Sep 05

America: It’s Time to Grow a Pair

As I enter the waning years of my 30s I can’t help but fondly remember some of the crazy things my friends and I used to do growing up. I imagine that these were not special to just those of us in South Philly but things that happened everywhere.

Going out for Halloween meant that, along with a few friends, we would canvas what must have been two square miles of houses — without a parent in tow.  Our costumes were plastic and flammable and were sometimes so generic they had to show pictures on them of who we were supposed to be. We would end up gathering so much candy that we would not only have to use pillowcases, but also need to stop home halfway through to empty them. 

Playing outside meant that we would play football in the street using car bumpers and telephone poles as end-zones, stopping only when either a car came barreling down the block or when one of our parents dragged us in for dinner by our ears.  We would be filthy at the end of the day. Knees that would get scraped on the asphalt would crust over with blood and dirt, but we kept on playing.

Lunch

A typical school lunch in the 80s.

In school, our lunches were packed with calories and carbohydrates. Peanut butter and jelly were considered food groups. Tastykakes weren’t a treat, they were a pre-requisite. And if you were given your meals by the school system then ketchup was a vegetable, the meat was a mystery and the ice cream was always served to you with a wooden spoon. It was all delicious!

Recess meant that we would run around for 45 minutes on a playground, playing tag or jailbreak or kickball. We would keep score, even when only playing for fun. We would crush soda cans and play hockey using our feet. There was nothing quite like playing goalie and catching a squashed and jagged disk of aluminum with our bare hands to prevent a goal.

Now kids have it differently.

Halloween is something that must be coordinated during daylight hours and practiced only at the shopping mall. Instead of knocking on doors and getting treats, kids end up getting candy from Victoria’s Secret.  Costumes must be bright and safe and candy must be triple checked for saturated fats and allergens. Kids dressed a cowboys can’t carry cap guns. All costumes must be sanitized for social acceptance and in school the Halloween parades have been replaced by October Optional Costume Galas so as not to offend.

Playtime must be done only while wearing the appropriate safety wear. Helmets and kneepads must be worn not just for sports but also while riding bikes. Playing in the street is deemed too unsafe so everything must be done at the park or at the playground and only with the parents present.

School lunches are sterilized and preapproved by the Surgeon General for maximum health standard. The food pyramid has been replaced by a complex food dodecahedron. Kids are scanned at the door upon entering schools not just for weapons but for something far more deadly: peanuts. Can’t chance it that Timmy in Mrs. Green’s class would go into anaphylactic shock knowing that there’s a Snickers bar on the premises.  

Candyland Gym

Sadly, this is just plastic and not made of licorice.

Recess is handled like a police state.  No running. Children may only walk or dance merrily across the school yard. Kickball and dodge ball do not exist. No one is allowed to keep score because no one is allowed to lose. Swing sets and jungle gyms have been replaced with fancier equipment that is safer for kids and the ground beneath their feet must be made from recycled tires. Even wood chips are far too deadly a surface to consider.

For Heaven’s sake, America!  Open your eyes and grow a pair!

This latest generation of children is being raised to be nothing but a bunch of wimps! We’re creating a community of cowards; a population of the over-protected. It’s as if the only epidemic we really need to worry about as a society is not the bird flu but Obsessive Parenting.  Kids aren’t allowed to be kids anymore.  They have to be protected 24/7 by all means necessary, and that’s doing a bigger disservice to them than even the most painful budget cuts to education ever will.

Part of what made me the man I am today is all of the cuts and scrapes I had as a child.  I broke both of my wrists when I was 13 years old when I jumped from the hood of a parked car while wrestling with some of my friends.  After that day I learned never to jump from the hood of a parked car.  A simple lesson, really, but clearly one that I needed to learn.

A lifetime of full-fat bologna and cheese sandwiches with lemon pies and chocolate pudding for lunch led me to the palate I have now. I eat sushi and tomatoes and mushrooms and shrimp and countless other foods that I wouldn’t have dared to touch when I was a youngster. And, God help me, I even ate peanuts.  So many peanuts that I could have sent a school bus full of Autism Spectrum prevalent adolescents to the ER for life.

When I was bad I would get spanked. Or slapped. Occasionally even a hard plastic or wooden brush was used.  Whatever was in my mother’s hands was a weapon because it at least kept her from breaking the blood vessels in her palms. Does this mean I was abused?  Hell no!  If I was being a brat I deserved it.  Today, eight-year-olds are using their iPhones to text CPS to report their parents for child abuse.

It’s time to wake up.  It’s time to let kids know that it’s OK to fall because that’s how you learn to get up again. It’s OK to lose because that’s how you learn to become a gracious winner.  It’s OK to get scraped and cut because that’s how you learn to deal with adversity until you are healed.  It’s OK to not like the things that other people like, or be the same kind of person that someone else is, because being different isn’t  a challenge to be overcome.  Being different is what makes us unique.

Nuts

A tasty snack, or weapons of mass destruction?

Stop being over-protective! Let your children be children! In order to let them learn from their mistakes you have to let them be able to make a mistake in the first place.  This isn’t to say that care should not be taken when it comes to the life of a child.  But being over protective does nothing more than mold a person into someone who cannot handle the twists and turns that life puts in front of us.

I’m grateful for my childhood of mistakes and the lessons my parents taught me. I’m thankful for the opportunities I was given in school, both to succeed and to fail. Those situations helped form the basis of my intelligence and my street smarts and frankly one of those two are something that this country is in short supply of lately.

Far be it for someone who has no children to tell you how to raise your own. But considering that I spent a good part of my life as a child I still think I’m entitled to an opinion on the matter.

