Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Toddlers Make the Best Dinner Guests

Are you planning a dinner party? Do you want it to be memorable? Yes? Well then, I've got a very important tip for you: Make sure you invite a toddler (or two.) Why? Because toddlers make the best dinner guests!

Here are just a few of the fun, exciting, and memorable things you can experience if you would just invite some toddlers to your dinner party:

*Who needs polite and interesting dinner conversation when you could be listening to a toddler scream "More boobies! More boobies!" over and over again? (And for added fun, don't explain to your dinner guests that when your toddler yells "boobies" what she really means is "blueberries.")

*Do you want to figure out which of your dinner guests are the smartest? It's certainly not the ones who choose to sit next to the toddler. (Unless, for some reason, they want to have food stains on their clothes.)

*Would you like your dinner guests to fall asleep at the table? It's a toddler specialty!

Did she fall asleep because of the food or the conversation?

*Is your favorite scene in the movie Animal House the food fight scene? You're in luck! Toddlers can fling food like you wouldn't believe!

*Do you want to see some of the most hard-line negotiating skills ever? It might go something like this:

ADULT: If you take one bite of this cheese, I'll give you a blueberry.
TODDLER: No! More boobies!
ADULT: But, you love cheese. I see you eat cheese all the time. You usually ask for cheese. If you just take one bite of cheese I'll give you a blueberry.
TODDLER: Noooooo!!! More boobies!!! More boobies!!!
ADULT: If you just touch the cheese I'll give you a blueberry.
TODDLER: Boobies!!! Boobies!!!
ADULT: I'm sorry, but I can't give you a blueberry unless you eat some cheese.
TODDLER: Nooooooooooooooo!!!!!! Boobies!!! Boobies!!! Boobies!!! Boobies!!! Boobies!!! Boo...
ADULT: Fine. Here, have a blueberry.
TODDLER: Boobies!!! (Smiles and eats the blueberry.)
ADULT: Now, will you eat some cheese?
TODDLER: More boobies! More boobies!

*Have you ever had someone poop in their chair at a dinner party? Invite a toddler and it'll probably happen.

*Will any of your other dinner guests wear their plate as a hat, or comb their hair with a fork? Not likely.

Plus, you'll know the food was good if the toddler licks the plate!
So, yes, if you want people to be talking about your dinner party for days (saying things like, "How did I get mashed potatoes on the back of my shirt?") be sure to invite a toddler.

Because toddlers make the best dinner guests!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Civil Debate

Golly, politics sure are divisive these days! Everywhere you turn people are yelling and screaming at each other because of their differing views. Good debate can be a healthy thing every once in a while, but people seem to be taking it too far.

Wouldn't it be great if we had some topics that people could debate about that weren't so life or death? Here are a few topics we can argue about and still be somewhat civil:

Coke vs. Pepsi--People have some very strong feelings on both sides here. I had one friend who drank Coke and said that Pepsi "tastes like gasoline." Personally, I don't really have much of a preference; as long as it has carbonation, I'll drink it. I guess if I really had to choose I'd go with Coke, because "Vanilla Coke" just sounds better than "Vanilla Pepsi."

Batman vs. Superman--Batman is fantastic. He has done a great job of reaching his full potential. He gets an A for effort. But, come on, Superman can fly, has super-strength, super-speed, and can see through things! Besides, I'd much rather spend my free time with Lois Lane than Robin.

Beatles vs. Rolling Stones--I can't believe this was ever a question. The Beatles are soooo much better in every imaginable way, with the lone exception of lip size, which goes to Mick Jagger. Comparing the Rolling Stones to the Beatles is like comparing Spam to a Honeybaked Ham.

Star Wars vs. Star Trek--Personally, I've always been a Star Trek guy, but it's getting harder and harder to say that. When it's done right, Star Trek is fantastic. Unfortunately, it hasn't been done right since Deep Space Nine and possibly Voyager left the airwaves. Enterprise was a bore, and the less said about the movie Star Trek: Nemesis the better. (Space dune buggies? Romulan vampires? Oh look, they found Data's head...again!) And the reboot movies with a new cast have been hit and miss at best.

The first trilogy of Star Wars movies was great, but the three prequel movies were about as blah as blah can be. (Oh, sure, you can find some people who like them, but you can also find people who think the Transformers movies are good.) However, with the high quality of The Force Awakens and Rogue One, Star Wars is threatening to take over the universe. (Or at least this corner of the empire.)

