Jun 30, 2011

Bopped in the Face with Balloons

I'm a big fan of carving out 20 minutes each day to do something fun with Pigtails.  It doesn't take much, just giving the kid a little bit of one-on-one time playing and laughing together.  This is an easy way to show her that I love her.  Knowing that she has a dad that cares seems to make her a happy and confident little girl.  

When she was a tiny tot, we'd sit in the living room facing each other, feet touching, rolling a fat pink ball back and forth.  She squealed and clapped.  As she aged, ball time matured to bouncing it to each other.  Eventually, it morphed into catch, kickball and baseball in the backyard.  

Lately, Pigtails wants to play with the pile of balloons leftover from her birthday party.  So that's what we did tonight.  I snapped these photos before chucking her in bed, so much for not getting her wound up before bedtime.

I think parents sometimes overdo it with possessions and formal activities for the little ones.  Kids mostly yearn for quality time from mom and dad, not Game Boys or too many activities.  Do kiddos really need to be in soccer, dance, piano, choir, summer camp, swim lessons and bull riding at the same time? 

She's 9 now, I realize I've only got a year or so left before she'll be rolling her eyes at jacking me in the face with a large green balloon.  So I'll grow with her as she grows up, changing our play to make it age-relevant.  When she's a teen, we'll run, hike, ski, bike, eat ice-cream cones and play cards together.  Hope she'll still want to sneak in a cuddle on dad's lap when her friends aren't watching.


Follower Freebie - $20 Target Card Update

Crawling towards 20 people in the hat for the $20 Target gift card.  Getting folks signed up for $FREE MONEY$ is proving more difficult than catching a greased pig.  Here's the list so far:

  • SingleMama
  • Gr8Spirit
  • Christine
  • Andrea
  • Beard (oh wait...)
  • Laura
  • Anonymous (what the?)
  • Robin
  • Brooke
  • Lilly
  • Sarah
  • Genny (signed up twice, very crafty)
  • Cari
  • Becka
A few more to go, I'll likely draw in the next week or so.  Enlisting Pigtails' help, attack (link):

    I'll have to up the Follower Freebie ante next time, perhaps a 1,000 peso shopaholic free for all.

    Thanks to those that signed up, it's nice to know a few people are reading this thing.


    Jun 28, 2011

    Ask Me

    Beard and Pigtails is now six months old and I've spewed out 80+ posts.  I look forward to churning out hundreds more in the coming years.  If I had the time, I'd post daily.  There's a lot to say. 

    Having a good time, but something's missing.  Blogging is surely more fun when there's some back-and-forth action going on.  So I'd like to hear from you, the three readers that stop by and visit every so often.  

    If you have a question for Pigtails or me, please leave a Comment below and I'll get back to you.  Maybe you have questions about the headgear I wore in 6th grade (and 10th grade)?  I'm also open to feedback and would like to hear topic ideas you might have.  Fire away!

    Thanks for reading and passing the word along.


    4th grade

    Jun 26, 2011

    Kitchen Reboot - 4, Slate and Subway, Fire and Ice

    When blueprinting the new kitchen, it was important to balance things out and offer a sniff of contrasting material.  Everything in moderation.  A little stainless steel, not a lot.  A touch of hard oak butcher block, but don't go postal with it.  

    I realized a slate floor would be heavy, dark and brutal, so searched for a material to counterbalance and oppose to lighten things up.  A simple white subway tile on a couple walls would do the trick and smack the bleak floor down to size.  Even better, butt these yin and yang materials together at the base and force them to play well together:

    Gobs going on there: new window, subway tile on wall, slate floor and trim, short take on table and wet paint

    Walked in after work as Dave was laying slate, he glanced up and muttered, "Boy, I tell you what, this stuff's a real bit..." he paused and glanced over at Pigtails, then stammered, "Uh, a real big pain in the butt to install." 

    The same stone old chalkboards are cut from, it's formed from layers of mud compressed deep in the Earth by megaton natural forces.  Jet black and cool on the toes, slate slabs are difficult to install due to variances in layer thickness and uneven edges.  Each 24" tile weighs several pounds.  Unexpected bonus:  Pigtails can scrape it with an 8-pack of jumbo chalk and draw quick-erase floor art.  

