Saturday, December 31, 2005

Where's the remote??

Last night we spent over an hour searching for the cable remote. All the usual locations (seat cushions, behind the TV, in the fridge) turned up empty. We gave up searching for the night, planning to tear the house apart floor by floor until it turned up.

First thing this morning we asked Thing#1 if she knew the location of the remote. "Oh yeah, sure I do!" she yelled, and dashed downstairs.

It seems that she and Thing#2 were playing Dora The Explorer. They were saving the baby sloth from the well. She was Dora, Thing#2 was Boots, and the well was a pitcher in the dining room. and guess what played the role of baby sloth.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Children's toys, packaging, and other evils of society

I was about to write a posting about the cursed hell of opening children's toys, but have realized that the subject really has been talked to death. I mean, everyone who has a young child knows how frustrating it can be trying to get Dora and Boots freed from the wire and plastic prison that is their store package. If you don't know what I mean, here is a writer who has spelled it out in great detail. As he states in the article, "Today, dolls and action figures come bound like miniature Gullivers. It can take a parent 15 minutes or more to free them, and 15 minutes for every toy that follows. 'By the time you're done Christmas morning,' sighed industry analyst Chris Byrne, editor of the Toy Report, 'you're ready for a cocktail.'"

What really irks me, though, isn't so much the effort involved in freeing the poor Fisher Price Zebra from its shackles, it's the endless amounts of waste being generated by the packing of these toys, and frankly from the toy itself. Guaranteed most of this crap will end up in a landfill, to be found by aliens in the year 3006 who wondered why the creatures of this planet were overcome by a strange petroleum-based substance that existed in all sorts of pastel colors. A typical package holding a typical Dora or Disney toy is made of a combination of heavy (and heavily printed) corrugated board, glued together with often multiple layers of clear plastic to allow for the best display possible. a 6" x 8" toy will often come in a box that's over two feet wide. According to my Township's rules, none of that is recyclable. I've read that Germany has strict rules on packaging of products calling for all parts of the products to be recycled or at least disposed of according to published guidelines. I'm thinking they've got the right idea.

As I was looking for more information on this disease has consumed America, I came across this article. As the writer says, "The issues involved in junk toys are deeper than the layer of clutter on the playroom floor. These issues are as deep as the ocean, where thousands of yellow Lego toy life rafts drifted after three million toy pieces inadvertently spilled from a tanker in 1998. But more important than the occasional freak toy-pollution disaster are the routine environmental insults associated with the mass production of most toys."

Amen. The article is fantastic, and I agree with it almost 100%. Next year, our holiday will be different.

Happy New Year.

The holidays

I surely can't keep a blog about being a parent without something said about the holidays. So here it goes.

There's a big difference between age 5 and age 2 when it comes to gift-getting. A two-year-old is handed a gift, says, "A plezent? Fo me?", takes it, places it (still wrapped) on the floor, and goes back to playing with an empty paper towel tube. A five-year-old plans for weeks in advance regarding what she needs for a gift, how she will react, how she will inform all her preschool friends of her newly-obtained booty, how she will write thank-you notes to her parents, her grandparents, the president and the governor, and how she will redesign the layout of her bedroom (sorry, her princess castle) to make space for the new item. She will then check every hour on the hour before the holiday begins to make sure the wrapped gift is where she last spotted it, and to inform her family of exactly how she will undo each piece of tape holding the wrapping in place. She will then eat only the exact amount of her dinner allowable by household law such that she can quickly and efficiently be excused from the table in order to take the fullest advantage of the statement, "we'll open presents after dinner" that came from an authority figure. Upon opening the gift she will then proclaim the wonder of the item by charging through the house at just under the speed of sound, screaming and yelling unintelligible things that can only be assumed to be the five-year-old equivalent of, "hey, neat." Her father will then spend the next 45 minutes attempting to get the item out of it's packaging, slicing a finger off in the process. She will then play with the item for approximately eight minutes, break it, promptly forget about its existence, and steal her sister's paper towel tube.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Sandra Boynton

Sandra Boynton, the artistic wonder behind the Boynton Books, has a couple of amusing videos on her absolutely silly website. There's the Shortest Song Ever, along with Also Quacht Zarathustra. Speaking of which, Philadelphia Chickens fans will be happy to know that Boynton has a new book/CD combo out entitled "Dog Train".

By the way, the website has enormously useful information, such as a Q&A section by Ethel, the hippo in the picture above. From the site:

A reader from the Berkshire Hills of New England asks:

Q: Do you have a last name?

A: Yes, of course.

Q: What is it?

A: What is what?

Q: Your last name?

A: You're asking what my last name is?

Q: Yes.

A: "Yes" is not a question.

Q: Um. Yes?

A: A simple solution of warm water, baking soda, and vinegar will usually do the trick. If not, seek professional help. Meanwhile, I think I'll head out shopping for a pair of roguish yet sensible sling backs, size 9-1/2 or 10.

Yours oh-so-truly,
Ethel T. Lethe
Senior Administrative Assistant

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Nutcracking with my daughter

Last night I went on a date with eleven women.

Okay, perhaps that's not quite right. More accurately, my wife got sick and, instead of her taking my 5-year-old to see The Nutcracker with several of her fellow mom friends, she sent me.

This was both my first experience seeing The Nutcracker and my first experience on a mom's night out. But since I had been away all week on a biz trip, I was game for some quality time with my daughter. Natalie told me that I should dress handsome, and she would dress fancy. We met everyone for dinner downtown first, then went to the theatre early for a backstage tour and an opportunity to see the dancers preparing for the show. As I watched six 5-year-old girls ogling at the wonder of professional ballet dancers scurrying around, getting their makeup and costumes ready, I saw those visions of my daughter's next Home Depot toy workbench and mountain bike being quickly replaced by a those of a pair of ballet slippers and a purple tutu. Sigh.

