Saturday, December 27, 2008


Sooner or later, you're going to have to travel with your toddlers, and it's not going to be easy. Spending several hours confined to such a small space can be difficult for adults to stomach, but imagine what it's like for a two year old. Toddlers were made to run and play and wear themselves out so that they may nap. These things are impossible to do in a car hurtling along at 80 miles per hour. They will get cranky. They will yell, scream, moan, and cry. They will refuse to behave and you will find this stressful, especially since there will be nothing you can do about it from the driver's seat. So here are some toddler travel tips that may come in handy.

First of all, you will be tempted to pack lightly. Don't do it. Prepare yourself for any situation, and pack extra everything. I recommend at least four changes of clothing in addition to whatever your child will wear upon reaching your destination. Towels are always a good idea. Every medicine your child has ever taken should be readily accessible. Litter the vehicle with travel wipes... they should always be within arm's reach. Plastic grocery bags are a must. At least one to hold soiled clothes and three for garbage accumulated along the way. Toys, books, DVD's... pack every one you own, because you never know which ones they will favor at any given moment.

Secondly, know your route. You should study a map ahead of time and familiarize yourself with points along the way that can be helpful stress relievers. State parks offer toddlers a place to run around and play, but other interesting sights can often be found that the whole family can enjoy. I don't care if I have to see Rock City a hundred times if it helps calm the kids down in the car afterward. But if you really get stuck in a bind, go to the nearest Wal-Mart, find the toy section, and let the children behave as badly as they want to. Let them throw things, let them get loud, let them throw a fit when you try to leave. Nobody looks twice at a screaming two year old in Wal-Mart, and it can save your sanity.

Add at least 40% more travel time than you think you'll need. If you get there early, then you've just witnessed a miracle, and don't think it will ever happen again. You'll find yourself pulling off the road for potty breaks, eating breaks, playing breaks, sight seeing breaks, and just can't stand it at all anymore let's find a Wal-Mart breaks. All of these are necessary and essential. Don't worry about the fact that the same drive took you much less time before kids. Those days are over, and you will miss them for the rest of your life.

Perhaps the most important piece of equipment that no man should forget is a single earplug. Place this into the ear closest to your wife, because even though you can tune out the screaming, crying, moaning, and yelling coming from the back seat, your wife cannot. And due to seatbelt laws in place across the nation, her movement will be restricted and her head will only be able to turn approximately 100 degrees as she yells directly into your ear, "Stop all of that yelling and screaming before I pull this car over and wear your butts out!" This is why old men only have one good ear.

Well, I hope these ideas come in handy the next time you travel with toddlers. But if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself staring at some RV and thinking, "If I had one of those, I could put the wife and kids in the back, and sit up here in the cab all by myself in peace and quiet." And to think, I always wondered why those things were so expensive...


While traveling home for Christmas, I spent about an hour staring at the back of a box truck with a logo that read "Novelty, Inc." It was very nondescript and, therefore, very intriguing. I mean, there are novelty acts and novelty ice creams... but just what novelties did this baby blue box truck contain?

I began fantasizing about a traffic accident that would lead to the world's largest chattering teeth spill. I-75 north of Atlanta would be shut down for hours while they tried to clean it up. Volunteers would lose fingers as they battled the throngs of deadly chattering teeth. News reporters live from the scene could scarcely be heard over the din of the novelty item that just wasn't funny anymore. Mothers would make their children leave the room while they watched the carnage unfold in real time.

Firefighters would be called in to contain the chattering teeth with their hoses and paramedics would try to match up severed digits to victims' hands. And then, I would step forward with my plan....

First, establish a perimeter of whoopie cushions to contain the spill. Second, release the Slinkys to tangle up and ensnare the chattering teeth. Third, put on big nose glasses and foam sports fan "We're #1!" big hand gloves for protection and clean up the mess. Fourth, insert Billy Bob teeth and smile for the cameras. And, fifth, sign all autographs in disappearing ink.

