Sunday, May 31, 2009

At Least I Know I Never Want Twins

Edison’s latest kick has been to pretend he is Peter. He announces that he is Peter, or Peter Baby, or Eddie-Peter, and he then proceeds to crawl around, to gesture at things while making inarticulate noises, and/or simply to hold things up for our inspection so we can tell him what it is. He finds this very entertaining. Melanie and I – not so much.

Today, I found Eddie’s latest form of entertainment particularly tiresome. Melanie teaches a Primary class at church, so Peter and Edison are left in my care for almost two hours. I find this challenging enough on its own right, but all the more so when every interaction I have with Peter must then be repeated with “Eddie-Peter.” If Peter points out something and I tell him what it is, then Eddie wants to point out the very same thing and have me tell him what it is. If Peter tries to put garbage in my mouth and I say “Yuck!” then Edison wants to pretend he is trying to put garbage in my mouth and have me say “Yuck!” If I hold Peter’s hands and help him walk around the room a little bit, then Eddie wants me to hold his hands while he pretends he can barely walk. Laborious!

I can just hear the psychologists out there insisting that Edison is pretending to be Peter because he is jealous of the attention Peter is getting at this stage of life. Perhaps that is part of it, but I’m not too worried about it. Eddie hasn’t started making big messes or acting completely incompetent, and he never seems sad or unhappy either when or right before he indulges in this type of play. What’s more, Edison has long been a fan of role-reversals, asking Melanie to be “Daddy,” insisting that he is “Mommy,” and telling me that I am “Eddie,” etc. So he mixes it up in every possible way you can imagine, and he wants us all to do it. But lately he’s been all too keen on being Peter, and I’m quite content with just one of those.

Anybody want a spare?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Emphasis on "Tentative"

Here, in visual form, is my tentative reading list for the next three-and-a-half weeks.

Think I can do it? I've already read most of the top book, so I'm well on my way!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Utah 2009 (Part Two)

The story of our May 2009 Utah trip continues...

Saturday, May 16th (Day Six)

Saturday was booked solid with fun plans. Perhaps too booked, as it ended up taking quite a toll on me. By the time Saturday's festivities came to an end, I had one of the worst headaches I have had in a very long time. I not only took some acetaminophen (quite rare for me), but I even took an early evening nap purely to escape the headache's incessant throbbing. There were many ups and downs on the way to this headache, of course. The first real plan of the day was to hit one of our favorite Utah lunch spots, The Bagelry, which easily has the best bagels, the best cream cheeses, and consequentially, the best bagel sandwiches I've ever tasted. The last time we were in Utah, Melanie and I noticed that The Bagelry located by the first apartment we lived in after we got married had closed down, and so we decided to hit the original (or, at least, original to us) Bagelry location, located near the University and very near to apartments that either Melanie or I had lived in at some time while we were students at the U. When we arrived at this older Bagelry location, however, we discovered to our great dismay that this Bagelry too had closed down. We have since looked into it, and apparently The Bagelry no longer exists. This was one of the truly devastating moments of our vacation. Of all the Utah eateries we miss, this is one of the most irreplaceable. While you can find bagel sandwiches in any town, nothing has proved similar enough to The Bagelry to placate our cravings. Our hearts mourned. But, seeing as how our tummies still growled, we headed down the street to another Utah favorite, Cafe Rio, which over the last several years has exploded all over the Salt Lake Valley. Though we have hit Cafe Rio more than almost any other Utah establishment during our visits of the last few years, I am glad we went again. I had the barbecued pork burrito, enchilada style, smothered in mild green sauce and melted cheese. This was my first Cafe Rio love, but something I haven't ordered in at least a couple of years. It was a joyous and delectable reunion. It filled a gaping hole in my heart after the travesty of The Bagelry.

