The Sleep

We had it made for a while.  Although the boy didn't sleep through the night until he was about eight months old, the girl surprised us by starting after only three months.  So outside of the occasional illness or random awakening, most nights in our household have been fairly restful for the last couple of years.  Unfortunately as of late, the girl has been acting like a newborn, fussing at bedtime and often waking up a couple of times in the middle of the night.  And I'm pretty sure I have only myself to blame.

It started with an innocent trip to Target.  While walking past the DVD aisle, one happened to catch my eye - Ultraman: Series 1, Volume 1!!  For those of you not familiar with the show, it was produced in Japan in the 60's and featured the superhero Ultraman, who on a weekly basis battled monsters (such as Ragon and Gabora) terrorizing the citizens of Japan.  The show was made a whole decade after the original Godzilla (1954), but the special effects were still just as bad.  Regardless, I watched reruns as a kid and LOVED it.  So upon seeing the $5 DVD thirty-something years later, I had to buy it for the boy.  Although I wasn't sure if he too would love it or alternatively think it was terribly boring and outdated.  It turns out he loves it, as does the girl (ergo the problem).

Since making the video purchase, there has been pretty much non-stop discussion of Ultraman and monsters by both the boy and the girl.  The girl can even sing part of the theme song (as a matter of fact, she heard me testing the link just now and immediately ran over and asked "Is that Ultraman?!").  However, as much fun as the kids have during the day watching the show and pretending to chase and be chased around the house by monsters, at night it's a different story.  At first the girl started whining when being put to bed.  I say "Goodnight, Girl." and she happily responds "Goodnight, Dad. See you in the morning."  And after taking not three steps outside of her room, she begins whimpering.  So after heading back into the room, she says any of the following:
  • "I need a tissue."
  • "I need Bunny." (her favorite doll/blanket thing)
  • "Cover me please." (after kicking off the covers)
  • "Please sit in the chair and sing a song."
  • "Were soy bean futures down today?"
Unfortunately there isn't much I can do against the stall tactics, since I don't want the boy's sleep to be affected if I just let her cry.  So after much negotiating, I usually end up getting a tissue, singing a couple more songs in the chair, placing her back in the crib, covering her up all cozy-like, and checking the commodities exchange on the internet.  Then I try to leave, but after taking not three steps outside of her room, she begins whimpering again.  Sometimes I make it downstairs and then hear her on the monitor.  This goes on for up to an hour before she finally falls asleep (only to wake up at 2:00 a.m. and need to be kept company for 20 minutes before going back to sleep).

I'm certain this is all because of the monsters on the Ultraman show.  The girl is scared.  She points out shadows on the wall, asks about the causes of various noises in the house, and recently requested that her door be left open and the hall light left on.  As much as I resisted, I finally gave in and let her sleep with the door open and the light on.  Now she'll only sleep if I leave the door open and light on.  So I typically go into her room at 11:00 or midnight (whenever I happen to go to bed) to turn off the light.  Unfortunately she often wakes up later, sees that the light is off, and as a result, goes nuts and wakes me up.  Sigh...

Update:  I started this post a few weeks ago and am finally taking the time to finish it.  Thankfully, the girl is sleeping MUCH better now.  I did a couple of things to (I think - fingers crossed) resolve the issue.  First and foremost, Ultraman was banned from the house!  This didn't make the boy too happy, and I'm sure we'll let him watch on his own again soon, but it was just too much for the girl to handle.  Second, instead of putting the girl in her crib at bedtime, she goes straight to the double bed in her room (which also currently serves as our guest bedroom when visitors are in town).  Either the wife or I would end up in bed with the girl almost every night anyway, so I figured it would be better to just start her out there in the first place.  Finally, I bought a nightlight (Buzz Lightyear, at her request).  Now instead of 100 Watts of white light blazing all night, a tiny LED bulb provides enough illumination to confirm that no monsters are lurking in the room.

So the dread of ongoing sleepless nights has now mainly passed (don't jinx it - knock on wood).  During the first night in which the girl didn't give us trouble, there was a nice cool breeze outside and we decided to leave the windows open.  Of course I was awakened around 2:30 a.m. when a friggin' flock of Canadian geese flew by honking like crazy on their migration southward.  I was so pissed, but had I to laugh at the same time.


For my previously blogged-about birthday, my in-laws gave me a large selection of various California micro brews.  So in addition to the (seems like) barrels of wine we consumed last month, we did our best on the suds as well.  Among the beers gifted to me were those produced by The Lagunita Brewing Company, Bear Republic Brewing Company, Moylan's Brewing Company, and Anderson Valley Brewing Company.  I've forgotten which ones we drank while still in CA (along with almost everything else we did out there as well), but the remaining bottles are various styles of ale, all very hoppy and flavorful and nice to drink on autumn Saturday afternoons while watching college football.  My birthday celebration continues as I enjoy the few remaining brewskis.  Thanks BIL and SIL!

Bottoms Up!

The 40th Birthday

I turn 40 at the end of the week, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.  Up until now I haven't really felt much, certainly nothing like a mid-life crisis.  So maybe it's time for some soulful introspection.  Lots of my friends recently hit this milestone (or are about to), and there has been much discussion and many birthday wishes posted on various Facebook pages.  It sounds like a big number.  I'm probably supposed to feel old (or at least older).  But things are pretty much the same as they've been for as long as I can remember.  My knee aches on occasion, but I can still hit a golf ball and still remember my home phone number.

I recall sitting in a locker room getting ready for one of my hockey games when I was 12 or 13.  Prince's song "1999" was playing on the boom box.  Don't ask me why we were listening to Prince - typically it was Ozzy or J. Geils.  It must have been on Casey Kasem's American Top 40.  Or maybe someone's sister left her tape in there the day before.  Anyway, I was thinking that the year 1999 sounded so far off.  I would be almost 30!  I would have a job.  I would probably be married and have kids, although at the age of 12 the thought of actually finding someone to marry was inconceivable (as it would still be at 28).  However, the chance of any of these things coming to fruition seemed infinitely remote as I was certain we would all be annihilated during World War III based on predictions made in that movie about Nostradamus that scared the shit out of me.

So here I find myself some 27 years displaced from that locker room scene, with the year 1999 more than a decade in the rearview mirror.  Time really does fly.  My 20th high school reunion was 2 years ago!  My parents are both retired.  I don't get asked to show my identification when ordering a drink at a bar (not very often anyway).  Surprisingly I did end up getting a job, got married, and had a couple of kids.  And even more astoundingly, the nuclear holocaust didn't happen (yet) - stinkin' Nostradamus.

To celebrate my birthday, the wife and I are heading to California sans kids.  We'll spend a few days in San Francisco and then a few more in Sonoma.  The trip will revolve around eating and drinking (it's pretty ridiculous, but I think we already know where we'll be having each meal), with some sightseeing on the side and plenty of time by the fire pit.  A San Francisco Giants game is also on the docket, as well as zip-lining in the Redwoods (Note to self: check insurance policy before going on trip).  And because I'm not a kid anymore, we'll be going on a wine tour instead of bar-hopping (thankfully I don't expect anyone to buy me Dirty Old Shoe shots like on my 21st birthday).

The question often comes up whether or not you would do things the same way if you could go back and start over.  Would you want to go through childhood again?  Pick a different college or job?  Live in a different city/country?  I was discussing this with friends last weekend, and it sounded strange to say out loud, but deep down (subconsciously/innately?) I've always felt like I'll experience high school again, or be 25 again, or whatever age (and no, I'm not Buddhist).  It's difficult to explain.  Obviously it's not true, and now that I'm getting a bit older I guess it's starting to sink in.  Therefore I'm going to try to better appreciate my day-to-day existence from now on and enjoy the present.  Don't get me wrong, I've had a great life and don't regret where I've been or where I'm going.  In the words of Twin Cities rapper Brother Ali, "I'm the luckiest son of a bitch who ever lived."

With all that said, it's time to go to the Chevy dealer to check out the new 'Vettes...


I've always thought the "fill-to" lines on German beer glasses are cool.  Although I've never really understood their purpose, I do have a few theories:
  • They're used to ensure a precise pour every time.
  • They serve as an alert for uncoordinated/drunk bartenders to signal when to stop filling the glass to avoid pouring beer over the rim.
  • In order to become more profitable, German beer companies have conspired to make people think the glasses hold more beer than they actually do by mislabeling them, e.g. a 0.25 liter glass only contains 0.20 liters of beer.
I have a feeling the conspiracy theory is correct.  During my time in Germany and Belgium I managed to "collect" 15-20 of these glasses, and they somehow ended up in my suitcase.  One of these years when we finally have a finished basement, I plan to have my own bar and will use the glasses to confuse guests regarding the amount they're drinking.  Using this tactic I foresee myself coming out ahead when I visit their homes and they reciprocate my hospitality, i.e. more beer for me.

Op Uw Gezondheid!

