Saturday, January 03, 2009

I'll reach for the stars. From my pillow.

You know what's cool? Touch screens on computers. Just wave a hand, point a finger, and get your computing done, without any of that typing or ... what's the verb for using a mouse? It's not "mousing," is it?

And now you don't have to get a superexpensive iPhone or specialized computer to get a touchscreen for your own computer, you can just order one right off the Internet. There's a website called "EnableMart" that sells touchscreens and a whole lot more, things that you can use to make sure that you or anyone can use a computer.

They've got not just touch screens, but computer trackballs, adjustable desks, ergonomic keyboards, even a "Kidtrac" trackball for kids to use as they begin learning how to work on a computer-- something they'll need to learn earlier and earlier, as computers become more and more prevalent.

Before I found their site, I never gave much thought at all to how to adapt a computer to varying needs -- like my own, with my hands getting stiff and crumbly as I get older and older, and my shoulders getting sore and my wrists getting crampy as I type. I thought there wasn't much to be done about that, but the keyboards and desks they offer mean that I can have a keyboard that makes it more comfortable to type, and a desk that can be raised up when I work at it and lowered when Sweetie does, so we can both be

They've got, too, a stand to use my computer while lying in bed, giving me yet another goal: that of reaching the day that I no longer need to get out of bed for anything!

Keep your dreams alive, I always say.

Question of the Day 23:

Does anyone really understand those little pop culture arrows & targets thing Entertainment Weekly uses?

Entertainment Weekly is one of two magazines I get, and the only one which I sit down and read the day it gets -- so you can see I'm using my $160,000 of education well -- and not long ago they began, I don't know, rating pop culture using a target and arrows and cryptic comments like "If we drink Kabbalah Water can we get arms like Madonna's," and I'm left in the dark as to whether pop culture considers that a good or bad thing.

Which sucks, because I really need to know if I am supposed to admire Madonna's arms/Kabbalah water or not -- and if it's the former, then I'm going to resign from pop culture. Can I do that?

I'll only ask for 98% of the profits.

Sometimes I'm just amazed at the good ideas out there -- good ideas that make me think wow, that's really clever and also wow, I've got no marketable skills whatsover.

Good ideas like "walkin tubs," which definitely beats my in the cupboard refrigerator for convenience and utility.

The "Walkin tub" from a place called "Remain Active" looks like any old bathtub, but it's got a water-tight door in the side, so that instead of having to climb in over the side of the tub, tricky for the young or the old or the handicapped, the bather can simply open the door, and...

...walk in.

Clever, right? Yes, it is. And they say it can be installed by any plumber and that the door is absolutely watertight and that it comes with a 10-year warranty. Plus, it can be ordered over the phone and online, which makes sense, I guess-- if you're in the market for a tub that's easy to get into, you also probably are not the kind of person that wants to get in the ol' F-150 and drive over to Home Depot and load that tub up yourself. All of which just helps emphasize the brilliance of this invention.

You can see it for yourself by following that link. I'm going to click over there again and see if they're interested in buying my "in the cupboard dishwasher" idea.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Question of the Day: 22.

Is pumpkin at all related to pumpernickel?

I only ask because I like to call the Babies! by vegetable-based nicknames from time-to-time -- my little artichokes, etc.-- and I tend to use pumpkin more often than not, and I tend to then interchange that with pumpernickel. Which then gets me to thinking, and thinking so hard that I kind of veer over into the other lane of traffic and cut a guy off.

But that might have been because I was plugging in my iPod, too.

Ninety-Four: Part Three-- Wherein I Digress Quite A Bit For No Apparent Reason But Get Back To The Subject Eventually .

Everyone has one year in their life that has a greater impact on them than any other year. Mine was 1994. Once a week, I'll recap that year. This is part three; find the table of contents here.

It would not be until a few years later, in Mexico, that I learned to distrust cab drivers.

When I first went to Washington, D.C., I'd never ridden in a taxi, period. Later, when Sweetie and I went to Mexico, I would take my second taxi ride, the one that would teach me to distrust taxis.

I would learn, in Mexico, to distrust taxis and taxi drivers simply because I learned on the way to Mexico to distrust travel agents. Sweetie and I went to Mexico in 1998 as a Christmas present to her, the Christmas present being all-inclusive trip to a resort in Puerto Vallarta for the two of us in the first week of January that year. Things got off to a bad start when we arrived at the Milwaukee airport to find out that contrary to what the travel agent had told us, we did need more than just a photo ID, we needed a notarized statement of one sort or the other -- a problem that plagued about 15 other people in our group, and a problem that was solved when someone phoned a notary public, who came to the airport at 4 a.m. and notarized a bunch of hasty, hand-written statements affirming that we were Americans or something.

The notary charged us $50 each for that service, and to this day I am convinced that the notary is related to the travel agent, or I would be convinced of that except that the travel agent was clearly too inept to have worked out a clever scheme like that, since the travel agent could not successfully pack our ticket packets.

She had given me the ticket packets and assured me that "everything you need is in here," everything I needed apparently not including the bus voucher for the tour bus that would take us to our hotel once we arrived in Mexico, a country where we knew nobody and did not speak the language beyond the two most-necessary Spanish phrases I had memorized in high school:

"Dos cervezas mas, por favor."


"Donde esta el cuarto de bano?"

I also knew this one: Hable despacio, por favor, which means "Speak more slowly, please," a phrase that is of dubious utility because no matter how slowly the person would speak, I still would not understand Spanish, a fact that must have been apparent on my face because when I tried to get on the bus to take our group to the hotel, a man stopped me and said something in Spanish. I mentally flicked through the three phrases I knew, decided I did not at that moment need a beer or the bathroom, and said "Hable despacio por favor," and he said, more slowly, but in English: "You need a voucher to get on this bus."

So I took out our ticket packets, which I'd kept in my carry-on bag throughout the trip, the carry-on I'd had to keep on my lap because we were seated in the last row of the plane and I hadn't been able to find a place to put it and I couldn't put it on the seats next to me because one of those seats had Sweetie in it and another had a guy who was reading Playboy magazine...

