My boys

August 3rd, 2008

I have in the past referenced the show My Boys, which is one of the best sitcoms on TV. This summer, however, I got my own gang, with the arrival of Nathan on the scene. My house is now tilted hopelessly in a male direction, especially when you throw the cats in. We’re a house of four boys and two girls now. I’m happy with that, though. Especially when they’re this cute, who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by boys?

Seriously, the sight of Dan in his McDreamy scrubs alone may have rendered the C-section worthwhile. And the image of Dan handling the baby, his gear, and phone calls at the same time is just hilarious. I wasn’t able to really laugh for two weeks after the surgery, on account of the hurting, but I just busted out last weekend when Dan brought me all that at once. In case there was any doubt, I’m totally in love with my boys.

TV cutbacks

July 31st, 2008

I’ve been giving some consideration to my TV watching schedule, now that Nathan has arrived. It’s clear that things will have to go. Friends, Office, and Law & Order reruns have already been axed. We have a massive pile-up of Earth: The Biography and Shark Week shows waiting to be watched. And it took us three sittings over the course of four days to get through the season premiere of Mad Men. So a re-prioritization must happen, in the form of letting go of some things and shuffling around the viewing of others.

Desperate Housewives — no big loss, I think; I’m pretty sure it’s jumped the shark with its leap forward five years anyway.
Law & Order and SVU — I can catch up on these some future year in reruns anyway, so again, I’m not sorry to see them go.

On the bubble:
Private Practice — I did enjoy this, but since Dan doesn’t watch it with me, it’s hard to keep it on the schedule. I may make it an afternoon show while Nate’s napping or something, if there’s time.
Ugly Betty — another that Dan doesn’t watch, so again, possibly another afternoon show. I do really love Ugly Betty, so I’d hate to drop it altogether.

How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory
The Office
Grey’s Anatomy

Lost is the only thing guaranteed to be watched on its original night. The rest are up for grabs as to when they’ll get watched. I’m thinking over the weekends sometime. And of course, this schedule doesn’t allow for anything new to be added. I’m thinking that’s OK, too, though, because I haven’t heard about anything particularly great coming up this fall.

Now we know: babies? more important than TV. On that note, there will be more baby stuff forthcoming when Dan gets back from his conference and can help me post pictures.

Here’s what happened

July 21st, 2008

So, on Saturday night, the 12th, we had been sitting around talking and playing video games. As I got ready for bed, I realized that I hadn’t felt Nate move in awhile, but I couldn’t be entirely sure of that, because I thought maybe I’d just been engrossed in what we were doing. As I went to sleep, I paid attention, though, and felt him flutter four or five times in a row — enough to reassure me that he was there and OK.

When I got up Sunday morning, though, I didn’t feel him move at all. For two hours straight. I knew that was impossible, because Nathan was always a very active baby in utero. No matter what I did, he didn’t move: I walked around; I laid down; I ate and drank; I rubbed my belly; I talked to him, but no response. I called my doctor’s 24-hour line, and they rather dismissively suggested that I could go to L&D to get checked out, but they assured me that by the time we got there, he would’ve started moving again.

When we got to L&D, my doctor happened to be there, and she immediately came over to look at my monitors. Even though Nathan was there, his heart rate was flat, which meant that he wasn’t happy, and he still hadn’t moved in nearly three hours. While my doctor was talking to us — telling us that we weren’t leaving without a baby at this point, because she was ready to induce — she started frowning. “See these shallow decelerations in his heart rate right after your contractions? That means he doesn’t like the contractions.” This was a problem, because they were very light contractions, of the sort I’d had all through the last trimester. While we talked, over the course of about 15 minutes, her frowns got deeper, and she started preparing us for a C-section, because she said he couldn’t tolerate labor. And then, all of a sudden, she said, “OK, we’re going to do this. Now.” We had gone into L&D at 11:30 a.m., and Nathan was born at 1:40 p.m. on Sunday the 13th.
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Vampire books and the women who love them

July 8th, 2008

I feel compelled to weigh in on the Stephenie Meyer phenomenon, with apologies in advance to those who love the series. I got introduced to it by Amanda, who knew that I was looking for things to pass the time until Nathan’s born. I’ve consumed all of Twilight and New Moon and about half of Eclipse in the couple of weeks since Amanda brought them up, and, like Regan, I was buying the next in the series before finishing the one I was on. However, that mostly has to do with the fact that as I near the end of a book right now, I start slowing down, reluctant to finish it, because I know that once I do, I’m back to sitting around with only Law & Order re-runs, unless I’ve lined something else up to read. I solved that problem by stocking up on the saga in advance.