The T-Ball League

The boy's first t-ball season ended a couple weeks ago. Along with another dad, I "coached" his team. I've decided that a term other than "coach" should be used for adults who volunteer to manage sports teams comprised of 6-year old boys. I think "herder" or "huddler" or "goader" would be more appropriate. Anyway, our team was the Red Sox, and we had official-looking caps just like the major leaguers. When I played t-ball as a kid, we weren't lucky enough to have pro team names and caps. While we did have teams named Red Sox and White Sox, the league also was home to Blue Sox, Purple Sox, etc. My team was, no joke, the Maroon Sox. Maroon! The ironic thing is that our Red Sox t-shirts this season were, you guessed it, maroon.

We started practicing back in May. Due to the typically-unpredictable Minnesota springtime weather (cold and rainy days mixed in with hot and sweaty ones), we had to cancel a couple of practices. Turns out that was probably a good thing. While the other coach and I attempted to provide instruction and impart our knowledge of the game to the boys, the majority of the time we were lucky to simply hold their interest. For those of you who don't know or have forgotten how a pack of 6-year old boys behaves, their attention spans are about as long as the duration of a sneeze.  In my estimation, over the last 2 1/2 months I've said "Pay attention, Kid X.", "Quit playing in the dirt, Kid X!", "Wake up, Kid X!", and "Hey, Kid X!" about a million times.  Often times the boy was Kid X, and I'd holler at him from across the field as he seemingly could never get the infield surface sufficiently groomed to his liking.

As could be expected, the skill levels of the kids was all over the board. Most could hit the ball off the tee on day one, although I think one boy held on to the wrong end of the bat at first. A couple could throw pretty well. Not surprisingly, catching the ball was the major hurdle that plagued us throughout the season. I'm shocked that we made it through the entire schedule without anybody sustaining a black eye or bloody nose as a result of using their face to catch the ball instead of their glove.  Side note: I'm pretty sure that when I was 6 and played shortstop I could dive to catch a line drive, hop up quickly, and throw a seed to first base to double off the base runner (and the first baseman could catch too).  On second thought, I could just be remembering playing games of Intellivision baseball at a buddy's house when we were in middle school.

Despite any apprehensions we coaches had during the first practice, everything went quite smoothly and the season was over before we knew it.  We played 12 games or so, missing one week in the middle while on vacation.  At least for me, it really was a lot of fun, and I think the boys enjoyed the experience too.  They all improved in pretty much every aspect of the game, although I think it will be a couple seasons before they fully get the catching part down.  There were also many smiles, chuckles, and genuine laugh-out-loud moments.  Here's an assortment of things said to or overheard by me during the season:

When playing catch during practice - "Take it easy on me."

After being told by a player that he's thirsty and suggesting he take a drink from a teammate's water bottle (he forgot his own) - "Eeewwwww - germs!"

An opposing first baseman to our player standing on first base upon seeing who was next at bat - "Hey! Did you know that Hayden is on your team? That's so cool!"

"How much longer is the game?"

"How many more innings?"

"When do we get treats?"

"Who brought the treats?"

"Can I have another treat?"

"Let's dog pile on Coach Eric!"

Finally, when I said that it was the last game of the season - "Yay!!!"

Of course all the kids received trophies on the last night of play, despite not winning any games (nobody ever won as every player batted every inning and no scores were kept).  Not sure how I feel about that.  Yeah, they were really excited to get them, and the boy has been eagerly waiting to get his first trophy to begin his attempt to accumulate more than I did when I was a kid (36, count 'em Beyotches!).  I agree with those who say giving everybody trophies to make them all feel like winners is wrong, and I think it's a major contributor to the ongoing sissification of America.  Who wants to display a trophy that just says "Participant" on it anyway??  I guess it's one thing if you participated in an All-Star game or something, but in my opinion just showing up does not a trophy warrant (an ice cream cone or maybe an 8 1/2 by 11 certificate on the other hand...).  I say you should actually have to win something (or at least pay for it yourself) to get a trophy.  Whatever - the boy can put his trophy on the shelf, but as far as I'm concerned it doesn't count in his campaign to surpass my "accomplishments" as a youth.


I just figured out what I want to do for my next job.  For years I thought I'd write childrens' books or go back to school to become a chef or even an accountant.  Forget those ideas - I want to be a cicerone.  So what is a cicerone?  You're probably familiar with sommeliers, or wine experts.  Well, a cicerone is the beer version of a sommelier.  According to this website, there is actually a certification program one can study to become a Certified Cicerone or even a Master Cicerone.  I'm not sure what all is involved other than drinking (and probably serving) a lot of beer, and I don't know about potential job advantages for a Master Cicerone over a typical, everyday bartender, but it's worth looking into!

Cin Cin!

The Toys

There are way too many toys in our house.  They have taken over.  I don't know where they all came from, but our living room looks like Toys 'R Us.  Cars, trucks, trains, wooden blocks, plastic blocks, 3 types of Legos (duplo, quatro, and the regular ones), Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, musical instruments, remote control cars and helicoptors, board games, card games, puzzles, bowling pins, light sabers, dolls, balls, spinning tops, fake (and sometimes real) fruit, army men, whistles, kazoos, plastic animals, stuffed animals (including Pablo, Tyrone, Tasha, Austin, and Uniqua).  And the list goes on.  By the way, other than a Tonka truck I bought the boy when he was about 2 years old, a set of various Nerf balls, and the Tyrone doll I picked up for the girl last Friday, I don't believe I'm responsible for introducing any of these items into our home.

Over time as we have accumulated more and more toys, I've learned that it's not possible to maintain any semblance of order.  Every day it's the same story.  The North Mankato FAO Schwarz store, i.e. our living room, is clean and tidy in the morning with toys nicely nestled in the giant wicker basket we use as a toy box.  Puzzles and board games are neatly stacked in cabinets.  But over the course of the day, every single toy and game somehow ends up in a chaotic jumble on the floor.  Hungry Hungry Hippo marbles and Yatzee dice get lost all the time.  I have no idea where the Cootee ears end up.  Puzzle pieces get lost in couch cushions.  And don't get me started again on the tiny LEGO bricks buried in the carpeting.  So at the end of the day, in a mad rush to clean up before bedtime, I, the wife, the boy, and the girl all scramble to put everything in the appropriate box or container to be filed away until Hurricanes "The Boy" and "The Girl" strike again the next day.

Speaking of toys, why is it that 90% of all toys make some kind of sound or noise, including playing songs, reciting the alphabet, and mimicking the sounds of a garbage truck crushing trash at 120 decibels.  I'm convinced that all toys that produce sounds were developed either by a) evil people who don't have children and want their friends with children to suffer or b) grandparents seeking vengeance against their own children for all the suffering they endured years before.  And poor newborn babies - after being expelled from their warm, cozy, muffled cocoons, they're immediately given squawking stuffed animals and placed in bouncy chairs that play "It's A Small World" over and over and over.  No wonder they cry all the time. 

I think it's time to take charge and begin purging some of the kids' lesser-used playthings.  I'm certain they wouldn't even notice anything missing.  Since I haven't yet found a bulldozer small enough to fit through the front door that I can use to shove everything to the curb on garbage day (including the 120 dB toy garbage truck), we'll probably end up donating most of the stuff.  We could have a garage sale and make a few bucks, but I'd sooner listen to "It's A Small World" over and over and over than expend one ounce of energy organizing a garage sale.  Placing ads in the newspaper and online websites, posting signs around the neighborhood, clearing space in the garage, borrowing and setting up tables, figuring out what to charge for each item, praying for nice weather, sitting in the garage for 3 days hoping to sell a singing caterpillar for $3.  No thanks.

I'm tempted to leave trails of cotton candy leading from various parts of the neighborhood to our front door to lure kids to the house.  Upon arrival they would find a mountain of free toys and could take as many as they could carry.  However, I don't want to end up on the wrong list, so I suppose donations to charitable organizations are the way to go.  It'll probably take a couple weeks to track down the correct people and get stuff ready for donation.  In the meantime I'll start scheduling weekly play dates for the girl and fill with toys the minivans and car trunks of unsuspecting visiting parents while they're in a trance-like state from listening to "It's A Small World" over and over and over.


On many occasions I've driven by a building in town that formerly housed the Bandana Brewery.  It hasn't been open since we moved to town (appears to have been in business from 2003 to 2008), so I have no idea what it was like, but I've always been intrigued by the place.  And I've never taken the time to do any online research until now.  Well, it appears to be closed for good reason.  One website that rates microbreweries had several entries saying the beer was "So So" or "Lousy".  Here's an interesting review:
Where to begin. The waitress knew NOTHING about beer, it was served too warm in dirty glasses, it was not mature and tasted like crap. I was with a party of four, and we each had something different -- all sucked, and one was undrinkable. The table was dirty, and the food was mediocre at best. I have been to > 100 brewpubs all over the country, and this joint has to be damn close to the bottom of my list. No redeeming features whatsoever. Located in the middle of a parking lot; even the building looks like crap. The previous reviewer must be one of the owners.
Either this guy is a former disgruntled employee or I didn't miss much.  At least Schell's isn't too far down the road.

