Saturday, March 29, 2008

Don't stop believin'... in Birch Syrup and Spongebob Macaroni?

I may never contribute something great to society, something like a new syrup, but in my own small way, I think I've made the world a better place.

One way I've made the world a better place is to be constantly questioning and thereby improving the world around me. Like this week, when I was getting out the syrup for the pancakes on "egg night dinner" and began to wonder why we only have maple syrup. I've never seen anything other than maple syrup. But there's tons and tons of trees out there, trees like oak trees and birch trees and... other trees. I'm not a tree expert. But there are lots of trees.

So, I wondered, as I'm doing now, why don't we have "oak syrup" and "birch syrup" and things like that? And that led, as it always does, to two natural thoughts: One, google it, and, two, could I somehow turn this into a backyard industry that would take off and make me rich and I'd move to Hawaii?

After careful investigation consisting of googling such phrases as why do we only have maple syrup and can you make syrup from other trees, I found nothing. This led me, naturally, to believe that I had, through my genius, inquisitive nature, come up with the only remaining entirely unique idea -- since everyone knows that pretty much everything has already been invented and all the great ideas have been thought up already -- which meant, naturally, that my second natural thought would be correct: I could turn this idea into millions, differentiating this idea from the other great inventions I've come up with in my life, like the in-the-cupboard-dishwasher, and the EZ Mov-R.

But then, when I as a failsafe googled birch syrup I found out that someone had stolen my idea. And that someone is some people in Alaska, who claim to be the leading producer of "birch syrup," which I could also produce, I suppose, because the trees behind the idea-stealers in this picture:

look a lot like the trees in my backyard-- except the trees in my backyard have a lot of nicks around the base where I run into them with the lawnmower-- so the trees in my backyard are probably birch trees and I could probably make birch syrup, which the idea-stealers claim is very difficult but is probably so easy it's like picking money off the money tree. After all, if a couple of people who aren't smart enough to move out of Alaska could do it, so could I, right?

My imagination began to work. Starting a Birch Syrup business would have untold benefits even beyond getting rich and moving to Hawaii. For example, how awesome would this be:

I start producing "Birch Syrup" and it catches on here stateside instead of just in Alaska where nobody ever goes and where it's dark 11 1/2 months per year, the only exception being the two weeks that Al Pacino is there trying to catch Robin Williams for murdering someone, and after the syrup catches on here stateside, I become rich, and I move to Hawaii with my family, and then I fly in my dad and explain to him how I got there and then I say this:

So, I guess money DOES grow on trees.

That would be the second-best comeback on a parent ever. (The first best comeback on parents ever has already occurred when spinach started killing people. That showed parents. You know what never killed anybody? Ranch puffs.)

By the way, I took a break from writing this to read the idea-stealers' description of how to make birch syrup and it sounds totally easy, except for the reverse osmosis part, but I'm sure I could figure out what that is by having The Boy bring his science book home one day.

Still, I probably will not have time right away to build a Birch Syrup empire and get into a price war with those Alaska idea-stealers (a couple who, as it turns out, make up 78% of Alaska's population) because I have many other important responsibilities in my life, responsibilities which include inventing new sandwiches and deciding who in our family really doesn't stop believin'.

I have invented numerous sandwiches in my lifetime, most of them, I'm sure, destined for greatness just like me and my eventual Birch Syrup empire. The latest is the Bologna-and-Spongebob-Macaroni sandwich. Here are the ingredients for the Bologna-and-Spongebob-Macaroni sandwich:

Cold Spongebob Macaroni and cheese.
Bread again.

To make it, you put it all on there, mush it down, then microwave it for 2 minutes, then put it in the fridge overnight. That last part is the most important part of any sandwich: You've got to really melt the stuff together, then flash-freeze it so that the cheese conglomerates--

-- yes, I'm sure that's the right word --

into a gooey mass that will allow you to eat the sandwich with one hand while you watch "Weekend At Bernie's" on the internet at work the next day. If you need two hands to eat the sandwich, it's too much work.

And I have too much work in my life already, because I constantly have to be parenting. Take this morning: I was getting ready to head into the office for a while, like I do almost every Saturday because it's that or stay home and do housework, and I was getting out my iPod to listen to on the way in. The first song that came up was "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey, a song I don't like but the kids do. So I said, to The Boy and Middle,

"Hey, it's The Boy's song, Don't Stop Believin'." And Middle took offense at that, and said it was more her song than The Boy's. I disagreed, and told her that The Boy, far more than her, doesn't stop believin', and so it should be his song.

