28 December 2007

Roller Coaster Ride

Potty training, to anyone who's done it, is like a four-letter word. Parents around the world will routinely tell you that it's one of the hardest times to weather with a child. Well, at least the ones in places with indoor plumbing will. However, it is an inevitability that all toddlers must learn to use the toilet for their business, so we suffer through something that we'd certainly choose to avoid if the choice was ours. Which brings us to our story of the day.

While it wasn't widely advertised (mostly because the Rescue Pack was funnier), one of the gifts Lily asked Santa for this year was some big-girl panties. The big guy came through, of course, with Dora The Explorer panties in her stocking Christmas morning. We have not forced the issue of making the transition to the potty because, frankly, it's so damned hard. If she's content to use the pull-ups, we're content to keep buying them. This morning, however, the tables turned. When I got Lily up and went to change her, she boldly said "No Daddy, I don't want a pull-up. I want to wear my Dora panties!" Because EVERYONE has told me that "when they're ready, they'll go", I took this as a positive sign. Maybe she just figured it out . . the kid figures out everything else she sets her mind to, why would this be any different? So I nervously put the panties on her after a successful trip to the bathroom and made sure to pair them with a really old pair of pants. I reminded her at least a half dozen times before her breakfast was even on the table to let me know if she had to go potty, and she assured me she'd comply. "I will Daddy!"

She made it through her egg and yogurt and was happily watching TV in the living room when the first outburst of the morning came, and I knew immediately that she'd wet herself. No worries, we'll just change pants and charge forward. Then the second accident happened, not 15 minutes later. Was this a pattern I should continue to expect? Will her needs to relieve herself come back-to-back like this? The engineer in me was hard at work trying to figure out the kid's formula. A while passed before we decided to leave the house, and I wanted to head off any potential carseat disasters. We went to the bathroom and there it was, our first successful pee-pee of the day! We high-fived and headed out the door to Target to buy some back-up panties . . after all, we were on the last clean pair and she was wetting them faster than I could wash them! I wasn't going to sabatoge a day I'd resigned to spend potty training by running out of panties for the kid to wear. So we hustled down the road, raced in to Target from the parking lot and made a bee line for the restroom. YES!!! She made it there and she went to the potty! I felt like we were gonna win this battle! We went and picked out some Cinderella panties to supplement the Dora ones. We hurried outta there, hauled butt home and had another successful potty right after pulling in to the driveway.

Our next trip of the day was to return some library books we'd let go all the way to their due date. We tried to potty before we left but with no results, so I put a dishtowel down in the carseat (at Mandi's recommendation) and we ventured out again. When we arrived we went into the kids area so Lil could get a look at the mice, gerbils, and fish they keep there for entertainment. She also wanted to play a little bit, but I was getting nervous about the length of time between trips to the bathroom. As I picked her up to take her she threw a major hissy fit, which of course seemed as loud as a semi truck going through a tunnel at full throttle because of the relative silence of the library. I figured she'd rebel in the bathroom, but much to my surprise she went pee-pee and her mood turned around . . momentarily. I think the mental stress started getting to her a little as we looked for my book, because she just started freaking out and yelling for no reason right in the middle of the non-fiction section. We scurried out without the book but with dry panties intact. Lily sobbed most of the way home, stopping only occasionally to ask "Daddy, you're not strustrated?" "Yeah Lil, I am frustrated, but just a little bit."

The "off" mood Lil had gotten into at the library remained through lunch, and I decided on an early nap time. We tried to potty once before bed but got nothing, so I put a pull-up on her and put her to sleep. The usual length for a nap these days is just shy of two hours, so when two and a half ticked by and I hadn't heard a peep I figured she'd definitely be wet when she woke up. I ran up to get her as soon as I heard her call, and I was ecstatic to find her completely dry! We hustled to the bathroom and she went like a champ! Off to a great start for the afternoon we headed downstairs to play. Lil wanted to chill out and watch TV, so I checked on her a few times and tried to set her on the potty, but nothing was doing for the next half hour or so. Then came another accident. And another change of clothes. And another accident. And another change of clothes. And in the words of the immortal H.I. McDunnough from Raising Arizona, "that's when the roof caved in." I had just tried to get Lily to potty about 2 minutes before when she came into the kitchen grinning from ear to ear. This can't be good. "I poopy in my panties Daddy!" Sweet. She laid down on the carpet as though it was just another diaper to change. Little did she know she was in for some dangling-over-the-toilet acrobatics. Luckily it was nuggets and the mess was not outrageous . . anything worse and I might have been discouraged from trying again tomorrow. I guess I'll have to keep feeding her a pound of cheese a day until she gets it down, I don't think I can handle one of the peanut-butter ones without an easy-to-remove pull-up or diaper to contain it. So it's 'til tomorrow, when this roller coaster ride will resume and the tales of potty training will surely flow again.

27 December 2007

Christmas With The Kids

This Christmas marked a number of firsts for us. It was the first time Mandi and I exchanged gifts with each other. It felt great, albeit strange to spend money "frivolously" on stuff. We had a strict $100 budget.

It was also our first debt-free Christmas. In the past we've paid for gifts with cash, so I'm not talking credit-card debt, but the week before we finished paying off the last of my student loans. Aunt Sallie has officially been kicked out of the spare bedroom, which made this holiday especially memorable.

And of course, it was the first Christmas where Lily really understood what was going on. She'd been dutifully reciting her biggest wish every day leading up . . "I'd better ask Santa for a Rescue Pack." You'd better believe she came tearing around the corner at 6:04 am with one thing on her mind . . "Where's my Rescue Pack?" Actually, it's over there behind the behemoth hundred-dollar toy train set it took Santa over an hour to assemble late the night before which you haven't even noticed yet. No worries . . as long as you're happy.

Avery, as I'm sure you all remember from the iPhone story, took the leap to tech toys this year. Her acquisitions include an MP3 player (pre-loaded with Hannah Montana, of course), an electronic dog that is touch sensitive so it can't be packed in a suitcase, and a working personal ATM machine (complete with card, PIN, and wall-mounting instructions). She also got a learner guitar and some really cute (while not age-inappropriate) new outfits. I think they both were really happy, and at the same time I don't feel like it was an overboard Christmas.

Both girls really surprised and impressed us with their behavior at our various family get-togethers this year. Lily was a little bit out of control at PF Chang's for Maw Maw's birthday celebration, but she's never been particularly good at restaurants in the past, so there was no real high expectation going in to this one. As far as I'm concerned, she didn't knock the table over and nothing was spilled on anyone. That's a victory. Christmas Eve we did our traditional Gift Exchange party at Maw Maw's house. Most of the kids are old enough at this point that the stress level wasn't as elevated as in years past. By the time we were ready to do the grown-ups part of the party most of the kids were up past their bed times, so the exchange was quick and painless. Not a lot of gift-stealing and drama this year (which may have had as much to do with the lack of interesting gifts), just git 'er done and get the heck outta there.

After opening gifts at home Christmas morning we headed over to Grandma and Grandpa's house to spend time with that gang. Lunch preceded gifts this time, which was another exercise in patience for the kids. The gift that was the biggest hit that round was the 2-pound bag of Jelly Belly's that Mandi gave her Dad. The girls had Grandpa wrapped around their little fingers as he merrily passed out candy to the begging hoard! We got outside for a little while to enjoy the brief spell of good weather. Grandpa indulged the girls on the porch swing while Grandma pulled the others around the yard in Taylor's new wagon. Then Mandi was off to work at 3 and Daddy headed home with the girls to wind down from a long weekend and enjoy some snuggle time. Overall, this one goes down as one of the most memorable and enjoyable Christmas' yet. I hope everyone else had a very Happy Holiday!

23 December 2007

2008 Will Be My Big Year

In the world of birdwatching, upon the fringes of which I reside, there's a popular term known simply as the "Big Year". The idea, without getting too in-depth, is to record the name of every species of bird one encounters in a calendar year. There are also Big Days (you do the math), but the prospects of spending from 3am to 11pm hunting for wild birds seems a bit out of reach for a guy like me with family obligations and such. In hindsight, 2007 probably would have been a better choice for me to embark on this quest, given the variety of travel we did. There are at least 15 species I can recall from St. John alone that I have no chance of seeing again this year (Bananaquit, Zenaida Dove, etc.) Add to that the Ding Darling NWR in Sanibel, FL and the total I'm unlikely to see again in 2008 easily rises above 30. But with each new year comes an increasing interest in birding, and the Big Year idea will be my chance to really quantify how much I've learned and evaluate my identification skills. Currently I rely heavily on my equipment to help me identify the species I encounter, as time is usually not long and I can't spend the time it takes in the field to identify what I see. But that's the beauty of technology. A good telephoto lens and a high-resolution camera allow you to do the thinking inside the house, leaving outdoor time free to spend hunting.

