Diary of a Stay At Home Dad: He’s not going to eat that; is he?

So it appears he will eat that, and a lot of other things.  I beg you to read all of the following sentences before reacting to the single sentence that immediately follows.  Tracy doesn’t cook.  It’s not that she’s bad at it, or that she can’t do it.  She just doesn’t want to.  Because Tracy doesn’t cook very often, if at all, she doesn’t have much ability on those days she does make a foray into my kitchen.  So it would only be natural that Tracy would be the one to decide that Frank would be raised on all natural food.  In other words Frank will not be eating from a jar.  No Gerbers, no Beechnut, nothing.  “We’re” going to make all his food.

Yeah, I put up a lot of the objections you all are currently thinking.  We’ll skip the actual making and then cleaning up portion of my objections and focus on the less practical issues to begin with.  My first and foremost; he won’t eat that stuff.  I am a child of chemically altered food.  Stuff from stores, restaurants, and fast food joints tastes the way it does because they employ chemists, not cooks.  In my opinion that stuff is good because of that and can’t be recreated in the kitchen.   For example, the first time my mom tried to pass off English muffins covered in tomato sauce and cheese as “pizza”, I recognized the obvious chasm between large corporations and their ability to make food taste so good, and bad knock offs coming from our oven.  Now my mom can throw down in the kitchen, but trying to recreate products with only the natural ingredients in the kitchen just wasn’t going to cut it for me.  If the first few items on the recipe don’t include some of the basics from the periodic table of elements, I’m not buying.

I thought it only natural that my offspring would feel the same way.  I mean Luke was strong in the force because he was the offspring of Anakin.  Why wouldn’t this be the same thing?    Turns out it’s a lot different.  At least that’s what Tracy told me.  So my “he won’t eat that” objection went begging.  As for the more practical objections, who’s going to make it, who’s going to clean up?  Tracy answered simply 1. “Me”, 2. “You”.  In case you got lost in that last sentence, Tracy was going to make it and I was going to clean up.

I am here to say Tracy read up on how to do it, and just did it.  She made all Frank’s food after he came off the bottle.  Why isn’t there a Nike “Just Do It” commercial about that?  Not only that but she bought some great kitchen accessories that made it pretty easy to clean up too.  Then she proceeded to teach me how to make his food.  Talk about twilight zone.  I, however, was unsuccessful in my attempt to teach her how to load a dishwasher to achieve maximum water efficiency.  No matter, I was fascinated with making Frank’s food.

She made squash, peas, carrots, pumpkin, applesauce, etc…  It’s basically as simple as peeling a squash, cutting it up and throwing it in a blender with a little hot water.  Pick the consistency you want and hit the button.  At first we were pureeing everything.  We let it get chunkier as time went on.  Here’s the cool part.  She got some ice cube trays in the shape of stars, and animals and what not.   Well it was fun to me.  We started using regular ice cube trays when we realized the size of is appetite.  We poured the puree in and froze it.  Popped them out into a ziplock bag that sat in the freezer until it was time to feed him.  Take out a few squash cubes, microwave them, (if no chemistry, at least we were using some physics), let it cool and start shoveling.  When he got a little older we started using some spices, like cinnamon and such.  Very cool.  We were like little chemists!

As for my initial objection, well the kid ate everything.  At the moment I can’t think of a thing we made that he wouldn’t eat.   Tracy may weigh in on this at some point, but I can’t think of one.  His favorite for a long time was butternut squash.  Peas and then pureed broccoli moved into the top five.  Of course pumpkin and applesauce were huge favorites, especially after we experimented with cinnamon and nutmeg.  Tracy accounted for and was absolutely correct about every facet of the operation.  Short term: it made feeding very simple and less expensive.  Long term: I have no science for this but I believe it may have expanded Frank’s pallet once he began eating regular food.   And man did he start eating regular food, meaning he got to eat what ever we were eating.

His doctor mentioned early on that at the one year mark start giving him the food from our plates.  Experiment she said, see what he likes and doesn’t like.  So those that know me know that meant I would have to start eating vegetables.

Broccoli x2 Not human!

Frank had already eaten more veggies in a year than I had my entire lifetime, so I was in for a bit of a change.  But I manned up and almost went spoon for spoon with Frank.  Today he still blows me away with the veggie count.  Last night he was two fisting broccoli.  Kid’s a freak.

