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Rolling into 2017

2-3-17
Looking back through the blog, you start to see some of the same posts repeating each year, making fun to see how times change. Outside of holidays, birthdays and yearly vacations, there is one recurring post that I always look forward to each year. Realizing I have missed a few weeks to start 2017, there was no way that I could leave out the Car Show post!

If they had blogs 30-some years ago, you probably would have seen my dad posting about taking me to the Car Show. Every year, in the middle of winter, I always looked forward to that trip with my dad into the city to see and explore all of the cars. As I grew older, friends started making the trip with us, but it was always at its core a dad and son event. So of course, when Ben came along, we didn’t waste anytime introducing him to the tradition.

Its been quite a few years since Ben made his first trip to the show in his stroller. This year, he was on a mission to find his favorite car, the Nissan GT-R (shown above). He wasn’t disappointed, as he brought his phone along to snap a number of photos of his sporty favorite.I told Ben if he wanted one, he better keep doing well in school and get a good job, as this particular model had a sticker price of $112,000. Ben informed me that I shouldn’t worry, because two of his favorite YouTube stars each have a GT-R, so it was all part of his plan.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Ben’s curiosity with even the most mundane details of some of the cars. We were checking out a lot of SUVs, and while I was busy sitting in the driver’s seat, Ben was more concerned with figuring out how to open the tailgates so he could see how much storage space was available! He has also never lost his interest in opening every single cubby and hidden storage panel that he could find in each vehicle.

This year, we were also on a mission to find pop pop his Lexus SUV.It may have been those Christmas commercials where someone gets a Lexus with a big red bow as a surprise gift, but Poppop has really been focused on these luxury SUVs as of late. We found them at the show, and Poppop got a good look at his dream ride up close. For fun we even sent a picture to Nana and told her Poppop had made a purchase and was driving home in one. That wouldn’t be as much of a surprise as you think…as every time I have gone car shopping with Poppop, we have driven home in a new car!

But the real fun of the car show for us is the tradition. Without fail, I always get Ben to pose for a picture with a Camaro. And Poppop always finds a display of custom rims to have Ben pose in front of. You will see these same shots back through the previous Auto Show posts on here…all the way back to a few of Ben in his stroller checking out the cars. Between me and my dad, I’m not sure if we have missed a show in the last 35 years or so. But now, we mostly just let Ben lead the way, and enjoy watching him get excited and hear him talk about all of the different cars and features that he discovers.

This year was no different, as the three of us had a great night together, full of lots of memories, new and old.As we piled into my car for the ride home, we talked about our favorites and listened to Ben go on about the GT-R and how he was going to show the kids at school the photos he took on his phone. I couldn’t help thinking about how times have changed, and also how much they have stayed the same… just us guys checking out some cool cars. And then it occurred to me, that next year this annual trip will evolve a little more, as we will have a new little guy joining us for the Car Show. At this time next year, Ben will have a new  little brother to lead around the show…and the tradition continues. But more on that little bit of news next week!

 

A Magical Christmas

12-30-16With all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the rushing around shopping and trying to get things ready, sometimes, you just need a 9-year-old to help bring you back to the real spirit of things. I found myself doing that a lot this Christmas season, as there has just been a lot going on. When things got a little too crazy, all I had to do was check in with Ben on his Christmas countdown, and his excitement and anticipation was contagious. A lot of what we did these past few weeks was to make Christmas special for him, but I don’t think he realizes how special he made Christmas (and this whole yearn really) for us.

As with everything, Ben made the most of his time leading up to Christmas. Of course, his elf SnowWorld was back and up to all kinds of mischief. This year, Ben bought the elf a pet dog, to thank him for all the fun he brings.Among other activities, Ben went to his town’s Christmas celebration on main street, he also went to a nearby historical fort where they recreated “A Soldier’s Christmas”, showing what the holidays were like for those men and women who were in the battlefield.