7-Up vs. Sprite--I've always preferred Sprite over 7-Up. I think maybe it's the "limon" commercials from the 1970s. But, I used to think Slice was better than both of them. And then Slice was discontinued and replaced with Sierra Mist, and it was better than Sprite and 7-Up. And now, according to the interwebs, Sierra Mist has changed its name to Twist Mist. I give up, I'll just have a Sprite.

Democrats vs. Republicans--Oops! This was what we were trying to avoid. Sorry.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

5 Things To Do While Your Kids Nap

There is going to be a total eclipse of the sun visible across much of the United States in August of 2017. This is a pretty rare occasion; the last time it happened was 26 years ago.

Do you know what else is so rare that it only happens once or twice in a lifetime? All the kids actually napping at the same time! If you have more than one child, and all of those children are asleep at the same time, this is an occurrence that is about as rare as an eclipse. You need to cherish and take every advantage of the situation, before one or all of them wake up!

Nap time! 

Here are 5 things you can do while your kids nap:

1. Take a shower/bath--Let's face it, you probably stink. Because of your multiple kids, you don't get to shower as often as you'd like, and when you do you're rushed. When was the last time you had a good, long soak in the tub. Now is the time to enjoy it. And maybe, just maybe, you can get through an entire shower and/or bath without a toddler flinging open the shower curtain and reciting to you the names of all the body parts they know.

2. Watch an adult-ish show--Is there that one show you've been wanting to watch, but it contains so much violence and/or sexual situations that you don't dare view it with the kids around? Well, now's your chance! Yes, that's right, you can finally watch the evening news. (Oh, and there might be some other shows you'll want to see, too.)

3. Eat from your hidden stash of goodies--Admit it, we all have food that we want to eat but we don't want our kids to eat. We'll usually either hide it from the kids, or make up some reason to tell them why they can't eat it. Eat it now while they're asleep. This might be your only opportunity to eat that brownie without a toddler begging like a street urchin.

4. Work on that project you've been wanting to get done--Most of us have something that we'd like to be doing if we just had a little more time. With the kids asleep, this is the time to build that desk, restore that old car, write that novel, or even just play a video game uninterrupted.

5. Nap--All of these other ideas are great, but it doesn't really matter what you plan to do while the kids are napping, because if you sit still for five seconds the chances are good that you'll be napping, too. If they are actually tired enough to sleep, there's little doubt that you are tired enough to sleep, too. So, go ahead and get rested up; you'll need all that energy to make it to the next eclipse.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I Am Boycotting Trump's Inauguration

I would like to announce that I have decided to boycott the inauguration of President Donald Trump. I will not attend the ceremony for several reasons, including:

1. I was not invited.

2. Airplane tickets are expensive.

3. I don't want to drive to the airport in the snow.

4. I've heard all the good inauguration gowns are sold out.

5. I don't drive a motorcycle, so would feel unqualified to be part of the "wall of meat" protecting Trump from protesters.

6. Still a little miffed he didn't pick me, my wife, or my mother-in-law as Secretary of Education.

7. Cancelled my plans when I heard the Bruce Springsteen cover band dropped out.

8. Was hoping to get autographs of all 435 members of Congress, but since so many Democrats won't be there, why bother?

9. Slightly confused about the location. Is the inauguration happening in Washington or Moscow?

10. Not sure if they'll still honor the tickets for Hillary's inauguration that I pre-purchased back in October.

11. I figure I'll just binge watch the entire presidency after it's over on Hulu or Netflix some weekend when I have the time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

4 Kids Are More Kids Than 2 Kids

Once upon a time, The Wife and I got married. And then we had two kids. Life was good. The two kids kept us busy. We did all the things people do with their kids. We fed them, we played with them, we potty-trained them, we taught them to read, we started sending them to school. Life was wonderful with our two kids.

And then, for some crazy reason, we had two more kids. That's when we learned a valuable lesson: Four kids are more kids than two kids!

Our first two kids (Thing 1 and Thing 2) are ages 8, and 6. Our next two kids (Thing 3 and Thing 4) are ages 2 years, and 8 months. There is a four and a half year gap between Thing 2 and Thing 3. During those four and a half years, we slowly learned how to take care of two kids. Two kids take a lot of work and effort. But, we were managing it. We had a fairly good handle on raising two kids.

And then, within less than 18 months of each other, we had two more kids. Wow, those two extra kids make a difference! Four kids are more kids than two kids.

With four kids, life is just a blur.

