Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan earthquake and tsunamis

I was lying down with Theo this afternoon, half-sleeping, when I realized that my phone had been buzzing in my pocket far more than normal for the middle of the afternoon. I woke up to find that I had multiple messages from email and Twitter friends asking if I was OK.

I immediately had the idea at the time there had been an earthquake, but had no idea until I could get to my computer how powerful it had been. I've felt earthquakes here, but of course nothing that compares to the devastation in the pictures and video from Sendai and Tokyo.

We are in the far west of Japan, at least 1000 miles from the worst of the quake's devastation. Still, I've been answering questions and catching up with friends and family throughout the afternoon and evening as they wake up to the terrible news.

According to a public statement from US 7th Fleet, Ruth's ship had just pulled in this morning for a port visit in Malaysia, but has already prepared to get back underway so they can be ready to assist wherever they might be needed. I felt a bit cheated once I realized I was going to miss out on a videochat, but since I wasn't expecting to hear from her at all, that soon passed. I'm far more concerned now for the people of Japan and all over the Pacific rim who are likely to continue to be affected.

The base here in Sasebo has been affected very little. One ship that was in port is getting ready to get underway to respond to the disaster. Our sea level rise was predicted to be a half-meter or less, so I'm sure the ships that remain here have had to take precautions with their line handling, but our geography protects us from the tsunamis that hit Japan's Pacific coast.

Facebook and Twitter have been such a blessing today, as I've been able to get word to my loved ones quickly and get word from my friends in Japan who were affected by the quake. Thanks to all my readers and friends who have asked about us.

I've heard of Twitter's usefulness in other crises around the world, but this has really been the first time I've really seen its power firsthand in gathering and distributing information from areas hit by disaster. Even tonight I see people in Tokyo getting assistance with finding transportation or a place to spend the night. As a tweet that just passed across my screen noted, "I'll never bitch about Twitter again."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hanging out...

Theo and I are catching a sleeper train tonight from Okayama to Tokyo. Right now the challenge is keeping him from disintegrating while we wait for the train, which doesn't arrive until 3+ hours after his usual bedtime. He's doing pretty well so far...

Media alert

I was interviewed a couple weeks ago by Amy at about some of the unique issues of being a male military spouse. The video is online now. I really enjoyed talking with Amy!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chills. Seriously.

Things I think every day, but never talk about

Yesterday afternoon I found this Ta-Nehisi Coates article while waiting for Theo to wake up from an unexpected nap. For once, maybe convincing myself that I didn't have enough time to start a new project around the house was a good thing.

This is how I felt after Theo was born, when I realized how close I'd come to losing Ruth. I've never escaped the knowledge that at some other place or in some other time, I would've certainly found myself alone at the end of that crazy week.
" need only look to the immediate past, or you need only look around the world, or you need only come close to losing the love of your small, young life to understand a correlating truth--pregnancy is potentially lethal work."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I love it when this happens

I already posted this over on Dailymile, but I've added to it somewhat here.

This is a story from yesterday's run -- the experience is actually a pretty common one as a foreigner here, but I laughed harder than usual at the circumstances. I was running down the sidewalk on a nearby main road, one that I'm on several times a week. I came upon several groups of Japanese students, probably in their early teens or so - I have a hard time judging age here.

There was one very large group of a dozen or more schoolgirls, acting as schoolgirls do. They were milling about, blocking most of the sidewalk outside a bank. No big deal, I didn't think anything of it. About 50 meters away from them, I wondered if I'd have space to make it through the chattering, giggling crowd ... at 30 meters away, I realized from their body language that *I* was the object of some of the chattering ... they were starting to make a hole for me to run through, jumping back and forth across the sidewalk. Ten meters out, they'd separated into two groups on either side of the walk, when they suddenly became eerily quiet and all started looking in any other direction than mine.

I knew exactly what was going to happen next, because it happens so often here, but it hasn't gotten old yet.

Just as I passed through the group, one of the girls -- who had no doubt been double-dog-dared by her friends -- broke the silence and meekly said, "Konichiwa."

I replied, in my best big booming voice, "KONICHIWAAAA" and kept right on running, causing the entire crowd of girls to explode into loud, giggly tween laughter.

The giant can talk! I'm never sure, when this happens, if the kids are making fun of my awful, awful Japanese or just thrilled that the gaijin can speak a few words. I figure if they're laughing and I'm laughing, I can just file it under "contributing to improved foreign relations."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I love conversations with my wife

Ruth: "So what do you think of the new Starbucks logo?"

Me: "It's fine. Who cares? It's like 90% of the old logo, are people really not going to know it's still Starbucks?"

Ruth: "Well, people don't like change."

Me: "Fuck people. What do they know?"

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tonight's example of "It's exactly like you've heard."

So I wanted a run today, but with Theo out of school for the week, it had to be an after dinner run. By the time I could get out the door, it was just before 8PM.

Along my running route there's a private school, or maybe it's a tutoring center -- I don't know enough Japanese to know the exact nature of the place. Most of the time I'm running past during the day, so I can't see inside, but running after dark I can glance inside as I run past.

Tonight, well after 8:30PM, there was a room of over a dozen kids, probably early high school or maybe slightly younger, deep in thought in the first-floor classroom, while a teacher explains a graph on the dry erase board at the front of the room. There were other kids heading from the convenience store across the street into other classrooms I couldn't see.

This didn't shock me, based on what I knew before we moved here; but it was just another reminder that we are here at a perfect time in our lives and as much as I enjoy our temporary status here, I would not be well suited to living "real life" in Japan.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thinking too much

I find myself envious of people who have a passion in their life and the courage to pursue it. I've always been a "Jack of all trades, master of none." I may be uncommonly smart (or so I've been told; I question whether what I have is truly 'intelligence'), adept at understanding systems, solving problems and a hard worker when I find motivation.

But every new pursuit bores me when it becomes routine; after the novelty wears off, the work becomes boring and I need something new to get inspired again.

Sometimes, when I'm not being as introspective or charitable with myself, I just say that I'm lazy. Willing to work hard so long as the work is easy and quickly rewarding, but not willing to see through the difficult tasks that might pay off in the long term.

Not sure why I'm thinking about this now; I have it very good at the moment. But I know that living overseas and raising kids doesn't last forever, so at some point I'll have to find something else to do with my days...I'd like it not to suck.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Today someone on FaceBook asked, "Why is it that there are a billion different boner pills, pills that can help you "manage" your disease, but nobody's actually cured a goddamn thing in half a century?"

Because I believe in fighting the attitude comedian Louis C.K. describes as "Everything's amazing, nobody's happy," here's what I posted in response:

Half a century ago there's a better than even chance I would be a widower and most likely, Theo would be in the ground with Ruth, if he'd been born at all.

30 years ago my grandfather died unexpectedly because of a congenital hereditary defect; today, his sons can be tested for that defect and will not die from it.

Twenty years ago HIV was a death sentence.

One of my best friends has identical twin girls whose chance of surviving birth would've been only 50/50 20-25 years ago; in this decade, they were never in any danger.

My cousin has a heart defect and would've been dead the day he was born, if he'd been born just 15 years ago.

One of my best friends had a heart defect repaired last year, a procedure that could add anywhere from 20-50 years to her life and greatly improve the quality of that life.

With the exception of HIV, these are just stories from the tiny, tiny number of people I know personally.

Some of these dates are almost certainly inaccurate, as I just wrote off the cuff. Regardless, I'm grateful to live in such amazing times, and to still have all these people alive to share it with.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Up and down Mt. Yumihari

Originally uploaded by javelis3
This post and the associated photos are nearly a month old. As i'd intended to do at the time, The post is copied directly from DailyMile.

If you're not familiar with DailyMile, it's the social media version of an athletic training log, which not only allows you to keep track of your training, but also interact with like-minded folks at all levels. I've met a lot of wonderful folks through the site, it's been a huge help in getting my training back on track through the move. I expect to be writing about the site and my running more often here; I haven't really dug into it but it's an important enough part of my life that I shouldn't be avoiding it. If you have any questions about the site, feel free to ask me, I can either answer them or or put you in touch with someone who can. If you join, add me as a friend!

So now that I'm done with the plug, here's the story...

I left the house completely ignorant of what I'd find that day. I knew the peak of Mt. Yumihari was a popular park with fantastic views of Sasebo and the Kujukushima Islands; I knew the sign at the nearby intersection said it was less than 5k distance; and I knew it was a gorgeous day to do something outside with Theo and I dare not pass it up. All the information I'd found about it in English was about driving up, but what fun would that be?

So I loaded Theo in the backpack carrier, threw in a camera, bottles of water and a bunch of dried fruit, and figured I'd see how far I could make it before I was shut down by weather, kiddo or my own legs.
I was hoping to find some trails intersecting the road -- the hills around here are criss-crossed with undocumented walking routes known only to the people who live there -- but at least from the direction of my house, there were none. As steep as the switchbacks on the road became, any path crossing them would've been straight up anyway. So it was steep road all the way. Luckily there isn't much up this road so cars were few and far between.

