Friday, March 30, 2007

The Afternoon Snack

Matthew was complaining for about 15 minutes before I realized what he wanted. I was cleaning the shelves in the fridge and had everything out on the kitchen table, while Matthy stood there whining on the floor. Usually, I ignore either of the kids if they take that route to get my attention, as there is nothing worse than a whiny child, but this time, he just wouldn't let up. Finally, it dawned on me that he wanted a yogurt, one of a half dozen sitting out on the table. He just had lunch not two hours before; I swear, the kid's going to eat me out of house and home. Then, of course, since Matthew was eating yogurt, Natalie wanted some too...which works both ways typically: One always wants what the other has, so we started to buy things in pairs, just like my parents did, I'm sure.

So then, little cups of yogurt for everyone. I dole them out, spoons for all, a bib for Matthew because sometimes he drips a little on his shirt... I step out of the room for just a minute and come back to this:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Let There Be Light…

We’ve only lived at this house for 18 months or so, and since we had the patio cover installed about a month after we moved in, I’ve wanted to upgrade the lights on the patio from the one feeble 60-watt bulb encased in the stock three-dollar fixture that track houses always include to a system that would actually cast some practical light down on the patio for when the sun goes down.

I’ve mentioned this before, but electricity has always been, for me, a source of shocking discovery, namely that I have a difficult time understanding the concepts of the wires, where they go, what they’re for, and any time I pull apart a light fixture or a wall switch, I’m dumbfounded by the mass of wires. I suppose it is a simple proposition and I can imagine that logically all of the wires have very clear purposes, but I don’t get it. I have had a couple of books about home repair and basic wiring, but every time I refer to them about a problem or project I’m currently overwhelmed with, the examples in the books don’t remotely resemble my situation, rendering them useless.

I know that black is hot, white is the return and copper/green is ground, but have you ever looked at a light switch when the wires aren’t attached? There’s no clue on it as to which post each wire is supposed to attached, and forget it if it is a three-point switch.

I pride myself on my DIY abilities. I might not be good at carpentry or welding or engine repair, but at least I give it a shot… it sure beats paying a professional for the same work and maybe my fixes involve a lot of duct tape and bailing wire, at least it works again. However, this time, working with electricity, I decided to call in a professional, as I had a few things I wanted done, the lights on the patio, a plug in the back corner of the yard (on the hill) and 220 in the garage for my comatose compressor. I met up with an old neighbor at Target one day (who is an electrician but won’t do work for people he knows, for whatever reason) and he gave me the number of a fellow electrician who was spending a few post-divorce weeks sacked out on his couch and could use the business, promising to give me a good deal. Thinking that was my most economical option, I had him over for an estimate. Well, for the three things I mentioned above, the estimate was $2900. Thank you for stopping by; I’m happy I could help you exorcise your math skills with big numbers. That’s slightly out of my price range.

I figured I could do better. How hard could it be? I went to college. I can grasp new concepts. I could do it myself for a fraction of the cost. Or could I? Four months of thought rolls by.

I had had enough.

I decided that I was tired of bringing a flashlight to the barbeque and I hated the inconvenience of having to set up some temporary lights if we wanted to eat outside on a hot summer night (which is nearly 300 days a year around here). After all, I have only been contemplating this project for over a year now, and I have visited the electrical aisles at Home Depot and Lowe’s every time I went there, weighing my options, considering the possibilities and formulating a plan. I felt ready.

Well, the first step to walking is to have faith that the ground will still be there when your foot comes down, and last weekend was the day to give it a shot. While the kids were playing in the sandbox (and Matthew was alternating between playing in Elsa’s food bowl to rinsing his hands in her water bowl), I measured all of the particulars and drew up the plans—half the fun is drawing up the plans and making the list of needed items. My arrangement consisted of replacing the existing 60-watt light near the backdoor with two 150-watt halogen flood lights on the other side of the patio cover, one in each corner that would reflect light up on the white cover so they would disperse light evenly all over the patio. In addition, I wanted to add a 300-watt flood light to light up the backyard so the kids can play after dark. For that, I had planned to add another switch inside, which meant that I would have to cut the drywall, an anxious proposition; once the drywall is cut, a significant level of commitment has been reached. There would be no going back after that.

