Getting Spooky in the Suburbs

Growing up in the middle of nowhere, you have the occasional eerie experience. With the absence of humans and a lot of overgrown nature, it gets very dark, and very quiet. Howling, rustling, crickets and the occasional train compose a nightly soundtrack. Probably not a coincidence that both Pet Sematery 2 and The Walking Dead were filmed in our little country town south of Atlanta. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that a moment in our suburban back yard last year gave me the worst case of the willies I’ve ever had.

To set the stage, I have to backtrack a bit first. On September 16th of 2018, we had to put down Artimus, who was a dear cat friend and a true legend. Because I grew up in the aforementioned boonies, the only way I know to handle the aftermath of this situation is to dig a hole in the back yard. I wrapped the little guy up, covered gently, and let the girls put flowers on top. For good measure, I found a large rock to mark the spot. Then I had a few too many beers because it was still 90 degrees outside in September and the only other dude in our household was gone.

His resting spot was up on the hill behind our house, along one of the main paths. Going up to the shed in the weeks that followed, I would usually stop and pay respects. We got a new cat (although he was frequently called Artimus), and life progressed.

Fast forward to the night before Halloween. Those of you that know me are well aware that I have an impressive costume collection. I was on the hunt for accessories to fit with our Jurrassic Park-themed family ensemble, so off to the shed I went with flashlight in hand…but something was different.

ARTIMUS WAS GONE. No doubt about it, either, because the stone was moved. Nothing left but an empty hole in the clay. Walking back into the house (after acquiring the perfect matching handkerchief), Allison could see the disturbance in my wide-eyes. Out of little girl earshot, I told Allison what I saw. “What do you mean he’s gone!? How is that even possible!?” Needless to say, I didn’t sleep super well that night.

I awoke with a million questions. First, we blamed the dog. Lucy is admittedly still bitter about us having kids and all. She fought with Artimus on occasion, but it seemed more playful than anything. Hard to believe she would stoop to that level. Plus, it would require physical exertion, which her tubby butt is wholeheartedly against. That was the sum of our suspects.

Being Halloween and all, we donned our costumes for the neighborhood celebration. We really do it up right, with a parade, occasional adult refreshment stations, and a strategically circular route. A handful of us adjourned back to Chapman HQ for some pizza and more breathable attire. It wasn’t until Joe and I were hanging out on the back porch that we heard suspect(s) number two: coyotes. 

One isn’t used to hearing a lively pack howling on a Wednesday night in the middle of suburbia. With the lack of a physical barrier between us, my skin start to crawl as I started piecing the mental puzzle together. The local stories and footage that started to pop up in the community in the hours that followed certainly did not help.

After considering all of the facts at hand, there is only one explanation for the vacant tomb. As far as I’m concerned, Artimus was Kitty Jesus. He died for the innumerable sins of his kind, rolled away the stone, cast away his robes, and sitteth up there chilling.

The Dad Bod

I don’t recall when the term “Dad Bod” first became commonplace. By the time I picked up on it, Adam Sandler was unknowingly flaunting his in a candid People Magazine beach pic - hair and all. At first, I was resistant to the thought. Almost feels like settling, or giving into the idea that a man in this season of life can do no better, but I’m starting to embrace the Dad Bod more for what it represents.

We fathers tend to take a common route to post-collegiate fitness...or lack thereof. The metabolism slows gradually, our priorities get seriously rearranged, and 40 hours every week we sit upon our ever-more-cushy butts.

While maybe not as image-conscious as the lady folk, we still wouldn’t mind looking more like Ryan Reynolds and less like Seth Rogen. But there are so many challenges that we battle daily, and, after all, nothing is more asterisk-laden than health advice.  

Let us begin by analyzing the gym, itself. Over the last 10 years, I have held a membership at no fewer than 4 different fitness centers around town. Regardless of venue, I tend to feel out of place. Our latest endeavor finds us at a gigantic shiny multiplex, which serves mostly as a hookup spot for chiseled 20 somethings. While I’m creating a sweat lake underneath an exercise bike, hot young singles spend hours hanging out and striking selfie-esque poses. It almost serves to have the opposite effect, as I am witness to the investment required to look that way.