Wounds heal. So do hurt feelings. And unless you allow your children to learn these things on their own and give them the opportunity to do so, then you’re not allowing them to be the best potential adults they can be.  Stop being so overly-cautious and see what happens.

Your kids may just surprise you.

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Aug 24

The Spur of the Moment

A few weeks ago, my wife Nicole and I planned on a nice quiet weekend at home catching up on some cleaning around the house.  Sorting through the stacks and stacks of comic books I’ve been accumulating and putting them into some semblance of order was also on the agenda.  But after venturing outside for breakfast and enjoying the sun’s warmth and the bright blue skies, we were quickly re-thinking that maybe we should take a ride somewhere outdoors and enjoy the day some before getting to work tidying up the house. 

ReStore

They sell all sorts of stuff like this at the ReStore? No $#!T?

Nicole recommended that maybe we should check out the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Lancaster so we got into the truck and hit the PA Turnpike heading west. We love the ReStores in the area and have enjoyed walking through them looking for various items to use for household projects or second-hand furniture that needs some TLC to get back into like-new condition. We have been to the ones in Chalfont, Chester, Coatesville and Lancaster (as well two in South Jersey) and found some great bargains along the way.  So getting into the car and driving 80 minutes away for something like this isn’t quite as out of the ordinary for us as it seems.

But a funny thing happened once we got out to Lancaster.

Upon leaving the ReStore we decided to grab a bite to eat and maybe check out the nearby Rockvale Outlets. After noshing at a sub-par Asian buffet we strolled around the outlets and did a bit of shopping. We made one final stop at the Nissley Wine Shop and then looked at the clock only to realize it was already 8:30pm. We loaded ourselves back into the truck and started the journey home along Lincoln Highway.

And then it struck us.  “Why not stay the night?”  “We don’t have kids (by choice)!”  “The cats can fend for themselves for one night (or two, even).”  Why ruin the chance to be spontaneous and go home when there were hotels all around the area?  As long as we stayed below $125.00 for the room it seemed worth it for the adventure, and we were sure that there were plenty of places to stay. Or so we thought.

We drove up to a hotel where we’ve stayed before on one of our many Lancaster mini-vacations. Too expensive. We popped in the GPS and searched for other nearby reputable hotels. The first phone call was too expensive.  The next one had no rooms.  The one after that had no rooms.  It was now 9:00pm and we hadn’t found anything. I remembered we had a gift certificate for the Fulton Steamboat Inn, so we headed over and checked inside at the front desk.  No rooms available.  We went back out to the car and made another call…this time to the Continental Inn, the very place where we stayed this past New Year’s Eve.

Continental Inn

Alas! We meet again, Continental Inn!

We were in luck!  Not only did they have a room left, but they worked with us on the price since it was so late in the evening.  We quickly drove over to check in.  It was 9:30pm and our night had been reborn.  We realized that we still needed to grab some additional items in order to stay the night, so after stopping into the room to put our Nissley wine into the refrigerator to chill, we headed over to the local Walmart.  About 1/2 hour later we were driving away with toiletries, some underwear (to go with the clothes we had already bought earlier in the day at the outlets) and confidence that we were about to pull it off.  We were about to just stay the night somewhere for the hell of it. And we even had some chilled white wine to celebrate the occasion!

The next morning we showered and got dressed into our new wardrobes, partook of the complimentary breakfast and relaxed in the hotel until it was time to check-out. We diverted from the immediate way home via Manheim, PA in order to stop off at the Basket Warehouse, one of our favorite spots for cool things for inside and outside of the home.  At around 1:30pm on Sunday we arrived back at our driveway, more than 27 hours later than when we first drove away thinking it was just going to be a quick trip.

We learned that there’s nothing like a little unplanned overnight trip only 90 miles from your house to make you feel free.  So we’ve planned to quit planning ahead.  Our truck is now fully equipped with a go bag. Everything is in there in case we decide to do something like this again, and I do mean everything.

It’s a great feeling to know that you can do something spontaneous like this without a second thought. It’s even better knowing that you have someone amazing with whom to share the experience.

I have everything in the world: a wife who loves adventure; the financial stability to be able to do things like this at the spur of the moment; an independent lifestyle that allows for these sorts of opportunities…

…and a clean pair of underwear in our trunk.

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Jul 31

When Blogs Collide

Those of you who have found my blog via the Montgomery News blog section have likely also perused the website’s other featured blogs.  And those of you who found my blog because you know me and I have incessantly bragged about it every time I’ve posted a new entry, I hope you also have checked back via the link on my sidebar to the Montgomery News Blog section so that you too can check out other blogs on the site because there are some really great ones there.

One of those featured blogs is the “I Love Skippack” blog run by a gentleman named Michael Shaw. After befriending Mike online and keeping up with his blog I’ve come to learn a little bit about this little community not too far from my home without ever stepping foot into the village of Skippack. So last Sunday my wife Nicole and I made the decision to remedy that situation and see if this place is as great as Mike Shaw says it is.

The stars of the "I Love Skippack" blog: Mike Shaw and his wife, Debby

In the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I had originally planned to go to Nockamixon State Park but the weather in Quakertown was iffy and with a 50% chance of thunderstorms putting a damper on the prospect of hiking and swimming we decided that a Sunday of shopping and strolling was on the agenda instead.  So we headed out to Skippack with both open mind and wallet.