Middle, though, pointed out that The Boy had stopped watching the Wisconsin Badgers' NCAA Tournament game against Davidson last night with a whole minute left, when Wisconsin was down by 17 and had no realistic chance to win. I asked The Boy if that was true and he said it was but claimed that it was just because he wanted to get started cleaning up after dinner.

Now, in our household, there are only a few unforgiveable sins. There are a million rules, but only a few of those rules are unpardonable when broken. The Unbreakable Rules are:

1. Leftover pizza is first come-first serve. In other words, Dad is under no obligation to not eat the leftover pizza for breakfast just because you wanted it for lunch. So quit complaining and get up earlier if you want it.
2. Never give up on your team.
3. We are on Jennifer Aniston's side.

That last one is really one of Sweetie's rules. It's so sad when celebrities break up and you have to choose sides, really, because once upon a time we were all allowed to watch "Ocean's 11" and "The Mexican" and enjoy them, but now I've never even seen "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" because when Brad and Jennifer broke up, we took Jennifer's side, so while we can watch "Friends" reruns we can't see "Beowulf."

But it's Unbreakable Rule number 2 that The Boy broke, and when he confirmed that he had, I had to reprimand him for it:

"I can't believe you stopped believin'," I told him. "I'm giving that song to Middle. It's now officially her song."

Middle looked pleased. And I left for the office, secure in the knowledge that even if I did not, today, begin my Birch Syrup empire, I had at least done my part to improve the world around me.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

So how was your Easter?

There's all these books and articles and "Dear Abby" columns written about the value of communicating with your spouse, but nobody ever says what the actual value of communicating with your spouse is.

I have found it out, though: The actual value of communicating with your spouse is $133.

That's also, by coincidence, the value of the Easter Brunch Sweetie treated my mom to after I had "reluctantly" agreed to allow my Mom to pay for Easter Brunch.

We took Mom and Oldest and The Boy and Mr F and Mr Bunches to a wildly-misguided and wildly-overpriced brunch on Easter Sunday. "Brunch" in this case means "a meal that starts at 1:45 p.m. but still includes French Toast and a kind of spooky Easter Bunny."

The Easter Bunny was kind of spooky because he/she moved kind of slowly, as though it had only just woken up, and it didn't speak. I know that bunnies aren't, in general, supposed to speak, but it's weird when a bunny shows you to your table using only exaggerated, slo-mo gestures, moving in that dreamlike way that, when it happens in a movie (or a dream) you can only think, oh, crap, something bad is going to happen.

Things could only go uphill from there. And they didn't.

We were seated by a hostess who was obviously eager to please us and just as obviously clueless about how to do so. She pointed out helpfully how we could order our free glass of champagne by turning our glass upright, then watched as Oldest asked me if she could have some (she's 20) as she turned her glass upright, and I said "It's up to your mom," because that's the kind of quick, decision-making guy I am, and Sweetie said "no," and so the hostess, who had watched that whole exchange, poured Oldest a glass of champagne. We removed that glass. At least, I think we removed it, but the 'brunch' was kind of a blur after that because Mr F decided that he wasn't having a very good day and Mr Bunches decided that he was, but that his very good day would involve running around the hotel where we were eating brunch. We tried everything we could to allow us to eat a meal and still retain custody of our kids.

First up was distracting the Babies! by cutting the balloons off of the centerpiece and tying them to the highchairs. I cut a balloon for Mr Bunches in the accepted fashion, just the way Miss Manners would want me to do at a fancy brunch: by sawing the string with my butterknife. (And I made sure that I used the outermost knife and everything!) Mom, though, wasn't messing around with cutlery; she pulled out her Swiss Army Knife.

Mom will be 63 this year. And she carries a Swiss Army Knife. A real one, with the miniature scissors, which she used to cut the balloon off of the table just as the Creepy Easter Bunny slo-mo-ed back to our table with balloons, which s/he spent at least 10 minutes trying to hand to Mr F, who would not look at it, or the Bunny. Mr F wanted nothing to do with the Easter Bunny at that point, and would not turn his head. The Bunny squatted awkwardly by his chair for an eternity, during which I took the proferred balloon and said pointedly, several times, "Thanks, Easter Bunny." Eventually the Bunny left, but I'm not sure if it had given up or if its parole agent had just come in for a random visit.