Maybe it’s just me, but there is a guilt factor that accompanies lengthy workouts. I have but so many hours in the week to spend with my family, and it feels inherently selfish to instead devote that time to getting ripped...if that were even attainable. On another note, however, they say that diet makes up 75% of the equation. So maybe with a little self control there’s still a chance!

You won't find this on the menu at Planet Smoothie: Radish, Brussels Sprouts, Carrot, Kale, Spinach, Tomato, Squash & Cauliflower.

You won't find this on the menu at Planet Smoothie: Radish, Brussels Sprouts, Carrot, Kale, Spinach, Tomato, Squash & Cauliflower.

Here on Chappy’s Thoughts, we have previously delved into my efforts to eat better. In continuing with that theme, each day now starts with the preparation of a smoothie while half-naked out on the back porch. I’ll pause here for you to take a mental picture. While the Vitamix is a wonderful machine, it sounds like I’m revving a Ducati motorcycle in the kitchen at 6 a.m.

As my wife can attest, the objective with this breakfast alternative is not flavor. Think more “Will it Blend!?” rather than Food Network. Some days, choking down the concoction is a legit challenge, but I’m trying to shove as many good things into my body as I can to start the day. From there, it very well could go downhill.

Sneaky vegetables are being strategically injected into our meals bit by bit, but it is taking all I have to resist the hot bar at Publix. Seriously, somewhere in the marketing plan “blast fried chicken smell into parking lot” is a notable bullet point. You don’t realize how many temptations there are (surprise 50% off pizza coupons, late night taco bell commercials) until you attempt to shrug them.

If you are moderately obsessed, as I am currently, menus with calorie counts are both a blessing and a curse. God forbid you put cheese and sour cream on that Chipotle burrito! Now, I’m scrutinizing every condiment and topping, and annoying the Hell out of anyone who dines in my company. Pretty please don’t tell me how many calories are in a large Firehouse sub.

But hey, this is fall in Alabama. There are traditions to be upheld. On the weekends, I’m no stranger to snack pizza and beer at gameday gatherings. Coach Saban eats oatmeal cream pies for breakfast, and he’s a winner, so I’m only assuming it is sacrilege to bring a veggie platter to your viewing party.

Heaven help me if there is a Saturday kid’s birthday party featuring handheld delights. My kryptonite is the Chickfila nugget tray. If they sprang for the Large Platter, I’m in for at least 25 nugs. Don’t bother reminding me that they traditionally come in 8 and 12 packs. Logic does not apply when you are presented with a gigantic pile of tasty chicken.

For the days when I’m trying, though, it’s frustrating that the fitness tracker on my Apple Watch is not super encouraging. Pushing a stroller barely registers as actual running. I’m lucky to get credit for 10 minute mile pace. Steps count the same even if I have 35 extra pounds (with curls) hanging on me. The thing about kids - they get heavier every day. Libby is currently great for adding some umph to squats, while “Maggie lifts” are generally military press and curls.

In summary, the struggle continues daily. Maybe I’ll drop a few pounds and get off of blood pressure medication, maybe I won’t. I think reasonable goals work best, so instead I’m just going to try and do better. Looking like Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy is cool and all, but I follow that dude on Instagram, and his diet during filming was notably cringe-worthy. As long as I’m beating the Chris Pratt from Parks & Rec, then we’ll call it a victory.

The Winner's Guide to Hiring Winners

I have never been a fan of the typical interview process. Too many unknowns and ample space for unauthentic fluff. Asking someone to “talk about a time where you exemplified ___________” makes it awkward for both parties and leaves much up to interpretation. Who knows, maybe that complete stranger is taking liberties with a particularly challenging episode of Man vs. Wild.

