Monday, December 27, 2010

Jumping the Shark, and other Happy Days References


Cosmic Lattice of Coincidence


This evening, the dinner table discussion somehow led my wife and me to explaining the show Happy Days to our young children. This, in turn led me to explain the term "Jump The Shark". I said to my ten year old, "Natalie, some day you will hear the term 'Jump The Shark', and you'll be able to impress your friends by telling them exactly what it means and where it comes from.

My wife then decided to see if, by chance, TVLand had a few episodes of Happy Days that we could Tivo. When she turned on the TV it was tuned to some random kids show on NickJr, and, in a frighteningly odd cosmic lattice of coincidence, the very first thing out of the actor's mouth was "Don't ya think that's jumping the shark a little bit?"

Dad IS all-knowing.

Auto Repair

Speaking of all-knowing dads, I scored a point for all the guys out there recently. Okay, so you can imagine the scene...a couple of guys standing around the front of a car with the hood open, staring intently at the engine block and plotting their next move to get this baby running again. Really, we all know it's just an excuse to enjoy a refreshing beverage out of earshot of the usual household din. Then one of the wives leans out of the front door and cracks wise by saying something like, "why dontcha stare at it a little more, maybe you'll just CONVINCE it to work!" Well, darling, I proved yesterday that staring at an automobile's engine is, in fact, an effective tool for driveway automotive repair.

You see, the other day we had to have a cracked windshield replaced on the minivan. The auto glass company came to the house during the day while I was at work. They fixed the glass, and my wife then pulled the car into the garage. The next day, after attempting to head out of the house on an errand, she came up the basement steps and reported to me that the car was dead.

Not interested in removing my butt from its comfy position on the couch, I told her to take mine, and I'd jump start it later, figuring the interior light was probably left on again and the battery was toast.

Now, let me say, right here and now, that I am NOT a car guy. Other than knowing where the engine IS on the car, my automotive repair abilities pretty much end with "hmm, that doesn't sound right", and buying a new car. But three days later, when I remembered to investigate the problem, I discovered the battery in fact wasn't dead, but rather the ignition would churn but the engine wouldn't turn over. I tried it several times, then thought perhaps the repair guys had forgotten to reconnect something after they finished. So, I opened the hood.



After staring at the engine for a solid two minutes and seeing nothing out of place, I began to run through scenarios in my head. Call AAA? Call Honda? Ask the guy next door to stare at it with me for a few minutes? Finally I closed the hood and decided it was definitely time to buy a new car. I got back into the driver's seat, and decided to try it once more. And wouldn't you know it, she started right up. Another successful automotive repair.

Shrinkage

On a final note for the day, I would like to express my sympathies to all you dads out there who somehow were conned into getting a Shih-tsu or other similarly dropkick-sized dog as a family pet. I know it wasn't your decision. You really wanted that black lab. You had it all planned out...you were going to name him Johnny Wonder, give him a red bandanna and a collar with spikes, and drive to the town dump every weekend with him hanging his head out the side window of your Dodge Ram. But instead, your 6-year-old girl fell in love with little Fifi and begged and pleaded until you realized you had no recourse but to begrudgingly say yes. Suddenly you're sharing the house with a creature that resembled the main character from the movie Gremlins, wears knit sweaters, and gets carried everywhere in a pink faux Gucci bag. Really I feel for you.

I say this because for the past week I've shared your pain. As part of a holiday trade-off, this week we are watching Muffin, our babysitter's Shih-tsu. Really, there's nothing wrong with the dog, but every time I have to take it for a walk my testicles shrink just a little more.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Barf

If there's one thing about parenthood I would eliminate, it would be barf. Poop I can deal with, but barf...oh god...barf. The spoiled, rancid aroma. The feeling that just being in the same room with it may lead to contracting a disease more horrible than any thus far studied by science. Just thinking about it makes me want to lose my lunch.

A coworker of mine just had his first baby last week. He and his wfe are still in that initial state of shock and sleeplessness, not quite understanding exactly how they went from being people who could go out for a night on the town with little notice, crack open a beer and hang on the couch for three Sunday football games in a row, or sleep for eight straight hours with little care in the world, to the exhausted zombies that they are now, having to wake every other hour to feed this insidious new monster screwing with their schedule.

Well, I've got news for them. That ain't NOTHING. Add barf to the equation.

For us, it began around 1am. I awoke to the distinctive sound of our younger one coughing up whatever was rotting in her belly, followed by the classic scream for mommy. It was then that I kicked my lovely wife in the shin to awaken her from peaceful slumber and shouted, "Jessica! Vomit! Let's go!"

In a fog, we dashed in to find the little tyke covered in her own spooge, sticky hands in the air, dripping onto her head. The spooge trail continued down onto the sheets, the side of the mattress, into the frame of the bed, and onto that really-bright-idea-to-put-in-neutral-colors beige carpeting.

My wife and I entered Special Teams mode. She took charge of the soiled child; I took charge of the soiled everything else. As she carried Jessica, at an arms length, into the bathroom, I switched on the lights to determine exactly what I was dealing with and then dashed to the basement for supplies. I took the dog with me to make sure she didn't decide it was time for a late night snack. I came back up, arms loaded, with:

-gloves
-the Chuckit Bucket (yes, we've named it)
-towels
-spray cleaner
-a garbage bag
-a gas mask
-a blow torch
-a portable version of that disinfecting chamber from The Andromeda Strain.
-paper towels

As I worked my way through the cleaning process in the bedroom, I kept one ear open for happenings in the bathroom. Poor squirt yacked at least two more times, and at least one of those times missed the toilet completely. Natch.

My next step was to carfully ball up the little one's soiled sheets, pillows, stuffed animals, and clothing and bring it all down to the washing machine. As would be expected, the washer was already full of wet clothing, and of course the dryer was filled as well. Classic. Once I got the laundry going, I ventured back upstairs to find an additional growing pile of laundry in the hallway, and a scene in the bathroom that looked somewhat like a murder but with less red on the walls and more green. The little one was resting comfortably, for the moment, on the couch in our bedroom. She remained there for the rest of the night, except for getting up every half hour to puke again. We sat with her all night of course, partially to comfort her and partially to make sure she made it to the toilet in time. Her tummy calmed itself down around 7:30, just in time for me to go to work. Joy.

I assured my coworker that this was an isolated incident, and SURELY this sort of thing isn't a NORMAL occurrence for any family. Sure... I mean really, why ruin his work day? After all, he only came into the office to get some rest.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Begin the onslaught of holiday songs

Tis the season. The day (or so) after Thanksgiving, where every retail outlet in the burbs plays the same holiday music feed over, and over, and over again, thus increasing the likelihood of employee insurrection dramatically.

To be honest, I love holiday music. Each year I build on my ever-growing my collection of classics and oddities (Got a new one for us this year, Colbert?). But frankly I wish people would stop trying in vain to produce a good and memorable song about Chanukah.

I mean, really. What's the first Chanukah song that comes to mind? Yeah, that ridiculous dreidel song. No one really likes it. And it's not exactly what you would call an "inspiring" song, like such Christmas classics as The First Noel, or Silent Night. And since the dreidel song was created, virtually every Chanukah song since has done nothing but make what should be a fairly solemn holiday of remembrance of the bravery of soldiers and the miracle they witnessed into a pile of silliness. If you need a better example, how about Adam Sandler's Chanukah song? Yeesh. I can't tell you how many non-Jewish classmates in high school came up to me and said, "dude, you're Jewish...how come you're not in the Adam Sandler song?" and then stuffed me in my locker.

Okay, I suppose Rock of Ages classifies as inspiring and worthy. And I don't mean the Def Leppard song.

