Monday, December 31, 2012

A date that has lasted ten years

Ten years ago today a woman showed up at my house, and when I opened the door the first thought that went through my mind was, "She's out of my league. Tonight will be the only date I ever get with her."

Today we picked out colors to repaint the exterior of our house.

Ten years ago I was living in Huntsville. I worked at, and I owned a comic book shop called Haven. Misty and I met online (as much as I hate to admit it). We weren't looking for a date -- it just worked out that way. When we realized that neither of us had plans for New Year's Eve, on a whim I asked her if she wanted to do something together.

The two of us went to a concert from the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra where they were performing a tribute to John Williams. I was sure that she was itching to escape as soon as the orchestra stopped playing, yet when it was over, I asked if she'd like to walk around Big Spring Park, and she agreed.

We circled the pond talking until the cold rain drove us away. But miraculously our date didn't end. We decided to head to the home of some friends of mine who were having a New Year's Eve party. When the midnight hour arrived and everyone kissed, we didn't really know what to do. A first kiss is awkward enough without an audience.

It must have worked out OK, though. Ten years later, our date is still going.

Sometimes I miss Huntsville. I miss my friends who lived there. I miss my store. But the one constant in my life that has lasted though the past decade is that woman who showed up on my doorstep. She and I have been through so much together, and I'm happy to know that she'll be by my side to experience whatever else life throws at us for decades to come.

I love you, Misty.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The 'end of the world' turned out to be a pretty good day, after all

A fortune cookie I opened last week predicted: "Next Friday will be an exciting day for you." Meanwhile, everyone else seemed to be talking about the supposed Mayan prediction that the world would end on 12/21/12. Had doomsday actually come to pass, I suppose that would have been pretty exciting.

Instead, yesterday I received and accepted a job offer from UAB. I'll be starting January 2 in the school's office of Customer Service & Quality Improvement with the title "Web Communications Manager."

Take that, Mayans.

Being out of work has been incredibly stressful. There's the worry over what you'll do next and whether it will come in time. There's a surprising amount of boredom in not going to work each day. But most of all, there's a lot of waiting. Any time I wasn't actively seeking a job (filling out applications, networking, interviewing, or just scouring the internet for openings) I felt like I was squandering the clock. There's only so much of that stuff you can do each week though, so the house stayed clean and I caught up on a lot of movies on Netflix.

I cannot begin to express how much it has meant to have had the support of my family and friends over the past three months. So many people have told me that they've been praying for me, and it has truly touched my heart and helped me feel cared for. Several others have passed job leads, recommendations, advice, or endorsements my way, and it has been exceptionally helpful. To all who have reached out to me, you have my earnest thanks.

Whenever someone starts a new job, they say something along the lines of "I'm excited to be joining x company," so it may sound cliched. However, I really am excited about this opportunity. The work I'll be doing is something I believe I'm going to enjoy, and the people I've met so far have been a welcoming bunch. UAB just feels like the sort of place where I will thrive. That's something to be excited about indeed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Eddie the Elf falls in love - twice

Emily lost a tooth last week. She came upstairs to show us the bloody gap in her mouth and announced, "I pulled out my tooth! It felt like I got shot in the face, but I didn't even even cry a bit!"

Of course, the extracted tooth meant a visit from the Tooth Fairy. Apparently during the night she met Eddie, our Elf on the Shelf, and left quite an impression. Emily woke to find not only her tooth gone, but also Eddie holding a heart-shaped sign he'd made with a marriage proposal.

Within 24 hours, however, Eddie had broken off his engagement. The next morning we found him sitting next to a box that had shipped from the North Pole and been stamped in countries all over the world. The box had a note on top that read: "Dear Emily and Kendall, I think Eddie needs some help. Love, Santa."

Eddie was holding a note of his own that read simply: "Dear Tooth Fairy, I changed my mind."

Upon opening the box, it became clear what prompted Eddie's fickle heart to break off his brief romance. Inside was a new Elf on the Shelf, and this one was a girl!

After much deliberation over names (suggestions included Betty, Elf-vira, Mistletoe, and Catherine [like cousin Eddie's spouse in the "Vacation" movies]), we settled on Holly.

With a new girl elf in the house, Emily and Kendall set about making her feel welcome. They got some shoe boxes out of the garage and constructed a play house for our elves using doll furniture. The next morning they were very pleased to find Eddie and Holly sitting in the chairs they'd set up, but the elves had also extracted an array of desserts from the fridge and added them to the table.

At first it seemed that Holly might help keep Eddie in line. If he was looking to impress her, he'd be on his best behavior, right?

The next day though, that theory was proven wrong as we came downstairs to find our Christmas tree looking like the Toomer's Oaks after an Auburn victory (well, maybe not that dramatic).

The toilet paper trailed off from the tree, leading down the hall and into the bathroom, where it was still connected to the roll on the wall. And sitting there grinning together were Holly and Eddie.

