It’s Been A While…

A few years ago, I started this blog to capture all that was going on in this head of mine. I wrote almost weekly for about 18 months about my family, current events that interested me, my job, and other odds and ends. I enjoyed using this form of media to express myself, and I found that lots of people read what I wrote. I was honored.

Over the past few years, a lot has changed in my world. My girls have grown a lot. Lydia is in 8th grade, and is training to be a world class pole-vaulter. She cleared 7’6″ the other day – only 8 more feet to go and she could be an Olympian. I’m hoping 4 or 5 more feet gets her a college scholarship of some sort. Ansley is in 6th grade, and has become a well-rounded tween girl – music, sports, school, and talking back are her specialties. Clarissa is in 2nd grade and is always smiling and laughing. She loves soccer and writing and singing and watching her shows. Lydia and Ansley are taller than their mother, Carrie. Clarissa is taller than Lydia and Ansley were when they were 8.

Our pet population has changed. Babe the mini-beagle is our eldest pup. We have Asuna the slightly psychotic cat. And now we have Arlo our “bagle” – beagle/basset hound mix. Arlo is an interesting pup. We rescued him from a lady who rescued him from some shady people who had him in a cardboard box in the back of a pick-up truck. She brought him home and let him live in a barn until she could find a good home for him. He’s slightly stubborn, and he still thinks he lives in a barn from time to time. We also have a beta-fish who no one really takes care of but continues to survive.

The world has changed a lot over the past few years. We have gone from the first black president in our nation’s history in Barack Obama to a president whose most recent claim to fame is starring in The Apprentice. Mr. Donald Trump has turned our country and world on its proverbial ear, and we’re still trying to get our bearings back. His speeches are normally 140 characters and can be found on Twitter. It would be awesome to be a speech writer for Trump. Not much editing involved. Just random streams of thought in 140 character bursts. The Chicago Cubs finally won a World Series after over 100 years of futility. Joe Maddon, the Cubs’ manager is the Phil Jackson of Major League Baseball. There’s a new series of Star Wars movies. The next one is called The Last Jedi. Now the world is wondering what that really means especially after Luke Skywalker’s brief appearance at the end of The Force Awakens. The New England Patriots just won their 5th Super Bowl thanks to Tom Brady and Darth Belichick.

Who would have dreamed any of this stuff could happen?

My work life is virtually the same. I still have the same job in the same place. Carrie does too. We still attend the same church. And we still have the 2013 Honda Odyssey EX-L I blogged about in April 2013.

We still live in the same house on the same street. We do have some new neighbors who have lots of kids and have recently opened their home to foster kids. They are truly special people. I would like to have more kids, but Carrie says we’re too old for that.

I have 592 Facebook friends. I’m hoping to get to 600 soon, but I’ve become more selective about my friend choices thanks to the election. I can only handle so many political posts, and that’s all Facebook is these days. Political posts and advertisements for companies and products I purchased a long time ago. I miss the days of pictures of people’s kids and constant bragging about how perfect people’s lives are. Today my feed is filled with posts about why Trump is awesome and why Trump is an idiot, and why Obama is the reason Trump is having so many problems. I did enjoy the Obama/Biden meme’s for a little while. Some of them were hilarious.

That’s all for now. Gotta go pick up Lydia from her friend’s house.

She’ll be driving soon.

That’s a scary thought.


An American Icon Becomes a Science Experiment

An American Icon Becomes a Science Experiment.

Urban legend says Twinkies last forever.  My wife decided to put it to the test.  Today, the package looks as good as the day we bought it last year.  Will it ever spoil?  Who knows?

An American Icon Becomes a Science Experiment

Last November when Hostess Brands announced that it was closing its bakeries and liquidating all of its assets, Carrie and I realized that our children had never had the opportunity to taste an American icon – the Twinkie.  On that Friday night in mid-November, I raced all over the eastside of Spartanburg attempting to find Twinkies, Ho-Hos, Ding-Dongs, Zingers, and Sweet Sixteen Donuts.  I went to three grocery stores, Wal-Mart, and about 3 other gas stations before I finished amassing my collection of tasty treats for us to share.

Hostess Collection 2012

Over the next few days, we enjoyed eating our treats together as a family.  The kids were getting to experience something that Carrie and I enjoyed when we were kids – actually me more so than Carrie.  She was more of a Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll girl.  Lydia really enjoyed the Sweet Sixteen donuts and the Ding Dongs.  The girls didn’t really like the Twinkies as much as I thought they would – not enough chocolate, I guess.