Here's this year's example. While I gotta admit it's catchy, it's no Rock of Ages. Bah humbug.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Room Empurgement Day

Once every few months (or, once every other day according to my lovely wife), I get a burr in my saddle about the state of clutter in the house. Usually I get stirred up after my wallet becomes submerged under a ream of kids' artwork that's collected on the kitchen counter, or when I need to reach something in the back corner of the playroom and realize the only way I'm going to get to it is with a pound of C-4, a Hazmat suit and a roll of paper towels. And when I get stirred up, that's when the soonest available Saturday becomes Room Empurgement Day.

Sometimes I get smart, and provide some incentive to my daughters to join in Room Empurgement Day. "Come on girls! Let's find the floor of the basement so we have a place we can put a new Foozball table!" Other times I just use threats. "I'm walking into that room with a plastic garbage bag, and I ain't leaving until it's too full to tie closed. If your collection of broken Harry Potter wands ends up in my path, so be it."

I recall recently where I happened to strike just the right cord (don't ask me how) to get the girls excited about the prospects of a clean playroom. The elder child, showing off a few drops from her dad's anal retentive gene pool, was extremely enthusiastic about organizing, sorting, and purging. Her younger sibling just nodded her head in agreement and confirmed that, whatever she was going to be doing, mommy would need to be no more than three feet away at all times.

It was a great start to Room Empurgement Day. In theory. We were going to be like one of those families you see on the DIY channel who hire the professional organizer and sort their entire collection of belongings into eight color-coded storage boxes, an alphabetized file cabinet, and a wall-hanging photo montage containing the pictorial story of their family's life events through the ages. I could just picture myself in our spotless home, relaxing in the cushy leather chair by the fire, reading the latest issue of The New Yorker with my faithful labrador at my feet while my wife cooks up a fresh batch of scones with homemade marmalade and my children built me an ottoman made entirely of popsicle sticks. Wait...where was I? Oh, right...reality.

Here's what actually happened. Saturday morning breakfast, 5 episodes of Hannah Montana, and a Spongebob later, I finally managed to peel the kids away from the TV and announce it was time for Room Empurgement Day to begin.

"WAIT!" yelled Jessica. Now, 99.98% of the time you ask Jessica to do something, that's the answer you get. "WAIT! I'm not done putting my squishies to bed!" Okay, so I'm not quite sure what squishies are, and I don't know why they need to hit the sack in the middle of the day, but we certainly weren't going to get any effort out of Jessica until the little varmints were tucked away for their nighttime slumber. So while Mom bought some time putting the dishes away so Jessica could put her squishies to bed within tugging distance from her mother, I took Thing #1 upstairs to tackle the mess in the playroom.

Once upstairs, it wasn't long before distraction set in. I asked her to sort through a pile of stuff in the middle of the floor. As soon as a long lost plastic bathtub from her Barbie dollhouse was discovered, Natalie left the pile intact and migrated to the Dream Home. I pulled her back in by asking her to return her collection of fancy scarves draped across the playroom TV back to her bedroom closet, and found her ten minutes later sitting on her bed revisiting a book on how to draw cartoon puppy faces. That's when the moaning and complaining started. Then the crying. Then the tantrums. And Natalie really, REALLY hates when I tantrum.

Soon Thing #2 came upstairs with her mother, and I put them to work sorting books. This of course led to the realization that, no matter how destroyed a book was, no matter that the pages of the book were stuck together with 5-year-old dried up baby formula, it was not going to be leaving the house without a fight.

It's about this point where my lovely wife and I realize, yet again, what every parent already knows. Clean the room when the kids are gone, throw everything out, and hope to god that the kids never think to ask what ever happened to that old Dora The Explorer backpack that's now sitting in the bottom of the garbage bag. Another successful Room Epurgement Day complete.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Rally to Restore Sanity



A couple of weekends ago I attended Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear. I had nothing better to do that day, which was really the ultimate requirement for attendance. For those of you who didn't watch it on TV or have no idea what I'm talking about, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert hosted a rally on the National Mall in Washington D.C. to get people excited about the possibility of just "being reasonable" rather than becoming either overly political to the left or the right, or being so brainwashed by the media feeding frenzy of the day that you no longer have the ability to think for yourself.

While the rally was interesting and I'm glad I went, I'm also glad I Tivo'd it to watch later because I missed about 90% of it.

Getting to the rally was definitely the most important part of the experience. After finding that I was the only one of my local friends nuts enough to make the trip, I decided to head to DC on my own and stay with my cousins, whom I easily convinced to go to the event because, like me, they had nothing better to do. I drove out the night before, and the next morning the three of us began our trek into town.

The adventure started at the DC Metro station in West Falls Church, VA around 9am. Having failed to think of buying Metro tickets the night before, we arrived there to discover twelve hundred people in line in front of us attempting to buy Metro tickets as well. After about an hour of standing in line and a couple of brief thoughts about leaping from the over pass onto the roof of an oncoming train in hopes of skipping the line, we made it to the ticket booth, bought our passes, and hoofed it down to the platform. When we looked back at the line behind us, we discovered that it now extended out the door of the station and down the street.

This was the line in front of us to get tickets for the DC Metro.



The first available train arrived at the station after a few minutes. Unfortunately, it was so completely packed with people from the previous stops that there was no chance of getting on. So we decided to be sneaky and get on the next train arriving from the OTHER direction, take it to the end, and wait for it to turn back around. That turned out to be a well-timed idea, because ten minutes later when the subway arrived back at our original station we saw that EVERYONE was attempting to do that. I have to believe that enough people gave up waiting that the rally would have been attended by an additional hundred thousand or so people had the DC Metro gotten their act in gear and supplied more trains.

We arrived in town a little after noon. Yes, over three hours to get in from the suburbs. So much for restoring sanity. After a brief walk toward the mall, we encountered THE CROWD.

For the next several hours we were packed like matchsticks into the vast, wide open space that is our National Mall. We had as clear a view of the stage as a resident of Vermont would have of Manhattan. The speakers and Jumbotrons were so far away that all we could hear was an occasional bass echo off the wall of the Smithsonian, amongst the chanting of "Louder! Louder!" by our three hundred thousand immediate neighbors.

But what made the whole thing bearable was the people around us. Everyone was friendly. Outgoing. Perhaps a little silly. The signs being carried by many were ingenious, and the costumes were a bit odd if not ridiculously funny.











I found it amusing that with 300k people they attempted to have an information booth.



That white thing behind the guy with the camera is a dude dressed as a tooth.





A simple test that should be used for all future primaries.



Hopefully not at the same time. Ew. Talk about your hanging chads...



Left wing kitten-loving hoser. Get outta my Belgian Cafe!

After watching the rally on TV the next day, I have to say I really didn't miss all that much. John Stewart's closing speech was fantastic, and his banter with Colbert was amusing as usual. The rest of the acts served pretty much as a way of filling time, and not much more. But at least I can say, "I was there".

Monday, October 18, 2010

I got a colonoscopy because I was short on material


Dave Barry once said that every good comedy writer should get a colonoscopy. Well, who am I to disagree? I've really been short on material lately, so in an effort to beef up my blog I thought I'd go for a comedy classic and get a colonoscopy myself, then compose a rectal anecdote just like the pros do.

Okay, so that's not EXACTLY why I opted for a colonoscopy. I'll save you the, um, seedy underbelly of the full conversation with my doctor, but suffice it to say that she told me "well, you've got to get one in ten years anyways", and suggested I do it now just to rule anything out. And by "anything", that of course meant cancerous polyps, alien life forms growing in my upper GI, or a blockage caused by that box of Crayolas my friend bet me I couldn't eat in 4th grade.