I don't know if the folks who did see me were thinking "Impressive!" or "Fool!" The road was surrounded on both sides by dense forest and I think I saw a sign warning of bears at one point; I don't think my sunscreen got much of a workout.

Garmin says I made it the 3 miles of road (and 1150 feet of elevation gain) to the observation deck near the peak in just over 1 hour. Heart was pounding hard a few times. Wish I'd remembered to add my extra 50ish pounds of extra weight to the Garmin's calculations.

The heavy humidity and mist obscured most of the distant views, but there was still a lot to see. The humidity was so high, I was soaked with sweat from head to toe and wringing out my shirt. At the deck Theo and I rested, ate a snack, took pictures and explored the area of the peak for a bit over an hour before I decided to head back down.
I did find what appeared to be a trail down; but it was so steep & covered in wet leaves and mud that I didn't want to risk it with Theo on my back in less-than-ideal shoes. Next time, ne?

The walk down was much slower than the walk up, since I was already tired. A bit more than a mile from the house we reached a point where there was sidewalk all the way home, so I took Theo out of the backpack so he could walk the rest of the way and make things easier on Dad, slowing us down even more. Garmin says we were stopped about 37 min. of the recorded time.

It was a wonderful morning that definitely helped me relax and feel more comfortable in Japan...

Friday, July 16, 2010

I think of blogging often, does that count? No? Balls.

I've been wanting to sit down and write posts for the past few days, as life has finally settled into a somewhat predictable routine for us here in Sasebo … but for the past few days I've been hit hard by a bush-league head cold that has grown, mutated and invaded my sinuses, giving me pain worse than anything in my recent memories and making me all but useless for anything requiring rational thought.

Just sitting down to organize my thoughts and decide how to organize my posts covering the past two months (Two months? Really? Yes, really) seems impossibly daunting when I'm dealing with a constant low-grade nausea and it feels like railroad spikes have been driven into each of my cheeks. Every time I tell someone that I think it's getting better, within a few minutes the world is spinning again.

Some medication has relieved most of the pain and started the drainage process, even if it hasn't restored normal brain function.

I'm still not sure how to organize and post my stories from the past couple months; something tells me that's just a bit of procrastination on my part and not the fault of the small creatures behind my eyeballs who seem to be trying to eat my brains.

Still; not having my brain at full throttle probably isn't even that much of a loss. I think my most frequent thought the past couple months has been "HOLY CRAP THIS IS JAPAN AND I LIVE HERE."

Anyway…enough of the procrastination. I will start blogging from this point on and if you never hear about the trip over and how we got ourselves here and settled in…well, keep bugging me and it will happen.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Happy birthday Theo

Today's moment of funny that made up for a long day:

Theo is getting ready for bed and Daddy is whistling "Don't let's start" to himself.

Theo: "What you singing, Daddy?"

Daddy: "Uh, They Might Be Giants, Theo."

Theo: "No, Daddy, there won't be giants."

you probably had to be there.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

So much to say...

Originally uploaded by javelis3
I've been writing down as much as I can about recent events, but it all still needs serious editing to be blogworthy, so obviously I haven't published anything.

Theo and I are still a little over a week away from flying out to Japan. We will be spending most of this time at my parents' house, so hopefully I will have some time to catch up on my posts about everything that has happened since the movers arrived. In the meantime, here's a set of photos I took this morning around my parents' house in IL, our home base while we prepare to move.

Happy Mothers day to one and all.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Your stuff owns you.

Most people would say I'm a bit of a weirdo. I don't mention it often, but I truly, deeply miss the days when everything I owned fit in the back of a Mazda 626.

Not only am I excited by the prospect of living out of a suitcase for a couple months while we find our new home in Japan, I'm actually looking forward to having a bunch of our belongings out of our lives completely for a couple years. As I was telling my Dad tonight, I could even see coming to the end of our overseas adventures and just telling the Navy, "All that stuff in storage? Throw it in the river, I don't even remember what it is, much less want it back."

This is not, by any means, all the stuff we have going into storage -- it's not even a third. Nor is it particularly a lot of stuff. AT least double this volume of stuff has been donated or thrown out since we found out we'd be moving to Japan. But it really got me thinking -- if we don't need these things for a couple years, why did we ever need them at all?

There's more than one answer to that question -- the most obvious is that in big houses like the ones we've lived in the past 5 years, there's zero opportunity cost to having triple the number of coffee cups we actually need, appropriate glassware for red wine, white wine and 5 different varieties of beer, a pasta maker, three rubbermaid totes of Christmas decorations we haven't used in years and a box of fortune cookies from our wedding.

There's no logic to this -- if these items are all unnecessary today, then certainly they were spurious yesterday and there's no reason I couldn't have dumped them at the curb before we ever had orders. An overseas move with a strict weight allowance and the possibility of losing 1000 square feet of house at the other end separates the necessary from the clutter very quickly.

As hard as it's been for me to keep a clean home while our house has been on the market the past few weeks, the lack of clutter has really reinforced how much my belongings bring me down.

I think about this all the time, but I really need to write about it some more. Not tonight, though -- the movers will be here early in the morning and the prep still isn't done; there's closets and an attic full of items going to storage, still mocking me. Hopefully the movers work slowly tomorrow.

Party time!

A week or two ago, I realized that our pantry and liquor cabinet were still way too full, considering that were looking at just a few days until movers started arriving and my desire to cook would evaporate. Then I started thinking that for one reason and another, we've been painfully antisocial during this tour -- we've seen some of our good friends once or twice, if at all, during the whole 20 months we've been in Norfolk this time around.

So I decided to solve both problems and throw a "clean out the pantry" party. We put out the word on Facebook and in person to some of Ruth's co-workers, but I didn't really know how many people we'd get. I figured that I'd make whatever I could from ingredients around the house and if we ended up with a bunch of leftovers, then at least we'd be able to eat all week.

I started cooking Friday with a pot of chili. My chili is pretty simple - I used a pound of ground beef this time, because it's what I had around. Then I added onion, mushrooms & garlic. For seasoning I throw in chipotle and ancho chili powders, a ton of paprika, oregano, sage and other random spices. I hit it with a 28oz can of diced tomatos and two 14oz cans of pinto beans and simmer it, covered, until the end of time. At the same time I prepped marinara sauce, which starts the same way - onion, mushroom, garlic. then I season with oregano, basil and some red pepper flakes, throw in all the canned crushed tomato in the house, and simmered for 20-30 minutes.

During the simmering I made pizza dough. If you have any fear of making pizza dough, read this article and you will be cured. I make mine with half whole wheat flour and half bread flour. I put the dough aside to rise, planning to split it and refrigerate it overnight...then I forgot it until the next morning. OOPS. Luckily I had no shortage of flour and yeast.

Then the next morning I got up and right after my run I put a dry rub on two racks of beef ribs and started them on an 8 hour cook in the oven - I didn't have time to mess with the grill, sadly.

Then I re-made the pizza doughs while cooking black beans and rice. The black beans and rice starts out with onion, red pepper, mushroom and garlic, the same seasonings as the chili, then I add two cans of Goya black beans, a cup of rice and two cups of water and simmer it until the rice is cooked.

Right before the party, I picked up our favorite hummus from Azar's on Colley and a veggie tray from the grocery store, I made two dishes of pasta with the marinara sauce and got some more veggies prepped to make veggie pizza later in the evening...

AND I was completely convinced that I would have WAY too much food and a month worth of leftovers.

AMAZINGLY, this was not the case. We had over two dozen people show, and every bit of the food was DEMOLISHED by the time we went to bed. Booze was no problem either, as we enjoyed margaritas and vodka shots all night long -- and I discovered that a houseful of drunk twitter friends at 11:30pm will take any bottle you leave out on the countertop and run away with it.

I wasn't even hungover this morning! It was a wonderful time and a great memory to leave this house with. There may be some pictures to post here later (of the early part of the evening -- in the interest of protecting the not-so-innocent, I won't be posting the pictures from later at night).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010's this thing work again?

Oh, yeah, I have to log on and TYPE INTO IT.

So it's been a crazy few months around here. We're just over a week from having movers invade our house and pack all our stuff into small boxes, which will then be placed into bigger boxes, which will then be sent halfway around the world to our new home. As usual, the blog has been low on the priority list.

We decided early on we'd sell our house, but it's only been on the market about a month. As I spend more and more time keeping our house looking like a museum, I'm discovering that there's a good reason I've been a crappy housekeeper all these years -- being a good housekeeper really, really sucks ass. Instead of looking at the past few weeks of vacuum/sweep/mop/repeat as a curse, I'm thinking of it as training for Japan, where I'm expecting lack of space will require me to become a better housekeeper.

Despite this being our first overseas move, I have none of the usual worries and angst about the movers arriving. This is my fourth change-of-station (plus one cross-town move) in 9 years. Even though this one is overseas, the process has been similar enough to a move in the states that I haven't really been too stressed about it.

I did let myself get far too worried, for a while, about selling the house. We can afford to carry the mortgage on this house for a while, but doing so will put us in a bind financially. I really wanted a contract before we left, but in the past couple weeks I've realized, it just ain't gonna happen. So I've chilled about that -- with any luck, negotiating with buyers from 8000 miles away will make the whole process smoother.

