Monthly Archives: February 2010

Mommy Wants A Wii

My Lovely Bride has declared that she would like a Wii for her birthday.

Wii boxWe debated getting a Wii for the children for Christmas (“To Wii, Or Not To Wii?”) and ended up deciding against it. I’m a big proponent of playing outside unless it’s wet, windy and below freezing (gotta have all three to justify playing inside; if two, we negotiate). As someone who can’t be left alone with a bag or Oreos, I was afraid my problem with limits would suck the entire family down the rabbit hole of wanting to play the thing endlessly. And create more whining: “Daddyyyyyyy, I wanna play Wiiiiiiiiiiii…”

Neighbors with kids the same age as ours got one last year, and they allow Wii only on weekends. Seems like a good policy, but I just couldn’t figure out how we were supposed to get any other Christmas presents for the kids when the Wii pretty much wiped out the gift budget. (“Sorry kids, there are no other presents because we spent all our money on the Wii.”) At least we had figured out that it would be a family present, not for one or the other kid, so maybe there wouldn’t be any “But it’s myyyyyy Wii!” After trying one out with my wife’s 8-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew, we realized that our 4-year-old could hardly operate the thing. (We tried a golf game.) So we held off on getting one.

One thing is for sure: we’re not shelling out $129 apiece for a Nintendo DS for the kids. They keep asking, especially after they our niece and nephew playing on theirs. That’s fine that they have theirs, but it’s not going to work for us. My wife and I finally came up with the party line: (1) We don’t care what your cousins have; we’re your parents, not theirs. (2) You play a DS by yourself; we want you to have games you play with others. (3) You’ll probably lose it. (If you can hook your DS up to somebody else’s, don’t tell me. It will undermine my argument, so I don’t want to know.)

Earlier this month when my wife visited her college pal Aruna for her dad’s funeral, they played  Wii with the whole family after the service. Everybody in the group from tweens to 40-somethings got in on the friendly competition – whooping and hollering as they raced cows to I-don’t-know-where. When my wife got back, she said what fun it would be if she and Aruna and Jen (their other best friend) could race cows together. I can just see these three professional women in their 30s in Boston, Baltimore and Portland, Oregon, hooting across a continent at each other as they race. (I’d need a few drinks first to not feel like a dork.)

These three friends don’t get together often, given how far they’re spread apart. And somehow I don’t see getting much traction with saying I’m saving for Daddy’s Motorcycle Fund. So now it’s a matter of finding the right mix of plain Wii, Wii Sports, Wii Play and enough accessories.

The idea would be that it’s Mommy’s Wii, so we can only play it when she’s home.

Wii will see.


What To Do Wednesday: Signs Of Spring

daffodil bulbs

We actually found signs of spring! Daffodil bulbs on February 24.

Desperate for an outside activity – and willfully ignoring the lingering mounds of snow and ice, plus a prediction for more tomorrow – the children and I set out this afternoon in search for signs of spring.

I first found the idea a year ago, when we were getting Your Big Backyard magazine from the National Wildlife Federation, publishers of Ranger Rick, which I remember getting as a kid. You can download a nine-space grid with things like daffodils, mud puddles, baby birds and tree buds.

We actually found some!

Once I forced the kids into their shoes and coats (Carla: “Ida wanna go outside!” Eddie: “But-Daaa-aaaaaaaad…..), the hunt was on. Our neighbor’s lilac bush revealed lots of anemic grey-green buds, and we found dozens of inch-high daffodils half a block away and across the street. Then I needed to step back inside to add milk to tonight’s pork chops with country gravy (Thanks, Cooking Light).

Naturally, by then, the kids didn’t want to come back in. (Carla: “Ida wanna go inside! Eddie: “But-Daaa-aaaaaaaad…..)

I’m So Bourgeois

toiletI just fired my twice-a-month housecleaner.

By voicemail.

Now I know what it means to be bourgeois in New Millennium America.

We first got housecleaners when I had been an at-home dad for a couple of years but was struggling to keep up with my domestic duties and a new infant. When you have a baby who naps 27 times a day, and it’s all you can do to get supper on the table every 24 hours, when are you supposed to run the vacuum cleaner? I gave in one day when my Lovely Bride told me, “I just have higher standards of cleanliness than you do.”

Angered and embarrassed, I hired a couple in their 60s to do the first two floors every two weeks. I am too much of a control freak – and too cheap – to have them do the third floor attic/guest room/home office or the basement playroom and bathroom.