Chúc sức khoẻ!

The Tears

Pretty much every day in our house somebody ends up crying.  I suppose that shouldn't be totally unexpected when the household includes a 2-year old girl, a 6-year old boy, and a woman married to me.  However, it still amazes me how regularly tears are shed.  And as you might guess, the wailing occurs for many reasons:
  • illnesses
  • nightmares
  • the television was turned off
  • somebody is told to do his homework
  • somebody hit or pushed somebody else
  • somebody took the toy that somebody else was playing with
  • somebody is sitting on somebody else
  • somebody fell down (mainly the wife)
  • somebody doesn't want to eat the dinner provided for them
  • Michigan State football lost yet again in gut-wrenching fashion
The worst is the middle-of-the-night crying.  I'm a very light sleeper, and therefore I'm the one who hears the first whimper.  So, wonderful husband that I am, I get out of bed and stumble to the appropriate child's room to discover the reason for the wake-up call.  Sometimes the solution to the problem is to simply sit with the girl for a few minutes to calm her down until she goes back to sleep after a bad dream.  Other times I end up arriving just in time to catch projectile vomit in my hands and on my shirt (the goal here is to prevent any from getting on the bedding, which necessitates a trip downstairs for an early-morning laundry run - not fun, so I attempt to take one for the team), and I then try to get the boy or girl to the bathroom before the next round of retching.  After 6 years the boy is finally (I think) able to predict when he will throw up and can manage to get to the bathroom on his own. The girl not so much.

And admittedly I'm not exempt from the weeping either.  Most people who know me would say I'm generally pretty reserved (and maybe even cynical) and probably can't imagine me crying (unless they've watched MSU football with me).  I don't know how or when it happened (although I suspect that becoming a parent had a lot to do with it), but somewhere along the way part of me turned into a giant pile of mush.  I wasn't always like this.  MSU sports aside, before kids I hadn't done a lot of crying since my childhood days (except for the times when I sat down to take Theoretical Elasticity exams in grad school).  Now it's like I've become Bizarro Eric.  I tear up at almost anything these days - books, movies, TV news segments, chain gangs working on the side of the highway, etc.

Seriously, I've become very sensitive, particularly when it comes to the kids.  I'm already reminiscing about the days when the boy was only 5 and in preschool.  When looking at our favorite book the other day, the girl asked "Where are you, Goldbug?" instead of "Are you, Goldbug?", and I almost broke down.  I'm such a marshmallow (no comments on my appearance please).  I dropped off the boy at school a couple weeks ago, and after walking the 150 feet or so to the door, he turned around and waved goodbye to me.  Thankfully I was wearing my sunglasses.  What's happening to me?!

I guess it's not such a bad thing that I'm softening with age.  Although in a couple years I'll probably start crying during episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.  I just have to accept that a little crying (not to be confused with whining, which will be discussed in a future post) now and then is no big deal.  Preferably this crying will be more because of my sentimentality than the kids howling for the reasons I listed above.  However, even that is worth putting up with in exchange for all the other experiences that are part and parcel of raising kids.  I'm grateful that I get to be home with the boy and girl to help suffer through the tears.


Last month the 2010 World Beer Cup, the "Olympics" of beer, was held in Boulder, CO.  Now that's my kind of Olympics!  In attendance were representatives from 642 breweries in 44 countries supplying 3,330 beer entries in 90 beer style categories.  I was happy to learn that one of the local beers produced in St. Paul, Summit Extra Pale Ale, won for best Classic English-Style Pale Ale.  Check the list for some new beers to try.

Here's mud in your eye!

The Restaurants

I'm pretty sure I'll come across as somewhat of a snob with this post (or maybe even an absolute snob), but I'm writing it anyway.  The topic is dining options (I should say lack of dining options) in Mankato/North Mankato.  When we moved here last summer the wife and I had a few concerns about leaving the Twin Cities and moving to a much more rural area, and I must admit my biggest concern was the restaurant scene.  Sure we would miss our old neighborhood, our friends, our jobs (me, not so much), and the multitude of social and cultural opportunities available.  But to be honest, as the years went by we didn't see our friends as much as we did in the past, we gave up our St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Minnesota Wild tickets, and it turns out I can live without getting called at 3:00 a.m. because the full system backup failed.  The myriad of excellent dining options, however, was one thing that we took advantage of frequently.  Chances were if we had a night out without the kids, a good meal would be involved.

And it's not just the availability of nicer restaurants that we miss, but the variety as well.  Most ethnic foods you can think of were available within a 5 or 10 minute drive from our house - Japanese, Indian, Thai, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Spanish, French, Mediterranean, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Afghan, and did I mention Japanese?  There is not one sushi restaurant in Mankato.  Nada.  A restaurant at a downtown hotel hosts "sushi night" every Tuesday.  We went there once.  They only offered about 6 different sushi rolls, mostly containing cooked fish, and no nigiri sushi at all.  It wasn't very good and we haven't been back.  The city is not totally bereft of non-American food.  Our first night in town we went to an Italian place and had a favorable meal.  We've also been to a good Mexican restaurant and heard about another one that I'd like to try. And there is a Vietnamese place that we've driven past.  But as far as I know, that's about it for ethnic food.  The majority of places are the typical chain restaurants you find everywhere - Timber Lodge Steakhouse, TGI Friday's, Olive Garden, BW3, etc.  The internet search I did for "best Mankato restaurants" returned several different lists.  Among the best/top rated restaurants on the various lists were:
  • #4 - Papa Murphy's Take 'n Bake Pizza
  • #5 - Applebee's
  • #7 - Cold Stone Creamery
  • #7 (on a different list) - Old Country Buffet (I don't know whether to laugh or cry)
  • #12 - Noodles & Co.
  • #14 - Chipotle
Unfortunately, that's no joke.  I half expected to see Arby's (which I do like by the way) listed.  Now you see what we're up against.

A couple months ago, the wife and I went to a place that was supposed to be a nice steakhouse.  It was fine. Your standard steak-and-potatoes-with-a-side-salad kind of place.  The steaks were nothing special, and my impression is they're all cooked to the same level of doneness regardless of the diner's preference.  There was one silver lining in the dinner cloud that night.  On the wine list they had a Bordeaux but didn't list the vintage.  We asked the waitress what it was and then had to explain what "vintage" meant.  It turns out that it was from 2005 and priced very reasonably.  That wine salvaged our night.  It was like finding water on the moon (or at least like finding a great wine at an average steak joint).

Olive Garden is a decent-enough place and we've gone there 3 or 4 times since moving.  I suppose you could say it's our new go-to restaurant in Mankato.  During our last visit the waitress suggested we try their wine of the day or special or whatever, Riunite.  I had to stifle a laugh as I could only think of those cheesy 1980s "Riunite on Ice" commercials like this one.  Here are a few more:  It goes great with hot dogs!A fun day in NYC!Burgers Tacos Chicken Salad Whatever!, Cooler Anyone!, and Even Susan Lucci loves her some Riunite!  I could write an entire post on these commercials alone.  They're so awful you can't help but watch.

Even cooking at home is different now.  Back in Minneapolis, when we wanted to grill something for dinner we could take advantage of the butcher shop within walking distance of the house.  I recently found a butcher shop in town and have been there a couple of times.  I've also tried the meat counters at the local grocery stores.  I found that we now have to plan ahead to ensure that the store will have what we want for a particular meal.  On a few occasions I haven't been able to get what I was looking for without making 2 or 3 stops - beef short ribs or pork belly for example - not overly exotic items that I think would be difficult to find.

The funny thing is that I wasn't raised on gourmet food.  I grew up eating beans and hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, etc.  I can remember going to McDonald's and making my dad order plain hamburgers for me.  Plain!  I've never ordered a plain hamburger myself, so maybe the quality improvement process has reduced the wait time over the years, but I can tell you that back then it took them a looong time to produce a plain hamburger.  And there was no way I would accept ordering a regular hamburger and simply scraping off the toppings.  It had to be plain.  I don't know how my dad put up with me.

My family went out for meals on occasion, usually to Lil' Chef or The Nugget (I can find no evidence on the internet that this place even existed).  When we wanted to get fancy we usually went to the Highland House, or another place under the same ownership, Gus'.  They were good but nothing extravagant.  At Gus' (which has since been renamed Tomato Brothers) we always ordered the same thing - bread sticks, Greek salad, and pizza.  A couple of summers ago I went to Tomato Brothers with my parents for the first time in probably 20 years and the food was exactly the same, and I loved it.

