Sunday, June 24, 2012

The kale of the wild

“I think you’re going to starve here,” I said to my friend Josh on the phone, just before his visit to our house.  Josh is a vegetarian who doesn't eat any processed food, so he was unlikely to find any sustenance in our spray cans of whipped bologna topping.

“Don’t worry about feeding me.  Seriously, don’t even try,” he replied.

“I can’t think of a single thing in our house that you’d even eat, except maybe the birdseed in the garage,” I said.

“Is it thistle or suet?  I’m not allowed to eat suet, but I could go for a nice sack of thistle.  Maybe I could wash it down with some of that red hummingbird juice,” he said.

Josh wasn’t always this way.  When we were roommates at Penn State, we’d eat anything that cost less than four dollars, provided it didn’t have visible mold colonies growing on it.  Or that the mold couldn’t be easily worked around.

“Hey, want to get some pizza from across the street?” I’d ask.

“Doesn’t that place always give you violent gastrointestinal distress?” he’d ask.  We always spoke in clean language like that, just in case any of our words would be quoted in a family publication thirteen years later.

“Yes, but a whole pie is only six bucks, split two ways.  For a three-dollar dinner, I’m willing to accept the consequences,” I’d reply.

Three hours later, Josh would knock on the bathroom door.

“You okay in there?” he’d ask.

“It was worth it,” I’d mutter.

But those days are long gone.  Josh has turned over a new leaf, and probably eaten it.  He’s joined the ever-growing list of friends and family members who have gone vegetarian.  I greatly respect these people and their willpower.  The world would be a better place if everyone did what they’re doing.  I’d join them, too, if chicken tasted like asparagus.  Unfortunately for chickens, it tastes like chicken.

An average meal for Josh consists of a smoothie made from things that an average caveman could have gathered in an afternoon, assuming that the caveman had access to a GNC store stocked with protein powder.  He puts in lots of stuff that a normal person would eat, too, like strawberries, blueberries and almonds, but then he told me the secret ingredient that holds it all together.

“Kale,” he said.

Vegetarians are always trying to tell people how awesome kale is.  This undermines any other argument they might make, because the rest of us have seen kale.  We haven’t tasted it, but we’ve seen it.

Josh might have his near-vegan lifestyle, but I also practice a strict nutritional regimen.  Even when I think I can’t possibly muster the discipline, I dig deep and squeeze hard, squeezing and squeezing until all of the excess mayo oozes out of my McChicken sandwich and onto the napkin.  Voila!  Diet McChicken sandwich.

A variation on that dietary technique can also be applied to pepperoni pizza.  Before you take a bite, hold the slice over your plate for a minute, letting the grease and calories drip harmlessly away.  I call it the Gravity Diet, because anyone who practices it must be really serious.  This is not to be confused with the Gravitas Diet, which went out of fashion at the same time John Kerry did.

In any event, Josh did come to visit for the weekend, and everyone managed just fine.  Our success was most likely due to the fact that we didn’t attempt to eat together.  While I cooked dinner, Josh went outside and stood under an oak tree with his mouth open, hoping for acorns to fall in.

You can clog Mike Todd’s arteries at

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Restaurant for the weary

“I want to come with you!” our son Evan said, his face stretched into a pout so long that a horse wandering through our living room at that moment would have paused and said, “Now THAT’S a long face.”

“Mommy and Daddy have a date tonight,” Grandma said, hugging Evan with one arm and shooing us out the door with the other.

We hustled down the stairs, professing our love for our son while trying not to prolong a goodbye that had already taken a turn for the traumatic.

“Evan’s not used to getting ditched.  That’s not really a bad thing,” my wife Kara said, trying to make the best of it.  It was a rocky start to our first evening out together since, well, since neither of us could remember.

We were ready for a break.  Living with a three-year-old and a colicky three-month-old offers many joys, but it can be difficult to appreciate those joys when you’re blotting the barf off your iPad.  If there’s one lesson parenthood has taught me, it’s that the quality of one’s life is inversely proportional to the number of times in one’s household that the word “projectile” is used as an adjective.

“I forgot how much it hurts to wear heels,” Kara said as we strolled across the restaurant parking lot.  Somewhere, back in our bedroom, her yoga pants were crumpled on the floor, bereft, wondering what they did to deserve being forsaken for the first time in three months.

When the waitress came to take our drink order, we ordered our food, too, rather than waiting for her to come back in a minute.

“Dude, why did we just do that?” I asked.

“Do what?” Kara said.

“We just hurried.  We have no reason to hurry,” I said.

It’s tough to get out of the mindset that someone at your table might start screaming at any moment and you’ll have to flee through a fire door.  When the food came out after we’d only been there for fifteen minutes, I had to fight the urge to hand the waitress my credit card to speed things along.

