Monday, May 4 2020

grilling, shopping, fire, and mutant eyes

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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone! How is your Monday going? This is my first morning waking up in a strange jobless bliss, which will be the norm for the next sixteen weeks of the summer. It feels wonderful and strange, all at the same time. And to keep the early stages of this leave from turning into an endless spring break, I've decided to keep the same wake-up hours, as tempting as it was to just turn off my alarm and sleep however long God wills it. I'm glad I got up early, and I'm feeling energized.

Today is a special day for other reasons. If all goes according to plan, today will probably be Miles' birthday. This evening at 7:30 PM, Marissa is getting induced, meaning the birth will probably happen sometime today or tomorrow. Needless to say, I'm glad it came down to the day we picked. We had a few close calls over the past few days, and while we were ready to upend and leave in the middle of the night if needed, we're glad that we instead have the day to plan, clean, relax, and enjoy our last day together as a family of three.

Sip. Yesterday was a good day. From the moment I woke up, our broken oven lingered in my thoughts. I was worried about what to do for food in the meantime. Even without our semi-daily loaf of beer bread, the oven has been a staple in making cheap, hearty dinners with very little effort. And after spending the morning calling around for repair, it was becoming clear that we probably wouldn't get to use the oven for another few days.

So after a lot of thought, I've decided that we'll adapt by leaning into the grilling lifestyle. And with weather as nice as the stuff we've been getting all week, I think that's a good move.

I've had kind of a complicated relationship with my grill. For the first leg of our marriage, grilling was just about the only time I participated in making dinner for us. So as a result, I didn't get a lot of practice in the kitchen, and lacking all the know-how and common sense you pick up from regularly making simpler meals indoors, my grilling performance was spotty. At my best, I could pull off a pair of steaks, a chicken, or a slab of ribs if I had to, but crippled with a paralyzing fear of ruining the meal, I'd usually remain glued to the grill, transfixed on the needle of the thermometer.

And of course there were a few flat-out disasters. Yesterday, we fondly reminisced about the time I tried to make flame grilled quesadillas with some old tortillas and mozzarrella. And wanting to give the quesadillas a smoky flavor (as well as appear roguishly resourceful for my young admiring wife), I collected a few tree branches from the yard and added them to the kettle. And the meal definitely tasted smoky - the branches, soaked with rainwater, filled the grill with a wet, swampy smoke that made the quesadillas taste distinctly like garbage water.

So whether I was obsessively checking the thermometer while cooking a straight forward rib-eye, or foolishly punching above my weight class with experimental techniques, I've never been happy with my grilling game. And now, armed with a lot more cooking common sense, I'm looking forward to taking it back up again.

After tidying up the house and putting Rodney down for a nap, I left to go run some errands, first stopping at Home Depot. Home Depot's system was interesting. They had people queue up in a line outside the store, and using a handheld clicker, an employee at the front of the line ushered in a few people at a time. After waiting outside for about ten minutes, I quickly pushed a cart to the grilling aisle, snatching up four bags of charcoal, two bags of wood chunks, and a few sleeves of heavy duty aluminum foil.

The next stop was Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee has been handling the quarantine well. They're fully stocked of everything that was depleted in the first wave of panic shopping. The one-way arrows on the ground, while a little intimidating at first, now feel pretty intuitive. It also helped that the store was mostly empty. With ease, I grabbed milk, eggs, some cans of tomatoes, and everything else that was on our grocery list. I also gathered one final haul of beer, focusing on Marissa's favorites. I picked up a six pack of Fantasy Factory as well as a four pack of Pseudo Sue.

Back at home, Marissa and I put the groceries away, and with a half hour before Rodney's nap expired, we played catch with the football while the grill heated up. Seeing us from his bedroom window, Rodney asked through the baby monitor if he could join us, and soon after we were all hanging in the backyard as a family before I broke away to finish dinner.

For dinner, we had a juicy pair of steaks, some roasted red peppers, and some baked potatoes with cheddar and sour cream. After cleaning up, I decided to stoke the embers into a bonfire, using some sticks I collected from the backyard.

"Hey dude, come here!" I called into the house, leaning into the kitchen.

"Of all times, now he's just content and playing with his toys," said Marissa. "I'll get him."

Rodney ran outside, still struggling to step into his bright red Spider-Man shoes. "Check it out, dude," I said gesturing at the fire.

"WooooOOOaaaahhhh," said Rodney, making his way over to the fire. As he sat, he winced in pain. "Ouch, dada. Hot."

"That's right dude, check it out, I don't know if you've ever seen a bonfire before," I said.

"Fire is dangerous! Never play with it," said Marissa leaning outside from the kitchen.

"But it's also interesting," I added. Marissa glared at me. "What?" I said. "It's dangerous, and interesting. We can teach both of those things simultaneously."

Marissa joined us at the fire, Ziggy leaping into her lap for a snuggle. "Dudes," said Marissa, "this is probably our last night as a family of three. What do you think of that?"

"Yeah, Rodney. Are you excited about being a big brother?" I asked, leaning into Rodney. But the moment of reflection was lost on Rodney, who just fidgeted in his chair.

"Rodney, baby Miles is coming out tomorrow, dude," I repeated.

"BABY MILES?" shouted Rodney. He stood up on his chair and put his head next to Marissa's stomach. "HEY BABY MILES? YOU COMING OUT OF THERE?" he yelled.

I put Rodney to bed, and as part of our usual round of evening questions, I tried one last time to get Rodney to reflect on what was going on.

"Dude," I said. "What is baby Miles going to look like? What color do you think his eyes will be?"

Rodney leaned back into his pillow and stared up thoughtfully at the ceiling, taking a few seconds to gather his thoughts.

"I think his eyes...", he began. "His eyes will be... yellow."

"Yellow?" I asked.

"Yellow... and glow red. And shoot red. And glow yellow." Rodney held his hands to his face like a pair of goggles.

"Rodney, are you talking about mutant eyes, like Cyclops? From X-men?" I asked.


It was worth a try. Thanks for stopping by today. Have a great Monday today.