There are probably plenty of places in Mankato that families love and will remember forever, just like the ones I went to as a kid.  It's the "foodie" type places that are lacking here.  Our Mankato friends probably think I sound like a whiny prima donna.  It's just that after living in Minneapolis for so long, we became accustomed to having many terrific dining options available.  I'm sure that uber whiny prima donnas in cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and New York have similar attitudes toward Minneapolis, so it's all relative.  I guess I'll just have to accept that the restaurants we love still exist, but now we just have to drive a little farther to get to them.


You may remember me discussing in a previous post the desire to drop some weight (don't ask).  I mentioned I would sample various light beers to see which I would adopt in support of this effort.  About a week later I voiced my disdain for those bland potables, admitting I don't like their taste and vowing to stay away from them altogether.  Well, it turns out that I'm not alone in preferring to drink beer with flavor.  According to this article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, craft beer (that is beer that tastes like something) sales rose 9.6 percent over the last year.  During the same time period, sales of domestic premium beer, e.g. Budweiser, declined 6.1 percent and premium light beer, e.g. Bud Light, fell 2 percent.  It's nice when one's judgments are validated.


The Bricks

I guess it's about time that I broach this subject.  Of course I'm referring to LEGOS, or LEGO bricks as the LEGO Group prefers they be called.  Well, I've done the "LEGO dance" enough times after stepping on one of those pointy little bastards that I'll call them whatever I like.  Not to mention I've known them as LEGOS since I knew what LEGOS were, as does everyone else in the free world who's not employed by the LEGO Group.  Plus it's easier and more fun to say LEGOS, and every time I do I'm reminded of waffles.  So LEGOS it is.

While doing research for this post I found that the LEGO Group was founded in Denmark in 1934 by Ole Kirk Christiansen (oh yah, sounds like a good Minnesotan - you betcha).  Good ole Ole took the first two letters from each of the Danish words "leg" and "godt", meaning "play well", to form the name LEGO.  It's just an amazingly cool coincidence that the word "lego" in Latin means "I put together".  Another neat coincidence that you might not be aware of is that the word "viagra" in Latin means "Erector Set".  Among LEGO fun facts listed on the company website are the following:
  • Approximately 19 billion LEGO elements are made every year, equivalent to approximately 2 million elements an hour or 36,000 a minute.
  • Laid end to end, the number of LEGO bricks sold in a year would encircle the Earth more than five times.
  • Approximately seven LEGO sets are sold each second.
  • Approximately 54,658 LEGOS are hidden in the carpeting of my house waiting to be stepped on.
I loved playing with LEGOS as a kid.  I remember playing with them for hours in my room, where I was frequently (and may I add unfairly) sent by my mother after having allegedly committed various transgressions reported by my sister.  I had a couple of the universal sets as well as sets for an air ambulance, go-kart, and moon base.  After I grew up and moved out of the house, my parents stored those LEGOS in their basement for many years, and when I bought my first house they were all too happy to give them back to me.  The poor LEGOS again sat unused for quite a while until I passed them on to the boy when he was about 3.  At that time he was already a LEGO expert after having played for a couple years with the Quatro bricks (really big and easy to see on the floor) and then the Duplo bricks (smaller than the Quatros, but still readily visible when set as traps by naughty children trying to cripple their parents), which are designed for the tiny, fumbling hands of toddlers.  The boy's favorite thing to do with the Quatros and Duplos was to have me repeatedly build giant towers for him to destroy like Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo.

Yet another LEGO fun fact states that on average there are 62 LEGO bricks for every person on earth.  If that's true, then I'm certain the boy owns as many LEGOS as the entire population of Luxembourg.  That's because over the years, the boy's infatuation with LEGOS has only grown.  I'm fairly confident that his mother and I could get rid of all his other toys and he wouldn't even notice.  I'm also fairly confident that he could survive several years of solitary confinement in a Turkish prison unscathed if he were allowed to bring a couple LEGO sets with him.  It's ridiculous how many sets he owns - I'd guess there are around 25 or so.  Every Christmas, birthday, and visit from the grandparents results in the acquisition of a new set or sets.  In fact, the wife and I made a pact with the boy last month.  He is already an avid reader, but to spur him on even further we promised to buy him a $50 LEGO set if he reads 300 books before the 4th of July.  At this point it looks like he's going to make it - little bugger.

One thing bothers me about the boy's use of his LEGOS - he fails to respect the integrity of the individual sets!  When he first opens a set, he humors me and builds the model according to the instructions.  After that, all bets are off.  He mixes up the pieces from different sets and builds all manner of mutant projects.  Good guys' heads are put on bad guys' bodies and vice versa, Star Wars clones are melded with Space Police, Bionicles mingle with Toy Story guys, he attaches blue bricks to yellow bricks, pieces get lost (and then are sometimes found when I step on them).  When I handed my old sets over to him, they still contained all of the original pieces, each in the original box and including instructions (so I was a bit anal in my younger days - sue me).  These sets and many of his own now cannot be completed because pieces are missing.  But you should see his Darth Lightyear.  As long as he's having fun (I guess).

In true LEGO-loving fashion, the boy's favorite place on Earth is Legoland.  We've been to the California theme park twice, once before the girl's arrival and once afterward.  It's actually a full-blown amusement park and, in my opinion, beats the hell out of Sea World (especially now that Shamu is killing people).  While there are roller coasters, water rides, shows, and LEGOS for sale everywhere, my favorite section of the park is Mini Land or Tiny Town or LEGOville or whatever they call the area that contains the scale model LEGO replicas of actual places, such as the Las Vegas strip, New York City, the Taj Mahal, the White House, New Orleans' French Quarter, etc.  I could hang out there for hours.  And I'm sure I'll have a chance to do just that in the near future as I recently read that a brand new, biggest-ever Legoland will open in Winter Haven, Florida at the end of 2011.  Opening day, here we come!


On April 7th, the August Schell Brewing Company is releasing a new beer, Grain Belt Nordeast, which is named after our old stomping grounds, Northeast Minneapolis!  I'm a tad miffed that after living there for 10 years and having no beers to our name, this momentous event is occurring only 7 months later and I'm missing it.  And apparently there is some debate over the name of the new beer.  You see, Northeast Minneapolis is often referred to as "Nordeast" because that's how the Eastern Europeans who settled there in the early 1900's used to pronounce it.  While many folks view the term as a tribute to the history of that part of the city, other politically-correct ninnies consider it a pejorative.  I find this similar to when people oppose and protest the naming of sports teams after Native American tribes, when the actual Native Americans themselves consider it an honor.  The way I see it, most of the people who said "Nordeast" in the first place are probably long gone, so they won't be offended anyway.

Na zdrowie!

The Ambulance

I had never before needed to call 911.  About two weeks ago the girl came down with something (most likely from some snotty kid at the community play place) and threw up after dinner.  She also had a fever.  I learned of the fever and barfing via text messages from the wife as I was enjoying pre-game beers before heading to the Avett Brothers concert in Minneapolis.  Seems like it's only when either the wife or I are out of town that the kids get sick.  Anyway, I texted back my condolences and didn't think much about it, assuming it was a typical "puking, fever, treat-with-Children's-Tylenol-for-a-few-days-and-everything-goes-back-to-normal" illness.  I returned home the following afternoon and the girl seemed OK.  The wife was administering the 4-6 hour medication cycle - give medicine, fever goes down, wait 4-6 hours for the fever to return, give medicine, fever goes down, etc.  Nothing different than what we'd previously experienced numerous times with both the boy and the girl.  However, on this occasion things would be different.

About two hours after putting her to bed, we heard the girl crying.  I went to her room to check what was the matter and arrived just in time to catch her refunded dinner in my hands.  After several years of practice and way too many loads of laundry run in the wee hours, I'm actually getting pretty good at this.  And it's really not as disgusting as you might think - generally more liquid than solid at this age.  The difficult part is not spilling any as you're hustling to the bathroom to get rid of it.  So the wife decided to stay with the girl in her room in case she got sick again.  I figured I'd wind down with some mindless TV and then hit the sack myself.  About 30 minutes later, I heard the wife calling my name.  I headed to the girl's room and found her convulsing in my wife's arms.  She was making a gagging noise, and at first I thought she might have the dry heaves.  I quickly realized that this was more serious, and while it seemed like an eternity, the seizure probably lasted for about a minute.  After she stopped shaking, the girl went completely limp and was unresponsive.  At this point the wife and I were both pretty freaked out and I called 911.

I must say that the 911 operator was very composed and helped to calm us down.  The first folks to arrive at the house (I'd guess between 5 and 10 minutes after the call - it's all a blur) were a couple of police officers, followed shortly thereafter by the paramedics.  Upon seeing the girl they weren't in a panic, so I was less worried about the situation.  The initial diagnosis was that the girl had a febrile seizure, which apparently happens at some point to approximately 5% of all children.  And normally they're not very serious, despite the fact that they scare the shit out of the parents.  They're caused by rapid body temperature changes (either up or down) associated with fevers.  The important thing is to make sure the child doesn't choke or fall off the bed during the event.  About 45 minutes later, the girl was still pretty out of if, although she occasionally opened her eyes and seemed to be aware that we were present.  The paramedics suggested taking her to the hospital to get checked out and confirm that nothing more serious was going on.  So I helped load the girl into the ambulance as the wife followed behind in our car and I stayed home with the boy (who thankfully slept through the entire ordeal).

