The Easy vacation

On Saturday, we’ll hop in the car and head southeast down to Emerald Isle. Boy…that’s gonna be nice.

We haven’t really had a vacation in a year, since we last went to EI. Having a baby and taking 3 days off from work does not a vacation make.

We’re describing this as the easy vacation. The more difficult one is coming up and looming on the horizon. But back to March.

What we most look forward to is the bridge. After you’ve passed through Swansboro NC, you make a right turn and head towards the water. Looming ahead of you is a tall bridge. You start to cross the bridge and pass over the sound and Intercoastal Waterway. Usually, at about the halfway point, we can feel it…we’re on vacation.

In the fall of 2008, we took a long weekend trip to EI. Work, as was the case at the time, sucked balls. We probably hadn’t completely gotten over the Great St. John Disaster of 2008 and I had been on the road non-stop. But, when we crossed that bridge, we felt a wave wash over us. We were back on EI and all was well.

So, we’re heading out this weekend. This will be our first time away from home with the baby. Anyone with children knows what that means; we need to hire a moving van. The volume of space needed by a child is exponentially inversely proportional to their age. Shmuppie gets a part of the suitcase and a clothes basket. We let her fill the basket with toys, games, movies, etc. If she doesn’t pack it, it doesn’t go. She’s on her own. As a result, we end up with some odd things in the house, but, as long as she stays in her basket, she’s fine.

Chicken, on the other hand, is fun to pack for.
Let’s outline what we need to bring for her:

Clothes: Approximately 47 outfits per day. Yes, we have a washer and dryer at the house we’re renting, but any parent worth anything knows to prepare for a baby explosion at any time. One night a few months ago, we went through 6 pairs of PJ’s in an hour. One must over pack for a baby.

Seating: Sure…we could rent something, but our experience with the island’s gear rental agency is mixed. So, we pack seating. The bumbo will likely go because it’s small. We’re not sure if her table-top feeding/smearing chair will go or if we’ll pack the collapsible one. She’s still a bit too small for the collapsible, so the other chair (not collapsible) may have to go.

Pack and Play/crib: This must go because the child needs to sleep and be contained somewhere. This does fold up, but it’s still big.

Things to play with/drool on: We’ll need assorted chew toys. While small, they need to be accounted for at all times.
Linens: We’ll need all 700 spit rags (the affectionate term we use for them) with us. One can never have enough of these. We’ll need sheets and blankets…again…you always need 3 or 4 sets.

Consumables: Diapers, creams, bottles, formula, etc. We won’t need too much because there’s a supermarket within walking distance of the house, but we still need to bring some.

Of course, we’ve already blown through the available space in the car and are moving on to the roof rack…all for a relaxing vacation 2 1/2 hours from home.

Yes, this is relaxing.

The adults will need some clothes I suppose.

I’m allowing myself a wine box for my goodies…there’s a separate wine box that will be filled with cheap wine. My one box will hold my cooking essentials. Because, of course, I go on vacation too cook dinner every night. Trust me, it soothes me. Cooking a dinner of fresh seafood while watching the sun set over the ocean relaxes the hell out of me. But, this means I need to bring essentials:

Kitchen essentials:
Knives – I can’t trust the house. I’ll need 2 or 3 good knives
Pans: I had to buy a pan last spring. I have a large non-stick “vacation pan” and a shallow Le Crusset (perfect for cooking fish)
Seasonings: I’ll being my little bag of tricks from St John Spice along with other essentials like sea salt, olive oils, and other things like ketchup and mustard
Dry goods: I’ll bring rice and couscous. I could buy it there, but it’s in the house already
Real food (This goes in the big cooler): We’ll pack cheeses, breads, hot dogs, these lovely little dumplings that Trader Joe’s makes, bacon, sausage, and other things of the sort. I’ve been hitting on sale items for a while now to prepare for the trip. Again…I could buy all of this there, but if I can buy it for 40% off at home and bring it, why not do so?
Booze: We’ll bring a case of $3 Chuck and I’ll provision the rest at the local ABC store.

We also need things like beach umbrellas and little sun shade house things for Chicken.

We’re gonna look like the damn Clampetts as we pull out of town.

And, yes, this is the easy trip.

