Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas 2009

After several days of trying to get around to writing a post about Christmas, and even attempting it a few times, I have realized that it would take me a month to write a very detailed post. So, I’ve decided to leave it largely up to the photographs we took to tell our Christmas tale. I’ll try to keep the comments to a minimum, but a few details will be needed.

On Christmas Eve, Melanie made broccoli and cheese soup (from scratch!) and served it in bread bowls that we had special ordered from the supermarket. Melanie likes the idea of having homemade soup and bread bowls as a Christmas Eve dinner tradition. She certainly started this tradition off right—the soup was delicious! Even Eddie ate it, though he avoided any sizable chunks of vegetable that made their way into his bowl.

Peter, on the other hand, preferred only the bread bowl.

Eddie sips some wine grape soda.

After dinner on Christmas Eve, we let Eddie and Peter each open up a gift—a smaller-sized Christmas blanket for each of them. We then headed out to drive around looking at Christmas lights, the blankets in tow. (Eddie and Peter both fell asleep during the drive, and as a Christmas miracle, Melanie and I were able to transport them into their beds without waking them up when we got back home.)

Christmas morning…

Santa left his traditional tins full of candy; notice the empty plate and glasses where treats for Santa were left out the night before.

As one of the sweetest gifts she’s ever given me, Melanie had two of my guitars professionally restrung, tuned up, and cleaned up. They had been missing strings for a very long time. In the last five days, I have probably played more guitar than I have in the last couple of years. As a fun side note, the 1994 Fender Stratocaster I am playing in this picture was apparently all the rave at the guitar shop. Melanie said all the employees wanted to check it out and were asking her lots of questions about it. They’d never seen a finish like that, they said, and they wondered if it was a custom built guitar. According to Melanie, “It felt like being cool for a minute.”

Here’s wishing you a happy new year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Tis the Season

On Friday night, Melanie was chatting on the home phone while I was on the cell phone. I was talking to my dad about the death of my aunt nearly 30 minutes earlier, while Melanie was talking to her pregnant sister-in-law about the labor pains she has recently begun to feel. It was a poignant evening, with each of the poles of the circle of life peering its head into our home.

Melanie and I are not going home for Christmas this year. Wait. Scratch that. We’re staying home for Christmas this year. Our home. I’m not sure that everyone out there understands this decision. But truth be told, I feel like we’ve already reaped the benefit of focusing on our own little family. We’d love to be near others and share the season with them, but given that we don’t live near our families (and friends) of origin, I’m glad we’re keeping things peaceful rather than dealing with the stress of travel. I doubt that we—Melanie, Edison, Peter, and I—have ever felt as involved with each other during the Christmas season as we do this year. It’s a wonderful thing, especially when you realize how beautiful and important your own family is. I haven’t been this excited about Christmas in who knows how long. Part of this is probably that our kids—Edison, more particularly—are getting old enough to appreciate and get thoroughly excited about Christmas themselves. (Because Peter learns from his older brother, even he is a bit more interested in Christmas than Eddie was at Peter’s age.) That helps, but I also think it’s nice that we have the time and energy to do a lot of Christmasy things together, rather than scrambling to visit everyone (and everything) that we don’t get to see at any other time of the year. Kids—ours at least—go through such an adjustment period when you fly them across the country, throw them in an unfamiliar house, and expose them to countless relatively (no pun intended) unfamiliar people. It takes its toll, not to mention the adjustment to a new time zone and a new climate. Yes, I’m indeed grateful that our Christmas season has thus far been quite peaceful.

It might seem bizarre to some, but I’ve always found there to be something quite beautiful in death. Perhaps because of my faith, I always see it as an opportunity to reassess what really matters about life, to draw nearer to those whom we love (including our God), and to be more forgiving of both ourselves and of others, because really, feeling negative is such a waste of precious time. I wasn’t incredibly close to my aunt, but as I learned of her departure from this world, I just felt a strong sense of love for her. It’s a nice feeling. I love feeling love for people, and I think it’s easier to do than we sometimes let it be. In some odd way, my aunt’s passing will make this Christmas all the more special. As someone who still regards Christmas as a religious holiday, I’m grateful for the love—and hence the divinity—that I’ve been able to experience as a part of Christmas this year.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Wish I May, I Wish I Might

So, I was looking at this post I wrote about a year and a half ago, just a couple of months before moving to Tallahassee. The post centers on what I called my “Tallahassee Wishlist,” a list of items I dreamed of acquiring as I entered into the most recent chapter of my life. As I noted at the end of this list, the only item I truly expected to acquire was a new backpack, primarily because it was the cheapest item on the list. As I revisit the list, however, I am surprised to find that most of the items I mention have in fact made their way into my hands, somehow or another. Since moving to Tally, I have acquired a new desktop computer, my first laptop, a new backpack, a new couch, and yes, even a few new items of clothing. Realizing this makes me feel quite spoiled. I feel like I’m far from living the high life, but I could probably be a lot more appreciative than I sometimes am. That being said, with my last list of wishes yielding such a high “come true” rate, I figured I’d update my list of semi-significant wants. Here goes nothing!

I would like:
  • A new bed (for reasons noted here)
  • A new rocking chair for the kids’ room (as Melanie will attest, it’s a necessary item to have, but the hand-me-down rocking chair we currently have is beginning to come apart at the joints)
  • A new suit (because the only official, complete suit that I’ve ever personally owned is now 10 years old and has a hole in the crotch; I’ve never purchased a suit on my own before, so I admit to being somewhat intimidated by this one)
  • A new microwave (probably not too urgently, but ours, which is probably seven or eight years old, sometimes emits an odd, somewhat mechanical smell that should probably be taken as a warning sign that the microwave is about to explode)
  • A Blu-Ray player (because among the things I’ve acquired in the last 18 months that are not on the aforementioned list is a 32” HDTV – might as well enjoy it for what it’s worth!)
  • A new car (because I’m just not sure how long the current one will last – it has passed the 100,000 mile mark and recently developed a stuttering problem; a costly repair could be quite problematic for us, and it seems the money might be better spent on something newer if it ever came down to that)
I could probably add to the list, but I should quit while I’m ahead. It’s already a rather grandiose list, owing to the bed and the car. I’m hoping the latter item isn’t truly necessary, but the bed … well, it’s only getting worse. That might have to be our major purchase of the year, assuming tax breaks and/or other acts of generosity make it even remotely feasible. Despite the good fortune Melanie and I have enjoyed, none of it could have happened without others being so kind to us. So thank you to all those who know what we’re talking about. And, if I revisit this list 18 months from now and find that we’ve somehow managed to acquire some of these things, I’m sure I’ll be thanking you again.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I'm Thinking Insulting