    Kitchen's narrow, only 8' wide, so we did the old horizontal stripes trick to try and fatten things up.  I asked Dave to slap the floor tile with the long edge pointing side-to-side.  Helps a little, not as cluttered now and looks less like a small circus cage. 

    I didn't want the traditional backsplash that peters out halfway up the wall.  Clean lines, I prefer to stretch it up yonder and touch the ceiling.  Also decided to subway tile a second wall.  Just for the heck of it.  And perhaps because I hate painting.  Dave cringed when I suggested it, he was worried it'd look terrible.  However, he gave me a knuckle punch when complete, it turned out nice.

    Didn't plan on replacing the two kitchen windows, but said "Do it" when Dave mentioned a pair of Jeld-Wens would only cut a few hundred bucks from my pocket.   Haven't been able to open the old crusty windows in the 12 years I've lived here, so this was going to be a big deal.  I like open windows; a salty storm's brewing and the west wind's whistlin' through the screen now as I type.    

    That's it for now.  We'll do cabinets and counters next week.  Might even toss in the kitchen sink.


    Jun 24, 2011

    Fervent Futbol

    Practice in the backyard with Pigtails usually goes something like this:

    1)  Jog a quick warm-up to loosen up, pass the ball back-and-forth, followed by...
    2)  Pigtails accidentally line-drives the ball directly to the cash and prizes as she squeals and claps.  I smile, tell her that didn't hurt, then turn around, bite a knuckle and fight tears.

    The spring soccer season wrapped up a couple weeks ago, just ahead of the steam sauna that chokes the Midwest each June.  Coach Brad and Shane led the Green Dynamite/Dragons/Leprechauns (girls changed the team name almost weekly, very fluid) through another round of ball kickin', shin splintering good times.  Ten girls, most of them in 3rd grade and attend the same school as Pigtails.

    The players did a good job this year of covering their position, not all clustering around the ball like flies on manure, spreading out and passing it around defenders towards the net.  I suspect the favorite part of the game for many of the girls is still treat time at the end.  Especially when someone brings in cookies and punch juice boxes.

    Photos from the final game below, I tried to get shots of all the girls on the team.  Hope you are not pulling this up on 56k dial-up:

    Jun 21, 2011

    Short Beards are Not Creepy, Take the Card

    Halfway to 20, a ways to go before we draw the Target cardI look forward to the day when I can give this thing away, I've had it with that presumptuous little punk dog 

    A reader mentioned folks may be skittish sharing their address if they win.  More likely, people think guys with beards are creepy.  Fear not, I'm currently clean shaven.  Plus, short beards are fine.  Below's a color-coded facial hair creep-scale to help you decode:

    Highly Creepy

    Facial hair in the code red category includes handlebar mustaches, frowners, mutton chops* and unkempt frontal neck hair.

    Dudes in this group tend to drive ice cream trucks and flash tattoos needled on painful areas like knuckles and eyelids.  They possibly haven't showered in a week and smell like the downwind side of a pork packing plant on a 90 degree day with no air conditioning.  Avoid direct eye contact and don't sign up for free Target cards.

    *Note:  Possible bump to slightly creepy if mutton chops are there for Civil War reenactment purposes. 

    Slightly Creepy

    Code orange facial hair includes curly french mustaches, overgrown monobrows, nose hair that pokes down far enough to touch the upper lip, Fu Manchus and anything resembling Colonel Sanders. 

    A tad creepy but mostly harmless, male versions of cat ladies may fall into this category.  Awkward but safe, probably okay to go ahead and sign up for a free Target card.

    Code green facial hair includes goatees, short beards*, 5 o'clock shadows, Magnum P.I. walrus 'staches and hairy ear holes.  Men in their 50's attempting badassness (soul patches), grandpas (hairy ear canals) and me (short beard in cold weather only) fall into this category.

