Wednesday, October 3, 2012

BLT With Chips--I Mean, AS Chips

Before I set out for my semi-usual lunchtime tromp through the woods surrounding my office, I decided to grab a tasty beverage for the trek. At the beverage vending machine, I contemplated for a moment and squinted at the bottom row to read the necessary numbers to punch in--but who am I kidding? I've had so much Coca-Cola from that specific purveyor of sugar water that I know without even looking: E1, E2, or E3 will summon forth the desired soft drink.

Turning to leave the kitchen area, something in the snack machine caught my eye. Surprisingly, it was in the upper half of the machine, in the rows reserved for chips and chiplike selections. I almost never opt for chips when I cave in to my snack cravings, but this particular bag looked like something I hadn't seen before. It was a bag of Lay's potato chips, boasting a flavor I wasn't even aware existed in chip form: "Classic BLT".

I enjoy a nice BLT very much. Even more so these days, since I've lightened up on my distaste for tomatoes. (A manager at the Bakers Square where I used to wait tables always made fun of my "BLs".) So these chips piqued my interest. I went back to my cubicle for 90 cents, purchased the chips, and put them on my desk for later.

While I took my walk and read for an hour, I forgot all about the chips. But just a short while ago when I returned, there was the bag with its picture of a fairly tasty-looking BLT. Even though it's a little early for my afternoon snack, I decided to give the chips a try.

My first crunch into the chip surprised me. It did, in fact, taste like a BLT! I don't know that I could discern the specific components: bacon, tomato--I'm not even sure how I would pick up on a lettuce taste in a chip. But was that a hint of mayo? Hm.

A few chips later, I wondered if it really did taste like a BLT, or if it tasted like I expected it to taste. I do think there was a little sensory bias involved, since the photo of an actual BLT was right on the bag. Had someone given me the chip to taste without telling me the advertised flavor, would I have guessed BLT? I don't think so. I would probably have struggled to pinpoint what I was tasting, even as I was enjoying the taste. Then when that person said, "BLT," I probably would have thunk a moment and then admitted, "Yeah, I think that's it!"

It's probably more accurate to say that the chips evoke a BLT. Any closer to an actual BLT taste, and I'd probably just be left hungry for a BLT (which, honestly, I probably won't make for myself).

So, my verdict on Lay's Classic BLT chips: tasty. I don't think I'll get them every time I see them, and I can't tell if eating them with an actual BLT would be redundant and diminish the experience. But I can definitely see picking these up, along with good old E3, and munching happily away every now and then.

Friday, July 27, 2012

"Hobbits. HOBBITS!"

I was in downtown Iowa City, walking to my car after visiting a local merchant. (The comic book guy, if you must know.) I was wearing my t-shirt that proclaims, "Hobbits are Tolkien Minorities". Every now and then, I get a smile and a comment from someone who actually understands and appreciates the reference.

On this day, however, I got a comment from a college student-looking guy on a bike, and he may or may not have been a little buzzed. Or perhaps baked. First, he said, "Hobbits." His tone was something like, "Hey, cool t-shirt. I understand and appreciate the reference."

But then he followed it up with the same word, spoken louder and more urgently: "HOBBITS!" It sounded this time like he was pointing me out to an unseen pursuer as if to say, "I've found them; here they are!"

For the rest of the trip home, I kept a sharp eye peeled for Uruk-hai.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dead Hands

Apologies to my lovely wife for waking her up early with my cellphone alarm on the first summer weekday that she doesn't have to get up at a certain time to take our daughter to swim class.

It's wicked hard to manipulate alarm buttons on your phone when both hands have "fallen asleep" while you were asleep. It's also completely disorienting and a little bit frightening.

I almost said it was disarming, but I didn't. You're welcome.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Now You're Playing With Power

Someone you and I both know may or may not have iTunesed "Huey Lewis & The News: Greatest Hits". He then may or may not have proceeded to listen to "The Power of Love" five times in a row. Whether he did or not, it was totally awesome.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Superhero No More

April 30, 2012. I'd never thought I'd be able to specifically pinpoint the (hopefully distant) future point at which I ceased to be everything in my little girl's eyes. But today, I broke something.

Don't get me wrong--I know she still loves me, and I also know that she knows I love her with all my heart. But I managed to disappoint her in a way I have thus far been able to avoid.

Her 2nd grade class is going to a local park/nature preserve tomorrow. Each 2nd grade class goes twice: once in the fall and again in the spring. A couple of years ago, Alex missed the fall trip due to illness but when his class went to the park in the spring, I was able to chaperon. This past fall, I went along with Cassie's class. I planned all along to skip the spring trip, since now I've made one trip with each child. For me, the day at the park gets really long, and to be honest, I'm not at my best with a group of kids; I just don't have that kind of innate patience. I thought Cassie had known I wasn't going all along. At least, I thought that when I said I'd join her class on their last two visits to the senior home this year, that I also mentioned that I wasn't signing up for the upcoming park trip.