Moving overseas does require a whole new level of organization. I'm going to write more about this process, but last weekend I identified six different "piles of stuff" in our house that are all headed different places: 1. Our usual household goods move; 2. Our non-temporary storage, provided by the Navy because we're going to a duty station off the beaten path; 3. Our "unaccompanied baggage"; a smaller shipment sent overseas faster, of just what we'll need to get by when we move into our new house; 4. The stuff we're carrying on the plane; 5. The stuff we're leaving at my parents' house; and 6. The crap we're pushing out of our lives, either throwing away or giving away.

Amazingly -- perhaps because the house is so clean these days -- this level of organization isn't stressing me out at all.

Theo is still amazing and surprising and a whole lot of fun. His preschool teacher told me just before Christmas that he'd overnight transformed from a baby to a 3-year-old; and it was definitely noticeable. Now he's talking, he has an AMAZING will of his own and he is driven to do anything and everything he can by himself. I have some record of the past few months via twitter and photographs, but not blogging the first part of this year will someday be a regret of mine, I'm sure.

Running has come along fairly well this spring, even though it's been pushed down the priority list. I felt like I'd hit a new level of my training a couple weeks ago when I ran a 21:55 5K race -- beating my old record by over 90 seconds -- but that was followed by some pain in my foot that put me off my running for a week and has made getting started back kinda rough.

So my goals for the near future with the blog are -- 1. Post daily, even if it's just something short that I would ordinarily tweet. Even if the posts suck, there's no other way to keep the momentum going for the days I actually have something to say. 2. Talk more about running and my training. I enjoy it, I enjoy talking about it -- not blogging about it more is probably part of the reason I'm not blogging.

I might fill in this post more later with more details -- oh, who am I kidding, that never happens....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The going gets weird, again...

It's been hard, the past year or so, to really think of myself as married to a Naval officer. In January, when we came home to Norfolk from holidays spent in the Midwest, Ruth's ship had already entered a drydock. The next 11 months, there was no activity with the spouse club, no days without email or weeks without telephone and no emergency underways. Sure, she came home late many nights and a few times not at all, but that's true of any job with responsibilities.

Meanwhile, Theo played at the park, made friends with the neighbors, hung out with me at the local pool club and started preschool. I took up running, was pretty good at it for never training in my life and took the logical step of joining the insanely active local running club, in addition to working around the house and being involved in everything Theo was doing. I started talking to local folks on Twitter.

In short, I more or less threw myself into our geographic community, rather than a work or military or online community. It felt comfortable. Suddenly I was thinking in terms of years, rather than months; thinking about spending next summer at the pool, but also about Theo growing up with the kids on the block. Thinking about running races with my local friends and entering a marathon with a good friend and how much I could see my results improve over the next few years.

[Do I sound like a moron to anyone else? Because in hindsight, I sound like a moron to me.]

It's the first time I've done it, and it was so much fun that the motivation to write about anything related to our military life kinda vanished. And in retrospect, I didn't realize that's what I was doing, or how dangerous it could be. I knew I didn't feel like writing, especially not about the military life we weren't really living; but I chalked it up to a need to define myself as something other than "Navy Spouse" or "Stay-at-home-dad" or by any other outside influence.

[Anyone see where this is going yet? Who am i kidding, 90% of my readers already know where this is ending.]

Comfortable is all well and good, but I'd forgotten "comfortable" isn't the life we've chosen.

My wife put in her duty preferences for her next job back in October and as always, I told her to go with the jobs that she really wanted, rather than trying to stay here in Norfolk. I did this in part because her work is a major part of who she is, and I want her to be happy. The other reason I told her to ignore geography is that I really didn't think the Navy would move us out of Norfolk at this point, for a variety of reasons that were all PERFECTLY LOGICAL at the time.

[This is getting more predictable than a horror movie, right?]

The day before Thanksgiving, the detailers released the slate ... and hey, whaddya know, she got her dream department head job, the one she said years and years ago she'd love to have at this point in her career ...

... but instead of on a ship in Norfolk, it's on a ship out of SASEBO, JAPAN. Which just goes to show you, I know jack about the Navy after all these years.

Before some random reader assumes otherwise, Japan has ALWAYS been on our list as the first country outside the USA we'd like to live. We'd asked for jobs in Sasebo several times prior, they just hadn't been available. A month prior to this news, as Ruth was filling out her duty preferences, she told me of a couple perfect jobs available in Sasebo. I told her, at the time, "Heck yeah, Sasebo! Put that down right after the Norfolk jobs you like!" (like I said, I didn't believe this had any chance of happening.)

So of course, since she got exactly what she wanted and we're going to a place we've wanted to be for years, I promptly FREAKED THE FUCK OUT for a few days. Was completely in shock for the first few hours, which made Thanksgiving prep tougher, but I got it all done.

What went through my head?

Theo isn't going to this preschool next year -- in fact, he probably won't finish the current year. sigh. I'll be declining the pool club membership for next summer. No spring marathon for me, can't commit to that training schedule. The cats? Oh hell, the cats are going to end up in quarantine because their shots aren't up to date. THE HOUSE. We just bought this house and now we have to rent it or sell it. Just bought? SHIT. We have a WEEK OLD car that can't go with us ...

So I've spent the past couple weeks working, planning, purging and talking to people who know a thing or two about Sasebo. The cats are getting their shots, the house is going up for sale (single tear) and the car has a home while we're gone. I've come to realize that there will be a cute little preschool full of Japanese kids for Theo to attend ... if we're not too busy riding bullet trains to places I've only dreamed of visiting.

More than anything, based on my initial reaction to this utterly predictable news, I've realized that I let my priorities get seriously out of whack the past year. We're not the stable semi-urban family of my imagination. I can go ahead and define myself however I'd like, but we ARE a military family, and there are going to be many more moves and separations after this one. I'd best get used to it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I'm going to be selfish, and that's OK.

I had an "I'm a bad, selfish dad" moment on the walk home from dropping Theo at his 2-morning-per-week school.

It was supposed to be school pictures, but because they take the pics outside and the weather was threatening, we found out when we arrived that they rescheduled. Then it hits me ... they rescheduled when kid and I will be on a roadtrip west for him to spend time with Grandma and Grandpa while I get a long weekend of R&R and booze with college buddies.

In addition, I realized that this Monday is Columbus Day, and therefore he'll be missing school for two full weeks out of this month when it's all said and done.

So on my walk home, I started wondering to myself, is it really fair of me to make him miss so much school just because I want some time to myself and I don't like to fly? He loves going to school, we're paying for it, and the class is so small that he'll probably be missed by the other kids. We already missed a week last month so I could help some friends while one of them had surgery.

Plus I was really looking forward to having the school pictures of him. I love the shirt he was wearing and can't get enough pictures of him in it. I started thinking, maybe I can still get a flight for that afternoon AFTER school. Heck, that way he'd only have to miss one day, because I could get home quicker than we could driving. And sure, It would cost a whole lot more than the car trip will, but why waste the day and a half in the car, when he could have that time to be with his friends... and ... and ... and...

And then it hit me: WHAT ON EARTH AM I THINKING??? When exactly did I lose my fucking mind and turn into the guilt-ridden parent who can't keep the needs of his family versus the needs of the individuals in the family in the proper perspective?

HE'S TWO. HE'S TWO. HE'S TWO! He goes to school SIX HOURS a week and mostly it's just playtime. I myself have one or two memories, tops, from that early in my life and from talking to other folks I suspect I'm above average in that department. If his two-year-old, two-day-per-week preschool ends up being a long-treasured part of his life or mine, then that isn't cute or sentimental, THAT IS A PROBLEM.

Plus, as a two-year-old, he's still about the most perfectly selfish being on Earth. He doesn't know "fair" any better than he knows how to take a crap in the toilet. I'm the one in charge of enforcing "fair" around here, and it isn't very fair that it's been two years since I had a break from him of more than a few hours.

He'll never know he missed a thing, and even if he does remember, he should remember that his primary role model wanted to do something other than cook, clean and read Dr. Seuss all day, every day, for months at a time.

So I'm going to be selfish and not apologize. I'll take a picture of him in his cute shirt when he gets home from school today.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Teach your children well...

Theo and I spent most of our afternoons in August at the pool around the corner from the house. Theo has always loved being in the water and there's always tons of little kids there - even if I have the occasional heart attack when his seemingly boundless confidence gets way ahead of his abilities.

One day we were playing in the shallows of the adult pool, where Theo's favorite game was throw himself in headfirst so daddy could drag him off the bottom. Theo started playing with another little one who couldn't swim yet, and that boy took a liking to me-- talking, jumping on my back and whatnot. I played with him as much as I could, but explained to him that keeping my boy from drowning was kind of my top priority.

His mother apologized and explained that be tends to latch on to men in the pool, because his own dad won't get in with him. Hey, whatever; it's obviously not the way I roll, but everyone has their way of doing things and I have no issue hanging out with kids.

In talking to my new pal, the conversation did eventually turn to that daddy.

"My daddy isn't here. He's at work."

