Wednesday, February 05, 2014


Many thanks to those of you who were able to come to the funeral and shiva for my mother this week, and thanks as well to those who could support and help us out in other ways during this difficult time. The outpouring of help, emotion and good wishes has been tremendous.

For those of you unable to make it to the funeral, I thought I would share the eulogy I gave, as well as the one from my dad. Grab a tissue for his.....

Life does not cease to be funny when people die, any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh. A quote by George Bernard Shaw, I feel that this is our family's credo

When I form a picture of my mom in my head from when I was growing up. I see her in the kitchen. Around her she has a stack of newspapers, three handwritten lists containing the phone numbers of people she needs to call every day, a checkbook-sized calendar, and a carefully organized box of coupons. 

The kitchen was mom's control center, her bridge. From there she managed the family, stayed in touch with her world around her, planned her grocery lists and told people what to do. She was always cooking, usually something for the next visit from a large crew of relatives, or the "Mongolian hoard" as she like to call them. A couple of weeks ago, I found a mysterious container of Tupperware in my freezer in Pittsburgh. I took it out and let it thaw, and discovered it was left over stuffed cabbage she brought on a previous trip out to visit. Even as six-month old leftovers, they tasted so good. I will miss that stuffed cabbage. 

As the strong and all-knowing matriarch of the family, mom served as the central processor for all information. She was Facebook, Google, WebMd, and the Hartford Courant all rolled into one, despite stubbornly refusing to even be in the same room as a computer. I will miss getting those cut outs from the Bristol Press with news about childhood teachers and friends whom I barely remember and could have looked up on the internet. 

Mom was always the martyr. When my wife and kids and I would come to visit, she would send dad out to join us to do whatever we had planned for the day, but would stay home herself so she could continue the cooking process and to be sure she wouldn't miss an important phone call.

Mom taught me many things growing up, and shaped me into who I am today. She taught me to be grounded. To feel empathy. To volunteer my time. To show pride on the world around me. She taught me to think for myself and to form my own opinions. 

I think my wife will agree that she also taught me to be frugal. Like mom, I'm never without a coupon. As a kid being dragged to Shop Rite for groceries, whenever I wanted a box of Frosted Flakes she would tell me they were on sale at "the other store". To this day I don't know where "the other store' is, but I use the same tactic on my own children today. 

Mom, and dad also taught me to care for my world around me. To care for others. To help in any way I can. To tirelessly volunteer. In many ways mom and dad have been LIONS first, parents second. But I mean this as a good thing, because the core values that they've learned and displayed throughout their many years as active Lions became their guiding principles when it came to raising kids.

With that, I want to read a portion of a get-well card that mom received in the mail the day she died. It's from Steve, a Lion and former general in the US Army Reserve, now retired to Arizona...
"You have always served as a shining example to me of what "WE SERVE" really means. I can think of no one I've known who so generously gives of themselves as you and Alan.

You and Alan have a depth of character and a strength of spirit that I know sustains you in difficult times. I hope it is of some comfort that you know that you are in the thoughts and prayers of so many people who regard you as very special. True Lions in every sense of the word. And the kind of people we would all do well to emulate."

There are no words that I can say
To tell you of my grief today
And so I write this simple poem
For I cannot take my Judy home
For 50 years we shared a life
For 50 years she was my wife
Together we have traveled wide
Hand in hand, she was my guide
She was my sail for every trip
She was the rudder of my ship
She was my compass and my friend
She lit the way at every bend
We danced, we sang, we laughed, we cried
Together always, side by side
We raised a family, built a home,
And navigated life's unknowns
And always, always she was there
To love, inspire, help and care
Opinions, yes, she had a few
And made them known to me and you,
But I found out more times than not
That she was right and I was not.
And so my friends I will not weep
For I have memories to keep
Memories of 50 years
Memories that need no tears
Sure, there are things we left undone
Things we two would have found fun
But I will do them all alone
While God's hand takes our Judy home.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The speech for my Daughter's Bat Mitzvah

This past weekend was my daughter's Bat Mitzvah. A huge milestone and event, and one of the many, many excuses I've had for not posting anything here in months.

Writing my "dad" speech for the event was a pretty daunting process. As luck would have it searching for "bat mitzvah parent speech" on the Internet resulted in a wealth of ideas, suggestions, and quotes to steal, so I thought I would pay it forward and post mine as well. Enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom! Before I get into this, I want to welcome all our friends and family, especially those who've traveled from afar to experience this big event as well as to get a taste of that infamous Pittsburgh weather. For those of you in from the South, please feel free to take the humidity back with you when you leave.

You know, they say the only certain things in life are death and taxes. Well, I think we can add a couple of things to that list. First, it's an absolute certainty that, no matter how carefully you plan an event like this, sometimes things just don't work out as planned. As many of you know Natalie's grandmother has been sick the past few weeks, and unfortunately was not able to make the trip out here to see her granddaughter today. Mom, we wish you all the best and we know you're going to make a full recovery, ready to drive us all crazy again before we know it.

The other one I'd like to add is the certainty that, Natalie, I've never been so proud of you as I am today seeing you up on this bima. As you make this covenant, this promise, with God and the Jewish people, I would like to make a few promises, myself, for you. But before I do, First a promise to our guests. I PROMISE not to go on and on about how wonderful my daughter is. There will be little to no mention of how Natalie was speaking in full sentences at six months old, about how last year she successfully brought a Boeing 747 in for an emergency landing when the crew suddenly fell ill, or how after singing the Star Spangled Banner at the All-Star Game Barbra Streisand herself was quoted as saying, "Oy, what pipes!". I PROMISE, I've got NONE of that in my speech, All that will be in her mom's speech.

So this is the time that we, your parents, get the opportunity to share our thoughts and prayers with you. I've been looking forward to this moment for quite some time, because I finally have your attention. You can't pretend to pay attention to me while staring at your iPhone checking up on your Instagram feed. For once in your life, you're stuck listening to dad. So deal with it. But I promise to make it worth your while.

I believe it was the great philosopher Winnie The Pooh who once said, "you are braver than you believe, you are stronger than you seem, and you are smarter than you think". Let's break that down for a moment:

Braver: Whether it's going to overnight camp for the first time or finding your future career, for the rest of your life you are going to be challenged more than you ever thought imaginable. I PROMISE that if you continue to tackle these challenges with all the bravery you can muster, you will make it look easy. And don't be afraid to fail, either. Failing at something doesn't matter. It's how you perceive your failure, and how you act on the wisdom gained from that perception, that ultimately define and redefine you, and make you who you are.

Stronger: Don't talk yourself into not being you. I PROMISE that, if you are true to yourself, being YOU will bring out all the good that's inside. Be prepared,stand tall and strong, and you will accomplish anything you set out to do.

Smarter: You're smart enough to know where you are going. Right now you have dreams of stardom. Of acting. Of Hollywood. But your dreams at age 13 may not be the ones you have when you head to college. Or when you leave school. Or when your parents finally kick you out of the house. Your destiny may take a different shape as you grow older, and your interests may change as you experience new things. It wasn't that long ago that you woke up frightened of those big furry guys in Monsters Inc. and demanded that we take the DVD back to the store, even after having watched the movie twelve times. Now, your favorite movie is the Hunger Games. Those big furry monsters are a little less scary now, aren't they? Well, as Mayim Bialik, the actress from Big Bang Theory has demonstrated, you can be a Hollywood star AND a neuroscientist at the same time.

Right now you may think you know exactly what you want to do when you grow up, but at some point those dreams are going to change. But whatever happens, I promise there's a reason. And I promise you will figure it out. And, I promise it's going to be good. I also promise that, wherever your dreams take you, your parents are here to support you.

You know, virtually every parent of a B'nai Mitzvah gets up on the bima and states that they can't believe how fast the past 13 years have gone. And, as cliche as it is, in many ways that is absolutely right. Before we know it, one day you're going to DRIVE home after a long day of working and decide to take down all those Harry Potter and Hunger Games posters currently in your bedroom. Maybe you'll want to get rid of the zebra bedspread, or the massive collection of stuffed animals in your closet. But however you choose to redecorate, or whatever you choose to do as you get older, never forget what it's like to be a kid. Being a kid means your biggest concern is that you're running low on tiger print duct tape. When you're a kid, everything is about the journey, not the destination. It's about the story, not the conclusion. You take music lessons without caring whether you could somehow have a job playing the flute. You dress in silly costumes with your friends, simply because it's silly. You drag mom on a roller coaster for the thrill of seeing her scream in terror, without any concern for how she may make your life miserable after we get home from Kennywood. Who cares? Don't worry. Ignore what people think. Keep learning, keep experiencing, and keep being a kid. Just because you're growing up, doesn't mean you have to reach your destination.