Why do all of my fantasies end in me becoming the hero? Because they're my fantasies, by gum. You want to be the hero? Then you come up with a fantasy of your own. Just leave out the chattering teeth. They're mine. All mine.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


There is nothing more honest or innocent than a child. In making my rounds about the restaurant this evening, I chanced upon a little boy and his grandparents. He couldn't have been more than eight or nine, and was a little plump and very cheerful. His brown page boy haircut framed two rosy cheeks and a very big grin. His grandparents were gaunt by comparison, the grandfather with a trucker's hat and a scraggly beard, and the grandmother in her second hand coat.

They assured me that their dinner was just fine, and as I stepped away from the table, the little boy spoke up, saying, "This is the best restaurant I've ever been to!". Now, we're no Waffle House, mind you, but Emeril probably wouldn't consider our cuisine fit for human consumption, either, I'm sad to say. But this little boy had paid me perhaps the nicest compliment possible, without even knowing it. And it was honest and heartfelt, to boot.

So I turned back and asked him if he was ready for Christmas, just to engage him a little further and pay him some of my attention. It was the least I could do. I wasn't prepared for such a shockingly honest reply.

"Oh, yes. My daddy's coming tomorrow because he just got out of jail two weeks ago and he's bringing my present. He can't stay, though, because he has to be back at twelve o'clock every night because he just got out of jail."

There was no embarrassment at all from the boy. He was proud and excited to spend time with his daddy. The grandparents, on the other hand, were quick to put their fingers to their lips and shush the little butterball who was telling the family secrets in an almost boastful manner. Sensing their shame, I focused only on the little boy.

Placing my hand on his shoulder, I looked in his eyes and said, "It sounds like you're going to have a great Christmas, big guy. I hope you get everything you want." And as I walked away, I realized what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted this little boy's daddy to make good on his promise and spend some time with his son.

So, Santa, if you're out there, please grant my wish. I know that I have more than I will ever deserve, and I won't ask you for anything else, ever. Just, please don't let this boy down. He deserves this one little gift. His innocence won't last forever, much like his belief in you. But don't take it away just yet. Please. He's a good kid, and honest and unashamed, too. Please, Santa, just let him stay that way a little bit longer. After all, it's the holidays. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Catch Phrase

It was barely a month ago that the twins went in for their two year check up with their pediatrician. When asked if we had any concerns as to their developmental status, the wife wondered if maybe their speech abilities were not up to par. We have friends with a daughter born just three weeks after our kids, and it seems that she's been putting together small sentences for weeks, while ours were busy babbling and throwing out the occasional odd word or two. Sure, they had a few parlor tricks up their sleeves, like telling you what a dog says or what a train says, but the wife wasn't convinced of their vocal prowess.

All of that has changed, and rather quickly. In fact, they have both developed their own catch phrases, and are ready to star in their own sit com. Jack's is perhaps the strongest contender, one that could rival J.J.Walker's "Dynomite!" or Gary Coleman's "What you talking 'bout, Willis?". It's beauty is in it's simplicity. When Jack walks into the room, he belts out in a cheery voice, "Hi, buddy!". He uses this to great effect several times a day. At 4:30AM, I awoke to what sounded like construction work, hammering perhaps, coming from the kids room. I opened the door to find Jack sitting in his bed, loudly banging two blocks together, his sister somehow still asleep in the same bed right next to him. When he saw me peek into the room, he ran up to me and yelled, "Hi, buddy!", as if I were an old college friend he hadn't seen in years. Cute.

Ella's catch phrase is actually dependant upon her brother. It's clear who the star of this sit com is, although her role of sister diva cannot be underscored. She is the straight man to Jack's top banana. When Jack is off playing by himself, Ella will look around for him and call out, "Jack? Whatcha doing?". It's as if she knows he's somewhere doing something he shouldn't be doing, and she's somehow in charge of keeping him out of trouble. He usually responds by running into the room, trying to look innocent and shouting, "Hi, buddy!". Double cute.

I'm proud to say that Ella can already read her alphabet. She can point to a letter and call it out by name. That girl loves to read, and it shows. They have both been working on their colors and numbers, and their vocabulary seems to be increasing every day, so much so that the wife can't believe she ever thought there was a problem just a few short weeks ago. It's funny how quickly two toddlers can change in such a short time. They seem to be making huge leaps at a time in their development these days, and it's really fun to watch.

