Monday, March 30, 2015

The Chain ...

In the olden days I might have at least pretended that we were going to the Chain Italian Restaurant for anthropological reasons. Log entry No. 1: A server named Chad slides into the open chair at our table and nods his way through our order rather than jotting any notes. Note: Potential friendship? It's not unheard of. One time I drove around town to every grocery store in the city under the guise of critiquing the store samples for a blog post. (Spoiler: So much banana bread.)

But today, in 2015, I'm a big enough person to admit that in a community where it is very cool for restaurants to grow their own ingredients in the parking lot, I've just had a hankering for this junk in all it's fresh-from-the truck mediocrity. I have three words for you: Breadsticks for Infinity. 

"If you want to eat at the (Chain Italian Restaurant) ironically, I'll do that. But I'll be doing it seriously," I told Chuck.  

We spent Friday afternoon pretending that we weren't actually going to eat there. Although, we both knew The Girl would love it. Her second favorite food is noodles, her first favorite is parmesan cheese. This shop has built an enterprise of rearranging these two ingredients in a menu's worth of ways. Once the family was loaded into the Space Shuttle, it's where the car just naturally went. I could tell you that it was just easier than making a decision about somewhere real to go, but this is really where I wanted to go. 

Here's the thing: A long time ago, The Chain Italian Restaurant was my favorite restaurant. At this time, it didn't exist in my hometown, so its accessibility in my young adulthood felt like a bit of urban privilege. I had narrowly escaped attending college further from civilization (Winona) and now I was going to reap the rewards of big city living (bottomless bowl of salad.) I lived in St. Paul for four school years and it never occurred to me to try a St. Paul-based restaurant born of a lifelong St. Paul resident. Not only did we not "buy local," we left the city to do it. My preferred stop was in Roseville, just a gnocchi toss from the Chain Restaurant with Peanuts on the Floor.

I always ordered the same thing: Classic Lasagna and Raspberry Lemonade; I've always followed the same game plan: Fill in every fold of my stomach with breadsticks and salad, then quickly ingest as much lasagna as I can until my stomach threatens to split like a $2 boiled hot dog from a vendor in a strip mall parking lot.

The second-to-last time we ate at the Chain Italian Restaurant, we had one of those aforementioned Chads as a server and his chipper familiarity caused a sort of Morse Code tick formation within Chuck's primary forehead vein. The last time we ate at the Chain Italian Restaurant, we had just found out that we were having a girl-baby and Chuck would have eaten anything anywhere surrounded by a thousand dancing Chads performing scenes from "The Lion King."

I have this theory right now about how chain restaurants are going to enjoy a surge of popularity among millennials, a sort of hipster trend I've predicted to begin soon-ish. Maybe May. It will start with ironic kamikazes during ironic happy hour, but will be nourished by a non-ironic enjoyment of, say, Asian Chili Sweet & Sour Bone-In Wings. Within weeks, everyone at the bar will be shirtless beneath denim vests, have inexplicable Sponge Bob stickers stuck Manson-like to foreheads, fingernails dirty with miso paste. (More on this later.)

On this occasion, the Chain Italian Restaurant felt like a step into an alternate reality. I felt damn-near regal. That they treat you like family is not hyperbole. I went in ahead of my people and snagged a booth in the bar with a view of an important hockey game. I sent a message that there was no waiting and when I dove out of my seat to snag my family when they walked through the door, the host held up his hand and said:

"Is that your kid in the zebra hat? I'll go get them."

I didn't recognize a single face in the joint, which made it sort of feel like maybe we really were in Tuscany. The Girl graffiti'ed the children's menu with breadstick stickers and every three minutes turned toward the TV and used her most surprised voice to say:

"Oh! Hockey!"

I oinked out on breadsticks and salad and got three free refills of Raspberry Lemonade and ate a responsible amount of just-better-than-okay lasagna so that I'd have a meal-sized leftover. In the olden days there used to be this pretense behind the whole thing, this "Oops, I accidentally ordered another round of breadsticks, but I don't think I'll be able to eat them. (Wink. Wink.) Would you mind sticking those in my to-go box?"

Now, it feels like this place will see your breadstick over-order, raise you two extras and give you a special to-go bag with instructions on reheating them in the oven. They're enablers.

