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Archive for February, 2010

How we’re flying to Frankfurt for $136

For Elise’s 35th birthday, I bought us a couple plane tickets flying from Dallas to Frankfurt Germany and it only cost me $136. I usually have a hard time finding a good gift for Elise for Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc. We’ve always talked about going to Europe, and this year I just decided to do it. We’ve always wanted to visit the Czech Republic and Germany (we want to travel the world eventually, but we’d really like to visit our “homelands” first). Here’s how I did it:

  1. I talked to friends. My friend Travis and his fiance went to Paris for Christmas. My other friend Andrea went to Belgium in January. Both advised to buy tickets in advance (both purchased their plane tickets 6-9 months in advance to get the best deals on airfare). They also advised to fly into Frankfurt. I’d originally wanted to fly directly into Prague, but found that I could save almost $1,000 by flying into Frankfurt and then take a train to Prague.
  2. I used a credit card. We have a Citi AAdvantage Platinum MasterCard that earns American Airlines travel points for every dollar we spend.

That’s really it. Now, regarding Step #2 above, I adhered to my own stringent guidelines. Over a decade ago I found myself in a bit of a pickle with a credit card. I wasn’t really financially responsible with the credit card that I had, I got in over my head and was having a hard time paying off the monthly minimum. To spare you the details, I got myself out of debt and swore off credit cards. That was until debit cards became the new means of cash transactions some years ago. I’m of my dad’s teachings and I still write every checking account transaction in our checkbook ledger. This was getting to be a pain in the ass for all of the daily transactions we were making on our bank’s debit card. That’s when I decided to go back to using a credit card. My decision was based on two things:

  1. We would never carry a balance on our credit card
  2. I would write 1 check (or make 1 online payment from our bank’s website) a month for all of our transactions. This would be 1 payment to the credit card company versus over 50 individual checking account debits
  3. We would accrue some kind of “reward” for using a credit card. We decided on a credit card that would earn airline miles.

So we make all of our usual purchases using our MasterCard. These transactions include daily things like groceries, gas, clothes, dining, etc. If I can use the credit card for recurring payments, I’ve set those up as well. For example, our gas, water, cable/internet, website hosting are all paid with the MasterCard. These are all things that I’d ordinarily write a check for, so instead of writing a bunch of checks or making online payments, they’re all taken care of with the credit card and then I make one “big” payment each month to Citi. And I earn travel rewards on top of it all. And the most important part: I pay the balance every month so as to not pay any interest on credit card transactions.

When I was going to buy the plane tickets to Germany, I didn’t think to use my travel rewards miles at first. I was going to purchase them on the credit card and then pay the balance at the end of the month. Then I realized we had 6-figures worth of points that could be used. I called American and had them help me purchase my tickets. All that I had to pay was the $136 in tax.

So if you know that you can pay off the balance every month, use a credit card that offers some sort of rewards program to make purchases you would ordinarily pay cash for.

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Carne guisada

I LOVE Mexican food (both the interior variety and our native Tex-Mex). Generally I’m more of a taco/fajita/asada guy, but I recently read a recipe for carne guisada on the Homesick Texan’s website and figured I’d give it a whirl. For me, any slow-cooked meal can usually be pulled off with whatever ingredients and spices you have in the pantry without having to make a special trip to the grocery store, except for maybe your main ingredient (a roast). I didn’t follow a recipe here, instead I just threw everything into the crackpot and let the roast cook low and slow overnight. I’ve always scoffed at the crockpot, but nowadays, it’s hard not to be an advocate.

Here’s my recipe for my first attempt at carne guisada.

4 lb. beef shoulder chuck roast
1 medium yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 ancho pepper
1 chipotle pepper
1 tbsp chile powder
1 tbsp cumin
1 bay leave
4 C beef stock
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
flour

I stuck the roast in the freezer for a couple hours so it would be easier to trim and slice (trust me on this). While the roast was chilling out, I boiled the beef stock (you can use those bouillon cubes) and steeped the ancho and chipotle for approximately an hour to reconstitute.

I pulled the roast from the freezer and cut it into long (~5-inch) strips and trimmed most of the fat and silverskin. Make sure to leave some fat for flavor. Turn your burner on high and sear all sides of the roast strips (brown the meat so as to seal in flavor and get good coloring. You don’t want that gray, slow seared color) is a pan. Transfer seared beef strips to crockpot.

