The misadventures of a first time father

Eating differently

French onion soup with apple and walnut saladSince getting the results of my bloodwork that tell me I had high cholesterol, high triglycerides and High LDL, I have been working very hard to be disciplined about eating better. Much of that has been cutting out fried foods, processed foods, and as my doctor put it, “cutting down on all starches and sugars.”

I will admit it hasn’t been easy, but I have a feeling that the more I stick to it, the more it will start to just become habit. Instead of a sandwich, I’ll have a wrap or salad for lunch. Instead of some chips on the side, I have a stack of almonds.

For dinner, Meg’s been really good about switching over from rice to quinoa, more vegetables, and adding things like more fish to our meals. She’s really been coming up with some great, and delicious ideas that are still within the restrictions/limits.

Every now and then I like some ice cream, but instead, I’m trying frozen yogurt from Stonyfield. Great taste and much less cholesterol.

Going out to eat has been a bit more difficult, though. A day or so after I got my results, we were all invited to have dinner with my parents – who took us to a place that specializes in BBQ and Fried Foods. It’s a great place, but man was it difficult to look at that menu and try to find something that wouldn’t totally throw me off of the wagon. I settled on chicken, not fried, and cooked with rosemary and thyme instead of barbecue sauce or breading. For the sides, I skipped the french fries (despite loving fries) and went with a sweet potato, with no brown sugar and no butter. Just threw on a little pepper. And it was good. You get two sides, so I also made sure to get a salad and passed on the dinner roll, figuring it was probably just empty carbs and starch that wouldn’t help.

I’ve done lunch with a few friends since then at a local bar and grille and that has also tested me in terms of this new diet. Usually, I’d get anything from a bacon cheeseburger to a buffalo chicken sandwich. Just a few of my favorite things. Instead, each trip has been Soup and Salad. I once slipped up and got the Caesar Salad and French Onion soup, only to have Meg remind me later that the Caesar dressing is loaded with things I’m not supposed to have, and the cheese and bread in the soup is also not too cholesterol-friendly.

So, on my latest venture, I did the soup and salad with just an Italian dressing and got the french onion soup without the bread or cheese. Thankfully, it was still tasty.

I know. I know. I’m sitting here writing paragraph upon paragraph about what I ordered at restaurants. I think part of it is to help me track my progress as this is new ground for me. As I’ve stated before, I once had tried to eat healthier when I learned I had high cholesterol but quickly fell off the wagon after a few ‘cheats’ here and there. This time, there’s me, Meg, and our little guy involved, so I have to make sure I’m around for a long time.

And that means finally taking this seriously.

Am I getting dumber with age?

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationI swear I used to be much smarter than I am today.

When I was a little kid in elementary school, I had a hand-me-down set of encyclopedias. I couldn’t tell you what brand, but I remember they had orange covers, littered with four or five photos contained in squares on each cover, giving you a hint of what’s inside. I don’t quite recall if they came from my parents or my grandparents, but they were either something a relative was getting rid of, or a good garage or book sale find. I know they were probably a decade old at the time, but I didn’t care. In a pre-internet age, this was a total fountain of knowledge and I can’t tell you how much time I spent just leafing through and reading that set of encyclopedias, just because I wanted to know.

Yes, I spent tons of my elementary school age just sitting in our house and reading encyclopedias (when I wasn’t running around outside pretending to be Inspector Gadget, Batman or a Ninja Turtle). You’d think that would’ve had some kind of effect, right? What the heck happened?

By the time I reached junior high, I fell into a trap I’m sure many do at that age. Coming out of elementary school with a history of As and A+s must have thrilled my parents and myself in my younger years, but at that oh-so awkward stage of new environments, new people, and new life changes, I felt…uncomfortable with having good grades. So, I started purposely answering questions wrong on my tests. A little here and there, just to bring the grades down so I wouldn’t seem like so much of an outcast. Average seemed pretty good looking compared to being a target for ridicule, or worse, the bus bullies that already were a thorn in my side.

