Tag Archives: chocolate

The Simple Things . . .

Made all better by chocolate

Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd

I got home last night with a nagging dread hanging over my head.  I knew there was nothing for a snack for the kids’ lunches, not made anyway.  I had planned on making brownies, I’d even taken out all the stuff to make them this morning when I was on the way out the door just so I’d remind myself that “yes, dumb a**, you need to get off your sick lazy butt and make these!”  I hadn’t forgotten, though, I was dreading it.

I was so run down, tired and lazy that I actually told my daughter to look up food on Chilis.com and order me a burger and I’d pick up food on the way home.  I was not happy, I was tired, I was being very lazy, insanely non-nutritious and I really didn’t give a crap.  I just didn’t have the energy.  I knew the kitchen was a mess.  I knew the kids weren’t cooperating and knew I was sick, and I just didn’t have the energy to deal with all that and cook dinner.

So I picked up the dinner, waiting in the lobby of the restaurant with a free drink (since it took longer than they said.  Very nice of them, I thought) and read emails and checked messages.

As a very simple little gesture, I ordered some strawberries from the company “Sherries Berries” here in Sacramento (yeah, I know, they’re corporate now, but I still imagine they’re local) and had them shipped to Andrea’s best friend from college for Valentine’s Day.  For me, they weren’t a major deal.  I didn’t want flowers, they die, cost an insane amount of money for a brief period of happiness, and I never understood the “code” of flower giving.  Red is love, was it white was friendship, or was that yellow?  Sterling silver, they can make flowers that color?  My theory . . . you can never go wrong with chocolate, so that’s where I went.

While I picked up the food I saw that the berries had arrived and made my friend’s day.  There really is nothing like knowing you’ve touched someone, even in the smallest way.  I haven’t really had that in nearly 11 months.  There’s just a little fuzzy feeling that grows in your belly.  It’s not anything romantic, not a crush or an infatuation, it’s the feeling of knowing you’ve done something . . . a simple thing, a simple gesture that says “you did so much for us, we have to do at least a little something in return for you.”

Which gets me home.  I showed up with the food, the kids all thrilled that they got individual meals rather than having to deal with that crappy homemade stuff that Dad forces us to eat every day.  The quesadilla, fajitas, chicken strips, burger combination seemed to fit with their minds pretty well.  We didn’t even eat at the dinner table, had our little styrofoam containers in front of us on our laps and ate while watching the TV.  We were the equivalent of the pre-time machine McFly family in Back to the Future.  All we needed was Ralph and Alice on the TV and it would have been perfect.

Dinner ended, we’d all appropriately gorged ourselves on portions too big and greased our gullets and I felt somehow worse than when I got home.  I steeled my resolve, got up from the couch, threw out the crappy styrofoam container and headed into the kitchen to begin making the brownies I’d singled out as the treat for their lunches.  I looked first for the little metal pan I use for them . . . only to find that it was filled with brownies!  I mean, sure, half the pan was eaten, but there was still a half pan of brownies there, ready, and waiting for lunches tomorrow!

I must have looked puzzled because my middle, Hannah, asked “what’s wrong Dad?”
“I was going to make brownies, but . . . ”
“Oh, yeah, Abbi figured you weren’t up to it so she made them.”
“Really?  I am going to kiss her!”

And I did.  I went over to Abbi’s room, which is actually removed from the rest of us, she’s downstairs in her own world.  I knocked on her door and she said “come in!”

I walked up to her and immediately kissed her on the forehead and gave her a great big hug!

“What was that for?”
“For making brownies!”
“Oh . . . I figured you needed some help.”
“Well, you get another kiss!”

So I did.  My day was made by chocolate.  Who would have known?

Abbi didn’t think twice about having made a simple pan filled with brownies, but she had no idea how much serenity they’d given me.

It’s the simple things.  The littlest helps that pushed me to move on to the next day, and they have no idea it’s even coming.

Jam Sessions and Chocolate

Our Little Jam Session

Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes from the LP 90125

I had made my way home, a little sore from the accident yesterday and trying to get the energy to buck up for the routine today.  I had the kids all home, the kitchen was still a mess, and the laundry almost manageable for the first time in over a week.  (Doesn’t mean they put the laundry away, it just means that it’s clean)

We were all tired, all grumpy, and it was just a hard couple weeks.

Everything about this last week has pulled us backwards, but none of us can quite put a finger on why.  I know when I write here it must seem like I’m in constant pain, emotional turmoil and just wallowing in every detail of the past never thinking of the future.  (Get the song tie-in yet?  Do You?)  You have to understand, I write here in the dark of night, sometimes in the empty living room with the television on, sometimes in my bedroom with the sounds of my daughter snoring in the next room starting to lull me into an exhausted sleep.  It is when the forward motion of the day starts to slow that the pull of the past starts to draw me in.  While there is so much talk about dating again or moving forward or starting over what most people neglect to remember is that I’ve spent more of my life with Andrea than I did without her.  That’s an odd statistic to fathom, knowing that more than half your life you’ve spent with someone else by your side, there, constant companion.  If you have that history, that timeline, why would it be easy to just “move on”?

