Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I believe it was Topol, in Fiddler On The Roof, who had a lot of things to say about tradition. Traditions are a good thing, especially around the holidays. Some folks
create a grand spread for Thanksgiving, either a giant turkey and all the trimmings. Some folks travel a long way to see family in other states. Some folks use the Thanksgiving weekend to decorate their houses For Christmas, so they can be seen from the international space station.

Us? We get sick.

You see it starts off the same every year. As part of her collection of holiday coloring projects and other holiday flair that she creates in class, one of our daughters will pick up and bring home an wonderfully colorful virus and infect the rest of the household. Usually this happens a few days before we begin packing to go away. First one kid will spike a fever. Then the other. Then Mom. Then Dad. In the end, we'll be lucky if we recover in enough time to hit the road and infect our extended family across the state lines before all the leftover turkey is done.

This year was no different. It started with Jessica, getting a minor fever and "the poopies". Okay, no big deal. She bounces back quickly. But then the evil sick bug decided to veer in a slightly different direction this time, and hit me head on. There have been rumors of a "stomach bug" going around town lately, and I'm here to tell you those rumors are completely true. For two days straight I felt like that guy from Alien just before the monster leaped out of his navel. I spent 48 hours doubled over, shivering with a fever, and unable to provide much more than simple grunts in response to my wife's offers of aid, medication, or chicken soup. Last night wearing 14 shirts and 92 socks I slept under eight blankets with a running hair dryer and a toaster oven and froze my ass off. Then, at around 4 in the morning the fever broke and I went outside to lie naked in the snow to cool off. By mid afternoon I was back to my usual self, just in time for my wife to catch the bug. And Natalie, for that matter. Both are currently sleeping upstairs while I type this. I blame any typing mistakes on the shaking of the house caused by their feverish shivering.

If all goes according to plan, they will be almost fully recovered by Thursday morning. Thus our tradition still stands, just like it does every year. ah, the holidays.

Oh I should mention that today is my lovely wife's birthday. I believe she's 29 now. Happy birthday honey, hope you like your gift!

I should also mention that recently I was reading the paper and discovered that Fiddler on the Roof is playing, in Pittsburgh, with Topol playing the role as Tevia. I said this to my wife, with responded with, "The actor Topol?" Of course I replied with, "No, the toothpaste." Okay it's a pathetic joke, but how many people in this world have, like myself, been waiting all their lives to be set up to deliver this punchline? You wish it was you, you know you do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Amazing Grace

Okay this has absolutely nothing to do with the general theme of my blog, I just thought it was very impressive. Worth watching the whole way through.

Is that Soccer Star David Beckam, or your goldfish?

Today in the mail I received the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. What a brilliant collection of crap you just don't need. The Wireless Multiplayer Poker Game ($60, a much better value than, say, a deck of cards), The Best Nose Hair Trimmer ($25, and available for immediate shipment, thank goodness), Or the Animatronic Roommate ($120...I think I had several of those at CMU, but back then we called them design majors).

But this year, two items in the catalog caught my eye. First was the USB Remote Controlled Race Car ($50 in the catalog, but on sale for $19.95 on the web!). You plug it into your computer, and use an on-screen steering wheel to drive the car around your desk. It has a range of three feet. Anyone seen my desk lately? I think an off-road version would be a little more useful.

This one, however, takes the cake. It's the Fish Agility kit. Now, at $40, this is an absolute necessity. I mean, how long it's been since that goldfish of mine has done anything useful? Most of the time he just swims around, eating my food, pooping, and looking pretty. Big deal, I have kids that do that. I want my fish to actually serve a purpose. At last, I can teach that Blood Parrot Cichlid of mine to fetch! to score a goal! to go outside and retrieve the newspaper! I hear version 2.0 will include tools to teach my algae sucker how to do my taxes. I'm going to hold out for that version, a bargain at any price!

Okay, the moment I finished writing this post, my 8-year-old daughter just informed me that her class is buying one of these and the whole class will spend the next semester training their classroom goldfish to shoot baskets. I'm speechless.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The start of the pattern...

I didn't write this. I received it as one of those silly internet forwards riddled with capital letters, animated gif images, and probable spam. But I thought it fit in well with the theme of my blog. If you are the original writer of any of this content please let me know and I will credit you one half of my profits from this post.

