Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Life is Still Awesome

Little Awesome turned 7 months old on Sunday.  He gets baptized next week.  It's his first Christmas, his first New Years.  A lot is happening in his life.

I've had a couple of months to reflect why I started this blog in the first place.  At first, I wanted to chronicle the growth of my son and share it with the world.  I wanted to hopefully record my growth as a father, mistakes and all.  I wanted to share a journey of smiles from a groggy child at 5 a.m. that make you forget in an instant how much sleep you've lost.
This was my Birthday present from L.A.

If I had to take anything from the last couple of months - it would be "Make sure you have your support team intact".  Things happen in life.  Unexpected things.  Things that you knew were coming, but secretly were hoping would be taken care of behind the scenes.  Yes, accountability and responsibility are givens when you're an adult but sometimes you wish on wishes that you could take a mulligan.

This was my struggle the past couple of months.  It wasn't getting older (That happens, get used to it.) It was dealing, and there were days when I didn't feel awesome.  There were days when things didn't feel awesome.  I loved my bride, I loved my son, I loved my dogs, and I was thankful that we had a roof over our heads - but I felt like I should be doing more for my family.  That scraping by wasn't awesome enough.  How could I share that with the world and put on a face that things were awesome when I didn't feel like they were?  How could I share with the world that today I felt inadequate as a husband, as a father, as a provider?  How could I say my life was awesome when I was losing my temper and swimming in a pool of frustration?

I reached out to my support team.  Your support team may be (and most of the times should be) the people that you are fighting with.  Those are the people who are going to set it straight for you instead of telling you what you need to hear anyway.  Sometimes, you won't get anything in response.  Sometimes... people listen without giving you their opinions, and sometimes that is the greatest gift. Sometimes, it's a look...

Sometimes you will say the things you don't mean.  Sometimes you go in a totally different direction just because you think that it is the right thing to do simply because it is different.  Sometimes you let the first words come out just because you're tired of holding your tongue.  Sometimes, you're instantly sorry...


Sometimes, you reflect on how it all started...


Sometimes you remember how far you've come...

Sometimes you pray silently when all is quiet in the house, when the big boy is sleeping for the second week in his big boy nursery.  When your beautiful wife is finally getting the rest she deserves.

First, a prayer of thanks because let's face it - what graces your life can easily vanish in an instant.  Second, a prayer of guidance, because let's also face it - I'm not perfect and every day I'm learning and as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing.  I'm slowly but surely learning how to let go of that little voice inside (mine) that has that grainy recording that flatly lists everything I've ever done wrong...

Sometimes you have to realize that even though it's not rainbows and unicorns all the time, it's still worth it.  Even a grimy mirror can still reflect something beautiful.  Share it.  Live it.  Shoulders back. Chin up.

Life is Awesome... It's not perfect.  But it's Awesome.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What Hill?

Today is my birthday.

I'm 40.  30 years ago you would find me sitting in my room with a calculator.  Trying to work out the math for the year that it would be when I would turn 40.  I would be so olllld. Yuck! Yuck yuck yuckety yuck!

Either that or the fact that, according to my brother and sister, that The Earth would be swallowed up by the sun and we would all perish in a rapid ball of flames and I would never make it to 40. I believed them, so I spend many a night wide awake in my bed wondering what my purpose was and what it would matter since we were all going to be the toast headed for a very. Large. Toaster.

So here I am, and aside from the still looming uncertainty that is my purpose - I have learned a few things along the way to 40.