So the question is now: Is Eddie a bad influence on Holly, or is she just as mischievous as he? And what would the Tooth Fairy think of all this?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A jolly holiday all over town

I couldn't bring myself to eat breakfast today, I was still so full of pie from last night's Christmas party for the church office.  There were at least six varieties, and our hosts Rick and Lisa encouraged us to sample them all.  I won't disclose how many pieces I ate, but I will say that despite the temptation, I was unable to fit them all in.

While Misty and her mom went out grocery shopping today, I took the girls out to run a few errands of our own.  We had lunch in SoHo Square, and Emily and Kendall insisted on posing for a photo in front of the huge Christmas tree there.  After lunch, we spent a couple hours at McWane Science Center, where the third floor was decked out with their "Winter Wonderland" theme.  The girls played in the artificial snow (which was even cold), rode a miniature train, looked at the model train exhibits (we particularly liked the Hogwarts Castle set), and slid down the giant slide decorated with white Christmas lights.

When we finally returned home, we only had a few minutes before heading right back out again -- this time to see Santa.  As is our tradition, we visited Santa at Colonial Brookwood Village mall.  We've never had to endure a long line there, the setup is nice, and almost every year we see the same guy (which helps reaffirm the magic).  Plus, the line lets out right by the See's Candy kiosk where they give out free chocolate samples.

As we drove home, we avoided the highway, instead detouring through neighborhoods to see the Christmas lights.  By that time though, the girls were starting to crack from a full day of holiday stimulation, and they entered their silliness mode that snowballs into absurdity.  Sometimes it doesn't matter if Santa is watching or the Elf on the Shelf is keeping notes -- they've just gotta blow off steam and act like a couple of Tasmanian devils who've been knocking back Pixy Stix.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Kendall's first holiday music program

Greenwood Elementary's holiday program was last night.  Kendall and her kindergarten classmates, in matching shirts painted with reindeer made from hand prints, sang "Hanukkah is Here" and "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

To help alleviate overcrowding in the gym and cut down on time, the holiday music event now includes only kindergarten through second grade (with the exception of the "Gator Sounds" Choir), so Emily sat with us in the audience this year.

I was surprised by how excited Kendall seemed during the event.  In the days leading up to it, we'd tried to talk to her about it, but she'd repeatedly act like she wasn't interested.  Even right before we left the house last night, when Misty requested a preview performance Kendall was very hesitant.  She only agreed to sing for us with Emily's help, and even then she acted shy and reserved.

Once we got to the school though, her demeanor changed.  She showed no stage fright at all, and was just happy to be around her friends.  She even smiled while looking at the camera -- an act that's usually nearly impossible to coax out of her.

We're proud of Kendall's performance and very pleased that she had fun.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Elf adventures: Half over or half begun?

As today is December 12, our elf's visit is at the halfway point (he travels back to the North Pole with Santa on Christmas eve).

So far, Eddie's adventures have included dumping out one of my Christmas Lego sets, drinking maple syrup, getting stuck in the ceiling fan, turning Misty's car around backwards in the garage, reading his "Elf on the Shelf" book to a group of toys, and making himself an elf-sized serving of cookies and milk.  Here's the photo gallery chronicling his activity.

Today, Eddie brought the girls a note from Santa encouraging them to continue to be good and warning of Eddie's mischievous nature.

Santa has a valid point.  Yesterday was probably Eddie's most elaborate prank yet, when he used yarn to create a system of elf zip lines through the kitchen, effectively tying up the cabinets, the chairs, and the refrigerator door.  The girls were very impressed, as they seem to derive more enjoyment from the more mess Eddie makes.  Also, the yarn made for a fun obstacle course in navigating the kitchen.

What will Eddie do next?  Only time will tell.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Recent Kendallisms

Kendall has been sick a lot lately.  She had strep throat, and after she finished her medicine she stayed well for a week, then got strep again.  When she recovered from her second bout of strep, she got her FluMist vaccine and wound up with a few days of flu symptoms.  Then this week she had a couple days of fever, keeping her home from school again.

All of this illness has come with congestion and a runny nose.  But Kendall refuses to blow her nose.  She insists she can't and snorts her snot back up into her sinuses instead.  Misty and I keep trying to explain that her body is trying to get rid of the snot, and that she needs to blow it out or she'll continue to feel sick.  We've explained that wiping her runny nose instead of blowing is only making it red and sore.  Kendall is not interested in our advice, though.  She prefers to wipe and snort.

Last night as we pleaded with her to at least try to blow her nose, she exclaimed, "It's not the snot that's making me sick!  It's because one time at school I was eating a cupcake, and I accidentally ate a little piece of the wrapper!  That's why I keep being sick so much!"

Other notable Kendallisms this week...

After she passed gas at the dinner table:  "Wow. That sounded like a motor."

To Misty:  "Something smells like a ham sandwich that's been cooked in a dirty garbage can.  It's either your perfume or my armpit."

To me:  "Daddy, that shirt makes you look pregnant."

Monday, December 03, 2012

Emily cooks dinner

This may appear to be an ordinary dinner, but that's hardly the case.  What's special here is that Emily made the whole thing!  There's Salisbury steak, rice, broccoli, field peas, and rolls.