When traveling back home from Hinesville, Georgia over Thanksgiving weekend, Melanie, Eddie, Peter, and I stopped for dinner at an Arby’s tucked away in an oversized truck-stop gas station. I was there introduced to Arby’s (Arby’s’?) latest campaign, which plays off of the recent trend in fast food to offer $5 deals of some kind or another. (Not long ago, I read a very interesting story about the $5 foot-long Subway campaign, whose astronomical success is credited with inspiring many other eateries to offer similar deals that capitalize on the magic five-dollar mark. Unfortunately, I no longer have a link to the story.) Arby’s, however, has chosen to up the ante by offering $5.01 combos, because as the sign on the restaurant’s door informs you, they’re worth the extra penny.

OK, sure. I guess that’s clever. But really, the take-home message that I get from these cutesy little ads is that Arby’s is petty, annoying, and full of itself. Presuming that they reign supreme on the fast-food front, Arby’s is going to rub it in my face that they charge more than the other guys, all the while smiling and reminding me that, hey, it’s only a penny, so I’ve got no room to complain?!? It’s like tacking a $.01 privilege-to-eat-at-Arby’s fee onto every meal, a fee that I’m supposed to feel honored to pay! I suppose Arby’s expects their customers to feel like they’re getting something so much better than McDonald’s at the cost of a mere penny, which is basically nothing. But I don’t like the none-too-subtle implication that because my penny is so worthless to me, I might as well donate it to Arby’s for being God’s gift to the fast-food industry. As Melanie observed, taking one piddling penny extra from every customer is bound to make a noticeable difference at the end of the fiscal day for Arby’s. And something about the way Arby’s is going about getting this extra penny strikes me as incredibly smug.

But it gets worse…

Take a gander at the below advertisement, which doubled as my placemat but which I decided to keep as evidence of Arby’s’ self-importance. As if Arby’s’ campaign wasn’t condescending enough, they’ve gone through all the trouble of printing coupons for $.01 off their combo meals. The message: sure, we’ll let you get a combo meal here at Arby’s for the same price that you’d pay elsewhere, but not without belittling you by making you go through the effort of tearing out a coupon and presenting it to our cashier , making it absolutely clear to us that you’re pathetic enough to deserve that penny. In the end, you can either embarrass yourself by actually using the coupon, or you can strive to keep your dignity by silently assenting to the $.01 privilege-to-eat-at-Arby’s fee. It’s as if their smugness has just become the cheddar to our beef faces … by which I mean that they are metaphorically rubbing their smugness in our faces much in the way that they non-metaphorically smear cheddar sauce all over the roast beef in their Beef n’ Cheddar sandwiches … which I guess isn’t too funny when you have to explain it. Regardless, even if we overlook the apparent smugness of this campaign, Arby’s’ $.01 coupons threaten to undermine the entire point they are trying to drive home. One could easily interpret these coupons as Arby’s’ way of saying, “OK, we won’t really charge you a penny more! That was just a joke. We’re not really worth it, and we know it, but the campaign wouldn’t work unless we actually charged an extra penny, so we did. But see these coupons? That’s our way of saying just kidding! Nobody really has to pay an extra penny!” Does the stupidity of this campaign ever end?

I do admit, though, I have to laugh at the official coupon jargon found in the small print of these coupons. Not valid with any other coupon or offer? I guess I’ll have to choose between $.01 off my $5.01 combo meal, or a buy one get one free combo meal. Hmmm, tough choice. And what’s that? Only one coupon per customer per visit? That truly is a shame, for otherwise I might find it well worthwhile saving up 501 coupons and getting myself a free combo meal. Now that I might do.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where Have All the Bloggers Gone?

In my own glory days of blogging, I wrote an average of just over seven posts a month. I also read a handful of other blogs that were updated regularly, not including the blogs of my family and friends, which were also updated quite frequently. That was almost five years ago. Nowadays, I find the blogosphere—or at least the parts of it where I used to hang out, including my own blog—to be largely deserted. Desolate. Quiet. Several of the blogs I used to read are now defunct. Some linger on, but the posts are few and far between, and often brief. This isn’t a complaint. It’s just an observation, though admittedly one that makes me a tiny bit sad. I felt quite connected to my family when we all maintained our blogs and took the time to comment on each other’s posts. Now it’s hard to find the time to write, it’s hard to find the time to read, and if we do take the time to read, it’s hurried, and we don’t bother leaving a comment. So nobody feels like they’re really talking to anybody. And that doesn’t really motivate me to write, personally. I keep it up because this is largely my only form of journal keeping, and I want to do that. But my posts have been dwindling lately. And it doesn’t much seem to matter.

Ironically, I feel much more dissociated from people now that everyone has migrated from Blogger to Facebook. The real-time updates of Facebook are better than nothing, but they don’t strike me as very engaging, notwithstanding the ability to comment on anything anyone says. A Facebook status update is nothing compared to a thought-out, or even a stream-of-consciousness, blog post. I don’t feel like I’ve really connected with anyone on an emotional or psychological level just because I’ve read their latest 10-word status update. And I don’t feel any more connected even when certain people update their status about ten times an hour. It’s just too passive. It’s people tossing out a witty quip, or leaving the equivalent of a two-second voicemail to no one in particular on a public answering machine. When people feel they are meeting their interpersonal needs by typing “Hey you! Miss you! Write to me sometime!” on someone’s Facebook profile, or clicking the “Like” button underneath someone’s public, third-person declaration that he/she is “going to need a lot of coffee to get through this day! LOL!”, isn’t that a bit depressing?