With two kids, as parents you can play man-to-man defense. You can split up and each take one kid, and you'll have both kids covered. With four kids, that's not possible anymore. If you try to each handle a kid one-on-one, that will leave two kids completely uncovered and free to engage in whatever mischief or tomfoolery they wish. That's when walls get covered in crayon and toys get flushed down the toilet. (Or, worse yet, part-way down the toilet.)

This past summer we went on our first big vacation since we increased the herd to four kids. Oh my! It was really drilled home to me that four kids are more kids than two kids. We were at a family reunion which featured many more kids than just our four kids. Do you know how hard it is for two people to keep track of four kids in a roving group of twenty kids? I do. The answer is: Very.

We were quite lucky that my wife's parents came along on the vacation. Most people would find it horrifying to bring their in-laws along on a vacation. Not me! Grammy and PopPop saved the day on many occasions. Without them we very well may have left one of our kids at the beach, or in a Chevron restroom somewhere near the freeway. And if not, we would at least have wanted to leave one of them.

I'm slowly getting a handle on dealing with four kids instead of two kids, but it hasn't been easy. Amazingly, some people have even more than four kids! I don't know how they do it. Because eight kids are more kids than six kids. And six kids are more kids than four kids. And four kids are more kids than two kids. And me, I can barely handle one kid at a time.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Mystery of the Shrinking Toilet Paper

We all use toilet paper. (I hope.) But it's not something we talk about very often. Toilet paper and how we use it is not generally considered a proper topic of polite conversation. So, I hope you'll pardon me if I broach this subject today, and I apologize if my talk gets a little graphic.

Recently I was using some toilet paper in the way in which it is meant to be used. As I was doing so, I realized that something wasn't quite right. It seemed the normal amount of toilet paper wasn't doing the job that it usually did. What was the problem? Was my butt getting bigger? I guess that was possible, but not very likely, especially since my favorite donut shop closed down a while back. (I'll have to find a new place to get my apple fritters.)

So, if my butt wasn't getting bigger, what could the problem be? I wasn't sure, but then I remembered that we had recently purchased a new package of toilet paper. I didn't think much of it at first, because it was a name brand, and I was pretty sure it was the same brand we had just been using. Butt, I could tell something was different.

After I finished my business, I went to the other bathroom and tracked down a roll of the previous toilet paper. I compared the two rolls, and the difference was staggering:

The new roll was a full half-inch shorter (or less wide) than the old roll! That's quite a difference.

I looked at the packaging on the new roll, and it touted the many advantages of this product. "Ultra Soft," "4 rolls in 1," and "MEGA." (I'm a bit confused. Does "MEGA" mean "smaller?")

That's great, Mr. Bear, but next time try using that tape to measure height instead of circumference.

The packaging did not, however, claim: "Now with new, smaller rolls!" Or, "New and improved with less width!" Or, "It'll make your hands look so much bigger!" And while these claims may seem crazy to tout, this particular company has a history of some rather odd advertising choices. For years their spokesman was a creepy grocery store clerk with an obsession for squeezing toilet paper. And now their ads feature bears who poop in the woods, but wipe their bums with toilet paper.

Does a bear poop in the woods? And if so, what toilet paper does it use?
So, I guess the moral of this story is to stay vigilant. If they try to slip shrunken toilet paper by us, what will be next? (They better not try to make my apple fritters smaller!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I Have Become My Mother

I love my mother. She's a wonderful woman. She brought me into the world. She raised me and taught me not to talk with my mouth full, not to burp at the table, and not to go swimming until at least one hour after eating. She helped make me the man I am today. She loves me very much.

And sometimes, she even remembers what my name is.

My name is Joe. I have one brother; his name is John. And, unfortunately, for as long as I can remember my Mom frequently calls us by the wrong name. She calls me John almost as often as she calls me Joe. (If I had a nickel for every time my Mom called me John instead of Joe, I'd have half as much money as I would if I had a dime for every time my Mom called me John instead of Joe!) (That's a little math humor for you.)

And, as her sons, John and I have the responsibility to tease my Mom mercilessly about this. Over the years we have teased her about not getting our names straight seemingly innumerable times. (If I had a quarter for every time....)

On the left, with the skinny tie, is John/Joe.
On the right, with the not-quite-so skinny tie and mustache, is John/Joe
(That's Mom in the middle.)
But now, the tables have turned a bit. I am a father, and I have four kids. We have two boys and we have two girls. And yes, you guessed it, I have started to call them by the wrong name. Frequently. Some might say it's poetic justice for all the grief I've thrown my Mom's direction over the years.

