Jun 25, 2009

Angus Wars

As a concerned citizen and awesome blogging force, I feel that when there is a matter of great importance and divisiveness, I must weigh in. That is why I have in the past, delivered my hard-hitting views on such firestorms as Michael Vick and Mel Gibson and Mike Hucakbee and other things that start with the letter M. Well today I realized that there is a full-scaled battle on our hands, and I need to put in my two cents. Of course, I am talking about the fast food battle for Angus Burger supremacy.

In case you have noticed, over the last few years, the Angus brand of beef has become synonymous with "excellent mediocrity" in our country. It began as a chain of restaurants with a confusing name, that when mispronounced (accidentally or on purpose) would bring a quick rebuke from parental figures. At least that is where I first heard of it. Apparently, there is a type of cattle called an Angus. It is claimed that this breed has a higher quality of meat than the regular old run of the mill cow. This claim is backed up by much marketing and trumpeting by the American Angus Association - an impartial observer if I ever saw one. I mean, if the American Angus Association can't be trusted when it comes to the quality of the Angus cow, who can?

Well, the Angus ranchers all got together and started pushing for restaurants to use this special brand of cattle as a kind of "upscale" meat - a truly special burger. The first major chain to jump up was Burger King. They introduced their Angus burger in 2004. (Dates verified by the source of all valid knowledge - wikipedia.) This is pretty normal, if you think about it. From what I can recall, any time that there has been a whirling dervish amongst the fast food places, it began with Burger King. They are the one who always tries everything first. I'm not kidding. They come up with a totally wild scheme, and before you know it the others come following along. You would think the number one fast food joint would be the trendsetter, but it is actually the #2 guy. You know those "BK Shots" they just came out with (mini burgers)? Hardee's/Carl Jr.'s already has their version now. We've seen it happen with spicy chicken sandwiches already. Trust me on this.

So, BK comes out with their Angus burger. This was followed by Hardee's/Carl Jr.'s and Krystal (yes, Krystal). I believe that Jack in the Box and Checkers/Rally's has had their own version also. And now McDonald's has lined up as well with their Angus offerings. Wendy's is the only hold out. But they are weird and march to their own drummer. They serve square burgers, for God's sake! Like they matter. The battle lines have been drawn. And the Angus War is on.

Does it matter? Are these burgers truly worth the expense, the inevitable hurt feelings when brother is pitted against brother for their favorite? What we need is someone to step up and volunteer to make an impartial decision over which burger is the best. The most impartial and fair group I know in this matter is, obviously, the American Angus Association. But they won't answer my emails - probably due to the fear of what the harsh light of this evaluation will reveal. So, we need someone who has little regard for their health or their pride to volunteer to make this call for us. We need someone so stupid, so susceptible to marketing schemes that they actually would have tried ALL of these burgers. I am the man for this job.

The first out of the gate is Burger King. Their Angus burger has been out so long it has already had three different names. The basic premise here is the same as with all the chains - a higher quality and bigger burger. It is 1/3 pound instead of the measly 1/4 pound of the Whopper. What does this tell us? Only fat people want better quality meat! You can order your Angus BK burger three ways. You have a deluxe version with lettuce, tomato, various liquid condiments, cheese. Then there is the Bacon and Three Cheese version. And there is the Mushroom and Swiss version. (There are also some other variations that have been abandoned already.) Their burger is big, and messy. I have tried the Bacon/3 Cheese. It is good - has a lot of flavors going on. The bun is some kind of split top thing - decent I think. The huge quantity of cheese dwarfs the lettuce and tomato - quickly turning the leafy veggie into green wet paper. Mmmm. The meat does not taste the same, for sure, as BK's usual offerings. It has a little different taste. Hard to put your finger on, but I think the word that most describes it is "filler." I swear it tastes like there is oatmeal or gym mats mixed in with the meat. Something non-animal for sure. It has the characteristic BK carcinogen taste. And, as always, you enjoy a BK burger for hours afterwards every time you burp. I would give it 3 horns out of 5.