... right there in the open! He had sat down next to me, and when the plane took off, he'd opened up his own carry-on and pulled out a couple of magazines, the first of which was Playboy, and he'd proceeded to spend 30 or 40 minutes of the flight flipping through various nude and semi-nude pictorials, something I would have found far more entertaining if (a) Sweetie wasn't sitting right next to me and (b) it wasn't so creepy to be looking at naked women over someone's shoulder...

And I fumbled through the ticket packets, taking out one multi-colored slip of paper after another and showing it to Mr. Hable Despacio and having him shake his head at each one, until it became clear that we didn't have a bus voucher at all. I asked him how we were supposed to get to the hotel, and he pointed at a row of taxis outside the little airport.

So we loaded our stuff into a taxi, and asked the driver to take us to the hotel, which he did, and he charged us $22 for the ride.

"Man, things are expensive in Mexico," I said to Sweetie as we went to check in (me hoping desperately that we didn't need a hotel voucher or something, since so far we had not had any of the paperwork necessary, really, to take this trip) and I'd set aside $25 for the cab ride back to the airport at the end of the week, $25 I wouldn't need because when we did take the cab ride back to the airport at the end of the week, that cabdriver, a new guy and one who was not inclined to take advantage of Americans, told me it was only $2 for the drive from the hotel to the airport.

But that was still four years in the future as I dragged my luggage rack with my cardboard box and backpack and suitcase on it through Union Station in Washington, D.C., in January, wandering around bewildered while I tried to figure out where I was and where it was I was supposed to go.

Up until the moment I'd gotten off the train in Union Station, in fact, I had not given a single moment's thought to what I'd do when I got to Washington. I was, I suppose, very naive about traveling because all of my traveling up until that point had been done with my parents doing all the arrangements. So although I was 25 years old, and had been a fair number of places, I'd never made the arrangements to go to those places myself; as far as I was concerned, people announced that they were going somewhere, then they went there and all the things were ready for them. Maps were mapped, hotels were reserved, attractions were located, tickets were purchased, and it all happened magically so that all I had to do was load my books and walkman and cassette tapes up and then I'd be taken to the exact place I needed to go.

That, combined with the fact that 80% of my life had been spent in a town of less than 10,000 people, a town where the big attractions were either the skating rink or "Rudy The Llama" behind the A&W drive-in -- Rudy was a live llama that lived in a pen up by the A&W drive-in, when A&W still had drive-ins and Hartland, the town I grew up in still had an A&W. Rudy was right between the A&W and the "Red Owl" grocery stores, and we used to go periodically to have root-beer floats and pet Rudy, heeding the warnings from my mom not to stay too long or get Rudy mad because llamas can spit really far, so we'd go and try to pet Rudy and feed him grass through the fence and secretly hope that he'd spit, but not on us.

When you grow up and live in a town that small, finding your way around is not a problem; it's hard to get lost riding your bike to the ice cream shop to play "Centipede."

The other 20% of my life I'd lived in Milwaukee, but even in Milwaukee I'd not gotten out a whole lot: I went from my apartment to the Subway and the movie theater I worked at, or from my apartment to the college campus, or from my apartment to the used book store where one summer I bought and read every book Anne Tyler and Kurt Vonnegut had ever written -- that was a pretty depressing summer, after the fact, as those two writers are not what you'd call upbeat-- and I hadn't gone and done much else in Milwaukee, at all. As far as I could tell from my experience, Milwaukee had about three businesses and a college campus and a bus line to get to them.

So stepping off the train and into Union Station was both a thrill and a surprise and an instant education, one that was necessary because I didn't even know how to get from the train part of the station all the way up to the street, and because Union Station once I got away from the train part of the station was not just a train station like I was used to-- "used to" being a relative term, since at that point Union Station was only the third train station I'd seen in my life, the first two being Milwaukee's and Chicago's, but given how new and scary and bewildering everything else was already, I felt like I had to be an expert in something, so I decided to be an expert in train stations, with Union Station being my third, and using my newfound expertise, I decided that Union Station was confusing.

I also decided, then and there, to quit smoking. That might not seem to be the best time to make such a major decision, but I made it anyway. I had my cigarettes and lighter in my pocket, and I was tugging my cart and looking for a place where I coul have a cigarette, and I decided that when I finished that pack of cigarettes, I was not going to ever smoke again.

I'd been smoking for about 8 years at that point and had never seriously tried to quit. That was the first time I would decide that smoking was over for me.

Spoiler Alert: It wasn't the last. It wasn't even the last time I'd decide to quit smoking that week. But it was the first, and that was kind of a big step for me.

The reason, I think, that I first decided to quit smoking then and there, and that I then decided to feel really good about that, was to exert a little control over things that were clearly getting out of hand in my life. Just a few hours earlier, less than a day earlier, I'd been living in my L-shaped apartment with my cheap furniture, my $5 VCR, my jobs at a sub shop and movie theater, and my hamster named after an evil genius political scientist, and things had been reasonably comfortable. Not great. Not even good. But comfortable: I knew what each day would bring.

Now, I didn't even know where to drag my cardboard box and people were rushing around me and they were selling t-shirts 4-for-$10 and the loudspeaker kept saying unintelligible things that I would then wonder if they might apply to me and I smelt chili fries and got hungry and for just a second I forgot, entirely, where I was even supposed to be staying for this semester in Washington and forgot what internship had been lined up for me and was looking for a place to have a cigarette and maybe get a diet soda...

... and I needed to wrestle something back from the world, take a little control over things and show all those people who knew where they were going, who knew where they worked, who knew where the damn exit was, show all them that I, too, could be a master of my own destiny and take charge of my fate, so I would quit smoking.