Our first stop was the Skippack Farmers’ Market at the Montgomery County 4H Center parking lot in the town of Creamery, PA. Maybe it was the weather forecast or the fact that it was sweltering hot at only 10:30am, but of the 16 advertised vendors on the market’s website, only six were present. And that’s counting the magician/juggler who I still can’t figure out what he was there for. Still, Nicole and I managed to buy some tiny cups of homemade ice cream to get our appetites going, a loaf of multi-grain bread we intended to have with dinner, and some sugar plums from a local farm.  Speaking of local farms, there was one stand selling ears of corn for 25-cents apiece or six for three dollars.  Let me say that again. One ear was only twenty five cents, but if you wanted five more ears you needed three dollars. Unfortunately the two young people working the stand didn’t understand their faulty math and economics.

Welcome to Skippack

We departed and headed to Skippack proper, pulling into the parking lot of the Skippack Village Italian Market. The owners must have been cutting and peeling enough onions for an army because when we walked in my eyes started tearing like I was watching the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s UP. (Damn you, Pixar!) After explaining we were visiting Skippack for the first time, the owners gave us a visitor’s map of Skippack and the rundown on their own menu. Despite my physical distress, the smells coming from the market were amazing so Nicole and I couldn’t help but order some food.

We were ushered into another room that was both cozy and free of the onion vapors where the missus had a hoagie of her own concoction featuring fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and roasted red peppers. I went with the hot Roast Pork Italiano with aged provolone and broccoli rabe. After taking one bite of my sandwich I was in foodie heaven. I had to tell the owners that I had grown up in South Philly and sampled the notable and famous pork sandwiches from John’s and DiNic’s and Nick’s Roast Beef and their sandwich was right up there in the Pantheon of Palatable Pork Perfection.  We were then served two complimentary cannoli (one chocolate and one chocolate chip), which must be the owners’ crack-dealer-like way of giving the first taste for free knowing full well you’ll be hooked and come back for more.  I decided then and there that even if I wasn’t going to ever visit Skippack again, I was still going to stop at the Italian Market for years to come for some truly wonderful food.

Nicole and I drove off and parked a few blocks away in a lot that appeared to be the midway point of town.  Strolling to the front end we took in the sights before stopping in the multitude of quaint little shops and stores.

The Grand Fromage is Happiness in Your Mouth

As soon as I saw it on the map I knew I would be stopping in at The Grand Fromage, a store that boasts “Fine Cheeses & Charcuterie.” Boy, they weren’t kidding. We were given samples and within moments realized that our dinner plans for the evening were going to become wine, cheese and bread. We promised the folks in the shop we would return before we left because we didn’t want the cheese to sit in the car all day.

Another highlight of the trip was when we entered Black Sheep Pottery and were warmly welcomed by owner/founder/ceramic artist Nicole Dubrow. After being in her shop for two minutes I knew my wife would be signing up for lessons, as pottery was something she’s been itching to work with.  Talking with Dubrow you can easily see that not only is she a talented artist but that she is also very much in love with what she does. It shows in her work and she gave us some insight into the hand-crafted tiles she is making for a client’s kitchen project.

Hotel Fiesole is as beautiful inside as outside.

At the recommendation of the owner of The Grand Fromage, we took a peek inside Hotel Fiesole, a European-looking hotel with a trolley-car-turned-bar right just beyond the main lobby.  The décor was extravagant but classy. We asked if it was OK to walk around and decided that when we walked downstairs to the Bella Rossa bar we would partake of a liquid lunch: a glass of wine for the lady, a pilsner of beer for the lout.

We stopped in virtually every store in Skippack. We sampled wine from Cardinal Hollow Winery (although I passed on their jalapeno wine that I had a few times before). We chatted up the owner of Tara’s Country Cottage who informed us that Antler Ridge Winery would be opening shop in a portion of her building in only a few days, just in time for the upcoming First Friday in August.

Overall, it was a great day of walking and shopping and was really was nice to see that even on a Sunday it seemed that everything was still open.  I mused that this is what Jenkintown could be if it had more places to shop and the proprietors realized that the calendar has seven days a week and not six.

We finished the day with simple slices of pizza from Skippack Pizza (but only because the local sushi place, Tokyo, wasn’t open yet). We made one final stop at The Grand Fromage as promised — which apparently was the subject of a bet between the people working there — and picked up two amazing cheeses for dinner. We drove home vowing to return on August 5th for their First Friday celebration.  So, apparently this Mike Shaw guy knows what he’s talking about.

Thanks a lot, Mike.  I love Skippack, too!

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Jul 11

GeekHarmony (or Geeks Need Love, Too)

An idea dawned on me the other day while my wife and I were having a blissful weekend moment.

I think I want to help other geeks like myself find love.  I know that there are plenty of eligible geeks out there in cyberspace.  Heck, isn’t that about 80% of what the internet is completely comprised of at this point?   Considering I’ve had my fair share of relationships, some of which began on the internet, before I met my lovely bride, I know how hard it out there being a geek.  But through the grace of Zod and the powers of self-depricating humor I found true love.  And she just so happened to be as geeky as me. OK, maybe a little less geeky, but the point is that she accepts me for my geekiness.  Revels in it, actually, and I want to share that feeling with other people out there like myself. 

Shot Through The Heart...And You're To Blame...You Give Love...A GEEK NAME!

So, it’s about time I played Cupid and tried to set up the   Now here’s the deal.  I want you to ask yourself these simple questions (aloud is fine if you’re feeling particularly odd): 

  • Are you are a single (emphasis on this part…SINGLE!) person between the ages of 18 and 60?
  • Do you classify yourself as a geek?
  • Are you from the greater Southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, Central Jersey or Delaware area(s)?
  • Are you lonely and having trouble finding a compatible mate?
  • Are you feeling particularly brave?

Well, if you answered yes to all of these questions above and want to do something about it, then the Suburban Geek wants to hear from YOU!  (Wait, did I just refer to myself in the Third person?)