There was also a trip to see Santa at the mall, and a night spent riding around with Nana and Poppop looking at Christmas lights. Ben did his own Christmas shopping as the special holiday store set up at school, taking great care to pick out gifts for his family members. As always, there was Christmas Eve dinner at our house, and then the annual party with Mommy and friends where Santa stops by to give out a few early presents. With each event, Ben had the countdown to the big day going in his head, even down to the hour as Christmas drew closer.

With all of the fun and excitement, there were several moments shared with Ben that really stood out to me. The first, was Ben, Maggie and I getting to light the advent wreath during church the last Sunday before Christmas. I remember at one point when I was younger being up there with my parents and sister, reading the scripture and lighting the candles. It was especially meaningful to now share that moment with my family, and to hear Ben do such an awesome job with his reading.

Another moment I’ll remember is Christmas Eve dinner, the first at our new house. With the tree lit, and the decorations all around, it felt really special to have our family together in this new space. Ben was all smiles, hanging hi stocking, preparing a plate of cookies and a note for Santa, and saying the prayer before dinner. Earlier in the day, he even accompanied us as we took Maggie’s parents to Catholic mass.

And finally, I think of Ben and his gifts. I don’t mean the ones he received, but the ones he gave out. He definitely did well this Christmas, with some of his favorites being a new phone of his own, a Nintendo 3DS, a mini pool table, a Gigaball, a keyboard, and too many Pokemon to count! But what really sticks in my mind is what happened when he first came over on Christmas morning. He came in the door and gave everyone a big hug, and then turned to find a huge pile of gifts in front of the tree. But instead of tearing into his presents, Ben went right to the pile of gifts that he had bought, and proceeded to hand them out to everyone. Not only that, but he then stood and waited so that he could watch everyone open their present. It really touched me that he was more excited to see people’s reactions to what he got them, then to find out what was in all of those boxes for him.

That moment in a nutshell pretty well sums up the impact that Ben has on our Christmas. You can’t help but smile and feel the spirit when he is going around doing things like that. All the shopping, preparation, the lights, the baking, the late nights wrapping….its all worth it to see the smile on his face and to share this special time of the year with our family. I hope everyone else was able to enjoy this magical time of year.

And with that, another year is soon coming to an end. In the next blog, we’ll recount Ben’s 2016, which was packed with memories and big events. But for now, Ben and all of us wish each of you a happy and healthy new year!

 

23 Days to go

12-2-16So a few things have happened since the last post, Daddy has been slacking on the blogging!

For one thing, there was the little issue of the presidential election. Ben didn’t back any certain candidate, in fact, I think he would have voted ‘none of the above’ if he was able. In fact, the day after the election, Ben’s class was having a discussion, and Ben told everyone that “he would be happy going the next four years with no president!” I’m thinking that he was on to something, as no president might be better than what we got, but this isn’t a political blog, so onto more fun things.

Ben’s travel soccer team wrapped up their season with a couple strong games, and Ben finally broke through with a couple of scores! In fact, in the last game, Ben came out on fire, racking up an assist and a goal in the first half, and earning some high fives from his coach as he ran down the sideline. It was a great end to what was an awesome first season in the travel league for Ben. The change in him has been unbelievable. When he used to complain about having to practice, now he seems to always have a soccer ball at his feet, even working on his footwork up in his bedroom. Next up is a winter indoor league, and before we know it the spring season. And even further off in the future, Ben was asked to play in a beach soccer tournament with the team next summer. We couldn’t be more proud!

We also just celebrated one of Ben’s favorite holidays, Thanksgiving. Ben gets excited because he gets to see a lot of relatives that w don’t get to hang out with throughout the year. This year, he helped Nana make table decorations filled with treats for everyone. He brought magic tricks to entertain everyone before and after dinner, and as always he was pumped up for the annual backyard football game after dinner. He even had a chance to show his cousin Eric some of the soccer moves he has been working on lately. Needless to say, it was a great day with family, and Ben was worn out by the end of the night.