A couple hours later, the wife returned home with the girl who was sleeping peacefully in her car seat.  The initial tests at the ER were all negative, but the wife was told to make a follow-up appointment with the doc to try to find the cause of the fever.  It turns out that the girl had a UTI and was prescribed an antibiotic.  By the way, I was shocked when the pharmacy informed me that the medicine cost $100 AFTER the insurance portion was covered and would have been $400 if we didn't have insurance (insert health care rant here).  I called the doc's office and asked if there was a suitable substitute and ended up with a different drug that cost $8.  Are you kidding me?!  Why would the doc prescribe the $100 drug in the first place??  I guess that's a topic for another blog.

So now almost two weeks later the girl is thankfully back to her old self.  While our experience wasn't technically an "emergency", I was pleased to see the kind of the response we could expect to receive in the event of a more serious situation.  I have to commend all the medical professionals involved for their quick response, competence, and calm, professional actions (minus the doc's original prescription) and now have an even greater respect for the folks whose jobs are to take care of people in trouble.


Forget the beer for now.  I need something a bit stronger.


The Sports

I like sports.  I love sports.  Playing, watching, listening to radio broadcasts, whatever.  I played organized baseball and hockey from the time I was 6 through high school.  Then in college I moved on to softball and less competitive men's league hockey.  Around the age of 12 I also started playing golf.  I still skate, but after a couple of major knee surgeries I've unfortunately had to "retire" from hockey and probably won't play softball again either.  After moving to Minnesota, the frequency of my golf outings has decreased dramatically (I've probably averaged 2 rounds per year over the last 8 years), but I still like to play.  As a matter of fact, last spring a few buddies and I and went to Myrtle Beach for a golf weekend and had so much fun we decided to make it an annual event.  Alas, the second annual trip, originally scheduled for this June, has been canceled due to to job schedule conflicts (sigh).

Sports buff that I am, I was thrilled when the boy was born, thinking about all the fun times we might have together at various sporting events (obviously I was also thrilled to have someone to eventually take over my household chores, vehicle maintenance, tax preparation, etc.).  Just like the countless high school, college, and professional games I attended over the years with my dad - scrimmages; regular season games; playoff games; the NHL All-Star Game; Eastern Michigan football games (mostly losses); baseball games at Tiger Stadium, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field; hockey games at the Olympia, Joe Louis Arena, and Boston Garden; Wrestlemania III at the Pontiac Silverdome (I still can't believe Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre the Giant!!).  All of the dateless Saturday nights in high school watching Hockey Night in Canada on TV together.  Not to mention all of the games he watched me play, including those during his many years as my baseball coach.

So now the boy is at the age where he can watch sports with me and understand what's happening.  I've "encouraged" him to root for Michigan State (over the objections of the wife, whose siblings all attended the University of Michigan).  And I'm happy to report that he's definitely a State fan, although his indoctrination hasn't been overly difficult based on the performances of the two universities' athletic teams over the last few seasons.  The deciding factor may have been our attending the Spartans' exciting basketball victory over USC at the Metrodome during last year's run to the national championship game.

In addition to watching games, the wife and I are giving the boy opportunities to play various sports to see which ones he enjoys.  So far he has taken swimming and ice skating lessons and played in a kindergarten floor hockey league.  Next week he starts indoor soccer and this spring it will be tee ball.  If his skating skills develop, he should be ready for hockey next fall.  Regardless of whether or not he plays in a league, I'm planning to build a rink like this one in our back yard.  While I really hope he takes to hockey and will be at least a bit disappointed if he doesn't, I'm not going to force him.  It's up to the boy to decide in which sports he'd like to participate long term, if any.  I'm not going to raise another "Bred To Be A Superstar" Todd Marinovich:
He has never eaten a Big Mac or an Oreo or a Ding Dong. When he went to birthday parties as a kid, he would take his own cake and ice cream to avoid sugar and refined white flour. He would eat homemade catsup, prepared with honey. He did consume beef but not the kind injected with hormones. He ate only unprocessed dairy products. He teethed on frozen kidney. When Todd was one month old, Marv was already working on his son's physical conditioning. He stretched his hamstrings. Pushups were next. Marv invented a game in which Todd would try to lift a medicine ball onto a kitchen counter. Marv also put him on a balance beam. Both activities grew easier when Todd learned to walk. There was a football in Todd's crib from day one. "Not a real NFL ball," says Marv. "That would be sick; it was a stuffed ball."
I could never imagine saying this 20 years ago, but I won't even mind if he ends up being a soccer player.  My dislike for the sport was established during my time working for the city recreation department when I was in high school and college (which, for the record, is the best job I ever had or ever will have).  One of our responsibilities was to chalk the athletic fields, and just between you and me, I made the straightest lines out of the entire crew - no string necessary.  Chalking baseball fields is one thing.  However, soccer fields are another animal altogether.  Because they're so big, the chalker must be refilled several times to line an entire field.  It's great when your buddy is following you around with the truck to provide additional limestone.  It's a major pain in the ass when you're on your own - chalk until chalker is empty, walk back to truck, drive truck to chalker, fill up chalker, chalk until chalker is empty, walk back to truck, drive truck to chalker, fill up chalker, etc.  It was very monotonous.  It didn't help that those little soccer twerps always littered the sidelines with orange peels during the games.  The garbage cans were right there!  Anyway, all of us on the field crew HATED soccer.  In the years since then I have grown to appreciate and even enjoy watching soccer on occasion (but not as much as curling).  I believe the tide turned when I was working in Paris and got sucked into the European championship euphoria with my French, Belgian, German, Spanish, and Dutch colleagues.  Europe is soccer (or football as they say) crazy, and it was really a fun atmosphere watching the games at bars after work despite having to put up with the French cheering for "Les Bleus" with their noses held high in the air.  Between my Euro 2000 experience and watching the last few World Cup tournaments, my disdain for soccer has subsided.  I'm actually somewhat looking forward to the next World Cup that will take place this summer.

Anyway, I do understand that there's more to life than sports.  The boy is free to pursue whatever extracurricular activities he desires, and I will fully support whatever he wants to do (unless he takes up ice dancing).  And if the boy ends up sports averse, there's always the girl to fall back on.  It looks like she's shaping up to be either a goalie or a linebacker.


One time in college a roommate of mine attempted to brew his own beer.  He ended up producing a yeasty, brown concoction that, in my opinion, tasted less like beer and more like the results of leaving a loaf of bread in a bucket of water for way too long.  However, I and the rest of the roommates did our best to choke down the swill and told him how great it was (pretty sure we didn't ask for refills).  Ever since that episode I've been wary of trying to brew beer myself.  But with my recent renunciation of light beer and focus on tasty, craft beers, I'm considering giving this a shot.  Perhaps before going it alone I should spend a weekend at a brewery where they show you the ropes, as described in this New York Times article.  Looks like fun!


The Interpreter

Over the last couple of months the girl has really started speaking a lot.  Now whether what she says is understandable depends on if you're me, the wife, the parent of an almost 2-year old, or anybody else.  Those of you who fall into the first three categories have a fighting chance.  Anybody else would probably have better luck understanding the clicks and clacks of the Kalahari Bushmen (go rent The Gods Must Be Crazy if you haven't seen it).  Even for the wife and me it's usually pretty difficult to comprehend what she's saying the first time she says a word or phrase.  It's only after asking her several times "What?" or "Excuse me?" that we get it.  And we often must have her point to what she's talking about (if applicable).  Lately I've felt like we are speaking in tongues and live in the Tower of Babel.  You can call me Nimrod.

What we really need around here to decipher what the girl says is a baby-talk version of the German Enigma machine (it's probably a safe bet to say that Google is already working on such a device).  A tool like that would be useful to us because, in addition to speaking like her mouth is full of animal crackers (which is often the case), the girl has a slight lisp (which by the way is very cute) and understandably can't yet pronounce all the letters of the alphabet.  So the "k" sound becomes a "t" sound and the word "book" is "boot", "cookie" is "tootie", "milk" is "milt", and "Corn Pops" become "Torn Pops".  And hilariously "Okay!" becomes "Otay!", which every time she says it makes me think of Eddie Murphy's Buckwheat character (yes, another Eddie Murphy SNL reference).  Another one she can't pronounce is the "g" sound, which becomes a "d" sound.  So "Goldbug" is now "Doldbud".

Compounding our miscommunication is the fact that the girl sometimes omits the first syllables from words or even skips entire words at the beginning of phrases.  For example, "oatmeal" becomes "meal" and "again" becomes "dain".  Her favorite show, The Backyardigans, is "Dens".  The book we currently read 17 times per day is Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.  Our friend Doldbud is hidden somewhere on every page, similar to Waldo in the Where's Waldo books.  So when trying to locate him and asking where he is, the girl says "Doldbud, are you?".