Oftentimes I'll catch myself halfway in to calling one of my kids by the wrong name, so I'll correct myself in midstream, giving my kids weird hybrid names. As an example, if the names of my boys were Chachi and Roger, I might often find myself calling them "Cha-Roger" or "Ro-Chachi." Or if the names of my girls were Tammy and Wendy, I would probably call them "Ta-Wendy" and/or "We-Tammy." Sometimes I might even cross genders and go with a "Cha-Tammy," "Ta-Roger," "Ro-Wendy," or maybe even something like a "Ta-We-Ro-Chachi." There are a myriad of possibilities, and I've ended up using most of them.

When I told my wife what I was writing about this morning, she said, "And then there are the times you don't catch it at all, and you call the kid totally by the wrong name and don't even notice it." I'm sure this isn't true. I would never call my child by the wrong name. It's not in my nature. And if, by some strange happenstance I did call a child by the wrong name, I'd find some way to blame it on my Mom. It's the genetics.

So, yes, I have become my mother. The question is, the next time she calls me John, should I cut her some slack? Maybe. (I just wish I had a dollar for every time....)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Beware the Cat-Toads!

Maybe I should take my wife to Vegas. (She's really been on a roll lately.)

I've been a football fan for as long as I can remember. I enjoy predicting who I think is going to win, looking forward to possible playoff match-ups, and even actually watching the games. But, I had always avoided playing fantasy football. Mostly because I didn't want to become one of those people.

Fantasy football people will spend hours talking about their fantasy football teams. They'll openly root for players from teams that are rivals of their favorite team, which just seems wrong. Plus, I'm tired of stupid fantasy football stats scrolling across the bottom of the screen during the game. (The bottom of the screen scroll should only be used for game scores and/or Kardashian updates.)

But then, before this season, my brother and my niece, both seasoned fantasy football players, asked if I would be interested in joining a fantasy league featuring just our family, and I finally took the plunge. There were a few openings for teams, so The Wife, Thing 1 (my eight year-old daughter), and I each got a team.

The Wife said she would play, "as long as I get Tom Brady on my team." Well, since so many of us had never played fantasy football before, and since we couldn't schedule an evening to get together to do a traditional fantasy football draft, we just let ESPN pick the players for each team at random. With ten teams in the league, that meant The Wife had a one-in-ten chance of getting Tom Brady. Of course, she got Tom Brady. (The rest of us should have known we were in trouble at that point.)

One of the funnest things about fantasy football is picking out a name for your team. I asked my daughter what she would like to call her team. With very little hesitation she said, "The Pretend World Fairies." I was so proud of her! What an excellent name! When I asked her, "Why the 'Pretend World Fairies,'" she said, "Well, it's fantasy football, right? So, they're just pretend teams living in pretend world." Can't argue with that.

Not to be outdone, The Wife asked Thing 2 (our six year-old son) to pick a name for her team. He said, "The Cat-Toads!" Thing 2 has trouble pronouncing the letter "r," so for a moment I thought he had said, "The Cat-Turds," which would have been a great name, too. But no, he explained that they were half cats and half toads: The Cat-Toads.

The Cat-Toads: they claw like a cat and hop like a toad!
As the season began, I was managing my team ("Donuts Forever,") and the Pretend World Fairies, because Thing 1 didn't have unfettered internet access. And, because The Wife wasn't too interested, I did much of the week to week running of the Cat-Toads, as well. But, I would consult with The Wife as to which players she wanted to start. She usually made very wise choices.

As the season went on, no one could beat the Cat-Toads. They had a few close games, but usually crushed the opposition. Meanwhile, my team struggled through a four-game losing streak, and the Pretend World Fairies mostly floundered. (Thanks for nothing, Todd Gurley!)

When the regular season ended, the Cat-Toads were in first place, still undefeated. My Donuts Forever team scraped their way into third place, and the Pretend World Fairies finished ninth out of ten teams. After winning in the first round of the playoffs, it was The Wife's Cat-Toads squaring off against my Donuts Forever for the championship. I started off well, but then Tom Brady had yet another great game and not even Zach Zenner could save my team. (Who is Zach Zenner? The heck if I know!)

If only David Johnson hadn't gotten hurt in the first quarter of the last game....
So, the Cat-Toads finished the season undefeated, champions of the league!

I'd be surprised, but this isn't the first time The Wife has done well in this type of thing. This spring she correctly predicted the winner and runner-up in the NCAA Basketball tournament, finishing in the 100th percentile of the 13 million people who filled out brackets on ESPN.com! She's definitely on a roll.

Unfortunately, she considers gambling a vice, and doesn't want to take her talents to Vegas. Oh well, at least I get to enjoy her perfection here in the comfort of our own home.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

This Is How NOT To Do a Snow Day!