I grew to resent them for making me pick the house up within an inch of its life every other Tuesday. I get the point – the more time they can spend vacuuming and scrubbing, rather than picking up toys, the cleaner my house gets in the end. But as the person who does all the pickup, almost always while trying to get lunches made and kids out the door to school, I came to dread housecleaning days.

A year ago, the 60-ish couple retired to their weekend home in Martinsville, Va., (who vacations there?) and handed me off to their 30-ish daughter. She was often late, never as thorough (the kitchen used to gleam when the couple was done – now I have to remind her to clean the toaster, say, or the microwave) and sometimes just didn’t show up. My wife was ready to fire her months ago, but I’m the one who has to make the phone call and face the questions about what was wrong. And I hate to disappoint anybody or give them reason to not like me.

 I once caught her in a lie, I think. She didn’t show up, and I called to ask if something was wrong. Her sister had died, she said, so I told her forget about cleaning that day and I would check in later in the month. A week later, her mother called to tell me (not to ask) that she was listing me as a reference for a cleaning job.

“I’m sorry to hear there was a death in the family,” I told her.

“What? Oh, my nephew died,” she said.

Not your daughter? I asked.

“I’d know if it was my own daughter who died!” she said.

I never did confront her daughter who cleaned our house. What would have been the point?

My own sister wisely pointed out to me that if I had found the most prompt, truthful, attentive and thorough housecleaner, the person probably was going to move on to more lucrative employment soon. Good point.

So I fired her. I called her at lunchtime today and left a message, because she never picks up.

I realize that I’m blessed just to be able to afford to pay someone to clean my house. And I’ve made more work for myself: there’s nobody else to blame for our toaster being a disgusting hive of cremated crumbs and charred cheese. Or for scum in the tub or grit on the floor. And I realize that I’m a whiny jerk to complain about the whole thing.

But finally, it’s done.

Road Trip Report: We Survived

map of KentuckyFourteen hundred miles, four days, countless car hours and one funeral later, Baltimore has never looked better. We got back Tuesday night at almost 11 p.m., and I’d never been happier to see man-high mounds of snow and ice.

The 700-mile drive there was astonishingly trouble-free. On Saturday after ballet class, we drove 425 miles in seven hours to Huntington, West Virginia. The kids were super-excited that I had found a hotel with an indoor pool. The 275-mile drive in about four hours Sunday landed us in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in time for a late lunch and a huggy Valentine’s Day reunion with my Lovely Bride. Riding up the elevator after we arrived, I pointed to the children and myself and told her “We’re your Valentines. No flowers or candy. Just us.” Understand what a risky maneuver this is for a husband. But she loved it.

I’m a control freak, and we really limit TV in our house, so as long as I was the sole driver, I held the borrowed portable DVD player in super-reserve for when I ran out of books, crayons and chewing gum. I figured if I got the thing out – aside from wasting 20 minutes of drive time setting it up – there went the ace up my sleeve.

I let the kids pick the gum and then doled it out one piece every hour or so. And thank goodness we had a 5-1/2-hour CD of “Little House on the Prairie,” but after four discs out of six, we had to switch to music and books for awhile. I only had to take away the art supplies box once, but it came during a nasty confluence of: (1) mountainous West Virginia driving, (2) snow accumulating on the interstate, (3) my ears plugged up from the altitude and a cold, (4) kids squabbling and (5) Lovely Bride on the cell phone (which I used with an ear bud).

I’m amazed at the strength I managed to find during this journey. But on the other hand, I’m not amazed at all. I had no choice. No-one else to administer snacks, manage books and CDs, help navigate, discipline children or help decide whether to detour through southern Ohio to avoid a snowy West Virginia forecast. A control freak’s dream. But after having a wife on travel for a week, no so much. My wife, sometimes a nervous flier, does the same thing when she travels by herself. When she’s in charge of booking the flight, renting the car and getting to the airport on time, she’s much calmer than when we do it together.

When it was time for the funeral on Monday, I gave the children a stern lecture demanding their best behavior ever. They know a funeral is a special church service for someone who has died, and I told them children aren’t normally allowed to go. We didn’t take them to my 90-year-old grandmother’s funeral last August, but a family friend babysat, so we had the option. This time, not so.

I’m amazed and proud to say our squirmy 4-year-old redhead and inquisitive 6-1/2-year-old rose to the occasion. As the family was ushered into the church from a side entrance, Carla held onto Granddaddy’s hand amid minor confusion over who would sit where. She stayed with him in the front row, while Eddie, my wife and I went to the next row. I told my wife that if Carla let out a single peep, I’d snatch her out of that service before she knew what hit her.