Believe it or not, this day, your Bat Mitzvah, is not the experience of a lifetime. Oh sure, it's an achievement being up here on this bima, and this afternoon will be a really fun party, but the truth is this is just the beginning of a lifetime of new experience. The true measure of this experience doesn't come from how you perform here today, but rather how you continue in all the days that follow. I'm not sure where this day is going to take you, but I PROMISE you're going to enjoy the ride.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

One Male....In the House...

Every once in a while Thing#1, who is now 12 years old, will venture down the stairs well after bedtime with that solemn look of "I have an issue" on her face. It used to be the most common cause of this was a stinkbug crawling across the bedroom ceiling. Nowadays, her issues are different. Very different. Lately when I see her descend the stairs with her face in a frowny position and I ask, "what's wrong honey?" the most common response is,"I need mom."

This means the dreaded Female Issues have begun. I have no role here. I'm fine with this. I will be in the workshop.

I don't know what my daughter and wife discuss anymore. I don't want to know. My daughter is changing from a cute little toddler and plaything to an actual human, with opinions, issues, and bumps where there were no bumps before. Suddenly she wants to shower with the door closed. Suddenly dad is no longer allowed to voice an opinion on dress code, except when she's dressed in something too small to cover up a chocolate bar. Suddenly, the subject of "boys" enters the conversation (or so I'm told). Before too long there will be a drawer in her bathroom that is completely off limits to all male residents of the house.

I'm entering uncharted territory here. I have no place in this new world, one where estrogen sets the rules and slowly seeps from the walls like so much Amityville blood. Heck, I'm not even sure what I'm able to write about here, without unleashing the wrath of the womenfolk telling me to delete on threat of divorce and beheading. I'm thinking I need to change the subject of my blog to something safer, something about as far away from the subject of Female Issues as possible. Maybe a blog about iPad apps, men's shoes or perhaps fruit salad recipes.

But where's the challenge in that, really?

Here's what I'm thinking. I have several friends who have been blessed with a gaggle of women in their household, Not an ounce of testosterone to be found in the place outside of dad's own, rapidly shriveling masculinity. They all need help. WE all need help. There's no "Dads With Daughters" support club out there that we can go to for advice, resources, or escape from the madness of femininity. Well, it's time we created one.

Meetings will be once a month, held in a local machine shop, lawn mower repair facility, or auto detailer. Some place where men can return to their base natural instincts and fart hearing only a reply of "dude, nice one!" rather than the usual, "auugghh Dad, you're embarrasing!".

Each meeting will begin with a reminder that all children, boys or girls, healthy or sick, are a true blessing. We need to get that out of the way quickly and move to new business. New business will include such topics as what to do when your daughter clogs the tub drain with her long flowing hair, how to pair her iPhone (the one with the hot pink case with the photo of the guy from Hunger Games on it) to the bluetooth on your car stereo so she can listen to One Direction while you drive her to school, and how to most effectively embarrass her in front of boys she secretly likes. 

Each meeting will of course begin with a pledge of allegiance:

I pledge allegiance
To the flag
Of the Dads With Daughters Support Group
And to the escape
For which it stands
One male
In the house
Where estrogen
And issues

If you would like to become a member of the Dads with Daughters support club, Feel free to contact me any time, day or night. You can find me down in the workshop, door locked, hearing protection on, shop vac running. Just come in through the back don't want to know what's going on upstairs.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Not a remote possibility

Merry Christmas everyone. Okay, if you are reading this blog post, first let me say, "thank you." My last post was about 9 months ago, so you probably figured I'd just abandoned the whole thing. Well, it wasn't so much abandonment as it was being in a creative rut. I really didn't have a whole lot to write about, and the usual comedic fodder (i.e. writing about the antics of my daughters) was problematic. You see, now that they can read and apparently have feelings, I'm not allowed to talk disparagingly like I used to. So, I had to think of other subject matter to cover, and that's been tough. I've decided to get back into blogging in 2013, because I really found it to be a great outlet and stress reliever. So here I am again. I'm going to start small. The next few posts won't amount to a whole lot, I just want to get the juices flowing again.

So TODAY, I'm going to write about the latest piece of technology to enter our house - an internet-enabled Panasonic HD television. While overall there's nothing TOO exciting to report about it, I feel I have to comment on a big FAIL on the part of Panasonic, that rears it's ugly head in the form of an iPhone app. We bought this TV not for its internet capabilities, but for its quality picture at the right price point. The Internet features were just freebies. but I happen to have a network switch behind the TV, so I hooked it up because, frankly, I really wanted to play with Panasonic's iPhone app. We currently have an AppleTV and a Tivo, and I use the Remote app for those all the time and love them. So, I figured if the Panasonic remote app was any good, I could virtually eliminate the need to go hunting around for the remote control and instead use the iPhone for everything.

It was a good theory, but there was one problem. The remote app has no power button, so you can't turn the TV on with it. Panasonic did a great job of hiding the physical button on the back of the TV making it impossible to find, so really the only good solution is to have the physical remote in hand to turn it on. So of course, once you have the regular remote, what's the point of using the iPhone?

Another fine example of technology produced for the masses without real world testing.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Fate of the Comma

From the New York Times Opinion Pages. Fanfare for the Comma Man.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

"There are three commas. The one after “state” would be used today; the one after “arms” would not; the one after “militia” is ambiguous; and all three have caused a world of hurt, confusion and argumentation over the last 223 years."

The Fate of the Human Writer

From The Can the Computers at Narrative Science Replace Paid Writers?

"They claim their technology will reshape our relationship to data, media, and the way we consume information—and, after several hours of interviews, I believe them. The concern in some quarters is that Narrative Science, with its ability to generate reams of cheap, instantaneous content—is going to make human writers obsolete. The truth, however, is more complicated."

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Our latest example of our own poor parenting

Dad, where's the iPad?

Why do you need to use it?

I just need it!'s over there.

(Five minutes later...)

What are you doing on the iPad?

Playing Bakery Story.

That's why you needed it so bad?

I needed to cook my food before it spoiled!

Um, yet you left the bag of cheese from your snack on the counter for the last hour?

Yeah, but this game teaches me to cook!

You mean, as opposed to, say, helping mom make dinner?

What's your point?


Monday, November 28, 2011

Ask the Spirit Wind...

(Some of you faithful readers out there are fellow dads in the Indian Princess program with me. Consider this a rerun. For the rest of you, I wrote this a few months back for the newsletter I produce for our local Indian Princess program, the YMCA father/daughter bonding club that Jessica and I are in. Yes, I'm repurposing content. Deal with it).

Homer Simpson once said, after having joined a mysterious secret society known as The Stonecutters, "Marge, I've never felt so accepted in all my life! These people look deep into my soul and assign me a number based on the order in which I joined." Well listen up all you first-year dads in the Indian Princess program. Much like Stonecutter #908, it is time for you and your princess to communicate with the Great Spirit Wind and come up with your very own Indian names.

Understand that this is an extremely important and delicate task. Your Indian name describes you. It lets people know the source of your inner beauty. It goes on the lapel of your vest, if you pay extra for the embroidery. The same is true for your young daughter's Indian name. And bear in mind that you might want to steer your little girl away from any names with "butterfly" or "rainbow" if you're going to be able to pick her out in a crowd. 

Think of some of the great Indian names of our past history. Cochise. Geronimo. Dances With Wolves. These great chiefs carried names of power. Of nobility. Of the ability to jump off things while yelling your own name.

Because you asked, I'm going to share with you the story of finding my own Indian name. It was Saturday night at our first father/daughter campout, and I was still struggling to come up with something meaningful. I had wracked my brain day and night trying to pull something from deep within. My youngster was of no help to me, as the best thing she could come up with was "Smells Like Feet". As the evening campfire approached I pulled our tribe's campfire torch from my car, and removed the plastic shopping bag that was wrapped around the top to protect the car from smoke stains. I took one look at the bag and had my epiphany. "Giant Eagle."