After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve.

And the first thing he said was ' DON'T !'

'Don 't what ? ' Adam replied.

'Don't eat the forbidden fruit.' God said.

'Forbidden fruit ? We have forbidden fruit ? Hey Eve..we have forbidden fruit ! '

' No Way ! '

'Yes way ! '

'Do NOT eat the fruit ! ' said God.

'Why ? '

'Because I am your Father and I said so ! ' God replied, wondering why He hadn't stopped creation after making the elephants

A few minutes later, God saw His children having an apple break and He was pissed. 'Didn't I tell you not to eat the fruit ? ' God asked.

'Uh huh,' Adam replied.

'Then why did you ? ' said the Father.

'I don't know,' said Eve.

'She started it! ' Adam said.

'Did not ! '

'Did too ! '

'DID NOT ! '

Having had it with the two of them, God's punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own. Thus the pattern was set and it has never changed.

Some additional thoughts (didn't write these either):

1. You spend the first two years of their life teaching them to walk and talk. Then you spend the next sixteen telling them to sit down and shut up.

2. Grandchildren are God's reward for not killing your own children.

3. Mothers of teens now know why some animals eat their young.

4. Children seldom misquote you. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn't have said

5. The main purpose of holding children's parties is to remind yourself that there are children more awful than your own

6. We childproofed our homes, but they are still getting in.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

How to teach your kid to ride a bike

Okay, so it's getting colder outside, but I thought I would jot a few tips down for next spring when it's time to clean the garage, dust off that Barbie bicycle, and teach your kid to be the next Lance Armstrong. Following is my unsolicited advice on how best to teach your offspring to ride a bike with a minimum of injury, to either the child, to you, or to the neighbor's dog. Pay attention, these are important

Rule #1. Move to a flat state. If your cul-de-sac has even the slightest grade, as soon as your child points those handlebars downhill you're going to picture her plowing into the neighbor's mailbox. You don't need the added stress. Sell the house and move to Iowa.

Rule #2. Remove that cute little bell. My five year old really wants to become proficient on her bike. She also wants to ding her purple Disney Princess bell at every passing blue jay. As a result she spends far more time looking at her bell than she does watching out for the neighbor's mailbox.

Rule #3. Once the time comes to take off the training wheels, consider removing the pedals as well. If she can focus her attention on staying upright without having to remember to pedal, she will learn to stay up more quickly by coasting, and have more time to focus on important things like steering and avoiding the neighbor's mailbox.

Rule #4. When the pedals go back on, teach her to ride standing up. Otherwise she's going to poop out trying to get up that hill, and once her tiny legs burn out she'll careen straight into the neighbor's mailbox.

Rule #5. Move to a development in Iowa that has no mailboxes.

Yet again redefining "too much time on one's hands"

"Star Wars" - an a capella tribute to John Williams

I especially love the upper left corner shirt.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Let's avoid the face plant

During my young and relatively uneventful childhood, my family was close with another family a block or so away. They had a boy a year younger than me, and from early in toddler-hood we were often paired up to do those typical childhood things together. As it is often said, we shared a playpen together from an early age. It was for the most part a marriage of convenience, a place where I could be dumped off by my parents or he could be dumped off by his on errand days. I haven't seen him in perhaps 25 years, but I recall, quite frankly, being much cooler than him. Now, please understand that this isn't saying much. From our parents' perspective, he was perhaps a less with-it Bart Simpson while I was a slightly more with-it Milhouse. In other words, to his parents I was the good son that the neighbor family never had. And I had no problem with this, because they owned a boat.

Each year I was invited to join them on their annual summer vacation to the family cottage in Cape Cod. It was during these excursions that I had my first crush, on the older sister who looked like a shorter, slightly less slender Valerie Bertinelli. Back then I would have easily placed money on the fact that (let's just call her) Valerie and I were destined for marriage. Not quite sure why it didn't pan out that way, but it seemed logical at the time. Nice Jewish girl, educated, worldly, and she could water-ski like a pro.

You're probably wondering where I'm going with this. I'm not quite sure I know yet, but hang on for the ride.