At dinner tonight, she made some comment like, "Don't forget tomorrow!" I had a sneaking suspicion what she meant, so I asked, "What about tomorrow?" "It's the trip to the park, silly!" I asked, "Who's going to the park?" with a sense of dread. I knew where she was going with this. "You and me, Daddy."

I started to explain, "I thought you knew I wasn't going on this trip, sweetie." She looked at me with a smile and said, "Are you joking again?" To be fair, I joke with my kids a lot; they've learned to be skeptical.

"No, I'm really not," I started, trying to think what I could say to ease the blow. As she looked at me, I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. I asked if I made her sad, and she looked away and said into her sandwich, "A little." She was trying to be brave and hide how it made her feel, but the way her voice broke simply killed me.

I've made her cry before, usually for getting upset at the way she and her brother sometimes fight, or for some mess or other that she was responsible for. But the disappointment I instilled upon her tonight crushed me to an extent that losing my cool in front of the kids hasn't before.

I think today was the day I made her grow up a little and start to realize that I'm just a regular person.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Your Timer Has Expired

One of my kids is addicted to YouTube. Specifically, to videos people make of themselves playing a video game (was: anything in the Mario oeuvre; now: Minecraft). Left to his own devices, Alex would watch these for six hours straight--possibly, although not definitely, including pee breaks.

We have struggled with how to limit/monitor his time in this activityless activity. At one point, we gave him a set amount of tokens per week for video game/computer time. We made him put a kitchen timer next to the computer to tell him when thirty minutes was up. I installed on his computer a little application I created that is a simple timer, but one that can be made to stay on top of other windows AND that continues counting after the timer expires, so we would know how many minutes he went over his allotted time.

All of these things were intended to get right in his face and make it as obvious as possible when his time was up. Nevertheless, he still conveniently "forgot" to stop watching videos when the timer expired. Sometimes he felt justified in watching "just the last two minutes of this video I started", but other times, he simply clicked through to the next video in a series. When we called him on it, he got mad at himself for being irresponsible and disappointing us, but then the same thing would happen the very next time we allowed him computer time.

I industriously returned to my simple timer program and made some modifications and additions. Now when the timer expires, a window pops up that fills the entire screen. This window can only be dismissed with a password that Alex doesn't have. The intent of this is to force him to come to us if he wants more time.

This worked exactly as planned. For a day.

I partially blame myself (but only a small amount), because I got a little lazy yesterday. I unlocked his screen after the first half hour and said he could have one more half hour. Then he came downstairs again and said the timer was done but he had 10 minutes left on the last video. I didn't really want to go back upstairs for a third time to unlock the screen when his video finished, so I didn't make him reset the timer for those 10 minutes. That was a mistake. Sometime well after those 10 minutes had passed, I went back upstairs. Alex was still happily watching his computer.

I can't even describe how disappointed I felt. Alex is a very responsible kid in many respects, but he has this one blind spot when it comes to watching YouTube. It's like all sense of responsibility completely vanishes. I don't think he does it maliciously, and I don't even think he does it because he thinks he can sneak one by us. He so loses track of time and the world around him, that it doesn't even occur to him to turn off the computer.

I have taken away the computer for at least a day. I've learned not to set the punishment time at the moment of transgression, because my knee jerk reaction is often pretty harsh. Whenever he gets his YouTube time back, I guess we'll still try the timed lockout solution, but I guess we've proven that, at least for now, he simply can't police his own time even a little.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Random Seed of Self-Discontent

WTF is wrong with me? How can I look at my wife, my daughter, and my son and not be inspired to be a better person? Even more than before, I feel myself getting distracted and eroded by the mundane details of everyday life.

Something has to change. Now.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Daddy/Daughter Photo

I finally took a few minutes to scan the photo Cassandra and I had taken at the Sweetheart Dance in February. Cassandra is always much more lively in her candid photos, but she still looks lovely here--if a little too grown-up too soon for Daddy!

And I have to admit that this is one of the best pictures of me in a long time. Yep, that's as good as it gets, folks.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Instead of Going For It Twice In a Row

I was Googling around for some information on SAS's PROC REPORT when I ran across this example. It used a typical sample data set, with variables such as name, age, etc. At one point, the paper discussed grouping by a variable such as gender, and helpfully provided the code:


You can't tell me that was unintentional.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I Finally Bought Some Big Boy Clothes

The local Girl Scout Council was holding a Sweetheart Dance, also known as a Daddy/Daughter Dance. Cassandra wanted to go this year, so I talked myself into it.