You need to find out what people are made of and do so in a very limited amount of time. That's why I've come up with Chappy's tips for hiring surefire winners. Squad up and prepare for world domination.

Image by Tumisu via Pixabay

Image by Tumisu via Pixabay

Pastry Time

Put a piping hot Toaster Strudel in front of them, slide over an icing packet, and give them 60 seconds to do their best. This works on several levels:

  • For creative types, that flaky crust is literally your blank, sugary, canvas with only essential tools. As Tim Gunn would say: “Make it work”
  • You want a great salesperson? Have them explain their approach and why this is the best toaster strudel ever. If you can close the deal on an amateurly-iced frozen pastry, then you are going to achieve greatness.
  • If they instead give you a commentary on healthy, well-rounded breakfasts, tell them we live in America, and we can eat sugar on top of gluten on top of sugar anytime we want.

Herd the Cats

Schedule the interview for 11:00am. Exchange pleasantries, throw a few softballs, then…have them get everyone on their prospective team to AGREE ON LUNCH and make it there BEFORE THE NOON RUSH (because otherwise there’s a flipping wait). I’ve seen very respectable people crumble under this pressure with people they’ve known for a while. 

  • If you can navigate everyone’s dietary restrictions and come to an amicable consensus, kudos.
  • To succeed, you’ll probably have to literally push people out the door. I have personally done this and would appreciate someone who cares this much about respecting the lunch.
  • Is there a better way to exemplify true leadership? If you can’t get your team on time to a simple meal, then good luck in motivating them for a project that isn’t delicious.

Last but not least…

Bust out the Tunes

Play the “get to know you” game for 15 minutes, hand over your Spotify account, and ask them make you a playlist. Provide an example (or a real party you are throwing) if you wish to establish guidelines. If not, that’s cool too. Stand back and watch the sweat drop…

  • We are going to co-habitate many hours every week, so understand how to reign in your fringe tastes for a bit without going full-on top 40.
  • This is actually a heaping pile of pressure. I am no professional DJ, but have very much felt the glaring judgment of a wedding party who isn’t keen on your latest selection. Sorry again, Joe’s Grandma, for MIA’s “Paper Planes” at the Henson nuptials. It was totally hot that summer.
  • Lil’ Jon did quite well in two different seasons of the Celebrity Apprentice, for whatever that is worth. And we all know his beats are off the chain.

Onward and upward, you titans of industry.

The Snippety Snip

I love my two girls. I love them so much that I am completely ok with not having another child ever again.

So at the ripe old age of 33 and with full understanding that my wife had only just recovered from another C-section, I volunteered to get a vasectomy. 

At first, this sounds like a rather ominous undertaking. All you have to do is mention the procedure and someone will feel obliged to tell you about their friend who’s man jewels swelled up like balloons due to a lax understanding of the required recovery. What is prescribed? Sitting firmly on one’s ass for at least 48 hours.

Herein lies the problem: I move constantly during the day; annoyingly so. My max continuous sitting period each week is one hour, and that is for our team meeting at work. They won’t let me walk laps around the conference room.

Fear did not lie with the procedure itself. I have full faith and confidence in the drugs and numbing agents they will readily offer up to weenies like myself. Being still for several days was the real challenge. Commence stalling.

Admittedly, I waffled on scheduling my procedure for a hot minute, leaning on the ever-popular excuses of time and money. Another potential hurdle: My primary care physician resides at a Catholic hospital. If you are unfamiliar with the church’s stance on birth control, Monty Python has a lovely song that explains it in detail. I was not looking forward to having that conversation.

Excuses debunked. The urology center down the street does consultation and procedure in one visit. Start to finish, I was there for less time than it takes for a haircut. As for financials, the total investment was $100. Date was set for September 1.

Why that day in particular? They (meaning sterilized men) tell you to pick a good sports weekend. Ideally, if you are going to be mostly lateral, catered to, and in possession of the all-important tv rights for several days, then make it count. On average, I get about 30 minutes of television freedom on weeknights and a few auto races on Sunday viewed in fast-forward. Since the college football schedule has gone officially bonkers, Labor Day weekend consists of games Friday through Monday. Hallelujah.