After lunch, Melanie and I took the kids to the downtown Salt Lake City Library, which has been nationally recognized for its architectural design. (It is something like a glass coliseum.) We thought Eddie in particular would be thrilled by the glass elevator and the expansive children's book area, which features “caves” and loft-like play areas in the walls. Peter ended up liking it quite a bit too, as there was plenty of room for him to crawl around and to climb on things. After exploring the interior of the library, we took to the roof and descended the outdoor stairs back to the ground level, taking in the beautiful backdrop of SLC's east side. Edison was sad when we told him we were leaving, so the visit must have been a success. (This was evidenced again after we returned to Tallahassee and, upon announcing that we were going to the library one morning, Edison asked if it was the one with the elevators. He was crestfallen when we told him “no.”)

Inside the library.

Atop the library.

It was then time to head to the birthday party of my little sister, Khrystine, who had turned 21 the day after we arrived in Salt Lake City. She had invited most people for whom she had any positive feelings, and so the party became quite crowded. I got to visit with my oldest sister (she's nearly 40!), whom I haven't seen in about a year and a half, and I downed a couple of pieces of pizza and some soft drinks despite the fact that I wasn't really hungry. After a short while, the crowd took its toll on me and the headache set in. The kids were getting overwhelmed too, and so we decided it was time to leave. In typical fashion, I neglected to take any photos while large groups of family members were joined together. Sheesh!

Sunday, May 17th

My niece, Gina, had a baby, Hunter, 11 days after Peter was born. Sunday was designated as the day to celebrate Hunter’s birthday, which meant heading to yet another house chock full of family members. Fortunately, this party was only for family members, seeing as how one-year-old Hunter has yet to make a ton of non-familial friends, and it took place at a house that had a bit more room to navigate. It made for a much calmer experience, even if it was a more hectic situation than we’re used to facing on a day-to-day basis. I got a few photos this time around, but it was difficult to get anything of superb quality. Here's a few of the better ones, nonetheless.

An aunt, a niece, and first cousins once removed (according to this Wikipedia flowchart).

Edison enjoys some birthday cupcakes.

At least one person knows where the camera is.

Monday, May 18th

Monday was our final full day in Utah. We still needed to do a couple of the main things on our Utah to-do list, and so in the early afternoon, we headed to The Living Planet Aquarium. The Living Planet is a modest-sized aquarium, easily put to shame by aquariums of the kind you would find in Atlanta but costing between one-fourth and one-third of the admission price. (My student ticket was $7, versus the $26 ticket I would have to purchase to get into the Georgia Aquarium.) Though a humble aquarium, it was better suited for our young children, who can only appreciate so much. This is especially true for Edison, who grows antsy if standing in one place for more than a few minutes. As Melanie’s mother (who accompanied us) pointed out as we left the aquarium, it was the perfect size for Eddie. Had it required more of his time or energy, it would have been too much. He—and we—had had enough by the time we left the building.

While the Living Planet does not have anything more exotic than smaller-sized sharks—no dolphins or penguins, for example—there were some highlights. In fact, the sharks were among Eddie's favorites. He spent a while staring into the shark tank and waiting patiently for them to circulate back past the glass whenever they'd disappear from sight, which was a majority of the time. Eddie also enjoyed climbing through the little rock tunnels set up just for kids his size in a kind of play area near the end of the museum. Finally, being a huge fan of kittens in general, Edison was quite excited by the catfish with its long whiskers. I myself enjoyed petting the southern stingrays at the touch pool, was fascinated by the Technicolor-inspired and aptly named purple lobster, and tingled gleefully when I placed my fingertips on two metal nubs that were designed to emulate the shock of a small electric eel. Actually, the latter was more interesting than entertaining. I couldn’t get myself to touch the nubs for more than a fraction of a second. Melanie said if you held on, the shock turned to numbness rather quickly. While I am at the low-end for electricity tolerance, Melanie’s mom is apparently immune to electricity. She was the first to touch the metal nubs and was convinced they weren’t working. After Melanie and I assured her it was, she tried again and again, ever claiming not to feel the slightest bit of anything. I’m not sure if we should be amused by this or just worried.