There's nothing quite like a snow day!

Back when I was a kid, if we got a lot of snow we would huddle together around the radio and listen carefully, hoping that our school would make the magical list of school closures. The DJ would read through a list of schools that were closed. When he would finally read the name of our school, shouts of joy echoed through the whole neighborhood.

These days, there's no more sitting around the radio; school closures are announced via the internet and robo-calls. It's much more efficient. Or at least it should be.

We got a lot of snow over the last couple of days, and the way the school district handled it is a perfect example of how NOT to do a snow day. Here's a little running diary of how the morning went:

5:00 AM: Got up and out of bed early so I could be sure to have our driveway shoveled before The Wife has to leave for work.

Between 5:00 AM and 6:45 AM: The Wife frequently checks the interwebs to see if there are any updates on whether there will be school or not. Everything points to school as usual.

6:45 AM: The kids (Thing 1 and Thing 2) get out of bed and start to get ready for school. (It's the first day back after Christmas vacation, and they are pretty excited to go to school.)

6:47 AM: We get phone calls on my cell phone, our home phone, and The Wife's cell phone, telling us that despite the snow, it will be a regular school day.

7:03 AM: We get another call from the school district (on all three phones) telling us that, because of the snow, all schools in the district will be delayed for two hours. Buses will still run, but they will be running two hours later than usual. So, everything has changed from the message we got just 16 minutes ago.

This is all well and good except that many of the buses are already running, and many students have already been picked up by the buses. Also, many of the teachers have already left for work and will arrive to find school postponed for two hours.

7:05 AM: The Wife, who is a school teacher, debates about waiting two hours before going in to work, but realizes there will be kids from those early buses who will be at school and need some kind of adult supervision.

7:24 AM: After gathering up a few fun "busy-work" things to entertain the students (origami; Spirograph,) The Wife heads to school, a few minutes later than usual, but still two hours before school is supposed to start.

7:47 AM: Get another call from the school district re-confirming that school will be on a two hour delay.

8:25 AM: The time the bus usually picks up Thing 1 and Thing 2. Instead of standing at the bus stop, they are still here in the house. I try to convince them that if they do their chores now, they won't have to do them after school. After a bit of nagging from me, they finally work on their chores.

9:05 AM: I get a text from my wife telling me that someone in the neighborhood has told her that the bus will be coming at 9:25, which is one hour late and not the two hours late we were told by the robo-call. I quickly get Thing 1 and Thing 2 ready for school.

9:12 AM: The kids go out the door toward the bus stop. Most of the other neighborhood kids got the same message, and are waiting at the bus stop.

9:19 AM: A school bus pulls up to the bus stop. Since my kids are slowly walking in the snow, they are not yet at the bus stop. I yell out the door for them to hurry before the bus leaves.

9:20 AM: The other kids who were at the bus stop attempt to get on the bus, but are turned away. It turns out this is the high school/junior high bus, not the elementary school bus.

9:30 AM: My kids re-enter my house and ask for candy. Being a big softy, and since I made them trudge around in the snow for no reason, I let them have some.

10:05 AM: Once again I send my kids out to the bus stop. Whereas an hour ago there were about 20 kids at the bus stop, now there are only around a dozen.

10:20 AM: Still no bus. Several of the kids have left the bus stop and returned to their homes.

10:26 AM: The bus arrives!!! Thing 1 and Thing 2 get on the bus, along with the other three kids who waited it out. The long school-delayed nightmare is over (at least for me.)

Hooray for the bus!!! (Even if it's two hours late.)

I should say here that I have absolutely no ill will toward the bus drivers. They were out there, doing what they were told, driving in the miserable conditions. They did excellent work.

No, the problem lies with the school district. They need to make up their minds. It is pretty ridiculous to get a phone call telling you one thing (school as usual on schedule), then sixteen minutes later getting a phone call telling you something completely different (school on a two-hour delay.) The fact is that many buses, students, and teachers were already on their way to work when the call was made at 7:03 AM to delay school by two hours.

I realize it is difficult to know exactly what conditions will be, but any school delays or postponements need to be decided upon by 6:00 AM, before anyone actually leaves for school. If not, there will always be some students and/or teachers who will brave the weather, whether or not they actually need to do so.

With all the will-they-or-won't-they-and-when-will-they-if-they-do-it that was going on, all of the technical advances like the robo-calls and interwebs were rendered useless. It was better back in the old days when we huddled around the radio listening for the DJ to say our school's name.