Misty insists that her own contributions were extremely minimal (such as turning on the burners) and keeps saying how proud she is of our little 8-year-old girl.  As Emily plated the food for us with a big smile on her face, you could tell she was proud, too.  And she should be -- because everything was really good.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Afternoon in the Botanical Gardens

It's been a pleasantly warm weekend, so today we headed outdoors to walk around the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  Even though there isn't a whole lot in bloom right now, it's always a pretty place to visit.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Elf on the Shelf, in a tree, and who knows where else

Our Elf on the Shelf returned this morning.  And thank goodness, because the girls have been driving me crazy mentioning his absence every five minutes as if the repetition would somehow make him materialize.  Emily had even begun incorporating our elf into prayers:  "God, please let Eddie come tonight."

Apparently, some kids at school have been talking about their elves, who showed up just after Thanksgiving, and Emily and Kendall are eager to be part of the fun.  They even did some detective work, pulling out the Elf on the Shelf book and examining Eddie's original arrival certificate which noted that he first showed up November 30.  Of course, last year didn't make his appearance until December 1, and it looks like that tradition is holding.

Now that Eddie is here, the girls are very concerned with what he's up to.  He tends to get into mischief, but usually doesn't make too much mess.  Today we found him atop the upstairs Christmas tree, watching the girls as they slept in the playroom.  I'll be taking pictures of his adventures each day.

Unfortunately, Eddie's presence has not inspired the girls to curb their arguing with one another.  Even with him sitting on his usual perch in the kitchen, they'll keep bickering right below him without regard for his nightly reports to Santa back at the North Pole.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Kendall reads her first book

For the past several weeks, Kendall has been bringing home a series of two-page "stories" from school.  They have repetitive phrases like "I am little" or "My cat is..."  Essentially, it's teaching her to recognize words to ease into reading.  When Emily did it, her class called them "sight words."

It's working, because last night Kendall read me a book for the first time.

She'd picked out a little "Step Into Reading" book featuring the Disney princesses at the library, and she asked me to read it to her.  I suggested instead that she try to read it to me.

We sat on the couch going over each page.  It was another system of repetitive phrases centered around "What is a princess?" and "A princess is..."  I tried to provide as little help as possible, only giving her more difficult words like "through."  The rest she either recognized or we sounded out together.  After we finished, she was quite proud of her accomplishment, and she wanted to practice it again.

The second time around, it was clear that she'd memorized some passages, but I'd expected that.  I was more impressed that she needed much less help in sounding out words this time.

It was also interesting to notice which words she recognized and which words she read.  Almost every time she came to the word "is," she said "the" instead.  I could tell it was a word she recognized, and her brain processed it as "this is a small word I know" instead of reading each sound.  Then for the princesses names, she'd read the first letter or two and make the intuitive leap to "Cinderella" or "Jasmine," since she could see the princess pictured on the page.

After dinner, Kendall read the book again for Misty, and her reading was smoother still.  Misty was, of course, proud, but not so much as Kendall, I think.

This morning, I heard Kendall downstairs reading the book again to Emily.  Then the two of them got out a couple other "Step Into Reading" books and started working on them together.  Not just reading, but getting along -- two things that make me a happy father.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A difficult subject with kids

Kendall bluntly asked me today at breakfast, "Daddy, when are you going to get a job?"

"As soon as possible," I told her.  "I'm trying."

"Why don't you just go back to work for," she asked.

As my mind spun trying to figure out how to answer, Emily chimed in.  "They probably already hired somebody to do the job he did," Emily suggested.

"Well, not really," I said.  "It's more like they don't just have that position anymore."

"So, they don't do the stuff you did there anymore?," Emily asked.

"No, that's not exactly it either," I said as I wondered how to give any sort of answers that would make sense to a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old.

Apparently, it was good enough for Kendall though, as he moved on to a new angle.  "Are we going to be poor if you don't get a job?," she asked.

How do you tell a 5-year-old that it's nothing she needs to worry about without being condescending, and without having to explain severance packages or the interview process?  I promise her that our family is going to be fine, but she still sees that her dad has been at home for two months.  And she knows her dad is supposed to be going to work.

This is the reason I kept my employment situation private for as long as possible.  I didn't want my girls to worry.  Little kids shouldn't have to worry about stuff like this!  They should be concerned with playing and singing and decorating for Christmas.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Giving thanks for ice cream and cheap movies

We capped off the Thanksgiving break with another trip to the movies -- this time to see "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" at the $1.50 theater.  Emily's been reading the books and has really enjoyed them.  I wondered if it would be difficult to follow the sequel having not seen the first movie, but we had no problems.  It was a cute family comedy, and we had fun.  Also, it turns out that it was actually the third movie in the series.  I had no idea.