It isn’t.

The funny thing is, our days aren’t spent wallowing and reminiscing and my drinking whole bottles of wine while looking at our wedding pictures or crying over the pinot noir.  Our days and nights are fairly mundane.  That’s almost what makes it so scary.  We don’t sit and wallow, though there are days I think we should.  I get home after the kids have gotten home, unless Abbi has a rehearsal of some sort, in which case I’m the one home and she gets home to have dinner with the rest of us.  While it seems a strange circumstance that we’ve got a new home, a new routine and a new life, we do it anyway because we have to.  Sitting and bemoaning our situation doesn’t change our situation, it just makes it worse.

There are glimmers.  The kids watched “Once Upon a Time” with me on the TV last night (God love our DVR) and the whole episode centered around pain and a broken heart.  Noah made a comment about me, the other kids looked over at me, the subject sensitive, all of it just danced around a little bit.  None of us really wants to be sad, we want to be OK with things as they are.  We want to enjoy things.  It’s hard, though, not to feel guilty about having fun and enjoying ourselves knowing that she’s not here to enjoy it with us.

But I have two cures for everything in our house: jam sessions and chocolate.

Yes, my friends, those two things hold the key to all happiness.  Don’t get me wrong, the kids all have their individual ideals.  Sam can’t play an instrument, but he sings.  Abbi wants to play, but after decapitating my hollowbodied Dot ES335 some time ago she is loathe to touch any of my guitars.

So imagine my surprise when Hannah asked, after I picked up my guitar with its new pickups (still waiting on that endorsement deal, Lindy Fralin.  Money?  Endorsement?  Hell, new pickups??!!  I’ll take a couple Pure PAF”s for my other Esprit!) why you’d ever tune the guitar differently.  I tuned to a “G” chord, played some slide (Walkin’ Blues, Muddy Waters, great staple); played  “Come and Go Blues” by the Allman Brothers Band.  I tuned to a “drop D” and played  Just a Little Bit by T-Bone Walker and started to strum the harmonics to a song I’d written Andrea when I started dating her.

Soon after, I looked up and Hannah had her guitar and wanted to show me a lick.  Noah had grabbed his and wanted to know if I could “teach him some jazz or blues?” and Sam and Abbi were singing.  I showed a D7 to Hannah and showed her that by moving that same fingering up and muting one string, you could play “Soul Man” by Sam and Dave.  Abbi sang, we played, Noah strummed.  I taught Hannah her first Bar Chord.

The routine was interrupted, but we went on anyway.  I asked Abbi if she remembered a song I’d played years ago, one she loved, and she started hollering out “ain’t nothin’ in the world that a T-Bone Shuffle can’t cure!”  (Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland, T-Bone Shuffle )

Then routine started again.  We went up, read half a chapter, tucked in, and I came downstairs.  I looked in the bare cupboard and realized we needed something different.  The routine was changed, so breakfast, just for a day, would too.

So I looked up a recipe and made chocolate waffles.  The smell wafted through the house and up the stairs.  I cooled them, packed them in the freezer, and readied the plates full so that the kids could have them tomorrow.  Whipped cream, bananas, and chocolate waffles, something I’d never made before and new memories.

So you see, we are making new memories.  It’s not just some random set of circumstances.  We’re not wallowing in self-pity.  We, sometimes, are simply stuck in routine.  So what do we do about it?

There’s nothing that a good jam session and chocolate can’t cure.  That, and once in awhile, a T-Bone shuffle.

You Said How the Coffee Tasted So Fine…

2-14 The Coffee Song“The Cofee Song” by the power trio “Cream”.

There is a song that was originally supposed to go on the LP “Fresh Cream” by . . . well . . . Cream, that always gave me a melancholy but hopeful sort of feeling. The song, simply “The Coffee Song” is a tale – an actual story – about a message in the corner booth at some unknown cafe at a railroad station. The sort-of hook says:

We sat here together just to pass time. You said how the coffee tasted so fine.

So, I didn’t have the horrible pangs of regret that the song portrays. I have to say, it’s one of the few moments during that portion of my life where I didn’t screw things up so badly. I honestly, up until that point, would have been the guy who had that conversation, sat all night in the corner booth and maybe even have been personable and enjoyable. What I would have done then, though, is analyzed the situation to death and actually messed it all up.

What I don’t think people realize is that Andrea and I didn’t start out in the whole “love at first sight” kind of relationship. We actually weren’t that friendly at all. I can say, without embarrassment and with complete confidence that from my perspective I figured she was the typical California girl. She was blonde, extremely attractive, wanted to be an anchor, wanted attention and I acted like there’s no way either of us could possibly like each other. But given what you now know about me – how I was a geeky, shy, quiet to the point of unlikable guy – I really was infatuated with her and knew full well that she wouldn’t give me a second glance, and it ticked me off. A lot.

I remember the day that changed, though. We were covering some community meeting together. She was reporting, I was her photographer for the story. We were stuck in a community room in Council Bluffs, Iowa, waiting for the rest of the people to come into the room. The meeting, as was inevitable in Iowa politics, was late even getting started. We were all hungry and the only food was a small vending machine in the hallway. They wanted, at the time, fifty cents for a Hershey bar. I made some grumpy (me? grumpy?) comment about how expensive it was and to my astonishment she agreed!