Don’t get me wrong – I hang out on Facebook and am glad I do. When a family member was recently hospitalized, I only knew about it because I saw someone’s comment to another person buried in a list of invitations to start up my own virtual farm and try to outscore a dude I haven’t seen since fourth grade on Bejeweled. So Facebook has its perks. And certain people would probably have the same complaints about blogging itself that I do about social networking sites. But somehow blogging feels a little more personal to me. A little more like communication. Alternatively, it seems to me that instant communication threatens to put an end to any meaningful communication whatsoever, simply because anyone who has more than one sentence to share (what a blabbermouth!) is bogging everyone else down. Anyone else agree? Or better yet, did anyone even read this?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Home Stretch, Fall ‘09

As much as I’ve disliked this semester, it has been in many respects quite easy going. There have been moments, as there always are, but never have I headed into a final week of school feeling so underwhelmed about what remains to be accomplished. With the final day of classes being this Friday, and with finals week taking place during the following week, I’m sitting fairly pretty. My TA responsibilities are basically done and over with at this point. I had to grade over 40 essays during the past couple of weeks, but because the final exam for the class in which I’m a TA is a multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubble type of test, I won’t have anything more to grade myself. The machines will do it. That leaves only my own assignments for the classes I’m actually taking as a student. I have a final paper on intentional action due this Friday. It’s supposed to be 10-15 pages long, but we’re allowed to expand on one of our earlier papers of the semester, which I think I should easily be able to do. I already have a decent idea of what to write, and I’ll only need to write about 3-4 pages worth of new material to bulk up to an acceptable length the paper I’m hoping to expand. So, I’m quite hopeful this assignment won’t be much of a burden at all. The only other assignment left pending is my final paper for my early modern philosophy class, which only has to be something like 6 or 7 pages. Quite beautifully, it’s not due until the following Thursday, leaving me almost a full week of time—a full week without classes to attend, mind you—in which to write it. The only reason I’m not jumping up and down with joy is that I’m currently clueless as to what I’ll write. I don’t feel like I’ve gotten much out of that class at all, and I think that has more than a little to do with the fact that I have no promising paper ideas. The sole idea I had was shot down by my professor and rested, it seems, on a misunderstanding of what I’d read. So … yeah. There is a little bit of stress about that. But it’s much better than having three 15-page papers to be writing from scratch, all due within a couple of days of each other. That’s often how it works out. So for now, I won’t complain. For once.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sick? Check. Tired? Check.

I keep running out of time and/or energy to blog, even though I’ve had post ideas over the last several weeks. I’ve even jotted down a few ideas, figuring that it would help me come back and write something without starting from scratch. But, alas, ‘tis all to no avail. But enough with the quasi-apologies. I’ll say this much: I am, once again, sick. Or at least sort of sick. Having kids, it seems like someone is always sick, but these past two months have been particularly horrible. I was quite fortunately spared from feeling horrible on Thanksgiving. My throat was sore, but not even so sore that you’d bother complaining about it. It had been similarly sore for a few days prior to Thanksgiving. But now the soreness has dissipated from the inside of my throat and relocated itself to the outside of my throat, though still on the inside of my neck. I’ve never experienced this, but maybe someone will know what I’m talking about. It doesn’t hurt when I swallow, though my throat feels a little bit scratchy. But if I touch my neck, or even turn my head, it feels really tender on the inside of my neck, all around my throat. My throat is definitely swollen on the sides, but for whatever reason, it’s not affecting my swallowing. Which I guess is something to be thankful for, which I am.

Other than that, the kids have recently battled recurrent fevers that don’t really affect them any other way. For a couple of weeks, Eddie kept getting temporary fevers, but he’d act totally happy and fine. Melanie took him to the doctor and was told not to worry unless he starts seeming like it’s bothering him. I think the fevers have finally subsided as far as the children are concerned, but now I keep getting slight fevers. And, oddly, they only seem to creep up in the late afternoon. I have one now, I’m willing to wager; I feel achy and lethargic, and there’s undue pressure in my head. Miraculously, the fevers skipped me on Thanksgiving and yesterday, when I was driving my family home in the late afternoon. But today, it’s returned. It’s getting quite tiring to have someone always feeling crappy. For the moment, I’m happy to have it be me rather than the kids—although Peter is coughing quite a bit today, and traveling has worn them out, so they’re both extra cranky—but I’m about to have my final week of school, and it won’t be too easy to write final papers through a haze of illness. As my character once said in a (home) movie adaptation of Beowulf in which I stared during my senior year of high school: “Let go of me, you fiend!” Except I’m saying that to illness. In my head, I mean.

Enough whining? Sure, why not. For happier things in the world, turn your attention to the following video, which features The Muppets’ somewhat liberal cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It might make you smile.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

North Florida Fair

One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was about going to a state fair. That was over five years ago, and until today, I had not been to a state fair since. But, not that long ago, Melanie and I noticed a billboard for the North Florida Fair, taking place through this upcoming weekend. We figured that sounded like a good family activity, so we decided we’d find out where those North Florida Fairgrounds were (hopefully no more than an hour away) and make a day of it. Well, wouldn’t you know it, the North Florida Fairgrounds are just a few blocks from my school! Ha ha! For some reason, the general-sounding “North Florida” in the title made me think they might be out of town somewhere. So, all in all, we only made a half day of it. But it wiped us out, especially Eddie and Peter. And now I’ll chronicle it for you, largely in pictures.