And no sooner was all the turkey gone, then Ben’s focus turns to the Christmas countdown. He reminds us each day how much time is left. And just a few days ago, that crazy elf showed up again, and I’m sure will be up to all sorts of trouble in the coming weeks. Ben doesn’t waste any time, as he already went to see Santa Clause with Nana and Poppop yesterday and made sure to let him know of a few things at the top of his wish list. So let the countdown begin, and if you lose track, just ask Ben and he will tell you exactly how many days are left until his favorite day of the year!

Enter the Snorlax

11-4-16Since the last post, Halloween has come and gone and while no one was really getting tricked, Ben did have a lot of fun treats.

We tend to go all-in for Halloween, and this year was no different. We kicked things off a few weeks back by spending a day on the farm, taking a hayride, picking out our pumpkin, finding our way through the corn maze, and of course getting some apple cider and donuts!

Later hat same night, Ben decided he was ready to see what a haunted hayride was like, so he, Maggie and I took a little drive south to a place that sounded like it offered some family-friendly scares. Make no mistake, this was a real haunted hayride, with people in costume jumping out of nowhere to scare the crap out of you as the tractor pulls you through the dark woods from one set piece to the next. There were creatures, zombies, people with chainsaws… but Ben had a blast! I think we might have been laughing as much as screaming through the whole ride. I was worried that Ben’s imagination might run a little wild, but he had as much fun as us getting scared and watching the other people on the ride react to what was happening. Some of the actors would even give him a high five after they got us really good. Ben says he is ready to step up to something more intense next year, so we’ll see.

While Ben’s mom was hard at work sewing his official costume (more on that in a bit), we were invited to an 80’s Halloween party at my friend’s house. While I went as Prince and Maggie dressed up as an 80’s girl, we outfitted Ben in a red Devo hat and played the “Whip It” video to give him a little background. He loved it, and even suggested bringing along his toy guitar to complete the outfit.

Meanwhile, the finishing touches were being put on Ben’s request for his costume this year: The Snorlax. Snorlax is one of Ben’s favorite Pokemon (you should have seen his face the day he got one in Pokemon Go). So he was beyond excited to dress up as his favorite character. Also, in the spirit of Pokemon, we decided to carve out pumpkin in the likeness of another one of his favorites, Gangar. If all this is sounded like a foreign language to you, don’t worry, you aren’t alone!

With the costume completed, it was time for a sentimental moment this Halloween season: Ben’s last ever school Halloween parade. Since he was in preschool, Ben’s schools have always invited the parents over for an event as the kids would parade around outside in their costume, waving to the crowd that gathered and smiling for photos. I don’t think I have missed a single one. So there were a lot of thoughts crossing my mind as that Snorlax came walking down the sidewalk with his class this year. I don’t know where the time has gone. Next year, instead of a parade, they have a costume dance. Ben’s friend seemed a little concerned when he heard this, but it was funny to hear Ben lean in and assure him “Don’t worry, it’s not that kind of dance!”

Finally, the big night was here, and it was time to go get some candy! Like last year, Ben wanted to make the rounds with his friend Preston, so we headed over his way to fill our candy bags. Seeing the two of them going door to door, laughing and checking how heavy their bags were, it reminded me a lot of goring trick-or-treating with my friend Matt when we were younger. But I swear I remember us moving faster, staying out longer, refilling our bags several times. Maybe my memory is just embellishing things, but I kept coaching Ben and Preston to pick up the pace and keep going. At times I think they were more concerned with what Pokemon I was catching on my phone as we went along. But it was a fun night, Ben had a blast, and I realize that it won’t be long until they don’t even need me following them around out there. So I made sure to enjoy every moment myself.

And for all of us, that was pretty much the theme for this entire Halloween season: enjoy each and every moment. Ben made some great memories together this year. The Snorlax came and went, just like all of the other costumes that I can look back on in the years of photos and posts….the pirate, the ninja, the parrot, iron man, the little skunk. The costumes come and go, the parades may be over, but we’ll always have those memories…and a closet full of kids costumes if any one needs them!