    Other than the occasional mayonnaise smear in the beard or mustache, this group is safe.  Go ahead and sign up for a free Target card.

    *Note:  Beards under 2" are benign, 3" - 4" are slightly creepy and anything longer than 4" shifts into the red zone (ZZ Top, bin Laden and that weird mailman).  Exceptions for Santa Clause, the Amish and Hasidic Jews; they get a pass and are benign, regardless of length.  Unless they drive an ice cream truck.

    Hope that helps. 

    If you haven't already, please leave a comment to sign up for the Follower Freebie.  I'll add your name to the drawing.


    -Beard (short and non-creepy)

    Jun 20, 2011

    Please Take the Target Card, I'm Begging You

    With God as my witness, I will rid myself of this $20 Target card

    Getting 20 people signed up is proving more difficult than teaching Pigtails to juggle kitchen shears.

    Let me repeat my pathetic plea:  Leave a comment below to enter the drawing.  Pigtails will randomly pull a name.  No strings attached.  If you win, you can spend it on whatever you want:  hot dog buns, toilet paper, Blublockers, iTunes card to e-load your Bieber, hemorrhoid cream, 42" TV.  It's your call.

    Here's the list of who's in the hat, thanks for signing up:
    • SingleMama
    • Gr8Spirit
    • Christine
    • Beard (oh wait...)
    • Andrea
    • Laura
    • Anonymous (what the?)
    • Robin
    • Brooke
    Sneak on what's cooking for posts this week:  Fervent Futbol,  Kitchen Reboot New Life, and maybe even a random poem.  There was a request for some unicorn poetry awhile back, we'll see.


    Jun 16, 2011

    Kitchen Reboot - 3, Destruction and Alarm Clock Calamity

    If you haven't signed up for the Target Follower Freebie $20 card, mosey your mouse over and leave a comment to enter the fray.  I know it's hard.  There's the moving of the mouse and that dreadful left click thing and all that borish typing and stuff.  But you can do it.  Don't make me send Pigtails over there, she's a mean tickler. 

    Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program.  Queue the Kitchen Reboot...

    It gets worse before it gets better.

    Layers of linoleum peel like skin from an orange, dissolving down to plywood subfloor.

    Drywall rips and grinds to powder.

    A plumber bends over and flashes crack.

    Crusty plastic wall panelling pulled to expose drug-enhanced 1950's wallpaper sporting:  alarm clocks, tea kettles, butterflies, strawberries and unidentified objects (what the heck is that on the left, a gravy boat?).  Was Leave it to Beaver's mom huffin' leaded gasoline shots when she picked up a roll of this gem from the sales rack?  Completely ridiculous yet awe inspiring, I briefly considered keeping a small frame of the crazy paper intact as a nod to the past. 

    Normally a do-it-yourself dude, I wimped out on this project and hired contractor Dave to spin the saws.

    It'd require months for me to tame this beast alone.
    I didn't want to be without a stove for half a year.
    We hit a couple of cranky snags along the way where I was very glad to have a pro online.

    And you pretty much need a licensed contractor to handle the code work of plumbing, electricity and drywall.  This town has a tough code and beefy $$ fines if you fail to adhere.

    line above cabinets marks where the whoopsie started
    The first zoh mother of God moment occurred roughly 8 minutes, 32 seconds into the teardown.  I asked Dave to remove the soffit topping the upper cabinets.  Slap chopping that section would create space and let us slide the new cabinets higher up.  When he punched it with a Sawzall, ceiling rafters greeted him.  Note to self: there's reason they put a wall there when they built the house.  Maybe we shouldn't have touched that wall to begin with.
    bleepin' rafters

    Dave shrugged it off and said he'd figure something out.  Dave's the man.

    Destruction takes time, 50 years of floor, wall, cabinets and trim were cut and chucked, filling up a large rollaway dumpster.  Couple hundred just for a dumpster, it was clear this puppy was going to bite the wallet.