After conducting some preliminary interviews I will be selecting who I think are the “Most Eligible Geeks In The Area.”  I will then post a blog featuring the Geek of the Week with information on how to contact the featured party.  The intention is to help make a love connection for a pair of geeks (or a geek and a geek-friendly mate).

This is open to geeks of all shapes, sizes, races, genders, sexual preferences and pop culture obsessions.  If you are interested AND you agree to the terms and conditions listed below, please email me at SUBURBANGEEKBLOG@GMAIL.COM

And now for the fine print:

Limitation of Liability.
  1. Incidental Damages and Aggregate Liability. IN NO EVENT WILL THE SUBURBAN GEEK (Marc Lombardi) BE LIABLE FOR ANY INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, CONSEQUENTIAL OR INDIRECT DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF OR RELATING TO THE CONTACT INFORMATION PROVIDED WHEN TAKING PART IN THIS DATE-FINDING ESCAPADE  INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, DAMAGES FOR LOSS.
  2. No Liability for non-SuburbanGeek Actions. TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, IN NO EVENT WILL THE SUBURBAN GEEK (Marc Lombardi), HIS PUBLISHERS OR INTERNET/BLOG PROVIDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES WHATSOEVER, WHETHER DIRECT, INDIRECT, GENERAL, SPECIAL, COMPENSATORY, CONSEQUENTIAL, AND/OR INCIDENTAL, ARISING OUT OF OR RELATING TO THE CONDUCT OF YOU OR ANYONE ELSE IN CONNECTION WITH THE USE OF THIS BLOG FEATURE, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION, BODILY INJURY, EMOTIONAL DISTRESS, AND/OR ANY OTHER DAMAGES RESULTING FROM COMMUNICATIONS OR MEETINGS WITH ANY CONTACTS PROVIDED.  THIS INCLUDES ANY CLAIMS, LOSSES OR DAMAGES ARISING FROM THE CONDUCT OF RESPONDERS WHO CONTACT YOU UNDER FALSE PRETENSES OR WHO ATTEMPT TO DEFRAUD OR HARM YOU.
  3. Information Verification. THE SUBURBAN GEEK (Marc Lombardi) and its contractors may use various ways of verifying information that Geeks of Interest have provided. However, none of those ways are perfect, and you agree that THE SUBURBAN GEEK and its contractors will have no liability to you arising from any incorrectly verified information.
Indemnification.
You agree to indemnify, defend and hold harmless The Suburban Geek and all affiliated parties, for any losses, costs, liabilities and expenses (including reasonable attorneys’ fees) relating to or arising out of (a) your use of this particular blog feature or (b) your violation of any applicable laws, rules or regulations.
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Jun 29

Things to Do in Cincy When You’re Fed

I am writing this in the Cincinnati airport (which is technically in Kentucky, go figure) after spending the past two and a half days in Sharonville, OH for a business trip.  This meant staying the night in a city away from home without my wife for only the second time since we’ve been together, and it was the first time since we’ve been married over five years ago.

And just like any other married guy who finds himself as essentially a bachelor for a few days, knowing that my wife was nowhere nearby, there was only one thing on my mind…only one thing that I knew I could do without any repercussions or penalty as if I was still a single man…

Eat whatever I want.

OK, maybe that’s not entirely true.  I’m sure that when she reads this blog I’ll get in trouble. She’ll give me “that look” and make me feel terrible for eating like a pregnant woman for two days and not buckling down on my diet. But what am I supposed to do? Being on the road for two days means that I’m going to have to eat up to six or seven meals in restaurants and away from home.

That means none of my wife’s amazing home-cooked food. None of my hometown favorites or safe-havens, either.  Instead, I need to discover new places in this strange city.

The Cock & Bull English Pub

I’m not one of those people that find themselves in a new place and looks for somewhere like a T.G.I.Friday’s, Ruby Tuesday’s or any other chain restaurant named for a day of the week.  I love to find the hidden gems or places that only locals know about.  I’m the guy that tells visitors to Philly to avoid getting a cheesesteak at Pat’s or Geno’s and instead sends them to the lesser-known but infinitely-better Gooey Looie’s or Jim’s Steaks.  I’m the guy for whom shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Man vs. Food were made.

When my boss and I checked in at the hotel Monday evening we asked the woman working the front desk for the best typical Cincinnati place to eat.  She immediately mentioned that the biggest Cincinnati dining experience was eating either a “4-Way” or some Cheese Coneys at Skyline Chili.  A “4-Way” was explained as being a bowl of spaghetti topped with a form of thin chili with shredded cheddar cheese and either onions or red beans.  The Coney is the same local chili, onions and mounds of cheese served on top of a hot dog with mustard.

A "meal" at Skyline Chili

It was nearing 9pm and neither I nor my travel companion had eaten anything since noon, and the thought of a chili cheese dog didn’t sound so great.  So we passed on that idea and instead found a nearby English Pub with award-winning Fish & Chips and a Reuben that could go toe-to-toe with the finest Jewish delis on the East Coast.  It also didn’t hurt that the pub had several dozen beers on tap and a 50-cent Buffalo Wing special.

Tuesday morning began simple enough with a breakfast at the nearby Bob Evans and a business lunch with our client at a local chain restaurant called Stone Creek Dining Company.  The Spicy Italian Beef sandwich I had was a very tasty, jalapeno relish-laden version of a standard French Dip and the sweet potato frittes were excellent. But the star of the show was the spicy red pepper-balsamic vinaigrette dipping sauce concoction that was served with the oven-fresh bread.

