Thursday, December 28, 2006

17 Things I did not know last year

The BBC News Magazine has an interesting list of 100 things that were learned through news stories over the past year. Like the fact that the Cowardly Lion's costume is made of real lion. Or the fact that Barbie's full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts (good to know...I can impress and amaze my daughters now).

On a similar note, I thought I would compile a few of my own findings:

1. I personally know the owners and wearabouts of the original Santa and Rudolph from the classic stop motion animated holiday specials.

2. When informing my kids that Santa doesn't exist, I should remind them not to tell the neighbor kids.

3. When installing a new sink, make sure the drain lines up with the old drain.

4. Disney truly does control the weather.

5. Home Depot rebates suck.

6. Don't buy the fabric protection warranty when buying furniture (that's coming in a future blog).

7. Eggos now come in the form of Legos.

8. The important thing about an electrical inspection is not how safe the wiring job is, but how much you can afford to pay the inspector.

9. If hanging a TV on the wall, get your bracket on eBay. Otherwise you're paying about 500% more than you should.

10. We never had hidden hardwood floors under our old carpets.

11. No matter how much stuff you own, if you absolutely need to you can gather in all and store it in one third of your house.

12. If using bread while sweating pipe, avoid the country wheat.

13. Geckos are parthenogenic. And they die easily.

14. The best mouse trap is peanut butter spread on one of those sticky traps. But be prepared for the evil task of crushing the poor helpless varmint once you get him.

15. I want one of these trucks.

16. the United Airlines emergency kit is useful only if you need to be revitalized by the sea.

17. Kindergarten classrooms are much smaller than I remember them. And not nearly big enough to hold the swelling of parents' pride when they send that first kid to school.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Stored in the recesses of my long-term memory was an act seen on the Muppet Show known as Mummenschanz. The Mummenschanz were some sort of Swiss performance art group that had a recurring act on the Muppets. And it looks like, according to their website, they are still in existence. Whenever I try to explain them to my lovely wife, she looks at me like I've eaten some bad spinach. Today, when my daughter came down the stairs dressed entirely in black, I told her, "Hey! you look like a Mummenschanz!" Again, the spinach look. I felt a search on YouTube was in order.

It took me five minutes to get the spelling right.

Anyways, here they are. And, if you recall these from your days as a kid, spending Sunday in front of Kermit, Gonzo, Scooter and the gang, then you're definitely from my generation. And you were also probably a fan of Lou Zealand and his Boomerang Fish.

There's the Duct, the Mask, the Plug, and this one I've never seen before from NYC.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Are you done yet?

Hairy Chestmoose, everyone. I thought I would take a break from sanding drywall in the kitchen to type a few blog notes and get the feeling back in my fingers. It's been a fairly productive day - second coat of drywall mud is up, bathroom closet door is stained, and a shelf for the bedroom sofa is built. I love Christmas vacation.

So about twice a week someone asks me, "are you done yet?" The only response I can provide is, "define done." Sure, the builder has been gone for a couple months now, all the new rooms are in use, and all the general household crap that was stored in every spare corner is slowly making its way back to where it belongs, but no....we ain't done. Ask me again in about 5 years.

With a renovation comes a huge laundry list of follow-up projects. Even the rooms that are allegedy complete aren't complete. We've got built-ins to build. We've got an entire kitchen to repaint. We have a deck door that currently leads out into an abyss where there will someday be a deck. The list goes on and on.

But this is a good thing. My daughters are growing up fast, and I need something to distract me during those teenage years that make every dad wish he'd installed a safe room in which he could lock his daughters until they turn 30. While the kids are looking for someone to play Disney Princess Dress-up with, I'll be hooking up cable in the workshop. While mom is dealing with all those feminine issues, I'll be installing the wine cellar. While Natalie and mom are discussing which boy to take to the prom, I'll be staining my new shotgun rack to be installed in the mudroom. It's always good to keep busy.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Some new children's games for adults

This year's for Channukah I convinced my lovely wife that any Channukah gift requiring a pair of tin snips to remove it from its packaging should not be allowed into the house. As a result, I think both the kids AND the parents made out well this year.

The Channukah booty involved several new games for the whole family, all of which I highly recommend. I thought I would take a moment to review them. You know, now that you're done with your holiday shopping and have no reason whatsoever to buy these or even the cash flow if you wanted to.

Blokus can best be described as 4-player horizontal Tetris. It's a board game, with 21 Tetris-shaped plastic pieces per player. The board is a grid of 800 squares. The object of the game is to get all of your pieces on the board before you run out of places to do so. You must place a piece so that it only touches one or more corners of your other pieces. Functioning left brain required. My 6-year-old loved it, and so did I. My right-brained, Boggle-champion, non-geometrically-inclined wife wasn't overly thrilled with it at first, but it grew on her. At last, the next time she decides she wants to completely destroy in a round of Boggle I finally have an alternative with which I can whip her tush.

Batteries: none
Obnoxious noises: none
Packaging annoyance factor: very low
Likelihood of lost pieces: very high
Adult enjoyment: high
Kindergartener enjoyment: high
Preschooler enjoyment: low to medium

This one was a bit of a surprise. It's a handheld electronic game that does one thing...plays 20 questions. You think of a thing, and it guesses. It's that simple. And frighteningly accurate. Eerie, in fact. It gets the word right almost every time. Hilary is addicted. In fact, I'm thinking of getting her professional help.

Batteries: yup
Obnoxious noises: optional
Packaging annoyance factor: The usual clear plastic blisterpack that can only be opened with a hatchet.
Likelihood of lost pieces: None
Adult enjoyment: high (til boredom sets in, I'd give it a week)
Kindergartener enjoyment: high
Preschooler enjoyment: low

Cranium Cadoo
I've often seen Cranium on sale in bookstores and at the local Starbucks, but never picked it up. Cranium Cadoo is the "kid" version, but it's a very enjoyable family game. In a nutshell, the object of the game is to pick cards from a trivial Pursuit-like box, and essentially do whatever the card says. Sometimes the task is to build something out of clay, forcing your fellow players to guess what the object is and at the same time determine how weak your sculpting skills are. Sometimes you are told to go on a scavenger hunt and find two items with certain properties ("Find something blue, and something fuzzy"). Sometimes you are required to do a bit of charades, miming out a simple action like "slow motion" or "kite flying". Though this game is easy for adults, it's definitely fun in a family setting. And with a little effort and creativity, it could easy be turned into a college drinking game.

Batteries: Nope
Obnoxious noises: only your own
Packaging annoyance factor: low
Likelihood of lost pieces: medium
Adult enjoyment: high, when played with kids
Kindergartener enjoyment: high
Preschooler enjoyment: not recommended for preschoolers.

Potty Training Boot Camp

My wife announced that today, the first of ten days off from work, was potty training boot camp for Jessica. Oddly enough, right after making that announcement, she left the house. FOR THE DAY.

So there I was, on my own, armed with nothing but my wits and a fully equiped workshop. "Okay, I can do this," I thought. Really, how hard can it be? I mean, after spending the first three years or so making yourself really uncomfortable by messing up your shorts, one would think you'd really look forward to the day when smushy pants, diaper rash, and having your feet held up next to your ears while having your butt wiped all become things of the past. Right?

Well, day 1 didn't go so well. Jessica didn't seem to be in the zone. She failed to take things in her own hands; just wouldn't take the bull by the horns. I tried every tactic I could think of. I tried bribery. But no, a crisp new twenty wasn't enough incentive. I tried threats. But waving a hammer over her head and dangling her favorite teddy bear over a lit stovetop did nothing but make her cry. I even tried electricity, thinking the shock would sort of force her into incontinence, but again, nothing but tears. Come on kid, show some grapes.

I guess we'll try again tomorrow. I've got a few more tricks up my sleeve. We'll start with a morning breakfast of prunes, prune juice, and an Ex-Lax chaser. Then, I figure we'll shake her up and down vigorously, getting everything nice and loosened up. Lastly, I'll put a little crazy glue on the potty seat, making sure she stays there til she's good and ready. I know what you're thinking, "isn't crazy glue taking it a little too far?" Don't worry, we can always get her off the seat with a chisel and some nail polish remover. And it'll make her smell pretty. If all else fails, I'll just yell "what are you, stupid??" over and over again til she gets it.

And she will get it. She'll be a proud, potty-trained kid before she knows it, without any long term psychological repercussions.

Just like her dad.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tis the season...

We may not have snow, but at least we still have classic Calvin & Hobbes snowman comics. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bring her a seda-give!

As I mentioned in my last post, Jessica met up with an insurgent refrigerator door the night before our weekend trip to CT, landing her in the ER. Seven stitches later, we were on our way to visit the family, fully planning to take take all those family photos with Jessica turned to the left in order to show her uninjured side.

We did not count on the amount of effort it would take to get penicillin in her.