I don't know how that was going to prove anything to anyone else, especially because if I'd quit smoking right then and there, nobody that I ran into over the next few months would even know that I'd ever smoked, which would sort of moot the point . If I'd done it, if I'd quit smoking, doing it right then and there would have forced me to keep telling people that I no longer smoked -- so I'd have to do this awkward thing where I would keep telling people that I used to smoke, but I didn't anymore, I'd quit smoking, because what good is taking charge of your life in the face of a hectic and incomprehensible new city by quitting smoking if nobody knows that you've quit smoking? (What good, beyond the whole not-dying-of-lung-cancer thing, I suppose.)

Having decided that I was going to quit smoking, I then felt better and more decisive and more in control and found an exit and went outside, where I promptly lit up a cigarette and looked around this new city where I was going to be staying -- if I could remember where -- and working -- if I could remember where -- and quitting smoking -- just as soon as I finished this pack -- and I took in the sounds and sights of Washington, D.C., for a few minutes, while I had two cigarettes.

There were taxis sitting nearby and one of the cabdrivers looked at my luggage and looked at me and said "Need to go somewhere?"

"Yes," I told him, and wracked my brains for where it was I needed to go. He waited. "Trinity College," I remembered and told him. He helped me load up my cardboard box. I kept hold of my backpack and he put the suitcase in the trunk.

I briefly worried that he wouldn't give my box and suitcase back to me.

Then I started to get in, and I had to think back to movies and TV shows to remember that I was supposed to ride in the back of the cab, which made me feel both important (because important people ride in cabs) and awkward (because it made me feel like I was trying to show the cabdriver that I was more important than him and I worried that he'd think I thought I was some sort of bigshot when clearly I wasn't. It just seemed to me that people whose luggage includes cardboard boxes shouldn't be putting on airs by climbing into the backseat of the cab.)

"Ever been to DC before?" he asked me. He probably gathered that I was kind of new here, I thought later, because I was looking around and peering out the cab windows and also because I'd taken out my camera and was holding it up and trying to snap pictures.

"No," I told him, unnecessarily.

"Let me show you around a bit," he said, and he proceeded to drive me around the city and take me past the White House, and past Congress, and past other important and notable sights, all while he told me what they were and a little bit about them and pointed out where the National Mall was and how big it was...

... and I at the time thought Washington D.C. has a giant mall?...

... and finally he drove me up to Trinity College and helped me unload my suitcase and cardboard box, without my even having to ask, and shook my hand and said "I didn't charge you for the extra driving," and I paid him what he said I owed and then remembered just in time that I was supposed to tip him, too, and he waved and said "Enjoy the city," and drove off, and I turned to try to wrestle my cardboard box into the dorms at Trinity College, where I would meet the first and only person I've ever met who majored, in college, in rhetoric.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Question of the Day 21:

What is Marie Curie MORE known for, getting a Nobel Prize, or discovering radioactivity?

Because in the quiz in this morning's paper, about "notable firsts," we were supposed to name what first the person was known for, like "John Jay," who I said was "the first to sign the Declaration of Independence" but who was actually the first Supreme Court Chief Justice, so I concede that I was wrong on that -- maybe-- but they had "Marie Curie," and I said first to discover radioactivity, and the answer, they said, was "First woman to win a Nobel Prize," which may be true -- I don't know -- but is that what she's more known for? I think more people know Marie Curie because she discovered radioactivity than because she won a Nobel Prize for discovering radioactivity.

Although now that I've gone and researched it to prove that I, and not the quiz, was right, I see that some guy named "Henri Becquerel" discovered radioactivity in 1896.

But I bet if you were to ask people what Marie Curie is known for, they'd all say either "Discovering radioactivity," or, they'd say "Who now?" Which makes me right. Somehow.

"Improbable but awesome" would make a good autobiography title then, too.

I didn't achieve my resolution for 2008 -- so I've made the same one for 2009. My annual resolution is this: Get one of my books published, make millions of dollars, and move to Hawaii.

I had hoped to do that in 2008, for both the obvious reasons, and for the less obvious, which is that I wanted to get on with my next resolution, that being quarterback my team to a Superbowl victory. I'm running out of time on that latter one, but Hawaii comes first.

I may be able to achieve the 2009 resolution, though, even before I get published, because I stumbled across a new website this morning, one that helps find Honolulu Real Estate and helps not only find real estate all through Hawaii, but also has valuable articles that help assess whether a move to Hawaii is a good idea (how could it NOT be?) and how the Hawaiian economy is working...

... and most importantly, they've got a whole page of tips and links about how to ACTUALLY move to Hawaii -- shipping a car, getting a pet in, the local government, and an email address to get specific questions answered.

Which means that as soon as I get done reading all those tips, I could be ready to up and move to Hawaii, fulfilling half of my New Year's resolution for 2009-- and I'm sure that in Hawaii's beautiful climate, I'd be an even BETTER writer, so it wouldn't be long until I made millions and was published, which means that in 2010, you'll be seeing this headline:


All 'cause of that Honolulu Real Estate page. See the power it has? I've got to get cracking on this -- so I'll see you on the beaches. Or in the stands at the Superbowl.

Call it "happycholistfulovingness.' 76 down, 9,279 to go.

This song is definitely in the running for the song that will be played over the opening credits of the movie about my life. Or over the closing credits. I haven't decided which, yet. But the opening credits and closing credits songs are important. They set the mood for the whole movie, and then set the mood that you carry with you when you walk out of the theater.

Which makes this a good opening or closing credit song. Probably closing credits. You'd watch the movie about my life and then walk out with this song playing, and so you'd leave the theater in a kind of happy, kind of wistful, kind of melancholy mood, thinking about the importance of love. Which is the feeling I'd like associated with my life: happy/wistful/melancholy/loving.

The song is "Kingdom Come" by Coldplay. And the guys aren't Coldplay -- they just made a fake music video starring themselves, which is GREAT, because a lot of times when I'm listening to music I'll imagine that what I'm doing is the music video for that song I'm listening to, but, then, who would want to see a music video that consists of me carrying 5 pizzas in one hand and holding a two-year-old's hand in the other while trying to walk across a slushy parking lot?