"That's too bad. But we understand. Theo's Mommy is at work too and sometimes she gets home late."

"Noooooooooooo!" he said this to me in that manner perfected by all kids, combining "I don't believe you" and "you're crazy" into a single long syllable.

"Yes, she's at her job."

"No, only DADDYS do that!" Obviously, I missed the memo on this one.

I think I eventually convinced him that yes, some mommys work too, while some kids have daddys who stay home.

And as tempting as it would be to ramble on about how even a 3-year-old has been hopelessly indoctrinated into the dominant patriarchy by a distant father who refuses to frolic in the pool, I know that this is just a kid who has made a incorrect assumption about the rest of the world based on his own family and the people he knows well.

But oh, my, did be give me a good laugh that afternoon. I am pretty proud of myself for just laughing, instead of breaking into my usual sarcasm and asking, "Oh, really... So, what does that make me, then, if I'm a daddy who doesn't work?"

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Warning, cute kid story ahead

So it's been a while ago that we transitioned Theo to a full-sized bed. He started asking to sleep in the guest bed one day, so we gave it a try for naptime and by the end of the week his crib was sitting lonely and unused.

For the most part he has been very good about no longer being caged -- that first week, when he would leave the bed at naptime to play, a couple threats to return him to the crib put him in line. Since most of the time he wakes up making some noise, the baby monitor has always told me when he was ready to get out of bed.

So two mornings ago, at about 5AM, I woke up to the sound of footsteps on the landing. I thought "huh, he made it out of the room without me hearing it in the monitor. Sneaky." In a second or two, our bedroom door was open and I heard a familiar little voice say "Daaaaaddyyyyy..."

"Theo, go back to bed," I said just before Ruth could chime in with "Theo, everyone is still asleep." As usual when he knows he's wrong, I heard little footsteps run into his room, his door close and latch, and the little steps continue into his bed. I dozed off in a couple minutes, waking briefly as Ruth left for work a little while later, and only woke up for good when Theo started making noise again after 7. This was a FANTASTIC surprise, because he's been getting me up at or before 6 most mornings lately regardless of when he goes to bed.

So Theo and I went downstairs, where I found one of my containers of yogurt that I'd frozen for myself sitting on the kitchen table. Peculiar. "Ruth must not have realized we still have yogurt for Theo in the fridge. She was trying to help out. How nice!" Then I found a half-bag of half-thawed frozen strawberries in the sink. "Well, it is plain yogurt. He'd want some fruit in it. Good idea, dear."

... A very small voice in the back of my head thought "Ruth doesn't usually presume to do this stuff..." but since the frozen cup of yogurt had been thoughtfully arranged on a neatly folded towel, I figured it MUST have been Ruth.

When Ruth came home from work that night, I told her, "Hey, thanks for the yogurt, but we had plenty for Theo in the fridge."

She replied, "THAT wasn't me. I found it sweating all over the table, so I put the towel under it. Then I found some strawberries that I moved to the sink to thaw. What was up with that?"

I looked at Theo enjoying his dinner, and finally the little voice that had been whispering that morning was screaming.

"Well dear, I think Theo came downstairs this morning before he woke us up to get himself some breakfast. He opened the freezer, pulled out a cup of yogurt and a bag of strawberries, then put them on the dining room table. I'm guessing he came upstairs to get me when he realized he couldn't get the foil wrapper off the yogurt container."

"Theo, did you come downstairs this morning and try to make yourself breakfast?"

"YEEEEAAASS!" Of course, this reply is meaningless, as I've asked Theo before if James Dean and Elvis visit him at preschool, and he's given me the same hyper-enthused positive response. Still, it makes a lot more sense than Ruth's theory that someone broke in during the middle of the night to help himself to some yogurt before the cats scared him off. Sorry dear.

I COMPLETELY expected the day to come when Theo would be wandering the house while we slept, but I never figured he'd be doing it at 2.5 years old, or that he'd be halfway to making himself breakfast in total darkness while we slept. We laughed until our sides hurt, and I asked Theo to not go downstairs anymore until he checks with me first.

I guess it's time to see if doorknob covers will work on the glass doorknobs the old owners installed all over this place...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Just wasting time...

Just dropped off Theo for his first day of preschool. He's going to a small school in the neighborhood, just two mornings a week. He's been ready for a long time to start spending more time around other kids and less around his Daddy. I'm MORE than ready to have six hours of my adulthood back every week.

've been trying to figure out lately why I haven't had the urge to do any blogging or longer-form writing in general. In part, I know it's the amount of time I've concentrated on running, to the exclusion of other hobbies, but I think 'm also getting tired of being identified just as "Daddy," to the exclusion of other roles. I love my kid. He's a lot of fun to be with an I wouldn't trade the past two years. But having to be "on" pretty much every waking hour and parts of the sleeping ones leaves me without the mental energy and concentration for blogging.

Call me a whiny bitch or whatever, but I'm learning my limits.

But anyway, his first day: I was running a few minutes late, as usual -- we had to walk a neighbor's dog -- and then we managed to walk a block from the house before I realized I'd forgotten his extra clothes and diapers at home. At least it was only a block, right? That ate up all our extra time, so I carried him most of the way there so we could still be there with some time to spare. I figure I'll work on leaving earlier in the future, so he can walk on his own.

As we approached the school, I realized that it was the first day not just for the Monday/Wednesday 2-year-olds, but also for the older kids who attend Monday/Wednesday/Friday. The entrance was like a red carpet paparazzi lineup as people photographed and filmed their little ones arriving for their first day. I didn't bring a camera -- I really wanted to avoid making a big production of things -- and I just walked him directly inside to his classroom.

When we arrived, the teacher greeted him, introduced herself and pointed him in the direction of a box of matchbox cars...and I might as well have disappeared at that point. I handed over some paperwork to the teacher, loaded his cubby with extra clothes and diapers ... and it was time for me to go. I said "High five, buddy, see you later," and he barely looked up to raise his hand. Not even some crying from a couple other kids could faze him.

So, pretty anticlimactic, really. I look forward to seeing how he's doing in an hour, seeing what he's bringing home and what he has to say, but in the meantime I'm just happy to be alone, sitting on the patio at Starbucks and pretending that I'm an irresponsible layabout with nothing on my mind and nowhere to go... my future plans while he's in school include a return to brewing and finishing a few things around the house.

And if a mere two hours of relaxation can lead to a long blog post, there's no telling how much I can accomplish...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

And a not-so-stereotypical Daddy moment...

Most of our previous attempts to get Theo to clean up his toys resulted in Ruth and I scrambling all over the living room to put stuff away while the kid either stood around and laughed at us, or foiled our attempts by spreading puzzle pieces all over the floor.

After a while, we just gave up; easier to put him to bed without fighting that particular battle and we're both so beat by the end of the day that a room littered with toys just isn't our highest priority.

So tonight, Ruth was even later than usual, dinner for Theo was leftovers and whatever I thought he'd eat and afterwards I was facing the prospect of putting him to bed by myself.

As we walked through the toy clutter in the front room, I threw a couple blocks into their box and said, "Wish this stuff would get put away."

And the craziest thing happened -- Theo stopped, picked up a toy and put it in the toy box. Opportunist that I am, I JUMPED on this development and started talking him through the full cleanup. "Theo, can you put all your toy cars in this box?" He suddenly became a toddler WITH A PURPOSE, something that I never knew existed.

Ten minutes later and the room was fit for company.

I realize this sounds weird and desperate, but hot damn, anytime some of the work around here can be transferred from me to him, I'm a happy guy.

The moment every Daddy looks forward to...

I realize that it's too early to make any assumptions, but...

Tonight, Theo picked up his little foam football and started throwing it back and forth across the living room.


That's right. Looking forward to the Fighting Illini National Championship 2028 and the Chicago Bears Super Bowl Dynasty of the 2030s. BANK on it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wherein I get serious about cross-training

Just a running update: The good news, I ran the CHKD 8K Run-Walk for the kids on June 13. I was pretty happy with my time, 48:19, considering the weather was terribly hot and humid, even for the morning. I probably tried a little to hard to keep up with some friends at the beginning when I should've taken it easier all the way through the race.

Which leads to the bad news ... I started feeling some pain just below my knee in the days after the race. Knowing that we were a few days from a long weekend to DC that would mean many miles of walking each day, I stopped running. But lots of walking in DC, most of it with Theo in the backpack, probably helped get my legs stronger and definitely burned a lot of calories.

It seems pretty clear that any increases in my speed or mileage beyond where I'm at now will take quite a bit of time. Runner's World described the problem that fits my knee pain, and it sounds like my weight and lack of quad strength are likely culprits. I've decided that if I'm going to finish the Virginia Beach Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in a time I'm happy with, I have to do two things this summer -- lose a bunch of weight and improve my leg strength, especially my quads.

So my new program is going back to running only three days per week and not pushing the speed work for now, but hitting the bike hard at least three of the other four days. I'm also working on the Hundred Pushups and Two Hundred Squats programs of Tidewater local Steve Speirs, in addition to doing sets of planks and other core strength every day or two.

