Friday, May 30, 2014

"Out on the edge . . . " on Martha's Vineyard: PART II

If you haven't already read "'Out on the edge . . . ' on Martha's Vineyard: Part I," now might be a good time to get caught up: click HERE.

Okay, now you can read on.

* * * 

While researching The Single Father’s Guide to Life, Cooking and Baseball and the manuscript for its sequel, Dating, Relationships, Sex and the Single Father, (which is not yet in print), I discovered there are roughly 154,000 widower single fathers (WSF) in the U.S., of which I am one. Assuming there are a few more than 300 million people who call the Nifty Fifty their home, only five one-hundredths of one percent of American citizens are WSFs. Exclusive club, huh?

A WSF typically has full custody of his children, so his days either directly or indirectly revolve around his children. He is almost literally on-duty as a parent every minute of every day of the year. That doesn’t leave much time just for himself. If the WSF works outside of the home and has a professional caregiver for his kids, at least a thread of his energy and attention is still directed toward their safety and well-being. If he’s “lucky” enough to work at a home office or business, then he may be even more directly involved in his children’s lives including anything from organizing playgroups to volunteering in PTA’s.

The latter situation is the one which I’d chose for my family.

* * * 

Even though I brought cereal, I also brought eggs and bacon. So, when I finally woke up after eight o'clock on Saturday morning, I started to cook. It wasn't long before the smell of bacon rousted the sleepier heads. Upon connecting with the savory aroma from the kitchen, the Second Beautiful Daughter boasted to her friend Shannon, "My dad makes the best scrambled eggs."

Inland pond near the west side of Martha's Vineyard

We really took our time getting up and out of the house for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was
John Belushi: "I'm a dancer!"
The Favorite Son's discovery of the existence of Netflix among several other on-demand movie and television services. So, it was probably after Noon when the four of us finally dislodged ourselves, literally, and began to enjoy some of what the island offered. We hopped in the car and drove west on North Road toward the actual center of Chilmark where North, Middle, and South Roads intersect. We stopped a couple times to get cell phone photos of some unique and beautiful views before we serendipitously found ourselves at Lobsterville Beach.

TFS "representing" on Lucy Vincent Beach
We only stayed at Lobsterville Beach for a little while because we weren't sure of the beach access rules. I later learned that beach permits would not be required until May 1, which was still weeks away, we needn't have worried. Still, all but The Favorite Son dipped our toes in the cold Vineyard Sound water.

Beach combers?
After a tour of the island, which involved a stop to pay my respect to my all-time favorite comic actor, John Belushi, a stop at a charming little general store in West Tisbury, a visit to the Stop ‘n’ Shop in Vineyard Haven for snacks, and a nap, I was in the mood for some exercise. (Before anyone gets their panties in a twist about me posing next to Belushi's headstone, he's not interred there. It's not even a headstone; it's a monument. Belushi is actually buried elsewhere to prevent assholes like me from posing next to his headstone). Even though I was moderately familiar with MV’s geography, I didn’t walk far from the house as dusk began to fall. I probably hadn’t trekked two miles down the unpaved road from Lauren’s house to North Road and then down Tabor House Road. Just past the driveway where a crudely painted, non-flowery/non-cute-animal sign read, “SIMON” and a peace sign, I turned back and made a healthy dinner including pan fried chicken breast and brussel sprouts, which were a big hit among my fellow travelers. After dinner, the four of us watched the quasi-classic movie, 48 Hours with Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, some entertaining editorial commentary and witty conversation.
Healthy cooking.

The Second Beautiful Daughter at Lucy Vincent Beach

When the movie ended, all but the fourth grader went to bed. The Favorite Son stayed up to watch, get this, The Walking Dead. Readers of the Favorite Son Saga already know he’s fascinated by what he believes is the inevitable zombie apocalypse.

We were slightly more organized on Sunday morning, although we didn’t rush right of the house. Breakfast for the kids was TOTAL Raisin Bran while I had a couple of soft-boiled eggs. After a call to Lauren to clarify the off-season beach rules and a great long walk that included rectangle including North Road, Tabor House Road, Middle Road through Chilmark, down Menemsha Road and back to North Road, I drove to Lucy Vincent Beach (LVB). LVB is southward facing and has incredible formations consisting of both giant ocean stones and eroded beach bluff. The waves rolling up from the Atlantic Ocean are beautiful. We spent several hours exploring the beach, sometimes together and sometimes by ourselves. The Favorite Son built little formations of sand and wave-worn stones.
Shan-Apps, K-Mats, & me, T-Mats, at Lucy Vincent Beach

When we finally left LVB, I drove to Edgartown, where every home in the delightful little village is painted white with black accents. We wanted to grab a sandwich and ice cream, but the shops wouldn’t be open until the tourist season, so it was back to Vineyard Haven and Stop ‘n’ Shop. In addition to a few healthy things to eat, I bought four boxes of Klondike Bars, which were on-sale two for five dollars. The kids had already cleaned out Lauren’s freezer of the popsicles and ice cream sandwiches, so I thought it would only have been mannerly to restock a little.