Dinner gave me and my boss the opportunity to finally try Skyline for the city’s signature dish.  Upon entering Skyline Chili it reminded me of a McDonald’s with servers.  The look and ambiance said fast food but the service we received said five star.  The food was somewhere in between.

Black Rasberry Chip ice cream, or a purple scoop of Heaven?

Not knowing for sure if the “Datsa Gooda Italian Police” would haul me away for ordering spaghetti and chili, I decided to go for two of the Coney Dogs with the works and split an order of the Chili Cheese Fries.  The hot dogs were small and the mustard was unrecognizable. The chili itself was sweet and mild, with and almost cinnamon aftertaste. The combination wasn’t bad, but I would put the Skyline Chili Coney Dog up against any corner store cheesesteak from Philly any day of the week and not worry a moment about losing in a showdown.  After being relatively unsatisfied, my boss and I decided to go for it all and split an order of the 4-Way Pasta.  Strangely enough, I enjoyed that much more – even though we opted against getting the red beans added to the dish (making it a 5-Way).

With one half of our True Taste of Cincinnati adventure complete we decided that we had no choice but to head over to Graeter’s for their famous Black Raspberry Chip ice cream.  This creamery, which specializes in a technique that creates what’s called French Pot Ice Cream was the highlight of the two-location meal.  The texture of the ice cream wasn’t anything unexpected but the flavor was wonderful and definitely unique.  Unique in a good way, not like that girl you know with seven different hair colors and the piercings that make her face look like a connect the dots puzzle.

Just before leaving on Wednesday, the office we were visiting offered me a taste the last of the Cincinnati food finds: pizza from LaRosa’s.  Basically it’s a round thin crust (firm but not crunchy) pizza that is sliced in squares as opposed to triangular pieces. The sauce is sweet and plentiful while the cheese is provolone instead of mozzarella.  Much like sex, it is almost impossible to have really bad pizza.  But LaRosa’s wasn’t anything special and rather ho-hum. I’ve had microwaveable Tombstone pizzas that were more memorable and it’s certainly a ways off from being anything close to my favorite pizza from Nino’s.

A LaRosa's Pizzeria

So now I write this with a full belly and a mind that is content with doing my own version of the Cincinnati Taste Tour. I can say that I’ve done what any visitor to any new place should do, and that is I ate like someone who lives here.  Granted, someone who lives here isn’t getting anything that is nearly as tasty as the foods that Philadelphia and its suburbs are famous for.  But it was nice to try what makes a city famous when it comes to food even if it’s not that great.  There is a certain amount of fun in being able to eat like someone who was going to the electric chair the very next day.

Which, considering the likelihood of my wife killing me when I get home because of what I’ve been eating, is oddly appropriate.

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Jun 13

Nerd Prom is Almost Here!

Among my bretheren, commonly known as geeks, the annual Wizard World Comic Con is akin to your high school’s Senior Prom.

We get sweaty, excited, spend a lot of money and — in some instances — we’re even known to get dressed up.  The difference is those who dress up forego the cumberbun in favor of spandex tights.

WIZARD WORLD PHILADELPHIA, a comic book and pop culture convention that has now rebranded as Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con, will take place June 17-19 at the Philadelphia Convention Center.  Among the celebrity headliners will be Bruce Campbell (EVIL DEAD movies, “Burn Notice”), Adam Baldwin (FULL METAL JACKET, ”Firefly”), Bill Goldberg (WWE Wrestler), Julie Benz (“Angel”, “No Ordinary Family”), Pam Grier (JACKIE BROWN), Vivica A. Fox (KILL BILL vol.1 & 2),  Billy Dee Williams (STAR WARS: The Empire Strikes Back) and Adam West and Burt Ward from TV’s “Batman.” 

“Response to this year’s celebrities has been massive,” said Gareb Shamus, Wizard World CEO in a recent press release. “Philadelphia Comic Con is bringing its most robust and diverse guest list ever. Fans are psyched, and they have let us know.”

In the past few years, the Wizard World Comic Con has seen the prominence of comic books slip and a focus has been put more onto the celebrities showing up for autograph sesssions, making it more of a Pop Culture Convention as opposed to a pure Comic Book Convention.  As a diehard comic fan and someone who doesn’t generally care to pay a celeb anywhere from $20 to $75 for their signature on an 8″x10″ photo, this has been a disappointment.  But last year’s Wizard World experience — particularly that in the area known as Artist’s Alley — has led me to rethink my concerns with the direction the con has been moving.

While there are certainly going to be plenty of people at the con to see folks like Michael Biehn (TERMINATOR, ALIENS),  Alaina Huffman (“Smallville,” “SGU Stargate Universe”),  John Schneider (“Smallville,” “Dukes of Hazzard”) and Richard Roundtree (SHAFT, “Heroes), I know there are plenty others who may end up reading comics from the relatively unknown publishers lining the rows of Artists Alley.  And even though the bigger name companies like DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW and Image no longer have booths set up at the con, some of their creators are there on their own.  Additionally, the money that fans were normally spending at the big press booths is now being spent on small press and independent comics and in my mind that’s always a great thing.

Geeks like myself who started to get angry when it seemed that comics were no longer the focus of Wizard World should reconsider.  There are local companies, like Zenescope.  There are still other publishers who just don’t happen to be the Big Two.  There are still plenty of comics there. There are still plenty of ways to spend your money and tons of deals to be made on comics, apparrel and memorabilia.  There are still plenty of talented comic creators.  If anything, the creators who show up are even more likely to garner your attention and you never know when you’ll discover the next big thing in comics before they catch their big break.  Most importantly, there are still plenty of ways to have fun!

C’mon, it’s always great to see if you can snap a photo of Lou Ferrigno for free without him Hulking out at you!

