To The Pandemic Volunteer

A friend showed me a pen she received as a gift – it said, “Stop me before I volunteer again.”

“It’s a reminder,” she explained but its ineffectiveness was obvious as we realized, this was the second parent association we’re on together as volunteers.

As I handed back the pen, I sighed and already it sounded like a threat of resignation. But really, who am I kidding? We’re volunteeraholics. She probably signed up with that damned pen.

Every pandemic volunteer knows what I’m talking about. We call ourselves suckers, targets, 3D losers and we compare our tasks like they’re death sentences.

After serving my time on one thing, I say it’ll be the last and even tell my husband that I’ll take his advice and stop signing up for shit. But the truth is, volunteer work never ends. If it does, it ends badly because slaves don’t get fired.

Yes, I just compared volunteer work to slavery. If you think about it, there’s only one difference – gratification. No reasonable person would volunteer unless they enjoyed the work. They sign up year after year because it’s gratifying and good for the soul. Those are the volunteer gigs where you’re surrounded by like-minded, hard-working, good-willed people and they really are a life experience. Every once in while though, you’ll come across a douchebag who is a slave master and that can fuck with your head.

If that happens, you have to tell yourself that the only jackass who should be tolerated is one that signs your paycheck. Otherwise, walk. You need the aggravation like you need hemorrhoids. I have a friend who sorely needs to take this advice – not the friend with the pen – someone else who stayed on even after everybody left.

Now she’ll have to learn the same lesson I learned the hard way – don’t fill a void. If an organization needs you to fill an important role, the last thing you should do is stick around to find out why because I can tell you why. That role is vacant because the last person was a mistreated mule that most likely died under a pile of bullshit.

But for the rest, I toast my fellow volunteeraholics. You may not always be recognized or appreciated for that matter, but you’ve made a difference, a contribution that is far more valuable than money.

So – Thank You. Thank you, very much.

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A Parent’s Guide To Middle School

We need a new scapegoat. Our classic villains were once American Indians, then Nazi’s, the Russians, followed by Wall Street tycoons and finally, terrorists. But we can no longer target a particular race if we want to be politically correct. So I suggest we target politicians.

They’re the perfect villain. They lie, steal and generally ruin everything – even corruption.

Case in point – Middle School.

I knew the day would come when my child would be entering Middle School. I also knew, no matter what, there was going to be a tremendous suck factor.

The choices were, walk to our neighborhood middle school and hope to squeeze in with 2,000 other students in a building meant for half that – or go to school on the moon.

They must have a space shuttle that goes there, right?

Of course, I’m kidding – I know we euthanized all the astronauts. But I kid you not, my son’s commute to school is further than his father’s commute to work.

That’s the reality today – to get to sixth grade, kids will have to travel to Cuba because no one had the insight that Middle School would need a place to exist anywhere near their preceding school.

Did I mention they built a new elementary school smack in the middle of two other elementary schools and are in the process of building another elementary school nearby?

Let’s not even get into full day Pre-K. Like we need to send a four-year old to school all day only to offer him nothing when he passes the fifth grade.

Maybe because middle schoolers aren’t small and cute anymore, they’ve been banished to a place far, far away.

Out of sight, out of mind – and I get to take mine there.

We chose his Middle School because it’s a brand new building, the teachers are young and enthusiastic and so far he loves it. But every morning since he started, I’ve been religiously offering incense to our shrine. I figured if anybody’s going to look over my son, it’ll be my father’s spirit. My dad, the man who thought the best way to teach me how to swim was to strand me in the deep end of the beach.

I can imagine what he’d say about the situation, “Just let him go – if he gets lost, what’s the worst that could happen? He’ll crap his pants? Run into those topless women in Times Square? Better make sure he has some singles.”

And I want to just LET GO. But I know my son has a tendency to get “preoccupied.” It takes him ten minutes to put on a pair of socks, for crying out loud. He takes out a pair from the drawer and within a minute, he’ll forget where he left them. Then he’ll suddenly feel compelled to comment on baldness and completely forget to put on the other sock.

And I’m supposed to unleash this puppy on the subway?

So we’ll be giving him his own mobile phone to call us when there’s trouble. Some kids his age already had their own phone since fifth grade, but it wasn’t our intention to give him one until he grew underarm hair.

