Wednesday, February 28, 2007

When do we redo the bathroom?

If you've been to our house recently (and why haven't you? It's not like Pittsburgh moved any further away on the map, after all....) you've seen the newly added space and renovated main floor. But perhaps you've also noticed that the bathroom at the top of the steps is a shambles. Peeling wallpaper, worn-out flooring and cabinetry, exposed drywall. Why would we have spent so much time and effort working on the rest of the house only to ignore the current fate of the upstairs bathroom?

Simple answer: Kids are slobs.

The girls are at an age of growing household independence. That means going to the bathroom by themselves, brushing their teeth by themselves, and washing up by themselves. Unfortunately, it seems the concepts of gravity and fluid dynamics don't really sink in until later in life.

Let's take a simple process like washing hands. Typically you and I would turn on the water, wet our hands, almost unconsciously shake our hands off enough to avoid getting water on the counter as we go for the soap pump, and grab a squirt of soap cupped in our hands neatly. Then, we wash up, towel off, and perhaps wipe a few drips off the counter top.

To a small child, the bathroom sink is an open-year-round version of Splash Lagoon. As a kid, you wash your hands by first turning the hot and cold faucets on at full blast, spraying water everywhere. Then, after getting your hands good and soaked, you reach for the soap with princess-like flair, perhaps waving to yourself in the mirror first with a wink and a smile, making little heart-shaped smears with the water droplets that hit the mirror. Eventually you pound the soap pump with a wet fist, maybe hitting your palm with the shot of soap but more likely hitting the counter top, the baseboard, the door, and the window. As you bring your now perhaps soapy hands back toward the sink, you play with that little line of soap that suspends itself between your hands and the pump like so much piping hot pizza cheese, allowing a line of slickness to form across the counter. Finally, after rinsing off, you splash around in the bubbles gathered in the sink bowl, wave hi to yourself in the mirror again, and turn off the faucet with soggy sandwich clamps, only barely having rinsed them enough to get the soap slime off. Then, it's across the room (via the measurement marks on the back of the door to see if you've grown any in the past month) and to the hand towel, leaving a spray of drops on the wallpaper as you go. The used towel hits the floor, to be picked up by an exhausted guardian at a later opportunity.

Add toothpaste to the equation, or bath soap, or toilet paper, and you can see my point. No, I'm thinking that bathroom gets done when they're both off to college.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Credit Card Ridiculousness

If you ask me (and, you didn't), I think that credit card fraud has just become retarded. Okay, so this post has nothing to do with parenting, or kids, or renovation, or geckos, but this morning I heard a story on NPR about a bill in Massachusetts government that would tie retailers to the costs involved in a credit card scam. As I understand it currently part of the credit card company's business model is to assume some level of fraud, yet stay profitable even while paying consumers back for the fraudulent transactions by passing fees to the retailers. The bill would make the retailers pay for the charges. I hereby announce that I am completely on the fence about this insane concept, and with good reason. Both sides of the argument suck.

You walk into your local Target. Buy your Isaac Mizrahi hand towels, your OXO Salad Spinner, and a copy of the first season of Family Guy. At the checkout, you whip out your Visa and fed it into the card-sucker. You scribble some sort of hieroglyph on the little LCD that perhaps might resemble your signature if it had been on paper with a real pen, and you're on your way. Young Tanya Fakenails behind the checkout counter never even saw your card. Real good security there.

Then you head to the local BP, where you fill up on gas where the only one watching you is the overtired pediatrician at the other pump dying to get home and crash. Nope, no card security there. Oh, and while you're at it, you head into the Quick-E-Mart and pick up a box of smokes, a Ho-Ho and, what the heck, a Ding Dong so you can do a comparison test. Joe Buzzcut behind the counter doesn't look up from the fabulous article on neon add-ons for his Honda Civic muffler in his latest issue of StreetRide long enough to check the signature, never mind ask for any sort of ID to match that signature.

On your way home you stop at Home Depot to pick up a replacement toilet flush valve, a bag of Thinset, and a Fubar. Since the total comes to just under $50, you don't even have to SIGN your card receipt when you pay. How's that for ease of use??!

