Monthly Archives: July 2010

Fine Dining at Chick-fil-A


**Disclaimer: I have not received compensation from or even know anyone who works for Chick-fil-A.**

While doing a little traveling this past week, I had the opportunity to stop for lunch at Chick-fil-A restaurants twice.  I already knew that the food would be good.  The chicken served there actually looks and tastes like real chicken!  And I already had a lot of respect for a company that chooses to close all its restaurants on Sundays because its founder “believes that all franchised Chick-fil-A Operators and Restaurant employees should have an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so,” according to the company’s website.  The bar was already set pretty high.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find that Chick-fil-A had even more to offer.  At my first stop there during the busy lunch rush, I was met by a greeter who helped me find the next available register to take my order.  My lunch was prepared very quickly.  Once I was seated and enjoying my meal, a staff member (perhaps a manager or assistant manager) passing from table to table asked if everything was OK and if I needed anything else.  As I was preparing to leave, another employee offered to dispose of my trash for me.  At my next visit to a different Chick-fil-A location, an employee came around to each table offering to refill drinks.

I think most people have pretty low expectations when we go to fast-food restaurants.  We want the place to be clean.  We want the service to be quick.  We would really like it if the food was good, although we don’t expect it to be the best burger ever.  And we don’t pay much attention to the employees, unless they really screw up.  How utterly unexpected and refreshing to find folks who care about their customers and take pride in their work–at a fast-food joint!  Since I had similar experiences at two different locations, it seems to me that Chick-fil-A as a company takes seriously the idea of customer service.

Keep it up, Chick-fil-A!!


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Hope on a Sunday

I know it’s Monday.  Because of technical difficulties, the family is down to just one computer to share.  How did we ever get by before the laptop and the second desktop?

With our country in serious trouble, the economy headed for even more trouble, and the almost unending string of news about the culture of darkness facing our children, it’s sometimes tough to feel hopeful.  While my faith reminds me to hope and trust in God, a little bit of good news goes a long way to keep the spirits up.

After attending Mass in our new parish yesterday and over the past few weeks, I got a nice glimmer of hope about the future of the Church and the generation of young adults.  A newly ordained priest, certainly not out of his 20s, celebrated Mass a few Sundays ago.  He had grown up in the parish and entered the Legionaries of Christ, a religious congregation founded in 1948.  I was moved nearly to tears by his humility and reverence.  His passionate love for the Church and zeal in his mission to share the Gospel truly radiated from him.  After hearing so much in the news about the evils of a very few priests along with experiencing the lukewarm attitudes of many parish priests, I was so thankful and heartened by the prospect of such faithful shepherds emerging in the Church.

Just this Sunday, the new youth minister in our parish introduced himself to the congregation.  He is a fresh, new graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  Not more than 22, he is a man confident in his faith and proud to proclaim it.  He told a little of his own story as a young person caught up in modern culture of instant gratification and his ultimate embrace of his faith.  His desire for the youth ministry is to help teenagers of the parish become young men and women of faith.  Again, his love for the Church and passion for extending the kingdom of Christ was so apparent.  And what a difference from the typical youth group which focuses mainly on “social justice” rather than encouraging one another in the faith.

I am a member of Generation X, but more importantly, I’m part of the JP II generation.  We are Catholics formed by Pope John Paul II, who gave us World Youth Days, the Theology of the Body, the collapse of communism, and over 470 new saints.  He encouraged us to open our hearts to Christ and taught unceasingly about the sanctity of life at all stages.  Even though my generation has suffered through the mishmash of CCD and Catholic school curricula teaching nothing but “God Loves You” or “social justice” and neglecting education in Church teaching, we cling to the example and message of JP II.  And many of this generation have opened their hearts to the call of Christ to serve His Church. 

Finally, we are beginning to see the fruits of John Paul’s labors.  Thanks be to God!

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What’s Wrong with Being Bored?

My son is bored.  That’s probably not an uncommon complaint come mid-summer for a 13-year-old.  The novelty of sleeping in has worn off along with the thrill of (nearly) unlimited TV availability.

You see, my son is a “doer.”  He’s at his happiest participating in some physical activity: for instance, golf, swimming, or his latest new love, fishing.  He will spend hours doing online research about the fish native to our area and then head to the local pond to try his luck.  He practices his chipping and putting in my backyard.  He’ll ride his bike, practice backyard archery, and craft things out of invasive bamboo.

