I want to be...

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I just randomly came across a note on my phone where I had saved this. I'm not sure what year this is from, though...

Ellen: do you think, when I grow up, I could be a director?
Me: you can be anything you want.
Ellen: when I grow up, then, can I be a dragon?
Katie: when I grow up, I want to be a caterpillar.

Let's see if dreams really can come true...

Pumpkins, The Next Generation

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It appears, after careful searching (read: not that careful), that I never blogged our pumpkin effort from last year. Odds are it was because we were stuck in Minneapolis due to Superstorm Sandy, but it could be just because I'm lazy (quiet, you.)

So, after a really nice effort this year, I've decided on a MEGAPOST of both years' accomplishments!

Without further ado, we'll start with 2012's editions:

Ellen's Dr. Who "Fezzes are cool":

Katie's "Nyan Pumpkin"

Chris's "Celtic Pride" unlit and lit

And my "Super Mario" unlit and lit.

Linda did not participate in the 2012 festivities, preferring to take a more advisory post. However, she did a wonderful job with her "Jack Skellington" head this year:

Katie followed up her lovely Nyan cat with an even geekier effort, the robots from Portal 2 "high fiving".

Chris outdid himself with the Psycho from Borderlands 2. I'm posting a picture from their website this is based on, and his freehand pumpkin version.

I did the 10th Doctor, David Tennant, looking angry.

All in all, a really really great batch this year. Super impressed with Chris's, especially. It required a huge amount of patience and he did a great job!

Tea time

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I owe a blog entry on our wedding, of course, but for now let me post the sweet tea recipe that I served at the wedding, as i've had several people ask.

First, I use Harney and Sons 2 QT black tea bags. Best tea I've had, and a pretty good deal considering they make so much tea at a time. You can get them in NYC at their store, or online here:

https://www.harney.com/organic-plain-black-iced-tea-1.html (get the bags, not loose tea).

I made in bulk, and that came out to 7 bags for 3 gallons. It's supposed to be 2 bags / gallon, but I like it strong.

First, boil 1 cup of water with 1 cup of sugar to make simple syrup. I ended up using 1 1/3 cup of sugar / gallon of tea.

After the syrup is done, let sit while you boil 1 cup of water for every tea bag you're going to use. I'd suggest starting with 1 cup of water + 2 tea bags/gallon. After the water boils, add the tea bags and let them steep for at least 15 minutes. Pour this into a pitcher and add the simple syrup. If you're making 1 gallon, you'll want 1 cup water + 1 1/3 cup sugar worth of syrup.

Fill up the rest of the pitcher with cold water and mix together.

Lastly, get some 16 oz mason jars and fresh mint. You'll put a sprig of mint in each jar and fill with tea, seal up, and refridgerate. Should easily keep for a few weeks. Drink right out of the jars.

Today, I Wed

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It's 1AM on the morning of my wedding day, and I'm still awake. As much as we can prepare has been done in advance. Tonight was a "rehearsal dinner", which meant that our wonderful friends and family ate a literal ton of smoked BBQ here at River's Landing. Ribs and Cornish Hens tonight, along with some giant salads that Kim made (thank you!) and lots and lots of help getting things set up for the wedding.

Thank you to Liam, for cooking your brains out.

Thanks to Jody, for making a dessert (Baklava) and a main course (Spanikopita) for the wedding.

Thanks to my katiebug, Rachelle, Cara, Weensie, Lauren and Karolyn for doing so much today to get everything ready for the event. Setting up the tent, getting the arch decorated, peeling off millions of stickers from little gifts and wrapping them in neat little bows (thanks Rachelle!), cleaning and arranging everything. Without you guys, I can't imagine I'd be going to bed even this early.

Looking forward to a day of fun, food, and love.

Most of all, thanks to my wife-to-be, Linda, for making this day possible. I love you!

So much going on...

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God, it's been ages since I updated this. I keep looking at my blog and thinking, "boy, it was so nice having all that good stuff" and then still not updating it. However, there's enough going on that I really do need to write something...