At the end of the tour, Natalie was asked what her favorite part of the tour was. Her answer: "going to the bathroom."

On a side note, the Benedum Theatre, the venue for the show, is a fantastic place. built in the 30's, it was meticulously restored after being beaten down by rock band performances in the 80's (the entire lobby was painted black at one time), it's known as one of the top 3 theatres for ballet in the country, according to the tour guide.

Later, as we sat in the lobby and waited for the show, one of the moms struck up a conversation with several of the girls about the holidays. Natalie pointed out she was Jewish and celebated Jewish holidays. When asked which ones were her favorites, she said, "Rosh Hashannah, Purim, and Holloween."

Both Natalie and I enjoyed the show quite a bit, but agreed that the second act (do they call them acts in ballet?) was way too long, and needed to end sooner. While I told her to sit quietly and watch the show every time she said, "another dance??? When's it going to end???" I have so say that I silently agreed with her.

Natalie's only experience with The Nutcracker before this was the Barbie version on DVD (can't say I joined her for that one). About halfway through the show, she leaned over to me and said, "wow, how do they do that???"

"Do what?" I asked. "Jump so high in the air?"

"No, dance for this long without talking!"

Monday, December 05, 2005

Those Holiday photos

I remember buying our first digital camera, a few months before our first child was born. The technology was new then, and we were excited by the huge collection of beautiful portraits were were going to gather over the years without having to worry about film, developing, or stacks of envelopes full of rarely-viewed pictures.

Throughout life with one kid, our goal was being met. We found lots of opportunities to snap a candid here and there, and often came up with great creative poses, beautiful smiles, and shots that would make any grandparent vaklempt.

Then squirt #2 came a long, and all bets were off.

The term "herding cats" comes to mind when trying to get a toddler and a preschooler to synch up for a good photo. we have hundreds of shots where one kid looks perfect while the other has her finger up her nose, is looking at a bright and shiny object behind her, is crying, is walking out of the picture, has her eyes closed, or is attempting to beat the other one up. And we have thousands more where both kids look like complete bozos. I truly believe that professional child photographers who can get a good portrait of two kids together are truly and artfully skilled, and also possess unnatural powers of hypnotism and mind control.

Last night we made one desperate attempt to get a decent pic for our holiday photo card. You know, those cards that all parents are obligated to send out to relatives and to other families with kids, because a)no one is allowed to have an exposed surface on their refridgerator during the holidays and b)if we don't send them out we will be shunned by our peers for the rest of time. I cleaned all the toys off the fireplace hearth and pointed every lamp in the room in the right direction to set the mood. Hilary dressed both kids in their matching cloud jammies after a long session of showering and primping. 97 shots later, we have one picture that is almost good enough to use. Between my 5-year-old and her inability to sit still, and my 2-year-old's complete disdain for authority, we were very lucky to get both of them in the same frame for half the pics, never mind both smiling. Add to that the constant requests by Natalie to take a turn behind the camera, and the repeated demands from Jessica for teddy grahams, and you can start to understand Scrooge's point of view.

So consider this blog entry your holiday card. Print it out and paste it to your fridge. Then, find two separate pics of my kids on our photo web site, cut print them, cut their heads out and tape them to this printout. Merry friggin' Xmas.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

2005 T.O.Y Awards

As quoted from Patrick Douglas Crispen's "The Internet TourBus - A virtual tour of cyberspace", a weekly email of all things internet:

"Each year Family Fun magazine holds a Toy of the Year (T.O.Y.)competition. This year, the magazine's writers collected 520 brand new toys from 170 different manufacturers, dropped the toys in front of 130 elementary school kids in Kennebunk, Maine, and then seriously reconsidered their career choices. [As a wise man once said, "And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!"]"

Check out this year's winners here.

Franlkly, I've never heard of any of the items except the Darth Vader voice changer. Gee, surprisingly, no Disney stuff. Go figure. I would have thought that the Disney Karaoke boom box, which plays these cheap-ass plastic CD's and gives the Little Mermaid a voice like an old lady named Doris who works at the DMV, would have made the list. Maybe there is hope my kids will get past that after all.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Since my 5-year-old was old enough to have an opinion, she's expressed it about many a movie. I understand this is common among many youngsters, but there are certain movies that she would just REFUSE to watch, on the grounds they were too scary. Now, these are movies she has never SEEN before, but somehow, somewhere, she got wind of the fact that a certain movie might have a scary subject in it and therefore has vetoed it.

For example:

Incredibles - okay, that one is reasonable. though a fantastic movie, I could see it being a bit extreme for young kids

Snow White - I find this one odd. As you know from earlier posts, my daughter has completely assimilated with the massive Borg that is Disney. so why wouldn't she want to watch this over and over? Scary guy in the enchanted mirror, that's why.

Monsters, Inc - she used to watch this as a toddler, until she started understanding it for more than just the pretty colors. Then one night she had a nightmare about it, and told me I had to return it to the video store immediately. as far as she knows, I did.

Toy Story 2 - Evil Emperor Zurg...nasty guy. Shoots scary ping-pong balls.

So that's a simple, not-so-surprising list of movies she won't watch because they are too scary. However, it doesn't explain why she absolutely LOVES Lion King, which is chock full of death, destruction, and mean uncles.

