If you could create your ideal steakhouse in your own kitchen, what would it look like?
That was the question posed to me by Idahoan® Premium Steakhouse® Potato Soups, who challenged a bunch of dad bloggers to battle for the title #KingofSoup. If you know me, you know I love steakhouses, the steak steakhouses serve, and I ALWAYS get soup. In fact, soup is so important to me I once broke up with a girl in college because she insisted soup wasn’t a food. OK, that wasn’t the sole reason our relationship ended, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t play a part.
I love soup, especially in winter. It’s warm and comforting and informal — just how I like my restaurants. If there are peanut shells on the floor of my steakhouse, I’m a happy guy (note: my wife was NOT ok with peanut shells on the kitchen floor). So when I wondered how I could take that level of comfort and inject it into my new steakhouse kitchen, it was easy.
First of all, every king needs his queen so MJ would have to be there. Second, all steakhouses have animals hanging on the wall. Them’s the rules.
Next, the #KingofSoup needs the royal treatment when it comes to service. That’s why I hired my two oldest princes to serve the king and queen. From setting the table to taking our order to actually cooking the food, these guys came through in a big way and helped make our homemade steakhouse possible.
You might think amateur princely chefs look cute, but we probably gagged on the food. Well, you’re wrong. Mainly because Idahoan® Premium Steakhouse® Potato Soups are so easy to make and taste really, really good.
All you have to do is put four cups of water in a pot, wait for it to boil, whisk in the contents of the bag, and then 5 minutes later you’re enjoying the flavorful, slow-cooked, taste of restaurant-quality potato soup right in your own home.
I went with the Loaded Potato and it was delicious. My wife likes a little more kick, so she hopped on board the Three Cheese Chipotle train. But whether you choose those two, Creamy Potato, or the Cheddar Broccoli flavor varieties, it’s guaranteed your soup will be filled with real Idaho® red potatoes and red potato skins, delivering exceptional taste and texture in every spoonful.
I ended up wearing my PJs and comfy slippers to my in-home steakhouse, meaning I literally applied the comfort of my castle to my newly refurbished kitchen. Just call me Elvis, because clearly I’m the King (of soup).
Don’t believe me? Check out this ridiculously cute behind the scenes video taken in my new steakhouse.
It was expected because she was old and in declining health, but unexpected in that she died after being hit by a car. In full view of the kids. The end result of a still mischievous but half blind/deaf dog taking advantage of a door that didn’t quite latch.
I was on the train home from Boston when I got the call, and I immediately broke down in tears. Which is fitting, perhaps, since sadness is what led me to her in the first place.
It was 2007. I was a newlywed living on Cape Cod and working as a journalist. An investigative piece I was working on led to the revelation of some pretty severe canine abuse, and I was so disturbed by what I saw that I began volunteering at the local dog shelter.
But my disgust at the mistreatment of those dogs wasn’t the only reason I was there.
Despite having a job I liked and marrying the woman of my dreams, things had turned fairly nightmarish in a hurry. MJ was in the middle of a downward spiral we’d later find out was bipolar disease. Her manic periods had given way to crippling bouts of depression, and she had no love for herself never mind any to give to me. She was sad all the time and talked constantly of running away and never coming back. I would tell her how much I loved her, but that just seemed to make her feel guilty and she shut down.
But the dogs at the shelter were always happy to see me and pummel me with affection. That’s literally what happened the first time I saw Haley — she ran around the counter, jumped up, and hit me right in the balls.
And then she captured my heart.
Haley was brought to the shelter by a wife whose husband thought a dog would save their marriage. It didn’t. As a result, poor Haley was put on a kennel run and largely ignored for 14 hours a day. And because she loved people but was around them so little, she craved attention and closeness. She also thought any time you left the room you were never coming back, so when you did she was so happy she could barely contain herself.
She had endless affection and devotion to give, and I had a limitless need for love and companionship. The only problem? Convincing MJ.