In all these cases, it seems perfectly reasonable that the retailers should pay. My wife had her cards stolen a couple years ago. About $500 was spent on our cards before they were canceled, and the spending spree seemed to be pretty much as described above. Now our cards say "ASK FOR ID" in big ol' Sharpie across the back AND the front of the cards, but even then only about 50% of the merchants taking the card actually ask.

But then there's the security of the cards themselves. Why do ATM cards use a PIN number, yet credit cards don't? But wait, they do! You can have a PIN on your Visa, if you want to withdraw money from an ATM and get charged a ridiculous interest rate. Does anyone actually do that? So if that's the case...oh wait, I just answered my own question. Because the card companies make money off the poor shlub who confused his Visa with his bank ATM card and hit "debit" by mistake. That's the reason I immediately shred that piece of mail with the PIN number that comes two days after my new credit card.

It's been said that benefits of enabling better security measures are outweighed by the cost. So, the credit card companies can issue new machines that allow you to make the very confusing and dangerous choice of "credit or debit" on their credit card readers now (have you noticed what a recent phenomenon that is?) but they can't afford to put together PIN technology that ALREADY EXISTS.

Seems to me the credit card companies are being greedy. Who'da thunk that would happen.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Today's quote from a toddler

Jessica (our 3-year-old) went on a preschool field trip to the Carnegie Museum yesterday. Her mommy went with her. The tour guide brought the class through the animal exhibit, a big room full of furry, scary animals stuffed and positioned into imposing stances. The tour guide talked to the class about the polar bear, asking, "What's the biggest feature on the polar bear's face? The nose, right! Bears have a really great sense of smell."

My wife bent down and said, "Just like you, Jessica. You have a really good sense of smell, don't you?"

To which Jessica responded loudly, "mommy did you fart?"

She asked for that one.

Followup: My wife informs me that, in fact, she did NOT fart. Must have been the bear.

Coolest bed ever

My wife made me watch Oprah today (yes, I must preface it that way so as not to be deemed less of a man). Her hottie designer guy (Well, not hot to me...) was doing a bit about designing for small spaces and had a number of products on the show, one of which this enormously cool bed. The bed pivots out of the way like a Murphy bed and at the same time raises up a platform workdesk for your computer and such. How enormously cool. I want one. I think a great addition to it would be a chair that syncs with the bed. At a set time (say, 1:00am), the unit automatically converts to a bed, the chair raises up, and it dumps you into the bed, forcing you to get away from the computer and grab some sleep. Click here for more shots of the bed as well as other neat products from this company, Off The Wall Beds.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

It's cold spaghetti from now on

Okay, this blows my mind. Back in October, as part of our renovation, we installed a new kitchen sink. As part of that, we of course had to buy a couple of those rings that go in the hole of the kitchen sink, which for some reason are referred to as "strainers" even though they don't strain anything. The ring that goes in the left side of the sink connects to the disposer and holds the disposer to the sink.

Last night, that ring failed, causing a leak in the sink. This ring had a white lacquer finish to it to match the color of the sink, and the lacquer had chipped off like old paint, exposing the metal beneath it. The metal separated from the sink.

Home Depot recommended I contact Watts, the manufacturer, about it. The nice customer service representative asked me a few questions, one of them being, "did you pour boiling water down the sink?"

I of course said, "yes. It's a kitchen sink. How else am I going to drain my spaghetti? "

"Oh, you shouldn't have done that. these things are only rated up to 80 degrees. They aren't like the ones made in the old days, made of cast iron." You should always let the water cool before pouring down the sink. These days even the PVC pipes your sink drains into aren't rated for boiling water.

You've got to be freaking kidding me! I can't pour boiling water down my kitchen sink????

So, the guy is sending me a replacement, which I plan on using as my return to Home Depot. But first, I'm going to look in the instructions to see if it happens to mention this. If not, I'll be calling them back looking for restitution for my bill to the plumber tonight.

I then decided to do two things. First, I called the manufacturer of my sink (which is acrylic, like a shower). They said pouring boiling water down it is no problem. Then, I googled "don't pour boiling water down your kitchen sink" and found a long list of sites listing plumbing hints and tips, all of which suggested pouring boiling water down your kitchen sink to help unclog drains.

Again. You've got to be freaking kidding me.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Where have all the cowboy boots gone?