I’ll be less than 3 hours from home and have access to real supermarkets. The house’s water will work and there will be no termites. Saturday morning will be frenzied and JewelrySlut will stay out of my way until I reach the point where I declare “Fuck all of this. It’s not fitting”. At that point, she’ll pack everything and I’ll seethe.

This is the easy vacation.

I’m already terrified of July’s trip. There’s so much on the line for that little island and our future on it. Will the flights be on time? Will the bags (and cooler) make it? Will JJ’s be open? Will the house work? How soon after landing will one of the 4 of us need to strangle Shmuppie because she’s mad that there are no go-karts or zip line tours on St. John?

A lot of my dorky island friends seem to be engaging in a competition lately. They’re all trying to prove to one another who is the “most St John”. They do this by going down 4 times per year and putting off car payments…just to go over and over again. I’m not one of them. We’re all prepared to walk away should this go wrong.

But…next week…it’s the easy vacation. And I look forward to it.

Nope…half-assed is fine with me.

As I may have mentioned before, in 1998, I started a company. The Half-Assed Carpentry Company got its start in Hackettstown, NJ when I first became a homeowner. The HAC specialized in home repairs that included the wrong hardware and tools. Need to screw something in? Lack a proper screwdriver? Use a hammer! Need something level? Well…mostly level is good enough.

Over time, the HAC was incorporated into HAI (Half-Assed Industries). Wholly-owned subsidiaries include the HAPC (painting), HAEC (Electrical…where flipping a switch down does not always mean “off”) the other HAPC (Plumbing), HAFC (Flooring), HACIC (Cabinet Installation (If it rolls out…too bad!), HAKC (Kitchens), HADC (Decking…”Use America’s Screwdriver when your screw gun’s batteries die!”), and so on.

In a nutshell, I am a corporate empire.

And, while all this work has gone on in the basement, I’ve warned the subs time and time again that they were in danger of copyright infringement each time they did something silly.

Well, folks…today we make an exception.

This story takes a while, but it delivers in the end.

In the beginning, there was a floor drain in the store room of the basement. The A/C condensate and hot water heater bleed line drained into it. All was well.

October 2005. As we all know, that’s when we flooded for the first time. The main sewer line outside the house backed up. Water, being fond of gravity, found the easiest point of exit from the system; said floor drain. Basically, the main backed up and started going back towards our house through our house’s 6″ sewer line. Rather than start crawling up the main line to the 1s floor, it sought out freedom and flowed out the floor drain.

They cleaned the sewers and were supposed to maintain them. In due time, I suffered a mental breakdown and had to resign as HOA president. The new board subsequently fired the sewer cleaning company and hired a group of poorly trained rhesus monkeys.

May 2009: Flood again. After this flood, we got a plumber in and explained the situation. We no longer trusted the HOA to keep crap out of the house. We designed a device. The water from the 2 lines would drip into a little cup that was attached to a P-trap. This would sit on the “Input” side of a 1-way valve. It would tie into the main. Water would drip into the cup, through the 1-way and into the main. We would not have backups. The floor drain was cemented over (Pronounced CEE-mented).

January 2010: Construction starts. The plumbers come in to do the bathroom, get one look at my device and wonder, out loud, what kind of idiot designed that thing…seeing how it broke every code and ordinance ever written. I explained the problem and they applauded my creativity. They also said they could never pass inspection with it in place. The plan was to do everything properly and then come back in afterwards and hook the little cup back up. OK…

Last week: They’re finishing and a plumber comes and hooks the cup back up. Randy and I look at the setup and immediately know it’s going to fail inspection. We tell said plumber. He acts (in Randy’s words) “like a dick” and leaves.

Friday: We fail. The inspector gets one look at it and just flunks us on the spot. Randy calls me that afternoon from Chicago to check in.
“We failed”
“Goddamn son of a bitch…oh…I’m so sorry”
“Randy…I said worse”

Today: the good plumber is back. The plan is to take the condensate line and, where it comes into the basement form upstairs, have it slope downward until it can be tied intot he line for the new basement A/C.


Not enough fall in the line. It won’t work.

We huddle in the crawlspace to ponder this.
“Where’s that floor drain”
“You’re not uncovering it”
“No…I have an idea. Get me a hammer”

The plan is to re-run the condensate line towards where the floor drain used to be.