The worst case scenario is that I would have to call in an electrician, hand him my manhood and admit that I’m a white collar guy in a blue collar world and that I don’t know a screwdriver from a glass of vodka and orange juice.

On the other hand, I don’t know whether I can do something or not until I start to do it. After all, it isn’t brain surgery or rocket science… just 30-feet of wire, three connections and three light fixtures and a new light switch. What could possibly go wrong?

I spent $128 on all of the stuff I needed, and already I was feeling good about it by saving a ton of money (the breakdown by the electrician was $900 for the three lights on the patio). I started a couple of days before the weekend by painting the conduit white so it would blend into the patio cover (which, I didn’t notice until I put them up, is off-white—oh bother), and then I removed the old light, ceremoniously chucking it into the trashcan.

Everything went up much easier than I expected, but I altered my plans significantly. After realizing that the circuit controlling the outside light is the same one that controls everything in the living room, I felt that by adding an additional 600 watts to it would overload and melt something important so I decided to scrap the yard lights idea, which worked out nicely after I opened up the wall switches and decided that I was diving into a pool without first testing the waters. I foresaw a snickering electrician in my future if I had continued down that path, so I buttoned up the wall, set aside the switch and the big light and moved onto the abbreviated version of my project. Another change was that I had planned to run the conduit on the inside of the patio, the side of the main beam you would see when you walked out the back door, giving everything that industrial exposed-materials look—which would have looked more like a half-assed do-it-yourself project done by an amateur. Instead, after discovering that the aluminum beam is hollow, I decided to put everything on the back side, so you would only see the lights and not all of the connection boxes.

To make a long story short, it took me all day and an additional trip to Home Depot (which I factored in) to get it completed, and once everything was connected, all the boxes sealed up and the circuit breaker back on, I flipped the switch. To my surprise, the lights worked exactly as I had imagined they would.

I put all of my tools away, leaving the last step for later: fill the big hole left by the original light and repaint the area to match the house.

A few hours later, after we bought the patio furniture, I was sitting under the radiant glow of not only my new lights that I had installed myself, but my immense pride of a job well done, assembling the patio furniture, when, all of the sudden, the light on the right starts to flicker and then fades to black. I fumed in the half darkness, muttering obscenities. My pride dissipated, exuberance eradicated… my light had gone out.

I got out my tools, the ladder and, groan, a flashlight to see what might have caused the outage. The bulb was fine and the connections seemed fine, so I decided to wait until morning and then rewire them. Perhaps I missed something. In the meantime, I got no joy out of assembling the patio furniture (usually putting things together makes me happy) and I went to bed full of questions.

The next day, I pulled everything apart and rewired it all, making 100 percent sure that the connections were rock solid. A couple of the wires were a little short, so I added wire to it, making them even stronger. Flipping the switch, they both shined bright, and I left them on all day just to make sure, but now, every time I turn them on, a small spark of insecurity flashes in the back of my mind, wondering if they’ll go on or not. So far, their performance has been 100 percent, and my confidence level for my electrician abilities has soared, so much so that I’m sure I could do the other projects as well, not to mention add some fluorescent lights in the garage—there’s only two bulbs in there, and more light comes from an open fridge than anything else.

So, I get it: Electricity is easy; connect the wires and let the juice flow!

Then, one day later, we get an email from one of Kara’s friends, telling us that her house had just burned down because of faulty wiring…they lost almost everything because of a crossed wire in the attic.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Poor Man’s Slide

Back in the day, I remember a cardboard box as being one of the greatest toys and tools to a single-digit-aged kid, and the best summer day for us was when the refrigerator died or the washer blew up. Sure, it meant money spent by our parents, but that didn’t register because we only looked forward to the big box that could be used as a fort or a makeshift go-kart.

Now that I’m a parent of active kids on the verge of an accidents, I hen over them when I think they’re going to get hurt, so I don’t know how my mother could stomach knowing that my brother and I (along with Mike down the street) used to strap a fridge box to a couple of wagons, climb in and shove it down the hill toward immanent peril. Since cardboard boxes aren’t normally equipped with brakes, the best method of stopping the freight train was to tip it over at the bottom of the hill and slide to a halt…provided we made it that far.