Hours are Friday, June 17, noon – 8 p.m., Saturday, June 18, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., and Sunday, June 19, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tickets are available in advance online at http://www.wizardworld.com/philadelphia.html at a savings over tickets purchased at the door. Advance adult single-day tickets are priced at $25 ($35 on site); three-day weekend tickets are $45 ($55 on site), and tickets are free for children age 10 and under when accompanied by a paid adult (limit two children per adult). VIP packages with special entry and exclusive items are also available on a limited basis.

The full event schedule can be found at www.wizardworld.com.

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Jun 08

Roslyn Welcomes Pets And People This Weekend

I’m fairly certain that my regular readers know by now that I am a proud pet owner and what you would definitely consider an animal person.

What the more astute regular readers also may know about me is that I like to take part in making my community a better place by being involved in what I consider to be worthwhile causes and groups.

Well, I’d like to bring your attention to something that is a perfect marriage of the two. Something that, since the second year of its existence I have been fortunate enough to be involved in quite closely: The Roslyn Pet Fair.

Commissioner Lori Schreiber holding up 14 ounces of cuteness

The 6th Annual Roslyn Pet Fair will take place this coming Saturday, June 11th from 10am to 1pm at The Church of the Living Word, located at 1250 Easton Road in Roslyn. As always, admission to the event is 100% free! Additionally, well-behaved leashed pets are welcome since the day is really about them.

Organized by the Roslyn Events Committee, a group that is spearheaded by Abington Ward 14 Commissioner Lori Schreiber, the Roslyn Pet Fair has been providing a resource of donations and contributions to local animal charities since 2006.

Commissioner Schreiber described the Roslyn Pet Fair as an event that was created as a service to the local Roslyn community (and beyond) to help bring together pets, pet owners and homeless animals in need of being adopted. Every penny raised goes directly to the rescue groups and shelters set up at each year’s Fair. More importantly, the Roslyn Pet only supports groups or organizations that favor the ethical treatment of animals. No donations or proceeds are given to any group that breeds animals for profit.

What first started in a large parking lot across the street from the Roslyn Firehouse found a new home three years ago at The Church of the Living Word in the heart of Roslyn and centrally located on Easton Road. More importantly, the church offers a grassy locale to help those attendees with sensitive paws. Highlights of the Pet Fair regularly include a doggie pool to keep the pooches cool, sweets and food for sale for the two-legged attendees and plenty of freebies and giveaways from the committee and from some of the attendees.

Our Booth at the Pet Fair in 2009

In past years my wife and I have had tables set up under the name of “Two Hands for Four Paws” selling artwork (Nicole does sketches of people’s dogs and cats – and even once a parrot), homemade dog treats and handmade crafts. Much like the other artisans who set up at the Pet Fair every year, a portion of our proceeds were donated to be split equally amongst any of the animal rescues and non-profit organizations who show up to help make the world a better place for animals and the people who love them.  While we will not have a table this year, I will be working the Fair all day long helping everyone set up, making sure the day goes smoothly.  Sort of like being a cruise director but never having to leave the shore.

One of the other ways that the Roslyn Pet Fair helps raise money for the local rescues and shelters is through the sales of raffle tickets for items and baskets donated by local individuals and businesses.

Under the name of the Suburban Geek blog, in fact, I have donated a basket containing over $200 worth of comic books and trade paperbacks. Other items that will be raffled off include a $25 gift card from Genuardi’s, a full service auto detailing courtesy of Sussman Automotive, one free month of pet poo removal from CleanScoop, and pet related gift baskets and packages from the Collie Rescue of Southeastern PA, Pabby’s Pet Pantry and Bow Wow Wow WOW. There is also a one year subscription to Tails Magazine, a Phillies plaque featuring the team’s “Four Aces” (donated by Roslyn resident and DJ extraordinaire Carmen Maliziac) and a gift-filled picnic cooler donated by Tis The Season Holiday Boutique.

The individuals and groups that will be set up at vendors at the Roslyn Pet Fair this year include:

Almost Home Dog Rescue*
Best Friends Pet Care
Bow Wow Wow WOW
Briar Bush Nature Center
Canine Cancer Research USA*
Collie Rescue of Southeastern PA*
Hamilton Animal Hospital
Linda Gabbamonte
Invisible Fence by StayDog
Montgomery County S.P.C.A. of PA*
Northeast Animal Rescue*
Pabby’s Pet Pantry
PetValu
Pet Smart (Willow Grove)
Rau Animal Hospital
The Roslyn Free Library
Saved by a Whisker*
United Against Puppy Mills*
Y2K9s Dog Sports Club
(Vendors marked with an * will be recipients of an equal share of all proceeds raised and dontated through the Roslyn Events Committee)

The Roslyn Pet Fair is on Facebook and Twitter.

For more information on the Roslyn Pet Fair or to find out how you can participate as a vendor or make a donation to next year’s event, email RoslynPetFair@gmail.com.

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May 26

Something to Wine About

In recent years I’ve become a fan of wine.

Growing up Italian means I was introduced to wine at an early age.  It wasn’t exactly in my sippy cup, but my parents allowed me a taste at most holidays.  Even though I wasn’t smitten from the start I eventually became a fan of the fabulous fermented grape.  Much to the dismay of the Jewish side of my family (the ones who thought that wine was best when it tasted like liquefied Welch’s jelly) I even developed a taste for the drier, darker wines.

 When I was in my late teens my parents would allow me to have the occasional half glass with dinner, especially if we were having pasta, meatballs or anything with gravy (what South Philly Italians call Spaghetti sauce).  My favorite wine became the Ecco Domani Merlot, which wasn’t exactly an expensive wine but was certainly of a higher class than Mad Dog 50/50.  And then my father introduced me to something even more wonderful.  Homemade wine.