He’s got the odor – that’s close enough.

Maybe that was the plan all along – throw us to the wolves so we’d be forced to buy multiple phones and cars. Mind you, the cars we have already, have no place to park. The phones we’re trying to add are running out of available numbers – and we have five known area codes. By the time we figure it out, we’ll be buried in litter and dog poo and talking to the ghost of Christmas Future.

And I’ll bet he’s a politician.

 

 

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Layover Brooklyn

After obtaining her idNYC, my mom went on a sightseeing spree. She visted four boroughs in four days collecting her free memberships like an urban senior Zelda.

For a week she was texting me pictures of giraffes and sculptures and I had to figure out where she was. I think she got the idea from that Free Range Chicken in those Geico commercials.

Along the way, she devised a bright idea to take us on a journey of her favorites. Not one, not two – but three jewels of Brooklyn within the time frame of a layover. Crazy right?

First of all, Brooklyn is big and before you can even get to the edge of it, you have to go through most of Manhattan. That’s already too long of a subway ride. Then – there’s a million stops once you get into Brooklyn – it’s like a train in the Twilight Zone – it never gets to your station (cue cheesy music).

Still, we managed and began at the Brooklyn Museum, followed by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with a grand finale of Coney Island.

With 15 minutes to kill before opening, we enjoyed eating onigiri (Japanese rice balls) while watching the water works at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s amazing the effect water has on people, especially kids who are insanely unfocused. It must be like watching synchronized spitting. It’s more interesting than Teen Titans – not as noisy either.

Inside, we had time enough to go through the “Rise of the Sneaker Culture” and got caught for an hour playing pinball, video games and foosball in theThe FAILE & BÄST Deluxx Fluxx Arcade. Who knew? That was worth the suggested admission right there because my guys could easily blow $50 for half an hour of arcade mania.

We entered the Brooklyn Botanic Garden from the Eastern Parkway entrance and went directly to the Japanese Garden. It was serenity beyond measure. Well, visually. By the time we got there, an outdoor concert in the adjacent parking lot was booming very annoying music. Not appropriate music, but a monotone, rap-reggae-what-the-fuck-are-they-singin’-about music that even annoyed the Koi fish.

To keep our visit to two hours, we skipped the Lily Pool Terrace. Probably regretful, still we saw the Cherry Esplande, Rose Garden, Rock Garden, Herb Garden and though we wished we had more time, we made it through the Discovery Zone. When they begged to play the xylophone that magically can’t play a wrong note for yet another hour, we simply said, “Guess you don’t want Nathan’s hot dogs!”

They clutched their empty bellies like an alien was busting out and busted out the Flatbush avenue exit towards the Q train.

A half hour later, we beelined towards Nathan’s Famous on Surf Avenue. Who thought that six dogs, two fries, hot wings, three medium Root Beers and a large Coney Island Lager would cost only…sixty-two dollars!

Or that the boys would actually eat all of that (minus the lager, of course).

What amazed me the most was that the cashier knew to pour me a large beer. And that it was less than eight bucks.

It was the biggest bill for one item of the day.

A whole seven dollars and fifty cents. That was treated by my mom.

The senior citizen.

With an idNYC card.

And that’s Zoltar.

Zoltar

 

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Need Some Help Here

I was searching for inspirational dinner music when my 10 year old requested Eminem.

Eminem?

Where did we go wrong?

It’s my husband’s fault.

He’s too forgiving when it comes to policing the quality of ethnically fused products that we don’t know much about like Rap music, Chi-Mex food, Keanu Reeves and Jello shots made by an adult-baby on Halloween.

Not only will he take Jello shots, he’ll insist – insist – that I do one or five of them, too.

Clearly, I should judge his parental judgements. After all, we had a 10 year old Wolverine and an eight year old Deadpool to bring home.

Ergo, I need some help here.

When the same 10 year old who requested Eminem dinner music, asked that I define the word “ergo,” my reply was that it was the same as therefore.

My example went, “The idiot wouldn’t stop his daredevil stunts, ergo, he wound up in the emergency room.”

Then he asked, “Does that mean he’s dead?”

“What? No – it means,”therefore, he’s in the emergency room!”

“Yeah, but is Ergo dead?”

