Wednesday, October 29, 2008


JD and I hosted playgroup this week. Our playgroup consists of six or seven main families. We are joined by several other families from time to time. The families rotate houses on a weekly basis.

This week was our turn. One thing I had noticed was that my friends have trouble finding parking near our house. I had noticed that parking was more abundant closer to 9am and would close up slowly over time. Our group normally meets at 9:30am with an open house style, meaning you can show up any time thereafter.

I decided to invite people to come over from 9am. One way I thought I could do that would be to offer breakfast to everyone. I announced that I would have french toast and a selection of egg creations. The response was collectively positive.

Preparation was good on one front and poor on another. The good: I had all of my ingredients. Eggs, challah, frozen chopped spinach, canned diced tomatoes, shredded cheese, milk, OJ, etc. The place was clean. The bad: I didn't get my ingredients ready to go for line-cook efficiency. I found myself defrosting the spinach, opening the can of tomatoes, and preparing chorizo, all of which could have been done earlier, if not last night.

I would have been okay had my coffee making not gone awry. I have the Cuisinart Grind 'n' Brew. Everything was added and I pushed the button. Five-ish minutes later, one boy said, "Something's dripping." Long story short, I hadn't put in a filter. It was a mess that took about fifteen minutes to clean. That screwed everything. I probably could have had breakfast on the table around 9:45, but it wasn't done till 10:30am. It was still yummy, just took too long!

What to do next time? Set the table and have ingredients prepared the night before. That would have saved me lots of time. Also, confirm the guest list, as I wasn't completely sure who was coming, though everyone responded in a timely fashion. Finally, set the menu without giving choices. One meat, one veggie, one plain dish. Everyone loves French toast and pancakes, so pick one and stick to it.

Everything was delicious, so I'm sure they'll give me another chance!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Oh S*#t! Part 2

My garage was broken into the other night. That's not what this is about.

When I discovered that someone had been through my car, I was putting JD into his car seat. Looking around at my belonging strewn about I said without thinking, "Holy S*#t!"

JD picked up on it and started repeating it over and over. "Holy S*#t!" "Holy S*#t!" "Holy S*#t!"

Quickly thinking of a redirection, I said, "Holy Cow!"

He picked up on that and began repeating, "Holy Cow!" "Holy Cow!" "Holy Cow!" (Actually sounds like "Oh Cow" but you get the point.)

Close call.


Facebook is dangerous. If you allow it to, it will take up much of your free time and, quite possibly, much of your productive time.

These computers have had an interesting effect on multitasking. The availability of web-based software combined with the necessity for people to work on computers both at home and at work creates an environment conducive to slacking.

But it doesn't feel like slacking at the time. When I log into Facebook, I think I'll just check it out for a couple of minutes and be done. You know, see if I have any messages, that sort of thing. The next thing I know, ten or twenty minutes have gone by. I start responding to messages, leaving status messages, responding to status messages, commenting on photos. . . and the list goes on.

Like most of our home entertainment, it's a lot of fun, but takes away from productive time. For instance, I don't think I've written a blog since signing up with Facebook. Maybe I'm just gathering material.

Pumpkin bread. I have made a couple loaves of that. Yummy. Did I write about it in Facebook? Just as a status message, but not in the elegant and lengthy way I could on my blog, a way to exacerbate my creative writing skills.

Another thing about Facebook. Who are some of these people Friending me? I mean, there were a few people that I shared a class here or there and we were friendly. I'm interested to see how they're doing these days. But there are several people with whom I'm confident I've never had a conversation. Not one. We have two things in common: Deerfield High School and a Facebook friend. Do some people simply Friend everyone in their graduating class? Or everyone they've ever heard of?

Fortunately, there are some perks. You get to see how cute or ugly people have become. I get to show off JD and his awesomeness. I see what people have been up to for the last several years. And yes, I do get to hear about people's day-to-day. It's all very interesting. That's the attraction.

I guess it's all new to me. I'll be obsessed with it for a few more weeks, then it'll get boring and I won't care as much. Or I'll have so many friends and have to respond to so many messages that it will continue to call me to the computer at every opportunity.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Avoiding the Credit Crunch

You know what I've come to realize? The Government's financial parenting skills are poor.

In an attempt to bolster the economy and help more people acquire the American Dream, it has managed to help business and the people together create a spending bubble that has now burst.

Low interest rates is the biggest culprit of the bubble. The attraction of buying not only houses, but appliances, cars, and almost any other major purchase with low interest rates or deferred interest has made the material mindset of the average American unrealistic. Top all of that off with the availability of credit cards to almost anyone 18-years-old and up, you've put spending before saving.

Not to mention the low interest rates that people receive in normal savings and money market accounts. For the modest income earner, saving reaps little benefit, in terms of interest earned. The best online money market accounts earn as little as 3% per year. Low interest on purchases means low interest on savings. Where do you think the government and business is trying to point your money?

