Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Comcast Makes Good

At long last, we have a working Tivo. For those who weren't paying attention, after writing my last post clearly describing how the fine folks at Comcast could not for the life of them figure out how to get a Comcast CableCard properly installed in a Tivo, an Internet-trolling Comcast Customer Service employee came across my blog and actually posted a comment asking me to contact him so he could help. So I did. And he did. And just like that, all is right with the world. He conferred with the tech that was coming to the house, made sure the guy would have a full arsenal of tools at his disposal, and voila. At long last I can Tivo this week's episode of "Hung" on HBO. Not that I'd want to. The show is pretty lame, frankly.

So what have we learned, class? Well first, it pays to speak your mind. And these days, if you speak your mind you'd be surprised just who might actually hear it. In fact several months ago, I posted a similar rant about attempting to replace a defective ceiling fan bought at Home Depot. As a result of that rant, the administrator of a large ceiling fan sales website commented, thanking me for posting such useful information. Had I thought of doing this a few years back when we discovered the aftermarket warranty on our couch was as much a sham as the blanket tossed over the back of the same couch, I would have ranted about that, too. Hmm, maybe I still will.

Suddenly, I'm taken to a moment back in time, back when I was when I was a strapping young lad by the age of 10 or 11. One day in elementary school I was assigned a homework assignment that involved selecting a product that I liked and writing a letter of praise to the manufacturer. The product I chose was the Swingline stapler. But not just any stapler. Specifically, one of those tiny red ones designed for elementary school to students carry around in their pencil boxes.

For some reason that seems to escape me at the moment, this was the product I chose. Looking back, I realize now how close I became to becoming that guy played by Stephen Root in Office Space. It's kind of eerie, actually. Come to think of it, I do mumble a lot, and I like setting fire to things. I could set this whole building on fire, in fact, I...

Wait, where was I? Oh yeah.

While I don't recall exactly how I extolled the virtues of the Swingline Mini Stapler or how exactly it completed my childhood, I do remember one thing. Out of all the kids in the class, I was the only one who got not only a response from the manufacturer, but a freebie as well. Yes, Swingline actually sent me a shiny new Mini Stapler, with a year's supply of staples. I remember walking proudly into school that day, heaving my shiny new Mini Stapler over my head like an Academy Award, thrown off balance by the proud slaps on the back from my fellow students, showered with cheers and coy giggles from fawning school girls. There I was, a true hero of the gifted class, for one brief but powerful, shining moment that my fellow students would recall fondly for years to come. At least, that's how I remembered it.

What the heck was I talking about again?


And I said, I don't care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I'm, I'm quitting, I'm going to quit. And, and I told Don too, because they've moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were married, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn't bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it's not okay because if they take my stapler then I'll set the building on fire...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Construction of the Horse Poop Cabinets

One month into my latest workshop project, I am surprised to say I'm making good progress. You may recall that I've decided to tackle the construction of an entertainment center using, among other things, some reclaimed lumber from an old barn in the area. Jeff, my woodworker buddy who sold me the sycamore floorboards that he scavenged from the old barn, reminded me that a)not only will this wood make for a beautiful piece of furniture and a good story but b)horses, cows, and perhaps an occasional goat have been peeing and pooping on this wood for over a hundred years. Mmm...smell that history.

Working with the stuff has been an interesting challenge. As demonstrated yesterday when I tossed a few scrap pieces into the fireplace and watch them erupt into flames, this wood is as dry as the Sahara. Every time I cut a piece on my table saw, I nervously expect the piece to disintegrate into dust. But so far the wood has held together quite nicely. It's also been a challenge cutting down boards in such a way that I don't end up with giant knot holes or nail holes, although a few nicks and scrapes here and there make for nice character.

The project is proving to be a good learning experience, as well. For example, I learned you really shouldn't put the back of a bookshelf on before putting the face frames on. If your back isn't quite square, the face frames ain't gonna fit. I also learned that a biscuit joiner is a very cool tool to have in the arsenal, because it allows you to screw up and get away with it. I've also learned that I should have bought a random orbit sander years ago, using Gel Stain is a lot like spreading chocolate pudding, and I proved the old woodworker's saying that you can never have enough clamps.

So, here's my progress so far:

The original design:

Just checking to see how off-square I am:

Bookshelf #1 complete (well, aside from shelving and lighting of course)

The sycamore has some really cool grain patterns to it:

I think I need more clamps.

Comcast continues to amaze me

I promise I'll get back to my regularly scheduled blogging about constructing the ultimate family with my next post, but first I need to vent about Comcast one more time. We're now into our third week of owning a new Tivo and of having Comcast pay visits to the house only to have no clue what to do with us.

It was such a simple matter. Tivo requires the use of a CableCard. Comcast provides CableCards. Make an appointment, have a Comcast dude come over and install it, and you're golden, right? So let's see where we are....

December 4: Make appointment for a week from Saturday
December 12: The 8-12 window of the appointment goes by, and at 11:59 lady calls to say the tech has no cable cards, can they bring me a set top box instead. I explode at her for making me wait all freaking morning to tell me this, instilling fear and wrath such that the woman cowers in a corner and pleads for me to let her supervisor call me. Supervisor never calls, so I call Comcast tech support and complain for an hour. Supervisor then calls, comes over 45 minutes later with three CableCards, none of which work. Says he needs to get new ones from "the warehouse" during the week. Makes appointment for 6pm-9pm December 16
December 16: Tech shows up at 1:30 in the afternoon. WTF. Installs a Cablecard. Spends an hour on the phone with the home office. Gets it working, except there are no premium channels showing. Doesn't mention that to my lovely wife, and leaves thinking he's free. I come home see there's no premium channels, call Comcast.They spend ten minutes trying to send a signal to the Card with no luck. Says they need to come out again with a new CableCard.
December 19: Tech arrives on time, but with no replacement cableCards. Spends an hour on phone with home office, trying to get current card to work, with no luck. Lists the name of every supervisor he can to woman on other line, pleading my case to her and explaining how Comcast has totally screwed us. I like this guy, despite the fact that he didn't do anything for us. Plus Daisy LOVED him. Our next attempt happens Tuesday afternoon.

Okay, so that brings us to today. I've realized the flaw in their system.

First of all, it's a known fact that CableCards arere a commercial failure for the industry, primarily because Comcast and other Cable companies realized that they shouldn't offer $2.00 CableCards to customers when instead they could market $10 cable boxes and get additional revenue with On Demand sales. Sure, makes sense. But that doesn't negate the fact that new Tivos REQURE the use of CableCards, and Comcast still OFFERS CableCards, therefore they should SUPPORT CableCards.

Second, most of their techs work from home. They wake up each morning and say, "Well Brain, what are we going to do today?" Pinky answers with, "Same thing we do every day, Pinky...install some cable boxes." Basically if a gadget ain't in their truck already, they aren't prepared for the day and there's going to be a problem. At no point are the techs informed ahead of time that there will be a CableCard installation, and he'd better stop at the warehouse and get a working CableCard.

Third, CableCard settings expire. If the tech grabs a bunch to keep in his car, they are already initialized and coded to work with the local Comcast system. But if they aren't used in, say, three months, the settings automatically expire and the card needs to be reinitialized before it's brought to the house.

Seems like a classic failure to communicate. If they ever get this working right, the next thing I'm going to do is have a little chat with Comcast, and have them lower my bill by using this strategy.

Oh and the next Comcast employee who asks me why I wouldn't like to keep Comcast's DVR instead will get punched.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

As long as I'm venting

Wow, this is a first. I'm bored. I'm actually bored. Not to say my life is normally the most exciting there is, but it's raining outside, the wife and Thing #1 are out, while Thing #2 has vanished into the playroom with her new Barbie dollhouse. It's cold and rainy outside, my cabinet project is currently in midst-glueup so I can't work on it right now, and I don't feel like watching TV, exercising, or in any way improving my life.

I know! I'll vent some more!

As you could see by my last post, major consumer goods have annoyed me lately. So as long as I'm walking down that path, maybe I'll take some time and bitch a little bit about Apple.


"But Mike," you say. "Aren't you, like, a total Mac lover? I mean, don't you want to MARRY your Mac?"

Well sure. Our house has gone all Mac, as we currently has two Apple iMacs no PC-based machines, three iPods, an iPhone, an Apple Time Capsule, and an Airport Express. After all, I use PCs all day at work and, much like a gynecologist, do I really want to take my work home each day? And all of it works together just so bloody well. So why would I complain?

