Dec 29, 2009

A Decade in Review

Well, I certainly have not been a very faithful blogger over the Christmas holidays. Ever since Heather entered her break from school, I have not had the itch to write on ye olde blogge as much. I'm not sure why. I pretty much put all my planned topics on hold for the month of December and just enjoyed hanging out with the family. We spent a couple of weeks in Jacksonville, which encompassed Heather's birthday and Natalie's birthday and Christmas. Then we went to South Carolina for New Year's to be with Heather's brothers and their families. It was a nice holiday season.

So what have I been doing lately? Well, aside from those holiday and birthday celebrations, I have been reading a lot. And I certainly mean A LOT! I counted it up the other day and realized that in the last two months, I have read well over 5,000 pages worth of books. That doesn't count blogs or magazines or newspapers. (A free Chocolate Orange candy to the first person who can name 10 of the books that helped make up the 5,000 figure.) It is pretty funny that someone earlier this year told me they thought I wasn't reading as much. That was when I read half of the John Grisham collection in two weeks. In the month of December, I read at least 3500 pages. I guess it all goes in spurts.

I also have been freezing my rear end off. This has been a weird winter thus far. I have spent winters in south Florida, central Florida, west Florida, northeast Florida, and now northwest Florida. Each of them were very different. This one is the coldest, but I am not sure that is fair, since this is a record cold snap. My friend Greg up here told me this is the coldest it has been in his twelve years here. There even was a brief bit where the Weather Channel was predicting snow here on Friday. Then they all had a good laugh and changed it. The low for that night still is supposed to be 19. Wha? We just experienced insane cold up in South Carolina with a record low of 14. It is weird when temperatures could be football scores. (South Carolina 19, Florida 24) I'm used to them being basketball scores. (Orlando 85, Charlotte 79)

I'm not complaining - I like the cooler weather. It is a nice break from being cooked to medium rare going to check the mail. There are two things I'm not too fond of with the colder weather. The first is the asthma. Our kids all battle asthma to varying degrees. Josiah had a full attack the other night in SC - turning blue and everything. The dry heat in the house triggered it. All three kids have been coughing more since we have to run the heat so much. Now I know why people are told to move to Florida and Arizona when they have respiratory issues. The other thing I don't like is the bundling up process. You get the kids all dressed. They have long shirts and pants - sometimes two shirts. Then you have to put on the jackets and such - to walk fifty feet to the car. Then they want to take it all off. Then you put it on to walk from the parking lot to Publix. Then you take the jackets off. Then back on . . . and off . . . . and on . . . and off. I think that alone would drive me crazy if I lived up north. The cold I can handle. It is what to do with my jacket that pushes me over the edge.

So to the true point of my post. Apparently we have entered a new decade and a new year. At least that is what I figured from all the weight loss ads and promotions I have seen lately. I decided to forgo my yearly recap, where I use my limited exposure to the world at large to make ridiculous rankings. Instead, I will use that limited exposure to my benefit, and recap the decade that just waved adios. It was a big decade for me - the Aughts. I was thinking about that the other day. What a huge difference ten years makes. I honestly don't know if I could top this decade. So, here's my self indulgent recap of 2000-2009. You may think it is stupid. But, honestly, would that be a first for this blog? If you aren't happy, send your comments and insults to my new secretary: Myrtle McIntosh, 2506 Lilly Pond Way, Sharkfart, TX, 76067.

2000: What a crazy year! I got engaged in February to Heather. In June, I had the awesome experience of going to Sydney, Australia for three weeks to help run sports camps at a church there. August 12 it rained. It also was our wedding day. We went to Vermont for our honeymoon and got to see where my dad was born and grew up (and is buried). I quit my job at FBC Temple Terrace in December; and we found out we were expecting Josiah two days later. All of that collided with Christmas in Georgia, Heather's brother getting married (which was my first wedding ceremony to officiate), and the first time I saw snow. Wow.