But the kids did beautifully. With no crayons, no books, no toys, no nothing. Carla sat on Granddaddy’s lap the whole time, raining happiness and distraction onto Grammy (it was her brother who had died).

Afterwards, I just about went to tears myself telling them how proud of them I was.

Then the questions started:

Carla: “Is Uncle Riley in a caution?”

Daddy: “Well, no, sweetie. You mean a coffin.”

Eddie: “What’s in that little box?” (The ashes were in a container half the size of a shoebox.)

Daddy: (out of earshot of Carla) terse, general and honest explanation of ashes left over after cremation. After my Granny died last summer, we talked about how we don’t need our bodies anymore after we die.

Driving home on Tuesday, my wife and I realized that 700 miles in a single day is our absolute maximum. With two 30-minute meal stops, it took almost 13 hours. Watching “Finding Nemo,” “Monsters Inc.,” “Schoolhouse Rocks!” and listening to “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White helped, but the best part was that I got to see my Lovely Bride for the first time in a week. In the 60 miles between Morgantown, West Virginia, and Frostburg, Maryland, harrowing snow almost forced us to find a motel for the night. But the lure of getting back to our own beds kept us going.

And as usual for any late-night drive, the children fell asleep less than an hour before we got home.

Road Trip Ready

We’re sitting outside Carla’s Saturday morning ballet class, while Eddie dives into “Runaway Ralph” by Beverly Cleary. The suitcase is packed for our trip to Kentucky for a funeral, and the car is loaded. The books/CDs/DVDs are selected, the car has two brand-new tires,  the house is clean(ish), the dog is in the care of neighbors, the map is marked, the hotel is booked and the toilet is unclogged. (I used all three of my neighbor’s plumbing snakes at 11:30 last night. Ugh.) We’re ready to go!

Then my father-in-law calls from Atlanta and tries to talk us out of the trip. They got four inches of snow last night, and roads are closed left and right. He warns me that it’s going to snow some through West Virginia, where we’re driving today.

I have tremendous respect for my father-in-law, and I strongly avoid prompting him to give me the raised eyebrow, which I just know he was giving me over the phone.  I told him I checked last night and it said 30 percent chance of flurries in West Virginia, which didn’t sound too threatening to me. And if we run into bad weather, we’ve got our AAA tourbook and will find the next motel and hunker down. Worst case scenario: we turn around and head back to Baltimore.

But considering that I just survived two blizzards in five days – plus a week of closed schools and a wife out of town — I’ll be darned if I’m going to let a few flakes of snow slow me down. Plus, I packed snacks, lunch, swimsuits and seem not to have forgotten anything. I almost relish the challenge to my SuperDadness. And I’m looking forward to seeing my wife’s extended family, whom we haven’t seen in so long.

Road trip, here we come!

7 Airports, 2 Blizzards, 2 Funerals and a 1,400-Mile Drive

Whenever my Lovely Bride goes on a business trip, I conjure up these lofty goals of getting all sorts of house projects done. I’ll touch up the basement bathroom, start crown molding in the living room, organize the basement storage area, etc. I’m like Charlie Brown accepting Lucy’s invitation to try to kick the football while she holds it. Persistent optimism gives way to head-smacking reality as none of it works out. I figure there will be no-one to talk to after the children go to bed, so I’ll have plenty of time to myself. I end up struggling just to keep up with the dishwasher.

This week, however, has been about survival. Just getting through each day.

My front yard and the neighors across the street were a winter wonderland or wasteland -- I'm not sure which.

Blizzard of '10

The snowpiles from the twin Blizzards of '10 are taller than I am. Ugh.

My wife was here for the first of two blizzards, which culminated wonderfully in 10 adults and 9 children and a snuggly infant in our house for a Saturday-night blizzard pot-luck. The second blizzard screwed up her return from business in Florida. She went from there straight to Oregon for the funeral of her best friend’s dad. (Good thing she threw her funeral outfit into her suitcase for Florida.) And the second storm just about broke me. After a plow squashed snow against my car just as I started to dig out, I threw down my shovel and stomped inside. God bless my neighbor who finished the job.

Then my wife’s uncle died, and now I’m packing to drive the children and me 700 miles to western Kentucky to meet her for the funeral on Monday. We’ll spread the trip there over two days, and the kids are excited – I found a place halfway there with an indoor pool and free breakfast. We stocked up on books on CD from the library (after negotiating some nasty late fees), and the kids are looking forward to listening to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie.” I’m looking forward to actress Cherry Jones taking 5-1/2 hours to read the thing, though it will launch countless questions about why Pa Ingalls never leaves the house without his gun. (“Little House in the Big Woods” was a hit when we drove the same distance to Atlanta for Thanksgiving with the in-laws.) We’re also borrowing the neighbors’ portable DVD player (the one who shoveled me out – and who’s walking the dog while we’re gone), so we’ll be alright.