To give credit, these are perfect summer reading books, especially when you’re semi-laid-up. I had planned to get through A Tale of Two Cities and The Corrections in all my free time, because they’ve been sitting on my shelves for a long time, unread. Erin rightly chastised me for that approach, which failed anyway, because I just couldn’t get motivated to pick up tomes. The problem is, though, that as much as I promised myself I was going to just enjoy the vampire books and turn off my inner literary critic, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to do so.
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Making a Mom

July 7th, 2008

As I’ve mentioned before, I read BabyCenter discussions pretty regularly these days. They’re often interesting, but I’m increasingly noticing that I’m out of the mainstream of the discussion. Recent discussions have posed questions like, “Would you, for $100k, defer to your husband on all decisions for a year?”and “Do you think that every mother should own a gun?” Anyone who knows me or reads this blog with regularity can guess my answers to those questions. (Hint: my reaction to each was roughly, “Are you f***ing kidding me?”)

The conversations on those posts, though, demonstrate that the community of moms on BabyCenter is rather homogeneous and that I’m on the outside of that group. For each of the discussions I’ve linked to, the comments trend overwhelmingly in one direction with only a very few outliers, and, time after time, my views fall with the outliers. (Seriously, multiple posters on the question of “Would you defer to your husband?” commented that their husbands are already the heads of their households, so of course they defer to him on every decision. The last time I looked, there were 25 “yes, I’d defer to him” comments to 3 “are you crazy?” comments.)

The discussions that I’ve referenced are filed under the blogging section of ParentCenter/BabyCenter called “MOMformation.” On the one hand, I realize that they intend you to read that as Mom-(In)formation, as in information for moms. But given the homogeneity of opinion and the sometimes strident tone that the posters use in reinforcing conformity to the consensus opinion, I can’t help reading it as Mom-Formation, as in the formation of mothers. It feels like there’s an expectation that moms can be shaped into one particular mold, one who agrees with the majority of other BabyCenter users. Those users, as I’ve said before, clearly reflect social and economic diversity, and what links them together is their common status as mothers. “Mom” appears to be a category that not only crosses class and educational and religious boundaries, but one for which the assumption is that, once you’re in it, it should take precedence over other beliefs.

I can’t help wondering, then, what kind of mother I’m going to be. Not in a “I’m worried I’ll screw Nathan up” kind of way, but in a “Hmm, the other moms aren’t going to like me much, are they?” kind of way. Living in Texas, Dan and I have become accustomed to simply keeping our mouths shut when political discussions come up, but this isn’t a red state/blue state thing. Moms are everywhere, and, apparently, they nearly all agree with each other. I’ll have the next eighteen years to figure out how I’ll handle this, but, as Nathan’s expected to make his debut in the next week or so, I have to start very soon.

Burger report: Criteria

July 1st, 2008

I had promised before that I would lay out some of the criteria for judging, but the Pappas post seemed like it was getting too long to include it there. I’m coming to understand after these two trials how much the bun matters. It needs to either be completely unobtrusive, which means a low bun-to-meat ratio (which is where thick Texas barbecue buns fail), or it needs to be a really good bun, as the lightly-grilled poppyseed ones at Prince’s are. I’m not looking for fancy buns, like the wheat ones at Barnaby’s that Dan likes so much.

For the patty, it should be greasy enough that you know it’s a juicy, grill-cooked burger. Anything too thin, pre-formed, overcooked, etc., has no flavor and no grease to it. A really good burger needs to have some flavor and some grease, without being drenched in it or being fatty.

And as far as condiments go, the ratio is what’s most important. If I get cheese on the burger, I want to know it’s there, not have to go lifting the bun to make sure they put it on. Pickles should not be heaped in one giant lump in the middle, and mustard should not saturate and dominate the burger. When a burger is really, really good, I’ll tolerate other condiments, like lettuce, tomato, and onion (never mayonnaise), because it’s good enough to overcome my dislike of those items and comes to taste like a package deal. This is how I approach the burgers at Scotty P’s and Avalon Diner.