Afterward Misty surprised us by swinging into Brewster's for ice cream cones.  Emily had birthday cake ice cream, Kendall had mint chocolate chip, Misty had Chocolate Lover's Trash, and I had almond chocolate coconut.  We were surprised by how many other kids also ordered mint chocolate chip.  Four or five kids in line after Kendall picked the same thing, and she was convinced they were copying her.  I think it's more likely just a popular flavor, but again, I had no idea.

It was almost the perfect end to our weekend, but on the way out of the parking lot, Emily made the mistake of taking a small sip from a water bottle that her sister thought should have been hers, and something snapped inside of Kendall.  What resulted was an outpouring of tears and rage that lasted the rest of the way home.  A less experienced parent might have assumed that she needed a nap, but if you've spent extended time with a five-year-old, you'll know that they are not tired!  And how dare you suggest such a thing?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christmas time is here

The decorations are set up. The trees are trimmed. The lights are hung.

Christmas time has arrived at the Cuthbert household.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Boys are gross

Traie, Emily and Kendall's 7-year-old cousin, came home with us after Thanksgiving dinner to visit for a couple days. Living in an otherwise all-female household, I forget how little boys can be.

As Traie was getting dressed to go out and play, I heard him making a noise in the bathroom, but I wasn't sure whether it was crying or laughing. "Are you OK in there, Traie?," I asked through the door.

"I accidentally dropped my underwear in the toilet," he answered.  At least by now though, I could tell he was laughing.

Afraid of what was about to come next, I asked him, "Why is the toilet lid open?"

"I don't know," he replied. The classic kid answer.

At this point, I knew I had to check, so I opened the door. I found Traie stuffing a sopping wet pair of briefs into his bag of clean clothes. "Did you just go to the bathroom a minute ago?," I asked.


"Did you flush?"

"Oh. Whoops."

I looked to confirm, and the water in the toilet was indeed yellow.  So actually he was stuffing a pair of briefs sopping wet with urine back into his bag of clean clothes.

"Well, that mystery's solved," I said. "Let's not put those in with your clean clothes. Why don't I just wash them instead?"

I got a load of laundry started, and Traie headed toward the door.  His pants were noticeably sagging, and I immediately saw that something was missing.

"Traie, you forgot your underwear," I said. "You need to put on one of the other pairs you have with you."

"Oh. Whoops."

Thank you, God, for my little girls (who never do anything gross ever).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving traditions (with a few changes)

Keeping with our Thanksgiving tradition, we spent today in Cullman with Misty's family.  With all the family tree branches and various friends, there were 31 people there (plus three dogs, a cat, two donkeys, and a bunch of cows).

To make room for the seemingly ever-growing crowd, the feast was moved to Kristen's house this year instead of Cathy and Jackie's.  Jackie happy informed me that this was enough to cement the change as a permanent tradition, and that hosting duties had been officially passed to his daughter.

With most guests bringing multiple dishes to share, there was a boatload of food, and we stuffed ourselves with as much as we could cram on our plates.  The niftiest desserts were little turkey's Misty's mom made out of Oreos, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, candy corn, and Whoppers.  I don't know how they tasted though, because the kids ate them all.

Emily always looks forward to playing in the leaves at Thanksgiving because, unlike at our own house, there are enough to rake into a pile.  Kristen and Kevin were more than happy to let her rake them.

And just in case you didn't believe me about the donkeys (they keep the coyotes away)...

Barbie can be so difficult sometimes

As we were getting ready for today's Thanksgiving meal, I came upstairs and heard Kendall fussing...

"No! I didn't get that out for you! I got it out for myself!"

I poked my head in the playroom hoping to diffuse the argument before the situation escalated, but I didn't see Emily. Kendall was sitting in there alone, playing with her Barbies. The kid was actually incorporating pretend bickering into her playtime.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving break commences

With the girls out of school and Misty off from work (and me too, obviously) we kicked off the Thanksgiving holiday with a trip to the movies to see Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph."  I'd been enthused about this movie ever since I first saw the trailer for it back in June, and I was not disappointed.  It was fun catching all the old video game references scattered throughout what was a really sweet story, too.

The girls loved the movie too, and it came as no surprise that they were fans of the character Vanellope von Schweets.  In fact, Vanellope played a much bigger role than I'd realized, helping make the movie very girl-friendly.  She's currently scheduled for character meet-and-greets (alongside Ralph) at Disney World, so I hope she'll still around by the next time we make it there.  It's too bad Disney made her a full-bodied, masked costume though.  She'd have been a fun character to hear talk, considering her personality.  Actually, Misty remarked that a Vanellope costume wouldn't be too difficult to put together for next Halloween.  I'm not sure if she was thinking of it for the girls or herself, though.

After the movie, Misty went to check out the new Charming Charlie store in McCalla.  Emily and Kendall think that place is just the greatest -- so much fancy stuff, they can barely contain themselves.  They found a section of tiaras, and they were in heaven.

Later on, Kendall helped Misty bake pumpkin bars for tomorrow's Thanksgiving meal while Emily helped me bake a chocolate chip walnut pie.