Literally, my jaw dropped. As in, my mouth fell open – not as in, “Literally, I don’t know how to use the word literally.”

It occurred to me that one day – one of these days – I will take this boy of mine to Glasgow, Scotland. I’ll bet you, my bottom dollar, that he – full blooded Glaswegians – and my husband – will be in full fledged conversation.

They’ll completely understand each other.

Drink each other under the table, too.

And my head will (not) literally be spinning because I’m not Linda Blair, feeling I’ve spent the night with AWADDs (Aliens With A.D.D.) talking Scotch bubbles.

Ergo, this girl is still working on her career.

For the record, I did concede and told my 10 year old that Ergo was, indeed, dead.

His answer was, “Good. He sounds a lot like Samu.”

Need Some Help

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7 Costume Ideas for the Apathetic Halloweenster

My kids don’t get it – I hate Halloween. The memories I have of it are mostly…terrifying. Like that terrifyingly boring movie “Purge,” Halloween, in my time, meant dressing up in a costume enough to qualify for free candy – without being a clear target. The thugs, of course, wore their usual attire, to take off with your loot after they drenched you in raw eggs and Nair.

Like bachelor parties in Miami, bad things happen when you go all out on Halloween. Either you wake up with vague memories of doing jello shots with some serial killer or you realize the hard way that booze and prosthetic glue do not mix well.

That’s why simple is best – but not boring. This is New York, after all. Cat ears and a tail? A witch hat? Puh-leeze. People wear weirder stuff than that on any given day. Don’t look like a city mom wannabe!

Halloween is the one time, I wish I were a guy. If I were a middle-age rotund guy, I’d dress up like a woman every year. Contour my Moobs into a push up bra, flare skirt with boxer shorts showing off my hairy legs. Pumps. Red lipstick – and a tramp stamp.

I’d make my wife walk with me – no, have lunch with me – at the Thai restaurant on the corner of Queens Boulevard. Window seat.

But I’m not a guy – so it’s back to the drawing board.

Before kids, I could fit into outfits. Comic book characters. Bad ass women with guns, sneers and a belly button that wasn’t stretched into a smiley face. Now? Every accessory only emphasizes how tired I look.

Wigs give my eyes tremendous bags. Make up makes me resemble my dad and any outfit that’s not black, makes me seem like an emergency room escapee.

I stick with natural hair, dressed in black – no masks or black lipstick. Think, beer interference.

Oh yeah, and no boobs either. Wish I had those, too. If I had huge hooters, I’d tape a line of cotton across it, like one of those cocaine movies I can’t remember because I’ve never done coke. And I was probably hammered when I watched it – who makes movies about coke heads, anyway? You can’t understand them. Heroine addicts are way more fun to watch.

But back to the apathetic Halloweenster – my fifth grader is slowly becoming one. Compared to my half-assed costume ideas, his takes the slacker costume of the year. For the Halloween party, he was supposed to be Nick Fury of the Avengers. Since he rubbed off his goatee, he was to respond, “What’s in your wallet,” to the question, “Who are you supposed to be?”

To make matters worse, he lost his patch and because he was wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt, people asked if he was supposed to be the singer from Journey.

Yeah, I don’t get that either.

On Halloween, the school paraded around the neighborhood in full Halloween spirit – and he was just too cool for it. While it’s okay to wear a Captain America helmet playing the drums, he couldn’t understand that it means nothing on it’s own. And no, a blue striped polo shirt nowhere near resembles the Captain’s uniform. “So I’ll go as nothing!” He said.

“I got it,” said Daddy, “how about wear the school uniform and go as a student.”

Eventually, we got him to dress as street clothes Rocky Balboa: fedora, gold chain, leather jacket and the piece de resistance: a blue punchball.

“If anybody asks who you are,” I coached him, “just say, Yo! Adrian!

He contemplated practicing his line but the slacker in him chose this excuse: “I can’t do an Italian accent, mom – I’ll sound Japanese.”

To him that made sense. Like Iron Maiden Steve Perry.

My advice, get yourself a long black coat – one that flares like a cape. Dress in black. After that, it’s just a matter of accessories. Of course, you’ll be a villain but who wants to be a good guy – they all wear tights.

