Thursday, September 29, 2011

A VAN-tastic Weekend

What a weekend this past one was. Chock full of the perils of parenting and modern day life.

It began on Friday with a quick trip to the local Target to get a birthday card for our friends' little boy. He had a party the next day, and when we got his present earlier in the week, the wife forgot to pick out a card.

I didn't know it at the time, but that turned out to be a $250.00 card.

Saturday, we went to the party, leaving the hous elate as folks with kids so often do. We cruised up the interstate to our friends' house, arriving in their town on a quarter-tank of gas. Whoops. No problem, we pulled into the local Circle K for a fill up. Except the pumps wouldn't come on.

The thing I love most about using a debit card is not having to go into a gas station and stand in line like a schmuck. To get gas. Instead, I swipe at the pump, select my fuel, pump and go. It's awesome. Unless the people inside don't activate the pump. And instead turn it off. And you have to swipe your card three more times. Then you move to another pump, and it too takes your card, tells you to pump, but the idiots inside won't authorize the pump to start. That's annoying. And a good way to add 20 more minutes onto your lateness. Thankfully, there was a working gas station across the street.

The party was pretty standard fair for an 8 year old. Kids running around playing, no structured activities, while the parents sit around and talk. In this case the parents being my wife, her two female co-workers and one other husband. Myself and the other husband didn't say much.

The party over, we took our kids and headed home, stopping at a McDonalds for some cool drinks. In the case of my over-heated 6 year old, a chocoloate milk shake. Not a good idea.

Once home, me and the kids enjoyed a little TV then crashed on air matresses and sleeping bags on the basement movie room's floor about 11:00 PM. At 2:00 AM or so, my littlest sits up and does an admirable Linda Blair/Exorcist impersonation- vomiting all over her blankets, sheet and mattress. In my dadcave.

A half hour later, after disposing of he chocolate and hot dog chunks (and the sheet they were on), we were all cleaned up and the weekend basement camping resumed. Cause I needed my sleep since I'd be moving furniture on Sunday.

3:00AM or so, my littlest awoke again.. with dry heaves. Been there, done that. Just not from drinking chocolate milkshakes.

The next day, the furniture move commenced. It was time to get rid of the pee couch.

I never knew girls bedwet until my six year old started doing it on my recliner couch in the basement dadcave. Despite scotch guarding and a bottle of dog urine-removing enzymatic cleaner, my couch got ruined in the first few months of the year. I tried to mask the smell with Febreeze, and a couch cover, but that human urine smell just doesn't seem to go away. On top of that, the 12 year old couch finally gave out on one side, it's recliner mechanism buckling under my Shrek-sized mass. It was time for a new couch.

As luck would have it, a friend is getting married. He and his new wife have to reduce their two households to one. Which meant yardsale. And a gently-used couch and recliner. For me.

grabbing a buddy of mine and folding down the stow and go seats in the minivan, I began the move.

It was as I was opening the doors to the van at my engaged friend's home that I noticed the damage to my van. Parking lot hit and run. Maroon paint, from a maroon's car, down the passenger side of my van. Including a nice 6-inch groove in the body above the rear wheel well. How my wife and oldest daughter missed this getting in and out of the van is beyond me. But it was very clear: we got hit at Target. Friday.

After a bout of cursing, I got the couch in my van and headed home. Already pissed off, and not really wanting to carry the pee couch up my basement stairs, I broke out some wrenches and a hand saw and turned pee couch into three piece sectional to relieve some anger. it was also much easier to carry.

Then it was time to bring the new couch down.

Unfortunately, the new couch's narrowest measurement is 31". While my exterior door is 32" wide, the basement door is only 29.5". No couch in my basement. Nope. Now I'm stuck with a couch on my carport, waiting for someone to pick it up. I have a three piece pee couch in my front yard that hopefully the garbage men will take, and two recliners in my movie room... instead of a couch and two recliners.

But best of all... since no one identified the person who hit my van, I have to pay $250.00 in a deductible to get it fixed.


