The Charlie Brown and Lucy Game

During bath time last night I realized the deadly duo have a new game. Leia would hold out two fistfulls of bath toys toward her brother, while he looked shyly on. As soon as he reached for one, she jerked them back and laughed uproariously. And it kept going on for a long time. It started reminding me of the old Peanuts gag where Charlie Brown tries to kick the football and Lucy always pulls it away at the last second. And every time she convinces Charlie that this time she won't pull it away.

At first it looked more like tormenting than playing a game, but it turned out Luke was up for the situation. He laughed right along with her. He started making more effort to get the toys, so she had to start crawling farther away in the tub. Which just made them both laugh more. We ended up with water all over the three of us and the bathroom floor, but it was worth it. If there's a cure for a rotten day at work, it definitely involves two toddlers laughing.

Stealing toys is old hat in any house with twins toddlers, or even twin babies. It's been going on since they got old enough to realize they could use their hands to actually pick up all that shiny noisy stuff. Leia has always been ahead of Luke on the fine motor skills so she was pincering Cheerios while he was still swiping at toys and like mittens were permanently attached to his hands. So she's been taking his toys since the very first time he picked up a block.

The times have changed a little though. These days he's catching up so he holds on to a lot more toys. Much to Leia's chagrin. Luke rarely cries when his toys dissapear into his sister's hand. Ironicly though, most of the crying occurs when he holds on to a toy. Leia does not take kindly at all to being thwarted. And it gets epicly bad when he takes one of her toys.
I haven't figured out how to handle it yet. Most of the time I take the toy away from the thief and give it back to the victim. Then the thief shakes a fist in my face while the victim decides to play with something else instead. I'm sorely tempted to stay out of it and let them resolve it between the two of them, but that turns Lord of the Flies in the blink of an eye. A slap fight between one year olds is a strange blend of hilarious and epicly sad all rolled into one.


Hatin' On The Garden State

The show Jersey Boys finished its' run TPAC last week so I've been walking past their merch and signs in the lobby every morning as I trudge off to my cubicle. Every day I walked by this particular warning sign at the entrance to the performance hall. Profanity warnings I'm used to, and I suppose I can understand. But this is just hilarious. If I was from New Jersey I'd probably be annoyed by how it plays to some overly simple stereotypes.
Not just profane vocabulary. Not authentic Jersey vocabulary, which I would assume meant accents. But authentic, profane, Jersey vocabulary.

Now couple that with this post that I saw recently at Looky Daddy! (a transplanted Texan who lives in New Jersey). Awesome.

A Canine Induced Haze

Turns out that Newscoma isn't the only one to have canine related problems. Except here at the W household our new canines are enamel instead of fuzzy. Yes, I realize that's a lame intro, but I'm somewhat short tempered at the moment since I live with two teething babies so I suggest you keep that opinion to yourself.

Fifteen months old and already the deadly duo are over achievers. (In the past I called them the dynamic duo, but deadly duo seems more appropriate for now.) Luke has 18 of his 22 baby teeth already, and Leia is close behind. Teething isn't an exact science, but most babies start getting their first ones around six months and rates vary wildly from one baby to the next. Not my ever rebellious kiddos. They started at 4 months and have pretty much been working concurrently. Leia is slightly behind Luke. She seems to have chosen to start up just as Luke is finishing so she can draw out the length of time her mother and I have to deal with a crying, angry baby for as long as possible rather than letting us have a few days to regain our sanity between rounds. The timing is really uncanny, with each cycle of teeth just about the time you can see the tops of Luke's new teeth poking out his gums Leia's gums start to swell as hers get closer to the surface.

These days they've both got more teeth than babies I know who are 6-8 months older than them. The canines have been the hardest ones by far. If you aren't familiar with types of teeth, the canines are the ones that come to the sharp point in the front of your mouth. They're the ones at the corners where the teeth start to curve back deeper into your mouth. From what little I remember of my wisdom teeth experience, I can't blame them for acting up while those things are coming in, but it isn't conducive to relaxation for their parents. They're very unpredictable at the moment. Saturday they were both clingy, tearful wrecks who picked fights with each other every time we put them down, but Sunday they were as pleasant as could be as they played on their own, and all the fights were accidental rather than intentional.