I know, the thought of this tiny burger establishment parading out a big butt burger is weird. There are so many questions. Why, in the name of God, would you venture away from tiny food? Why did you abandon the fusion of meat and grease and bun? Why did you name it after Mr. T. in the A Team? The only question I care about is "Is it any good?" The difference between a normal Krystal burger and the B.A. Burger is startling. Whereas the Krystal burger tastes like a grease soaked sponge in between a dinner roll, the B.A. tastes like a real meat burger. I think that this inflates the apparent quality of the B.A. It does not taste as filler-dependent as BK. It only comes adorned with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and condiments. It doesn't strike me as higher quality per se, just higher quality than Krystal's usual offering. But face it, a horse patty would also qualify for that judgement. 3 1/2 horns out of 5.

I am one of those people who believe that Hardee's is always under-appreciated. In my honest, expert, obese opinion, Hardee's is one of the best tasting fast food places. However, this taste is offset by their absolutely mind-boggling lack of customer service. Whether it is an employee at a Jacksonville locale throwing a cup of hot oil at a customer or a Seffner cook handing four strips of bacon with his bare hands over the back counter to the cashier to hand to a customer, Hardee's has a rap sheet a mile long. But is their burger good? Yes, it is. Hardee's has mastered the art of selling the higher level burgers. In fact, it is possible that all of their burgers are now considered "upscale." The Angus burger is loaded with the usual high end fixings. And it is huge. This brings up one of the common Angus burger trends. One of the big differences between the Angus offerings and their boring counterparts is that the Angus patties seem to have less difference between "precooked weight" and "What you get weight." Even though the ounce difference between a quarter pounder and third pound Angus is only 1.5 ounces, it feels like more. That quarter pounder loses a lot of weight due to the loss of ounces due to shrinkage. The Angus seems less susceptible to this. So there is more to eat. Of course, this also brings up the other common quality. These Angus burgers are always dry. The smaller amount of grease and fat and paste in the Angus burger means that the finished product is not as moist. Hardee's burgers all have that problem - very dry. And they have a lot of that gym mat filler taste. Score 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Mickey D was the last to hop on the Angus train. But there they are with the same three offerings as BK, basically. Well, except their bacon and cheese version only has two slices of cheese and not three kinds. The bun is a fancier sesame seed option. McD has never been good at innovation - that is its blessing and curse. Remember the Arch Deluxe and those high end sandwiches? (Which, by the way, the Arch Deluxe was AWESOME. Allen Turner and I ate dozens of those - half for free using coupons.) These buns remind me of those. No, literally, I think they used the leftover buns. It was so stale. How could a new burger have stale buns? The burger itself was good. It had a different flavor than the usual McD offerings. Again, less horse makes for a new taste. But it fell victim to the typical dry, filler taste that the other Angus products are crippled with. The bacon was pathetic - it looked like four small pieces, which ended up being two medium pieces folded in half. It didn't look or taste special. By the end, I was wishing it had lost some of its weight so I had less to eat. 2 1/2 out of 5 horns.

So, the battle ends with no clear winner. None of the Angus burgers were worth the higher cost that comes with them. They all were dry and tasted like they were fortified with batting or porridge. Maybe this is the "superior quality" that the American Angus Association is raving about. To me, it isn't working. Last night I made burgers at home. They were pre-made 90/10 patties from Sam's Club's fresh meat section. Each one of them was about 1/3 of a pound. The four burgers cost me about 3 bucks total for the meat. I seasoned them with pepper and salt. And I pan fried them in a covered pan. They were awesome. They were juicy and tasty. They didn't taste like carpet. I used Publix buns and cheese and pre-cooked bacon. Basically, they were the most basic thing I could do. And they blew the high end Angus burgers out of the water. What does that tell you? It tells me that this whole Angus marketing thing is a bunch of baloney. But, it is Angus certified, high quality baloney.