This weekend, we discovered the movie Madagascar. Now, originally she had heard that "the lion bites the zebra in its butt" and for some reason that forced a veto on her part, but we just got a new Plasma TV and decided to watch it anyway despite her. After the first ten seconds of the movie, both she and her younger sister, as well as her parents, were laughing their butts off throughout the entire movie. Crude jokes, animal slapstick, and lots of wild creatures screaming made for quite an amusing time.

So my point in this long-winded blog entry is that I highly recommend Madagascar for preschoolers. The animals are beautifully animated, the humor is simple, not too crude, and there's enough giraffe injuries, Martial-arts-practicing penguins, and fart jokes to keep kids entertained from start to finish. Oh, and it looks gorgeous on a 37" widescreen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Working from home

Natalie has issues with me working for a living. Like most kids her age, she wishes daddy could be home all the time. Understandable, though sometimes I think she wants a butler more than a father figure. But that's another blog entry.

Recently my wife and I have begun making plans to build an addition to our home. We decided that, among other things, a separate room to serve as an office was a necessity. Given that I had to remove a Fisher-Price Little People Dragon, five miscellaneous Mega-Blocs, and a naked Barbie doll from my desk before I could get to the keyboard and start writing, I'm sure you could understand. Of course, all but the Barbie gets tossed in the toy pile. She stays by the desk lamp.

So once Natalie heard we were adding an office, natalie was very excited. "You mean daddy won't have to go to work any more?" she was devastated when we told her that wouldn't be the case.

A few weeks back, I helped a new employee move into an apartment in the area. when I told Natalie that he would be working for me, she said, "Great, he can do the work so you don't have to go anymore!" Again I started to tell her that this wasn't the...wait a minute, maybe she's on to something....

Recently her desire to have more of me around manifested itself in a different way. She decided to hang out a shingle for herself. Anyone who's been in our home recently knows that, in the living room, we have two crappy couches in an L-shape. At the corner of the L is a small corner table. Natalie has turned that table into her "office." We discovered this when we started noticing certain regular office supplies missing. Post-Its, the stapler, stamps, tape, the phone...all these things mysteriously disappearing. One day we discovered all these items neatly lined up on this end table, with her Winnie-The-Pooh chair tucked in and ready for the next day of work. Inside the cigar humidor (a box that I use to hold remotes) was almost a full ream of paper, with random scribbles on it representing her note-taking for the day.

Gee, maybe I need to take some time off?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Goldilocks and the The Three Martians

Hilary picked this book up at the library the other day. It's a laugh-out-loud take on the classic fairy tale, but I warn any parent planning on reading prepared to have to explain the REAL reason why Uranus would be the "gassy" planet.

Wait for it...

Creative Playthings - a great store

Anyone in the Pittsburgh area with kids (or stuck in their own childhoods) would be well-served to pay a visit to a new store called Playthings, Etc. the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had an article on it that intrigued us, so we paid a visit a few weeks ago.

As you can see in the links, the building is made out of welded sheet metal and designed to look like a space ship. When we got there, the owner was sprawled on his back in the parking lot under the chassis of his "shuttle craft", which seemed to be a miniature version of the store destined to be parked out by the road. He told us that by next week it should be fully functional and ready for takeoff.

The front door is designed to look like a blast door of some sort. Yank it open, wait for your eyes to adjust to the spacey darkness inside, and you are greeted with a world of odd, forgotten, educational, and classic toys. Oh, you're also greeted with a pummeling from the kid working behind the checkout counter, who proceeds to smack you with fast-moving pockets of air from a toy air cannon until you duck behind the rack of GeoMags.

Every ten minutes or so, a member of the staff calls everyone out to the parking lot, where he will proceed to demonstrate a toy rocket, a wind-up airplane, or some sort of a rock-em-sockem-robot. his demos don't always go as expected and he lost a rocket on the roof of the store, but hey- that's childhood.

The greatest thing about this store is that there ain't no Disney. no princess crap. no Buzz Lightyear. Just real, honest to goodness toys. Kites, ride-in cars, model airplanes, and science stuff. They even have an excellent collection of sleds and toboggans, something you can't seem to get at your average Toys-r-Us or Wal-Mart these days. of course, I happened to discover that some lady on eBay has a collection of classic toboggans for sale at hugely discounted prices, so I just picked up two on eBay for a third the price of one at this store, but still it's cool to see.

We spent about two hours there, left with our wallets empty and our trunk full, and look forward to going back before the holiday. Hmm, maybe I will buy something for the kids next time.

Competitiveness and illness

The other day we attempted to explain the game "hot potato" to Natalie. We said it was like musical chairs, but instead of running around and sitting in chairs when the music stops, you pass an object around and whomever is holding it when the music stops is out.

Natalie told us she never wants to play it because she doesn't want to lose.She's SO competitive, she won't even compete. how 'bout that?

So, in a tune that's probably familiar to many households right now, I'm currently "working" at home listening to two sick children hack and cough while a sick wife goes to the doctor. The four of us have passed around the same cold for about three weeks now. It's been a minor cold all around, but bad enough that we've probably spent Natalie's first year of tuition at CMU on cold meds. (By the way, I HIGHLY recommend Tylenol's new cold medicine with "cool burst" technology. It's like taking meds with an entire box of Altoids as a chaser, and it does a great job.)

For the past week or so, Jessica has said one thing to us, over and over. "I need a tissue". Her nose is constantly drippy, and of course no 2-year-old has any clue how to blow his or her own nose effectivly. so the most we can do is wipe what's dripping, and squeeze her nose together in hopes of getting a little more out. her nose is so red, she looks like a leaky fire hydrant.