We're all looking forward to Christmas and spending a little time with our family. It will be a long drive for us, but hopefully we'll get through it without too many meltdowns. And, who knows, we may just have some new stories to tell when we get back home. Until then, Merry Christmas, and why's it so quiet around here? Jack? Whatcha doing?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

C.L.A.S.S. part 3

For those of you who have asked for more pictures of the house, here it is... the Morgan family 2008 Christmas Wonderland. Enjoy!

And remember the old man from the "Guys" post? Well, he's come back to the restaurant a few times since the incident, and he always asks for me. We talk mostly about family and the holidays, and he always thanks me for handling the situation the way I did. I genuinely like old people, and if you pay attention, you can learn alot from them. On his last visit, for instance, I learned that this old coot has C.L.A.S.S.

Completely unprompted by our conversation, he produced an envelope from his pocket and handed it to me. My hands folded back the flap to reveal a picture of a very modest house in a not so great neighborhood that was completely covered in a kaleidoscope of colored Christmas lights. Turns out Pops and me are kindred spirits, after all. Every bush, every hedge, every eve and overhang were trimmed out. The security fence could barely support the weight of Christmas cheer hanging from it's chain links. And up on the roof was a plastic blow mold of Santa's sleigh and three reindeer. After taking it all in for a second or two, I turned my eyes from the picture and said, "I must admit... I'm a little jealous."

I told him about my filthy Christmas light addiction and the competition I have with my neighbor. Guess what? He has one, too! Some young kid who lives down the street is always trying to copy his setup. So he doesn't put it all out at once anymore. He starts small and adds to it daily, so that every night when the power goes on, it's a bigger and better display until Christmas night when the whole shebang explodes into a crescendo of colossal Christmas color! Brilliant!

Ah, we spoke of many things that night. When to hang your lights, when to first turn them on, when to take them down, color schemes, power supplies, extension cords... it was a stimulating conversation that could only be enjoyed by two raging lightaholics like us. I could have chatted him up all night, but, alas, I had to return to work. A few days later, he sent me a Christmas card wishing me and my family all the season's best wishes. What can I say? He's a real C.L.A.S.S. act!

Monday, December 15, 2008

C.L.A.S.S. part 2

So, the neighbor came down and admitted defeat. Turns out, he's not even putting up lights this year at all. He's taking some time to re-group and plan next year's layout. You would think this news would leave me elated, full of pride, and with a head swollen to the size of an eighty year old prostrate gland, but not so. Truth is, I need the competition in order to showcase my greatness by comparison. So I have taken to the streets lately so that I may mock other neighborhood displays and confirm my superiority. Here's what I have found...

Poorly decorated trees. Please don't put a strand of lights in your tree, because it looks bad... like you just threw a strand of lights at your tree and then plugged them in. Which, of course, is what you did. There aren't nearly enough lights to make it appealing, and the top of the tree is almost impossible to reach. The result is a single helix of anemic Christmas cheer floating in the middle of an otherwise undecorated landscape like a second grade model of malignant DNA. Not impressive.

Puffers. The name refers to those who like the new-fangled inflatable decorations. Although these may be impressive to some because of their sheer size, to me they simply represent a lack of imagination. So you have proven that you can open a box and plug in an extension cord... big deal? Unless you have to get out the ladder and risk life and limb to climb up onto your roof, you aren't trying hard enough. Not to mention that when unplugged, Santa looks like he was up way too late drinking the night before and simply passed out on the lawn. Explain that to your children.

Cutters. These are the people who display painted plywood cutouts, usually with an uplight. These can be very festive indeed, but sometimes they stray a bit from the Christmas theme. For instance, there is a cove near me that is full of cutters, and the high rate of participating houses is impressive. The trouble is, all of their cutouts are Disney related. What do Buzz Lightyear, Peter Pan, and Mickey Mouse have in common? I don't know, but it ain't Christmas. I know the economy is bad right now, but I had no idea that classic Disney animations were out there trying to hustle a dollar, perhaps displaying signs that read, "Will work for ink."

Computer controlled displays. Apparently, having a computer flash your lights on and off in syncopation to bad Christmas music somehow saves electricity. Personally, I would rather spend a few extra bucks than torture the neighbors with flashing lights and Manheim Steamroller all through the night. Isn't that the same technique the FBI employed to make David Koresh burn down the Branch Davidian complex in Waco? Don't get me wrong, flashing lights have their place, but unless your garage is full of slot machines and you offer table games in your basement and free booze around the clock, just leave your lights burning, please.