Lydia Hostess Pic

As we got down to the last few items from our stash, Carrie decided it would be a good idea to set aside one package of Twinkies to see if they really do spoil after a period of time.  In doing my research on the topic, I found that the Old Hostess Brands, Inc. guaranteed the freshness of their products for 26 days.  The new Hostess Brands, Inc. will guarantee that the Twinkie will stay fresh for at least 45 days.  A common urban legend claims that Twinkies have an infinite shelf-life – well not infinite, but more than a year.  Twinkies are made of mostly sugar and flour, but they do contain a lot of ingredients that you find in processed foods which help extend the shelf-life of the product.  If they contained real eggs and milk, they would spoil much quicker.  In his book Twinkie, Deconstructed, Steve Ettlinger notes that each Twinkie contains 1/500th of a real egg in each cake.  It also contains only one real preservative – sorbic acid.

As I’ve done my research before writing this blog, I have found that Carrie is not the first one to take on this experiment.  Apparently, there is a school in Maine that has a Twinkie that is over 40 years old.  The Twinkie hasn’t crumbled, but the appearance has changed dramatically – a “ghastly ash gray.”  The folks at NPR are also a year and a half into their own experiment.  Their Twinkie looks good, but it is as hard as a rock.  Our Twinkies are still soft and still look edible if you ask me.  It’s tough to see on the photo, but the expiration date for my pack of Twinkies is December 9, 2012.

2012 Twinkie Pic

Fortunately, this isn’t the last Twinkie in circulation.  The new Hostess Brands, Inc. started manufacturing Twinkies again July of this year.  I might have to go buy some so I can get my fill of polysorbate 60, sorbic acid, and sodium stearoyl lactylate.  I am a chemist, but I think I would have a hard time drawing the chemical structure for that last ingredient I listed!

Happy eating!

Dirty Jobs – The Lost Episode: Dental Hygienist

How many of you have ever watched the TV show Dirty Jobs?  For those of you that may not have watched the show, the format of the show involved the host, Mike Rowe, working alongside a small team of workers performing a job that many of us would consider “nasty” work.  The show traveled to various locations across the US and aired on the Discovery Channel until the end of last year.


I watched the show on a number of occasions and often times, I found myself thoroughly disgusted by the conditions that Mike worked in.  From inseminating cows to cleaning out septic tanks, Mike would show the viewer what it takes to keep America moving.  The show stressed the importance of these professions and how they make our lives easier everyday.

Now to the point of this blog.

Today, I had the pleasure of taking my three wonderful daughters and myself to the dentist for our 6 month cleaning and exam.  Carrie was supposed to go with us, but she had “meetings” at school today.  So it was me and my three girls.

Getting one’s teeth cleaned is something that someone with good dental insurance should have done on a routine basis.  Surprisingly, I have decent dental insurance and very rarely have to pay out of pocket so I don’t mind going to have my teeth cleaned.

As most of you know, a trip to the dentist doesn’t involve a great deal of facetime with the dentist.  95% percent of the time is spent with the dental hygienist.  The hygienist, who is usually a woman, has the pleasure of doing all of the dirty work.

The normal routine for a hygienist when working on a patient is to take x-rays, spend some time scraping plaque and tartar from the teeth, and then polishing them.  For people that go to the dentist every 6 months to a year, that’s how it goes.

However, I’m pretty sure they see some nasty stuff – even before the dentist walks in the room.  Stinky breath, abcessed teeth, gum disease, rotten teeth to name a few.  A dental hygienist has to have a strong stomach and a kind heart at times.  They have to stay professional even when faced with the worst possible conditions.

I really think Mike Rowe missed a prime opportunity here.  I can see it now.  Mike in scrubs talking with Mr. Johnson about the importance of flossing and brushing as he scrapes the protective layer of plaque off of his teeth with the little scraping device.  The dental hygienist stands beside him laughing as Mike asks how she likes her job.  And this is an easy patient.

Mike’s next patient has chronic halitosis and appears to have early onset gingivitis.  He gags when the patient opens his mouth.  The smell is overwhelming.  I can see Mike looking at the hygienist and asking her, “How the hell do you do this everyday?”

The next patient is a screaming 5 year old child. I can see Mike as he looks at the hygienist and says, “Are all of your patients this happy to see you?” – as they strap the kid down in the chair as the mother sits in the room texting on her iPhone.

Finally, Mike gets to assist the dentist with an extraction.  I can see Mike administering the nitrous oxide to the patient and then to himself.  Then he asks the dentist when he gets his shot with the pliers.  He’s obviously pretty high at this point.  Of course, the dentist tells Mike he can’t let him do that.  To which Mike replies that he needs to get a real feel for the job and snatches the extraction tools from the dentist and promptly pulls the patient’s top front teeth.

That would have been a great episode.

So the next time you go to the dentist, be sure you thank your hygienist for a job well done.

They have a tough and sometimes dirty job to do.


Meltdown! 8 Year Old Style!

As many of you that know me and follow my blog know, I am the father of the three wonderful daughters.  My oldest is 10.  My youngest is 4.  My youngest acts more mature than the 10 year old at times, but she is really only 4.