A final museum story: at the end of the museum, just outside the gift shop which one must unavoidably pass through in order to vacate the premises, there is a small theater showing documentary-like underwater footage. Edison insisted on entering the “movie theater,” and once we had seated ourselves inside, he asked if we were going to get popcorn. As Melanie pointed out, I guess he's been a bit spoiled.

Edison has cave tunnel syndrome.

Eddie points out a shark.

That night, Melanie and I took Eddie and Peter to their first baseball game. On the way, we hit our final Utah restaurant, Hires Big H, a classic diner-style burger joint that still features carside service. We didn't think Edison or Peter would appreciate carside service quite yet, and so we chose to eat in the dining room. We ordered frosty mugs of root beer, a large order of cheese-fries, and I had a bacon Roquefort cheeseburger. The food at Hires Big H is nothing I would call “sensational,” but it's good and the atmosphere is fun and family-friendly. We had a good time.

I'm not sure what Eddie's initial thoughts about going to the baseball game were. At first, he asked if we were going to be playing baseball ourselves, and he was a bit disappointed that we weren't. Once we were in the ballpark and seated in our seats, he seemed to warm up to the experience, although we weren't close enough to home plate for him to be captivated by the actual ball-playing itself. I thought, if he could see it, he might enjoy watching the ball get tossed around. Instead, he liked the jumbo screen that occasionally displayed the goings-on of the game, he liked finding familiar logos (such as that for Best Buy) on the wall advertisements surrounding the field, and he liked the “train” that drove around the perimeter of the ballpark, giving rides to those who were seated in the grass area. But the most exciting thing for Edison was simply the applause. Whenever the crowd clapped, hooted, or hollered, Edison would look at us excitedly and begin clapping himself. The reason for the applause was irrelevant; Eddie was more than happy to join in the celebration, no questions asked.

Sadly, I couldn't snap any photos at the game. Normal folk (i.e. non-journalists) are forbidden from bringing cameras into the ballpark … which is really lame, given that almost everybody (except us) now has a camera built into their non-forbidden cell phone.

Tuesday, May 19th (Day Nine)

The vacation comes to a close. By 11:30 a.m., we are heading to the airport. Fortunately we have a few minutes to play around in the morning. We enjoy a final visit to Grandma and Grandpa's backyard, where Edison and Peter enjoy swinging on the swings and jumping (with some help) on the trampoline.

Peter is thrilled to be in the swing!

A gleeful Edison swinging away.

Slowing things down.

Eddie jumps on the trampoline with his two favorite people.

And that's that. The plane ride back to Tallahassee was a bit more challenging than the ride out, but it felt shorter, which was nice. I assume it's at least partially because the longer of our two flights came first. This seems to help immensely. Even still, I'm glad we're yet again done with plane travel for another year or so. Here's to Utah 2010....

Friday, May 22, 2009

Utah 2009 (Part One)

The fam and I are now back in Tallahassee, our trip to Utah having come to an end. It was a great experience. Unlike the feelings I expressed in December, I am already looking forward to our next visit to Utah—bearing in mind that we now plan to visit the Beehive State only in the late spring or during the summer. That made all the difference in the world with this trip. In fact, I forgot—or perhaps never even realized—just how beautiful a place Utah really is. This was the first time in at least a few years that I have been to Utah without it being covered in snow. It felt like an entirely different place, and I even found myself thinking, “Wow, I wouldn't mind living here again!” I know I felt the exact opposite of this when I visited in December, so these positive feelings should be taken with a grain of salt—no Salt Lake City-related pun intended. Still, I felt much fonder of Utah than I have in a long, long time.

Naturally, I thought I would chronicle our Utah adventures. Having returned to Florida and uploaded the pictures we took onto our computer hard drive, however, I am sad to learn we snapped far fewer photos than I had realized. Nevertheless, I’ll give a brief rundown of how we spent our time and supplement with photos where possible. For my ease as well as the reader’s, I will here present only the first half of our trip, sharing the rest of our Utah vacation in a subsequent and soon-to-follow post. Enjoy!