On Saturday afternoon, we all piled into the family truckster and headed out in search of some patio furniture, considering that Spring is finally upon us and we would like to enjoy the great outdoors without sitting on crates while balancing our dinners on our knees. Of course, knowing us, we found a furniture set we liked at the first place we went, but then decided that we would go to three other places, wait two weeks, look through catalogs and online stores only to return to the first place we went to buy the first set we found. Typical.

At any rate, it came in two boxes, and as I opened them, the child in me screamed to play with them. One was about the size of a washing machine and I figured that would make a great fort, while the other one was flat, wide and long… perfect for a slide.

I dragged it halfway up the slope in our backyard and the brood came scrambling, quickly catching onto the concept after I shuttled Matthew down the slide only to tumble into the grass, replete with squeals of delight. Hillside hilarity ensued, and even Kara got into it.

I kept thinking that we must have looked like a gaggle of hillbillies, yuking it up in the backyard over a piece of cardboard like we had never seen civilized playground slides before.

Enjoy the video clip… see if it works better than the last time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Not Another Wife

Imagine to my surprise, after I came home from Target with a big bag of Beneful dog food for Elsa, when I looked on my receipt to discover that I had also purchased another wife. For a bargain at that!

I don’t remember going down the peripheral family member aisle and I certainly don’t recall putting one in my cart, but I can't protest too much because of all the money I saved. If you remember, it cost a fortune for the first one, what with the ring and the ceremony and all, but apparently this one was on sale for only $3.99 plus tax. Who can pass up a sale like that?

So, now that I’ve got two wives, we plan to soon move to Utah, the land of matrimonial plenty, and I guess I’ll need another sink in the bathroom and a bigger closet with more shoe racks. Maybe this one will enjoy pulling weeds in the yard and won’t mind it too much when I when I sleep in on the weekends. I'm not going to hold my breath, as I heard that those things were design flaws on all wives.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like the original one just fine. No complaints with that particular model—so much so that I bought the extended warrantee—but it’s always good to have a spare lying about, because you never know when the first one will quit on you. I’d hate to be wifeless. Then again, buying another wife at Target without consulting the first one might still make me wifeless. Well, the first wife can't pass up a sale either, so I'm sure she'll understand.

At any rate, I’ve been checking the mailbox every day, but so far, no wife-sized box with air holes punched in it has shown up.

Then again, do I really need two wives? As you have probably seen, I can barely handle the one I've got. I'll have twice as much of everything. Two sets of eyes to roll when I say something stupid. Two sets of arms akimbo when I forget to take out the trash. Two wives asking me if they look fat in those pants. Two pairs of legs kicking me in my sleep. Twice the time needed to get ready to go out. Twice the makeup. Twice the hair in the shower drain. Two times a month when a woman loathes me. Two purses to hold while they go to the bathroom. Two wives to chide me for flipping through the channels on the TV too fast. Two pairs of shoes kicked off in the middle of the hallway for me to trip on. Two wives telling me, “That’s okay honey, it happens sometimes. We can cuddle instead.” Most importantly, two wives with credit cards!

Maybe one wife to love is plenty for me.

I guess I’d better hold onto the receipt in case I have to return the new wife… then again… I wonder if they’d notice if I put the old wife in the new box and tried to return her instead!

Do you think they’d check?

Just kidding. (I'm sure they would check anyway).

Monday, March 12, 2007

Taxes in the Desert

I wish the title of this could have been “Dessert in Texas” but it just wasn’t to be, and since the ugly old head of the government needs more money for red tape, bureaucratic rubber stamps and hydraulically-powered toilets in the U.S. Embassy in Australia (to make the water spiral in the proper direction), I need to pony up my share of the ante.

The night before, I was optimistic that we’d emerge from the Schedule C unscathed, because last year we sucked back from the vacuum that is the tax system about five grand. It’s nice because I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t think that anything in our lives had changed since 2005—same number of kids, same house, same total income, same expenses—but I was wrong.

I sat on the couch and had everything splayed out on the ottoman to make sure it was all accounted for, W2s, 1099s, a bevy of tax forms from a variety of sources—more numbers than any one law-abiding American should have to look at—and for one night I force myself to play accountant, totaling receipts, cross-checking spending on AmEx verses the checkbook and adding up all of the business expenses. Lots of grumbling and a few “Wow, we spent that much on going out to eat!?!”