For those of you who don’t live in Houston, let me provide some examples of what I consider great burgers from elsewhere, so you might get a sense of what I’m searching for in Houston:

  • Scotty P’s (Dallas area): “That’s one historic burger!” as they say about themselves. One of the secret criteria that Scotty P’s matches is that they have really good chocolate milkshakes, which adds cred to any burger joint. Also, their burgers are the main focus of the menu, although they do have other items, and I think that’s another minor criterion for a good burger: it really is the focus, or at least the showcase item, of what the restaurant has to offer.
  • 101 Hamburgers (Daytona, FL): This is not the name of the place, but I don’t know the name of it. It’s a roadside biker bar that a friend took us to last year during the AP reading. They literally have a menu with 101 different kinds of hamburgers on it, which they cook on an open-flame grill behind the bar. All the burgers are the same price, and you can get unlimited french fries or sweet potato fries for $1.00 on the side. I don’t even remember exactly which burger I got, but it was excellent.
  • In-N-Out Burger (Western U.S.): I’m including In-N-Out, even though it’s a chain, because it’s pretty much the best chain burger you can get. Their buns and fries are particularly noteworthy, and they do proportion the condiments just to your liking; in fact, they’re famous for it. In-N-Out is so good that we make a point of stopping there anytime we’re in California, much as former Houston residents put Chuy’s on their “must-eat” list anytime they’re back in Houston. I’ll also go ahead and mention Rally’s here, which is my favorite fast-food burger from back home. Until conducting this research, I didn’t know that Rally’s is known as Checkers in some parts of the country and, even more surprisingly, that there’s a Checkers in Beaumont. Now, if I only had a reason to be in Beaumont…

Burger report: Pappas Bar-B-Q

June 29th, 2008

We were finally able to sample Pappas Bar-B-Q’s burgers today after an aborted attempt earlier this week. It seems that not only do certain locations not serve burgers, which we found out about two weeks ago when we tried to go to the location on S. Main near Reliant Stadium, but even those that do don’t serve them all the time, as we found out this week. The location on San Jacinto at Pierce, downtown, only serves them after 2:00 p.m. during the week, so imagine our disappointment when we went there for lunch at noon on Wednesday and couldn’t get them.

However, the third time was the charm, and we finally got burgers at the location on 59 near Beechnut today. Mom, Dan, and I all sampled them, and we all give them a thumbs-up rating. The patties, in particular were very good, and the cheeseburgers had a nice amount of cheese on them. The buns were nothing special; in fact, they were the same buns that they use for the barbecue sandwiches, so they’re really just bland Texas barbecue buns, but the patties made up for it. They were juicy and thick and well-cooked. The condiments were a little skimpy for my taste, other than the cheese, but overall it was a very good burger. Those of us who had tried Prince’s rated it higher than Prince’s, although we also all agreed that these were not “best burger ever” burgers.

Other places we plan to try: Lankford’s Grocery in Midtown; Avalon Diner (although we’ve been many times, this time is for official research purposes); and if there’s time (i.e., if the baby doesn’t cut short our research), Cue’s Burgers in SW Houston and Bellaire Broiler Burger.

Summer lovin’

June 24th, 2008

Unlike last summer when there were a whole bunch of replacement shows to watch, this summer, there’s not much on. Unfortunately, we don’t get Showtime, so we’re not catching The Tudors or Weeds or shows like that that do seem pretty good. Instead we’re limited to My Boys and CBS’ new show Swingtown.

My Boys continues to be one of the best sitcoms on TV. I will reiterate that it stacks up more than favorably against regular season fare, because the cast and the writing are outstanding. So, not much to say about that, except that you ought to be watching it. I can understand how you might be put off, given that TBS’ other fare is The Bill Engvall Show and House of Payne, which just look blah and predictable, but My Boys truly is worth watching.

I can’t rave as much about Swingtown, although it’s enjoyable enough, especially as far as summer shows go. We decided to pick it up because we’ve always been fans of 70s music and That 70s Show, and we’ve liked Jack Davenport since his Coupling days. It’s not as racy as its premise; in fact, at times it’s downright slow.