 

Back in the game

10-7-16Thank goodness Ben is off to a better start to the school year than I am at keeping up with this blog! I somehow missed the month of September, and it was definitely a busy month.

Fourth grade is off to a fast start for Ben. He was happy to find that two of his buddies are in his class this year. Ben is jumping right back into all of the math, readying and writing. I think his favorite time of the day is still recess, where he has had some epic 4-square battles on the playground. He is also taking part in a special careers program at school where he has learned that he might like to be a robotics engineer. He even told us he thinks he will go to M.I.T. So apparently the next 15 years are already planned out!

Just this past week, Ben had picture day at school and asked if he could have a shirt and tie to wear for his photo. Mommy was able to pull something together, and that morning Ben spent a lot of time straightening and smoothing out his tie on the way to school for pictures. Along the same line, he has also been picking out polo collared shirts and asking to have his hair gelled and spiked in the front! When I asked him if anyone else wore a shirt and tie for pictured his reply was “No, I was the only one…. and it was AWESOME!” I love that he is starting to have his own little sense of style, and he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about. He even asked us if he could get a suit, “like a dark suit, with a white shirt and a red tie…like a business man!” When I asked him why he wanted a suit, he just replied “For special occasions, like to wear on my birthday or Easter and stuff!”

Ben’s schedule is pretty packed during the week with school and homework, piano lessons and soccer practices two nights a week. His travel soccer season has gotten off to an exciting start, with Ben jumping right into the rotation on the field and playing a little at all of the positions. Its definitely more intense, but he seems to be having a lot of fun out there. So far he says his favorite position is striker, where he can use his speed to run up and down the field. He also seems to have a good eye at finding the open team mate with a well-timed pass. It will be fun to watch how the rest of the season plays out, but already the best part his seeing him run around out there with his name on the back of his jersey (in past years the shirts just had numbers but no names).

With everything else going on, Ben is still finding time for fun. We have spent some time building more crazy things in Minecraft. Ben also likes to get together with his buddy Preston now and then, sometimes for sleepovers. He is still playing Pokemon Go, but in a bit of a surprise the actual Pokemon cards themselves seem to have made a comeback. Ben is again focused on collecting the rare cards, trading with his friends, and has even begun looking up the value of the cards on the internet! He got a big surprise last week when his older cousin Ryan gifted him all of his old Pokemon cards. So I guess this Pokemon thing isn’t going away just yet!

Now we get into a really fun time of the year, with Halloween less than a month away. Then it will be Thanksgiving and Christmas before we know it. Ben will be as busy as ever with soccer and school and whatever else he can get into. I’ll make sure that another month doesn’t go by before we report back on all of the fun!

9-5-16And so ends another summer of Ben. I’m not sure where it all went, as it feels like just yesterday that he was excited to run out of school after finishing third grade. Now, tomorrow is the big day when its back to start fourth grade. I think today and this weekend, Ben has had that “the party’s over” feeling. I think all of us are feeling that a little bit, as its been a week now since we took our end of summer vacation in Ocean City. So before everything just becomes a blur, lets look back at another memorable family trip. You can also click here to see some photos.

This year, we had the upstairs unit where we rent for the first time, so Ben was excited to check out the new space. Ben approved of the view of the ocean, and settled into his own room pretty quickly, even organizing and putting all of his clothes away.After some pizza for dinner, it was time for another event that Ben started a number of years ago: The glowstick parade. When Ben was little, and we rented a beach house with a different layout, we started the glowstick parade as a way to send Ben off to bed. We played some music, all cracked some glowsticks on and marched around with Ben, ending in his bedroom. As he’s gotten older, its evolved a bit, to the point where we now just basically turn all of the lights out and run around scaring the hell out of each other for 5 minutes, ending with Ben giving us all hugs good night. I’m sure through the windows, it probably looks like we are having some sort of rave, but as long as Ben still looks forward to it (and he starts planning months ahead, gathering glowsticks) we still take part.