Natalie asked what I was doing and I told her that “I’m doing our taxes” which she translated into “I’m going to Texas,” and when she kissed me goodnight, she wished that I have a good trip and that she’ll see me when I get back. Very well. Off to Texas.

Our tax guy moved last year. Most inconvenient for us, and why I don’t get a new one can be summed up by my creature of habit policy: If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. We’ve been going to him since Kara and I have been married—for the purposes of the IRS and the alternate lifestyles people seem to condone these days, we’ve been going to him since Kara and I have been jointly filing our taxes. He gets us. He knows what I do and he caters to my other staunch policy of not paying the government a red cent unless they absolute demand it. It doesn’t seem like the ninth year that we’ve gone to him, but it is, but this year, he decided run off and to move his office to Palm Springs.

I’ve never been to Palm Springs before, not that I remember, and for good reason I guess. There isn’t much there, and if you drag your oven out to the patio and stand in front of it in the sun with the door open and the temperature set at “self clean” you get the idea of what it’s like. Reluctant to go, Kara suggested that we visit The Living Desert, an arid, desert-themed zoo nearby and make a day of it, and once we blew a half tank of gas to drive way out where the sun is apparently closer to the earth, I couldn’t imagine how this could be a hot spot for the jet set of the 60s. Hot spot, yes… very hot spot… hot spot for the 60-year-olds, yes again, as we entered city limits they had to make a drastic adjustment to the average age of the residents, not to mention we brought up the heterosexual quota too.

If you’re old and gay, Palm Springs is the place to be.

The zoo was pretty good. I wouldn’t completely agree with all the rave reviews it got from the Mommy&Me club members that Kara informed me about, but it was a pleasant change from all the other typical zoos. It reminds me of what a zoo would look like if it was in someone’s backyard: very quaint and friendly, lots of desert paths, all the plants and trees were labeled and the paths meandered through a well manicured desert wonderland of cacti and thick-skinned animals. We gave ourselves about six hours to see it all and grab some dinner before our appointment and that was plenty of time. As I expected, the desert animals are no more stupider in a zoo than they are in the wild; most of them stayed well hidden and out of the 95-degree, 10-percent-humidty weather. The small rodents kept to their holes. The cheetahs were probably hiding in plain sight but I didn’t see them. And the bighorn sheep were strangely absent. The three giraffes were munching on palm trees, which seemed odd to me, and the camels were playing with big paper bags.

It was hot. We drank a lot of water, and I even plopped down four bucks for a bottle of beer, which was nice. I spent the day wiping sweat from my brow and didn't notice until I got home that I hadn't used the restroom all day. One delight: There’s nothing like a cold beer on a sweltering day and the four dollars seemed like a bargain, especially since I could drink it from the bottle (try that at Disneyland).

The highlight for Natalie was the butterfly exhibit, a giant webbed tent that housed a complete habitat for hundreds of butterflies, and it was the closest she’s ever been to her favorite flying insect. They fluttered all around her as she stood there, mouth gapping in that this-is-so-wonderful way she expresses her amazement. Eyes wide. Gentle steps in such a hallowed ground. She crouched. She pointed. She stood quietly while they swooped out of the sky and skirted our heads. She laughed as they flitted by. Matthew tried everything to clamor into the water fountain and spent some time picking at the flowers.

We got Natalie a spotter’s brochure and she spent the rest of the day pointing to the various butterflies we saw…and a few we didn’t, but they all look alike after a while. Monarch, Painted Lady, Zebra Heliconian, who knows?

As we left the “Butterflies Alive!” Butterfly Garden and into the gift shop, Natalie found all kinds of things to help her express her love of the butterfly, and I was feeling like a spendthrift. The payoff will be at tax time where I expected a large return. Certainly, I can afford to make my only daughter squeal with delight by buying her a butterfly t-shirt, a butterfly finger puppet and a butterfly poster. At that moment, $30 meant nothing, especially since I was picturing a hefty check from the IRS. Oddly, in this day and age, the gift shop took cash only and I considered myself rich having a twenty in my wallet so we had to leave to get some cash for Natalie’s souvenirs. It was an investment in happiness.

