Season to Taste…

I have no idea what makes us like the foods we like. To some degree, it must be cultural or at least, environmental. North American kids learn to love and live by the peanut butter sandwich. French kids develop a long lasting relationship with the baguette. Hawaiian kids make a staple out of Spam and British Commonwealth children somehow overcome the reaction to recoil in horror at the sight of Marmite. I have no idea how.

My son, Short Stack is, to understate things, a picky eater. He is, in fact, an epically picky eater. To some degree, I can forgive him that. When I was young, I too have an extensive “no go” list when it came to food. It was mostly what you’d expect a kid to eschew, with a few oddities tossed in. Strawberries, for instance, I could no abide. Yes, I know. It was weird.

At one point in my young adulthood, I decided that it was all just too much and I decided to wipe the slate clean and start over. The impetus for this was two fold. First, was my introduction to international travel. When I was abroad, I ate pretty much what ever there was. I was raised to be polite and didn’t turn down food when offered by a kindly resident of wherever I happened to be at the time. The second reason was a rather obvious… inconsistency in my list of foods that I would not touch. Much of what I deemed, “no thank you” food, was either unpleasant to look at or icky in texture. Something like liver? You must be joking. Not a chance.

But… I had a love of muscles. Not the kind that you flex, but the blue muscles, picked fresh that morning and served in a butter and garlic sauce. That was something simply exquisite and I’d would happily use my elbows to make room at a table that included them in its spread. How could I bring my self to eat something that essentially looks like a buttery human ear and pronounce it delicious and then turn my nose up at anything else?

muscles

So eventually, I changed. I decided to eat everything that I came across and give it a fair shake. My only hard and fast rule was that whatever it was, it needed to be dead. I don’t think that’s asking too much from a meal. As it turns out, I like almost everything.

I have become a proud omnivore.

Short Stack is getting truly maddening to feed, however. What you can get to pass his lips is a very short list of food. He’ll eat breaded, fried chicken. He’ll eat breaded fried fish sticks. He does love most fruits and vegetables, so that’s good and makes us worry less about what’s going through his tiny system but then there are the bizarre foods that make no sense.

He won’t touch macaroni and cheese, and yet with happily scarf down a home made white pizza topped with feta, caramelized onion and, anchovies. EH? There is no chance of getting him to touch noodles in any form and yet if you cube up some extra firm tofu and give him a little saucer of soy sauce, he will scarf the stuff down like it was Turkish delight. “Would you like a bite of shepard’s pie? No? Oh, but you would like to have the bratwurst and spicy mustard.” ARG!

One time when he was still eating baby food, I was having a devil of a time to get him to eat the mashed up sweet potato that Gerber Baby Foods thought he should like. He had taken a few bites but then had clamed up and steadfastly refused to touch any more of the stuff. My wife happed to pass through the kitchen and watched as I valiantly tried to squish some more past his pursed lips. With a look of, “I wonder…” she took the jar of mush from me, opened the cupboard and added a good pinch of… curry powder. As you might guess, the rest of the sweet potato was vacuumed up in no time. I looked on in disbelief.

Now that he’s pushing three years old, there are more and more inconsistencies that have shown up. In the drinks category, there is Moxie. This is a regional soda that is loved only by a select, hard-core bunch of New Englanders. The taste starts off a bit like root beer, but then quickly turns bitter in your mouth. I know it sound awful, and to many folks out there, it is, but to me, it tastes great. Naturally, Short Stack loves it and if he catches me with an open bottle, will plead share it with me. He’ll take a sip, wince, and then take another.

Then, this morning, Action Girl called me at work. She has the day off and was home with the kids. One of the things that the two of us love about being home in the morning is the ritual of coffee drinking. Luckily for our marriage, we both like the same coffee, the same way. Black, no sugar, hot and very, very strong. The brand we buy is roasted locally and is called “Blackout”. It’s the type of brew that completely obscures the bottom of your mug even if it’s just a shallow puddle. When the mug is full, it looks like ancient motor oil. It is BLACK.

The phone message started, “Our son is weird.” What she then related was how he had wondered aloud what she had in her mug. When she told him that it was coffee, he had asked if it was very hot.

“No.” she replied. “It’s gotten quite cool now.” She had almost finished her cup and the half-inch at the bottom was not only cool, but also very, very concentrated.

