To My Sister, Beth, On Her Birthday

Since it has been a month since my last post, and since today is a very special day, I figured I’d share a little bit about someone who I have spent most of my life with, and someone I could not imagine life without.

My sister, Beth.

Elizabeth Ann Aiello was born on March 19, 1973.  Being only 2 1/2 years old at the time, I was relatively unaware of what a profound impact this little girl would have on my life.

In the early 1970s, there was no way for parents determine the sex of their future child.  They had to choose boy and girl names and be ready for the outcome.  My parents chose Elizabeth Ann for a girl, and Robert Carl for a boy.  When I was much younger, I wondered what it would have been like to have Robert Carl instead of Elizabeth Ann.  But that wonder was short-lived.  I couldn’t be happier to have my little sister in my life.  I thought so then, and I think so still today.

As siblings, Beth and I grew up fairly close.  Naturally, we had our share of big fights, as any siblings do; but for the most part we got along really well.  We were each other’s best friends at times when it seemed like we didn’t have any others around.   We stuck up for each other, and watched out for each other.  We still do.

I can’t really remember my earliest memory of my sister, but thanks to a decent long-term memory, thousands of family photos, and a few treasured audio recordings from our childhood, I know we always had a fun time together.

Rick and Beth, 1975Our bedrooms were our playrooms and we’d mess them up with games and puzzles and whatever else we could get our hands on.  We played our Bee Gees and “Grease” albums until the grooves wore down, and sang along until our voices were hoarse.  Beth was always a better artist than I, but anything we could do to be creative was fun for both of us; from coloring to drawing to painting-by-numbers.

We had active and wild imaginations, and always came up with creative games to play, from “School” to “Radio Station;” to huge villages made of “Little People” houses or streets and mansions in our sandbox that our Dad built for us.  We fashioned forts in the living room out of various items, or in the backyard with our lawn chairs.  We had the most intense paper airplane wars known to mankind, and spent hours playing Monopoly, with games that lasted not hours or even days, but WEEKS.

Rick and Beth on the SwingsetSo many fun things we did are fresh in my memory:  Backyard baseball (and knocking Dad’s prized rose buds off with the baseball bat); the swingset, swinging so high that the set would ‘pump;’ making Chef Boy-Ar-Dee cheese pizzas for lunch; phone calls to WRKR and “The Real Mike Neal;” roller skating in the garage to the “Muppet Movie” soundtrack; hunting for caterpillars in Turco’s field; picking and eating the fresh raspberries in the backyard and avoiding the bumblebees; long bike rides around the block and beyond; endless summer trips to Anderson Pool, which was right at the end of our block.

The list could go on for paragraphs, and you would be reading it for hours.  It seemed we always found something to occupy our time. Most times we did things with friends, but many times we did things just with each other.  Whatever we did, we had fun doing it.

One thing we shared that has remained strong to this day is our love of music and theater.  Beth took tap dancing first, and as the story goes, she was struggling while practicing with my mom and I came up and showed her how to do the step.  My mom asked me if I wanted to take tap, too; and before I knew it we were both taking lessons.  We did that for most of our childhood, performing in recitals alone and together.  We made quite a team.

Naturally as we got older, things changed a bit.  Pre-teen tensions caused occasional angst, but we were still often  together.  We both played basketball in grade school, but she was much more active in softball, soccer and volleyball.  I always admired her for her athletic ability, which was clearly greater than mine.  As we entered high school, we kept our love of music and theater alive by performing in chorus and in musicals.  We didn’t always get the biggest roles, but we still had a great time.

When we got old enough to get jobs, we even did that together– heading down to Six Flags Great America with our friend and long-time next door neighbor Becky Turco to apply for jobs.  Little did we know at the time that we’d both spend over 10 years working at the park, learning skills that would help us determine our future careers.

But as time wore on, we finally started plotting our own paths.  I moved to Chicago in 1997, and Beth, who was the first to move out of the house in around 1994, stayed around Kenosha for a while.  Eventually she met her future husband, Geoff, and they moved to Delavan, WI together just before getting married in 2002.  It would be five years before they had their daughters, Abby and Emily; and in the span of that time, we suffered the loss of our father.  Somewhere in the course of the last decade, we became full-fledged adults.  It all happened so quickly.

Abby, Geoff, Beth and Emily - Summer 2009I love and admire my sister so much.  I probably don’t tell her that very often, and I need to be better about that.  She married a wonderful guy, has a wonderful family, and is raising her beautiful daughters with so much love and affection and attention.  She’s a wonderful mother, wife, daughter and sister.  I think she needs to hear that more frequently.