So, with just a few days left until Christmas, I am satisfied with my light display... this year. Soon everything will be on sale for half off or less, and I will scoop up supplies for next year. After all, the neighbor is planning something spectacular, I just know it, and I can't be outdone! And without revealing too much of my plans, if anyone knows where I can score about 200 feet of sturdy, yet bendable wire let me know. And any tips on welding would be appreciated, too. Merry Christmas to all, and please don't stare too long at my house, it may burn your retinas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


There are no simple things in life. Mark my words on this one. Even the simplest of tasks can be made difficult with enough engineering. What may seem like a great innovation or a revolutionary idea to one man may be another man's nemesis. And that's why I hate sippy cups.

I just want to get my kids some juice. Shouldn't that be simple? But, alas, the modern day sippy cup has more parts than MacGyver would know what to do with. There are plastic straws and rubber tubes and grommets to contend with. And no two are alike, either. So if you have different brands, the parts may look similar, but their dimensions are just larger or smaller than their counterparts so as not to work properly. It's like three incompatible erector sets all piled together, and although the parts look alike, they are most certainly not.

Instead of pouring juice into a glass and being done with it, I'm first faced with the daunting task of sorting through all of the pieces and then trying to put together not one, but two of these things. That wouldn't be so bad if my kids weren't spewing tears and wailing at the top of their lungs. It's like trying to spell Antidisestablishmentarianism while someone is poking you with a sharp stick. It's easy to lose your concentration.

But like all things in life, this condition is only temporary. Soon my children will be out of diapers and drinking from regular glasses, and we'll be forced to carry extra pants and plenty of napkins to mop up spilled milk. By then, of course, we will have forgotten the trials and tribulations of the sippy cup era, romanticized the memory, and lament those lost days when life was much easier, simpler even. So let these words stand as my reminder: Nothing in life is simple, least of all, sippy cups.


I am human, and therefore capable of mistakes. Although I consider myself to be a better than average husband and father, there are times when I manage to screw up royally. Sometimes I even know better, but allow my foolish pride to get the better of my clear judgment. And this is how it came to pass that I dared to criticize my lovely wife's housekeeping prowess.

I used to think that marriage would be easy. "All I have to do," I thought to myself, "is tell her every day just how much I love her." And I do love her in indescribable ways. But somewhere over the course of a marriage, the passion we once shared has turned into a calming comfort, a complacency, a sense of security that is easy to take for granted, and "I love you" becomes something you say when you don't have anything to say at all. I don't show my appreciation for her nearly as often as I should, and I owe her an apology for that.

So even though I prefaced the conversation with, "I know raising our kids is not easy, and I know you do alot around here, and I appreciate the fact that you cook dinner every night and all the other things you do, but... I'm a little frustrated. I just wish that when I came home, I could walk through the house without fear of stepping on anything, or fracturing a toe, or breaking something on the floor, or sitting on a stack of books on the couch. I don't expect a spotless house, but if you could just keep the living room from looking like a bomb exploded, that would be nice."

I obviously misjudged the impact of this seemingly innocuous suggestion, because her face turned crimson red and steam hissed out of her ears as the silence overtook the room. I couldn't tell if she was angry or depressed, or vehemently swinging from the first emotion to the latter. I just knew that I had messed up. "Oh, dear. Look at the time. Well, I must be going to work. Have a great day, sugar. I love you." Relieved to get out of the house in one piece, I crossed my fingers and hoped the cell phone would not ring. It didn't.

When I got home that night the house was spotless, although it felt hollow because I knew she had done it out of spite. The next morning when I awoke, there was still a tension in the air, but we managed to start up a dialogue in an effort to diffuse the situation. It turns out that at one point or another, all of her friends' husbands have made the same mistake. She had talked it over with all of them, blowing off some of the aforementioned steam that my blunder had built up in her boiler. It seems that inside of every husband lies a savage brute; an unthinking, unfeeling, emotionless and selfish caveman that considers his woman more like property than a partner. And I, for one, am grateful for that. Because if I were the only one, I'd still be in the doghouse. Maybe one day evolution will kill this inner caveman. Until then, we have only our wives to keep us in check. And I, for one, am grateful for that, too.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


My kids hate Santa. And I'm fine with that, because I hate Santa, too. Not the idea of Santa, not even all Santas, but this Santa in particular is a second rate, low rent, redneck Santa Claus, and I'm not a fan.