Me. I would. Provided that the song was a good one. Like "The Electric Version," by New Pornographers, which for the heck of it I'll make song 76, provided that as you listen to it you picture that pizza-and-slushes scene, which, [SPOILER ALERT!] I can tell you: I pulled off without a hitch.

Down.. to go: Everything I think, everything I listen to. Song 74 here.

Practice like the pros.

57 days left until spring... not counting today. And I shouldn't count my birthday next week, because that'll go by fast, and I shouldn't have to count Valentine's Day, 'cause, well, romance, so it's like 54 days until spring, which is hardly any time at all when you think about it, because I've got to use that time to get practicing on my golf, since this is the year I'm going to get really good at it.

I've got a plan and everything. The plan is this: Practice. And invest some time in it. So to that end, I've set aside time and cleaned up my clubs and then taken a tip from Middle's coach on her golf team, and gotten a radar gun from Radar Sports.

They have a radar gun there that's only $176.99 -- marked way down-- and with that, I can track my swing speed and make sure it's consistent. Consistency, I'm told, is not just the hobgoblin of little minds, but also something to be desired in sports. My brother, when he ran a marathon, tried to run a consistent pace, and golf pros have said that the swing needs to be consistent, including swing speed, to really have a good swing.

So with the radar gun from Radar Sports, I can track my swing and see that it's consistently hitting the speed I want, and also see if I'm improving my speed over time. That'll help all that practice pay off.

Plus, when I'm NOT practicing, I can use it to check which of the twins is faster in my long-planned Baby Races. But it's mostly for golf.

The pros use things like radar guns and all the other equipment at Radar Sports -- coaches and professionals probably shop there all the time. So I figure if I want to play like a pro, I've got to practice like a pro and use the same equipment as the pros.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Question of the Day

What will you do with your leap second?

I plan to use mine to try to re-set all the clocks in my house so that they are not off by one second going into the New Year, because I do not want to spend an entire year running one second behind the rest of the world.

There's a younger guy gunning for my job? Nobody tells me anything!

Here are some New Years' resolutions you'll want to make. As you go into 2009, you'll definitely want to:

Get your health under control, and improve your relationships with your family. You'll want to get more out of love and lovemaking. You'll want to beat that guy or girl in the office who's trying to get that promotion before you. You'll want to improve your finances.

And you'll want to get back your youth.

Well, Dr. Sergey Kalitenko, MD, wants to help you do all of those things , especially the anti aging thing, with his holistic approach to medicine. "Holistic" means he looks at everything going on and works on it all -- but he'll focus in on those areas where you may want to focus, too -- like using hormone replacement therapy to fight aging and menopause, or fighting fatigue through making sure your hormone levels are correct, to all those other things he can help you with.

More energy, less fatigue, more get-up-and-go, less got-up-and-went -- giving you the strength you'll need to face 2009 and whup it!

His website -- I've linked to it up there -- has a lot more information on how Dr. Kalitenko's approach works. The best testimonial? He used it himself, to help with his heart problems when he was suffering from them and it wasn't stress, wasn't cholesterol, wasn't any of the usual suspects: It was hormones. Other people have written in to tell their experiences. You could be the next success story for him, so if you want to start improving your life, don't wait another leap second: click there now.

We should at least get to pick the dinner: 74 down, 9,281 to go

The newest trend in in-laws' visits? Inviting people and making them pay for the dinner you serve them.

My dad first did this about two years ago on my birthday, when we drove to visit him (on my birthday) and he picked the dinner (on my birthday) and we paid for the dinner. On my birthday.

Now, today, we were invited to Sweetie's parents to dinner to make up for being weathered out of Christmas Eve last week. We accepted. Yesterday, Sweetie confirmed the times and said we'd be leaving right after dinner. Her mom assured her that dinner would be ready just as soon as we got there, then asked that Sweetie and I bring dinner with us by picking up some pizzas.

And crackers. She wanted us to bring crackers, too.

Song 74: "Valley of Tears," by Robert Plant and the Soweto Gospel Choir.

Down... to go: I don't have to go to the Valley of Tears to be understood. I just have to post my thoughts here with all the songs on my iPod. Song 73 here.

I'm drooling a little on the keyboard.

Remember in that episode of "The Simpsons," back when it was funny and in the time when cartoons didn't just lazily parody other TV shows and movies, where the Germans bought the nuclear power plant, and told Homer that they were from the "land of chocolate," and Homer imagined a land of chocolate where he could eat anything, walking through it eating trees and stop signs, and then got extra excited when he came on a store selling chocolate half-priced?

Well, I do, and that's kind of the feeling I got looking at Gertrude Hawk Chocolates this morning -- their website has chocolate this and chocolate that and chocolate the other thing and more more more... and a spot for half-priced chocolate.

They say on the website that they have great Valentines day gifts and they're right. They're so right. Not for Sweetie, though; for me. Sweetie doesn't love chocolate half as much as I do. But it would be wrong to just go and order a bunch of chocolate gift tubs-- chocolate covered almond crunch and chocolate covered pretzels and chocolate covered peanut butter smidgens-- for Sweetie for Valentine's Day, knowing that I'll just get to eat them.

Wouldn't it?

Would it?

What if I threw in some flowers?

The candy just looks so good...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Question of the Day: 19

What sound do zebras make?

The Babies! like to watch a "Baby Einstein" video in which various animals from around the world are shown -- they watched it three times straight through yesterday (don't judge me!, as Middle says) -- and each time the zebras came on, the sound the video played associated with them was hooves pounding.

So do they make a sound? Beyond the hooves, I mean.

I'd google it, but I'm technically in a seminar -- a "web-inar" right now and don't want to overload my computer.

It's really something more like 15 years and 9 1/2 months.

Only 16 years or so, and counting down, until I can buy new furniture.

I long ago decided that I would not buy new furniture while there were kids living in the house. All furniture would be used, second-hand, or, if I had to buy new, would be on the order of Frankencouch. I decided that after The Boy one day carved his name into the old coffee table we had.