Dice onions and garlic and sauté until translucent in the pan drippings. Then I literally just dumped everything else (except the flour) into the crockpot, gave it a quick stir, covered and cooked on low overnight (10 p.m. until 8 a.m.).

I tasted it this morning and YUM! Oh yeah, I added the flour this morning – maybe 4 heaping tablespoons and stirred it in really well. In hindsight, I should have used beer and some combination of green peppers as well (poblanos and jalapenos are definitely on the list for next time). Cilantro would also be a welcome addition.

Prep time was maybe 30 minutes, and the taste of a good roast cooked low and slow overnight leaves nothing to be desired!

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The corner office


I must preface this by making it known that Elise is the caregiver of our house, and she should win some sort of award for the almost 4 years that she’s been a mother. In fact, she sets her alarm every night so she can get up at 5:30 a.m. to post a note by my bathroom sink that reads: “There might be a blonde child in the kitchen when you get up for work. She’ll be hungry. She is your daughter. Her name is Maly. She thinks you’re a funny guy.”

Yesterday morning Elise got up extra early, but not so she could leave me a note – she had an early morning photo shoot with our friend Marc. This meant that she was extra tired at the end of the day and zonked out early in the evening.

Around midnight, I heard a noise. And then another noise. It was a sound that I’m all too familiar. It sounded like someone was making frozen kiwi margaritas with orange zest in the guest bathroom. I lifted my head from my pillow and listened more. The cabinet door closed. I listened more. More.

“You hear that?” I whispered to Elise.

“PppppppbbbbbbthhhhhnnnnggggpppppPPPPTTTTHHHHBBBBLUUUU SNORRRT.”

I hopped out of bed and headed toward the other side of the house. Maly’s light was on. As I walked closer to her room, I saw her standing before her dresser with no pajamas on her body.

“What’s wrong, Sugar?”

“I pee peed.”

“In your bed?”

“mmhmm.”

“That’s okay. It was an accident. We’ll fix it.”

She’d already gone into the bathroom, disrobed, made herself a kiwi margarita and was trying to fix her accident in a weary stupor herself before I came around. I picked her up and took her to our bedroom where I got her a clean pull-up diaper. I carried her back to her room and put clean pajamas on her. I didn’t want to put her down in order change her bed. Instead, I one-handedly pulled the sheet and mattress cover off of her bed and headed to the laundry room.

“Do you just want to sleep with Mommy and Daddy tonight?”

“mmhmm.”

“Okay.”

So we laid down in our bed. For 30 minutes.

She rolled over. And rolled over. And kicked me in the kidney. And slapped me in the ear. And coughed on my head. And rolled over.

30 minutes later.

“Mommy?!”

“Pppppphhhhggggggggggttthhhh wha?”

“I can’t get compertable.”

“Want Daddy to take you back to your room?”

“mmhmm.”

[sigh]

I got out of bed again.

“Hang on, Sugar. I need to go fix your bed.”

I walked to the laundry room, got a fresh pair of sheets and fixed her bed. I then went back to our room, picked up the child and took her back into her room.

I laid her down in her bed, covered her with her special butterfly blanket and stroked her head for a minute.

“How are the margaritas?”

“Huh?”

“Nevermind. You okay?”

“mmhmm.”

Since I was up, I sat on the floor, rested my back against the side of her bed and stared out into nothing. I caught myself looking up toward the corner of her window, patiently mesmerized by the angled shadow cast from the streetlight passing through the blinds.

I looked over my shoulder at my daughter, who had fast fallen asleep. I looked back up at that window’s corner.

I sat there quietly for ten minutes. And that’s about the time I was reminded of why I’m here right now.

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The bouncy place face plant

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A punishment that fits the crime


The past couple days at work have been more stressful than usual. This evening was the most stressful. I was on the phone with a friend and former colleague the whole drive home and that conversation carried over until I walked into the house at 7:30, where the girls had been waiting on me for dinner. Maly met me at the garage door with one of her cutest smiles and noticed that I was on the phone. She respectfully did not interrupt, but she put her arms up to me and I hefted her into my arms and held her until I was done with the conversation. After I got off the phone, I carried my conversation and the week’s events over into a one-sided conversation with Elise where my being adamant might have been considered an understatement.

