Sunday, August 30, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Happy Birthday, Pappy!


My grandfather, bad dude, WWII Navy veteran, and dancer extrordianaire hit 85 years on the odometer today. Happy birthday, Pappy!

When I visited Tuscaloosa, Pappy and I shared a few vodka and orange juices to end the evenings. I convinced Pappy to try out Tito's Hand Made Vodka because it's made in my lovely home town of Austin. This vodka tasted amazingly great, and I think Pappy was converted. In honor of Pappy's birthday, I would like to rename a cocktail.

The Pappy
2 ounces Tito's Handmade Texas Vodka
5 ounces fresh orange juice
Pour over ice cubes, mix, and drink, preferably with an awesome grandparent.

Best cocktail ever.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Exciting Update

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+
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We pick it up today.

Monday, August 10, 2009

King of Pizza



As I surveyed the cast of motley characters seated at the long row of tables I felt a tinge of pity. I could see the intense stares and hopeful looks on their faces. Some were just there for fun, for a free meal, or for the ironic humor that can be found in something as campy as an eating contest. Most of these tattooed,neck-bearded hipsters bore grave looks of intense concentration. Their eyes were on the $350 first prize. They actually believed they had a chance to win. Such a pity.

When they heard about the Stony's Pizza Eating contest at Emo's downtown, I can imagine the reaction. "I can do this! I can win the $350! Eating pizza is a slam dunk. I've been doing it all my life. I just ate a whole Totino's party pizza. Dude, I'm gonna win this!"

They didn't realize that the contest was already over. They had no way of knowing that a weapon of pizza destruction was entering. How could they possible know that they were up against a seasoned eater with mandibles of steel, lightning quick gastric reflexes, and a belly deeper than Loch Ness?

My friend Chris is this unstoppable eater. As the three-time defending champion of the Home Slice pizza contest, Chris has experience on the big stage. He has developed and honed his tactics, drawing from influences like professional eaters Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobyashi. Eating pizza is his business, and business has been very good.

With another pizza-eating crown and $350 cash on the line, no paunchy pretender was going to waltz into Emo's and win this. Not in Austin, Texas. Not in Chompy's house. They were in for shock and awe, gustation-style. They would soon know just how far away they were from the big time.

The final countdown wound down, and the 13 minute contest began. With the background music inexplicably muted, a nervous silence filled the space. As the eaters tore into their first slices, I could actually hear crusts ripping and sauce squashing. Adding to the strangeness of this dark windowless space (normally a dive bar / music venue of questionable repute) was the red lighting over the stage.

In the early stages of the contest, I could not discern an early leader. This field of 20 contained some solid eaters after all. Shannon, Stephanie, Patrick, and I watched as Chris attacked his first large pizza using his familiar technique. Each crust is quickly decapitated from the body of the slice and dunked in water to soften it. Chris then rips the remainder of the slice into roughly bite-sized pizza. There is an economy of motion with parallel work flows and a reduction of the impact of the main bottleneck in the process, the chewing and swallowing.

The tomato tinted water was churning and splashing as Chris began dunking crusts. It was like watching an enraged crocodile savaging a gazelle in the shallow edge of an African watering hole.

At the seven minute mark, there was still no clear leader. Suddenly, with 2 slices remaining in the first pizza, Chris hit the afterburner button. Things were about to get real for the other competitors. They were reaching the normal bounds of human pizza consumption, their stomaches sending alarming signals of fullness to their brains. This wasn't easy or fun any more. The chewing slowed down, and many of the competitors paused between bites, perhaps reconsidering the wisdom of proceeding.

The pace in the peloton slackened. Yet, Chris kept inexorably accelerating. The seventh and eighth slices fell effortlessly. The conclusion became inevitable when the judges delivered another half pizza to Chris. Several competitors openly stared in disbelief that he had already finished his first large pie.

The crowd took notice. Yells rang out. "Khaki hat guy is killing it! He's like a jedi!" "He's like a freaking python!" In the last 4 minutes, 3 more large slices fell. Even with a comfortable 2+ slice lead on the field, Chris finished with a mouth-cramming "chipmunk" gambit to maximize his results. Message sent. Chris was crowned undisputed Stony's Pizza / Emo's pizza eating champion.

As for the new champion? As he accepted congratulations from the other competitors, and even Ghostface Killa (of Wu Tang fame), Chris polished off another slice of pizza for good measure.

We All Scream

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I'm a trustworthy guy..

There we sat in the lion's den. We were waiting in a tiny gray cubicle set off to the side of the Ford showroom. Enticed by the siren song of a shiny new family hauler with room for our giant baby with accoutrements and with an air conditioner that can actually stand up to the 104 degree inferno that we call home, we had come to test drive a Ford Flex.

After the drive, we started the old familiar dance. Our very affable salesman was jotting down what options and colors we were interested in. He asked for my cell phone number, and I got nervous. I didn't want to start getting sales calls at all hours of the day. He quickly moved to reassure me.

That's when Mikey stepped in.

Here's the scene as best I can recall:
Salesman: No, I won't be calling you all the time. I just want to let you know if we have the car you want, and given this Clunker Credit madness, our stock is moving pretty fast.
Me: Ok, that's fair enough.
Salesman: I'm a trustworthy guy, and……

At that exact moment, Michael smiled his huge toothy grin at the salesman and dramatically shook his head side to side…NO. Mikey was saying, "No, sir, I do not believe you are trustworthy. I might be only 9 months old, but I know all about car salesmen." All conversation stopped and we just laughed. Kids say and do the darnedest things.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Food Tour of Tuscaloosa: The Waysider


The best food comes out of old converted houses. There's something about the creaking wooden floors, the aging fixtures, and the inevitable well-worn seating that makes the food taste better. The Waysider, a Tuscaloosa institution for breakfast since before recorded history, is such a place.

My grandfather and I navigated our way through the old red brick buildings of downtown Tuscaloosa, over the river and along a bank of railroad tracks to find The Waysider. My body was crying out for a big breakfast and hot coffee, as beers and a giant shrimp poboy from the Cypress Inn on the Black Warrior River the night before had left me a little worse for wear.

I worried about a long wait for a table. Earning accolades from Esquire Magazine as a Top 50 breakfast joint probably wouldn't discourage the crowds from swamping this little Tuscaloosa gem.

Fortunately, on this off-peak Friday morning we were able to breeze right into the old red and white house to take a seat in the, ehem, cozy, dining room. By cozy, I mean that the tables are wedged in a Tetris-like arrangement that requires serious diligence in navigating.

Getting seated at a famous restaurant without a wait surprised me. This is something great about Tuscaloosa. It hasn't yet been overrun by foodies and food bloggers like my home town of Austin. A hidden gem remains that way and doesn't get oversaturated with fans.

In keeping with Tuscaloosa city ordinance 4.2.10, every square inch of the Waysider's walls is covered with Alabama football memorabilia. Daniel Moore's ubiquitous prints of great moments in Alabama gridiron history hold a place of honor. The steely painted gazes of dozens of Gene Stallings and Bear Bryants inspired me to eat like a champion.

As for the food, I came looking for a real-deal Southern breakfast, and I found it. I had two fried eggs, bacon, grits, fresh biscuits, and red-eye sausage gravy for a ludicrous $4.85. My eggs and bacon were just fine, but you can get these anywhere. It was the deep south, by golly you're in Dixieland, portion of the meal in the grits, the biscuits, and the gravy that made this special.

I might lose my Alabama card for saying this, but I've never loved grits. Grits have always been a gritty, gloppy, flavorless placeholder for me; a blank canvas that nobody bothered to paint. These grits were graced with the presence of butter, salt, and, I swear, some bacon grease, that elevated them. I've been transformed. I'm a grits man now.

The biscuits came out piping hot in a connected pod of four. They featured a flaky, al dente exterior with a soft, steaming interior. While they tasted great, their primary purpose was as a Gravy Delivery Vehicle for the sausage gravy. Sitting here more than 500 miles from the Waysider, I nearly weep when I think of that gravy. It was so peppery, spicy, and thick with little chunks of sausage. A cardiologist would warn against the dangers of such a gravy, but I swear that instead of damaging my body, it was fortifying me; spackling cracks and regrouting loose tiles.