2001: I started off the year unemployed and expecting a child. YAY! Heather withdrew from USF. We moved to Orange Park. I worked as a substitute teacher for a few months. Then I became a furniture salesman at Rhodes Furniture. In September, we welcomed our first child into the world on the day the world officially went crazy. We all tried to understand what to do with the fall of the Twin Towers, the anthrax attacks, the new war in Afghanistan. I personally withdrew as far away from God as I ever have been. And I got a Palm Handspring for Christmas.

2002: After seventeen months of seeking more gainful employment, I was hired in May by First Baptist Church of Oviedo. That meant a move down to Orlando for my little family. It was a very challenging job, but very rewarding - and it has led to so much more than I could imagine for all of us. Heather returned to school in the Fall, this time getting her priorities straight and becoming a UCF Knight. And in a wacky turn of events, my mom moved up to Orlando late in 2002 - something I never would have expected.

2003: Another year of surprises. The Tampa Bay Bucs won the Super Bowl. I was thrilled. We went up to South Carolina for Spring Break. While there, we found out Heather was pregnant as she was going through a miscarriage. Less than a month later, we were stunned again as we found out that Heather was pregnant again, which led to another break in school for Heather. I got begin a friendship with Charles Wise at the church - which played a very important role in our lives. I started working as the layout person and editor for a Christian newspaper. Natalie showed up at Christmas - just as her name (which we had chosen back in 1999) indicates. [Natalie means "Christmas child."] We moved out of our scary apartment into a rental home, and we hosted Christmas at our house.

2004: We now became the Staples Family 4. Things went along pretty normally for a while. I began to hate the Bucs, due to their shady dealings. My mom moved to Tampa to be closer to my sister, Holly. I turned 30 and finally got a watch that fit my needs - never needing a battery (still running perfectly). Heather went back to school in the Fall. Josiah also went to school for the first time as he went to the 2 year old class at our church's preschool. My last grandparent passed away in September. She had lived long enough to see her first great-granddaughter, though. Heather turned 25 in December. I threw her an awesome party with London Broil and a big strawberry shaped cake. (You can tell it was a slow year.)

2005: In March, my prayer for a ministry to work in was answered as Charles Wise, Jonathan Pearson, and myself founded Defender Ministries. I was able to design all sorts of products and basically create the look of the ministry. By the end of the year, I had written several rounds of curriculum. Heather ramped up her school work to prepare for Med School - which we had decided was what she would aim for. (Well, I finally agreed that it was the right thing. Heather had known for years and was patiently waiting for me to get my head out of my rear end.) I got to experience the spectacle that is Las Vegas in July at a design conference - which came with the important lesson that if you are broke, alone, and not prone to drinking or carousing, Vegas is very boring place. We moved to a different rental house that Fall, even farther away from anywhere we needed to be.

2006: Lots of movement in StaplesLand. I saw my first real blizzard in February as I went up to Montreal to plan a mission trip for the church. It was 9 degrees! That's a baseball score! Defender was picking up steam - as we were able to teach sessions at various conferences. I quit my job at the church in July to go full time with Defender (although I still did all the graphics for the church for another four months). We got a new Honda Odyssey. Natalie started preschool. Heather finally was able to graduate in December from UCF. All was right with the world. Our kids were potty trained and weaned. We decided that our family was complete. So Heather and I booked a cruise for January 2007.

2007: Heather and I went on our first cruise ever. We got to see Key West and Mexico. It was awesome. And our little cruise souvenir was discovered - as Gabe decided to crash the Staples party. We began to attend Waypoint Church in Orlando - where we made some wonderful deep friendships. I took over the college ministry in early summer. Defender continued to do its thing - speaking engagements, lesson writing, looking for supporters to help hit the next level. Heather began studying in earnest for the MCAT (Med School Entrance Exam). My sister had her son, Toby - making me an uncle for the first time. Josiah started Kindergarten. We moved yet again to a home closer to our circle of friends. Gabe arrived in September.