  1. Heart shaped eye patch & sword: Stayne (Alice in Wonderland)
  2.  Sunglasses and boots: Matrix
  3. Horns and British accent: Loki
  4. Short white wig and black nail polish: Roy Batty (Blade Runner)
  5. Vampire teeth and padded butt cheeks: Underworld
  6. Clown make up and a stuffed crow: Eric Draven
  7. Split ends and a glowing ball: Balthazar (Sorcerer’s Apprentice)
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The Boys of Summer

The air conditioner in our bedroom is a noisy piece of crap. Every time it kicked on, it woke me up. So, counting on a mild August night, I turned it off and hoped the fan setting was enough. In five minutes, the room was boiling. A far cry from the luxurious accommodation of our weekend in Philly. As I labored for sleep, I remembered walking past a woman on her cell phone saying, “Well, sure but it’s hot as fuck out here!”

The bed started to feel like a fresh pizza. Finally, my feet hit a cool spot that just might remain cool enough to drift back to sleep when the door creaked open.

“Mama?” Said a little voice.

“Go back to bed.” I said.

“My head hurts.”

“That’s ’cause you should be asleep.” I said, and groaned because the cool spot was now – hot.

“And I’m thirsty,” continued the little pecker-head, as he proceeded to climb into my bed.

My limbs were groggy as I ushered him out to the bathroom and when I turned on the light, I was astonished.

Samu must’ve grown three inches in his sleep!

Suddenly, I’m overcome by a wave of melancholia. Or terror. Either they’re growing overnight or it’s an invasion of the body snatchers. But I realize it’s really him and not an alien who busted out of an eggplant when he filled his cup with water – dumped it – filled it again – dumped it again – filled it again and took just two tiny sips.

“I don’t want summer vacation to be over,” he whimpered.

It hit me, too. “Yeah, we had a lot of fun this summer – didn’t we?”

My mind took a brief inventory: Track & Field, Golf, Baseball sleepover and let’s not forget sunburn. Nothing like walking the streets of Philly with Daddy looking like a leper.

Samu and I shuffled our way back to his bed. My steps just as heavy and sad as his. Our fun in the sun – was done.

For me, it was more than that. This summer just might be the last when my boys are “boys”. Next year, Zuki will likely be the same height as me. And Samu – should at least have a butt that’ll hold a pair of swim trunks bigger than 3T.

In the dark, I could hear his tears hit the pillow. I could tell he wanted to sing the theme song he created combining the “Titanic” and “Lord of the Rings”. He’d been humming it all summer when he was sad – when he lost an eyeball for his Mixel, when the frog at the beach got plucked by a seagull.

But his big brother was snoring away. And, that kind of ruined it.

“How’s your head?” I asked as he held my hand.

He sighed deeply and answered, “I want to go back to the hotel in Philadelphia.”

I did, too. The air conditioner was quiet.

Boys of Summer

 

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Doing The Right Thing in Underpants

You know you’re in the right, when you’re in the minority. People hate the truth. They’ll ignore it rather than face it, even when it’s standing right in front of them, blocking their way forward. I had to sum this up for my boys after they watched “Lord of the Flies” recently.

They were profoundly affected by the story, they talked about it incessantly. They pondered why all the boys left the reasonable leadership of Ralph to follow the maniacal Jack and chalked it up to Jack being blond.

With that settled, they went on to discuss whether it was necessary – at all – to wear underwear if they were the only boys stranded on a deserted island.

Amazing what boys focus on.

Regardless what portion of the movie they happened to recall, they always went back to the camp fire dance in their underpants. I asked them if they saw a similarity in their own behavior, and they gawked. “No mom, we NEVER act like that,” they said.

Oh, really?

As soon as I said it was time to do their summer workbook, they flailed on the floor like fish out of water. They were kicking and screaming how stupid math and English were, after all who needs it anyway – if they had some pigs blood and ashes, they’d have marked their faces with war paint. In their organic cotton underwear.

Little savages.

Ironically, the summer workbook assignment for the day was to write a commercial about integrity.

“What is integrity?” Zuki asked.

“It’s doing the right thing, all the time – even when it’s not popular or fun. Even when you’re dancing around in your underpants.”

He was quiet for a while, which meant he was either thinking about it or he had imaginary flies buzzing in his head. Finally, he said, “Like Ralph and Piggy.”