Lima beans are his current favorite.  When giving him mixed vegetables he’ll separate all the lima beans and eat them first.  He still muckels green beans, corn and carrots with both hands as well.   The fruit thing is not even worth mentioning, but I will.  Raspberries hold the distinction as the only fruit he’s tried and immediately dismissed.  He eats lemons by biting into the thing whole or in half, cherries, blackberries, bananas, apples, strawberries, blueberries, the list goes on as to what he’ll eat now.  One thing is a certainty, whatever fruit I put in his lunch for school, it’s the one thing he’ll eat all of.  He’s left some sandwich and even pretzels or chocolate fish behind, but not his fruit.

Don’t get me wrong the kid now eats all of the bad stuff too.  He likes a good Reese’s Cup, and cookies all day long.  Those cheese fish are like air to him.  It’s just hard to deny him those things when he’ll eat a whole baked chicken breast and a pile of string beans right in front of you at dinner, or two hotdogs and a bowl of blueberries at lunch.

His appetite is far and wide.  The doc said give him what was on our plate, so we did.  At a year old he ate everything from taco meat to egg rolls.  He’s a chicken and broccoli man now, or L8 as we used to call it back in the day.  For some reason most of the chinese places around the base in Jersey had chicken and broccoli listed as L8 on their menus.  So the gang on the nightshift would call out for L8 over the radio and if you wanted in you answered back.  It was good eatin, and Frank has developed the taste for it.  The biggest shock so far was on the drive home from his first trip to Jersey.  Almost home, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel in Abingdon Virginia.  At a loss as to what to get a 1yr old, we started giving him what we ordered.  He wasn’t too interested in my chicken finger basket, but he was all over Tracy’s chicken fried steak and okra.  There we were just having come from Jersey, my home state, and we were in the parking lot of the CrackerBarrel sitting on the tailgate of the starship Frankerprise, (our mini-van), watching Frank destroy a chicken fried steak and okra.  Does the phrase, you might be a redneck if… come to mind?

Of course he also likes his fill of Italian food.  Digs my stuffed shells.  Big time pizza lover.  He was eating a whole slice, uncut, at a year old.  He takes his pasta simple, with olive oil and oregano, just like the old country.  We found that out the hard way.   We were trying to get him to eat some mac-n-cheese.  It was some off brand with organic something or other in it.  After a few failed attempts, I tried it and almost coughed up my shoes.   Tired of throwing out pot after pot of this stuff, I put in some olive oil, oregano, basil, and mozzarella cheese and reheated.   Man he was on that like a, like a, like a…. well he liked it a lot.

Lots of people said he would lose that taste for fruits and vegetables, that he would become finicky with all the stuff he was eating and we’d be down to chicken nuggets and cheerios.  Yeah, tell that to the chicken fajita with onions and red peppers he demolished last week.

He’ll be three in May, we’ll see what he thinks of egg rolls then.


Hitting a cheeseburger on Christmas Eve

Organic what? 1st birthday cake haze
Cleaned up the pasta at the Rosini festival
Butternut Squash facial, it must be spring.
By the slice, like it was meant to be.


Diary of a Stay at Home Dad: Road Trip; What the he#@ were we thinking?

So Frank was the first Southerner born in my family.  My father was born in Philadelphia, and the first one in his family born in America.  My mother was also born in Phila.  Me and my 2 brothers and 5 sisters were all  born in Phila.  My first foray below the Mason-Dixon line was to boot camp at Lackland AFB in San Antonio.  Tracy and her whole family were born and raised in Texas.  Now one thing I have learned living in the south is Texas is not the south; it’s Texas.  I think it was sci-fi author Mack Maloney first to say that after the dust had settled from a nuclear war, Texas would need one week to reset it’s high-school football schedule and it would be back to business as usual.  In other words, Texas is a place all it’s own and really can’t be lumped in with the South. Ask someone from Texas if they are a southerner and they’ll say, no boy I’m a Texan.

All that is to say this, Frank is a true southerner.  He was born here in Knoxville at St. Mary’s hospital right in the city.  He’ll never be from Jersey, no matter how much he may look like or eventually sound like me.  For some reason that really never sunk in until well after he was born.  I’m not sure why, it just didn’t.  And his sounding like me is quickly becoming a pipe dream.  The other day I picked him up from school and on the way home we go up a small hill.  Frank exclaimed from the back seat “oh a big hieel!”  Now I am guessing at the spelling of that and it is impossible to convey the sound of Frank’s enunciation here but the word Heel, drawn out to impossible length would be close.  The coup de gras came when we were going through my side of the family album.  We do that every couple of weeks so Frank can stay aquatinted with his Jersey relatives.  When I pointed to my brother-in-law Bill and said who’s that I got “it’s Bieeeel.”  God help me.