In particular, I couldn’t be less interested in the lives of the children in the show, who seem just to serve as springboards for “coming of age” stories. The characterization is also a little uneven across the board. For example, are we supposed to think that the summer school teacher is a predator for hitting on the teenage daughter, or is she pursuing him, or both? After all, she’s the one who rather defiantly told her mother, “Women can decide when and with whom to have sex these days,” and then later grabbed and kissed the teacher. Frustratingly, the scene didn’t continue, so we have no reaction shot from the teacher, and the next thing we saw was just the girl back home alone in her bedroom, smiling smugly. What are we supposed to infer from that?

The uptight character of Janet is perhaps the most irritating, because she treads the same ground every episode: “I’m upset that my friend has moved to a new neighborhood. Oh, I’m shocked and disappointed that she would even associate with these lascivious new neighbors of hers! I’ll just storm out and vow not to be her friend anymore. But wait, I’m sad because we’re not friends anymore…” and repeat.

All that being said, there’s good character development among the four principal actors, as the innocent Bruce and Susan struggle to decide whether to join in the swinging or not, and the predatory Tom and Trina keep trying to reel them in, even as Trina, in particular, wavers about whether it’s nice that Bruce and Susan had an undamaged relationship before joining their circle. That part of the show is what makes it worth watching. Well, that and the fact that it’s summer, and there’s really not much else on.

Burger report: Chronicle picks

June 23rd, 2008

Huh, more proof that the Chronicle’s website is just weird: They have the burger slideshow back up now. It wasn’t there when I made my post a few days ago, and it wasn’t there at 8:00 this morning when I did my daily read of the Chronicle’s headlines. Maybe the fact that I’ve searched the Chronicle’s website repeatedly for “best burger” over the last week or so has convinced them that people are looking for the slideshow.

Apparently, the Chronicle also has a Burger Friday blog that continually checks out burger joints. Their current review is on Otto’s in the tunnels downtown, but given that our research has constraints, like the fact that we don’t work downtown and therefore won’t go pay to park there (even if we could find a space) just to get to the tunnels, we won’t be reviewing that.

I can say now, too, that the most unappetizing-looking burgers in the slideshow were the ones from Champ Burger, which has been getting a lot of press lately. I’m not adding it to our research list, though, because the photo looks awful, despite the great reviews it gets. Similarly, although the Wunsche Bros. Saloon photo looks heavenly, and they, too, have gotten great reviews elsewhere, since it’s in Old Town Spring (about 45 minutes away), I’m crossing that one off the list, too.

In other words, I’m not promising an exhaustive report on burgers in Houston. Like everything else on this blog, my reviews will be highly subjective.

Burger report: Prince’s

June 18th, 2008

About ten days ago, I saw a slideshow on the Houston Chronicle’s web site on the best burgers in Houston. They weren’t actually ranked or reviewed, nor were their locations even listed; it just showed photos of burgers and named where they were from. I found some of their choices immediately suspect, given that they included the upscale Reef as a candidate. Anybody looking for “beef sliders” with “sriracha remoulade” can’t actually be looking for the best burger in Houston; too fancy, too pretentious. I further questioned the Chronicle’s taste when some of the photos looked way less than appetizing, although I can’t name names because I don’t remember offhand which ones, and the slideshow seems not to be available anymore.

All this, though, got my mom and me interested in researching for ourselves. We’re in agreement that the best burger either of us has ever had was at this bar in Empire, MI, which we just stumbled into on our way to Traverse City about four summers ago. None of us (the trip included Dan and my dad, as well) can remember the name, but we all definitely remember the burgers. So the mythical “Empire” burger will be our gold standard for judging. As with most mythical things, it’s hard to describe the experience accurately, but we’ll just know at some gut level whether a Houston burger measures up or not.

First on our list was Prince’s Hamburgers on Hwy 59. The service was quick, which was a bonus, and the fries were good. Prince’s serves their hamburgers on a toasted poppyseed bun, which was a nice change and which we agreed was the best part of the burger. The only problem was that the patty was really nothing special. It was thin, not juicy, and a little overcooked. My mom also got a sort of lighter-fluid aftertaste off of it, which I didn’t notice, but I can see how that would be a detriment to rating the burger as “the best.” Our overall assessment: good, not great.

Next up: Pappas Bar-B-Q, probably sometime next week.