We were told Jessica would need to take penicillin as a preventative to ward off infection. After the first dose, she decided we should get that crap out of her face and that she would have no part of this exercise. It was all we could do to get the stuff in her, even after trying different utensils (spoon, syringe, cup, fire hose), different forms of bribery (M&Ms, stuffed animals, sparing of her future first-born), and different strategies (sneak attack, pro wrestler, improvised explosive device). We received all sorts of advice, solicited or not. "Hold her nose! Squeeze her cheeks! Offer her a bribe!" Let me tell you there is NOTHING that will make her take this short of an IV needle if she doesn't want to. At one point while sitting on the end of a banquet table with her in my lap in a full headlock, she managed to get a foot in between my legs and down on the table. Then with a leg press worthy of a Schwarzenegger, she pushed upward, almost collapsing the table and flipping me over. Damn, she's a brute.

Last night at dinner she informed us that she didn't want her stitches removed, because she didn't want to go back to the hospital. I was informed this afternoon that our doctor refused to take her stitches out for fear he would hurt her due to her thrashing. Tomorrow morning I get to take her to Childrens' Hospital for sedation and a rubber suit with the sleeves in the back.

On second thought, maybe she can wear the suit and I'll take the sedation.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Proving Paternity, distressed cells indeed

Well, I really wasn't kidding when I said there'd be bloggin' to do after our trip to CT this weekend. In fact, there's already there's been one trip to the ER, and we don't even leave 'til tomorrow!

On the way home from work today I got a call from my wife who, in a state of urgency, informed me she was headed to the ER with Jessica. It seems Jessica was playing tag with mommy and mistook the refrigerator door for "it". She plowed into it, gashing the inside of her cheek and the outside of her lip. Natalie and I met up with them at the hospital. I was convinced a little bactine and a band-aid were all that was needed. The nurse felt otherwise. After an argument about who should stay to hold Jessica down (the nurse won, by telling mom to go home), I stayed to watch the extremely unpleasureable (if that's a word) event of stitching up my three-year-old's face.

It was graphic. It was upsetting. I frankly had no problem with the gross factor, but of course seeing my child turned into a latch-hook quilt wasn't a good thing. But Jessica? Wow. Even as the nurse injected her lip repeatedly with the novacaine needle, she didn't even flinch. Not a whimper. Not a moan. She took it like a man. And, considering I felt a little light-headed after ten minutes of watching that, I'd say she took it better than a man. I reminisced back to the time a few years ago when my friend Paul gave me seven stitches in my knee in the middle of a park after a mountain biking accident and thought, "yeah, she's my daughter."

So now we're home. Jessica's resting comfortably. Natalie is fast asleep, after feeling very, very upset over her sister's misfortune for the entire evening. Mommy's disturbed that she physically injured her child. but tomorrow's another day. And an eight hour car trip. when we get to my niece's bat mitzvah, we'll make sure to have Jessica show her right side for the pictures, since her left looks kind of like an Amtrak train parked on it right now.

Damned cells in distress

You know, I came up with the title of this blog thinking, "what a great title for a blog." Unfortunately, I don't have a related subject to write about, so instead I'll just post a few random thoughts I've had for the day.

Nice weather, huh?
First of all, a gripe about global warming. Today in Pittsburgh, it's 55 degrees and sunny. On December 14th. On the way into work, the radio announcer said, "it's beautiful weather out there, isn't this incredible?? Get out there while you can, because before you know it...."

If it were me announcing, I'd put my best crotchety old voice on and yell, "dangit! Leave your fershlugginer Hummer at home and take the bus, for cripes sake, and stop all this global warming nonsense so I can go sledding!"

A lot of people I know keep saying, "oh, it'll hit sooner or later...we're gonna get walloped with snow soon. I say Bull Cookies. I'm leaving my snowblower in the shed this year.

Speaking of disposable culture
A year or two ago I purchased a reconditioned Craftsman cordless drill at a Sears repair center for somewhere around $25 or $30. Seemed like a good deal at a time, and in fact it's been just fine. So I decided I wanted to get a 2nd battery for it, in preparation for deck building this spring. The Sears retail store doesn't carry this battery anymore. They sent me to the repair center. I went to the repair center and was told the battery is $53 plus tax. Mind you it costs $45 to replace this drill with a new equivalent. What the heck.

On that note, it's time to go home. We're headed to CT for the weekend for my niece's bat mitzvah. I'm sure after ten hours in the minivan with the squirts, my damned cells will be quite distressed indeed.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Teaching an old dog new tricks

This month my parents, luddites to the extreme, ventured into the world of high speed internet. For years I had been trying to convince them it was time to upgrade their pokey 28.8kbps dialup account to more current technology, only to receive a response of, "what the hell do I need to download spam faster for?". Now, mind you while my dad does have a relatively up-to-date computer, the display is determinedly set to 640x480 VGA setting so each icon on the desktop is the size of Rhode Island, and it sits across the room from my mothers' Brother Word Processor which she uses proudly, much like Abraham Lincoln took pride in the writing he did with a piece of charcoal on the back of a shovel while sitting on the dirt floor of his log cabin.

So one day, my dad decided to call AT&T customer service in hopes of getting a cheaper cell phone (yes, they have a cell phone, but it's never on and they don't know how to use the voicemail). The kindly AT&T representative pointed out that he was spending more in home long distance calls than the country of Ghana spends on health care, and suggested a package that included free long distance, a new cell phone plan, and yes...even high-speed DSL. Finally, it was time.

The next week or so consisted of a series of issues worthy of any tech support-of-the-month review. First of all, AT&T sent the hardware package to the house, but the UPS guy dropped it off at their front door. Silly man, little did he know that the last time the front door was used at my house was during my bar mitzvah. So after a slightly annoyed call back to AT&T, he found out where the package was and was ready to begin.

The directions were straightforward. Plug the modem into the computer's ethernet card. No problem. Except he discovered his computer didn't have an ethernet card. Well, I must say I was impressed to hear that he purchased and installed his own ethernet card with complete success. Quote from my dad: "I had my hands on a motherboard today!"

Then he learned about DSL telephone filters. I don't know much about this (I use a cable net connection) but as I understand it you must put some sort of doohickey on every phone in the house, or else when you pick up the phone your net connection dies. AT&T provided 4 filters in the package. Well, with the phones in each bathroom and the old rotary phone in the workshop, it turns out my parents have NINE phones in the house. No, they have not discovered the wonders of cordless yet, either. So, off to Radio shack to buy more filters.

Then came Privacy Manager. I'll let my dad explain. From his email:

With this new package of high speed internet, new phone plan, etc. came "caller ID". This is a highly sophisticated peace of electronic wizardry that accomplishes exactly the same thing as picking up the phone and saying "hello". On the list of great inventions, this should rank second only to the electric fork!

Anyway, it arrives Friday and I install it. On Saturday I get an E-mail from a friend who I had told to call me and leave some info on my answering machine. He said he tried but got some kind of funny message that my phone does not accept calls from "unannounced" callers. As you have probably already figured out, "Privacy Manager" was put in place as part of this package, but I did not know this. So, last night I'm at a meeting and I need to call Mom at home to get a piece of info. I get this same message telling me to enter my pin number or announce who I am. I say, "Alan". It calls mon and delivers a totally garbled message in which she is able to make out the word "Alan", but has no idea what to do, panics, and hangs up. The thing comes back to me and says "Sorry, we cannot complete your call". Gotta tell ya, it pissed me off! After two more tries, I finally got through with a message that Mom was able to understand and she pushed "1" and accepted my call.

First thing this morning, I decided to call the phone company instead of ripping the the f***ing thing off the wall (because I knew if I did, Lilly Tomlin would be sure to call me). They said, "Oh, the system comes with "Privacy Manager" built in", and then tried to convince me of all the wonderful benefits of having the phone company decide who could or could not call me (including not allowing me to call my own home!) I informed them that I would have no part of this idiocy and asked how I would go about mailing this thing back to them. He said, "Oh no, don't do that. I'll just turn off "Privacy Manager" from here!)

Along with all this, my dad spent perhaps a total of 20 or more hours on the phone with some customer service schlub from Bangalore as he tried ot get his email working. It seems AT&T's databases had so completely mangled his email account that it took a team of three level 1 reps, two level 2's, a squadron of Marines, a spatula and a scientist specializing in the field of quantum mechanics to resolve his password issues.

So now he's got high speed internet. Last I heard he was up til four in the morning watching YouTube videos. Mostly of classic Lily Tomlin videos.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Santa and Rudolph at Time & Space Toys

We have friends who run a web-based toy store, Time And Space Toys, and were recently featured on a local morning news show. It turns out that they are the new owners of the original characters from that classic 50's stop-motion TV special Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. The original figures were found in a warehouse, and Kevin and Elana had the figures restored to become the centerpiece of their line of Christmas Action figures. By the way they happen to have the largest collection of these action figures in the world, according to the interview. Anyway, enough of the shameless plug, here's the video...

(By the way, this was my first attempt at a posting to YouTube. Transferred the video from my TiVo to my camcorder, then to iMovie, and on to YouTube. Seems to have worked).

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Kids say the darndest things, Episode #384

The other day my wife called me at work, using her "concerned" voice. That's the one I usually hear when I've accidentally tossed her jeans in the dryer, when I've taken the kids outside to play without appropriate garb, or when I've decided to take the Fubar to the counter tops at ten o'clock at night while the kids are sleeping.

This time, it was something different. She asked me, "Did you tell Natalie that Santa doesn't exist?"

