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As you may or may not be aware, we’ve had some rather unusual weather this winter. Several times this year we’ve had in excess of a foot of snow fall, which hasn’t happened in southwestern Virginia in over a decade. Personally, I think terms like “snowpocalypse” and “snowmageddon” are overstating the issue a little. Maybe “snow-inconvenience” would be more appropriate. I have had to shovel all twenty feet of sidewalk in front of our house several times this year, where as most years I only have to once (or not at all if I can wait until my neighbor gets to it first).  I guess the local weather wants to take advantage of every opportunity they get to use their spinning “X-treme Weather!!” logo though, I don’t blame them. Nothing says “reliable scientific prediction” like huge chrome letters rendered in three dimensions flying around the TV screen while a guitar wails in the background.

But when the meteorological oracles divined that we would have yet another bout with “X-treme winter conditions!!” we decided to hit the road and go visit some family in Ohio. Not exactly snow bird territory, but at least they know how to handle a few inches of snow. Their entire infrastructure doesn’t grind to a halt as soon as some fool starts flailing on front of a multicolored weather map. It did snow, but the roads and sidewalks were cleared and it was pretty much business as usual. Here are some pictures of me, my father-in-law, and the boys.

Sammy astride a modified tractor/sled

Jim trying to load us all on the sled

Jim realizing that we (one of us in particular) were way too heavy

Our tribute to the Lands End catalog


Tonight we were having dinner and engaged in a family discussion about this proverb:  Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. (Proverbs 16:24)

I was telling the boys that saying nice things to people makes them feel good, like eating honey. Sammy as pretty engaged in the conversation and he even gave some good examples of nice things we can say to people (Thank you for dinner Mommy, I like you, lets play together, etc.). Eli was listening but not participating, so I asked him for an example. He responded, “Punch you”. I told him that was not a nice thing and to try again try again, to which he replied, “Penis”.

Now, to provide a little background, he’s been randomly yelling the word penis at home and in public for weeks now. Honestly I’m not sure where he got the idea, but once he saw the reaction it gets from older ladies in the frozen food aisle in the grocery store he was hooked. We’ve been disciplining him for it, but he’s been pretty stubborn about it.

In light of the passage we were discussing, I thought it would be appropriate to build on the simile and give the boys a picture of the relation between spoken words and taste. I told Eli, “You know you aren’t allowed to say that word like that, don’t say it again.” He, of course, did immediately. I went to kitchen and put a drop of liquid soap on my finger, put my finger in his mouth and rubbed the soap on his tongue. Boy was he surprised. He did this:

Shock ...

Sammy did this:

Gross! I can't believe this is happening!

After the initial shock I wiped his tongue off with a washcloth and asked him if he’d liked the way that tasted. He said he did not, and I told him that if he said it again he would get more soap in his mouth. To which he replied, “Penis.” After another round with the soap he looked like this:

... Awe

We talked about how yucky the soap tasted and how bad it made him feel to have it on his tongue. I told them that saying mean things to people is like that, and that saying nice things is the opposite. Hopefully they’ll remember tonight’s little lesson, but if not I have a family size bottle of dish soap to help them remember.

Eli recovered from the incident nicely (with no further penises) and by the end of dinner he looked like this:

I'll never say penis again! Thanks Dad.

If you remember, a year and a half ago we had an idea. I quit my job and went to work for a local restaurant. I posted updates about the job on another little blog, but then I stopped posting. Here’s what happened:

I went to work for this restaurant chain last summer. I worked a ton and by early spring I had been promoted to General Manager. I was getting exactly the experience we had hoped I would. Our store was doing well and I was relatively successful at what I was doing. Things changed in the early fall though when my bosses started putting increasing pressure on me to work more and more hours to compensate for the business we were losing because of the recession. I ended up working 70 to 80 hours a week, sometimes for weeks straight without a day off. Also, as I moved my way up in the ranks of the company I was being asked to do some things I could not, in good conscience, do. My employer was wanting me to overlook issues of harassment, terminate employees for unjust reasons and fabricate paperwork for incidents that didn’t happen in order to deny folks unemployment.

So, I quit. I put my notice in on Halloween. I figured that with experience as a General Manager on my resume I would have no trouble finding some kind of management job in Roanoke. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I guess with unemployment being as high as it is and restaurants trying to weather the holidays, no one was hiring. I eventually did find a job with a very well known local restaurant (that is being featured in Southern Living magazine next month actually), but just as a cook and making no where near the money we needed to live. I continued to hunt for a job and Gretchen and I sort of went back to the drawing board in terms of our future plans. I had accomplished the goal we set when I left my old job to work in a restaurant, but I was also under-employed and our financial situation was looking bleak.