Because Apple seems to have failed with two simple, basic home computing rights: The right to keep a to-do list and the right to print an address correctly.

I'll explain. First, Apple has done a very nice job on integrating a To-do list application into their Mail and Calendar programs. Since users are always in Mail anyways, it's easy to click one button and add an item to a to-do list in a separate window of the Mail program. Those To-do items also synchronize with the Calendar program, so you can easily see in the calendar what's coming up on the To-do list.

But there's one huge flaw with the whole To-do list feature. It doesn't exist on the iPhone. You can sync your mail, calendars, addresses and notes between the computer and the phone. Why THE HELL can't you sync To-do lists? It seems like a basic human right. And come on, Apple, people have been complaining about this since the day the iPhone first came out. I mean, I can point my iPhone at a star in the sky, and it will automatically tell me what star that is. I can hold my phone in front of me, and it will give me the name, menu, and reviews of the restaurant in front of me. I can even update my Facebook status. Why the hell can't I keep a decent to-do list on it using Apple's own to-do application?

The second issue I have is that, apparently, the developer of Apple's address book application came from a very broken family. There's a seemingly nice intelligent feature in the address book, where if you enter the name of a contact's spouse in the "spouse" field, that spouse's name will magically appear when you print an address label. Great, so if my buddy John Smith is married to Jane, I just put Jane's name in the Spouse box, and as a result I can print a mailing label and it will state "John and Jane Smith". Great. Almost.

The first problem is that you must put Jane's last name in the Spouse box as well. Otherwise her name will not appear. Okay actually, once I managed to figure out this extremely poorly documented feature, I began to realize it actually makes sense, because if Jane keeps her own name of "Jones" then the system is smart enough to print "John Smith and Jane Jones" rather than John and Jane Smith.

But wait. There's more. It turns out that if there is ANY other "Jane" in your address book, her name will not print on the mailing label unless you create an address book entry specifically for Jane Smith, with exactly the same address as john's, AND enter her name in John's Spouse field. Huh? Why? I get the feeling that this is because the address book is trying to handle the concept of divorce elegantly. Perhaps Jane moved out, got a new address, and therefore needs her own Christmas card.

But wait, it gets better. The same process is true for kids. If John and Jane have a little boy Joey, and you want to address their Christmas card as "John, Jane, and Joey Smith", then you must put Joey's name in the Child field and include his last name. but if there's any other Joey in the address book, then little Joey Smith needs his own address book entry too, or his name won't print on the Smith's address label. Why in the name of Steve Jobs would I want to create a separate address book entry for every child of every friend of mine in order to get a working mailing list for our annual holiday cards?

Oh and speaking of which, there's no way to toggle the feature on and off. So if I want to send an Xmas card to the entire Smith family, great. Do the above. But then if I only want to invite John and Jane to the Bar Mitzvah, without the kids, I have to completely redo their address entry.

I have a hunch that Steve Jobs doesn't send out his own Christmas cards. Otherwise this would never be a problem.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Commercial Failures of the week

Ever have one of those weeks where everything seems to cost you time and money? Where everything seems to break at the same time? where the whole concept of the "valued customer" apparently means nothing anymore? This was one of those weeks. It started early in the week, when I called a medical supply office that was making custom fit orthotics for my running shoes. I suddenly realized it had been over two months since I ordered them. They told me, "yeah, they're here, can you come in next week for a fitting? Okay great, see you then. Oh and (lowers voice to a mumble) these aren't covered by insurance, so that will be $160."

Wait...what? And, why didn't you tell me this before making the order?

Things progressed when I paid a visit to my local Lowes. We have a light fixture in our kitchen with three hanging track lights on it, and one decided to fry itself. We installed it in late 2006, so naturally Lowes doesn't carry it anymore. And neither does the manufacturer. Not even repair stock. Great. So I can either tear apart the fixture and attempt to replace the element inside that's fried, or replace the entire light fixture AND the matching one over the dinette table, which won't be easy because these fixtures were specifically chosen because the hole in the ceiling is off-center. Naturally I'm going with the former plan.

And then, there's Comcast. You know all those FIOS commercials you see with the read-headed cable guy who simply just doesn't have anything worthwhile to offer his customers? I was that customer today. A little over a week ago we treated ourselves to a brand new Tivo. This Tivo takes CableCards, which are little cards that slide into the Tivo and perform the same task as one of those digital cableset top boxes. Comcast readily provides them, but they insist on coming out to install. No problem, I made an appointment for today (a full week after I called), and they gave me the typical arrival estimate of between 8am and noon.

At 11:59 today, just as I was about to click the "chat now" button on Comcast Support's website, the phone rang. It was the contractor's secretary who called to say not only is he running late, but that they didn't have any Cablecards and wondered if I'd like a set top box instead. At that point I completely blew up at her and demanded to know why they are just telling me this now, and how she expects me to insert a set top box into the little slot on the front of my Tivo. She quickly got herself off the phone by interrupting my tirade and asking if I wanted the supervisor to call me directly. I replied with "yes please" and hung up the phone.

An hour and a half later, having heard nothing from them, I CALLED Comcast support, and got a very nice and understanding lady who took all sorts of notes and sent all sorts of emails to allegedly the right people who would get in touch with me. Very nice of her, though so far that gets me cable service on my Tivo as much as pouring orange juice into the CableCard slots would. But it turned out that 45 minutes later I got a call from a "district supervisor" who said they found some CableCards and would be right over. And they were.

And none of the three CableCards he brought with him worked. He then told me they would have to come back during the week. So I scheduled the followup appointment, let him leave the house, then called the nice Comcast lady back and asked her what she could do for me to compensate for the misery of the day. The best she could do was give me a $20 credit. Not only was that pretty pathetic, but a friend reminded me this evening that this installation also cost $16. So I'll be calling Comcast back again shortly. Meanwhile, FIOS continues to dig up our street, laying cables for their service. Keep digging FIOS, keep digging.

And to top things off, my camera broke this evening. Awesome capper to an awesome day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Best music video ever

No, not this one:

That's Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, of course. I thought I would let you watch it as a simple refresher, before you see the REAL treat, which is this:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My chance to be just like Norm. No, not NORM!, the other Norm.

Okay, okay, I hear you...you're thinking, "geez, WTF... Mike's at home with the flu, the LEAST he could do is post to his blog once in a while." Yeah, well, you're right. But the trouble is I don't have a laptop, and I didn't manage to drag my sorry butt out of bed for at least three days straight. It got to a point where I was starting to form some sort of crust on my thighs, so I decided it was finally time to get up and face the world. And here I am. Three days off work with something that did NOT amount to swine flu, but managed to leave behind a nasty case of bronchitis that makes me sound like a fully grown harp seal stuck in the carburetor of a Civic (wait, do Civics have carburetors? Nah, probably not...there goes my whole metaphor).

Okay, so that's where I've been. If I WASN'T hacking up phlegm balls the size of a small squid I would perhaps be much further along with my latest renovation-related project. I've decided it's time to finally face the music (that pun will hurt in a moment...) and build us an entertainment unit for the family room (see, told ya). You see, When we built the addition, we at least planned ahead and managed to mount the TV on the wall. What we did NOT do, however, was anything else even remotely related to making our stereo system NOT look like it was set up by a couple of Alpha Chi brothers attempting to decorate their off-campus man cave. Here it is currently, in all it's glory, my favorite part being, as my buddy calls it, the "off" center speaker:

Okay, so maybe it's not THAT bad, but my wife and I are card-carrying adults now, and it's about time we had something that doesn't make us look like we've been furnishing our home via the As-Is section of IKEA (which, BTW, is exactly where we got that base cabinet). So, here's my master plan:

Okay, sure, you say, that looks pretty standard. What's the big deal? Why not buy yourself an entertainment unit and get it done with, right? Phphhhh. Please. I refuse to stoop so low as to go out and buy myself something that appears gorgeous, is likely shoddy in makemanship, costs about ten times what it's worth, and probably doesn't fit that whompin' huge CD player when in fact I can custom build something that perfectly fits our needs, comes with the same shoddy makemanship, and costs a tenth as much. Add to this the fact that my wife has already approved me spending oodles of hours down in the workshop to make this beast when I could be spending quality time yelling at my children, and there's obviously no question I should build my own.

But wait, there's more.