Valerie could slalom, jump wakes, and looked really good in a wetsuit (granted I was about 15 years old, so a pound of mashed potatoes would have looked really good in a wetsuit). She spent many days teaching her younger brother and me to ski. I recall struggling unsuccessfully to stand up on my skis numerous times each afternoon, only to immediately be yanked forward by the thrust of the boat and force-fed a jellyfish. Then one day it happened.

Easy now, this is not an end-of-innocence-with-my-buddy's-older-sister story from the pages of Hustler, it's about skiing. Sorry to disappoint, but remember my Milhouse point above and understand that anything about Valerie from this point forward would be a lie. If you're still with me, let's continue.

If you've ever water-skied, especially in the ocean, you know the experience. You float aimlessly in the water, warily scanning the surface for shark fins while attempting to keep the points of your skis skyward, waiting for the boat to maneuver into position. You give the driver a feeble thumbs up, and the engine roars. Rope goes taught, and your arms are yanked forward as if you're taking a pair of pit bulls for a walk and they just spied a squirrel. You focus all your effort on keeping those skis pointed forward rather than having one sucked under and ripping your shin off just below the knee, when suddenly you're standing. For the next 1.2 seconds, as you travel forward towards the churning from the boat's propeller blade, the water is as smooth as glass. The change in pressure on the tow rope causes it to go briefly and completely slack. at that very moment your brain must make a choice. You know how Wile E. Coyote soars of a cliff and hangs still in the air up to the moment he realizes he's about to plummet? It's kind of like that. Because in that next millisecond the rope is going to go taught again and you're either going to be ready to ski or you're going to be chewing jellyfish again. I distinctly remember my first time standing up. It was so amazing a feeling that I immediately panicked and did a face plant with extra flailing. But the next time it was easy.

Once you're up, the real tipping point occurs when you are no longer being pulled by the boat, and instead you take control. You can hang back and relax as the boat guides you. You can zip back and forth across the wake and do tricks. You can smile for the bikini babes in the passing boat without giving a moment's thought to the fact that your bathing suit really needs to be adjusted from all the dragging.

I recall that Valerie's brother didn't quite have the same experience I had. He managed to get up on skis as well, but found it impossible to stand up straight. His back remained completely bent forward and his arms over his head life jacket at his ears, as he was dragged through the Cape Cod Canal like an an upside down letter J. He never quite reached that tipping point. That night while I helped the dad get the boat cleaned up and the life jackets hung to dry, I beamed with excitement over my accomplishments while the brother sulked in a corner, pissed off with his mediocre performance and sore back.

So that's my ancedote. And why am I bringing it up? I'm not sure. But for some reason it popped into my head while watching last night's election. For the past decade we've been pulled by the rope, our heads down hoping we don't get dragged under. And we've gotten really pissed off about it. As of last night, we're standing up straight at last. Now we just need to avoid the face plant.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Good luck winning that one

I was browsing through the Sunday coupons today when I came across a sweepstakes that Birdseye was advertising. "Win a $25,000 kitchen makeover!" it said. Okay, always a sucker for a dollar figure with three zeroes before the comma, I thought I would check it out by going to their website. When I clicked on the registration page, I noticed a field asking for a UPC number. I thought that was odd, because right above it was the line "no purchase necessary". So, if no purchase is necessary, how do I find a UPC number? Funny you should ask. I clicked a handy "help" link which took me to the detailed rules and regulations for this sweepstakes. Here's where it got interesting.

First, the rules clearly stated that no purchase is in fact necessary. That is, instead of purchasing a Birdseye vegetable product you could a)go to the store and jot down the UPC number off a package of frozen peas for later entry into the site, b)send a SASE to Birdseye and they will mail back a UPC number you can use to enter into the site, but only from 12/21/2008 to 12/28/2008 (despite the fact that the sweepstakes is going on NOW) or c)click a special link and enter your email address so they can email you a UPC code for use also during that December time frame. In other words, If you want to enter just buy yourself a friggin' bag of corn. But that's not the REALLY interesting part.

I kept reading, and found out that registering doesn't actually give you a chance of winning. Nor does returning to the site each day, as it recommends you do. Instead, once you register and once you sign in you will...

