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.