My middle daughter, Ansley, is 8.  Ansley is a very pretty girl.  When she was a baby, her face resembled that of a porcelain doll.  She has beautiful blue eyes and brown hair and is quite tall for her age.  Ansley is different than her sisters.  Her sisters like to stay on the move.  They enjoy activities and seem to always need to be entertained.  Ansley enjoys laying around in her pajamas, watching TV, and eating junk food.  Her idea of a great Saturday is never getting dressed and never leaving the house.  She’s a kid that needs to unwind.  Ansley needs what I call “Ansley time.’  She is a classic introvert in my opinion, and that’s OK.  Her mother and I are introverts, and we’ve turned out just fine.

There are days when Ansley is a delight to be around.  She’s inquisitive and cheerful.  She loves to talk about things that happen in school, in church, and just life in general.  She asks questions about God, science, and other things that might interest her at that moment.  However, there are some days where a switch flips, and she turns into what I call “Evil Ansley.”  I referenced “Evil Ansley” in a prior post when her mother was away at a conference.  We had dinner together that night.  That was the night she picked fights with her sisters and dropped her ice cream on the floor.  It was not a night to remember – especially with Mommy not around.

Well “Evil Ansley” paid a return visit to the Vereen house this fine Thursday evening.  Carrie and the girls got home a little late this evening.  They decided to grab some dinner and go watch a friend’s baseball game at the neighborhood field.  When they got home there were chores to do, and the girls needed to get their lunches ready for school tomorrow.  Ansley came out to help me water the yard.  All seemed to be going well.  The girls took showers and started to get ready for bed.

Every night, we have to remind the girls that they need to do two things.  Brush their teeth, and brush their hair.  It never fails that they forget to do one or the other.  It’s baffling to me.  Surely, I never did anything like that, right?  So if someone can tell me why this happens, I’m all ears.

In our house, Carrie usually handles the chore of getting them ready for bed.  I believe the girls need some privacy.  So, I usually go upstairs after their dressed and ready for bed to kiss them goodnight and talk a little bit.  When I reached Ansley’s room tonight, she was sitting on her bed playing her Nintendo DS.  The conversation was polite but short.  I could tell she was tired.

When I looked at her though, I noticed that she hadn’t brushed her hair.  It was what southern women would call a “hot mess.”  I asked her to put down the game to brush her hair.  She gave me “the look,” slammed the Nintendo DS down on her bed, and grabbed her hairbrush off the top of her dresser.  She took a few cursory swipes at her hair and returned to her game.  At this point, her hair was even more of a “hot mess” than when she started, so I grabbed the hairbrush and tried to help her get things straightened out.  This turned out to be a huge mistake!

This really set her off.

She looked me and said, “I have already brushed my hair!”

I replied. “It doesn’t look like it to me!”

The meltdown had started.

I continued to brush her hair.  There were only about 900 more tangles to get out.  Ansley wanted me to stop so she flopped back on her bed.  The hairbrush was still in her hair.  The meltdown was now in full effect.

As a father, I believe a young lady needs to take care of herself from a grooming standpoint, and properly brushing one’s hair is one of things that needs to happen on a nightly basis.  That along with a nightly bath or shower and brushing teeth are just standard protocol.  These things just need to happen.  Ansley and her older sister frequently disagree with this idea, and Ansley was definitely disagreeing tonight.

I finally finished brushing her hair, and I told her it’s time for bed.  Apparently she’s not ready for bed so she objects.  The angry tears were in her eyes.  I just needed to kiss her goodnight and walk away, but I can’t.  I tried to explain to her that good hygiene is important.  That if she doesn’t brush her teeth, she’ll end up with cavities, and that if she won’t brush her hair, we’ll just get it cut really short.  This really set her off.  I’m definitely not going to win this battle.  I really should walk away, but I still can’t.  There was a lesson to be learned here.  Surely a highly ticked off 8 year old little girl will listen to reason at this point.

Finally, Carrie has joined in on the conversation.  She has heard most of the discussion and decides it’s best for Ansley to go to sleep.  They can continue their story another night.  Ansley disagrees.  The meltdown was finally complete!  The tears were flowing.

Ansley said a few things I didn’t understand.

I give her a hug and a kiss and tell her tomorrow will be a better day!

I’ve come to the conclusion that my daughter is a full-fledged introvert.  As most of us know, introverts expend a great deal of energy when they are in social situations.  They need time to recharge their batteries.  They need to be alone for a little while.  Most introverts enjoy diversions that allow them to gather their thoughts and prepare for the next activity.  Ansley fits the mold.  She expends a great deal of energy all day at school interacting with teachers and friends.  She goes to an afterschool program where they do their homework and then have scheduled activities.  Some days she heads straight to soccer practice right after that.  By the time she gets home, she needs some quiet time, but there is more to do before she heads to bed.

For an introvert, this can be exhausting, and that is what I experienced tonight with Ansley.  She was done!  She needed some Ansley time, and I can respect that!  Her mother and I are the same way!

I will do better next time and try to avoid the meltdown!

Wish me luck!