Friday, March 24, 2006

...On Lemons and Beer

Sometimes God gives you lemons, and all you can do is make lemonade. Other times, He gives you beer. Even more ironic is that one person’s lemon is another person’s beer. Today I received an extra-tall draw of Guinness, served in a frosty mug.

My older daughter is taking tennis in middle school. Sometimes she has practice before school, so my wife or I will take her in. Even when the kids stay with their mom, it’s my wife or me that shuttles the kids to and from these extra-curricular activities. Though I loathe getting up early, it’s something for the kids and worth the extra effort. Today was my turn to take my daughter to early morning tennis practice.

I got to my ex-wife’s apartment, and noticed two cop cars parked in front of her building. “Dammit,” I thought. “They took my parking spot!” I went around back and parked my truck. Just as I was getting out of the truck, the kids came strolling out to meet me. “Cool, now I don’t have to go to the door.”

My younger daughter climbs in to the back seat and says “Daddy, there’s two cops in mom’s house.”

“Really?!” I responded, suppressing a smile.

My older daughter continued “Yeah, I thought it was you knocking on the door. I opened the door and there were two cops there. The lady cop says ‘Are you (ex-wife’s full name here)?’ Mommmm!”

I kept silent; not even asking what was up. The kids were a little nervous, with just a touch of amusement thrown in, and I didn’t want to do anything to wind them up more. Besides, I figured they’d tell me the story without any prompting.

“I asked mom what was going on,” my older daughter added. “She said ‘You know how you sometimes don’t get you homework turned in to the teacher on time? Well, that’s kind of what happened here. I didn’t turn in some paperwork, now I need to go to court.’”

My younger daughter picked up where the older one left off. “They were talking to mommy, and mom said ‘Can we please not talk about this while the kids are here?’”

“I wonder what’s going on,” they both mused aloud.

I stayed out of it, not wanting to make the kids more nervous, but I’ll admit that I was curious too. As some of you know, and the rest of you can imagine, I’m not really fond of the ex. At the same time though, I don’t want my strong dislike of her to carry over into the kids’ relationship with their mom. They know that I don’t like her, but I’ve also instilled the understanding that I want them to continue having a good bond with her. If I failed to do my part in nurturing their connection with her, then I am doing my children a disservice – as long as it remains a positive, loving relationship. But I’m digressing.

On the way back to the house after dropping my older daughter at school, my younger daughter asked “Daddy, does mommy shoplift?”

“That’s a question you should ask her.”

As I said earlier, I’m curious why the cops were there. I figure that’ll come out in the wash. In the meantime, I’ll keep my mouth closed because there’s nothing I could possibly say to the kids that would help ease their minds about this, or help things get back to normal. The only way to fix this is for their mom to explain what happened in detail (assuming it’s something minor and stupid) or to not say anything and wait for the kids to forget all about it. I won’t even speculate on what happened. Knowing her, it could be anything from unpaid parking tickets to… well, it could be anything.

For now, I won’t focus on it. I’ll just kick back and enjoy that cold, frosty beer that God delivered me.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Hey Everyone, I've Got an Idea. Let's go Even Deeper into Debt

Congress agreed to let the government borrow another $781 billion Thursday, allowing lawmakers and President Bush to "pay" for the war in Iraq, combat terrorism and grant themselves yet another colossal raise, all without raising taxes or cutting popular domestic programs. I’ve got to admit, these guys are miracle workers!

The Senate, on a 52-48 vote, sent to President Bush a bill raising the ceiling on the national debt to nearly $9 trillion and preventing a first-ever default on U.S. Treasury notes. “The reason that the vote was so close was because it was an election year,” stated an anonymous Senate staffer. “If this had been a non-election year, it would have passed something like 99-1,” he continued. “But since it’s an election year, a few Senators are thinking, ‘Hmmmm, do I grant myself this colossal raise only to get voted out of office by my pissed off constituents, or do I play it safe and vote against it?’”

The House of Representatives, being a little smarter (in a cagy way, not intellectually), avoided an election-year vote on raising the debt limit by slipping the bill to the Senate when it passed a budget last year.