By Sunday night, after having enjoyed a great walk, LVB, and a couple of fun days out of my routine with two of my kids, I’d regained some peace of mind. Frankly, I was conflicted about returning to the Hudson Valley. On one hand, the kids were off school for the week for spring break and, for me, there really wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait for another day or two. As I’ve already mentioned, WSF’s are on duty full-time times three, including weekends and no overtime pay. I missed my First Beautiful Daughter and, in spite of the fact she’s a responsible and intelligent nearly seventeen year old, I worried about her. (Of course, she doesn’t want to know that because she’s a young woman, but it is what it is). She’s spent the weekend with trusted friends, but she’d planned to sleep at our house alone that night and I didn’t want that to become a habit. We’d head back on Monday.
Eastward at Lucy Vincent Beach

Good fences make good neighbors
After another good night’s sleep far from the edge at a beautiful contemporary home in woods of Chilmark, Massachusetts on Martha’s Vineyard, I woke up, enjoyed another high-protein breakfast before undertaking my seven-plus mile walk. By the time we showered, packed, clean-up and “turned-off” the house, and reached the ferry, it was early afternoon. Even with a stop at McDonald’s, we beat the greater Boston area traffic by an hour or so and returned to Warwick, New York by early evening, quite a bit more relaxed and a little bit more refreshed than I was three days earlier.

The time wasn’t all mine, but that’s okay. I’ve gotten used to that. It’s the hand I'm playing even if Fate sometimes deals from the bottom of the deck. Besides, it’s nice to see my kids relax and enjoy themselves a little, too. I won’t have this time with them forever, as evidenced by The First Beautiful Daughter’s choice not to join us.  I’ll enjoy it while I can, on the edge, in the middle, and everywhere in between.

Beautiful view of a Chilmark pasture and Atlantic Ocean in the distance from Middle Road

Thank you, Lauren.

* * * 

Lauren has exchanged a career in Corporate America for a career as a successful real estate agent which provides her with more flexibility to be with her family. For information about both homes and other property for sale or rent on Martha's Vineyard or on Cape Cod, please call friend Lauren Dubuc at 774-219-9297 and visit Lauren's page for great listings!

Friday, May 23, 2014

"Out on the edge . . ." on Martha's Vineyard: PART I

Single parenting is tough. Tough. Tough. Tough! (Notice, ladies, that I didn't write, "Single father parenting is tough?") Still, I'm a single father and this is The Single Father's Guide Blog, so take that any way you want to.


As I've already written here, for a single parent whose former partner is no longer in the picture, i.e., the single father who is a widower or a widow, whose partner is physically or emotionally incapacitated, or whose partner is simply non-existent by her own volition, he is on-duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Single parenting can be more than overwhelming.

The "more than overwhelming" category is where I found myself recently. Between the stresses of parenting two teenage daughters in the hormonal throes of staking their independence, a needy nine-year old son, navigating a complex romantic relationship, enduring a remodeling of my kitchen - living without a kitchen, managing finances, planning meals, making sure everyone is where the need to be when they need to be there, and balancing all of that with my own personal needs, well, I recently found myself near the edge. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in his novel Player Piano, "Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center,” I was frankly a little concerned about going over. I really needed a break.

What I appreciate about a good friend is he (or she) is there when you need them. I'm originally from Missouri and, while many of my closest friends still live in the Midwest, I've made a lot of great friends as I and my late wife, Lori, moved around the Northeast with my job. One of those friends was Lauren Dubuc.

View of the Back Yard from the Balcony
I met Lauren when she interviewed for a job at Ferrellgas in Rhode Island. At the time, I was overseeing three locations for the national, Missouri-based distributor of propane and I was trying to find a strong player to strengthen the office team. I offered Lauren a position that she wanted, but for some reason, it took me about a month to convince her to take the job. From there, I knew my relationship with Lauren would be unique. Eventually, Lauren got married and I became friends with her husband Mike and, later, with her parents Gerry and Ed Perry. Mike and I played golf regularly, Lori and I enjoyed a couple of holidays with the at Gerry and Ed's house, and we even made a couple of trips to the house Lauren's family had on Martha's Vineyard.

While Lauren and I spoke a couple of times a year, her life and my life no longer intersected. I hadn't seen her since Lori's wake in 2005. Still, she wasn't terribly surprised to hear from me when I called her early on a Friday afternoon and said, "Lauren, I'm having a really hard time. Can you help?"

After she heard my story, Lauren didn't hesitate. "We took the slip covers off of the furniture last time we were there to have them cleaned, but if you can handle the sheets covering the sofas and chairs in the family room, you can have the house for as long as you want it." By "the house," Lauren meant her house on Martha's Vineyard.