Confused, I asked her what she was talking about. It turns out that on the bus home from Kindergarten, Natalie's little friend asked her if she believed in Santa (we're Jewish, by the way). She said no. When her friend asked her why, she gave the classic line of, "cuz my daddy told me." Of course, the kid went home devastated, her dreams destroyed, and her mom called my wife to inform us Christmas was ruined.

I searched through my memory banks...searching, searching...dang. There it was. The night she lost her second tooth, she told me she didn't believe in the Tooth Fairy. I provided a very convincing argument that, in fact Eudora Enamel was real as it gets, and that I'd even met her. I believe the line went something like, "Real? Of course she's real, I mean, she's not like Santa Claus, she's a REAL PERSON! I even met her!"


Happy Thanksgiving all. But before I go, I thought I'd share another goody...

I was dressing Jessica for bed just now. She chose a lovely pink camouflage designed princess fuzzy sleeper, with a crown on it. After she was done dressing, she exclaimed, "I'm going to tell mommy I'm a Camel!"

I replied with, "why are you a camel?"

"Because of this!"

"This what?"

"My sleeper! It's Camel Flash!"


Monday, November 20, 2006

Scott Adams on Aging Brains

I'm new to the blog by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. But I loved this post, about brain rot caused by aging. From the post:

"All the experts agree that kids can learn new languages faster than adults. I am not impressed. If I had as few problems as a 9-year old, I could learn Chinese over the weekend. Let that kid start worrying about his HTML code, Iran’s nuclear program, and the Alternative Minimum Tax trap – then let’s see who can conjugate faster. "

Amen brother.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

So, I'm not a plumber.

We finally got our new kitchen counter tops installed today. Last night, a coworker (thanks, Mike) and I took a Fubar to the kitchen (okay, so I don't really own a Fubar yet, but I really, really want one. And the holidays are coming....) intending to remove the old counter top. It wasn't bad, really. We carefully detached the disposal and faucet, removed the sink, and lifted the counter off. no big deal. and I even managed to put my three-year-old to work removing all the jars of spices from the spice cabinet. She was so proud of herself.

Today, the cabinetry guy came and installed the new counter tops. They look great. And only some minor damage to the paint on the wall near the bar, which we expected going in due to the odd shape of this thing. So then, I took over, with a plan of putting in the new sink and faucet, reattaching the disposal, and reconnecting the plumbing.

By 4pm, it was time to call the plumber and have him finish where I left off.

The problems started when I realized that I planned for everything (a new sink, new faucet, all the connectors) except for the fact that the drains on the new sink were two inches closer to the face of the cabinets than the old sink. Oy. So, it was off to Home Depot. I bought $33 worth of PVC elbows, extensions, fittings, and doohickeys in hopes of finding the right combination of bends and twists to get a good fit. My hope was to return about $30 worth of those parts. In the end, I found the right combination and got it back together, but dang it, I just couldn't keep things dry.

I've learned, a couple of times now, that plumbing is not something to be taken lightly (as opposed to, say, electrical work). Fact is, if you don't know what you are doing you can cause some major damage to your house. Once, my newly potty-trained daughter got a little overzealous with the upstairs toilet, causing rain (along with some sheetrock and a ceiling fan) to fall on the dinner table. Another time, I reinstalled a toilet that was rocking in hopes of leveling it off, and only made it worse. Yes, plumbing is not my forte, nor something I strive to do. So I had no qualms about calling Terry's Plumbing (don't go to bed with that drip tonight!) and asking for a rescue.

One handy tip I did come up with, though. Getting the disposal reattached was not easy. Given the size of my cabinet, I found it impossible to hold it into position and attach it at the same time. So I came up with a nifty solution. I grabbed the jack from the trunk of my car, positioned it under the disposal, and cranked away until it slipped into place where it belonged. Worked like a charm.

So now that this milestone is done, I guess this means we've got to repaint the kitchen. Man, I hate painting. That's right up there with plumbing.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Magical Express

We survived our Disney trip relatively intact. All in all, it was a good introduction to the Magic of the Mouse, but it could have gone better. For one thing, our poor six-year-old woke up on day 3 and threw up all over her bunk bed. This forced her to spend the day with mommy in the hotel while I ventured to MGM with my three-year-old. And it was the day she was supposed to see Ariel and Belle on stage, her life's dream. Very sad.

We learned a few things on our maiden voyage:

1. First-timers will get tons of recommendations of whether a park is worth going to or not. For the same parks some people said, "oh it's the greatest". Others said, "oh, it's a waste of time". You know what, they are all great, you make of it what you make of it, and the fact is that if you and your family are back to the room and fast asleep by 9:30 then it was a successful day.

2. The Disney meal plan caters to obese people.Or at least people who can't get enough chocolate cake.

3. Disney controls the weather (no surprise really). Jessica and I were at MGM, and at 2:30 they announced the parade in a half hour. It immediately started to pour rain. Jessica and I took cover under an awning. The rain stopped the very instant the parade started, and the sun came out. Two minutes after the parade ended, the rain started again as if Walt Disney himself were saying, "you've had your fun, now get out".

4. Disney also controls our minds. As you'll see in the pic of the castle at Magic Kingdom, throughout the morning there was a crane high above the castle doing something secretive. The crane was gone by noon. And no one saw it leave. A crane that size took three days to be dismantled at a construction site near my office.

5. The only person who knows if a ride is too scary for a three-year-old is a three-year-old.

6. If you have two children, bring two of everything. I made the mistake of thinking all their toys could go in one backpack. Sure, they fit fine, but toting one backpack caused more tirades than I cared to deal with. No, it's mine! No, I want it! No I want it! Sure, they each want to carry the backpack of toys. But will one of them even lift a finger to drag the real luggage? Of course not.

7. There's a coffee shop at MGM.

8. The wise-cracking silly-safari boat driver at Magic Kingdom has the best job in the world. drive a boat all day looking at fake animals, and making awful jokes about not losing your head when around cannibals. I want to work there.

9. There is a reason the TSA officials at the airport tell you to put your shoes in one of those plastic buckets before going through the X-Ray. That's because the X-Ray machine likes to eat shoes. They had to stop the machine and climb in to retrieve Jessica's Stride-Rite.

10. Expedition Everest was Natalie's favorite roller coaster of all that she's ever been on! (she's been on one other).

11. Spend the extra bucks for the lunch with characters (we chose Pooh and friends, as the princesses were booked). It's the best danged buffet you'll have anywhere.

12. The feeling of being hugged by Eeyore is like no other.

13. Even Pooh and Eeyore can frighten the daylights out of a small child if they appear suddenly around a corner. The child in front of me in the buffet line got so startled her dish full of chicken tenders crashed to the floor as she ran screaming from the room. I had a good laugh.

14. All the adult visitors are nicer in Disney. I think it's because when there, they become members of this closely knit fraternity of unrested, over-fed, financially damaged, physically exhausted brethren who feel the need to sooth each other's backs sore from carrying around tote bags full of sippy cups, Mickey sweatshirts and theme park maps.

So in the end, as you can see from the photo slide show, much fun was had by all. We tackled the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and MGM. We made it home intact, with only three meltdowns on the way home. One in the hotel (mommy, the lobby is THIS way!), one on the airport (failure to share resulting in a seating change and a forced seat-belting), and one at dinner after the flight this one by an overtired elder child).

We'll go back to experience the magic another time, but mark my words...I shall never taking a three-year-old to Disney again.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pooh for Lunch

One of our days at Disney will be spent having lunch with Pooh and his friends. Not much on the menu to select from. Check out the measly choices:

Mixed Field Greens
Ranch and Zinfandel Dressings
Mandarin Orange Sesame Vinaigrette
Sliced Tomatoes and Egg with Toasted Cumin Dressing
Sweet Plantain, Cucumber and Corn Salad
Shrimp, Black Bean and Mango Salad
Edamame Salad - Young Soy Bean
Couscous, Tofu, and Roasted Vegetable Salad
Mediterranean Pasta Salad
Tabbouleh Salad
Beet Salad with Sag Dhal Dressing
Romaine, Beef, and Bleu Cheese Salad
Papaya, Frisee, and Arugula Salad
Tropical Slaw
Sliced Turkey and Ham
Swiss Cheese and American Cheese
Apple Slices
Carrot Sticks
Garlic Redskin Smashed Potatoes
Broccoli tossed in Puri Puri and topped with Key Lime Ponzu
Medley of Vegetables with Balsamic Glaze
Fire Roasted Corn Spoon Bread
Braised Kale
Cheese Pizza
Vegetable Fritatta
Stir Fried Curry Noodles
Wild Mushroom and Chicken Pasta with Basil Asiago Cream Sauce
Vegetable Pasta
Cinnamon and Lemon Infused Balsamic Rice
Green Thai Curry Chicken
Fruit and Vegetable Tofu Curry
Ancho Chile Rubbed Atlantic Salmon
Flame Roasted Rotisserie Chicken
Citrus Marinated Flank Steak
BBQ Pork Tenderloin
Lemon Squares
Chocolate Chunk Pecan Squares
Chocolate Marbled Cheesecake
Mango Flan
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Tres Leches Cake
Boston Cream pie
Double Chocolate Brownies
Soft Serve Vanilla and Chocolate Ice Cream
Chocolate Sprinkles and Rainbow Confetti
Apple Cobbler
Banana Bread Pudding with Baily’s Irish Cream Sauce

The kid's menu is far more extensive:

Mac and Cheese
Chicken Fingers

Thursday, November 02, 2006

On the way to Disney...