  1. You're only as young as you feel.  Yes, my feet and ankles hurt more on cold days, but otherwise, I feel great.  Occasionally, I channel some cranky, cantankerous soul and thankfully my wife reminds me that I am not that person.
  2. Life throws you curve balls.  Your ideal image of what your life should be may not be the way it is going to turn out.  Divorces happen, Friends pass away, pets pass away, Planned Pregnancy comes sooner than planned, Medical bills, dogs and cats living together - Mass Hysteria! When they happen, don't forget to breathe.
  3. On the heels of that, when curve balls happen in the form of folks "doing you wrong".  I put that in quotes because sometimes, maybe sometimes it's not their fault.  It's called a Jump... to Conclusions Game. Maybe you might want to take a minute to look in the Mirror.  Maybe, sometimes, it's best to forgive that person for your own peace of mind knowing full well you won't really get anything in return over than your Peace of Mind, and Heart, and Soul and friends, sometimes that is worth the sacrifice than perceived Justice. Then is it really a sacrifice?
  4. Pray, and pray often.  Whether you serve God or have your own personal belief.  We live in scary times and more often than not it's a darn good idea to pray for guidance.  You may wind up with the calmness of spirit to handle the crisis before it starts.
  5. Remind yourself daily of the blessings that are right in front of you.
  6. My parents were right more than I care to admit.
  7. I'm proud of my Dad more than I will ever be able to tell him, and equally as proud of my Mom, Sister, and Brother. My Dad started his own business at 40 years old, My Mom survived a near fatal heart attack, My sister and brother both run businesses and raised fine children.  
  8. Don't be afraid of your feelings, tell the ones you love you love them.
  9. I'm 40 and I'm still scared of the future. That is okay. There is a dash of excitement in the unknown.
  10. Don't be afraid to be yourself, it's okay to be ridiculous sometimes.
  11. That doesn't mean getting loaded and acting a fool.  (I wish I had learned this one sooner)
I'm sure that there is so much more.  If it was the old days, my friend Trevor and I would have ridden our bikes out to the woods and smoked cigarettes and probably solved all of the world's problems.  And maybe we did and the world just evolved with a new set of problems.  But we evolved too, and I think that is part of the perception of getting older - older is a mindset, and perhaps each day we're just evolving into wiser, better versions of ourselves working towards being the best versions of us we can be.

Friday, September 27, 2013

And That's... One To Grow On.

Let's face it.  We all struggle with things.  Whether it's finances, career, weight, self-image, or the New York Times crossword puzzle. Or, all of these things.

This week I have struggled with Social Media.  More specifically, using social media as my own personal dumping ground.  I have written post after post after post and stared.  Isn't my life Awesome?  Yes, yes it is.  Should I share my struggles with everyone and let them know I'm human? Maybe.  But that's like giving an Automatic Photon Blaster to a heavily caffeinated solider.  Someone may get hurt in the crossfire.

So, I paused to think about what I was doing.  I prayed about it.  It was a small thing, but splinters still hurt right?  I was fine, Mrs. Awesome was fine, Little Awesome was fine.  I've seen that Pinterest pin that says something along the lines of, "Most of my problems are made up scenarios in my head".  That is me 99% of the time.  Did I need to let everyone in the cosmos know that I was worried about things in my life? How about this?

Dear Cosmos and Planet Earth, I worry about stuff.  I worry about the same stuff you worry about.  Sometimes quite a bit.

Mrs. Awesome has a tendency to know when I'm worried.  She tells me that everything is going to be alright, and she is right.  Everything will be alright, because usually one of two things happens and sometimes both.

1) Either it works itself out, or you find a way to fix it or make it work

or

2) It's something you can't control, and/or it wasn't worth worrying about in the first place.

In this case, #2 won out this time and after a day or two of pondering the issue I realized that it didn't merit the energy I was pouring into the worry.  As Stuart Smalley would say, I'm good enough, smart enough, and dog-gone it, people like me.

Will I ever stop worrying?  Probably not.  But every day is an opportunity to see how Awesome life truly is.
So, yes, I am Awesome - I have flaws, and I may have baggage.  But I have a great family, and great friends.  I have a great deal to be thankful for and that requires daily evaluation and daily acknowledgement.  And that. is. Awesome.

We're All Cinn-ers Here.


  

I think by now my faithful readers have figured out that I enjoy cooking.  Some would say a little too much.

My cooking ability, while not Michelin Star quality (yet) is one of the few things that I am beginning to realize that I do exceptionally well.  Not to mention, when I am in the kitchen listening to music and whipping up a delight for my family and the select few who become my critics - I am truly, and blissfully happy and content.