The Waysider serves up Southern breakfast at its finest. If I had to lodge one complaint it would be that their breakfast made it nearly impossible for me to eat lunch that day. In fact, leaving the Waysider, I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to eat again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nick's in the Sticks



There are scattered moments in this life when everything falls into place. You are in exactly the right place at the right time, and it feels great.

I don't know if it was the first few sips of my jet fuel-esque beverage that was beginning to course through my veins. It might have been the classic weathered décor of an honest, authentic dive restaurant. Maybe it was the fact that I was having dinner with my grandpa, Pappy Duncan. Just us two guys out for a steak and some conversation. It could have been the primal joy in eating a well-cooked ribeye. I'm not sure what it was, but it was darn good.

A few minutes earlier, we had been headed down a dark two lane road on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa. Nick's Original Filet House (colloquially known as Nicks in the Sticks) would be our destination. Doubt crept into my mind. There's no way there could be a restaurant out here. There's nothing out here at all except for darkness and the yellow lines in the middle of the road.

Then, out of the darkness, I saw a sign. Well, to be precise, I saw a lack of a sign. It was the empty metal frame that contained Nick's restaurant sign until some tornado or freak storm blew it away years ago. They never replaced it. The empty metal frame works just fine, and it is a fitting welcome.

Imagine one of those sad television commercials pleading for just 35 cents a day to help save the life of a child. Picture the footage of lean-to hovels and cinder block houses with murky puddles of water or dusty gravel. That's about what Nick's In the Sticks looks like at first glance. I kid. It's not that bad, but you get the idea.

The ambiance inside is that of an old bar or maybe a VFW Post. There's aging wood panelling everywhere, and, as is the custom in these parts, the walls are covered in Alabama football memorabilia and paintings. The ten tables were all jammed packed. It was pretty loud in there as the small room practically thrummed with a happy, boisterous energy.

I suspected that Nicodemus might have something to do with the atmosphere. The Nicodemus is the signature cocktail at Nick's, and the word on the internet is that this is a potent concoction. As a looked around at the other tables, I could see many of them festooned with styrofoam cups filled with red punch topped with a cherry. I nervously ordered one when the waiter stopped by. I was a little surprised when he asked to see my I.D.. This must be some drink! If he asks me to sign a waiver, then I might have to rethink my order.



Pappy and I then ordered our steaks. He had the bacon-wrapped filet with baked potato. I ordered the biggest thing I could find, the ribeye with onion rings. The food was delicious. I could tell that my ribeye wasn't a high-falootin dry-aged, organically farmed piece of prime beef. It had character, it had seasoning, and it was cooked to the medium rare I asked for. The onion rings were some of the best I've ever had: sweet with a thick buttermilk batter.

I will admit that the Nicodemus had gone to work on my physiology. I felt warm, happy, and quite hungry. I was really enjoying the atmosphere. I was chatting with pappy and peering around at the Daniel Moore Alabama football prints. These realistic paintings capture great moments in Alabama football history and feature names like, "The Kick", "Rebirth in the Swamp", and "Goal Line Stand." Pappy was telling me about the last time he had been to Nick's. It was 25 years ago, and the table he sat at was right next to ours. Maybe in the light of day in some blind taste test, I might not be overwhelmed by the experience like I was, but everything combined for an awesome night.

We wrapped up our dinner and went up to the bar to pay. There's no cash register or touch-screen computer here. You just point at your table, and the owner adds up your bill by hand in pencil. Ah, Nick's. As we headed back out into the dark Alabama night, I looked back at the little brick building with the aged red and white awning. That was definitely the right meal, at the right place, at the right time.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

9 Months

Saturday will mark Michael's 9 month birthday. We've all come a long way in that period, surmounting obstacles, losing sleep, regaining sleep, losing it again, and finding new adventures.

How did we celebrate Mikey's 9 month birthday? We took him to a Well Baby checkup to be weighed, measured, poked, prodded, and evaluated. Here are the latest technical specs on our finely tuned baby machine:

Weight: 21 pounds and 13 ounces (75th percentile). Doctor Travis assured us that Mikey is not a total butterball, but that I could probably lose a bit of weight.

Head Circumference: 50th percentile.

Length: 29.75 inches (90th percentile). This is great news. I am totally ready to vicariously live through Michael's achievements on the basketball court.

Toughness: Michael received a heel stick and a shot today without shedding a single tear.

Cuteness: Michael was mobbed by the nurses and office staff. We heard, "Get over here, you need to see this baby. He's precious. Look at that smile and all those teeth!"

Toothiness: With 8 teeth, Mikey is still leading the league in teeth per capita among all babies we know.

Stethoscopability: Dr. Travis warned us that Michael would probably object and freak out at being examined. Michael's response? Laughing and trying to grab the stethoscope.

As you can see, I'm quite proud of my son. He aced his pediatric doctor's visit. It wasn't all great news. He hasn't started waving "bye bye", so he got a black mark in that section of his development evaluation. We'll have to work on that.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Night Times

We've made it through another day. Mikey has ceased his crawling, grabbing, gumming, pulling up, and otherwise creating mischief for the day. He has polished off his 6 ounce bottle, supplemented with organic rice cereal, and stopped rubbing his eyes. The tireless baby has finally tired. The infant sleeps.

After a brief negotiation with Shannon, it is up to me now to attempt a high-stakes maneuver, the transfer to crib. I smoothly stand up and hold the baby to my chest. He stirs but does not wake. I move with exagerated care like a ninja carrying a jar of nitroglycerin or a crate of Faberge eggs. To wake him and shatter the serenity would be a disaster. With a sigh, he nestles his sweaty little head (for he is a certified sweat-sleeper) into my chest and falls back asleep. We have passed the first obstacle.

This is one of the best feelings in the world, the feeling of your little monster, warm and drowsy, nestling against you. It lasts for a scant minute, the time it takes to get up the stairs and gingerly lower him into his crib (another treacherous step in the process). I linger for a moment at the rail of his stylish espresso crib and pause to look at him. I remember seeing this exact Hallmark glurge moment on television many times: the beaming parent staring down at the sleeping baby while a heartwarming orchestral score poignantly plays. The younger me would have gagged a little or apathetically flipped the channel, but the current me gets it. It's more than just a cliché. It really does happen. And, if there's anything sweeter and more deeply good than the visage of a sleeping infant, I don't know what it is.

I flash back to all the difficult sleepless nights: the crying, the failed crib transfers followed by hours of anxious rocking, reading, and cajoling. I'm relieved that tonight turned out differently. This was a perfect transfer. I must be getting pretty good at this parenting business. I turn and tiptoe out, closing the door behind me to keep the no-good cat from sleeping on Mikey's head or scratching up our rocking chair. The dishes wait for no man, so I head back downstairs toward the kitchen with a smile on my face..

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Preemptive Cry Interception

All is right in the kitchen. Little Michael is playing happily on the tile floor. He's long since mastered the art of sitting up, so there is no need to place a protective ring of pillows around him. Enter the dog, 35 pounds of rolicking, oblivious Corgidor. She dances sideways, hoping for a morsel of food, and runs solidly into the baby.

He topples backward onto the cruel hard floor. The impact doesn't look too terrible, but the tell-tale signs of a huge cry are already appearing on his little face.

Little eyes squeeze shut in a grimace. His mouth opens and twists itself into a pitiful litle upside-down U. His lungs are expanding, taking in the huge breath that will fuel the hellish sonic fury that will soon follow. Little cheeks have reddened. The table is set for an explosion of infantile grief.

This is where quick thinking and parenting can save the day. Before he even hitsthe floor, I am in motion. I scoop Mikey up and begin the emergency preemptive cry interdiction procedure. The basic steps are: Pick up, hug, bounce, shush, and say "you're ok" over and over again. This can normally stabilize the situation, but there will probably be some residual screaming.

The next phase of intercepting a serious cry is the happiness distraction gambit. It's amazing that a hurt little baby can go from screeching to laughing and playing in mere seconds if the happiness gambit is applied correctly. For this one, I raise my voice into the horrifying falsetto that babies seem to enjoy and repeat the celebratory words, "YAY YAY! That was fun! YAY YAY!"