"And did it seem like our server was uncommonly handsome? Like, a handsome not usually seen in Duluth?" I asked Chuck on the way home.
"Hm. Not really," he responded.
"He wasn't? He seemed handsome," I said.
"Must've been your bread goggles," he said. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cat blogging ...

1. Walked to the bathroom, pushed the door open and this, like, nine pound *thing* fell literally on my head claws first. Hal. He had been practicing his high-wire act and in my hurry to void my Morning Water, I shook him loose. On my head. First thing in the morning.

2. Had a dream last night that I had to dry shave the winter hair from my armpits. It was impossible. Some swipes were super satisfying. Some simply pushed the hair to a horizontal position and I'd have to come at it from another angle. Regardless, it all burned.

3. Within the same dream, I was cast in the role of Anna for a community theater production of "Frozen." I felt ok-ish about everything, despite not rehearsing, and just kind of assumed that when the show started I'd notice my cues and the right words would fall out.

Then I just trusted that whoever cast me must have believed I could do it. But I really did wonder if I knew all the words.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why your face looks like that ...

1. The Girl woke up for the day at 2 a.m. She's like the X-Games of Daylight Savings Time dysfunction. You found her standing in her crib crying. Until she saw your bloated pupils, at which point she beamed and ran down a list of requests that included bubbles, "Frozen" and hockey.

2. It was impossible to leave her room until well after 4 a.m. when she finally conked out with her head on your shoulder and her feet stuffed into the corner of her pink recliner. If the words "let her cry" have flittered anywhere near the vicinity of the tip of your tongue, just zip that thing back in. This girl eats Battle of the Wills for breakfast, then she cries so hard that she barfs it into the hard-to-reach corners of her crib and all over her blankets.

Aside: You keep accidentally calling her crib a cage.

3. Once you've been held captive in a toddler's bedroom for 2 hours on a night when you have to wake an hour earlier than the earliest you ever wake, sleep does not return easily. Rather, one might lie, tensed for the caterwaul that indicates she noticed that you stopped rubbing her back and no longer seem readily available to, say, draw her an elephant with a purple crayon.

Note: Chuck had remained in perma-tense mode the whole time you were gone and hadn't slept either.

4. Around 4:30 a.m. she starts in with this fake cry noise. It sounds like a moose imitating an ambulance. You both agree to let it go. Maybe she will moo-siren herself to sleep. You blast past 5 a.m. and it's still going on and no matter how hard you try to imagine the rhythm of your running shoes on a well-worn path, you cannot block out the zoo.

Chuck says forgetit. He's getting up.
You feel like you're being tortured and you can't stop yourself from crying out (something like) "Please be quiet please."
You hear Chuck go into her room. She quiets. He comes out much later.

You must fall asleep at least a little. When your alarm goes off you decide to skip the shower. Last night's post-elliptical shower will have to suffice for today. When your next alarm goes off, you decide you'll wear a hat today. When your next alarm goes off you decide to head straight for your meeting instead of making a stop you'd planned. When your next alarm goes off, you decide it probably takes only 22 minutes to get across town instead of 35. When your next alarm goes off, so does The Girl.

And it's her normal waking hour, so here she is awake.

A lot of boring domestication happens after that, but suffice to say that you get dressed in the living room with the words to "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" itching deep in the crevices of your brain. You spend the day with your face looking like it was exfoliated with slumber party crumbs. You go for a run, but it's slow. You suspect you're going to regret staying up late enough to put words on the internet.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

It was the weekend and I was boring, Sriracha edition ...

The first thing I did on Saturday morning is accidentally feed a toddler a liberal dose of Sriracha. It's a long story, how it got in her mouth, but suffice to say she ran out of eggs so I scraped the excitement off of mine and dumped them on her plate. I missed a glop of sweet-sweet spice.

She made noises. Her face when from zero to bright red in half a blink. I think she whinnied. Did I imagine the wing-flapping?

It was nothing that whole milk couldn't fix, but now she probably has PTSD about yolk-based foods, so. It's so weird how *some people* have shiny new taste buds, all sharp and reactive.


There is this thing that happens at our neighborhood coffee shop. This man, who is more muscle-y and Chili Pepper-ian that one would imagine for someone in his position, wears animal ears and plays children's songs. He packs a family-band worth of instruments: triangles, xylophones, microphones, percussion sticks. Some kid berated him because the guitars don't run on batteries, rather, they run on imagination.