If you've ever watched Yankee Workshop, you know that Norm, the carpenter, is famous for a few things: 1)First, a little shop safety. Always wear "these" safety glasses 2)having thirty-eight different routers so he doesn't have to spend time changing router bits, and 3)somehow managing to get his hands on some slab of lumber that was scavenged from a Revolutionary War cannon stand that's been buried in a salt mine for 250 years and turning it, magically, into a beautiful and finely crafted duck-shaped wind chime. I mean, really, how many of you have watched those shows on HGTV only to scoff when the home builder proclaims that the floorboards have been reclaimed from a 200-year-old barn, or that the ceiling's false beams were saved from a vintage ice factory being demolished in Cheboygan, thinking "yeah, but they don't sell that stuff at Home Depot."

Well, thanks to my buddy Jeff (a far more experienced woodworker than I) I can finally say I can be just like Norm, sort of. Jeff discovered a 100+ year-old barn being torn down in his neighborhood, and he had the foresight to deal with the crew and buy himself a number of chestnut ceiling beams and sycamore floorboards. And then he had the foresight to offer to sell me some of those sycamore boards for use with this little project of mine And I had the foresight to say yes. So give me a several months, and if all goes well I will be able to stand there as visitors admire my handywork while I casually explain, "oh, this old thing? Yes, it's made from the salvaged boards of a centuries-old barn." and then move on to explain how I selected the sycamore because it brings out just the right tonal harmonies when I stream Depeche Mode on my iPod. Or something like that. I'll have to work on the story.

So production has started. Nothing to show just yet, but I know that resting comfortably across my workbench right now is the case for the lefthand bookshelf, awaiting the first pieces of newly planed antique sycamore floorboards to be applied to the front face. If only I could breathe well enough to handle being in my workshop long enough to do it. Well, that's what pharmaceuticals are for.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Into The Woods

Okay, this has nothing to do with anything, but I took a few interesting photos over the weekend at Kentuck Knob. For those unaware, Kentuck Knob is the Frank Lloyd Wright home in Ohiopyle that ISN'T Fallingwater. It's actually only a mile or two from Fallingwater. Built as a home for the Hagen family (of Hagen Ice Cream fame), it is now owned by some British guy named Lord Palumbo, who still uses it on occasion but has opened it up to the public for tours. It's a very cool house, and far, far more livable than Fallingwater. Down in the woods behind it is a meadow containing a sculpture garden. That's where I took these.

The Red Army

Last Call

The Wall

This is an actual chunk from the Berlin Wall.

Kentuck Knob

Kentuck Knob

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Back in my day...

This week was parent-teacher conferences. That most wonderful time of year, when the kids get a couple of free days off and the parents rearrange their schedules so they can sit in tiny chairs designed for six-year-olds and find out exactly what they are getting out of their school district's tax dollars.

For us, parent-teacher conferences are actually fairly boring. I mean really, how often can you hear phrases like "pure unadulterated genius", "miles ahead", and "their future fame and fortune will more than cover your retirement" before it starts to get a little repetitive? Really, the highlight of conference night is walking out of the classroom and roaming the hallway, picking out the documented moments of brilliance that are our childrens' artistic masterpieces hanging on the walls amongst more feeble and pathetic attempts at creativity while other, lesser parents run screaming from their own childrens' classrooms and hurl themselves off the top of the gymnasium bleachers in a vain attempt to quell their own anguish over their child's mediocre performance.

Sometimes I can't help but get my geek on, but this year during the conference I felt compelled to ask how involved the students get in computer skills development. I figure that by the time our children reach adulthood the cyborgs will be pretty much running things around here, so I want to make sure that my kids are skilled enough to be useful members of the Great Hacker Resistance of 2030. That, and I'm hoping my older daughter might be able to help my wife occasionally by recovering a lost Word document or two when I'm not home.

I received an interesting response to my question. It turns out that the kids don't spent a whole lot of time in the computer lab these days. Why? Because it's a complete waste of time. More often than not a typical lab session starts with a bevy of computer crashes, "teacher, I can't login" complaints, and accidental mouse clicks inadvertently leading kids to open the Windows System folder and deleting Autoexec.bat. Frankly, it's gotten to a point where it just isn't worth the time and frustration.

Wow. This is quite a testament to how far with computers we have come. Microsoft and other companies have spent billions trying to make computers so friendly and intuitive that they have become too complex to teach how to use.

I remember when I was a youngster and part of the gifted program (otherwise known as the short bus full of snowball targets). We spent many hours learning and understanding computer concepts. Each day we would fire up the trusted Radio Shack TRS-80, wait for the black screen to appear, and start typing. That was it. No logins. No icons. No worrying about accidental downloads of porn. Back then, porn was where it should have been...in that secret box in my dad's workshop that he thought I didn't know about. And as long as he doesn't read my blog, he still thinks I don't know about.

What a life these kids lead. My daughters have never seen a world without the internet. Heck, they've never been without WiFi. They've never not shared the house with at least one iPod. And as a result, they're not the least bit dazzled by these technological wonders. The other day I introduced my kid to an iPhone app that automatically recognizes songs playing on the radio and identifies them for you. She was completely nonplussed, and simply asked me for the iPhone so she could play that game where you make the monkey pee in the toilet by tilting the phone back and forth.

Back in my day, the monkey I had to make pee in the toilet was an actual monkey. And he didn't like it when I tilted him.

Friday, October 09, 2009

My next 15 minutes of fame...very local, minor fame...

Too all those readers who came across my blog after reading about it in this month's North Hills Monthly, welcome to the party. I hope you stick around for a bit. What you will find here will quite likely not enrich your life. It won't offend you. It won't make you think. and it certainly won't make you feel any smarter. But if it makes you giggle, perhaps guffaw, or maybe even pee a little, then I feel I've done my job. If you like, click on the "Favorites" tag in the list to the right and find a little more out about me and my yammering. By the way that's an incomplete list...I'm working on it...

For those of you wondering what the heck I'm babbling about, See page 40.

I'm starting to notice a trend here

Animals. They're out to get me. And it's not just the fricking dog.

Let's start with the fish. Take the photo below, for example. I will call this exhibit A. Lovely fish tank ain't it? Notice how it seems like there's about 6 inches of gravel in there, piled up like a miniature mountain range? I didn't do that. The stupid fish did. No, I spent plenty of time making a nice cozy home for the critter, but instead the stupid fish decided she'd rather dig up the nice smooth layer of gravel and pile it all in the front of tank as if she's building a fort. Oh, and you also might notice the black thing in the background. That's the water heater. Which isn't where I left it. She moved that too. And the plant that looks like it's growing out of the left side of the tank? Nice.

Let's move on to the dog. Surely by now you're read my previous post and learned how El Destructo spends her time alone. Well, we were having SOME amount of luck with her in the basement, until today when she discovered the wonder of berber carpet, and began tugging at the threads by the garage door, as if by some magic one of her owners might be attached to the end of them. Awesome. Maybe she'll chew through to the tack strip. That'll teach her.

Okay, so that's the pets. But suddenly I'm realizing this conspiracy is wider than just this inner circle. This morning as I opened the garage door, I noticed two deer in the back yard, quietly munching away at my hostas. The looked up at me, smirked, and I distinctly heard one of them say, "What the hell you looking at?"

And then there's the moles. The moles that have made a tunnel network in my lawn more intricate than the London Tube system. Whick has been really great for drainage. Not to mention for the mower blade. Or the chipmunks that have dug a cavern so vast behind the retaining wall next to the driveway that it's expected to collapse within the next year.

Really, there's only one animal in this entire neighborhood that I can appreciate. And that's the bunny. The bunny has been living under a bush in the front yard for years, and never bothered a soul. Of course, I discovered him dead on the neighbor's lawn the other day. So there goes that. I'm thinking the deer bumped him off.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Dog Runner

Ugh. Daisy. That friggin' dog. When she's out in public, the best way to describe her is "always on alert". Bring her outdoors, and all of a sudden every bit of movement, every falling leaf, every passerby becomes her immediate prey. As a result, she's a HUGE pain in the ass to take on a walk.

Our normal walking route takes us past at least a half dozen houses with dogs. One bark from any one of them and Daisy's ears perk up and her body language screams, "I'm on that!!!!" God forbid one of those dogs happens to be outside. Suddenly it's like gravity has no meaning, and it's more like I'm flying a kite on a windy day than walking a dog down the street.