One word that nobody has trouble understanding her say is "no", or more often "NO!".  And recently "no" has morphed into "no way".  Last night we had a friend spend the night at the house.  The hope is that one day our basement will contain a guest room, but since it's still unfinished the girl's room currently doubles as our guest room.  When people stay with us, the girl gets the boot and sleeps in her Pack 'N Play in the TV room while the guest or guests sleep in her crib (actually we have a double bed in there).  In the past this has never really been an issue.  We go through our usual bedtime routine and the girl sleeps just fine.  For some reason she would have none of it last night.  When it was time to hit the hay, the girl refused to lay down and repeated "No way!" over and over and over.  The wife and I tried all of the usual tricks - singing songs, giving her more milk, playing the "Pointing Game" in which we mention an object in the room and the girl points to it.  Nothing worked.  I even tried responding with "Way!" a la Wayne and Garth, but the girl was not amused.  Eventually she calmed down and went to sleep (after we moved her back into her own room and relegated our guest to the couch in the TV room), but then she woke up and 2:00 a.m. and I sat with her for another 45 minutes of "No way!"s before she went down for the rest of the night.

The word games are all very cute but can sometimes be frustrating, even more so for the girl when she's really trying to tell us something.  But I know this won't last forever, so for now I'm just enjoying it.  She probably won't even want to talk to me in a few years.  As for those of you who should engage her in conversation over the next few months, if you can remember the key points from above, you may actually have a shot at understanding the girl.  Otherwise bring your Enigma machine.


Most people are familiar with European countries' penchant for brewing and drinking beer.  According to the New York Times, a southeast Asian country is now a formidable beer-drinker's travel destination.  Surprisingly (at least to me), that country is Vietnam.  This article highlights the history of beer in Vietnam and lists some of the brews available there.  Particularly intriguing is the bia hoi ("fresh beer"), which the article states is unpasteurized and unpreserved and normally drank the same day that it's produced.  Interestingly, it's often sucked down first thing in the morning before, the locals say, the flavor begins to decline.  And how about this - a pint costs less than a quarter!  Sounds like a trip to Hanoi is in order.

Đũ má mày!

The Profanity

Several nights ago the wife claimed that she heard the girl say "damn" or "damn it" and gave me a scowl implying the girl picked up this term from her beloved father.  Why when kids do something wrong is it always the dad's fault?!  So what if it's the dad who spends 90 percent of the time with them and influences most of what they do?  In our case, the wife has been a bit stressed at work of late and curse words broadcast from her mouth for one reason or another on a not infrequent basis.  I contend that if the girl were to learn colorful new language from me, it would be much more crude.  I'll admit I have been known to let loose with a barrage of obscenities while driving, particularly when another %*&$#@ driver pisses me off (which happens all the time).  Among other unwritten rules of the road, nobody in Minnesota understands the concept of slow drivers keeping to the right and fast drivers passing on the left.

Other instances in which I also may let slip a curse word are while viewing Michigan State football or basketball games on television (you try watching them without getting incredibly frustrated and angry!).  However, I really try to not swear around the kids.  Kids repeat things, and profane kids might be funny in the movies but not so much when you're in line at Home Depot (I may have once said something while searching for the wife and the boy may have repeated it - I plead the 5th).  I will admit that since watching the movie A Christmas Story in December, I have been quoting one of my favorite lines bellowed by the father.  I just think it's hilarious and it cracks me up every time.  If the girl has caught on, I'll take the blame.

Back when both the wife and I were working and before we left Minneapolis, we had a nanny who watched the kids during the day.  She had raised 3 kids of her own as well as operated a home daycare for many years.  So she was much more practiced than me at using faux expletives.  I almost died laughing one day when playing Yahtzee with the boy and he yelled "THUNDERBUGS!!" after a poor roll of the dice.  I asked him where he learned that word and he responded that the nanny had taught him.  Unfortunately every time I remember to say "Fiddlesticks!" or "Fudge!" or "Gosh darn it!", it's already too late.

At least when writing this blog, I have the advantage of being able to put down my thoughts and then proofread and edit before posting the final versions.  So despite sometimes initially using language that's a bit colorful, the end product should generally be pretty clean.  I've found that's not the case with the blog written by Julie of Julie & Julia movie fame.  If you haven't seen it, she's a woman who set out to cook everything in the first edition of Julia Child's book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in only one year.  In the movie, Julie is disappointed that her idol Julia is not a fan and does not appreciate her culinary efforts.  I had heard that was the case in real life as well, and after reading some of the blog I can understand why, as Julie drops F-bombs left and right - not very lady-like.  She has quite the potty mouth.  I'm guessing that at one time she was employed as either a prison guard or a fisherman on a Russian whaling vessel.


With the Olympics upon us, I'm reminded of my final year of college when one of my roommates and I participated in a kind of Olympics ourselves, only our "competition" had to do with beer.  With about a month and a half remaining in our undergraduate careers, we made a pact to try to visit all of the bars in East Lansing that we had never before patronized.  After having gone out several nights in a row, we upped the ante and decided to see how many consecutive nights we could go to a different watering hole, new or not (apparently neither of us had very taxing course loads that last semester).  After hitting the random, lesser-known bars we had never set foot in, we moved on to MSU mainstays such as Rick's, Landshark, The Riv, etc.  And 40 days and umpteen gallons of beer later, we graduated.  To this day I'm very proud of that effort and count it as one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, ranking right behind winning the 4th grade spelling bee and leading my squirt hockey league in scoring when I was 10 years old.

The "1993 Graduation Bar Tour" as we called it was no small feat.  It spanned the Easter holiday, and we both kept up the circuit in our home towns for a couple of days, returning to campus late on Easter Sunday and stopping by Bilbo's for a couple to keep the streak alive.  Looking back, I probably had as much fun during those 40 days as I did the entire rest of that school year.  Or at least I think I did - I don't remember much about it.  One thing is certain, my GI tract would not recover until well into 1994.


The Negotiations

We never thought we'd have to stoop to such levels, but often in order to get the boy to do certain things that the wife and I request, we must haggle and strike deals.  Instances in which these negotiations occur include meal time, toy pick-up time, and homework time.  For example, it has been well documented that the boy has a very limited palate and only eats about 10 different kinds of food.  The wife and I do our best to get him to try new things.  And it's not like we're offering up fish heads and chicken livers.  We simply want him to eat a hamburger or a piece of chicken (not in nugget form) or any fruit or vegetable not called a banana or carrot (incredibly he does eat those).  So we constantly try to entice the boy to try something new or finish his meal with the promise of a "treat" upon completion of the tasting or meal eating.  Treats include cookies, fruit snacks (FYI, these are NOT fruit, but they do contain 100% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C), a piece of chocolate, etc.  After the first treat is consumed, a request for a second one is undoubtedly made and generally denied.

Similar covenants are made between us and the boy for other reasons:
"Pick up these books and toys and then you can watch Max & Ruby."
"Do your reading and then you can go to Friend X's house."
"Get ready for your bath and then we'll play Uno."
"Shovel the driveway and I won't make you sleep in the garage tonight."
Without striking these deals, the requests still get done (the wife and I are the bosses after all), but their completion is often preceded by bouts of whining, pouting, and general pissyness.  While the boy might appear to be a perfect angel to those of you in different area codes, that's not always the case.  The thing is, he seems to be impeccably behaved in school, at friends' houses, and with his grandparents as well as other people.  He only acts like this with the wife and me.  I have no idea where he gets it (his mother), but lord knows I never gave my parents a hard time when I was growing up!

Now you folks without kids are probably thinking to yourselves, "Why don't you just lay down the hammer?  Tell the boy he'll have to shape up or ship out."  Yes, that's the natural reaction of people who don't have children, as well as those who do have children and are better parents than us.  My wife and I used to have similar thoughts before the arrival of the kids, particularly after witnessing our friends "deal" with their children.  During one visit with friends whose obnoxious kids were out of control, we stifled smiles, winked, and just knew that our future parenting skills would be far superior.  HA!!  We're now wheeling and dealing on a daily basis.  I feel more corrupt than the Afghan government.

I've been pondering (other than bribery) ways to address the situation.  I've tried threatening the boy by saying that I won't take him to school unless he finishes breakfast, but that doesn't seem to have any effect.  Lately I've contemplated constructing a rack in the basement.  You know what a rack is - one of those medieval torture devices frequently seen in movies with knights and castles and dungeons.  The rack is used by the racker to slowly stretch the rackee, in this case the boy, until his behavior improves or his appendages are pulled off, whichever occurs first.  After a few behavior modification sessions, I figure that even if his attitude isn't improved, he'll at least be several inches taller.  That should be greatly appreciated on his part since his chances of being tall are not good having myself and the wife as his parents.