I conducted a Facebook poll last week to see what Culinary Delight I should whip up this past weekend and Cinnamon Rolls won the vote.  I have never made Cinnamon Rolls before... I'm frightened.

Walk up to any Cinnabon in the mall and you are cold cocked hit in the face with the most glorious smell.  Angels in Heaven surely must smell like a mixture of Cinnamon Rolls, Lavender, BBQ smoke, Bacon, and Leather. Or do the smells take turns?

So I set out to find the perfect Cinnamon Roll Recipe.  Normally I would turn to my trusted friend, Alton Brown, but something told me to venture out beyond my comfort zone.  So, I looked towards another friend, Laura Vitale and Allrecipes.com.  I used Laura's bun recipe and Allrecipes version of the frosting.

We began the night before we actually wanted to eat the rolls... See? It even begins like a fairy tale! Break out your bowl and add your yeast, sugar, and water. Give it a stir and let it sit for ten minutes.  Yes, there is a lot of waiting in this recipe.  Use your time wisely to be Awesome! Go write a poem, or register for the Winter term at school, write down your goals for next week, pet your dog, but don't dog your pet it's rude.  A lot can happen in ten minutes, and your yeast mixture will be bubbly and sticky and smell like beer and that's okay.

Add your eggs, butter, salt, and vanilla and mix that up with your mixer.  I found a Kitchen-Aid refurbish on Ebay a while ago and I've never regretted it for a second.  Then, slowly, one cup at a time, add your flour.  You've seen this in cookbooks your whole life and you've always had the urge to be a Rebel this time.  Please don't.

You want this. 

To look like this.  

Not this.

After you've kneaded your dough for about 5-7 minutes, grease up a bowl and put your dough in the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and put it in a draft free place.  I usually place mine in the oven because it's well insulated and it just seems like the right thing to do.

After a good night's rest your dough should indeed look like this... 
For those of you who are die hard's like me, give the dough a good smell.  The scent should remind you of a respectful bakery down the street.  Now, pat yourself on the back.  Good job.

Find a rather large flat surface and dust it with flour, punch down your dough and scrape it out of the bowl onto the work surface.  Lightly dust the top and roll your dough out into a rectangular-ish shape.

Now, you can mix your brown sugar and cinnamon together.  I put mine in a small tupperware and shook it.  I sang a little tune and Little Awesome asked me to please stop.

Spread some butter on your rectangle and sprinkle your sugar mixture on the rectangle leaving about a half to a quarter inch at the end non-buttered and non-sprinkled.  Press the sugar mixture down into your dough.

Now, tightly roll your dough up into a cylindrical shape, start with one side and move your way over into it is tightly wound.  Some folks will say stay in the center and roll but I think that allows for the sides to go rogue and you're left with guerrilla cinnamon rushing for freedom out the sides and who really wants that early in the morning?

Here is your finished product placed on a cutting board.

Slice your cinnamon rolls, wiping your knife between each slice.  Yes, it's extra work, but yes it's important, and yes you will be pleased.  I promise.  Place your cinnamon rolls in a well greased tray. Let them rest covered for 30 minutes.  Start your oven at 350 degrees.  Once your 30 minutes is up, bake for 30 minutes, which will allow you time to make the glaze.

Mix the cream cheese, vanilla, butter, and powdered sugar together.  There should not be any lumps.

Take the cinnamon rolls out and turn the dish over to coat the rolls with any of the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture that may have leaked out.  Then coat with your glaze.  The finished product with look something like this...

The cinnamon roll exceeded my expectations for the first time out.  Try it served with vanilla ice cream.  Is this recipe labor intensive?  Yes.  Is it worth it? Absolutely.  Will I make these again?  Already planning on it.


Friday, September 13, 2013

A Note to Little Awesome

I imagine that this will be the first of many notes that I will place here.  It is my hope that one day when I am older, and slightly crankier, that L.A. will read these and get something from them.  I'm certain at times that I may contradict myself as I go along - but I think that is part of growing, you learn that sometimes what you thought you knew wasn't necessarily the best thing (not that it was a bad thing to begin with perhaps) but that you evolved into something new and more luminous.