Yesterday I strapped Theo into his bike seat and set off. My first stop was the downtown Norfolk YMCA, just to see how long it would take to bike there -- looks like 10-15 minutes for me to cover the 2-ish miles, even with all the construction going on in that direction. I'd say there's a good chance we'll be joining there soon.

After my test ride to the Y, I set out for Norfolk's 5 Points community farm market. It's absolutely a treasure to have a source of local farm raised food available year-around, but I haven't been going there nearly as often as I'd like -- I don't have the car during the day and I favor destinations I can reach on foot. Now that I know how quickly I can get there and back on the bike, I'm likely to start visiting with Theo a couple times a week.

One more quick stop at Azar's to get Theo some Hummus (OK, I admit Daddy's eating it too) and we were on our way back home.

Of course, it figures...because of a seat malfunction and forgetting to restart my GPS watch after Theo stopped it, I don't have an exact mileage. I know it was at least 7.75, so I'm going to put a guess at 9.5 - 10 miles covered. I'm very happy with that. It made me tight enough this morning that getting started on my run was a challenge, but once I worked out the kinks I ran as well as I normally do for five miles with the stroller.

I figure a week or two of regular bike riding should get my body accustomed to the new work I'm giving it and with any luck, I'll start to show improvements in my run distance and speed as I hit muscles that haven't been working so hard up to this point. Next I have to find out if MacArthur mall has bike parking, anyplace where Theo can run wild in the morning is a prime destination...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lies we tell our children

"No no no, Theo. That's Daddy's penis. You can touch Theo's penis, but we don't touch other people's penises."

I'll get into the exceptions to that one later, I guess.

Yes, this is an ongoing theme.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gender stereotypes, two for one today only

Do I just not leave the house enough?

Monday morning, couple weeks ago now, I still had the rental car I'd used to drive Theo and I to Pennsylvania for the weekend, so I decided to take advantage and run to the commissary.

It was one of those perfect grocery trips. No crowds, lots of other kids for Theo to interact with and he actually walked with me and listened to me when I told him not to pick up glass jars from the bottom shelf.

Our bagger had a great time talking with Theo on the way to the car, but then came the question that every stay-at-home dad gets at some point: "...and Where is your Mommy?" The way she asked, her meaning seemed clear ... but I don't assume anything, and I'm polite even when other people aren't, so I gave the honest answer: "She's at work on the big ship, right Theo? We'll see her this afternoon. (Deep breath)"

"OH!" ... and then silence. I've heard this dozens of times -- The sudden realization that I am the stay-at-home spouse of a female sailor, followed by a fruitless attempt to find the right cliche or canned comment to make about our situation.

I'd forgotten about it by the time the car rental rep was driving us home. We were talking about our trip and I mentioned that we were both ready to be out of the car, after spending so much time together there over the weekend. She told me, "Well, you'll be really happy for that Daddy bonding time later ..." I didn't think anything of it, I just told her, "Oh yeah, we spend all day together, I stay home with him."

"OH!" ... and then silence.

I never let this bug me before I had kids. There's so few of us civilian male spouses, we just never make it onto most people's radars, so why would they have anything to say?

I try very hard not to feel slighted and I'm not playing the victim card here. After all, we're outside the norm and I just get an occasional silly question; my wife and other military women have had to deal with far worse stereotyping. And this isn't something that's unique to the military, I'm sure most stay-at-home-dads hear it from time to time.

Still, why would anyone still believe the underlying assumptions? They're either saying that Mommy SHOULD be at home, or else they're assuming Daddy wouldn't spend his days buying groceries, changing diapers and making dinner.

I guess I should be happy to be out there breaking down stereotypes, making it clear to the folks with preconceived notions that I'm happy my wife is in a career she loves and what's more I ENJOY spending all day with Theo and being the support system for a talented and driven Naval officer. I'm basically a 230 lb. kid, why wouldn't I love it?

Still -- not to beat a dead horse, since friends and I have been over and over the Mr. Mom thing -- I don't think I need to be happy about having my role minimized, as if somehow a man is missing the skills to be a good full-time parent and housekeeper.

In the end, my wife and I aren't out to make any grand feminist statements and we certainly never planned our lives to intentionally undermine traditional gender roles. We just feel lucky that we live during a time when each of us can have the job that suits our skills and temperaments. It's a wonderful feeling to know that even if I get a few weird questions and funny looks, no one thinks twice anymore about a woman in my wife's position.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Military spouse appreciation day

I hope both my readers spent today appreciating me -- today has been declared "Military Spouse Appreciation Day."

I guess I always have to be the contrarian, but I'm really not much for these sorts of observances. I know I'm appreciated by the folks who matter -- my wife, the rest of our family and my wife's shipmates/chain of command. I'm grateful for the sentiments of outsiders, but from my point of view there's nothing notable about raising our kid, supporting my wife and enabling her to achieve her ambitions. It's really just the bare minimum any responsible, loving person would do for their spouse.

No matter how difficult it might be to be separated, I'm not the one living in an enclosed space with 3000 strangers and not touching land for 6-9 months while being shot at. I know civilian couples who work more difficult schedules and endure weekly or monthly separations for business-related travel, some of them for less money than Ruth makes. I feel like we've got it pretty good: I make no money whatsoever, but she has a secure job that pays well enough (with some budgeting and planning, of course) for us to live out our values and she still comes home 7 nights out of 10 saying "I have the coolest job!"

I know not every military spouse feels this way and we are far happier about our situation than a lot of people in the military community -- so a happy Military Spouse day and THANK YOU to all those spouses for whom the military lifestyle is one of endurance, rather than enjoyment.

For those outside the community, wondering what "Appreciation" might mean in practice, beyond just one day of words, Leanne at has 101 great ideas that don't neglect the male spouse.

My own thoughts about meaningful, ongoing ways to recognize the sacrifices of the spouse:

If you run a business that offers a military discount, offer the same discount to dependents. Her money is my money, so it's frustrating when a discount is only available to my wife who is so often away. Kudos to companies who DO recognize this reality and give the same treatment to servicemembers and their dependents, like USAA, Choice Hotels and Southwest Airlines.

Give of your time or money to the organizations supporting wounded soldiers and their families. They are the ones who have really had their lives turned upside down as a result of military service, and all indications are that the unconventional nature of this war and advances in battlefield medicine will leave our veterans with thousands upon thousands of permanent injuries that no one expected.

...and if you could do one thing for me today, stop asking my son where his mommy is at, as if I'm a stranger he was abandoned with. A post about this coming up later in the weekend...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Banana Bread recipe

I've been using this banana bread recipe since pretty much forever. Makes a huge loaf. Saw a Twitter contact ask for a recipe this morning, figured I should actually write it down for once.

5 TB butter, softened
1/2 cup of brown sugar (I usually use dark brown)
1/2 cup of regular granulated sugar
2 eggs (you can get by with one, but let's not go halfway here -- this isn't bread, it's a loaf-shaped cake.)
1tsp vanilla extract
3-4 bananas, as overripe as you can stand to have in your house.

1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Combine first five ingredients in stand mixer. Mix on low-medium speed until well-combined. Add bananas, mix on low-medium until broken into pieces and combined. Seeing lumps of banana is good.

While mixing, combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Once bananas are combined, mix dry ingredients gradually, scraping sides with spatula. When completely combined, add nuts or chocolate chips or whatever add-ons you like in banana bread; I know some folks swear by chocolate and sometimes I do walnuts, but usually don't add anything.

Scrape into a buttered loaf pan, bake for 50-60 minutes, until the edges are brown, the middle of the loaf isn't jiggly when the pan is moved and a toothpick inserted an inch or so off-center comes out clean. The very center will be soft (but NOT jiggly!) when the edges are done, it will finish after pulling it out of the oven. I think the edges are too dry if it stays in the oven until the center is completely cooked. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan, remove from the pan and then cool on a rack.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Getting around

Last week I finally took my bike down to the local shop to have a toddler seat installed. After using it yesterday for the first time, I'm kicking myself for not doing it earlier.

Even though I've never been a frequent biker, I was able to get Theo strapped in, balance the bike and ride at my usual speed in no time. I thought I'd stay on the local trail for a couple days to get acclimated, check brakes and so forth, but after less than 20 minutes I headed out on the streets in our neighborhood. I was able to ride around the neighborhood for at least an hour with no aches or pains as a result.

I'd suspected that Theo would chafe at being strapped into a seat and helmet, making the whole exercise a gigantic waste, but he had a GREAT time. He smiled at everyone we saw and never touched the helmet. When we stopped at the playground, despite all the other kids and his favorite slides, he was begging to get back in the bike 20 minutes after we stopped.

I'd been re-thinking our one car situation again lately. We don't get to the YMCA or the library as much as I'd like because we're on foot and even the easy walks, to Starbucks or the grocery will get tougher in the summer heat. On a bike, all those places will be an easy ride and I can even go for the mall downtown, the farmer's market or the zoo if I have the energy. If he's actually looking forward to bike rides, we'll be having a blast.

Alternate transportation is even more important on this tour because my wife's ship is in the yards. Having a single car was much easier when she'd be out of town with the ship for days and weeks at a time; now she's driving to work early five or six days a week and getting home late, so I have to plan farther ahead to have the car.