Jun 19, 2009

Name That Tune

First of all, I wanted to address my throng of Facebook acolytes. I'm sure you are wondering why I have been putting up so many Notes lately. Well, I found a way to link my blog to my Facebook account, so any time I post on the blog it creates a Notes. That way Facebook people can read the blog without going to the blog. Now to the handful (literal) of you who read the blog on its own, the same great blogginess will be posted on the davidstaples.blogspot.com site. It just is also streamed to Facebook. What does that mean? There are now thousand and thousands and tens of thousands of new readers thanks to RSS feeds and Facebook. (I hope at least ONE of you got that reference.)

I know that many of you were thrilled to see me back to my powerful blog posts like yesterday's Tallahassee restaurant assessment. But, the reality is that I can't deliver that kind of earth-shattering posts all the time. I am just one man. So today, you have to deal with sappy, reflective, spiritual thoughts. As always, bear with me. The idiocy will return in short order.

This week was a little weird for me. Things were going well for the most part. Gabe has been fighting sleep like it was a pack of wolves. But I have been keeping up with the chores, having fun cooking, actually getting Defender work done. I've just been tired physically and emotionally. Part of the problem is the oppressive heat - which just saps my energy immediately. My Rheumatoid Arthritis has been acting up for a couple of months now, so I have a lower level of strength to begin with each day. Last night we had Family Night for VBS at Immanuel Baptist Church. The kids had gone there this week, which gave us a chance to try the church. They had a complete blast. Last night we got to go hear them sing and show what they had learned. Afterwards there was a cookout and bouncy houses.

Carrying Gabe there, standing in the heat, walking up the hills. All of it just really wore on me. I had been stressing all day, too, about the fact that Heather's first test is Monday. That means she is going to spend a lot of time this weekend studying. Weekends have always been a big deal with our family. We try to protect them so we can have family time. But test time means that the weekend is compromised - understandably so, seeing how much work Heather has. So I was tired, feeling down, hurting physically, and honestly a little lonely. This morning we overslept and had to rush to get everything done. They water at our complex was turned off at 9am to fix a busted water main - so we were really on a time crunch.

After I got the kids dropped off, I checked the mail. There was a letter from ICS (the school I taught at) with my "end of year gift" from the principal. $30 in iTunes cards. iTunes cards are one of my absolute favorite gifts. I get to go on the online site and pick from movies and music and television shows. It is just awesome. When I get right down to it, iTunes and Apple are my two favorite stores. So while Gabe was feasting on Blues Clues, I got to play on iTunes. I downloaded some free television shows and a $2.49 Christian music sampler. I was debating about a few different titles and decided to get Travis Cottrell's new "Jesus Saves LIVE" concert album.

I love Travis Cottrell. First of all, he led music at a few conferences I went to with the college ministry I was running. He just had a great heart and a wonderful way of leading worship. His guitarist, Benji Cowart, was in my seminary classes. As he has become more popular, it really seems like he has remained grounded and humble. I just like his worship style and his CDs. I downloaded the album and burned a copy to listen to in the car on the way to pick up the kids. The last song on the album was "In Christ Alone." There are two different songs by that name. There is the one sung by Michael English and then Brian Littrell. It is a great song. But then there is the one sung by Travis Cottrell and Avalon. They both are great, but the Cottrell version is one my all time favorite songs.

I started listening to the album, but skipped back to the last song, which was "In Christ Alone." I was singing with the song and within a minute I was just crying. I couldn't help it and really couldn't stop. I don't know why. I guess the mixture of everything going on just really hit me when the song was playing. But it was also the song itself. The words are so powerful - and they really ministered to me. Here are the lyrics:

In Christ alone my hope is found.
He is my light, my strength, my song.
This Cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace;
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease;
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.
For every sin on Him was laid,
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay.
Light of the world by darkness slain.
Then bursting forth in glorious Day,
Up from the grave He rose again.
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me.
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me.
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand.
‘Til He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

The thing that I needed to be reminded of is the centrality of Christ in all of . . . this stuff. He is my hope. He is my salvation. He is my victory. He is the strength and power I need to survive everything this world throws at me. He is the One who has crafted my path in life. No one can take me away from Him. No one will break His love for me. He is the only One who will always be there for me. But beyond that, He is my reason for living. He is why I even try. He is my everything. When I am joyful and enjoyable to be around, it is because of the joy He has given me. If I teach well or preach in a stirring fashion, it is because He gave me the words to say.