So today, on her 37th birthday (sorry, Beth, but I’m still closer to 40 so you have nothing to complain about), I wish her a happy and wonderful birthday, with many more to come.

Happy Birthday, Beth.  Love, your big bro.

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Happy 10th Birthday, Pippin!

Pippin and clock - 7weeks

In honor of Pippin’s 10th birthday, I thought it’d be fun to share a “Top 10” list of little-known Pippin facts.  Facts about my cat, not the Broadway show.

  1. Pippin was adopted from a girl I worked with at Crate & Barrel.  She put up a sign in the stockroom advertising “Gray Kittens.” She was asking $10 for each kitten, but I don’t think I ever paid her.
  2. Pippin has moved with me three times.
  3. Pippin and I spent the first few months alone, and then when we moved to Andersonville with Jason and Chad in July of 2000, he encountered his first roommate, Kiki.  I discovered that Pippin does much better living with a roommate.
  4. Pippin has 8 of his 9 lives.  He spent one when he fell out of our third floor porch window one night in 2000, which led to a frantic search for him all throughout the neighborhood.  I found him in front of the building, trying to claw himself into a basement window.
  5. Pippin met his now-brother, Screech, in May of 2001.  They’ve been inseparable ever since.
  6. Pippin 7 WeeksPippin was named after the 1971 musical, “Pippin,” by Stephen Schwartz.
  7. Pippin is definitely a Tabby, but more than one person has mentioned they can see Abyssinian in him as well.
  8. Pippin is a small cat, especially when compared to his younger, but much bigger, brother. I often wonder if he was the runt of the litter.
  9. Pippin is extremely cuddly and affectionate, but of my two boys he is absolutely the scoundrel.  If there is food within reach, Pippin will find it.
  10. When I adopted Pippin he was only 7 weeks old.  I estimated his birthday to be February 17 since I adopted him on May 17, 2000.  Adopting Pippin was one of the best things I ever did.  He’s brought me so much joy and love.  I can’t imagine not having a pet now.  These 10 years have gone by so fast… I hope we have 10 more in our future.  Happy Birthday, Pippin!

Pippin at Christmas 2009

Happy Birthday, Abby and Emily!!!

I can hardly believe that one year ago, my twin nieces were born.  The year has gone by so quickly, and they have brought us so much joy.  

Looking back on that day, when I got the call (at 3 in the morning!) that they were coming, it was the end of a long, difficult and scary road for my sister.  She had gone through so much just to have these babies, and the journey to actually having them was marked with a lot of frightening moments.  But on that day, two beautiful little girls were born, and our lives were changed forever.

So happy birthday to Abigail Grace and Emily Michele.  Your Uncle Rick loves you, and can’t wait for the many wonderful years to come!

Here’s a retrospective of each girls’ first year in pictures.  It’s amazing how quickly they’ve grown up!

Emily Michele

Emily, a year ago today!

emily3

Emily in the Hospital at 2 Weeks

Emily at 3 Weeks.  She was the first of the twins I got to hold.

 

Emily at Easter, April 2008.

 

Emily and Uncle Rick, Mother’s Day 2008

Me with Emily

Emily at her Baby Shower, June 2008

emily

Emily at Grandma’s, July 2008

Emily at Grandma’s again, October 2008

Emily on Thanksgiving Day 2008

Emily, Christmas Day 2008

 

Abigail Grace

Abby, on her birthday a year ago

abby1

Abby at two weeks

Abby, three weeks

Abby at Easter, April 2008

Abby on Mother’s Day, May 2008

Abby with Grandma Aiello

Abby at her Baby Shower, June 2008

abby

Abby at Grandma’s, July 2008

Giggly Abby 

Abby at Grandma’s, October 2008

Toys are fun! 

Abby at Thanksgiving, November 2008

Abby playing 

Abby at Christmas, December 2008

Abby is all smiles!

Abby (left) and Emily (right) on Halloween

Abby and Emily ready for Trick or Treating

The Twins with Mommy at Christmas

Mommy and her girls

Re-Launch: The Horror of the Pinewood Derby

Originally posted August 30, 2005

“Hey Rick,” my co-worker asked me as we I was stirring my coffee this morning in the break room. “Were you in the Cub Scouts as a kid?”

