Thursday, January 27, 2011


Whether you believe man climbed down out of the trees and traded poop slinging for insults, or accept Adam and Eve's eviction from Eden, one thing you have agree with is that early man relied on Fire. It's a wonderful tool. It provides us heat. It cooks our food. We can make tools with it. We can keep wild animals at bay. And it gives us a sense of security by driving away the darkness.
In our modern homes, fire has been replaced with electric light. It's something most of us- including our kids- take for granted. But what happens when the lights go out? Imagine being in your windowsless dadcave and the power goes out due to a storm or some drunk driver hitting a utility pole. The first thing you might think is "now I can't watch the rest of the game!". But your kids are going to have a more immediate concern. IT'S DARK!
When there's an emergency, you've got a lot of options on how to provide this simple luxury item your kids can't do without out. Modern light comes from four main sources: The Sun (through your windows), from Fire, from Electricity, or from chemical sources. How many of these have you thought about, or prepared with?
Power outages by day aren't so bad. You just leave the darkened dadcave and open the curtains or blinds through out the house. If it's cold, you grab a blanket. If it's hot you open a window. But when it's night time, or maybe during a thunderstorm or other overcast weather, you have to bust out some lumination assistance.
Fire is great if you have a fireplace, unless it's a really hot summer. If not, you might resort to candles. The technology's been around for thousands of years. A more modern twist on the candle you might choose is the kerosene lantern. But these all have some major safety issues- especially when mixed with pets or children. Take kerosene- how many western movies feature a lantern being broken by sabotage or negligence, thereby consuming barns full of straw? Candles can be tipped over by curious children. If you can, keep the fire outside. There are much safer alternatives.
And what about ignition sources? How many non-smokers keep matches or lighters ready for all those tea candles the wife bought from co-workers' candle parties? Even if you don't prescribe to candling, it's a great idea to keep a simple Bic-type disposable lighter in the house. It can be submerged under water, allowed to dry, and it'll still work. Just make sure the kids can't get to it.
Maybe fire isn't for you. The power might be off in your home, but that doesn't mean electricity can't come to your aid. Flashlights are the darkness-battling weapon of choice in modern America. But flashlights require batteries in most cases. And where is the flashlight? Do you remember that in a pinch? You could keep a flashlight in every room of the house, in a universal location- say, the left hand side of whatever drawer you put it in.
There's also the bulb issue. Kids drop stuff, and a dropped incandescent bulb, even a super-bright krypton bulb, will break on impact. LED is much better. Resists impacts and uses far less electricity. And many LED flashlights are capable of changing color, or switching to a blinking mode. USeful for emergencies, or just amusing the kids.
Battery powered flashlights are so old-school, though. Instead of raiding the remote controls in an emergency to find batteries, today you can turn to crank-powered and even solar-powered flashlights . Crank lights are great for kids, who always forget to turn flashlights off anyway. Not only can your neanderkid have their own source of light, they can be amused for some time cranking and cranking on it every couple of minutes to recharge. Just make sure you get enough crank lights for all the kids, and that you make sure they put them back where they belong. Like hanging from a wriststrap on a wall hook or door knob.
Flashlights are swell, until you have to go potty. For us dads, we need our hands for other than lght holding. It's instances like that where an electric lantern is a life saver. And unlike flashlights, you only need one for the family. It can light up a room, is free-standing and there's simply no need for each kid to have their own. Although you can get AA powered lanterns for under $10 so each kiddo can carry light around with them. And, like flashlights, there are now crank-powered lanterns. Many have built in radios and ports for charging cell phones.  
Finally, there's one truly awesome light source that I highly recommend for emergencies. Cyalumes, or "glowsticks". These simple plastic tubes, filled with chemicals separated by a glass ampule, create a whole night's worth of cold light, simply by bending (breaking the ampule inside) and shaking (mixing the chemicals up). They can light up a room fairly well, with no fire hazard. Most even have hooks which fit quite nicely on ceiling fan pull cords. Or you can put them on string and make each of the kids their very own glow necklace. Put one in a jar or glass and now you've got a table top glow lantern. They work under water. They come in different colors. They also range in price from cheap up to as much as $4 a stick. Every camping section carries them.
And don't forget that glowsticks come in different shapes and sizes. I prefer the 6" camping kind. They can be kept in drawers and are often found in first aid kits. You can also find glowstick bracelets and necklaces that are designed to be kid friendly. Our local Target sells tubes of bracelets- fifteen for $1. Not much light to read or pee by, but the kids love the novelty of them.
Glowsticks do have some safety concerns though. For one, if you let your neanderkid bend it back and forth, over and over, it won't get brighter. In fact, the plastic will crack and spray glowing liquid out. Sometimes into your kid's eyes. As long as no glass gets in, it isn't very serious. Maybe just a trip to the hospital E.R. to have the eye flushed. And the expelled glowstick liquid fades to invisibility on carpet and curtains after just a few days.
Glowsticks are also temperature sensitive. Leave one in the hot glovebox of your car and the plastic starts to break down. So that when you go to bend and crack one to life, it bursts open and sprays glowing chemicals all over the carpet. Better to keep your glowsticks in a cool, dark place. In fact, once activated, you can put them in the freezer to extend their life span an extra day or two.
There are other emergency light sources you can have around the dadcave and house. Expensive battery packs or battery powered emergency lighting. Flashlights that stay plugged into the wall until needed. Just remember that anything fancy is going to get broken once your kids get their hands on them. Stick to the cheap glowsticks and crank lights and you'll stay out of the darkness.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