Why so many cutting tools!?

Why so many cutting tools!?

When the day came, I was a bit shaky. The doctor informed me that I was the sixth and final procedure before his long weekend started. Per advice, I was prepared to ask for a little hit of feel-good gas. Their offering was positioned as “Something to settle my nerves” and reminded me more of how people do heroin in the movies. A nurse tied me off until everything was setup and then a needle of happy juice was injected. Before she did that, however, my dangles were “cleaned” with the coldest sterile water they could find. Honest-to-God worst part by a mile was the icy waterfall down my gooch.

Once Doc got to work, the whole deal was over in no time. I only recognized we were finished after he started going through the standard debrief and gave me a look that said “why aren’t you putting on your pants already?” Couldn’t help but take a picture of the instrument tray that contained some of my leftover bits. The readers of this blog will be spared, but my friend group on WhatsApp was decidedly not.

Someone needs to come up with an ice pack that feels as good as frozen peas.

Someone needs to come up with an ice pack that feels as good as frozen peas.

Important Side Note:

If your wife has recently (or ever, for that matter) weathered C-section childbirth, then you want to avoid all possible parallels. Complaining about a few tiny incisions into your man bits? Try getting sliced open and having a child extracted while they pile up your innards like a side dish. You catch my drift. Play it cool, take your meds, and keep the complaining to a minimum. 

One thing for sure - I have never had a wounded body part so directly tied to my stomach. There were a few borderline moments where I didn’t know whether to curl into the fetal position or throw up. Sitting down constantly was a real problem, as expected. I iced the affected area like it was my job. No idea why, but people made it sound like frozen peas were basically prescription for a vasectomy. Allison even got the organic free range peas, so no GMOs came in contact with my special place.

Most of what I endured would best be described as discomfort, with the knowledge that any stupid move would cause a world of pain. But then Tuesday rolled around, and I put on jeans...

As soon as I arrived at work, there was no doubt that a mistake had been made. A comfortable position did not exist. Strategically, I hid myself in one of our call booths and only came out to waddle my way to the bathroom or kitchen. By lunch time, all I wanted was some ath-leisure wear, some of those peas, and a handful of Advil.

I am naturally impatient, so this process pretty much sucks. It seems I’ll be choosy with pant options and seating arrangements for at least a week. I guess the alternative is raising another child.

Closing notes:

My buddy Fritz, who just started PA School, asked for a picture of my balls for “medical reasons.” What he got was a fringe case of elephantiasis courtesy of Google. Sorry dude.

Anyone want some slightly-used frozen peas?

Oversharing and the Slippery Slope to Veggie Burgers

You have to start somewhere. That’s what I kept telling myself as I envisioned the first article on Chappy’s Thoughts Part II being a semi-paranoid nosedive into the analysis of veggie burger options. In a way, however, it’s a good intro to suburban struggles that Dad’s like myself face regularly.

Yes, I’m at a stage in my life where mortality is finally sinking in. Life insurance policies and two kids will do that to you. Also worth pointing out: In my role as house chef, I’ve become increasingly dependent on the virtues of butter, meat and pizza. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a delicious ride, but my resulting girth was a reflection of this. At 6 feet tall and even averaging 5+ workouts per week, 200 was creeping up on the scale (btw - not posting any shirtless “before” pics on this blog. Use your imagination and add a little hair). I regularly played a game where I ask someone how much they thought I weighed. Let’s just say most were low by 15+ pounds. If it had been a carnival attraction, I would have made bank. Problem established.

And then I watched a few Netflix documentaries…

Ok, so we all know someone who straight up went vegan or swore off animals for some time after a sensational expose on the food industry. I get it. The wife and I took Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead to heart. $150 later we had a juicer. $300 more and we had enough produce for one week of juice. We’ve since traded the juicer for a slightly used coffee maker.