I'm getting married next weekend, 9/21/13. Linda and I are finally tying the knot right here in our lovely house that I like to call River's Landing. We'll have a big 'ol tent in the back yard, and my buddy Liam and I are doing about 75% of the cooking. We're making all the appetizers and I'm making one of the main dishes (pulled pork!) and my other buddy Jody is making another dish (Spanikopita!). We have a caterer doing a few main dishes, but really most of the pressure for getting this shindig together is falling on me. That's good, in that I'm a control freak anyway, but bad in that I've never done this before (well, I've gotten MARRIED before, but not catered my own wedding!). It's nervewracking.

My friend Nate is coming to take the photos. He's brilliant and I can't wait to see them.

So many of our friends are coming, but special kudos to a few friends who are really busting it to make it here, including our darling Cara, Jody and Rachelle (all three of whom are coming from Canada!), and some of my oldest friends Alex and Claudia, who are flying in from Michigan for this. It means a lot, guys, and we really appreciate you making the effort.

I'll post more as we get closer, but I wanted to just put this out there since there's such a feeling of anticipation and I had to share.

Stop, Thief!

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As always, it's been awhile since I've posted anything, but this seemed to be a worthwhile topic to spend some time on. Linda and I moved last June with the kids into a lovely house here in West Orange. Linda's ex, Mike, also moved up here and took a nice, charming home about a mile away.

For the most part, I love the house, and I've really liked West Orange since Kim and I moved here back in 2000. The people are mostly friendly, the area is full of trees, it's convenient to NYC for my commute, and this new house is just beautiful with a huge yard and plenty of 1920's charm.

Fast forward to about 5 or 6 months ago, when Mike is still getting settled and his house was robbed. Someone (or several someones) broke in during the day while he was out, took a number of things, and left. The place wasn't trashed or anything, and it wasn't a financial disaster--just enough to be annoying and uncomfortable.

Again, move forward to about 3 months ago when I happened to be awake at around 2 AM one evening when I see someone going through our cars in our driveway with a penlight in hand. I called the police, who were there within 5 minutes in force, and really nothing was taken, but it was distressing and I was once again reminded that even though our little 'burb is a nice place to live, there are people out there who want what we have and don't mind just taking it from us given the chance.

Now we get to this past Sat. night. While myself, Linda and the kids (including Ellen) were sleeping in my house, someone opened the back door and robbed us. They went through the first floor, took laptops, my new camera, my wallet, linda's purse, and fled. We didn't find out about it until the police came to show us that a neighbor had found some of our discarded things in their yard and called them.

Needless to say, this last was difficult to accept. The "stuff" can and will all be replaced, but the idea of someone in our house while we're there was and is very disconcerting and is taking a bit of time to come to grips with.

Yesterday, the Mayor of West Orange called my cell to apologize on behalf of the town, and hope that we were all OK, which was very nice. I didn't get a chance to talk to him much because I had a contractor coming to look at getting better doors on the house to prevent this happening again, but I took the time to write him an email, and he wrote back today. I thought I'd share those emails here:

From me, yesterday:

Hi Mr. Mayor,

First, thanks for the phone call today. It was as appreciate as it was unexpected.

Second, I'm sorry if it felt like I had to draw our talk to a close quickly. I had reached out to a local contractor to get new, better doors in the back to replace the one that got broken into, and he drove up (and the dog started freaking out) as you and I were talking. Generally, I wouldn't be rushing to hang up on the mayor...

Third, I have to say that I've been a WO resident for almost 15 years now. I lived with my now-ex-wife up at 14 Colony Drive West until this past June, when our divorce was finalized and I moved in with my new fiancee (wedding in September here at 35 beverly!) and her two kids. In that time, I've always felt very safe in WO. However (and you knew there was a "however" coming, didn't you?), it's been pretty dicey since my new family moved up here.