Such is life with babies in general and twins in particular. I think we're due for a teething break soon, but I fully expect the two year molars to arrive at least six months early. On the bright side maybe we can distract them by taking them outside rather than being cooped up like this long winter has had us.



I noticed a billboard on the way home from work this afternoon. Turns out that the Nashville Lawn and Garden Show is being held the very same weekend that my parents are coming into town to visit the deadly duo.

Pimp My Rain Barrel

The topic of rain barrels came up in the comments over at Aunt B's yesterday, and it got me started thinking about my own grandiose rain barrel plans again. Before we go down this road I'm just going to remind everyone that I'm an engineer, and water is my specialty area. So things can and will get out of hand with this post. I'm also used to working on a grander scale than my 1/5 acre back yard and with a higher budget. Most of my plans will just be me brainstorming and probably aren't feasible unless you have a much larger operation than the average suburb dweller.

If you aren't familiar with the concept, a rain barrel is a storage device used to collect rainfall runoff, generally from the roof of a building, and store it for later use. Just to illustrate the concept, let's assume a 1000 square foot house with a roof that peaks in the middle and down spouts at each of the four corners. Say that you get a one inch rainfall over the course of a day (a respectable storm in middle TN, but not that unlikely). You end up with about 83 cubic feet of water. Enough water to fill up my 10 ft x 10 ft guest bedroom eight feet deep with water. That translates to 623 gallons of water for one inch of rainfall. Consider that the average annual rainfall for Nashville is about 47 inches, and the monthly average varies from 2-4 inches. That's a lot of water that doesn't get used. (This is a great source for historic rainfall monthly and annual averages if you want to check other cities/regions.) Just position the rain barrels under your gutter down spouts and get to saving money on your water bill.

There's a lot of variability in rain barrels use. I was doing some internet research to figure out how to build one to water my yard, and I ran across quite a few ways of caputuring rainwater and using it. It's probably not a good idea to drink rainwater without purifying it, but you can use it for just about anything else. Most common by far is watering yard/garden/landscaping but I ran across one 'how-to' for using rainwater to flush your toilets. The main limitations are the size of your roof and how much water pressure you need.

There's also a lot of variability in the barrels themselves. If you're feeling like a big spender you can get some nice decorative ones all over the internet. My personal plan was to build them myself. Nashville's Department of Water Services has a good primer on how to build your own. A key cost saving tip... get some of the large 55 gallon barrels used by bottling companies like Coca Cola. I haven't investigated this for myself, but rumor has it that you can usually get used ones for free if you call the local bottler. They aren't pretty, but the price is right.

You do have to consider whether rain barrels are illegal in your area. I'm not going to go into the reasons why, but in some of the more arid climates local governments have outlawed rain barrel use.

Elevation is the enemy of rain barrels. All the water pressure you get is going to be from the height of the water. You need to have downhill flow in order to get the water from the barrel to the place it's needed. It's also a general rule of thumb that the longer the hose the lower the pressure at the end of the hose. If your garden is a long way from the rain barrels, or up a hill, then you're probably out of luck but if the distance and elevation changes are small, then you might be able to get around it. The solution is to build elevation into your system. If you put your rain barrel on a pedestal you can get a little extra pressure. You have to be careful how high you put it though because water is heavy and you really don't want your barrel falling on the dog.

So let's assume you have a three foot tall barrel and you put it on a three foot tall pedestal. That means when the barrel is full you have six feet of pressure in your system. So if your garden is five feet higher than the ground where your barrel is, then the first foot of water in the barrel can be used in the garden. If your garden is three feet higher then you should be able to empty the barrel into the garden.

If your garden is too far uphill, all isn't lost. You can pressurize your system using the same methods that drinkable water is delivered to your house. Put in a pump. But, this is when you start having to spend money when the whole point of the rain barrel is to save you money. If your garden is too far uphill for the pedestal to work, you're probably better off just hooking up the hose to the back yard spigot and paying the water company.