You see, she was fairly open to the idea of a dog but she had conditions:
No dogs over 50 lbs
No ridiculously excitable dogs
No dogs with long hair
Haley was 0 for 3. But I knew in my heart she was the one, so I made one of the only unilateral, executive decisions I’ve ever made in my marriage — I signed up to temporarily foster her. My wife was FURIOUS when I came with a 75-pound ball of excitable, long-haired, slobbery love. But that fury soon gave way to having her heart melted by our sweet girl, and then “temporary” home turned to “permanent” in a matter of days.
I bought Haley the most expensive dog bed I could find, and then let it go completely unused because she cuddled right next to me on the bed every night. We went everywhere together and walked the Cape Cod Canal, hiked local trails, and went for runs. She was a retriever in name only because she never fetched a damn thing in her life, but she was a slobbering pile of unadulterated love and I loved her right back.
She was a total beta, but if she heard a noise or thought an intruder was present, watch the hell out — her growl was deep and fierce and scared off at least one lurker I can remember. But I didn’t want an attack dog, because we wanted a pup who’d be great with kids — and Haley delivered.
Haley was so gentle with kids, even when they climbed on her, pulled her ears, and stepped on her. She really bonded with Will and she was his “sister” for 5.5 years before Sam came along. When we’d practice sharing, Will would have to share with Haley and I’ll never forget how cute the two of them would be, staring out the window every day that I got home from work.
With Sam it was a little different. The two of them got along well enough, but it was always a tempered and grudging respect. Neither of them fully embraced the other, and there was much jockeying for position in the household hierarchy.
But Tommy? I’m not sure what it was about Tommy, but Haley loved him immediately — and vice versa. Tommy’s favorite thing to do is crawl/walk over to Haley and place his cheek gently on her head. I don’t blame him, Haley’s ear are wonderfully soft velvet. When she slept at the foot of the bed, my toes would search for those ears and I’d immediately sleep more soundly and with much comfort.
Comfort. That’s going to be my one biggest regret — that I couldn’t comfort her at the end and pay her back for the massive amount of comfort she brought to me in the nearly 10-year long span we were together.
I knew she was at the end of the road. Her health was terrible, she had tumors everywhere, she could barely stand, she couldn’t navigate stairs, she had lost control of her bladder, and the sound she made while breathing was terrible. We were in the midst of making arrangements to put her down when this happened, I just…well, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Even last night, as my shovel dug a hole through roots and rocks in my parents’ yard where she loved to play, I couldn’t let go. I carried her from the car, wrapped her in her favorite soft blanket, and cried. I sat there for 30 minutes next to her grave, in the dark and the rain, with her head cradled in my arms, because not being able to feel the comfort of those velvety ears seems unimaginable to me. So I kept taking a few more minutes. Just a little more time. One more scratch behind the ear.
We might have given her a good life, but as corny as it sounds, the rescue rescued me. The dog who lavished us with love, slobbered sentiment all over us, and made our home a better place.
What started with her hitting me right in the nuts ended with the gut punch of loss. But in between are countless moments of comfort and peace dogs seem to bestow upon us so effortlessly, yet we take them for granted time and time again. For nearly 10 years she filled our lives with life and love and tons of slobber, and her only goal in life was to be near her people. Actual people live much longer lives and never approach a more noble and meaningful existence.
I preferred Haley’s company to that of most people, and I’ll miss her as I would a friend. I’ll miss her frenzied and joyful leaps when I walked in the door, even if I was only gone 30 seconds. I’ll miss her ninja-like maneuvering for food, even at the end when she could barely move. I’ll miss the feel of her fur pressed against my face when I needed comfort I couldn’t find anywhere else. I’ll miss her gentleness with the kids. And I’ll never forget her constant vigilance when MJ was pregnant — resting her head on her belly, and knowing when she was going into labor even before MJ did.