Since we're talking about a colonoscopy here, I figure it would be best if I started with the end of the story. Everything's fine. I'm clean and clear, and now about eight pounds lighter as a result of the purging process. More on that in a moment.

But first, back to Dave Barry. A while ago he wrote perhaps the most important piece of medical journalism EVER, the chronicle of his own colonoscopy experience. It's required reading for anyone who plans to join the club. And I will also say that the article is phenomenal in its volume of sheer comedy as well as it's ACCURACY. I mean, it's frighteningly accurate. Every detail. So rather than plagiarize on his genius, I can only add my own twists and turns.

Now would be a good time to go read his article. I will be here when you get back.


The day before the test, as Dave also explained, I was not allowed to eat any solid food. It was chicken broth and Gatorade for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was also allowed popsicles, Jello, and hard candy, as long as they weren't red or purple. Which made me wonder - was I avoiding red or purple foods due to some sort of staining on the inside of my colon, confusing the doctor when he was inspecting my insides into thinking I had stigmata? Unfortunately I forgot to ask.

Like Dave, my beverage of choice the evening before was MoviPrep. While his description of this vile substance was 100% accurate, I will add a few details. First, the stuff tastes like someone took a half dozen week-old used margarita glasses, wiped the slimy salt off the rims with a dirty finger, and mixed it with the residue found on the floor of a Gatorade factory. And yet, if you search the web you will find that "86% of people who took MoviPrep rated the taste "acceptable" or "satisfactory." I find that number dubious.

There's a chapter in one of the Harry Potter books where Dumbledore and Harry travel to a cave in an effort to track down a horcrux. Once in the cave, they must row across a dark lake to an island. On the island is a pedestal. Resting in that pedestal is a horcrux, submerged beneath a mysterious fluid. Dumbledore announces to Harry that he is going to drink all the fluid and, no matter what happens, no matter how much he screams in agony, no matter how much he begs Harry to let him stop, how much he pleads to Harry to just let him die, Harry must make sure Dumbledore finishes all the liquid.

That liquid was MoviPrep. It's just that bad. The directions say that over a course of an hour, you must drink the first liter, in four parts. The first part sets the stage, making you realize just how horrible the stuff is, and causing you to wonder how on earth the second liter will go down. But then, you think, the directions say that you won't have to drink the second liter until two hours later. Surely, that gives you some recovery time, right? Um, no. You will be spending the next two hours sitting on the toilet while every last ounce of gunk from the inside of your colon gets power washed out of you. And, as Dave says, just when you think you've recovered from the first dose, it's time for the second.

By the time I was halfway through the second liter, more was coming back up than was going down. My advice is to drink it over the kitchen sink. Oh, and of course while you're attempting to drown yourself from the top down, the bottom half of you is reminding you that you need to be close to the bathroom at all times. I never did make it through the full second liter. My insides simply told me "no freaking way" and that was that. Plus, I realized I was doing this so the doctor had a clear, unobstructed path through my intestines, and I figured if he had to maneuver around those Primanti's french fries I had last month then so be it. This is Pittsburgh after all, so I'm sure he'll know to look for them.

While I will spare you the details of my time in the bathroom, I can at least say that during the purging phase I was able to watch not one but two full Netflix movies as they streamed on my iPhone. Yeah, about 4 hours. It's amazing that I can even walk today.

The next morning, my lovely wife (whom I can only love more for putting up with my poop jokes, and noises, all night) escorted me to the hospital. I signed in, and the nurse prepped me for the procedure. I was told to remove everything but my socks and shoes, put on the classic hospital gown, and wrap a beige blanket around my waist. I guess they figured I would be SO embarrassed by my outfit that talking with a complete stranger about what he was going to insert into my rectum would be no big deal. And they were right.

I was then wheeled into the procedure room. Immediately I thought of Dave Barry's article again, warning us to ask for the non-ABBA colonoscopy. Amusingly there WAS a radio playing in the corner of the room. And the song? "Na na na na..Hey Hey Hey...Goodbye..."

Seriously.

The nurse then asked me to turn on my side while she connected something to my IV. I turned to see I was facing a 37" flat screen TV with the output from the special camera that someone else in the room was preparing. I then said, "Oh, cool, do I get to watch?" She responded by telling me as long as I was awake I could watch whatever I wanted. The very next instant, I was sitting up next to my wife and getting dressed. I missed the whole damned thing.

The nurse had told me that I would have a bit of amnesia as a result of the anesthesia. She was right. Not only did I miss the procedure, but most of the conversations I had from the point I woke up to about a half hour after my wife got me home are a complete mystery. Supposedly I was awake and alert, but I do not remember the drive home, eating my lunch, or any of the conversations I had with the nurse before I left. It was actually a little freaky.

So here I am, a clean bill of health, my tummy now filled with colon clogging BBQ'ed beef, ice cream, and donuts. I figure I survived this long on a good old fashioned American diet, and ten years from now I can empty it all out again. Hopefully by then they will come up with a liquid that at least 87% of people who take it will find acceptable or satisfactory.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A refrigeration odyssey

We had the pleasure of test driving a new refrigerator for the past month. Now, as I sit here waiting for its replacement to be delivered, I thought I would share the story as well as some uneducated opinions on fridge design.

Our tale starts with car shopping. Or, rather, a determination that we would hold out with our beaten-up, wet-dog-smelling ten-year-old Honda Odyssey for another year instead of buying a replacement. That left the budget wide open to take care of a few other major purchases. I had recently realized that our old secondary fridge, in the basement, was leaking air around the sides, causing a mold farm that Louis Pasteur would have been proud of. It was time for the beast to be retired to the scrap heap, and at long last we'd be able to replace our wimpy little kitchen fridge with a shiny new model, relegating the current one to basement duty.

Our first (and only) stop was the Sears Scratch 'n Dent warehouse. We found a shiny black French Door style Samsung with all the bells and whistles for about $900 less than the retail cost, and immediately snagged it.



Unfortunately, once it was delivered, we discovered a few problems that weren't exhibited at the warehouse when it was on display. For one, the giant gash across the front was definitely NOT there when we picked it out. Plus, the leaky water hose, while handy for washing the floor or keeping the dog hydrated, was not what we were hoping for. And the sound the motor made at 11:00 the first night, similar to that of a small plane landing in our kitchen? Yeah, this guy was headed back to the store.

After a little bit of online research and shopping around (yeah, I know, something we should have done to begin with), we decided to spend a little extra money and spring for a new model, rather than another scratch 'n dent. Sears made us an offer we couldn't refuse to exchange the Defecto Fridge for a better model at a discount. So here I sit, waiting for a shiny platinum side-by-side model to show up at the front door.



Okay, so the observant reader in you may have noticed we've switched from black to platinum, and French Door style to side-by-side. See, this was a great opportunity for us. For the month that we had Defecto Fridge in our kitchen and despite my wife not getting the endless collection of my "My God, It's Full Of Stars" jokes, we realized that having a giant black behemoth in our already too-dark kitchen made it all that much more cave-like. So now we go to platinum which, by the way, is the new trend over stainless steel because it's doesn't show fingerprints. We also realized that this whole trend of French Door fridges is complete and utter whitewash by the refrigeration industry. Sure, it seems neat at first to not have to bend down to get the milk. It also seems like a sweet deal having a giant platter-sized drawer for all those Martha Stewart style deli trays you will constantly be pulling out for those classy guests you're always having over. In reality, here's the downside to having a French Door style fridge:

-You can't store anything taller than a relish jar anywhere but on the door, without removing a shelf. And the doors will hold approximately 1.5 gallons of milk, one bottle of ketchup, a container of apple juice, and a bottle of Hershey's chocolate syrup. No more.