Many morals to this story:

Buy birthday cards and presents at the same time.

Don't park next to big trucks or SUVs at Target.

Don't rely on passengers to check their side of the car for damage when leaving a parking lot.

Don't get gas from Circle K.

Don't give an Overheated child a milkshake to drink.

Tell your Kids they need to chew their food more thoroughly so their puke is not so chunky.

Get the new furnture inside BEFORE chopping up or moving the old furniture.

Measure new furniture, and your doorways before making any purchase. Even from a yard sale.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fall is For Family Fun

Finally, the first day of Fall is here.
And with it comes the steady stream of family events.
Fall is so much better for families. There's no blistering heat nor freezing cold to deal with.
Your kids can't make you go swimming- it's too cold.
Food is abundant and so are food-centered, fall harvest-type events. Special foods become available in the Fall. Our favorite is Pumpkin-flavored ice cream. Grilling becomes a whole lot more enjoyable in the Fall. No more sitting by the hot grill, in blistering weather sweating while you wait for the meat to sizzle. Slip on a light jacket, enjoy the cool and savor the outdoor cooking time.
One of our particular favorite fall family events is the annual trip to the pumpkin patch. There we let the kids slop around in dirty fields, picking their pumpkins. Cost? Fairly cheap. No knick knacks to buy. No admission price. Just pay for the pumpkins. (And hopefully remember to bring bags to carry them in).
Even better, Fall trips are short ones. No extended road trips when the kids are back in school. Just short jaunts within your immediate driving area. And road trips aren't just shorter in Fall... the roads are less packed. With school back in session folks tend not to stray so far from home. Which means the amount of lost tourists passing through or visiting your town should hopefully drop off.
Fall has two family favorite holidays. Halloween and Thanksgiving. Halloween is great. Maybe a tad expensive with costumes and candy. But think of all the candy parents get to share- either in the form of leftovers you didn't hand out, or sharing in your own kids' gatherings. Thanksgiving? Who doesn't like the annual gorge-fest where we stuff our bird, then ourselves?
There's more time for families in Fall. The grass slows down it's growing, and yard work disappears. That means less time in the yard, and more time with the family... or TV.
New shows debut in the Fall. Not very many are famly-appropriate but there are always a few. Like this Sunday's "Terra Nova", about a family that journies back in time 83 million years. I plan to watch it with my kids and eat dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets while it's on.
Fall is great.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"It could be worse" are not words of sympathy

How many times have you heard the words "It could be worse"? How many times have you used them yourself? Worse still, how many times have you added an example of how things could be worse?
I'd like to propose that is just downright rude.
Take for example the current economic problems in our country. How many people out there are suffering from these tough times, and can do absolutely nothing about it? Except maybe complain. So they do complain- they lament that gasoline cost them so much, or that they can't take their kids on vacation, or any of a number of other monetary problems.
Should you really open your mouth and spew out "At least you've still got a job- things could be worse."
No. No, you should not.
Think about that last time your kid was crying in the store, demanding a toy and you told them no. For me, the answer I say no is usually because it's not in our budget and that our house is bursting with toys. We can't afford to buy the kids a toy every time we go to the store and they don't really have anywhere to put any more toys. But kids don't understand that- they don't see the difference between you buying stuff for you or the house, and not a toy for them. It's one of those things you have to teach your kids that really tries your patience.
So it goes like this:
Kid: "I want a toy!"
Parent: "No."
Kid: "I WANT A TOY!"
Parent: "No."
Kid: "Why not?!"
Parent: "We can't afford it." or "You don't need any more toys."
Kid: "But I need a toy!" or "I don't like my toys!"
Can you imagine if at this point you told your child "Be glad you have what toys you do have. There are kids in Africa with no toys. Or food. It could be worse- you could be like them."
A teenager might understand that logic. A twelve year old might. A five year old definitely won't. But whether they understand it is not the point. It's not what they want to hear.
"It could be worse" doesn't exactly ring sympathetic in any situation. I know the old addage "look for the silver lining" can be helpful, but you don't have to say it that way.
Think about it- why does anyone complain? To get comfort. Maybe in the form of that Barbie on sale, maybe from compassionate understanding from the person they are speaking to.
When my kids come to me with some complaint, or they are sad, I don't tell them "it could be worse". Or "suck it up". I listen to them, and maybe give them a hug, or a bowl of ice cream or something else to cheer them up.
Telling someone "it could be worse" is not comforting. Telling them "well, at least you've got your health" might be comforting, but probably not. Be like a bartender, or a therapist and just listen. That's all anyone really wants- someone to listen to their belly aching. It's even acceptable to chime in with your own, similar woes. Just make sure to acknowledge the other person's plight. Hugs or ice cream are optional.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sometimes the Grass Doesn't Want to be Cut