We gave Haley a soft bed, lots of food, and a warm home. She gave us a decade of life, love, and unlimited slobbery kisses. We got the better end of that deal.
Dog owners, give your pups an extra squeeze today. And if you’re thinking about getting a rescue, just realize you’ll probably be the one who ends up getting saved, not the other way around.
You know how it is, right? Before kids, MJ and I did it all the time. Constantly. We couldn’t get enough and we’d spend all night doing it. In our bed, on the couch — didn’t matter. We did it and we didn’t care who else saw.
But now that we have three boys, it’s not so simple.
First of all, we don’t do it together nearly as often. It seems there’s always a kid around who needs attention, so getting on the same page to do it is nearly impossible. Also, and this is tough to admit, but we just don’t seem to share the same preferences. MJ likes romance but I like action because I want to get right to it. I know she likes to take her time and relax, but I like to do it in short bursts. Sometimes I need a snack or a bathroom break in between doing it, but I’m usually pretty good about getting right back on the horse.
Lately though, MJ hasn’t really wanted to do it. Which means, well, I’ve started to do it alone.
I felt really bad about that at first. After all, we did it together for so long and it was great. I very much prefer doing it with her, but if I have to choose between doing it alone or not doing it at all — I’m going to choose to go solo. And if I’m being honest, sometimes that’s nice. All alone, late at night, lights off and everyone else sleeping. After a few touches it suddenly comes to life and BOOM — I’m revved up and in business.
But there’s a certain amount of shame involved, no question.
Sometimes I’ll hear MJ or the kids stirring while I’m right in the middle of doing it, and I panic. I never want to stop doing it after I’ve started, so I’ll get up and go somewhere else. Yeah, I know. Sick, right? I’ve done it in the bathroom. In the kitchen. In the closet. One time I did it outside and the neighbors were none too pleased. Hell, sometimes I find a way to do it on the train, which is tough with all those people around let me tell you. Another time, Will caught me while I was in the middle of doing it. That was a tough one to explain.
But hey, I’ll do what it takes to make sure I can do it until I reach completion. Otherwise I’ll be totally unsatisfied and grumpy.
Yup. Watching Netflix sure can be tough after you have kids.
Hey everyone, don’t forget the newest season of Orange is the New Black has dropped and is ready for binge-watching!
***I received free Netflix for a year and SmartTV for joining the #StreamTeam and writing a monthly Netflix post.
Some background first. My wife and I were in downtown Boston celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. It was a blissful and rare occasion where all three kids were taken care of by relatives, the dog was temporarily re-homed for the night, and we were free to dine like royalty and use the city as our playground.
We ate a delicious meal at a small Italian restaurant in the North End. We had a few cocktails. We went back to the hotel lobby bar and had a few more. But soon we grew weary and decided to return to our hotel room.
The elevator doors were closing when a group of kids in their 20s yelled at us to hold the door, and then piled in. They were cocked. So happy, so giggly, so loud, and so carefree. Celebrating their friend’s 21st birthday in Boston, they had just finished pre-gaming and were getting ready to head out to the bars and really kick things into gear. Their night was just beginning as ours was winding down.
It was 10:07 pm.
One of the guys apologized to us for the raucous behavior. “Sorry sir, ma’am…we’re a little drunk.” Sir? Ma’am? Ouch. MJ and I smiled and told him not to worry about it, as we remember those days well. Those days — somehow simultaneously yesterday yet a million years ago. Fun to think about and even replicate once or twice a year, but now no longer wanted. The comforts of Netflix and a warm bed being the preferred option of Sirs and Ma’ams everywhere.
We looked at them and saw youthful exuberance. The ability to push yourself without sleep and somehow feel like a million bucks in the morning. The gleam of adventure in their eyes, never really knowing what excitement the night holds but eagerly anticipating whatever’s in store.