I'm getting all stary eyed now that I'm to the part where I talk about my own plans for a rain barrel system. Notice I said 'system'? That's where it gets bad that I'm an engineer. My lot slopes up from the front to the back, with my house about half way up. So rain barrels for the front of the house are no problem. The barrels will be at the top of the hill and I can water my front yard with gravity flow. Unfortunately the garden is going to be in the back yard. The area I have picked out is about halfway up the slope so I need to build a little elevation into my barrels.

My ideal solution requires a pump. My rain barrels would be at the corners of the house and both would be hooked up to a single pump. The pump would lead to a small reservoir consisting of extra barrels along the back fence. The reservoir barrels would be connected together and a soaker hose would be hooked to the outlet. So whenever my barrels at the house get full I would just turn on the pump for a couple of minutes and all the water would go up into the reservoir barrels to be saved until I needed it. Then I just turn the valve on the soaker hose and let gravity do the work. This way I don't use the pump very much, but still get plenty of water pressure. Pump it to the top and let gravity do the rest. It's a variation on the same principle used with all those water towers you see built so high in the air.

Unfortunately, that system probably isn't very feasible, what with a pump and all that piping to be laid in the back yard. So I'll probably just let the water company provide the water pressure.


The Commute Part 1 - The 'Sign' of Good Service

My new commute from the east side has been so much more entertaining than the commute from Antioch that I drove for so very long, and my drive from Old Hickory was down right boring compared to the entertainment these days.

The highlight of my morning is reading the giant electronic Interstate AC sign on I-40 west at Briley Parkway. The owner has been using it as a bully pulpit for a good long while now. I've seen 'Drill here, drill now. Drill baby drill' and last week it was 'Now playing: The Wizard of Oz ,staring Congress as the Scarecrow.' I assume that one was a comment on how he thinks the vote on the stimulus bill should have went.

All other fun stuff aside, his pet issue seems to be immigration policy. Last week I noticed '12 million illegals in the US, 11 million Americans out of work. Anyone see a solution here?'. The exact wording might be slightly different, but I think I captured the spirit of it. And apparently it's important to the owner, because I first saw it last Wednesday, and it was still there this morning (Monday).

In some worlds it's as simple as that. Kick out all those illegal types and let the suffering Americans get back to work. I'm sure the out of work bankers and highly trained folks who worked in car factories would be happy to do the low level back breaking work available to someone in the country illegally. I'm not trying to impugn the skills and abilities of anyone, but your career choices are pretty limited if you don't have proof you're in the country legally. You're probably going to end up doing something hard. The whole reason an employer takes the risk of giving a job to an illegal immigrant is because they're more willing to do it than someone with more options.

Now it's going to sound like I'm contradicting what I just said, but the other issue here is can the out of work Americans reasonably do the jobs done by illegal immigrants? Maybe I'm exhibiting some racism myself, but I'm going to use landscaping and construction as examples. Those are pretty highly visible in my neighborhood where new houses are constantly being built, and the gentlemen doing the jobs mostly look like they're from the same part of the world that anti-immigration folks seem to be the most worried about. Construction and landscaping are back-breaking hard work, but they also require a fair amount of skill. You can't just throw a tree in the hole and expect it to live, or put the nail in the wood and expect it to stand up. You have to know a little about what you're doing in order to get it right. At the very least there would be a huge learning curve and nothing would get done for awhile until all those hard working Americans figured out what the hell they were doing.

It makes me a little sad. The first thought I had when I first saw one of his more unkind captions was "I suppose he can stand to lose the business from that." But then I realized he probably actually gets extra business because of things like that.

I poked around online because I know I've seen video of the sign before, this 'best of' video kept popping up. I don't care for the guy's thoughts on immigration, but he does write a good tag line.


You Stay Classy WKRN

I was checking on traffic this morning on WKRN while getting ready for work. They had a very nice story about some pretty big problems with the playground of a Nashville elementary school. It's rickety, floods, and a hole in the fence lets in all kinds of after hours evil doers so they're finding liquor, smokes, and condoms around.