Into 401k and IRA accounts. They want you to save money for retirement, but not for now. But if you're not working for a company that supports 401k plans, you'll have trouble achieving those long-term goals.

And while I preach, I'll tell you a bit about my situation. My family stretched for a house that was just above our budget. We could not have afforded such a house if it was not for low interest rates in the mortgage market. But now we're already borrowing - albeit very small amounts - from ourselves every month to pay the bills. Some of our big expenses include a used luxury SUV and a luxury health club membership. We also have no-interest financing on an HDTV and a quality outdoor gas grill. We are living beyond our means. We are fortunate that my wife's industry is not as affected by the economic downturn as others; we can look forward to advancements in her career - and are banking on it.

For now, I have canceled the health club membership, at least until next summer. After paying off the TV and grill in November (the balloon payment to avoid any interest charges) I will not buy anything until we have saved up for it. I would love a new front load washer/dryer set; My wife's '02 luxury convertible (that we own outright) has become impractical but we'd have to finance a new car. I've only played golf maybe five times this year. My wife has eliminated designer clothing purchases. I've been looking for quality used toys for JD on Craig's List. We are keeping my SUV because we only have a little over a year to pay it off and it only has 40,000 miles. I can drive it for years to come, maintain it, let JD and hockey beat it up, and then in the future we'll hopefully have the money to replace it.

And that's the attitude that I'm trying to take. Do what my parents encouraged early on. Parents are always encouraging their kids to save up for the things they really want. I know you want that action figure, but aren't you saving up for that bicycle for next summer? My Dad said something to me that I'm just now heeding: Live cheap; accumulate wealth.

Will that attitude hurt the economy? Well, you tell me what hurts the economy more - limiting spending or people losing their homes. Maybe we'll have to lose some of the big-box stores and get back to smaller retail outlets. You'll have to wait a couple of weeks for the store to order the exact model appliance you want. That attitude might get manufacturers back into the US, to allow for more custom and Just-In-Time ordering.

Finally, when you're considering that new appliance or other major purchase, consider whether or not you have the money. If you're thinking about financing it, think if you can live without it for the time that you planned on paying for it. Then, take that $50+ per month and get that lousy 3% interest. You'll be better off financially. Better yet, the stress of paying an obligation will be gone. You'll owe nobody and true ownership is true happiness.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Two Kids

Running my ass ragged, that's what they did. I can't lie. Those two kids drove me insane.

And I loved it. Most of it.

What am I talking about? Our friends are having a second child in ten days and were in a childcare predicament. Their nanny's family moved to Las Vegas three weeks ago. They needed me to watch their seventeen-month-old two days a week for three weeks. I was happy to oblige.

JD and their son. . .I'll call him "Nicky" play well together. Nicky is three-and-a-half months younger than JD. JD will be 21 months on the 12th. They really do like each other. There are times when they play side-by-side and times when they play without each other, but they always know when the other is around. They are especially happy riding side-by-side in Nicky's new double stroller, swapping sippy cups.

I'm not sure whether or not I have Nicky next week, but today was the second day of the third week. I've finally gotten the hang of dealing with them together.

Dealing with their abilities is one of the most difficult tasks. JD is a jock. He's a natural athlete, able to hit a ball consistently off a tee, able to take slap shots with a hockey stick, able to dribble and kick a ball with both feet with accuracy. And he loves doing all of those things. I could basically fill our days playing sports if it weren't for those tedious reading and art projects supposedly important for development. Nicky, however, is a natural gatherer. What I mean is, he collects objects in containers, then transfers them into and out of other containers. Whether it's rearranging cabinets, removing clothes from a basket, then putting them back; putting rocks into a cup, dumping them into a bucket, then returning them to the rock pile, he's a natural. Watching him build is his most impressive trait, as I watched him build a lego tower that was two-by-two and perfectly color coordinated. There were two levels of blue legos, then red, then yellow, then green. No lego colors mixed in any level and the tower was perfectly straight and the blocks pushed together tightly. Magnificent.

With all of these terrific attributes, there is little they can do together. Nicky doesn't understand the concept of playing ball and reciprocal play, taking a ball thrown to him and running away. JD has no patience for blocks; he puts three or four on top, then knocks them down.

JD is my son and so it would be easy for me to do whatever he wants and let Nicky deal with it. That's not how we roll, though. So we played blocks and JD would knock Nicky's creations over. We played ball and Nicky would take JD's balls and run away.

I did finally get them to nap well. Nicky is not the championship sleeper that JD is, so getting my usual daytime work done hasn't worked well the last few times he's been over. Today, though, I got some work done and got him to nap. That was my big accomplishment. Oh, and he ate a big lunch. Related? We'll see.

In the meantime, I'm tired. Chasing two kids around all day was fun, but I'll take a break for a few days. It'll be some time till I'll be doing that, if ever. Until that day comes, I'll enjoy my three-hour breaks in between hockey practices.