At least she's not puking.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

I can't be expected to remember everything

It's not that uncommon that I give my wonderful wife grief for forgetting and/or not getting around to things. Heck, as a former lawyer, it took her several years of me endlessly hounding her before she managed to coordinate the writing of our wills. Our kids came this close to being state property should the unthinkable happen. Usually it comes down to her explaining how I "just don't understand what it's like around here all day."

I have a little more understanding today.

Hilary was away all last night and today for a conference. It was one of those extremely rare moments (only happened once before) where I was in single-parent mode for a full 24 hours. Really, it was a breeze. Nary a whine, a whimper, or an injury. No one got lost. There were no screams. They were even well fed and their outfits matched (more or less). Heck, even the kitchen was clean and the lawn was mowed.

But I did miss one important step in the whole stay-at-home-mom process today. I put Jessica down for a nap in the afternoon, and she went right down with no complaints. Slept for two hours, and woke up jabbering and playing. When I went up to get her, she was standing in the crib waiting for me. As I walked in, she said, "I'm wet!".

Huh? did the diaper leak? Where's, crap! I completely forgot to put a diaper on her before she went for her nap. Nothing like sleeping in a pool of your own urine for two hours to really make you smell fresh.

Well, at least they are both still breathing, and there was no loss of blood. All in all, a productive day,

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Thought for the day

Be good to your kids. They will be in charge of choosing a rest home for you.

The Uriel won't stand up

Jessica's birthday was October tenth. Since that day, she has been playing non-stop with her Fisher-Price Little People animals Zoo, only taking breaks to poop, to eat, and to ask for help getting the Uriel to stand up. You see, it comes with a collection of 26 animals A-Z along with a mat where you can place each animal on a letter, and there's a little bump under the U that causes the Uriel to fall down. I know what you are thinking, "what's a Uriel?" I'm still trying to figure that out, but it looks kind of like a yak. So, about 15 times a day Jessica will come running in to ask us for help standing the uriel up.

She makes up for it by giving the rhino a great name, "Nocerus".

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The questions begin

My 5-year-old hit two major milestones this month. First, she is reading. In fact, she reads better than I do, I think. I realize that this now means that the sponge which is her brain has stopped it's one-way path of absorbing everything in its wake, and is now providing output as well. We can only hope she uses this new-found power for good rather than evil. I already know that Kid#2's plans focus on an evil-only lifestyle, but I think with Kid#1 we've tried to steer her down a simpler path.

The other milestone was that she has asked her first questions of me that I actually had to look up to find an answer. First, she asked why the sky is blue. No really. And she caught me off-guard, so I wasn't prepared to tell her the real story, about the horrible mistake God made on laundry day by mixing his white clouds with his favorite blue hat. The other question she asked was what three things made mammals unique. Okay, she was quizzing me on this one, because she learned it in preschool. Of course, Google came to the rescue by explaining that mammals all have mammary glands, the presence of three middle ear bones, and hair. Hah-betcha didn't get the ear thing, did ya.

How did dads save face before the internet?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A suggestion for evil witches

More on the whole Disney thing. In your average 007 movie, James Bond's evil arch nemesis will almost always fall short of his goal of killing off the secret agent because one basic mistake - wordiness. The bad guy will always be sure to yammer away about his death ray is the biggest, or how his extortion plot just can't fail. Meanwhile, James is sawing through his chains with his laser watch and making plans to foil the bad guy's plot.

Disney Evil Witches and Fairys (DEWFs) all suffer a similar character flaw. For some stupid reason, rather than killing of the pretty young things that piss them off, they insist on putting them under spells that can only be broken by love's first kiss. For some reason, they ALWAYS make that mistake, thinking there's no possible way that some troubled handsome young lad might fall upon the young princess lying there, decide she's quite the tongue-candy, and steal a smooch while no one is looking. Get real. Princes in fairy tale land are like Hummers in suburbia.

Let's take a look at a few DEWFs who went wrong, and how they could have done better:

SNOW WHITE: In a pre-internet nod to Hot Or Not,the DEWF decides to rely on a mirror to give her a daily babe rating. When she finds out, after specifically assigning some lumberjack the task of offing Snow White, that Paul Bunyan wasn't up to the task, she sets out to take care of business herself. She dresses up like an old hag and creates an appple poisioned with a potion that will make her fall asleep until awoken by love's first kiss.

A BETTER PLAN: Break the mirror into shards, pound down the door of the double-wide that Snow White and her vertically challenged inbreds are shacking up in, and slice the wench. Then, get yourself a nose job and a facial and forget the old hag buisness.

SLEEPING BEAUTY: In this story, the DEWF is miffed because she wasn't invited to the family shindig celebrating the king's new offspring. So, she makes herself a real thorn in the king's side by plotting to stab the kid with a spinning needle when she turns 16.

A BETTER PLAN: You know, I've heard that my crazy Aunt Ruth wasn't invited to my bris, and she got back at us by stealing the silverware at my bar mitzvah. Sounds like a similar story line. But the fact is it would have been far simpler to steal the baby and grind its bones for her soup.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: In a bit of a role reversal, some mysterious DEWF casts a spell on a prince, and tells him he's gotta find a way to love before he can go back to normal.

A BETTER PLAN: Now, let's face it, the DEWF's mistake here was making the guy look like a cross between the Cowardly Lion and Ben Franklin. Everyone knows the Cowardly Lion was the sexiest member of the Oz bunch, and Ben Franklin always managed to invent his way into the hearts and beds of women. I mean let's face it, sometimes, women dig geeks. The geek thing seemed to work okay for me. Now on the other hand, she made the dishes talk like Angela Landsbury. That, alone, was probably enough torture for the prince, so I will give her that one.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


I believe we are beginning to enter that much-anticipated and much-feared stage of parenthood, where the child realizes that money can be exchanged for goods and services (and any Homer Simpson fan worth his salt knows that money can also be used to buy peanuts. Tell me more). However, our elder offspring has not quite grasped the fact that this money does not come out of a tap or get harvested from a plant.