    Dave summoned the electrician, I rattled off my list and watched him wince, then lick his chops:  Recessed can lights x 5, dim em'.  Wire a light over the door for a cheery entrance.  Hardwire lights below and in upper cabinets, ninja style.  I don't want to see any exposed wires or lights.

    yeah, let's do take-out tonight
    Remove the ceiling fan and button down the wiring box there, remove a couple outlets, add three new ones.  Hardwire appliances, cut ceiling and install circuit for hanging light over table, wire dedicated circuits for appliances that eat the voltage, such as the microwave. 

    The above kept a crew of electricians busy for a couple days, they ended up rewiring the entire kitchen and installing a new feeder box in the basement to bring it up to modern code.  $3,000 worth of wire.  Gulp.  Withdraw! Withdraw again from the rainy day!

    progress:  wiring, lights, backer board
    I asked Dave not to skimp on the subfloor, go with a thicker cement board to shore up and kill the flex that was there before.  Most tile cracks due to a flexing subfloor, not from dropping iron skillets.  Costs a bit more, but laid correctly, the slate floor will last a century.

    Particulates from the tearout and backer board install gritted everything, even drifting down to the basement, dusting the couch and TV like a dirty blizzard.  Pigtails and I ate out of a microwave for weeks, pulling plates and forks from the guest room-turned-kitchen.  
    It was a hassle and not ideal pumping drywall into the lungs.  But I knew it gets worse before it gets better.

    Jun 13, 2011

    Curly Butt Hair

    So we are snagging bread, I gotta pee, a real bladder buster, which is bad, since bathrooms at grocery stores are notoriously filthy.  You are probably nodding in agreement and know this is true because kids always have to squat when out and about.  We've toured every loo in town.  I think the big draw is the auto-flushing toilets and pumping mounds of foam soap.  

    I'm pretty sure if any toxic fumes emanating from that bathroom drifted over to the fresh produce and settled amongst green leafy lettuce, there would be a serious E. coli outbreak. 

    Wash and get the heck out of the stink closet.  Of course Pigtails now has to go.  She gets it done, we pay for groceries and walk across the street for a birthday ice-cream treat.  As I'm mid-lick on a monster twist cone, she draws close and whispers:

    "Daddy, there was a butt hair on the seat in the bathroom.  It was curly.  Did you go stinky?" 

    I laughed loudly, nearly busted the snap holding my shorts up and sprayed cone.

    Paused to think about how to answer her question.  She was staring, with an inquisitive look on her face.

    "Well, you said it was curly, I have straight hair, so it couldn't have been mine.  Plus, I didn't go stinky."

    She smiled, but couldn't figure out why I continued laughing.  


    Garlic Bread Girl

    Rummaging through Pigtails' end-of-year school papers, I discovered her vocabulary journal.  She describes the word "volunteer" as such:

    "Work or help without giting paid.  I would like to volunteer at St. Joes."

    Below that, she draws the word in action.  It shows a happy kid standing in front of an oven with locks that look like a droopy hairnet and stubby wing-like arms.  The text bubble sprouting from her nose reads:  "I am garlick bread girl".

    We occasionally help out at St. Joe's shelter, cooking a meal of spaghetti, garlic bread and vegetables.  I particularly like this shelter's bent, it's the only one in town that focuses on poor families.  The other shelters divide into individuals:  men only, women only or youth.  Joe's allows the entire family unit to live there while the parents get back on their feet.  The clients are only allowed to live there for a short period of time, must help with chores and are assisted with finding a job.

    Tough love, teaching them to fish and a focus on personal accountability.  I like it! 

    Stinking up the kitchen with garlic since Pigtails was 5, I realized it was a simple way for my daughter, from a young age, to better appreciate common things we take for granted.  Like food and shelter.  That first time she noticed small children her age living there, and I explained to her what was going on, she very quickly understood the struggles they were facing. 

    Pigtails is helpful and self sufficient as she smears two loaves of bread with butter and garlic.  I fry up two pounds of beef and get the noodles and sauce rolling.  It only takes 45 minutes, the benefit is right before our eyes and we get to briefly meet some of the families living there.

    It's never too early to get the tikes chugging along helping.  My goal is to stir in Pigtails' heart a desire to serve others.  I'll know it sticks if she decides to pass the torch to her kids in 20 years.