2008: Heather took her MCAT in March and nailed a 30 on it - exactly where she needed to be (while having a newborn seemingly permanently attached to her). I had to find some other jobs to help cover costs. I began to work at the Apple store in August. (YAY!) I also began teaching at International Community School (DOUBLE YAY!) Josiah entered public school in August, but it was a huge disaster. We ended up pulling him out and enrolling him at ICS - which was a huge success. We really seemed to be hitting our stride. The kids were doing well in school. I had four great jobs that I loved. Heather was applying to Med Schools, but we really wanted to get into UCF's new school. We moved again (common theme, I know) to an apartment. And the year ended with all of us pretty happy and excited about the new year.

2009: Heather got accepted at FSU's Med School, which meant all of us were moving to Tallahassee. Gabe got to see snow in February and was not impressed. The other two kids got ticked at this, since they were trapped in Orlando with me. Heather's brother Andy and his wife Michelle had their first child, Beulah, in April. She was a miracle baby - I am fully convinced. We moved in May, which is when Heather started classes. In July, Heather's grandfather passed away, which was very hard on all of us. Natalie started Kindergarten, and we decided to homeschool the kids. It was a huge disaster. So we ended up enrolling them at Apalachee Elementary, which has been a huge success. Heather, of course, did an amazing job in Med School. And I settled into my new role as stay-at-home dad. Heather turned 30 in December. And we got iPhones.

It was an eventful decade to say the least. I started it single, 25, living in Tampa, running a college ministry, and going to seminary. I ended it married, 35, with three kids, living in Tallahassee, running my own ministry, staying at home with a wife becoming a doctor. 2000 found me rooting for the Bucs and the Yankees, hating the NBA. UCF was, of course, number one. 2010 finds me having ditched the disloyal Bucs for the Jags, given up on baseball, and rediscovered the NBA and the Magic. UCF is, as always, the most important sports entity to me - but now they have their own stadium. In 2000, I hated Macs. In 2010, I own nothing but Macs and Apple stuff. A lot happens in ten years. It is important to look back sometimes at how far you have come. It helps to remind you of what was really important. It shows me how minor events end up being big deals down the road. And I see how God is with me all the way. I hope that you had some time between the presents and getting back to work to think about those things in your life. And I hope I didn't bore you too much with my reminiscing. If I did, Myrtle is waiting for your letters. Make her earn her paycheck.

Dec 22, 2009

The Tomboy Princess

Once upon a time, there was a princess. She was a lovely young lady, and every bit of a princess as you would expect. Pink was her favorite color. Her hair cascaded all the way down her back, since she insisted it be long. Dresses were her clothing option of choice. At every turn, she would pick flowers and celebrate all things lovely. She danced around the room and sang all the time and pranced wherever she went. Never had there been a more princessy princess in all these many years.

In the same land, there was a tomboy. She was as rough and tumble as any boy. From an early age, she had absolutely no fear in asking for exactly what she wanted. As she would stroll around the land, she would bend down and play in the dirt and grab acorns to stuff into her pockets. Nary a puddle avoided her stomping. When someone would dare cross her path, she would just as soon slug them as look at them. All of her clothes bore the telltale signs of a mud lover - stains on the knees and sleeves. Never had there been a more tomboyish tomboy.

The amazing story was that the princess and the tomboy were the same girl. And today is her birthday. She turned six. As I have said in posts when she turned four and three, Natalie is an awesome little girl. She's funny and cool and smart. I am really impressed at the young lady she is becoming. As we were saying tonight at her party, there are times that I can't believe she is already six. And then there are times when I can't believe she is only six. It seems like just yesterday that she was even born. But then, I think about how she hangs out with Josiah all the time and seems so much older.