After ten years of arguing, I finally convinced the wife that we should get a minivan. Actually, I gave up on one and wanted an SUV. She decided we'd have more room for our two kids and her parents, in the minivan.
I have to say, the minivan is pretty spectacular.
First off, we wisely chose not to pay depreciation- we got a 2005 van from Carmax, with their super-duper guarantee. Which means that for less than a new van, we got something that was fully loaded in 2005. Leather, heated seats, and ALL the extras. Yeah, it has a few miles, but with kids we put about 5000 miles a year on our vehicles. Used will last us quite a while.
But as much as I'm enjoying the minivan, with all that increased interior cargo space and old man-comfort, I have to take issue with something. The minivan's image. Even my wife remarked how a minivan is a woman's vehicle. Say what?!
Okay, for the record, my dream vehicle is a jacked up, AWD minivan with roll bars, off-road rally lights and all the luxuries. I want to be able to go anywhere, in Cadillac luxury. With plenty of room to spare. Our current ride falls a tad short of these goals: It's FWD, but does have traction control. No rally lights, but it has some tremendously bright fog lights. I realize in a roll over it wouldn't fare so well, but to be honest, I drive like a grandpa, so I don't envision any rollovers in the immediate future.
In looking online, I see there's lotsa hatin' goin' on for minivans. I can see where Jimbob Singlepants might prefer a 4x4 truck to haul carcasses around in the hunting season, but I don't have that need. Nor am I going through middle-age anxiety and need a car capable of being driven four times as fast as the legal speed limit. Nope, I'm a dad. I have two girls, a wife and a dog. I need more room than a truck can offer.
In my online research to determine the origins of minivan hate, I looked at a bunch of sites online. One, Why Minivans Suck sums it up in several ridiculous points:
1. They're too big
2. They're too big for drivers stuck behind them
3. They're full of screaming kids
4. The people who drive them have no business driving something that "big"
First off, when is big unmanly? And when do women EVER want to be considered big?
Should I care people behind me can't see? They can't see past tractor trailers either. Are they going to follow a big rig to a truckstop and tell the tobacky chawin' driver he's driving something better suited for soccer moms?
"Full" of screaming kids? Hey, it's a van, it can hold, volume-wise, way more than it has seats. My 91 Toyota Camry, that was "full" of screaming kids. Nowhere for the sound to go but in my ears where it began liquifying my brain. Thank God for the internal capacity of the minivan so I have some room for those bouncing banshee soundwaves.
There are loads of drivers on the road that shouldn't be. I don't think it matters one bit whether they're on a Japanese crotchrocket motorcycle, in a middle age super car or a big honkin' 4x4 with huge mudders. Most people don't buy their vehicle based on need. At least, not until they become a parent. Then it's budget first, need second.
Minivans are not HUGE. They're mini. Duh. The vans of the 70s, like the Ford Econoline- those were huge vans. Minivans are much smaller and easier to operate, what with the 12 windows and oversized rear view mirrors. And who could possibly not see you in a minivan? No danger of being rear-ended.
Yes, Minivans do help moms. In our modern Mom-does-it-all-Dad's-a-boob society, the minivan could help with child and household chores. Like soccer practice and grocery shopping. But they do more. Much more.
When was the last time a mom ran down to Home Depot to buy a sheet of drywall to repair that hole in the wall caused by the rowdy kids? That's dad's job. And a sheet of 4 x 8 drywall fits in the back of a minivan much easier than the pick up truck, or Crown Victoria. And it stays dry.
What about the drive in? Surely dads go to that as well. Why take dad's truck, forcing the kids to ride (illegally) in the bed, when you can take the DVD entertainment system-on-wheels?
But the real decider for why minivans aren't just for mom goes back to the size. The internal size. Most moms are smaller than dads. Yet minivans can accomodate folks up to 6'4" tall. They have plenty of shoulder and elbow room. More than in any SUV I've ever ridden in (except maybe a Suburban). Why would a tiny mom need all that room?
Stow N Go seating? Why, throw in a tarp and I could put JimBob's deer carcass right in the back. Hopefully it will actually be dead when I do so.
Minivan's can accept trailer hitches. When was the last time you saw a mom launching a small boat for some fishing with the soccer team?
Do mom's need all those internal 12V adapters? My van has five! three up front! I know kids want to charge their Nintendo DS' on the go, but clearly gadgets fall much more in the dad domain, and my minivan expects the driver to have two gadgets just for him/herself.
Minivans aren't just for chicks. They're for families. They meet a need for space, luxury and utility quite nicely. And unless Mary Kay gives one out as a sales prize, I don't expect to be seeing any pink minivans anytime soon.