-That giant platter-sized drawer will stay empty for much of its life as you hope some day to have friends to invite over for deli.

-The fridge has an alarm that warns you if you accidentally leave the door open. Which is handy because they don't close by themselves. But what's not so great is the fact the alarm isn't loud enough to hear unless you're standing right next to it.

-The freezer on the bottom is big, but annoyingly clunky to open. There's an upper drawer in it, but as soon as you put anything taller than a gallon of ice cream in the bottom that upper drawer will be blocked.

For all those benefits, a French Door fridge appears to cost about $600 to $1000 more than a side-by-side. Save your money and,once you find friends that you want to entertain, take them out to dinner.

On a final note, I should comment that while Samsung apparently makes an excellent quality refrigerator, their technical translation department needs some help. Some fun examples from the instruction manual:

"After taking out the Ice Bucket and cleaned, please make sure to install after removing the frost and moist."

"Please contact your service agent's."

"To get best performance of product, Temperature of frozen food during defrosting can shorten its storage life
."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How not to introduce your children to camping

This weekend I attempted to demonstrate the wonders of tent camping to my two young offspring. Unfortunately, as most Pittsburghers are aware, this was NOT the weekend to go tent camping.

It seemed like a simple enough plan. Two guys, their four young daughters, a couple of tents, and enough s'mores to power a Girl Scout troop for weeks. My kids were very excited, this being their first experience sleeping in a tent that wasn't set up in the basement. We had our supplies ready, our juice boxes on ice, and our GPS coordinates entered. What could go wrong?

Well, for one thing, we failed to count on that predictable summertime weather in western Pennsylvania. Threat of rain + plans to do something outdoorsy = guarantee of rain.

After meeting at a local pizza shop for dinner, we all headed out in two cars to Cook Forest, about two hours away. The skies were clear, but it was one of those typical hot summer days that usually brings on a good whalloping of rain when you least expect it. We reached the campsite just after dark, and just as it started to rain lightly. Ever try finding a campsite in the dark while it's raining? It's about as easy as finding a lost penny at the bottom of a tar pit. Nonetheless, we found it just after that point where the girls began to get tired and cranky, wondering if we were ever gonna be there. You know how it goes.

We pulled in as the rains dissipated, and started to set up the tents while the girls proceeded to explore their surroundings by shining flashlights in each others faces. By the time I got my tent laid out, the rain came back. And this time, it brought friends. It was then I realized a crucial camping mistake, which is to ASSUME you remember how to set up the tent based on a foggy memory of doing it several years ago. Naturally, attempting this in the dark during a torrential downpour, With two children leaning over your shoulder screaming that they're getting wet, was not a pleasant experience. As I proceeded to set up the rain cover upside down, I started to wonder if parents of kids on the boat from the Poseidon Adventure felt the same way when it turned over.

Nonetheless, I got the tent set up keeping the inside relatively dry, managed to get the sleeping bags and the girls' things into the tent without completely soaking them, and attempted to lay them down for the night. Tried to, anyways. The girls sat staring at me, with fear in their eyes, as the thunder started. One began to cry in fright. The other just looked at me with an "are you serious?" look on her face. I explained to them that we were perfectly safe, and the thunder and lightning were far off, and that the tent would stay dry. Lucky for me, they were both exhausted enough that they fell asleep within minutes, each one with a death grip on one of my hands, while I lay wide awake for the next several hours listening to pouring rain and wondering if they felt I'd kidnapped them and were going to leave them in the forest as a very wet snack for the bears.

At around four in the morning, just as I began dozing off, Natalie tapped me on the forehead to inform me that one of her molars fell out. Well, at least there was that.

The next morning they recovered quickly from their night of terror, ate some breakfast, and were off to start the day. After quite a successful canoe trip down a lazy river, some go-karts, lunch, and a visit to a swimming hole, my buddy and I felt we'd probably redeemed ourselves from our attempts to permanently scar our children the previous evening. We made our way back to the campsite and cooked hot dogs and s'mores over the fire, and felt pretty good about ourselves. Then, the thunder returned.

This time we were prepared, and simply made our way into our now dry tents, just in time for yet another torrential downpour. It was then that my wife called me to inform us that the area was expecting severe thunderstorms until around one in the morning. Natalie began to cry again, and Jessica simply took on the same vacant stare that I remember Jeremy Piven having in the movie Judgement Night, when he realized that in a couple of seconds Dennis Leary was going to drop him off the side of a building to his demise. It was then that my buddy and I tossed in the towel and decided it was time to pack up.

We waited for this rainstorm to stop, made our way out of the tents, and began piling items into the cars. The girls, overjoyed with the idea of getting out of this god-forsaken place, were more than happy to actually help with the teardown and packing. And of course, just as we began to tear the tents down, the downpour began again. While the girls waited in the cars, the two of us finished packing up the tents while being drenched head to toe. When I finally sloshed my way into the minivan, one of my daughters greeted me with an outstretched arm holding my last dry shirt. She handed it to me and said, "maybe next time it won't rain."

That was all I needed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Incentives

At last, I have her where I want her.

When my older child wants something, she's very clear about it. Her latest "thing" is dogs. Everything about dogs. Her room is decorated with thousands of stuffed puppies, ceramic puppies, pictures of puppies...there's even paw prints neatly painted on her bookshelves (very tastefully, I must say). This week, she's going to "camp" at Animal Friends, the local no-kill shelter. There, she's being immersed in puppydom. And it's getting to be a dangerous thing.

If you've been following my rants, you know we already have a dog. A crazy nutbag, neurotic, chew-up-everything-in-sight-if-you-leave-me-alone-for-more-than-38-seconds dog. So, naturally, she wants a second dog.

Each day she's come home not only telling us what she's learned about dogs that day (today we learned the term "hybrid dog!") but also about the latest little cutie that she absolutely must have. Trouble is, it's not just her saying, "oh, she's so cute, I MUST have her!". No, instead, she comes with justification, explaining the numerous reasons why it would really be beneficial to have a second dog:

1. It would help with Daisy's anxiety and attachment issues.
2. Daisy would have a buddy.
3. It's not like it would be TWICE as expensive to have two dogs (really?).
4. Daisy would play with the dog while we were gone and stop chewing things.

Hmm, well, frankly a couple of those items DO make sense. However, as the person who does 90% of the walking, feeding, mess cleanup and paying for, as well as 100% of the poop cleanup in the yard, I ain't too interested in doubling my efforts.

Naturally, my almost-ten-year-old declared she would step up to the plate and help with all that. I asked, "even poop cleanup?"


Of course, she replied with "eww...gross!"

I told her that's what it's going to take for me to even CONSIDER a second dog. She then declared that, yes, she'd help.

I tried to make her feel better about it by explaining that if you leave the poop in the yard a couple of days, it hardens like a rock and is easier to pick up. For some reason that didn't make her feel better.

This evening she and I walked Daisy together, and she continued to spout out facts about why it would be good to have another dog, a boy dog, one Daisy could be buddies with, one that would distract her, keep her busy, and she would certainly help more with the feeding and care, and yes, she'd even help clean the poop....

And right then and there, Daisy left a deposit in the neighbor's yard. So with a wide smile, I handed my daughter the little plastic bag.

She replied with, "what, now?"

"Yup, if you even want me to CONSIDER IT..."

"Ew."

But she did it. Arms extended, holding her nose the entire way back. But she did it.

Upon our return, we walked into the basement and was reminded of the massive pile of cardboard boxes, destined for recycling, that Daisy turned into confetti all over the basement floor. The pile that's been sitting there for two weeks.

She's downstairs cleaning it now, as I write this.