All was well and good until last Spring's Deer Valley campout. There, I found myself on the ceremonial campfire stage with a fellow tribal officer, also with the chosen name of Giant Eagle. And HIS name was embroidered on his vest. AND he was an actual Giant Eagle employee. He won this round.

So it was back to the drawing board. I came home, gathered my princesses (the older one graduated from the program a few years ago), and told them it was their solemn duty to come up with a new and more meaningful name for their dear old dad. The elder child suggested "Elephant Snout". I sent her to her room without dinner. My younger one promptly ran to get a children's book containing names for different animal butts. "How about Moose Caboose? Chicken Cheeks? Duck-billed Platypus Gluteus Maximus?" Again, no dinner. My wife informed me it was time to take the dog out for her daily exercise. It was then that we knew.

Your do-nothing newsletter writer, Runs With Terrier.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving at the Genius Bar

This week the family attended the usual Turkey Day festivities with my wife's extended family in Detroit. Lots of children, gushing grandparents, too much turkey, and Apple products. Lots and lots of Apple products. It was kind of odd, frankly. I counted six iPads, 5 iphones, an iPod Touch, and a Macbook Air amongst 14 people, half of which were under the age of eleven. Much of the weekend was spent showing off favorite apps, discussing how to copy DVDs onto the iPad for the long drive home, and competing against one another playing Words With Friends. I kind of felt I should be wearing a blue shirt with an Apple ID badge around my neck.

But the highlight of this strangely Jobsian Thanksgiving, was my wife's new toy. After years of surviving with a basic flip phone that (dare I say it) was ONLY good for making PHONE CALLS, I finally broke down and bought her a new iPhone for her birthday. For the first time in her life her technology is cooler than mine. And at long last, I have my revenge.

You see, I have occasionally been labeled "that dad", the one who is too busy with his head down and his eyes on his iPhone when he should b enjoying the world around him. Of course that time has long past, and it's rare that I'm distracted by it anymore. It certainly never makes it to the dinner table, and my wife hasn't had to say, "HELLOOOOO? ARE YOU LISTENING??" to me in a long time. well, at least not because of my phone. But yet, somehow the subject of the non-attentive dad will often come up in mixed company, and my lovely wife has always been happy to paste that label on my forehead. Well, no more. The tides have turned. Now she's the one with that Pavlovian reaction every time someone sends her a Facebook message and the phone gives off a little floop. She's the one eagerly awaiting that next turn against her cousin in California playing a week long Words With Friends marathon. And she's the one constantly asking Siri if she should be putting on a sweater.

Okay, perhaps I'm being unfair - she's only had the phone a few days, and it's all new and shiny. Of course she's going to want to play with it. And that Siri thing is just so freaking amazing. We'll give it some time, and I will report back in a few months. But back to the Thanksgiving family gathering, it really struck me as amazing both how much money we've all given Apple in recent years, and how our Apple products are constantly at our hips not unlike a six-shooter was always at the ready on the hip of a cowboy in the Old West. Its technology got us safely to Detroit, and allowed us to easily check the status of our hotel accommodations. We used it to check available showings of The Muppets and buy our tickets. We looked up recipes and the biography of Ernest Hemingway, and we kept our kids busy during any given downtime. We even used the GPS settings to see where en route from the park the kids and wives were, so we could prepare for the onslaught of a half dozen young children starving from an afternoon of fall playtime. And that infamous quote about the best camera being the one that's with you? Truer words...

The holidays always means getting together with people that often don't have much more in common than shared blood. Yet technology seems to have built on those bonds. No more seeing people once a year and having to catch up on what seems like a lifetime of stories. It's all been posted on Facebook for everyone to stay up to date. No more great stories of getting lost on the way there or having arguments with the grandparents over which bridge to take to the movie theatre. Just let the GPS do the job. This technology has done a wonderful job of making these annual visits easier to prepare for, travel to, and deal with. But are we better for it? Perhaps. I'll ask my wife. That's her texting me from the garage asking for help bringing in groceries.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Next Parenthood Renovation

Holy crap.

I take three months off from blogging, and in the blink of an eye I've gone from being a father of preschoolers to panicking about how we're going to be able to afford a Bat Mitzvah in two years. What the hell did I just miss?

Back when I started this blog in 2005, coming up with subject matter was an easy task. I was the father of two small children, ones who really didn't understand the term "internet" and just thought that the computer was something "Mommy and Daddy stare at while I watch Elmo". Now, I have daughters with their own Skype accounts. Daughters who know how to connect their friend's ipods to our wireless network. Daughters savvy enough to google themselves, and come across my blog. Suddenly, I'm censored.

Back in the early days, I had free reign to write about my daughters' pooping habits. I could drone on endlessly about the silly things that came out of their mouths. I was generally welcome to make fun of them because, well, at that age they're more like scientific oddities or house pets than they are actual humans. But now, they are self aware. They are people. People with Skype accounts. I need to be careful what I say. The day I post the details about my daughter's barfing episode and she hears about the post from a schoolmate is the day it's all over, and I'm living in the woodshed. I guess that's the reason you haven't seen much from me lately here. I'm too busy censoring myself.

But now that we're planning our first Bat Mitzvah, I feel I need a platform to vent again. Over the next couple of years, things are gonna get a little crazy. Every big decision we make is going to have to be weighed against Bat Mitzvah plans. Do we replace our 12-year old minivan, or stick it out a few more years with its broken door and leaky windshield? Do we plan a big summer vacation again next year, or buy a plastic pool and stick around the back yard? And most importantly, do we need those new friends in our lives, since it will just increase the size of the guest list?

I'm thankful I live in an area of the country with a pretty moderate standard of living. Everyone's heard the stories about the parents that spend a hundred grand on their daughter's Bat Mitzvah, and any Jewish family with a kid coming of age knows that Keeping Up with The Steins is required viewing. Personally, I'm all for a backyard BBQ and convincing my sister to make desserts. But I know I'm going to be outvoted. I'm sure there will be a DJ, There will be a photographer. There might even be professional catering. So while I have no idea how I'm going to afford it all, at least I know I can blog about it.

And you know what that means. I'm back baby!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Really, I don't know why I bother.

Let's face it. The days of buying electronics at a store are long gone. And I should have realized that, but sometimes I guess I'm just too stubborn.

We're headed on a family vacation soon. It's gonna be long car ride. Luckily, we've got gadgets. In fact, we've got gadget overload. Aside from the obligatory portable DVD players, our collection of Apple mobile devices has grown to a point where if I hear one peep out of the little pipsqueaks in the back row between the time we leave and the time we get to our destination I'm gonna go all Clark Griswold at Wallyworld on them.

So of course, having this many gadgets means improving our ability to charge them in the car. Scosche makes a charger with two USB ports and is designed to charge both iPods and iPads (which take more juice), and I decided it was high time to pick one up. Rather than buy one from Amazon and hope it arrives in time for our trip, I decided to go the instant gratification route and stop in Best Buy.

Now, visiting Best Buy is something I try never to do. All the sterotypes of the big box store hold true there. Employees who know nothing more than what's on the card in front of the item, limited and overpriced selections, and a store layout that begs for people to leave with the sudden urge to take a shower. Nonetheless, I knew that Best Buy sells the item, because it said so on their website. So I stopped in.

Last November, Best Buy attempted to boldly redesign their stores,turning the interior into "mini learning stations that demonstrate how devices can interact with one another wirelessly" I found the inside of the store confusing, poorly lit, and utterly unfriendly. Despite that, I wandered around a bit until I found a rack of car chargers, though the one I was looking for was not there.

A blue-shirted woman with a secret service earpiece in her ear and a clipboard in her hand came walking toward me and asked if she could be of service. I told her I was looking for a car charger that supports iPads. "

Well, these support iPods," she said.

"Yes, I see that. But none of these are approved to properly charge an iPad. I need one that provides 2.1 amps".