So for now, that's the plan. Starting January 1st, I will list every species I can positively identify on the side of the blog, and once a week (or so) I'll recount the experiences and locations of the birds. My goal, while modest, will be to record 150 species in 2008. I'll most certainly re-evaluate that goal a few times depending on what our travel plans look like, etc. The more different places we can visit, the better my chances of hitting or exceeding that goal. I'll also try to include as many photos as possible of the more unusual sightings, just for good measure. Wish me luck!

22 December 2007

The Great Candy Debate

Yesterday marked what seems like the eleventy-millionth time I've had to address the issue of too much candy with Avery. I can't remember when it started . . maybe around Halloween . . but the kid is OBSESSED with candy. We made a 2-piece of candy per day rule in order to try to "be fair", but that just caused her to hide extra candy under her bed and eat it at will when she was up in her room. Then, just as that stash ran down December rolled around and the Advent Trees went up. These, if you're not familiar, are quilted trees with a piece of candy tied on for each day in December before Christmas. It's a tradition we had when we were kids growing up and that I don't remember ever being the highlight of our day the way they are with my girls. But what do I know?

Anyway, I'm not even sure how it came up but yesterday Ave let it slip that she had some candy hidden under her bed. I was busy keeping Lily away from the presents under the tree at the time, so it almost slipped past me completely, but when I realized what she'd said I kind of flipped out a little bit. Apparently her teacher had sent her home with a little bag full of candy after school today and she didn't want to give it up. I can understand that, but she knows about the 2-piece per day rule, and she knows how I feel about her hiding things from us. Was I wrong to be upset? I have been telling Avery for almost a month now that her obsession with candy and sweets is disturbing to me, and that after the Advent Tree was finished there wasn't going to be any candy kept in the house. Her dental work is already costing us a fortune and I don't in any way think that saying "no" to candy is unreasonable.

The fight comes from Mandi, who thinks that being too strict about it is going to lead to eating disorders and rebellious eating habits when Ave gets to be old enough to choose and pay for her own meals. Simply, zero candy = resentment = I'll get you back some day = obsessed about food = bulemia = anorexia nervosa = 83 pounds at 18 years old = heroin addict who purges 4 times a day in the McDonalds parking lot. I personally have a hard time going down that slippery slope. I think kids need to be told the ancient word every now and then and get over the idea that they're entitled to have whatever the hell they want. The ancient word? NO! We don't allow weapons . . is she going to become a serial killer to spite us? We don't allow skanky (read: typical) clothes . . will she become a stripper? I really don't think so. We are the parents, you are the child, you need to live with the fact that the rules aren't always going to be liked. Am I really far off base? I feel like by not punishing her for the deceit by tightening the restrictions we're giving her the green light to circumvent the guidelines in the future. Mandi says "I'd rather not fight about food because I don't want it to be an issue." I say candy is not food. I've tried to stop fighting with Ave about her choice to not eat whatever meals are put in front of her. I concede that it's her problem if she's hungry, we try to offer healthy snacks, and I make sure her lunches are big and full of things I know she'll eat. So I feel like on the subject of junk, like candy, I'm being reasonable to have "strict" restrictions. Or is it really possible that something like this can cause lead to lashing out and rebelling down the road? I'd like some honest comments and feedback about this. I can handle being wrong about it, but I'm going to have to be convinced.

21 December 2007

I Am A Celebrity!

That's right, mark it down on your calendar, today's the day my true celebrity status was realized! We went to Avery's school around 11:30, planning just to have lunch with her on this the last day before Christmas break (ughhh). We got to the classroom a minute or two before they came out, dropped the teacher's gift off and followed the line into the Cafetorium (come on, you can figure it out). So as we walk in I'm immediately mobbed by a throng of adoring second graders, every one of them screaming and looking all googley-eyed as I walked through the room. Mandi was thrown out of the way and almost hit her head on a wayward trash can, and Lily got trampled and had to go to the nurse's office. Avery, meanwhile, was trying to run interference and restore order to the scene, very deliberately lining up the adoring masses and quickly setting up an impromptu autograph table near the front of the room. A large contingent of teachers came by to . . . aww, who am I kidding, nobody's buying this anymore. Sorry, that was a fun little fantasy to play out.

The real story is that 2 or 3 of Avery's teammates from The Green Dragons came over from across the room when they saw us to say hello, and Mandi was giving me a hard time about being such a celebrity among the 7 year olds. I told her I'd gladly take that until my career as a well-known blogger-slash-birdwatcher took off, at which time I'd have to eschew my elementary school fans for a little older crowd. I'll let you know when that starts happening . .

20 December 2007

Recipes, etc.

Hello everyone, sorry for the long layoff. Christmas shopping, as I'm sure you all know, is extraordinarily time consuming, especially when you're male and are essentially clueless when it comes to the subject. I'm a very good list maker and checker-offer, but writing an item on a list does not equate to being able to find it in a mad house, er, mall at Christmas time. So it's not that there hasn't been anything interesting to post about, just that the 27 hour day hasn't been invented yet.

On the bright side, Mandi did the meal plan for the last two weeks (and usurped my grocery store trip Tuesday . . grrr), and she picked out some really good new recipes for us to try. I spent this afternoon adding a few of them to the Recipe List , so if you're struggling for meal ideas maybe give them a try. My favorite of the bunch was undoubtedly the Farfalle with Sausage, Cannellini Beans, and Kale. It was the first time I'd ever cooked with kale, and it definitely didn't disappoint. The Beef, Black Bean, and Chorizo Chili was also very good, although we replaced the chorizo with turkey-Andouille sausage. The result was not quite as spicy as it would have been, but certainly spicy enough and a lot lower in fat. Win-win there, and it made enough to freeze leftovers.

As for Phillip (a.k.a. "The Cat"), still no sign of him. He has not surfaced in either of the local Vet's offices or at the county animal shelter, but he also hasn't been scratching at the back door. I had hoped that the big increase in the number of birds in the back yard would lure him back, but so far it hasn't. At over 10 days missing, I'm certainly beyond any expectation (although not hope) that he'll ever be back. The last time he was out of the house he showed up at the back door after an hour, belly full of grass and more than ready to find a warm blanket or piece of upholstered furniture to curl up on. He'll certainly have his pick if he decides to return.

And in the last (and most exciting) piece of news from the last few days . . . drumroll please . . drumroll . . WE'RE DEBT FREE!!!!! We sent the last payment out Tuesday for my student loans, leaving our mortgage as the only debt we have left. We have spent the last 4 or 5 years "Living like no one else", so that someday we might be able to "Live like no one else". Our lifestyle of frugality and sacrifice has paid dividends this week, and it's an awesome feeling. To everyone who's heard me talk about it at one point or another, I urge you to get started RIGHT NOW! The feeling of freedom you'll feel when your money finally starts working for you (instead of you working for your money) is incredible! Imagine yourself, much like Mel Gibson did in Braveheart, screaming FREEDOM! at the top of your lungs as you send in that last payment, and you'll start to understand the feeling it created for us. Good luck if you get on board, it's a great New Year's resolution (even though I am against the general notion of resolutions). But that's a different post . .

15 December 2007

Dealing With Loss

I have been avoiding writing about this until now for a couple of different reasons. First and foremost, I don't really want to concede that it's real. I guess I've got a mild case of Ostrich Syndrome . . or is it Flamingos that put their head in the sand? Either way, if I continue my nonchalance and naivete I can avoid dealing with my true emotions. Truth be told, the veneer is starting to wear thin.

The second reason I've avoided the subject is that I really don't like the thought of assigning blame for accidents. Sure, someone's responsible, but malice is conspicuously absent. Nonetheless, because of the depth of the emotional wound left there will no doubt be resentment and grudge holding, at least on a private level. My hope is that this remains in the correct perspective and isn't allowed to damage friendships that, as humans, should be more important than pets.

But the fact remains that a very dear member of our family is missing, and the likelihood that we'll ever see him again grows considerably slimmer by the hour. I got Phillip 10 years ago in Nashville. I adopted him and his brother, Terrence, from a woman who had raised them for their first year but could no longer keep them. I paid $100 for their 1-year shots, signed the papers and left that vet's office with two great cats. We spent a few days trying to come up with names for our new cats, and we finally settled on Terrence and Phillip. We gleaned the idea from the TV show South Park, the offensive and controversial adult cartoon that had just been launched on Comedy Central within the last year or so. Terrence and Phillip were the gassy twin bobble-headed Canadians on the show who became pop-culture icons, if only for a short period of time, due to their slap-sticky and crass brand of humor and music. If nothing else, the choice of names imparted a little personality to two otherwise un-interesting and low maintenance cats. And it gave them permanence in the family.

