my life beyond belief for the last 11 years.  Hell, I'm 47 years old, so the end of my 40's is staring me right in the face.

All right, enough nostalgia.  On to Christmas 2013.


(One of my favorite Stones' songs of all time is playing now - "Wild Horses."  What a fantastic song. So rich and soulful, like molasses.  Mick Jagger at his finest.)

This was pretty close to a perfect Christmas in our household, given the boys' ages - J.P. (5 1/2) and Joe (22 months).  Joe didn't quite get Santa Claus, but he's close.  Next year will be a big,  big Christmas for him.  

Now, for the highlights of Christmas 2013:

- Elf on the Shelf.  Without question, Elf on the Shelf was the #1 highlight of the Christmas season.  Although he was a little late in arriving (I didn't find him in the basement until December 4 or 5), the boys were absolutely enthralled by his appearance every morning through Christmas Eve.  It was a race to find him every morning until, finally, J.P. would yell at the top of his lungs, "Daddy!  Come look!  I found him!"

- Cheekwood, where the boys sat in Santa's lap and, more importantly, got to watch the trains run on an electric train exhibit set up outside that included, much to Joe's delight, a "Thomas the Train" train.  The look of unbridled joy on Joe's face every time Thomas the Train made his way around the track was priceless.  He couldn't stop smiling. That may well have been my personal favorite highlight of the Christmas season.

- 45th Anniversary dinner w/Jude's folks, Jane and Jim (aka "Jimdad") at "blvd.," one of my haunts on Belmont Boulevard.  The boys were a little wild that night, as boys tend to be, but we had a great meal.  Jude's folks have been such a tremendous help to us this fall and winter.  When our nanny, Carley, missed six weeks or so to deal with an illness, they stepped in and took care of Joe and, in the afternoons, J.P.  It would be impossible to thank them enough for helping us hold down the fort when Carley was out.

- Picking out a Christmas tree at Santa's Trees on 12th Avenue, always a highlight of the Christmas season.  Watching J.P. and Joe run through the "forest" of Christmas trees, laughing, was a delight.

- Christmas morning, of course, was memorable.  J.P. was completely jacked about Santa Claus coming.  Joe isn't quite there, yet, as evidenced by the fact he was more interested in climbing on the futon in the playroom to watch the birds in our backyard than seeing what Santa brought him.  Big hits for J.P. were the iPad mini (hard to believe), bracelet loom form Jane and Jim and the Nerf walkie talkies from James and Megan.

- Attending the Vandy-Ga. Tech basketball game with Russ Allen and his son, Cooper.  J.P. is a diehard Vanderbilt fan, which I have mixed emotions about, for obvious reasons.  I wish he was a Tennessee fan, like me, but I'm glad he loves sports enough to commit himself to one team.  Also, I can't deny the fact that I was a huge Vanderbilt fan as a child, too.  The Vandy-Ga. Tech basketball game was a blast, as the 'Dores rallied to win in the second half.  Afterwards, Russ and I took the boys to dinner at San Antonio Taco Company ("SATCO"), then for ice cream at Ben & Jerry's.  A perfect night with the boys in "Guytown," as I like to call it.

- A night out with James and Megan, while they were in town for Christmas.  We finally got to Patterson House with them, which was awesome.  Dinner at the Southern was only okay, unfortunately.  We really didn't have many options for dinner, as it was a Monday night and most of the happening restaurants were closed or already booked.

- Christmas dinner at my mom's house.  It's so much fun to watch all of the kids playing together.  Almost as soon as we arrived, they headed outside to play football in the backyard.  My sister's children - Kaitlyn and Matthew - are so good with J.P. 

- Watching, in horror, as the long promised renovation project began in earnest at Bongo Java with the demolition of the front deck.  Okay, that's a lowlight, not a highlight and deserving of a post all its own.  Our friends at Bongo Java treated us like family throughout the Christmas season, as they always do.  I dropped off a Christmas card, a couple jars of "Phil's Manly Pickles" a few loaves of pumpkin Jude and J.P. baked. 

It was a nice Christmas.  We're blessed, no doubt.  Now, if I can just get through the next 8 months until October 1 gets here again.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Trampled By Turtles

I love music.  I can't play a lick, but I love to listen to music.  All kinds of music.  I've always been that way and, thankfully, my boys appear to share my love of music.

The first real band - and by "real" band, I mean non-children's music artist or band - J.P. fell for was the Avett Brothers.  I can vividly recall circling around my neighborhood with J.P. riding in the back, as I played "Left on Laura, Left on Lisa" (by the Avett Brothers) over and over again.  Every time the song would end, J.P. said, "play that again, Da-da."  And I did.  I had just discovered the Avett Brothers and I was tickled to death that he loved them as much as I did.  J.P. was almost 2 years old, to the best of my recollection.