We were once like that. But unlike many 30-somethings who enjoy looking down their noses and lecturing young people about TRUE happiness and REAL satisfaction that can only come from marriage and REAL love that “can only be had between a parent and child,” I don’t think that way.
I think they’re plenty happy. I know I was. Those years were some of the best of my life, and without them I wouldn’t be who I am today. Even though some of them might one day choose a different path, I know marriage and kids is far from the only way to be happy. Satisfied. So I refuse to look at them with condescending pity like I know better.
I also see them look at us with a mixture of emotions.
They laugh at the thought of going to bed when they’re used to going out for the night. They tell themselves they’ll never be that old, and maybe they’re right. Or maybe not. Either way, they can’t fathom the idea of marriage, kids, and 10 pm bedtimes because why should they? Being in your early 20s is exactly the time to feel invincible and crazy and awesomely impervious.
And yet there’s a tiny glimmer of curiosity there. Could it really be possible to find one person and be happy? What’s that like? Maybe it’s not so bad.
And so it was — an emotional crossroads in a Boston elevator as the wild and careening trajectory of youth briefly touched the more measured plodding of the near middle-aged.
I think both sides enjoyed the interaction, but were glad we weren’t the other. As it should be.
The secret to a successful marriage isn’t just choosing to marry the right person at the outset. It’s choosing to be with that person every single day that follows.
MJ and I chose each other for life 10 years ago to this very day, and life immediately began testing us in ways I could never have anticipated. From losing more pregnancies than we have children to declaring bankruptcy and losing our home four years ago, we’ve seen some shit. Not as rough as some people had it to be sure, but pretty awful at times.
At some point during the plunge to rock bottom, I began to think my life would be easier without MJ. That was a startling and terrifying realization, until I realized something important. I’m a complete idiot.
Of course life would easier without being married. Pledging to be with someone for the rest of eternity and occupying the same space (and therefore the same problems) is inherently complicated. And messy. So yes, technically speaking, life would be easier absent those complications.
But it damn sure wouldn’t be worth it.
Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and things obtained easily are seldom worthwhile. MJ and I are two difficult people who have wildly differing personalities and interests. We have to work every single day on being good partners to each other, because we are not naturally compatible. But we decided long ago to make it work, so we do.
I won’t sit here and tell you I didn’t know love until I met MJ. I had been in love several times before her and she loved other men too. The difference is, with MJ, I learned how to love better. She showed me love is more than just fiery passion (which I have in abundance) and grand gestures, it’s in the mundane. The everyday moments when no one is looking. I used to think that was boring, but I also used to have relationships that ended with fiery crash and burns.
I knew love in the past, but I never knew how to nurture it with the daily care that’s so vital to its growth. I never realized I had to choose to love on a daily basis and commit — I mean REALLY commit — to focus on it every day. To realize it’s worth it, and never let that notion leave my mind.
It’s not easy and there are always doubts, but it’s worth it. All of the bad times are worth it if you’re with the right person and willing to work at love.
I’m with the right person. I knew that 10 years ago and I realize it even more now. I’m with a patient, kind, forgiving, and considerate person who gives of herself always. I’m with a woman whose loyalty is never in question, and who is strong in all the areas in which I’m weak. Someone who makes me want to be a better person all on my own without ever tossing down an ultimatum.
When it comes down to it, I’m with someone worth fighting for. Ten years ago, today, and always.
Thank you for the last 10 years, MJ. Thank you for sticking with me even when you had no reason to do so. Thank you for your patience, kindness, and support. We’ve been on top as homeowners in our mid-20s, knocked down and humiliated a few years later, and we’ve built ourselves back up again. But even with all that’s happened, I wouldn’t change anything. Not if it meant giving up even one iota of this life we’ve worked so hard to build together.
It is the honor of my life to be your husband, and I’ll never stop trying to prove I’m worthy to be your partner on this crazy journey.
Today, just as I did a decade ago, I choose to love you. Always.