Okay, just to be clear here, I'm no electrical engineer. But read any Apple product page or iPad charger page on the web, and you will soon know that the iPad requires a 2.1 amp charge. Really, it doesn't take much to find this out. However, my response completely stumped my personal blue-shirt, and she took me in search of the iPads themselves, thinking perhaps the charger I needed would be tucked in next to them. Once we made it to the iPad section (at the other end of the store from the iPods), she spent a good long moment staring at a rack of Apple-branded iPad Smart Covers before she realized this was not the charger rack.

I told her, "Tell you what. Let's bring up the Best Buy website and I can show you exactly the thing I need." I started to pull out my iphone but then suggested it might be faster to do this on a store computer. She agreed, but unfortunately for her by the time she got logged into the computer I'd already had it up on the phone. Of course she happily took the SKU number from what I showed her and entered it into the store inventory system, only to learn it would have to be shipped from the warehouse. She told me it would take two days, I told her fine, and she began to enter the order. On the final screen, after entering my credit card number, it informed us the item was "unavailable". Well, that was a complete waste of time.

Since I was standing next to the camera section, I decided to kill a couple more minutes and check out the digital cameras for no good reason. When I quite literally just placed a finger on a Canon EOS and set off the security alarms, I decided I needed to get out of this godforsaken store as soon as possible. As I walked out, the "greeter" whose job it is to stand at the front door and check people's receipts, held his Secret Service mic to his mouth and said, "will someone please take care of that alarm?"

Now, I found it especially amusing that the guy (me) who set off the alarm in the camera section was able to turn and walk right out of the store without so much as a second glance by the greeter. However he was right on top of getting that annoying alarm turned off. Impressive store security.

When I got home, I logged onto Amazon and put in my order for the car charger. Even paying extra for quick shipping, it still was cheaper than for what Best Buy's website had it listed. Never again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sure I wear my seat belt, but only when I'm drinking

My office just instituted a new health program, that offers points towards healthy habits (exercising, eating right, etc) in an effort to keep costs down. Overall it makes sense and seems to be a fairly intelligent program. But there is one thing about it I find just a little odd.As part of an overall introductory questionnaire, each participant states whether or not he or she smokes, drinks, or wears a seat belt.

It's the seat belt question that has me puzzled. My first thought is, who in their right mind would say that they don't? But then my second thought is, why does it matter? Okay, I realize that my ER bill is going to be that much lower if I'm in an accident wearing your seatbelt as opposed to, say, being launched through the windshield of my Subaru headfirst into the nearest jersey barrier. I get that. However shouldn't the question perhaps dig a little deeper, and find out a little bit more about my driving habits themselves? For example, do I text while driving? Do I cut people off? Do I check my email at stoplights? Do I like to adjust my eyeliner in rush hour stop-and-go traffic? Do I enjoy the occasional McDonalds' hamburger with a hot coffee held between my legs and greasy fries in the cup holder while cruising at 70 miles per hour down the interstate at four in the morning? I mean really, just because I wear my seat belt, that doesn't mean I'm a good driver. Shouldn't the question be, "do you drive like a maniac who's late for a movie?"

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I need an R2 unit

In the past three years that I've owned my current car, an indicator light has popped up on the dashboard several times. According to the direction manual, this indicator light suggests that one of my tires is about to have a catastrophic blowout, and that I should immediately pull to the side of the road, move to a safe distance from the automobile, duck down, and call the authorities immediately.

The first time this happened, after checking the pressure in all the tires and finding nothing wrong, I brought the car to the shop where, after connecting the car to their magic diagnosticator and visually scanning the surface of each tire, they discovered a small nail in one of the tires. The second time this happened, they found nothing wrong but suggested I bump up the pressure a few pounds beyond what's suggested in the direction book. Now the light is back on, and I'm annoyed.

We live in an incredible world of technology. I could go out right now and buy myself a car that does some truly amazing things. These days cars can give you tun-by-turn directions with a map on screen. There are cars that will make cell phone calls for you. Find the nearest gas station. Call for help if you crash into a tree. For goodness sake, there are even cars that will PARK themselves now!

So will someone PLEASE tell me why, in this day and age of fantastical new automotive wizardry, I still need to bring my car to the shop just to find out what that little red light on the dashboard means?

I want a car that tells me how much metal is left on my brake rotors, and whether they need to be adjusted or completely replaced. I want a car that tells me exactly how low my oil level is. In quarts. I want to know when the last time it was that I changed my air filter. How dirty my transmission fluid is. And I don't want to have to bring my car to someone else to find this information out.

Really, what I want is an R2D2 unit in the back of my car that can constantly analyze the health of my vehicle, let me know if there's a problem, and give me the details of the fix. Is that too much to ask? Obviously, it isn't:


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Aimee Mullins and her 12 pair of legs

This is simply incredible. Every parent should show this to their kids.

Athlete, actor and activist Aimee Mullins talks about her prosthetic legs -- she's got a dozen amazing pairs -- and the superpowers they grant her: speed, beauty, an extra 6 inches of height ... Quite simply, she redefines what the body can be.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Syyn Labs and that neato OK Go thingy

I'd been hearing about some new music video by the band OK Go, the ones who made the now-infamous choreographed-dancing-on-treadmills video a while back that by now even your grandmother has seen:

But I'd never seen their newest concoction, a Rube Goldberg contraption that's timed to the music, and kept forgetting to look for it until I read a little bit about it in the latest issue of Fast Company Magazine. According to the story, this video took 85 takes to get the functionality and timing just right, and the final result is one video take with no editing and no tricks. Sheer awesomeness.

The contraption was built by folks at Syyn Labs, a sorta-kinda company made up of artsy nerds who love bringing things to an obsessive level.

Oh, but wait - there's more. Syyn Labs was then tapped to make another Rube Goldberg contraption for the Google Science Fair, seen here:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Jumping the Shark, and other Happy Days References

Cosmic Lattice of Coincidence

This evening, the dinner table discussion somehow led my wife and me to explaining the show Happy Days to our young children. This, in turn led me to explain the term "Jump The Shark". I said to my ten year old, "Natalie, some day you will hear the term 'Jump The Shark', and you'll be able to impress your friends by telling them exactly what it means and where it comes from.

My wife then decided to see if, by chance, TVLand had a few episodes of Happy Days that we could Tivo. When she turned on the TV it was tuned to some random kids show on NickJr, and, in a frighteningly odd cosmic lattice of coincidence, the very first thing out of the actor's mouth was "Don't ya think that's jumping the shark a little bit?"

Dad IS all-knowing.

Auto Repair

Speaking of all-knowing dads, I scored a point for all the guys out there recently. Okay, so you can imagine the scene...a couple of guys standing around the front of a car with the hood open, staring intently at the engine block and plotting their next move to get this baby running again. Really, we all know it's just an excuse to enjoy a refreshing beverage out of earshot of the usual household din. Then one of the wives leans out of the front door and cracks wise by saying something like, "why dontcha stare at it a little more, maybe you'll just CONVINCE it to work!" Well, darling, I proved yesterday that staring at an automobile's engine is, in fact, an effective tool for driveway automotive repair.

You see, the other day we had to have a cracked windshield replaced on the minivan. The auto glass company came to the house during the day while I was at work. They fixed the glass, and my wife then pulled the car into the garage. The next day, after attempting to head out of the house on an errand, she came up the basement steps and reported to me that the car was dead.

Not interested in removing my butt from its comfy position on the couch, I told her to take mine, and I'd jump start it later, figuring the interior light was probably left on again and the battery was toast.

Now, let me say, right here and now, that I am NOT a car guy. Other than knowing where the engine IS on the car, my automotive repair abilities pretty much end with "hmm, that doesn't sound right", and buying a new car. But three days later, when I remembered to investigate the problem, I discovered the battery in fact wasn't dead, but rather the ignition would churn but the engine wouldn't turn over. I tried it several times, then thought perhaps the repair guys had forgotten to reconnect something after they finished. So, I opened the hood.

After staring at the engine for a solid two minutes and seeing nothing out of place, I began to run through scenarios in my head. Call AAA? Call Honda? Ask the guy next door to stare at it with me for a few minutes? Finally I closed the hood and decided it was definitely time to buy a new car. I got back into the driver's seat, and decided to try it once more. And wouldn't you know it, she started right up. Another successful automotive repair.