Eddie didn’t even know what a fair was, up until a couple of days ago. But as soon as we told him about it, he’s been very eager to go on some rides. Outside of some very dinky rides at Chuck E. Cheese’s, and maybe a coin-operated train or two at the mall or Toys R Us, Eddie hasn’t been on any rides. Certainly nothing of amusement park ride proportions, even of the kiddie variety. Eddie’s enthusiasm about going on rides continued when we arrived at the fairgrounds. As soon as we were through the gate, he was wanting to go on something. We made the poor kid walk around a bit, and even stop and look at goats and cows, before letting him try something. His first ride—an airplane. He loves airplanes in general, and he loved riding in one solo. It was so great to see him loving it so much. I’m glad he isn’t taking too much after his parents and wasn’t too nervous to enjoy himself!

Pilot Edison K makes a successful landing.

Before we even drove to the fairgrounds, Eddie was informing me of what kinds of rides the fair would offer. He told me about one that makes you go upside down. He asked if I was going to go on that one when we got to the fair. I told him I might be too nervous to go on a ride that goes upside down. He lovingly assured me, “Don’t worry. I’ll be next to you.”

The next ride Edison chose was a “train” ride—a kid-friendly, caterpillar-themed roller coaster. We informed Eddie that it was a roller coaster, but he was determined to go on it. Once again, he proved a very brave little fellow, and he never seemed the slightest bit scared during the ride. He enjoyed himself just as much as he did on the airplane. In fact, Melanie, who rode with him, said that he kept up with the idea of it being a simple train ride the whole time. Apparently he kept calling out, “Choo choo!”

A very cool photo taken by Melanie.

It was time for a snack. We made Eddie stop riding rides for a few minutes, and we found ourselves some overpriced fair food. Eddie and Peter shared a soft pretzel, while Melanie and I shared some fried zucchini. It was yummy, and something we haven’t seen outside of Utah, where you can get it at numerous Mom & Pop-type burger stands. We all split a $6 fresh-squeezed lemonade, which seemed to amount to a cup of water with half a lemon dropped in it. That’s what it looked like, and that’s how it tasted.

Once we had eaten, it was off to the rides again. Edison had been intimidated by the large Ferris wheel located at one end of the fairgrounds, but he agreed to go on a slightly smaller version with me. (It didn’t feature gondola seating, so we couldn’t have all gone together. And Peter couldn’t have ridden on it, I’m fairly certain.) It was fun to be on a ride with him, and he had a great time. The only drawback seemed to be that he was quite cold by this point. It was in the mid-60s all day, and though we dressed in long-sleeve shirts and long pants, we didn’t bring jackets. We should have done so for the kids.

When “wheeee!” turns to “awwww!”

Edison was allowed to choose one more ride before we ventured back toward the middle of the fairgrounds for a restroom break and yet another snack. He chose the fire trucks, and though his parents were heartbroken that he ended up in a fire truck without a cord for ringing its bell (unlike the other fire trucks), Eddie himself didn’t seem to mind. He gleefully turned the steering wheel this way and that, and pretended to ring the bell, as happy as a clam the whole time, as attested to by the tongue that was constantly dangling out of his mouth.

After using the restroom, we stopped for a moment at the swine races. It had nothing to do with fair patrons racing to get a flu vaccine or anything like that. The event consisted of actual pigs being forced to race for the entertainment of the crowd. Eddie and Peter enjoyed it for a moment, but the races were extremely short and took a minute or two of prep time between each. One race was enough for us. It was then time for us to try something I had heard rumors of, but that I have never before had the chance to try…

deep-fried Twinkies. I was surprised by the familiarity of their taste. I’ve never tried one, but as Melanie pointed out, they tasted quite a bit like a scone, and the Twinkie-ness of them was largely lost. (The cream filling was not noticeable, as it had melted due to the Twinkies’ being fried.) A short while later, I realized they tasted quite a bit like loukoumades, if you’ve ever had those. (If you haven’t, they’re Greek and are basically fried donut holes.) In the end, I quite enjoyed the Twinkies and was surprised they weren’t weirder. Although next year, Melanie and I want to try to the deep-fried Oreos. (Yes, that’s for real.)

The interior of a deep-fried Twinkie. Nothing too suspicious. Proceed to test feeding.

Test subject #1—no signs of heart attack upon eating. Proceed to test subject #2.

Test subject #2—still no sign of imminent danger brought on by the consuming of deep-fried Hostess products. Proceed to test subject #3.

Test subject #3—looking happy, but not bizarrely happy. Outlook good. Safe to eat.

Sugar seemed to lift everyone’s spirits, so it was back to the rides for one grand finale. Edison chose the classic carousel. I took a turn with Edison, and because they didn’t make me use any tickets to be Eddie’s chaperon, Melanie was able to take Peter on his first and only ride of the day. (He’d been a bit fussy before then, or we would have taken him on a ride before then.) Because the carousel was one of maybe two or three rides that Peter could go on, with an adult even, Melanie took him on that. He really enjoyed himself too, which was fun. I wasn’t sure how much he’d care. But he was quite the smiling one.

After that, we briefly stopped to watch some motorcycles being driven around inside a spherical metal cage, doing loops, nearly killing the woman standing in the middle of the interior of the cage, etc. It was pretty cool, but it was time for us to get out of there. A lot of fun, but enough for one day.

So that’s it. It was somewhat interesting going to a fair outside of Utah. I don’t know if it’s because Tallahassee is small, or if it’s just because we went on a weekday (although it is Veteran’s Day and many people had the day off), but the fair was delightfully uncrowded. We didn’t even have to pay for parking, and we basically parked right at the gate in the parking lot for the fairgrounds themselves. It was no problem at all. Small towns have their perks! The weather may also have deterred people somewhat. It was on the cooler side, somewhat windy and almost drizzly for a minute or two here and there. Worked out beautifully for us.

The end.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Big Laughs, Courtesy of Eddie

Just moments ago, the family and I were gathered around the dining table enjoying some chocolate chip cookies that Melanie and Edison had made. Peter was requesting another, and I said something about him already having a chunk of cookie in his milk. The following interchange then occurred:

Eddie: What’s a chunk?
Me: It’s a big piece of something.
Eddie: Oh! Kind of like you’re big, so you’re a chunk!
Me: Right.