Then I broke that rule a few years back when I celebrated a Christmas bonus by purchasing a new couch and coffee table, only to have the Babies! born a year later, so now I have to watch as Mr F pulls the drawers out of the coffee table and stands in them. $400 on a coffee table and it's used as some sort of pretend-diving-board.

If I were going to buy new furniture before the Babies! turn 18 and go off to college, I wouldn't do it by mucking around in drafty, giant stores where I get hassled by salesmen and then have to wait 33 weeks for them to ship the furniture I'd just bought. No, I'd go someplace like this "Buy Entertainment Centers Online" site I found, I site I like to go look at just to dream of the day I can purchase a new entertainment center or one of the great TV Consoles and have it put in my house without fear that it will be scratched by having a barn thrown at it, or stained with milk and S'mores.

So I spend my days looking at this:And dreaming of having that in my house -- it's beautiful! It could hold all of the movies we don't get time to watch, all of the books I had to put in the closet because the Babies! were throwing them at each other, all my old knick-knacks -- the signed softball from my old team that went 1-9, the coffee can from Morocco, the metal shovel that Oldest made in some class or other -- and still have room left over for other stuff.

That, or a new TV Stand sure would beat the one we've got now, a bland, glass-and-metal thing that has fingerprints permanently impressed on it.

To make things better for people who CAN shop for furniture now, and worse for me, Buy Entertainment Centers Online offers free shipping on all their furniture, unlike any other store I've ever bought furniture at. And everything they sell is discounted. That entertainment center I'm dreaming of is marked down 40% -- saving over $2,000 right now.

They don't just sell plain old entertainment centers at Buy Entertainment Centers Online, either. They've got Armoire style, as well. But I can only look so much before the longing gets too great...

So I'll bookmark the page, and hope they're still in business in 16 years... and counting.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rewriting is not writing, and what's wrong with sweater vests? 73 down, 9,283 to go.

Sweetie asked me tonight to write down a list of books that I want for my birthday next week... and for the first time in my life, I was stumped. I looked through my list of books that I've written down in the past as books I wanted to read, and suddenly I didn't want to read any of them. I looked through that 75 best books list on Esquire, and didn't want to read any of them, either.

And do you know who I blame? Critics, and Infinite Jest. Critics raved over Infinite Jest and I fell for it and I tried to read it, but it was almost deliberately obtuse, as though David Foster Wallace was purposely trying to make me not just dislike his book but dislike reading, so now, even though I know there's books out there that must be good, I can't trust my instincts anymore and I can't trust critics.

Also, I was disappointed in books in general when I saw that two of the top 10 of the year, according to Entertainment Weekly, were remakes of other books: That "Edgar Sawtelle" thing which is just "Hamlet with Dogs" and then something about Anna Karenina living as a socialite in New York City.

That's not writing. Rewriting is not writing.

So I'm going to get a good night's sleep and hope tomorrow that a trip to the bookstore will restore my faith in the written word again.

Also, then, when I suggested to Sweetie that I could use some new dress shirts for work, she scoffed, and then she seemed to ridicule my request for sweater vests. But what's wrong with those?

Song 73 was going to be "They Write Books About This Sort of Thing," by Say Hi To Your Mom, but Say Hi To Your Mom doesn't want anyone to embed their videos anywhere else -- so they'd rather you don't hear about their music too much. They'd like fame and fortune and recognition, but only in small doses that they can control.

Instead, I've picked "Lost Coastlines" by Okkervil River.

Down.. to go: Sometimes one of the songs on my iPod perfectly matches my mood. And then you get to hear about it. Song 72 here.

"I think you're cute, and I like anime." What a line!

So you say you want to meet someone, and all you require of that person is that they have a nice smile, and be reasonably intelligent... and that they like anime.

Well, you can do that now-- thanks to Anime Chat City.

I'm amazed at how there's a dating and chat site for pretty much everyone in the world by now, but I guess I shouldn't be. I especially shouldn't be amazed that there's an Anime Chat Room for people who want to meet others and in particular want to meet others who love anime. After all, why should it be amazing? The internet is the greatest way to share information that humans have come up with, and if the information you want to share is "I think you're cute and I like anime," then Anime Chat City is just the thing.

It's actually a pretty neat idea: form a chat room, one that's free to join and easy to sign up, with free webcam chat, and then market it specifically to a group of like-minded people that want to mingle and talk about the things they love. That way, anime lovers don't have to worry that the person or people they're meeting and talking with will think they're boring; there's no chance of that because they know the person on the other side of the website likes the same things they do.

Question of the Day: 18.

Why didn't the Darryls talk?

I've been, off and on, rewatching Newhart as I DVR episodes to try to find the one I told Sweetie about where Dick has a series of small horses brought to the station. As I do that, the three thoughts that come to mind are today's question, and also "For some reason, I remember this show as funnier than it now seems," and also "mixing "Kissables" and Skittles together and then eating them combined is very delicious."

I have a vibrant inner life.

I'm no sucker.

Yesterday, I took the Babies! outside in the snow for the first time this year.

They haven't gone outside in the snow at all this year because they didn't have snow pants or boots. The lack of boots and snowpants is a surprising oversight from Sweetie, who purchases most of their non-superhero related clothing. Surprising, that is, unless it was Sweetie's plan to not get them snowpants and boots because without snowpants and boots I could not plan on taking them outside to play in the yard, and if I could not plan on taking the boys outside to play in the yard, then I could not actually take them outside to play in the yard, either, which would mean that there was no chance that the boys would get frostbite, or catch cold, or that I'd lose them in a snowdrift, or whatever it is that Sweetie thinks will happen if I take them outside to play in the snow. Sweetie professes great faith in my parenting abilities, but when push comes to shove sometimes the evidence shows that she's hedging her bets.

I hadn't cared, much, that they didn't have snowpants and boots, because I'm not the type that wants to go outdoors in the winter in the first place. I only grudgingly go outside in the winter, and then only for necessities like going to work or coming home from work or going to McDonald's for an eggnog shake. I think about winter sports the same way I think about swimming at the ocean or other activities that are supposed to be "fun" but which are not, actually, that fun, and what I think about them is this: What's the point?