Some people may feel this is stupid or foolish. And I know that some people I am friends with will hate my stance on this. But I can't deny it or apologize for it. It is simply what makes me who I am. If you are my friend, if you think highly of me, the reason for that is because I believe in Christ - because He is my central focus in life. It is because of my faith - not in spite of it. If I didn't have that, I would be a dark and moody and cutting and rude person. I have seen that side of me take hold before. But my desire to live for Christ overwhelms that. It is why I love my wife and want to serve her and help her. It is why I am patient with my kids and want to teach them. It is why I am generous with my friends and want to have fun with them. It is everything. That song drives all of that home more than almost anything I have heard. It was a good reminder to me.

I needed to hear all of those things. I needed a good cry. I needed to remember it is not about me, but who lives in me. I needed hope and encouragement. I needed those iTunes cards.

Jun 18, 2009

Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives

My two favorite vacations I have ever taken were Spring Break of 1996 and Independence Day of 2004. Spring Break 96 consisted of me and my friends Matt and Allen going up to Atlanta. It wasn't anything spectacular. It just was the first time I ever had gone on a vacation on my own. We never travelled much at all when I was a kid, so this was a big deal to me. We had a great time. The 2004 trip was up to Pennsylvania with Heather, Josiah, Natalie, and Heather's parents. It was really neat to see a part of a country that I never had seen before and to spend time with Heather's extended family.

One of the coolest things about the trip, honestly, was the food. I may have written about this before, but I really enjoy food. This may explain why I am considered to large to be a fashion model, Jabba the Hutt stand in, or walrus. But I really do like food. Even if I was thin, I assume I would like food. I enjoy cooking. One of the best parts of this whole change of life has been that I have taken over the cooking. Heather is a great cook. But I like trying out recipes and cooking. I have made some things that I never had before - and they have been good. Yesterday I created a new recipe. I made drop biscuits in a muffin tin and then topped them with leftover mashed potatoes mixed with cheese and bacon. It was like a poor man's version of Pizzeria Uno's Pizza Skins. And they were good.

So my love for food is not just because I love stuffing my face. I enjoy trying things and making things. I like going to new places. As anyone I have visited should know, when I go to a new place I want to "try places I can't go back home." I remember when I went to Australia back in 2000. A bunch of the people with me wanted to eat at McDonalds and stuff. In three weeks, I had BK Lounge once, Pizza Hut once, KFC once. That was it. I made stuff like lasagna and sausages. I went to vendors to try kebabs (which rocked) and meat pies.

Pennsylvania was similar. They had the best cheesesteaks in the world - and I tried a dozen different places. I ate pirogues. We ate at awesome stand alone diners. And I wondered why things couldn't be like that down in Orlando. I thought about and had a theory. Orlando is a very "new" city. It may have existed for a while, but most of it has sprung up as a result of Disney (60s) and UCF (90s). Those places grew after the big chain restaurants had established themselves. So when you drive through Orlando, there aren't unique restaurants. Some areas, you will find some stand alone places - like in Winter Park. These Pennsylvania joints had been open for fifty years and stuff. They had renovated and expanded and changed ownership. But they were part of the landscape. And their strength of reputation had helped them fight off the big companies.

The other reason is that places like that always seem to be cheaper. The big chains say they have buying power, and they do charge less than a lot of places. But they never seem to keep up with these older diners and such. For example, in PA I could get a cheesesteak for 3.99 at several places. Huh? Try seven or eight bucks in a chain. My thoughts are that these older places own their places, equipment, lots. They don't pay astronomical leases. They don't rent their knives. So they have lower overhead. And they are family run, so they save on payroll. Look at the next time a new stand alone comes along. They always are more expensive than the older ones, and more than the chains. Down in Oviedo, Nick's Restaurant opened up right before we moved. We tried it one night and were stunned at how much their pizza cost. You could feed a youth group for the same amount at Domino's. It seems to be the same story at most of the newer places. They are stuck in bad leases, they don't have volume buying, and so they have to charge more.