Everyone Names Their Driveway on Martha's Vineyard
The Favorite Son's school had an early dismissal, so while he and I hit baseballs at the batting cages, I waited for his sisters to get home. The First Beautiful Daughter had gone directly to a local cafe with her, ahem, boyfriend. When she came home at about 3:30 p.m., she told me that she didn't want to come because she had plans for the weekend and she was scheduled to work as the birthday party coordinator at Sports Fitness & Fun on Sunday. Ironically, I made the very same decision during the early Eighties when I was 16 years old and my family vacationed at Fox Springs, a Missouri Ozarks resort. She made arrangements to stay with a friend for the weekend. The Second Beautiful Daughter responded, "Martha's Vineyard!?! Can I bring a friend?"

We, including The Favorite Son, The Second Beautiful Daughter, and her friend Shannon, were on the road at 4:45 p.m. when I called Lauren again to tell her it was a "go." I asked her if she knew the launch time for the last ferry from Wood's Hole and she said, "9:45 p.m." My GPS indicated that our anticipated arrival to Wood's Hole, Massachusetts was 9:46 p.m. with no stops. I was a little concerned.

As it turned out, road construction traffic in Danbury cost 15 minutes, but I made up time near Hartford and on I-495 south of I-90 where the GPS calculated trip time based on a 50 mile per hour speed limit where, in fact, the speed limit was 65 miles per hour. So, miraculously, we arrived without a reservation at Woods Hole at 9:31 p.m., which gave me just enough time to get our ferry tickets and drive on. As it turned out, we didn't need a reservation. There was plenty of space on the car and truck level. Whew!

At the Same Time Both a Big Boy & Still a Little Boy, The Favorite Son Insisted on Sleeping on the Sofa
The kids, particularly The Favorite Son enjoyed the ferry ride. We were on and off the observation deck four or five times. By the time we docked in Vineyard Haven, it must have been a quarter after ten. Even though Lauren's house is perhaps ten minutes from the ferry dock, it took me a half an hour to get to the house. On an island where it's customary to either name driveways with charming names like Whippoorwill Road and Pepperbush Drive or mark property with a picture of a flower. Lauren's house is marked with a periwinkle, which is a little play on Lauren's maiden name, "Perry." It's hard to see much in the Vineyard night, especially on the little dirt road drives through thick woods and brush that comprise many of the secondary roads in Chilmark, which is near the center of the Vineyard. So, at nearly eleven o'clock after more than six hours of travel, we found Lauren's house.

Daffodils Bloomed While We Visited
Incredibly, Lauren had called ahead to her caretaker and asked to have the house "turned on" before we arrived, so lights were on, the furnace had already heated the house, the water was hot, and the beds were even made. I called Lauren one more time to thank her for her thoughtfulness and, as always, she graciously deflected my appreciation with, "You know we're friends, Tom."

While the kids and I unpacked the car and put the groceries from my refrigerator and freezer I hurriedly tossed into a cooler and reusable shopping bag before I'd left home, I saw in the floodlights' range a patch of daffodil stems had pushed up from their winter sleep. Then, I made a snack as everyone was settled. In Lauren's family's three-bedroom contemporary, situated about as far from a beach as it could be on Martha's Vineyard, the girls took the upstairs room that included two twin beds. I grabbed the upstairs king. I expected The Favorite Son to sleep in the first floor queen, but he opted for the sofa, instead.

Unpacked and settled, the four of us watched television for a while. I enjoyed a single adult beverage before heading upstairs to a made bed. I enjoyed more than nine uninterrupted hours of sleep.

Friday, May 16, 2014

When your teenage daughter asks, "Dad, can my gay boyfriend come to my room?"

 “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist.” –Charles Baudelaire                                    

No, really. One might think that I’ve had at least my share of curve balls. Fate or the patron saint of single parenting or who or what is in charge of fairness would throw me a marshmallow now and then. I don’t buy all that, “God-only-gives-us-that-which-we-can- handle,” bullshit. Uncle!

So, here’s the latest. I have what I consider to be a very reasonable, standing rule for my teenage daughters: boys are not allowed on the second floor. The second floor is where the bedrooms are, of course. When The Favorite Son is old enough for such a rule to be relevant, he will also have to adhere to it for girls.

One of the Beautiful Daughters has a friend who is a boy. I’ve known this boy for a few years and, frankly, I like the kid. He’s a top student. He’s polite. He’s funny. I’ve met and spoken to his parents on several occasions. According to my Beautiful Daughter, the boy is gay and she doesn’t think it’s fair that she shouldn’t be able to bring him into her room. Moreover, both she and her sister look at me like I’m some out-of-touch knuckle-dragger because I continue to refuse to allow this boy north of the first floor.