That's what I thought when we went to Florida this summer and went to the beach where my brother Matt had assured us we shouldn't worry about sting rays even though all the signs said just the opposite. We went to a gorgeous beach with water the temperature of bath water and waves just big enough to be kind of fun, and we went in the water, and we swam a little and I went under water and I splashed through the waves, and then I thought "Now what? How long do I have to float around in the water before I can just get back to doing more fun things like shopping for t-shirts?" And that's what I think of winter sports, too. Throughout my life, more often than not, when I've strapped on skis or gotten the sleds or put on ice skates, about three minutes into the activity, I'm thinking "okay, is that enough? Can I go home now and read a book?"

I mean, once you've gone down a hill a few times, what's left of sledding? How much fun is it the fifth time? The fifteenth? And ice skating? Really? When we were kids we used to go to a mall that had an ice rink in the center and we'd sometimes rent skates and skate around. And around. And around. And around. Just skating in circles, over and over, and ten minutes into it, I'd be thinking I wish Mom had let me, instead, hang around the Waldenbooks so I could browse through "More Dirty Jokes IV" and try to figure out what the punch lines meant.

There's all sort of activities like that, activities that have no point to them other than that they exist. Swimming is a big offender, and it's one reason why I won't get a swimming pool: because swimming is boring. Unless you're swimming laps, what's the big deal? So you jump into the pool and... what? Do a headstand or a somersault? Splash someone? You end up just standing in the water and goofing off, and if I'm going to be just standing around doing nothing much, why do I want to be chest-deep in water instead of, say, lying on my couch watching How I Met Your Mother re-runs?

Winter sports and activities are even worse, because they're pointless-- ice skating in circles -- but they're also cold. And tiring and painful. Look at things you can do outside in the winter: Sledding involves climbing a hill repeatedly. Building a snowman? That's just work, and hard work at that. I didn't go to law school so that I could push a hundred pounds of wet snow around my yard. A snowball fight? I had a snowball fight with my nephew a few years back. I was tired of it two snowballs into it -- especially because when you're up against a four-year-old you can't even really try, so you have to keep getting hit in the face with snowballs but you can't fight back (and if you do fight back, like I did when I was a kid and my cousin Joe was throwing snowballs at me, the odds are there will be a piece of ice in that snowball and it'll hit him in the face and cut his cheek and he'll go inside crying and bleeding and I'll be in trouble so while I get to go back inside I also have to go up to my room and be grounded off TV and reading.)

So I don't like outdoor activities, but I had decided to take the boys outside this weekend. I was only taking them out in the snow to play for two reasons: one, I like to do things with them that are out of the ordinary when I can, and two, we had snowpants and boots that we'd gone to an awful lot of trouble to get on Friday night, because my brother Matt was coming up and Matt was insistent that we were going to have a "traditional" day of sledding and hot chocolate on Alternate Christmas, so Sweetie and I went out Friday night to get snowpants and boots and also to look for a trampoline because Sweetie thought she might want to get one of those exercise trampolines for use around the house.

I didn't object to her getting the trampoline. She didn't get one because we couldn't find one, and we couldn't find one in part at least because shopping with Mr F and Mr Bunches is a hit-or-miss proposition at best. I get them and go into the store with the best intentions of getting the things I came there to get and following my list, but after a few minutes of chasing after Mr Bunches while carrying Mr F (who I have to carry because if I don't he'll go in the opposite direction) and after a few more minutes of trying to get them to stop grabbing at the clothes that we are passing by, leaving a trail of sweaters and blouses and sweatpants strewn behind us, and after a few minutes more of trying to bribe them to stop crying by giving them potato chips and graham crackers produced from my jacket pocket, the inevitable happens. Not leaving the store. I rarely leave the store even at that point. No, "the inevitable" is that I get distracted by something that I see for sale, something like a large Christmas ornament -- a really large Christmas ornament, nearly the size of my head, in a display of similar large Christmas ornaments, all of them nearly the size of my head, and I look at a display like that and remember saying to Sweetie just that morning:

"Maybe next year we should do a tree with all oversized ornaments,"

and then here the ornaments are, so I could put that plan into effect right away, only it's still before Christmas, so I shouldn't get them just yet because they'll be on sale in a few days, when I'll find them at Wal-Mart for half-price but won't be able to get them because I'll have only enough money to buy the snow shovel I went there to buy, and also the three boxes of cereal it turns out I went there to buy but didn't know that I was going there to buy until Sweetie told me we were also going there to buy three boxes of cereal, and some cereal bowls, which I bought, too, along with the snow shovel we've been promising to buy for two years now but have never actually gone and bought until yesterday, when we bought it because I actually remembered that we had to buy a snow shovel, so we went to Wal-Mart right after church and I got a snow shovel and Sweetie got her three boxes of cereal plus three new bowls plus some face lotion or hand lotion or something. It was from the cosmetics department and it cost more than the snow shovel is all I know.

The reason we haven't actually bought a snow shovel for two years, despite our old shovel being amazingly short -- I have to bend nearly double to use it -- and amazingly bent and old is because who buys a snow shovel? The only time I think about needing a snow shovel is when I have to actually go shovel snow. I wake up in the morning, and see that the driveway is covered in snow, and so I have to go shovel it out, and I get ready and go outside with my iPod set to some song that'll help me get in a good mood for shoveling, a song like "Lucky Seven Sampson" from Schoolhouse Rock, and I see the old crummy shovel and I think "I should get a new shovel," but there's two problems with that thought. First, if I go buy a shovel right now, when it's snowing, I'll get ripped off.

I firmly believe that. Having been raised by my parents, I am always on the alert for people who are ripping me off by taking advantage of me, and I am thoroughly convinced that "ripping people off by taking advantage of them" is what the American economy is based on. That's how they get you is a mantra in my family -- whatever it is you think you're getting in a good deal is how they get you and you're getting ripped off. And the easiest way to get ripped off is to buy something when you need it. In my mind, the world is made up of merchants sitting around their stores with barrels full of snow shovels all selling for $1.00 or so, until the snow starts falling. The minute the first snowflake tumbles down, the merchants run and scratch out the "$1.00" and write over it, in magic marker, "$One hundred dollars! Sucker!" Because they know, see, that we'll all be driving to get a snow shovel right then and there, so they can make a quick buck.