At least he got it. Unfortunately, he also connected how those characters with integrity wound up dead or battered by the end of the movie – but what could I say. It’s not the Lego movie.

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Houston, We Have A Behavior Problem

Every parent at one point, faces some form of behavior problems in children, but nothing – compares to the complexities of a boy turned nine.

They’re bi-polar, I swear. One minute, they’re cursing you out under their breath because you won’t “leave them alone,” and the next minute they’re clinging onto your leg accusing you of abandonment when you’re fetching the laundry.

At least once a month, the teacher waves me over to address his “bad day”.

Is it that time of the month – for him? I think to myself.

Well, the truth is – it’s not just my guy. There are other boys among his class – his friends – and even in his Pack who sprout these demonic wings. It’s not boyish mischief – it’s adolescent rebellion. The, “I’m gonna push buttons until someone starts screaming at me so I’ll have a reason to lash out,” route.

To my nine-year-old, everything is stupid. Breakfast is stupid. Homework – oh, homework – is stupid. Practice, bathing, sleeping – even pooping is stupid. Everybody in the world is stupid, starting with his little brother all the way to Jaime Shupak, the traffic anchor on NY 1 News.

Excuse me, are you fifteen? Yes, apparently – nine is the new fifteen. And for girls it’s seven – according to my friends who have daughters.

After the last report from his teacher about his deplorable behavior, I did some research and found this helpful article.

It’s “The Three Skills Every Child Needs For Good Behavior” by James Lehman.

“Skill #01: Reading Social Situations” seemed simple enough. As a matter of fact, I assumed my boys already did that. “Look at someone, anyone, and try to guess how they’re feeling,” I said during our walk on Sunday morning.

Zuki promptly replied, “That’s stupid.”

But then he asked, “How am I supposed to guess how strangers feel,” which made it obvious that he hadn’t been “reading” situations at all – just reacting to them.

Inevitably, he ticked me off later that day to which I simply asked, “Look at my face and tell me how I’m feeling.”

Something clicked in his mind – it was clear. “You’re mad,” he said, “because I’m not doing my chores.”

Then he calmly picked up his clean clothes and put them away.

Eureka! Is this how Anne Sullivan felt when Helen Keller finally grasped communication? Not to compare our measly milestone with that historic moment, but there are times I wonder if my boy isn’t deaf and blind.

I just have to remind myself that it’s all a phase. For now, it’s the back talk, the rebellion, holding a breadstick like a cigar and sassing like Wolverine. He’ll find his calling. The next thing I’ll know, he’ll be turning eighteen, which would be too old for a behavioral problem, so that would make it the new – midlife crisis?

 

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The Cramp About Summer Camp

Summer camp is not the Jim Croce sing along it used to be when I went. Kids today are just too sophisticated. As it is, my boys pack two Nerf guns and five thousand Lego pieces just to play in the backyard. I can’t imagine what girls need – a suitcase of band looms?

Camp is also way more expensive than what I remember. Two weeks of full day camp for my kids cost what my parents paid for one month back then. It’s ludicrous.

Of course there are cheaper city camps. They’re great if you’re content with paying for semi-attentive hipsters to take your kids to the park all day. I already do that – be semi-attentive and endlessly drag them around the hot streets to a sweltering park with deplorable bathrooms. The hipster thing, I’d have to work at.

The way I see it, summer camp is worth the money as long as the kids do things that you can’t deliver. Like play baseball with a team of kids all the same age or do crafts with an adult who isn’t afraid of glitter or drive around with hipsters who can listen to Nikki Minaj without throwing up.

For two years, I enrolled my boys in World of Discovery camp, which was ideal. They were picked up by 07:30 in the morning and dropped off at 5:30, stinky, exhausted and thoroughly played out. They were completely different people when they arrived home – like cyborgs who looked, smelled and talked like my kids – but didn’t act like them. They were behaved. Taking a bath, doing their homework packet without a single tear and they were famished enough to eat salad. Salad!

It was paradise until it ended and the “camp glow” was gone as fast as it came.

Next challenge will be sleep away camp. If Day Camp seems expensive, wait until you hit the sleep aways. Granted, they’re chock full of activities you’d get arrested for doing. Archery, BB guns, rock climbing, throw-them-off-a-pier-and-see-if-they-can-swim-back, but at seven hundred dollars a week, I might risk the heat.