Well, in Tallahassee I have discovered that it is more along the lines of Allentown. It is an older established city. There are a ton of local places around town. They have carved out their niche, and as a result they have fought off the chains. There are only like four Chick-Fil-A stand alones in Tallahassee. You have to drive to find a Taco Bell. Why? Well, you have to pass five GOOD Mexican places before you hit the Mexican Phone Company. There are four chicken places on Tennessee Ave alone. You don't HAVE to go to the chain places. Sure, they have crept in around town. But there are also a bunch of great local places. Here are some I have found so far:
  • 1 Fresh Stir Fry - Our favorite new place. You pick the items you want and they cook it up and give it to you. It is like Macaroni Grill's "Design Your Own Pasta" but better. You can pick rice or noodles. You can make it like Italian, Mexican, Chinese, or Bacon Cheeseburger Pasta. And they serve Pepsi! Best Spring Rolls I have ever had. And it costs $9 for a huge bowl that always give you two filling meals. (Reheats well too)
  • La Fiesta - This Mexican place on Apalachee Parkway is like three minutes from our apartment. We all went here last week with Greg. All five Staples ate until we were full - quesadillas, chicken tenders for the kids, enchiladas. $30. I can handle that once in a while. Great stuff. And they serve Pepsi . . . AND Cherry Pepsi.
  • Barnaby's Pizza - This is right next door to La Fiesta. Literally share a parking lot. It has absolutely amazing pizza. Braided dough crusts sprinkled with corn meal. Their hamburger topping is one of the best I've ever had. The kids love it and knock out a whole pizza by themselves. My favorite pizza place thus far. And they serve Pepsi!
  • Helen's Silver Bullet Diner - This is right next door to Barnaby's. Literally share a parking lot. [Honestly, have you EVER had three epic restaurants located next door to each other? I can't remember this in my life. And I would remember something like that.] Only open for Breakfast and Lunch. Kids meals are all 1.99 or 2.99. BIG portions. I got a double cheeseburger and was embarrassed because I couldn't finish it. Gabe tore into his eggs and sausage. Natalie ate a plate-sized pancake. Josiah had a hot dog and fries. Total bill $24. Yup. And I could have gotten a regular burger and saved $2. They serve Coke, but they have ice cream.
  • Decent Pizza - We have only tried one of the Ridonkulously Sized Pizza Slice places around town. (We will try Momo's at some point.) Decent is better than its name claims. Don't pay for delivery, because you get rooked. But carryout is not bad. We got a huge 24" and a "medium" 16 incher for $24. You don't realize just how big those pizzas are. We fed our family and Greg, and had enough for a family of reheats. Plus, their calzones are phenomenal. $6 for a 14" diameter calzone, stuffed with sausage (or whatever). Can't beat that.
  • Red Elephant Pizza Grill - This was started by the guy who started Barnaby's. So the pizza is identical. But they have great salads (which Heather loves), awesome soup, and nice sandwiches too. And Greg gets boiled peanuts there - and I watch him eat them. Who would eat wet peanuts? They lose points for serving Coke, though.
It sounds like we eat out a lot, but we don't. Many of these places got tried when we were up here before the move. We go out one night a week and on Sundays after church - maybe one other time during the week. But we have already found six top notch local establishments. And we still haven't tried Pitaria, Momo's, Jenny's Lunch Box, Peppers, or Three Guys from New York. And Greg has a friend who owns a kick-butt bar-b-que place (best homemade sauce I've ever had). I can't remember its name and Heather hasn't tried it. So I didn't put it in there.

So when you are sitting there feeling bad for us for being exiled to FSU, just remember that we are eating well. And when you come visit us, you will too.

Jun 9, 2009

Little Children

I apologize that this blog is taking a bit more of a domestic turn as of late. I never had a real purpose for this blog except to serve as an outlet for my writing. It pretty much just follows my life, so right now as I begin the new adventure of being a stay-at-home dad, I guess the posts naturally follow that. As always, don't lament for too long - I'm sure the blog will return to its usual juvenile idiocy in short order.