Thursday, January 06, 2011


Whether you're a new dad, or a dad starting out the new year, it's time to think about yourself. Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween before the New Year were all about the kids. But they're over. Now you've got a few quiet months with hopefully no yard work and some time to actually relax.

Do you have somewhere to do that?

Every dad needs a special place they can retreat to and unwind from the stress of work and parenting. Lately though, I'm seeing a lack of respect for dad. There's even a new show on one of the DIY channels that mocks Mancaves in favor of family rooms.

That's just preposterous.

Dads, we need our own place. We need a Dad Cave. A place we can call our own, do our own thing, but still be close enough by to help out when needed.

What makes the best dadcave? A basement. It's soundproofed, is easier to heat and cool due to it's semi-subterranean nature, and is fairly storm resistant- so all the cool crap you jam into it for your fatherly entertainment is sure to stay safe and sound.

Oh sure, you could opt for a Fortress of Solitude- an unattached garage- to spend your time in. It worked for Superman, right? Alas, while garages boast lots of cool tools and a sheltered place to work on the car, mower, etc., they lack the creature comforts of a basement. And a bathroom. And let's face it, in winter, you don't want to have to trudge even 20 feet out in the snow to go sit on the throne.

What about a den or library? These above ground retreats may have worked well for the Atomic Dad of the 1950s and 60s, but being above ground, it's easier access for the missus and pretty much guarantees frequent inspections, calls for cleaning and maybe even decorating from her. Best to sequester yourself below the surface where wives fear to tread.

But the best argument for a basement retreat? Batman has one.