Let me say that it's not in my character to hold a grudge. But I guess that some offenses cannot be overcome very easily, and although I thought I was over it, the sight of this Santa was enough to send me reeling, and here's why.

Last year, we went for our Santa pictures with our local multiples club. What I had envisioned as a pleasant visit with Santa, full of precious photo ops, turned quickly into a trying experience that has left me and my twins scarred for life.

Santa entered the room in a burgundy Santa suit that must have been on the discount rack at TJ Max. Sure, his white hair and beard was real, but Santa's suit is red, not burgundy, and if you can't tell the difference, then you need to get your eyes checked, or you need to consult Christopher Lowell. He proceeded to read some unknown story in a terrible Southern drawl, and he hadn't even committed it to memory. Imagine Santa fumbling over the words of some obscure Christmas story, trying to read upside down, and losing the interest of scores of small children in the process. Why not memorize "The Night Before Christmas" and simply turn the pages slowly in the interest of captivating your audience, which, by the way, has an incredibly short attention span?

And since when has Santa had such a pronounced Lower Alabama Southern accent? The last time I checked, Santa was from the North Pole. I have never heard Santa say, "You done a good job, Billy," or, "Hey, Blitzen, we're fixin' to take off!" But all of this could have been overlooked, had it not been for the unsolicited advice he dared to give me.

The wife was nowhere to be found, and dealing with two screaming one year olds who just wanted Daddy to hold them was a bit daunting. So, while holding my daughter, I grabbed my son by the wrist and gently lifted him up to my hip to cease the crying. And that's when Santa stepped in. Or, rather stepped in it.

"You know," quoth Santa, "that at that age, their arms are not fully developed, and you can actually pull their arms out of their sockets pretty easily lifting them like that. You should really lift them under the armpit. And I'm not telling you this because I think it's true. I learned by experience. It happened to me twice with my kids before my doctor explained it to me."

Wow. Santa, you probably shouldn't drink so much Vodka before jerking your kids around like rag dolls. And you didn't learn your lesson the first time? What do you do to pass your time in the off season? Drunken elf tossing? Toddler flinging? How do you pull your kids arms out of their sockets twice and still make a living posing as Santa Claus? You are more frightening than a sad French clown.

So this year, I was secretly happy that my kids wanted nothing to do with this trailer park Santa. It was a validation of my skepticism of the second rate Santa Claus and his unwanted advice. Perhaps next year, the twins will be more accepting of Santa. And perhaps, we will visit another Santa altogether. A kinder, gentler, less abusive Santa Claus with an eye for color and without a regional accent. And without unsolicited advice. And, no, my kids' arms have never left their sockets.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


We had a full house for Thanksgiving this year, and packing five extra people into a house with only one extra bedroom was quite a challenge. We enjoyed all of the company, don't get me wrong, but coming home from work in the wee hours of the morning and stepping over rows of bodies lying everywhere is slightly eerie, and reminiscent of Heaven's Gate, or Guyana. Thank goodness it was the turkey that did them in and not the kool-aid.

There were many memories made of Monopoly victories, cake decorating, searching for DDR, debating carbon credits, and even shoe throwing (not by the kids, either), but perhaps my favorite moment of the weekend was a story told by my father-in-law that gave me some real insight into the mind of a genius. It was a story about walnuts.

It seems that somewhere upon his hundred acres, he chanced upon a cache of black walnuts. Being the resourceful man that he is, he loaded them up in his tractor and took them back to his shop to enjoy at his leisure. The trouble with walnuts is that in order to eat them, one first has to remove the nut from it's shell, and this is not the easiest of tasks. Looking around his shop, he quickly spotted a hammer and went to work. Although the hammer made easy work of the hard shell, it also took it's toll on the poor walnut inside, shattering it into very small pieces that had to be delicately removed from the shell fragments in order to eat and enjoy. "Too much work for too little reward," thought the father-in-law. And so he set about finding a better way to crack a nut.