    I'm craving Italian now, time to roast garlic butter down a french loaf.


    Jun 11, 2011

    Terrified of Targhetto

    Five people have signed up for the $20 Target Follower Freebie.  Maybe readers don't care for that smug little pit bull with gang graffiti on his face.  More likely, only five people read this blog.  At any rate, Pigtails will be 14 years old and the blog renamed to Beard and Braces by the time we pull a name.

    15 slots to go before the girl draws, please leave a comment below if you'd like some free dough! 


    Jun 9, 2011

    Pigtails' Pizza Pie

    Daddy duties don't stop at policing Pigtails to look before crossing the street and validating she suds hands after squirting firefly entrails onto string to create night-glow necklaces.  That kid stuff's important, but just a few grains of sand on her life's hourglass meter.  

    I'm raising a future adult, spouse and mother.  So day by day, I feed my little girl small tidbits of wisdom and craft, whittling away like a potter on clay to form and shape her.  I'm hoping after 18 years, she'll be molded and equipped with a stash of tools to be successful in life.  

    On a misson now to teach her how to cook.  She turns 9 this weekend, plenty old enough to make the carbon steel sing in the kitchen. 

    Step one is teaching Pigtails to enjoy food and not be a finicky eater.  Her tongue's been branded by a wide swath of vittles.   I'll write a post sometime on kids and food, there's a lot to spew on that one.  I'll just say we we don't shut it down at Mac & Cheese and a juicebox and call it a day.  
    Training the brat to be a good cook now will ensure her future husband and kids are taken care of later on.  Plus, she'll be able to whip me up tasty, soft food in my old age when teeth dissolve into sawdust.  

    Cooking together is fun and a great way to bond with a tasty finish.  She made pizza tonight.  I cooked the Italian sausage, sliced the veg's and manned the oven.  She did the rest. 

    Pigtails was very proud of her finished pie.  She treated it like a messy, edible, scalding hot craft project.


    Jun 8, 2011

    2010 Grandma's Marathon - 2, Getting it Done

    We continued the assault, passing a fast looking triathlete in a skinsuit.  I often wonder if tri-guys are high maintenance.   Is it necessary to wear Breathe Right strips, belts of carbs, yards of spandex, muscle tape, visor and a host of other crap when not partaking in the swim and bike portions?  Simplify, less is better when running (Heb. 12:1, Twinkle Toes).  We threshed him like wheat and bobbed past a couple men from east Africa that had blown gaskets and/or squirted hot brown chunks in their shorts.  An elite lady was grimacing as fatigue cut her thighs like a plow breaking sod.

    Lake Superior at Duluth, close to the finish line
    High humidity prevented the sweat and water I slung down my back from evaporating.  The sun’s rays poked as hot irons through split clouds.  Aaron said we’ d be in trouble if the clouds broke and the sun fired at us unrestrained.  No doubt about that.   We lucked, as it stayed mostly overcast as the temp needle idled in the 60’s.  Plenty warm, but the lowest temp for this marathon in five years.  I’ll take it.

    Mile 17, I struggled to keep the tempo on beat, but forced my legs into submission.  Experience told me it would be easier to run faster with another than to slow down and run alone.  He asked how I was feeling, told him I was bogging down, but insisted he press ahead and I’d hold on for as long as possible.  Translation:  I drafted for awhile.  He pulled ahead at 20, working up a two block lead. 
    you can see the finish bridge from the start line 26.2 miles away
    Perhaps the extra carbs consumed 18 miles into the dance did the trick, as the barking quads strengthened leaning into Lemon Drop Hill with five miles to go.  A series of head-down-and-grunt-it-out miles closed the gap.  Aaron came back at 24, told him to stick to my shoulder.  He didn’t respond, legs were smoked.    

    A few details trickle out as I recount the course.  The quartet stringing clean classical notes at the fish market.  The home for sale on the north side of Duluth for $129,900, sign trumpets move-in condition.  The underage guy with a big grin, running beside at mile 24 attempting to shove me a plastic cup foaming with beer.  The finishing bridge so close, yet so far away.  Body submitting a request to slow down, but mind denying with a command to FINISH IT!