I am still thinking about that second car. My biggest regret right now is that I don't socialize at all with the friends we were most looking forward to seeing back here in Norfolk. The five miles to our old 'hood is as far away as RI when we don't have a car every day.

I promise photos sometime soon. Need to have Mommy home to take some photos when we go ride.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Home dairy delivery back in Norfolk

I had a couple more posts all queued up two weeks ago until life interfered, as it sometimes does. Car problems, Computer problems, Theo problems, I couldn't find time to brew, then I did find time to brew...

... but enough whining. I guess I'm lucky I don't get paid to meet deadlines anymore. The good news after all these episodes is that the garage that messed up the car did the right thing and we will use them again, the computer is under warranty, Theo is over his teething or growing pains and even if my brew session wasn't perfect, it's still going to be beer.

We had more good news the past couple weeks, as not one, but two replacements for the late, lamented Yoder Dairies home delivery service came to Hampton Roads.

We already knew and liked Oberweis from our years living in Chicago. I was surprised to hear they'd expanded all the way to Tidewater, but on the other hand there's obviously a market here and quality companies are always looking to grow.

We'd never heard of the other new delivery service, South Mountain Creamery, but after some research it's the option we chose. They dropped off our first delivery of milk, butter, eggs and yogurt late this morning in our old Yoder dairy box -- SO happy the money we spent on that box didn't go to waste and loving the sound of the glass bottles clinking in the fridge again!

Both companies sell products from non-factory dairies that don't use growth hormones or unnecessary antibiotics. We figure that Theo is still drinking a lot of milk and eating a lot of cheese and yogurt, so anytime we can choose non-hormone dairy we do it. The same reasoning goes for buying non-factory eggs and meat: Happy, less stressed animals are going to taste better and make better products.

After thinking it over, we decided to go with SMC because the majority of their products come from close by at their family farm in Maryland and the source of anything they're reselling is clearly explained on their web page.

The problems with the factory farm model have been well documented. Even though it's probably not practical to feed the world exclusively from small sustainable operations, we think it's worth a little more money to support a family business trying to bring a higher quality product to a broader market. If you're living in Hampton Roads or elsewhere in South Mountain Creamery's delivery area, check them out.

Seeing two different companies arrive to replace Yoder also got me thinking -- there was a lot of wailing and teeth-gnashing about the demise of Yoder, the passing of a old tradition, blaming the economy and yadda yadda yadda.

Now two quality companies are looking for growth opportunities and jump into Yoder's old market, despite what Yoder and so many others said about how the lousy economy doomed their business model. The unemployed get similar, if not identical jobs and consumers get more choices.

Of course, it's possible only one of these companies, or neither of them, will survive locally; and I don't want to make this a big political point or question Yoder's business, because we were happy customers. But if I didn't know any better, I'd say that this is exactly how the market is supposed to work. Downturns eliminate weaker, complacent companies and gives the bolder, stronger companies a chance to grow, to compete in new markets and make everyone better off in the long run -- customers, employees and owners alike. Just a thought.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Some family pictures...

My wife was in the sword arch for a shipmate's wedding last weekend. It's not very often I catch her in dress uniform, so I brought along the camera and took a ton of pictures, these are some of the better ones.

I think it amuses Ruth that I get so picture-happy when she's in a dress uniform, although she does admit that she looks good all decked out and wearing her bling.

Certainly, I think she's gorgeous and I love the symbolism in the uniform. Beyond that, over time these pictures in her dress uniform will tell the story of every step in her unique journey, as she progressed from Recruit to Petty Officer to getting her commission. I want our kids and their kids to know her story and learn the lesson that no one is defined by where or how they grew up, but by their willingness to work and not give up. She'll be the first to tell you that some of those medals are of the "just happened to be here" or "perfect attendance" variety, but there's others that signify hard work and achievements she's right to be proud of.

Most days she tells me "it's just a job" and she has a point. A lot of her days as an officer aren't much different than mine were running a helpdesk: Sit in front of a computer, sit through long meetings, check up on projects, make some calls, send some reports. Even the Navy's day-to-day "working" uniforms reflect the reality that far more time is spent preparing to fight than actually fighting.

These special occasions and the symbols that go with them are part of what makes her job "...more than just a job..." as the old advertisement put it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Twitter makes me a better military spouse

If you're looking at the blog's main page, you may have noticed my Twitter feed, under the "What I'm doing now" heading in the right-hand sidebar.

Those unfamiliar with Twitter always ask me the same questions -- first, "What IS it?" and then, after I've explained the concept: "Why do you do that? What's the point?"

First the "what": Twitter is a micro-blogging platform, based around the concept of sharing "What I'm doing right now" in 140 characters or less. Updates can be broadcast via text message, web page or RSS feed. Users "follow" each others' Twitter feeds and can reply publicly or privately to any other user.

This is an accurate description, it's also completely useless to anyone who hasn't used it! The difficulty, I tell them, in describing Twitter is that you can't say what it is without describing what it does, and it does something different for everyone who tries it.

For instance, I use it as part of the constantly updated content in my blog sidebar -- my sidebar content keeps the site active and lets me share day-to-day activities and links to other articles on the Internet without creating a full blog post. Because I can update Twitter via text message, I can update the sidebar from my cheap cell phone, without needing a computer -- as I did earlier today, when I sent a tweet during an impromptu visit to the zoo.

Twitter also updates my Facebook status, so one status update from my cell phone or any computer goes to three different places.

There has been another unexpected benefit to Twitter that relates directly to being a military spouse. My wife's Internet connection aboard ship doesn't allow her to read webmail or my blog and email is often intermittent -- but they haven't decided to block Twitter (yet; that may change by the time you read this, as it gets more popular). So as long as the Internet is available, she is able to check my twitter updates and see what it is Theo and I are doing during the day.

Crazy as it sounds, this tracking of our mundane family activities has become one of the most powerful uses of Twitter. Every deployment starts with good intentions to send letters and emails every day outlining the details our service member would want to know -- where the family went that day, what was for dinner, what was in the diaper after dinner -- but real life and real exhaustion often intervene.

The spouse at home doesn't always have a computer or pen & paper available to record thoughts in the moment. When we do get the time to write our deployed sweetie, we've all had those nights where we say, "Today was nothing special ... what am I going to find to write about tonight?"

I certainly forget from time to time that my mundane and boring is like a breath of fresh air for my deployed wife. Recording what we're up to makes Ruth feel that much closer to us every day. Even now that she's in port, I might forget something interesting or cute that happened that day, but as long as I send a Tweet, she will get the news. As often as not, she'll start the dinner conversation with "So, I saw that you went to the store (or playground, or zoo) today!"

And these are just the uses I've found for maintaining my own Twitter updates. I haven't even mentioned the value in following (reading the Tweets) of my friends, other people who live near me, bloggers and writers with similar interests, or celebrities and people in the media.

I'd encourage you to try it out, or share the unique ways you already use Twitter or other social networking to keep up with your friends and family.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Race day!

As I noted on Twitter, Ruth and I had a very successful Shamrock 8K this morning. Ruth has had old injuries that have kept her from running as well as she'd like and the last time we ran together, she covered about a mile and a half before she had to alternate running and walking. Last week she managed 4.5 miles in a little over an hour, so I was hopeful that with a combination of walking and running we'd finish in the 1:15 to 1:20 range.

It has been a beautiful sunny day in Virginia Beach, but waiting for the starting gun on Atlantic Ave. in the shadow of the oceanfront hotels, it was CHILLY. Our hands were a little numb -- we'd avoided bringing gloves or hats because we knew we wouldn't need them once the race started. There were 9,000 people running today, by far their biggest crowd ever.

I've run 5 miles in well under an hour before, so I told Ruth that my goal was to keep her running slowly enough that she wouldn't wear herself out. I know from running with her that as soon as she starts to run/walk, there will be more walking than running (not a criticism; I'm the same way), so we needed to avoid walking for as long as possible.

So we started off telling each other to slow down. I reminded her that of the people passing us, half of them were going to end up walking later in the race and we would pass them -- and the other half, we had no chance of catching, so ignore them!

Throughout the race it seemed like every time we were in danger of hitting a rut, something would happen to lift our spirits...

Midway through the 2nd mile, Annoying Evangelist Guy showed up along the course with his megaphone and 15-foot-high "ARE YOU ON THE HIGHWAY TO HELL???" sign -- I turned to Ruth, said, "You can't stop me!" and started screaming "WOOOO HELL! YAY FOR HELL!!" This kept Ruth laughing long enough to forget any discomfort.

(NOTE: I'm not actually a hell fan. But maybe he was, the sign wasn't very specific.)

A few minutes later, when we passed the 2nd mile marker, we made the turn onto the Virginia Beach boardwalk -- even though there was a pretty good breeze in our face, the sun and surf made the third mile fly by.

I completely forgot to figure out the difference between the official start time and the time we passed the starting line, so I wasn't sure how fast we were running until we passed the 2nd mile marker, 13 minutes after the first mile marker. At this point I felt like I'd been taking a brisk walk and Ruth was still feeling great -- even better when she realized this was probably the farthest she'd ever run without a pause to walk!