This past fall, we were able to enroll the older kids in Tallahassee's city-
run gymnastics program. Natalie was in the Kindergarten class. It was always humorous as the girls would walk from one end of the gym to the other. Nat towered over her class - about a head taller than any other little girl. She wasn't hampered by that. The teachers were surprised just how flexible she was. And she loved the flipping and being girly. And then on the way home, she would tear off a burp that I couldn't believe came from a female of any age.

I love the dichotomy that is Nat. She desperately wants to learn to read better. She is constantly wanting to spell words and gets upset if she doesn't have homework. But then she is colossally lazy when it comes to cleaning. Like, it is impressive just how committed she is in her refusal to work. She fell asleep last night on Josiah's shoulder watching him play his Nintendo DS. But then she'll flip out that he plays it too much. Some days she will hug and kiss you, the next try to kung fu kick you.

Yesterday she was playing out in the backyard with the boys, chasing the football. By the time she got done, her clothes were all dirty - thanks to tackling her brothers. Today, on her birthday, she got her nails done, got jewelry and nail stuff and baking stuff and a pink unicorn. And that is probably the best two days she could have had. Beating the stuffing out of her brothers and then putting the stuffing into a unicorn. And that is the story of the Tomboy Princess. And we all lived happily ever after.

Dec 5, 2009

Six Month Recap, Volume 1

We just recently finished up our first six month stint in Tallahassee. Heather completed her second semester of classes on Friday. It is hard to believe it has already been that long! I wanted to be in a happy mood today, so I decided that I would take a look at my favorite things so far in the state capital. And, just so you don't think someone else hijacked my blog, I'll also put just a small list of things I am not quite as fond of.

1. The Food
I already wrote about this back in the summer. Tallahassee is an older city, so it has more small independent restaurants and fewer chains. That means more variety and good prices. We don't go out all that often, but when we do, we always enjoy it. So far, here is my favorite dining finds. (And, yes, they are different than my last coverage of this.)
  • 1 Fresh Stir Fry - This is my favorite place in Tallahassee. It is amazing. You can get bowls of rice or noodles, with meat, sauce, and any variety of toppings. I like the versatility. You can go for Italian with penne, marinara, chicken, and veggies. You can do Mexican with rice and steak, salsa sauce, peppers, corn, and black beans. You can do Chines with noodles, chicken, teriyaki, and vegetables. Or you can get a wrap, quesadilla, bowl of soup, sushi - or any of a number of egg rolls or won tons. It also reheats just as good as the original, so a large bowl gets you two meals. And the kids like it.
  • Barnaby's Family Inn - I talked about this place last time. It has awesome pizza. We all love it. It's our default pizza joint.
  • Peppers Mexican Grill - Last time I mentioned how good La Fiesta is. Let's put it this way, since we tried Peppers, we haven't been back to La Fiesta. They have lunch specials that are VERY good deals. Tuesday night features free kids meals. They have fish tacos, which Heather thinks are awesome. That is one of my favorite meals, but I haven't even tried it since their steak burritos are so good. And they have awesome queso sauce and salsa. Oh, and they put veggies in their fried rice, which is very good.
  • Piggy's BBQ - The only thing I really need to say is Feed Your Family Meal. $27.99 for four heaping servings of meat, four giant sides, and four drinks. It actually serves six. Awesome pulled pork, brisket, ribs. And they have a sweet potato casserole that is sooo good. The kids meals come with mini ice cream cones. All meals come with drinks. They just do things right.
  • Canopy Road Cafe - Their sweet potato pancakes are so incredible that if that was the only thing they served, I would still have them ranked. Except they have an enormous menu with all kinds of pancakes, scrambles, sandwiches. Like a local IHOP that wasn't greasy or overpriced - and if it was run by weirdos. (The wait staff is pretty, uh, unique.)
  • Honorable Mention - Rummy's Pizza, La Fiesta, Smokey's BBQ
  • Honorable Dismention - Helen's Silver Bullet Cafe for closing down and making my kids sad. Boooo.
2. The Seasons
I remember growing up in West Palm Beach, we used to joke that there were only two seasons. There was Summer, which lasted for about nine or ten months. And there was Fallintering. This lasted for maybe two months, three if you were lucky. I badly wanted to have more cold weather. I don't like sweating or baking or broiling. I like to be able to walk down to the car without sweating like I ran a sprint. My dad was from Vermont. He once bought me a shirt that said "Vermont: Spring Summer Fall Winter Winter Winter." I thought that was funny, and I was jealous. Orlando, Tampa? No difference. Maybe Fallintering lasted three or four months. Well, up here there are definitely three seasons. Fallinter, Springter, and Summer. Summer lasts about six or seven months. It still gets ugly and nasty hot. But there actually is a point when the 80 and 90 (and 100) degree madness ends. I like having to wear long sleeve shirts, or being very comfortable wearing short sleeve shirts. It is nice being able to light a fire in the fireplace. And some days, gasp, I don't have to run the A/C at all.