Cutting the grass. A horrible chore any dad would rather skip. But inevtiably, it has to be done- at least until the kids are old enough to do it. So there I was, ready to finally mow the front yard after putting it off for some time due to the record high temps, rain and a flu, cold and sinus infection all within a week of each other.

Knowing my riding mower was out of gas, I went out and got some.

I took the gas out to the mower itself. Uh-oh. Flat tire. Dammit. It seems like every time I use the mower, one tire is low. No problem. Can of fix-a-flat to the rescue.

I turned around to go open the gate from backyard to front... and there was a small tree in the way. A fallen tree. I didn't even know it had falled. But it was there, blocking the way. Not feeling like messing with the chainsaw, I got my bow saw and double-headed axe and chopped away enough to clear a path from shed to gate.

Rolled the mower out of the shed. Ah... a second tire is low, on it's way to being flat. Ah, well, once started, I could drive the mower around to the front of the house and break out my compressor.

If the mower would start. Nothing when I turned the key. If the grass wasn't so long, I'd have given up.

Turns out, it was just dirty contacts on the mower's battery cables. Once cleaned, they let the mower turn over. It sounded awful.

Check of the oil revealed why- very low. Luckily, I keep plenty of oil on hand for the cars- enough for each car to get one change at any time. So I borrowed some from one of our cars.

Finally, I got the mower going, and drove it around front. Got the compressor out from the carport and aired the tires up. I finally got started on the mowing.

I made one pass and the blades stopped turning. Turned out the belt had jumped off one of the pulleys. No problem, I was able to climb down and reconnect. Mowing resumed.

My front yard is divided into four sections: the main yard, then the part between sidewalk and street, barely 4 feet wide running across the front of the property, then a small sliver of yard to the right of the driveway, next to the neighbor, and finally a strip of grass up by the house, again separated by a sidewalk from the rest of the yard.

Main yard. Done. Front of house, done. Front strip by road. Done. Now it was time to move the wife's car that is parked in the grass beside the driveway- where a parking area should be paved, but which I have been putting off doing for years. Gotta move the car to mow it... and the wife's battery is dead. Nice. No problem, I'm pissed at this point, it's near dinner time. I'll mow around her car.

So I do. Or at least I start to. I carefully jockey the mower into position, disengaging the blades as I do so, so that I don't cut the neighbor's grass. Not because I would mind doing it, but because my neighbors are anal about how their yards look. Where as I'd happily replace my grass with sand, moss or even concrete.

Anyways, as I'm positioning my deck into just the right spot, I pull the lever to re-engage the blades. Nothing happens. I look down and there's a belt, broken and hanging out.

And that is quitting time.

Mower out of gas? Just a quick trip to the gas station.

Tree down? Cut it up.

Flat tire? Fill it up, or use the can of fix-a-flat every car shoudl have in it anyways.

Engine won't turn over? Clean the contacts.

No oil? Raid the supplies every garage should have.

Belt breaks? Go to the store and buy a new one. Unless you've had all these problems in one day, in which case it is time to yield to the couch gods and give up for the day.