Neanderthal. Resemblance?
Look, I have no intention of making this a discussion about my or anyone else’s attitude toward homosexuality other than to say that, philosophically, I’m libertarian. So, when my daughter has asked, “Why can’t Johnny come upstairs to my room, Dad? Nothing’s going to happen, Dad. You know he’s gay,” my answer has consistently been, “When it comes to the ‘No Boys on the Second Floor Rule,’ I don’t check any of your friends’ sexual preference at the door. Frankly, that’s not my business and I don’t care. If your friends carry their plumbing on the outside of their bodies, however, they don’t go upstairs.”

If that makes me a Neanderthal, well, all I have to say is, “Ooga booga.”

Friday, May 9, 2014

Recipe: Italian Wedding Mac 'n' Cheese a la Dad

It's been a while since I've posted a recipe, so considering the circumstances of this meal were a little unusual and the reviews from this single father's children were so positive, I thought this would be a fine choice.

If you've followed me on Facebook or Twitter, or if you're a regular reader of "The Single Father's Guide Blog," you already know, during essentially the entire month of April, I had my kitchen remodeled. Prior to this project, the biggest remodeling job I'd ever undertaken was a master bathroom in my first house, a Cape Cod-style home in Harrisville, Rhode Island circa 1994. A kitchen is an entirely different thing.

With the kitchen out-of-service, we survived with paper plates and plastic-ware in what had been the dining room where I'd moved the center leafless kitchen table, a soon-to-be-replaced refrigerator, microwave, blender, and, of course, coffee maker. I limped along with a small fraction of my cookware, which I stored in a 1940's era mahogany sideboard/buffet along dry and canned goods. (The sideboard, as a side note, is a little worse for the wear.) We washed the non-disposable dishes in the bathroom sink, which I needed to pay special attention to clean and disinfect.

When I brought home a couple of boxes of mac 'n' cheese from the grocery store, The First Beautiful Daughter asked, incredulous and sarcastic, "How do you plan to cook that?"

I have only one side burner on my Ducane Grill, so the Italian had to be cooked on the grate.

With my trusty friend, my Ducane Grill, which recently celebrated its 16th birthday, I intrepidly started to cook what I called . . .

Italian Wedding Mac 'n' Cheese a la Dad
2 - boxes of macaroni and cheese
1 - one pound package of mild Italian sausage
1 - eight ounce package of frozen spinach
6 - individually wrapped slices of American cheese
1 - cup of milk
1 - tablespoon of salt

Draining mac & spinach.
In a pan, brown Italian sausage. In a large pot, bring water and salt to a boil and add two boxes of macaroni and let cook for about five minutes. Add frozen spinach to the pot and allow to cook for another five minutes. Drain. While macaroni and spinach are draining, add milk, cheese packets, and six slices of American cheese to empty pot. Stir while allowing to warm until cheese is melted. Stir-in browned Italian sausage along with some of the grease. Stir in drained macaroni and spinach.

Okay, I won't get into the nutritional values of the Italian Wedding Mac 'n' Cheese a la Dad because, frankly, it's a little below my standard healthy food threshold. The macaroni is high in carbohydrates, the powdered cheese in the macaroni box is highly processed, and there is more fat than I'd like to have in the sausage and processed American cheese singles. Still, it does check the box for my rule of including a fruit or vegetable with every meal and it does hit the four food groups I also like the high iron content, which is important for everyone, but particularly for my young women. Straying from a skinless chicken or fish entrĂ©e with healthy vegetable and no starch dinner is not such a bad thing once in a while, right?

Tastes Better Than It Looks

Everyone had seconds and The Second Beautiful Daughter even complimented me with, "Hey, Dad. This is pretty good." That's the equivalent of a Zagat rating of 30.

I'll take it.

Friday, May 2, 2014

SUMMER TIME SHARE: Reality TV Show Casting for Single Parents & Their Teenagers

I received a request from VPE.TV, a New York talent agency casting single parents of teenage children for a new reality television show/docu-series, SUMMER TIME SHARE, to help them publicize the show and source cast members. Here's the pitch:

VPEtalent is seeking single parents and their teens (ages 14-20) for a brand new docu-series on a major network where they will be whisked away on a summer vacation they will remember forever. Spend the lazy days of summer basking in the sun, grilling, boating, splashing in the waves; sharing those warm summer nights partying, dancing, and living it up with like minded social singles and their teens.  For all you single parents in the East Coast, if you’re ready for that perfect summer getaway, we’re looking for you!


So, if you happen to be a single parent, which I suspect you are considering you're reading "The Single Father's Guide Blog," if you have teenagers, and if you live on the East Coast, well, you may want to check it out. If you apply and you're called for an audition, let us know!

The Two Beautiful Daughters, The Favorite Son, and me at CitiField in 2012.