I quickly try to find something interesting like a mirror, a terrified cat named Velcro, or a colorful toy. The combination of the happy sounds and the new, interesting object defuses the situation, and the happy laughing baby returns. All memories of being bodyslammed by the dog have faded away.

This post is based on a true story.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Skills...

We certainly live in interesting times. Our little progeny is in the midst of a period of accelerating change and progress. This is like a golden age of baby milestones, a "Pax Infantus" if you will.

Fine motor skills, which concern the movement and control of the small muscles in the fingers and hands are coming along nicely. This is evident in watching the remarkable efficacy with which little Mikey stuffs puffed wheat snacks into his little maw. Right hand or left hand doesn't matter. No puff snack escapes the tiny pincer grasp.

The gross motor skills are booming as well. After a visit from Mikey's bromantic fake cousin Austin, Mikey realized that mobility was all the rage among stylish babies this summer. Laying around on the ground is so 6 month-old, so Mikey initiated operation Swiffer. Operation Swiffer involves crawling around on the floor absorbing all dust bunnies, dog hair, and random detritus onto his clothing. Debris too large to stick to his onesie are placed into the mouth of safekeeping and further analysis.

Mikey's next goal focused on attaining a higher vantage point for reconnaissance of the living room tactical situation. Thus began Operation Pullup. The strategy and tactics behind Operation Pullup are quite simple. Approach a tall object, grab it, and use it to pull one's weight upward. This works quite well on certain items such as a pack and play, a crib rail, a coffee table, or Mom/Dad's outstretched hands. Consequently, there have been many successful missions where Mikey has gathered valuable survey data about the living room and Bella's movements.

Unfortunately, Operation Pullup carries risks. Mikey hasn't prepared an exit strategy, so getting back down from a successful stand is often a frightening, white-knuckled boondoggle. Also, not all objects are equipped to support the advances of a 21 pound ball of grasping, squealing baby. In particular, the dvd player has proven to be a very poor launching point for Pullup sorties.

Finally, Mikey has been demonstrating the early evolution of his very own language. As with all babies he combines various syllables and sounds into adorable baby talk. We think it's absolutely adorable, especially when he decides to test the upper volume limits of his talking while we are all enjoying a nice restaurant meal. His thought process must be, "Ok, these vocal cords go up to 10. I want to take the amplifier up to 11".

He's moving fast and growing very quickly. We are documenting as much as we can in pictures and videos. We are also enjoying the thrills, chills, "Oh No's", and laughter that come when motor skills outpace cognitive, coordination, balance, and danger-sensing skills.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Once a Jag, Always a Jag

I once heard that many teachers quit after their first 5 years of teaching. I've tried to find a valid source that actually confirms this rumor, but I've yet to see any evidence to support what I've heard. I do have my own experience as well as those of my friends and colleagues who happen to be teachers. Many of my very good friends made it to the five year mark, some made it even less. I made it a little past the statistic. I made it to 5 1/2 years (technically my record says, 6 years, but I started in the middle of the year).

In a matter of a couple of weeks, I was convinced to apply, interviewed for, and was offered the position of an Instructional Technology Specialist or "ITS" in my district. I accepted and in short, my new job will be to show teachers what kinds of technology that they have available for their classrooms, and to try to help them integrate that technology whenever and where ever possible. The other portion of my position will be to troubleshoot teachers' computer problems. That's the part I'm not looking forward to. In my eyes, I see this job as an opportunity to use the restroom at other times besides the four minute passing periods I've come accustom to. It should allow me to the time to savor and enjoy my lunch since I will have longer than 18 minutes to devour my leftovers from the night before. I will no longer have to spend hours the night before grades are due catching up on all of the grading that I procrastinated on for the three weeks prior, and I will no longer have to listen to the complaints of angry parents who often forget that teachers are human beings too. Most of all, I see this new job as an opportunity to be able to leave work at work, and evenings can be completely devoted to my husband and son.

With all the freedoms that I foresee my new position bestowing upon me, I know that I will have a serious learning curve, and I know that not everything will be easy. I know there will be times that I will miss the relationships that I often build with students over the year. I will miss seeing the look on a kid's face when he accomplishes more that he ever expected to accomplish, or that B student making a 100 on the last test and the excitement you have when you tell her how well she did. There is a sense of respect and admiration that most people (excluding the parents mentioned above) have for teachers that I will also miss, but nothing as much as the kids.

When I married Christopher, we vowed to go on many adventures together. Hopefully this new adventure will give me just as fond of memories as the past five years of my life as a Jaguar has given me.

So long Cedar Valley, I will always miss you, and you hold a very dear place in my heart. Once a Jag, always a Jag.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Case of the Decoy Remote

I hold baby Mikey sometimes while watching television. We watch stuff like "A Baby Story" or "The Office" together. My rascally little kid does his best to make this an interactive experience. He is absolutely obsessed with the remote control. If he so much as glimpses it, he will lunge, wiggle, and struggle until he has the prize in his little hands.

At this point all heck breaks loose. He starts squeezing buttons. The picture in picture window pops up. Then it gets larger and moves to a different corner as his little fingers hit still more random buttons. Strange and obscure menus suddenly open up, giving heretofore unknown tantalizing glimpses into features and functions of my cable box. Just as quickly, they disappear. Mikey continues grasping.

The channel changes then changes again. The display fills up with sevens, and the television jumps to a blank channel. Then, the remote goes right into his little teething mouth. His proto-teeth make little plasticky crunching noises as he chews away. A fine layer of baby slobber now coats the remote. The remote finally comes out of his mouth. With a big smile on his face, Mikey gives the remote a few languid shakes, then proceeds to drop it straight onto the hardwood floor. The back pops off, and the batteries roll out and away, never to be found.

This is clearly no way to watch television. Enter the decoy remote. Mikey gets an old remote without batteries to assault, and I get to keep watching Baby Story.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Observation

Something strange happens when baby Mad Dog takes a nap. An exothermic reaction begins and his temperature begins to rise. 

If you happen to be holding him, you too will begin to heat up. Any place he is touches will end up with a sweat spot. His hair ends up sweaty, matted, and crazy. He ends up looking like some tiny version of Doc from Back to the Future.

Yes, he is a sweat sleeper.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Best Sex Ed Question Ever...

Has anyone ever died from puberty?

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Shocking Tale...


Early in our relationship, circa 2005, Shannon and I took a weekend getaway to Dallas. We were feeling nostalgic, so we travelled over to Fair Park to visit the Dallas Acquarium and the fabulous Science Place at the Museum of Nature & Science.

The Acquarium and Science Place were engineered as prime grade-school field trip destinations. Shannon and I probably went on a dozen field trips there. I remember many a lunch out by the lagoons of Fair Park. I had my yogurt, my soggy sandwich, and my soft drink carefully wrapped in aluminum foil. 

The highlight was always the Science Place. This was a hands-on, interactive museum that had obvious appeals to kids. 

So, many years later, Shannon and I returned to play with the exhibits. We had just barely made it in the door when we ran into the first exhibit. It was a good one.

Two giant plastic cylinders, about 6 feet apart pulsed and crackled with electricity or plasma or something. When I touched the glass, the electricity would dance harmlessly behind the glass, imparting only a slight hair-raising current. It was cool.

Fatefully, I noticed a sign between the two plasma tubes, "Caution: Do Not Touch Anyone Else While Touching the Plasma Tube!" You can probably guess where this is going. I placed one hand on the cylinder and gingerly extended my right hand toward poor, unsuspecting Shannon. At about one inch of separation, a blue spark suddenly arced out and snapped into her shoulder. It stung both of us, and she shouted out in surprise. It was funny, but there was some more fun to be had here.

"Shannon, let's try something. You put your hand on that cylinder and I'll touch this one. I'll reach out and touch you. " Ah, the hubris of youth. The nostalgia and playful vibe of the Science Place must have thrown our good sense out the window. 

As before, I reached out toward Shannon with my right hand. I expected the same little shock. I was wrong. 