There is something that I have noticed for some time, but it is becoming more and more apparent the more time I am around our kids. People don't like children any more. I don't mean me - I love my kids. But that is so often true . . . we love OUR kids . . . and we tolerate other people's kids. I can say that when I have close friends, I learn to love their kids like they were my own. My sister's sweet son, Toby? I would take him to live with me and raise him as my own if that ever was needed. The same could be said about my niece, Beulah, even though I have never even met her. I think the longer I have children, the more I am comfortable around other kids - and the more tender-hearted.

But the vast majority of people out there just plain don't like kids. I can tell. When we walk into a store or a restaurant, there is a flicker of disdain or pain that flies across the face of the host or hostess. This same look is reflected by customers and service staff. It is like, "Oh great, here comes a whirlwind." Now, my kids are very very cute. I am biased, but other people agree with this. The first thought a person should have is, "Dang, them there are some cute kids." (Remember we are now in Tallahassee - this is how they talk here.) It is usually only after hanging around my kids that someone realizes that they are, well, kids.

Kids. Juveniles. Minors. The very names indicate that these are not fully functioning and mature humans. They are still growing and learning. They still don't know how to act all the time. And if they do know, they don't remember. And sometimes, yes, they are just belligerent and stinky and whining. But that is part of growing up. This is not tolerated.

Some examples, please....
  • The other day our downstairs neighbors were getting in their car as we were arriving. So I took a moment to go and check on our noise level. Having lived below a family at our last place, I know it can be loud. So I kindly asked. The husband goes, "It's not too bad." The wife glares at him and me. "No, it is horrible. Absolutely terrible." I was startled. He tried to cover. "They are just kids, we know it is going to be a little loud." She shoots more ocular daggers. "No, he's being kind. It is just so so loud." I just stared. I apologized. I said I was doing my best to keep them quiet, especially at nap time and night time. Now, these people have a three year old and the mom is pregnant. You would think there would be some communal goodwill. I guess we won't be invited downstairs for dinner.
  • The McDonald's at our Walmart is pretty small. The tables are right up against each other. So when we sit at our benches, we are right up against other people at other tables. Well, that is just an invitation for our kids to turn around and try to talk to these people, check them out, steal their food (kidding, I think). One time, the person next to us was very cool about this. The other times the people were visibly wolfing their food to escape. I am sitting there correcting the kids constantly. "Be quiet, turn around, stop looking at them, keep your toys on the table." This is Mickey D's! They give the kids freaking toys! It is fast food. This isn't like I dragged my kids to Morton's and we shared table space with a dating couple. Really, these people are on MY territory. But they glare at you when your kids try to play with their wind up dinosaur.
  • We are trying to find a new church. Our old one is in Orlando, so it is a bit of a commute. One of the things that is so hard with churches now is what to do with the kids. There are a ton of traditional, older churches that have tons of kids' programs, classes, facilities. But many of these places come with some of the "stuck in the mud" grime that can accompany an older church. The newer churches don't have anything for the kids, in many cases. Sure, they have a place to send them during service. But it is largely a holding pen so the parents can have a break for an hour. And God forbid if your kids doesn't like being penned up. If you have a crier (like Gabe), the workers can't stand seeing you coming and want to offer you tons of advice about how to make their lives easier.
  • This stems off of the last one. Both Natalie and Gabe had trouble transitioning into a nursery setting. Nat was fine once she got into preschool, with teachers and such. But in the "nursery," she hated going and cried. Gabe does the same thing. A big part is that they don't want to leave Heather. They have been with her all day. They nursed longer than many kids. They co-slept. All of these things lead to trouble with nursery, babysitters. They grow out of it. But you hear all kinds of stuff. Basically, we get berated regularly for letting our kids get "too attached" to us. They "like us too much." We should force them into uncomfortable situations more often so they handle them better. Huh? But we also hear parents frequently talk about how their kids aren't going to "change their lives."
This is all what I don't get. Kids change your life. They change it for the better. You get to watch little people grow up. You get to be a part of crafting a person. It may be tiring, but it keeps you young and on your toes. It forces you to be better because so much is riding on you. I can honestly say that being with the kids has been great. I have been stressed and tired. But I feel better than I have for years. I am moving and active. I can't afford to be lazy and sit around. I am more disciplined and organized. I am more patient and gentler. And I can tolerate a lot more.