...then see a screen displaying spinning images that land on three (3) images after a button is clicked. If three (3) of the three (3) images are identical matches, you will receive a message screen indicating that you are a potential Game Prize Winner. In order for your Game Play to result in your being a potential Game Prize Winner, it must have occurred either at the exact randomly predetermined winning time as determined by Sponsor and/or Circle One, or if no Game Play has occurred at the exact randomly predetermined winning time, then it must be the Game Play that occurred at the closest time immediately following the randomly predetermined winning time.

Did you follow that? You must play a random slot-machine style game. If that game shows a match of all three images AND it's the exact randomly-determined time of day during which you are playing, you are a POTENTIAL prize winner. If no one hit it at the right time, then the closest person immediately following the randomly determined time is a potential prize winner.

I always wondered if people actually win these things. Now I know the answer is only the ones with truly nothing better to do in life.

By the way, I do like the actual grand prize. "The Sweepstakes Winner will receive in the form of a Twenty Five Thousand Dollar ($25,000) Gift Card ("Gift Card") to a home improvement store in the Sweepstakes Winner's local area"

I think if I won that, I'd use it during my regular trips to Home Depot to buy screws and nails and such, just so I could repeatedly hear the dude behind the register say, "that'll be two dollars and thirty-eight cents off your gift card, and your balance is...um....twenty-four thousand, nine hundred seventy-eight dollars and thirty-two cents. Can you excuse me while I have the manager check my register?"

Use the danged keypad!

If you live in Pittsburgh, then you are likely familiar with Giant Eagle and their relatively new "self service" checkouts, where you get the pleasure and stress of scanning and bagging your own products. If you don't live in Pittsburgh, you're probably still familiar with the concept.

Normally, if I witness someone in front of me struggling to figure out the self service kiosk, I will pretend to scan the latest copy of People searching for news of Brangelina's latest offspring. However today I felt it necessary to butt in.

The lady in front of me was attempting to purchase lettuce. She had three types of lettuce with her. Surprise surprise, each was green, leafy, and looked relatively the same as the others. She was completely befuddled by the "produce" option in front of her, where she had to rummage through pictures upon pictures of fruits and vegetables until she found the correct species of lettuce she was looking for. Red leaf? Romaine? Bib? Boston? Iceberg? Who could tell? After a good two or three minutes of struggling, I leaned forward to share a little secret, which I am now sharing with the rest of the world.

In most stores, every item of produce comes with a 4-digit number on the bag, the rubber band, or on a sticker. On the self-service kiosk there's a big button that says, "use keypad". Press it. Then enter the code for your lettuce and press enter. The system will recognize the code, weigh your produce or ask you for a quantity, and tell you to move on. There, you just shaved two minutes off my day. Now get out of my way before my Benn & Jerry's melts.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Status update: The festering Craphole

I'm one month into my latest project, gutting and remodeling the kids' bathroom. My parents were in this weekend, and as is usually the case when they come in I put dad to work assisting me with details such as rewiring lights, ripping out toilets and flooring, and smoothing out walls.

We're now ready to paint and put the floor in. Only problem is, we've gone about this project a little backwards. Over the summer we visited Cape Cod, where we amassed a vast collection of nautically-themed objects such as shells and ceramic fish with which to decorate the walls. We have a shower curtain. We even have little decorative soaps. What we DON'T have are paint color selections, a decision on tile, or even an idea of which toilet and sink to buy.

And then there's the leak.

I'm not quite sure when I first noticed it, but for a while now there has been a small brown splotch on the kitchen ceiling. My first thought had been that with two little girls wallowing and splashing in the tub every other day, some water was bound to find its way out of the tub, under the floor, and into the sheetrock of our kitchen ceiling. However after ripping up the bathroom floor I found no such sign of a leak. Then, yesterday morning, I happened to glance at the splotch again and noticed it had changed color. I pressed it gently with my finger and discovered it was soft. And wet. The leak must be in the guest bathroom, which my parents have been using while staying here. Swell. This would definitely be the "other" part they talk about when they say "if it isn't one thing, it's another". Upon further investigation, it appears that the big round handle that operates the shower is leaking. Swell.

Have I mentioned I hate plumbing? Yes, I believe I have.