My fingertip neared Shannon as before, but the result was quite different. I felt a sudden pulse of energy rush through my body from the tube. It travelled through my arm, into my shoulder, across my chest, and into Shannon. The massive shock seized my muscles. I involuntarily jumped into the air with a loud grunt and grimace. 

We had created a circuit between the two plasma tubes. The electricity rocketed between the tubes, using our bodies as a conduit.. The shock only lasted a few moments, but it left my chest aching and my ears ringing. Shannon was ok. We nervously laughed and backed away from the exhibit, sure that the museum staffer seated just a few feet away had witnessed our act of monumental idiocy. I thought we were about to be ejected from the museum for our own protection. I was just glad that my heart was still beating.

We were not ejected. The rest of the day was lovely, and we heeded every warning sign we came across. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Confession...

Michael and I get ready for work and daycare together every day. I don my work clothes. He gets a diaper change and a fresh outfit for the day. I drink a cup of coffee and have a bowl of cereal while he guzzles a bottle.

I love the morning bottle routine. With Mikey playing in his Exersaucer, I prepare the recliner. I carefully place the pillow. My coffee and cereal are queued up on the end table within reach. I prepare a warm bottle and place that into position. Finally, just before I grab the little guy, I turn on the television and tune to The Learning Channel (ch. 35).

I should probably lose my man card for this. The show I tune into every morning during feeding time is "A Baby Story." Each 30 minute documentary episode follows a couple through pregnancy, birth, and finally, the early days at home with baby. I confess that I watch this show every morning before work with Mikey, and I love it.

The best part comes around the 22 minute mark of each show. when the baby is actually born. Every morning I watch that segment and relive the transcendentally crazy joyous moment when Michael suddenly appeared in the world, covered with goo with lower lip quivering through hearty screams. We wrap up with the final segment covering the new parents' early days at home. I look for signs of exhaustion. I mentally critique their parenting and their choices in name, baby clothes, and nursery decor.

It's a guilty pleasure, but there are much worse ways to spend half an hour before work!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Ah, mother's day. I remember mother's day as a little kid. Mom drove us to Eckerd's and gave us a few dollars for us to buy her a present. I think I bought her some ugly paperweight thing with a red, fake plastic plant in the middle. She loved it, of course. I think maybe some other time we made her breakfast in bed. After that, we always went out to eat for the day.

Over the years, the holiday evolved into more of a "kind of forget about it until your brother calls and reminds you to call mom, and you feel guilty" type of day. I love you mom, and I'll never forget that you brought me into this world. I'll never forget that you bought me my first car (a 1981 Isuzu I-Mark, white with red interior). 

Well, this year took on extra special significance. It is Shannon's first mother's day, so the pressure was on to do something special. We had a pretty nice day. It started with our friends Clay and Sarah coming to town with their precious little dude, Austin. Austin and Michael are pseudo-cousins, and we love for them to spend time together. We had some good food at Phil's Icehouse and we made a shopping pilgrimage to the flagship Whole Foods Market downtown. It was a good day. 

Mikey's 4th tooth made a sudden experience on Mother's Day. It broke through and caused our little guy a lot of pain and suffering. Shannon flexed her mommy-cred by keeping Michael happy through a tough day of teething. all in a day's work.

I learned several things for this Mother's day. First of all, I shall never again attempt to buy a Mother's Day card on the actual day. When I arrived at the store, the card section was a picked over and a crowd of dufuses like me was hovering over the terrible remnants. The remaining cards were beyond the bottom of the barrel. I was eying one, "Dear mom. We're sorry we put you in that home, but you know we love you, right? We'll try to visit you next year." Unfortunately, some other husband with a desperate, hunted look on his face snagged it. I left the store empty-handed. Hallmark would get no profits from me this year. My kindness and affection would be all the greeting card that Shannon would need (hopefully).

The other thing I learned is that the affection and gratitude toward moms does not have to be confined to just one day. It's a tough job, and I think every day should be a mother's day of sorts. To all the moms in my life, I love y'all and I hope you had a great day.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Another Day, Another Pizza

I'm supposed to be eating healthier, but this was an offer too good to refuse. The text message came in from Chris (aka the Pizza Champ) at about 6:30 last night. "Preliminary Home Slice warning. Response requested" After a few quick phone calls, I was driving south into Austin for a free pizza at Home Slice.

We went a little oddball with the toppings, but the result was outstanding. One employee commented that the pizza smelled like Chinese food. That's a good thing.

The toppings: pepperoni, mushroom, onion, eggplant, fresh basil, and sliced pear. It was so good and so free. One night of pizza never hurt anyone. I may have also washed it down with a glass of wine. Red wine in moderation is linked to good heart health, so I was just taking care of my ticker. It was another great night in Austin.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Changes...

Our formerly tiny, limp, 'better support his neck, little baby is changing fast. In the first 6 months, a trip to a restaurant was not a big deal. The only struggle was lugging his clunky carseat through a maze of tables and chairs. Mikey would stay buckled in his seat quietly watching us eat. That has all changed.

We headed down to the Hill Country Galleria to for some window shopping, and our little guy joined us for dinner at Iron Cactus. Thank goodness the ambient decibel levels were high, because Mikey was acting like his last bottle featured four ounces of espresso.

It started with slapping the table and laughing. Then he began swinging his plastic links like they were nunchuks. My silverware slid a bit too close into the grab zone, and in an instant my butter knife was being violently wielded and shaken in a tiny slobbery fist. This was just the beginning.
Then came the squeals, the piercing, piercing squeals. Like the screaming eels in Princess Bride, this was a forboding for troubles to come. Luckily, these were happy squeals, but they still cut through the din of a bustling restaurant. I could see the heads turning from surrounding tables. What could we do but laugh, blush, and try to shoosh our now thoroughly excited little dude?
It was time for a distraction and an alternative to eardrum-bursting outbursts. At this point, Mikey's chubby little cheeks are flushed red with happiness. He's giggling and kicking his feet, and his three lower teeth hold steady as part of never-ending grin. We hand him a rattle.
It was just like that Saturday Night Live skit with the cow bell, except this time the crazed musician is wielding a maraca. The rattling was more like a roar. Mikey mixed in a few table-shaking smacks with the hard plastic. I see a couple of heads turn. Some folks leaving the restaurant chuckle at us as they walk past our table. The rattle goes back in the bag.

This is an authentic action shot from the restaurant. Note the blur on the left. That is a rattle being shaken at supersonic speed.

Shannon and I are both laughing at this point. Our baby is embarassing us, but he's having so much fun that we are too. Normally a loud restaurant can be a bummer, but it saved us. We don't want to be those horrible people with the annoying kid at a restaurant.


Just when we think it can't get any better, the massive reserved table next to us is finally seated. It's 28 high-schoolers out for their senior prom. Mikey is now in full swing with belly laughs and giggles as we cover his head with a black cloth napkin. Every time the napkin uncovers his little eyes, he must be seeing the world created anew. And it must be freaking hilarious.


Seated next to these teens on our prom, our meal took on new import. I felt like the star of a public service announcement. "Hey kids, I know what some of you are probably planning. Take a good hard look at our table. Watch the little force of nature in his high chair. This could happen to you, and your trips to a restaurant will never, ever be the same. Don't say we didn't warn you."

With our public service and fajitas completed, we paid our check and carpetbagged our huge assortment of gear out the restaurant. The place got a little quieter and but also a little less joyful for our leaving.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dip it Good: Austin Cooking Challenge Party Recap

A cleverly presented cream cheese dessert dip won the prestigious Golden Apron at the 7th Austin Cooking challenge this last Saturday. Shannon's "Big Apple" cream cheese dip defeated upstart challenge rookie Matt's "Buffalo Hotness".