If you are a new parent, be warned that The Disney store at your local mall utilizes a system known as the Disney Store Marketability of Youth System, known by its more common acronym "DisMaY". These highly complex sensors scan passers-by and immediately register the size, sex, hair color, parental spending limit and mailing address of each and every child that passes within 20 feet of the entryway. The system will then assign a rating and category to each child and proceed with a barrage of marketing in the child's general direction.

Let's use my daughter Natalie as a very simple example. Natalie is 5 years old and a red head. Let's look at some of her favorite things:

Favorite Movie: Little Mermaid
Favorite passtime: Princess dress-up
Favorite dishware: Her Ariel plate, Ariel bowl, and Ariel princess cup
Favorite sound: That "Ah-ah-ah" sound that Ariel makes in the movie when Ursula steals her voice
Favorite toothbrush: Ariel
Favorite toothpaste: Ariel
Favorite pull-ups, underwear, T-shirt....are you sensing a pattern?

How did she get this way? Daddy's influence? I think not. I've spent far, far too many hours demonstrating safe power-tool usage and watching Ask This Old House to head her in that direction. Mommy's influence? Not quite. Mommy is as much a victim as Natalie herself. And how did they become victims?


Okay, so now that Natalie has surrendered to the suggestion that she MUST have everything with a picture of a Disney Princess on it, the Disney Store Catalogs have begun arriving. Can I tell you how many times in the past month I've fended off cries of, "Dad! Look! A Disney Princess Futon cover! We don't have one of those yet!" or "Dad! Look! A Disney Princess Fire Extinguisher! I could use that to put out the fire when you burn my Disney Princess Pop-Tarts again."

We have found that when we explain to her that these things cost money and we need to save money, she tells us that she will pay. How, you might ask? Well, with her credit card, of course. And where did she get that credit card? From her Disney Princess Cash Register, of course.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A poem by my (almost) 5 year old daughter

Written by my daughter for no apparent reason except to show her genius...

A said the R to the R said the O
O said the O to the P and the Q
W said the U to the X and the Z
XYZ said, I love you

Can you tell me what to do?
OPQ and R
Tell me what to do?
H and O and QRS
Tell me what to do the rest

I love you and you love me
I love the coconut tree next to me
This is a cool letter day
O my goodness can you say to me?

There’s a permanent thing to do
Can you tell me what to do
A said W, xyz
R follow me to the coconut tree

Then there was a little girl
Who came around the world
All the letters lived in Pittsburgh
And then the little girl cam e from California
And then the little girl saw all the letters

She took them home, they were actually pasta
And then she took them home to make alphabet soup
There were a couple of vegetables out in the garden
Then the little girl, picked the vegetables, made some broth,
Put them in the alphabet soup

The End

Saturday, July 09, 2005


A couple of interesting articles about some of the latest ideas in consumer robotics. Some of the ideas in these articles hit me as just those first baby steps towards us all being replaced by robots. Which of course makes me worry about what life is going to be like when our kids have kids.

First, there's the story that Wal-Mart is denying doing research into using robotics to replace human workers. And of course, this is Wal-Mart, so I think we can safely assume they are.

Then, there's a story about the latest ideas with Robots and RFID. Such as the kid's playground robot, designed to monitor the whereabouts of a kid (a kid wearing an RFID tag, no less), and to go medieval on your ass if you come near the kid by making loud noises, blowing smoke, oh and of course whipping out the massive Tommy-gun hands a la RoboCop. And we all know how well that worked on RoboCop.

And then of course, "Imagine a doll that recognizes its accessories and can request new ones". I can imagine it, it's called my opinionated 4-year-old. Frankly, the last thing I want around this house is another toy that talks. I already can't get a word in edgewise around here.

Of course, there's the robot toy that "detects other toys and responds to them." How cool would it be to see your robotic Winnie The Pooh sidle up to your robotic Elmo doll and smack him upside the head for being so whiny? Or better yet, whip out those Tommy-gun hands and, well, maybe not. For some reason I see a scene from Toy Story, where everyone leaves the room and the toys come to life. But I don't see them playing nicely together. I see them battling for playroom domination.

If you ask me, the day they invent a robot that kids would prefer over a mom or dad to lie down on the couch with, snuggled in its arms, watching TV or reading a book together is the day we're all doomed.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Mom Plays Dad for a day

Yesterday, my wife Hilary got a chance to deviate from her regular course of life as a stay-at-home mom to experience a little bit of what it's like to be dad.

As I walked into my regular post-lunch team meeting, she called me, panic-stricken.

"You need to come home NOW," she proclaimed.

Immediately, thoughts of toddlers with broken bones, blood at the bottom of staircases, electrocution, and consumption of poisonous substances with torn-off Mr. Yuck stickers came to mind.

"Why, what happened?!!" I asked.

"A chipmunk fell in Natalie's pool and can't get out."

...Pregnant pause....


"And how the hell am I gonna get it out??" She asked me.

"Try the pool skimmer. "

Funny, that answer worked pretty well. Now, I will be the first to admit that Removus Rodentia is certainly within the domain of The Dad, right up there with burger grilling, centepide squashing and the use if any tool in the garage, but I figured that little Chippy surely wouldn't survive my commute home. Too bad. I wish I could have been there to watch Hilary do the ol' Skim-N-Flick while the kids cheered her on from the deck. It turns out that with her brave assistance, Chippy made it safely to solid ground. After the extraction, he was a bit stunned and exhausted from what was perhaps hours of chipmunk-paddling, and he didn't move for quite some time. But after some CPR (Chipmunk Poking Resuscitation) he scampered off.