    Heavy crowds on both sides cheer us the final miles to the chute.  Normally I’m cranky by this point in the race, but this day I’m in a good mood, feeling solid and high-fiving a string of smiling spectators. 

    That’s a Wrap
    The marathon glow burns brightly as Kip, Jenny and I reconnect in the finishing area.  Cataclysmic muscle tightness descends, turning our legs to wood as we hobble through the recovery tent.  I snag a cache of Jennie-O turkey sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies, iced Coke, strawberries and bagels.  We collapse on a curb and rehash what just happened over the last three hours.  Our faces light as we learn each of us did as well or better than expected.  Jenny was one place and one minute out of the money in her age group.  Impressive for this being only her second marathon.  Kip pushed through leg pain for a BQ.  I ran my best race by a few minutes.  High fives, all around!

    We hobbled (where is a Rascal when you need one) to Lake Superior's 45 degrees of shrinkage, decompressing locked legs for 11 numb minutes while sipping Coke.  Kip's stomach was in knots, he sidelined it while Jenny and I gritted Superior's icy wrath.  It helped speed leg recovery, but made us shiver, mylar helping only a little.

    Cold Stone Pwnd
    We drove from Duluth to Minneapolis that afternoon and dropped Jenny at her sister’s house.  A very nice family.  At the MOA, Kip wrangled down an ice cream abomination as part of his strict recovery diet.  Cold Stone offers “Like It” and “Love It” sizes.  He should have shut it down at the “Like It” size, as the “Love It” scoops piled into the chocolate dipped, nut covered waffle cone put the hurt on his digestive track that was already crowning with fistfuls of soft shell tacos.  He was talking when he started on the cone, getting quieter as he progressed down the waffle and was mute and slightly pale in the face by the end.  He admitted that fighting down that last third was tougher than finishing the last couple of miles in the race a few hours earlier.  He’s a true warrior and an athlete.

    Grandma’s turns 35 June of 2011.  So do I.  Let’s dance. 

    *Click Here for Part 1*


    Jun 5, 2011

    Beat the Heat

    The calendar says spring.  But the temp gauge spins to summer.  

    Conversation with the kid goes like this:  
    "Dad, dad, dad, can we go to the pool, huh?  I'm hot, let's swim, c'mon daddy!"  

    It's difficult to say no to this: 

    I respond: "Maybe you can see if the kids next door want to play in the water."  

    ZAP!  She vanishes in two blinks.  A little later, I peer over the fence like Wilson on Tool Time and capture the water war waging between neighbor Will and Pigtails. 




    Water bill for an afternoon of giggles ~  $2.
    Being a kid, sharing a carefree summer with a best friend ~  Priceless.


    Jun 4, 2011

    The Fresh Air Fund - 134 Years of Serving Children

    I vividly remember family vacations as a boy.  

    We seemed to travel exclusively to exotic redneck destinations.  Like Dollywood in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  Air conditioning consisted of hand cranking open the window, thighs sticking to the Dodge Aspen's burning vinyl seats like slabs of cheese melting atop beef patties.  The three siblings duked it out over a shared 6.75 oz. Capri Sun juicebox, younger brother riding bandit in the rear cargo bay of the station wagon like a small frightened dog with mange quarantined from humans.  A single seatbelt in the car, dad simply stuffed it deep into the seat cushion.

    And yet there were always those quiet moments of the trip that made it all worth it.  Like watching the sun launch from the Atlantic like a slow rocket, warming the bleached sands of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

    Summer without vacation is like lemonade without sugar.  
    boy in front needs a vacation, NOW!
    Kids need a breath of fresh air.  The Fresh Air Fund is an independent, not-for-profit agency that's been sweetening summers for low-income children since 1877.  Thousands of host families in suburbs and small communities across 13 states, from Virginia to Maine and Canada, volunteer to open their homes and hearts to help those that are unable to afford summer smiles.

    Please consider helping, donations and host families are needed.