The bill passed the Senate just hours before the House was expected to approve another $91 billion to fund the war in Iraq and another $1.95 to split between education and heating subsidies for the poor. The partisan vote also came as the Senate continued debate on a $2.8 trillion budget blueprint for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, that would produce a $359 billion deficit.

In twin setbacks for GOP leaders, the Senate voted 51-49 to add $3 billion to the budget in other ways sure to give our elected officials a very Merry Christmas. The moves broke through President Bush's overall "cap" on agency budgets to be funded later in the year through appropriations bills. Congress has now increased the debt ceiling four times by a total of $3 trillion since Bush took office five years ago.

The Senate vote came a day after Treasury Secretary Jack Snow warned lawmakers that action was "critical to provide certainty to financial markets that the integrity of the obligations of the United States will not be compromised." When Snow made these comments, Congress turned a deaf ear, so he followed up by saying “You won’t get your paychecks either.” That got their attention, and 24 hours later, the bill passed.

After the vote, Snow applauded Congress for "protecting the full faith and credit of my family," saying it ensures that the government "can deliver on promises already made, such as my paycheck, obscene retirement benefits and even a little for the soldiers in Iraq.”

The debt limit increase is an unhappy necessity — the alternative would be a disastrous first-ever default on U.S. obligations, or lawmakers would have to give up their sweet salary and benefits packages — that greatly overshadowed a mostly symbolic, weeklong debate on the GOP's budget resolution.

Democrats blasted the bill, saying it was needed because of fiscal mismanagement by Bush, who came to office when the government was running record surpluses. "When it comes to deficits, this president owns all the records," said Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "The three largest deficits in our nation's history have all occurred under this administration's watch."

Republicans responded by saying “I know you are, but what am I?” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Bush's tax cuts account for just 30 percent of the debt limit increases required during his presidency. Revenue losses from a recession and new spending to combat terrorism and for the war in Iraq are also responsible, he said, conveniently neglecting to discuss the Senate’s gargantuan annual income.

As for the $781 billion increase in the debt limit, Grassley said: "It is necessary to preserve the full faith and credit of the federal government, as well as my family farm."

Before approving the bill, Republicans rejected by a 55-44 vote an amendment by Max Baucus, D-Mont., to mandate a Treasury study on the economic consequences of foreigners holding an increasing portion of the U.S. debt. “Shut up, idiot!” an unnamed senator was overheard saying. “Those damn foreigners are the scotch tape that’s holding this house of cards together. At present, foreign countries, central banks and other institutions hold more than one-fourth of the debt, but that percentage is growing rapidly.

Following the debt limit vote Thursday, the Senate was expected to vote late in the day on the budget plan, a nonbinding measure proposing tax and spending guidelines for the next five years, and then order pizzas and beer for everyone.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Those Crazy Kids

My kids have a habit of jumping into bed with me, which in and of itself I generally don't mind. After all, when it's their bedtimes, I tend to lay in bed with them for a few minutes too. This ritual helps assure that I have at least a few minutes every day with my girls... a few minutes for talking, hugging, unwinding... a little time devoted to my daughters, each evening, so they know that I love them. Heck, even if we've spent the day arguing, this precious few minutes at the end of each day serves as a reminder that I love them no matter what.

Occasionally though, the kids will burst in to my bedroom at inopportune moments. And being kids, they tend to continually "forget" that I expect them to knock on my door before entering. Again, this isn't a big issue (other than their inability to understand that sometimes dad needs a few minutes alone), except that I frequently sleep in my birthday suit, and in all honesty I find it a little creepy when the kids jump in bed with me if I'm not at least wearing some skivvies.

This is my issue, of course, and I don't want to make a big deal out of it. After all, the kids have walked in when I'm in the shower, or when I'm on the commode, and that doesn't bother me at all. And if I do make a big deal out of it, I may unwittingly contribute to any negative body images that they could experience in the future. This doesn't really ease my discomfort though.

Fortunately, they're starting to understand. Every now and then, they'll jump in bed when I'm only wearing what I was born with; they usually discover this as they're flinging the covers back to jump in bed with me, exclaiming "That's gross!" dropping the covers back into place, and leaving me to fall back asleep. Since they're starting to get it, I've started telling them I'm naked before they climb onto the bed. That usually stops them.