It used to be that I would get very upset at our kids for being loud or crazy. Now, I understand a lot of that is them playing and learning. Sure, they can't do this all the time. But they don't and they won't. I remember that with Josiah, we stressed about everything. He didn't potty train or wean from the bottle fast enough. He wouldn't go to sleep when we wanted him to. But by Gabe, we realized that it may be on a different time table then we want - but it will happen when it is time. That different approach makes this much easier. But most people won't be tolerant. It used to be that a whole community was a part of raising a kid. The people around town loved kids. But now that is not the case. The thing that stresses me now is worrying that people around are going to get angry. I worry they are going to hate me or my kids. Why I care, I don't know. But I do.

It's too bad, really. It stinks that people don't have that soft spot for kids any more. Because kids will just totally brighten your day if you let them. As I type this, Gabe is running around with a blanket on his head. The three of them have turned a laundry basket into a boat and a clubhouse. Natalie brushed my hair earlier. Josiah was just reading Gabe word cards, teaching him how to say words. Most people wouldn't even notice that. They would just be angry because the laundry basket was getting bent, their hair was getting messed up, and the running pounded on the floor. Boy are they missing out. Give my kids a chance and they will change your world. They changed mine. And it is my job to make sure the change they make is for good and for eternity. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to show them how to make spaghetti. And I'm sure they will make a mess.

Jun 4, 2009

Hardest Job

Well, here I sit.  I'm waiting to watch my Orlando Magic begin their battle with the LA Lakers.  I hate the Lakers.  I always have hated them.  When it was the Lakers vs. the Celtics - I hated both of them.  But now, after the Shaq poaching and the Kobe worshipping.  Jeez.  I hate the Lakers.  They may be my least favorite NBA team - although the Cavaliers are rapidly dropping.  So, if the Magic can perform some, well, magic, I will be a happy happy man.  

It is nice to just park my butt in a chair and not move for a while.  Sure, part of it is because I have trouble moving right now (get to that in a second).  But part of it is that I am just dog tired.  As all five of you who read this regularly know, our family recently made a major change.  My wife Heather, who has been the primary caregiver and stay-at-home parent, is now attending FSU Med School to become a doctor.  As we have quickly discovered, that is definitely a full time job.  She leaves at 7:15 or 8:00am and gets home at 5:45pm.  And even that doesn't really give her enough time, so she studies for several hours at night.  I have now moved into the at-home role.

Now, I am certainly not that guy who thinks that his wife doesn't do anything.  I have been home off and on due to my schedule for years now.  So I know how tough it is being at home all day with the kids.  Or I thought I understood.  I guess I really didn't understand at all.  I have come up with several misconceptions that I had that have already been dispelled this week.

MISCONCEPTION #1:  You Have Plenty of Time to Do Everything
You're home all day.  You have three or four things on your list.  How hard is it to get things done?  Well, on a regular day where nothing happens out of the ordinary, that would be fine.  However... HOWEVER...  (The moms are already laughing.)  There is ALWAYS something that happens.  One day, the laundry room flooded.  The washer wasn't hooked up right.  So when it drained, it ran all over the floor.  That took over an hour to clean, plus the time to get behind the washer to tighten everything.  Gabe was trying to get into the laundry room and mess with everything.  The kids took the opportunity to tear all over the place.  I wasn't planning for that.  Next, my glasses broke.  Nothing happened to them.  Took them off my face and they just fell apart.  Now three different days had time that had to reallocated to getting new glasses.  Today we spent two hours at Sam's Club with an eye appointment, picking glasses, fighting with the kids.  Needless to say, I didn't get dinner made.