Like most men, I imagine, I only own a few pairs of shoes, and will wear them repeatedly until the soles fall off. New shoes are something to be purchased once every ice age. And judging by the weather outside, I'm thinking it's time to buy some shoes.

This recent realization led me to a second, more disturbing realization. The mens' shoe store has gone the way of the woolly mammoth.

Several years ago I purchased a pair of Clarks casual shoes at the Bostonian store in our local mall. I finally decided to put them out to stud this month and investigate the latest in men's work/casual footwear. So I went to the mall, and headed directly to Bostonian, only to discover it had pulled up anchor and left the mall years ago. And so had Florsheim. And every other decent shoe store. In this relatively average-sized mall in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, the ONLY place to buy men's shoes were Foot Locker and Payless, two places I really have no interest in setting a socked foot into.

Have shoe stores gone by way of the local hardware store? Subsumed by the likes of Wal-Mart and other big boxes? I couldn't believe it. There had to be options out there.

I knew that within the city limits of Pittsburgh were two "classic" shoe stores that should fit the bill, Gordon's and and Little's. I first went to Gordon's, a store that used to be located in a historic and easily accessible section of Pittsburgh known as Bloomfield but now located in Homestead, an area known more for shopping trendiness than accessibility. After I discovered that the closest thing Gordon's now carries to a practical dress casual shoe is made of purple suede, I left the store and sat in post-shopping traffic for over an hour as I tried to get out of the shopping center.

I then went to Littles, still located in Squirrel Hill since the original owner got off the boat at Ellis Island, accidentally took a left, and ended up in Pittsburgh. I eventually found something adequate if not overpriced. But the shoes I selected were truly a compromise. What are men wearing on their feet these days? Where are the Rockports? The Clarks? Am I that old that I missed the point where men's shoes went the way of the Oldsmobile, only to be replaced by hip metrosexual purple suede high tops that slide on like slippers and look like you're wearing eggplants on your ankles?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Quackers In Bed...

My wife has been working on writing and publishing children's books. While she hasn't quite reached the status of a Boynton, Seuss, or Scarry, she has made some significant progress. Check out her latest, a story published on an illustrator's web site, entitled, "Quackers In Bed". Take a wild guess as to who the inspiration for this story might have been....

Oh, and if you are a publisher who would like to give us thousands of dollars for the rights to her next title, by all means please contact me as soon as possible.

How to make ice cream with duct tape...for real this time

So a couple of people asked me about my last post, and how to ACTUALLY MAKE ice cream using duct tape.

First, you need two metal coffee cans. A big one (4lbs or so) and a small one (1lb). Of course, they don't actually need to be "coffee" cans. Anything with a replaceable top will do, but the important thing is for the outside one to be able to roll on the ground. By the way, if you don't feel like buying a can of Maxwell House, Pirouline cans do quite well and taste better.

First, fill the smaller can with the following:

-two pints whole milk or cream
-two tablespoons vanilla
-1 cup sugar

Now, close the small can and seal the cover tight with duct tape. Put the small can into the big can, and pack the big can with ice cubes. Add about a cup of rock salt (the kind you use on your driveway, I'm sure you've got some right now). Close and seal the big can with duct tape as well.

Now, have a seat on the floor with your kid proceed to roll the can back and forth for at least 20 minutes. This mixes things up quite nicely. Depending on the warmth of the room, it may pay to open the big can and add more rice/salt mixture again.

After 20 minutes, if the planets have aligned, you've got yourself some fine vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

How to make ice cream with duct tape

This past weekend was our second YMCA Adventure Princess campout. You may recall Natalie and I headed to one in back in October. Since then Uncle Harry has retired, and the temperature dropped about 75 degrees.

The theme of the weekend was "cold". The temps topped out in the middle of the day at about 15 degrees, so outdoor activities were pretty limited. We did manage to rough it through a few hours of sledding on "Killer Hill", though it was quite the fiasco. Virtually every kid who went down this icy, slippery slope had a good cry at the bottom, a result of the blinding shards of ice thrown up from the front of the sleds into their eyes. No permanent injuries, happily. I learned something, though. Last winter I picked up one of those bent-wood classic style tobaggans on eBay. It did not have a cushion on it. I learned there's a good reason to have that cushion. Without it, the snow comes through the slats in the wood and flash-freezes your tush awful quickly. I had no feeling in my rear for the next several hours.