Speaking of windy days, those are the worst. Earlier this week we had some rain and wind, bringing the Fall season to our neighborhood rather quickly. Everything within sight or earshot become an object of Daisy's desire. "What's that??? A leaf?? I need that! Ooh, another leaf! Another! A whole bunch! Gimme Gimme Gimme! I need those! Squirrel!!! Aghh! Bunny! Get the squirrel, no wait...I need the bunny! Agh, what's that noise in the tree! Climb the tree! Climb the tree! Someone get me a ladder! I need a ladder! A rope! One of those mountain climbing rigs! Holy crap, a crow! I love crows! Is that a crow What's a crow, anyways?? I dunno, get it! Wait, did you hear that??? Was that another dog! I think it was a dog! It was miles away, but I know she's talking to me! Was that a dog??? Tell me it was a dog, I need to see it now! She wants to play! NOW!! Please Please Please Please Please Please! Ooh, hey, peanut butter treat! Sure, I'll calm down, thank..ANOTHER SQUIRREL! Get it! Hey, a worm! Never seen one of those, can I eat it? Can I? Can I? Hey, let's try it! Oooh squishy! Makes me want to leap in the air! Gotta poop! No wait, more leaves! Can't poop right now! Gotta hold it! Don't care if the poop's hanging out the back, I need that leaf! Get it! get it! GET IT!!!!!! AGGHHHH!!!

By the time we've gotten to the end of the driveway, I'm done.

(above dog portrayed by actor. Not actual dog.)

So that's the great outdoors. Let's talk for a moment about the inside of the house. Overall, she's a pretty well behaved dog when inside. Except when we leave. Man, this critter's got some issues. We keep a crate in our bedroom where she happily sleeps, but we also have been attempting to leave her in said crate when we leave the house. Yeah, that doesn't work too well. More often than not, we come home to a scene much like this:

What you are seeing here is the slab of carpet I laid UNDER the crate. Daisy spent her time gnawing away at it in frustration until there was nothing left but shreds of yarn. I'd make her suffer and not put ANYTHING in or under her crate, but I'm afraid she'd chew through the actual carpet in the room, only stopping when the crate fell through the kitchen ceiling below her.

Given how tired I was with having to vacuum the bedroom every time we came home, we tried a little experiment. I cleaned the basement out completely, and we set her up with a place to hang out there while we're gone. Her food bowl, some chew toys, even a radio with some Beethoven playing (heh. Beethoven. Unintentional dog movie reference. Damn I'm good. Of course I'll stop before I say something really corny, like "his Bach was worse than his bite, that sort of thing"). Additionally, we set up the camcorder in a quiet corner to tape the goings on when we left the house. Lo and behold, we've actually had some success. While we still come home to a freakishly lonely, shaky and nervous dog who, according to the tape, spends the first hour alone wandering aimlessly about the room howling like a coyote, she has yet to destroy anything major in there. Well, that's not quite true. Jessica made the mistake of leaving her dress shoes on the floor of the basement yesterday. Yeah,there's forty bucks down the drain. And the day before, a wooden letter "A" from a toy got left out, and we came home to what looked like what you find stuck in the gears of a wood chipper. But we've made progress, And as an extra bonus, if we keep this up the basement might actually stay clean for a long time. and that makes dad VERY happy.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


This past week our little family hit a major milestone. Our elder offspring turned nine years old this week, and the big gift this year was mom's old iPod Nano. Yes, we got away with a used gift. Okay, so we spiced it up a bit with a shiny pink case, some new headphones, and all the greatest hits of Hanna, Selena, and the Brothers Jonas that we could round up (all through legal means, of course...). Natalie was thrilled, and frankly so were we. Why?


You see, at last we finally have something of real value that can be taken away at a moment's notice. In fact, just two short days after receiving it, she got it taken away from her for a day after pulling her usual non-listening antics at bedtime. Yes, finally, after nine years of a ridiculously smart and sometimes devious little squirt managing to get away with just about everything short of murder around here, finally we have a reason for her to listen to daddy telling her the FIRST time to go brush her teeth, as opposed finally acknowledging him yelling it the FIFTH time in frustration and calling him the "mean daddy". We should have given her an iPod YEARS ago.

I noticed another major benefit to our daughter's new possession. Anyone who knows our daughter knows that a)she's got some lungs and b)she ain't shy about using them. Sure, she can sing, but Jeezuz does it have to be that same Miley Cyrus song over and over and over again? I don't care if our daughter could out-sing Celine Dion herself....there's only so many times I can hear the same verse before I want to stab myself in the eardrum with the nearest kitchen utensil. Well, now that she's got an ipod, she gets to listen to that same song, and many others in her repertoire, to her heart's content. And when she listens to them, she tends to sing softly to herself. Ah...peace.

And conveniently, the next day she brought home her shiny new violin for school practice. Maybe that Miley song ain't so bad after all.

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Sabbath Feature?

We've done something many homeowners only do once in a lifetime. We bought a new oven. And yes, my lovely wife already asked if we could go out to dinner and celebrate.

So here's something I never knew. Many ovens come with a Sabbath Feature. A Sabbath Feature you ask? Yes, indeed. It's designed so that Jews who observe the rules of the Sabbath that proclaim that no "work" is to be done on the Sabbath can still have a hot meal. Essentially it's a glorified "delay start" feature.

But what really blew my mind was that a)this feature is actually CALLED the "Sabbath Feature" in the instructions, and b)it's something that's actually CERTIFIED KOSHER, by the proper Kosher certification authorities. Don't believe me? Check out page 21 of the instruction manual here. Or, for more info, check out the Star-K online site.

I wonder what happens if I that feature on ribs night?

A fun visit to the Genius Bar

I love the Genius Bar at the local Apple Store. Not because of the Geniuses. With the right training and gumption, anyone can fix a Mac. But instead, what I LOVE is the process Apple has put into place to make you feel welcome at the Genius Bar, as well as the interesting characters you come across while there.

Today was a great example. Last night, my iphone decided to stop talking to me. I use the Voice Control feature quite often to call people, and when you tell your phone "Call Joe at Work" it's supposed to respond with what it thought you said ("Calling Jose Plurk"). However, my phone decided to just clam up and make the call, without telling me what it was doing. Real annoying when using the headphones and not looking directly at the phone's screen. So here was the process I went through:

1. Looked through Apple's discussion boards for a while. Closest thing I found was someone who managed to sweat all over his headphones and short them out.

2. Logged into Apple Support and requested a support call.

3. Five seconds after hitting Send My request, my telephone rang, and a dude from support was calling to help.

4. After trying a few things we found we couldn't fix the problem, so the dude was swell enough to check the hours of my local Apple Store and make me a convenient appointment for 12:10pm today to go meet a genius.

5. I got to the store around noon to discover that on a rainy Labor Day, EVERYONE hangs out at the Genius Bar. I checked in with the Concierge, walked back to the bar, and there was my name, third on the list.

6. After ten minutes, Genius Alex called my name. We discussed the problem. I told him how I'd tried a restore of the phone last night, to no avail. We tried a different set of headphones. We tried my headphones on a different phone. Then, he asked me if I restored the phone from a backup. I said yes, and he suggested perhaps I do a restore without doing it from a backup, thinking the backup might contain the obvious software error that was present. After reassuring me I'd lose nothing by doing this, he restored my phone from a computer within the store, and voila, the problem was fixed.

There's a reason for the alleged Apple Tax. And I'm happy to pay it. All computers have problems, Apple included. But I'm willing to pay a little extra to know that the problem will get fixed without wasting my time.

While I was hanging out the bar, I witnessed just the cutest thing I'd ever seen in a computer store. A little old lady, perhaps 70 years old, dragged a large canvas bag into the store and straight to the Genius Bar. The bag contained a 20" iMac. When she reached the bar, she made eye contact with Genius Alex and said, "Young man, can you help me? I've lost my Safari and I can't get it back."

Genius Alex and I looked at each other with knowing eyes, completely understanding that the poor old lady had mishandled her mouse ever so slightly, dragging the Safari icon off the dock so that it had disappeared, and somehow she felt her only solution was to lug the entire computer back into the store for some sort of warranty repair. How sad, and adorable. I nodded to Genius Alex with an "I can wait" gesture, and he took the little old lady aside to show her the error of her ways. Two minutes later, the little old lady gave Genius Alex a thankful pinch on the cheek, and he was back to wrap up his session with me.

Apple's retail setup is just superb. Despite crowds, they are able to handle traffic flow while making it appear effortless. They have an entire section of the store devoted to repairs, with nary a stray USB cable lying around in disarray, unlike your typical IT department or PC repair shop that usually looks like a grenade went off in the store. They have even done away with registers, instead employing several "light-blue-shirts" who roam around with handheld devices that scan your items for purchase as well as your credit card wherever you might be standing in the store (although I did notice that these handhelds were PocketPC based, and made sure to point that out to the store employee who sheepishly acknowledged it). In the days on big box stores closing and a vast amount of shopping being done online, other retail companies could learn a thing or two from Apple here.