A Google search revealed that there was indeed a special nutcracker made just for the hard shell of the black walnut, but it was expensive. Other methods included drilling holes in a board just slightly smaller than the shell, and then hammering the walnuts through with a wooden mallet. He finally settled on using a vise. After some experimentation, he had discovered the absolute best way to crack a black walnut, and I'm here to share his secret with you. The trick is to set it in the vise lengthwise at first, and twist just hard enough to crack the shell a little bit. Then, turn the shell so that the top and bottom are held in the vise, and apply pressure until the shell gives way, leaving the whole sweet delicious nutmeat intact and ready to enjoy.

A lesser man would have been content with the hammer, or even given up altogether. But not my father-in-law. It is the sign of true genius to find a better way, to think outside the box, to experiment in order to get it right. And how noble of him to share his revelation with others? So although I had plenty to be thankful for this year, this Thanksgiving will live on in my memory as the year I learned the absolute best way to crack a black walnut, and, for that, I am truly thankful. God bless you, sir, and your unselfish wisdom.


It began around this time last year. It started out innocently enough, but has now snowballed helplessly out of control. There are no self help groups to join. My condition is not yet recognized as a dangerous and addictive disease. But I'm here before you all to admit my inner depravity. I have C.L.A.S.S. I'm talking, of course, about Christmas Light Acquisition Syndrome Symptoms.

We decided to put up some lights on the house last year. So, I bought some net lights at K-Mart to drape around the bushes, and when I got home, I decided it would be best to get them out and plug them in to see if they would even work. Just as I had covered the first bush, our neighbors up the street yelled down, "Hey! What are you doing? Are you trying to make us look bad?". I tried to explain that I was simply testing the new lights, but, "Oh no," they said, "We're putting ours up, too!"

Hours later, I went outside to get something from my truck. It was pitch black and very cold, and I was very surprised to see the same neighbors' garage door open and all of the lights on. Then I noticed that he was up on his ladder, still decorating his house. Incredulous, I went back inside and got the wife. "Honey, you're not gonna believe this. Come look." As we stared up the street in amazement, I could feel the anger welling up in my soul. I knew what I had to do. I had to out-decorate him. I had to win.

Several trips to K-Mart later, and with some encouragement from my father-in-law, my house shone like a beacon in the night. Cars would linger for long moments in front of my domicile of dazzling lights, and children were lost in wonderment. It was by no means a tremendous display of enormous proportions, just a few hundred white lights, some yard deer, a few lighted wreaths, and an outdoor Christmas tree, but it was the best house on our street, and my neighbor knew it. "Dude, you got me on the lights this year," he woefully admitted. I called the father-in-law to gloat, and I felt good about my victory.

The day after Christmas found me at the Home Depot, where I purchased a 5 foot lighted wreath and a few more strands of lights for half price. I was already thinking about next year, and how perfect that wreath would look over my garage. I had plans of adding pieces to my display each year, but I was convinced that it wasn't a problem. I could quit anytime I wanted. And indeed, I managed to put Christmas lights out of my mind for several months.

But Halloween was scarcely over when I started planning my display this year. In the first week of November, I moved all of my supplies into the garage... just to take stock of what I had on hand. I began to troll the internet, tracking blow mold Santas on Ebay, drooling over the photos on, and researching wire form figures that could possibly adorn my roof. I began driving by K-Mart at odd hours, even when it wasn't on the way home.

I had my entire display ready to go before Thanksgiving, making excuses to the neighbors that my work schedule was hectic, and that I had to put them up now before I was just too busy. The kids helped me decorate the outside tree, and I added some sparkly snowflakes to the front porch and a light up Santa to the front yard. The big wreath looks great above the garage, and my mother-in-law even tied me a huge bow to hang upon it. I was proud.

When the wife remarked how wonderful everything looked, I was beaming. "I didn't know you had such Christmas spirit," she said, but she had missed the point entirely. It's not about Christmas spirit at all. It's about shaming my neighbors into feeling empty and small with their pitiful, amatuerish displays, leaving them to lie awake at night, tossing and turning, planning their next move, plotting to outdo me. But more than that, it's about having C.L.A.S.S., and brother, I've got it in spades.