The champ served her dip in hollowed granny smith apples. Judges used fresh apple wedges, pretzel sticks, and graham crackers to tast the dip. Matt served up a spicy, tangy buffalo sauce and blue cheese concoction. The taste was there, but a pedestrian presentation (common oversight for rookies) was the deciding factor in the championship match.
Turnout was great for the cooking challenge party on Saturday night. 12 dishes were entered in the contest, and the quality of the submissions was unprecedented. Entries included:
Pool A
Big Red -
Kristin's Diced Fruit
Don't Judge a Dip By Its Cover
Big Apple
Roasted Eggplant with Garlic
Spicy Citrus White Bean Dip
Pool B
Lyons Salsa
First Round Draft Dip
Buffalo Hot-ness
Pepperoni Dream Cheese
One-eyed Pete's Southwestern Corn Dip
Mrs. M's Mystery Dip
Overall, dip worked great for a cooking challenge. There was some serious culinary creativity on display. From the humble beginnings of the Guacamodown, the bar has risen higher and higher with each competition. We enjoyed creative recipes like Chris's very unusual and delicious hot pecan pie-esque First Round Draft Dip. We have well-presented dips like the Big Apple and Kristin's colorful fruit melange. Most of all, these dips brought big flavor. Buffalo Hotness, Roasted Eggplant, the Spicy White Bean dip, and several others were bold and delicious. It was impressive to behold and even better to eat.

Once again, I was knocked out in the first round. I'm still proud of my fan-favorite warm pepperoni and cream cheese dip. Look for it soon at a party near you. I'm also very proud of Shannon for winning the golden apron for a second time. Stay tuned for details about the next cooking party that should happen some time this summer.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hi, How Are You?

Keeping a blog updated is like shoveling coal into a ravenous furnace in the boiler room of a 19th century ocean liner. Sometimes your arms just get tired and you want to go and drink whisky while dancing an Irish jig in the lower decks. That's why this blog hasn't been updated in a couple of weeks. To those stalwart few who have remained loyal and checked in for new content, I salute you.

Recreational Activities:
We recently travelled up to Dallas for the weekend to visit with Shannon's lovely grandmother, Dino. We toured her new estate in Weatherford, joined her for some tex-mex, and enjoyed her meeting little Michael. According to Dino, Mikey could charm the horns off a billy goat. Let that be a warning to any goats who might try to wander into my yard and eat my tomato plant.

Fitness:
I won't lie. The last 16 months of Mikey gestation and infanthood have not been kind to my physique. It has been a stressful time full of sleep deprivation and new and exciting infant sicknesses. I've found it all too easy to unwind with a glass of wine and half of a HomeSlice Pizza. All that fine pizza and vino has packed on a little bit of extra padding. Now it's time to attack the problem and get fit.

I'm now involved in a Biggest Loser competition with my coworkers. Whoever loses the most % body weight over the next 3 months will win a $100 dollar bottle of celebratory wine from the other contenders. 10% body weight loss might be enough to win.

My weight loss strategy is simple. I will scale back on the epicurean gluttony and ratchet up the exercise. Wine, restaurant food, snacking, snack mix, tortilla chips, cafe latte with white sugar, and that darn candy bowl at work that is always stocked with sweet, sweet peanut M&M's will be scaled back.

Shannon and I are mixing in some stroller walks with Mad Dog, some mountain bike rides, basketball, weight workouts, and even some horrible, horrible jogging. Runners are not right in the head, but it is a challenging workout.

Weighins for the contest are every two weeks on Mondays. I'll try to post the results here.

Baby Updates:
Our baby Mad Dog is a monster. I'm proud to report that he is measuring in the 90th percentile for height. He's wearing 12 month clothes and outgrowing clothes before he ever has a chance to wear them. Fitting his head through the neck hole of onesies and shirts gives me eerie flashbacks to his birth.

Mikey wreaks havoc wherever he goes now. Any object within 2 feet of him is grabbed, shaken, and shoved right into his slobbery little mouth. Inside the mouth, three brand new razor-sharp teeth are waiting to grind, slash, and gnaw the object into dust. Heaven help you if he gets your finger in his mouth (or if you are nursing).

The little guy can now sit up unsupported and play with his toys. We still use a redundant safety system of pillows surrounding him, because a great distraction (like Bella trotting by) can cause a sudden loss of cabin pressure and equilibrium. He topples over, and theoretically his giant melon lands on a pillow and not our bamboo floor.

Mikey now dines on delicious stage one baby foods in addition to his milk. It's great to experience yet another iconic, archetypal parenting experience. My heart fills up when I see the little guy in his bib with sweet potatoes all over his smiling face, in his hair, and on his hands.

He's still not sleeping through the night, so every adds a few more hours to our sleep debt. 1 am and 3:30 am are typical wakeup and cry times. The baby somehow understands REM cycles, he knows how interrupt them with ruthless efficiency. We're still looking for answers in this area. Some say let him cry it out, but I'm afraid that will crush his sweet spirit and teach him about the cruelty of the world at a young age. We're still working on this. If I hear about another friend of ours with a "oh, he goes to bed at 8 and sleeps until 7 a.m." story, I'm going to cudgel myself with a frozen lobster.

Upcoming:
We have another cooking challenge coming up this weekend. The theme for this one is "Dip". We'll award the Golden Apron to the best dip entry, and the Commissioner's Cup will honor someone special. It should be a great time~!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Corgidor Comfort

Lounging is a fine art and a skill. You have to really commit to it and leave it all on the line to achieve pure comfort nirvana. I think Bella knows what she is doing here:
This is the picture that I emailed to the Waco Humane Society to show them how our wonderful shelter dog is living now. Who needs a $1,200 Welsh Corgi when you can get an $80 Corgidor?

Update: The response from Corgidor owners around the world has been really cool. Your stories are great. I would like to publish some pictures of people's Corgidor friends. If you email to christopher.sieber at Gmail . Com , I will try to compile and share...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Happy Friday...

Quick Updates (I'm typing these very fast, probably close to 45 w.p.m., but you can read slowly if you want to savor them):

Five Months:
Earlier this week, the Mad Dog Baby (Michael Duncan) hit his five month birthday. He'll be covering himself in a Cookie Monster 1 year old birthday cake before we know it.

Being five months old carries with it added responsibility and maturity. Among those responsibilities:
  • sitting up in a high chair like a big boy.
  • Attempting to eat rice cereal from a spoon, even if 99.86% of it ends up on your chin, neck, and onesie.
  • Sleeping in your own room and crib. Sorry, kiddo, but your days in mom and dad's room are numbered.
  • Sleeping almost through the night without parental intervention. We love hanging out with you, and you have the most beautiful crying voice, but 4 a.m. isn't convenient for us any more. Have your people call our people and set something up during daylight hours. K? Thanks, buh bye.
  • Drinking for a sippy cup. I'm not really excited about this one, as I'm sure that drinking juice from one of these cups leads to the distasteful grungy "stickiness" that I've long assocated with toddlers. Oh well, such is life!
  • Sitting up unassisted. The Mad Dog has a tentative ability to sit up unassisted. This works well, unless there is a slight puff of breeze from a passing insect or an imperceptible tremor from some undiscovered fault happens. In those cases, he topples over like an unbalanced drunk / Ohio State fan.

The Eyes of Me:

Keith and Patrick's outstanding documentary following the lives of four blind teenagers in Austin is continuing to impress on the festival circuit. After taking the South by Southwest film festival by storm with two smashingly successful screenings, they are showing in AFI Dallas Film Festival this week. The Eyes of Me has already picked up must-see recognition from The Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Observer, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

I've seen the movie, and it's fantastic. Congratulations to Patrick and Keith for all the well-earned recognition.

Alabama Trip Food Recap #2


There is a certain type of restaurant that pops up just about anywhere that has a picturesque body of water. You know the place; It's got a campy interior full of "flair". There might be nets, plastic lobsters, fish tanks, antiques on the wall, fake marlins, old license plates, or other maritime detritus. A gigantic bar serving potent tropical drinks always rounds out the decor. What about the food? Who cares, really. It's all about the atmosphere, being near the water, and having a great time.

Such is the case with Wintzell's Oyster House of Northport, AL. Wintzell's sits in a huge, open space right on the edge of the Black Warrior River. Glass garage doors open up for a quasi-outdoor experience with a great view of the river. The atmosphere is boisterous and cheerful due in part to the potent rum drinks many patrons can be seen drinking from large hurricane glasses.