At some point, though, that method started to just take over. Suddenly, I didn’t study as much, I didn’t put forth as much effort. Just getting by was all right, and before I knew it, my grades started dropping down to B or C level and I became just that – a very average student.

It’s something I regret oh so much to this day because I wonder just what type of person I would have been and where my life may have gone had I not taken that cliched detour off of academic row.

When I see my son, just about to turn two, ravenous for more books to read together, to want to know about things, pulling letter magnets off the fridge and telling me what letters they are, I encourage every moment of it, hoping deep inside that he will not follow in the footsteps of his father who, despite my own parents’ encouragement, decided I’d rather be accepted than intelligent. When you see so much potential, the last thing you want is to see it squashed. I can’t imagine how devastated my parents must have been when I started coming home with grades so lackluster compared to my earlier years.

I felt slight redemption in college. Looking back, I remember numerous discussions on philosophical levels that today I can’t even imagine getting into. I think of the bombardment of creative ideas and new ways of thinking that still seem impressive to me when I come across old notes or work.

But it’s often followed by the feeling of dread as I wonder just what happened to that intelligent person. Sometimes I feel so focused on my daily to-do lists of what needs to be accomplished, that my mind rarely has the moments of breakthrough it once did. Currently working at a university, I often find myself with this fear that I’ll be ‘found out’ as just a dummy faking his way through, unable to hold my own amid the academic minds I’m surrounded by.

I don’t know what quite happened, but what I know is that these days I look back and feel as though I was so much smarter at ages 7-12 and 20-26 than any other time in my life so far. And I sit here, at age 34, feeling as though it’s a lost era of myself. I hear things that I don’t quite comprehend, concepts that seem beyond me, and I can’t figure out if back then, I just had more confidence in what I knew (or thought I knew), or if I really am getting dumber and less creative with age.

Have I allowed myself to become content among a world where knowledge is a Google search away? Has the time I used to spend looking things up and reading about things, or having those intelligent conversations now spent online with a multitude of social media sites? Has the world around me just gotten smarter while I’ve stayed stagnant? Theories, all of them, but hopefully you get the point that I think about this a lot. There’s been lots of reports and criticism that the smarter the computers, phones, and other technology becomes, the dumber we as humans turn. But if that’s the case, am I not alone in my feeling? What does it mean as my life continues, what does it mean for my son?

Also, that whole Louis Armstrong lyric – “…they’ll learn much more, than I’ll ever know.” It seems so much more somber now than ever before.

Post Scriptafter writing this, I saw someone online share the following link, which made me feel not only better, but like a genius. So, please, if you ever feel like I did about becoming dumber the older I get, check out these - “Dumb People Across The Internet”

Time to shake up the menu

Big BreakfastSo…I have high cholesterol.

This isn’t an incredible shocker, as I’ve had high cholesterol most of my life.

A few years ago I was told this after blood work and the doctor told me I needed to go on statins. Not being one for medication (or the side effects that go with it), I decided a change-up to my diet was the route I’d rather go. And I did, for a bit. I fully admit I fell off that wagon over time, though and went right back into some bad habits – you know, like toast with lots of butter almost every morning with my tea, or lots of starches like rice.

I have a new doctor these days, and while she said I’m in fantastic health, she wanted to do some blood work, since it was my first visit to her. The results came back with the same old story – high cholesterol. Fortunately, her reaction was not to prescribe something, but instead to give me notes that it’s time to change-up my diet. “Cut out all sugars and starches” she said in her message.

When I used to get this news in years past, it was different. It was just me I was really worrying about. Now, there’s not only my wife, but our son. In other words I need to make sure I’m around for a while and it’s time to get back on the wagon and stay there in the hopes of bringing the bad cholesterol down.

Side note – wouldn’t you know it, I opened up the blood work results and note from my doctor when it came in the mail over the weekend and was halfway through a big starchy sandwich with chips on the side? Naturally. ;)

So, a few days in, we’re working on the changes. I admit, it’s not easy. We’ve had fish for dinner. We went out to dinner with my parents at a BBQ restaurant known for its fried food and it took my much longer than usual to figure out what to eat. I ended up with chicken that was cooked with rosemary and thyme instead of the fried of barbecued options. Instead of fries or regular potatoes, I went with a sweet potato – no butter, not brown sugar, as it usually would come. I threw a little bit of pepper on it and it was fine. It has its own flavor that tasted pretty good.