So, on this day, the Mom got to experience what is one of the top glories of being the Dad. That list, of course, includes:

-Grilling a mean side of beef to perfection
-Knowing the brand and model number of the power nailer the neighbor is using simply from the sound it makes as it echoes down the street
-Keeping the family safe from harm, under a well maintained roof
-Throwing that pitch that becomes the kid's first home run
-Driving the kid to that first college interview
-Graduation day picture-taking
-Varmint removal.

Maybe this weekend will teach her to use the table saw.

Maybe not.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Baby Translator

Okay okay, sorry I've been away for a while, lost in the abyss of daily life. Well I'm back, and today I'm going to mention a little something about baby translation. You see, Jessica is at that stage of life that every parent loves, that stage where she has words for about everything and very few of them are in the dictionary. For example, let's take "dwaffies". What are dwaffies, you ask? Well, it was time for the evening snack, and Jessica was frantically pointing at the fridge yelling, "Dwaffies! Dwaffies". At first I thought she wanted a waffle, but no, her word for waffle is "Farfel". Or is that her word for flower? I forget. Anyway, I then thought she wanted a cracker, but that would have been "quackel". Then it occurred to me. About five minutes before we have been discussing various fruits, and strawberries were mentioned. I said, "do you want Strawberries?" Her answer to that was an ecstatic, "Yes! Yes! Dwaffies!!" Followed by a heavy sigh that could only mean, "My god, these adults are so freaking STUPID."

Hilary has often told me that my ability to translate Jessica-speak is uncannily accurate, and far better than she can do. It's been more than one where Jessica would be running around yelling, "finglide, finglide!" Hilary would ask what it was she wants and, without skipping a beat I would tell her, "She wants to go outside on the swings and slide down the slide."

Some other important terms to know around our house:

Booma = banana
Boom = Balloon
Yellow = yellow
Yellow also = purple
Purple = Barney
See = Jessica (note that she picked that one up from "JeSSE")
Mike = Daddy. No, say "daddy."...."Mike"....."Fine, whatever".
Updown = down
Bof = Bath

By the way, at this moment in the other room I hear a baby screaming and a 4-year-old yelling, "I need that! I need that". Hilary then told her that she was being rude and not sharing, to which her response was, "But it's not rude to me!!"

Bliss. Nothing but bliss.

Love for sale

So, this weekend, we had a yard sale. For those of you on the east coast, that would be a tag sale. It was time to eliminate about 1800 cubic feet worth of crap from our house, in preparation for that next generation of Things That Stain, Things That Clutter, kiddie pools, and Disney Princess Fire Hazards. So after about three weeks of planning, attic emptying, closet purging and soul searching we were ready for the onslaught of (as my sister calls them) Freaks And Weirdos that are yard sale patrons. I figured we had it made, because at the bottom of the street the local church was having a "huge yard sale" on the same day, so through some strategic signage we would be able to grab those shoppers that just couldn't get enough of the chotckes at the church and needed another fix.

Well in the end, Natalie did far better financially than we did by selling lemonade. Who, honestly, could resist a little redheaded girl (Charlie Brown couldn't, that's for sure) following you around saying, "would you like some ice cold lemonade? It's only a quarter and I made it myself!" Well, it turns out Natalie made almost as much in tips as we did in the whole sale.

It seems that folks in the North Hills of Pittsburgh don't want our crap. They have enough of our own. In fact, I head a story on NPR (this is true) about the Do-It-Yourself Storage industry where someone cited a statistic that "Americans have consumed more stuff since 1960 then then entire world did in all of history before 1960." Okay, so how did they calculate that one? By the end of the day, perhaps 10% of our stuff was gone. And mind you, it was good crap too. I mean surely there must be someone who needs a completely unused floppy drive and a dozen highball glasses that say, "Greece Vacation" on them, no?


And no, we've never been to Greece.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

And God and The Fairy Passed Over....

So, we decided to take a trek to visit the family for the Passover holiday. This would be the holiday in which "God and the Fairy Passed Over the Jews' houses", according to Natalie. We hadn't been back home in a while, so the time had come for that long, long, very long drive across PA to CT. Conveniently, our friends Paul and Lee Ann were in Philadelphia visiting from Dallas with their new baby, so we made it a point of leaving Thursday to visit them and use Philly as a half-way overnight stopping point before continuing on to CT. Or so we thought.

Earlier in the week, Natalie had a fever that she couldn't seem to shake. So we played it by ear (or ear infection, as the case may be), planning on deciding at the last minute whether or not we would leave Thursday. Well, when Tuesday morning came and Natalie threw up all over the living room couch, we decided it was a safe bet we weren't going anywhere Thursday. So we pushed the trip off by a day so she could get better, which she did. No big deal. Or so we thought.

Friday arrived, and we left first thing in the morning. Twenty minutes into the drive, the PA turnpike came to a complete standstill for almost two hours. Truck accident. Got some cute pictures of the baby wandering around aimlessly on the highway. Probably will show up on some "bad parenting techniques" website someday. Conveniently, a nice couple in a Winnebago ahead of us offered to let Natalie use the bathroom. Inconviently, she took the couple up on her offer at much the same time that traffic finally began moving. So after thousands of people on the PA Turnpike waited for Natalie to pee, we were ready to continue. Good thing girls don't usually experience "freeze-up."