The poster said "semi-formal", which is pretty-close-but-not-quite-the-exact opposite of how I dress now. I have a few pairs of black pants, a couple of button-down shirts (I wouldn't even call them "dress shirts"), a drawer full of sweaters that are slightly younger than my children, and a Santa Claus tie. I forgot that I also had a lone suit in my closet that had gone neglected for so long it was practically a blind spot in there, but it's just as well that I had--when I tried it on later, my waistline said, "Yeah, forget about it."

I decided I needed to buy some new clothes for the event. This was momentous because I am not a good clothes shopper. I usually get frustrated and angerbuy a few shirts on my way out of the store, and then I don't venture out clothes shopping again for at least 6 months.

I was thinking of getting an entire suit, or at least a blazer. I wasn't sure what would be worse: if I were left to my own devices, or if I went somewhere with salespeople to help dress me. I ended up at Kohl's, for no reason other than it seemed as good a place as any to start.

I spent probably an hour trying on various coats and suits, slacks and a few shirts. I surprised myself with how much I ended up getting, but in the back of my head I was thinking, "If I bring home a few choices, maybe at least one will end up looking presentable." I had a pretty good haul for just under $500: 3 suit coats/sports jackets, 3 pairs of pants, 3 dress shirt/tie combos (a godsend for someone like me who would panic at having to select both a shirt AND the tie to go with it), a pair of dress shoes, a few undershirts, and a wool coat. I figured at 41, I should stop being okay with the winter-jacket-over-suit-coat look that seemed fairly reasonable when I was 25.

$500 seems to me like a large amount of clothes to purchase at one time, even though I know real, actual grown-ups might not even blink at that. And, hey--if I believe the Kohl's propaganda they print on their receipt, I SAVED $900! I'm a little bummed they didn't make me feel really good about my purchase by arbitrarily making the "original" price 2 or 3 times higher, so I could have saved even more.

So now I have a few more outfits in my closet that will help me not dress like an eternal twentysomething. I just have to remember to take them out and put them on once in a while.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


"Are you here today for a birthday or special occasion?" asked the cheerful Build-A-Bear employee as she led us to the giant blowy stuffing machine.


Cassandra has had a slight eye turn problem for the past couple of years. It's not at all noticeable just by looking at her. We only see it when we bring a pencil slowly towards her nose, the way someone learns to cross their eyes. At a certain point close to her nose, one or both eyes give up and shoot in the opposite direction. This could be a horrible hindrance to her future, severely limiting her opportunities in the pencil-staring industry.

Actually, it could cause problems with her reading ability, if gone unchecked. Something to do with her eyes converging on the page. So we have her in vision therapy, doing eye exercises on the computer. It was supposed to be weekly, and now we're back to four times a week. With homework, dance, gymnastics, and play dates there's never a good time to do these exercises. Therefore, it has become quite a struggle to get her to put much effort into them at all. (I have to admit that it's my wife bearing the lion's share of this burden.)

In an effort to keep Cassandra interested, we've turned to the tried-and-true parenting technique of bribery. She'd been asking for another trip to Build-A-Bear Workshop for a while, and I wondered if letting her pick out six or seven outfits along with a new friend would give her weekly incentives to do her eye exercises without complaining. A few weekends ago, we went and picked out a koala Cassandra had seen in the catalogue and accessorized with a box full of outfits. KiKi (inexplicably pronounced "kay-kay") was the reward for that first week of exercises, and she has since earned KiKi's glasses.

We weren't sure what to do about Alex. If he got a bear not as a reward but just as a gift, would that diminish Cassandra's incentive? If he didn't get one, would it be punishing him for not having to do eye exercises? We really didn't have any comparable task or behavior-change for him to achieve. I was also wondering, would he even want one--is he too old for this now? (I don't think so, but then I was the guy with stuffed Chip 'N Dale dolls in my college dorm room.)

Things actually worked out about as well as we could have hoped. Alex was interested in getting a new friend and a single outfit, and Cassandra didn't say anything about it being unfair that he got a bear without having to "earn" it. Alex doesn't play with Donou (the bear comes with a doughnut, as well as sprinkles on his ears and nose) as much as Cassandra plays with her animals, but he still likes having him around.

My children are growing up quickly, but in this era where it seems everything is pushing them to mature more quickly than ever, it's nice to see that there's still "kid" in them, yet.

And this was way cheaper than American Girl would've been.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Am a Character

There was a point this afternoon, when I was shoving Peanut Butter M&M's in my face and washing them down with a Coke, that I became suspicious that I was an incidental character in some romantic comedy. I quickly looked around for the two attractive women watching me across the room, trading observations such as, "That's what happens when they get married. Is that what we're trying so hard to get to?"

I didn't find them, but I'm pretty sure they were there somewhere.

The Lunch Date and the Nearly Broken Promise

Two weeks ago, I used my lunch hour to drop off a too-large-for-the-bus art project at school and stayed to have lunch with Cassandra in the school cafeteria. I asked Alex what day in the next week he'd like me to have lunch with him, and we decided on Friday.

