Sunday, March 30, 2008

Our Garage Band

When the weather starts to soften in the springtime, there are many things I look forward to doing. I listed a few in the last post, but I forgot one important post-winter activity. Cleaning out the garage. The garage has been a catch-all for the last 5 months. Everything that didn't fit in the house got piled in the garage. Our collection of garage sale/goodwill boxes are stacked between our vehicles. Christmas lights are piled spaghetti-style in the corner, and a winter's worth of sand and gravel have crept onto the garage floor.
It is now warm enough to open the garage doors, turn on the 80's radio station, and start gutting.

The first item of business was to recruit some helpers. "Hey, Sweet Pea, would you like to help me in the garage?"

"Sorry Dad, I have a girl scout meeting today.", she sweetly replied.

"Well, how about you, Lady Di?", I inquired.

"Sorry, I have to take SP to girl scouts.", she quickly answered.

"Well, I guess it's just you and me Number One Son.", I pleaded. He cheerfully and willingly agreed to help as I dragged him away from the Boys Basketball State Tourney on TV.

In the garage, I opened the door to the attic while N1S grabbed a broom. After a few minutes of sweeping I saw him air guitaring to Bryan Adams' ,The Summer of '69. So I took a break to join him on bass snow shovel until the end of the song. Once our jam session was done we got down to serious work.

I asked N1S what he would like to do first, fill the bird feeder or set out deck chairs. He chose to play basketball. So, once again, I had to join him because you can't play basketball by yourself. Actually, you can play by yourself if you have a hoop to shoot at, but our street still has a snow pile right where our hoop goes. So we practiced our dribbling and passing until the chilly wind made our bare hands too numb to catch the ball.

By then it was time to take a break from working. N1S had a juice box. I had a Dr Pepper.

After our break, I decided that the Christmas lights were too big a job for today. We also couldn't do anything with the Goodwill boxes until we were ready to take them in. And the sand and gravel on the garage floor didn't look as bad as I had earlier thought.

So we went inside to watch some more of the State Basketball Tournament on television. We must have worked pretty hard because we both fell asleep on the couch until Lady Di and Sweet Pea returned from girl scouts.

With a bundle of energy, SP, danced into the room and asked, "Daddy, can I help you sweep the garage?"

"It's your lucky day, SP. I saved that job just for you."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Unwelcome Winter

I'm glad to see that the weather is changing from frozen nose hairs and painful breathing to something more civilized, but it is sure taking its sweet time doing so. Lady Di saw her first robin of the season, so real Spring weather can't be far. Since the big thaw is still about a week away, I have had time to anxiously anticipate the benefits of suffering through a long winter. Winter sure does a good job preparing you for the joys of Spring.

One fun Springtime tradition for Lady Di and myself, is to go on our second Easter Egg hunt of the year. This yearly ritual starts as soon as the snow melts in the yard, exposing a bounty of brown 'Liberty eggs' hidden there, throughout the winter, by our family dog. Timing is important in that you want to start the collecting after the snow has melted, but before the 'eggs' start to dissolve. Rubber gloves, a bucket and a clothespin are required equipment.

Now, on to more pleasant Springtime bonuses.

I love the smell of Springtime. After, the 'egg' collecting, of course. When the ground softens it lets loose an earthy smell that tells you that winter is over.

I can also look forward to the trees and bushes budding. The lilac bushes already have swollen buds and need just one really warm day to start leafing. The cranberry bushes and maple trees are also ready to go. Pretty soon the oak and pine trees will follow suit.

It is amazing how much you miss hearing songbirds chirping outside, until you welcome all of the migrating species back to your backyard in the spring.

Another Spring smell is the smell of backyard grilling. Lighter fluid and thick steaks tell you outdoor fun can now be started.

Other things, like sidewalk chalk, kids on bikes and sunshine in the morning and evening also help to break the winter chill.

Finally, the best part about Spring and warm weather is.......getting the mower ready for lawn season. Once Liberty's free fertilizer is cleared, I can put down some real lawn food and grass seed to fix the spots Liberty killed this winter. Soon, the vibrant color of green appears for the first time in five months. In a typical Minnesota winter, the dominant colors of the landscape are white, gray and dirty white. So green is a pretty important color for our sanity. Once enough green grows, the first smell of fresh lawn clippings soon follows. I seem to use my nose quite a bit in Springtime. It must be because my nose has been abused all winter by Kleenex and Vick's.