My wife's ex moved up with her and the kids and took a house on Gregory (11 Gregory) shortly after we bought our house. About 6 months ago, HE was robbed. The kids (her family is all from Northern VA) are used to very safe, and that eroded that just a bit. But then, about 3 months someone went through our cars in our driveway. I called the police, who were here in force very quickly, but no one was caught. Then last night, we were robbed while still in the house.

West Orange has been my home for quite awhile, and I like it very much, but it's not making a great impression on the kids to be honest. I don't know what we can do about it, but I moved from Queens where I didn't ever feel particularly safe to WO where I always have--until recently.

Again, thanks for the call. Let me know what you think, if you have time.


From the Mayor, Robert Parisi, today:

Good afternoon...took me awhile to figure out how to respond and not sure I came up with a good solution. Very heartbreaking to read your email...especially as someone who has spent his whole life here and still, despite our flaws, believes deeply in the community. We obviously have occasional crime...be foolish to suggest otherwise...we always have and, in truth, for those that care about statistics, our crime is way down from a year ago...all that, means a hill of beans for you and your family. I would love to be able to schedule time to come visit with you...maybe even the extended family you reference or interested neighbors...along with the Police Chief and talk about these concerns...would you be interested in hosting us one night at your convenience?


I think it goes without saying that this is a wonderfully unexpected and caring gesture. I've never really heard of this kind of thing before, and it IS much appreciated. I expect that we WILL host Mr. Parisi and his chief of police once we determine what the best way to do this will be, and who we should ask to join us. We don't really know our neighbors yet, but I can think of a number of people would might have some good questions or ideas.

Regardless, it's been an interesting few days and does appear to be getting more interesting by the day. More to come on this.

Burger Review: Week 1

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My buddy Kevin and I have decided to embark on a low-brow culinary voyage to taste some of the best burgers NYC has to offer. Although this is hardly a novel idea, it is no less fun (or tasty!).

Last night, we started our trip at what might have been the top of the heap: Minetta Tavern. This homey, somewhat cramped space offers two choices on the menu for a burger, their "Minetta Burger" and their "Black Label Burger". The Minetta Burger is ground prime beef, and comes with a slice of gooey cheddar cheese and grilled onions, and weighs in at $17--not an inexpensive start, for certain. However, the Black Label burger, a slightly larger burger made out of 45 day aged prime beef (which comes with grilled onions, but no cheese), puts that to shame price-wise, lightening the wallet by a solid $26. The question we had was: Is it worth it?

The answer was less clear than we'd have expected.

The Minetta Burger was clearly one of the best burgers either of us had ever had. It was light, done perfectly, and extremely flavorful (although perhaps a bit salty). The onions were a very nice flavor as well, although I couldn't really taste the cheese.

The Black Label burger was a bit denser than the Minetta burger. It had, as Kevin described it, almost a nutty flavor. The flavor was certainly more complex than any burger I can think of, and rarely have I had a burger where the meat played so prominent a role in the flavor of the burger. The burger was a bit less salty as well. Ultimately, though, it was a truly excellent burger.

Both burgers were served on nearly perfect buns, as both Kevin and I commented during the meal. Firm enough to hold a super-juicy burger without falling apart, yet soft and light. No idea how they pulled that one off, but they were excellent. Both came with terrifically crisp fries as well.

Ultimately, we decided that if both burgers were on the menu at the same price, we'd be happy as pigs in the stuff that makes pigs happy to be in to have either. However, for the marked difference in price, our verdict was no, the Black Label burger was not worth the almost $10 up-sell. That said, they were certainly two of the best burgers NYC has to offer in our experience, although not a bargain by any standard.

Well played, Minetta Tavern. Well played.

About 3 months ago, I moved into a cool new place with Linda and her kids. Kim and I are officially divorced. It happened. I moved away from my kids, but, happily, only 3 blocks.