The cats moved with me to Miami for my short stint there and then made the long journey to Charlotte when I moved here in 2002. Two small apartments in a row proved to be too much for Terrence to handle, as he escaped from captivity later that year and was never seen again. We replaced Phillip's companion as best we could a couple of times, with the most recent addition to the family being a mom and daughter pair given to us by a good friend. The three have seemed happy together, with each having a distinct role in their relationships with each other, as well as having very happy niches among the humans. Girl, the mommy cat, is my little attention whore. Every time my lap appears, she's clammoring for a seat on it. And she isn't shy about it, either. She would routinely shove Phillip out of the way if she wanted some lovin'. Cheeks, the "baby", has always been shy. Her human companion of choice is Avery, which is not a surprise at all given her generally gentle nature. Avery's content to see but not touch the cats, and that's just how Cheeks prefers it.

And as much as I hate to admit it, Phillip was a Mama's boy. As much history and connection as I had with him, he always had a soft spot in his heart for Mandi. When she was pregnant with Lily, Phillip would eschew his normal spot on my side of the bed at night for his post near her belly. As though he could sense the growing baby inside, he'd curl up next to Mandi to offer his warmth and protection. He was a part of our family in so many ways that it's hard to imagine what it'll be like around here without him. Lily has gone with me on a few outings to look around the neighborhood for him. Last night before bed she asked me "Where'd Phillip go Daddy? He ran away?" I told her we'd look again in the morning. When she got up this morning, the first thing she told me after our good morning hug was "I dream about Phillip Daddy." I'd be lying to you if I said that didn't bring a few tears to my eyes.

So we'll go out again today and look, maybe hand out a few more flyers, and try again to delay finality.

13 December 2007

Favorite All-Time Gifts

Without trying to dust the cobwebs off of the gifts from Christmas' past, I will tell you that one gift I received this year easily has a spot in the all-time top 5 or so. And I've had it for a total of about 3 hours. Mom and Mark hooked me up with a big gift card to Wild Birds Unlimited, which was one of the few things I actually came out and asked for. I, typically, am not very good at pointing potential gift givers in any particular direction. I don't really like to feel like I'm asking for stuff, especially when they're typically just luxuries. Recently, however, I've developed this intense zeal for birdwatching, and I haven't felt bad telling folks that if the occasion for a gift arises that's a no-lose way to go.

So I spent some time planning my purchases, trying to maximize the new-bird attraction. New types of feeders will attract new kinds of birds, but only if they're anywhere near the yard to begin with. What I chose to get was a new pole system, which is customizable so I can add more feeders to it in the future if I choose. I got three new feeders . . a finch tube, a peanut tube, and a suet feeder. I also got stocked up on seed for my other feeders. The out-on-a-limb choice I made was a tray-type feeder to hang from the willow tree in the back yard. My hope with this one is to attract Northern Cardinals, which we see nearby but have not had an appropriate feeder for until now. The peanuts are supposed to attract woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, and chickadees, all of which I've seen in the neighborhood but again have never offered appropriate food to. So we'll see how it goes. The great thing about these is that if for some reason they're not successful they can always be handed down to friends and family in locations better suited for these birds. Thanks Mom and Mark!

12 December 2007

Boy, They Sure Learn Early

After Lily got up from her nap today I decided to go to Wild Birds Unlimited to pick out some new birdfeeders and accessories for the back yard. I got a gift certificate from my mom for Christmas and it was burning a hole in my pocket. I spent an hour this afternoon figuring out what I wanted to buy and how I could maximize my gift. So I loaded the girls up in the car and we went to the mall. As we walked in I asked Avery to help me keep Lily occupied while I talked to the salespeople about how to best maximize a couple of discount coupons I'd gotten. The lady suggested they sit on the floor near where we were talking and read Lily's book. I loved the idea and asked the girls to sit down. Much to my dismay Avery very matter-of-factly looked at me and said "I don't want to!" I was mortified that she was acting like that, and after a couple more denied requests I just told the sales lady that I'd have to leave and come back another time without the girls.

The drive home, while short, was markedly tense. Avery sobbed about my threats to punish her the entire way and Lily asked about 25 times "Why's Avery crying Daddy?" How pleasant. When we got home I expressed my displeasure to Avery again about her selfish behavior and told her to go to her room and leave the TV off. I was hoping to just calm down until dinner and then get over it. Little did I know that her plan was to go into full-blown recovery mode while she was sequestered in her room. I've gotta tell you, they learn the art of manipulation (which is what I choose to call it) awfully early. Here's what she sneakily delivered to the kitchen a few minutes later:

Notice how she included the sweet and innocent little dance picture from 2 years ago? That kid sure knows how to tug at my heart strings, I'll tell you what. I almost completely lost it when I read it. Not that I let her know that. I forgive her, but I'm definitely going to let her sweat it out a little longer. If she knew her little notes had that kind of power it'd be rough sailing for a lot of years.

11 December 2007

One Word . .

Douchebag. It may sound highly judgmental to assign someone a moniker like that after only a brief interaction like the one I'm about to recount, but I will personally guarantee you that this guy deserves every bit of it. In fact, other than the guy my sister dated last weekend, this particular individual may actually be the world's foremost douchebag.

Mandi and I were heading from her Mom's house to our dinner downtown yesterday when we decided to stop at the local CVS. As I slowed down and signaled to turn right I was almost t-bone'd by a guy in a white pick-up trying to make a left into the same driveway. I made eye contact and prepared for the worst while continuing my turn. I had the right of way and wasn't about to stop and let this jerk think I was the one doing something wrong. Such is my machismo. Anyway, he slowed down just enough to avoid me but then immediately pulled into the crowded parking lot and alongside me, heading directly into what would have been oncoming traffic if there had been anyone trying to exit the lot. I went straight and found a spot near the back, while he lurched to the right and parked crookedly in the closest handicapped spot to the door. I made a comment about getting out and punching him in the neck, but Mandi talked me out of it. Had she known then what we know now about him, she probably would have let me go ahead and clock him.

As we walked by his truck, parked crookedly and at least 2 feet into the driveway, Mandi wondered if he was really handicapped. I opined that I highly doubted it, unless they've recently made a-hole an official disorder. We walked in through the door and watched as our buddy grabbed a basket from the stack, in the process pulling it out so hastily that the entire stack toppled over and hit the floor. He cussed and flailed as he reluctantly cleaned up his mess. A few minutes passed and we didn't see him so our attention turned to the task at hand, which in this case was attempting to get our personalized Christmas cards printed out. The attendant we asked for help promptly disappeared and buried her head in some other menial tasks in a weak attempt to appear like she was busy, but in reality we are pretty sure she just had no idea how to do what we wanted done. Frustrated and wanting to get to dinner we headed toward the door, and on the way out our jerk-off friend from the parking lot hustled past us. He had a CVS bag in one hand as he triggered the automatic door, but instead of tearing out into the lot to move his illegally parked truck, he made one last stop that vaulted him to the top of the douchebag list. In a move that appeared premeditated due to its fluidity of motion, he stopped between the two sets of doors and knelt down in front of the store's Christmas tree. Then, as if they were parting gifts for random shoppers, he picked up one of the wrapped prop-gifts under the tree and shook it in an attempt, we assumed, to determine its contents. Mandi and I stood there in bewildered awe and just stared at him, then looked at each other and simultaneously asked "Did he just do what I think he did?"

For whatever reason, he put the gift back down under the tree and walked the rest of the way out of the store. He then got into his truck and nearly backed over a customer walking toward the entrance. When we got over our dumbfoundedness, Mandi and I tried to think of a time when we had encountered someone so utterly ridiculous. We couldn't think of even one.

04 December 2007

When Good Ideas Go Bad

I made some muffins for the girls today for their afternoon snack, not because I really felt like baking (okay I know it's not really baking, but cut me a little slack) but because we're running the food supplies down before our trip this weekend and they were giving me more than a little bit of pushback about the Wheatables I was offering. As Lily sat down to eat her fresh-from-the-oven mini blueberry muffins she asked most politely for some juice. She typically doesn't drink juice, but since she'd been sick and I wanted her to get plenty of fluids I caved. Thinking I was saving myself from cleaning up huge messes later, I cut the corner off of the Capri Sun pouch and poured it into a cup for her.