Ah, a classic parenting moment. I wonder how long I can milk this?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Family Vacation


We've just returned from what can only be deemed a classic American vacation. Last week we packed the minivan with beach toys, scooters, coolers, and antacid and headed for a rented beach house in Delaware, where we stayed with our close friends who also have two small children and an SUV filled with crap.

Overall the week was a success. We left on speaking terms with our friends. The moms got their well deserved rest and yet left more exhausted than they arrived. We only broke two dishes, a glass, and a vase containing fake flowers that was a victim of poor placement in the first place. And the dads, also known as the "pack mules", managed to squeeze out just enough relaxation to not go completely insane.

Paul, my fellow pack mule, reminded me of a post I created several years ago as a warning to future parents on what they should expect when a new member of the family arrives. Well, in a similar vein, a couple with no kids perhaps debating whether or not to join the parenting game might just decide against it after reading the following vacation highlight reel. I'm pretty sure the sound of doors slamming and tires squealing that I heard one night early in the week was the unmarried vacationing couple next door sneaking out in a combination of disgust and panic.

The bunk beds
The kids were quite excited to find two sets of bunk beds in the house where we stayed. Of course, with one kid still in a pack-and-play, that meant two top bunks for three kids. Time for a lesson on sharing, right?

Before the first night's sleep it was decided that, each night, the kids would switch things around so that the duty of sleeping in a lower bunk would be shared equally amongst them. This seemed like a reasonable idea at the time. Unfortunately it also meant that, each night, the parents had to deal with a child who was so traumatized by the possibility of bumping her head when sitting on the lower bunk that they would refuse to go to bed. For some reason, none of the kids bought into the logic that my buddy and I both spent four years of college sleeping on a bottom bunk while somehow avoiding a concussion. Go figure.

The tantrums
By the end of the week, Paul and I made it a game of deciding which kid would be next to tantrum, and why. With only a little practice we were able to call them moments before they would occur, much like Radar O'Reilly in M*A*S*H would announce the arrival of helicopters before anyone else could hear them.

There were tantrums over sharing of toys. Over naptime. Over sandcastles. Over hair clips. Doors being closed on fingers. Sequence of showers. Showers instead of baths. Baths instead of another five minutes in the pool. Getting out of the pool. Getting out of the bath. Getting out of the shower. Shopping for trinkets. Shopping for t-shirts. Over ice cream. Over dinner selections. Over being dragged on a pirate cruise. Over who got to be the 8th person in the minivan, forced to sit in someone's lap.

In other words, it was just like being home.

Fear of the ocean
I suppose it's healthy for a child to have some level of fear of the ocean. It's big and swirly, tastes bad, and movies are made about it with sharks eating people who like to swim. On the one hand, there's the level of fear that allows the child enough courage to go ankle deep into the water, only to dash out at full speed before the cold wave splashes at thigh level. On the other hand, there's the child who's level of fear is so high that just the sight of seeing dad enter the water without her causes screaming and panic. We experienced both levels, and every one in between. My oldest managed to work up the courage to join her dad several yards into the water where the waves broke, only to refuse to speak to him for the rest of the night when he somehow managed to allow the wave to crash directly into her face, filling her open and screaming mouth with salty sand. Paul's oldest took the stance of "uh uh...if I don't go in, you don't go in, so get your butt out of that water, mister!". Thus, he stayed pretty dry all week.

Out to Dinner
What would a beach vacation be without that night out at a big ol' seafood restaurant? Well, we belted through two dinners out this week, one more successful than the other. The first was in classic style. The little one's nap failed to take, so he was the typical bear that every parent dreams of. The only way to keep him from fussing was to constantly distract him with the spotlight-induced images of fish swirling around the restaurant floor, and thus we didn't see much of him or his mom the entire meal. And of course there were the usual bathroom breaks. First a child announces it's time to empty the bladder, so mom takes her. Upon returning to the table, the second child announces it's her turn, and the parent returns to the bathroom. Once back, she realizes that she, herself failed to go, and it's time for another trip. By then the appetizers are finished, and it's the dad's turn to go. Overall, we would have all seen more of each other if we'd asked for a table inside one of the restroom stalls.

The second dinner was almost strangely successful, with little issue to speak of. This was despite the 45-minute wait for a table, which we realized would be worth it when we thought about the fact that it would take us at least that long just to find another restaurant, and on a Friday night that place would have a wait as well. But the kids kept themselves occupied the entire time. Perhaps it was due to the four iPhones we had in our possession, each with a copy of the game "Pee Monkey" on it.

The noise, noise, noise, noise!
After accepting the challenge from my eldest child to swim down and touch the bottom of the nine-foot deep pool, I found myself unable to remove the water from my ear. After three days of asking people to repeat themselves and turning the TV volume up to eleven, a trip to the local urgent care facility was necessary. It turned out that the water pressure had compacted enough wax into my ear canal to make an entire colony of bees say, "dude, that's a lot of wax."

Unfortunately I didn't realize how good I'd had it. After my ear cleaning, I quickly learned just how loud a house with four children who've had nothing but ice cream and popcorn for four days straight can be. I promptly went back to the urgent care facility and asked for my wax back.

It only took about thirty years, but at last I finally understand why my parents never took me or my sister anywhere.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

On LEDs, snoring dogs, and the Daily Show



My wife and I have a pretty good sleeping space. Though it's a fairly big bedroom (about 30 feet long, 12 feet wide), it doesn't feel cavernous or empty. Probably because of all the crap everywhere, but that's for another post. It's quiet and peaceful most of the time, except when the neighbor kid plays basketball in the driveway next door at midnight, but that's also the subject of another post. What IS the subject of this post, you ask? Well, tonight I'm going to talk about the wonders of LED technology and how they manage to nerf up my REM sleep.

You may recall a year or so ago, the fun adventure I had attempting to replace the ceiling fan, due to a light clicking noise that came from the motor at 4 in the morning. Well, along with that episode I've managed to build up a fine little collection of enemies to my feng shui. For example:

A couple of years ago we picked up an admittedly cheapass 19" LCD television for the bedroom. After the first hour of the first night with it in our room, I had to trudge down to the workshop and locate the roll of black electrical tape to cover up the bright blue LED light shining from the bezel of the TV when it was OFF, because it lit up the entire room at night. Now I ask you...do I REALLY need an indicator to know that my TV is off?

A few months ago, when we upgraded our Tivo, I moved the old one into the bedroom. We quickly realized that the need for quiet sleep outranked the need to watch last night's episode of Jon Stewart in bed, and the Tivo's fan was soon silenced by our unplugging the unit and selling it on ebay.

I'm currently typing this on our Mac in the bedroom. This Mac usually resides in the office downstairs, but its been temporarily moved to the bedroom while we remodel the office. I've taken to putting it to sleep each night, so that it doesn't randomly spout out midnight appointment reminders or blind us when the screen suddenly wakes up. I've also had to cover up the external hard drive, which has yet another blue LED that lights up the room.

Last but not least, we just received a new bedroom cable box from our cable provider. This unit is a DVR (the reason we have a DVR along with the Tivo is yet another post). Between the loud fan and the ultra-bright clock on the face of this unit, it gets unplugged at night as well.

It seems to me that these are all fine examples of weaknesses of the product testing process. Just like the way only left-handers tested the iPhone's antenna strength, obviously no one bothered to test out the TV or cable box at night in a real world test, only to discover the LEDs are bright enough to land a plane by. Kudos to the LED industry for making an impressive product. Sell it with a dimmer switch next time.