Over the next several months, we continued to listen to the Avett Brothers together.  Different songs of theirs caught our ear and became our favorites for a while ("Die, Die, Die," "I and Love and You," etc.).

As time passed, J.P. and I listened to (and continue to listen to) a lot of other music - Neil Young, the Band, the Drive By Truckers, Cowboy Junkies, Emmylou Harris, Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket, to name just a few.  Still, the Avett Brothers have always been "our" band - the band that reminded me the most of him.  I think it will always be that way, even though he doesn't know it.  The Avett Brothers, J.P. and me, driving around Waverly-Belmont and 12South, a snapshot in time in my life.


Joe and I have a different band we love, which is really, really cool - Trampled by Turtles.

That's right, Trampled By Turtles (TBT).  They're a bluegrass influenced band from Duluth, MN (not unlike early Avett Brothers' music).  TBT features the violin, mandolin and, especially, the banjo.  5 piece band, with a guitar and bass, as well.  Occasionally, they throw in a cello for good measure.  I love TBT's versatility and the band members' musicianship.  Every band member can flat out get after it on fast songs, but their slow songs can pierce your heart.  Check this song out ("Wait So Long").

I'm not really sure, at this point, how I stumbled upon Trampled By Turtles, because they're not a new band by any means.  As I recall, I was listening to Spotify at work a few months ago when TBT showed up as a band Spotify thought I might like.  Through the miracle of modern technology, I played their latest album in its entirety - "Stars and Satellites" - and fell stone it love with the band.  It's a cool feeling to hear a band for the first time and immediately realize you're hooked, that you've "discovered" music that just might change your life.

Again, through the miracle of modern technology, I began listening to Trampled By Turtles all the time.  At work I listened through Spotify, on my computer.  When I was walking home from Bongo Java at night after a run, I listened to TBT through Spotify, on my iPhone.  At home, especially when I was eating breakfast with the J.P. and Joe, I listened through Spotify, on my iPhone with my Jawbone (Bluetooth speaker).

Shortly thereafter, Joe (maybe 18 months old) began saying "tuuutles" every morning until I cued TBT up on my iPhone and played them for him.  Right now, I'm smiling, thinking about him sitting in the kitchen, in his high chair eating mini-pancakes and cheerios, listening contentedly to one or another of TBT's songs.  On several occasions at breakfast, J.P. and I played "jug band," a game we invented where we played pretend instruments and sang along with the band.  We used an old fraternity paddle for a guitar, a knife sharpener and mixing spoon for a violin and I actually blew into different sized jugs, all sort of in time to the music.  Generally, when Jude walked into the kitchen, she looked at the three of us like we were nuts, smiled and shook her head.

In mid-October, as we left Gentry Farm in Franklin after a Saturday morning visit to buy pumpkins, I videotaped Joe singing along to his favorite Trampled By Turtles song, "Alone."  The video is so cute it will absolutely break your heart.  Here's a link to the song.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, this fall and winter, I've taken Joe out with me so he could nap in the stroller while I drank coffee at Bongo Java and worked or read or, occasionally, ate a late lunch at Edley's or P.M. and had a beer or a glass of wine.  When it's time to go, no matter what Joe is doing, I say, "Joe, want to go hear some Turtles?"  Without fail, he stops what he is doing, tells Jude and J.P. "bye bye," and we walk out the front door together.  He doesn't fuss, whine or cry.  Off we go.  It's fantastic.

After I buckle him in his car seat and start my truck, I play Trampled By Turtles' "Stars and Satellites."  He talks quietly to himself during the first song - "Late Night on the Interstate," sings along to "Alone," then settles down during "Walt Whitman," the third song on the album.  By the beginning of the fourth song, he's fast asleep.  Every single time.  Amazing!  I stop at our destination, transfer him from the car seat the stroller and we're all set.  It's really a beautiful thing.

I actually went to see Trampled by Turtles play a couple of months ago at Marathon Musicworks, a relatively new music venue in Nashville.  It was the first live show for me in quite a while.  Although I was probably one of the 10 oldest people at the sold out show and my back and hip ached from standing on a concrete floor for 2 1/2 hours, I was really glad I went.  When Joe is older and read this or talks to me about Trampled By Turtles, I want to be able to tell him I saw them play live and to describe what the show was like.

Music does have the power to change your life.  I felt that way about the Avett Brothers and I feel that way about Trampled By Turtles, mostly because I've shared those bands with my boys.  The songs they play will always remind me of J.P. and Joe, of the special, special times we shared together when they were young, even after they're grown, off to college and beyond.  And that's a good thing.