I did notice one negative aspect of Apple's layout in the store, however, while this handheld process of checking people out was very slick, it also made it very confusing for customers to know where to go to actually buy something. I wanted to purchase a replacement keyboard today and, after pulling it from the shelf, I looked around and noticed there were no registers. I then looked around for an available employee but, given the crowds, every one of them was deep in conversation with a customer at the time. After wandering aimlessly for five minutes I finally was able to make eye contact with an employee who directed me to an available light-blue-shirt person at the back of the store dedicated to checking out people's purchases. They need a sign.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Morning in The Canine Kingdom

It's 6:15am on what was supposed to be a sleepy Labor Day Saturday morning. Instead, I've been up for an hour trying to get the smell of Lysol out of my lungs after having cleaned up this morning's disaster.

Lately, mornings have hit their stride in terms of routine. Typically I'd wake up around this time and grab a shower while Daisy relaxed patiently, locked away in her crate in the corner of our bedroom. After my shower, I would let her out, she'd grunt a few times, stretch, and then crawl into bed with my wife and stay there for another half hour or so til someone brings her outside.

Today was a little different though. At around 5:30 I woke up to the distinct sound of an excited dog waiting for a certain child of ours to "quietly" unlock the crate without waking her parents up. "Natalie, just open the crate and let her out already" I mumbled. But it turns out I was off base. Instead, it was my wife trying to get the crate open in the dark. She told me Daisy was making some odd noises. A second later, Daisy was released and leaped onto the bed, but rather than snuggle in she continued to act a little crazy. In an instant, I knew the problem.

Anyone who knows me is aware I've got a nose the size of Maryland. And with all that real estate comes a sense of smell not unlike that of a bloodhound. Alright, maybe a bloodhound with a sinus infection. In any case, despite the fact that my head was buried in the pillow, I noticed an oh-too-familiar scent wafting through the air.

"She pooped in her crate...get her off the bed!"

"What how do you...?"

"Trust me! Get her outside"

I immediately got up while my wife delivered the dog to the outdoors. With the lights on low, I began to search the crate and the blanket within it for the offending material. Unfortunately, I found it with my hands and my knee rather than with my eyes.


So here I am, done scrubbing the crate and carpet, wide awake and blogging. I can only blame myself for this instant, being too lazy late last night to spend more than 38 seconds on the final dog walk before bed. Daisy looked embarrassed, and I couldn't blame her.

But here we are, the American Family, two-point-four kids and a dog.

Life with Daisy has generally been enjoyable. She's an endless source of playtime for the kids, she's generally low maintenance as far as dogs go, and when we take her to the dog park we get comments about her speed and agility like "Holy crap that mutt can corner better than my BMW" and "I thank you for bringing your dog here and tiring mine out for the day." Yeah, she's pretty freaking fast. I'd like to get a radar gun on her.

Daisy's got her issues like any dog, but none of them are insurmountable. Her razor-sharp teeth have helped her chew through two leashes, a Gentle Leader harness, a couple of our kids' necklaces, and a leg of the kitchen table. But overall she's not destructive, unless she's left alone. When we're in the house, she's mellow and happy, but when we put her in the crate and leave she completely freaks out as if we were slowly lowering her crate, with her in it, into a molten volcano for a canine sacrifice. One time she managed to break out of the crate and, though I missed the cleanup, I understand it looked like we'd taken a direct hit from Katrina. When we take Daisy for walks, she goes on immediate alert status, attempting to bolt after anything that moves, be it a human, another dog, a leaf, or an airplane. We're working on these, even enlisting the aid of actual dog trainers.

Okay, an hour has passed, and Daisy's decided to wake up and start her day for real this time. Gotta go for a walk now.

Wait a minute...wasn't this supposed to be the KIDS' dog?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

PA Turnpike Rest Stops

If you've come across this page in hopes of finding a simple list of the rest stops on the PA Turnpike along with their mile markers, you've come to the right place. Find it below. But first, a little back story about the reason for this post.

This past weekend we traveled from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. At one point during the drive, I thought to pull out my shiny new iPhone and see if I could find a handy list of all the PA Turnpike rest stops and their mile markers. That was actually slightly harder than I had expected. The first hit was of course the PA turnpike website (more on that in a moment), and the second took me to the site WikiAnswers. I thought I would touch on that second one first, because the answer posted there was so abominably stupid it was funny. The posted answer stated "I cannot give you a whole list, but if you look for blue sign that say, like rest stop, or service plaza, that would be where."

Well, no kidding. Thanks for that valuable piece of wisdom.

And, yes, I then proceeded to register on WikiAnswers and put a REAL answer in.

Back to the PA turnpike website. They have a fairly handy and detailed map here that lists all the rest stops, but it's not very easy to read on an iPhone and impossible to read on a mobile device with lousy graphics. So, if you came across this link in hopes of finding a simple list of turnpike rest stops and their mile markers, here you go. And if you have room for corrections, please add a comment.


Oakmont: 49.3

Somerset: 112.3

Midway: 147.3

Sideling Hill: 172.3

Plainfield: 219.1

Highspire: 249.7

Bowmansville: 289.9

Valley Forge: 324.6


North Nashiminy: 351.9

King Of Prussia: 328.4 (this one is closed according to the map)

Camiel: 304.8

Lawn: 258.8 (this one is dog friendly, btw)

Blue Mountain: 202.5

Sideling Hill: 172.3

Midway: 147.3

Somerset: 112.3

New Stanton: 75 (approximately...it's not marked on the map)

Another new chapter begins

My visit to the strange and curious world of unemployment has come to an end. Tomorrow I start a new job as an implementation specialist for a tech company that focuses on continuing education for the medical industry, bringing to a close both my forced summer vacation and my 20 year career in the outskirts of the printing industry.

And I ain't looking back.

Hmm...medical and pharma industries. Well THAT'S new. But I'm kinda thinking it's an industry that isn't exactly going away any time soon, so there's that. All in all, I'm giddy. I've got my new pencil case with my #2's freshly sharpened, mom bought me that new backpack I was hoping for, the one with Obi Wan on the outside pocket, and I spent the evening cleaning out my thermos and making my salami and cheese sandwich. I'm ready. For my first day, I get to come in at 10:00am, have lunch with customers, sit through some training, and go to dinner at one of the nicer restaurants in town. Not a bad way to start a new gig.

So how was unemployment? All in all, not so bad. I'm still getting severance from my old place, so double-dipping for the next few months will be very nice. It was also nice having the time to focus on one thing at a time during the day, as opposed to constantly multi-tasking in an effort to avoid staying up til 3 in the morning just to find extra time to pay bills or watch the last three weeks' episodes of the Simpsons on Tivo. But all those stories I heard about unemployed folks tackling major projects like repainting the dining room or replacing the roof? Yeah, not so much. I've got a long list of projects that went untackled. And they will remain that way for some time. In fact as I write this is occurs to me that back in March I bought a new faucet for the guest bathroom, which is still sitting in the box. Hmm, I should get to that.

I suppose now would be a good time to list a few things that I've learned during unemployment. Sure, I could write a list that includes things like "make time for family" and "make sure to exercise" but you could find that in just about every professionally-published article on the subject of dealing with unemployment that exists on the web. Instead I will list a couple of things that might not have gotten mentioned on CNN.

1. Even if you feel you are comfortable with your current job and career, don't use that as an excuse to not look around, to not keep your resume current, or to not continuously network and learn. I fell victim to complacency while I was working. I hadn't brushed off my resume for almost 15 years and, even though I sensed my layoff coming, I still couldn't motivate myself to get moving on it until the day I was let go (okay, the day AFTER I was let go). Plus, as I networked and met people I was stunned to learn what was out there in terms of resources, industry knowledge, and continuing education.

2. Don't be late with your unemployment claims. Filing for unemployment was surprisingly straightforward, and the initial process was entirely done on the phone. Once filed, every two weeks I went to the state's website and file my continuing claim. But, my advice to you: don't forget. If you do, you might just get denied. I skipped a claim at one point, and when I tried to play catch-up a month later I felt like I'd been sent to the principal's office. Oh, and, most importantly, never, NEVER mention the word vacation. If you go on vacation, you can't claim for the week that you went. When asked why I was late in filing my claim, I said something like, "you know, I got busy with interviews, went away on vacation for a couple days...just forgot...". Yeah, I shouldn't have mentioned that middle part. Just having said the word meant I could not claim for that missing week. Now, I kind of feel like arguing this point, because when the family and I went on vacation I perhaps spent as much time following up on contacts and job applications as I would have if I were home. Yet just the fact that I mentioned the word in a sentence meant not being able to claim for it at all. Whoops.