So there you have it. The calendar and the seed catalogs in the mail both tell me that Spring is here. The snow that is left on the ground is putting up an argument to the contrary. I sure hope the thermometer settles this disagreement and lets Spring do what is it supposed to do.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Prepare to Dye

This week was our time to color Easter eggs. As usual, we waited until just before the weekend. That way I could throw the eggs out in a couple days. Lady Di and Sweet Pea are the only ones in the house that like to eat boiled eggs. I can't even stand the smell of them in the refrigerator. I will leave a few of the especially artistic eggs in the fridge for a while, but the plain old pastels get a quick trip to the landfill.

Here's another tip. Don't tell your five year old girl about dying eggs until you get home and are ready to do it. When we mentioned it, she demanded that we start boiling the eggs in the van, on the ride home. When we did get home, we tormented her even more by boiling the eggs more than ten seconds and allowing them time to cool.

We usually get the cheap Paas tablets, line up the vinegar filled coffee cups and start dunking. This year we upgraded to the Star Wars Ultimate Jedi Egg Decorating Kit. The kit included plastic Star Wars sleeves to shrink around the egg. The kit also includes a plastic C3PO mask.

The kids had their plan of egg attack ready. The yellow egg would be C3PO, the green is Yoda, red is Darth Maul and we were going to dump all the colors together at the end to make a black Darth Vader egg.

Here are some of our creations. The Darth Vader black egg didn't really work, so he got dyed pink instead.

Happy Easter to all.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Calling All Whos

Sweet Pea took me on her field trip today. It was a very cool trip. We got to go to the movie theatre to see Horton Hears a Who. SP's kindergarten class, along with seven or eight other classes were lucky enough to attend the cinema. When I was a kid, we took trips to the water treatment plant. We got a water treatment plant color book and a drink from the water treatment plant water fountain. Sweet Pea's class got pop and popcorn.

The movie theatre was really well organised for the munchkin onslaught. They lined up drinks and popcorn on the counter and had each class parade by and choose one of each. The adults got to fill their own cups. They didn't tell me I couldn't fill mine with mini donuts, but they still seemed a bit irritated with me being behind the counter. It was also kind of strange to be going to a movie at 8:30am. But since the weather is still a bit on the winter side, this was a fine indoor field trip. Our local theatre is a pretty large complex and our screen was good sized. Even so, we almost filled it up with kids. I got to sit with Sweet Pea and she shared one popcorn kernel with me, which is pretty generous for her.

The movie was pretty good and the kids were very well behaved. No popcorn fights, no crying and only minimal cell phone use.

I was just glad to get the opportunity to do something fun with my daughter. I got to listen to her giggle with her friends and laugh out loud at the movie. She held my hand and put her head on my shoulder. It was a great way to spend a morning. Bring on the next field trip. Unless it is to the water treatment plant. Then it's Lady Di's turn.

Friday, March 14, 2008

She Blinded Me With Science

If you are wondering if I am still alive, I am. But just barely. I seemed to have come down with a serious cold this week. I very rarely get sick, so I am usually unprepared when it happens to me. Hopefully, I will be recovered by this weekend and able to catch up on all of my blog reading. Until then, here is a post of some family fun we had before I arrived at death's door.

Last Saturday the family and I went to the Science Museum. Number One Son was able to invite a friend of his to join us. We actually made it a two day friend adventure for N1S and his friend.

On Friday, after school, N1S's friend, J, came home with him. They played Star Wars and Legos in N1S's room until it was time to go to the high school basketball game. That was a pretty big deal, since J hadn't been to a game before. N1S and J are in the same third grade class, so Lady Di and myself let them have a little freedom and allowed them to sit anywhere they wanted on the bleachers. First, they chose the highest seats at the top of the bleachers. After a while, they moved down closer to the court and met up with another boy in their class and stayed there the whole game.
Lady Di and I were nervous wrecks trying to keep them in constant view.

Sweet Pea, who was already mad because she couldn't have a friend, followed the boys like she was tied to them with a string. They didn't seem to mind too much though.