Just a note that Saturday we embark on a Magical week's vacation to Disney. I've personally never been there. My parents never took me anywhere. Yes, between Disney and Chuck E. Cheese, I never left the house as a kid. It's true. Really, they just locked me in a closet in the cellar until I was 14, tossing me the occasional fish head for nourishment whenever they felt bad. I'd still be there if I hadn't gotten accepted to Carnegie Mellon. But I digress....

So really, this was just a blog post to say there will be another blog post if we survive the trip without getting swallowed up by the DisMAY machine. More to come. Speaking of which, the DisMAYniacs have now added Disney Princess Eggo waffles to the DisMAY product arsenal.

Oh, side note. My Home Depot rebate arrived today. Boy, that month went by quickly.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Home Depot Rebates STILL suck

Back on September 30th I wrote how Home Depot has been in the process of driving me frigging nuts with a $200 rebate for our kitchen counter tops. Last week I sent them mail asking why in the name of all that's good and holy I was still waiting for this rebate, which I originally submitted July 13th. Their response last week was that the paperwork (which they say they never originally received) was not processed until September 13th and please allow 4-6 weeks for processing from this date.

The end of that 6-week processing time was last Friday, so today I checked the website to see if I needed to send another email. I saw this:

"Your gift card was mailed on 30-Oct-2006. Please allow at least 30 days for delivery."

Thirty days??? THIRTY DAYS????? How on earth could ANYTHING take 30 days to mail? I suppose if it was being shipped to Alaska on a barge, then carried over the mountains by a Himalayan sherpa with an incontinence problem who had to stop at a public restroom every ten miles, then perhaps I could see thirty days.

Followup. I came across a site called (my kind of site) that contains plenty of venting about Home Depot rebates, or lack thereof. I also sent a letter to customer relations from HD's web site. Let's see if maybe it gets me a free Fubar.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Pittsburgh 3-1-1

This is interesting, our esteemed and young mayor of Pittsburgh has given us city folk a way of reporting non-emergency issues and getting a response about them. I can think of many reasons this would be useful. But of course my first entry will be:

Dear Mayor Ravenstahl,
I am disgusted with the way old people are depicted on television. We are not all vibrant, fun-loving sex maniacs. Many of us are bitter, resentful individuals who remember the good old days when entertainment was bland and inoffensive. The following is a list of words I never want to hear on television again. Number one: Bra. Number two: Horny. Number three: Family Jewels.

New Stanley Tool: The Fubar

I love this. Stanley Tools has released a new tool as part of their "FatMax" product line known as the Fubar. It's a claw hammer. It's a pry bar. It's a whole lot of other things used to break, demolish, and tear apart stuff. Whomever came up with the product name was a genius. For those who are unaware, "FUBAR" is a military term, stolen from the military by computer geeks, referring to, (echem...) "Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition". that first word of course being changed to protect the innocent. If there was ever a product with a name based on its purpose, there it is.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Uncle Harry and the Trail Of Courage

This weekend Natalie and I went on the YMCA Adventure Princess fall campout. Two full days of nothing but dads and daughters, bonding with nature. The weekend began Friday night when we arrived at Camp Kon-O-Kwee, after carbo-loading at Applebees with friends (we were forewarned about kon-O-Kwee's state-of-the-art institutional cuisine ahead of time, so I made sure to pack the antacid) and a couple of wrong turns. The first event was the Halloween costume ball. Natalie went as a princess (of course), and I was a dashing young lad made all that much more dashing by my five-dollar "Instant Geek" costume. I know, I know, not much of a stretch.

The dance lasted perhaps 45 minutes (you can only hold kindergarteners' attention for so long, after all), and we all retired back to our barracks...I mean our bunks.

The bunkhouse was designed to sleep 94 people. There were probably 93 staying there. You know what happens when you put 45 or so young girls into a big room when they are tired but not ready to go to bed? Chaos. Utter chaos. Add that to the fact that the acoustics in this log cabin were such that every sound was amplified about thirty times the normal volume, and we didn't get much rest that night. But kudos go out to Stu, one of the dads who bravely climbed out of bed to quiet a small group of dads who were getting a bit rowdy late at night. I say kudos because it takes a brave man to ask a bunch of other men to quiet down when he's wearing fluffy rabbit pants. He had forgotten his normal sleepwear, so he'd improvised using his costume.

First thing Saturday morning, we were introduced to the dining facility, and to Uncle Harry.

Uncle Harry, the veritable Pide Piper of Camp Kon-O-Kwee, is a gentleman whom for years has taken ownership of this camp and made it what it is today. Each meal was spent listening to Uncle Harry explain how the girls are owners of this camp, not the dads, and that "girls rule, boys drool". Dads who fell out of line with the rules of the weekend (no newspapers, no blackberrys, no drinking) were promptly disciplined by their daughters with a buttwhacking aided by a canoe paddle. the rest of Harry's speech involved not-so subtle suggestions that monetary donations to the camp would get us special favors. Like not being smacked in the butt by our daughters.

After a meal of French toast so hard that I bent a knife trying to cut it for my daughter, we ventured off to the craft room to paint T-shirts, and then to the Trail Of Courage. The Trail consists of several kid-friendly challenges like a rope ladder, zip line, a high wall climb, and log bridges. The kids certainly strutted their stuff, taking on these challenges like they were the living room coffee table and the back of the couch. I kept expecting to turn a corner in the woods and come upon the obstacle where the kids have to crawl under barbed wire through the mud while we fired rifles over their heads, but no such luck.

The rest of the afternoon involved all the classic camping activities such as canoeing, rock climbing, archery, and hiking, until their little feet gave out (the dads' feet, that is), and then it was back to the dining hall for a dinner of government surplus burgers and dogs, bug juice, and convict-grade cheese.

After dinner was the ceremonial campfire. I've been sworn to secrecy here, but let's just say it involved flaming torches, small explosions, and some screaming. Along with my daughter "Butterfly Princess" I, "Running Deer" became one with our circle and one with the tribe. And we finished up our enlightenment ceremony with a viewing of the movie Casper the Friendly Ghost. How spiritual.

The bedtime hour begat chaos, as the gaggle of overtired kindergartners felt it necessary to chase each other around the room while screaming at the top of their lungs (reminder here that the bunkhouse greatroom has the acoustics of the inside of a municipal water tank), while that dads stood around with a glazed look, wondering if perhaps they should call a mom or two to help bring order to the craziness. After about a half hour of this, an idea finally occurred to me. I borrowed a copy of a children's' book from one dad who was already making a pitiful attempt to try and sleep, and announced to our flock that it was story time. As I read through the trials of Frog And Toad, a calm swept through the barracks, and soon there was evidence of yawning. By 9:30, they were all fast asleep, and so was I.

The next morning, after another industrial breakfast, we tackled the Trail of Courage once more, and we were off for home. After having made so many new friends, Natalie was absolutely giddy to get home and tell her tales of the weekend to mommy. So excited, in fact, that less than a block from the house she threw up all over the back seat of the Mazda. Aw, swell.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

First it's Huck Finn, now it's Tag

We live in sad, sad times. CNN reports that a shool in Attleboro, MA has banned elementary students from playing tag, touch football and any other unsupervised chase game during recess for fear they'll get hurt and hold the school liable.

This is downright pathetic, sad, and upsetting. I don't want my kid to get hurt any more than anyone else, but is this going to protect our kids, or is it going to foster the idea that human contact is bad, and lawsuits are good? And it's just another excuse for kids to not exercise, get fat, play video games, and die early.

Lord knows, Blockades certainly would have been out of the question. I recall getting hammered numerous times, and I seem to recall my dad saying, "serves you right" when I got a black eye. I also vividly recall getting a scratched cornea when a rogue snowball hit me in the eye. That led to a doctor's visit, some meds, and perhaps a day off from school, but certainly not litigation. Sad, really really sad.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Gashleycrumb Tinies

My friend Paul sent me the link to this. A warm, family oriented children's tale and classic of literature, perfect for Halloween. Enjoy.

Carrying the torch for the younger generation

I mentioned the YMCA Adventure Princess program in an earlier post. The father-daughter bonding begins. But speaking of bonding, I'm finding this program to be a great opportunity to disappear into my workshop. And yes, Natalie gets to join me on this one....

Our tribe of 15 father-daughter couples needed a torch for the upcoming campout. The torch consists of a long straight tree branch, with a large steel coffee can mounted on the top, along with a smaller can inside. In the smaller can is placed a roll of toilet paper, doused in kerosene, and lit on fire.

Needless to say the construction of this torch was something I wholeheartedly volunteered for. After all, I already own a table saw, a router, and about 300 extra feet of electrical wire, so surely I could come up with the perfect solution for building this torch. I felt the need to make Red Green proud, discovering all kinds of creative uses for duct tape.