I am, for the most part, a list maker.  I have scribbles of lists on post it notes everywhere I tend to go.  At home.  At work.  Sometimes in the car.  From groceries, to ideas - some grow legs or wings, some get left behind, forgotten.  Goals. Appointments.  But sometimes I leave snippets of notes for things I'm thankful for.  When these lists are made I try and be specific.  It's too easy to do the umbrella gratitude:

"I'm thankful for my car, my house... my life."

"I'm thankful for my family, my wife, my son, my dogs."

I want to attempt to be specific, it's like saying, "I love you." You can say "I love you" so many times to the people you love and in time it can become like a breath mint.  It tastes sweet for a time and then it fades, which is okay because you have a whole pack in your pocket.  I fear that the phrase can lose its value.  So, when I write my lists I write things like, "Laughter, that sexy way she stands at the sink when getting ready for bed, that little strand of hair that seems to find its way down her face when her hair is pulled back." Trivial things maybe to her but Snap into a Slim Jim awesome for me. I mentally hold onto these things when I say, "I love you" because it holds value, I'm conscious in the moment that I am actively feeling those things when I say the phrase. I want to perpetually and actively love my wife and family on a daily basis even when we disagree because at the end of the day when the lights go out I want to know that the love I have in my heart is dancing and not coasting.

These past few months have been exciting times in my son's life - full of discovery and wonder.  He just recently found his feet and has discovered how to pull his socks off.  He's so intent on every little thing that he does and smiles so big constantly.  Even at 3 in the morning when we're so exhausted, he's there, smiling.  Happy that we're giving him food and making goo goo noises.

It is my hope that he approaches his life with that same level of discovery and wonder.  I hope that I can be the father he deserves.  I hope that he can be actively thankful for his life and the things in it early in his life.  I hope that when he hears "I love you." from his mom and dad, he can sense the long list of memories behind it. We mean every word.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Just Another Awesome Pancake Dinner With The Awesomes! AKA "Why it's OK That It Took 2.5 Hours To Make"

Mrs. Awesome is succeeding in training me well.  Granted, it may take awhile... Ask my parents how long it took for me to actually realize that for the most part they knew what they were talking about and, well, you get the point.  Prime example, dinner - I have been known to create works of art in the kitchen.  Plates of cuisine that rival some of the legends in France, England, and Hoboken, NJ.  I have also been known to leave messes in the kitchen.  Piles in the sink that consist of almost every dish or pan that we own.  I would love to say that I am exaggerating, but alas, earwax.  With a heavy sigh and a stare from Mrs. Awesome, I am confined to the sink to handle the remains of my victorious presentation.

Nowadays, I know a little better.  I have a tendency to put things away as I go, which frees up valuable counter space - I wash a mixing bowl once it is empty to leave a tiny fragment of room in the sink for Little Awesome's dirty bottles.  This is not to say that I am perfect, far from it, as old habits are indeed hard to break and Sink Jenga is far too much fun to play to leave it behind entirely.

I am a huge fan of pancakes.  Not so much that it takes the top spot in my culinary repertoire, but enough that I tend to make them more than twice a month.  Now, I can imagine you just thought, "But Mr. Awesome, only twice a month? That's not a lot!" So I ask you, when was the last time you made pancakes for your family? * Crickets Chirping * I thought so... Billowing pillows of fried batter just screaming for a smear of butter and a healthy dose of syrup.  I do love it so.

Let's meet our team, shall we?
All Purpose Flour
Sugar, Salt, Baking Powder
Butter
Eggs
Yes, syrup made the team.
No, it's not from Vermont.
Yes, I wish it was.

Notice anything missing?  There is no trace of a Bisquick box anywhere.  I refuse to have Bisquick in the house, because I don't need it.

I also don't want margarine in this recipe, I owe it to Mrs. Awesome to have butter in our pancakes.  I didn't settle for her, I won't settle for margarine - and neither should you.  You should also use unsalted butter.  You are going to add salt to your batter, you don't need more.  These are Pancakes, not slug killers.