“Can I have a sip?”

Perhaps it was a bad idea, but his food list is so small, and he so often turns his nose up with out ever trying anything that we never turn him away when he wants something new (booze, excluded naturally). He took a drink and immediately, pronounced it delicious. Oh, crap.

So now, I have an almost three year old who wants his own mug of black coffee. Obviously, we’ll have to figure out a way out of this one, regardless of how awesome the mental picture is of him turning up for daycare with a travel mug of freshly brewed joe. Not only that, but the idea of a preschooler with a belly full of caffeine is not a pretty one, to put it mildly.

“Nap time? What nap time? LETS RUN! AAAAAAAAAAH!”

So, to the list gets a new oddity added to it. I’m preying for the day that he’ll go through the same gastronomic metamorphosis that I did and will decide that most foods are in fact, pretty darned good. Tonight though, I know that he’ll be dining on chicken nuggets and peas, just like five of the last ten nights. Either that or Action Girl might decide to make a pizza, in which case, he’ll be eating with us. I’m hoping for mushrooms, turkey sausage and oil cured, kalamata olives.

Short Stuff should love that.

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Cape and Mask, Optional

I firmly believe that we are super heroes. Not, naturally, the “leaping tall buildings in a single bound” type, but in more mundane ways. If you take the time get to know someone, really, really well, or if perhaps, if they are too eager to share, you will no doubt find that there is some strange, or perhaps not so strange thing that they can do far better that the normal human.

super

My friend Mountain Man, for instance, is a spider. It was he who first talked me into clinging to a rock face, several meters above the very hard and unforgiving ground. He had been climbing with his dad for years and through blind trust and peer pressure, I succumbed to his offer one day, roped in and cheated gravity with each lost grip and momentary plummet before the harness yanked tight and sent sensitive parts of my anatomy into internal hiding until the coast was clear. The process was then repeated.

As it happened, I grew to quite like rock climbing and with a sizable investment in gear that could have been more wisely put in Apple Computer stock, I have continued to enjoy the sport. I’m not great, but I’m not bad either. I like to think of my self as an adequate rock climber and although I have seen some very accomplished climbers do some truly amazing stuff, none have been even close to the “wow” factor of Mountain Man. Somehow, my good friend has the ability to momentarily distract gravity in a, “Hey, look! A puppy!” kind of way and just sort of scurry up what I would swear was an un-climbable surface. I am continuously in awe over what this man can get traction on and scamper up.

Another friend, The Doctor, is in possession of a gift that is perhaps, more easily understood than being the “human fly” like our mutual friend. His power though, is no less impressive. It’s his memory. As an example, when we were kids, there was a strategy board game that ruled our lives. It was called Battletech. It had a bajillion rules and components and with out getting all geeky on you, it involved big anthropomorphic machines called “Mechs” that would blow each other up with heavy weapons at great distance. The game was played on a very large and changeable map covered in hexagons. The multitude of mechs, vehicles, troops, building types and what not literally filled volumes. There were easily a dozen compendiums that took in the rules and scope of the game. It was a lot of fun. It was also a very, very long time ago. Though I can remember some of the salient points of the game and what some of the mechs were called, maybe even what some of them were armed with, The Doctor remembers them…ALL. That’s not to say that he hasn’t had anything else to fill his head with in the intervening years. With a doctorate in micro-biology and a staff of minions in lab coats, I assume that he’s made good use of his giant brain. What amazes me is that somehow, the information on any fine point of playing Battletech has some how avoided being overwritten with say, how to save the universe from cholera… which he’s also working on. Me? I’m lucky if today’s grocery list doesn’t overwrite my memory of third grade.

Then there is Ioseph. This man… is a wonder. You can’t miss Ioseph, for he is a landmark among men. He’s big in every dimension, including his heart, stands at well over six foot tall and has flaming red hair. He is also, occasionally on fire.

Don’t ask.