Funny enough, just yesterday, as we were driving home from the mall after getting a family portrait taken, the following occurred. Melanie was singing “The Joker” by Steve Miller Band. She sang the line, “Some people call me a space cowboy.” Eddie, who’s a fan of changing words in songs as a matter of being funny, then sang, “Some people call me a fat cowboy!”

It’s even funnier because Eddie’s not choosing the word “fat” to be especially silly. He’ll throw in any word and consider it a good joke. He’s not thinking at all about what the new words mean (or don’t mean) or how they change the meaning of the lyrics overall—it’s just funny to change the words. He went on to sing things like, “Some people call me a truck cowboy” and even less sensible things, and he laughed just as hard at himself. But “fat” was too perfect a place to start. I was rolling … you know, because round chunks roll.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Now That's What I Call Streaming Video!

As always, I feel too busy to update my blog, but I keep wishing I could. Unfortunately for you, that means you're getting a cheap and easy post today. Below, you will find a clip from YouTube that is certifiably hilarious. I couldn't help but laugh repeatedly as I watched it. It's not so much the juvenile, scatological humor as it is the absurdity of looping the same four-and-a-half seconds of film, forward and backward, for a full ten minutes. It's utterly ridiculous, and I love it. It reminds me of the film-making techniques my friends and I would use when making stupid movies in high school. Sigh. Good times.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Potpourri No. 26

A few days ago, I started writing a post and never finished it. I tried working on it again the next day, and it just didn’t go anywhere. I think it’s partially because I’m under the weather. And so, having wanted to post but not having it in me to write much about anything, I’m falling back on doing yet another potpourri post.

Sick & Tired
Over the weekend, I came down with a cold. I’m still feeling rather blah, but it fluctuates quite a bit throughout the day. Truth be told, I’m glad I haven’t felt worse. The illness hit me on Thursday afternoon. At noon, I was feeling a little bit sick, and by 5 p.m., I was feeling like crap. In my own experience, this was quite strange. Often when you’re getting sick, you might feel it creeping in throughout the day, so that by the time you go to bed, you feel slightly yucky, but then you wake up feeling horrible. It was weird to me to take such a nosedive over the course of a few afternoon hours. I was really worried I’d wake up on Friday morning feeling sicker than I have in years, but it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected. Still, it’s been enough that I have little momentum and quickly run out of whatever momentum I’ve got. It’s perfect timing, in some respects, as I’m actually fairly caught up on everything I need to be doing for school. I have a paper due a week from today, but I have nothing between now and then to stand in my way. Not even basic class readings, which I’ve already done for this week. Nice. But, despite it all, I’m staying home from my afternoon class today. If memory serves me correctly, this is the first time I will have missed a class since becoming a grad student over three years ago—not counting the several that I missed after getting in a car accident, which I guess was plenty, but they weren’t nearly so voluntary.

Happy Anniversary … You Know, Last Week
Last week, Melanie and I celebrated our four-year wedding anniversary. I probably should have acknowledged it by now, but I was worried I’d end up saying the same exact stuff I said last year—that I can’t believe we haven’t been married much, much longer than that. Four years sounds so insignificant for being such a significant part of my life! But anyway, we kept celebrations to a minimum. We’re hoping someday in the near future to go out on an actual date, just the two of us, but we’ve yet to arrange it. For now, we settled on having a really nice dinner at home—which was quite generous on Melanie’s part, because she orchestrated the whole thing. She made homemade manicotti, with fresh spinach and fresh garlic among the stuffing ingredients, and an extremely delicious spinach salad with strawberries, pecans, and a yummy poppy seed vinaigrette. It was fantastic. I’ve really been blessed to be married to a woman that is so fond of stretching her culinary muscles. I’ve been the lucky recipient of many delicious forays into what is, for us at least, uncharted gastronomical territory. It’s the slightest touches that make me feel so incredibly pampered—fresh parsley in the chicken fettuccine alfredo, fresh basil on the homemade pizza, etc. These things not only kick everything up a notch, they make me feel spoiled rotten. In fact, it gives me new perspective on that old saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” I fell in love with Melanie long before I tasted anything she had made, but maybe the point of that saying is not that you can make a man fall in love with you by feeding him well (although that probably has some merit), but that you can make him feel loved by feeding him well. In my case, that has certainly been true. Thanks, darling!

Getting Punk’d
Somehow or another, I’ve ended up on a punk rock kick lately. It’s always refreshing to change musical gears a little bit, and this has been particularly revitalizing for me. It’s made me eager to play more guitar and do more songwriting. I’ve even found myself writing music in my head with a frequency I haven’t done in years. Time and time again, I have admitted that one of my greatest fears in life is not doing more with music and then regretting it. It’s not like I want to be a touring musician, but surely I could play guitar and write songs regularly, right? Anyway, it’s been a lot of fun to listen to some of the old bands I already had some decent exposure to (such as Dag Nasty, Descendents, and SNFU) and to discover some of those bands whom I had heard of but, outside of maybe a song or two, not really heard. I’ve found a couple that I’m extremely excited about—Mission of Burma and Hüsker Dü. I’ve been able to listen to a lot of their material online, and I’m loving it. The guitarist for the latter band, Bob Mould, continues to make awesome (non-punk from what I’ve heard) music as a solo artist. I’m practically ready to add his name to my list of favorite musicians based on what I’ve heard of his work, solo or otherwise. It’s pretty darn exciting when you think to yourself, “I’ve got to buy this album” after hearing five seconds of one song by somebody. That’s exactly how I felt upon hearing the first five seconds of “I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand in My Light Any More” on Bob Mould’s MySpace page, and I’m not exaggerating. Awesome stuff. On the downside, by discovering all these bands, I’ve now added several dozen albums to my already extensive to-buy list. I can’t wait until I make the big bucks as a professional philosopher!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fickle Florida