Monday, May 11th (Day One)

We arrive in Salt Lake City just a few minutes before midnight, or 2 a.m. on our biological clocks, which are still set to Eastern Time. The kids did a decent job sleeping on the plane, so the hubbub of the airport is enough to stir them up into full-blown wakefulness. We will not be asleep until at least three hours later, thereby obliterating any sort of schedule to which we are used to adhering. Ultimately, this will prove profitable for adapting to the two-hour time shift. During the trip, we generally found ourselves sleeping until almost 8 a.m. Mountain Time, a fantastic feat even if it had been Eastern Time. As is customary, my family stays at Melanie’s parents’ house in Sandy, a suburb located about 15 minutes south of Salt Lake.

Tuesday, May 12th

After a surprisingly restful night in new beds and new surroundings, Melanie and I head to my parents’ house to visit my little sister on her 21st birthday. On the way, we stop at Taco Time, which as a fast-food Mexican restaurant remains unrivaled in my book. The nearest Taco Time location to Tallahassee is in Goshen, Indiana, approximately 766 miles away, whereas the nearest location to Melanie’s parents’ house is just a few blocks away. Sadly, the hard shell tacos don’t live up to my fond memories, seeming light on both meat and seasoning—perhaps a fluke, but disappointing nonetheless. The disappointment then continues: Melanie and I had expected to meet our new niece, Rayne, who had come into the world less than a week earlier and was supposedly staying (along with my sister / her mother) at my parents’ house. Turns out there was a change of plans, and so we had to take a Raynecheck on that one. (Ha!) Still, it was nice to visit with Mother and Khrys, and Eddie even got comfortable enough with my mom to play around with her and sing her various tunes (such as Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”)

Wednesday, May 13th

Melanie has plans to visit with a couple of Utah friends during the morning hours, so I take off and visit my sister JoAnna and meet Rayne all by my dang self. Rayne is adorable, though somehow I manage never to take a picture of her during our entire visit! Don’t ask me what I was thinking—apparently I wasn’t. The initial visit with JoAnna and Rayne is sweet but short, and I head back to pick up Melanie so we can return to her parents’ house and meet with her maternal grandmother, who is set to arrive shortly. After visiting with the elderly for a couple of hours, we take off for Bountiful, a city located about ten to fifteen minutes north of downtown Salt Lake City. Upon arrival in Bountiful, we head to our favorite of all Chinese restaurants, China Star. We are the only ones in the establishment, and the food is perfect. Delicious, and a great value to boot—we got two combination platters and two drinks for less than it cost us to get subpar Chinese take-out without beverages here in Tally. Fortunately, I was wise enough to capture some photos of this important event.
Welcome to China Star!

Peter checks out his surroundings. Notice the empty dining room.

Clockwise from Bottom Left: Ham Fried Rice, General Tao's Chicken, Crab Rangoon, Egg Roll, and Fantail Shrimp. All this plus a bowl of soup for less than $10!

Eddie enjoys the large fish housed in the fish tank in the entryway of China Star

After stuffing ourselves on both sesame and General Tao’s chicken, we drive up the hillside to the Bountiful Temple, where Melanie and I got married in the fall of 2005. Eddie loves running around the building and playing on all the steps, ledges, etc. The landscaping is gorgeous. We get a few more photos and eventually head back “home” for the night, stopping at the Utah-based fast-food chain Arctic Circle to pick up a couple of raspberry cheesecake shakes. It gives us something to snack on as we arrive at Melanie’s parents’ and realize we don’t have a key to get inside and nobody is home.