After an exciting game, we all came home tired and ready for bed. Once again, SP protested the unfairness of N1S's sleepover buddy but eventually was too tired to mount any serious resistance.

The next morning, after chocolate chip pancakes, we motored off to the science museum. We picked a good day to go because traffic wasn't too bad and the museum was only mildly crowded. We saw an Omnitheatre film on horses which SP loved. The museum was also advertising a travelling display, which is coming this summer, called Star Wars, the science of imagination. N1S and J's eyes pretty much popped out of their skulls just trying to take in the advertisement. You can bet we will be back this summer to see that.

The feature attraction this month is a Cartoon Network exhibit that the kids enjoyed. They got to see how cartoons are made. They also got to experience sound effects, optical illusions and photography. They even had the opportunity to make a stop-action movie with moving shapes.

On the second level of the museum, the boys got to see and touch a real cow's eye. SP didn't want anything to do with it and stood behind me and peeked around. Both boys donned gloves and felt the lens from the cow's eye. Apparently, it was about as hard as an eraser. Both boys were surprisingly brave. I wonder if it had anything to do with the squeamish teenage girls who were nearby?

There is so much to see and do at the science museum that we didn't even come close to experiencing all of it. We all got tired and hungry in the early afternoon, enjoyed a late lunch and then went home to rest.

N1S enjoyed his sleepover greatly. He doesn't get invited too often to sleep over. J and N1S got along together great and I think both boys had a great weekend. Even though SP didn't have her own sleepover guest this time, she kept up with the boys and included herself just fine.

N1S and I will have to get our Jedi robes ready for this summer's return to the museum. I hope they let us use real light sabers.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

What Once Was Old, Is New Again

On a recent visit to my origins, (Mom's house), I was welcomed with a display of all my old toys set out for viewing. I was then informed that all of my childhood treasures (junk) were going back with me to make room for more important stuff. Apparently, my Dad's home entertainment unit needs a little breathing room.

"Do you mean you are not preserving my room exactly as I left it?", I incredulously inquired.
"And take your baseball cards too, sweetie.", they answered.

Since the folks are cleaning house, I had the opportunity to relive my youth through my kids. Number One Son immediately zeroed in on the cardboard box marked 'Star Wars'. "Are those your old Star Wars toys, Dad?", he asked.

"Yes they are."

"What are they for?", he fished, feeling me out.

"Would you like to have them?", I asked.

Luckily I had a brown paper bag for N1S to hyperventilate into. He spent the rest of the afternoon assembling and then playing with my old 'Death Star' set up. It didn't matter that all of his action figures were left at home. He made do with the Fischer Price people that Grandma had.

Sweet Pea then felt left out. I rummaged around and found my old Fort Cheyenne cowboys and Indians set. She had just as much fun with that as N1S did with his. After a while they traded and played for even longer. Who would have thought that Dad's ancient playthings would bring such wonder and imagination to the next generation? Maybe that says something about today's toys.

Another box contained an old train set of mine. We will see if it works this Spring. The last three boxes to be loaded into the pickup were full of baseball and football cards. I can foresee a visit to EBAY in the near future. Of course I will have to sort and research what I have first. Or should I just keep all of my cards and spend the time reading about each player of old with SP and N1S? A little bit of both I expect.

I rummaged a little more and found my grade school lunch box.

In grade school, you were only as cool as your lunchbox. You can correctly surmise that I was the coolest kid in school. All of those kids with sports or Star Wars themed lunch boxes weren't good enough to sit at my table. Therefore, they all sat together at a table separate from us cool kids. 'Pigs In Space' was really cool back in the day. That's what I'm telling myself anyway. My lunchbox is made of actual metal and still has it's thermos. I'm sure my kids have no idea what the word 'thermos' means.

Visiting the past in this way was very fun and satisfying for me. Each toy brought back pleasant memories and also gave me new memories, watching my kids enjoy them the second time around.

I think Grandma still has some of my toys hidden away, for when the grand kids visit. My Steve Austin (The Bionic Man) action figure (not a doll) was in a box clearly marked, yet not included in my pile of boxes to take home.

My plan now is to visit the 'Grandma toy store' sometime before next Christmas to stock up on the season's hottest old toy. I think this is an acceptable type of re-gifting.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Winter Golf

This weekend I got to visit my hometown. We loaded up the kids and headed west to SD to see my folks and my Grandma Peg.