3. The Kids' School
I was so nervous about putting the kids into public school. But their school is great. The kids have loved it and learned so much. But there also has been all kinds of special activities. They had a music/reading performance for the 2nd graders. There are monthly "late night media nights" in the media center. They also have monthly "parents' night out" events. Last night, they had a special free night at the Museum of Arts and Science for our school. On the 15th, all the kids in K-2 are going to see the Princess and the Frog for free at the AMC theater. I have been impressed at the number of corporate sponsorships this school has gotten, and how much stuff they do with the city and county. So far, the school is a huge win.

4. Local Government Programs
I have been very impressed at the number of activities, events, and facilities the local government has set up in Tallahassee. The number of parks here should embarrass cities like Orlando. They have REALLY nice parks. And they also have water parks with slides and huge pools, for like two bucks per person. The city funds a huge gymnastics/dance facility. My kids went this past semester, and would go back in the spring if we could get the schedules to work right. It cost less for us to do a 14 week series than it would to do two weeks at a private gym. There are city-wide pep rallies before every home game. There is a winter festival downtown next week. I am very impressed how much is going on - really adds to the small town feel.

5. The Big School in Town
I love UCF and Orlando. I really do. And I know that UCF is the biggest school in Florida now. [HA HA - suck on THAT!] But the way Orlando grew, it grew up in sections. There is Disney and the tourist side. There is downtown. There is UCF and East Orlando. And there soon will be the Medical City on 417. They don't interact. Now that UCF plays on campus instead of the Citrus Bow, UCF could be in a different city. That is NOT the case in Tallahassee. If you haven't been here, FSU is basically the heart of the city. If FSU wasn't here, the city would be a shell, for the most part. Being a person who has worked with college students for a long time, I love the feeling of having a school so close. You know when there is a home football game because the traffic picks up, the stores get busy, there is a buzz. And that is cool. Tally actually has two big schools, since FAMU is also here. And that just adds to the collegiate air.

  • The traffic is frequently really annoying - and SLOW.
  • There is not a lot to do for a family. I hear there is a great art scene. An 8, 6, and 2 year old could care less about art scenes. I think art is super, but I don't go to museums. And the malls are lame. Not a big fan of that.
  • No 4 Bedroom Apartments. Seriously, I can't find a place that has four bedroom apartments that are not rented out to four different people. It is so weird.
  • The drive anywhere else. It used to be so easy to take a quick jaunt to visit someone the weekend. Two hours, three at the most, would land us in in Jacksonville or Tampa. Now, it takes four-five hours to get to Tampa or Orlando and 2.5-3 to get to Jacksonville. That doesn't sit well with kids.
  • My storage unit is in Orlando. I don't think a day goes by that we don't wish our storage unit was up here. We have so much cool stuff that we would use. But it's in Orlando.
So that is my quick update on life in Tallahassee. It is going well. The first half year has been good. And we are looking forward to Christmas. Heather has a whole month off, which will be great for all of us.