There's a little bit of back-story here that I think is necessary for the full humor of the moment to be appreciated. Earlier Lily and I were talking about fruit as she was eating some Mandarin orange slices with her lunch. We went through the whole list of different fruits she liked, and when I could think of no more she looked at me and said "And I like donuts Daddy!" I almost died laughing, but I of course asked her why and she promptly replied "I like to dunk them." You'll understand why this is pertinent in a few minutes.

So there she sat, two muffins on a plate and a big-girl cup about half full of juice, and the look on her face was unmistakable. The wheels were obviously turning a mile a minute, and right away Lil looked at me for approval as she held the first muffin over the cup. "No", I told her, "that will be yucky." That was not the answer she wanted to hear, so I quickly caved in and gave her the old "Whatever, if you want to dunk it in the juice go right ahead." She stuck the muffin in the juice and took a little bite, and at first she seemed pleased with what she'd done. But , in the words of Nicholas Cage in Raising Arizona, then the roof caved in. The muffin literally disintegrated the next time she dunked it, and the resulting tantrum looked like this:

Well, as funny as I found it, I had to make it stop. I assessed the situation and quickly remembered an old trick from the restaurant business. If you've ever ordered rare scotch or a really random fru-fru drink at a restaurant's bar you've probably been affected by this, although you probably didn't know it. Often times fruit flies would make their way into the bottoms of the bottles of the sweetest liquors. Bourbon, scotch, and anything that has 'creme de' in the name were the most common culprits, and instead of throwing the spirits away we would take it to the kitchen and pour the contents of the bottle through a coffee filter to remove the pests. Voila, ma'am, here's your Pink Squirrel. That'll be $6.75. But I digress . . so I grabbed Lily's juice and ran over to the sink. I poured the tainted juice through a sieve and into a new cup, and the crisis was over. I'll admit, I pulled an Emeril and said "Bam!" as I set it back down on the table. I actually think it was the loud noise, and not the clean juice, that snapped her out of the tantrum, but I suppose we'll never know. Suffice it to say, she did not continue dunking her muffins. Give her this, she learns from her mistakes, especially when they involve her snack!

Docs Earn Their Money

. . this time anyway, we came away from the doctor's office not feeling like we'd been totally jobbed. The last few times we've taken either of the kids to the doctor we were sent away empty-handed, so to speak. You take them in because you can just sense or tell that something's not right, only to be told there's nothing that can be done. Except of course for emptying your bank account. That's the one thing the folks in the medical field can always fall back on if you have complaints about your care. "Well, we did take all of your money, so you can't accuse us of not doing anything." Touche.

But yesterday was different. We took Lily in to see if we could get to the bottom of the diarrhea issue you no doubt remember from an earlier post. When the doctor told me that kids often develop a temporary lactose intolerance when fighting a common stomach virus I felt like she had earned her money. No more cheese and yogurt, no more explosive poops! YES!!! Then, as we always said in the restaurant business, she went above and beyond the call of duty to really provide value for the customer . . me.

Upon inspection of Lil's ears the doc discovered not one but two nasty ear infections. Huh? Would that explain her recent tendency to shout "WHAT?" whenever anyone spoke in her general direction? Is that why she'd been feverish? Did the bad cough and runny nose she had a week and a half ago cause the ear infections? Has she been wanting to snuggle a lot because she wasn't feeling well? According to the doc, "Maybe, yes, probably, and it's difficult to say." Well you know what, I'm thrilled with one affirmative, two educated guesses and one coin flip. That's a thousand-percent improvement from our last visit, and we even got to go get a prescription filled for our troubles! Twenty minutes of wandering aimlessly around the grocery store waiting for the uber-pharmacist to put our yummy orange-liquid antibiotics back into their original containers was a small price to pay for such medical satisfaction. We're currently on dose number two of said orange-flavored goodness, and hopefully it will have done its work by this weekend. There's nothing I dread more than a sick, cranky, irritable Lily confined to a small space with lots of family members for 3 days. Oh well, cross your fingers!

30 November 2007

History Repeats, Take II

How crazy would I have called you if you'd ever told me that the words "Hold me Daddy, hold me" would have ever come from Lily's mouth? Crazier than a shithouse rat. She's the most anti-snuggling kid anyone's ever met, especially when compared to Avery, who was a cuddle machine. One of our favorite Avery-isms from the early days was that she would walk up to one or the other of us and just say "Hold-a me, hold-a me!" Ironically, it got annoying rather quickly back then, mostly because we were worried that Ave might be a little too clingy. The exact opposite has been true of Lily until recently. We joke that she doesn't sit still to snuggle or even be held for any significant length of time, and she certainly doesn't request it. Then a few days ago, maybe because she heard us joking with Avery about what she used to do, or maybe because a switch flipped, Lil walked up to Mandi while she was sitting on the computer and said "You want to hold me Mommy?" We both stood silently in slack-jawed disbelief. Who are you and what have you done with our child? The funniest part about this dramatic change in demeanor is that it coincides almost perfectly to the age at which Avery did it. It's like Mandi's passing it down in her DNA or something. Whatever the case, we'll definitely take what we can get. As of yet it's only been annoying when I'm wielding a kitchen knife or something, but even dinner can wait for a chance to snuggle that Beaner, they certainly don't come often enough.

29 November 2007

Sometimes Poop Is Comical

I will admit to having the typical-male penchant for dick-and-fart jokes. And while these pages may not be filled with them, for obvious reasons, sometimes the best stories revolve around the most revolting subjects.

Yesterday as we were pulling off the highway at an unfamiliar exit, I noticed a foul odor in the car. Its arrival coincided so precisely with my arrival at the end of the off-ramp that my first instinct was that a stagnant river or nearby paper mill must be the culprit. But, being the crass individual that I am I blurted out the old standby "Did one of you girls poot?" Of course since it wasn't directly asked of either child they both ignored me, so I started the direct interrogations. "Avery, did you poot?" While her response was sheepish and embarassed, I can generally tell when she's lying, and I believed her denial in this case. So I asked Lily, first if she pooted, and although she said "mmhmm", she generally announces her gas with pride, making me think she just said yes to make me happy. Then I asked her if she had pooped, which unlike the previous question she almost always gives accurate answers to. But she denied it confidently, so we motored on toward our destination. As the smell wore down, I found myself thinking it must have been something outside that was just lingering inside the car. When we got to the gas station, that's when the shit hit the proverbial fan . . or in this case, hit absolutely everything else in the vicinity of the back seat.

As I retrieved Lily from her carseat, I was again overwhelmed by the stench, and at this point I knew she'd need to be changed. It wasn't until I put her down on the pavement and went to examine the damage (why do we do that, by the way?) that I was struck by the impending dilemma. As I lifted her coat and went to grab her waistband, I literally jumped backwards after seeing the amount of fecal matter that was covering the child and her clothing. Talk about ridin' dirty . .

The trip to the restroom was extremely tenuous, mainly because there was no changing table and I no longer carry the little floor mat in my bag that is designed for exactly these situations. I guess I've gotten a little cocky about not needing those type of things now that there are far fewer diaper changes needed while we're in public. Lesson learned . . it goes back in the bag today. Anyway, so I drag both girls into this restroom and I send Avery over into a corner and tell her to stay put. She is handed Lil's jacket to hold while I perform the operation, instructed to hold it with two fingers way up by the collar and at arms' length, so as to avoid poo transfer to her own clothes. She reluctantly complies, holding her nose with the other hand the entire time. I begin the careful rolling up of Lily's shirt to avoid spreading the mess to her hair as I remove the shirt. This is necessary in order to clean her back, which is about 1/3 covered in feces. Then I stretch the elastic waistband of her pants as far as it will go, utilizing the type of steady-handedness a brain surgeon would be proud of to lower them to the floor and over her shoes without smearing poo all over her legs. The diaper was next, and this was where it got really dicey. Lily is notoriously a fidgety individual, not prone to long spells of time being still unless she's strapped into something. I spread her feet out for her and emphatically told her to be very still, and surprisingly she complied. The pull-up came off to reveal one of the three biggest non-mine poops I've ever seen, and it was literally everywhere. Luckily I had just recently re-loaded the bag with baby wipes, so I had just enough supplies to get this thing cleaned up. I have to admit something here . . I was a little perturbed by the woman inside the gas station, she was very short and rude with me when I went in and asked for the key to the restroom, so I exacted a little bit of payback just because I could. I left that diaper in the restroom's trash can . . and I didn't bother to fold it up. Was that really wrong of me?