Breakfasts have been oatmeal the past few days. Though, I admit, I don’t know if I could do that every day.

I love salads, so I’m thinking there may be a lot of those in my future.

We’ll see what happens in four months when I go for the next blood work test to see if these changes have had any effect. In the meantime, I guess it’s going to take a little discipline and some creativity to make sure I stay on this train of health, for my sake, and the sake of my family.

Any low-cholesterol meal ideas are certainly welcome! :)

Gardening takes longer with a toddler

Gardening 01Meg and I recently decided to attack our gardening for the year, and that meant cleaning out the beds, weeding, laying down dirt and peet moss and of course, planting.

Seems like an easy checklist, but not exactly the easiest of tasks with the little guy at an age when he wants to be into EVERYTHING he possible can.

And you know what, can’t fault him for that. So much is still new to him and he’s learning about the world through getting into things.

But, for this monumental task, we tried to prep well. Meg went to the store to get everything like the soil, the plants, etc while I stayed with our little monkey. She got home and we traded off as I went outside and unloaded all those bags of soil and the accompanying plants.

Then, we waited for nap time.

When his head hit the pillow, it was like a pistol going off at the track. Our feet hit the ground running and with a dedicated speed like nothing else in our week, weeding out the garden and flower beds out back and in front of our house.

Gardening 03Cutting open bags of soil, laying it down, raking it together, and finally putting plants into the ground, per Meg’s careful planning of what needed more space, more light, etc.

We were pretty much all done with the beds and about to start on the potted plants, like herbs, when the little guy woke up. I brought him outside where he quickly took hold off some kid-versions of gardening tools he received in his Easter basket and buoyantly jumped into the fray to help. By help, of course, I mean engaging in all the fun that is sticking his tiny shovel into the garden and throwing around the soil and trying to dig up the plants Meg had just planted.

He was thoroughly enjoying himself, but it would’ve been disaster if I hadn’t intervened. So, I tried to explain to him why we couldn’t do that, but it led to a lot of “No!” and wanting to do it anyway. Meg found, while not a solution, a distraction, and that came in the form of a small watering can.

While she planted the herbs into the pots, he giggled incessantly as I’d use the hose to spray water into the can. Spray, giggle, spray, giggle. Rinse and repeat.

Gardening 02We didn’t make it through completely unscathed once he realized what the watering can was for – pouring water – be it on plants, on grass, or on mommy and daddy.

It made me realize how much we took time for granted before we had kids. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change anything in the world right now, but it’s funny how something like his nap time becomes a window of opportunity like never before, and just his waking up and entering the fray into our gardening activities, doubled the time it took to accomplish things. I admit not having put a lot of thought into that aspect of things before we had a kid.

Time is precious. Nap time, is sometimes like gold. :)

When we say goodbye…

I’m not a very religious person.  I’ve often had many questions, doubts, more questions about life and religions. Even as a kid in Catholic School from the age of 8, I questioned a lot. As I got older, I found myself drifting when it comes to faith, beliefs, etc, occasionally embracing more Eastern philosophies than any full organized religion. But I will admit that in times of sadness, in times of plight, of loss, I find myself wishing I could just blindly accept SOMETHING without questions in order to feel better, to feel there is more.

I say that openly because there are times in life when I really wish it were so.

One of those times was about two weeks ago.

I recall the sounds of motorcycles and traffic going outside the window. For some reason everything else seemed to be silenced out by those sounds before the veterinarian came in to greet my mother and I and check on “Dawg.”

With his very unique name, Dawg belonged to my grandparents. My grandfather hadn’t wanted a dog after losing one German Shepherd previously, but my grandmother, despite his protests, decided to get one anyway. When she passed away some years ago, my grandfather, who was not in the best of shape himself, was left to care for Dawg. It was not the kind of life a large dog like that should lead, sitting most of the day next to an old man, cooped up in the house. Just before my grandfather took a turn and passed, my mom and dad took Dawg and another dog (on top of their own dog of many years) to care for.