Day one of Thanksgiving break is an official success.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Awesomely modest

As I walked into our bathroom this morning, I found Misty standing in front of the mirror flexing her arm muscles.

Misty: "Look at this. I'm kind of awesome."

Me: "Just 'kind of'?"

Misty: "Well, I don't want to sound arrogant."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Roller skating party

Kendall attended her first birthday party from one of her classmates this afternoon at Roller Motion Skate Center near our house.  Since it was a party for a boy, she was very concerned that there would be other girls there.  It was hard to get her enthused about going (despite her admission that Max is one of the nice boys in her class), but she perked up as soon as she saw her friend Shelby there.  The two of them hung out skating together nearly the entire time.

We'd only taken Kendall roller skating one before, so she was still not used to having wheels attached to her feet.  She fell down more times than I could count, but she never once cried or gave up.  She'd pop right back up and keep skating (which was really more like shuffling her feet, but she had fun).  What a great attitude!

I was pleased to learn that since the family had rented out the whole skating rink, parents could join in.  One of the other dads commented to me that we were going to be sore tomorrow, but it was well worth it to have so much fun with my little girl.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Talking to spiders

Kendall got some plastic spiders for Halloween, and she's been having fun placing them around the house in an attempt to "scare" the rest of us.  She put one on my shoulder while giving me a hug, and a couple days ago I found one of them waiting for me on my pillow.

We had a pest control visit scheduled for today, and this morning I heard Kendall talking to her spiders.  "Don't worry," she told them.  "He's just going to spray for bugs, and you're not bugs, so you'll be safe."

Before you get too impressed that she knows spiders aren't insects, I should also mention that a few days earlier Kendall said to me, "Spiders lay eggs, so they must be mammals, right?"

At least she's right that her plastic arachnid friends are safe from the bug spray guy.  I'm not so sure about the real spiders around here, though.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Vulcan Run offers a nice tour of iconic Birmingham spots

Misty and I did the Vulcan Run today -- my first 10k in 20 years! I finished with time of 1:05:43 (better than I'd expected), but more importantly, I had a fun time doing it.

The weather was pleasant, and the race offered a nice tour of Birmingham.  Starting near Boutwell Auditorium, our route took us by (or at least where we had a good view of) the buildings downtown; Pepper Place; the Vulcan statue; Highland Park Golf Course; Rushton, Rhodes, and Caldwell Parks; Quinlan Castle; Five Points South with "The Storyteller" fountain, the statue of Brother Bryan, and the giant Blazer logo on the street; historic Morris Avenue; and Linn Park.

Less than a month ago I had trouble completing a 5k, but today's 10k was no problem.  It made such a difference in running at my own pace and not trying to keep up with Misty.  And since she finished 10 minutes earlier, it was nice to have her there at the finish line cheering for me.

I don't think I'll wait another 20 years before my next 10k (my last one was the 1992 Peachtree Road Race).  I'd do the Vulcan Run again next year, or even another 10k event.  But I'm definitely not up for Misty's suggestion of, "Do you want to do the Mercedes Half Marathon next?"

Not yet, anyway.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Preserving the Halloween tradition

This is why we love trick-or-treating at The Preserve.  I've always said that their neighborhood reminds me of Disney's Main Street USA, so October 31 feels a bit like Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party (minus the parade and fireworks).  While the house pictured here goes above and beyond the rest of the neighborhood (and you're only getting a small glimpse of it here), it's this sort of embrace of the holiday that lends to a festive atmosphere all around.

I feel guilty abandoning our own neighborhood -- leaving a bucket of candy on the porch that's sure to be empty within 15 minutes, despite the sign asking people to limit themselves to two pieces -- but The Preserve is just too much fun to pass up.  I suppose that's why the crowds there have continued to grow over the past three years.

In other Halloween news, Misty's light-up wig was a huge hit.  Nearly everyone we passed commented on it, a number of kids had to touch it, and several people wanted to know where Misty found it (I think that's her favorite part, because she gets to say "").

Also, since the weather had warmed up and Kendall was feeling better from her medicine, she got to go trick-or-treating after all.  Thank goodness we didn't have to worry about an even number of candy pieces.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trick-or-treat prayer

Kendall has strep throat (again) as well as a pretty nasty cold, so she will not be trick-or-treating tonight.  Surprisingly, she's not all that bothered by the idea of staying home.  I guess she's satisfied with her haul of candy from our Trunk-or-Treat event at church.

Emily, on the other hand, is anxious.  This is what she said last night at the dinner table as she closed out our prayer:

"... and God, please help Kendall feel better soon.  And please help me get a whole bunch of candy when I go trick-or-treating tomorrow night, since Kendall can't go and I have to share my candy with her.  And however many pieces of candy I get, please make it an even number, not an odd number, so that it will be easier to share half.  Amen."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Batgirls team up at Trunk-or-Treat

Emily and Kendall both decided to dress as Batgirl for Halloween this year.  Emily selected the traditional black Batgirl costume, while Kendall went with the lesser known pink Batgirl outfit (I think you can find it in "Crisis on Infinite Earths" or something).