The job I left when we decided to pursue restaurant work was with a hospice. I was the Volunteer Coordinator and I picked up some of the Chaplain’s duties when he was overwhelmed. Evidently my old boss heard that I was looking for work and he contacted me and offered me a job as a Chaplain (believe it or not, I am actually a licensed Southern Baptist minister). I took the Chaplain job, which pays significantly more than the cook job. Even though I think I’ll miss being in the kitchen, I really do love hospice and I’m happy to be getting paid to do ministry.

And here we are. I’m a hospice Chaplain and we’re considering where to from here.

Here’s the only existing photo of me as a General Manager. I’m wearing an Optimus Prime helmet and doing the robot.

Sammy and Eli were actually the inspiration for our recent tattoos. For months they’ve been having us draw batman and thomas the tank engine on their arms and legs, then running around the house screaming “Tattoos!” at each other. Tonight was our most serious tattoo session yet.

Daddy did most of the tattooing.

But Eli did a little work on himself as well.

I think Sammy has a very bright future as a tough guy, but I’ll probably advise against the nipple circles next time.

You want to see the rest of the pictures here.

Gretchen had a particularly stressful day today with the boys, so when I got home from work we decided to go out to dinner. It’s always good to get the boys out of the house and let them expend some energy, plus we had a coupon for a free entree at our favorite Mexican restaurant. Both the boys were very well behaved and we had a great dinner together. We talked about the details of a trip we’re planning to take to Washington DC this summer, and Sammy got particularly into the discussion about which animals might be at the National Zoo.

After dinner we had planned to go to the park but it was cold and a little rainy so we went to the new Chick-fil-a that just opened up and took advantage of their shiny new “Fun-zone”. (On a side note, is it wrong to take your kids to play at a place like that and not buy anything? Gretchen and I couldn’t agree)

We had been to several fun-zone/playland type of places before with Sammy, but this was the first time he was really big enough to explore by himself. At first he hovered around the little funhouse mirrors and steering wheels they have on the ground floor for little kids, but after a few minutes he took off up the stairs to the maze of bright plastic tubes above us. There were a few other kids up there with him and he was having a great time. He crawled around and peeked out the windows at us and yelled” Dada! Mama!” every few seconds, and I would tap on the plastic and he would laugh. It was really sweet.

He was probably up there for almost ten minutes before we realized that he couldn’t get back down. A couple big kids were going up and down the slide continually so he couldn’t get down that way, and there was another little kid frozen at the top of the stairs, so he was trapped. We could see the silhouette of his little hands and knees as he was crawling from one end of the tubes to the other looking for a way out. It was heartbreaking really. He was all alone and scared in a weird place with scary kids and we couldn’t get to him.

I tried to get his attention through the window and coax him out the right way but he wasn’t understanding my instruction. I was about to bite the bullet and climb up there myself when Gretchen suggested that she go up instead. That was probably a wise move considering that the fun-zone was only certified for children three and under and I weigh the same as approximately 10 three year olds. Having me get stuck in one of those tubes and bring the whole thing down on top of a dozen unsuspecting children might have caused a scene.

So Mommy went to the rescue. She climbed up the twisting stairs (very gracefully) and removed the deer-in-headlights kid who was blocking the exit. Then she stuck her head in the entrance to the maze and showed Sammy which way to go. Eli and I were very impressed as we watched from the too-fat/too-little-to-help section.

When they got back down Sammy was smiling and seemingly un-traumatized. Aside from a couple tear streaks on his cheeks you would never have guessed his little life had just passed before his eyes. He played around on the ground floor for a few minutes after that (keeping a safe distance from the stairs) and then we decided it was time to go home.

All things considered the fun-zone is a pretty good thing for everyone involved (although I pity the poor employee who has to crawl up in there with a bucket when some kid pukes at the end of one of those tubes). The only thing I might add is a big red button that parents can push that will turn the whole thing on it’s side and shake it until the kids all fall out.

We have been pretty impressed with Sammy’s vocabulary lately. I considered making another comprehensive list of all the words he knows, but his vocabulary is literally expanding faster than I can write. He’s learning several new words everyday and is repeating just about everything he hears, especially things I shouldn’t say. He’s like a little blond parrot that recites swear words from his car seat.

