Friday, September 30, 2005


One thing which I did not think about when I started this blog, but should have if I'd spent about 5 seconds looking ahead, was the likelihood that, after a while, new insights would become a lot more rare. And while I never intended this to a blog that described what I had for lunch today, as the meta has faded into the background of everyday existence, that is more or less what has happened. Looking back over the past few months, posts dealing with the special concerns of being a SAHD have dropped pretty close to zero. Even posts about parenting are not exactly flying off the presses.

Part of it is distraction. The House Business™ has been my life since April at least. Searching the MLS (sometimes several times a day), meeting the realtor, looking at houses (many of them twice -- once for myself and once with Trish), driving around neighborhoods, delving into demographics, asking about schools, etc. etc. And then we get a house and immediately plunge into fixing it up. This past week I've actually had a day or two in which there were no house-related errands and I found myself wondering what to do with the time. It was kinda weird.

All of which is a long way of saying that, in addition to the standard list of stuff that must happen every week, I had a lot to do which, at least to my mind, didn't really have anything to do with being a SAHD, and tended to drive out anything that did. And if I didn't just write to say what was going on, I wasn't going to have much to say.

I'm pleased to see that despite the unconscious morphing of the blog into what it is today, folks have continued to read it. Which must mean there is at least still some entertainment value to be had, even if the insight has dropped off.

Monday, September 26, 2005

This Old House: Austin Day 18

I had a hurricane post half-written and never got back to it, so I guess its too late now. Too bad, I had a great title for it: "Praise the Lord and pass the Plywood".

Work on the new home continues apace. I wish it would go faster, but considering the guy thought he wouldn't even have gotten started until last week, I can't complain too much. What’s wild is the effort I've had to go through in order to choose stuff for the house. Multiple trips to Lowe's, Home Depot, and numerous specialty tile, woodwork, and plumbing shops to find what we like and want.

The tile has been particularly rough. The tile we plan to use in most of the house is set, but the tile for the entryway and countertops has been a bear, to say the least.

This. No, that. No, not that, its marble and no suitable for a kitchen counter top. Granite? Needs to be sealed periodically. Silestone? Costs too much. This? Too rustic. Too light. Too dark. Too plain, too striking, too much much much!!!

Except that we may have finally nailed it down. That just leaves the backsplash…

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Write? Right? What?

Approximately a zillion years ago (okay, more like 10 months -- pretty close) I said I going to try and devote myself to writing and acting. Wanting to be helpful, Trish suggested I read Bastard On The Couch so that I could see what sorts of reflective essays were getting published. After all, what is a blog like this but a set of self-reflective essays? It's also part of the reason I read Slacker Mom.

And we all know how well those turned out.

Between Couch and Slacker Mom (admittedly, not a statistically valid sample), I wonder if there's a market for self-reflective essays for someone who's not either self-obsessed or an inveterate whiner. Not that I don't whine on occasion (like now). But as one person in that otherwise excerable book noted, Redbook and its ilk have a storyline, and they are not keen on publishing something that doesn't follow it.

It is true that when I fantasized about being published, I thought I had a different sort of writing in mind. But on reflection what was different about it was mostly the subject matter. Instead of being about my experiences in relationships, it would be about struggles to fix up our ranch, or my work in the movies. I'm just not going to be an investigative reporter, at least not until Jacob goes off to college. More likely, never.

Which does make me wonder about this writing for money thing. I think I could do a good Dave Barry. Except we already have a Dave Barry. Well, maybe no one would notice. I would hardly be the first copy-cat.

Booger. Which, by the way, would be a great name for a rock band.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Total Parent Quality Management

I don't know about you, but I regularly go through periods of wondering if I'm doing a good job as a parent. This feeling can take many forms. The most recent being the "playmate" thing. I know for a fact I'm not the most fun dad there has ever been, and I mostly accept that, but it doesn’t mean there aren't days when that knowledge, for whatever reason, gets to me more than others.

When I was in college, I had a course or two that dealt with the ideas of Total Quality Management (TQM). Books have been written on this, but the idea I took from it was the one of using feedback to engage in a process of continuous improvement. In theory, this could be applied to almost anything.

So, in a fit of concern and a recollection of the feedback principle, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and asked. Specifically, I asked Jacob while on our way home from school last week what, of things that could be changed (we couldn't go to Disneyland every day, for instance), would he like to see changed about what I did as a Dad. I told him that he needn't answer right away, that he could take his time.

Nevertheless, I gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter than usual.

His response did not take long.

"I think you should park closer to the playground. That way, we could stay longer, and I wouldn't hurt my feet as much on the walk back."

I see, I replied. Well, I couldn't park closer if other people got there first, but I would try. Was there anything else?

"Could you come by and eat lunch with me at school?"

I realized we were a month into the school year and I had not stopped by to eat with him. I solemnly promised to try my best to come by the next week.

He felt that was good enough, and addressed himself to finishing his smoothie. My eyes didn't mist over or anything, but my heart was light enough to boost our MPG by at least 5 the rest of the way home.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Review: Confessions of a Slacker Mom

Confessions of a Slacker Mom
Muffy Mead-Ferro

I picked up this book at, of all places, a Scholastic Book Fair being held at my son's school. Somehow, in dipping into it, I thought I was going to be getting a funny look at modern child-rearing from the mom perspective, perhaps a kind of Erma Bombeck-Dave Barry stir fry.