In between my gum-flapping, Maly dispensed recollections of her day at school and the Valentine’s celebration therein. I did the best that I could to acknowledge her and respond to her wholeheartedly, but, as always, I could learn to do better. During one of her Desperate to Get Daddy’s Attention interjections, she told me about a little snack pack of gummy treats that she’d received as a Valentine. Being the gummy enthusiast that I am, I genuinely acknowledged her score, and Elise confirmed that Maly was particularly excited about the gummies and the fact that Maly was going to get to eat them after she ate her dinner. I quickly returned to my one-sided conversation. Elise obliged in listening. Maly, well, I don’t remember. In hindsight, she was probably an afterthought at that moment for me.

I don’t remember the exact details of how the next 60 seconds transpired, but I do recall the cat, Annie, the more feral of our two cats, walking toward the living area from underneath the kitchen table. And then Maly threw her little bag of gummy treats at the cat. Annie barely likes me, so she certainly doesn’t like the 37-inch human who possesses the energy and undying quench for interaction of a Chihuahua with Tourette syndrome that we call our offspring. What possessed Maly to throw the the bag of candy at the cat is nothing more than simple spite, frustration and confusion. She doesn’t understand why the cat won’t pay her any mind like our other cat, Riley does. And she probably doesn’t understand why her dad isn’t giving her his undivided attention at this moment like he normally does.

In my then-current state of emotion, I bolted up, walked straight over to the bag of candy on the living room floor and said, “And you know what? YOU JUST GAVE UP YOUR CANDY!”

I picked up the bag of candy and without pause, I turned around, walked to the pantry and put the bag of gummies in the bag of 947 pounds of Halloween candy that we’re hoarding for the day that we decide to play the age-old family fun game of Who Can Get Periodontal Disease First!

I quickly strutted back to my place at the table, picked up my fork and verbally finished the ten-mile-long thought that I’d started. I was pissed to start off with, and now I was pissed because my child threw a bag of candy at the cat. Having respect for animals is paramount in our house because, as you well know, you can never be overly prepared should you happen upon a Chihuahua with Tourette syndrome, or a feral cat with diabetes.

Out of the corner of my eye, I captured Maly’s face. It was a face that I’ve seen and that has only been stored, up until this point, in the recesses of my brain to hopefully only encounter on rare occasion. It was the face that said, “I’m hurting so badly right now and I don’t understand how to process this emotion. I am completely lost in my own body and mind at this moment and nothing can save or help me.” But this face tonight was slightly different; It was the face that said, in a deafening whisper, “Oh. My. God! My Daddy is VERY ANGRY with me right now. I did something very, very, very bad, and he’s the only person who can help me, but he’s not going to. I am helpless.”

The moment reminded me of the time when, while she was just a helpless infant, I chomped through her skin with the fingernail clippers, and have since forever retired from fingernail clipping duty. I felt that same feeling tonight. It’s an indescribable feeling, a parent-child connection, a simultaneous mutual synapse firing where we’re feeling the same exact pain and helplessness at that moment in time.

I can’t put into words the look on her face that I didn’t even have to see — I could feel it. I guess the closest word would be helpless.

Elise dutifully stood by my decision and action, and explained to Maly why I’d taken the bag of candy away. Maly’s expression didn’t change.

I was done with dinner at that point. So was Maly. Her appetite was gone. So was mine. I told Elise that there was no sense in trying to get Maly to eat her green beans as she’d been emotionally destroyed. I told Maly that if she was done, she needed to take her plate to the sink. She obliged and, with a heavy heart, slowly walked over to and pulled herself up onto the couch and assumed the fetal position in an fleeting attempt to just disappear.

I knew I had to do something, and I didn’t have a lot of time to work with. I had an idea of what I thought was the right thing to do, which was talk to her and explain why I’d taken the actions that I had. Elise confirmed my internal monologue, and reminded me that a punishment is just that, a punishment, and without explanation, the child will only remember the punishment and not the lesson within.

I walked over to my child who was still face down on the couch.

“Come here.”

I held out my hand. She slowly got to her feet and stood at my side. I reached down and softly grabbed her hand and walked her toward Elise’s and my bedroom. She hesitantly but willfully walked with me. I picked her up at the foot of our bed and sat her down. I sat down beside her, both of our feet hanging off the edge of the bed. I put my arm around her, took a deep breath and started talking.

What I told her will be between her and me. I probably said too much because explaining the hows and whys to a 3-year-old is a daunting feat for any parent. But I talked to her, and I think that’s the important part. She knew that this situation and conversation was important to me, and that I wanted her to learn something from this experience.