10369182_907980485884638_5337855910244783618_nAt times, it was as though he was born anew, suddenly a big, goofy puppy again, excited, playful, and loyal to my parents like I had never seen before. He gained years of life he likely would not have had the way his life was with my grandfather.

But even those years of life could go so far.

For some time, Dawg had been fighting numerous ailments, including what was believed to be cancer. A tumor he had would only get bigger in time and in this past month, the poor guy dealt with more cases of diarrhea and vomit by what seemed like the gallons that I can’t imagine anything but soreness when he was done. Not to mention my poor parents who were constantly cleaning it up and feeling awful because they knew it wasn’t his fault.

Multiple medications and treatments were tried, sadly to no avail, and things reached a point where he had stopped eating and going to the bathroom completely, losing an incredible amount of noticeable weight.

My mom had a feeling about these things, as she’s often had. That certainly does not make it any easier, but she had a feeling this trip to the vet would not be easy. When I looked into Dawg’s eyes  that morning, I could tell he knew the same thing. He didn’t even want to go outside, the thing he loved more than anything in the world.

When I dropped the monkey off in the morning, I wished so hard that there was something I could do to help, to make things easier, to ease her pain and especially Dawg’s.

Our little guy’s first words were “woof! woof!” exclaimed every time he came into my parents’ house and saw Dawgie there. Our car rides were built with anticipation as he’d excitedly cry “woof! woof!” from the back seat, excited to see his buddy. When we arrived, a wet sloppy kiss from Dawg usually sent our little guy into giggling hysterics.

With all of this in mind, it felt like the weight of the world was on our shoulders as my mom and I sat with Dawg in the vet’s office. My father, admittedly, could not emotionally handle going, still reeling from the experience of our family cat that had to be put down almost twenty years ago after 16 years in our lives. I can’t blame him. I can’t blame either of them, and as we sat, my mom hugging Dawg tight, telling him how wonderful he was, I could see how tormented she was by what was unfolding.

The doctor confirmed that he was in pain and that things weren’t working. As preparations were made for what came next, my mom did her best to hold it together, but I can’t blame her for not being able to. This was another child, one who was sick beyond treatment, and I think she said it best when she said “it’s like pulling a family member off life support.” My heart aches just typing this as I think of those moments. She hugged Dawg and I hugged her, telling her she was doing what was best for him every time she said she knew she would “second guess this moment for the rest of my life.”

“I’m making a decision that’s not mine to make,” she said to me, face red, tears down her face. “That decision should be God’s. I’ve prayed every night that if it was time for Dawgie to go that it should be in his sleep. It’s the way everybody should go.”

I agreed, but told her exactly what I was thinking – that perhaps the way things were happening WAS God’s way of telling us what to do.

Then came questions. Standard, I know, but each one being asked of her as she hugged this big, sick dog was like a bullet in her gut, pushing her farther into a teary abyss.

“Would you like group or individual cremation?”

“Would you like a wooden urn or tin urn?”

“Would you like a plaster paw print for remembrance?”

“Would you like an ink paw print?”

Each time a question was asked, I could see it hitting my mom like someone had just sucker-punched her. She knew the technician had to ask these questions, but oh, how it only reinforced that feeling and doubt of what we were doing.

They brought us to a different examination room where a corner lamp had been brought in and dimmed. A nice blanket and pillow was on the ground, and a ceramic water-dripping fountain-thingy was on the counter, for the sound of flowing water. We laid him down and talked to him as the doctor gave him something to sleep. With his head in my mom’s lap, she petted him, talking to him about what a wonderful boy he was and how, while they hadn’t started out great when my grandmother first got him, who knew she and he would become the best of friends.

And soon, that was it. No more panting. No more pain. Only the sound of the pouring water and our sobbing. There was nothing.

“He’s gone,” the doctor told us, offering us the chance to stay.