After much heat in an afternoon of deserty funness, we decided to leave for dinner and then make it to downtown Palm Springs for our tax meeting at 5:30. I didn’t know where I was going, where I was and where I had just been. I only had a crudely drawn map, by yours truly, of the area: a four-street box with an X where the office was. No address. No phone number. Just an X to mark the spot. I knew that if I found myself inside that box, I couldn’t get lost.

Who knew that there would be two streets with exactly the same names going in completely opposite directions, north and south, paralleling one another? Who knew that there was a very bad neighborhood in Palm Springs reminiscent of “the projects?” Who knew that the streets packed up on a Saturday night? And who knew that we wouldn’t be able to find a decent place to eat that would require us to fill out loan documents and prove our net earnings? Who knew all of this? We did after discovering it. We were stuck driving north on South Palm Canyon Boulevard, a one-way street, when we wanted to be going south on North Palm Canyon Boulevard, a two-way street, with only a few access roads that lead to it—and one of those does not go through the projects. Then it got crowded. We passed a dozen suitable restaurants, thinking that a better one was just round the corner. In truth, we were holding out for a Red Robin, of which there isn’t one in the entire valley. Nobody told me.

We settled on Coco’s. Not my first choice, and we felt oddly out of place. They sat us in a booth away from everyone else, and when knew patrons arrived, they started piling them up in the opposite corner of the dining room. It didn’t help that Matthew was crying as we walked in and I’m sure there was a collective groan by everyone and lots of praying going on that they wouldn’t put us next to them. Again, the Palm Springs demographics held true. Our server—I think his name was Link—talked about his nephews (which he had a picture taped to his order book). Every man was gay and every woman was overweight… and everyone was old. Soon, the dining room was like Manifest Destiny, as more and more people showed up, empty tables began to be filled, slowly creeping across the room toward us. Pretty soon, just as we were finishing up, they put someone next to us.

The food was okay. I was a little miffed I wasn’t eating a Monster Burger from Red Robin (or anything else from anywhere else), but I was still hungry. The bacon was a little crunchy, and since Kara said I was making obnoxious comments all through dinner—there were some tasteless pickle jokes I chose to make—she insisted that I tip well. I did. I always do, but that night I was getting a big return, so for a few moments, I could afford to pretend I was Diamond Jim Brady, at Coco’s.

I’ll make this short, as I don’t especially like to relive the tax experience, but I strolled into my tax guy’s office with the confidence that I was going to leave with expectations of a big check, say around $6000. Instead, the blood drained from my face when he told me that I was going to have to pay that amount, and more, much more.

Crap. I hate the government. I hate my tax bracket. I hate money. I hate working. I hate earning. I hate my wallet. I hate the fact that I spent $14 on a butterfly t-shirt for Natalie that she’ll grow out of in six months. I hate the fact that I gave my homosexual waiter an $8 tip on a $32 meal at Coco’s. And I hate the fact that the little guy always gets screwed. Let’s move to Costa Rica, no federal taxes but they get the benefit of snuggling under Uncle Sam’s wide-reaching blanket. Yeah, let’s do that before April 15th.

As luck would have it—and for me, when it comes to making ends meet—I have always been lucky…as luck would have it, we missed adding our mortgage interest to the list, and since I pay an arm and a leg to live indoors, it was enough to save the day. Thank you big expensive house, at least you’re pulling for me.

So, me and Uncle Sam are square again. Sorry about all that stuff I said about you.

What happened, you ask? Well, in 2005, I actually had a tax-sucking W-2 job for a few months and the rest was freelance 1099 money. It was enough to cover the taxes and provide a return. Last year, it was 100 percent freelance; therefore 100 percent taxable income.

Nothing like dodging a bullet from the IRS, especially when it’s got your SSN on it.

Good times. At least until next year.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Greatest Glass Ever Made

It will be of no surprise to anyone who has listened to me rant and rave about the wide variety of calamitous events that deride my ability to function as a normal person with a normal life, and it further be of no surprise that there are an inordinate ratio of rants to the few raves. As a pessimistic person (a.k.a. I’m a realist who broke his rose colored glasses), I see very little good in things and people, and evil is beset on all fronts.