The real challenge was mounting that inner can. I didn't want to screw it to the outer can, for fear of the kerosene leaking and causing combustion of a small child. Duct tape was too flammable (sorry, Red), and hot glue would melt. So hmm, how to mount it.

First I considered expandable foam. But no, the can says expandable foam is highly combustible. I thought, gee, maybe I could cement it somehow. Two minutes later, after browsing through home renovation leftovers, I came across a half-used bag of floor tile cement. There'ya go. Mixed up a batch of that, poured it in the big can, set the smaller one into it, and voila.

The next step is to paint the can in our Adventure Princess Tribe's colors, and rig up a remote detonation-I mean, remote ignition device so that we can "light it up" just like that scene from LOST.

By the way, as a footnote, it looks like we're one step closer to inventing transparent aluminum, so that our Captain Kirk and his team can transport whales back to the future

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Painting in our free time

As the parent in our household responsible for going to work each day, sitting in front of a computer for hours and hopefully bringing home a paycheck a couple of times a month, I have a somewhat narrow view of what it must be like to be a stay-at-home parent. On the rare occasion where I do get to stay home, I tend to be ultra-productive. The kitchen gets cleaned, the bills get paid and, heck, I might even find some time to build a custom armoire in my workshop complete with inlays and dovetail joints. So why is my wife so stressed about this stay-at-home thing? What's the big deal?

Well for one thing, there's the parenting part. If I was a stay-at-home dad, my six-year-old would still be in diapers. My three-year-old would weigh about seventy pounds, after having been raised on nothing but pizza, crackers, and bag after bag of goldfish crackers. The two of them would be completely illiterate, but know every line of every episode of the Simpsons. Yes, being a stay-at-home parent is a full time career that takes a level of expertise for which I am totally unqualified.

This is the point of the story where I give my wife credit for the amazing job she does. She keeps us fed, she keeps us clothed (well, them, anyway - she doesn't shop for me). She's a brilliant teacher, as demonstrated by the fact that my six-year-old daughter's favorite word is pulchritudinous, and she even knows how to spell it. Okay fine, so I come home and the kitchen's a mess, but when my kids both graduate from Harvard on full scholarships, become successful doctors, and fund our retirements, we'll hire someone to clean the kitchen.

I was reminded of the massive responsibility and effort this parenting work takes only recently, at the tail-end of our major home renovation. We had several coats of paint to apply to various rooms, and I just didn't see how or when it was going to get done by me, working eight hours a day outside the house. I only half-jokingly said to my wife, "boy it would be great if I came home one day, and the family room was totally painted." After she was done pummeling me with her copy of Oprah Magazine, my wife proceeded to explain why I was completely off my rocker to think that there was even the remotest of remote possibilities of getting a room painted during the day with the kids awake. The conversation went something like this....

Lovely Wife: "How can you possibly think that I..."
Daughter #1: "Mom, can I have a snack?"
Lovely Wife: "Sure honey, let mommy finish first. So how could you possibly think that I..."
Daughter #2, yelling from upstairs: "MOMMMMM!!!!"
Lovely Wife: "YES????"
Daughter #2:"My unicorn is in on the shelf!"
Lovely Wife: "One second! ....possibly think that I would have..."
Daughter #1: "Mom, I don't know what I want for a snack"
Lovely Wife: "Well, when you decide, and when I'm done talk..."
Daughter #2:"MOMMMMM!!!! I need a tissue!"
Lovely Wife: "....think that I would have time to pa..."
Daughter #1: "Can I have goldfish?"
Lovely Wife: "No, you just had dinner. Have some fruit."
Daughter #1: "MOMMM!!!! I have a booboo!"
Lovely Wife: "Coming! I'm sorry honey, you were saying something about sending me to a spa?"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Happy Birthday, Thing #2

A couple of people informed me that my posts don't seem to provide much in the way of detail about my younger daughter, what's-her-name. Yes, the now-three-year-old, sweet and lovable, exceptionally opinionated toddler that currently rules the toy room with an iron fist. So, in an effort to provide equal airtime, here's a Jessica update.

As mentioned above, she has reached the golden age of three, today in fact. I'm currently traveling in Minneapolis and attempted to wish her a happy birthday when I called home earlier, but being three years old she had no real interest in speaking with the disembodied voice coming from the telephone handset as she was too busy arranging her Fisher-Price farm animals by order of date obtained.

Last Saturday was her party. For six months before the event, if you asked her where her party was going to be, she would authoritatively proclaim, "I'm going to see Chucky!" That'd be Chuck E. Cheese. Ah yes, Chuck E. Cheese. Processed, overpriced, high-fat fun for kids of all ages. There's nothing that makes me itch more than spending an hour at Chuck E. Cheese. But I seem to remember that when I was a kid, my parents never took me to CEC's, and I only dreamed that it was some sort of Taj Mahal, a magical place on the order of the Wonka Chocolate Factory, where animatronic wild creatures smothered you in piles of magical gold coins that made all of your dreams come true. And I'm sure that's how Jessica sees it now. Either that, or she sees it as "the place with the ball pit". Frankly, in our circle of families it's well known as the place where your kid gets to catch her first cold of the season.

Jessica is definitely the second kid. She will spend hours playing by herself, unsupervised, with a set of blocks. She graciously accepts hand-me-downs, and doesn't insist on having the pink Dora plate with her afternoon snack. Unlike her sister she hasn't been read every book in our vast library seventeen times. Sometimes I wonder if we've been unfair, having spent countless hours paying focused attention to her older sister, educating her on everything from the alphabet to power tool recognition, only to not have time for the same effort with our second child. But Jessica's no slouch. She already knows the important stuff, such as how to manipulate her father, how to tantrum until we give in, and how to wait until the very moment we sit down to ask for a second helping of raisins.

Here's a perfect example from a while back. After dinner, I was tossing dishes into the dishwasher when she pitter-pattered up to me and asked, "Um, dad? Daddy? Daddy? Dad?"

"Yes?" I responded.

"Can you play with us?"

"Not right now, I'm washing dishes."

She then waddled back into the playroom to proclaim to her sister, "He said YES!!!"

This is true. If you reread the above, you will see I did, in fact, say yes. Not to the question she asked, but that doesn't matter now, does it? She got me on semantics.

Happy third birthday, Jessica. It's gonna be a big year. Preschool, separation from Mommy, and being forced to poop in designated locations are all part of your to-do list. So enjoy it while you can!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Now THAT'S Co-branding!

Yesterday at the supermarket, we came across Lego Eggos. Yes, waffles in the shape of Lego pieces. The marketing lackey who thought this one up deserves a raise.

Of course, my daughters seem to just want to stack them rather than eat them. Go figure...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Not all gun nuts are in the South

So here is an article about a lawmaker in Wisconsin who wants to introduce legistation that would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons in shool, citing how this seems to work for schools in Thailand.

Thailand. "Where officials have been waging a bloody fight with Muslim separatists for the last two years..."

Now let's think about what just happened in the Amish schoolhouse in PA this week (forgetting for a moment that it's an Amish schoolhouse, and the Amish wouldn't carry a gun anyway). So the teacher owns a gun. Probably keeps it in her desk drawer, because you can't conceal it under a skirt too well. A gunman bursts in. The teacher is at the blackboard. The gun is twenty feet away in a desk drawer. Seems pretty pointless, and chances are good the teacher is gonna get shot in the process of diving for it.

And I think about that teacher in high school that tossed an eraser at my nose when I gave a dumb answer (I deserved it, and never once thought about a law suit) and wonder just how many unstable teachers there are that really shouldn't be toting guns in the first place.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I came across this company called Rejuvenation on the web while I was searching for a match to our kitchen drawer pulls. Rejuvenation sells period-style light fixtures. They seem similar in concept to the store Restoration Hardware, in that they make new stuff that looks like classic old stuff. But the stuff they sell is gorgeous (albeit pricey). I recommend ordering a catalog. Check them out at

Oh, and I highly recommend considering the bat light.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Home Depot Rebates suck

Can I just take a moment and whine about Home Depot's rebates? Yeah, it's well known that companies do rebates simply because they know not everyone is going to fill in the right info or even bother to send them in, and odds are they will make money in the end. I have to say that Home Depot does a great job of making their rebate program the biggest pain in the rear possible.

About six months ago I bought a Rigid shop vac for $40, minus a $20 mail-in rebate. I mailed it in, as instructed. A few weeks later I got a letter saying I didn't follow the directions, and failed to include the bar code from the box...the box I threw out at least a week before. Since the box was gone, I had no way of proving that I sent it, even though I remember doing so. I was screwed with that one.

So as part of the renovation we bought several new kitchen cabinets, which resulted in an offer of a $200 rebate. I was very, very careful to follow the directions precisely AND make photocopies of everything AND scan those photocopies into PDF form. After over a month, I thought I would check into the status. Home Depot conveniently has a web page you can go to in order to check on rebate status and, go figure, my $200 rebate wasn't even listed. Oddly enough, the $20 one for the shop vac was. So I then tracked down my paperwork, and emailed Home Depot with the PDF copy of my paperwork. In response, I got a letter saying they couldn't use what I sent them because the scan of the receipt covered over some of the rebate form. Fine, so I re-faxed my original paperwork so they could read everything.