Turns out a couple of Vanderbilt students who volunteer at the school have a project in mind to fix up the playground so the kids can actually use it again. It looks like a very worthwhile project, and they have a website raising money to pay for the work.

It was a good story, and I'm glad to see the way too rare story about someone trying to do something good, but their was one thing that jumped out at me. Both the reporter and the desk anchor mentioned the fundraising website, but neither actually gave the address. So how do you find the website? Go to our website wkrn.com for more details......

Would it have killed ya to flash it on the bottom of the screen instead of manufacturing traffic to your own page? I've noticed that policy seems to be common to most of the local news casts. They won't give an url other than their own on screen.

The Blog Is Back

Okay, so it's been awhile since I stopped by. My little cubicle of the internet is getting kinda dusty. I could say I'm too busy to write, but that's a partial truth at best. I have some free time now that the deadly duo do more than poop and eat. But it's still a premium and I've been having trouble motivating myself to use the smallish amount of time I actually have to do something cereberal like writing.

I'm a blogger in my head though. I keep running across things that would be good to write about, and even composing the entries in my head. Occasionally I've even written a post on my lunch break at work, but never gotten around to taking it home and posting it. My brain has been getting backed up by all these potential posts, so here I am back again to relieve the logjam. I think I just made blogging the intellectual equivalent of a laxative.

I've been rethinking my writing style and posting philosophy. In the past I've been holding back a little on talking about some things in my life for fear you anonymous internet hordes that pass through would think I was a geek or get tired of hearing about my kids. But I'm a geek who likes to talk about his kids, and I'm going to just roll with that from now on.

Ever since I started a blog I've noticed that I seem to always sound pretentious and/or stuffy. I can't really pinpoint why this happens on my blog because it certainly isn't the way I usually write. But put me in front of a potential roomfull of anonymous strangers and I revert to writing like it's an old school engineering report and I have a stick up my ass.... I'm going to try and correct that, so hopefully posts will start sounding more conversational, except for the stuff about science, the stick will be firmly in place for those posts.

I'm also toying with the idea of Twitter. I've never tried it, but it seems pretty suited to my current situation. Most of the comments and ideas I feel the need to send out into the internets don't seem worth a post on the ole blog, but are too involved for the status bar on my Facebook page.


Real Estate Karma

I've come to the conclusion that Jesus must have a twin sister that never made it into the Bible. The only explanation I can think of for the luck I've had with real estate ventures is that God or Lady Luck was looking out for me because I'm the parent of multiples.

Caution: Don't read the rest of this post if you're having trouble selling your house.

It became apparent fairly quickly that our little house wasn't going to be good enough for our new family. In the end we decided to build a new house in Wilson County and rent a house while we tried to sell our old place. So we moved out of the old house and spent a few weeks fixing up the old house and getting things ready to sell.

After the house was ready to go, we met with our realtor and put a sign in the yard on a Monday evening. We agreed that the listing would go up on Realtracs Tuesday afternoon. We were definitely shooting for a single person or a young couple hoping that the small size and historic neighborhood would be our hooks. We ended up compromising on the listing price with me wanting to go lower and The Mrs. wanting to go higher. Our realtor very carefully stayed out of that.

So the for sale sign went up Monday evening. Tuesday afternoon the realtor calls to tell me that the listing has just gone live on Realtracs, but he already has a tour set up for someone who just saw the yard sign. Wednesday morning I was on the way to work and I noticed my engine temperature redlining and steam coming out from under the hood of my car. Two hours later I'm in line at the mechanic and the realtor calls me again. He has an actual valid offer in his hand. For our full asking price.

I had to stop for a minute to let that sink in. The listing was online for less than 2 hours before he had a full price offer for the house. I very nearly needed a change of pants when he told me. After a couple of rounds of negotiation we ended up with a offer everyone was willing to accept. It was actually for more than full price, but they asked for several concessions so we negotiated the sales price higher but ended up making a little less than our original asking price.