This time around, my introspection was initially fueled by What the Health. With the remorse of having just fed my two-year-old more bacon than I’d eat myself and a tinge of a hangover that followed me to the exercise bike, I watched the first 45 minutes. What the Health's narrator/focal point is frankly a bit much for my taste. Don’t think that I drank this dude’s Kool-aid after watching him call up receptionists and grill them on the American Cancer Society’s suggested healthy recipes. It was pretty obvious that there were some select studies cherry picked to lean in his favor. But, in the end, I’m not going to argue with the core message: most of us eat WAY too much processed meat and not enough vegetables. Point taken.

Then there was Food Choices. I liked this one a bit better. It even features our friend from Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, who still looks fantastic, by the way. Same general theme here once you filter it down: There’s a pretty strong correlation between populations who eat a lot of processed, fatty foods (especially meat) and obesity, diabetes, etc. This one hit home more for me, as they feature a few prominent athletes who do pretty absurd things (ever heard of an Ultraman Triathlon?) without the crutch of meat-based protein.

These were both ok, but number three was the real game changer. My man Michael Pollan (author of Cooked, which is excellent) has a PBS feature called In Defense of Food. This was the level-headed/scientific approach that I needed. With exhaustive research and application to the real world we live in, he broke healthy eating down to 3 main tenants:

  1. Eat real food - things that will start to rot in the near term, i.e. the the opposite of Twinkies
  2. Not too much- cool it on the Cheesecake Factory sized portions
  3. Mostly plants - flip the protein-first logic around

Numero tres, which had been belabored in the previous two documentaries, was more achievable in this presentation. Like many freedom-loving American males, the thought process for pretty much every meal starts with “Ok, so what hunk of meat are we featuring on this plate?” I decided it would be worth testing the inverse logic.

There were a couple of external factors involved as well:

My honest-to-God credo for some time has been “There are only so many meals in this lifetime.” If we are getting real (and I rarely do), that philosophy isn’t worth much if my blood pressure continues to be problematic and I’m passing along bad eating habits to the kids. My annual physical (on my birthday each year) was far enough out to potentially see some legit improvements, affording some comparable metrics.

Secondly, I made a moderately rash decision to sign up for the Mercedes Marathon in February. For years, I have worked this event in one capacity or another - seeing runners bust their asses whilst I read some names into a microphone and enjoy the post-race spoils of beer and barbecue. Time to pony up for 26.2 and have something to play for other than “don’t get out of shape,” a race I was currently losing. Having battled previous back problems, it also makes sense that dropping a few pounds would lessen the probability of a relapse while training. My selective memory of two semesters worth of physics backs such a theory.

And so we started small. "Meatless Monday's" became a thing at the Chapman house. SLOWLY creep into it, I told myself. Don't want folks thinking you've lost your damn mind over a few hippie movies.

5 days later, I was asking a confused Zoe’s employee if I could have a plant-based alternative to chicken on top of my cauliflower rice bowl: “Sir, our vegetarian version is just the cauliflower rice.” A quick consultation with the wife confirmed that I had indeed gone off the deep end. Almost a week earlier, the same guy had ordered a smothered chorizo burrito known simply as “The Whale” at a local Mexican establishment.

I’ll admit, things started off a bit obnoxious. Given the abrupt about-face from my chili dog past, the dietary changes became more of a focal point than I would have liked. Who am I kidding, though? Bring on the attention!

Right or wrong, I’ve historically been the one ragging vegans for their innate oversharing. Historical participation in their heated conversations included my declaration that I would indeed kill the animal myself if that was required to partake in its tasty parts. I still stand by that. However, it is easier and less taxing on the soul to slaughter a carrot (quieter screams).

As if I hadn’t taken things far enough, it was arranged this Monday to have a tasting of veggie burger options. Though the idea was met with a barrage of expletives, and the response of “you used to make fun of people for this,” my wife did cave. 

I hit up the local Sprouts for there frozen options. Earlier in the day, I danced around the idea of making a few from scratch, but I chanced higher levels of sodium and mysterious ingredients to slide easily into the meatless approach.