Not quite.

Mom is actually fairly serious, despite a certain irreverent tone. More on that later.

The author in this short and small (a sort of pamphlet after several rounds of weight-lifting and high-protein shakes) book takes issue with…well, pretty much everything most people seem to take issue with regard to the rearing of children these days. Overscheduling, getting the kid on waiting lists to exclusive prep day cares before birth, scrapbooking their first sippy cup, that sort of thing. Oh, and being overprotective, etc.

At first I was nodding my head in agreement. After all, she grew up on a cattle ranch in Wyoming, and much of formative years were spent on a cattle ranch in South Texas. Kids don't really need a battery-powered geographic globe-thing to have fun -- a sturdy stick will often do nicely. But after a while I began to get a bit tired of the same ol' same ol' of the book, which ran thusly: Slacker mom encounters some excessive behavior, slacker mom decides either out of conviction or laziness not to engage in said activity, slacker mom justifies outcome of said non-engagement by describing how it is better for the children not to have it.

There's only so much of that one can take, even if you are in general agreement. Oh yeah, and that tone. What starts out as irreverent after a while starts to seem…I'm not sure I can describe it, but to me it comes off as a sort of sarcastic smugness. And aren't these sort of things often pretty easy targets, for all that people do seem to engage in them? And while I confess to having given our son Jacob too many toys, the arbitrary way they limited toys for their kids struck me as insane. And even when admitting it was arbitrary, the author rolled on to her standard defense of her attitudes.

[you need a "to be sure" graph here -- ed.]

To be sure, the author says she might be wrong, the things she complains about might not always be all that bad (even harmless). But its pretty clear that she doesn't really buy that. Otherwise, why do it? Finally, I have to acknowledge that part of my reaction may be due not getting what I expected. I wanted something funny, not a long bit of self-justification.

In the end, despite generally agreeing with the slacker mom's thesis of trust your instincts, don't over do it, you don't really need the "Baby Genius Super Brain Developing Mobile" in order for your kid to get into Harvard Medical school, I can't say I liked this little book, nor can I recommend it (unless you have a friend who could really use a good talking to about chilling out on the French flash cards for their two-year old).

Monday, September 12, 2005

This Old House Austin: Day 1

I really must apologize for the lack of blogging. And for that matter, the tenuous if not non-existent link of the blogging I have been doing to being a stay at home dad. But if you've been reading this thing you know I've been busy with the work on the new house. And that's tough, because my best times to write are in the morning or the evening. Lately I've been dashing out of the house in the morning, and by evening I've been way too tired to produce the sparkling wit you, my dear readers, have come to expect.

(I have to confess, though, that prior to last weeks exhaustion due to house business, I spent many nights playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic in a fashion that could only be described as obsessive. I've not had that much fun with a computer game in a long time, and a supposed RPG ever. And because it was an older game it was also pleasant to go into the Options and turn everything up to "Maximum Glitz" while still getting a smooth-running game. But, I digress.)

I spent the better part of last Thursday and Friday dashing about hunting down the perfect bath fixtures™ (and that's important because you can spend absolutely freaky amounts of money on a faucet). The amusing part for me is that I'm the one who cares what they look like. Trish for the moment is a lot more worried about the light fixtures in every part of the house except for the bathrooms, which for some reason I care about.

Why was I spending that time hunting parts for the bathroom instead of blogging about the inability of people to "get" SAHD-dom, a la RebelDad? Well that was because the electricians showed up on Friday and were going to need some of this stuff, and the plumber is supposed to arrive on Monday and they will need even more. That is assuming, of course, that they show up. Everyone who has dealt with contractors and major projects has told me that these people are rarely on time. The electrical guys, for example, were late Friday morning. Now, once they arrived they were extremely professional, but there you go. The plumber was also supposed to come by and have a look at things, but he had been knocked cold by a freak air bag deployment when his car smacked a curb after he had swerved to avoid another car. I swear I'm not making that up. Maybe he made it up, I don't know, but even so it’s a helluva story, even if you can only use it once per job.

Hopefully he'll be feeling better by Monday.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Onward Through The Fog

I do hope you enjoyed your Labor Day weekend. We did, though we were sort of working. Trish's sister came into town to help with the new house. Her sister is the sort of person who can tell you that brown is Right Out for a room, but Burnt Umber would be the bomb. Since I'm the sort of person whose ability to color coordinate pretty much ends with "Light pants-dark shirt or light shirt-dark pants" she was very helpful. In fact, as I type this she is at the new house engaging in a bit of decorative painting for the hall bathroom.

She also helped us in contractor choosing by applying her observation skills to the bids, and telling us which ones looked more reasonable to her. There are times I still think it would have been better and faster and cheaper if I had simply done most of this job as piece work, handling all the details myself. But c'est la vie.

And I do wonder about expense. I'm the sort who in this case feels like that if we want to do these various things, best to do almost all of them right now. Trish is clearly leaning to letting a few go for a couple of years, in order to save some money. Hers is an altogether sensible proposition. I do wonder if we choose to wait if we will ever work up the courage to do them two to five years down the road.

Sometimes I find myself screaming in my head "We can't do it, we can't do half of it!" Then I remember we are planning to sell this, and sell that, and some money will come in from over here, and I relax.