After Frank’s first birthday we decided it was time to introduce him to the Jersey that resides in his tiny little heart.  Road trip baby!  We’re going old school.  No planes, no airports, we decided to load up the starship Frankerprise, (our mini-van) and go full on Clark W. Griswold back to the motherland.  I had made the trip many times since I moved to Knoxville in 2000.  It normally took me between 9 to 9 1/2 hours depending on traffic, time of day, etc…  Yeah, no way we’re gonna come close to that time.  But getting there is part of the fun right, … right?

Packing was not really a problem.  It ain’t the space shuttle but the starship Frankerprise can haul some cargo.  The real rubik’s cube of this trip would be timing.   Frank was only a year old and still taking two naps a day; a small hour to hour and a half nap in the am and a big three hour plus nap in the late afternoon.  The kid can saw some lumber but it made departure time a little tricky.  We waited until he finished his morning nap, figuring we could eat lunch and maybe do the majority of the driving during his afternoon nap.  I think the plan was to attempt about 6 hours, stay overnight in the northern half of Virginia and head out early the next morning.  As Scot poet Robert Burns wrote, The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.  Actual translation: The best laid plans of mice and men go often askew.  The practical translation: You are friggin crazy if you think this is going to work out remotely close to the way you planned it and it’s quite possible you’ll roll a seven* before all is said and done.

So off we go.   Hit the Golden Arches on our way out of town for a #3 with diet coke (1/4 pounder and fries) and a little something for the kid.  Almost 2 hours in and we have crossed into Virginia from Tennessee.  We are rolling now annnnnd

First stop. Long long way to go.

we have to stop.  1 mile into Virginia and we have to hit the rest stop so Frank can stretch his legs and mom can pee.  A schedule might be completely worthless at this point.  After a quick rest we hit the road.  Harrisonburg is the new target.  That’s in the upper middle of the state but still on the western upper middle.  Still holding out hope that Frank will take a good long nap.  If he does we are a go for a town called Front Royal.  It’s a very small burg and the first town you hit when crossing the state from west to east on the way to D.C. on US 66.

Houston we have a problem.  No nap as of yet.  We are well past nappy nap time and Frank is wide awake.  He’s clearly up to something, just not sure what.  I have 7 more hours to figure it out.  It’s becoming painfully more obvious that he is skipping his afternoon nap.  Makes no sense.  He took his normal small nap in the AM.  He has to be hurting for some zzzzs.  Ok, no nap.  Gotta stop for dinner.  What is this kid up to?

Getting dark now, this has to work in my favor.  He has a full belly, Little Einsteins is playing on his little movie screen, he’s snug in his car seat with Lenny and a binker; I even tilted the car seat back so when he does finally fall asleep his head won’t roll forward.  Anytime now and he’ll be out.  This actually plays into my hands.  If he falls asleep now, we can maybe get all the way to DC.  Yes, I’m dreaming at this point.

Getting very late now.  It’s about 10:00pm and Front Royal is a pipe dream, actually at this moment Harrisonburg might be a pipe dream.  The kid is still awake.  So lets recap, no afternoon nap and now 2+hours past his bedtime and he’s sitting in his car seat looking at the video screen like the leader of the mole people.  Harrisonburg is out, stopping in Staunton Virginia.   By the time we get settled in a room it’s about 11:30.  Frank is wide awake.  We are not.  He wants to play. We do not.  He starts to cry.  We do too.  I imagine the people of the Marriott will be waiting to stab us as we exit our room the next day.  I might close out 2 or 3 of them before they take me down.

He finally got to sleep around 1:00am.  On the bed in between us of course.  Good thing I set up the old pack-n-play.  Frank uses his feet to give me a anesthesia-less appendectomy in my sleep whilst his head is snuggled up with mom.

Sunlight hits us in the face around 10:00am the next morning.  Frank is still asleep, sprawled across the bed like a tornado had deposited him there.  He wakes and is in a much better mood, apparently feeling no effects from his haze induced 8 hour car ride.  Kid’s a trooper.  The rest of the ride to Jersey was uneventful.  There is that small 40 minute window of the Inner Loop around DC that brings all kinds of terror, but we whipped through there pretty fast.   Finally we timed something right.  We cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge and Frank gets his first look and smell of the homeland.  Jersey; home of The Boss, Bon Jovi, Bruce Willis, Brian Williams, Frank Sinatra, Buzz Aldrin, David Copperfield, Abbott & Costello, Jerry Lewis, Norman Schwartzkopf, and me.  Just to name a few.