That said, you may have noticed that I also have a propensity to humor my quirks, those few odd peculiarities that push me a small number of steps closer to full-blown insanity. One of those idiosyncrasies is my interest in glasses and formal dining cutlery. Yes, I know, it’s odd, but it stems from my inclination toward fine living, something I don’t think I qualify for. Basically, I like nice things. I rarely get them anymore, no so much because I can’t afford them, but because I don’t want to afford them. I’ve lamented on this before, but owning a fine suit that I will only wear if someone’s getting married or getting buried is no longer justifiable and I can’t see spending a small fortune on dinner (Disney-freakin-land notwithstanding).

However, I do like a good beer. Well, that isn’t entirely true, now is it? I had a Keystone Light a couple of days ago and despite the fact that I felt like I was sitting on a bale of hay deciding whether I reckon I’ll to go out to the barn and milk old Bessie, it was still refreshing. I don’t drink that much anymore, as it seems the older I get the less likely I’ll bounce up bright and early the next morning hardly scathed by a night out. Perhaps because I have so far removed myself from casual drinking, not that I ever degraded my brain cells to swim in fermented brews—well, there was those five years of college, but who remembers back that far? These days, it’s apple juice all around, while I will occasionally imbibe on a beer or two… or 10 on a particularly destructive occasion.

For the past dozen years or so, I’ve been able to afford Sam Adams, which as become my beer of choice. They offer a great range of flavors, and I like the idea of spending money with a large brewery that still has a microbrewery mentality. Plus, their commercials don’t tug on my heartstrings by parading around majestic horses or insult my intelligence by lascivious women who are turned on by guys will beer guts.

In all of those years, I’ve been drinking my Sam Adams with improper equipment. I own a variety of pilsner glasses (some stolen from bars, most not), mugs (some frosted, some not) and tall fluted steins (wedding present) suitable to drink a beer in, but according to the fine folks at Sam Adams, I’ve got it all wrong.

Who knew? All these years and I haven’t been completely enjoying my beer to the utmost of its potential. I introduce to you, the greatest glass ever made!

According to the company, the new Samuel Adams Boston Lager Pint Glass is the first glass specifically designed to showcase beer as brewers intended.

“It’s been a personal passion of mine to develop a beer glass that elevates the craft beer drinking experience" said Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Samuel Adams. “We wanted to create a glass that offers beer lovers a full sensory drinking experience by fully showcasing Samuel Adams Boston Lager’s complex balance of malt and hop flavors. This glass achieves that mission.”

On their site, it says: Tiax, the world-renowned sensory experts, worked closely with Jim to identify and evaluate the functional design features needed in a glass to showcase the key attributes of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. The key requirements for the perfect glass for Samuel Adams Boston Lager included: delivering sweetness from the malt; maximizing the hops aroma and flavor; maintaining the ideal temperature; supporting a rich and creamy head; and sustaining the right amount of carbonation.

Upon seeing this, I immediately sough to purchase the glasses on their site, happily paid $30 for them and excitedly awaited their arrival. Then I forgot about them… which turns out to be the best part, because when they did arrive, two weeks after I ordered them, I had no idea what was in the box. It was like Christmas.

But the best part was the little extras. The glasses were perfectly packed, but in the box I also discovered that they included a flat steel bottle opener with the Samuel Adams logo emblazoned on it and, curiously, a small packet of hops to smell (Sam Adams is proud of their use of a lot of hops).

I have yet to try the glasses or open the packet of hops, but when I do, I’m sure I’ll enjoy the experience.

Such simple pleasures.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Barf Watch 2007

This morning, Matthew bought himself a one-way ticket aboard the Puke Train to Vomitville, and there was no scheduled stops until bedtime tonight. All aboard!!

Last night at 4am, outside, Elsa started barking ferociously, the way she usually does when someone rings the doorbell, as if someone was there. It being 4am, I grumbled all the way down the stairs, flung open the back door and ushered her into the house with a couple of unprintable explicatives not in her favor. Since it was a full moon, I figured she was just an idiot, as usual. However, Elsa, still disturbed, ran upstairs and into my office for a moment but then trotted down the hall to our room. By the time I had reached the top of the stairs I was greeted by the pungent punch-in-the-face odor of a well-used diaper, but still half-asleep, I assumed it wasn’t properly discarded, made a note to take care of it in the morning and returned to bed (but not after cracking the window for some fresh air). Less than two hours later, Matthew wakes up, crying. I felt like someone threw sand in my eyes, and I gave Kara a couple of kicks. “Baby’s up.”