Within the last week, this has happened…

That’s right. As residents of the Sunshine State, we’ve already had to turn our heater on. But don’t worry. We’ve since converted back to using the A/C. For now. But really, it just depends on the day. Florida won’t sit still, as far as temperatures are concerned. About a week ago, the daily high was still sitting in the mid- to upper- 90s Fahrenheit. Then, about half a week ago, the temperatures plummeted by 40 degrees. For three or four days in a row, the morning temperature (say around 8 or 9 a.m.) was in the 30s, and afternoon temperatures were in the upper 50s. Looking at the current weather report, we’ll be vacillating between the mid-70s and the mid-80s for our daily highs over the next 10 days. The anticipated low temperature tomorrow night is ten degrees warmer than the afternoon temperature was a few days ago. It’s somewhat maddening. I’m not keen on freezing yet—and yes, it does get surprisingly chilly up here in the Panhandle—but I’ve enjoyed this brief flirtation with autumn. I’d like it to stay awhile.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Belated Birthday Post

The past couple of weeks have been quite busy. Somehow, even though I have one less official class this semester than I did either semester last year, I have felt more busy than ever. In discussing this with Melanie last night, I realized I might not be any busier, I’m just not enjoying school as much this year as I did last year. Sadly, I don’t really care for my early modern philosophy course. And I’m also very uninterested in the class for which I’m a TA. In both cases, it has a lot to do with the style of teaching that goes on, and I guess that makes me resent any time I spend doing work for those classes. It makes it feel more like busy work than something for my own benefit. Anyway, my whole point here is to explain why it’s taken me so long to write about my birthday. I just got through the first crunch time of the semester, when myriad papers and other assignments are coming due at about the same time. The next couple of weeks should be a little bit easier going, so hopefully I’ll post a few times.

OK, so back to my birthday. By now, Melanie has already written a little bit about my birthday and shared some pictures. But even if you’ve already seen Mel’s post, I’ll be adding some details and offering some new pictures here, so hopefully this will be fun for those out there who care enough about me to want to read these kinds of things. Let’s start with the wonderful birthday dinner Melanie made me. My mom has always made excellent pot roast, so we got some reminders about the techniques she uses, and Melanie whipped up (probably not the right expression for pot roast) a delectable hunk of meat served with carrots and well-cooked (and therefore non-obtrusive) onions. I also requested “funeral potatoes” and crescent rolls. Everything tasted excellent. In fact, writing about it makes me sad that it’s gone. We got at least three decent meals out of it all. It was nice.

The meat.

The potatoes.

The veggies.

The bread.

The crescent rolls were a particularly popular item at the birthday dinner. Here, Eddie teases the camera with a delightfully flaky treat.

When it came to dessert, Melanie made the coolest, most fun birthday cake I’ve ever had. She’s always done such wonderfully sweet things with Eddie’s and Peter’s cakes, so quite some time ago, I said she should make me a Ms. Pac-Man cake for my next birthday. She made up her mind there and then that she would do that for me, which was very loving of her. But if that weren’t enough, she made it a hummingbird cake, which is something we’d never even heard of until fairly recently. It’s kind of like a cross between carrot cake and banana bread (in fact, it has bananas in it), and it may very well be the best cake I’ve ever tasted. With a cream cheese frosting and crushed pecans to boot, it’s exquisite. But I got just as much delight out of the way the cake looked. Melanie prepped it the night before my birthday, and every time I saw it, I couldn’t help but smile. It was a delight, in the truest sense of the word.

The coolest birthday cake ever!

A 31-year-old man tries desperately to blow out the candles on his birthday cake. To signify the number "31," Melanie put three candles on the left side of Ms. Pac-Man's bow, and one on the right side. Clever!

But who can forget presents? Yes, Melanie even gave me some presents. And some pretty good ones, too. I hadn’t asked for anything and didn’t have any idea what she might get, but as always, she proved to be an impressively thoughtful wife. The first gift I unwrapped was a set of large cereal bowls. I’ve told Melanie before that I like large cereal bowls, but until my birthday, we only owned a couple that fit that description. It’s been fun having them around. Next up, Melanie bought me two new pillows. I haven’t had new pillows in a while, and the ones I had were getting pretty flat. The new pillows are wonderfully puffy and cloud-like. Sleeping on them has been rather luxurious. Finally, Melanie gave me a pair of ottomans. Well, that’s what I call them. They are footrests, but I don’t know what technical criteria must be met in order to be called an ottoman, properly speaking. They’re not big enough that I’m inclined to view them as a piece of furniture, so if that makes a difference, so be it. Regardless, they serve the purpose of letting me put my feet up while sitting on the couch, which is awesome. As I mentioned soon after we bought our couch, the seats aren’t as deep as they could be, so there doesn’t seem to be a lot of support directly behind your knees when you’re sitting on it. Given the crappy condition of my knees (and my left leg in general), I sometimes find my knee aching quite a bit if I don’t straighten it. Occasionally, I even sit on the floor instead of the couch, for that very reason. Well, no more! It’s been great having something to prop my feet up on, and I’ve used them every time I’ve been on the couch since my birthday. It’s wonderful.

Opening up the birthday bowls.

The morning after my birthday, we used the new bowls with breakfast. Here, Peter appears a bit too excited about the food he's eating.

Eddie took special care to ensure he always slurped while using the slurp bowls.

Back to the birthday day. Here I am, hugging some much appreciated pillows.

Eddie, Daddy, and the Ottoman Empire.

Peter demonstrates an alternative use for the footrests, makeshift stairs, a favorite among the 3-and-under demographic.

As a final note, Melanie also ordered me a set of Coca-Cola drinking glasses with that distinctive Coke glass shape. They’re cool and fun to drink out of. They didn’t arrive until a couple of days after my birthday, so I don’t have a picture yet. Maybe someday. Also, Melanie gave her mom a suggestion, and so I got a couple of boxes of (somewhat tattered) raspberry-filled donuts from Hostess, the kind you can’t buy on this side of the U.S. All in all, it’s been a really fun birthday.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I turn 31 today. Funny enough, this strikes me as even more significant than turning 30. By turning 30, I reached my thirties. But now I’m actually in my thirties. I’m not just 30, I’m thirty-something. Somehow it’s a big difference. Maybe it’s because 30 just seems like the last year of being in your twenties. I could believe that.