Seriously, who is cooler than Batman? He's a billionaire playboy, with a batload of awesome gadgets, cars, motorcycles, boat and planes. He's a dad- albeit a single, adoptive one. He fights crime with no super powers. And unlike some armored, high tech playboys, he's not a drunk. Batman rules. Clearly, he is the coolest dad ever. Just ask Robin.

So now that you've seen the light and are ready to get rid of some of those boxes of crap the wife will never use again, claim a corner of the basement and start tricking out your very own dadcave. As you plan, keep a few things in mind:

BIGGER ISN'T BETTER. My pal recently built a new house and engineered this ginormous basement. I know he married a daughter of the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe, and has several dozen family over every weekend- thereby necessitating a large family room- but this works against him on those rare occasions it's just him and his own horde of wife and kids.

You can't get any private time in a vast cavern. A smaller space is easier to regulate temperature and doesn't invite people to come in and rain on your underground parade. You don't have a batmobile, -boat, -plane or a crime fighting lab, so you don't really need all that square footage. Just something big enough for a pool table, a dry bar and four or five of your closest pals to gather around the big screen TV.

IF THEY CAN REACH IT, IT WILL BREAK. Now that you have your own special room, you're likely tempted to start stocking it with all the cool crap your wife made you box up and put in the attic. Like old trophies, matchbox cars, or your childhood GI Joes. Bear in mind though that your neanderkids will come into the dadcave- especially when you're not home. If they can reach any of your prized possessions, they will touch, and more than likely, break them. Keep the valuable stuff up high.

IF IT CAN BE STAINED, IT WILL BE. Whether it's your kids, or your buddies after a few beers, there will be spills in the dadcave. If you don't mind stains, go ahead and put in white carpet and get a comfy cloth recliner. If you want to not have to spend more time and effort than a shop vac requires to operate, go for leather furniture and dark carpets or tiled floors. I prefer the dark, indoor/outdoor carpet, as it helps absorb sound when the kids won't shut up while I'm watching TV.

CREATURES WANT COMFORT. If you get your way, you're going to be spending a lot of time in the dadcave. So you want to be comfortable. Archie Bunker, Al Bundy, Homer Simpson- they all understood the need for somewhere comfortable to sit. Even if the power goes out, squirrels gnaw through the cable lines or a low flying plane knocks out your satellite, you've still got somewhere to sit. Preferably a recliner, so you can sleep there too. I also recommend a blanket and small pillow within arm's reach in case you just decide to take an extended winter's nap.

THE ELECTRONIC WINDOW SEES ALL. Captain Kirk didn't sit in front of a window on the Enterprise. Batman doesn't read telegrams from around Gotham. You need a TV to stay in touch with, or retreat from, the world. Preferably one connected to cable or satellite, the internet and a gaming system of some kind. Before you pump a lot of money into a TV big enough to serve as a dining room table, bear in mind you also need surround sound (to drown out the wife and kids) and a DVD or Bluray for those cable/satellite outage periods. And you don't need a humongous TV. Sit a little closer to that 42" TV and it looks bigger.

A DAD TRAVELS ON HIS STOMACH. Why walk up the stairs to get food when you could have a micro kitchen next to the TV? A simple dry bar with microwave, dorm refrigerator and even a George Foreman grill allows you to maintain a stockpile of food and drinks within arm's reach. And forget putting in a sink. That means plumbing, and plumbing means leaks. Paper plates and plastic cups and utensils work fine at picnics and will do just as well in your basement. Trust me- the first time you can grill burgers while watching the big game, you'll never want to go outside again.

SHELVES ARE MADE OF WOOD. All that cool electronics and creature comforts are going to get expensive. So you need to save where you can. Sure, sure, you could go buy some fancy book cases made of intricately-bent wire and tube steel, but really, why bother? Just run down to the local home-supply store and buy a minivan-full of 1x8s and some wood screws. Throw in a drill and saw, and in no time you'll have custom-fitted shelves for little to no expense. They may not look as nice as the wife's coordinated living room suite, but once you stack all your trinkets, movies and games on them, they'll look just fine.