I know what you're thinking -- that I encouraged them to dress as superheroes, forgoing their usual princess attire for the first time in years.  But I didn't.  This decision was made completely on their own.  In fact, Emily originally wanted to go as Spider-Girl, but costumes for her character are few and far between (before that, she'd talked about going as Galadriel from "Lord of the Rings").  Kendall had wanted to dress as Poison Ivy, which would have been a relatively easy outfit to piece together on our own.  In the end though, both of them landed on Batgirl.  They're little nerds, even though they don't realize it yet.

Kendall has had a cold for the past few days, so we kept our visit to the Homewood Church of Christ Trunk-or-Treat extravaganza relatively brief.  It was funny how all day they were so anxious to get there, but they were equally anxious to return home.  That's not to say they didn't have a great time (we all did) -- they just wanted to get into their haul of candy.  When they dumped everything out on the kitchen table, I was impressed by how cordial they were to one another in brokering trades.  The two Batgirls really worked as a team.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Glowing jack-o-lanterns

We carved our pumpkins last night!  Misty and Kendall made the jack-o-lantern on the left, while Emily and I made the one on the right.  We were all pleased with the results.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Racing for the Cure

Emily ran her first 5K today at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.  She wore a pink sign pinned to the back of her shirt that read, "In celebration of my Grammy, Gretchen Cuthbert."

Kendall was not happy that Emily got to participate without her.  However, considering that she wanted to be carried after only two blocks from the car, I don't think she's ready for a 3.1-mile run.  Kendall and I sat by the fountain in Linn Park -- which had been dyed pink for the occasion -- while Misty and Emily ran.

We made it over to the finish line just in time to cheer.  After less than a minute of waiting, I heard Kendall holler, "Go Emily!"  Then I caught sight of Misty and saw Emily cross the finish line a few feet in front of her.  They finished in about 45 minutes -- which, considering Emily had never run that far before, is impressive.

Emily's favorite part of the race was the water stops.  She was so impressed that she could dump a cup of water on her head (and that you throw your empty cup on the ground)!

We're very proud of our pink-clad ladies who ran the race today, raising awareness of breast cancer and funds for breast cancer research.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Kendall's pumpkin patch field trip

Kendall's class took a field trip to the pumpkin patch today.  Misty went with them as a chaperone, charged with keeping up with Kendall and her friend Josie.  All the kids wore matching jack-o-lantern shirts their teacher had made.  They got to take a hayride, get their faces painted, pet goats, toss corn cobs, ride a train, and pick out little pumpkins to take home.  From Misty's report, it sounds like they had a super time!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sweet & Spicy Coconut and Sweet Potato Stew

Here's the latest sample of deliciousness from Misty's kitchen.  It's a soup/stew made in the Crock-Pot with sweet potatoes, coconut milk, green onions, and Thai-spices.

"Whenever you get a chance to use a can of coconut milk in soup, you know it's going to be good," Misty said.  And it was.

The recipe she found via Pinterest called for ground turkey, but she substituted ground chicken instead (since it was a much better price this week at the grocery store).

I liked the taste on my first bite and didn't find it very spicy.  Then a second later the spice crept up and slapped me in the face.  It still wasn't overbearing though -- after a couple more bites, I was used to it.

This was a perfect soup for fall -- one I'm looking forward to enjoying again tonight as we polish off the leftovers.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Slapped by an unseen horse

We watched the old Sloss Furnaces episode of Ghost Adventures last night (by the way, not a great idea for the kids before bedtime).  At one point in the show the host is talking to a local guy who was supposedly "slapped in the face by an unseen force."

A minute later, they interview the guy's friend who confirms that his buddy had a hand print on his face that was cold to the touch.

Kendall piped up, "Why was it a hand? If he got slapped by a horse, why wasn't there a hoof?"

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Camping at church

Our family went "camping" last night. I use the quotes around the word "camping" because we were hardly roughing it.  We weren't even in the woods.  Our tent was set up on the soccer field at our church where we were within a short walk from electricity and running water. Nevertheless, there was a campfire where the kids roasted s'mores.  That's really all you need for camping.

Our evening also included a short devotional with songs and a lesson about wearing (metaphorical) masks. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs, and the kids watched "Mickey's House of Villains" on a big inflatable outdoor screen. Daisy actually accompanied us, and she took to camping like a pro. She was happy to sleep alongside us in our tent and had fun chasing after kids (a little too much fun, there).

At our last church camping event, we missed out on staying overnight since I had been out of town and wasn't sure if I'd arrive back in time. Misty, quite sensibly, hadn't wanted to wrangle two kids and a dog while also trying to set up a tent. I'm glad we got to enjoy the whole experience this time. We had a great time there with our friends.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Emily's trip to Riverdale

This conversation just happened...

Emily:  "Is Brookwood a country?"

Me:  "No, it's more like a neighborhood."

Emily:  "Oh. Veronica lives in Brookwood."

Me:  "Who's Veronica?"

Emily:  "From Betty and Veronica."