Now, three weeks later, Home Depot's website lists the $200 rebate submission. TWICE. And today I received both a letter in the mail and an email saying "we received your submission, and you have exeeded the maximum number of entries per household. Duplicate submissions cannot be honored." On the web site, one of the two entries has that statement on it, the other says it's still being processed, expected completion another three weeks.

So how come they can take the time to DENY a request, sending a paper letter and an email out, but they need another three weeks to send me my two hundred dollars?

I think I'm gonna start acting like that kid from Better Off Dead, chasing the CEO of Home Depot on my bike with the snow ski attachment, yelling, "I want my two hundred dollars!" the whole way.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Having never seen one before tonight, my 6-year-old daughter completed her first ever Soduku puzzle, without help, after only about 5 minutes of instruction. Sorry to beat my parental chest here, but I'm flabbergasted.

I've become a Princess

With entry into kindergarten comes the right of entry into a special secretive cult known as Adventure Princess. This is a group sponsored by the local YMCA with the goal in mind to provide opportunities for fathers to bond with their children. Natalie and I have joined this Adventure Princess tribe, along with about a dozen other local dads and their kindergarten-aged daughters.

I don't know who's more excited, her or me. I mean, what's not to get excited about? There's campouts, hiking, biking, canoeing and other outdoorsy stuff. There's crafts (okay sure, but I can find reasons to bring tools), and monthly get-togethers with other dad/daughter couples. And all with no moms allowed.

Good thing. I've been trying to convince my wife to go camping for about 7 years now. After our last experience, tent-camping in northern PA, where it dropped to 32 degrees at night and the spiders in the shower wanted to get friendly, she swore she'd never camp again.

In the end, this Adventure Princess thing is all about bonding with my daughter. I'm sure that during those overnight camping trips there will be several episodes where she'll need to mop my fevered brow as I go through Blackberry and laptop withdrawal, but I'm definitely looking forward to it. And I'm sure it will make for some good blog-fodder.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


As I sit in front of the Mac listening to my younger one singing "twinkle twinkle" from her crib into the baby monitor at the top of her lungs, while the wife rests comfortably upstairs and the elder child snoozes with her Little Mermaid book perched atop her snoring nose, I figure it's a good time to catch up on a few things. As I mentioned in a recent post, Natalie has started Kindergarten this month. It's a new world, people. gone are the simple worries, like who's gonna be snack mom, or is she going to poop at preschool, or will she catch a sniffle from a fellow classmate. Now we're into the real stuff. Is the bus going to make it to the school without spontaneously combusting? Will her classmates accept her? Do we really have to sell all that freaking holiday wrapping paper and overpriced stale popcorn to our unsuspecting neighbors just so her class will have the funding for that fabulous class trip to Cleveland?

As Natalie gets into her kindergarten groove, I am starting to see obvious traits of my own passed down to her. I'm also starting to see ways she's as different from me as peanut butter is from, say, sidewalk chalk.

There are the regular reports of her visits to the school nurse. Yup, that's a piece of my DNA double helix. So far, the most minor visit was for a raging case of chapped lips. The most urgent was for a bleeding hangnail. Again, just like her dad. I always was a bleeder.

She's different from me in one very, obvious way. After attending "dessert night" at the school tonight, which is sort of a kids/parents social hour to meet the teachers and other families, I realized that main difference.

My daughter isn't a nerd.

I mean, okay, maybe I wasn't the biggest nerd in the world at school (Guys, you shut up now - there was worse, you know there was!), but I was by no means a member of the A-list. Oh sure, being the token Jew of the school I had some notoriety, and I was one of the select few that the potheads would come to asking, "um, duh, so you're smart 'n stuff, right?" But heck, the only varsity letter I got was for golf team. Really. But I DID have a solo once in choir. And I was one of the first to come to class wearing parachute pants. Does that count for anything? No? Anyone?

But as I watched Natalie interact with the other kids, I realized she's quite the little leader of her posse. A couple of kids came in pointing and mouthing to their moms, "there's Natalie over there!" as if she was some sort of a cool version of Condoleeza Rice. I realize now that if and when she brings any sort of social concerns to me, I will be completely out of my area of expertise.

Throughout the evening, Natalie and her gang expended the usual energy running in circles in the school gym. I suddenly had flashbacks to "Blockades".

Blockades, a game that was often referred to as "Kill Scottie", was what my own group of friends played every day at recess. Within seconds after the end of third period we were outside, and without debate were immediately separated into two opposing teams. The object of the game was simple.

Kill Scottie.

Scott, whom I remain friends with to this day, was the non-elected defacto leader of our our own little schoolground government. But it was a government with little in the way of politics, few if any issues, and no opposing forces to protect ourselves against. Each day was spent with one simple goal in mind. Half of us would chase our leader in an attempt to beat the crap out of him, while the other team tried to protect him by putting up a blockade. It was simple. It was pure. There were no referrees. No instant replays. No out-of-bounds. And rarely any injuries. Just good clean fun. And perhaps it was the reason we all did so well in Social Studies class.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The final electrical inspection

So we had our final electrical inspection a week or so ago. Same guy who did the rough-in inspection which, if you read my previous post about it, you know was nothing but a tallying up of all the outlets, switches, etc I was putting in and a bill based on the total number.

Well, the final inspection wasn't much more than that.

The same guy came to do the final, though he had absolutely no recollection of being at the house before. The one thing he did remember was that I'd said a pro electrician did the subpanel work (the dangerous stuff). However, he remembered it as the pro having done all the room wiring as well.

Funny, I never had the opportunity to clarify. Perhaps that's why the final was done so quickly.

He spent all of 5 minutes at the house. He checked the GFCIs to see that they tripped correctly, and plugged his little tester into perhaps 5 other outlets (mind you I put something like 75 into the whole new space). He never looked at a light, at a switch, or at any of the wiring. He didn't even so much as glance at the 240v circuit running the heat/AC in the bedroom. For all he knew every one of those 75 outlets were on one circuit (they aren't, not to worry).

So, a lot of things bugged me about this whole inspection thing, above and beyond what he did and didn't do.

First of all, it's code that every outlet and light in a bedroom needs to be on this silly "arc fault" breaker that causes the circuit to trip if you plug an appliance in while it's running. He said arcs in the bedroom were the most common cause of house fires. so why is it that he doesn't require me to rewire all the outlets in the bedroom that weren't part of the renovation? And I must say I have never heard of anyone setting fire to their house while vacumming the dust bunnies.

Next, there's the fact that every outlet in the kitchen needs to be 20amp instead of 15amp. I guess this is so I can bring my table saw up from the workshop and run it in the kitchen at the same time that my daughter overcooks Cinnabons in her Easy Bake. Okay fine, but why did he only care about the two new outlets in the kitchen, and not the other eight that already existed (and are 15amp)? and why did he insist that the outlets in the "dinette" area, ones that will quite likely NEVER have anything plugged into them, be 20amp?

And why don't sheep shrink in the rain?

The fact is, if all this stuff WAS necessary during an inspection, then my little electrical project would have cost perhaps twice as much, so I'm not complaining. But I do have to wonder what this guy did to earn my $180. Yes, I know, his NOT paying close attention was probably worth every penny.

Now if you will escue me, I have to go fix my keyboard. The letter between A and D no longer work. And urpriingly that letter only appeared twice in the lat entence. It broke during the previou paragraph and I had to cut and pate the letter from elwhere to complete the blog.

Make it tough to write "he ell eahell by the eahore".

ee you later.

Something old, something new

Yes, yes, I know, let's keep up with those posts shall we? Sorry, every spare moment has been spent rearranging my sock drawer. Really. This past weekend my parents came in, and Dad and I installed closets. Which meant we finally could transport all our last-in-style-in-1981 collection of parachute pants and leggings into the depths of new closets not to be found until we move.

When my parents were first planning on coming in, I told them it would be a light weekend project-wise. Not a whole lot to do. Plans change quick. Closets, kitchen cabinets, doorway thresholds, and mower repair became the agenda items. Not a moment's rest for the handy.

Speaking of kitchen cabinets, we made one minor change to our kitchen design that resulted in a world of improvement. This layout was bugging looked too much like a bunch of unfinished boxes sitting against a wall. Well, I had an old above-the-fridge cabinet destined for the mudroom, and just before we started to hang it Dad and I thought, "hey, why can't this go above the fridge? Well, a few sketches later, we came up with this. A dramatic improvement. Now, if we could just decide on countertops.

Yeah, I mentioned mower repair as well. Last week I pulled it out to mow the lawn (duh) and as soon as I started it, the transmission belt that runs the self-propel mechanism fell off and got dislodged between the transmission and the mower deck. Dad and I decided to do the guy thing and, wratchet in hand, take apart the mower in hopes of repairing it. Two hours later, with every bolt, nut, and e-ring removed, we still were unable to reach the belt, and I asked him at what point this becomes an exercise just to see if we could dismantle every last piece of the mower in order to fit it in the garbage can. Dad felt we had not quite reached that point. Approaching the third hour, we found the magic bolt that allowed us to get the danged belt back on, and 45 minutes later the mower was running again. Of course, it's been raining since, so I have no idea if, when I actually attempt to mow the lawn again, the blade is going to fly across the yard and lodge itself into my neighbor's peach tree.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Are we done YET?