On a final note for the day, I would like to express my sympathies to all you dads out there who somehow were conned into getting a Shih-tsu or other similarly dropkick-sized dog as a family pet. I know it wasn't your decision. You really wanted that black lab. You had it all planned were going to name him Johnny Wonder, give him a red bandanna and a collar with spikes, and drive to the town dump every weekend with him hanging his head out the side window of your Dodge Ram. But instead, your 6-year-old girl fell in love with little Fifi and begged and pleaded until you realized you had no recourse but to begrudgingly say yes. Suddenly you're sharing the house with a creature that resembled the main character from the movie Gremlins, wears knit sweaters, and gets carried everywhere in a pink faux Gucci bag. Really I feel for you.

I say this because for the past week I've shared your pain. As part of a holiday trade-off, this week we are watching Muffin, our babysitter's Shih-tsu. Really, there's nothing wrong with the dog, but every time I have to take it for a walk my testicles shrink just a little more.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


If there's one thing about parenthood I would eliminate, it would be barf. Poop I can deal with, but barf...oh god...barf. The spoiled, rancid aroma. The feeling that just being in the same room with it may lead to contracting a disease more horrible than any thus far studied by science. Just thinking about it makes me want to lose my lunch.

A coworker of mine just had his first baby last week. He and his wfe are still in that initial state of shock and sleeplessness, not quite understanding exactly how they went from being people who could go out for a night on the town with little notice, crack open a beer and hang on the couch for three Sunday football games in a row, or sleep for eight straight hours with little care in the world, to the exhausted zombies that they are now, having to wake every other hour to feed this insidious new monster screwing with their schedule.

Well, I've got news for them. That ain't NOTHING. Add barf to the equation.

For us, it began around 1am. I awoke to the distinctive sound of our younger one coughing up whatever was rotting in her belly, followed by the classic scream for mommy. It was then that I kicked my lovely wife in the shin to awaken her from peaceful slumber and shouted, "Jessica! Vomit! Let's go!"

In a fog, we dashed in to find the little tyke covered in her own spooge, sticky hands in the air, dripping onto her head. The spooge trail continued down onto the sheets, the side of the mattress, into the frame of the bed, and onto that really-bright-idea-to-put-in-neutral-colors beige carpeting.

My wife and I entered Special Teams mode. She took charge of the soiled child; I took charge of the soiled everything else. As she carried Jessica, at an arms length, into the bathroom, I switched on the lights to determine exactly what I was dealing with and then dashed to the basement for supplies. I took the dog with me to make sure she didn't decide it was time for a late night snack. I came back up, arms loaded, with:

-the Chuckit Bucket (yes, we've named it)
-spray cleaner
-a garbage bag
-a gas mask
-a blow torch
-a portable version of that disinfecting chamber from The Andromeda Strain.
-paper towels

As I worked my way through the cleaning process in the bedroom, I kept one ear open for happenings in the bathroom. Poor squirt yacked at least two more times, and at least one of those times missed the toilet completely. Natch.

My next step was to carfully ball up the little one's soiled sheets, pillows, stuffed animals, and clothing and bring it all down to the washing machine. As would be expected, the washer was already full of wet clothing, and of course the dryer was filled as well. Classic. Once I got the laundry going, I ventured back upstairs to find an additional growing pile of laundry in the hallway, and a scene in the bathroom that looked somewhat like a murder but with less red on the walls and more green. The little one was resting comfortably, for the moment, on the couch in our bedroom. She remained there for the rest of the night, except for getting up every half hour to puke again. We sat with her all night of course, partially to comfort her and partially to make sure she made it to the toilet in time. Her tummy calmed itself down around 7:30, just in time for me to go to work. Joy.

I assured my coworker that this was an isolated incident, and SURELY this sort of thing isn't a NORMAL occurrence for any family. Sure... I mean really, why ruin his work day? After all, he only came into the office to get some rest.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Begin the onslaught of holiday songs

Tis the season. The day (or so) after Thanksgiving, where every retail outlet in the burbs plays the same holiday music feed over, and over, and over again, thus increasing the likelihood of employee insurrection dramatically.

To be honest, I love holiday music. Each year I build on my ever-growing my collection of classics and oddities (Got a new one for us this year, Colbert?). But frankly I wish people would stop trying in vain to produce a good and memorable song about Chanukah.

I mean, really. What's the first Chanukah song that comes to mind? Yeah, that ridiculous dreidel song. No one really likes it. And it's not exactly what you would call an "inspiring" song, like such Christmas classics as The First Noel, or Silent Night. And since the dreidel song was created, virtually every Chanukah song since has done nothing but make what should be a fairly solemn holiday of remembrance of the bravery of soldiers and the miracle they witnessed into a pile of silliness. If you need a better example, how about Adam Sandler's Chanukah song? Yeesh. I can't tell you how many non-Jewish classmates in high school came up to me and said, "dude, you're come you're not in the Adam Sandler song?" and then stuffed me in my locker.

Okay, I suppose Rock of Ages classifies as inspiring and worthy. And I don't mean the Def Leppard song.

Here's this year's example. While I gotta admit it's catchy, it's no Rock of Ages. Bah humbug.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Room Empurgement Day

Once every few months (or, once every other day according to my lovely wife), I get a burr in my saddle about the state of clutter in the house. Usually I get stirred up after my wallet becomes submerged under a ream of kids' artwork that's collected on the kitchen counter, or when I need to reach something in the back corner of the playroom and realize the only way I'm going to get to it is with a pound of C-4, a Hazmat suit and a roll of paper towels. And when I get stirred up, that's when the soonest available Saturday becomes Room Empurgement Day.

Sometimes I get smart, and provide some incentive to my daughters to join in Room Empurgement Day. "Come on girls! Let's find the floor of the basement so we have a place we can put a new Foozball table!" Other times I just use threats. "I'm walking into that room with a plastic garbage bag, and I ain't leaving until it's too full to tie closed. If your collection of broken Harry Potter wands ends up in my path, so be it."

I recall recently where I happened to strike just the right cord (don't ask me how) to get the girls excited about the prospects of a clean playroom. The elder child, showing off a few drops from her dad's anal retentive gene pool, was extremely enthusiastic about organizing, sorting, and purging. Her younger sibling just nodded her head in agreement and confirmed that, whatever she was going to be doing, mommy would need to be no more than three feet away at all times.

It was a great start to Room Empurgement Day. In theory. We were going to be like one of those families you see on the DIY channel who hire the professional organizer and sort their entire collection of belongings into eight color-coded storage boxes, an alphabetized file cabinet, and a wall-hanging photo montage containing the pictorial story of their family's life events through the ages. I could just picture myself in our spotless home, relaxing in the cushy leather chair by the fire, reading the latest issue of The New Yorker with my faithful labrador at my feet while my wife cooks up a fresh batch of scones with homemade marmalade and my children built me an ottoman made entirely of popsicle sticks. Wait...where was I? Oh, right...reality.

Here's what actually happened. Saturday morning breakfast, 5 episodes of Hannah Montana, and a Spongebob later, I finally managed to peel the kids away from the TV and announce it was time for Room Empurgement Day to begin.

"WAIT!" yelled Jessica. Now, 99.98% of the time you ask Jessica to do something, that's the answer you get. "WAIT! I'm not done putting my squishies to bed!" Okay, so I'm not quite sure what squishies are, and I don't know why they need to hit the sack in the middle of the day, but we certainly weren't going to get any effort out of Jessica until the little varmints were tucked away for their nighttime slumber. So while Mom bought some time putting the dishes away so Jessica could put her squishies to bed within tugging distance from her mother, I took Thing #1 upstairs to tackle the mess in the playroom.

Once upstairs, it wasn't long before distraction set in. I asked her to sort through a pile of stuff in the middle of the floor. As soon as a long lost plastic bathtub from her Barbie dollhouse was discovered, Natalie left the pile intact and migrated to the Dream Home. I pulled her back in by asking her to return her collection of fancy scarves draped across the playroom TV back to her bedroom closet, and found her ten minutes later sitting on her bed revisiting a book on how to draw cartoon puppy faces. That's when the moaning and complaining started. Then the crying. Then the tantrums. And Natalie really, REALLY hates when I tantrum.

Soon Thing #2 came upstairs with her mother, and I put them to work sorting books. This of course led to the realization that, no matter how destroyed a book was, no matter that the pages of the book were stuck together with 5-year-old dried up baby formula, it was not going to be leaving the house without a fight.