Thursday, May 14th

Melanie’s brother, Mark, is scheduled to get married the next afternoon. Before that happens, he wants us to come see the house he and his then fiancée purchased a few weeks earlier. Serendipitously, my sister, JoAnna, and her baby, Rayne, live only a couple of blocks from Mark’s new home. We decide to visit them back to back. On the way to visit JoAnna and Rayne, we stop by 7-Eleven, which is also absent from the Tallahassee scene, and pick up some snacks that, in my experience, are unique to Utah 7-Elevens—most notably chocolate frosted chocolate cake donuts. We then visit JoAnna, and Melanie, Edison, and Peter have the chance to meet Rayne (and the various dogs living with her) for the first time. I again neglect to take any photos. We then head to Mark’s new house, which is a beauty, and Peter climbs stairs for the first time in his life. Having consumed a Mountain Dew Big Gulp and a bottle of water within a two hour timeframe, I have several opportunities to check out Mark’s guest bathroom.

On our way back to Melanie’s parents’, we stop at Sconecutter, a Utah-based scone sandwich shop with a surprisingly risqué (by Utah’s standards) slogan—“everybody get sconed.” And did we ever. Not only did we enjoy scones topped with turkey, avocados, sprouts, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, etc., but we also indulged in scones slathered in melted honey-butter and sprinkled in cinnamon. Yum.

For Thursday night, I was scheduled to meet with some of my own Utah friends. Some ill-planning and poor communication on my part led to some misunderstandings, and not everyone was available to get together at the same time. Graciously, our good friends Chad and Crystal (and their two boys) offered to drive all the way from their home in Bountiful to Sandy and meet with my family at Maggie Moo’s for ice cream. Ice cream fills our bellies and stains our shirts, then I take Melanie and the kids back “home,” and then I head out to meet another good friend who lives on the west side of Salt Lake City and had work commitments until 9 p.m. I meet him at his house, meet his wife (whom I’ve never met), and also meet up with another friend I haven’t seen in years. All of us head to Red Iguana, one of the best Mexican restaurants I know of (though I prefer the downtown version, Blue Iguana, whose food and ambience varies slightly—regardless, both restaurants have photos of celebrities, from Carlos Santana to Britney Spears, hanging on the walls and singing the respective restaurant’s praises). Sadly, I am too full from my earlier gorging to order any food, but I do enjoy a few bites at the generous insistence of my friends. I stay out until 2 a.m. (4 a.m. Eastern!) laughing harder than I have in quite some time.

Friday, May 15th

Wedding day. Having pushed the kids enough for a few days, we let them spend the first part of the day taking it easy and playing around. In the afternoon, we head to The Woods on Ninth and enjoy watching Mark and Trina enter into matrimony. I get choked up when I see how emotional Mark gets as he takes his vows. He is a gentle and incredibly caring person, and this is the happiest I have probably ever seen him. It’s neat to be there. Traditional wedding day activities follow—dinner, cake, dancing, etc. I spend a bit more time chasing Eddie around the reception center than I’d prefer, yet I manage to snap a few worthwhile photos while on the scene. I'll share just two of them here.

To be continued…

Friday, May 15, 2009

Update from Utah

Melanie, Edison, Peter, and I have been in Utah since Monday night. Our time here is halfway done. It's going quickly. In an hour or so, we'll be on our way to Melanie's brother's wedding. That's the main reason we're here, but it's been perfect timing for us. My older sister had her first baby last week, my younger sister turned 21 the day after we arrived, and best of all, there's no snow to deal with at this time of year. It's been great. In fact, things have gone magnificently well—better than they ever have. Melanie and I are sold on visiting Utah during the spring/summer rather than during the winter, despite the fact that all the major holidays take place in winter. It's just so much easier not having to drive through the snow, put on fifteen layers of clothes and coats, etc. This actually feels like a vacation. It's great.

Last night, I had the privilege of seeing a handful of friends that I care greatly about. One of them I haven't seen in years, but I have a special softness in my heart for him. Living on the other side of the country, I miss out on a lot of events and don't get to hear many of the day-to-day things these people are doing. One of my friends got married in February, and I was just now able to meet the woman he married. One of my friends recently bought a house and has been working to fix it up. I got to hear a bit about that. One of my friends spent time living in L.A. and going through drug and alcohol rehab. That makes for some interesting tales. Not just because of the rehab, but because of L.A. itself—hobos who nearly race their shopping carts into oncoming traffic, transvestite crack-whores inadvertently flashing everyone on the bus, etc. Fascinating stuff, though sometimes I think it's good I hear about these things only occasionally.