So going to get a shovel right when it's snowing is a sucker move, but there's also a more practical problem, in that I can't go get the shovel until I shovel the driveway so I can get the car out and back in, and once I do that, I don't need the shovel anymore. Because who knows if it's even going to snow again this year, and if it doesn't snow again this year, then I've just wasted money on a snow shovel, haven't I? I don't have money to just throw around.

And you may think that's crazy, that of course it's going to snow again in January or February or March in Wisconsin, and you'd maybe be right but last summer I mowed the lawn in June and ran out of gas with just a foot or so left, and I should have gone and gotten more gas in the mower but then my grass didn't even grow enough the rest of the year to need mowing -- probably because it was battered down from all the hickory nuts falling on it -- so who's crazy now? Not me -- I saved a buck on lawnmower gas.

But after shoveling Sunday morning, I decided that we were going to go get a shovel, after all, because even "Lucky Seven Sampson" couldn't keep my back from hurting after shoveling, so I broke down and bought a shovel even though I didn't need it right then and there, and I probablywon't need it all this year, making it a waste of money, and I hate wasting money, which is why I had to have the boys go out in the yard yesterday: having invested nearly $100 in snowpants and boots, only to have our "traditional" sledding day cancelled because of the very nontraditional rain we got on Saturday, I now had two sets of snowpants and two sets of boots without a purpose, and I was not going to waste my money on them.

That's another thing my parents taught me: Don't waste money. If you buy something and then don't use it enough to justify spending money on it, it's a waste of money. So before I purchase anything -- anything: groceries, a tie, a television set -- I have to calculate how often I might use it, how necessary it is, whether I will in the end have wasted money on the purchase or if I really got a lot of value for my money. That all gets factored into every decision, or almost every decision. I don't really factor the question of whether I am wasting money into my decision to buy lottery tickets, because those are an investment. The idea that something is a waste of money if we didn't use it enough really put a lot of pressure on me as a kid; I'd go downstairs in the basement to find something to play with, and have to try to mentally calculate which toys I hadn't played with enough. Was it time to build something with the Lincoln logs again? Had I created enough Lego castles to justify that purchase? Playing "Star Wars Figures" was taxing, making sure that each character got enough playing time, even if he didn't quite fit into the storyline -- so sometimes Luke Skywalker would have to take some time out from blowing up the Death Star (my dresser) again, this time from the inside, to have a chat with Greedo, who happened to be in the Death Star, just passing by, and could briefly fight with Luke even though he and Luke really had no quarrel, because I didn't want Greedo to be a "waste of money."

Making my investment in boots and snow pants pay off required some work, because Mr F and Mr Bunches did not necessarily want to go anywhere yesterday morning. I think after the Christmas season, they're sort of burned out on "going places." More nights than not they were trundled into the car and then pushed around a bookstore, 0r walked down a mall, or grocery shopping, and when they weren't being bundled up to head off to the toy store where they were forced to just look at the toys instead of throwing them at each other, then they were forced to actually wear pants because company was coming over, company which would want to pick them up and hug them and make them look at presents when all they want to do is sit on Dad's new foot massager so it gives them a butt massage, like Mr Bunches did for about fifteen minutes during lunch on Saturday, ignoring all of the grown-ups sitting around talking while he massaged his butt, even using the "heat" setting to get a warm butt massage.

But I was insistent that the Babies! were going to use their snow gear, so I distracted them by putting on a "Bunnytown" and then wrestled them into the boot liners, then their snowpants, then their boots, then their mittens, then their hats, then their jackets, taking nearly 30 minutes to get it all done, at which point all I had to do was grab my jacket, and my camera, and get them outside. I did that quickly, but not quickly enough, because Mr Bunches sat down and then couldn't stand back up again, while Mr F tried to climb on their new jungle gym with his boots on and got his foot stuck in the ladder slat and started crying, which upset Mr Bunches because he didn't know why Mr F was crying, so he cried, too, just in case, and I threw on my coat and told Sweetie to open up the door, and grabbed them both and carried them upstairs, staggering outside to put them on our back porch in their winter gear, still crying.

They stopped crying immediately, overcome by the shock of the cold or the brightness or maybe just the fact that at nearly-forty I can still pick up both of them and carry them outside that quickly, even when they are weighed down by an extra ten pounds of snowgear.

"Head to the backyard," I told them, and they tentatively began trying to walk through the snow that, I realized, was nearly above their knees, so they had the difficulty of walking in boots that weighed a lot, through crunchy snow that held the boot down, but they tried to troop on, crunching and falling to the side and standing up and sitting down, while I did what any concerned and loving parent would do: I got ahead of them and videotaped them trying to walk through the snow.

Eventually, though, I did help them get out to the backyard, moving them much the way I'd had to move my action figures when I was a kid: Go get Mr F, and help him walk a few steps, then position him where I want him (facing the house, ready to go) and go back to get Mr Bunches, helping him walk over to Mr F, who by then had sat down and couldn't get up, so I'd leave Mr Bunches propped up a few feet away and help Mr F stand up and walk him towards Mr Bunches, then have to go re-stand Mr Bunches again, facing him the direction of his brother so that they could play in the snow...

... and then Mr F let out a howl that curdled my blood and I turned around expecting the worst and saw that Mr F was sitting in the snow and his left mitten had come off, and he had powdery snow on his hand. I rushed over there and got his hand up and picked up his mitten and brushed his hand off but he pulled it away and in doing so thrust it right back into the snow, and howled again because the snow was cold-- I assume that's why he was howling. I don't know. Maybe he just didn't like the way the snow felt. Or he'd had enough and was going to get Child Protective Services here for once and for all, so that they could take me away and he could spend his days watching "Bunnytown" and not standing outside in the cold.