One of our neighbors down the block made homemade wine in his basement.  I remember seeing that huge green gallon jug with the screw-cap and wondering what sort of strange brew could be contained inside.  What it turned out to be, in most instances, was nectar worthy of consumption by the Gods.

I took that taste for wine with me into adulthood and eventually turned my wife Nicole onto it as well.  It was slow-going in the beginning, which meant I had to start her off with Arbor Mist (which is similar to a 1.5 L bottle of Wine Cooler) and ease her into the deeper stuff with spritzers and fruit wines.  While helping her develop a taste for wine I also was discovering that I enjoyed the sweet fruit wines as much as the deeper, smokier more tannin-heavy and whites and reds.  In a way we learned to meet in the middle and became a pair of wine aficionados without becoming wine snobs.

Our favorite wines happened to be local wines from vineyards around Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and New York.  We built a small collection, but a temporary wine as we were always more interested in drinking the wines than keeping them to age in a cellar somewhere.

Which brings me to this past Wednesday’s Wine Pairing dinner at the Melting Pot in Warrington, PA and this upcoming weekend’s Great PA Flavor Fest in Manheim, PA.

If you’re not familiar with The Melting Pot, they’ve taken the 70s Era phenomenon of the fondue and turned it into a classy dining experience.   The Melting Pot has always had a great selection of wines and beers so when my wife informed me that they were having a special Wine Pairing dinner I knew we had to go.  Yesterday was only the second time The Melting Pot had a Wine Dinner at their new Warrington location and this time they decided to focus on pairing featuring California’s Firestone Vineyards.  It was a great way to make getting to mid-week seem like a reward. 

The reception wine was Cristalino Extra Dry NV Cava, a sparkling white wine from Spain served in a champagne flute. Crisp with a hint of apples and pears it was a great way to whet our appetites.  Next came the appetizer of a Cheddar and Crab Imperial fondue paired with a Firestone’s Discoveries Chardonnay, which has a sweetness that blended well with the flavor of the crab in the fondue and the tartness of the apples (and their lemony overtones).  With our main course, a coq au vin style fondue of vegetables, filet mignon, shrimp, pork, Andouille sausage and spinach and cheese ravioli, we were given glasses of  Firestone’s Discoveries Cabernet Sauvignon. This deep, red smoky wine was heavily flavored by the oak and was delicious.  Finally we finished off our meal with a S’mores Chocolate fondue served alongside ample portions of sweet things to cover in chocolate and glasses of Firestone’s Discoveries Merlot.  For $50.00 a person the meal was a bargain.  It was also the first time I ever walked away from a table at The Melting Pot and felt full.

And more importantly it was a great warmup for the fun of this weekend’s Great PA Flavor Fest.

The Flavor Fest runs Memorial Day Weekend, Saturday and Sunday from 11AM to 6PM on the grounds of the Mount Hope Winery in Manheim, the same place where the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire takes place.  The main feature of the Flavor Fest is the almost two dozen local wineries.  There are also samples of regional eateries, artisans, craft areas for kids, culinary exhibitions…and here is the very best part.  It is ABSOLUTELY FREE.  Free admission.  Free parking.  Yes, there are items for sale (such as food from the vendors) but the wine is relatively cheap from most of the wineries on the premises.

This will be my third year attending the Flavor Fest.  Among my favorites wineries in attendance are Franklin Hill Vineyards, Heritage Wine Cellars, Brookmere Winery and Mount Hope Winery.  Did I mention that you can try all of the wines for free?  Because you can.

Just make sure you get there before Sunday, because I plan on emptying the place out.

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May 16

Every Vote Counts

Ever since I was a little kid, I always enjoyed the idea of being able to vote.  I would accompany my parents on Election Day to the polling place around the corner from my house.  I’d watch in awe as my parents ticked the tiny buttons and pulled the giant lever to cast their votes and open up the drape to the voting booth.

My first taste of politics. Mmmm...Mint Flavored!

In the eighth grade I ran for Student Council and still remember the exact line in my pre-vote speech that won me the election:

“I may not have the face of Rob Lowe or the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I have a mind that belongs in office.”

It tells you a lot about where my brain was when I was 13. It also tells you how awesome 1986 was now that both Lowe and Schwarzenegger are still relevant.  Thanks to that witty one-liner I won a seat as the Student Body Secretary.  It took me a day or two to realize that it didn’t mean I was going to do a lot of typing. The 13-year-old chauvinist in me still wasn’t crazy about the title.

When I entered high school I ran for, and won, the role of Homeroom Representative in my Freshman and Sophomore years.  It was a step back from Class Secretary but still involved – the equivalent of being a City Councilman.  But that was it for me and student body politics. Throughout the remainder of High School and college I was just a plain old student.

But the day I turned 18 it was a joyous occasion.  It meant that I was entitled to vote.  For many people my age that’s not much of a big deal, but for me it meant that I was an adult. It meant that I was able to take part in something that makes America such a great place.

I couldn’t imagine not wanting to take part in selecting those people who are supposed to represent my best interests when passing laws. I couldn’t fathom not caring to know which candidates had similar beliefs to me and which were more likely to vote in favor of laws that I would otherwise oppose.

Since my very first election in November of 1991 and up through Tuesday’s Primary election in Pennsylvania I have never failed to take an opportunity to vote.  And I always do what I can to make sure others get out and vote when the opportunity is there.  I’ve voted for everything from pollsters to Presidents, for Clerks and Commissioners and everything in between.

