Archive for August, 2010


Sunday, August 29th, 2010

He follows us wherever we go. The hotel, the airport, the amusement parks, historic monuments and even rest stops along the way to our destination. Sometimes he even follows us home. He’s a master of disguise, sometimes showing up as a tree, a flowering bush or just a simple spider plant. And his name is Fern.

It started as a joke. After our second trip to Disneyworld with the girls we had it all figured out. Want to get a picture with a character? Stand in line. Then, after 15 minutes of anticipation, you’ll get to the front of the line only to be told that it’s time for Pluto to take a break and “he’ll be back in 15 minutes”. And so Fern was born.

Now Fern doesn’t quite have all the qualities you’d expect of a mainline character like Mickey Mouse or Cinderella. He doesn’t have his own show, a clothing line or feature stories, but that’s a good thing. Fern also doesn’t have a line and he’s never too tired to pose for a picture. The girls claim it’s just me hiding behind a bush, but then again you can never tell from the pictures – all you see is a bush with two hands extending from either side. Gracie says Fern even has a ring like mine. I argue that it just looks like my ring – after all, he’s probably married too. Maybe her name is Ficus.

After awhile Fern developed quite a fan base. We have pictures of the girls posing with Fern in front of fountains, next to rides and even next to Minney Mouse. After all, everyone has pictures with a stuffed mouse, but how many kids get a picture with a potted yucca plant? And somewhere there’s another family sharing in our distorted tradition because they too have a picture of their kids standing with Fern while Minney Mouse looks on with her hands on her hips.

You’ll be amazed at all the places you can find Fern. He’s especially popular at National Parks, but will occasionally even make an appearance indoors in the lobby of a hotel or at bus stops when we have a little extra time. And although sometimes his hugs come with a little extra sap, he’s never too busy to stop and pose with the girls. I just hope that if we ever travel out west he never takes the form of a cactus – for both the girls’ sake and mine.

Three Months Out

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Three months out – still never enough time. Three months preparation for most is plenty. Even fewer people shop for Christmas three months before the deadline. Still, when it comes to Halloween, three months might as well be tomorrow for Brooke and Gracie.

Today a Halloween costume catalog arrived in the mail. I know because I found Gracie and Brooke wrapped around it at the kitchen table. “How about this one,” Brooke would ask. “Maybe – it ranks as one of my ten favorites,” Gracie would reply. And so it continued with Gracie ultimately selecting her top 20 favorites of a catalog which would follow us around for the next month. I know better than to get involved. The last time I did it cost me money – three costumes to be precise. You see, not only is Gracie indecisive, but Brooke sees no problem with spending hundreds – if not thousands – on a holiday that Hallmark still doesn’t write cards for. (Who knows, maybe they read about Brooke’s obsession with Halloween and decided to fund another wing of the company. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it coming to a local store near us.) From ninja to wizard and Greek goddess to a detective, I have no doubts this will fuel a bonding experience for the girls for the next 90 nights – or at least until they need to decide on a face for their pumpkin.

Brooke’s as guilty as Gracie. After all, she started it. Last year alone we bought three costumes, 9 pumpkins, over $200 on decorations (which looked just like the ones we had the previous year), 4 lbs. of dry ice, 6 bags of candy and had no more than 20 trick-or-treaters. Still, it won’t be long before the nightmares start once again. And by mid September I’ll be awakened no fewer than twice a night by my wife with anxiety over not having enough candy for all the visitors. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. And for the next six or seven times she goes to the store, she will come home each and every time with another bag of candy. Of course, I oblige and fulfill my obligation in the consumption of a bag or two prior to the holiday, but we always have plenty of nut based chocolate bars and smarties left over for the two dozen kids brave enough to hike up the mountainside which is our street.

Today it starts. Three months from now I will breathe a sigh of relief and welcome the lazy Christmas season with open arms, albeit a bit sick from consuming half a bag of Milky Ways. Of course, in our household, the girls refer to Christmas as that holiday after Halloween. And once again, Brooke will set her plans, bring out the costume book and attempt to reconcile her mistakes in the pursuit of a perfect Halloween. But this time she has an accomplice in Gracie, now old enough to obsess right alongside her mother. Can’t wait.

Pop Tarts

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

I hate Pop Tarts. It didn’t used to always be that way. As a kid they were as close to heaven as my palate had ever imagined. Lacking in any nutrients, it was like candy for breakfast. Even as an adult I’d swipe one from the stash that Brooke bought for the girls the shopping trip before, always taking care to eat the second from the wrapper lest my robbery would be discovered. To this day I wonder if they always thought a box only came with four tarts instead of six. No my distaste for Pop Tarts started almost four years ago. I just never knew it until now.

Embarking on our first vacation in three years Brooke bought them for convenience. When cooking in a camper, easily prepared meals take a priority. Without electric, limited refrigeration and hours of driving between destinations they were the one breakfast choice that was instantly ready to eat and didn’t require a spoon. She choose a strawberry one. I took both a cinnamon and strawberry.

With one bite the memories came flooding back. I could tell it was the same for Brooke, just by the look on her face. And without saying a word, we each carefully wrapped the remaining tart in a napkin and threw it away, instead opting for hunger until lunch. You see, four years ago it was again a breakfast of convenience. Somewhere in between IV treatments, steroid mixing and catching the bus to St. Jude, both she and I would stop to grab something for breakfast. Something we could eat with one hand and something to energize us after two hours of sleep. Never would we do this together – balancing work and care for Elena in Memphis we’d never be together except on the weekends, when schedules were lighter and we’d go for waffles at Elena’s request. Still, at the hospital, it was life as we knew it – a life no doubt shared by most parents experiencing the same thing.

Gracie was too young to remember. Brooke and I weren’t about to destroy her sugary paradise either. But for us, it wasn’t about the taste – it was about the memories. Memories of a cancer that took our daughter.

It’s funny how a taste can bring you back. To this day I also hate the smell of isopropyl alcohol, the look of syringes and head pillows, the sound of a blender and the taste of turkey dinner (which makes Thanksgiving harder than it already is – it was also the day after that she was diagnosed). On the other hand I love ice cream. Nutrionally I even think this is an even swap for Pop Tarts. Specifically I like Elena’s Blueberry Pie ice cream from Graeter’s. Sure, it’s named after Elena, but it’s more than that. It’s about why it was created more than for whom it was created. And in the end, every spoonful benefits the research to give children with this deadly form of brain cancer a fighting chance.

Everyone asks if Elena liked blueberries. I try to avoid this question. She really didn’t. She was a vanilla kind of girl. Only after her diagnosis did she branch out and try chocolate and vanilla swirl. Actually the flavor has nothing to do with Elena beyond the name. Instead it was the invention of family friends who participated in The Cure Starts Now auction, intent on naming their creation after her. They liked blueberries, but most of all, they liked pie crust. Somehow I think Elena would have agreed, though, if she ever had the opportunity to taste it.

With ice cream month in full swing, I jokingly tell Brooke I’m going on an ice cream diet. She looks down at my stomach then back at me and shakes her head. I can’t tell if she disapproves or just thinks I’m a lost cause. Then again, she might be right on both. Still, it has to be better than Pop Tarts. Who knows – maybe I’ll even start taking a pint with me in the morning on the way to work. Then again, maybe a cone instead. After all, it would serve all the critical requirements: convenient an