Fun fact: Lots of parents took advantage of the shop's liquor license. Confusing. What do you do with a midday wine buzz at a childrens' concert? Flick a Bic and request "Puff the Magic Dragon," I guess. Anyway, our kid fake strummed on a fake guitar, which means she totally knows how to show up an elementary school-aged battery addict.


I let the kid free range at the mall. She asked me to identify every single thing currently in stock at Younkers. Then we paid a buck to let her ride the duck in a mall carousel.


We ate pizza with dill and ricotta and watched a movie about a fiery red-haired Scottish lass with a dexterity with a bow and arrow. So many bear fights.


Did I mention that now, after nine years of knowing Chuck McChuckerstein, we finally have a day off in common? Good times ahead.


The Girl woke up at 4 a.m. and was ready for the day. Like, ready-ready. I used every trick in my arsenal, and finally just brought her into our room where I thought she would maybe get knocked to sleep by the powerful Essence of Sleep. And she did. Out cold. I thought. Until she tapped my face and says, awake-like, "Nose."

Then she quietly pointed at Chuck. Quietly pointed at me. Quietly pointed at herself. Repeat.

Eventually I made a nest of blankets and pillows on the living room and fell to sub-awake levels with Elmo influencing my every weird dream-thought.


We went to the lake to see all the ice formations everyone is all Look, Art about, but we were a day late.

The "It's (fill in the blank day) and I'm Boring" series is something Jodi and I do to pay homage to the beauty of old-school blogging. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Real Ravers ...

I introduced The Girl to her first Shamrock Shake. After some initial confusion, she took the single longest slurp ever drawn from a straw. I paired it with her first McDonald's cheeseburger, which she seemed to instinctively know to love. McDonald's is controversial, man, and I think it all comes down to whether you like maggot-baby sized onions. I do. So, seemingly, does The Girl.

"Eat. Cheese. Burger," she said.

I was on the elliptical, low-impacting my way through an episode of "The Good Wife," (I hope to revisit my passion for this show at a later date) and I had the hugest hankering for an Old Fashioned. Not Gatorade. Not Water. Not Tang. An Old Fashioned. I simply could not wait to finish the workout, record my results, spend a few minutes stretching and wondering How to Be More Like Kalinda (Fitted leather coat, Great Mysteriousness), so I could wring the back sweat out of tank top and sink into an Old Fashioned.

And so, when Chuck got home, that is what we did and it was super fun. I could have have had 10. Then I wondered how a person could get lots and lots of that taste without necessarily drinking lots and lots of that drink. N/A Old Fashioneds, yo (TM).

It was snowing when we all got up, so it seemed perfectly acceptable to quickly cram some Oatmeal (Opie) into The Girl so that she could settle into the couch and watch "Frozen" (Frowitz). I got super-sucked into it -- comfy pajama leggings, sweatshirt, coffee -- and I could have stayed there all day, no prob.

Instead I had the song "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" stuck in my head well beyond lunch, when I went to Subway and met A New Employee who knows no moderation when it comes to jalapenos.

Chuck started a new daily obligation. Wee! It is, curiously, three desks away from my daily obligation. Chew on that, Reader(s).

One of those seriously awful Target trips where one person throws a hundo at the cashier while the other football carries The Girl to the car. Then, when we got home and she realized that we had bought her a booster seat so she could sit at the table instead of in a high chair like an incompetent infant, she didn't even apologize for being a total jackass back there.

She did, however, look at us both and beam mightily.

The restaurant was full, so we sat at the bar. He ate goose, but to me all slabs of that shade of pink are just steak. I had trout with fennel shavings and chorizo something and a glass of white wine. We split the bete noire. We were too late for the early movie so we waited it out for the late. Chuck experimented with top shelf whisky and then we played "Guess how much your drink was" as we walked out of the bar.

The movie, "Maps to the Stars," was okay-ish. We were the only ones in the theater. Some lost "Birdman" folk wandered in, sat down, wandered out. The hinges on the door need some WD40.

Earlier in the day we went to Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse.

Brother Pista and Ma and Pa Pista came to town. After the hockey game, Chuck made us all a drink called a Hunter Cocktail, which included bourbon, Heering Cherry, maraschino liqueur and orange bitters.

Brother Pista slept in The Chair (have I mentioned yet The Chair) and I have to assume had his head used for a launching pad for the cats repeatedly through the night. (They're real ravers.)