Cutting the balloons appeared to anger the hostess, though, because she became very passive aggressive at that point. She asked my mom if Mom would like the "Senior" discount -- and made sure to emphasize "senior" in a way that drew it out into a sentence. She added, by way of slapping Mom mentally, that most people "her age" like to get it but she didn't want to ask. Every person within earshot thought "Then why did you ask?" at that point. Mom (still clutching her Swiss Army Knife) reluctantly agreed that she was a senior, and she would like the discount. To lighten the mood, I added, "I'd like the senior discount, too," and chuckled. To show I was kidding.

The hostess said to me, quite seriously, "Maybe in a couple of years." And did not chuckle. To show she was not.

I'm 39.

While I pondered whether I really looked only a couple of years away from getting 1/3 off on Easter Brunch, we also had to come up with a new strategy because the balloons didn't work, although Mr F did manage to pop his and startle every adult in the room. He was fine with that, for some reason. Every single other thing that happened including getting chocolate in his eyebrow made him cry, but when his balloon popped right in his face, that was no big deal.

The next step was to try having them sit on our laps. Here's a tip: Breakfast foods cannot be eaten with a baby on your lap. Breakfast foods, the ones worth eating anyway, need a fork. You can't, at a brunch that is so fancy that you've worn your corduroys and your hightop Starbury basketball shoes (as I did), eat your scrambled eggs with your hands (as I did). All you'll really accomplish is the dubious achievement of spilling most of it on the floor, and switching to the brownies you grabbed from the dessert tray that you were mostly saving for the Babies! but now you can eat because they're the only thing on your tray that can be eaten with one hand.

So at that point, my "brunch" consisted of the black jellybeans I'd eaten on the way, and a mint fudge brownie.

The lap-plan didn't work, either -- surprise! -- so we switched to the one plan that works for every parent, every time: Let the kids do whatever the heck they want. By caving in and just letting kids run hog wild, everyone's a winner: the kids run around until they drop from exhaustion and you can head home, and you get the pyrrhic victory of having the kids do what you told them to do, so you get to feel like you still are the authority figure even though whatever "authority" you had at some point in your life has by now run through your fingers like so many scrambled eggs.

That's how we ended up standing in the hallway outside of the dining room, with no idea where Oldest and The Boy were (I'm assuming, in order, drinking the complimentary champagne and hovering by the bacon table), holding plates of breakfast food that we couldn't eat because we had to keep chasing after Mr Bunches to keep him from getting away to a place where the Easter Bunny could abduct him, and in between that had to deal with Mr F's tactic of cheering himself up, which was to rub his complimentary Hershey's Kiss all over his face and then cry when we cleaned it back off.

And while Mom and I focused on that, Sweetie disappeared, then came back and told me that she had paid for the meal. Sweetie did that because she is a great, very nice person who wanted to do something kind for my Mom on Easter Sunday, and also because I had not yet told her that before brunch Mom and I had hashed out that exact point and I had finally caved and allowed Mom to pay for the meal with the promise that I would buy the next one.

But Mom was very overjoyed when Sweetie told her that we would, after all, pay for it, so happy that she had tears in her eyes, although maybe that happiness was also a little due to the fact that the brunch was over and she was getting to go back to a place where there were no chocolate covered little boys spinning in circles and never stopping moving because they've eaten nothing but cookies all day, and maybe got into the complimentary champagne themselves. You may think I'm kidding, but I'm not. That picture is blurry not because I'm bad with a camera, but because Mr Bunches at that point was vibrating with excitement.

In the end, a very nice time was had by everyone, except for Sweetie and I, who didn't get to eat at all, and except for Mr F, who's still a little mad that we cleaned his face, and except for Mr Bunches, who was the only person who liked the Easter Bunny and didn't want to leave, and except for Oldest and The Boy, because they were missing out on (respectively) sleep and watching sports on TV, and except for the people who had to eat near us, and except for the people who got our table after us and didn't get balloons on their centerpiece, just sad little ribbons hanging limply off the floral display. But aside from that, everyone enjoyed their day.

A pyrrhic victory, by the way, is one that comes at a devastating cost to the 'victor.' That's how it's defined in most places: a victory that comes at a devastating cost. They never say what the cost is, but I know.

It's $133.