This man could be caught in a china shop, it’s contents obliterated into dime sized shards, a baseball bat in his hands, sweat on his brow, and wearing a t-shirt reading “I did it”, and somehow, he’d manage to skate away scott free. Watching Ioseph wriggle out of some situational noose is like watching a master watchmaker craft you a beautiful and perfect mantle clock out of nothing but a box of random gears and springs. It’s watching a master at work. When it comes to culpability, the man is the living embodiment of Teflon and his side-stepping of conviction is art in its most perfect form. I’d say that he should be in charge of making excuses for the military or some other governmental agency, but frankly, I’m pretty sure that if he ever got himself that job, within a week, he’d get his new office set up on some south Pacific island where clothing is not merely optional, but possibly forbidden and staff the place with beautiful women… and get away with it. In fact, they’d probably give him a metal or something. Ioseph is my hero.

As for my family, Short Stack is still too young to spot his superpower and Lulu Belle is a very long way off from that day of discovery. You might think that I’d say that Action Girl’s power would be to dock a hundred ton, sea going vessel in a space that is about two feet longer than the boat she’s piloting, or perhaps how she can comfortably hop into just about any piece of enormous earth moving equipment and drive it with the delicacy of a waltz, but no. Though these are impressive, to be sure, that’s not it. I think that it’s her innate ability to make an amazing meal out of bizarre and disparate ingredients that she finds in the dark recesses of our kitchen cabinets. Some how, she knows what will be delicious and I do not believe that she has ever been wrong. This, more than the heavy machinery, holds me in awe.

That brings us to me. My superpower is pretty easy to overlook. Many folk might even think I didn’t have one. Oh, contraire! My superpower showed its self at an early age and my parents took note of it. When I was a child, we did a lot of world traveling. We all had an aspect of the trip that was our responsibility. Mine, was packing.

The thing is, with little to no effort, I can pack any amount of stuff into any small space. Your bag might tip the scale at four metric tons when I’m done, but if you want to get that foot stool that you bought in Turkey (an Ottoman ottoman?), that vase you picked up in Italy AND the three bottles of retsina, four framed pictures of nymphs and one statue of Athena you pick up in Greece, home and in one piece… well then, I’m your man. Most of the time, I don’t need my power. Only when moving, cleaning up the basement or going on holiday does it come out for use, but as superpowers go, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not so impressive as a party trick, but practically speaking, it means that four of us living in a teeny tiny house can fit quite comfortably. It also means that I kick butt at Tetris.

Still… Flying would have been nice too.

So… What’s yours?

Tomorrow’s History

(Written on the morning of November the 4th 2008)

While I could hardly call this morning an “Indian Summer” day, it is pleasant for November. Mild in temperature with bright sun forcing its way through a thin haze while a chilly, light breeze keeps you aware that winter is not far away. This morning, I have taken the opportunity given me by the warm weather to do some writing out of doors. The shamanism of technology, giving me a wireless connection as I sit on a rock ledge that emerged form the ground, who knows how long ago.

It’s a historical day today. Not just because it’s November 4th and an election year, but I mean that for me, it’s one of those days when I can feel history flow. It’s strong in the air and I feel its weight. The little park I’m sitting in is like so many that you’ll find scattered around the world. It’s pleasantly green, dogs run freely through it, peeing on anything that doesn’t move and the pigeons have designs on the half a doughnut that I’ve set down next to my coffee mug.

As I look up and to my left, a massive piece of steel looms overhead and points out over the shipping channel that leads south, in the direction it came from where it found it’s way, from it’s temporary tomb. It’s a piece of high powered ordinance from a long gone era, now perched atop a cement pedestal, never to fire again. Once, it was the height of war making technology, now it rusts away and collects bird droppings. This is no ordinary piece of artillery, however. This is a naval gun that, though never fired in battle in the heat of battle, set the fire for one of our countries most questionable wars. This is one of the deck guns from the USS Maine.

On the night of February 15, 1898, the USS Maine was sitting quietly at anchor in Havana harbor. She had been sent there to guard U.S. interests during a time of political upheaval in Cuba, as a revolution brewed, threatening the Spanish colonial hold in the Caribbean. The Warship was, in short, there as a show of force.

uss-maine

At 21:40, a massive explosion ripped the ship apart killing much of her crew as they slept in their berths. To this day, and after three different investigations spanning more than a century, no one knows for sure what happened. What we do know is that her destruction was quickly and expertly blamed on Spain and was the match that ignited the Spanish-American war. A piece of mostly forgotten history that only made America the dominant power in the western hemisphere. “Remember the Maine and to Hell with Spain”, was a cry that would resonate with an American public fed on at best, dubious and at worst, out right fabrications of what was happening in the world.