It never used to be this way. Back in my college years I spent many a night zonked out in the back bedroom with 40 or 50 of my fraternity brothers on the other side of the wall, doing and consuming things that really aren't appropriate for this blog. I blame this change in my ability to sleep soundly quite squarely on my children. 9 or so years of waking up to the slightest whine or sniffle has really taken its toll. And right now, as I turn to look behind me, I see my lovely wife zonked out across my pillow and breathing heavily, my dog in her crate snoring, and my younger offspring asleep on the couch and coughing lightly every thirty seconds or so. I think I will go downstairs and catch last night's Jon Stewart.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wallpaper. Why did it have to be wallpaper?

When I was young I was a huge fan of Looney Tunes. Every Saturday morning I would sneak downstairs just before 8:00 in the morning, turn on the kitchen black-and-white, and watch Bugs, Elmer, and the gang cause mayhem and mischief while making timely jokes that went way over my head for many years to come. One of my favorite sketches was the one with Michigan J. Frog, the singing toad that drove an unnamed stranger to insanity. In the end, the man buried the frog in the foundation of a skyscraper under construction just to get the blasted creature out of his life. In the final scene, it's the year 2056, and a laborer from ACME Building Disintegrators is using a ray gun to completely eradicate the building when he stumbles upon a box containing our hero, the singing frog.

Forget iPads. Forget 3D television. What this society needs is one of those building disintegrators. Think of the deteriorated urban landscapes we could clean up. We could eliminate landfills. Imagine setting it to its lowest setting, "wallpaper removal", and making this home renovation chore an absolute breeze. No more scraping. No more gooey mess. Just point and shoot.

See? ya like how I slid the subject of a home renovation project in without you even noticing? Yeah, it's time again (still). After spending the last few weeks building cabinets for my neighbor, she offered (well, she accepted the deal) to paint our dining room. That turned into painting both the dining room AND the adjacent home office, since they will both be the same color. So naturally, this led me to realize that now is the perfect time to completely remodel both rooms. In my spare time.

Anyone who's been to our house knows what we're dealing with. puke-beige carpeting that's been in the house about 5 years too long, "lovely" rose-patterned pink wallpaper on which a former resident with a Laura Ashley fetish spent way too much money, and curtains that saw their prime years ago in a mid-eighties walkup in the Bronx. Well, we're switching out the carpet for Pergo that I rescued from another area of the house (more on that another day), and the curtains and wallpaper are to be replaced with something from the Sherwin-Williams Arts & Crafts pallet. This will lead me down the road of new baseboard and crown moulding (Arts & Crafts as well, new lighting, and yes...built-in office furniture. All in all, the project should keep me squirreled away in the workshop until my older one gets past the training bra phase.

Unfortunately, it all starts with removing the wallpaper. I hate wallpaper. I hate putting it up. I hate taking it down. Whomever invented wallpaper didn't really plan out the exit strategy very well. As tacky as it is, I understand why some less anal retentive folks actually consider painting over wallpaper. Not that I'd ever do that, but I feel for the poor bastards.

The offspring were of little help to me on this project, of course. Despite my desperate attempts to make them my slaves, they have quickly learned that the best way to avoid work is to get into fights with each other about it. Sure, they loved the first step of the wallpaper removal process, which was to peel off the top layer in sheets, leaving the shreds on the floor. But when it came time for the spray-and-scrape process to remove the glue from the wall, it was nothing but "Hey, I wanted to use that scraper! That scraper's special to me! Fine! I won't help then! Sissy, stop throwing at me! I wish I was an only child! I hope an asteroid crashes into this planet and squashes you like that centipede daddy found in the dryer! I hate you!" I realized when they were fighting with each other about who did the better job of tearing up the pieces on the floor into smaller pieces, that their fighting was a coordinated effort to get out of helping their dad. Very sneaky.

In the end, I came up with a rhythm. Spray the wallpaper remover. Stop to make coffee. Yell at the kids for fighting with each other. Scrape the walls. Repeat. It was a very productive day.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Designing a thing can't be THAT hard.

Over the past few years, I've often thought to myself that for my next career move, I need to work for a company that makes an actual THING you can hold in your hand. Okay, so that goal went by the wayside with my new career in the financial industry (and no, I don't work directly with cash, so that doesn't count), however I have to say I sometimes wonder how much better I could make things than the people out there who actually do it. Have you ever come across a product with a flaw so completely and utterly stupid it makes you wonder why the designer wasn't burned at the stake by company stockholders?

Take, for example, the air mattress I just attempted to inflate for my daughter's sleepover with her friend. This mattress, made by Coleman, comes with a handy-dandy inflator that blows up the mattress in less than two minutes. It's great when it works. However, the designers of this gadget demonstrated their idiocy by missing one important characteristic of the inflator.

Let's think for a moment...how often does one typically use an inflatable mattress? A couple times a year? When the in-laws come to visit? During flu season when the spouse bans you from the master bedroom due to excess phlegm? So that means for about 360 out of 365 days each year, this cordless inflator sits idle in the closet with a dead battery. That dead battery takes eight hours to fully charge, by plugging the inflator itself into the wall. AND, when the inflator is plugged in, it CANNOT BE USED. I'm sure most inflatable mattress users. like myself, never think to charge the inflator a day in advance before pulling the mattress out of the closet. And, if you're like me, you then end up rigging up your bike pump to do the job you'd originally bought the inflator to do. I'd really like to know what idiot allowed this through testing.

Next let's take a look at my new printer, a Kodak ESP5250. This is actually an excellent printer. It's one of those that Kodak is touting to have the lowest replacement ink cost in the industry, and it appears to be true. It prints well, scans well, and runs virtually flawlessly. Except if you move it.

The power cord on this printer resembles that of a laptop cord, with a "brick" that rests on the floor between two pieces of cord. The adapter that plugs into the back of the printer is so loose that if you move the printer a half inch, it sheds itself of the power cord completely. Really? No one noticed that in testing?

Finally, let's look at this alarm clock and iPod charger/player I bought for my daughter. It seemed simple and functional enough. It works as a clock, and it allows Thing #1 to fill her bedroom with the sounds of Hannah Montana blaring from her Nano any time she wants. However, it cannot actually be used as an alarm clock, despite the product description. You see, for some ridiculous reason when the alarm sounds, it always sounds with the volume at it's HIGHEST LEVEL. It even says in the directions, "after the alarm sounds you may adjust the volume to a lower setting." Seriously? Someone not only tested this "feature" but didn't feel the need to question the design? Way to go, tech writers. I'd like to know if the quality assurance team that tested this device actually tested it on small children, only to watch them launch through the ceiling when the alarm goes off with the music volume set past eleven. Morons.

Unfortunately my daughter wants to keep the clock radio, because it has cool changeable designs. At least the designers had their priorities straight.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

40-year old Verging

Okay, okay, I know, the blog. Yeah, it's time to get my butt back in gear and let those creative juices flow. I have to say that the past couple of months have been a trying time for the creative side of my brain for many reasons. For starters, I've quit my job (the one I've had for a little less than a year after being laid off from a place I'd been with for close to two decades) and am starting a new one two days from now. Meanwhile I'm taking a week to get my head, my life, and the house back in order, to prepare for my upcoming role as an engagement manager (sorry, that's as detailed as I'm gonna get right now...it's a rule of mine not to blog about work), and to lay some concrete below the back steps. Yup, there's always a home improvement project.

If you were expecting to see a post here that I'd spent days and days noodling over to get the content and the comedic timing just right, you'll be sorely disappointed I started this post at 11:15pm and expect it to be done by 11:21. Instead, this is more of a reboot for me. At least once a day lately I've been saying to myself, "would you just sit yer ass down and write something already?" The problem was, I couldn't decide on a subject. Should it be about my daughter's solo at the 3rd grade violin recital? About buying a new Flip Video camera only to have its hard drive completely filled with shaky closeups of the dog's nose as taken by my 6-year-old? Or how about the fact that after completing our major home renovation only two short years ago, we just completed about seven grand worth of re-work as a result of damage from this winter's snowpocalypse? Hmm, well you know how sometimes your guest room just gets so messy, you don't even bother straightening it up and instead just close the door and pretend it's not even a part of the house until the day you find out your sister and her entire family are coming for a weekend stay for the first time since your wedding? Well, in blogging terms, today is that day. Time to open the door and start shoveling.