“Yeah,” I replied, throwing away my stirrer and popping in a slice of toast. “I spent some time as a Cub Scout, years ago.”

“Did you ever do the Pinewood Derby?”

I shuddered. Memories flew back into my brain that I’d tried to shut out for years. I took a swig of the acid-based coffee in my hand and composed myself. This was no time for a display of cowardice. I could handle it.

“Oh yeah. I remember it well,” I replied. “And thank you so very much for bringing up a horrible chapter of my childhood.”

I tried to feign a sense of disdain for the subject in front of my co-worker, but I couldn’t escape the reality that the subject did evoke a moment of terror in my heart, just as it had over 25 years ago.

“Oh I’m sorry,” he said, pouring himself a cup of coffee, only to find that I had drained the last few drops from the pot. I didn’t mean to do it, but that’s just how his luck was running. Serves him right for bringing up that wretched subject anyway.

“I didn’t mean to bring up a sore subject,” he continued, not seeming to care that I probably didn’t want to talk about it, “But I have a friend that somehow got his hands on a Pinewood Derby racetrack, and I was thinking it would be fun to have a Pinewood Derby race, you know, like we did when we were kids.”

“Really,” I replied. “Well don’t get that track anywhere near me, or I’ll be likely to burn it,” I said.

The Pinewood Derby, in case you are not familiar with the term, is this insipid contest that Boy Scouts hold where each boy is given a block of wood and is expected to build a car out of it. I assume the wood was pine, but whether it was elm, birch, maple or cherry, I didn’t care then, and I still don’t care today. Unless of course it was lining the floors in my home. And even then I might not care that much.

So we all set out to build our dream cars. I forget if we were given wheels for the cars or not, but apparently we had to design our cars so that it would go down this stupid track faster than anyone else’s. And apparently there were a bunch of tricks that one could employ to ensure that one’s car ran faster, but I had no idea what those tricks were, and surely nobody was ever going to tell me, so that I could then, in turn, tell my Dad, and have him build me that fastest, meanest Pinewood Derby car ever. Oh no. I wasn’t that fortunate at all.

The thing that makes me wonder about these races anyway is, do they really think these 7, 8, and 9-year old kids are going to build these cars themselves? Do they really think their parents are going to let them use the saws, planes, sanders, and other big, manly power tools necessary to accomplish such a feat as building a small car out of a chunk of a 2×4? Of course not. So who do these kids turn to in order to accomplish this feat?

Dad.

Now I love my dad. I did then, and I do now. My dad could do a lot of things. He built our garage, three fences, and various other boxes, storage units, and shelving units for our home. He could make repairs fairly well, and get things running again as well as the next dad. He was handy. And that was good. And we loved him no matter what he could or couldn’t do.

But this tortuous event not only proved to me how inept I was at designing the fastest, meanest Pinewood car in all of Cub Scout Troop 507, but it also proved how inept my dad was at doing it as well. He never had to do any sort of Pinewood Derby racing when he was a kid. They didn’t have such means of torture back then. Lucky bastard.

Of course, lucky as he was, my father also had a son that wanted to win if he could, even though he knew that the other kids would probably have a much better chance than he did, no matter how hard he tried.

So Dad and I set out to make my Pinewood Derby car. It was all my Dad’s design. And for what it was, it was sleek and sexy. He painted it black with a glossy paint and put numbers on the sides. By all normal standards, it was a damn nice little car.

But getting it to move was another story. It just didn’t have much “go” to it. We greased the wheels as best we could, but it just didn’t seem to move.

I think we just figured that maybe this is how these cars are supposed to run, so we just let it be. That’s the Aiello way– let it be.

I knew we were doomed right from the start on the night of the Pinewood Derby when we walked into the school gymnasium. Other kids were showing off their cars. They were hot. They were flashy. They were sexy. And they were fast.

When the kids saw my car, they laughed. It was primitive in comparison to the souped-up contraptions they had. Their cars looked like they had bought them at a department store. My car looked like something fashioned out of mud after a rainy day.

In my defense, I did the only thing I could think of to deal with the embarrassment. I cried. And when I would cry, the kids would only tease me more. And when the kids would tease me, I would lose my temper. And when I lost my temper, my dad would get angry with me. You see where this is going, don’t you?

So they set up the cars to race. My pithy little hunk of junk against the fast and the furious. The cap gun blew, and they were off.