The other day though, my older daughter crept into the room and started to climb into bed with me. As she began pulling back the covers, I said that I didn't have any clothes on. "That's okay," she responded. She then put the covers back down, walked around the bed, and slept on the other side, where my wife usually sleeps. Leave it to teenage logic. Somehow she understood that it was creepy to climb in to bed right next to me, yet thought it was perfectly acceptable to jump in to the other side.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Something's Rotten In...


I'm sure you've all read about how the GOP is incredibly concerned about the state of their party and how it will impact the upcoming elections. And of course the Democrats see a grand opportunity to regain control of the House and Senate. Between the secret wiretapping, the war in Iraq, the now-defunct ports deal with the United Arab Emirates, the Scooter Libby case, and the Jack Abramoff scandal, the Republican party is justifiably concerned.

Here's my issue with the whole problem. Most of these idiot politicians -- both Democrats and Republicans -- are posturing for the sole purpose of capturing or maintaining power for their own interest or for the interest of their political party. They don't care about America and her constituents; their only interest is gaining, retaining or advancing their own power. When the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal came to light, the Democrats pounced on the opportunity to decry the corruption of the Republican party, and Republicans scrambled to distance themselves from anything Abramoff. Both parties in both of the legislative houses cried for reform and demanded greater accountability. In their hearts though, I'm positive that they secretly hoped that America would find another scandal, so that lawmakers could maintain the status quo of perks, secret deals and graft, allowing them to continue lining their pockets at the expense of average citizens.

Lo and behold, a few weeks later the UAE ports scandal came to light. Now politicians have conveniently forgotten about lobbying reforms, instead choosing to carry the torch decrying foreign operation of American ports. Suddenly they are all quietly "conceding" that lobbying reform probably won't happen due to "lack of agreement" and saying that today's problem of foreign port operation is more important. What I want to know is why can't they work on more than one problem? The answer is because they don't want to. I've said it before and I'll say it again. The American political system is a sham, and in a shambles. Those in power don't care about us... they only care about their own well-being, and to a lesser extent, the well-being of their party.

Don't get me wrong. We've got the best system in the world. I wouldn't trade it for any monarchy, dictatorship or socialist government in existence. But if we don't band together and change things, it will only continue to get worse for the common American. Our rights will continue to erode, our taxes will continue to increase, wasteful government spending will continue running amok, and the middle class will continue to decrease in size. It's my opinion that we need a third major party that's strong enough to ensure that neither the Democrats nor Republicans have enough clout to single-handedly control any branch of our government (much less the whole thing). This would force all parties involved to form true coalitions, enhance accountability and reduce the influence of the two existing parties of corruption. Throw out the rotten apples and bring in some fresh fruit.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

I Nearly Ate Myself Sick

Last week, I tried Paulius' special chicken recipe, which I dubbed Chicken Paulius in his honor. (You can see my post if you're interested in the recipe, with my personal twist, and my review on the results.)

When posting the recipe for Chicken Paulius, he said that he'd take his recipe for his chicken mushroom casserole to the grave. After trying his first recipe though, I had to at least ask for the basic ingredients and process. The intent was to show my willingness to respect his desire to guard his super-secret recipe, but still get an idea of what it entailed, and try to make it myself. Being the gentleman that he is though, Paulius shared the entire recipe with me, and I tried it tonight. I've got to say that it's not only one of the best things I've ever cooked, it's one of the best things I've ever tasted, and I almost ate myself sick.

For those of you who may want to know how it's made, don't bother asking. I've been sworn to secrecy... actually I was threatened to secrecy, but that's not the issue. The point is, Paulius requested that I not share his recipe, and it's a request that I will happily honor.

Paulius, I make a decent spaghetti and a killer pot roast, but I have to admit that after trying your last two recipes, I doubt that I have much to offer you in return. That said though, if I can share any recipe with you, please, don't hesitate to ask.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

The U.N. is a Whiny, Toothless, Self-Important Group of Impotent Cowards

Unless you've been living under a rock, you are likely aware that Iran is processing nuclear fuel. They say it's for energy, but much of the world believes that Iran wants nuclear weapons. What's the world doing about it? Not much. There's been a lot of negotiation, but that's gotten us nowhere. The world has even offered to process the fuel, transport it to Iran, and carry away the spent fuel, but Iran has steadfastly refused this proposal. They're intent on doing the processing. (Hence the world's predisposition to think that something's rotten in Tehran.)