MISCONCEPTION #2:  Taking the Kids Out is a Good Way to Pass the Time
I actually told my wife this.  I told her to take the kids to the mall or whatever to help kill time.  Yeah right.  Going out is ridiculous.  At home, you can yell and scream and hit -- uh, I mean discipline -- without worrying.  Out in the big bad world, you never know what people are going to think.  If your kids are screaming, they wish you would shut them up.  If your kids are walking around, they wish you would get them in line.  If you are smacking your kids, they are judging you for hitting.  If you flip out in a store and start screaming at your insane offspring for spitting on each other or pushing Gabe out of the cart or wrestling over a chair, they think you have no self-control.  Taking the kids out is stupid.  It is reckless.  It is a last resort.

MISCONCEPTION #3:  Making Phone Calls is Easy - Just Call Them
I remember numerous times telling Heather, "Call Soand Sew today.  Will that work?"  And then I'd get home and wonder why it didn't happen.  Or I would call that person in the car and get it done.  I never quite understand the problem.  Now I understand.  The second the phone hits your ear, the kids see that as a signal to act like a bunch of over-caffeinated monkeys.  They scream.   They come ask you questions.  They beg for food and water, as if they have been held prisoner deep in the bowels of the dungeon for weeks and only now have seen the light.  They fight about everything - the tv, toys they haven't used in years, the weather, politics.  And you sound like an absolute idiot to the person on the other end.  "Yes, I under...STOP IT...stand sir.  What?  No, I was just saying ...GOOD LORD, STOP TACKLING HIM...this problem is not going away...UNLESS YOU QUIT I AM GOING TO STRING YOU UP...no, I wasn't threatening you."

MISCONCEPTION #4:  Preparing Food Is Fun and Easy - Like a Hobby
I love cooking.  I love watching food shows.  I make lasagna and pizza and cookies and all kind of fun stuff.  However, I no longer love it.  It is now a chore, and an annoying one at that.  Why?  Well, there are several things.  One, the kids want to help.  Only they don't know how.  And they ask about the worst stuff.  You are cooking Italian sausage.  It is popping and steaming.  You are burning yourself every time you take the lid off.  "Can I help?  I want to help.  Why can't I help?  You don't like me!"  The other thing is that these children change their tastes all the time.  Natalie, for the longest time would eat eggs for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, mac and cheese for dinner.  Every day.  It wouldn't bother her at all.  This week, she has decided that she doesn't like eggs or hot dogs.  What?  My go-to meals are gone.  Eggs were the one thing that all three kids would scarf without griping.  No more.

MISCONCEPTION #5:  Falling Down on the Job Isn't So Bad
If you mess up once in a while, it is okay.  I used to tell Heather, "So you had a bad day.  Tomorrow is better.  Don't worry."  We all fall down on the job.  Well, the other day I took that literally and literally fell down on the job.  Well, I actually fell down on Gabe.  It was raining and the Walmart lot was wet.  My stupid Crocs slipped out from under me and I fell forward onto the asphalt.  Actually, like I said, Gabe was in between me and the asphalt.  Somehow, he was fine.  I braced him and only landed on his legs, which weren't even scratched.  I was beat up.  My elbows, wrist, knees all were sore.  Today, the next day, my whole rib cage is aching.  That is part of the reason that dinner didn't get made and that I am sitting like a lump.  I'm thinking, "Man, Heather watched these kids for over seven years and never fell on one of them.  Sure, they rolled out of the bed, but that's different.  She never fell with them in their arms.  I FELL ON GABE!"  He didn't like it either.  Wailed and wailed.  I guess he didn't like being whaled.  (Couldn't resist.)  Falling is humiliating and painful.  And it ruins your whole day.  It makes you doubt yourself.  (And, yes, I'm referring to both physical and metaphorical falling down.)

So my first week has been interesting and eye-opening.  It is a little scary, that this is just the first week of an eight year journey.  But I hope that once we get used to this process, it will all change.  I'll be more comfortable.  The kids will be used to the new way of doing things.  Heather will be in a routine at the school.  And I will be wearing shoes with better traction.