(Here are two travel bingo games for kids: one for readers from Arthur of PBS and for non-readers.)

My Lovely Bride, meanwhile, is dealing with travel vertigo on a continental scale and washing out her socks in hotel bathrooms in four different cities. Over six days she will have flown from Baltimore to Tampa to West Palm Beach to Atlanta to Portland, Ore., to Chicago to Louisville, Ky. (Hurray for credit-card airline points. Boo for inflexible Delta Airlines.)  After her second funeral in four days, she gets to drive 700 miles home with the kids and me. We take our together time where we can find it, don’t we?

Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetie.

The Pillsbury Bake-Off, At-Home Dad Style

bread photo

Miss Janet's "Easy Real French Bread"

It was like the Pillsbury Bake-Off at my house the other week, and I was out to win the At-Home Dad category.

It started when I saw an article in Real Simple magazine titled something like “Yes, You Can Make Your Own Pie Crust.” Whenever I’ve tried before, it just didn’t turn out. And when I buy ready-made pie crust at the store, I end up with one extra that sits in the freezer for a year and a half until it’s useless. Or I fail to read the instructions until 5:30, and it says to let it warm to room temperature for an hour.

And last year, I sort-of made a New Year’s resolution to learn to work with yeast. I never know if my lukewarm water is hot enough to kill the yeast, too cold for it to do its yeasty thing or just right. (I know there’s no yeast in pie crust, but it’s in the same department. Prior to this, all I baked from scratch was biscuits. Love ‘em, but they’re boring after a while.)

Still daunted by the Real Simple recipe, I opted for the French bread recipe my mother made a lot when I was growing up. It only has five ingredients, so how could I go wrong? Really, it was just a matter of planning ahead to allow enough time (several hours) for it to rise. So as soon as I got my preschooler down for her afternoon nap, I hurried to the kitchen to mix it up. Then during afternoon snack time – after picking up my first-grader from elementary school – I punched the dough down to the kids’ delight: “Wham! Wham! Bad bread! Do you need a spanking? Smack! Smack!” It rose again until about 5, when it was getting dark and time to come in, it went into the oven.

Out it came, fresh-baked perfection!

The kids loved it. My wife loved it. The neighbors with the new baby who got the second loaf loved it.

Emboldened, I took on the Real Simple pie crust.

Miraculously, it turned out just fine. You make it a food processor, then plop it onto plastic wrap, shape it into a giant puck and chill it in the fridge. In previous attempts, the dough would stick to the counter. But doing it on plastic wrap made it easy to get into a nice shape. It ended making delicious pie crust that I made into a quiche. My children have been iffy on quiche in the past, but I tried to sell it as a ham omelet in a crust. They didn’t buy it. Ingrates.

I could have just stopped there, but I’m never one to leave well enough alone. Next, I made Parker House rolls. Previously, I wouldn’t know a Parker House roll from a biscuit in a can. I picked the Joy of Cooking recipe, which wasn’t complicated but was lengthy. But like the French bread recipe, it was a matter of planning for rise time.

The recipe made a batch of 18, which was about a dozen too many for the four of us at supper. The kids and wife loved them, but now my Lovely Bride is complaining that if the Pillsbury Bake-Off doesn’t end, she’s going to need bigger pants.

And in case I sound like a braggart with all of this, I share this only as means of encouragement. You, too, can bake! And your family will love it.

And to close, in honor of our family friend Miss Janet King, here’s the bread recipe, which originally appeared in 1983 in “Favorite Recipes Vol. 3” by the Women’s Club of King George, Va.

Janet’s Easy Real French Bread

1 pkg. (1 Tbsp.) dry yeast

2 c. lukewarm water

4 c. sifted all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp sugar

2 tsps. Salt

Dissolve yeast in 1 cup lukewarm water.

While yeast softens, sift flour, sugar and salt together in large bowl. Stir in yeast.

Add just enough of the second cup of water to hold dough together. Mix until you have a soft, rather sticky dough. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise until double (about 2 hours).

When high and spongy, punch down with your fist and give it a good sound beating with your hand.

Divide into two parts and place each in a greased 6-inch baking dish.

Cover again with cloth and let rise until it reaches top of casserole (about 1 hour).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Brush top with melted butter, and bake 30 to 40 minutes or until done.

Fine flavor and quite crusty.