When she finally dragged herself into Matthew’s room, she called out that she needed some help, that he had thrown up all over the place and had completely blown out his diaper. It was, I would have to say without doubt, the worst blow-out I had ever seen in my life.

It made dysentery look like constipation.

That began the day, cleaning barf out of his sheets and mattress, and I don’t think there was more than five minutes during the whole day that Matthew wasn’t hanging on me, cuddling into the crook of my arm or sleeping on my shoulder. He took three naps, and threw up two more times. The first time was after he sucked the red dye from a popsicle and ended up looking like Linda Blair from The Exorcist. The second time it was directly in my hand, and I’m not sure what made me instinctively put out my hand to catch most of it—the floor would have worked nicely—but I did, and it was like trying to hold onto a raw egg; most of it oozed through my fingers and onto the blanket in my lap. After that, he sat on a towel for the rest of the day.

Natalie, much to her credit, avoided both of us. She played games on the computer for about four straight hours... so much so, that she's getting a pocket protector next Christmas.

So, now we’re waiting for Natalie’s turn, if what Matthew had was a bug of some sort. After she fell asleep tonight, I sneaked in there and stripped her bed of all of her stuffed animals so she wouldn’t ralph on them in the middle of the night…and I also gave her a bucket next to her bed, just in case.

Interesting side note to all of this… all the years of trouble and angst that Elsa has caused me finally paid off. Apparently, Elsa was actually doing her job last night when she was barking, as most of the unlocked cars in the neighborhood were opened and rifled through for valuables. In my truck, I found that my center console was open but nothing was missing, including several CDs, oh yeah, and the keys to Kara’s car and the house. Nice. I surmise that Elsa scared them off before they could find anything worthwhile (keys aside, there’s nothing of value in my truck, but the lady next door lost a camera and her purse, sans the wallet because of dumb luck on her fell under the seat).

Shortly, I plan to install a security camera. Sure, it seems drastic and perhaps a little overly precautious, especially considering what a safe neighborhood we live in, but I vowed early on in my life never to be a victim.

I guess I shall listen to Elsa too—it seems that she knows what she’s doing. Smart dog, that Elsa. Smart dog.

Why We Don’t Go Anywhere Nice

It takes very little arm twisting for me to go out to dinner. Basically, I like it very much when people bring me things on plates that I can eat and afterwards nobody expects me to do the dishes or puzzle how to get out a tarter sauce stain from the carpet. But then again, I often wonder why there are so many restaurants when everyone has a kitchen at home; it’s like owning a car but calling a cab when you want to go somewhere. Perhaps it’s the atmosphere that is so alluring, which is why, I guess, Friday’s tries to wow you with all of that faux-antique crap hanging everywhere. Whatever takes your mind off of the cooking.

For me, going out to eat is always rather a let down. Frequently, I’m dumbfounded by the service, disappointed by the food and alarmed by the check, but the chance to look at and interact with other adults is too tempting to pass up, especially when I spend the majority of my time in my office attempting to focus on work… or when I’m cleaning up food far-flung by Matthew or toys well traveled about the house by Natalie. In my defense, I try to avoid those two last activities which is probably why the county board of health and safety will soon pay us a visit and put us all out on the streets. Like they’re that much cleaner.

For whatever reason, Kara had a gift certificate to Macaroni Grill, the much more mature big sister to Chili’s, which, incidentally, is right next door. There are cloth napkins on the tables and an expectation of good manners in the air. They bring you warm bread without having to order or pay for it and all the servers wear brightly colored ties. There, you keep your elbows off the table, spoon your soup thitherwardly and maintain the belching outbursts to a fancy but fully loaded exhale. And that “no shoes, no shirt, no dice” sign? Well, unlike Chili’s, they mean it.

For whatever other reason, we had to use the gift certificate in February, and in true form that represents all that is good and holy about this blog, we waited until the 28th to redeem our free 35-dollars worth of Macaroni Grill’s best.

The hostesses collected at the front desk were bubbly and cheery, per usual, and after they set us at ease with their witty banter about Baby Sarah being the “fifth” one in our party, the two girls passed us and our menus off to Alex, a seemingly disgruntled host who was either quitting that night because he truly hated his job and every stinking person who appeared in the doorway of the place or he had just received a bad review by his manager and was intent on getting through the night without physically harming anyone but was having trouble holding back his rage.