Well, the world is finally getting it... Iran will be satisfied with nothing less than locally processed nuclear fuel. So what are we doing about it? We're talking tough. We're threatening to send them to the U.N. Security Council, which is the global equivalent of saying to a rebellious teenager "I'm going to tell your mom and dad."

Well gee, "mom and dad" (A.K.A. the U.N. Security Council), can't even agree that they want to "have a stern talk with the boy." The Russians and Chinese have a lot of trade going on with Iran, and they get a lot of oil from there as well. Do you think they're going to bite the hand that heats them? Ummmm... no. But what the hell, let's just go with the assumption that the security council (I'm using lower-case letters intentionally to show my lack of respect for these self-important blowhards) does rebuke Iran with a binding resolution. Big deal. That's like getting a note from someone you don't respect, that says they're disappointed in you. You're still going to keep doing what you're doing.

Let's kick it up a notch, and say that the u.n. sanctions Iran... Ooooooo, what then? The same thing - nothing. Thanks to Saddam Hussein, it's been concretely demonstrated that a country can exist under sanctions for years... especially if that country has something everyone wants -- like OIL!

The diplomats can fool themselves into thinking they're stopping Iran's quest for nuclear technology, but they're not fooling the average Ahmed in Iran, and they're not fooling me. The only thing that Iran seems to understand is force. Unfortunately, that's not a good option either, considering that the west is already fighting a war in two Middle Eastern countries. I see World War III coming on, and this time it will be a catastrophic, colossal, cataclysmic clash of cultures. (Great alliteration, eh?)

I see a no-win situation coming up here. Either we take Iran out now, and further the impression that we're out to squash the Middle East and Islam, or we wait until Iran has nukes, and things get even worse.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Chicken Paulius

In a post from last week, Sunny made a post about her hubby's out-of-this-world chicken. After a couple of requests, Paulius posted the recipe later the same day.

Being the primary cook in the house, I'm always on the look-out for new recipes. And since my children are really picky, there are very few that they like. Paulius' recipe sounded like something that would fit the bill perfectly. A new twist on an old favorite, with ingredients that the kids like.

Almost anyone who cooks -- especially home cooks like me, who don't use exact recipes -- will tell you that few food dishes turn out precisely the same way each time. This is no exception. What you see in the picture is more like Chicken Paulius, a la Evan.

For example, Paulius recommended flattening the chicken with a rolling pin. I don't own a rolling pin, so I hand flattened it. I suspect that my result was chicken that was a little less flat, and a little less consistent in its flatness. I didn't have any mozarella cheese, so I used what I had... a pre-shredded blend of mozarella, cheddar and provalone, and I neglected to put the spice mix in the center. I used thick-cut bacon, resulting in the bacon being undercooked, especially on the bottom. I probably could have flipped the chicken, but then some of the cheese would have leaked from the top. I used more spice than Paulius recommended in the butter baste, which probably compensated for the fact that I didn't put any spices in the middle with the cheese, and I used provalone to top the chicken instead of mozarella.

Aside from the bacon being under-done, this was a good recipe (although my famously picky children weren't wild about it, mainly because the bacon was undercooked). Not only was it good the first night, it made teriffic leftovers when reheated in the oven. In fact, the leftovers were better than the first night's dish, similar to spaghetti. The spices soaked in to the meat, the bacon cooked up well the second time around, and the chicken didn't dry out. If you like cooking, or are just getting into it, I'd recommend this dish. It's also one that would likely impress the ladies (that's my tip of the day for Chief Slacker and Captain Bee).

Now about that chicken-mushroom casserole recipe, Paulius... I understand this is your super-secret recipe that you'll take to the grave with you, but that's precisely what's piqued my curiosity. I will respect your secrecy and not ask for the precise recipe, but maybe you could toss a curious fellow cook a bone, and let me know what most of the ingredients are. You could leave out a few of the key spices, cooking times, and the precise mixture. Hopefully you'll agree that there's a difference between coughing up the recipe and telling a fellow culinary artist the basic ingredients.