Without descending into a long and detailed history lesson, the destruction of the USS Maine was blamed on a Spanish mine. An “infernal device”, as it was described in the day. The Spanish government denied any doing and rather, blamed it on the ship’s coalbunkers igniting. Not an unheard of occurrence, back then. This possibility didn’t stop the race to battle that was unforgivably whipped along by The Hurst and Pulitzer news services. A massive distortion of the available facts in an effort to boost sales of their papers and extend their circulation would later be graced with a special moniker; yellow journalism.

In the end, the war went well for the U.S. and very badly indeed for Spain. They lost Puerto Rico, their hold on Cuba and all their holdings in the Pacific. In only about a year, America had successfully beaten an aging colonial power and completed a land grab that, for the most part, we still hold a good chunk of to this day. It was a different time. It could never happen again. Well, perhaps it could never end like that again.

As I look over my right shoulder from my quiet, moss-speckled perch, I can see a newer monument. A black and highly polished memorial, wrapped in a stone American Flag. No weaponry is displayed here. It’s more about the lives lost than the moment made in history. “In Memory of those who died in the rescue efforts on September, 11 2001”

As I cast my eyes around the park, I see a World War II memorial looming in the distance, flags lazily sauntering in the early morning breeze and at the top of the hill to my back, two field cannons, engineered in the time of the American Civil War, but just missing their day in the sun by one year, being cast in 1866. These cannons, like the deck gun from the USS Maine, likely never fired a shot in battle.

I am not a pacifist, and do not make the argument that war is unnecessary. The Monuments that are scattered around where I sit are, in my mind, are testament to wars both unavoidable and reprehensible. Causes of righteous indignation and blatant manipulation for alternate goals. Within each war, with its lives lost and deeds done, both good and bad erupted from each tumult. That can not be refuted. There is no black. There is no white. Life, so far as I have been able to discern, doesn’t work that way. We work with what we are dealt and hopefully, work towards the good of all.

Today is a historic day, no matter what the outcome. Every day is. The weight of decisions made now will have ramifications that we cannot accurately guess until we wait to see the cards turned over. Tomorrow’s history is yesterday’s future. I wonder what it will bring.

Trick or Beep!

So, Halloween, 2008, has come to a close.

The house is quiet, the kids have long since headed off to dreams of strange people hitting up their mom and dad for candy, and now, I’ve got to find a place to store a bulky costume that’s too good to just pitch along with the other recycling.

Another beer?
Don’t mind if I do!
*pop*, *sip*, “Ahhhhh”.

I am always grateful for good weather on Halloween. There is nothing, NOTHING, worse that having to trick or treat in a driving rain or (shudder) snow. Today, we were blessed. The temperature rose to a level just shy of t-shirt weather, the sun shone bright in a cloudless sky, and a light breeze did little more than annoy some loose leaves, lurking in the unmown grass. The day light hours of Halloween are always a bit frantic in our neck of the woods. Action Girl and I tend to scurry around, attempting to locate bits of decoration that was put, “some place safe”, the previous year and get it all installed before the lights go down and the sugar sucking monsters start to roam the streets.

As the two of us work away at making our house as spooky as possible, next-door is always a hive of activity. Our good neighbors are amazing artists and every year, a small army of other illustrators and artists descend on their house and transform it into… something amazing. It’s always amazing. Today, we could hear them laughing, hammering, constructing and generally being silly. On a few occasions Short Stack would raise a curious head over the tall grass and ask us, “What are they doing over there?” and we’d tell him that it was a surprise that he’d have to wait until tonight to find out. We put the final touches on our own decorations and after a quick photo shoot of the kids in costume while we still had daylight, we headed inside to get ready for Short Stacks first real Halloween night. As the sun finally set, we raced through dinner in an effort to be ready for the first knock at the door. We just made it.

Voices of excited children started to reverberate through the dimly lit streets and it was time to start things rolling. Action Girl shoehorned Lulu Belle into a ridiculously cute giraffe costume that was thoughtfully supplied by her folks and I fitted Short Stack with his own Halloween get up. He had picked the costume himself and there was none of that wavering that some kids show when it comes to difficult Halloween decisions. He wanted to be a monster truck. He was adamant on it and far be it from me to turn down a carefully made choice by a two year old. A monster truck, he would be!