But it doesn't end there. I thought the worst was over as we made our way back to the car. I opened Lily's door for her and allowed her to just climb into her seat as I usually do, myself preparing to finish up getting gas and getting back on the road. As she ascended into her perch she let out a blood-curdling scream, "Poopy daddy, poopy!" Sure enough, the back of the carseat had fallen victim to the explosion, and now we had a quandary. The cleanup effort in the restroom had used up my last baby wipes. Alas, I had a package of apple-cinnamon scented hand wipes that Mandi had given me for the bag, and they would have to get the job done. It reminded me of The Diary of Anne Frank and the vitamin oil that seemed on the verge of running out for the longest time but never did. Just when I thought the roll was going to be finished, one more wipe came out and I was able to get the seat cleaned. Thankfully we were able to get back on the road without further incident, and as we speak the soiled outfit is emerging from the dryer, free from any evidence of the debacle. In addition to the floor mat, I might be adding an emergency change of clothes to my bag, just in case.

28 November 2007

Four New Recipes

I've added a few new recipes this morning to our collection. The Swedish Meatballs are my favorite of the group, they take me back to those dinners at our Swedish friends' house in Clarks Summit all those years ago. Mandi put the Italian Chicken with Chickpeas immediately atop her list of favorites, and it was super easy to boot. Try them out and let us know what you think!

Sick Sucks

We've been one sick household for the last 4 days, and I just can't overemphasize how badly sick sucks. Mandi had a really bad case of Strep that had her out of commission for 4 days, and Lily has been grouchy, feverish, and rashy for the last couple of days. I was at my wit's end Monday afternoon, but thankfully Mandi was able to get a penicillin shot that had her feeling better almost immediately. Anyway, we're back in the swing of things now and I'll get back to posting more regularly. This picture is our favorite one from Thanksgiving, and even though it's in the slideshow I wanted to post it again.

23 November 2007

Amateur Day, Take Three

There are a few days each year when people who are much better suited for their typical day-to-day routines venture out in to a part of the world where they just have absolutely no business being. Amateur Day #1 could technically be considered the last, chronologically speaking, but its name and popularity land it atop the list. I'm talking of course about New Year's Eve, which is when all the people who catch a buzz from a Bartle's & Jaymes wine cooler think they've magically grown a tolerance for large quantities of alcohol, and subsequently flood the town and wreak havoc. You'll find me comfortably in bed no later than 9 p.m. on New Year's Eve, it's just not worth the hassle.

Amateur Day #2 is Selection Sunday, the day the first-round match-ups are announced for the NCAA Basketball Tournament. This is when all the accountants and cell phone salesmen out there all of a sudden know everything there is to know about college hoops, and they subject you to 5 days worth of trash talk over a ten dollar office pool they'll almost certainly lose. Dude, my three year-old could regurgitate what she heard on SportsCenter last night better than you just did . . just spare us.

And today is Amateur Day #3, the one we affectionately dub Black (or Green, depending on your need for political-correctness) Friday. The root of the problem on Black Friday is that people are coerced into doing things at a time of day when they're typically doing something else. This creates huge and uncomfortable clashes, and it generally brings out the worst in everyone, all in the name of $50 off the price of a TV. While I wasn't stupid enough to go to a mall this lovely day, my daily trip to the gym takes me right past a new shopping center that houses a SuperTarget and a Best Buy, among other places. How do I know it would be mass-chaos inside the stores at 8:30 this morning, you ask? I'm going by the fact that on the 1.5 mile stretch of road before the entrance to the mall I was cut off by at least 4 cars and witnessed 3 others making blatantly illegal maneuvers to get where they were going. That's what I mean by Amateur Day . . the people who drive like that are usually out shopping at 7 or 8 o'clock at night, when everybody acts crazy and the sane people are at home avoiding them. But when they subject those of us who commute leisurely to their antics at times when we're not expecting it, that's when all hell breaks loose. Next year I'll most likely skip the trip to the gym on Black Friday, knowing what I know now. It's just one of those days, like New Year's Eve, where I'd just as soon hear the stories afterward and not have experienced any of them. Happy shopping to those of you who value that PlayStation III more than your sanity.

18 November 2007

Merry Christmas Daddy

This morning started as many others do, Mandi was off to work early and I sat down to read the Sunday paper at the kitchen table. It's one of the few times each week I truly get to myself, outside of the gym. Lily woke at her usual 6 a.m., and as I always do I gave her a few minutes to knock the sleep out of her eyes before I retrieved her from the crib. I like listening to her on the monitor when she wakes up, as she's still at the age where she verbalizes what will soon become her internal dialog. Listening to her morning rant is a guilty pleasure I'm really going to miss when she finally moves into Avery's room.

Because we spent a good part of the day yesterday putting out the Christmas decorations, it was no surprise that Lily had Santa on her mind this morning. While she loves the outdoor lights and decorations, the ones on the living room table that she can interact with are definitely her favorite. The norm for our house from now through Christmas Day will be an ill-coordinated chorus of Jingle Bells, Let It Snow, and Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree and others performed by three snowmen, two penguins, and a dog. So I turned on the webcam and captured a little 10-second snippet of her enjoying the new "toys". There's no sound to accompany it, but as the last snowman stopped singing, she turned to me and gleefully yelled "Merry Christmas Daddy!" Enjoy!

15 November 2007

Dear Nasa,

Yet another gem of a post just dropped in my lap by Avery today after school. Apparently a few months ago they were given an assignment to write a letter to NASA telling about a new planet they'd discovered. Today they brought home the mounted, finished product, and it's fantastic! This is how it reads:

Dear nasa,
I discovered a new planet new planet! it is called nebeula. their air is stinky. most of it looks like the beach. it looked fun. there where kids too. the space ships looked realy fun. it was butiful. the people were real nise. the people did tricks in the sky like sky diving. it look like an over loaded fair.

Your friend Avery

It just doesn't get a whole lot better than that. Write this down . . Avery has friends at NASA, so if you ever need a moonrock for a gift or want to vacation on Mars, give her a call on her iPhone and let her know, she'll hook you up.

14 November 2007

Dumb Things Other Parents Do, Part I

Most of the crap I see people do is not worthy of the time it takes to write it down. Sometimes though, they're just so wrong on so many levels I can't help myself. I decided to start a series of stories on the topic. This is, after all, supposed to be a "guide". Consider the tales retold here the "do not" picture in your handbook of parenthood.

Last night as the girls and I were leaving the mall I spotted a large white Ford Expedition parked 2 spots past The DaddyBus. Initially it only stood out because it was parked in a spot marked "Compact Cars Only". Before you start calling me names, understand that if the story ended there it would not have been something I ever spoke or wrote about. I don't equate these spots with those reserved for disabled people, mothers with infants, etc. It makes you a little bit of a jerk to park your Expedition there, but if you park it in the mothers spot and you don't have an infant in the car you're a piece of scum. Clear? Ok, so as I loaded the 25-pound box of modeling clay we bought for Avery's class project into the trunk (you can look forward to that story, I'm sure it will be a good one) the big Expedition thundered to life and started to inch backwards out of the spot. I say inch because every 3 or 4 seconds the 3-ton behemoth would lurch to a stop, its driver clearly struggling to maneuver out of the cramped parking spot. And then it hit me.

There was a 15-year-old girl driving this thing!

I stood and watched for what seemed like ten minutes as the girl's mom sat in the passenger seat on her cell phone, completely oblivious to the peril her daughter was subjecting everyone within a quarter mile to. The vehicle continued its lurching retreat out of the parking spot until it nearly ran over a curb behind it. The girl put the truck into drive and started to heave the steering wheel to the right, the power steering pump wailing and squealing, straining to turn the beast. As she inched toward the end of the row of parking spots, I watched her clumsily reach with her right hand over to turn on the turn signal. At this point she was at least 8 feet into the middle of the intersection, waiting most impatiently for the pedestrians and crossing traffic to clear her intended path. That path eventually led her halfway into the loading dock of the Bass Pro Shop before she got the truck into the proper lane and straightened out. It was amazing that no innocent passersby or trees were killed in the making of this story.

What was this mom thinking? How good can her insurance possibly be? And how can she sleep at night knowing that she's allowing another teenager to get behind the wheel with no sense of responsibility or right vs. wrong? A) Why did she allow the kid to park in that spot in the first place (or had mom driven to the mall and pulled that sweet move). B) How could she not be scared for the truck given the teen's obvious lack of experience? C) What could she possibly be talking about on the phone that was more important?