Two of the primary activities of the weekend were the Pinewood derby car races and ice cream making. First, the car races...

The term "pinewood derby" is actually trademarked, I believe, by the boy scouts. Therefore they were referred to as "FADCAR races" in Adventure Princess-speak. I'm guessing that "FAD" stands for "Fathers And Daughters, but let's get serious for a minute here. Daughters have virtually nothing to do with these cars. This is simply an excuse for dads to disappear into the workshop under the pretense of father-daughter bonding. One dad showed up at the campsite with an entire box of tools, which he spread out across a table in the cabin so he could spend the next several hours filing, sanding, gluing, balancing, weighing, and streamlining. Another spent most of Friday evening with an upturned car in one hand and a chisel in another, as he proceeded to carve out a precise location to place extra grams of strategic weights in the chassis of his machine. All the while, our ladies continued on their quests to find the best corner of the cabin for hide-and-seek, the bounciest bunk mattress for a game of moon bounce, and the finest collection of late-night salty snacks which no mom would ever allow their daughters to eat so late at night.

I, unfortunately, had procrastinated long enough that when the weekend came for us (okay, me) to build our (I mean my) car, I got distracted by frozen pipes in our house and never got around to it. So instead, I used this event as a recon mission for next time. And I learned something. You see, the contest includes not only a race, but a "best of show" competition. I know, you're thinking that only those professionally carved, hi-gloss clearcoat-painted, scale model Lamborghini replicas were worthy of the best in show contest, right? Wrong. The voting was done entirely by the girls. Therefore, the hands-down winner was the car that seemed to have been carved with a dull spoon, BUT had a picture of Hannah Montana clued to the front and a pink ribbon on the back. Go figure.

Another fine event was ice cream making. We were forewarned to bring two coffee cans with us on the camping expedition: a 1-pound can and a 4-pound can. Most of us, used to buying coffee in BAGS rather than in Maxwell house tins, were quite daunted by this assignment. We learned that there are only a few items needed to make fine vanilla ice cream: cream, vanilla, sugar, ice, rock salt, and duct tape. The first three items were combined in the smaller can, then that can was placed in the larger can which was then topped off with rock salt and ice. Both cans were duct taped solidly shut. We then proceeded to roll the cans back and forth on the floor for twenty minutes. So there we are, in the ten-degree winter, gathered in a common area heated to a balmy 55 degrees, rolling cans of ice around the floor. Together I think we found a solution to global warming. But the ice cream was tasty.

Happily, Natalie made it home in one piece without throwing up in the Mazda like she did last time. Unfortunately, she almost landed in the hospital when she discovered that balloon catch is not something to be played while sitting on the edge of a bunk bed. She fell and came very close to crushing her ankle. But an ace bandage, some TLC, a bandaid, and some Doritos made it all better quickly.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Why I don't work at home

I'm currently working at home due to a major snowstorm in the area. I overheard Jessica, my 3-year-old, as she went to the bathroom....

Jes: Mommy, did daddy use the potty?
Mom: I don't know, why?
Jes: It smells like he did.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The impossible requests

The other day, like most days, my daughter came to me with a random small part from a playset and asked me to glue it back together. In this case, the problem was an arm that broke off a tiny Disney action figure only slightly smaller than a dung beetle. And she wanted me to repair the arm. Sure honey, all I need is an electron microsocope, one of those machines they use for laser eye surgery, and some nanobots. I'll get right on it.

I especially like it when she comes to me with a broken Slinky, figuring I can just tape it back together again. Ever try to tape a slinky? It doesn't work.

This led me to think about all those impossible questions asked of a typical dad (or mom, I suppose, but this is my blog, not hers) on a day-to-day basis. For example:

>Daddy, can you glue this (insert small item, such as Barbie shoe, hair band, necklace bead) back together?

>Daddy, can you put new batteries in this (non-battery-operated broken item)?

>Daddy, can you play with me (when asked while standing on an eight-foot step ladder with a tool belt on my waist, a paint brush in my hand, and a live electrical wire in my teeth)?

>Daddy, do you HAVE to go to work today?

>Daddy, how do you spell ablobdigog?

>Daddy, how were tools made back when there were no tools to make them? (good one, I thought)

>Daddy, can I have blueberries as a snack?
(Me:) We don't have any blueberries.
(Her:) But I want some!