Neither my mom nor I could emotionally handle much more, and said our goodbye and left, hugging in the parking lot before I drove her home. Wrought with emotion, my mom tearfully wondered what might have happened if they had tried something different, anything different.

But the scenario would have ended the same. He was 12 years old, long past his expected age and he was very, very sick. Between the cancer, the tumor, the frequent inability to move his back legs, he was in tremendous pain.

“You always taught me to not be selfish and to think of others first,” I told her. “If you brought him home, still in pain, trying to drag things on for him more, it would have been for you guys, not for him. You did the unselfish thing. Just like you always taught me.”

When I got her home, she and my father and I let it out before having to get the little monkey into the car for the ride home. The night that followed was a constant back and forth via text to make sure the others were “doing okay.”

It choked me up to even think about the next time our little guy would walk into my parents’ house looking for Dawg or shouting “woof! woof!” and how it would break all our hearts.

So, Meg talked to the little guy as she laid him down to sleep and explained that doggie wasn’t around anymore. That he “had to go.”

His response was to point up and say “Doggie go…sky!”

He then turned from up above, looked past Meg and pointed and said “Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!” the way he did every time he walked in the door to my parents and saw him.

Maybe he knows something we don’t. And maybe that could be a really great thing.

I really hope so.

Last-minute Father’s Day gift ideas

We can all admit it. It happens. With the ins and outs of every day life, a holiday sometimes creeps up on us easily and you realize, ‘Yeah, I’ve got nothing.’
With Father’s Day tomorrow, you may be running out of time, so what do you do without resorting to a bag of chips at the gas station?
Yes, that’s me thinking of that Friends episode where they buy holiday gifts like toilet seat covers from a gas station shop.

With that in mind, I just wanted to toss out there some ideas for a few last-minute, easy, but still elegant and timeless Father’s Day gifts for dear old dad.
walletA wallet – Unless you live off a barter system (and if you’ve found a way to do that, good on you!), then most of us still carry wallets around. We all need a place for our stuff, be it cash, cards, whatever. If dad is still carrying around the same velcro wallet from high school or college, it’s definitely time for an upgrade. Or, if his wallet is looking well-worn, perhaps it’s time to surprise him with a nice new, leather one. Very easy to find.
Old School Shaving

Old School Shaving

Shave set – safety razor, badger brush, shave soap. If you’ve got the time and the money, you can either piece a set together yourself, finding a nice metal safety razor, a badger brush (less harsh on the skin) and some shave soap to create that lather. If you’d rather let someone else do the work, check out artofshaving.com and all the various gift sets they make for the stubbly dad.

If you’re in a pinch and it’s last minute, don’t fret; you can still pull this one off. Head to your local drug store or supermarket and head to the grooming aisle. Many carry a small boxed set with razor, brush, soap and a small dish for your soap, and it’s all very inexpensive. Just a note about those in the grocery or drug store – the brush will likely be boar’s hair, which may not be as great as badger hair, but it will still seem mighty impressive when dad unwraps it.

stack_of_booksA nice book – this can be of any genre, topic, whatever may interest dear old dad. Whether it’s a nice-looking reprint of a Dickens’ novel, a freshly printed copy of Hamlet for the theatrical dad, a crime or war novel, or just a nice, bound collection of comics for the super-heroic dad, this is a great gift. Books look good on Dad’s shelf, be they at home or in the office, and can offer a nice escape throughout the year. I often tell people you can’t go wrong getting me a book or graphic novel when asked about gifts.

ConcertThe experience gift – whether it be tickets to a sports game, a massage at the end of a busy work schedule, or a hot air balloon ride, these are usually the types of things you can find at a company’s website and print off right on your home computer, making them easy and convenient to get hold of at the last minute.

Children's PaintingAnything handmade – If the children haven’t come up with anything to give dear old dad yet, sit them down and brainstorm some ideas of what they would like to make for him. It could be as simple as a hand-scribbled or fingerpainted card from the little ones to a popsicle stick box for dad’s watch and wallet, or a bit more extensive with a trip to a craft store to decoupage a plain item or frame some kid photography to add some decoration to dad’s office.

