Tuesday, June 01, 2010

If You're Looking for Me. . .

If you haven't found me yet, I'll be here for the next few weeks as I blog with my class.  I'm just not able to maintain 2 blogs at the moment.  We'll see if that's the case after the term ends. 

Sunday, May 09, 2010

3 Boys and a Garage Door

 (This is cross-posted at The Family Bed.)

I've given up. I pride myself on being a somewhat successful handyman, trying to fix most home problems myself. I tackle plumbing or electrical problems. I paint (though I loathe it), and I landscape. I've helped roof a friend's house. If Home Depot carries the supplies, I'm willing to try it. It's easy to explain my do-it-yourself nature. It's genetic. My dad fixed nearly everything around our house. He taught me much of what I know about home repair and nearly all I know about auto repair. In fact, I had to do much of our family's car maintenance and repair before I was allowed to drive the vehicles. That experience has saved me in more than one situation in which I had to McGyver-like fix a car to get me and my friends home. I've also used this knowledge to impress my wife by answering Car Talk calls correctly. Beyond these skills, and more importantly, my father gave me the gift of confidence to try repair projects.

The gray lining of this silver cloud of ability and experience is that I believe I should do these repairs myself. I have a strong puritanical push against hiring people for work I can do myself. Despite how much I hate mowing the lawn and challenging it is for me to make time to do it, I still won't hire a company to do it, and do it much better than I can. I've spent hours repairing plumbing problems that ultimately would have been cheaper to simply have called someone. I still have spare parts from trips to the hardware store I never returned. And I always feel inadequate when I do call a repairman, compelled to talk to the repairman as a means to demonstrate my prowess with repairs -- I'm not just some soft-handed academic who has never worked a day in his life.

But now that I have three small boys, it's nearly impossible to make a half-dozen trips to Home Depot and Lowe's for parts and advice. I can't simply drag power tools around the yard or house, cutting lumber or firing nails at will. Fixing a wall outlet or changing a water filter have gone from a 5-minute job to a 3-hour one. Sometimes it's more fun and sometimes it's maddening. Still, I've done most of the repairs I can around the house (except change the oil in our vehicles, which is actually cheaper at our dealership than what I can change it for, and I'd don't have used motor oil around my house for small children to get into).

It was a major blow to my repair ego when I broke down and decided to hire a repairman to replace our garage door. He's coming on Monday to give us a firm estimate, but barring some dramatic change, I know we'll hire him. With the help of a friend, I could do it. I know I could. As a friend says, "It would be easy." And it would. But many of my friends have small children and can't afford the time, and neither can I. So I will pay someone to do something I know I could do myself. I want to say it's a sign of adulthood, but I know my father would have done it himself at my age. Of course, for him, his son would have been a perfect helper, literally running with excitement to get him tools as he worked. My boys are too young, instead wanting to take tools and use them to "repair" things around the house or garage. Last summer they managed to completely disassemble their bikes.

I try to console myself by saying that lots of people hire other for these jobs. I'm helping a family business stay afloat. I have told my wife on more than once that if we can solve a problem by throwing money at it, it's worth doing. This is one of those cases. I tell myself that this phase will pass. I will be able to do more of these repairs once the boys are a little older. But I just can't get it to sit right with me. I want to do this job. It just isn't going to happen. My lawn is too long, I need to do other home repairs, and I want to spend quality time with my family.

So I'm going to pay someone to do something I could do myself. And I'm just going to have to deal with it. So it goes.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dead Crow

I was pushing my youngest through the neighborhood recently in a stroller and happened to see a dead crow in the road. It looked oddly peaceful, not something I typically associate with a dead bird. The black bird looked like it may have simply been walking along the road and decided to stop and lay down. Clearly no cars had hit it and it didn't look like other city wildlife had found it yet. In addition to looking peaceful, it looked lonely. Besides no animals finding it or other crows standing guard, the street was beautifully quiet with crisp spring air and the Maxfield Parish light of dusk.

But what really made the bird seem lonely was that no one seemed to care, not even me. At first I stared at it without really considering what I was seeing. Then I realized what it was and still had no real emotional reaction to it; I see dead animals, particularly squirrels, all the time in our neighborhood. Certainly a dead crow is no different. Crows are under-rated. They aren't considered beautiful by bird standards, and their song is more of a drunken sailor trying to pick up women outside a tattoo parlor. But crows are incredibly smart. For example, crows will bury food to save for later or dig up food or items it has seen buried. They can also be trained to perform simple tasks for rewards. Though we know some birds can be taught such tricks, most in the species can't. But why some much consideration for a crow?

My son repeated "Eh!", while pointing down the road, which means Let's Go!, and I realized the abandoned crow meant more than it appeared. How quickly I, and I suspect you, had forgotten the West Nile Virus scare that really began near the turn of this millennium. News reports covered the virus, mosquitoes, health risks, and dead birds. Now, with swine flu, a pandemic of earthquakes, and health care reform, the elevated place held by a dead bird, the modern canary in a coal mine, has been lost. The dead crow no longer represents the arrival of a deadly disease worthy of regular CDC reports and hazmat suits. No one calls the local authorities and wonders whether the bird died of natural causes or a collision with a truck or a deadly disease. Now, it is just a dead crow. And I can't help but feel a tinge of sadness for it.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Happy Easter

Peeps are a fat free food.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What is the Shelf Life of a Happy Meal?