For being my birthday post, I don’t have much to say. I have a crap load of essays to be grading, so I can’t have as much fun today as I’d like. Not that I even know what I’d do for fun if I could do whatever I wanted. Not grade essays, I guess. But I do look forward to this evening. I’m going to try to have some downtime with the family. Melanie’s being incredibly sweet and making me a wonderful dinner of pot roast, “funeral potatoes,” and more. And she’s made a cake that is incredibly cute and fun. I’ll keep the details a surprise until I actually have pictures to post (which I promise to do soon). It’s great, though. She prepped it last night, and every time I walk by it, I can’t help but smile and giggle with glee. Oooooooo, and did I mention it’s a hummingbird cake? No, it doesn’t look like a hummingbird, it’s a hummingbird cake, a delicacy that Melanie and I recently discovered and that made me take seriously the usually sarcastic quip, “If you love it so much, why don’t you marry it?” If polygamy were legal, I would consider it.

I guess that’s about all I have to say. I’m getting boring in my old age.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Potpourri No. 25

The following potpourri post has been brought to you by:

Florida’s faux fall season seems to be upon us. Sort of. During the last few mornings, it has felt pleasantly cool outside. It’s quite exhilarating, though it’s a darn shame when the afternoon comes and the temperature once again hits the 90s. Still, I anticipate the drop in temperatures that must surely come. Bring it on!

The first crunch time of the semester is also upon us. Last week, one of my instructors assigned a 209-page reading assignment, plus another reading assignment, plus a 3-4 page essay on that first reading assignment, all due within a week’s time. If that weren’t crazy enough, I have another 5-7 page essay due just a few days later, not to mention 40-45 essays that I need to grade for undergraduates within a few days after that. This has brought about a roller coaster of emotions, including stops at both “suicidal” and “murderous.” Fortunately, I’m currently in a better-than-not state of mind. I think it’s because I’m doing something wrong.

A week ago, the janitor who cleans the building housing the philosophy department asked to borrow a dollar from me. Blame it on my old-fashioned values, but that somehow struck me as a breach of social protocol. Not that I was offended. But what will offend me is if I never get paid back. He told me when he accepted my loan that he would have it back to me last Friday, but I haven’t seen it yet. That’s fine. When I gave him the dollar, I didn’t necessarily expect to see it again. I still don’t have much hope in getting repaid, but the janitor did tell me, “I didn’t forget about you!” the last time we passed each other, and that was more than I expected from him. So who knows. It sure beats having a janitor who uses your office to look up naughty sounding things on MySpace when he thinks you won’t be coming in. Oh wait, my janitor does that too. Shucks!

I recently received some super-exclusive junk mail from Barclays Bank Deleware, informing me—a grad student living largely on student loans—that I am pre-approved for “the world’s most prestigious” Visa card ever—the “Black Card.” What amuses me is not so much that I was the ill-selected recipient of said advertisement, but that anyone would find the offer alluring in the first place. It amazes me how much some people must thrive on feeling socioeconomically superior to others, yet that is the primary sentiment on which this advertisement hopes to thrive. Two elements of the card offer stood out to me as utterly ridiculous. The first is the annual fee—$495! And the ad highlights this as though it were a nifty feature of the card! Sadly, this means there must be people out there who will feel better about themselves knowing they have a credit card with such an astronomically high (and asinine) fee. “I pay $500 a year just to have this card in my wallet!” I guess there are some bragging rights there??? Secondly, I was amused by the following non-sequitur, which I urge you to really think about as you read it, asking yourself if it makes any genuine sense: “For those who demand only the best of what life has to offer, the exclusive Visa Black Card is for you. The Black Card is not just another piece of plastic. Made with carbon, it is the ultimate buying tool.” Huh? So, if you want the best things in life, you should make sure your credit card is not made out of plastic, even though the plastic credit cards do the very same things that a non-plastic credit card could do? And what does the last sentence of that quotation really mean? How does the carbon affect your purchasing power or buying opportunities whatsoever? It makes no sense. I think the final sentence is probably meant to say something like this: “Made with carbon, there is a decent chance, at least for a while, that any cashier who takes your card will experience the following fleeting realization: ‘Hey, this credit card is made out of different stuff than I’m used to. Strange.’ Don’t you think that will give your irrational sense of pride a great big boner? We do.”

Thank you and good night!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Water vs. Soda

In my previous post, I announced that I was attempting to keep track of how much water and how much soda I drink. I’ve now compiled just over two weeks of data. I thought I’d go ahead and report on it.

To start off, allow me to provide some general information concerning recommended fluid intakes. If you’re like me, you’ve heard that you should drink eight glasses of water per day, or 64 ounces. Looking around at various Internet sites, I’ve learned a few things about this claim. First off, according to the Mayo Clinic, “all fluids count toward the daily total,” so if you drink 50 ounces of water and 14 ounces of other beverages, you’re probably serving your body fairly well (in terms of fluid intake, anyway). Furthermore, it is possible to drink too much water. Water intoxication, as it’s called, can occur when someone drinks too much water in too short a period of time. Results can be fatal.

Truth be told, once I started looking at my daily totals, I started to worry about water intoxication. One day, I consumed 218 ounces (just over 27 cups) of fluids, almost 200 ounces (nearly 6 liters!) of which was water. The following day, I consumed 230 ounces (almost 29 glasses, or nearly 7 liters) of fluids. But these days were atypical. My throat was feeling scratchy, and I felt like I had to be constantly drinking in order to avoid a coughing fit. However, it turns out I do drink a fair amount. If we rule out the few days when I had a scratchy throat, my average water intake is approximately 85 ounces per day. But I also drink an average of 49 ounces of soda per day. That’s quite a bit, though my soda intake is much more irregular than my water intake. While my daily water intake remains fairly stable, there are days when my soda intake spikes, usually because we’ve gone out to eat. This means that although I might only drink 24 ounces of soda on one day, the whopping 84 ounces I consume a few days later bears heavily on the calculated average.