In the end, it took a lot of cardboard, tape, paint, pipe insulation, four foil pie plates, two red L.E.D. jogging safety lights and two more self adhesive tap lights. Oh, and time. A heck of a lot of time. I took care of most of the actual construction, Action Girl and Short Stack did a bunch of the painting and then late the night before the project was due, Action Girl and I finished it in the basement, over some beers. The result… Well, here it is.

No one was happier with the finished product than Short Stack was. After an initial resistance to being wedged into the contraption, he absolutely loved the idea of BEING a monster truck. That, and all the, “Oohs!” and “Wow’s!” from anyone who happened to pass by at the time cemented his joy in the costume. With the headlights and taillights switched on, Short Stack and I set off to make his very first “Trick Or Treat” stop. Naturally, the first stop would be the neighbor’s. Dance music was thumping joyfully from their house as we walked to the darkened yard. What greeted us was a sight that stopped my little monster truck in his tracks. Not out of fear, so much out of pure mesmerization.


(Sorry for the lack of sound. my camera is quite elderly and did not record audio)

I do have to admit that not only did I know what was going to be there, but I actually did my little bit to contribute to the light show/ dance party, as well. I knew that I wouldn’t have a chance to lend a hand in any material way, what with me building a truck in my cellar at the time, but I could supply the music. I filled up my elderly iPod shuffle with a mix of fun techno, 80’s pop and some other strangeness with a good beat and lyrics that would pass the parent test. Well… most of the lyrics did. To be fair, I don’t think anyone really picked up on some of the stuff in “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femms. Oops! The life sized, glowing stick figures grooved the night away to the tunes and dispensed candy to those brave enough to get close. It was what I’d imagine an acid trip to be like. It was great!

After his inaugural piece of candy was stowed in the bed of his truck, we headed off to the next few houses. The best reactions to his costume came from other trick or treaters as kid after kid stopped to point out the “kid dressed as the truck!” One three year old we know even correctly identified Short Stack as a monster truck with no prompting. Short Stack was in heaven. At every stop, more candy was added to his bed until the rear wheels started to drag on the pavement behind him. It was a lot of weight for a little guy, but “determined” is not a strong enough word to describe his mindset. He was on a mission! So far as he was concerned, this was the best thing ever! We looped back to our house to unload his loot and lighten the load before continuing on. Since the house candy was almost gone, we decided to wait there a few minutes for things to wrap up. Eventually, we finally ran out and Action Girl, with our giraffe daughter strapped to her chest, switched off our porch light and joined us. My folks, as well, who also had run out of goodies at their place, showed up to see the show. Four adults and two children headed off to find more loot and entertainment as strict bedtime were tossed happily out the window. It was great fun and though we could see that Short Stack was getting tired, he steadfastly refused to be taken out of his costume in an effort to make better time to the next front door.

Our route took us to the local Lion’s Club for refreshments and a costume contest. Short Stack’s energies were momentarily revived as he mingled with friends and costumes were compared. The announcer called for kids aged one through four to make their way to the stage and Short Stack, sporting a ring of chocolate around his mouth, took second place, just edged out by Saint George, dressed in home-made tin can armor and a stuffed animal dragon. Not bad!

As we stepped out side into the very, very late night, Short Stack decided that finally, yes, he was ready to get out of his truck and, in stead, ride in the stroller that Action Girl had though to bring along. He was chipper all the way home and Lulu Belle managed to keep her good humor until it was time for jammies. Normally, getting my son to bed is not something that goes smoothly, but tonight, resistance was minimal and he was asleep in a scant few minutes.

Lulu Belle’s giraffe costume will be far to small to be used again and so will likely get handed off to some new baby, yet to be. The monster truck, though… I think we’ll hang on to that for a while. It won’t last, naturally. Eventually, it will get wet or crunched or simply fall apart, but until then I think it’s got some more good playing left in it. Besides, it’s Short Stack’s first car, and far be it from me to take that away from a guy.

Now if you will all excuse me, I believe that there is a huge demon on my roof that needs taking in for the season and a cemetery in my front yard that needs breaking down until next year.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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