It's about this point where my lovely wife and I realize, yet again, what every parent already knows. Clean the room when the kids are gone, throw everything out, and hope to god that the kids never think to ask what ever happened to that old Dora The Explorer backpack that's now sitting in the bottom of the garbage bag. Another successful Room Epurgement Day complete.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Rally to Restore Sanity

A couple of weekends ago I attended Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear. I had nothing better to do that day, which was really the ultimate requirement for attendance. For those of you who didn't watch it on TV or have no idea what I'm talking about, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert hosted a rally on the National Mall in Washington D.C. to get people excited about the possibility of just "being reasonable" rather than becoming either overly political to the left or the right, or being so brainwashed by the media feeding frenzy of the day that you no longer have the ability to think for yourself.

While the rally was interesting and I'm glad I went, I'm also glad I Tivo'd it to watch later because I missed about 90% of it.

Getting to the rally was definitely the most important part of the experience. After finding that I was the only one of my local friends nuts enough to make the trip, I decided to head to DC on my own and stay with my cousins, whom I easily convinced to go to the event because, like me, they had nothing better to do. I drove out the night before, and the next morning the three of us began our trek into town.

The adventure started at the DC Metro station in West Falls Church, VA around 9am. Having failed to think of buying Metro tickets the night before, we arrived there to discover twelve hundred people in line in front of us attempting to buy Metro tickets as well. After about an hour of standing in line and a couple of brief thoughts about leaping from the over pass onto the roof of an oncoming train in hopes of skipping the line, we made it to the ticket booth, bought our passes, and hoofed it down to the platform. When we looked back at the line behind us, we discovered that it now extended out the door of the station and down the street.

This was the line in front of us to get tickets for the DC Metro.

The first available train arrived at the station after a few minutes. Unfortunately, it was so completely packed with people from the previous stops that there was no chance of getting on. So we decided to be sneaky and get on the next train arriving from the OTHER direction, take it to the end, and wait for it to turn back around. That turned out to be a well-timed idea, because ten minutes later when the subway arrived back at our original station we saw that EVERYONE was attempting to do that. I have to believe that enough people gave up waiting that the rally would have been attended by an additional hundred thousand or so people had the DC Metro gotten their act in gear and supplied more trains.

We arrived in town a little after noon. Yes, over three hours to get in from the suburbs. So much for restoring sanity. After a brief walk toward the mall, we encountered THE CROWD.

For the next several hours we were packed like matchsticks into the vast, wide open space that is our National Mall. We had as clear a view of the stage as a resident of Vermont would have of Manhattan. The speakers and Jumbotrons were so far away that all we could hear was an occasional bass echo off the wall of the Smithsonian, amongst the chanting of "Louder! Louder!" by our three hundred thousand immediate neighbors.

But what made the whole thing bearable was the people around us. Everyone was friendly. Outgoing. Perhaps a little silly. The signs being carried by many were ingenious, and the costumes were a bit odd if not ridiculously funny.

I found it amusing that with 300k people they attempted to have an information booth.

That white thing behind the guy with the camera is a dude dressed as a tooth.

A simple test that should be used for all future primaries.

Hopefully not at the same time. Ew. Talk about your hanging chads...

Left wing kitten-loving hoser. Get outta my Belgian Cafe!

After watching the rally on TV the next day, I have to say I really didn't miss all that much. John Stewart's closing speech was fantastic, and his banter with Colbert was amusing as usual. The rest of the acts served pretty much as a way of filling time, and not much more. But at least I can say, "I was there".

Monday, October 18, 2010

I got a colonoscopy because I was short on material

Dave Barry once said that every good comedy writer should get a colonoscopy. Well, who am I to disagree? I've really been short on material lately, so in an effort to beef up my blog I thought I'd go for a comedy classic and get a colonoscopy myself, then compose a rectal anecdote just like the pros do.

Okay, so that's not EXACTLY why I opted for a colonoscopy. I'll save you the, um, seedy underbelly of the full conversation with my doctor, but suffice it to say that she told me "well, you've got to get one in ten years anyways", and suggested I do it now just to rule anything out. And by "anything", that of course meant cancerous polyps, alien life forms growing in my upper GI, or a blockage caused by that box of Crayolas my friend bet me I couldn't eat in 4th grade.

Since we're talking about a colonoscopy here, I figure it would be best if I started with the end of the story. Everything's fine. I'm clean and clear, and now about eight pounds lighter as a result of the purging process. More on that in a moment.

But first, back to Dave Barry. A while ago he wrote perhaps the most important piece of medical journalism EVER, the chronicle of his own colonoscopy experience. It's required reading for anyone who plans to join the club. And I will also say that the article is phenomenal in its volume of sheer comedy as well as it's ACCURACY. I mean, it's frighteningly accurate. Every detail. So rather than plagiarize on his genius, I can only add my own twists and turns.

Now would be a good time to go read his article. I will be here when you get back.

The day before the test, as Dave also explained, I was not allowed to eat any solid food. It was chicken broth and Gatorade for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was also allowed popsicles, Jello, and hard candy, as long as they weren't red or purple. Which made me wonder - was I avoiding red or purple foods due to some sort of staining on the inside of my colon, confusing the doctor when he was inspecting my insides into thinking I had stigmata? Unfortunately I forgot to ask.

Like Dave, my beverage of choice the evening before was MoviPrep. While his description of this vile substance was 100% accurate, I will add a few details. First, the stuff tastes like someone took a half dozen week-old used margarita glasses, wiped the slimy salt off the rims with a dirty finger, and mixed it with the residue found on the floor of a Gatorade factory. And yet, if you search the web you will find that "86% of people who took MoviPrep rated the taste "acceptable" or "satisfactory." I find that number dubious.

There's a chapter in one of the Harry Potter books where Dumbledore and Harry travel to a cave in an effort to track down a horcrux. Once in the cave, they must row across a dark lake to an island. On the island is a pedestal. Resting in that pedestal is a horcrux, submerged beneath a mysterious fluid. Dumbledore announces to Harry that he is going to drink all the fluid and, no matter what happens, no matter how much he screams in agony, no matter how much he begs Harry to let him stop, how much he pleads to Harry to just let him die, Harry must make sure Dumbledore finishes all the liquid.

That liquid was MoviPrep. It's just that bad. The directions say that over a course of an hour, you must drink the first liter, in four parts. The first part sets the stage, making you realize just how horrible the stuff is, and causing you to wonder how on earth the second liter will go down. But then, you think, the directions say that you won't have to drink the second liter until two hours later. Surely, that gives you some recovery time, right? Um, no. You will be spending the next two hours sitting on the toilet while every last ounce of gunk from the inside of your colon gets power washed out of you. And, as Dave says, just when you think you've recovered from the first dose, it's time for the second.

By the time I was halfway through the second liter, more was coming back up than was going down. My advice is to drink it over the kitchen sink. Oh, and of course while you're attempting to drown yourself from the top down, the bottom half of you is reminding you that you need to be close to the bathroom at all times. I never did make it through the full second liter. My insides simply told me "no freaking way" and that was that. Plus, I realized I was doing this so the doctor had a clear, unobstructed path through my intestines, and I figured if he had to maneuver around those Primanti's french fries I had last month then so be it. This is Pittsburgh after all, so I'm sure he'll know to look for them.

While I will spare you the details of my time in the bathroom, I can at least say that during the purging phase I was able to watch not one but two full Netflix movies as they streamed on my iPhone. Yeah, about 4 hours. It's amazing that I can even walk today.

The next morning, my lovely wife (whom I can only love more for putting up with my poop jokes, and noises, all night) escorted me to the hospital. I signed in, and the nurse prepped me for the procedure. I was told to remove everything but my socks and shoes, put on the classic hospital gown, and wrap a beige blanket around my waist. I guess they figured I would be SO embarrassed by my outfit that talking with a complete stranger about what he was going to insert into my rectum would be no big deal. And they were right.

I was then wheeled into the procedure room. Immediately I thought of Dave Barry's article again, warning us to ask for the non-ABBA colonoscopy. Amusingly there WAS a radio playing in the corner of the room. And the song? "Na na na na..Hey Hey Hey...Goodbye..."