Between mile three and four, where I saw Ruth starting to flush and maybe puff a little, here comes the spectators with a cowbell. So obviously, I start yelling "THIS RACE NEEDS MORE COWBELL! REALLY EXPLORE THE SPACE!" Once again, laughter proved the best medicine.

After we'd covered three miles and even more so after four, I started doing my best to motivate Ruth, telling her that she'd done a great job, it was only a few more minutes ... and maybe most importantly, that if she stopped running we'd no longer be passing anyone. If encouragement is good, appealing to my over-competitive wife is even better!

We ran into one of Ruth's chiefs on the course and more than once spectators greeted us with cries of "GO NAVY!" We were both wearing Navy T-shirts and I know the acknowledgment gave Ruth a lift.

I'd obviously far underestimated how gassed she was in those final miles, because as the finish line loomed a few dozen yards in front of us, I looked over to see how she was doing ... and she was pulling away at as close to a sprint as either of us could manage! I had to catch up for us to cross the finish line together. I was so proud of her and so excited, I barely noticed the walk back to the car.

I looked over as we crossed the line, and the time since the starting gun was just under 1:11 -- so we probably made it in about 1:05, far ahead of what either of us had expected.

There was one sour note struck on that walk, which I posted about earlier. I didn't want to have the top post on the blog be an ill-tempered rant on such a great day! Thanks to everyone who has been wishing us well on Facebook and in the comments here. These were just the first steps of a longer journey -- we have a lot of improvement and even longer runs ahead!

The next race I'm registered for is the Virginia Beach Rock'n'Roll half marathon in September, which I'm running with my friend Rosanne. She's ahead of me in both distance and speed, so I have a lot of work to do. Of course, now that we've run one race, I'm sure there will be some shorter races between now and then.

In which reverse snobbery rears its head

Ruth and I ran the Shamrock 8K this morning -- details coming in the next post, but suffice to say it was a great race, we both ran well and had a great time.

On the walk back to the car, wearing my well-deserved finisher's medal and cooling down with a bottle of water, I remembered for the first time in a couple hours that I'd had no coffee that morning. We were up just after 6 and out the door at 6:30 to get Theo to his babysitter, so there really hadn't been time.

But now -- with a spring in my step, celebrating our victory over our old couch-conditioned fata$$ bodies, I knew what I wanted -- a large hot coffee from Starbucks, with a shot of espresso. I'm not usually that picky about coffee -- as long as it's more than warm brown water I'm happy to drink Dunkin', 7-11 or Wawa -- but I know what I really like, it's uusally the consistency of road tar and on a morning when I felt like I've done good for my wife and me, I decided I deserved what I really wanted.

Thing is ... we don't go to the oceanfront often enough for me to know where there might be a Starbucks.

I'd mentioned my craving to Ruth and that I was happy to wait until we were driving home, but she said I should go ahead and ask one of the police or volunteers directing traffic -- she didn't mind walking a little bit out of our way if there was one around and after all, they're around for the benefit of the race participants, right?

So I approached one of the clearly marked volunteers assisting a police officer at a traffic barricade. He's a big dude, a good bit older than us, holding his own cup of joe. I asked him if he knew where there might be a Starbucks nearby. He replied,

"Well ... I couldn't tell you where to find one, because I AVOID Starbucks." I thanked him and turned to the police officer, but he was on the radio assisting another pedestrian, so rather than bother him I moved on.

... and a few steps away, I started thinking a little too much about the tone of the volunteer's response and said out loud, "DUDE, What is your problem?" I told Ruth, "Wow, next time can you say 'I don't know' without the reverse snobbery?"

How would I look if this person stopped me in my own neighborhood and asked about a 7-11, but I sprinkled my directions to him with editorial comments about how I prefer either the local non-chain coffee house or Starbucks? What if I saw him buying Natural Ice Light in a convenience store and stopped him to explain how much I prefer Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA?

He'd come away from either situation calling me a pretentious, snobby yuppie jerk and he'd be totally justified in doing so.

The way I figure it, all these different outlets can co-exist because everyone has slightly different preferences. I'm not a purist who is going to claim that the market success of Starbucks means they have the "best" coffee out there -- my taste buds have never been good enough to make me a connoisseur -- but I like it and apparently a lot of other people do too.

But nooooooooo. Apparently there's now something WRONG with finding and expanding a market in a way that makes lots of people happy, if it doesn't make THIS GUY happy too. This guy didn't strike me as either a communist or a coffee purist, so I'm just going to stereotype him as someone who looks down on a consumer product because he doesn't like the people he sees consuming it. See also, "critics of FOX News" and "Dave Matthews Band haters."

So if you're reading this, Snotty Race Volunteer Guy, HERE'S TO YOU for trying to assert your superiority over a CUP OF FRAKING COFFEE, which I had in my hands at our neighborhood Starbucks not an hour after we spoke. I did tide myself over with a cup from THE WORLD'S SLOWEST MCDONALDS (another story that will remain untold), but for the record, it cost over a $1.25 for cup that lasted all of five swallows -- hardly the bargain of the year -- and I didn't like it as much as that Starbucks. Now go on TELL ME AGAIN HOW MUCH I SUCK.

Part of me feels silly for spending more time on SRVG than he deserves, but I keep wondering, who comes out to volunteer for something like this if they'd rather make snide, dismissive comments to the runners rather than be as helpful as possible?

If Snotty Race Volunteer Guy DOES read this, I urge him to get in touch with me -- I will buy you all the Folgers and 7-11 coffee you can drink next year at this time, if you promise not to "volunteer" again.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Because I love to talk about myself

I wanted to note that the blog is now featured in the "Blogs2Watch" section of, a community site for "military wives and women in uniform." They have a great variety of hosted and outside blogs from other military spouses, check them out.

Thanks to Meredith and CinChouse for raising the exposure of us guys those women in uniform leave at home. I hope CinChouse readers enjoy what they find here; you'll find we're not only about belching, scratching and beer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ready to run

I haven't posted about it here, but around the beginning of the year I decided that the only way I was ever going to get my weight under control (6'3" & 240+ lbs. isn't morbidly obese, I carry it pretty well, but it's not at all slim) was to start running. I've lost weight running in the past so I know it works, and my body seems to like running; every time I've started, I've made good progress quickly. Why did I ever stop? Well, like everything else, there's always an excuse: I get bored easily. Winter comes. Work stress glues me to the couch with a pint of ice cream.

This time, not so much. I'm already noticing the changes from being in better shape and I like them a lot. I can't quit.

I've been tracking my progress with a combination of the website WalkJogRun and Facebook, so my friends see what I'm up to and encourage me. If you check out the routes tied to user "ja3" in the 23507 zip code, you can see some of my runs. I'm going 4-5 miles consistently, at least three times a week.

Speaking of my friends, I have to give a lot of credit to Rosanne who has become my remote training partner. When we were able to run together once, we managed 8 miles, farther than I've ever run before. Knowing that you have to tell someone what you're doing and explain why you DIDN'T run is a great motivator.

This weekend Ruth and I are running an 8k over in Virginia Beach, my first race. Ruth had sworn off running for a long time because of old injuries, but she's a natural-born athlete, so I'm sure she'll be dusting me soon. Right now I'm likely to be a few minutes faster than her, but my plan is to stick with her pace and hopefully push her along. If we finish in under 1 hour 15 minutes I'll be ecstatic.

Wish us luck!

Monday, March 16, 2009


I've never really gotten the hang of dinnertime with Theo. We've always wanted part of our routine to be sitting down to dinner with him, but until recently he really needed an early bedtime. Once Ruth returned to the long days and occasional evenings of sea duty, a family dinner was almost impossible to put together.

I'm sure I could have forced it to happen, but I'm just not the SuperDad I'd like to think. Putting a real meal on the table without help at Theo's neediest time of day has always been beyond my skills; even if he was willing to give me a half hour or hour of time without reaching for knives and hot pans, it doesn't seem right to me to make the provider of the feast eat leftovers by herself when the firm's junior associate is happy to eat whatever leftovers I can warm up for him.

Even back when Ruth could be home early enough to distract Theo while I cooked, dinner has always been the most relaxing, satisfying part of the day for us. Since lingering over a relaxing dinner isn't really compatible with toddler eating habits, all three of us have been happy to have the adults eat after Theo went to bed.

Theo has recently made the big move to a later bedtime; instead of demanding to be put in his crib by 6:30, he won't even think about falling asleep until almost 8, and his dinnertime has also moved later. Now that the choice is dinner with Theo at 6 or finding ourselves starving before we can have dinner by ourselves after 8, the stars have aligned and we're eating together most of the time.

So tonight I adapted a recipe from the Cook's Illustrated "Best 30-minute Recipe" book. I love that Cook's gives me techniques, rather than just recipes -- and even with some additions, this recipe wasn't much over a half hour from cutting board to table. Theo sometimes has problems with creamy sauces, but he scarfed a bowl of this in no time.