Wintzell's is a well-known Mobile, Alabama institution. It is famous for its oysters which can be ordered "fried, stewed, or nude." My grandfather, Pappy, tells me that he and my grandmother used to eat there in the 1960's in Mobile. The other trademark of the Wintzell's are the thousands of folksy bumper sticker-esque signs with sayings covering practically every square inch of wall space. A few examples:

Honest bread is very well. It's the butter that makes the temptation.
If you don't learn from your mistakes, there's no sense in making them.
Any mother can tell you a teenager's hang-ups don't include his clothes.
Always put off until tomorrow what you shouldn't do at all.
Nowadays the rising generation retires when the retiring generation rises
.

I had a good time reading the signs, and I'll admit that many of them seem truly clever when one has had a couple of rum punches.
What about the food? Well, it was a mixed bag. The freshly shucked raw oysters were fresh and delicous. Wintzell's spike their cocktail sauce with what tasted like horseradish for a nice kick. We all enjoyed the complimentary bread, toasted slices of baguette slathered in real melted butter. Shannon, bless her heart, ate from an extremely limited menu due to her seafood allergy. She soldiered on and had some adequate pasta and a burger.

Both nights we ate at Wintzell's I ordered the J&O platter (broiled). Every gulf seafood joint has a monstrous sampler entrée like this. It featured tiny, but delicious crab claws, oysters, shrimp, tilapia, and a stuffed crab. The whole thing was swimming in cardiac inducing seasoned butter. I hear they also serve a good grilled fish and some of the best shrimp and cheesy grits around (another Gulf coast standard).

Overall, our group of ten definitely had a great time. It was a perfect place for a noisy and cheerful evening with family. The food wasn't half bad either.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Alabama Trip Recap Part 1 (Food)


We flew to Tuscaloosa for a quick spring break visit, and boy were our arms tired. We were also hungry. Luckily we dined on some pretty solid down home food. First on any dining hit list in Tuscaloosa should be Dreamland Barbeque.

Dreamland has earned national recognition as a barbequed pork rib Mecca. The restaurant has since franchised and spread out over the south, but the shiny new locations are missing the soul of the original dive location in Tuscaloosa. We hauled the whole Duncan crew up the tiny winding road into Jerusalem Heights to find the shack that has held Dreamland for the last 50 years.

Ordering up barbeque in a dilapidated old shack just feels right, and kitschy, old, dark interior enhances the cultural experience. I remember my brothers and I getting endless juvenile amusement from the "No Farting" sign that is still posted over the front door. Aunt Che' remembers the old days when pig pens lined the outside of the restaurant, and you could catch a glimpse at the unfortunate racks of ribs-in waiting.

On to the meal: the pork ribs were delicious, but not quite as legendary as I remembered. The reputation of a great place can set the bar so high that some disappointment is inevitable, I guess. Don't get me wrong. We still had a great meal and experience on our pilgrimage. The unique vinegar-based sauce tasted addictively great as always, and I burned through many a slice of complimentary Sunbeam bread sopping it up.

The great thing about eating bbq ribs is that this is a messy unpretentious experience. There will be sauce on your face, sauce on your hands, sauce in your hair, and sauce on your shirt. Nobody cares. The important thing is to eat and enjoy the ribs, not to win a beauty contest. At the end of a meal at Dreamland, the sauce-soaked paper towels litter the area amid piles of picked over rib bones. It's a great experience, even if the ribs aren't exactly world class any more. The banana pudding is a must try as this is a perfectly executed example of this classic southern dessert.

Next up: seafood on the shores of the Black Warrior River: dinner at Wintzells' Oyster House.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Backwards..

While Shannon gets ready for work, she often places a drowsy Mikey in the bed next to me in her spot. All I want is just to sleep for the remaining precious minutes before my alarm goes off.

Invariably, Mikey starts stirring, grunting, and fussing. His little arms are flailing and swatting at invisible bugs. The sleeper is awakening.

This is a crisis. If he wakes, he cries. If he cries, then I'm not sleeping. Everyone knows that the last 30 minutes before the alarm are freaking solid gold. Something must be done.

My first response is often the response of the tired and frustrated parent. I loudly say his name in the most disappointed, whiney voice I have, "Miiiikkkkeeeey, geeeze!" This, of course, is completely ineffective.

The fussing continues its escalation. We could have a baby Chernobyl situation here in seconds. Thinking quickly, I place my hand on his chest and "jiggle" him. Like magic, the squirming stops. The flailing hands fall limp behind his head, posing him in a dozing touchdown pantomime.

The gentle touch and jiggle is usually how you wake someone up. For Mikey, it's the magic sleep button. I guess he's got a wire installed backward somewhere.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Food Challenge Returns?

Preliminary plans are shaping up for another friendly Austin cooking challenge. We've settled on a theme for the competition. We're getting back to basics and going with with good old fashioned dip.

What:
A food-centric party at which guests submit original culinary creations into a friendly competition. Contestants battle for the coveted golden apron and the bragging rights that come with having the best dish of the evening. The Commissioner's Cup is also awarded to the person who exemplifies a series of variable criteria that are generally considered good.

There have been several of these parties, and all have completely RULED. Prior themes include: GuacaMoDown (Guacamole), Dessert Challenge, Finger Food Faceoff, Soup or Salad, School Lunch Challenge, and Viva Tortilla.

The New Theme:
Guests will bring dip. Edibility, appearance, originality, and deliciousness are all considered good things. Things that taste bad and look terrible sometimes do not win the competition. But that's ok. I always get knocked out in the first round of competition, and I still have a lot of fun. There is wine, you see, and you get to spend the evening dining upon the dips made by your culinary betters.

From Wikipedia:
A dip or dipping sauce is a common condiment for many types of
food. Dips are used to add flavor to a food, such as pita bread, dumplings, crackers, cut-up raw vegetables, seafood, cubed pieces of meat and cheese, potato chips, tortilla chips, or falafel. Unlike other sauces, instead of applying the sauce to the food, the food is typically put into, or dipped, into the dipping sauce (hence the name). Dips are commonly used for finger foods and other easily held foods. Dip is a very widespread food. Forms of dip are eaten all over the world.
Where:
Probably at the Floyds' house on West 9th Street

When:
Tentatively Early April (4th or 11th)

Dip Haikus:
Holy aioli
Scooped out of a shallow bowl
Tasting of garlic

Fondue? No! Fondon't!
Melting cheese burning my hand
A chip dipped too far

Monday, March 09, 2009

Babotaged

Babotage (bab-o-tage):
1. verb: To commit a sneaky act that avoids an unpleasant parenting task such as changing a diaper.
2. noun: a sneaky act that avoids an unpleasant baby task.

Origin:
Combination of the words baby and sabotage

Usage:
This morning you babotaged me! When you handed the baby over, he had a dirty diaper that you pretended not to know about. You were out the door before I noticed. Well played.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Eyes of Me


Over the last several years, our friends Keith Maitland and Patrick Floyd have toiled away on a really cool documentary film, The Eyes of Me (formerly Keep Your Ear on the Ball).

Following the lives of four blind teenagers over the course of a school year at the Texas School for the Blind, The Eyes of Me is a thought-provoking look into the day-to-day thoughts, emotions, highs and lows of adolescents who lost their sight at different stages of their childhood.

Patrick and Keith have poured in thousands of hours of hard work to get to this stage. It's amazing that the film is completed and that the good news keeps coming.

First, their film will be debuting during the SXSW film festival with two screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse South on March 18 and 19th! The Austin American Statesman newspaper recently chose The Eyes of Me as one of a handful of recommendations out of 150+ movies.

On the heels of the SXSW debut, The Eyes of Me (formerly titled Keep Your Ear on the Ball) has been selected for the AFI Dallas Film Festival! There will be two screenings in Dallas on saturday (3/28) & Sunday (3/29)Follow this link for screening info & to purchase advance tickets: http://filmguide.afidallas.com/tixSYS/2009/filmguide/eventnote.php?EventNumber=2474

I've seen some sneak previews of The Eyes of Me. This is a compelling and well-crafted movie about a community that is not well publicized. Everyone is welcome to attend the screenings, so we'll see you there!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Guest Columnist: A Gulf Shrimp


Look, the life of a shrimp isn't all fun and games and singing Under the Sea. We scoot around eating gunk all day. We also have the good fortune of being the most delicious creature in the sea. Great. Everybody wants a piece of us. I'll probably be taking a one way cruise through the GI tract of some random fish next week or something. A few of us are choosen by our deity, the Great Net, plucked out of the sea to walk with Him in the paradise known to us as Grille or Hor Derve. Most of us just end up floating around till we go belly up.