So on to Philly. Everything seemed completely normal for the rest of the day, until dinner when we noticed Jessica seemed to be on fire. She had caught "the fever," which later in the evening turned to a croupy cough. Good thing Paul's sister was nice enough to let us stay at their house, with three other little kids around to act as receptacles for the disease machine we seemed to have brought with us. We will be lucky if Paul's sister ever speaks to us again.

So that night the four of us all slept in one room. Natalie and I camped on the floor in sleeping bags, Jessica in a crib, and Hilary on a twin bed. The night was surprisingly not too bad, with Jessica sleeping through all of the night except those points where someone walked on the massively creaky hardwood floor outside the bedroom. Jessica didn't take kindly to that. The next morning, Jessica was still coughing but seemed to be on the mend. After an hour's debate of whether to return home or continue to CT, we decided to schlep on, where at least there were others who could potentially assist with the care of sick children.

Oddly enough fate was on our side somewhat, in that by delaying the trip by a day we managed to miss the deadly truck accident that shut the Jersey Turnpike down for 16 hours. Had we left on the day we originally planned, we'd have been in it. So despite heavy traffic, a half-hour wait in line at a NJ gas station, heavy downpours the entire way, and a slow line moving over the GW bridge, we were happy to make it to CT in one piece and in a normal fashion.
The rest of the trip had its ups and downs as well. Hilary got sick one night, the weather blew chunks, and being carriers of typhoid we weren't able to visit our friends and their kids too much. By Tuesday were we ready to head home. We expected to be on the highway by 9am. Or so we thought.

I spent the night before repacking the car and getting everything in order. That morning we strapped the kids in the car, asked which DVD they wanted to watch first, and....realized we couldn't find the DVD case. Where was the DVD case? we looked everywhere. We knew it had to be in the car, but it just seemed to have magically vanished. Luckily my sister came through with some backup movies to take, and about three hours into the drive it dawned on me I had probably folded the rear seat of the van down sandwiching the DVD case inside the seat. Sigh.

So here's a useful mathematical fact. To plan out a long distance drive, take the estimated driving time and add two hours per child in the car. In this case, the normally 8-hour drive took 12 hours. With a limited quantity of DVDs that end up getting repeated over and over again throughout the drive, that 12 hours ends up feeling like about 18. Next year, we wait until after spring cold season, and fly.

So now, it's about a week later. Whatever disease the kids had, Hilary and I are now suffering through. we spent the entire weekend coughing and hacking, sneezing and blowing, getting absolutely no sleep. I need a vacation.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Pledge

Okay, so this is a little silly, but I found it as a memo in my old Palm Pilot today.

When Natalie was an infant and breastfeeding, she had a habit of holding her hand to her heart as if pledging allegiance. So, we wrote a special pledge for her:

I pledge allegiance
To mommy's boob
And to the Lactation Consultants
Of america
And to the nutrition
For which it stands
Two nipples
In the bra
With vitamins
And sustenance
For all.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Magic Eraser

Today Natalie (the elder young'in) ended up in Time Out for scribbling on the wall. It seems that she got carried away at her drawing table in the family room and, in an artistic burst of passion, sketched out in dramatic strokes of Vibrant Orange, Laser Lemon, and Burnt Umber what I believe to have been an octopus riding a bicycle in a rainstorm.

The reason Natalie ended up in Time Out was not because of her wall art, but rather because she attempted to blame it on her sister Jessica. Mind you, Jessica's drawing skills at this point in her 18-month life carry very little artistic merit and would in fact be poo-poo'ed by many a SoHo critic. The Time Out was to teach her a lesson, but in fact the lesson I believe she actually learned was NOT to not place blame on her sibling, but that next time she should avoid signing her NAME to the artwork. You see, across the bottom of the picture it clearly said, "EILATAN", which is her own 4-1/2 year old way of spelling her own name backwards. Curses! Foiled again!

So, in order to teach her a lesson, I took the little graffiti artist with me to the supermarket, had her pick out and pay for (yes, I gave her money) a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, and together she and I scrubbed the walls down. Okay, well actually I scrubbed while she catched the drips that ran down the wall.

P.S. I highly recommend one of those Magic Eraser thingies. I wish that the walls of our house were actually MADE of whatever these things are made of.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Isle of Tools

The other day Natalie and I were playing with a puzzle, one of those wooden puzzles with about a dozen pieces, each piece with a little knob to pick it up with. This one contained pictures of different types of transportation. A police car, a tractor-trailer, a helicopter, a ship, etc. I decided to make things interesting by making a story out of it, picking up a specific piece whenever I mentioned it. Something to the effect of, "one day, a man was riding a Motorcycle, he drove too fast and was stopped for speeding by a Police Car. The policeman said, "you're going to crash into a Tractor-Trailer if your not careful!" Well, you get the idea.

Natalie then decided it was her turn. Her story began, "One day, a man was riding a Motorcycle. He rode to an island where there were no people, only tools."

I never heard the rest of the story, because I was too busy dreaming of that wonderful, wonderful place.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Filtering Internet content for your children

The other day I managed to mentally scar my 4-year-old (not the first time, and probably not the last) by introducing her to the concept of the Shockwave file. My dad had emailed a moderately humorous Easter-based internet cartoon showing a chicken launching an egg at the screen. Natalie watched over my shoulder, laughed hysterically (4-year-olds are easily amused) and asked to see other cartoons on the computer. So I, like a moron, obliged.

I did a Google search for “funny swf files” and came across a site listing just that. Among the listings was one entitled “valentines day”. Clicking it brought up a cute little kitten (think Hello Kitty) in a box, with three buttons next to it. It was entirely pink and cute-looking, so naturally it had to be a safe bet, right? I clicked the first button entitled “Flowers”. A hand came into the screen and handed the kitten a bouquet of flowers. The kitten began making all sorts of cute “thank you” squeaks and purrs. Then it sniffed the flowers, and began to sneeze. And sneeze.