3. It's ALL who you know. Monster.com and similar sites were USELESS to me. And I never even bothered to fill out an application for a single job posted in the local paper. Instead, I looked first to the people I knew, then to the companies I thought I might be interested in working for. I very rarely came across a company that DIDN'T have a job posted on their website, so in many cases I applied directly through those website posts. However, the ONLY ones I got any traction on were ones where I knew someone, or knew someone WHO knew someone. so network. Network, network, NETWORK!!!! How, you ask? First of all, go to EVERYTHING. Come across a free seminar on social media? Go to it. Job fair? Go to it. Scrapbooking club? Join it. you never know who you might come across. My family and I went to the opening of the Roboworld exhibit at the local science center, and while there I struck up a conversation with a guy demoing a new robot built by a local startup. We talked jobs, he gave me my card, and I would have pursued it if in fact I could figure out how to operate the danged toy robot, but it daunted me, so I figured I wasn't qualified to work there. However, this new job I'm starting is a perfect example of the value of networking. I was forwarded a link to the job post by a former coworker who was laid off the same day I was. Turns out he wasn't the right fit for the job, but thought I might be. I applied, and heard nothing. Then, my wife discovered that the names of the executive team a this company were familiar to her, and that she knew a person who knew the team. This person she knew was a former coworker of mine as well. And I'd already interviewed at this person's company, where they are currently still deciding how to fill that position. Long story short, I contacted her, she contacted the company, I got an interview, and they liked me enough to throw me an offer after that interview. It's all who you know. You'd be surprised just how willing people will be to stand up for you.

4. Don't be a hermit. I read an article here about how lots of unemployed people are embarrassed to tell their friends, and instead dress up in a suit and tie every day and pretend to leave for work each morning. Morons. Absolute morons. I told my neighbors. I told the mailman. I told the guy behind the counter at PetSmart. In fact, as a result of telling my barber, he got his girlfriend to give me a reference at her company. You can't network if you don't talk to people.

5. Take notes. I use a program called Evernote to take all sorts of notes. I also use it as a todo list. During the job hunt, I had one note that served as an ongoing to-do list specifically pertaining to the job hunt. I had another that served as a daily diary of accomplishments, no matter how large or small. Whenever I sent a resume, my accomplishment note included a web link to the job, contact information, and even my opinion about what I thought my chances were like. I referenced it constantly. And the nice thing about Evernote is that it's a web-based service, so I could take notes on my computer and those notes would automagically sync up so they could be viewed on my blackberry, ipod, or on other computers.

6. Relax. It's only your job. Your salary. Your career. But it's not you.

Friday, August 07, 2009

That's ALL I need

Great. The last thing I need is another member of the family into Disney Princesses. Here I thought we were exiting that phase slowly but surely. But it turns out this is one of Daisy's favorite places to sleep.

Yet another child in the house that isn't willing to learn to use power tools. Sigh.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The dog honeymoon ends

In the vintage HBO special "Carlin At Carnegie", George Carlin had a lot to say about dogs. One of my favorites, went something like this:

"Hi George, how's it going?"

"Agh! The dog...goddammit never mind!!!!! He chewed the legs of off EVERYTHING!!!"

Well, we haven't quite reached THAT stage with our recent canine acquisition, but we've certainly had our share of adventures over the past several days. She has survived quite well in our care, perhaps despite repeated inadvertent attempts by me to poison her. But I'll get to that later. So far, Daisy has been a complete joy. She's almost ridiculously playful, has grown very comfortable with her new home and surroundings, and on flat ground can reach a speed of almost Mach 5.

The folks that owned Daisy previously (we got her from a foster home that found her on the street) had obviously trained Daisy JUST enough that she hasn't caused any problems yet. No accidents on the rug, on destroying furniture. Well, that is, except for eating the kitchen table. No really. She ate the kitchen table. Okay, not ALL of it, just one foot. I guess after 8 years of my children dropping applesauce, milk, and ice cream during regular attempts to fill their faces, the legs of the table have acquired a nice patina of flavors on them. I suppose if I was a foot tall I'd be snacking on them too.

Daisy also managed to chew through her first leash in less than two days. Her current leash is made of chain links, and if she gets through that one I'm going to contact that guy who just crossed the Allegheny River on a tightrope and borrow some of his wire.

Today was the first day we had the opportunity to leave her alone in the house. Based on her obvious chewing abilities, she's going to be confined to her crate when we're not home. I gave her a test run this afternoon. She cried, she barked, but she survived. When I got home, she was so happy to see me that she cried like I'd saved her from being trapped in a well, and promptly followed me around for the next three hours and anchored herself to my lap every time I sat down, making sure that I never, NEVER leave her alone again. In fact through the magic of the iMac camera, here's proof. Let me tell you, it's a challenge typing this way.

But you know it's funny, I certainly don't get a greeting like that from my FAMILY when I return from Home Depot. Not even close.

As I mentioned in the last post, Daisy's only real issue (other than her ravenous appetite) is her interaction with other dogs. She's so excited by the world around her that every blade of grass requires a sniff, every sound in the distance requires a perking of the ears and a bark of attention. And when she encounters another dog while on her leash, it's chaos. she immediately tries to assert her authority and go on the attack, so much so that we've had to tackle her for doing so more than once. Obedience training is definitely in her future. On the other hand, when we take her to the local fenced-in dog park, she's incredible to watch. Other dogs seem to flock to her, and as soon as they start to play those other dogs and their owners quickly discover just what kind of speed she has in those thin legs of hers. Virtually every other person at the dog park has seen her run flat out across the park has this to say.

"Holy crap."

In fact I witnessed an overweight black labrador stop in her tracks after failing to keep up with Daisy, and clearly heard her mutter the words, "sweet jeezuz."

Yeah, she's fast (and yes, Paul, she's the dog that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs). Next time we go, I'm taking the video camera.

Oh yeah, about my inadvertent attempts to poison her. The day after we got her was the day I decided to do a yearly cleaning of the deck with a bleach based solution. That was also the day she discovered the gravel underneath the deck is a great place to hang out, dig in the ground, and keep cool. The next day she decided not to leave my side for the entire afternoon, even while I was spray painting a piece of furniture. I have a feeling that one of those two incidents were the reason we had to bring the dog to the vet monday to have her red, swollen eye checked out. It's fine now though. And, yeah yeah, I know, let the lectures begin.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

2litlegirls and 1littledog

We've put another addition onto our home. This one comes in the form of a Whippet, Jack Russell, and Kangaroo mix. Or as I like to call her, a Smorgasbord, Meet Daisy.

My wife and I are dog people. Very much out-of-practice dog people, but dog people nonetheless. From the moment I was born to the day I left for college I always lived with a canine sibling (sharing a bed with an overweight yellow lab for 13 years, in fact). Since the girls were born, we'd often contemplated when the right time to introduce a dog to this house would be. So naturally we made the financial decision to add an expense to the household while I'm currently unemployed. Yup, careful decision making here. Truth be told, after putting the addition on the house, I didn't have a whole lot of interest in muddy paws messing up those brand new carpets just yet. But my lovely wife accidentally came across this little critter on the Internet, was smitten, and that was that. Be damned, the lack of paycheck! We're getting a dog!

Daisy was a stray picked up by Animal Advocates. Frankly she was quite a deal. She came housebroken, crate trained, microchipped, and spayed. She included a nicer carrying case (her crate) than the last power tool I bought. The family that fostered her told us she was a great dog for kids, though a tad on the "needy" side. She even had some basic training. In fact when she first got home we gave her a biscuit, which she promptly carried into the kitchen to eat lest she soil the living room carpet. Good dog.

Yeah, that needy thing. The moment I sat down to type this she realized I wasn't in the same room as her, dashed into the office, and jumped onto my lap. I hope this Mac's keyboard responds well to slobber.

Truth be told, we couldn't have done better. Okay, she's a little bit on the small side, but at least she's not the sort of dog you would carry in a diamond-studded bag through your local mall. for years I told my wife that my one requirement of a dog is that it be able to jump into my Jeep Wrangler on its own. I sold the Wrangler four years ago, but the rule still applies.