I suppose a good enough place to start would be with what may be deemed by some as a personal milestone this year. It finally happened. I hit forty. I don't believe I've thought much about it up to this point...it's just another notch in the long, somewhat worn belt of life, really. And frankly, I tend to wear the crap out of my belts, keeping them around for years and years past their prime, until the holes are loose and the leather is so shredded that I would have an easier time keeping my pants up with duct tape. So, I guess if I were to build this into a solid metaphor, I can say that I've got a lot more life in me before I completely fall apart and I will attempt to make the most of it by adjusting a notch or two.

I realized one interesting thing related to my birthday, though. 40 years old is the youngest age that I truly remember my dad being. Oh, he's still alive and kicking, so this isn't some memoir about a father long since past. But when I think back to my childhood, I realize he was 40 when I was ten years old, and I don't really remember any time when he was younger than that. For some reason, this strikes me as important. I think I know why, too. According to my own brain and memories, my dad's life began thirty years ago, when he turned 40. This means I'm just getting started, as well. And I've got nothing to complain about. Well, except that I need a new belt.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My new Theme Song

Every once in a while I come across something accidentally that gets me all giddy inside. This weekend, I came across my new theme song, along with the genius behind it.

While listening to Pandora yesterday, I heard something completely new. It was a song called "Shop Vac, but an artist named Jonathan Coulton. It seems back in 2006 Coulton produced a number of songs under the Creative Commons License, giving them away for free and thus becoming an internet sensation. Which makes me wonder why I never heard of the guy before yesterday. Especially because he grew up in Colchester, CT and was roommates with John Hodgeman. Anyway, the guy is a freaking genius and absolutely hysterical. Take some time and check this stuff out:

If you're an itunes user, click on this link to be taken to Coulton's collection of 52 songs he produced by releasing one each week for a year. The album, aptly named Thing A Week One, is available for free as a podcast. Make especially sure to listen to the songs below.

Now, to make the experience even more worthwhile, it turns out there's an entire Wiki site dedicated to Mr. Coulton, where you can read the lyrics to each of his songs. The song links below are to their lyric pages.

Shop Vac

Re: Your Brains

Mr. Fancy Pants

Code Monkey

The Town Crotch


After you've listened to the above selections, I dare you to not go about your day with "All we wanna do is eat your brains" running through your head endlessly.

Genius. Absolute genius.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My thoughts on the iPad, and more importantly on books



I came across a blogger's well-written post about Books in the age of the iPad through my friend's blog. I began writing a very long comment at the end of the article, but decided that, as long I was in the mood to pen a full diatribe, I might as well make a blog post about it. So go ahead and read the article. I'll wait. Then, come back.

Okay, so here's my thoughts. Much of the author's future vision of print seems dead on. In the coming age of the iPad, books will need to become more creative, more special, and more worthy of buying a paper copy as opposed to simply downloading it. However, I think that the points he makes about what won't be missed are simply untrue for a great many people.

As a result of focusing the last 20 years or so of my life on the printing industry and loving it, I got to have the last summer off when my company downsized. I hold no vision of a printing industry that isn't close to death's door. It has shrunk in size each and every year I've been in it, and I'm happy to be moving on to brighter pastures. But I will never stop loving print. It's just to special an industry.

Meanwhile, I watch the transition of print to digital by watching the habits of my lovely wife. She reads somewhere close to 100 books each year. She keeps a massive, color-coded list of books she has read each year, and looks forward to seeing it grow the way a triathlete in training looks forward to seeing his times shrink with each workout. Sometimes I think she skirts the fringes of insanity with this passion of hers, but I have the utmost respect for it. Frankly, it is kind of fun to watch her obsess over the latest issue of Bookmarks Magazine, or burn out a hair dryer (and a few hair follicles) after sitting in the bathroom for an hour lost in the pages of her latest novel. And of those 100 books each year, very, VERY few are purchased retail. They come second hand, they are borrowed from the library, they are purchased at used book sales, and they are even found tucked away in our house, obtained in years past by providers unknown.

My wife has told me over and over that she will NEVER read an electronic book. While I find the finality of that claim somewhat dubious, I cannot disagree that she, and many like her, are the reason the printed book may never go away, and I hope she's right. After all:

-You shouldn't have to spend $500 just to read a book.

-You can't give an iPad to your friend after you're done reading an ebook. Heck, you can't even conveniently give it to your spouse. And likewise, most households aren't going to buy an iPad for each member of the family. At least, mine ain't.

-As I mentioned above, very few books in our house were bought retail. I know, I know, this is one of the reasons why the printing industry is having such a hard time, and they need this new business model. Sure, that's true, but if my wife had to pay $15 for each and every book she read (now would probably be a good time to point out that she's actually purchased or obtained enough books that she hasn't read yet to keep her squirreled away in her reading chair for another couple of years without ever leaving the house), plus $500 for an iPad, well, the kids would be headed for technical school instead of Carnegie Mellon.

-Personally, one of my favorite times to read is during that period on an airplane when your tray tables must be placed in their full upright and locked position. The time when all electronics must be shut off is the best time to pull out that second-hand novel sitting in my backpack. And when your landing gets delayed such that you're circling for two hours without being able to use your ebook reader, well good luck not trying to light your sneakers on fire in frustration.

-Books don't break.

-You can't take an iPad to a book signing (which, by the way, is exactly where my wife is at this very moment).

-While I definitely agree that this new paradigm will force book manufacturers to get more creative with their printed products, I don't believe the same is true for childrens books. Be it toddler board books or young pre-teen Judy Blume novels, those products will be around for a long, long time. And believe me, after you've watched your nine-year-old waste an afternoon playing the Wii or on Webkinz.com, it's incredibly uplifting to see her pull out a Nancy Drew Mystery (yeah, they're still around) and disappear into a cozy chair for an hour with it.

-Imagine how dull and drab the den will look with empty bookshelves. I will have none of that.

-Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the concept of an iPad is the distraction. My wife complains that I never read anymore. That's almost true. I have to make an effort to detach myself from the day-to-day, from my latest home project, from the TV, or from the computer, in order to sit down and read something. But when I do, it's a unique experience that cannot be compared to attempting to read a story when you can be so easily distracted by something completely unrelated without even looking up from the page. This morning, as my daughter was reading The Lightning Thief at the breakfast table (and mind you I would NEVER let those grubby, pineapple juice-ridden sandwich clamps touch my ipad at the breakfast table if I had one), she asked me what a "caduceus" was. Not recognizing the word, we headed for the computer and suddenly got lost in a half hour of surfing Wikipedia and related sites. On the one hand, it's great to have all that information at your fingertips. On the other hand, it's great to disconnect once in a while.

Don't get me wrong. I want an iPad. I can't justify buying one right now, but I want an iPad just the same.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The REAL reason I haven't been blogging...

At long last, my latest workshop odyssey is complete. Well, at least complete enough to take a break for a while. I've finished constructing my entertainment unit. I still plan on building a piece over the TV and perhaps putting doors on the bottom of the bookshelves, but for now it's done enough that I can sit back, watch LOST, and enjoy the final product.