Frank and Frank - 80yrs apart.

Made a stop at Gobby and Poppy’s house, (my parents), for a little pizza and a visit.  It was easier to see who Frank took after when he was sitting next to my father, the man he was named after.  Amazing how much older my son Frank looked when the two were side by side.

We stayed at my sister Susan’s house, (#5 in the order) which was great and got a visit from Cousin Nicholas and my sister Kathy, (#8 in the order and youngest).  They brought lunch and Frank got his first Turkey sub from WaWa.  Don’t ask, it’s a Jersey thing.  He muckeled it pretty good.  It was a good time and an easy indoctrination to the family for Frank.  Nicholas is a ham and a real good kid.  Frank enjoyed him then and on subsequent trips.  For a while we were calling them Nicky Cheeks and Frankie Tomatoes.  I’m sure that will come back to haunt them both at their wedding rehearsal dinners.

On to Aunt Carol (my sister, 4th in the batting order) and Uncle Bob’s house, also known as Club Wideker.  Great pool, good eats, and great people.  Frank got a preview of the place we’ll be shipping him off to during the summers once he starts school.  Then is was on to the Jersey Shore.  In this case Ocean City N.J.  Atlantic City had long been overrun with casinos and boardwalk clutter.  We hit the boardwalk for some Gelato, Italian Ice Cream, then down to the sand and the water.  Frank really got a kick out of the ocean, but man it was freezing.  He didn’t seem to mind.  The sand he could do without.  He was very concerned when the sand got on his feet.  Good lord this kid is a Southerner.

The trip went a lot faster than I thought.  We were barely there long enough for Frank to receive his true “family ” name.  My brother Thomas (#2 in the order) named him Frankie Pentangeli.  In Italian, Pentangeli means 5 angles, sort of.  So Frankie Five Angles it is.  Well this southern boy with the mob name had to go home sometime.  The fateful journey back to Knoxville was upon us.

We had to make some decisions on the fly.  My nephew Mikey gave me some great advice about getting around Baltimore and DC, by scooting across the top of Maryland and then catching 81 South in West Virginia.  That turned out to be a godsend.  It was a much smoother ride all the way around.  It may have even saved us some time, but what it saved in stress compared to the Inner Loop of DC is hard to calculate.  We made it to 81 so quickly and Frank was doing so well that we started dreaming about getting home in one shot.  When we hit Harrisonburg at lunch we really thought we could make it back that night.  After about 30 minutes at the McDonald’s playground we were rolling and Frank fell asleep.  Pay-dirt, finally.

We made it almost to Abingdon VA by the time Frank woke up.  He slept for almost 3 1/2 hours and we were only 2+ hours from home.  We stopped for dinner where Frank proceeded, at the ripe age of 13 months, to whack a chicken fried steak and some fried okra at the Abingdon Cracker Barrel.  Are you kidding me?  He was just rubbing it in now.  No matter how long we stayed in Jersey, he’ll always be a Southerner.

Well we figured we were home free now; almost.  He started flipping out with about an hour to go.  Apparently 10 hours in a car seat was a little much for him.  No stamina, none.  Probably why the south lost the war.  Anyway, it was the longest 60 minutes of our lives, but once we got in the house and he saw his stuff, (read: toys) in the living room he was as right as rain.

All in all a great trip.  We learned a lot, some things by accident, some on purpose.  We have taken Frank back twice since then and he does the return trip to Knoxville in a single 10 hour shot with almost no complaints.

At the end of the day I have to agree with my now 2 1/2 year old son, Jersey is fun but it’s always great to be back on Rocky Top.

*Roll a Seven: verb, Old South Jersey; Atlantic City origin.  Meaning to croak, kick the bucket, go belly up, push up daisies, take the gas pipe, be no longer alive 

Me and the old man stylin @ Club Wideker.

At Aunt Susan’s. That’s cousin Nicholas breaking my onions
Knocking back some Gelato at the Jersey Shore
Hitting the beach with Nicholas
Wow the water is freezing, is it because they call it “wudder” up here?
Wake me when you get me back to my home sweet home – Rocky Top!