The nurse then asked me to turn on my side while she connected something to my IV. I turned to see I was facing a 37" flat screen TV with the output from the special camera that someone else in the room was preparing. I then said, "Oh, cool, do I get to watch?" She responded by telling me as long as I was awake I could watch whatever I wanted. The very next instant, I was sitting up next to my wife and getting dressed. I missed the whole damned thing.

The nurse had told me that I would have a bit of amnesia as a result of the anesthesia. She was right. Not only did I miss the procedure, but most of the conversations I had from the point I woke up to about a half hour after my wife got me home are a complete mystery. Supposedly I was awake and alert, but I do not remember the drive home, eating my lunch, or any of the conversations I had with the nurse before I left. It was actually a little freaky.

So here I am, a clean bill of health, my tummy now filled with colon clogging BBQ'ed beef, ice cream, and donuts. I figure I survived this long on a good old fashioned American diet, and ten years from now I can empty it all out again. Hopefully by then they will come up with a liquid that at least 87% of people who take it will find acceptable or satisfactory.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A refrigeration odyssey

We had the pleasure of test driving a new refrigerator for the past month. Now, as I sit here waiting for its replacement to be delivered, I thought I would share the story as well as some uneducated opinions on fridge design.

Our tale starts with car shopping. Or, rather, a determination that we would hold out with our beaten-up, wet-dog-smelling ten-year-old Honda Odyssey for another year instead of buying a replacement. That left the budget wide open to take care of a few other major purchases. I had recently realized that our old secondary fridge, in the basement, was leaking air around the sides, causing a mold farm that Louis Pasteur would have been proud of. It was time for the beast to be retired to the scrap heap, and at long last we'd be able to replace our wimpy little kitchen fridge with a shiny new model, relegating the current one to basement duty.

Our first (and only) stop was the Sears Scratch 'n Dent warehouse. We found a shiny black French Door style Samsung with all the bells and whistles for about $900 less than the retail cost, and immediately snagged it.

Unfortunately, once it was delivered, we discovered a few problems that weren't exhibited at the warehouse when it was on display. For one, the giant gash across the front was definitely NOT there when we picked it out. Plus, the leaky water hose, while handy for washing the floor or keeping the dog hydrated, was not what we were hoping for. And the sound the motor made at 11:00 the first night, similar to that of a small plane landing in our kitchen? Yeah, this guy was headed back to the store.

After a little bit of online research and shopping around (yeah, I know, something we should have done to begin with), we decided to spend a little extra money and spring for a new model, rather than another scratch 'n dent. Sears made us an offer we couldn't refuse to exchange the Defecto Fridge for a better model at a discount. So here I sit, waiting for a shiny platinum side-by-side model to show up at the front door.

Okay, so the observant reader in you may have noticed we've switched from black to platinum, and French Door style to side-by-side. See, this was a great opportunity for us. For the month that we had Defecto Fridge in our kitchen and despite my wife not getting the endless collection of my "My God, It's Full Of Stars" jokes, we realized that having a giant black behemoth in our already too-dark kitchen made it all that much more cave-like. So now we go to platinum which, by the way, is the new trend over stainless steel because it's doesn't show fingerprints. We also realized that this whole trend of French Door fridges is complete and utter whitewash by the refrigeration industry. Sure, it seems neat at first to not have to bend down to get the milk. It also seems like a sweet deal having a giant platter-sized drawer for all those Martha Stewart style deli trays you will constantly be pulling out for those classy guests you're always having over. In reality, here's the downside to having a French Door style fridge:

-You can't store anything taller than a relish jar anywhere but on the door, without removing a shelf. And the doors will hold approximately 1.5 gallons of milk, one bottle of ketchup, a container of apple juice, and a bottle of Hershey's chocolate syrup. No more.

-That giant platter-sized drawer will stay empty for much of its life as you hope some day to have friends to invite over for deli.

-The fridge has an alarm that warns you if you accidentally leave the door open. Which is handy because they don't close by themselves. But what's not so great is the fact the alarm isn't loud enough to hear unless you're standing right next to it.

-The freezer on the bottom is big, but annoyingly clunky to open. There's an upper drawer in it, but as soon as you put anything taller than a gallon of ice cream in the bottom that upper drawer will be blocked.

For all those benefits, a French Door fridge appears to cost about $600 to $1000 more than a side-by-side. Save your money and,once you find friends that you want to entertain, take them out to dinner.

On a final note, I should comment that while Samsung apparently makes an excellent quality refrigerator, their technical translation department needs some help. Some fun examples from the instruction manual:

"After taking out the Ice Bucket and cleaned, please make sure to install after removing the frost and moist."

"Please contact your service agent's."

"To get best performance of product, Temperature of frozen food during defrosting can shorten its storage life

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How not to introduce your children to camping

This weekend I attempted to demonstrate the wonders of tent camping to my two young offspring. Unfortunately, as most Pittsburghers are aware, this was NOT the weekend to go tent camping.

It seemed like a simple enough plan. Two guys, their four young daughters, a couple of tents, and enough s'mores to power a Girl Scout troop for weeks. My kids were very excited, this being their first experience sleeping in a tent that wasn't set up in the basement. We had our supplies ready, our juice boxes on ice, and our GPS coordinates entered. What could go wrong?

Well, for one thing, we failed to count on that predictable summertime weather in western Pennsylvania. Threat of rain + plans to do something outdoorsy = guarantee of rain.

After meeting at a local pizza shop for dinner, we all headed out in two cars to Cook Forest, about two hours away. The skies were clear, but it was one of those typical hot summer days that usually brings on a good whalloping of rain when you least expect it. We reached the campsite just after dark, and just as it started to rain lightly. Ever try finding a campsite in the dark while it's raining? It's about as easy as finding a lost penny at the bottom of a tar pit. Nonetheless, we found it just after that point where the girls began to get tired and cranky, wondering if we were ever gonna be there. You know how it goes.

We pulled in as the rains dissipated, and started to set up the tents while the girls proceeded to explore their surroundings by shining flashlights in each others faces. By the time I got my tent laid out, the rain came back. And this time, it brought friends. It was then I realized a crucial camping mistake, which is to ASSUME you remember how to set up the tent based on a foggy memory of doing it several years ago. Naturally, attempting this in the dark during a torrential downpour, With two children leaning over your shoulder screaming that they're getting wet, was not a pleasant experience. As I proceeded to set up the rain cover upside down, I started to wonder if parents of kids on the boat from the Poseidon Adventure felt the same way when it turned over.

Nonetheless, I got the tent set up keeping the inside relatively dry, managed to get the sleeping bags and the girls' things into the tent without completely soaking them, and attempted to lay them down for the night. Tried to, anyways. The girls sat staring at me, with fear in their eyes, as the thunder started. One began to cry in fright. The other just looked at me with an "are you serious?" look on her face. I explained to them that we were perfectly safe, and the thunder and lightning were far off, and that the tent would stay dry. Lucky for me, they were both exhausted enough that they fell asleep within minutes, each one with a death grip on one of my hands, while I lay wide awake for the next several hours listening to pouring rain and wondering if they felt I'd kidnapped them and were going to leave them in the forest as a very wet snack for the bears.

At around four in the morning, just as I began dozing off, Natalie tapped me on the forehead to inform me that one of her molars fell out. Well, at least there was that.

The next morning they recovered quickly from their night of terror, ate some breakfast, and were off to start the day. After quite a successful canoe trip down a lazy river, some go-karts, lunch, and a visit to a swimming hole, my buddy and I felt we'd probably redeemed ourselves from our attempts to permanently scar our children the previous evening. We made our way back to the campsite and cooked hot dogs and s'mores over the fire, and felt pretty good about ourselves. Then, the thunder returned.

This time we were prepared, and simply made our way into our now dry tents, just in time for yet another torrential downpour. It was then that my wife called me to inform us that the area was expecting severe thunderstorms until around one in the morning. Natalie began to cry again, and Jessica simply took on the same vacant stare that I remember Jeremy Piven having in the movie Judgement Night, when he realized that in a couple of seconds Dennis Leary was going to drop him off the side of a building to his demise. It was then that my buddy and I tossed in the towel and decided it was time to pack up.