I love food. Of course I love eating food, but I love cooking, shopping, and chopping food. I also like thinking about the ethics, economics, and politics of food. I know a number of authors have pointed to the problems with fast food, if it's food at all, but I always like a visual representation of some of these issues.

Nonna Joann's blog post about buying and keeping a McDonald's Happy Meal is a perfect example. She did her own experiment on how a Happy Meal would decompose over the course of a year. She bravely sets the Meal in her cubicle at work. Fortunately for her, it doesn't really decompose. She claims it doesn't even smell. The latter is difficult for me to believe, though, because I can smell McDonald's food three blocks away -- they like it that way. I was shocked by how good the meal looked after 365 days. It looked good enough for Joann to throw a birthday party for the Happy Meal rather than throw it out. Our food, real food, doesn't last a year in a freezer, let alone a year on a shelf in an office.

What's in a Happy Meal? According to McDonald's own website, the McNuggets alone in a Happy Meal contain the following ingredients:

White boneless chicken, water, food starch-modified, salt, seasoning (autolyzed yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid, rosemary), sodium phosphates, seasoning (canola oil, mono- and diglycerides, extractives of rosemary). Battered and breaded with: water, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, food starch-modified, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, whey, corn starch. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.

Depending on how you count, there are approximately 44 ingredients here. 44. Really. Okay, if I get past the 44 ingredients, which I really can't, I wonder what the hell is an antifoaming agent. When we fry chicken at home, we don't need an antifoaming agent. I've deep fried lots of things and never needed to add Dimethylpolysiloxane, whatever that is.

The barbeque sauce your kid dips those nuggets into has at least another 25 ingredients.

The fries famously have natural beef flavor. (They also have Dimethylpolysiloxane. I think McDonalds should contact my grandmother who doesn't use an antifoaming agent and makes some of the best fried chicken I've ever had.)

I'll stop there. You get the point. Now, I'm not claiming to be a purist; our boys have had fast food (though I don't think they've had Happy Meals), but it sure gives me more than a twinge of guilt. I know our society isn't exactly set up to feed people healthy food; try being out and finding fast healthy food that a hungry, dehydrated, overtired 4-year old will eat. I know why parents, including us, break down and buy quick, toxic food. And I know my boys will have more fast food on my dime in the future, but I know a little piece of me will die inside knowing (or not knowing) what is inside that food. Hopefully my boys' insides will be fine.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I love words

Be sure to watch past the half-way point.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I just had spring break last week, though it often didn't feel like it. I made a point to stay home as much as I could to spend time with the family, despite my falling further and further behind on my work. A typical work day for me involves going to work in the morning between 9-10, unless I have an earlier meeting, and coming home around 4 so I can spend time with my boys before they go to bed. After they go to bed, I decompress a little while, watch bad television and then get back to work, often staying up until my bartender/server neighbor returns home.

Somehow it's never enough time. My evening work is inefficient because of the television and my general exhaustion at that time of night. Putting overtired, often screamy, 4-year old twins to bed can be exhausting.

Over the break, I didn't have the 6 or so hours of time at work to try and be productive, so all of my work happened in the evenings. After a full day of exhausting bouts of playing trains or other versions of Calvinball, I put the twins to bed (with eventual help from their mother when she was done putting the 14-month old to bed). Then, television and work.

Unfortunately, everyone in the house except me fell ill with some terrible stomach-turning-bone-aching disease that made sleep impossible and eating inconsistent at best. If you've ever seen a 4-year old boy simply lay around on the floor all day, you've seen a really sick child. At night, when I really needed to work, one of the twins, Tiny, just couldn't sleep. He would start the night in his bed, eventually move to ours, and later still wake up unable to get comfortable until he and I came downstairs to sleep on the couch and in a sleeping bag on the floor. He would only sleep half-way decently pressed up against my body, blasting smelting-pot temperature heat and breath that matched. It was a trying time because no one was getting much sleep, but my wife and I were very sympathetic, despite our sleep deprivation.

The third night of his sleeplessness, it was like he had restless leg syndrome throughout his entire, nutrient deprived body, and his poor little 4-year old mind didn't know what to do. He was up at 9:30 pm calling and moaning. I went up to soothe him, but I quickly saw how uncomfortable he was. He shifted and flopped around. He sat up and twisted and turned. He was not going to be soothed by my laying down with him. I remembered reading that if one can't sleep, one shouldn't simply lay in bed, so I asked him if he wanted to get up. He did. We came downstairs, I turned off the television and all the lights and snuggled him on the couch until he fell asleep -- a matter of minutes, if not seconds. He was exhausted.

Here was my moment of clarity. I hadn't been getting my work done. My "adult" time was infringed upon much earlier than usual in the evening, and I was really feeling the stress of my job. There was no real crisis in our house. There was no need to rush to the hospital or worry about a dangerously high fever. But seeing my son writhe around in his bed, unable to relieve his pain and discomfort or understand why he had it in his sleep-addled 4-year old mind, I knew my evening and work were unimportant. Without hesitation I effectively ended my evening and my wife's by bringing my son downstairs, to the one place he had found some comfort. And he did again.

I've never really had any doubts about the priority of my sons in my life, particularly compared to work. I didn't reflect on this decision in the moment it happened. It just happened. Afterward, now, it is comforting to know that I didn't hesitate in that moment, I didn't act selfishly, and I reminded myself what is important.

Everyone is on the mend, getting some rest and eating better. And for that I am grateful.