The Way I Thought That Things Would Be: Grocery Shopping

If you read yesterday's post, you should now know about the disdain the younger me possessed when it came to vegetables. This searing hatred wasn't just a product of my childhood. It was present throughout my teenage years and lasted into young adulthood.

By the time I got out of high school, I started fending for myself more and more. My brother was married and starting his family life. My parents both worked full time. Most days, I was either working or hanging out with friends; I was rarely home. My diet consisted of jojos from the gas station, Chinese food from Safeway, grub from Fred Meyer's deli, Taco Bell's 59/79/99 cent menu, and movie theater popcorn.

Meal planning was not in my vocabulary.

I had just turned 20 when a couple of friends asked me to move to Nampa with them and split an apartment. Despite some initial resistance and paltry excuses, I accepted. It was the perfect time for me to move, and I discovered the Boise area was much better for me at that age than the Seattle area.

The downside of independent living was the increase in bills. My parents had been giving me a free ride. All of the money I earned was spent on food, entertainment, gas, and car insurance. Suddenly, I had to worry about stuff like rent and utilities. With a more restrictive budget, I had to (for the first time in my life) consider grocery shopping. For actual groceries.

Long before the 520 mile moving experience, even before Shane and Travis approached me with the idea of moving, I had a plan for stocking the kitchen when I finally moved out of my parents house.

Somewhere in the two years between graduating high school and the move to Nampa, I came to the resolution that I would always be adequately stocked. When I had my own place, my kitchen would never be without the three following items:

1. A gallon of ice cream
2. A bag of potato chips
3. A two liter of soda

As soon as one of those three things were empty, my plan was to make a trip to the grocery store and replace the depleted inventory. It's not because we had those items constantly available to us when I was growing up. But when I went over to friends' houses, it seemed like all of my friends had these items at their house. As it was clear that my friends were all from families richer than mine, I made a false equation that having soda and ice cream at your perpetual disposal equaled wealth. I thought that I'd feel like I was rich if I always had those three things ready to serve.

Then I moved out. I got my own place. My secret plan to rule the world (or at least rule my kitchen) could commence.

You can probably guess what happened. My plan was forgotten by the time my roommates and I made our first trip to the grocery store.

We did occasionally have soda, chips, and ice cream in our apartment. But stuff like laundry soap, toilet paper, and deodorant were far more important than the frivolous items I had previously considered necessities. It was during this phase of my life that I developed my spaghetti/nacho/potato diet.

But even then, I never imagined that I would walk up to a grocery story check stand with a shopping cart that looked like this:

Nothing but produce. Carrots, potatoes, bananas, a couple heads of romaine, oranges, cucumbers, and enough tomatoes for my daughter to eat one a day for the following week.

The younger version of myself thought I'd have no problem filling up a grocery cart with products from the deli, dairy, and meat counter. Take a spin through the pasta and cereal isles and a tour through frozen foods and I'd be ready to cook. The produce section was a foreign land. I did not have a passport or the proper immunizations.

I never thought I would spend so much time feeling, squeezing, and inspecting produce to ensure ripeness.

On the trip with the haul pictured above, only two more items made it into my cart before I paid and left the store. Some whole grain bread (another item the younger version of me never imagined buying) and milk.

I never envisioned I'd be one of those kinds of people in the grocery store checkout line. The health nut. The person without a single indulgence in their cart. I always thought those people were too pretentious. When did I become that kind of person?


The Way I Thought That Things Would Be: Serving Salad

Veggies. When I was a kid, I avoided them as much as I possibly could. Ask my parents, they'll confirm my claim. Sometimes I would go to great lengths to clear the vegetables off my plate without actually eating them.

Between my preschool and kindergarten years, my family moved into an old farmhouse. It was one of the first homes to be built in that neighborhood. My parents loved old houses like that. This one had large picture windows facing the street and a deep dark basement that haunts the nightmares of many horror stories. In the dungeon like depths that descended from the kitchen down narrow and steep stairs was a gigantic old-school furnace. (I was younger and smaller then, so it's actual size is probably exaggerated and distorted due to my shrunken perspective.) This furnace was the lone source of heat for the whole house.