And these are just a few, quick suggestions in the hopes it may help someone out, somewhere. Just remember that not matter what you choose to do, there is truth in the old adage that it is the thought behind it that counts. The thought behind whatever you give or express to your father, as long as it’s true, as long as it was thought about, that will be as cherished as anything he receives.

The Power of the Hug

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationThe other day I went to pick up our little guy from my mom’s house. Nothing out of the ordinary as I got out of the car and stepped inside. Usually I find him running around in the living room, entranced by Donald Duck, or giggling with Grandma and Grandpa.

This time was different, though.

I took a few steps into their kitchen through the back entrance, not saying a word, when suddenly, small footsteps became louder and closer from another room.

Around the corner bounded my little boy, a HUGE smile on his face. With arms spread open wide, he shouted “Dadda – Hug!”

As shocking and new as this was, I didn’t freeze as I might ordinarily upon new phrases and words. Instead, without missing a beat, I scooped him up, his arms quickly wrapped around my neck and his head turned to lay against my chest.

I practically melted right then and there.

And with that, anything that may have been bothering me from throughout the day, any stress, any worry, any irritation, it was all gone. Brushed away by the arms and smile of this little boy.

It was wonderful and I don’t think I’ll soon forget that first joyful request, specifically for a hug from daddy.

Naturally, this got me thinking later on – What is it about hugs that can turn our entire day, our entire mindset around when the rest of the world feels like it’s collapsing around us or beaten us down?

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationSara Courter at MindBodyGreen.com offered a few reasons in a 2012 article that I found interesting and thought I would share:

1. Hugging induces oxytocin in the body. 
Oxytocin is a powerful hormone, one that not only fortifies bonds with our loved ones, but also has the capability to stimulate solidarity between total strangers.
2. Hugging builds stronger bonds with the people you see everyday. 
Hugging nurtures human relationships, cultivates trust, increases confidence, and frankly, makes us happier people.
3. Hugging lowers stress! 
A good hug literally decreases the levels of cortisol found in the body. Talk about a drug-free anti-anxiety treatment.
4. Hugging lowers blood pressure. 
Collecting hugs is excellent for your ticker, in more ways than one!
5. Hugging is a reciprocal good deed.
One never knows what is going on in another person’s life. When a good, sincere hug is given, it has the potential to completely alter one’s day. How simple of a good deed is that? Just wrap your arms around me, and hug!
6. Hugging feels incredible! 
Seriously, the power of human touch is profound, and our bodies are filled with nerves ready (sometimes aching) for stimulation. Most of us are probably craving human touch all day long and simply not aware of it. Why do we spend so much money on massage? A good, long squeeze has the capacity to not only lift one’s spirits, but also feel wonderful for the body.
7. Hugging can turn a bad mood upside down. 
If you’re feeling grumpy and anti-social, just try crawling into a warm embrace. I pretty much guarantee you’ll come out of it feeling a little, if not totally, better.
8. Hugging reconnects the mind with the body. 
Most of us in the MindBodyGreen community try our best to live consciously. But when chaos builds, which it does rapidly in the workplace, behind the wheel, while on the computer, a good hug can reconnect us to that idea of conscious existence. A good hug has the power to prompt us towards better posture, deeper breathing, and a more relaxed state of being.
9. Hugging more makes us better huggers! 
That sounds silly, but I’m serious. Are you guilty of the non-committal, “I don’t have time to slow down” one-armed hug? If so, don’t expect to reap as many of these benefits. Those who take a moment to square up to another human being and wrap their arms around them for a good long breath are those who truly benefit from the power of hugging. Which brings me to benefit number ten…
10. Hugging cultivates patience.
Connections are fostered when people take the time to appreciate and acknowledge one another. A hug is one of the easiest ways to show appreciation and acknowledgement of another person.
The world is a busy, hustle-bustle place and we’re constantly rushing to the next task. By slowing down and taking a moment to offer sincere hugs throughout the day, we’re benefiting ourselves, others, and cultivating better patience within ourselves.

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