My toughest opponent yet

In one of the first elections after moving to the burbs, I found myself in the Abington Free Library looking down at a digital keypad and filling in a write-in vote for the very first time in my life.  There were two blank spots on the Democratic ticket for Committeeperson.  So, going against my better judgment, I decided against voting for Mickey Mouse (I hear he gets a lot of votes every year) and typed in my own name.  Then went home satisfied that I had voted like I do two times every year.

Four days later I received a letter in the mail congratulating me on being tied in the voting for the position of Democratic Committee-person for Ward 11 in Abington.  The letter mentioned that there would be a special run-off vote in Norristown and I would be notified if I won in the coming days.

I panicked. Mostly because I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant to be a committee-person. Also because I was concerned that Mickey Mouse would put a hit out on me for winning an election against him. But lo and behold a few days later I received a certificate in the mail confirming my biggest fears.

I was officially declared a Committeeperson.

And just like that I became a proud member of the Abington-Rockledge Democratic Committee (ARDC).  In the years that followed (yes, years) I would watch over elections, standing outside the Library handing out flyers and making sure voters were informed of any ballot questions. I would attend meetings, walk in parades, knock on doors and shake lots of hands.  It was a crash course in politics on a small scale and I realized that I had a ton of fun being involved in the community.

When I bought my house and moved I learned that I had to give up my seat as a committee-person in Ward 11. I was saddened but quickly learned that there was an availability in my new Ward (Ward 5) for the same exact position. I traded in standing outside of the Library for standing outside of a church and was able to remain in a role of Committeeperson.

That's me standing just to the right (and behind) Governor Ed Rendell in 2006.

But eventually I realized something about politics. I didn’t like it. I loved being a part of my community and taking an active role in making my hometown a better place to live.  I loved making new friends and connecting with other people in the area who had similar interests and beliefs, but the political part of politics was just something that sapped the fun out of everything for me.

So, after thinking about it for two or three weeks, I decided to resign from local politics.  I stayed active with the Roslyn Events Committee thanks to Commissioner Lori Schreiber and through that wonderful organization get to work every year with great people to organize and run the Roslyn Film Festival and Roslyn Pet Fair.

And even though I’ve grown tired of politics I still have my fervor for voting. Just as importantly, I make sure to tell my friends every year to vote.  Twice a year, even.

But come to think of it, I should probably warn them about voting for themselves.

TUESDAY, MAY 17th 2011 IS PRIMARY ELECTION DAY IN PENNSYLVANIA. To find your polling place go to https://www.pavoterservices.state.pa.us/Pages/PollingPlaceInfo.aspx

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May 04

Free Comic Book Day Is Coming!

For Geeks like myself, this coming Saturday is a holiday of sorts.  That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, May 7th is FREE COMIC BOOK DAY!

And it’s exactly what it sounds like.  Sort of.

For those of you unfamiliar with comic shops and how Free Comic Book Day works (or FCBD as it’s called — sort of like how we call the Justice League of America the JLA), comic book stores across the country — and the world — will give away free comic books by many of the existing comic book publishers (Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, etc.) to anyone who enters their store. It’s an awesome event held once a year so that comic book publishers and retailers can show their appreciation to not only existing fans but also open their doors to what is hopefully an onslaught of new customers.

The only caveat is not EVERY book is free and some stores will only allow you to have a certain number of free books.  The “rules” differ depending on where you go. That means you shouldn’t expect to drive away with a trunk full of free stuff and there’s no chance you’re going to get that coveted Action Comics #1 (first appearance of Superman…duh!) from a generous shop owner without paying for it.  There are special books that are put out just for the day, some of which have new content and some of which have reprinted material.

One of the remarkable things about Free Comic Book Day is that the comic books that the retailers are giving away are not free for them.  They are actually paying the publishers for the issues they are giving away (albeit at a more discounted price than normal).  The idea is to get people, especially families, into comic book stores in order discover the wonderfully educational and entertaining world of comics.  Many of the retailers have special sales on other store merchandise, in-store signings by featured guests and comic book creators or appearances by some of the characters (a.k.a. friendly neighborhood human counterparts in rental-quality costumes).  For this reason (and because I’m a big nerd) I always make sure that I still spend a little bit of money on Free Comic Book Day, as a sort of “Thank You!” right back to my favorite retailer.

It’s not required, mind you.  It just always feels like the right thing to do.  Sort of like what Superman would do if he went somewhere on FCBD.

Another great thing about Free Comic Book Day is that there are comics for mature readers, comics for kids of all ages, comics for boys and comics for girls. Pretty much anyone with any particular taste — even if they have never read a comic before — will be able to find a comic on FCBD to suit their style.

I will be in attendance this Saturday as a Comic Book Ambassador at Brave New Worlds in Willow Grove, PA.  If you stop in you’ll not only get an opportunity to meet the Suburban Geek in person but you’ll also be able to meet:

•Rogue (from the X-Men), Kick-Ass and Black Costume Spider-man
•The creators of BNW’s own webcomic, The Comicverse!
•Local artists who will be giving away FREE sketches!

If you cannot make it to Brave New Worlds, no worries.  There are plenty of other area comic shops that are also participating in and around Philadelphia and the surrounding ‘burbs not limited to BNW’s Center City location, both Comics & More locations in King of Prussia and Plymouth Meeting Malls, Comic Collection in Feasterville, and many more.  To find a comic book shop near you that is participating in FCBD, click here and put in your zip code.

When all we see on the news is how much things are going up in price and how gas is over $4.00 a gallon, don’t you think you should reward yourself (or your kids) with something for FREE?  And who knows…you just may discover that you like reading comics.

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