CAVES ARE DARK FOR A REASON. If you were performing surgeries, or constructing intricate electronic components, lots of light might be helpful in the dadcave. But you're going to be sitting back, relaxing and watching the boob tube. It makes its own light. Don't go overboard with track lighting and reading lights and all that girly nonsense. Throw in a couple of lights with the switch near your recliner (or install a remote control) and you're gold. All you need to be able to see is where you put the remotes.

THEY'RE CALLED "OUTHOUSES" FOR A REASON. Yes, it might seem like a good idea to have one of Thomas Crapper's flushing toilets nearby, but is it really? Do want to do your business, then have to sit in the smell of it while watching TV? Far better to leave the dadcave, go upstairs and do your dirty deeds elsewhere. And imagine if you have the guys over. Do you really want to smell what you fed them? Keep the bathroom as far from the dadcave as possible. Preferably on another floor. Plus, then your wife will clean it.

TWO CAVES ARE BETTER THAN ONE. Once your dadcave is finished, it will be the coolest damn place in your home- at least to you and the neanderkids. Are you really ready to share and watch your manly retreat turn into a romper room littered with Barbie shoes and lego bricks? The best way to keep the dadcave yours is to build an adjoining playroom. Kids aren't so demanding, either. They don't need surround sound, and don't appreciate picture quality. Outfitting them with an older or smaller TV will often do the trick. Throw in your old Playstation 2 as combination DVD player/gaming system, and they're set. Put up a couple of dry erase boards on the walls, and the kids can do cave art to their hearts' content. But best of all, give the kids permission to make the playroom as messy as they want. Then when they leave their toys in the dadcave, you can fling them over to the playroom and the kids will never notice.


There you have it. The basics of good dadcave design. You can add more, or fancy it up if you must, but these are the minimum enhancements for an enjoyable winter hibernation.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Troglo 'View: George Foreman in My Basement

The Dadcave is a place where all dads can go and relax, yet still be available for the family. It's a secluded place with a comfortable chair, a big TV, snacks and a refrigerator for cold drinks. But what about some freshly-cooked meat? Do you really want to go outside to the charcoal grill, then back inside to watch your favorite show or sports event? Why not grill WHILE you watch TV?
That was my thought, so I purchased a George Foreman, 60 sq. inch, Lean Mean Grilling Machine. I got mine on sale at Target for $24.
Let's face it, Cheeseburgers are the ultimate man's food. No utensils are needed to eat them. They have bread, meat, cheese, and if you swing that way, veggies. It's all four food groups (meat, dairy, grains and plants) all in one compact package. And this electric grill proclaims to cook them with ease.
For me, charcoal is the only way to cook a burger. I like the burnt flavor of the wood, the singed, crispy outer shell of beef and the ability to lay my cheese on and start it melting before removal from the grill. George Foreman on the otherhand, is all about healthy eating, and draining off the liuid fat trapped inside burgers.
In 5 minutes, my 4 burgers came out reasonably well. Albeit a little less tasty than off the old Smokey Joe Weber Grill I keep outside. The fat had indeed been liquified and drained off the burgers. Something that didn't taste so good, but which dead mean I ended up with a clean shirt and recliner when I was done eating. And as an experiment, I overcooked a couple of burgers by one minute and was able to reasonably simulate the crispy, burnt outershell I like from from charcoaled burgers.
An added benefit of the grill was the delicious aroma in the dadcave. Forget that girly potpourri crap the wives always want to stink the house up with. My dadcave now smells like burgers. Mmmmmm.
Alas, George Foreman's grill is a bit messy afterwards. My dadcave sports a drybar- no sink for cleaning anything. So I'm going to have to carry the grill upstairs to clean it. But that can easily wait until the next day. My bar's big enough I can leave the grill out when done cooking, and still have room for bowls of chips, cups, or whatever food I need for my relaxtion.
Overall? It's no substitute for fire from charcoal, but the ease of use and convenience of grilling in the same room you relax in makes this a VERY worthwhile purchase. Cave-tested and Dad approved.