I tried to put his mitten on quick, but the mitten had dropped back in the snow and now had snow in it, so I picked him up and took my hat off and wiped his hand off, telling him over and over that it was okay, he was fine.

I wonder what little kids think when parents tell them obvious lies like that? It's okay, you're fine, I told him, but he was crying and his hand was red and cold, so in his mind, I'm sure, he was thinking It's not okay and I'm not fine and my hand is red and cold and you're a liar and where are those Child Protective Services people? So I began to take him back inside where Sweetie could warm him up, but I had a dilemma, because Mr Bunches was still where I had propped him up, and Sweetie would not approve of me leaving him in the backyard alone, even if he couldn't move. So I scooped him up, too, and carried them both to the back porch, where Sweetie, alerted by the echoing howls splitting the peaceful Sunday morning, was waiting.

I told her what had happened and she took Mr F in. I held onto Mr Bunches and told him we'd stay outside playing. He had no expression on his face, which I took to be a good sign, and I put him into the makeshift sled I'd created.

We had been going to buy a sled at Wal-Mart, along with all the cereal and really expensive lotion, but they didn't have any good ones. By "good ones," I mean "sleds that cost about $5.00 and are just little pieces of plastic." All the sleds they had at Wal-Mart had names like "Boogie Racers" and had handles and dramatic "X"marks and other "extreme" features that helped them have the "extreme" price of $17.99 or more, and Wal-Mart had exactly zero traditional sleds, sleds the way sleds are supposed to be: Made of cheap plastic, with a too-short pull cord on them and handles that will rip off and crack the sled the moment you try to steer using them. Those are the only kind of sleds that should be made, or should be bought, unless you opt to buy a saucer sled instead, a decision you only make if you don't really like having intact vertebrae and don't want to sled for too long, because the only things that can ever happen to someone who goes down a hill on a saucer sled are (a) they will go over a jump backwards and not know they went over that jump until they're in the air and will land hard enough to require spinal fusions in the near future, and/or (b) they will spin around enough to get sick and then wipe out, rolling their face in the snow.

Since we didn't have even a saucer sled, I was forced to make one to pull Mr F and Mr Bunches -- now down to just Mr Bunches -- around the yard, so I'd improvised by taking a laundry basket and one of Sweetie's wide belts, and I put Mr Bunches into that now to give him a ride around the yard.

We got about two feet. I pulled him, slowly, and he got nervous and tried to stand up.

"No," I told him. "Stay sitting and I'll pull you. Otherwise, you'll tip over." I helped him sit back down and he sat quietly and I started pulling him again and he promptly tipped over, landing face-first in the snow and instantly howling louder than Mr F had. I picked him up right away and brushed his face off with my hat, too, so that he didn't have snow on it anymore, and gave up on the snow outing. I took him inside and after fifteen minutes of undressing them, got the boys situated at the table with a plateful of macaroni and cheese and "Cookie Crisp" cereal, a lunch that made them feel good enough to stop crying and distract themselves by throwing their milk glasses while I cleaned up the outdoor gear and put my camera away.

In all, forty minutes of preparation and de-preparation led to only four minutes of snow adventures, which means that I'm going to have to try to get them outside again next weekend, and each weekend after that, until I've gotten my money's worth out of those boots and snow pants, because I am not paying nearly $100 for snow gear and then not using it as much as possible.

Because that's how they get you.

Celebrity Adoption:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Question of the Day 17:

Why do people eat toast separately?

I had some toast yesterday. I took two slices of bread and toasted them and then buttered them and then carried them down to watch the Babies! watch Bunnytown and I was eating them separately, the way you're supposed to with toast. Then I thought about it, and I put them together, making a butter sandwich, if you will, and ate them that way. But it was weird.

"B" is for letter.

Yesterday, at Alternate Christmas, Mom was telling us about how she sent a letter with pictures to my niece. (Mom's neat that way: She still mails things like pictures.) She then called and talked to my niece for a while, and asked if the letter had been received.

"I'm going to send you a letter, Nana," my niece told her.

"How nice," My mom said. "I look forward to that."

"Yeah," said my niece. "I'm going to send you a "B."

People don't really send letters anymore -- except Mom -- which is kind of a shame. I like the immediacy of email, and the ability to just attach photos and things, but there is something nice about getting a letter in the mail. It's like an event. When I was in Morocco, I would send home one letter a week, taking my time on it and making it as interesting as possible.

Maybe part of the problem is that letters aren't as interesting as the world we live in now -- there's no bells & whistles, no extras. Emails can have graphics and links and attachments, while letters are harder to write and have no extra payoff.

If that's the case, then maybe some creativity will help, like using better paper. There's a site called, and they have some really interesting stationary, stationary that would be fun to write a letter on. Like gold translucent paper, so your letter could be both interesting and see-through -- hold it up to the sunlight and your words would sparkle! Or giant-sized paper, 19x25 -- so that my niece could send Nana a huge letter B.

They even have cool envelopes, like these "Poptone" envelopes in bright colors, so a letter would wait in your mailbox, just hoping to holler out "Hey read me!"
Stuff like that might make people want to send and receive letters again, and bring back some of the fun.

What is the past tense of pajama? 72 down, 9,284 to go.

Some people's destiny is complicated. Some people face a destiny like "Lead the free world as the first elected African American president," or "Blow up the Death Star only after turning off your targeting computer," but not me. My destiny is simple. My destiny is: Own only one pair of Buffalo Bill's pajamas at a time.

That destiny was revealed to me when yesterday I snagged my knee on the gate that keeps the Babies! in the family room and tore a big gaping hole in the knee of my old Buffalo Bills' pajamas. But for two glorious days, I was dualpajamaed.

Song 71: "Jocasta", by "Noah and The Whale." I heard of "Noah and the Whale" the group through a commercial.

Down to Go: I use the music to help me make up the words. Song 71 here.

Also, if you want to find out what's The Best Song From A Commercial, click here.