(Me:) Good night sweetie.
(Her:) Good night daddy. Daddy?
(Me:) Yes?
(Her:) I want to sleep with Woofie tonight.
(Me:) Okay. where's Woofie?
(Her:) In the car.
(Me:) Of course.
(Me:) Trudge...trudge..trudge....Okay, I got Woofie, here you go.
(Her:) And Blue Bear.
(Me:) And where's Blue Bear? Never mind, in the car....right....

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ooooh, spooky

This was the fortune I found in my Chinese food lunch today. It's like they know me....

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

It's all in the name of science, really

My wife occasionally asks me, as if to confirm what she already knows, whether I would be interested in another kid if I was guaranteed a boy. My Answer? #@!% No.

On a related note, my dad sent me this list, one of those anonymous internet forwards. Credit to whomever thought it up. Frankly, I've been guilty of a few of these myself. As for the others, I'm definitely curious. But I really don't need my own car's gas tank to be filled with marbles, so I'm good with the girl thing:

A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2000 sq. ft. house 4 inches deep.

If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they can ignite.

A 3-year old Boy's voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant.

If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42 pound Boy wearing Batman underwear and a Superman cape. It is strong enough, however, if tied to a paint can, to spread paint on all four walls of a 20x20 ft. room.

You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using a ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball a long way.

The glass in windows (even double-pane) doesn't stop a baseball hit by a ceiling fan.

When you hear the toilet flush and the words "uh oh", it's already too late.

Brake fluid mixed with Clorox makes smoke, and lots of it.

A six-year old Boy can start a fire with a flint rock even though a 36-year old Man says they can only do it in the movies.

Certain Lego's will pass through the digestive tract of a 4-year old Boy.

Play dough and microwave should not be used in the same sentence.

Super glue is forever.

No matter how much Jell-O you put in a swimming pool you still can't walk on water.

Pool filters do not like Jell-O.

VCR's do not eject "PB & J" san dwiches even though TV commercials show they do.

Garbage bags do not make good parachutes.

Marbles in gas tanks make lots of noise when driving.

You probably DO NOT want to know what that odor is.

Always look in the oven before you turn it on; plastic toys do not like ovens.

The fire department in Austin, TX has a 5-minute response time.

The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy. It will, however, make cats dizzy.

Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.

80% of Men who read this will try mixing the Clorox and brake fluid.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Angry Young Girl

Any household with a piano quite likely has children more than willing to pound on the black and whites like so many Whack-A-Mole heads. Our house is no different. When my wife and I were married she brought with her an old Story & Clark upright, one that's found a comfortable home in the dining room. Come to think of it, the space below it MADE a comfortable home for a certain family of mice a while back, but that's another story.

Until recently the piano served its purpose as a dust collection device, a chotcke-holder, and occasionally a noisy racetrack for a Matchbox car or two. But one day Natalie announced she wanted to learn to play something on the piano. Hilary, being a bit rusty but somewhat learned in the pianistic arts, taught her a couple of nursery rhymes. Now, every spare moment, she rushes to the keyboard and practices the four tunes she knows. Her repertoire is simple, yet eclectic. She can play Happy Birthday, Twinkle Twinkle, Are you Sleeping Brother John, and....Billy Joel's Angry Young Man.

Okay, so she's not quite so polished with that last one, but I felt it necessary to play Angry Young Man for her one day after she proclaimed that she didn't need lessons, because she KNEW how to play the piano already. So rather than explain to her that there was more to learn, I felt compelled one day to put a little something by the Piano Man himself on the stereo to demonstrate.

Once the song was over, she dragged me to the piano to have me teach her.

Now, I know bupkis about piano playing, and I certainly ain't Billy Joel. But a long time ago someone showed me how to play the first few bars of AYM on the piano, and for some reason it stuck with me. So I showed her. And you know what? She's not bad. For some reason she's turned it into what sounds more like some sort of Broadway show tune, but it can clearly be defined as "music." Something tells me that with a few lessons, she's gonna be dangerous.

Friday, February 02, 2007

It's all relative

Next week I travel to Eagan, Minnesota. Northwest Airlines was nice enough to send me a weather report. Are they freakin' kidding me with this "not as cold" crap?