Inside that furnace's belly burned a fire that funneled hot air through a single ventilation duct up into the first and second floors. Separate arms branched off to provide warmth to other rooms, but there was one heating vent in the middle of the great room connected directly to the main shaft. We had that room bisected into two sections, one that was the living room and the other half was the dining room. We rarely at dinner at the dining room table. Our family was a sports family so if there was a game on TV, we'd be watching it. My folks and my older brother would be on the couch while they ate, but I retreated to the floor next to that vent.

I could still see the TV from that vantage point, but I didn't share the same interest in watching baseball or football like my older brother. I liked sitting on the floor while I ate. In fact, I still do. But the joy of the floor or the dissociation from the chosen mode of family entertainment were secondary to my true motivation for sitting next to the heater.

I knew that on the other side of the wall in that very location was a vent that fell strait down to the fires inside the furnace. While my parents focused on their own food and the athletic action on the television, I'd be sending vegetables plunging into the abyss, piece by piece, through the small gap between the vent's metal guard and the hardwood floor. The uneaten scraps from my meal would be incinerated and no trace of my deeds remained to be found or smelled.

It must have been a texture issue. The scent, taste, textures; I found it all revolting. The fact that the food I was wasting was healthy was irrelevant. I could not force myself to swallow. The flavor made me gag. Now that I have a son on the autism spectrum I'm starting to recognize some of those same symptoms. His texture issues surround anything with a saucy texture. Spaghetti sauce, alfredo, ketchup, salsa. He also struggles with most meats. He likes bacon, chicken, and shrimp. But steak, ham, and pork set off his texture aversion. Ditto for anything ground up. That makes meal planning difficult in our home.

But there is one food that I don't have to worry about serving.


There are two things in that picture that the younger veggie burning version of myself would have never allowed to contact my taste buds: cucumbers and spinach. I'll eat it now, but my kids will devour it. All three of them will munch on carrots as a snack without question. Christian will eat lettuce and spinach like some kids eat potato chips. Zu will eat an entire cucumber on her own if you let her. They're like that with fruit too. The three of them demolished a pound of strawberries in one afternoon - on their own. JJ once ate four bananas in one sitting. Zu eats tomatoes like they're apples. And they all have an apple addiction. Rare is the edible plant that we cannot convince one of them to eat. Even lemons.

I never imagined this would happen. I would have never predicted raising children who love vegetables more than me. How did that veggie hating kid turn into a functioning adult that enjoys stuff like asparagus and bell peppers? How did I end up with bacon loving semi-vegetarians?


On being broken

As I grow and age and mature, and in turn watch my kids grow and age and mature, I've had to make some deep introspection. Not the pretty snorkeling in the tropics kind of diving, but the deeps sea exploration that requires an atmospheric diving suit. It's uncomfortable and you're surrounded by darkness and unbearable pressure.

So I took a break from writing. The first one was intentional. A fast from blogging and social media. Then came a second and longer break that was partially intentional yet part circumstantial.

And now I'm back. Fingers plucking away at the keyboard like a bad habit that I can't quite break. I'm back as a broken man. In all honesty, that's not a huge revelation. That's just me admitting that I currently am what I've always been. Somewhere in that concession, I have to believe that there's a glimmer of hope.

Hope; because my Bible says that the kind of sacrifice that pleases God is a broken and contrite heart.

Growing up as the son of a former pastor, in a strict and conservative church, somewhere in the suburbs north of Seattle, there is one thing I learned to do well - fake it. I could do and say all of the right things when it mattered and people were watching. But when it seemed like no one cared, I stopped caring. I stopped making an effort.

Being an adult changes that perspective. There's grown up responsibilities and grown up bills. Grown up colleagues and grown up friends. Suddenly there's a new magnifying glass over life. Now, everything matters. I don't have the freedom to not care or not make an effort. I can still fake it, but it's exhausting. (Granted, as a thirty-something, this sudden sense of adulthood makes me a late bloomer.)

In that awkward inward look, I'm searching for that glimmer of hope. Because it matters now. My kids are getting older and I can either build a relationship that will be their refuge for the rest of my life, or send them into therapy for the rest of theirs.