Me:  "Actually, the Archie characters live in Riverdale."

Emily:  "Oh yeah.  Have I been there?"

Monday, October 08, 2012

Don't kiss frogs when you're sick

Kendall has been complaining of a sore throat for a few days, so I took her to the pediatrician this morning. Despite her throat, she insisted that she was not sick, so she was pretty mad when she realized we were driving into the parking deck at the doctor's office.

She got her throat swabbed and said, "It was horrible, but it was better than a shot."  Her culture tested positive for strep throat, so she'll be out of school for another day.

Meanwhile, at least Kendall's humor is well intact. She placed her Princess Tiana figures next to our big Halloween frog on the fireplace, smiled at me and said, "Nothing happened. He's still a frog."

We also watched a Halloween movie called "La Leyenda de la Llorona" on Netflix.  In case you couldn't guess from the name, it's in Spanish, so I had to read her the subtitles.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Giant fireflies light up the streets of Atlanta

I nearly gave up on running in races last night.  Shortly after the first water stop during the Firefly Run 5K in Atlanta, I had to slow down to walk for a bit.  At the gym, I have no trouble maintaining my pace for 3.1 miles, yet in races I always seem to wear myself out quickly -- to the point where running feels awful.

I think I know what I've been doing wrong.  I've been trying to keep up with Misty.

With 4,000 other people running through the city streets in the dark and only one cell phone between the two of us, Misty and I tried to stay together.  In doing so, she had a hard time slowing her pace, while I had a hard time keeping mine fast enough.  We were repeatedly separated as she'd advance several paces ahead and other runners would begin passing me between us (luckily her green light-up wig made her easy to spot in the crowd).  But while Misty had to keep looking back and slowing down to let me catch up, I was struggling to stay with her.

And that's the problem.  I shouldn't try to stay with her.  As soon as we agreed to meet up afterward at certain spot, and instead ran at our own paces, the race became much more bearable.  Even running up the hills seemed easier.

I guess the only place I'm going to be able to run alongside Misty is at the gym -- where we can go our own paces while the treadmills keep us aligned.

The Firefly Run was a lot of fun -- a much better experience than The Color Run.  The temperature was perfect on an evening in early October, and the setting of Piedmont Park with the city backdrop was beautiful.  Lots of people got creative with glow-in-the-dark and light-up accessories, but the real treat was simply seeing the parade of colored lights we created as we moved through the streets en masse.  Drivers waiting in traffic honked and cheered as we ran down Peachtree Street.  I'll bet it looked even cooler to spectators (and judging from comments I could hear from people watching as we ran by, it did).

Misty's light-up wig was a hit.  Several people complimented her on it, and a few even asked her to pose for photos.  All of them wanted to know where she got it, and I think she relished the opportunity to repeatedly say the name of the web site --

After the race ended (and Misty and I found each other with no problem), we didn't want to leave.  With everyone glowing in the dark, it was such a festive atmosphere in Piedmont Park.  It felt like there should have been a live DJ to spin a dance mix to keep the party going into the night.

We rounded out our evening with a trip to Grindhouse Killer Burgers, which turned out to be just across the street from another of our favorite Atlanta restaurants (Sheik Burritos n Kabobs, where we'd eaten the night before).  Our burgers and fries were great, plus we noticed the restaurant had a dog-friendly patio, so we'll definitely be back for a future visit.

We'll be back for another Firefly Run, too.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Cuteness and terror at the pumpkin patch

We hadn't been to a pumpkin patch in a couple years, so today we took the girls out with the intention of getting some new fall pictures.

I guess the people selling pumpkins figured out that parents just want to use their crop as a backdrop for cute photos, because the pumpkin "patch" we went to turned out to be a much bigger affair than I remembered.  Before it was just a big bunch of pumpkins for sale on a street corner.  Now there were also train rides, pony rides, inflatables to jump in, and a couple of little haunted houses.

A sly move, but well played, pumpkin patch.

We ended up buying a handful of tickets, and the kids declared another "best day ever" as they bounced inside a giant pumpkin.

Kendall was not a fan of the inflatable spooky house, though.  Misty went through it with her and said that she trembled the whole time she was in there.  There were no live participants to jump out and scare people -- just motion-activated characters you'd see at the typical Halloween store -- but Kendall wore a look of terror.

Luckily, petting bunnies was much more pleasant.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Seasonal cereal

Kendall didn't want to wake up this morning.  She was groaning and pulling the covers back over her head as I tried to rouse her.  Then all of a sudden she exclaimed, "I forgot! Boo Berry!," and bolted out of bed.

October is so much fun.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Field trip to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Today I helped chaperone a field trip to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens with Emily's school.  Less than 10 minutes into the bus ride, a girl on the seat across from me already had a bloody nose, having been caught in between two other girls roughhousing, so I knew it was going to be an adventure.