Last Friday, I was running errands over the lunch hour with absolutely no memory of making that lunch date until it hit me out of the blue. Unfortunately, I don't have a brain that alerts me before I'm going to miss something. No, my brain alarm goes off when "HOLY CRAP YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE SOMEWHERE ELSE RIGHT NOW". That's useful.

Sometimes that alarm means a mad dash (and questionable driving etiquette) to get somewhere only fifteen or twenty minutes late. In this case, though, that wasn't an option. The kids get only about half an hour to eat lunch before they're ushered outside, and I was across town. I probably wouldn't have even made it to the lunchroom before Alex went outside.

So I spent the rest of my afternoon feeling pathetic, and apologized to Alex when I got home that night. I had considered stopping at Subway to take home the cookie he was looking forward to sharing with me at lunch, but I knew that Friday dinners are usually eaten at restaurants with ice cream or shakes as dessert. It turned out just as well that I decided not to, since he had a special presentation in one of his classes that included a couple of snacks for the kids attending.

This Tuesday, I asked Alex which day I should come to lunch, and he said Wednesday. Part of me wondered if that was so that if I screwed up again, I'd have two more opportunities to try again.

I made a note on my Google calendar, put a Post-It note in my bag with my wallet and keys, and wrote a reminder on my cubicle white board. I couldn't blow this again.

Today when I got to school with my standard lunch-date bag of Subway, I waited for Alex's class to come downstairs for lunch. I had made sure to ask him this morning which set of stairs they use, and I wanted to be there plenty early so I wouldn't have to try to find him in the crowded cafeteria. Especially these days, when individual kids are obscured in a blurry sea of winter coats and hats.

Alex was second in line when his class came downstairs, and he was rubbing his eye. As I said hi and fell in step beside him, he leaned his head into my side in a way I understood to mean he was a little upset about something. I imagined it was something that hadn't gone his way this morning, or some interaction with a classmate had upset him. He wasn't crying, but I could tell something was bothering him enough to make him hold back the tears. I planned to ask him if he felt like talking about it as soon as we sat down, or if he wanted to wait until tonight so it wouldn't be in front of his classmates.

As we found our table, he told me what was bothering him: "I thought you weren't coming again." I felt like I been punched in the stomach; I had no idea that I was what he had been sad about.

Because I hadn't said specifically where I would meet him, he thought I'd be outside his room. I usually wait somewhere between their classrooms and the cafeteria, and I thought the foot of the stairs right in front of the cafeteria entrance made sense. So it was really just a simple misunderstanding, and one that didn't even last that long. It can't have been more than five minutes from getting their winter gear on and lining back up upstairs to the time they came down, but I can't imagine what he was thinking for those five minutes.

I know there will always be times when I make my children angry with me, whether it's for insisting they pick up their mess, help with a chore, turn off the TV, or finish their video game time. But I honestly didn't expect to cause them such disappointment. Not at this age, anyway. Perhaps when they're teenagers and realize I'm not Superman, but not now.

Even though today's lunch worked out and Alex seemed to get over things quickly enough, now I can't stop wondering what he was feeling last week as it dawned on him, "Daddy's really not coming today."

Parenting is hard. Especially when you're not Superman.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Holiday wrap-up

The holidays are over, and you'd sort of know it from looking at my house. I took advantage of the weirdly temperate weather and took down the outside lights before it snowed on them even once (I put them up after our one-and-only dusting of less than an inch.) However, the inside decorations are all still up. It wouldn't surprise me if we spend Valentine's Day taking down the Christmas tree.

We had a pretty good time over the holidays: Annette's parents came over for Christmas Day, we traveled to Illinois to see my family, and we took a trip to Dubuque to see the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium's Polar Express 4-D 15 minute movie.(The fourth D is that they fill the room with steam whenever the train is on-screen, and you occasionally get water sprayed on you to simulate snow.) The kids seemed to enjoy it, and we spent a couple more hours visiting the museum exhibits.
New Year's Eve was extremely low-key. Cassandra had her first slumber party without Mom (they attended a Brownie sleepover a few weeks before) and seemed to have a good time. I have to admit that it felt odd to not have the entire family home, but I guess it only becomes more of the same from here on out. Annette, Alex, and I did the countdown and shared a family hug at midnight. We did have to pull Alex from his video game, but that's not an uncommon thing around here.

Next year, I think I need to take the week before Christmas off, instead of the days between Christmas and New Year's Day. Even knowing that I often feel that Christmas whizzes by and trying to take steps to slow things down this year, it was over before I knew it. Maybe heading into Christmas with an entire week with no work will let me enjoy the season more. I felt a real sense of disappointment the few days after Christmas with how soon it was over. Didn't this season used to stretch on forever when I was a kid?