We cram a lot into a week together at the beach (I could probably write a book here), but a lot of our time is spent on the beach. Ben still likes to dig, and we made some impressive pits and sand mountains with castles on top, but this was the first year that he really seemed to enjoy being in the water more. Ben has basically become a fish since last year, easily maneuvering over and under the big waves on his own, even riding some in, whether on his boogie board or body surfing. Gone are the days when I had to lift him over every wave and keep my head on a swivel to make sure he didn’t get wiped out. I still make sure he isn’t too far from me, but now we can actually relax and have fun out in the waves together (without killing my back).

The rest of our time together plays almost like an old record from past vacation blogs. We have our beach traditions and tend to stick to them. There were several breakfasts out at Uncle Bill’s restaurant, kite flying on the beach before sunset, miniature golf outings, and a nice dinner out together one night. There were also trips up to the boardwalk to go on rides and shop and get snacks. This year, Ben’s favorite stop was a collectible store where you could find old toys, comics and rare Pokemon trading cards. It was fun listening to Ben talk shop about Pokemon with the owner (they might as well have been speaking a different language to me). Before the week was over, Ben had purchased several rare cards and also caught I-don’t-know-how-many Pokemon on my phone!

One tradition that we started in the last few years was our annual morning fishing trip with me, Uncle Richard and Ben. After being shut out our first year, last year Ben made his first catch, so our expectations were high. We woke up early, got some bait and hit our usual spot off the causeway.It didn’t seem like a good sign that we were the only ones out there! Things started slow, losing our bait off the hook without pulling anything in (God bless Uncle Richard for cutting and hooking the live blood worms for Ben!). But then, like any good fishing story, things took an amazing turn: Ben got a bite and reeled one in… then another….and another. Richard couldn’t hook the worms fast enough as Ben ended up pulling in six fish in about a half hour! The bar has been set high for next year!

Being on the beach and all of the other activities are fun traditions that my family has continued since I was younger than Ben’s age, but the best part of these vacations is simply the time we get to spend together. This year, we had amazing weather all week, and it only added to the feeling that time was slowing down and we could escape the hassles of every day life together. I still remember the first time my dad let me take control of his kites on the beach after dinner, and now, I can’t help grinning each time I watch him coach Ben on how to fly them. My mom still takes her miniature golf very seriously, and my sister and her still make a point to play Paddle-O on the beach.

Over the years, new additions to the family have brought new traditions, too. Richard has started the annual fishing trip, and it wouldn’t be a shore trip without Maggie’s lasagna or counting the books that she has read throughout the week on the beach. With Ben came the glowstick parade, and also a continuation of a lot of the beach traditions that I took part in as a kid and growing up. But most of all, I think the beach vacation is about my dad. He is still, and always will be the kite man. He is the first one to head out to the beach and scout out a spot as close as possible to the water (but just out of reach of the high tide), and the last to make his way back to the house to shower off before dinner. Watching him enjoy all of this with his family is what the beach is all about.

For me, I now get that same feeling, sharing all of these memories with my family, my son, my wife. Watching Ben do the same things I once did, realizing how much he is growing and changing from year to year. It’s really priceless, and it all goes by way to fast. Before we know it, we are back home and sucked back into the hustle and bustle of daily life. None of us are getting any younger, and nothing is guaranteed, but there is something comforting about knowing that my family, and Ben, will always have the beach and all of those years of vacation memories together. I have no doubt that one day, ben will appreciate it as much as I do.

Again, this is just a small sample of our time at the beach together, but you can see some photos of our trip here.

 

Big Ben in the Big Apple

8-19-16Hope its been hot enough for everyone! While this heat wave has seemed never-ending at times, Ben hasn’t let him slow down any of his summer fun. Hard to believe that school starts in just a couple of weeks, but it’s not quite time to start writing about that yet. Ben has been busy with soccer practices, tennis and piano lessons, and lots of swimming with Nana and Poppop. In between all of that, two weeks ago, Ben also paid his first visit to New York City!