But as life goes on, things return to "normal." Tonight I spend most of the evening with Chris on one couch, me and Katie snuggled up on the other watching The Avengers. You know, I love playing video games, and I love going out and having fun, but there's something special about snuggling my kids and just watching a movie. Katie's spending the night for the second time, and Ellen's spent a few nights here. It's...life. It's odd, it's all over the place, and it's a bit chaotic at times, but there was no disaster. No tidal wave when I moved out. I see my kids all the time now, during the week, on weekends, at random times, just like before, but now I have another full time kid, and one in college. I am with Linda every day, I see Kim often, my parents come to dinner or whatever often.

As they say, the more that things change, the more they stay the same. And I think I kinda like it.

Turing Test Fail

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Every so often, I get an IM from a robot looking to spam me. Instead of just sending spam, though, they try to flirt and eventually get me to go to their site or whatever they have as an end game. These robots have a set of pre-programmed responses, and they're generic enough that the first time one of them IM'd me, I fell for it for awhile, confused, but not thinking it wasn't human.

By the way, if anyone is unclear as to what a Turing test is, it's a test that is given to differentiate artificial intelligence from human intelligence.

Since then, I usually block them as soon as I realize (usually within a single or maybe 2 IM's) but this time, I decided to mess with one and paste in the results. Note, this is a bit racey, so young children and small animals should turn away...

AIM IM with Amanda Wilke Today 12:56 PM
Amanda Wilke
Amanda Wilke
Hello there.. My naame is Amanda.. Got ur ID through Messenger Directory
are you a robot?
Amanda Wilke
I loveee chatting with new people.. Would you like to chat today? Where are you from?
Do you have robot arms and legs and a robot head?
Amanda Wilke
Can i ask you a queeest?
Do you make "beep beep" noises?
Amanda Wilke
Do yooou like big booty girls with big tits? lol seriously cuz thats what i am/have..Is that too much for you to handle?
do THEY make "beep beep" noises?
Amanda Wilke
Doo you know what a whooty is? Would you like to see me i'll show you my Whooty....
I'm missing all the "beep beep" noise answers. I'm sorry, but I can't chat with a robot that can't at least make a "beep beep" noise.
Amanda Wilke
lol Whooty is aaa White Girl with a BOOTY! i wanna show u mine...
Thanks for the chat, Robot Amanda. Turing test fail.

Movin' on up.

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Today was one of the longest days I can remember, but in both good and bad ways, and just about everything in between.

Good news: We moved into our new house.

Bad news: We moved into our new house.

There is nothing quite as exhausting, harrowing and soul wearying as moving, especially when it's a big move involving a tractor-trailer worth of stuff.

Linda, Chris and I were up and out by 8 to meet the movers who, although they tried valiantly, were unable to get the semi closer than about 100 feet from our driveway. The street is just too narrow and they gave up after about 30 minutes of minute backing up and down the street (and getting yelled at by a neighbor...) So, a long day for a bunch of guys who earned their pay + tip + the big lunch I bought them. What a way to make a living...

So, by 9 the movers were bringing things in and we were shuttling them into place as best we could.

At 10:30, Kim came over with freshly baked banana muffins. Really? Yup. I'm a pretty lucky guy to have such a great relationship with my Ex, and as always she went above and beyond.

At 11, the Verizon FIOS guy game and went ABOVE AND BEYOND doing wiring all over my house of both coax AND Cat-5e for me, saving me a huge amount of time and trouble.

At 1 someone came to give us an estimate on central AC for this house. Let's just say that following the discussion, I went out to home depot, rented a van, and bought 5 window units. $35,000 for AC is not in the cards anytime soon...

Lindsay slept until about 1 PM. Yay for active teenagers...

Back to drop off the van at Home Depot, grab the car and head to Costco for a stock up run.

Back home to find my kids actively bustling around the place putting things away with Chris and Lindsay and Linda.

Forward about 30 minutes later and Kim came by again, this time joining us for dinner. 7 people, all family, sitting around the dinner table in a chaos of boxes and half-unwrapped stuff. Except that all that was forgotten while the family--this big, crazy family--continued to bond and grow together in the best way imaginable.

This is going to be fun. Tiring, but so much fun.

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