As for academic summer camps – personally, I don’t think the brain absorbs any book knowledge once the snow thaws. There’s probably a scientific study out there to prove it but for now, I say it from experience.

Ever since the State standardized tests were done, the kids academically went on vacation.

“Homework, schmomework!” They would say. Even the second graders – and they didn’t even take the damn test.

To avoid summer learning loss, the Summer Bridges Activity Workbook helped us a great deal last year. Each day is designed for twenty minutes of ELA and math study with bonus science or Social Studies and physical fitness. That, coupled with forty minutes of reading was about all my boys could handle without taking them to court. At the end of the summer, they weren’t any smarter than in they were in June – but didn’t forget how to open a book.

With boys – that’s the most you can hope for.

So if you’re looking to stick your kid in an expensive summer camp, my suggestion is – go with a friend or a sibling. They may not be in the same division – but they’ll be on the same bus. Because we all know that the school bus is the cul-de-sac where bullying thrives.

And while it might be too late now, go to the Open House. They usually set them up from February through May when they do the early bird sign ups.

If you are too late and the camp is all booked, don’t fret. Go on their waiting list – people always cancel. Last minute. Trust me.

Whatever it is you scope out, think long term. You don’t want to enroll them in a group they’re going to be too old for by next year. Ideally, you’d like to get them into a situation that could eventually mean summer work.

My boys could possibly start work next summer – Samu started learning guitar and Zuki’s been practicing drums on his own. They could ride the subways singing Bad, Bad Leroy Brown badly like I did in summer camp. Who knows, they could collect enough small change to pay for sleep away camp by August.

 

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Eat Me, Drink Me

Ziploc sandwich bags filled with white sugar were lined across the table. The boys couldn’t stop touching it, holding it, letting it drape across their face. It certainly wasn’t the point of the exercise but it was an eye opener for the adults about the power of sugar.

At the Scouts meet the other day, the Pack conducted a presentation on sugary drinks. It was a “Healthy Unit Patch” activity to show how much sugar was packed into Coke, Gatorade, Sunny D and Capri Sun. For each drink, we dumped the amount of sugar in a plastic baggie. They actually saw the seventeen teaspoons it took for a 20 oz Coke.

They gawked at it. So much sugar. Their eyes lit up like Tony Montana facing a mountain of cocaine. One boy placed his finger on a bag of sugar and asked, “Can I take it home?”

“No.”

“What about the Sunny D?”

While they all knew that water contained absolutely no sugar, there were a couple among them that commented, “Blech, water. I hate the way it tastes!”

It’s not the only time I’ve heard kids say that. They’re usually the kids who have a crushed bottle of generic water in a warm lunch box. How could warm, plastic toxin tasting water compete with an ice cold Snapple in a glass bottle?

It can’t.

And that’s the sad truth, it’s really not their fault they diverge from water. Most kids who drink a lot of sugary drinks have parents who drink the same, or parents who dispense it like – well, water. And if you really think about it, a hundred years ago, all people big and small, drank rum or ale because the water was too filthy to drink. So who’s to blame, right?

Although I was told that the cheapest vodka run through a Brita water filter will taste like Grey Goose, I’d still suggest using it for water and serving that to your kids.

It is worth experimenting, however – for research purposes, obviously.

The main soda drinker in our house was Samu but he rectified that situation on his own by developing a taste for Taki’s. It’s a corn snack flavored with chile and lime and it’s amazing. Not the taste but the fact that it shuts him up and gets him to guzzle water. Currently, it’s all the rave among his classmates and I’m sure that’s why the school aides are smiling. Why didn’t Frito Lays see that coming?

In closing, I’d like to add that respect for water has always been upheld by brewers and distillers. My father always preached that he’d rather I drink beer than soda. Of course, I was four years old at the time and probably the only pre-schooler served a glass of beer simply because it was Canadian.

I just remember it was delicious.

At this stage, especially after all the attempts at home brewing, I see that quality water is the “umami.” It’s the crux of life, booze and authentic New York pizza. While my dad gave me a glass of Canadian beer, I gave my boys a sandwich bag of white sugar to prove the point. And in their future of proving that water is holy, they have – the Brita filter.

Samu drink

 

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