They say a loose Whippet is a lost Whippet. This part is going to take some adjustment. Growing up, the act of taking my dog for a walk involved opening the front door and saying, "see ya later". Only an hour after getting Daisy home, I went outside to get something and mistakenly left the workshop door slightly ajar. Within seconds I saw this flash as she launched herself like a fighter plane off an aircraft carrier. I figured we were in for the shortest period of dog ownership in history. But luckily I caught up with her when she stopped to examine he neighbor dog's poop, and even more luckily I got her just before she rolled in it.

The girls, of course, were beside themselves when we got her. We surprised them as they got off the camp bus, and the screams of delight were unreal. Thus ensued hours of "Daisy! C'mere Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! I'm thinking we should have named the dog "space bar".

Daisy's first night was almost frighteningly flawless. As I mentioned she came with a crate, which we strategically positioned in a corner of our bedroom. After we tucked the kids in for the night and Daisy went in to check on them several times, she decided it was time to crash, and came into our bedroom. First she found a place for herself in the middle of the bed. After I kicked her off, she decided a good location would be on the floor in front of the bed. Then, just for kicks, I led her into her crate, where she settled down and I shut the door. And the next time we heard from her it was 7:30 in the morning. I NEVER thought that would go so smoothly, especially the first night in a new home.

Taking Daisy to the fenced-in dog park was an interesting time. Until that point, Daisy had been a pretty mellow, sedate sort of pup. But as we approached the gate to the park and she saw the local competition, she shifted into high gear. It was there we learned she can actually bark. We also learned that for a small female dog, she's got balls of steel. While still on the leash, she confronted the biggest, meanest looking shepherd she could find and, snarling and growling ferociously, she made it clear who was the new queen of the castle. At first we thought, hmmm, maybe this "dog" thing wasn't such a good idea after all, but an older, seasoned gentleman with three dogs older than him told us that she was just establishing her turf, and once she was off leash she'd be fine. So I took a deep breath, removed the leash, and off she went. And he was right. Daisy had a blast. She dashed around, jumping and playing with all the other canines, sniffing every new butt she could find. Running at a speed just under that of sound, whenever she came across an obstacle (like another dog, a rock, or one of my children) she'd simply jump over it without slowing down. we were highly impressed by her vertical leap.

So it appears this dog thing may just work out. Our only issue with her right now is her current tendency to growl and bark violently whenever she comes across another dog during her regular walk, but hopefully that's nothing a little obedience training won't cure. Now if I can just remember to keep the danged door closed (I repeated my mistake on day two, and luckily she dashed right into my arms), we might just be able to keep her around for a while.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Yard Sale!

Since moving to The 'Burgh three twentieths of a century ago, I've always been oddly mystified by the fact that no one here knows what a Tag Sale is. Growing up in CT, everyone had tag sales. In Pittsburgh it's called a Yard Sale or Garage Sale. No one here has ever heard the term Tag Sale out here. And for some reason this bugs me. Yet I don't know exactly why. As a kid I never went to a tag sale that I can recall. And my parents certainly never held a tag sale. so why it bugs me, I don't know. But it does. And it's my cross to bear.

So that's a fine lead-in to my report on the events of last weekend, our tag...um...yard sale.

Since we've been married, my wife and I have held two yard sales. The first was just before moved out of our apartment after buying our house. We lived in a row house on a busy street and, as a result, cashed in. We had hundreds of people drop by and buy some of the most useless crap you could imagine. However I believe we also had a hex put on us by an ultra-religious crazy lady who bought a box of old cassettes so she could record her bible stories onto them, and also bought a giant papasan chair but didn't come to actually pick it up until late that night. We didn't think she was coming back, so we sold it to someone else. At that point flames shot from her eyes, she raised her hands to the heavens, and declared that we were going to burn in hell for our transgressions. My eyebrows never quite recovered from that incident.

Perhaps that's also why our second yard sale, a year or two after we moved into our house, was such a miserable failure. Despite the nice weather, and despite the fact that a church around the corner was holding a yard sale as well and would hopefully drive traffic our way, we had perhaps a dozen customers and made about forty bucks. At that point we swore never to have another one.

But then the crap pile took over.

You know that drawer everyone has in their kitchen that they refer to as the junk drawer? That's our basement. Two or three times each year I get a burr in my saddle about the disastrous mess and decide to clean it up, but within a week of doing so, magically, the entire space becomes so compacted with new crap that navigating from one end of the space to the other involves a block & tackle and assistance from three professional trapeze artists. Well, being at home so much lately, I of course got the purging bug. I actually started in the attic, and worked my way down through the house. Before I knew it, the attic was clean, all the main rooms of the house were clean, and even the basement was spotless. I honestly had forgotten we'd laid carpet down there. As a result, however, one bay of the garage was crammed to the ceiling with stuff that we either didn't use any more, never used in the first place, or simply wanted to get the heck out of our house. I strategically piled it all in my WIFE'S garage slot, therefore guaranteeing assistance in the final purging effort.

We considered renting a semi-trailer to get it all to Goodwill, but given my current employment status we decided having some extra cash might be a good thing. So the ads went out to Craigslist and the Pennysaver, the signs went up, and away we went on a trip to that crazy world of people who love to collect other people's crap.

The statute of limitations must have been up on the old hex, because the yard sale gods were smiling on us for a change. The weather held out despite a huge rainstorm the night before. The traffic was substantial, and people actually bought stuff. The volume of wierdos was at a minimum as well, other than the lady who spoke no English but kept asking for TWO of something, and the old guy dressed like Jimmy Buffet who had no idea who James Taylor was. I mean, really, if you've over 55 and wearing a straw hat and flowered shirt, aren't you REQUIRED to know who James Taylor is?

Despite our overall success, we still finished the day with way more crap than we wanted remaining. I'd made a vow to not allow ANY of it back into the house, but unfortunately I was only about 50% successful with that effort. We separated the remaining crap into a Goodwill pile and an eBay/Craigslist pile, and the latter still resides in our basement awaiting attention. So, while the upstairs and attic are still clean, we STILL have a 500-square-foot junk drawer. But overall I feel I've made progress. Now if I could just find someone interested in buying 58 puke-stained onesies, a Polaroid camera, and a Desperate Housewives Dirty Laundry Board Game still in it's original wrapping (seriously), I'd feel even better.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mr. Clean Pays a Visit

There's been an incident.

Several years ago, when Natalie was but a wee lass and our younger Jessica was still in her infancy, Natalie thought it might be a fine idea to hone her artistic abilities by creating a masterpiece in the living room wall. Of course even back then she realized it would be wise to blame her younger sister for the graffiti so as to stay out of trouble. However she made the mistake of signing her name to the artwork and yet blaming a younger child who not only wasn't able to write the word "Natalie" but could barely even stand up by herself at the time. Thus her plot was foiled, and she was introduced to the wonders of the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser as punishment.

In our house, each child is allowed the opportunity to write on the walls and avoid death once. ONCE. Last night, it was Jessica's turn.

During the day, Jessica announced she was going up to her room "to do something", gave us a mysterious "you don't need to know" look, and disappeared. Later that afternoon we discovered what she was up to. She thought it might be a nice idea to put her own personal brand on each of the surfaces of her room by labeling each with a Sharpie. Above her headboard was written "Mi Bed". On her closet door was "Mi Clost". And on the bedroom door was "Jessica's Room" with a little heart on it. My favorite, frankly, was the drawer in which she keeps her My Little Pony collection. There's a pic of that below.

As soon as Mommy discovered this, Jessica was devastated. She knew she'd done wrong. Despite smiling and laughing and telling her the story of how her evil older sister attempted to foist blame upon her for a similar incident years back, Jessica was very traumatized for having done so wrong. Well, in some cases trauma is a good thing, cuz we know she ain't doing it again. At least, not until we get a dog and she can blame stuff on it instead.

The good news is that the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is a wonderful product. Check out the end results of only a minute or two of scrubbing:





And yes, I will be the first to admit that I'm overly anal retentive about these things. But I left the stuff she wrote on the walls, since we'll be repainting the room sooner or later anyways. However I'd like to avoid having to some day sand down and restain a door. And yes, I am looking oh so forward to the flurry of comments that include "oh, how cute" and "geez, you're such a mean dad for making her clean it up."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

How to make your kids NOT eat fast food

I'm not quite sure of the point of this, but it looks like fun. Fancy Fast Food demonstrates extreme makeovers of actual fast food items purchased at popular fast food restaurants. No additional ingredients have been added except for an occasional simple garnish.