So, rather than try to list all 10,000 of the new words he says I thought I would just list a few of the more interesting/cute words and phrases he’s been using as he explores the english language.

He’s nicknamed his pacifier “Paco”. So in the middle of the night when it’s fallen between the bed and the wall and he can’t find it he starts yelling “Paco! Paco! Help me!” Our neighbors probably think we have a Mexican manservant living in our house.

His new favorite game is being chased around the house. He likes to initiate this game by yelling “I’ll get you!” then abruptly running out of the room. If you don’t chase him he comes back, repeats himself and leaves again.

When Eli is sleeping he likes to get right down in his face say “shhh!” loudly with a finger to his lips. If this fails to wake Eli up he yells “Eee-yi sleeping!”

As we’ve already documented, he loves sticks. But when he tries to say “the stick” it sounds suspiciously like he’s saying “eat sh#t”.

He has a set of little plastic dinosaurs he’s been playing with a lot lately. He has named every single one of them “Donny”.

Every night before bed we read some of his kid’s picture Bible, which he loves. At some point, however, he got the meanings of the words “Jesus” and “Bible” reversed. For a few weeks he was pointing at the guy washing feet and saying “Bible!” We did get that sorted out, but now he points to every single drawing of a man with a beard and says “Gee-gee!” (Jesus).

We live pretty close to downtown and get a lot of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars going past our house. He loves them and refers to everything with a siren as “woo woo”.

He has recently started proclaiming things as “funny”. When he sees something on a cartoon or he does something silly he kind of chuckles to himself and shakes his head and say “funny”.

When I apologize to him for something I say “Sorry dog”, and instead of the traditional “I forgive you” he usually says “Woof.”

So Eli and I have been playing this new game where he’s a telephone and I use him to call Grandma

But today he got violent in the middle of a call

I tried to soothe him

But he was inconsolable

At that point I tried to get Sammy in on the action

But he wasn’t interested

Then it started to get ugly

They teamed up on me

But I turned them against each other

In the end, they were no match for my raw power and animal instincts

There are definitely both pros and cons to having two kids as close together in age as Sammy and Eli. One of the cons is that right now we have two little boys and only one crib. Eli has been sleeping in a basinet by our bed, but it’s time for him to graduate to the crib in his own room. Consequently, it’s time for Sammy to graduate to a toddler bed, or “big boy bed” as we’ve been calling it.

We heard that this can be a particularly difficult transition for a little guy to make, so we looked around for a bed that would make it as fun and exciting for Sammy as possible. He’s a big fan of Elmo (or ee-mo, as he calls him), so we settled on The Sesame Street Toddler Bed featuring the man himself in big bold colors. Unfortunately for us every other kid in the world seems to be in love with Elmo too so it was difficult to find one in stock. In fact, the only place we could get our hands on one at all was at Wal-mart, and we hate Wal-mart. As you may already know, Wal-mart abuses it’s employees and rapes the local economy and we’ve been unofficially boycotting it for the last year or so. Desperate time call for desperate measures though, and being a parent means making sacrifices. We ordered the bed through Wal-mart and one month, ten emails, one return, and a half a dozen miserable phone calls to customer service later we had a bed. It took me a couple hours to put it together because the instructions were clearly written by a non-english speaker and the accompanying hardware must have been meant for some other fine product, because not one bolt fit into the hole to which it was assigned.

It all felt worthwhile though when Sammy saw it. His eyes widened, he pointed at it, looked up and me and said “Whoa!” He spent all morning getting in and out of it and pointing at Elmo. When naptime finally came I tucked him in and set up a baby gate at his bedroom door. He cried for a few minutes but then quickly fell asleep. He didn’t even set a foot on the floor, so in our estimation it was a success.

In order to see exactly what went on after I put Sammy down for his nap I set up a video camera ahead of time. Below is the footage from when I left the room until he fell asleep. It’s about four minutes long and it’s pretty uneventful, all he does is cry and flop around a little, but I thought his grandparents might enjoy it. (the beginning is a little messed up, give it a second to get going)

When Gretchen and I first met I was immediately attracted to her. She was part of a missions team that had come up from her college to help out with the ministry where I was working. She was beautiful and funny and I spent all week trying to make an impression on her.

Looking back now I think it was probably her confidence that was so attractive to me. She didn’t seem to be cliquey or overly concerned with what other people thought of her, but she was friendly with everyone and comfortable in her own skin. She was studying cross-cultural sociology and she was planning a trip to China. I had been to China myself, and the fact that she was planning to go was exciting. She seemed sure of herself, and I found that very attractive.