Well, while everyone and their cousins were hopefully taking a long weekend and relaxing before the start of the fall christmas shopping season, we took advantage of our four days off and made a ginormous step forward. This weekend we passed several major renovation milestones, ones that from the beginning I felt would signal the return to almost-normalcy.

On Friday, I emptied out the basement, the office (formerly the dining room), and the guest room (formerly our master bedroom) in preparation for a Rug Doctorin'. Then, we rented said Rug Doctor and shampooed the carpets. All hail the Rug Doctor! Four months of dust, caked-in drywall mud, paint droplets, and grime washed away. Horay, the carpets are beige again (note the sarcasm...I always hated beige). By the way, if you're thinking of buying one of those Bissel steam cleaners for your rugs, don't bother. Why pay a couple hundred bucks for something that barely works when for once or twice a year, for $29, you can rent a Rug Doctor? This thing will suck the heat shield tiles off the space shuttle from thirty yards. And the best part is you get to give it back, rather than having to clean it and store it in your own closet.

On Sunday, I installed shelving in the bathroom closet. Okay, not an exciting undertaking, but it DID involve two trips to Home Depot. And besides, I played golf that day, so that's why so little got done for a Sunday.

Today, Hilary and I spent about eight hours rearranging crap. We emptied out the pile in the dining room (there's a TABLE under there?). We brought the contents of the basement BACK into the basement, in some semblance of order. We (and this is major) cleaned the garage, and got BOTH cars in there!!!! now THAT'S a milestone!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I forgot to mention move-in day.

A week ago, the carpets were installed in the new bedroom and the reading room. Thus, it was time to move in. First, the big stuff. My neighbor Jim came over and helped move a loveseat and a two-hundred pound elliptical machine up the stairs into the bedroom. The couch was no problem. The elliptical almost killed us. Whomever buys our house some day is getting an elliptical thrown in as part of the deal, cuz I ain't moving it again.

Two days later, the furniture made it's way in. Seven years of dust under the dressers was uncovered, vaccuumed up, and vaccuumed again but the room looks great, and we are very happy with it. Well, mostly. My wife, the same person who doesn't allow me to keep a watch in the bedroom because the ticking keeps her up at night (even if it's in a drawer, I kid you not) discovered that the heating/cooling unit in our bedroom makes a slight clicking sound when it cycles on or off. This unit is much like the ones you see in hotels, a stand-alone electrical unit that blows a fan and turns on the hot/cold as needed. It is a well-manufactured, powerful, and quiet system, but note what I said above about the watch. I received several "toldya so's" throughout the night, and as a result did not get a very peaceful night's rest in our new bedroom. Well, a month from now she'll never notice it.

I have more to tell, especially about the electrical inspection, but for now, here's the latest pics.

Excercise your right brain

Wanna keep either your right brain or your toddler busy for a while? Go here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The BabyKeeper

I can't decide it this is the most retarded thing to hit the baby stores yet, or actually a good thing, but I lean toward the former. Let's think about this. Imagine you're in a store (without a baby) and decide it's time for a pit stop. You tend to expect that there will be a coat hook inside the bathroom stall, right? One on which you can hang your jacket, perhaps your shopping bag, perhaps your umbrella so that nothing except the soles of your shoes and the folds of your dropped pants touch the germ-ridden floor.

Now add a baby to the mix. Do you tell little Jasper to stay put, right by the sink, don't move, and don't stare at anyone's wiggly things at the urinal? Do you invite him into the stall with you, hoping he won't actually pay attention to your business? Oh, wouldn't it be just easier to hang him on a hook for safekeeping?

My mother hung me on a hook once.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The first day of kindergarten

It's time. It's happening. It's the big event. The day the giant pile of money I've been giving my town's school district finally goes to good use. Natalie starts Kindergarten Monday.

This evening my wife and I went to "curriculum night." This is the Lamaze class of kindergarten. The session where the nice lady stands up in front of all the proud new parents, and teaches them to breathe in and out, breathe in and out. It will all be ok. You can do this. We may need to use the foreceps on you, but it won't hurt that bad. And if worse comes to worse, we may need to surgically remove your child from your womb, but it's time for you to set her free. For she is now a kindergartener.

My wife and I, joined by our neighbors who also have a daughter Natalie's age, piled into the car and headed to the elementary school to join other first timers while various grandmas watched various kids. As we wandered the halls of Peebles Elementary, we were taken back to our own early years...reminders of our kindergarten accomplishments, cubby holes, yellow buses, and pencil boxes. Personally the only thing I really remember about my own kindergarten experience is getting hit in the eye with a rogue snowball, being sent home with an earache to the house of a mom I didn't know, and thrusting Matchbox cars through tunnels made of cardboard bricks. Okay, so the kindergarten experience didn't really stick with me so much. But the experience is obviously for the parents. As we sat in the back row of folding chairs in the gymnasium and listened to the principal speak, I scanned the room for the other dads like myself. In the crowd I saw future "guys night out" club members, T-ball coaches, and power tool lenders. Up on the screen, I saw Powerpoints describing learning methods, rating systems, and guidance counseling recommendations. I sat and wondered if my parents had to sit for two hours in uncomfortable chairs like ourselves and learn about all this, or if they sent me on their merry way in a happy bliss over the fact that they finally got me out of the house for a few hours a day.

We learned that, in kindergarten, our children would learn algebra. They'd learn sign language. They'd have opportunities that I not only didn't have when I was a student, but I don't even have as an adult.

When the kindergarten teacher talked about her goals for the children, and how she wanted to ensure a safe, warm nurturing environment, and about how she would wipe their tears when they got off the bus missing mommy, the wives wept. Most of the dads looked at each other with emotionless shrugs, secretly trying to keep it all in. But one thing was for sure. In those emotionless shrugs, one little bit of feeling leaked out.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Bracket Racket

I blogged a week or two ago about shopping for a rack I can use to hang the plasma TV on the wall.

So, I bought one on eBay for ten bucks. The rack arrived and looks completely sufficient to do the job, but it turns out that it did not include bolts that actually fit the back of my TV (even though the seller said it would work). I called Panasonic, and they were very helpful and very specific in telling me I need 4 M8 bolts with a 1.25 thread pitch, 45mm to 55mm in length.

So first I emailed the seller. He replied back telling me he had some of those and would mail them out to me. Great, but I'm an impatient person, so I checked Home Depot. Turns out they have a drawer full of 1.25 thread pitch M8 bolts, in 40, 50, and 60mm sizes. But they were out of 50's. Grrr...

Then I called my local Trader Horn, "Your Favorite Store". For those who don't know Trader Horn, picture a KMart back in the late 70's or early 80's. Now take away clothing and toys, and add hardware and building products. This store, until last month, had only one credit card reader, at the service desk, for all 7 registers. Tehy still use price tags. No bar codes here. It's so quaint. But where else can I buy one screw? I love it. So anyway, I called and got a guy in the hardware dept. When I told him what I wanted, he replied with, "hmm...45 to 55mm, huh? 'Bout how long is that?"

I replied with, "umm...a couple inches?"

"Lemme go check."

He came back and said, "yeah, we got M8 bolts. They come in either rough thread or fine thread, and they're 'bout 2 inches long."

That didn't help me.

Meanwhile, the envelope with the bolts arrived from the eBay seller. At least, the envelope did. For some reason this guy thought it reasonable to put 4 machine bolts into a #10 envelope and toss the envelope in the mail. Instead I got an empty envelope with a hole in the bottom. I emailed him back, but haven't gotten a respose. Gee. Wonder why.

So my wife realized there's a good old fashioned hardware store a bit north of us. I called the store to see if they had what I wanted. The guy went and checked, came back to the phone and said, "yeah, we got three...How many you need?"


Luckily it ended well, in that he found a 4th on the floor under the shelves. I would expect nothing less from an old fashioned hardware store.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

You done yet?

A lot's been done in the past couple of weeks. We painted the bedroom. Wednesday the kitchen floor was put down. We have a toilet now. Yet, there's still so much to go. Everyone keeps asking me, "so is it almost done?"

Depends on how you define done.

We're using the new family room now. but the light over the table is a simple bulb currently. We've got the new kitchen floor. but there are no countertops on the new cabinets. The bedroom and the old family room are awaiting carpet, and the dining room contains piles upon piles of temporarily stored crap. We've got buit-ins to build, dining room wiring to do, more painting, and lots of cleaning.

That's just the obvious stuff, and that's also just the inside. There's grass to plant, construction stuff to clean up, yada yada yada.

So yeah, we're almost done. But really, I'll call it done when we rent a Rug Doctor and shampoo the dust and grime out of the carpets. It'll be done when we've moved into the new bedroom, our office has become an office, and our canned goods no longer have a need for temporary refuge in a sweater box under the bed. It'll be done when I no longer get up from the computer desk and hit my head on what was once the dining room chandelier.