I know my oldest kid is only 7, and for me to say that I'll be more on top of things when she's a teenager than this mom was is purely speculative. But at least I've seen the do not picture now, and it'll haunt me until long after my kids have learned to drive.

11 November 2007

L . . I . . L . . Y!

I've been working with Lil on spelling her name for quite a while now. A few weeks ago she recited her ABC's completely unassisted, so I thought the name was the next logical step. I soon realized two major flaws in my plan, however. First, the letter "L" is one of two that she still can't pronounce correctly ("R" is the other). And while I suspect this is normal, it hurts her because it's 50% of her name. The second flaw is that when asked to identify the letters, one of her most common mistakes is confusing "I" and "Y". Geez, so much for giving her an easy-to-spell 4-letter name, eh? Well we kept practicing and practicing, at the end foregoing the mid-word split ("L I" . . "L Y") because I thought it might be confusing her, and we went for the whole thing. Well this morning she's got it, consistently knocking it out of the park, and she's sooo proud of herself! She likes to point to the big painted letters on her wall when she does it, grinning from ear to ear and clapping wildly for herself when she gets it right. "I spell (pronounced speoww) my name!", she yells. Now that she's got that mastered, our next conquest will be counting to ten in Spanish. Right now she can do "uno, dos, tres" unprompted, but we still have to walk her through 4-10. Nueve, for 9, still needs a little bit of individual attention, though. Her current pronunciation resembles the chorus to her new favorite song . . "A bay bay".

10 November 2007

Dragons Fade

I can officially say that the Green Dragons ran out of gas last night in the Championship game. The offense was lethargic and the defense was sloppy. The result was a 2-0 defeat at the hands of a Sharks team that, admittedly, was a lot better than us. I guess the fatigue from a 4th game in 6 days finally caught up with the team, but I don't blame them a bit for that. They play their final regular season game this morning at 10, which will be their 5th in a week, and it promises to be a complete disaster. The head coach has promised to mix up the line-ups, allowing the kids to try some new positions since the game is essentially meaningless. I'm looking forward to seeing what an all-girls offense can do, as well as what some inexperienced goal-keeping will lead to. The season wraps up next Saturday with a pizza party and another set of trophies, and I have to say that coaching this team has been one of the most rewarding experiences I've had in a long time. The one-on-one time with Avery has been great, and the chance to teach and lead the kids is something I'm grateful for.

09 November 2007

Oh The Drama

Well we've come to that time in the soccer season, the regular schedule is winding down and everyone's focus is on the end-of-year tournament. The Green Dragons, Avery's team, played its first tourney game Tuesday night and the outcome was every bit as thrilling as a Cinderella upset in the first round of March Madness. After getting down 2 goals early, the Dragons scored to cut the lead in half. Within moments the other team scored again and took the wind right out of our sails. But a few fortunate bounces and a well-executed penalty kick gave us a tie game, and we went to sudden-death overtime. Of course this is a 7-year-old league, so the official terminology was "Golden Goal", first score in OT wins the game. The Dragons took the opening kickoff of the extra time straight down the field and scored the game winner, extending their season by what we thought was the slimmest margin. Next game, Thursday night at 7.

So when Thursday's semi-finals game rolled around, you could really feel a different energy among the team. They were in to it, the crowd was in to it, and of course I was in to it. The Dragons started this game much better than the last, coming out running hard and being aggressive. They took the lead early and played stifling defense for the rest of the game . . except the last 12 seconds. In one of the worst errors in judgement they'd made all season, the defense brought a ball back in front of our goal and allowed it to squirt loose. The opposition's best player capitalized and tied the score at the end of regulation. The 5 minute overtime was full of action, although the fatigue was clearly starting to show. Both teams were clearly playing to avoid mistakes instead of being aggressive. Our goalie stopped a penalty kick for an inadvertent hand-ball, which turned out to be the only real scoring opportunity for either team. There is no second overtime, it goes to penalty kicks next and if there's no winner, best 2 out of 3 coin flips. The excitement was palpable . . the crowd was frenzied, the kids were completely manic, and the head coach and I were shittin' rocks. The first 4 to kick for each team missed, most of them badly, so the tension was building quickly. We got on the board first and put the pressure squarely on their kids, and you could start to taste the victory. Our goalie made two really great saves, we made two more shots, and the opposing coaches conceded the game when we had two players left to shoot. It was out of reach, and the celebration began. "We're going to the championship!" they all chanted as we lined them up for the post-game handshake, most of the other players visibly fighting back tears. The swell of pride from the coaches and parents took a little of the chill out of the cold November air, as we all stood for a moment to soak in this great moment. It may not have been a Super Bowl or a Final Four, but you couldn't ask for better sports drama than that. The championship game is tonight at 6:00, and while we're hoping we just blow the other team out, I for one would not be upset if it came down to the wire again. Go Green Dragons!

08 November 2007

Fall Is My Season

I've always loved Autumn . . it's the season I look forward to the most. The weather is the perfect balance of warm and cold, with plenty of sunshine that isn't oppressive but still warms you when the wind blows. The creatures of nature seem to thrive in the fall, with deer, birds, and trees all seemingly puffing out their proverbial chests in one last display of might before the slumber of a long winter. I took a walk yesterday to explore what will one day be the nature trail in our neighborhood, and the amount of life in those woods was astounding. Every step I took prompted the critters that live in the underbrush to cautiously retreat toward the water, and the small flocks of birds that were eating their winter stores would flit away a few yards at a time as I made my way down the gravel path. A Great Blue Heron that lives in one of the ponds kept a close eye on me, taking off when I'd get too close to his secluded little watering hole. I saw a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks circling above, their fresh fall plumage unblemished and vibrant. And a pair of Mallards sat on a sandbar in the pond, perhaps looking for a place to hatch a brood next spring. The only time of year that rivals the peak of Autumn is early spring, but the spring's youth and uncertainty is no match for the mature, purposeful and powerful fall. Depending on where you live there may only be another week or two until this zenith has passed you by, with the leaves falling and the wildlife completing their retreat to warmer climes. I recommend taking a few moments to soak it in and appreciate all the beauty of my favorite season, I promise you the rewards are there for the taking.

04 November 2007

Headlines That Make Me Angry

I have to be honest with you . . I don't really give a crap about Darfur. While the stories about what's happening there are unfortunate, they're not the kind of things that really get me worked up. And while I'm certainly concerned about Iran and its terrorist government, I don't feel like that's what the average American should be worrying about day-to-day. In my opinion, priority numero uno for the good citizens of the USA (and the non-citizen residents, for that matter) should be learning how to take personal responsibility for their lives and the events that go on from one day to the next. Once we've got that down, then we can start worrying about that other stuff.

The headline that prompted this tirade was pretty ordinary by most people's standards, and probably wasn't given many second thoughts. It was, after all, on the back page of the front section of the Charlotte Observer, and the accompanying photo and caption undoubtedly garnered the majority of folks' attention. The headline read "Massive pileup blamed on fog", and as you can see from the picture, the first two words are really accurate. But "blamed on fog"? Which idiot DMV employee gave a low cloud a driver's license? Did anybody check to see if the cloud had full coverage insurance? Or was he an illegal alien (er, foreign national) who had been arrested 3 times previously for driving without a license and let off because of justice system inefficiencies or inadequacies? Here's a reality check for all 100 or so drivers caught up in the wreck . . you have to drive differently when you can't see 15 feet in front of your SUV! Automatic Stability Control and Traction Control and Rollover Mitigation and all the other crap they're putting into cars these days are all just added weight if you don't slow the hell down and pay attention when you're driving. Blaming the accident on the fog is like blaming your hangover on the appealing shape of the vodka bottle . . it's what you did with the stuff inside the bottle you idiot! We need to take personal responsibility for our lives and the things that happen to us. It is not the weather's fault, it's not the advertising company's fault, it's not the car company's fault, it's your fault! We need to stop sitting around waiting for the government to provide what we need and start driving the proverbial bus that is our lives. That's how our country became the greatest country in the world and it's the only way it'll stay that way.

03 November 2007

Too Good To Be True

Some days there's just not that much to write about. Occasionally I'll post a fluff story, or I'll fill space with a narrative about some recipes we've tried out when there's nothing particularly interesting going on. Today, however, is not one of those days. And while the funny story from 7:30 this morning will not take up a very large amount of room on the page, it may very well be one of the most memorable ones I've posted on this blog.