The two 3rd grade classes split up upon arrival at the Gardens, and the groups divided into boys and girls beyond that.  That put me with the girls from Emily's class.  On the first part of our tour, we all received binoculars and were accompanied by a couple members of the Audubon Society while we looked for birds. Our group spotted several species, but most of the kids had a hard time locating anything with their binoculars.  I was impressed by how patient they were, though.

For the second part of the tour, the boys and girls from Emily's class joined back together for a lesson on George Washington Carver.  We learned some of the 300 things he made out of peanuts, then got to see cotton, sweet potatoes, and peanuts growing in one of the gardens.  Again, I was impressed by how attentive and patient the kids were.  The guides had them all participate in a game that involved farmers growing cotton and peanuts and infusing nitrogen into the soil.

After lunch we had some extra time left, so everyone headed down to the Japanese garden.  The size of the koi in the pond just blew the kids' minds.  Here their 3rd grade selves finally began to emerge.  A pond, fish, a bridge, bamboo, and no lesson plan -- it wasn't long before they were running around in circles.

I'd mark the field trip as a big success.  Kids who hadn't been to the Botanical Gardens before were clearly impressed and didn't want to leave.  But even Emily, who's been to the Gardens on numerous occasions, reminded me that we need to visit there more often.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Saying goodbye to

This is a tough week for me.  After 14 years with, this week is my last.

As, The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times, and the Press-Register close shop September 30 and reform as a single company October 1, I will not be along for the ride.

I've kept the news fairly quiet up until now because it hurts.  It has hurt for the past three months since I found out.

But as much as it stings, I'm not angry.  I bear my colleagues and the new Alabama Media Group no ill will.  The reformation they're undergoing is a bold and exciting one.  I personally think that not only is it going to work, but that it will serve as a model for other news media companies.  Advance Digital (the parent company of Media Group) is looking two or three years down the line and implementing those future ideals now.

The (then Alabama Live) staff from way back when.
Nevertheless, it's been hard watching others around me prepare for this dramatic shift in our company.  It feels like I'm the kid not invited to the party.  Some of my coworkers don't even realize that I won't be a part of the new company.  Making smalltalk the other day one of them quipped, "You getting all packed up?"

"Working on it," I replied, not bothering to add, "but my boxes aren't going to the new office; they're going home."

In all the talk of people at the newspapers losing their jobs in this transition, few have recognized the fact that some of us at were affected, too.  As I've slowly shared my personal situation with others, most have responded in shock.  Quite a few times I've heard, "I can't believe they'd let you go!"  And I appreciate that.  But every time, I remind others that 400 people are being let go.  I can't believe a lot of them didn't make the cut, either.  At least I'm in good company. has undergone a multitude of changes since I started in 1998 -- from site design to expansion markets to the way we gather and report news.  In fact, is pretty much in a constant state of change.  That's the nature of the internet.

Alabama Live's company Statement of Values
I've watched so many people come and go from over time, but I've stayed for 14 years because I've liked the company, I've loved my coworkers, and I've enjoyed the work that I do.  In fact, only our CEO and our office manager have been with the company longer than me.  I have always been proud to work at  The old Alabama Live Statement of Values framed on the office wall has held true: respect for individuals, honesty, teamwork, customer focus, passion for excellence, and creative, fun environment.  I can only hope that wherever I land next can match such standards.

To my colleagues who are moving on to the new company with Alabama Media Group, I wish you the best of luck.  I will miss working with y'all.

To those who won't have a place to work starting October 1 -- and between, The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times, the Press-Register, The Mississippi Press, The Times Picayune, and, there are a lot of them -- you remain in my prayers.

To my friends who have reached out to me with job leads, references, recommendations, and prayers, you have my sincere gratitude.  Keeping a positive outlook has been a challenge, and the support of my friends and family has been invaluable.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Monsterously cute hat

Is this not the cutest hat?  It reminds me of James P. Sullivan (Sully) from "Monsters Inc."  I wish they had one in an adult size (for Misty, of course -- I'd wear this one).

On the cover of the City Scene

Nifty! Today's City Scene cover is a photo I shot at Hangout Fest.

Despite being a "digital first" internet news advocate for years, there's still no escaping that little extra thrill of seeing your work in print.

Here's the accompanying article from Lawrence Specker: Alabama rapper Yelawolf still stalking home-state acceptance

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Bath goggles

Sometimes kids come up with the weirdest things that make complete sense.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Emily's summer gardening project

Emily has been gardening this summer, growing grape tomatoes and sunflowers.  Every day she's been diligent about watering, pruning dead leaves, and and making sure the plants have adequate support.

This week a few of her tomatoes finally began turning red, and Emily has been super excited -- enough that she even ate some last night.  This is significant because she doesn't actually like tomatoes.  Nevertheless, she was willing to eat them if they were chopped up and mixed in with the meat in our tacos.  Not that they would have added any significant flavor -- the seven or eight tiny tomatoes we picked could have fit in a single mouthful.  But Emily was excited anyway.

Now she's planning a tomato business because she's sure she's going to grow more than our family can possibly consume.  She's also planning on bring some to all our relatives.  I hope they're not very hungry.