Changed from the Cook's recipe: I started with their recipe for "Creamy Skillet Penne with Mushrooms and Asparagus." I substituted whole wheat Trader Joe's penne for regular penne. I added chicken sausage, onion, frozen peas and some spices. I omitted the shallot and dried porcini and just used the fresh mushrooms I had. I used half-and-half rather than heavy cream because it's what I had on hand, so I had to use some cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Instead of just water, I used half water and half chicken broth.

Creamy Penne with Sausage, Mushroom and Asparagus

1 TB olive oil
8 oz sausage (this time I used chicken sausage with sundried tomatos from Trader Joe's, which was precooked; you might need more if you start with raw)
10 oz sliced mushrooms, white & baby bella
salt and pepper
1/2 medium onion
pinch of red pepper flakes
pinch of dried sage
dash of dried thyme
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
3.5 cups of liquid; I used a combination of water and chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
8 oz penne
1/2 bunch of asparagus
1 cup frozen peas
grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, brown sausage and then add mushrooms, onion, 1/2 tsp salt and seasonings. Cook until mushrooms are browned, 8-10 minutes. [Prep remaining ingredients while mushrooms cook.]

Add garlic, cook for 30-60 seconds. stir in wine and simmer for one minute.

stir in water, 1/2 and 1/2 and penne. Increase heat and cook uncovered, stirring often until penne is almost tender and liquid has reduced, 15-18 minutes. [I threw together a salad and some garlic bread while the pasta cooked.]

Add asparagus and cook until tender, a few minutes more. Add frozen peas and drop heat to medium-low.

[At this point I decided the sauce wasn't going to thicken the way I wanted so I added a slurry of cornstarch and milk that brought it right together.]

Off heat, stir in Parmesan, salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Welcome "Spouse Calls" readers

Terri Barnes, the "Spouse Calls" blogger and columnist for Stars and Stripes, linked to my blog this week as part of a series of posts and columns about military husbands.

Although I don't update this blog as often as I'd like -- in the daily competition for my attention, the toddler always wins -- I agree with my buddy Tom that as a category, the male military spouse/military husband/Navy-wife-with-a-penis is becoming visible as something other than a curiosity. Being part of another curious category that's finally getting their due (The stay-at-home daddy), I've decided I should be writing about these issues more often.

So that you don't have to sort through all my past posts about beer, my cute kid, my foul mouth and beer, here's a couple of my past posts that do go into military life. I welcome any and all discussion of these issues. Hunt around and you'll see me talking about our recent PCS move, my fun times as a stay-at-home daddy and my homebrewing. Thanks for visiting!

My Denial Closet

On Military Husbands and the "wives club"

Monday, March 9, 2009


Paul and I were just discussing Facebook and Twitter -- what they're good for, why do we bother, what do we find amusing about them.

We started discussing the stereotypes and cliches used by lazy or bored people when they don't have anything else to put in a tweet/status message, and it led to what I think is a fairly comprehensive list. Go to his blog and check it out.

And because Paul invoked "I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THE SOUND OF MY OWN AWESOMENESS," I'm going to post this picture. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A father's proudest moment

My son just said the word "sausage" for the first time, while enjoying some with dinner.

I'm overcome with emotion. Now we start working on identifying bacon...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tonight's important question

We're watching this week's episode of CSI. During the episode, Laurence Fishburne's character consults with "Dr. Stewart," AKA Simon the Cylon doctor from Battlestar Galactica.

After yelling "GET OUT, HE'S A FRAKING TOASTER," we started wondering -- in a one-on-one smackdown between Morpheus and a Cylon, who would win?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My denial closet

After being here five months (feels like so much less) we finally had friends come to town for Presidents' Day weekend. Of course, there's still a few boxes left unpacked, so last week was a flurry of organizing, putting storage totes in closets and moving far too much "I don't need this today, but maybe someday" stuff to the attic. I thought we'd given away or sold a lot before we left Newport, but our attic knows differently.

After putting it off far too long, I finally had to confront the pile of infant gear that ended up stacked in the guest room closet. A car seat, a swing, a bouncer seat and a bathtub. Every time I try to make a decision about storing these items or getting rid of them, I have to think about when we're likely to have another child -- the one we'd hoped to have already.

Even though husbands of military members are getting more visible, this is an issue not often addressed. Pregnant women aren't allowed on sea duty (for good reason); therefore, a conscientious female line officer has very short windows available to have kids while maintaining her career path. In our case, Ruth's convoluted career path gave us our first "window" in our mid 30s ... and we may not have another chance before we're too old to be comfortable having more biological children.

I've all but stopped talking about our pending China adoption. As of the first week of March, our dossier will have been in the pile at CCAA for two years. At the rate adoptions from China are moving right now, before we get a referral Theo will likely be in school every day and Ruth at least two duty stations removed from her current command. Of course, we keep hearing that referrals are likely to speed up. I've filed those rumors under "believe it when i see it." Even if referrals do speed up, it's pretty much impossible for ours to happen this year ... and next year would still be a miracle in my book.

So, we figure we'll pursue another adoption, domestic this time, between now and then. But then the more I look into this option, the more I'm reminded of why we chose China in the first place. I'm not the constantly anxious kid I used to be, but uncertainty can still put me into a stomach-churning panic, and adoption, at least for us, is all about uncertainty.

All of this flies through my mind every time I look at that pile of infant gear with no easy conclusion or resolution. Rationally, I should be selling or giving it all away, right? After all, as I've just proved, there's not going to be anyone in the house who can use it this year, and without mental adjustments on my part and a sudden shift in our fortunes, probably not in 2010 either.

But then I tell myself that's just me giving up. Because despite what we want, part of me is giving up. I'm starting to look at local preschools for Theo and at the same time, I started talking to my old supervisor last week for advice about my next career moves. Keeping the infant gear is my hopeful side's way of trying to spite that part of me that's giving up, holding on to the idea that there will be a baby in this house and not our next who-knows-where house.

So I stared at that pile of gear a while. Then I pulled down the attic stairs and moved it all up. I guess that's me striking a blow for hope. Or, my inner pessimist reminds me, just another way of not making a decision at all. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

It's that much harder because we are so happy. I'm still stupid in love with my wife and we marvel every day that we have the best little boy in the world. But I see the older kids in the neighborhood (right now, having moved to a block where it seems everyone has at least 3-5 kids is just rubbing it in) or see Theo interact with other kids and I know we should have more.

But time will tell. We are happy now, grateful for having so much more than we deserve and we will be happy later, no matter where we find ourselves. Like the rest of life, so much of this is out of our hands.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When being "annoying home brewing guy" pays off

The highlight of our weekend with friends near Philly was their (always huge) Super Bowl party. We've been at the party so many years now, we're fixtures along with the hot wings and pigs in blankets. As always, it was a great time, as evidenced by my disinterest in eating a full meal the next day.

This year my friends are in a new house, so I met some of their new neighbors for the first time. I ended up in the kitchen with the folks from next door, watching on the smaller TV -- I end up there a lot, because figure it puts me closer to the food and the "kitchen folks" usually aren't rooting one way or the other and want to talk about topics in addition to the game.

When I mentioned to my friends that I would try to make some beer for next year's party, their next-door neighbors started asking about the process -- so I went into all the details of boiling the wort and hops, adding the yeast and watching the beer ferment and age before finally bottling it. It's always a fine line between satisfying the genuine interest of someone who doesn't know how brewing works ... or being "that home brewing guy" who gets too technical and has nothing to talk about but his home brew.

When I talked about bottling, the neighbors mentioned a bottle of hooch that a friend had brought to their Christmas party. "It's a HUGE bottle, I think it was some sort of ale. It was less than half full, but still plenty for all of us and very good." They tried to indicate the approximate size of the bottle through hand gestures, but really only narrowed down the volume to something between 16 ounces and three gallons. I don't know if it was the amount I'd drank, but I really couldn't visualize what they could be talking about.

"It has a kind of a cork that sits down in the neck. If you think you could use it, we can have our son bring it over. We were thinking of putting flowers in it, but I think we're just going to recycle it."

What do I have to lose, then? I figured it was probably a decorative liqueur or champagne bottle of some sort and that with a little luck, I could get it cleaned and figure out how to cap it appropriately.

So, when their son brought in this bottle, imagine my surprise and shock and UTTER JOY. The smaller bottle is a regular 12 oz beer bottle, for scale:

So what the hell is the mystery bottle? It's a 101 oz (approx. .8 gallons) gate-cap bottle that previously held Tröegs seasonal Mad Elf. (Which sounds yummy enough to hunt some down.)

This bottle is already making me happy three ways -- I can avoid the hassle of capping at least 8 bottles of beer during my next brewing session (conditioning in that bottle will take quite a while, but I'm a patient guy). I've promised that in exchange for the gift, I'll be bringing the bottle back to the neighbors sometime filled with brew -- so we get an excuse for another party! Woo-hoo!

The best news? This happy incident has motivated me to get brewing again, however difficult it's going to be with my current electric stove setup. I cooked some starter wort today and pitched some yeast that will hopefully be happy yeast within the next day or so, which would leave me ready to brew by the weekend.

If my yeasties are dead (sadly, this is the more likely scenario) then I'll be putting in an order with Midwest sooner rather than later...