First thing to note is that companies appear to take vastly different approaches to this concept. In the meat world, you basically have ground meat or ground turkey. When wading through meatless offerings, one first has to choose whether you prefer pretending it is meat or want to fully embrace the vegetable-ness before you.

The lineup

The lineup

The Boca Burger, with a somewhat familiar hue, is definitely trying to be the former. With a bit of trickery and some gourmet toppings, I could probably convince you this is a thin, oddly uniform burger patty. The lineup of ingredients to get you there (where does Disodium Guanylate grow?), in my opinion, is somewhat suspect. If we are following principle number 1, this one may not pass the test. But hey, 90 calories per patty, cow’s rejoice.

Dr. Praeger’s is not a product line winning any creative marketing awards. It makes me feel like I am being prescribed a burger, but their product is relatively true to form. No mistaking here that one is eating a mishmash of vegetables. Not only is the patty green, but you can see corn, carrots and other bits swimming in there. Not surprisingly, the ingredient list is comparatively succinct as well as familiar. 

Last up was my personal choice when diving into the Sprouts freezer: Gardenburger’s Black Bean Chipotle offering. Thought process - I like bean burritos, so a bean burger with a little southwest flair wouldn’t be so bad. It may or may not look like a squashed poop, though. I committed myself to a quick homemade guacamole topping for the sake of styling this one up a bit.

As I already mentioned, my wife was implicated in this taste test. Onward and upward.

Sampling the Boca Burger with a little cheese and the usual condiments felt moderately familiar. I lost a little crispiness because it refused to come off the pan, but we could both eat it again without craving a Big Mac 30 minutes later

Our Dr. Praeger’s sampling was reminiscent of falafel. I felt strange putting cheese on top of carrots, so we instead kept it simple with additional veggies and light condiments. Not bad. Like I said, this FELT healthy (for whatever that’s worth). It also had the lowest amount of sodium, despite being 30 calories more than the other two (120).

I already spoiled the fun by talking about my guacamole (condensed version Alton Brown’s recipe) that was added to our final entry. All in all, the Gardenburger was my wife's least favorite. I was a little more optimistic with a mid-pack ranking. Maybe if we called it a torta instead, then the adoption could grow some legs.

Not winning any beauty contests and the wife does not approve of this photo staging. Left to Right: Boca Burger, Dr. Praeger's, Gardenburger

Not winning any beauty contests and the wife does not approve of this photo staging. Left to Right: Boca Burger, Dr. Praeger's, Gardenburger

When it comes down to it, my mood at the precise moment could have me leaning toward any of the lot. This is probably due to the varying approaches we selected. For you, it would be a decision of whether you are looking for a burger imitator, or exploring non-traditional tastes on a bun.

We’ll probably finish these off in the coming weeks and I’ll move on to creating options that didn’t come off of a manufacturing line. Something innately makes me uneasy about a perfectly symmetrical piece of faux meat.

This is one of the least fun pictures I've ever taken.

This is one of the least fun pictures I've ever taken.

There you have it. I've managed to do an entire taste test without really putting my judgie pants on or picking a winner. I have millennials in the audience, and we're all winners now. Kidding aside, here are the deepest thoughts you will find on my blog:

Without a doubt, meat is far superior on the scale of deliciousness. Conversely, a big juicy cow burger does not make me feel awesome or capable of much brain function after lunch. I will still eat meat, but the goal is to make it less of a focal point. Hopefully, in turn, this will free up some cash to invest in the good cuts from healthier animals. Quality beats quantity, and I think most of us can get behind that.

And We're Back

Well, it's been a few years. Turns out, when you have two kids and a demanding job, things like humor blogs get put on the back burner...

My life is no less hectic now, but I started to realize that this little hobby fills a void - the kind of itch that needs scratching. Frankly, it's both fun and therapeutic to share my musings with anyone that might be within earshot. If it makes people laugh, then all the better.