For Ben’s birthday, his Aunt Devon and Uncle Richard had promised him a trip to NYC, specifically to see the U.S.S. Intrepid air and sea museum, which also included a genuine space shuttle. Since he was little, ben has been fascinated by space, so the thought of seeing a space shuttle in person really had him excited.

So we all got up early on Sunday morning, and caught the train up to the city. As we emerged from the train station, it was fun to watch Ben take in everything. To date, Philadelphia has been the largest city he has seen, so I’m not sure what he was thinking as he looked around at all of the endless people and buildings. We had to walk a little ways to get to the museum, and it was hot! Nothing like being in the middle of a city of millions in a heat wave. But Ben was a trooper, and once the aircraft carrier was in sight, I think our excitement helped us forget about the temperature.

The museum is basically the aircraft carrier Intrepid itself, with several floors of displays and activities inside, and a large number of aircraft and a separate area housing the space shuttle up on its flight deck. We started out inside, and learned all about what it was like to serve on the ship during war-time. Ben took the time to read through a number of displays, and even pointed out some facts to the rest of us. I think his favorite part inside was a room with interactive stations, where you could actually try things and climb into cockpits of jets, or the bunks where the sailors sleep.

After a quick lunch in the galley, we ventured out onto the flight deck to check out the planes and helicopters. Ben especially liked the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane that was at the very end of the ship. We took some photos and wandered about, and then made our way to the back of the ship where the Space Shuttle pavilion was stationed. we welcomed the air condition as we walked in, and then as we turned a corner in the darkened room, Ben’s eyes lit up. There, suspended just a few feet over us was the Spaceshuttle Enterprise. It was a lot bigger than I expected! You could walk all around and underneath it (Uncle Richard even broke the rules a bit to lift Ben up so he could say that he touched a space shuttle!) Everyone was trying to get pictures, so we patiently waited our turn up on a little platform by the nose of the shuttle so that Ben could get his little snapshot with history. Even thought we couldn’t go inside the shuttle, it was still a pretty awesome exhibit, and I think it lived up to Ben’s anticipation.

Back out on the flight desk, we climbed some stairs and made our way up into the control tower of the aircraft carrier, where we got to tour the captain’s room, where they drive the ship, and the deck where the admiral would be. Ben even got to take a turn grabbing hold of the ship’s wheel. It was hard to imagine trying to drive this massive ship, and it was especially funny imagining Ben trying to do it, as he looked so tiny amid all the equipment, levers and instruments!

To cap off the day, we got back onto solid land, and walked several blocks over so that Ben could get a look at Times Square. I know Times Square is always pretty nuts, but for some reason things seemed extra crazy on this day, so Ben got the full experience. There were wall-to-wall people everywhere, street performers dancing, playing instruments, making art. Crowds of people moving in all different directions, cars honking, and flashing billboards all over the place. We pointed out where they drop the New Year’s ball, because Ben wanted to see that. We also made our way to the 3-story M&M store, where Ben marveled at the wall of tubes filled with all of the different M&M flavors that you could buy. As we fought through the crowds to get back to the train station, Ben asked incredulously “Is it always like this!?”

It was a pretty quiet train ride home, as we were all pretty exhausted, but it was definitely an awesome experience for us all. It’s always fun to be there to introduce Ben to something new and see his reaction, especially something on the scale of an aircraft carrier, and even larger, the city of New York itself. At one point when we were outside on the ship, you could just barely see the Statue of Liberty as a spec in the distance, down the river. Ben really wanted a photo with the statue, so we took it, even though you would need to zoom in to see it in the background. At a few points in our walk, he also got a good glimpse of the Empire State Building. I think it will be fun to take him back to see more sites around the city.

But, I think for Ben, the star of the day was the Space Shuttle (maybe because it was air-conditioned in there!). He really seemed impressed, and was glad that he could check that off of his bucket list. He thanked us all for bringing him on our little adventure, and especially his aunt and uncle for such an awesome birthday gift!