The problem is that most of his favorite things are best done with someone else.  However, your typical 13-year-old boy isn’t exactly known for his get up and go.  There are at least 3 other kids my son’s age in our neighborhood, but he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time with them anymore.  Why not?  “All they ever want to do is mess around with their iPod Touch or Play Station.”

So columnist Barbara Kay got my attention when she wrote “In Praise of Boredom.”  She argues that technology along with playdates and structured activities have wiped out childhood boredom.  Why is this a bad thing?  Kay recalls that bored kids used to read back in the “old days,” even if they were only reading comic books.  I would go further and propose that boredom could lead to creativity and innovation, too.  A bored child builds a play house out of empty boxes, writes and puts on a play, goes on a treasure hunt, or teaches himself everything there is to know about something–like fishing.

I’m not anti-technology.  In fact, I think I will ask for an iPhone for my birthday.  But I see too many children (and, yes, teens are children) chained to it, missing out on everything else the world has to offer, including human contact.  Streaming music and video, gaming–these are all using someone else’s creativity.  They don’t require imagination or a desire for learning.

So in case you are reading, my son, I’m not too troubled by your boredom.  I just wish you could get a few friends to be bored with you.

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Martha vs. Mary

This is not my house.  I’m not going to lie, though.  I would really LOVE it if my family room looked just like this picture from Ballard Designs.  Look at that coffee table.  You can actually see it.  People could drop by unexpectedly and visit in a family room like that.  And they wouldn’t trip over dog toys or shoes.

I get exhausted just thinking about all the effort it would take to get my family room even close to looking like that.  And that’s just one room.  At the moment, I’m still at the end of unpacking from our recent move.  Soon, though, the house will reach its “cruising altitude” of controlled chaos.  It will only approach Ballard perfection if we have a party.

That brings me to Martha and Mary.  My Catholic readers will recognize the names from this Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 10:38-42).  It’s the story of Jesus visiting the home of the sisters Martha and Mary.  Martha is consumed with serving and attending to Jesus while Mary sits at His feet to listen to His teaching.  Martha complains that Mary has left her with all the work, but Jesus reminds her that Mary has chosen to stay close to Him and focus on His teaching: “the good portion.”  The Martha’s in life often let day-to-day trivia distract them from what’s truly important.

I’m torn between Martha and Mary.  I feel badly for Martha, who just wants everything to be nice for her guest (the ultimate Guest).  I also admire Mary, who doesn’t care what others think of her as she concentrates on what is really meaningful.  When we made the decision to homeschool, the Mary in me declared that our house was not ever going to be immaculate and the laundry might never be caught up because I had more important things to do: namely, attend to my kids’ education.  But my Martha-side is calling, loudly.  Now that my kids are both in high school, is it too much to ask for even one room to look like Ballard Designs?

My compromise: I’m probably one of the last people on earth to find the Nester, a woman who seems to have her Martha and Mary balanced.  Her blog is full of beautiful decorating and lifestyle ideas for real people.  Her mantra speaks to me: “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”   No more excuses.  I can give up on the idea of perfection, but I don’t have to sacrifice beauty, style, or comfort.  Ballard would never take shortcuts, but I sure will to keep my Martha-Mary equilibrium.

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Helicopter Parents. Oh, Please.

When I first read this article about colleges providing extensive orientation for parents of incoming freshmen, my reaction was, “Are you kidding me??!!”  It’s no wonder the cost of college has gone up so much.  Here’s a taste:

But these are not simple “meet the dean” receptions held the day before school starts. These are elaborate two- and three-day events, often held on midsummer weekdays, requiring parents to take time off from work and pay $70 or $80 in addition to lodging, food and travel expenses. They are packed with workshops, tours and speeches on subjects ranging from letting go to campus safety. Reed College in Portland, Ore., even invites parents to read “The Odyssey” and attend a lecture and discussion similar to what their children will experience in a freshman humanities course.

First of all, I plodded through The Odyssey as a college freshman, and I have no intention of reading it again.  Not even to empathize with my kids.

But more to the point, “letting go”??  Is it really the responsibility of the college or university to counsel parents on how to deal with letting go?  I guess in this age of parents calling up their child’s professor or dean to argue grades or make excuses for why their kid keeps skipping class, schools are doing their best to nip this “hovering” in the bud.  This seems a little over the top to me, though.  I could see maybe an hour-long discussion of health and safety issues along with typical homesick behaviors to expect.  Multiple days of this is just enabling.