This was definitely a fun project. It was quite a challenge working with those old sycamore floorboards, as often times it was tough to get a piece of any decent length without huge knots or holes. Overall I didn't have any major disasters during the project, except for when I realized I incorrectly measured the space for the bottom drawers such that there's quite literally less than 1/16th of an inch of extra space for the DVDs to fit in them. Oh well, soon all video will be online anyways.

Hmmm, what's the next project gonna be? Well, my neighbor conned me into helping her build built-in cabinets around her fireplace, so that should keep me busy for a while. Plus I have a dining room to redo. Or maybe, just maybe, I'll spend a little time OUT of the basement for a while.




Monday, March 01, 2010

Coffee...a cup best brewed cold...

I'm baaack! And I'm seriously caffeinated. I'm also attempting to enjoy life a little more and, as a result, I'm working on getting my creative juices flowing again by reintroducing myself to my own blog. I hope the one or two remaining people with an RSS feed to this blog missed me as much as I missed myself.

While I refuse to blog about anythig related to work, I will say the past few months of my new job have been stressful and exhausting, and I will leave it at that. you want the full scoop? Buy me a beer. Or a cup of coffee. Hey speaking of which, that's quite the natural segue into the subject of today's blog post. Snow. No wait, I mean coffee, not snow. I'm sick of snow. and so are you. I'll just talk about coffee.

I'm somewhat of a coffee snob. I get all my coffee fresh roasted from Prestogeorge, my favorite place in Pittsburgh's Strip District, and tend to drink about three of four cups a day. I refuse to drink that standard office swill, and cringe any time someone tries to offer me skim milk to put in my cup. Recently my trusty-yet-raggedy DeLonghi coffeemaker decided it was time to give up the ghost. Well, not totally, but the timer button stopped working. Yeah, sure, it still makes coffee, just not at four in the morning while I'm still asleep. And that's annoying. So it was time for a new coffee maker.

My needs were simple. A steel carafe and a timer were really my only requirements. I wasn't interested in a machine that automatically grinds, as waking the dog at four in the morning would be a whole different annoyance. I also believe that those doohickies that take the single-serving plastic tubs of coffee are yet another example of how this planet is doomed, so I'm not going there either. And, unfortunately, I took the time to read all the comments on Amazon.com for each coffee maker I viewed, and noticed one common thread...they all sucked. Curse you, Amazon, and your Web 2.0 openness. It was so much easier to shop when I knew nothing about what I was buying.

Then I started to read about the concept of "cold brewing". The idea is that you take a pound of ground coffee, dump it in a plastic tub with about nine cups of water, let it sit for a day, then drain it through a filter. The end result is sort of a coffee "concentrate". Take a little bit of this concentrate (about a 1/4 cup) and mix in a cup of boiling water Yes folks, it's a trendy take on instant coffee! But the concentrate has none of the oils and acids left in typical brewed coffee, and therefore it tastes more "pure" and is less harsh on your stomach. One batch of concentrate apparently will last over a month in the fridge and makes about as many cups of coffee as the traditional process would, but with no waste because you make it a cup at a time. The gadget to do this cost about thirty bucks, so I decided to give it a shot.

The verdict? I'm still undecided, but I'm leaning toward excellent. They say that this process makes coffee that "tastes like a coffee shop smells" and they are absolutely right. It has a sweet, pleasant taste with no bitterness. You can make it as strong or as weak as you like simply by adding more or less concentrate. It's the first cup of coffee that I've ever enjoyed drinking black. While I'm still in the process of finishing my first batch, I'd say I'll stick with it for a while. Here's some other interesting things I've learned about this whole process:

Someone on a website commented that if you drain the "sludge" after it's done steeping for the day and immediately put new water into the old coffee grounds, you can get a second batch of concentrate that's just as good as the first, thus doubling what you get out of a pound of coffee. It appears to be the truth, because I can't taste the difference between batch 1 and batch 2.

The brewing process isn't exactly the cleanest in the world, but since you only do it about once a month, it's not so bad.

This stuff makes kickass iced mocha and iced coffee as well.

It's nice making coffee with boiling water. You end up with much hotter coffee that you do from a typical brewer.

If you invite friends over that drink decaf (god knows why), you might have a problem if you don't have a spare coffeemaker around, because this whole cold brewing process isn't exactly a spur-of-the-moment thing. You can, however, make an entire pitcher of coffee simply by measuring out enough concentrate to mix with the right amount of boiling water

The leftover sludge makes great compost for the yard. Just dump it around your plants to keep deer away. That is, if the snow ever thaws.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Avoiding frozen pipes without setting fire to the house

Okay, I had three different Facebook friends mention they had frozen bathroom pipes this weekend. I think it's high time I share my discovery with the world regarding a great way to avoid frozen pipes forever.

When we renovated the house we made a really dumb decision and located the new master bathroom sink not only on an outside wall, but in sort of a "bumpout" that looks like this:



I know, I know...kind of looks like the side of an RV, right? Well, not the brightest idea, in retrospect. The pipes froze twice in the first winter. The solution we came up with was to install a Watts Water Circulating Pump on the hot water tank.



The concept is simple. On the "hot water out" pipe atop your water heater, you install the pump. under the sink with the problem pipes, you install a special mixing valve (that tubular thing in the foreground) that connects the hot and cold water pipes together before the water runs to the faucet. The gadget on the hot water tank has a 24-hour timer on it, on which you can set intervals of 15 minutes each for it to run at various times throughout the day. When it kicks on, it sends hot water up the hot water pipe, to the mixing valve under the sink, and back down the cold water pipe to the water tank, thus filling your entire system with hot (or at least warmer) water. Voila, no more frozen pipes. During the coldest time of year (um..now!) I have it run once every two hours.

Installation is simple, and if you're lucky no soldering is necessary. By "lucky" I mean that if the hot water pipe coming out of the top of your hot water tank is flexible, then all you have to do (after properly turning off and emptying the tank) is unscrew the hose, put this gadget on in between it and the tank, and reconnect. If the pipes are straight copper, you'll need to cut the pipe. I helped a friend install one in his house and, to avoid soldering, we used a pipe fitting called a "sharkbite" fitting. Ask the guy at Home Depot about it.

Another advantage to this thing is you no longer have to wait ten minutes for warm water to reach the shower. The only disadvantage (other than the relatively minor electrical usage) is that you, ironically, must wait a bit for COLD water to come out of the tap. But really, which is worse, rinsing your teeth in warm water or crawling under the sink and setting fire to your house with a blow torch?

Friday, January 01, 2010

A pink kink in my think

Why pink? Why, why I ask you?

This New Years weekend will be spent painting my daughter's room pink. Why? Because after months and months of hounding and hounding me that she didn't like the washed-out green walls, I finally relented, made the mistake of handing her the Sherwin-Williams paint book, let her pick her three favorite colors, and thanked heaven she didn't pick obnoxious orange like she originally requested for the bathroom renovation. Then I made her promise that if she did most of the work emptying out her giant scrap heap of a room I'd paint her walls with her. So, pink it is. Never mind that it's a dark pink that will make the room feel like the inside of a Hello Kitty clock on a cloudy day. Never mind that her room currently has the cleanest and most not-in-need-of-repainting walls in the whole house. Never mind that I hate pink.

My hatred for pink goes back quite a ways. The first girl I ever dated wore nothing but pink. Everything, absolutely EVERYTHING, she wore, day in and day out, was pink. It would stun anyone to see her mix it up a little with a red scarf or a purple sash. Luckily she dumped me before I truly couldn't take it anymore.

A while back, researchers did a study that seemed to suggest women are genetically programmed to prefer shades of pink. One possible reason for this was that while men hunted, women gatherered, and they had to be able to spot ripe berries and fruits. I'm not buying this. My daughter hates berries.