So Avery and Lily were sitting down to breakfast, Lily having been up for an hour plus and Ave still rubbing the sleep from her eyes. I finished washing the last pan and was walking over to get my coffee as Avery says "I know two people who will probably be really bored on Christmas." Only half listening and half flipping pages in the newspaper, I respond with the obligatory "Yeah? Who?" Her response came as matter-of-factly as a weather report, which I think is why the sheer hilarity caught me so off guard. I'm expecting her to say something silly like Mrs. Claus and the Easter Bunny, you know? So when she let "Jesus, and Eme" fly, I laughed so hard I had to sit down in order to catch my breath. (For those who don't know, 'Eme' is Emily, Mandi's sister, whose birthday is on Christmas.) Of course I asked her to repeat herself, but at this point I knew what a gem she'd handed me and I really hoped she wouldn't clam up in embarrassment. After all, if she wouldn't confirm it, I couldn't publish it. But alas, she grinned and repeated herself, and I couldn't help but probe her for her reasoning. "Ave, Christmas is Jesus' birthday, and he's the reason people celebrate the holiday. And it's Eme's birthday too . . why do you think they'd be bored?" Unfortunately for all of us, she chose this time to clam up . . she got a sheepish, embarrassed look on her face and muttered a quiet "never mind" as she turned back toward her scrambled eggs and took a bite. Can't stick your foot in your mouth if it's already full of food, I suppose. So the story ends there, but not before one of the best quotes in recent memory. If you talk to Jesus or Eme, invite them over for Christmas, apparently their calendars are empty.

02 November 2007

Halloween's Over . . Merry Christmas!

I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when taking down the Halloween decorations was high on the family to-do list. They've been up for over a month now, and I like the clean, decorationless, no-impending-holiday look. Well that feeling lasted about 15 minutes . . the girls went straight into the playroom and dug out the Christmas music and turned it on, much to my dismay. I know I've promised not to be a downer this year about holiday stuff, but it might be really difficult if I have to hear Billy Gilman for 2 whole months. Or the Neville Brothers.

Anywho, Halloween night and Trick-or-Treating was really a good time, both for the girls and for Mandi and I. The two of us hold people-watching as one of our favorite pastimes, and the Dilworth crowd did not disappoint. In general there were very few train-wrecks, which was mildly disappointing, but there were quite a few opportunities to chuckle and shake our heads. The most bizarre thing we saw was two women, I can only assume they were mothers, walking around in full costume and followed closely behind by at least 4 teenagers in plain clothes. Huh? How does that work out? I can only imagine what the guy who had his house all done up like a haunted castle said to himself when he saw them . . "I spent $8k on flying ghosts and smoke machines for these idiots?"

Far and away the funniest part of the night, however, came right after we walked out of my in-laws' house. We decided to go next door for our first stop to see our friends and their one-year-old, and to give Lily a chance to polish her spiel. That turned out to be the best decision we made all night, because when they opened the door Lily said "Trick-or-Treat" just like we taught her, then promptly pushed her way inside, hopped up on the couch and said "Look Mommy, George is on!" It was a definite roll-on-the-floor laughing moment, one which defines Lil's personality about as well as any. And while she did try that move a few other times, at least we were prepared for it the first time the house belonged to a stranger!

31 October 2007

A Few New Recipes

I haven't posted a lot of new recipes lately, but that doesn't mean I haven't been cooking. There's no recipe for "orange ghost eggs" or "purple pumpkin (shaped) pancakes" . . I've gotta hold some of my cards. But there are some good new dinners, mostly chicken and either Asian or Mexican in nature, so I thought I'd let everyone know. I have not tried the Butternut Squash-Leek Soup, but someone asked for the recipe so I put it on the site. If anyone does make it and try it, please let me know how it turns out. Happy cooking!

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween to all of you who have resisted the forces of society who are trying to kill this holiday like they're killing the rest of them. I heard someone the other day complain because Halloween celebrated the dead, and I quote "I just can't get into that." Dude, I could care less if my kids know what the real meaning behind Halloween is, it's something for them to look forward to and an opportunity to spend time with their parents doing what all kids need to do more of, which is just being kids. If you're worried about devil worship, teach your kids about God. If you're worried about them being safe while they're Trick-or-Treating, go with them and avoid the shady parts of town. But if you're worried that doing what people have always done will make you appear like you're not taking a stand against every cause or issue you can find, do yourself a favor and stop thinking about yourself for one day and consider doing something your kids might genuinely enjoy. Oh and one more thing . . if your kid comes to my door without a costume on and just sticks his bag out without saying anything, he's getting the Charlie Brown treatment this year. When everyone else looks to see what their baskets hold, he'll be caught saying "I got a rock."

Just for kicks, my girls got orange ghost and moon scrambled eggs this morning, and purple (on the inside anyway) pumpkin, bat, and moon pancakes. I'm trying to get over my holiday apathy this year, and food seems to be the best way to do that for me. Making a fun holiday breakfast or dinner gives me something to look forward to, and hopefully it will help me to ignore the Christmas music.

30 October 2007

So Proud!

For those of you who haven't heard, Mandi finished the Marine Corps Marathon again this year! With far less training this year due to our rearranged roles she was not quite as fast as last year, but it's still a great accomplishment! I'm really proud of her, she's got this uncanny ability to stay committed to things when there are really good reasons not to. Way to go 'lil mama!

p.s. I'd include a picture but I got scolded yesterday for putting up pics of her friends "without their permission", so I'll wait until I talk to them then add it later.

28 October 2007

A Disturbing New Trend

Some of the only negative feedback I've received on this blog is that everyone loves pictures, and some of my posts don't include them. Well I've promised to improve my performance in that arena, but unfortunately it can't start with this post. Allow me to explain.

Lily adds skills to her repertoire every day it seems, and for the most part I'm pleased with her progress and impressed with her coordination. She'll officially be 2 1/2 next Monday, and I think she's generally very advanced. However, the move she's spent the last three or four days perfecting has just got to stop. Twice yesterday and once today I've walked in to a room to find Lil in nothing but her shirt . . pants and pull-up removed and set neatly aside as though they were optional items in her ensemble. Today it was done during what was supposed to be her nap time, yesterday she disrobed repeatedly in the playroom, and the day before she just refused to put them back on after a trip to the potty. Hopefully it's a stunt that she outgrows quickly, because I don't think I'll be able to recover from her first public attempt at it. For the record, there is photographic evidence of this disturbing act, but it's not publishable. So as I said, I'm going to do a better job with pictures in the blog, but it unfortunately will have to wait until tomorrow.

27 October 2007

Mandi's Off To DC

Just a quick reminder to everyone that Mandi's off to Washington DC this morning to sign in for the 2007 Marine Corps Marathon! She's currently enjoying all the creature comforts of the Atlanta airport, then it's off to our nation's capital for a rendez-vous with a few of her "bitches" from her online community. This is her second year doing the MCM, and one of the best parts about last year's 'thon was being able to track her progress right here on my computer. I've already set myself up to do that again this year, and I'm excited because they've added some features that will allow me to follow her without being tethered to the desk. The site allows you to have updates sent to your cell phone or pager when she crosses all of the splits, as well as by email, so I can take the girls to the park and not lose touch with Mommy. And if you're in front of the computer, they have an interactive course map that will show you where she is in relation to all of the monuments and landmarks in DC. If you want to keep track of her progress, visit the link at the left side of the blog that says "Mandi's Marathon Tracking" and follow the instructions. It's free, and it takes no time to set up.

26 October 2007

Always A Bridesmaid . .

Unfortunately Ave didn't win the prize for the craziest hair today. Her teacher told her hers was definitely the cutest, but cute was not the goal. The winner, her friend Elise, had her naturally curly hair teased up around a plastic soda bottle ala Marge Simpson. I guess it was a shock value thing. I should have expected that Elise would come out guns-a-blazin' for this contest . . she is, after all, the one Avery got the iPhone idea from. The silver lining is that Ave came home with a red ribbon pinned to her shirt that reads "The future relies on you & me, be drug free." There I go again, in typical underdog fashion, trying to come out of this week with a moral victory . . I suppose one of these days I'll start expecting to win. Maybe I'll start after Lily's potty trained.