Later, when she moved to Roanoke I started making attempts at romance that backfired almost immediately. I knew that she was a confident and independent person, and I had heard that she had never dated anyone before, which was pretty intimidating. I thought that the best way approach her was to slowly and discreetly start cultivating a romantic relationship without ever really communicating my intentions clearly. Of course that was the absolute worst possible plan and, as I said, it backfired almost immediately. She was confused and put off by my vague advances and actually sat me down and broke up with me even though we weren’t actually dating.

So, deterred but not defeated, I returned to the drawing board. This time I decided to just come right out with it and ask her to go out to dinner with me. She said yes and soon we were off with a bona fide relationship.

It wasn’t too long before I decided that I wanted to marry her. She was warm and thoughtful and it made me happy just to be around her. Every hour I could spend with her I did, and when I wasn’t with her I wanted to be. We lived next door to each other so I would go over and eat breakfast with her first thing in the morning when I could and then stay up late at night talking and watching movies. I was working in a bakery in the mornings and mowing lawns in the afternoons and I pretty much spent every moment we were apart planning our next date. I still remember the nervous giddiness I felt standing on her front porch waiting for her to answer the door whenever we would go out.

In retrospect, I have no idea what it was that she found attractive about me. I had no formal education or career plan and I was impulsive almost to the point of being considered mentally unstable. I mean, I was saving up to move to Indianapolis and be a professional rap artist. What on earth was she thinking?

Whatever it was, I’m very glad that she gave me a chance. The last three and a half years of marriage have been a whirlwind and I can’t imagine surviving it with anyone else but her. She is quick to overlook my flaws and forgive me, and she is always ready to serve me and the boys however she can. The thing that initially attracted me to her, her confidence, is probably the thing I still like most about her though. I trust her completely and never have the urge to second guess her decisions. It’s cliche, but she’s my best friend and we really do have a great partnership. I’m already looking forward to the day when our boys are old enough to move out on their own and we can spend the rest of our lives falling in love all over again.


Thanks for putting up with me Gretchen, I love you!

Sammy threw up in his bed for the first time last night.

We knew this was coming our way eventually. Like poop in the tub, it seems like it just happens to everyone. We were over at my uncle’s house having dinner earlier this evening when he spontaneously vomited all over himself and his mother during dessert (I love how kids don’t give you any kind of warning that their about to blow, you just suddenly feel warmth and wetness on your neck). Then later on he threw up again before bed, so we were had a suspicion that we hadn’t seen the last of curdled stomach contents. Still, no amount of warning can prepare you for the sensation of feeling around in the dark and finding a child covered in vomit.

In my half-sleeping state I guess I forgot about the earlier pukes, and somehow I didn’t even notice the smell right away because I was stunned when I felt it. My brain was unable to process the data my senses were collecting. Why was everything wet? Did he spill chili in his bed somehow? Had he exploded? When the smell hit me I was suddenly wide awake and I knew exactly what had happened.

About an hour later we were ready for bed again. He had been bathed, his bed had been changed and a huge, stinky load of laundry was in the washing machine. I was holding him and debating with Gretchen about whether it would be better to try and put him back in his own bed or take him in the guest room and let him sleep with me when, wouldn’t you know it, he threw up again! This time I was able to catch some of it in my hand, which seemed like a good idea in the moment. Really it did very little to help and I found myself standing there holding a crying baby with puke all down my arm.

Repeat step 2.

Another hour later and we were downstairs on the couch. At 2am we were watching Finding Nemo, me ready with the trash can trying to catch any little hint that he might be about to blow again. He never did throw up again, but nobody slept either.

Being a parent is absolutely the most difficult and most worthwhile thing I’ve ever attempted. Being a Christian I talked a lot about selflessness before, but it was only after having Sammy that I got a glimpse of what selflessness is really like, and now that Eli is here I’m really starting to get a good look at it. A few years ago a night like last night, especially after a particularly frustrating week at work, would have pushed me over the edge. I would have lost my temper and yelled or walked out. Having these guys around is showing me what patience and love really are. A few weeks ago a friend with no kids told me that he thinks children are a disease. Not only is that an extremely ignorant thing to say, but he couldn’t be more wrong. Selfishness and immaturity are the disease and, in my opinion, children are part of the cure.

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  • Psalm 5:11-12
    But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.