According to the article, “lots of parents think the orientations are the greatest thing since “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”  I don’t know about you, but those books scared the crap out of me.  They were great for 2 things: reminding me of every possible thing that could go wrong with my child and reinforcing the fact that apparently every parenting decision I ever made was wrong.  I finally gave up on that series of books in favor of child-rearing guides more in line with my own parenting instincts.

And that’s really the point.  Rather than handing over every last cent I have after paying tuition and fees so that I can get one expert’s opinion on what my child will experience and how I can deal with it, I hope to trust my instincts.  I’ve been anticipating this since the start of high school.  I still have 2 years to go before my first child leaves the nest (see my earlier post here.), so you can be sure I’ll be doing my own reading and asking about what to expect.  And then, I’ll go with my gut.


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Orthodontics: the 8th Circle of Hell

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, he describes of the 9 circles in which Hell is divided.  The 8th circle belongs to the crooks: thieves, the fraudulent, and hypocrites.  By way of a huge generalization, this is where I would put orthodontists.

My darling daughter is in braces– has been for just over a year–and wore an orthodontic appliance before the braces.  We are on our 3rd orthodontist due to the frequency of our military moves (twice in the last 4 years).  My words of advice: never switch orthodontists!  You might as well offer to pay 3 times the actual cost of the treatment.  Unlike dentistry, orthodontics are billed based on a contract price for the entire treatment plan rather than on a fee per procedure basis.  That contract amount is then broken down into front end costs (for diagnostic images and to put braces on), final costs (taking off the braces and fees for retainers), and finally the monthly fee (to cover regular adjustments) which is calculated based on estimated treatment time. 

After completing 11 out of 16 months of the estimated treatment time, we received orders and left the practice–not before paying 90% of the contract price due to the high front end costs and the convoluted calculus used to determine what we owed on “earned” or used treatment.

Now that we have reached our new duty station, we’ve consulted a new orthodontist to try to complete darling daughter’s treatment.  Big surprise: the estimated treatment time is longer than the other guy’s estimate.  The new doc “wants to be fair,” so he’s only going to charge us his own diagnostic fee, a monthly fee, and a whopper of a fee to take off the braces and follow-up with retainers.  By the time we are finished, my daughter’s beautiful smile will cost roughly $7500.

So which one is the bigger crook: the doc who gouged us at the beginning of the process or the one who is inflating his end costs while trying to be fair?  If you’re like me, you think they both belong in that 8th circle.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all about capitalism and trying to make a profit.  But I’ll bet both of these guys swear they “support our troops” and really “appreciate our military”.  Funny way of showing it.  Maybe the answer is a bigger orthodontics insurance benefit to compensate for what I’ll call the PCS Penalty you pay if you’re unfortunate enough to have to heed the call of duty during treatment.

The next time one of these doctors puts a “We Support Our Troops” sign in his window, or someone tells me how lucky I am to have free healthcare and such great dental insurance, I’ll ask them to show me their perfectly straight smile for a moment.  Then I may end up doing time in Dante’s 1st circle for violence against one’s neighbor.

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What’s in a Name?

I was saddened as I read an article today about the YMCA changing its name to just the Y.   The article rightly points out that everyone does shorten the name in conversation.  However, does anyone really think that the fact that the initial for  “Christian” was dropped is insignificant?  Officials from the organization formerly known as the YMCA give lots of excuses for the change:

“We’re trying to simplify how we tell the story of what we do, and the name represents that,” said Neil Nicoll, president and chief executive of the organization.

I don’t even know what that means.  But, I think this quote gets a little closer to the truth:

“It’s a way of being warmer, more genuine, more welcoming, when you call yourself what everyone else calls you,” said Kate Coleman, the organization’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

Does the organization’s hierarchy believe that referring to their Christian history and mission makes it less warm, genuine, or welcoming??  Apparently, Y executives have determined Christianity to be alienating, offensive, or some sort of liability.  I guess the hope is that by changing the name, the organization can distance itself from its Christian roots just like KFC tries to make you believe that because “Fried” is no longer in the name, the same chicken is somehow healthier.

One look at the website for the national organization or that of your local YMCA reveals that membership in the organization is open to all, regardless of creed.  Keeping the “Christian” in the name just reminds us of the Judeo-Christian principles on which the group was founded.  Of course, that does seem to be a problem in modern America.  This secular society does not like to be reminded that our very nation and its law were founded upon Judeo-Christian principles.  I would argue that the Y is less “genuine” for trying to hide its origins.

Another American icon sells out to politcal correctness.

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