I consulted my friendly neighborhood allrecipes.com and found a recipe that suited my needs and tweaked it ever so slightly.  Here it is as follows: Serves 16

INGREDIENTS:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon baking
powder
1 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons white sugar
2-1/2 cups milk
2 egg
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Add your dry ingredients first  (flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar), once you have added all of your dry ingredients, put the containers away where you found them.  Your spouse or landlord or guest will thank you.  Then whisk your dry ingredients together.  This completes two tasks:  It "sifts" your flour - yes I know it's not technically sifting, but it's close enough - which will help your future batter to be less clumpy.  It also mixes all the other ingredients together, which some folks say doesn't matter - I'll leave it up to you to decide.
Now it's time for the wet ingredients.  Put your butter in a microwave safe bowl and microwave it in 20 second bursts until melted.  Scorching hot isn't necessary.  While you are melting your butter, crack two eggs into your bowl, break the yolks and give a slight stir.   Add the milk, stir slightly, and then the butter.  Is the order important?  Possibly.  If you are like me and you take the milk out of the fridge right before adding it to your batter, then by all means stay true to the order.  Otherwise, the cold milk will shake hands with the butter and you'll end up with odd shaped butter clumps in your batter and the butter flavored party you wanted to have will be missing its Disco Ball.  You can also turn your batter into an NC-17 event and add vanilla extract.  That's right, Go for Vanilla.

Now you can stir, but here is a word to the wise:
You are not shaving ice, nor are you burning calories.  Please be kind to your batter, you'll win in the long run.  If you see a few lumps here and there, don't fret, and please don't stir faster.  Creole will be watching.
Once your batter is stirred, set it aside for a few minutes.  Get your gear together. Specifically, a flat top griddle.  If you don't own one of these, please buy one or borrow one.  This piece of equipment is by far the most used appliance in my house.  Marriage registries should automatically add this in everywhere.  


By this time, Little Awesome realized he was not the center of attention.  This just won't do...
A few minutes of coo and goo and ahhhs - 

I thought I was ready to get back to work, then this happened:   Ten minutes later we sent pictures and video to the family, then Facebook. Then, we waited to see if it would happen again... It didn't.

Back to the batter.

Your griddle should be set to 300 degrees.  By now, your batter should look like this, and you are ready to scoop.  I use a 1/4 cup measuring cup and find it to be sufficient for the size pancakes I want.  Spray the surface of your griddle with no stick spray.  You could also use butter, but I would recommend limiting the butter to your landing area.  Burned butter is not the same as Brown Butter so be careful. 

My griddle holds about 5 pancakes comfortably.  If I am feeling rather daring I will try for seven, but the surface tends to get crowded, and no one really wants a pancake scuffle, it would just be scary to watch. You'll notice eventually that the sides of your pancake will get slightly dry and a few of the bubbles will pop.  This is a great indicator that it is time to flip your pancake.  You may be tempted to lift a corner, or flip prematurely.   Currently, there are no medications for the treatment of Premature Flip (PF) so I'd advise against it.  Now, flip!

Golden spiderwebs of goodness, and a slightly crusty exterior.  That's what we want on each side.  Hate dry pancakes?  Me too.  I know syrup is a great method of re-hydration, but why spoil two good things by eating a pancake that tastes like syrup-flavored sandpaper?  As the pancakes cook, you will notice a large amount of steam rising up from the cooking surface after you flip your pancake.  After about a minute to two minutes, the steam should reduce drastically, but should still be visible.  This is the perfect time to take the pancake off the heat and place onto a serving plate.  I keep my serving plate in one of two places: 1.  The microwave - it's insulated and draft free.  2.  My oven - sometimes I turn the oven on until it has reached 150 degrees and turn it off.  This method warms the plate but doesn't dry the pancakes out.  When using this method, I make sure that my pancake landing zone is oven friendly, and I use oven mitts when handling said landing zone.  The Le Creuset casserole dish featured in the Chicken Parmesan entry is a great candidate for this method if you own one.