Still on the agenda—Melanie and I hope to take Eddie and Peter to their first baseball game, to an aquarium, and to the admittedly awesome downtown public library. And, of course, we still have a few local eateries to revisit. We've done fairly well so far. In fact, I've been eating a bit too much since I've been here and I find myself frequently feeling quite stuffed. On the plus side, we've finally had some good Chinese food again. Thanks, Utah!

Pictures and more to come within the following week...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Chili’s Not So Hot Anymore

A few years ago, I would have told you that Chili’s was my favorite restaurant. Not because they had a ton of menu items that I loved, and not because I ate there very often, but because I did know and love a few select menu items and because their restaurant style was right up my alley—a good place to unwind but not too sedate, an almost pub-like atmosphere (and menu) and yet a bit more wholesome and family-friendly.

A few months ago, Melanie and I went to Chili’s for the first time in quite a while. My heart was set on the Ground Peppercorn Burger, which is what I ordered almost anytime I went to Chili’s. I was excited and giddy, looking forward to a peppercorn-crusted burger topped with pickles, lettuce, tomato, bacon, onion straws, and bleu cheese dressing—a to-die for concoction. But to my utter dismay, Chili’s had revamped their menu and discontinued the burger I so treasured. I was shocked and saddened. I tried one of their other, new-to-the-menu gourmet burgers, and while it wasn’t all that bad, it wasn’t anything nearly so special. It was a disappointing visit to Chili’s.

Yesterday, I loaded up my family in the car and headed to campus to turn in some exams I had graded, thereby completing all of my responsibilities for the academic year. To celebrate the end of the semester, we thought we’d grab lunch at the Chili’s on campus, which would also provide me the opportunity to show Melanie, Eddie, and Peter around my school a bit more. I knew I couldn’t get the Ground Peppercorn Burger, but I have always been a fan of Chili’s country fried steak as well, so I figured that would serve as my lunchtime entrée. Upon arriving at the campus Chili’s, we learned that because it was between semesters, it and every other campus eatery (save Einstein Bros.) was closed. With our minds set on Chili’s, we decided to head back to the car and drive the couple of miles it would take to get to another nearby Chili’s, and so soon enough, we were seated in a Chili’s with a menu before us.

Without perusing the menu in any detail, Melanie and I decided to order an Awesome Blossom, an aptly named appetizer of onion petals coated in a mildly spicy batter, fried, and served with a tangy, mildly spicy dip. We informed our waitress that we would like an Awesome Blossom, and she told us that Chili’s no longer has the Awesome Blossom, though we could try the vaguely reminiscent onion and jalapeño stack if we would like. Once again, I was truly shocked. Even more so than with the Ground Peppercorn Burger. No Awesome Blossom!?!? Was that not a staple in the Chili’s menu!? Apparently not, but for some reason, I thought the Awesome Blossom was to Chili’s appetizer menu what the Big Mac is to McDonald’s menu. I never would have dreamed it would disappear. What the @*%# was going on? I’m sure Chili’s invested a lot of time and money into researching the potential impact of a menu overhaul, but I can’t believe that my two most favorite menu items failed to make the cut. I’m absolutely astonished.

Melanie and I ordered some fancy nachos in lieu of the Awesome Blossom. They were quite good, I admit, but I wanted the Blossom. I also ordered the country fried steak, which survived the menu changes. It was decent, but somehow didn’t seem up to par. The mashed potatoes that accompanied my meal were full of those dark brown “balls” that are sometimes found in potatoes but should be discarded by any decent chef/cook. Neither the potatoes nor the corn on the cob were anything beyond lukewarm. It was a disheartening experience. Granted, the problems with my entrée may be attributed to this particular Chili’s, or even the particular chef working that day. But on top of everything else, these imperfections just seemed like additional nails in Chili’s casket.

My beloved Chili’s is no more.