After the kids were put to bed, we got the cards out and played a game of golf. My Grandma Peg is 93 years young. She walks a little slower and her hearing isn't as sharp, but she still is active. She still drives, lives in her own apartment, and doesn't miss a Twins baseball game on television in the summer.

I dealt the first hand and asked Grandma Peg if she knew how to play.

"I can't remember if I've played this before.", she answered in her shaky gramma voice. My dad assured her that she had played it last week with them. We had played a few rounds when Dad read off the scores. In the card game, golf, the object is to have the lowest score. Well, Grandma Peg's score was under twenty and my score had just passed one hundred.

She leaned over to me and said, "We sure make a good team don't we?" She said this because whenever I discarded, it was always a card she could use to lower her score. Oh well, it was probably just beginner's luck. It seemed she was always trying to put her cards in the wrong column until we would help her. Maybe it was all just an act she was using to sucker us.

After a few more rounds, she started making suggestions to me on which card to discard to her. I started keeping my cards so she wouldn't get them. The problem was that she would 'go out' and I would be stuck with high value cards.

I did have one good round where I went out with only five points. Grandma Peg laid out her cards and asked how much she had. I answered, "You have three points".

She asked, "And you had five points, right?"

"Yeah", I grumbled.

"Well, that's nice.", she sweetly sang.

She then quite firmly and clearly asked for an update on the scores. What happened to shaky gramma voice? Grandma was just approaching 100 points as I had passed 300.

She leaned over again and whispered, "Is this your first time playing?"

As my frustration grew I started placing the draw and discard pile further from her, making her reach for all of those good cards I was feeding her.

"Well, what do you know, another zero hand.", she announced.

I was starting to realize that I was in over my head. I knew that she played bridge with her friends twice weekly. She usually gets her name in the local paper for winning too. This frail, wispy grandma turns into a shark at the card table. I love Grandma Peg and all, but when she gives me the business like Eddie Haskel, I have to wonder what she does to all of those other old ladies at the card table.

The game mercifully ended and Dad got ready to take Grandma home. As she shuffled to the door she called back to me, "Better practice up for next time."

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Food, Glorious Food.

A few weeks ago, Sweet Pea and her girl scout troop, visited a food shelf. It was a real nice field trip. The girls got to learn about people who don't have much money for food. They also learned that the food shelf has more than just food. They have diapers, aluminum foil and other household items as they come in. Some community groups will periodically donate quilts or home made baby blankets for the food shelf to distribute too.

The director of the food shelf also said that corporate stores like Target will send some of their clearance items to them. They even had a few clearance car seats that were greatly appreciated by the families that needed them.

They also had a hallway filled with donuts, rolls, cakes and pies. It took all the will power I had to stop from sneaking a bismark out of the box. I don't think Sweet Pea would like me stealing from the needy. Unless I split it with her, of course.

It was nice to see that someone in the community is making sure that families in need in our area have the necessities. It was also a little humbling to see that, even though the basics were covered at the food shelf, they had very few luxuries. The shelf had a few semi-exotic items like, mushrooms, fancy olives or ethnic foods. But they had no ice cream, chocolate or fun snack items. I know that kids don't have to have fun snacks, but if you are eating boxed mac and cheese and hamburger helper every day, a surprise sweet would be reason to celebrate. For most families, the food shelf offers a temporary crutch to get them through the month. But we were told that there are some families who depend on the food shelf to get them through the year. It made me want to donate on a more regular basis. I also want to donate foods that will fill the gaps that the food shelf needs, not just clearing out the cans of lima beans in the back of the cupboard.

When Sweet Pea and I returned home we told Lady Di all about the food shelf. Sweet Pea told her all of the things that the food shelf had, even car seats.

Lady Di asked, "Were the donated car seats used? I didn't think used car seats could be accepted."

I explained that they came from clearance stock from a store.

Lady Di then said, "That makes sense. I didn't think they could give out used car seats."

Sweet Pea then stated quite seriously, "And for sure they can't give out used diapers."

I'm certainly grateful for that.

Stuff About Me

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I'm a 40 year old dad of two. My wonderful wife, Lady Di, and I try to keep the kids from blowing things up here in central Minnesota.