If you want a different style pancake, add your toppings before you flip.  Ideally 30 seconds after you place your batter on the griddle.  This will allow your toppings to sink in to the batter in a warm embrace.  Wait any longer, and you might get to find out if your choice of topping will bounce.  Not to worry, Creole makes a great Swiffer.
Last night's choice was Cinnamon Toast Pancakes.
An excellent choice, Cinnamon sugar is a delicious compliment to the butter.  I never said these pancakes were healthy...

By the end of the cooking process, and the Little Awesome show, we wound up with slightly more pancakes than the recipe stated.  That was fine, because we can always put them in the toaster in the morning and spread peanut butter on them.  I hope to hear about your Pancake Progress!  Bon Appetit!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Old Faithful has some competition, and who says going out is a bad thing?

Rule # 1 - Little Awesome can't read.

Rule # 2 - Don't believe everything you read or hear.

Rule # 3 - If you disagree with any of these rules, please refer to rule # 1 & 2.

If you're not a parent yet, keep reading.  If you are a parent, keep reading anyway and enjoy the trip down memory lane...
Old Faithful is nature's biggest description of acid re-flux.  Or, if you like, if Mother Earth was a baby - then Old Faithful is spit up.  Impressive.  Predictable.  Vast.  Tourists line up to photograph this phenomenon, ancient scholars to a degree could have set their watches to it, others just simply marveled at its wonder.

So it is with Little Awesome.  We have shown our son the labels on the formula can - "Reduces spit up" it says, "Great for upset tummies - Soothing for babies!" it promises.  Time and time again these litanies of well being and normalcy for baby, and for parents alike... Refer to Rule # 1.

My son apparently has a thing for waiting.  Waiting to lure us into a false sense of security.  He's not malicious, not yet, he's just trying it on for size.  He's been a little backed up in the plumbing department as of late.  Think of a septic tank that is too full before the enzymes can do their magic.  What happens?  A well trained cleaning crew - that's what.  The look of calm on his face while eating is one of poetry, song, and paint.  Very serene and ripe for admiring.  I enjoy feeding my son, watching his little hands in hopes that the day will come when he grasps on to the bottle, and I, will be the lucky one holding him when he does it so that I may brag to my friends like the Dad in "A Christmas Story" when he won the Leg Lamp.

But, therein lies the false sense of security.  Just when you think you've got things mastered and YOU are the Baby Whisperer, it happens.  Niagara Falls. A scene straight from The Exorcist - blech!  Spit up would not be bad if it were only a few times a day.  Alas, earwax.  L.A. has decided that he would like to be the Pioneer to make Spitting Up an Olympic Sport.  If so, I would be a proud father for sure.  I would brag equally as much.

The difficult part in all of this is not that he spits up, and not that he tries to immediately run his hands and face through it.  It is the smiling face that instantly follows the clean up process.  He knows by know (I'd like to think so anyway, let me dream) that we don't like the clean up process.  So he does what comes naturally to an Awesome, we turn the charm up to eleven.

Mrs. Awesome:     "I think it stopped, did it stop?"

Mr. Awesome:     "Hang on, let me go get the Shop Vac!"

Little Awesome:    *Beaming Bucket of Cute*

Hmph...

Little Awesome hasn't read in the Parenting magazine that the valve that is between the mouth and the stomach should supposedly close in the fourth month.  I hope he doesn't read rule # 2.

We took our son to the Naval Aviation Museum this weekend, as we had friends in from out of town - so free is always fine.  Our arrival was near closing time unfortunately... If you have never made it to this area to see this wonderful attraction, I would suggest you make it part of your next trip.  The best part of our visit wasn't all the planes, or the helicopter that L.A.'s Uncle painted - It was a group of ladies who were part of the custodial crew that stopped us on the way out to be subjected to my son's merciless flirting.

Ladies:    "Oh isn't he the cutest thing?"

Little Awesome:     *Beaming Bucket of Cute*

And on and on they go, singing praises and glory, laud, and honor, etc, etc, etc.

And all I can do is look at my wife and be thankful for everything she does all day every day.  She loved me enough to give me this gift of a beaming bucket of cute.  I'll take two helpings of spit up please.