I’m almost certain that what she heard was, “Blah blah blah blah blablablablabulleee blah blah…” He’s my Daddy and I KNOW he’s going to give me that candy.

But how I ended it was that she and I had to fix it. Plain and simply, we had to fix it. Ever since she could sit herself up, we’ve instilled in her that if something’s not right, it needs to be fixed. I told her that I understood that she was upset because I took the bag of candy away, and in order for her to get that candy back, she was going to have to make things right by the cat.

So I sentenced her to filling the cats’ food and water bowls. She told me that she’d already fed the cats earlier. So we walked to the cats’ bowls where we found an empty water bowl. I told her to fill the water bowl. She took the bowl, crawled up onto the counter next to the sink, filled the bowl and put it back in its place. Then she was charged with cleaning the litter box, something she’s never done in her almost four years of existence. I told her to go into the pantry and get a plastic grocery bag.

We then walked to the laundry room where we store our kitty turds for the Winter. With bag in hand, she stood at the foot of the litter box. The scoop was still outside from a recent visit by our friends’ dog. With short sleeves, jeans and a flashlight, I went out into the backyard in the 40-degree rain and hunted for the scooper.

I presented Maly with the scooper and Elise supervised the scooping of the poop. To me, at that point, Maly had done right by the cat. A punishment that fits the crime. I picked her up, kissed her forehead, told her that I was proud of her and then sat her on the kitchen counter. I got the bag of candy out of the pantry for her and let her eat them on the counter as Elise and I stood at her side with our simultaneous synapses firing, asking, “God, I hope we’re doing this right.”

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Elise’s 35th

To celebrate Elise’s, ahem, mid-thirties, we had dinner at Wink here in Austin. As expected, the food was fantastic and the service was impeccable (even if it was one of those dinners that takes a bit too long for my liking). We both opted for the 5-course tasting menu.

1: Olive oil poached tuna with baby arugula, olives and lemon aioli
2: Seared dayboat scallops with fingerling potatoes, globe carrots and riesling butter
3: Duck breast with vanilla sweet potato puree, brassicas, roasted apples and honey
4: Wagyu NY strip with yukon potatoes, black trumpets, chicories and balsamic agrodulce
5: Trio of hardened meringue and lemon curd, creme brulee and flourless chocolate cake

The portions were perfectly sized and everything tasted fantastic. Elise’s favorite was the tuna. Mine was the duck.

During dinner I quietly decided that Agrodulce and the Black Trumpets would be a great name for a band.

Our friend Rocio watched Maly for the couple hours while we were out for dinner. Our dinner was nice and quiet, and afforded Elise and I to hang out and just talk about everything and nothing for a while.

We got home and chatted with Rocio and Melissa for a while before they headed home. At 10 o’clock and gave Elise her birthday present:

We’ll be on tour, opening for Agrodulce and the Black Trumpets.

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She’ll remember this when she has her one phone call

“I love you, Sugar. Goodnight.”

“I love you, too.”

“Call me if you need anything.”

“Okay. Actually… I won’t.”

“…”

“…”

“Well, isn’t it nice to know that you can call out for me if you need anything?”

“Well, I guess.”

“…”

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Donuts for Dad 2010

Today was Donuts for Dad day at Maly’s school. I’ve been looking forward to this day for the month that I’ve known about it. I attended Donuts for Dad last year as well, but I didn’t really know what to expect. This year, I walked in considering myself a seasoned vet – at eating donuts with my daughter at her school. It’s not as easy as it sounds. We have to choose between donuts with pink glaze and sprinkles or safety orange drizzled donuts. This year we opted for one of each — part of a nutritious, balanced diet according the American Society of Unrecognizable Donut Glazes and other Goos that Can be Used to Stripe Interstate Highways.

Just as last year, Maly designed a construction paper and yarn tie for me. She chose pink. Pink is the new black in men’s fashion this year. That’s what I’m telling myself. On my tie is Maly’s hand print in a dark pink paint. On the other side of the tie are questions that Maly answered about yours truly:

How tall is Daddy? 1 foot tall
How old is Daddy? 4 yrs. old
What color are Daddy’s eyes? Brown
What is Daddy’s favorite color? Red
What is Daddy’s favorite food? Carrots
What does Daddy do at work? He just does something on his computer
What is Daddy’s favorite thing to do? He just likes to play

My job is to make sure that the answer to the last question never changes.

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Barbenstein3D


Click here to watch the video.

Puts a new spin on playing with the dollhouse!

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Weighing herb

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