I'm getting to the point! Do you have any idea how hard it is to write when you don't have a brain, just a distributed nervous system through your exoskeleton?


One of the few joys we have in our lives is that of parenting. Man, my antennae twitch with pride every time I gaze upon my little ones emerging from their gelatinous egg sac. I carefully mark every milestone. Little Scampi just rolled over for the first time, Popcorn just caught his first zooplankton, and Prawnetta has started scuttling around on the ocean floor! My kids rock!

Here's my advice. Don't be so paranoid about your kids. Don't treat them like helpless krill. You can't always fight their battles, and it's ok if you lose a few to a passing stingray or flamingo. You have 52,000 other ones left who look up to you. They need to learn to stand on their own 8 legs and scuttle.


Don't spoil them. You don't need to put another Barbie on your shrimp. They need to work hard for what they get because life isn't always fair. They need to work hard and learn how to put plankton on the table.

Finally, be there for them. Your work will always be waiting there for you. Do you really want to miss the precious moments in their lives? With a 1 year life span, they really do grow up fast.

What? No, I don't want to lay down in that lime juice. What are you doing with with that butter and garlic clove? Don't look at me like that.

The End.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Monday, March 02, 2009

Weekly Update


Richard Thompson at the Cactus Cafe:
We joined a big family outing (10 of us!) to see legendary British folk-rocker Richard Thompson play the Cactus Café at UT. I felt out of place because I left my beret and pony tail at home. We got to see an absolute master of the guitar play in a venue the size of a Starbuck's café. It was a real humdinger of a show. The highlight of the night was the always hilarious "Hots for the Smarts".
Salt Lick in Round Rock:
Our big posse also dined upon giant piles of fine smoked meats at the new Salt Lick Barbeque location in Round Rock. The setting and atmosphere can't match the flagship original in bucolic Driftwood, Texas, but it's still some solid bbq in gut-busting quantities. Please note that the original Salt Lick is a BYOB facility, and a giant cooler full of Shiner Bock makes everything taste better.
Four Month Milestone:
Mikey visited the pediatrician for his 4 month check up. Four months already? Our skinny little elf has filled out into a cherubic little, err, cherub, jumping up a couple of levels on the growth charts. After a pretty pleasant visit, he appeared quite surprised and perturbed to receive several shots. So far, there are no signs of autism or of mutated super powers. He received a cool "Bolt" sticker for his troubles.

Devil Teeth of Doom:
Benjamin Franklin once wrote that "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." That's great. Conversely, I think that teeth are proof that God maybe doesn't love us so much. Baby's first tooth started trying to scratch and claw its little enamel self to the surface this weekend. Our happy little cherub was transformed into a singularity of misery overnight on Saturday. He was a sleep-destroying harpy of doom. All that trouble for one little future tooth. Once we get this one to come in, I guess there's like 20 more to go. See you at the coffeeshop. I'll be the one with the triple espresso and the dark circles under my eyes.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Sad Fate of the Unworn


For every cute outfit you see a baby wearing, take a moment to think about all the outfits left behind. These poor fabric souls languish in a closet and never get to see the light of day, the flash of a camera, or the warming touch of a pool of spit-up. So many thoughtful shower gifts sit with their tags unscathed. So much potential cuteness waits and waits for the opportunity to be worn that will never come.

There are the strangely shaped outfits that seem cut to fit a dachsund. There are ones with scratchy logos. There are outfits that would never possibly fit a child of prodigious length. There are some that are just too hideous to deface a precious baby. Is it their fault? Do they deserve onesie purgatory?

There are outfits whose only crime was to be accidentally mislaid or buried somewhere in the back of the clost. How sad it is to discover "My Dad is Rad" or "Little Baseball Star" in outgrown 3 month sizes! They never even had a chance.

And there are the baby clothes that have been retired, outgrown and relegated to the out-of-rotation pile. These might be the saddest of all. Today's all-star outfit in daily rotation is talking big in tomorrow's give-away pile. Even the cutest, most essential daily staples meet their fate in the end. Not all go willingly to the laundry scrapheap of history.

"I don't belong in this pile! I was worn home from the hospital! You have any idea how many pictures I am in! I was in their Baby Announcement! I'm not like the rest of you. I was WORN. I'm somebody! I bet I could still fit if they really wanted me to. I can stretch! Yes, I can stretch! I've got some synthetic fibers. HRRMMGGGH. See! I can probably get up to 6M. They just need to get me out of this pile and try me out again. There must be some kind of mistake. You'll see. I won't be here long. I'll be back in the dresser before you know it. Somebody get me out of this pile!"

"Yeah, yeah. We've heard it all before," responds My Dad is Rad. "You're the king of the world. Pipe down and get back in the pile. Noone's coming for you. You're too small, you're faded, and you've got a milk stain. Face it. You're one of us now. If you play your cards right, maybe Mikey will get a little brother to wear you some day. Let's just hope the cat doesn't find us again. The cat pee holocaust of 2008 nearly wiped us out. You want to make it in the pile, you need to be quiet, keep your neck hole down, and make some friends."

Looking at these former all-stars is like watching late career Emmit Smith or Brett Favre. You saw glimmers of the old magic, but you can never go back. No matter how cute and how essential each outfit was in its day, the inexorable march of time will relegate all to the pile in the end.

All we can do is try to keep the closet clean. We check the dark recesses to look for stragglers. We can find diamonds in the rough and give them their day in the sun. Finally, we can treat our retired outfits with the respect that they have earned. They will find new life with new babies, yet unborn to our friends and family. Or, we can hold onto them until the day when we can say, "Your older brother Mikey wore that when he was a little like you."

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Bjorn Identity


Last weekend I spread happiness and smiles wherever I went. I wore a special outfit that was like a joy dispenser, generating countless smiles and happy looks from just about any woman who crossed my path at the Whole Foods Market. I was turning heads and hearing chuckles in my wake at every aisle . What was it that made me as comically heartwarming as a youtube video of box full of puppies? I had taken on my Bjorn Identity with little Michael strapped onto my chest in a Baby Bjorn baby carrier.

Millions of parents worldwide, including Doctor Evil, have strapped on a Baby Bjorn to carry their pudgy little bundles of joy. After snapping and adjusting a series of confusing buckles and straps, my tax break and I are ready to face the world, err, the grocery store together. Imagine Flavor Flav with an infant instead of a giant clock and more ridiculous looking.

Alas, the Bjorn Identity is not for the weak of heart or back. People will laugh. Any pretense of being cool vanishes. Cervical discs creak and bulge. When I take on my Bjorn Identity, I'm very publically embracing the role of dad. I'll admit that I look pretty ridiculous in the carrier, and, yes, people do laugh at Mikey and me. I don't care because Mikey and I are having too much fun.

The crisscrossing straps try their best to distribute Mikey's 15 pounds of baby fat and love, but the strain arrives quickly. We soldier on. A little spinal cord damage never killed anyone, and the stabbing pain in the C3 to C5 area is well worth it. A prosaic shopping trip becomes an adventure. Ambulation poses new and frightening challenges. Reaching items on the bottom shelf tempts disaster. Catastrophic spitup incidents or drool breaches are a very real possibility.

Michael and I bond while we walk. Without so much as a single fussy peep, he raptly takes in all the new and astonishing sights. The Whole Foods world headquarters in Austin is a foodie tourist destination and a wonderland of sight, smell, and sound. Imagine how it looks to an infant seeing it through fresh and curious eyes? What does he think about the giant chocolate fountain? How does all that brightly colored produce look to him? Does he smell the freshly roasting coffee beans and get thirsty like me? We're bonding, he's learning, and people are enjoying seeing his alert little face peering out at them.