Crazy Hair Day

Yesterday was "Wear Your Favorite Jersey" Day, which in most households I'm sure translated into "Wear Dad's Favorite Jersey" Day. No exception here, as I paraded out an old Vanderbilt Football jersey I have had for years and told Avery "This is what you're wearing today." To my delight she did not object, and we got her all dressed up, complete with matching Black and Gold bows in her hair. Mandi doesn't exactly keep costume make-up around the house, otherwise I would have had the black stripes under her eyes too. Well apparently the slack-ass teacher ran out of prizes and no official winner was named, but unofficially Avery was told that "If there was going to be a winner, it'd be you." Not to worry, when it comes to things associated with Vandy Football we've grown quite accustomed to those 'moral victories'. So today was our last chance at a prize for the week, the ever popular "Crazy Hair" Day. In the past we've done Shrek hair and other variations . . Avery's got a pretty good canvas for being creative on this one. Today our theme was "Everything but the kitchen sink", and I think we've got a legitimate shot at victory. We'd better win, it took me so long to do it that we missed the bus and I had to drive Ave to school! I'll let you know later on how we did . .

25 October 2007

Greatness, whether you're a fan or not . .

One of the things I've said a lot recently is that when you have an opportunity to witness greatness, you should stop and take it in. Whether you're a fan of sports or not, there's something awe inspiring about watching an athlete who's just head-and-shoulders better than all of their competition. I have used this speech at work in the past, when some extra motivation was required to get my team really fired up. To watch an athlete who has combined a God-given ability with an extraordinary work ethic to make him or herself a dominant figure in a sport is remarkable. It's the pinnacle of achievement and perseverance. In my lifetime I can think of six athletes that were (or are) completely untouchable, some of whom I can appreciate right now and others I wish I had stopped to marvel at when they were playing. The guys from the past who in my memory stand out are Nolan Ryan, who still holds the record for the most no-hitters in baseball history; Joe Montana, who re-invented the quarterback position; and Michael Jordan, who is the most complete and dominant player in NBA history. I look back on my fleeting memories of those three players and wish I had learned earlier to appreciate greatness.

While those three played in what I would consider mainstream sports, two of the three playing right now are dominating largely niche sports. But their greatness takes events that the majority would otherwise ignore and thrusts them into the spotlight. That's called transcendence, and it's what turns above-average into great. Roger Federer is poised to be the most dominant player in the history of professional tennis, a sport that a grand total of zero non-tennis enthusiasts pay attention to. But I'm telling you, watch him play once and you too will be awestruck. Tiger Woods, the most dominant and intimidating golfer ever to walk a fairway, not only shone the world spotlight on the game of golf, but he did it as a minority. That's what great does . . it walks in, takes all your best shots, beats all your odds, and then punches you in the mouth and leaves you cowering in a corner.

The player that precipitated this post had his A-game on display last night, and while I only stayed awake for about a third of it, I was able to fall asleep completely confident that I'd read about his dominating results this morning. Josh Beckett, the Red Sox staff ace, has become one of the best post-season pitchers ever. He took on a Colorado Rockies team last night that hadn't lost a baseball game in over 3 weeks and completely dismantled them. You could see the dominance in his smirk as he stood on the mound, impervious to the rain and the pressure of the World Series. The look on his face said simply "We're going to do this my way, and there's nothing you can say or do to change that." It was exhilarating to watch, and I can only hope to have one more chance to see him pitch before the series ends. If it happens, it'll be Monday night, and I strongly encourage you to watch a few innings of the game. I'll bet it makes you, like it does me, want to improve yourself and inch closer to greatness in your life.

24 October 2007

Ayúdeme, Or Something Like That

Anybody that says kids shouldn't watch too much TV is full of crap. I mean, I know there's some garbage on some of the channels (even the public ones) . . Teletubbies comes to mind . . but kids soak up this stuff like sponges. I think the key is that they more readily pick up the things you reinforce while you're watching it with them. If you watch Sesame Street, and you sit silently until until Elmo's World comes on, at which point you break into the song and dance and start jumping around like an idiot, chances are the kid will get excited the next time Elmo comes on. Pretty simple stuff, you don't need a degree in psychology to figure that one out.

Lily, who I'd say picks up and repeats about 400% more things from her environment than the average 2 1/2 year old, proved my point for me this morning at the park. She was climbing up the little rock wall thing, which is missing about 2/3 of its pegs and was still damp from the overnight rain. As she got to the top her foot slipped and she grabbed hold as she started to slide down the thing. Before I go any further, understand that this thing is about 3 feet long and the top is no more than 18 inches higher than the bottom, so she was in a grand total of zero danger. Because she doesn't ever shut up, it took me a minute to re-focus on the words coming out of her mouth as she hung on for dear life and her volume shot up precipitously. She was looking over at me yelling "ayúdeme, ayúdeme!" For those of you who aren't ardent fans of Dora or fluent in Espanol, ayúdeme is Spanish for "help me". Are you kidding me right now? I have occasionally repeated one or two of the Spanish words with her . . abre means "open", azul means "blue" . . but most of the Spanish I could reinforce is stuff I learned from the cooks and dishwashers at the Ruby Tuesday, and she doesn't want to know how to say "take out the trash". I was floored when she busted out ayúdeme on me . . how smart is this kid? I'm bound to be far more impressed by this than most of you would since she's got my DNA, but you've gotta tip your cap to the people who make these cartoons too. They put these shows together knowing that kids learn from the repetition and reinforcement, and I think Dora (and her cousin Diego) in particular are really good stuff. You say TV ruins their mind and gives them A.D.D., I say p'shaw!

23 October 2007

I'm Not Competitive, Am I?

The picture you see here is what Avery's wearing to school today. It's Crazy Sock Day, a part of the school's week-long drug awareness campaign . . Sock it to drugs or something like that. We dressed her for Red Day yesterday, but it was nothing spectacular . . then when she came home and told me her friend won a prize for the best outfit, the competitive itch kicked in and I concocted this hair brained scheme to ensure victory on Crazy Sock Day. By itself I'm quite sure this story wouldn't be very interesting, but when coupled with what went on last Saturday it really starts to expose a pretty serious flaw of mine.

Avery's soccer game last weekend started much as the rest of them have, a handful of players doing most of the work and the rest practically sleepwalking up and down the field. It was chilly, wet, and our first 9 a.m. game, so the usual lethargy was compounded by the proximity to breakfast. Her team was undefeated coming in, having tied once but won convincingly in the other 5 games, so when it became obvious early that we were going to get thoroughly smoked if somebody didn't wake these kids up, I turned up my volume. Substantially. Well, to make a short story long, my attempts at motivation bubbled over into an obnoxious display of referee taunting that you'd expect to see on Montel Williams. That's right, for a brief moment my competitive streak turned me into that guy. I mean, we really were getting hosed out of some calls . . God, no way, just shut up. The other coach said to me, just passing by, "Hey, it's just youth soccer, chill out." So I sucked it up and apologized to him and the referees after the game. I've gotta get a handle on this competitiveness before I get banned from the soccer league and am relegated to a spectator!

Well, tomorrow's Wear Your Favorite Hat Day, so I'm off to figure out our strategy on winning that one. Maybe I could safety pin a bunch of hats together and make her look like the Cat In The Hat . . or maybe I should just concentrate on a plan for Crazy Hair Day on Friday. Thursday is the only day with no wiggle room in the plan . . it's Wear Your Favorite Team Jersey Day, and I've already got the Vandy football jersey laid out!

21 October 2007

A Group For Dads

Remember when I wrote about the weekly newspaper column I didn't get asked to write? You know, they ran an ad for neighborhood reporters and I didn't get chosen, and in typical male fashion I hated on the woman who they did choose after reading her first edition? Yeah, well I hate to admit it, but in her third column she wrote about a group called Charlotte Area Dads, which I joined last night. It pains me to give her credit for it, but I'll be the grown up I'm supposed to be and say that I'm glad she opened my eyes to this forum. The group operates a website, charlotteareadads.com, where dads from the area can have a place to chat, make friends, and plan dads-only events and outings. The few things I've seen so far seem really interesting, like a weekly basketball game in a nearby subdivision and some weekend no-moms-allowed breakfast outings. The website itself will most certainly be the biggest draw for me . . it's set up with bulletin-board type forums and chatrooms where dads from a really diverse set of circumstances and backgrounds can get together and chat and talk about whatever they want. I've long been jealous of the online forums that Mandi's a part of (she calls her friends from her Weightwatchers board "her bitches", and I feel like we'll need to put a spare bedroom in our next house for them). Now I'll have my own online gossip outlet, and everyone on it is local. I feel compelled to come up with a clever nickname for the group of guys I become friends with . . my homies? Nah. My dudes? G-A-Y. The Boys? Too backstreet. Let's hear your ideas in the form of comments to this post . . winner receives a some-expenses-paid trip to somewhere utterly unspectacular, which will be paid in the form of a 20-year worthless annuity held by a company that went bankrupt last week. If you're curious, I've placed a link to the Charlotte Area Dads website on the left of the page among my other links.