We waited for this rainstorm to stop, made our way out of the tents, and began piling items into the cars. The girls, overjoyed with the idea of getting out of this god-forsaken place, were more than happy to actually help with the teardown and packing. And of course, just as we began to tear the tents down, the downpour began again. While the girls waited in the cars, the two of us finished packing up the tents while being drenched head to toe. When I finally sloshed my way into the minivan, one of my daughters greeted me with an outstretched arm holding my last dry shirt. She handed it to me and said, "maybe next time it won't rain."

That was all I needed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


At last, I have her where I want her.

When my older child wants something, she's very clear about it. Her latest "thing" is dogs. Everything about dogs. Her room is decorated with thousands of stuffed puppies, ceramic puppies, pictures of puppies...there's even paw prints neatly painted on her bookshelves (very tastefully, I must say). This week, she's going to "camp" at Animal Friends, the local no-kill shelter. There, she's being immersed in puppydom. And it's getting to be a dangerous thing.

If you've been following my rants, you know we already have a dog. A crazy nutbag, neurotic, chew-up-everything-in-sight-if-you-leave-me-alone-for-more-than-38-seconds dog. So, naturally, she wants a second dog.

Each day she's come home not only telling us what she's learned about dogs that day (today we learned the term "hybrid dog!") but also about the latest little cutie that she absolutely must have. Trouble is, it's not just her saying, "oh, she's so cute, I MUST have her!". No, instead, she comes with justification, explaining the numerous reasons why it would really be beneficial to have a second dog:

1. It would help with Daisy's anxiety and attachment issues.
2. Daisy would have a buddy.
3. It's not like it would be TWICE as expensive to have two dogs (really?).
4. Daisy would play with the dog while we were gone and stop chewing things.

Hmm, well, frankly a couple of those items DO make sense. However, as the person who does 90% of the walking, feeding, mess cleanup and paying for, as well as 100% of the poop cleanup in the yard, I ain't too interested in doubling my efforts.

Naturally, my almost-ten-year-old declared she would step up to the plate and help with all that. I asked, "even poop cleanup?"

Of course, she replied with "eww...gross!"

I told her that's what it's going to take for me to even CONSIDER a second dog. She then declared that, yes, she'd help.

I tried to make her feel better about it by explaining that if you leave the poop in the yard a couple of days, it hardens like a rock and is easier to pick up. For some reason that didn't make her feel better.

This evening she and I walked Daisy together, and she continued to spout out facts about why it would be good to have another dog, a boy dog, one Daisy could be buddies with, one that would distract her, keep her busy, and she would certainly help more with the feeding and care, and yes, she'd even help clean the poop....

And right then and there, Daisy left a deposit in the neighbor's yard. So with a wide smile, I handed my daughter the little plastic bag.

She replied with, "what, now?"

"Yup, if you even want me to CONSIDER IT..."


But she did it. Arms extended, holding her nose the entire way back. But she did it.

Upon our return, we walked into the basement and was reminded of the massive pile of cardboard boxes, destined for recycling, that Daisy turned into confetti all over the basement floor. The pile that's been sitting there for two weeks.

She's downstairs cleaning it now, as I write this.

Ah, a classic parenting moment. I wonder how long I can milk this?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Family Vacation

We've just returned from what can only be deemed a classic American vacation. Last week we packed the minivan with beach toys, scooters, coolers, and antacid and headed for a rented beach house in Delaware, where we stayed with our close friends who also have two small children and an SUV filled with crap.

Overall the week was a success. We left on speaking terms with our friends. The moms got their well deserved rest and yet left more exhausted than they arrived. We only broke two dishes, a glass, and a vase containing fake flowers that was a victim of poor placement in the first place. And the dads, also known as the "pack mules", managed to squeeze out just enough relaxation to not go completely insane.

Paul, my fellow pack mule, reminded me of a post I created several years ago as a warning to future parents on what they should expect when a new member of the family arrives. Well, in a similar vein, a couple with no kids perhaps debating whether or not to join the parenting game might just decide against it after reading the following vacation highlight reel. I'm pretty sure the sound of doors slamming and tires squealing that I heard one night early in the week was the unmarried vacationing couple next door sneaking out in a combination of disgust and panic.

The bunk beds
The kids were quite excited to find two sets of bunk beds in the house where we stayed. Of course, with one kid still in a pack-and-play, that meant two top bunks for three kids. Time for a lesson on sharing, right?

Before the first night's sleep it was decided that, each night, the kids would switch things around so that the duty of sleeping in a lower bunk would be shared equally amongst them. This seemed like a reasonable idea at the time. Unfortunately it also meant that, each night, the parents had to deal with a child who was so traumatized by the possibility of bumping her head when sitting on the lower bunk that they would refuse to go to bed. For some reason, none of the kids bought into the logic that my buddy and I both spent four years of college sleeping on a bottom bunk while somehow avoiding a concussion. Go figure.

The tantrums
By the end of the week, Paul and I made it a game of deciding which kid would be next to tantrum, and why. With only a little practice we were able to call them moments before they would occur, much like Radar O'Reilly in M*A*S*H would announce the arrival of helicopters before anyone else could hear them.

There were tantrums over sharing of toys. Over naptime. Over sandcastles. Over hair clips. Doors being closed on fingers. Sequence of showers. Showers instead of baths. Baths instead of another five minutes in the pool. Getting out of the pool. Getting out of the bath. Getting out of the shower. Shopping for trinkets. Shopping for t-shirts. Over ice cream. Over dinner selections. Over being dragged on a pirate cruise. Over who got to be the 8th person in the minivan, forced to sit in someone's lap.

In other words, it was just like being home.

Fear of the ocean
I suppose it's healthy for a child to have some level of fear of the ocean. It's big and swirly, tastes bad, and movies are made about it with sharks eating people who like to swim. On the one hand, there's the level of fear that allows the child enough courage to go ankle deep into the water, only to dash out at full speed before the cold wave splashes at thigh level. On the other hand, there's the child who's level of fear is so high that just the sight of seeing dad enter the water without her causes screaming and panic. We experienced both levels, and every one in between. My oldest managed to work up the courage to join her dad several yards into the water where the waves broke, only to refuse to speak to him for the rest of the night when he somehow managed to allow the wave to crash directly into her face, filling her open and screaming mouth with salty sand. Paul's oldest took the stance of "uh uh...if I don't go in, you don't go in, so get your butt out of that water, mister!". Thus, he stayed pretty dry all week.

Out to Dinner
What would a beach vacation be without that night out at a big ol' seafood restaurant? Well, we belted through two dinners out this week, one more successful than the other. The first was in classic style. The little one's nap failed to take, so he was the typical bear that every parent dreams of. The only way to keep him from fussing was to constantly distract him with the spotlight-induced images of fish swirling around the restaurant floor, and thus we didn't see much of him or his mom the entire meal. And of course there were the usual bathroom breaks. First a child announces it's time to empty the bladder, so mom takes her. Upon returning to the table, the second child announces it's her turn, and the parent returns to the bathroom. Once back, she realizes that she, herself failed to go, and it's time for another trip. By then the appetizers are finished, and it's the dad's turn to go. Overall, we would have all seen more of each other if we'd asked for a table inside one of the restroom stalls.

The second dinner was almost strangely successful, with little issue to speak of. This was despite the 45-minute wait for a table, which we realized would be worth it when we thought about the fact that it would take us at least that long just to find another restaurant, and on a Friday night that place would have a wait as well. But the kids kept themselves occupied the entire time. Perhaps it was due to the four iPhones we had in our possession, each with a copy of the game "Pee Monkey" on it.

The noise, noise, noise, noise!
After accepting the challenge from my eldest child to swim down and touch the bottom of the nine-foot deep pool, I found myself unable to remove the water from my ear. After three days of asking people to repeat themselves and turning the TV volume up to eleven, a trip to the local urgent care facility was necessary. It turned out that the water pressure had compacted enough wax into my ear canal to make an entire colony of bees say, "dude, that's a lot of wax."

Unfortunately I didn't realize how good I'd had it. After my ear cleaning, I quickly learned just how loud a house with four children who've had nothing but ice cream and popcorn for four days straight can be. I promptly went back to the urgent care facility and asked for my wax back.

It only took about thirty years, but at last I finally understand why my parents never took me or my sister anywhere.