If anyone out there has suggestions on dealing with this phenomenon (short of the infliction of excruciating pain), please let me know.


A friend recently posted on Facebook a link to this article about beer being good for your bones and helping to prevent diseases such as osteoporosis.  The article goes on to say that light beers provide the least benefit while those with higher levels of malted barley and hops are the best.  Hallelujah!  That's further justification (in addition to the abject lack of flavor) for me to drop light beer altogether.

This news comes at the perfect time as this Saturday the August Schell Brewing Company is hosting its annual Bockfest.  What a perfect opportunity to drink some bone-preserving Schell's Bock beer, which I just learned contains "10 different types of malt and noble hops".  Sounds good to me.  Now I just need an excuse to get out of the house for several hours on Saturday afternoon (and probably a ride home too).


The Shows

For shorts periods during the day I allow the girl to watch television.  As with the boy when he was younger, the wife and I don't want her sitting in front of the TV all day, but we think an occasional show or 2 (or 4 or 6 on a bad day) won't hurt and are probably even educational depending on the programs.  At her age the girl enjoys pretty much constant interaction with me, either through reading books, playing games, eating meals, or doing Sudoku puzzles, you name it.  So the TV serves as a sort of surrogate dad at times and allows me to get things done, such as preparing meals, cleaning the house, working on this blog, or catching up on back issues of National Enquirer and Better Homes and Gardens magazines.

I can tell you that television programming options today blow away the shows I was able to watch as a toddler.  If memory serves me correctly, I believe my TV staples back in the early 70s were Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Mister Rogers, and Columbo.  These days there are too many to keep track of, including the PBS shows (the aforementioned Sesame Street, which just started its 40th season; Clifford; Curious George; Super Why; etc.), as well as a ton of them on Nickelodeon/Nick Jr. (Dora the Explorer; The Backyardigans; Ni Hao, Kai-Lan; Wonder Pets!; Max & Ruby; etc., etc.).  Other channels that broadcast children's content include the Cartoon Network, The Disney Channel, Discovery Kids, and Boom.  I thinks it's Boom that has a lot of the older cartoons like Hong Kong Phooey, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, Speed Buggy, etc.  Despite the variety of options available, I have yet to find Looney Tunes or The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour on any channel.  That's probably a good thing, because if I did, I have a feeling the girl and I would be glued to the TV all day, 1 or 2 show limit be damned.

The girl's favorite shows at the moment seem to be Max & Ruby and Ni Hao, Kai-Lan.  When I ask if she would like to watch one of them when they happen to be on, she replies with an emphatic "YAY!!" and nods her head furiously up and down.  On the other hand, she appears to be growing a bit tired of Dora and simply says "yep" with an air of indifference when I suggest that she watches the world-traveling, bilingual, do-gooder and her sidekick monkey Boots.  While I sometimes watch with her, it doesn't really matter to me which show she prefers as long as it's not Wonder Pets!, which I despise beyond belief.  I'd just like to squash those cutesy, cuddly little schoolhouse pets and never hear from/about them again.  Particulary the baby chick Ming Ming with her awful lisp and fake Chinese accent.  Boy that show annoys me.  I'm starting to get irritated just thinking about it.

The wife and I are big fans of chef/author/travel guy Anthony Bourdain.  He has a young daughter himself and last year wrote in his blog about the Nick Jr. (formerly Noggin) programs that she watches.  It's a hilarious summary, and I generally agree with his opinions on the various shows.  So to save myself from having to type out my thoughts here, I'll simply refer you to Mr. Bourdain's sentiments.  One show I do want to mention is a new one called Team Umizoomi.  Yes, it is as bad as the name suggests.  I've only seen one episode and didn't really pay attention, but it appears to follow the Wonder Pets! template (I'll go as far as to say that it's worse than Wonder Pets!) and involves two sickeningly-delightful tiny superheros and their pet robot who fly around solving math problems.  I'm all for kids learning math, but the girl will have to pursue other opportunities to attain her addition and subtraction skills.  Team Umizoomi will not sully our television screen.


The light beer experiment is over after one beer.  I bought a six of Rock Green Light (Rolling Rock's light beer) and had one with dinner a couple nights ago.  It was not good.  Let's see - low on calories, check; low on carbs, check; low on flavor, double check.  I think this is the stuff that the Germans, Belgians, and Irish are referring to when they tell jokes about watered-down, tasteless American beer.  Despite any enthusiasm I may have relayed last week when launching the weight loss adventure, I just cannot do it.  I will not do it.  I refuse to drink light beer.  It provides no satisfaction - kind of like eating pizza without the cheese.  This "revelation" really isn't much of a surprise to me.  Having previously drank Michelob Ultra once or twice, I was immediately skeptical of my plan.  However I thought I had to a least give it a shot.  But what I've learned (again) is that good beer is not low in carbs or calories.  I'll just have to limit my consumption and enjoy the good stuff.  The eating better and working out more regimen continues.


The Weight

I've had enough.  I can't take it anymore.  I'm too fat!  Looking at myself in the mirror or in the reflection of a window, I don't really notice it.  But in photos, man, that's another story.  They say about TV/movie actors that the camera adds 10 pounds.  When I see myself in a photo, I'm reminded of Friends when Chandler, upon seeing a video of a humongous Monica from several years before, asks her how many cameras were actually on her.

I've never been what you would call skinny, more like slightly stout, portly, or husky.  I'm not that tall, and I've always had thick legs and a generous rear end.  I partially attribute this to the fact that I played hockey from the time I was 7 through graduate school.  One of the most embarrassing experiences of my life was a visit to the doctor's office when I was about 9 years old.  I had to get some kind of shot (penicillin maybe?) and for some reason the nurse stuck the needle in my butt.  Now I thought once you passed the age of 3, shots were supposed to be given in the arm of your choice - left arm for righties or right arm for southpaws.  I complained but had no say in the matter.  Maybe the nurse was old fashioned, or maybe she just liked to look at the asses of 9-year old kids.  Anyway, as she gave me the shot she said, "You have a nice meaty rear."  What?!  Upon hearing this I'm sure that my backside turned a shade of red not unlike a fresh tomato.  I was mortified.

It's not that I have been gaining weight lately - I've probably been within 5 pounds of my current weight for the last 8 years.  And I'm not huge, although according to that BMI number I'm perilously close to obesity.  If you're unfamiliar with the Body Mass Index (BMI), it measures a person's "body fatness" based on one's height and weight.  When I first saw my number and corresponding description (Bowling Ball), I did a double take and assumed that I must have incorrectly entered my details using metric values.  But alas, I had not, and I truly am at the tipping point, only a pint or two of Ben & Jerry's from moving from the overweight to the obese category.

So what am I going to do about this overabundance of me?  Well for one thing I'm going to eat less.  I just eat too damn much.  However, eating less may be easier said than done.  It was one thing when I was still working at my old office job all day.  For the last several years I normally brought my lunch to work after previously eating out almost every day during the first half of my career.  Those homemade lunches were typically pretty healthy, and outside of the occasional splurge on a 1-pound burrito from Chipotle for lunch, snacks were usually limited to the 10-15 trips per day past the community candy bowl while on my way to the printer, a meeting, the men's room, etc.  Now that I'm staying home it's a whole new ballgame.  I hate throwing food away and often finish the kids' uneaten remainders from breakfast or lunch.  And over the course of the day I'm usually only, on average, 10 feet from the kitchen.  So it's too easy to grab a Triscuit or sneak an M & M or 2 (or 15).

Now you might say that the wife and I should just not buy snack food.  That would be a great option if not for the existence of the boy and the girl (mostly the boy), who subsist mainly on cheese, crackers, fruit snacks, nuts and cookies.  But I have decided that I will simply no longer be tempted by these tasty treats, even the bags of Doritos that call to me while I'm in a totally different aisle in the grocery store.

In addition to the eating better thing, I'm going to dust off the elliptical machine and stationary bike and use them on more than a monthly basis.  It's been tough to get into a workout habit, which I blame on the environment in which the equipment resides - the basement.  I was hoping that we'd have a better setup in our new house than the old one, but we still have an unfinished basement.  And instead of staring at the furnace when working out, we now get to stare at the furnace and the water heater (the water heater was hidden from view at the old place by the furnace).  I also thought I'd have all this time to work out now that I'm staying home, either when the girl is napping or watching a show on TV or whatever.  Ha!  Anyway, enough with the excuses.  It's time to get to work.

This may seem like a bold move - making a promise to the entire world (or at least the 3 followers of this blog) that I'm going to lose weight by eating better and working out more.  However, in my first blog post I similarly committed to regularly contributing to this blog, and I am now leading Peter in Sterling, Virginia 3 posts to 1 after not even two weeks!  So my motivation will be to let neither myself nor any of you down.  If you happen to see me several months from now and I look thinner, please let me know.  If I look the same, or heaven forbid obese, please forget you ever read this blog entry.