Suddenly, the kitten decided to hold it’s nose, and that’s when things rapidly went downhill. It sneezed once more, and its head blew apart, covering the screen in virtual blood, brain splattering against the wall. The decapitated torso then flopped to the ground, twitching and lifeless.

Natalie, who up to that point was fully enjoying it, suddenly launched from my lap, screaming and covering her eyes. She then proceeded to scream for the next half hour, demanding that I throw the computer in the garbage and never show her anything again.

I’m an idiot.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Small Pieces Of Cloth

It's 3:40pm on Wednesday, some time early in September 2000. The only reason I knew this is that my Timex Indiglo Ironman, for which I used the “I need it to time contractions” excuse to buy, told me. I never timed a single one, by the way. Instead I used it to tell me if I should be eating, taking out the garbage, sleeping, watching the Simpsons, or heating up a formula bottle for our 4-day-old newborn baby girl. It was a very tired, tired time.

Life quickly became a whirlwind of smelly diapers, washing bottles, and small pieces of cloth everywhere. It's amazing that the new kid was home no more than 4 hours and our spotless house turned into the set of one of those movies where the asteroid plows into Los Angeles.

So about those small pieces of cloth. There were burping pads. Sleepers. Gowns. Onesies. Changing pads. Receiving blankets. Tushie wipes. Washcloths. Diapers. Wet ones. Swaddlers. It seemed we could have made it easier if we had picked up one good sweatshirt and a garden hose.

So Natalie left the hospital at 3pm the previous day. She slept the entire ride home, and until 8pm, when we fed her. Then, she proceeded to wake us at 45 minute intervals until the next morning. During one episode, I checked on her to make sure she was okay (she had been silent for 48 minutes, and we were worried) and I was greeted by a stream of white goo coming from the general direction of her face. As I picked her up to clean her off, I discovered there was already a previously projected stream under her head, which she had been marinating in for quite some time.

It's amazing she survived the night, given her parents' general lack of knowledge at the time of how to keep human beings alive.

That morning, Natalie appeared interested in spending the day at rest. Mommy and I tried to catch up on sleep - but in reality Natalie had training regimen planned for us. She knew that before we had the chance to catnap, it would be time to introduce her parents to the concept of the explosive poop. I'm pretty sure they had been feeding Natalie nothing but corn salsa the entire time she was in the hospital, because that was exactly what was coming out of her. Did I sign up for that part? I couldn’t remember. Then again, I couldn’t remember what day it was without the Indiglo Iron Man. Hmm…Wednesday... Garbage night. Man, those garbage men were gonna hate us that morning.

And that’s how the first 24 hours went. Oh, how easy those days were.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The starting point

I think that before I get too far into the story, I should provide some background of how I got here.

Tuesday, December 28, 1999

Okay, let’s call this DAY 1. Ground Zero. The point of, well, point of no return, I guess. Hilary had been kind of worried that, well, her monthly bill was past due. “I’m never late,” she proclaimed. “You can set a watch by me, darnit!" (yes she said "darnit")

Well, we thought back a few weeks, and quickly realized the error of our ways. But everyone told us it would take months and months to get pregnant, so we weren’t really worried at the time. Besides, we’re about ready, right? Right?

After work, mostly to sooth Hil’s worry, we stopped at the local Giant Eagle for ravioli, pasta sauce, and a First Plus home pregnancy test. This was the beginning of a long evening.

When we got home, Hilary suddenly realized that the word “ready” meant a whole lotta things that she just wasn’t. “I’m not ready to give up the life we have! I’m not ready to gain weight! I’m not maternal enough! I still want to go back in the womb myself!!!”

I never managed to calm her down real well, but I at least convinced her not to jump out the bedroom window and to take the test. Three minutes later we found out just how well my boys could swim. We’re talking backstroke, Australian crawl, freestyle, all at Olympic levels! Months and months, my butt!

Well, if I thought Hilary was freaked before the test, there was no stopping her afterwards. My initial thought was to keep this a secret from the family until we were sure, but after that test I realized I needed to call in the extra recruits for this one. We headed straight to her mom’s place. Driving 20 miles an hour the whole way. Precious cargo, after all.

And heading there was a wise choice.

Hilary’s mom had that deer-in-headlights look for a bit, but soon she became the cucumber of cool. She convinced Hilary that she’ll survive this, that she’ll make a fine mother, and that the time was nigh.

A few hours later, Hilary realized that this could in fact be a good thing. In fact, it will be.

Me? I always knew.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What ever happened to the Natalie Chronicles?

A while back, my first daughter, Natalie, was born. I wrote a couple of emails to my friends and family describing all the things I found myself ill-prepared for when it came to fatherhood. It was then that I realized I had a minor talent for breaking down a crazy life change into humorous anecdotes. Since then I have realized that this crazy life change has tremendously interfered with my ability to wax anecdotal, as I find myself too busy with diapers, bath time, meals, Barney, naps, minivans, training wheels, Dora Band-Aids, sippy cups, babyproofing, and tantrums (including my own) to jot down a complete thought.

Four and a half years and a second daughter later, I have entered the ranks of the blogger. Okay, I'm not exactly a first adopter when it comes to the concept of a blog, and I love reading blogs created by other people, but frankly I never much saw the point in creating one myself. All that changed at about three o'clock this morning, when it dawned on me that this might just be my outlet. Many of my friends have said to me, "what ever happened to those emails?" Well, here's my attempt to get back at it. I hope you enjoy.