But here’s the good news. In an attempt to be more than fair, I chose always to overestimate my soda intake and always underestimate my water intake. This means that, on those presumably high-soda-intake days, the numbers are likely grossly exaggerated. Say I take my 32-ounce refillable cup to Circle K and fill it up with Mountain Dew. Before the Mountain Dew cascades beautifully into the cup, I fill about half of the cup with ice. I’m not saying that drops my soda intake to a mere 16 ounces for that particular refill, but it certainly drops it by at least five or 10 ounces, I would think. And so on those crazy days when I’ve had more than one such drink, I’m probably reporting upwards of 20 ounces of soda that I didn’t really drink. And because I often drink a soda over ice, I’d say most of the reported daily intakes of soda are off. Fortunately, though I underestimate my water intake when it’s difficult to be exact, the numbers should be fairly accurate, thanks to the drinking vessels I tend to utilize (one-liter bottles that I drink in their entirety, refillable plastic water bottles with markers on the side to denote how many ounces remain, etc.). I also did an online survey that asked for details concerning my weight, my exercise habits (ha ha!), and the climate in which I live. According to that site, based on the statistics I provided, I should be drinking somewhere between 112 and 141 ounces of water (fluids?) per day. So I think I’m sitting pretty, about where I should be.

P.S. For those who tried to watch the Michael Jackson tribute video I included in my last post but found it unavailable, I have since updated the link. You should be able to scroll down and watch it now, if you couldn’t before.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Potpourri No. 24

And now it’s time for more of my thoughts and happenings, in brief.

Knock on Wood
Thursday, September 10th marked the five-year anniversary of my blog. (Here’s the post that started it all.) Melanie introduced me to blogging, and therefore is responsible for the fact that pretty much my entire family blogs now. I’m very grateful for that. It’s been a wonderful way to keep in touch with people and to feel somewhat involved in their lives, especially now that I live so far away from everyone. It’s pretty wild to me to think that five years of my life has been documented on here (more fully at some times than others). Looking back on some of those early posts, it’s hard to believe it’s only been five years. They seem like memories from a decade ago. I wonder how long this will last. Well, at least until 2012, I guess. (Oh, and in case you’re wondering, wood is the traditional fifth-anniversary gift material.)

Water Works
Out of curiosity, I’ve decided to (try to) keep track of how much water I drink versus how much soda I drink. It’s not so easy to do that. On school days, it’s actually not too bad. We own some refillable plastic bottles that have markers on the side indicating how many ounces of fluid are contained inside. If I drink the whole thing, it’s easy enough to do the math, but even if I only drink a partial bottle, I can quickly deduce how many ounces I’ve drunk. When it comes to soda, if I have a can of Mountain Dew, that’s easy. If I get a 32-ounce fountain drink, that’s easy. If I go to a restaurant and am brought a glass of Coke, drink some of it, get topped off, drink the whole thing, get a refill, drink most of it … not so easy. I guess my results will have to be taken lightly. But we’ll see what comes of it. I’ll report on it in within another two or three weeks, I’m sure.

Must See? We’ll See.
Over the next week or so, a barrage of television programs are debuting and/or having their season premiers. I’m kind of excited about that. I watch a decent amount of stuff on DVD, but it’s been a while since I’ve had a weekly TV show to tune into. It sounds kind of fun for a change. On Monday, I’ll be checking out Jay Leno’s new show, out of curiosity. I always liked Leno myself, and I think he’s immensely better than either Letterman or Conan. We’ll see how it goes. On Thursday, The Office has its season premier, and I admit to being one of the incredibly many who think this is (or at least has been, at certain times) one of the funniest shows to have been on television. We’ll see if it can keep up with itself. (It hasn’t always.) And, I’m super excited that I get free HBO at my apartment because, come Sunday, September 20th, I can for the first time watch Curb Your Enthusiasm while it’s actually on TV! That too is one of the funniest television series I’ve ever watched. How cool to have that to look forward to! In slightly sad news, I just learned that The Amazing Race, another long-time favorite (though I don’t believe it’s one of the best shows ever), is not premiering its new season until Sunday the 27th. Up until five minutes ago, I had thought it was debuting tomorrow. What a bummer!

Who’s Bad?
One singer, some nice overdubbing, trick photography, and an awesome medley arrangement of Michael Jackson songs makes the following video pretty darn cool.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Alligator Point Beach

Because I don’t have school on Fridays, Labor Day provided me with a lovely four-day weekend. Homework precluded me from lounging around all weekend, but I slacked a bit more than I normally would. This resulted in some great family time, which was really refreshing. And, to make it especially special, we spent Labor Day itself venturing down to Alligator Point Beach—the first beach we’ve visited since moving to Florida. (We’re swoh bokes, what can I say?)

Alligator Point Beach is located on the Gulf of Mexico, just over an hour’s drive south of our apartment. We had no particular reason for choosing this beach—Melanie learned of it while researching another beach online—but we liked that it was slightly closer than other beaches which had been recommended to us, and we liked that Alligator Point was touted as being “secluded,” “beautiful,” and “uncrowded.” I don’t know that it was particularly beautiful—sand and water are a naturally pretty combination, but this didn’t seem special in any way (in fact, the water seemed quite brown)—but it was a surprisingly unpopulated beach, which was nice. Aside from us, there were only four or five other groups there. This may have been due, in part, to the weather. It was a largely overcast day, and we hit some rainy patches on our drive to the beach. But the beach itself was nice, despite the clouds. It was dripping here and there, but nothing that would deter you from hanging out. Personally, I was happy it wasn’t too sunny. By the time we left the beach, the rain was picking up, but we’d had about enough by that point anyway. (It didn’t help that there were no public restrooms around.) All in all, I’d say it went just about perfectly.

Here are some pics. Enjoy!

Edison loved pretending that each and every wave that came crashing in was, in fact, a shark. The following three photos demonstrate this. I assure you that Edison is laughing and squealing with delight in each of these. He's not crying!

Taking a rest after playing in the water:

See you later, Alligator Point Beach!