I've contemplated how this blog's content with respect to the trinity of Legos, diapers and beers may be affected by my new healthy lifestyle.  I expect that playing with Legos burns calories (no matter how few), so that's cool.  The stink of dirty diapers is an excellent appetite suppressant, so we're good there.  It's the beer, I'm afraid, that might take a hit.  I guess I'll just have to focus mainly on the pale yellow stuff for now while throwing in an occasional Guinness or Boddingtons when I want to splurge.  This shouldn't be too difficult.  My roommates and I survived college drinking Busch Light Draft, although I can't remember the last time I had one.  I haven't tried many of the relatively newer low carb, Atkins-friendly, (very) pale yellow beers like Michelob Ultra, but I did come up with several options overall:
  • Amstel Light - 5.0 grams carbs/95 calories per 12 oz.
  • August Schell Light Beer - 4.0 grams carbs/95 calories
  • Bud Light - 6.6 grams carbs/110 calories
  • Bud Select - 3.1 grams carbs/99 calories
  • Busch Light - 6.7 grams carbs/110 calories
  • Coors Light - 5.0 grams carbs/102 calories
  • Corona Light - 5.0 grams carbs/105 calories
  • Labatt Sterling - 2.5 grams carbs/88 calories
  • Michelob Ultra - 2.6 grams carbs/95 calories
  • MGD "64"- 2.4 grams carbs/64 calories
  • Miller Lite - 3.2 grams carbs/96 calories
  • Natural Light - 3.2 grams carbs/95 calories
  • Rock Green Light - 2.6 grams carbs/92 calories
My initial inclination is to go with the Labatt Sterling or Rock Green Light, since I enjoy the regular Labatt and Rolling Rock beers.  A slightly higher carb/calorie option is the August Schell Light, which I might try since it's a local brew (also the producer of Grain Belt).  And if I really want to go on a bender one night, that MGD "64" looks mighty tempting at only 64 calories per bottle!

Feel free to comment on your own light beer preferences and let me know if I am missing a good one.

Kippis! (Cheers in Finnish)

The Mommies

The girl and I began attending our first Early Childhood Family Education class (otherwise known as Mommy and Me) a couple of weeks ago.  The first two weeks have gone well, but I think the moms were a little surprised when I showed up the first day.  Most of them were in class together during the first session last fall, and there were no dads enrolled with their kids in that class.  So I feel a bit like an interloper showing up and spoiling the chick bonding time.  I can't help but think of Eddie Murphy in that Saturday Night Live sketch from many years ago when he wore makeup to look like a white man.  In the sketch Murphy was riding on a city bus and sitting in silence with his fellow passengers.  When the last African-American got off at his stop, the driver turned on music, people started dancing, and a waitress began serving drinks.

The ECFE moms have all been friendly thus far, but I wonder if the topics of discussion are different because I'm there.  I don't know - I guess I thought they might just sit around griping about their husbands the entire time.  I'm tempted to dress in drag one week (the wife's old maternity clothes should work) and pretend that I'm my wife just to see if things are any different.  I could then start bitching about my husband, i.e. me, and see where the conversation goes.  I think I could pull it off - my family can attest to my mastery of the falsetto voice.  If I only had a burqa.  I'll look around the basement for our sewing machine and some old blankets or a shower curtain to convert.


One of my favorite everyday beers is Grain Belt Premium, which is produced just down the road from North Mankato in New Ulm by the August Schell Brewing Company.  Originally produced by the Minneapolis Brewing Company in Northeast Minneapolis in a castle-like building that reminds me of Willie Wonka's chocolate factory, Grain Belt has a storied history and was acquired by Schell's in 2002.  I think the main reason that I like the beer so much is that when I lived in downtown Minneapolis the balcony of my apartment overlooked a giant Grain Belt billboard.  It was originally built in the 1930s and apparently used to blaze nightly with a neon glow, although now it's just lit with floodlights.  After recently reading that the billboard is for sale!,  I ran out to buy a Powerball ticket and tried to figure out how to have the sign taken apart, transported, and reassembled in our backyard.  I really enjoyed that view from my apartment.  And I'm sure the neighbors would love to have a little slice of history behind the house (as would the North Mankato zoning commission).  Anyone remember the Kenny Roger's Roasters episode on Seinfeld??

The Launch

Alright!  Just what the world needs - another yahoo writing a blog because he thinks there are people out there who care what he thinks.  Actually I don't think there are many people at all out there who care what I think.  And I know for sure there are several people out there who dislike what I think.  Despite knowing that such people exist and might even read this blog, I've decided to go ahead with it anyway.  And I cannot take credit for the idea. It was actually my wife, Liwanag, who suggested that I give this a try.  At first I resisted the idea, but upon further consideration (and the promise of a trip to Vegas if I keep it up for a year!) I decided to go for it.

Writing for fun is not something I would have ever imagined doing.  Personally, trying to write a 3-page book report in middle school or an essay exam in college was like trying to get a professional athlete to stay off the police blotter in the newspaper.  I think it was in 7th grade that I was supposed to keep a daily journal in my English class, using each line and both sides of the paper.  I conveniently wrote just enough each day so that I had one line of text on the back of each page and then started the next day's entry on a new page.  I don't remember receiving an 'A' for that assignment.

So what is the purpose of this blog and what's with the name??  As for the name, you either get the reference or you don't.  For those of you who do, you're probably saying to yourselves "I never knew Eric was such a big fan of Judy Garland."  And for those of you who have no idea, you're probably thinking "What a dumb name for a blog."  I'm sure some of you who do get the reference think the same thing.  Just to clue in those who don't get it, the name is a play on a line from the movie The Wizard of Oz.

I'm actually not a mega fan of The Wizard of Oz.  It's a great movie, but it wasn't my love for it that led to the blog name.  My original ideas were things like "The Stay-At-Home Dad's Blog", "Two Kids and a Dad" or "The Young and the Restless".  However, upon setting up the blog on I found that stay-at-home dad blogs were a dime a dozen and most of the names were already taken.  For example, I thought about using "homedad" in my URL.  Alas it was already in use, and when I checked it out I was directed to a blog written by a guy named Peter in Sterling, VA.  The name of this guy's blog is "Start of a New Life: Homemaker and Dad".  The first post was made on October 19, 2002, and here it is:
"Monday is the start of a new life. Carolyn will go back to work and I will stay at home with the kids."
I don't think the new life lasted very long.  That's also the last post!  Are you kidding me?!  One and done?!  I guess I shouldn't be too surprised after reading Peter's blog profile:
"I like quiet evenings, walking my dog, LOVE sunsets and sunrises anywhere, motorcycles, fast and exotic cars, picnics in the park, coffee in an outside cafe preferably in Europe somewhere, LOVE walks on the beach, discussions about almost anything, one of my favorite past times in the winter time is sitting in front of the fire place enjoying a glass of port."
He doesn't sound up to the challenge of staying home and taking care of kids (or for that matter being married to a woman - not that there's anything wrong with that).  I, on the other hand, plan to pursue this idea full steam ahead and promise to make at the minimum two posts to this blog.  And once I decide to do something, I stick with it (just like the jiu jitsu lessons I took as a kid - for three weeks).

So instead of a boring stay-at-home dad blog name (since that obviously gets you nowhere), I decided to try to be a little more original.  Legos and diapers are two things that currently occupy about 87% of my free time, so it's a no-brainer there.  In addition to writing about my kids and family life, I plan to mix things up a bit and include other topics such as food, travel, sports, etc.  Therefore to complete the TWOZ quote, I decided to go with beer.  I like beer (in moderation of course - I'm not the type to drink a 12-pack on a Sunday afternoon while watching the Vikings).  I like different kinds of beer - from the pale yellow stuff to the darkest, heaviest sludge.  And there are infinite topics to discuss related to beer, so I'll include a beer-related nugget in each of my posts.

Finally I would like to introduce my family, who had best prepare themselves to have every minute detail of their lives discussed and dissected.  First is my lovely wife of more than 8 years, Liwanag, to whom I gave credit above for the idea of creating this blog.  For simplicity sake and to save me a few keystrokes when typing, she will hereafter be referred to as "the wife" or "my wife".  Please don't interpret that as a sign of disrespect.  At home I often call her "Wife" and she calls me "Husband".  There is also our 5-year old son Cameron, who I will refer to as "the boy".  And finally we have our 21-month old daughter Ana, the filler of diapers, who will be called "the girl" (and yes, I realize that typing "the girl" takes longer than typing "Ana" - buzz off).

Hopefully I still have your attention after getting the formalities out of the way.  I will do my best to make this blog interesting and worth reading.  This post is actually quite long - I should send it to my 7th grade English teacher.


Contact Me

Thanks for your interest. Please leave a comment and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.

About This Blog

The purpose of this blog is twofold:

- to inform family and friends of current events in the Ojala household
- to serve as an outlet for me to address whatever topics I desire, both humorous and
serious (mainly the former)

I hope you enjoy reading it!