When I take on my Bjorn Identity, the good vibes are contagious. I catch myself singing "Just the Two of Us" and doing a little dance with my own little mini me. Every smile, laugh, and "Awww, Cute!" warms my heart. I reach down and hold onto Mikey's chunky little legs. I let him grab one of my fingers in his vice-like grip. All my troubles and back pains wash away, and all that remains is me and my son taking care of business together.

Clay also rocks the Bjorn. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

Field Guide Entry


Subject pictured is deploying destructive sonic wave natural defense. Nearby victims suffer headaches and potential hearing damage. This defense is finely evolved and astonishingly loud for such a small creature.

Profile:
Species:
Homo Sapiens


Age:
~.3 years



Gender:
Male



Habitat:
Pack and Play, Zen Swing, Bouncy Chair, Bumbo Seat, crib (rare sightings)



Natural Defenses:
  • Sonic shriek to frighten away predators, new uncles, and nearby diners at restaurants
  • Needle-like talons with an affinity for eyeballs and the faces of enemies
  • Dairy-based projectile spit weapon
  • Foul-smelling gas cloud
  • Mesmerizing smile and cooing sounds to lure victims
Field Notes:
Approach with extreme caution. Secure all valuables, designer clothing items, and electronic devices before handling. Never, ever approach subject when in undiapered mode. Do not disturb while sleeping, as this will incur an attack from enraged parents. Protective suit with breathing apparatus is advised in case of deployment of spit or gas weapons (both dairy-based and highly lethal).



Victim is nearly overcome by the subject's potent dairy-based gas defense. Although much larger and more powerful, the victim was forced to flee the area. The gas is generally not fatal, but it has been known to indirectly lead to vasectomies or utilization of other forms of birth control.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Learnings...


Friends, we have established that I am incredibly fortunate to have a beautiful little son in my life. He scores off the charts in his ITGBS (Iowa Test of Good Baby Skills).

A wise man once sang, "Every rose has its thorn...Every Cowboy sings a sad, sad song." Life with baby isn't 100% perfect. We perpetually walk the fine line between tired and shot-with-an-animal-tranquilizer-gun. We've put aside childish things and waded knee deep into the diapers, the drool, and the tears. With the joy come some slightly cynical and hopefully humorous life lessons.

1. Having a newborn is like riding across an icy tundra on a snowmobile. Suddenly, it flips over, trapping you beneath it. At night, the ice weasels come. (hat tip to Matt Groening)

2. Putting pants on a 3 month-old is like putting a straightjacket on a pair of drunken ferrets.

3. Baby smiles are chicken soup for the soul of a tired and discouraged parent. Middle of the night cries are like chicken poop for the soul.

4. Sleeping in the same room as your baby is like gambling in a casino. Instead of chips, you have hours of sleep. The House always wins.

5. I thrive on hearing compliments and kind words about Mad Dog. It's not that I'm arrogant or getting an ego boost. It just helps to reassure me that he is ok and precious. Also, maybe he will turn out to have better luck dating in high school than I did.

6. I cringe whenever someone says, "Oh, he looks like his dad!" I wanted him to hit the genetic jackpot, not play the same hand that I did!

7. 95% of parents believe their infant to be above average. I'm a member of this group, but I know I'm right. Aren't I?

8. Don't EVER turn your back on the action. Especially if you have an undiapered baby nearby. Babies have a magic switch somewhere in the plumbing that always finds the right opportunity to activate. This is not unlike the technology behind fire sprinkler systems.

9. At the end of the 2008 election season, John McCain joked that he's sleeping like a baby. That is, he wakes up every two hours crying. Mikey is sleeping like John McCain. We're very proud.

10. If you see a dad carrying one of those infant seats through a public place, he probably appears to be doing so effortlessly. This is an illusion. The seat is like a lead anvil made out of fruit cake. It's that heavy. Dad's arms are screaming with the strain. He must never show any sign of weakness. Dad must appear to lift and move the chair as if it were not carrying a giant pile of baby fat and cute. Dad must demonstrate to the world how strong and virile he is. This is the same principle behind the sucking in of guts at the beach.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Books..

I had the good fortune to grow up in a home where books were commonplace. We didn't have a fancy television with luxuries like remote controls, a viewable picture, or channels that weren't 4, 5, or 8! We had clunky box with tinfoil-encrusted rabbit ears. Changing the channel required a pair of pliers, a short walk, and a certain fearlessness about being electrocuted whilst cramming a metal instrument into the bowels of a decrepit electronic device.

My dad's huge entertainment center didn't hold a flat panel tv. It had a record player, stereo speakers, stacks of record albums, and books. Row after row of books.

There was another tall book case full of paperbacks in the garage. My dad's taste leaned toward sci-fi and the like, perfect for a burgeoning young reader to pick up and enjoy. On those endless summer days between middle school years, I would wander out to the garage and browse the covers for something interesting. I read Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Stephen King, Greg Bear, Tolkien, and many others. There was some seriously good stuff out there.

I had my own books that I picked up at various book fairs. I was a regular at the school library. I think I read every Hardy Boys book in existence. I always wanted to go for a ride in Chet's sweet jalopy. I read Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, and The Call of the Wild over and over again. After I discovered my first Lord of The Rings book and brushed off the dust bunnies, I barely slept a minute in the next two days

Books were important to me, and they are important now. Language and entertainment have moved toward the quick and easy. I have hour after hour of shows on my dvr (Doctor Who is paused right now as I type this). I send a hundred fragmented e-mails every day at work. Text messages have transformed writing from an art or a pleasure into a terse, joyless expediency to get through as quickly as possible. Heck, I can misspell every word, and Big Brother iPhone will helpfully correct it all.

I believe that I am a better, more intelligent person from all the reading I have done in my life. I hope people keep reading. I hope I do. Most of all, I hope my little boy can somehow resist the ubiquitous Nintendo DS'es, the endless wonders of the internet, and the hundreds of channels of digital cable. I hope some day that he will wander out to my bookshelf, brush off a dusty cover, and settle in for a good read.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Monday, February 02, 2009

Hero Dog: Sergeant Stubby

Read this article about a wonderful hero dog from WWI. Sergeant Stubby is now a permanent resident at the Smithsonian museum.

Sergeant Stubby's Story

Adventures in Baby____ing

This an e-mail I sent to Shannon on Friday morning. Now that her maternity leave is over, the baby and I spend some quality time together during work day mornings. We get ready for work and for day care together. Some days, not all goes according to plan.
-----

This happened when I was getting ready to take Michael to child care for the morning. He hadn't had a dirty diaper in several days...

He sat serenely. Leaning forward, pale skin contrasting against the blue Bumbo chair, he looked peaceful. But that was an illusion. Deep within, powerful forces were at work. Pressure was building. Geothermal currents and processes were reaching critical mass.

Outside, birds fell silent and dogs struggled to escape their yards. The Brushy Creek mountain lion screamed and cowered in a cedar tree. Something was coming, and nothing could stop it.

The first indication was subtle. Was that a smile? Why is he turning red? What is he concentrating on? Then came the sound; a baritone rumble like a tuba full of saliva. We had heard plenty of those in the last few days, but none had produced anything in the diaper. Then came another report; a boom like demolition of a water tower full of taffy. And then came another, like a hundred cannons firing slightly out of unison.

Silence rushed in suddenly, and Mikey slumped back in his baby chair, exhausted by the elemental forces he had unleashed. I instantly knew what had happened, and my heart filled with icy cold dread. How could this happen now? Just after Shannon left for work and just minutes before day care? All those peaceful days of clean diapers this week had come home to roost. Peaceful Krakatoa had exploded at precisely the wrong time.

I steeled my nerves and sipped my coffee for an energy boost. This was going to be a long morning. I peeled back the little baby shorts and got to work.

I wasn't prepared for the carnage that greeted me. Both legs had catastrophically breached. The flimsy elastic was like a straw hut facing a massive milk tsunami. He was covered from the waist down. Feet, legs, thighs, waist. Everything. I despaired. With only several hundred diaper wipes remaining, I feared the supply would run out.

After what seemed like an eternity, the job was done, the beast was slayed. The mountain of wipes and the DIAPER OMG went straight outside to the trash can. And the little harbinger of doom; the conduit of such destruction? He just smiled.