This weekend was a productive one. Our new family room couches were delivered, some college dude came and took the old one off our hands, and a custom-ordered area rug arrived. Unfortunately they all came in that order, making logistics somewhat of a concern. But we like the end result.

In addition to the deliveries, I managed to start Mantown this weekend. Mantown is my workshop. My castle. My refuge. My fortress of solitude. The place where I'm planning on spending most of my time once my kids hit their teenage years and start having "female" issues. Every guy needs a Mantown in their house. When my sister and brother-in-law renovated, he decided last minute to build his own Mantown by taking over a corner of the basement, framing it up into a box with a door, and sticking about 75 electrical outlets on the wall so he could charge his cell phone, camera, volunteer fire department gear, and cordless cigar humidor. With mine, I made sure to include an escape hatch, the double door that sneaks me out to the back yard and around to the driveway where I can make a quick getaway. So this weekend I built myself a workbench and shelves, and began hanging tools on the wall. I had the foresight to tell the builder not to hang drywall in there, but rather hang pegboard directly onto the studs. It was a moment of brilliance. Every square inch of wall space can have tools hanging on it. It'll the anal retentive woodworker's dream. Heck, I might actually even build something in there. But let's not get crazy.

Another question often asked of me is if there were any good horror stories during the build. Well, other than the water leak on the morning of July 4th, it's gone quite smoothly, oddly enough. Everything's been in budget, even. Although I have to say the plumbing's been an adventure. From the kitchen sink clogged with whole grains to the toilet that leaked as soon as it was put in, I'd say it could have gone better. But no, there's been nothing devastating, no horrors on the order of a Romero film.

Today and tomorrow are Bob The Builder's final days on the job. Installing trim, doorknobs, and window hardware. Cleaning up tools, insulating a crawl space, and hanging the shower door. He's got just odds and ends now. Pretty soon we'll be able to move furniture in. And that's when I find out who my real buddies are. I still haven't figured out how we're getting a 300 lb. eliptical machine from the basement up to the 2nd floor. I wish we still had that crane.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I succeeded in not blowing myself up

Okay, after installing 75 or so outlets, switches, and fixtures over the past three months, I managed to squeak by with only one potentially deadly explosion. Not all bad for an unlicensed non-professional, I think. And considering the plumber just called me as he was installing the shower faucet asking me if I knew where the direction book was (he needs directions? He's a plumber!!), I figure I'm doing ok.

So last night I was wiring the under-cabinet light in the dinette. The hockey puck-shaped light screws to the underside of the cabinet and plugs into a surface-mounted outlet. This surface-mounted outlet has a metal case with what I found to be a rather sharp edge. The edge must have pinched the black wire coming from the wall because when I hit the switch after I installed it, BANG! sparks everywhere, and an outlet that looked like it'd had a face-off with Elmer Fudd's musket. Back to Home Depot.

Speaking of which, I'm even more a regular there. I'm like Norm from Cheers:

Mornin', everybody.
Hey Mr. Daninhirsch, what's cooking?
Me, after blowing up an electrical outlet last night.
(insert laugh track).

Where'd I put that extended warranty?
So here's some information that's more a note to myself than anything else, but may be of interest if you're shopping for furniture. We bought couches over the weekend at Macy's Furniture. Included (for an additional $129) was their fabric care warranty. For 7 years you are covered if you get a stain on the couch. You call a number, and they suggest how to clean it. If you can't clean it, they come out to try. If they fail, they replace the upholstry with the same stuff. If that fabric is no longer available, you get your purchase price back on the furniture. Now here's the interesting bit. After 7 years, if you never use the warranty, you call a number and they give you the $129 back as a gift card to Macys.

I'm putting in an appointment for August 5, 2013 into my calendar....

Nice rack
At last it's time to take care of the one thing this who renovation has revolved around...hanging the TV on the wall in the new family room. Having done no research whatsoever, I happened to be in Best Buy the other day and, while there, picked up a "universal flat panel TV mount" for $80. It came in a box that was about a foot long. That was a mistake for two reasons. First, it turns out that the center point where the TV will hang is in such a place that this unit would only touch one stud, so I needed a wider model. Second, it turns out that Panasonic places their mounting holes on almost the complete outside corners of the TV, and this bracket wouldn't even come close to reaching the corners of my 37" screen.

So when all else fails, read the directions. I pulled out the TV manual, and it said to check for a certain model of mount designed for the TV. On Amazon, that mount was almost FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!

Scared for a moment that the whole purpose behind the entire renovation was a failure, I began surfing eBay for alternatives.

Gotta love eBay. There are TONS of mounts out there, ranging in price from nine bucks to over three hundred bucks, and probably even higher. but they are all designed for my TV, and sold direct from the manufacturer (or so they say). I couldn't find much difference between the $9 one and the $200 one, so I tossed a bid in for the cheaper one and it's on its way.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The dumpster is gone!

Whoopie! Just thought I'd mention it. Oh, and the chipmunks that were living underneath it are pissed!!!

Bad customer service, part II

So here's a fun followup to the flooring order debacle. We hit the point where we are ready for the new kitchen floor to be installed. When we last left off, I told "BOB", the scheduler at the flooring store, the couldn't install yet because there was a wall in the way. He said give him a call as soon as we are ready, and he could have the installers there within the week.

So on tuesday AM, I called and got Bob again. I got one sentence out, and he told me he'd have to call back because he was swamped. Okay fine. The rest of the day went by and I didn't hear back, so I called him again around 4:30. He was perfectly pleasant and said, "let me get in touch with my installers and I will call you right back."

Never heard from him the rest of that afternoon. So I then let Wednesday go by, until 4:30 when I called the store again and got someone else. I asked for Bob, and the guy said, "he's in the bathroom, can I have him call you right back?"

Okay fine. But never heard from him.

This morning, I called John, the sales rep who came to the house (the guy who successfully got the other flooring delivered for me). I told him that this guy Bob has done an excellent job convincing me he's an idiot. So I asked John to get the install scheduled and to have someone, other than Bob, call me back. I told him I did not want to hear from Bob again as I was done dealing with him.

A half hour later the install was scheduled for next Wednesday morning.

I've worked at a flooring store during high school. I manage a customer service team for a living. This is basic simple stuff. How dumb can someone be?

Meanwhile, I've been hearing stories about the allegedly nightmarish service at home Depot. Let me just say that that is nuts. Home Depot has been awesome through this. we've gotten kitchen cabinets, a shower door, and several other things special ordered with only one minor, quickly-fixed mistake on the manufacturer's part. We are getting carpeting through them. The day we were at the store, the salesperson took our info and told us that "the measuring guys" would call us first thing wednesday morning to schedule an in-home measure. At 7:30 that morning, they called, said they would be here between 9 and 11. They got here at 9:30, with a really cool proprietary laptop thingy in hand. As he measured, he entered dimensions on the laptop and it automatically drew an accurate picture of the room. He told me HD would call back to set up an install by Monday. I have complete faith that they will.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My kingdom for a bronze toilet handle

I have a question for the folks on the show Trading Spaces. How, exactly, does one transform a room in 48 hours, AND expect paint to dry?

Last night I put the third coat of paint on our family room (now called "the reading room") walls. The first coat went up about 6 days ago. I would love to see one of those rooms redone by the folks on Trading Spaces and see just how bad the paint job is. The camera may add ten pounds to anyone on it, but it also hides a lot of paint on the ceiling, bubbles, drips and bumps.

I also installed three new kitchen cabinets and sealed the grout on the bathroom tile last night. So it was a slow evening. I keep having to remind myself that we have no hard deadline, and even though the sheer volume of items on the renovation to-do list seems to be enough to employ a team of 12 for 6 months, it can and will be done. Granted exercise, social engagements, and basic hygiene must be pushed aside for now, but it can be done.

I'd like to take a moment to submit some suggestions for those of you thinking of redesigning a bathroom. The one thing we learned through all this is that if you want your bathroom to have a specific design or look, you can't just "go with the flow" picking out the shower, faucet, etc whenever the builder calls for it. It is in your best interest to select everything at the same time, buy it, store it in the garage, and stop shopping. Like most products these days bath fixtures have begun following the same scheme of planned obsolescence that iPods do. A decade ago, brass was in. Last year, brushed nickel was all the rage. Now, it's oil rubbed bronze. But don't blink, because bronze is about to succomb to the power of copper. Now isn't that ironic. Copper. The same stuff that runs water through your walls and gets hidden because it's so ugly, is now used to make beautiful faucets. Pricey ones too. We're talking kids-are-going-to-community-college pricey.

When the build started, Fred the plumber told us we needed to pick a shower. So we got a shower, after mulling over design and color. Then he needed a shower faucet, so we went down the brushed nickel route (cuz it was the style at the time). Later on, we decided on a floor....and cabinets....and lighting. Suddenly the brushed nickel look wasn't the look we wanted, and we decided we needed to consider bronze. So now we have a bronze faucet and a brushed nickel shower head. DEAR GOD. Ty Pennington's gonna kick my ass. But wait, that brushed nickel trim on the shower door....does it balance things out, or make the situation worse? And what about our toilet handle...can you get a bronze toilet handle????

You know, the heck with it...I'm gonna get the fish tank toilet.