In the movie Beautiful Girls, Timothy Hutton returns to his childhood home for his 10 year high school reunion. The teen-aged girl that lives next door tells Hutton that he's coming back "to the house of loneliness and tears, to Daddy Downer and Brother Bummer." I hope that in 20 years, no one makes a statement like that to my kids. I hope that no one ever describes me as Daddy Downer.

How do I make that happen?

Brokenness demands healing. That's why I took a break. To look inside myself. To examine my existence. To decide what it is I want my kids to see when they look at me. To decide what kind of memories they take with them when they're old enough to move out of the house and start their own families. The way they think of me when I'm no longer a resident of this planet.

Believe me, the process of thinking these things through is not pleasant. But it is essential. As I endeavor not to become the grumpy old man yelling at kids to get off of my lawn, I realize that it starts with making my home a happy place for my kids. Daddy Downer is not welcome.

I wish I knew how to make that happen.


For my daughter on her birthday

Hello my sweet girl.

It's hard to comprehend how fast you are growing and how quickly you are learning new things. I watch you and see how you face the challenges in your life with bravery beyond what anyone would expect from five (now six) year old girl. In my observations, I have learned one lesson over and over again: this world is yours.

You can conquer all things.
You can go anywhere you want.
You can accomplish anything you set out to do.

You might not believe me, but some day you will. If you attack the rest of your life with the same passion you display now, doors will open for you. You will inspire people. You all ready inspire me.

But right now, it's not so easy. I know that it is tough being you. Your brothers know exactly how to make you mad, and it seems like they find enjoyment in your anger. It's not fair, and it's not right but you also know how to make them mad. That's a part of having siblings. Eventually, those two boys will be your bodyguards and your best friends.

You have the ability to experience all of the feelings at the same time. I'm sure you have felt emotions that I don't even have words to define. It sucks sometimes, but these highs and lows that you feel make you stronger and give you a deep sense of empathy for others. Your wide emotional vocabulary has built within you an admirable compassion for your friends, your family, and even strangers.

If life was a card game, you'd be holding a bunch of cards that you don't know what purpose they serve while everyone else around you are saying "Uno!" But something within you won't give up. You have the drive that will figure it out eventually. Through tears and laughter, hurt feelings and nervous excitement, you keep trying. That is why this world is yours.

I'm not sure if you're able to see that will to push on within yourself. I'm not sure you recognize how strong you are. So please, trust me when I say that you are capable of more than you realize. Until then, remember a few things.

You will not grow up in a house where you get everything you want. But you will have everything you need.
Your father is not a perfect man, but I will always do the best that I know how to do.
Even your darkest moments will pass.
No matter what, you are loved.

I will always love you.

Happy birthday.


Five things that make April a busy month

You may have all ready noticed, but I haven't posted much this month. There are reasons. Lots of reasons. April is a busy month in our house. It started with all three kids on spring break and Bekah buried under study and research as she's coming down to the end of her junior year.

The busyness doesn't end there. There are five events that now (and forever more will) make April a busy busy busy month.

1. Our anniversary. Bekah and I celebrated 10 years of marriage last Friday. We ate 315 Martinis and Tapas, a restaurant that neither of us have previously tried. We were both impressed. For those of you in the Cd'A area - I recommend you try their huckleberry meatballs. They also make a fantastic mojito.

2. Bekah's birthday. She turns 30 this weekend.

3. Not long after Bekah's birthday, one of her best friends is also turning 30. The two of them grew up together and with birthdays a few days apart, the two of them usually celebrate together.

4. Zu's birthday. My little girl is turning six. She wants My Little Pony toys and footsie pajamas. And before you think that I'm raising a dainty girly girl, you should be aware that she knows the heroes of the Marvel universe as well as she knows all of the characters from My Little Pony. She also prefers superheroes over Barbies.

5. My mother-in-law also has a birthday this month. No, I will not be divulging her age.

Stick around. I have a big experiment planned for May. However, I must warn you... By the end of this month, I'll be writing while in a cake coma.