For example, there's the Tacobelllini, made entirely from the parts of Taco Bell Burrito Supremes. That's good eatin'.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Munks and the Restless - There's been a Murder

Wow. Apparently I had no idea just what kind of soap opera I was getting into with yesterday's post. Apparently the fight between Roger and Darren took a murderous turn. I just discovered Darren lying belly up under next to the woodpile.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Munks and the Restless

I was cleaning up in the garage this morning with the garage doors both open. Every five seconds or so, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a chipmunk trotting out in front of the garage door, only to notice me and dart back behind the garage. This continued for several minutes until at one point I got curious enough to take a further look at things. Slowly and quietly I stepped outside the garage and found a strategic position on the grass to watch what turned out to be a scene fit for the cover of this week's Soap Opera Digest.

Two chipmunks, whom I shall name Flo and Roger, had found themselves a quiet and romantic spot behind the trash bins, right next to an old gasoline jerry can. Apparently is was time for some lovin'. Flo had the look of a horny coed during spring break. She looked positively radiant, lying there next to the gas can in a "check out my tail" pose. She was ready to get down to business, her cheeks puffed up as if ready to take in Roger's um...nuts.

Come on, this whole post was an excuse to use that pun, so feel free to chuckle politely.

Roger was pumped and ready, standing up on his hind legs, flexing his little chipmunk muscles, and keeping a close eye out for Darren, a third and obviously less dominant rodent currently hiding under a woodpile about twenty yards away. It was clear Roger was the alpha male, and it was time to get it things moving.

Roger saw me, but after a minute or so of making sure I wasn't a threat to his morning plans, he turned his attention to Flo. Roger took Flo in his tiny grip, threw her up against the gas can, and had his way with her. Five times. In approximately seventeen seconds. Chipmunks do it really, really fast. I had considered running to the computer and downloading a copy of Alvin and the Chipmunks singing Barry White's "Let's Get It On", but they were done before I even got the thought out. After the final time, Flo had decided she'd had enough, and turned what little energy she had left on getting Roger quite literally off her back. Flo turned to face Roger (oh yeah, you know which way they're doin' it) and gave him a left cross right on the forehead. Roger went flying. Once he regained his composure, he relaxed in a corner and lit a tiny little cigarette. Which, by the way, is something I would have recommended against given their proximity to the gas can, but who am I to judge?

Meanwhile back at the woodpile, Darren had decided his time was due. He'd spent enough time in Roger's shadow, watching Roger get all the chipmunk tail while he was left to spend each night with a cold shower from the lawn sprinkler. No, this time things would be different. With a freshly sharpened shiv carved from a wood chip in his hand, Darren headed from the woodpile, under the back door, past the planter and the bag of fertilizer, to Roger's lair. They battled. They fought. They rolled about with anger in their eyes. Flo looked on, completely disinterested in the result. Soon, the two competitors disappeared around the corner, and only one returned. Roger was victorious. I could tell it was him by the familiar way in which he then munk-handled Flo and had is way with her six more times. In about four seconds. Man, they're quick.

At that point, the evening was apparently complete. Flo waddled off, looking for some quiet time to start re-reading her worn copy of What To Expect When You're Expecting. Roger flipped on the TV and watched a show about acorn collecting. Off at the woodpile, Darren quietly licked his wounds and surrendered to another evening alone with nothing but his own paws.

And yet, despite the drama that unfolded this morning, with all the damage these little varmints have done to my landscaping this summer, once Flo pops out a few pups I can't help but think I'm going to be the one getting screwed.

Editor's note: Yes I know that's a squirrel in the picture. But c'mon...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Boop and Booop!!

Jessica asked me today if she could label her bunny slippers. It seemed to be a reasonable question, as she was having trouble telling them apart. Not the left from the right...she's got that down. No, she keeps forgetting their names. After all, their names are so similar:

Right bunny slipper's name: Boop.

Left bunny slipper's name: Boooop!

Now, I don't believe just writing the names above quite explain the nuances of this specific bunny slipper naming convention. I will need to break it down further. First, say the word "Boop". Just say it, they way you'd drop the word "Boop" into normal conversation. That's the name of the right bunny slipper. Now, say the word again, but this time have someone sneak up behind you and pinch you in the ass just as you say it. Have you done that? Great. See how the word lasts a little longer, and reaches sort of an excited, high pitch at the end? Yeah, that's the left bunny slipper.

You can see why Jessica is having trouble. I mean, saying things like, "Dad, have you seen Boop and Booop!?" is easy enough. Sure honey, they're under the coffee table. However let's imagine she can only find ONE slipper. She's certainly going to need help knowing which to ask for. So how could I not help her out?

You think I'm kidding with this, don't you. I'm afraid not.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Then one day...at cheerleading camp....

School is out, and all the good suburban moms and dads know what that means, right? Summer camp! After typing that exclamation point, I had to take a moment, breathe in deeply, then sigh. Back in my day, summer camp meant what it was supposed to mean...smelly cabins, giant rectangular trunks with broken corner hinges, bug juice, tube socks, beaten-up metal canoes, horseback riding, mud, swim lessons, dirt trails, and wearing the same filthy t-shirt for ten days straight. Some of my greatest childhood memories were from Outdoor Adventure Camp at Camp Jewell in Colbrook, CT, spending 5 days sleeping under lean-to's in the Adirondack mountains and waking up to find our backpacks stolen by bears during the night. Now THAT was summer camp.

The term "Summer Camp" has been completely watered down this day and age. Write a check for some sort of activity that involves getting your child out of the house for more than eight minutes, and it's called summer camp. For some reason, summer camps have been refined and diluted so much that only one activity can happen at any one camp. Of course we've got the sports camps. Soccer. Football. Checkers. There's the arts and crafts categories. Art camp. Weaving camp. Wicker basket making camp. And let's not forget about the performing arts. Acting camp. Violin camp. Yodeling camp. Now how the hell am I going to be able to pack an entire trunk to get my kid through a week of yodeling camp, I ask you??

But today I'm going to talk about cheer leading camp.

Upon arriving at the local middle school where the camp was to be held, I noticed that the parking lot was busier than the kiss-and-run lot at LaGuardia. Every color, shape and model of minivan was there jockeying for a parking space. Once we found ours we headed toward the front door to be greeted by half a dozen incredibly chipper and bouncy teenagers wearing matching pink t-shirts and short shorts with paws on the butt cheeks. Their arms waving in the air, they yelled to us, "HI THERE! ARE YOU GUYS READY FOR...
C H E E R L E A D I N G C A M P ????!!!!


They led us into the lobby, where we were engulfed by a swarm of these teenage jumping beans, poised and ready to guide our children to their respective cheer teams. As we followed them into the gym, our jaws hit the floor.

The gym was filled with perhaps 400 kids, all wearing the same matching pink shirts and short shorts with the paws on the butt cheeks. They were yelling and screaming like only young girls can do. They were doing cartwheels. Leaping in the air. Clapping hands. The decibel level was so high, as was the relative pitch, that my eardrums immediately burst apart and collapsed into a sopping mess onto each of my shoulders. I'm not even sure how to describe it, other than to say it made me think that the Disney Channel had exploded in the gym.

Actually, it reminded me of what it must be like to attend a terrorist training camp. New recruits to the gathering of zealots, being brainwashed to believe in the cause. Someone call Homeland...it's time to raise the threat level to pink.


Friday was the big show. All the parents were herded to their respective positions on the bleachers and, one by one, each group got up to perform what they'd learned and practiced all week. I felt lucky that I'd lost all ability to hear that first day of drop-off, because the volume level was turned up way past eleven.

While I will fully admit it was very cute seeing my 5- and 8-year olds ra-ra'ing to the "Go Team Go!" mantra, I also saw right through the school district's evil plot. This was no summer camp. This was a recruiting session. Scouts were on hand taking copious notes and names for future placement on the high school cheer team. Start feeding your kids soy protein now, folks, cuz they're going to need to build some muscle mass if they're going to support the human pyramid during the big Thanksgiving Day game in a few years.

I did, however, notice one hole in the armor of this cheer army. If in fact the secret evil plan was to assimilate children into the Borg that is school spirit, they let slip two incidents that definitely gave parents pause, making them think twice about what their kids were getting into. First, there was one of the team leaders, recovering from what was obviously a recent cheering injury. On her arm she wore a brace that looked like it came straight from the set of Terminator. Second was the finale of the big show, when the Varsity high school cheering team got up to show off their prowess, tossed one of the young ladies high in the air, only to miss her on the way down and allow her to land flat on her back. While she avoided traction that day, it was a close call, and enough to make many of the parents wonder how soon yodeling camp would start.