Few words were spoken as he showed us to our table, not more than five feet from the hostess stand, the first table next to the door. Fresh from my victory at Ariel’s wallet-reaming Grotto experience, I wasn’t about to sit near the front door or to the immediate back of the hostess stand. I just didn’t want to listen to the inane ramblings of a gaggle of hostesses (please take no offense if you are a hostess and the conversations with your fellow coworkers are professional and intelligent… but you can take offense if they aren’t) and I certainly didn’t want to feel a blast of cold air every time the front door opened so another group of gawkers could come in and judge me by what dish I ordered. I’m not a bland person, I happen to like Fettuccini Alfredo thank you very much.

Plus, I knew what he was doing. We have kids, a baby and a boisterous toddler, so I saw what was happening: Keep the families as far away as possible from the rest of the regular people because nobody likes to sit next to a family full of food-chucking kids. I can’t blame them, as the last thing I’d like to see while I’m eating three dollars worth of a $14 plate of pasta is a kid mired in tomato sauce up to his elbows (which are on the table, naturally). However, this is my family and we’ll sit wherever we damn well want and if you don’t like it, too bad.

So, Harry Hate-My-Job Host shows us to the first table and give it an unenthusiastic wave with the menus as if to present it, then stands there, blank, waiting for us to gather up the troops for the great five-foot march to the booth. “I don’t want to sit here,” I announced loudly, loud enough for him to hear at least. “Let’s sit over there.” I pointed across the room randomly, in no particular direction, thinking that any other table would be better. Harry hesitated, as if the Queen was going to arrive later and she always likes to sit at the table he thinks I pointed to so she can enjoy the fake jacaranda plants because it reminds her of Scotland.

He compromised with me and placed us at the next table down, and I gave in because I’m all about accumulating small victories in order to win the battle. Plus, it was a booth… but it was up on a riser, off the ground about a foot or so, and unless they had especially tall high chairs for Matty, he was going to be resting his chin on the side of the table while he ate. Instead, they offered a booster seat for him so he could sit next to Kara at the table. We plopped him into it and since it didn’t have any straps, he started to slide down like an over-served drunk at the bar.

“I guess I’ll have to hold him,” Kara said, wrapping her right arm around him so he wouldn’t fall under the table to who knew what kind of fate. I guess Kara thought she could eat left handed, while balancing a baby, and getting food for him, all the while enjoying herself. To give Kara a great deal of credit, she’s done more under worse conditions, but we were out to eat, paying good money for a delightful experience and the booth with the impromptu booster seat wasn’t cutting the mustard.

I announced to our server, Aimee—the only reason I remember is because she wrote it in big letters with two crayons on the paper tablecloth—that we were moving across the aisle to a table nearer to the ground.

Once there, basically both kids felt it was a wonderful time to get loud. Natalie proclaimed each action she made, as if she was narrating her life, in a voice about 20 decibels above normal conversation. Matthew, by this time, was quite hungry and he was letting on to that fact by yelping like a wounded seal, all the while folding back the afore mentioned paper table cloth. When we ordered drinks, much appreciated wine, I asked for some tape to keep the paper table cloth down so his food wasn’t hurled across the table every time he flipped up the sides. To my astonishment, she brought some and I secured the paper, which lasted only a few moments until he tore through it quite easily.

It was a hectic outing, and I wasn’t expecting it, especially since both of the kids are always so well behaved. They acted as if they anticipated clowns would come by their table to entertain them and the excitement they felt was too great to contain. One bright side to the whole thing is, after we had finished destroying the table, littering the floor with scraps of food, requiring that the high chair Matthew was sitting in be sandblasted and re-lacquer and fielded a few curious stares from other patrons, Kara gathered up the circus and went outside to play by the fountain while I waited for the check… anyway, the bright side is that Aimee brought two cups of ice cream covered in chocolate for Matty and Gnatty. Teehee, I ate them both.

Thanks to the wine, the $35 gift card was easily decimated and we ended up paying nearly double that. Next time we’ll consider packing the muzzles and a Hannibal Lecter contraption. But a night out is a night out.

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