It would be too easy, too cliche’, and too uplifting to say that I won the race. It would also be a lie. Because I didn’t win the race… I lost. I lost badly. My little car just moseyed down the ramp while the others actually raced. I don’t think my car even got to the finish line. It probably stopped mid-way down, they just pulled it off the track. I was humiliated.

So I did the one thing I could do to defend myself against my feelings of humiliation. I blamed my father.

In a fit of rage, I cried, yelled and screamed at him. In front of everyone.

And my father– himself humiliated– took me by the arm and led me out of the gymnasium where the event was being held. And he let me have it, but good.

At the time, I despised him for doing it, but in hindsight, I probably deserved it. What kind of example was I setting by throwing a fit in front of parents, friends and family? A horrible one. I was being a brat, and I deserved to be treated like a brat.

To this day, the Pinewood Derby debacle (also known as the “Blue & Gold Banquet” Fight, which is the name of the event where the Pinewood Derby took place) is a sore subject between my father and me. It represented a very low point in our relationship, and neither one of us is proud of how we handled it.

But it is a moment in time. One that try not to think about, except for when some smart-alecky co-worker decides to bring it up and dredge all these painful memories from out of my past.

I forgive him that, though. He doesn’t know the pain I went through. All at the expense of a little chunk of wood.

But through that pain came a few life-long lessons. And an interesting story to tell.

Frozen, but still here!

Just wanted to pop in and say, yes, I’m still here. And I’m sorry I haven’t written much lately. I just haven’t really had that much to say.

After all, how many posts about the weather can one bear?

To sum up…

It’s fucking freezing out there.

This winter has been one of the worst I can recall in years. Aside from the practically nonstop snow, this cold is ridiculous. Right now, the temperature is -16 outside. My car is buried, not only in snow but now, ice.  I’ve been taking the train every day to work (which really hasn’t been that awful, except for the past few days when it’s been so brutally cold).  I’m sorry, but this is just not right. Penguins are meant for temps like this, not people.

Yesterday the Chicago Tribune ran an article on the front page of their website titled, “Why do we live here?” It was funny that they did that, because I’d been asking myself that same question all week. In fact, I’ve asked myself that question all winter.

So what is my answer?  Well, there are a few good reasons.

First, I’ve lived in the Midwest all my life. Born and raised in Kenosha, WI and now in Chicago. I’ve never lived anywhere else.

Second, my family is near here. I’m an hour or so away from home, and if I need to be there, I’m a quick car ride away.

Third, I don’t live here for the winters. I live here for the other seasons. Winter lasts all of three, maybe four months, tops. It’s miserable, but it turns into spring. And spring around here is really quite nice. And then of course, spring leads to summer; which can be painful if it’s too humid, but for the most part is still worth the wait through three or four months of cold, hard winter. And then, Autumn is beautiful with the colors and the crispness of the air.

I thought about what it would be like to live in warmer climes, and heard all kinds of suggestions from people who live in those climes. Florida, right now, is wonderful; but come summer, it’s so humid that I wouldn’t be able to breathe. And I’m enough of a basket case when we get an occasional thunderstorm, so hurricanes would not sit right with me at all.

Arizona, right now, is amazing. But come summer, I’m sorry, 120 degree heat is 120 degree heat; and I don’t care how friggin’ dry it is.

California is a great place to visit, but I’ve known far too many friends who tried to “make it” there, only to end up back home to the midwest after a while. Some claimed the people were not to their liking; others couldn’t deal with the inflated cost of living (especially in desireable places like San Francicsco).  Still others hated the earthquakes (that’d by my downfall). Whatever the reason, they always seem to end up back home again.

And then there was another factor that I didn’t consider, that more than one person reminded me of:  Bugs.  And I don’t mean the occasional spider or centipede… I’m talking mongoloid monster bugs, like flying cockroaches, hairy spiders and (*shudder*) scorpions. Seriously, folks… the fact that those monsters can’t survive up here because it gets as cold as it gets up here is enough reason for me to want to stay.

But really, the main reason why I live here is due to family. And not just my blood relatives, but the friends that I have here as well. Sure, the idea of trying out a new location is exciting. There’s something to be said for getting a “Fresh start” somewhere new.

But I know me. And I know that after a while the excitement would die off, and I’d be incredibly homesick. Despite all of the bitching and moaning I, and people like me do about the weather here, I do love it here. And in the end, I would not trade this place for anywhere else in the world.

So I guess I’m going to stay.

Well, I have to go start mummifying myself to catch a train.

Happy Friday! 🙂