“Whoa, this margarita is strong.  I’m definitely going to have to pump and dump when we get back,” Kara said.

If you’re not familiar with the practice of pumping and dumping, it’s when lactating women allow themselves to have some drinks, then use a breast pump later to extract the 70-proof milk, which gets dumped down the drain so that they don’t find out if their baby is a mean drunk.  This seems like an awful lot of work, but at least it allows new mothers to cut loose just a little bit, since they are the demographic group most in need of a drink.  

If you try to explain pumping and dumping to anyone in my parents’ generation, they give you a look like you’re trying to hook a breast pump up to their cat.  Back then, a little secondhand cabernet made a baby more refined.

By the time dessert rolled around, Kara and I had remembered how to enjoy a meal without trying to shovel it down as fast as possible, a lesson we promptly ignored as our spoons dueled over the remaining chunk of chocolate tort.

We arrived home to find the house much more peaceful than when we’d left.

“We promised Evan you’d tell him good night when you got home,” Grandpa said.

Evan shot up like a prairie dog when we pushed his door open.  We’d been trying all night not to think about his huge pout, but he didn’t appear to be holding a grudge.

“Love you.  Good night,” he said, giving us each a hug.

It’s good to get out.  And it’s even better when it’s good to come back.

You can dump Mike Todd at

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The parents of hazards

“Dude!  Aw, dude.  Dude!”  I yelled, holding my infant son by his armpits as he did his best impression of a fire hydrant with the cap off.  There would be no shirtless children frolicking in this spray, though.  Just me.   

“Babe, I need help!” I called to my wife Kara, who was already dashing for the paper towels.  With two small children and a queasy dog in the house, we should really install overhead systems where emergency rolls of paper towels fall from the ceiling, like the masks in an airplane. 

I dangled Zack above the puddle he’d just spewed onto my lap, unable to move without a free hand to hit the button to unrecline the couch.  Until Kara got there to help, I was trapped in a reclining prison of barf.
Just then, the puddle on the cushion between my knees began running downhill, toward me. 

“Help!  Take him, take him!” I yelled, arching my back so that only my heels and head were touching the couch.

At that moment, I thought of the recent cover of People magazine I’d seen at the grocery store checkout, depicting a reasonable facsimile of Jessica Simpson holding a baby girl.  “BABY BLISS!” the headline shouted. 

The headline seemed to suggest that the baby was named Bliss.  As a celebrity baby, you could do a lot worse.  Most celebrity babies end up with names like Antietam Endtable.   

But the smaller text informed me and my fellow queued-up grocery-buyers that the actual name of the future Duchess of Hazzard was Maxwell Drew, which is still a pretty normal name for a famous person’s kid, if slightly Boy-Named-Sue-esque.

To my surprise, then, the headline was saying that having a baby confers a state of bliss upon the baby-havers, which is probably why you hear so many stories of new mothers going through post-partum ecstasy.  
It’s not that having a baby isn’t a blissful experience at times, but that one word doesn’t really sum it all up.  You almost get the impression that whoever wrote that “BABY BLISS!” headline had never been pinned to a couch by an ocean of vomit. 

Parenthood is a beautiful, disgusting, wonderful and exhausting thing.  In most publications, you only see the awesome side of parenthood, with mothers beaming beside cute little cherubs.  It’s the same with those Anne Geddes calendars, which show adorable, content babies dressed up like ladybugs or sunflowers.  I’d like to see what goes on behind the scenes when they’re shooting those calendars.  My guess is that there are at least a few screaming ladybugs spitting up on their exoskeletons.    

We never get to see those pictures, though.  The Anne Geddes Outtakes Calendar: Brought to you by Trojan.

So that’s what I thought about as Kara took Zack from my arms and started cleaning him off: the lack of journalistic balance when it comes to the experiences of new parents.  Actually, I thought about how I’d just washed my jeans.

“Man, those jeans had at least three weeks left in ‘em,” I said, throwing them into the washing machine, where they joined the rest of the day’s detritus. 

As the onesie popped over Zack’s head, his face reappeared with a giant smile on it, a trick he’d just picked up a few days prior. 

“How adorable is he right now?  You’d never know what just happened,” Kara said.

Zack stared right into Kara’s eyes and cooed, kicking his little feet.

“I got Daddy good, didn’t I?” he seemed to be saying.  And just like that, baby mayhem turned to baby bliss.  I ran to grab the camera before the outtakes started again.
You can blot Mike Todd with paper towels at

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Back to regular programming next week

Sure, I may have taken Memorial Day weekend off from writing the column (the columns posted here are delayed by a week), but how can you be mad at me when you're looking at this picture?