The deal wasn't without its ups and downs. The buyers were first timers in their early twenties, and relocating from out of state. My realtor gave me the impression that we were really negotiating with their parents, and their parents wanted to play hard ball. We were definitely sweating the home inspection. There was nothing wrong that we knew of, but you never know what might happen with a house that old. Their inspector didn't find any major problems, but he wasn't very professional in what he wanted us to do. He included things like trimming the trees next to the house, changing out the locks (common sense says that the buyers themselves should do that just to make sure we don't have a spare key), and removing a couple of things from the cellar. The things to remove from the cellar included the old furnace which was way to big fit through the cellar door. Apparently the house was built over the top of it eighty years ago, but it was a menace to the new owners.

So we ended up spending some money doing things that really weren't necessary, but once again we lucked up. Turned out that they needed to be in town immediately for work, and rather than try and find a temporary rental they wanted to rent our house until they could buy it. Their loan took extra long to process because they were so young and newly out of college, so I actually paid for most of the unnecessary things they asked for by charging them rent for six weeks.

So we were basically lucky as hell that everything worked out so well and so quickly. I think everyone walked away from that deal happy. The only bad part of the situation was dealing with their unsavory realtor.

So now you have the evidence for my theory that Jesus was a twin. Between this experience and the ease that my bachelor pad got sold I think I make a pretty strong case.

Parental War Story #2

Every parent has their war stories. A colleague, and my oldest friend both had singleton boys a few months before the wonder twins were born. They've been telling their war stories to me for the past few months. Both suffered through several ear infections and various other ailments. Up until last month I just nodded and said 'Glad we haven't had that happen yet.' Not any more though.

Last month we had our own trial by fire. Saturday night as Luke was going to bed The Mrs. commented that he was sounding a little hoarse. That was the first sign of any ill health from either baby. Four hours later Luke was a wailing croupy mess, hacking like a 3 pack a day smoker and refusing to sleep for more than half an hour at a time. I won't tell the whole sordid story, but suffice to say Leia didn't escape unscathed herself. Several days later Luke was on the mend and we thought we'd dodged the bullet with Leia. And then she got hoarse. She didn't end up getting the croup like her brother, but she did end up with an infection in both ears and an antibiotic that has to be take twice a day for 10 days. Anyone ever try to give an unwilling infant medication? Not recommended.

Here's the highlights of the week:

- Two doctor's office visits.
- Four after hours calls to the doctor's office. (My favorite was at 4 AM.)
- Three sleepless nights. (The Mrs. handled this a lot more than I did. Props and monetary donations go to her.)
- Approximately 523 doses of medicine administered to unwilling babies with sharp teeth and flailing arms.
- Eleventy billion hours of pacing while holding a twenty pound baby. (My left bicep is HUGE.)
- Two new dehumidifiers at a combined cost of $100 at Target.
- One episode in which Leia produced a Linda Blair style projectile vomit.
- Two different grandmothers dropping in to help at different times.
- One late night visit to the 24 hour pharmacy.
- One sick wife.
- Five sick days used by me.


Just Who's Watching Who?

They say when you have kids your house becomes a zoo. I always assumed that was a figure of speech meaning kids introduce a lot of chaos to your life. Turns out I was wrong.

Having kids has turned my house into a zoo literally. We've got our very own fence up to keep two rampaging 9 month olds from eating the clorox and washing it down with the contents of the dog's water bowl. They're generally allowed free reign in the den, but the fence goes up across the door.

It's been a problem for the dog. He and The Mrs. spent a lot of years together and he follows her around like a puppy (Sorry, couldn't resist the lame joke.) when she's home. So he ends up sitting on the opposite side of the baby fence looking in a lot. And of course the babies are fascinated with him so whenever they see him on the other side they congregate right at the fence so they can watch him. So their's lots of staring and drooling on both sides of the fence.

It almost feels like the anti-zoo. We're the ones confined in the small area, and he's the one on the other side observing every day family life. Okay, so I've spent too much time thinking about this, but it's always good for a laugh to see the three of them eyeing each other through the fence.

Today's post is for the Parent Blogger Network. This week they're promoting the new learning product iKnow Animals Letters & Sounds by asking parents to talk about how their life is like a zoo.