“You know, I remember when these were a dime,” I said quietly to myself.


“Hershey bars. They used to be a dime. I was really little, probably 7 or 8, and my Mom used to give me a buck or two to go to Shellhammer’s grocery down the street from our house. I’d get the loaves of bread she wanted with it and there was always ten cents left from the bread and I’d buy a Hershey bar with it. I’d get about halfway home with the box of bread, sit on the curb, open the candy bar, and eat it before heading the rest of the way home.”

Andrea had an annoyed look on her face. (I remember this. You can look at the screen incredulously all you want, but friends will tell you I have an amazing brain for the most ridiculous of miscellany.) She shook her head, and just said:

“You’re nuts!”


“You’re crazy. A Hershey bar was never ten cents. As long as I can remember, NO candy bar was ever ten cents.”

“It was in O’Neill, Nebraska.”

That was the key, believe it or not. My hometown.

“You’re from O’Neill?”

I honestly had no idea why being from O’Neill could ever have connected with this girl. She was from California. She was a blonde, liberal, hard partying, well endowed, beautiful girl. There’s no way she could know about O’Neill.

Here’s where you need to know something. At it’s peak, or the peak of my life there, O’Neill’s largest population was probably 3,700 people at most. It existed and was well traveled because US Highways 281 and 20 met in the town. It was a crossroads for campers, travelers and shipping for the Northern part of the state. But if you’re from California and don’t have relatives in O’Neill, your only indication that O’Neill was even there was if something tragic happened or a tornado touched down.

“My best friend is from O’Neill.” I continued to look at her. I knew a lot of people, but for someone like her I doubted I’d have moved in the same circles. But she mentioned who it was and I was stammering.

“Yeah. I know her. I went to High School with her, as a matter of fact.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this. It was a particular moment, a fixed point in time that you can actually feel the changes as they happen. The room got immediately smaller. We were talking about our mutual friend/acquaintance. I saw this woman in a new light. My whole attitude was shifted. In fact, I forgot all my preconceived notions about who she was. The thought that she’d look at me with disdain or even a tinge of disgust just disappeared. She was looking at ME differently, too. I could tell.

“I have to know more about her (Andrea’s best friend) from when she was a kid. Are you working late? I am going out with a bunch of friends tonight . . . ” . . . which was the line I’d been waiting for. Start to ask if I want to hang out then find a reason to drop me . . . “. . . but can we have coffee after work? You can meet all of us!”

I wasn’t doing anything. Well, wait, that’s not true. I DO remember that I was supposed to rehearse with the cover band I’d joined. Let’s face it, though. I could hang out with a bunch of stoned-out, too-loud, ’80’s-obsessed musicians who walked around in the hazy fog smelling of ditch weed or I could hang out with a beautiful, blonde, funny girl.

Ummm . . . yeah. I’m a musician, but I have my priorities.

The promo photo for my first band


We met at a place called “M’s Pub” in Omaha’s “Old Market” area. (It’s still there, by the way. If you’re in the mood, get their linguine with pesto and grilled chicken.) We were only supposed to have coffee. I couldn’t resist, I ordered a piece of flourless chocolate torte that had a vanilla sauce of some sort. It was amazing, went with the coffee and it was rich beyond my wildest imagination.

“I can’t eat this all, you want a bite?”

She apparently couldn’t resist, either, because she had a bite . . . or 3. We drank our coffee and talked about her best friend. I went to school with her, got closer to her through Andrea as well, and had an amazingly wonderful, friendly evening. Her mother had lived in O’Neill during WWII as her father fought in the war…just down the street from my Grandma. She wasn’t cold or off-putting, she was talking to me like she’d known me for a long time. She told me she had relatives in Norfolk, a town on the way to O’Neill, even asked if I could drive her there over the holidays. She hated driving alone. I’m not an idiot, of course I agreed, but that’s another story, and I thought she’d forget.

We didn’t have a date. There were other people there. We had coffee. We talked. We laughed. It was the first time I’d been anywhere with people and a beautiful girl singled ME out. She looked at me and we acted like we were the only people in the room. Her friends were leaving, pulling at her, telling her she had to go. She was halfway out the door as I stood up to pay the check. It had been an amazing, fun night, but I figured this was how it would end, with me alone again.

Then I turned around and she was running up to me.

“Thanks for the coffee. This was fun! You should come out with us again!”

She gave me a big hug.

She’d really been sort of aggravated and annoyed that we were working together and dealing with me, but part of that, I know now, was that I hadn’t made myself anywhere near pleasant to her, either.

It’s not in my lexicon of first dates because . . . well that was months, maybe even a year before we actually went out.

But then the Cream song came on my Spotify account and it threw that memory back into my memory synapses. For us, the lyric was really true.

We sat here together just to pass time.

I marvel at how this almost became the melancholy story, the crazy “what if” moment for both of us.

But never before had the coffee tasted so fine.