“Grady (the inspector) is fat. He’s never going to crawl in here.”

The plan is to run the line and have it terminate just above a metal shower drain screen. You know…one of those metal thingies that catches your hair and whatnot. It will look like a proper drain but won’t be. Bus, Fat Grady will never be any wiser.

They’ve restored the previous situation and can pass inspection. Then, afterwards, the little P-trap goes back in and everyone leaves.

The bottom line is that the line “Grady’s fat” is the best plumbing-related line ever spoken…anywhere.

We’re faking a drain because we all know the guy’s too damned lazy to properly check it out.

The HAPC would officially like to induct this man into its Hall of Fame. Never has caulk, a hammer and cleverness been used for a nobler endeavor.

Where we try to eat on the cheap

On another website, someone recently wrote about a project their kid had from school; make dinner for a family of 4 for $4.

Could I do it?

Let’s see.

I need to bend the rules a bit here: I need a few days to average it out. Also, seasonings were not counted, so all my spices are considered free.

I haven’t done this math yet, so let’s see how this goes:

We were at the Farmer’s Market last weekend and something at the piggy store caught my eye. I spied some “meaty backbone chunks”…mmmmm….meaty chunks. It was only $1.19 per pound and looked rather meaty. Assessing porcine anatomy, I figured that these pieces were not going to be gristly or anything; in fact, they looked downright lovely. A low and slow approach would render them heavenly. I scored about 6 1/4 lbs of the good stuff.

Total spent: $7.42

I cooked the meat on Sunday. It got seasoned with salt and some of Ruth’s Savory Seasoning. Several hours later, I checked it and the meat was bubbling away in its own juices; practically begging me to shred it apart and allow it a longer simmer. I happily obliged.

What to serve with it???

I also had wanted to make sauce. 2 big cans of tomatoes, 1 can of tomato paste and half an onion came to probably about $4.50. Of course, I ended up freezing half the sauce, so, for this experiment; the expense was only $2.25.

We need pasta! $1.20 because in NC people don’t know how to properly discount pasta.

Throw in a head of lettuce for a salad: $1.49.

1/3 of a previously purchased and discounted loaf of garlic bread: $.33.

I ended up splitting the meat in half and packing away a large container of it. The other half got tossed into the sauce pot along with several ladles of the pork juice. The pasta was tossed in.

This fed the 3 of us on Sunday. Of course, we only ate half of the pasta, so we’d generated leftovers.

Monday: I dove into the remaining pork.
I split half of it out of the container (lovely now-gelatinized juices and all) and plopped it into a large pan. I set it on low and just let it melt.

The remaining half of the onion got cooked with 2 cups of rice. What’s that cost? About $1.00???

I thawed out a Mexican-type green sauce that I had made the week before. It had probably cost about $6.00 to make and I thawed half. So, the dinner-related expense was $3.00.

I simmered the pork until a lot of the juices reduced out. This left me with super-concentrated pork. I put the rice and onions on a plate, spooned on a helping of pork and put the sauce on top. Viola! Dinner. The rest of the salad was served on the side.

We managed to eat nearly all of it. We left a little rice behind.

We’d gone through the lettuce the night before, so we needed to buy more. $1.49 down the drain. Shmuppie ate some leftover ribs and the rice for dinner and JewelrySlut and I had the remaining pasta.

Mind you; at this point, we still have enough pork left for another dinner.

So, let’s run that math and see how I did:
Pork: $7.42
Sauce fixins: $2.25
Pasta, Lettuce, garlic bread: $3.02
Rice and onion: $1.00
Green Sauce: $3.00
More lettuce: $1.49

Total: $18.18. And…remember, we still have pork left over for tonight. I sense burritos or tacos in my future.

Math rules: Let’s count Shmuppie as half a person when it comes to food consumption. She makes up for it in her “Pain in the ass” factor so she comes out whole.

I got 7 1/2 adult servings for $18.18. And the math says: I didn’t make it. It came out to $6.06 per meal. However: I have another dinner tonight to make and am still using that 2nd head of lettuce and the remaining meat. I may not quite make it under budget, but will be damned close.

What’s my point? As usual, I don’t have one. But, when I saw the price of that pork, it got me thinking that I could probably produce food good enough to make you cry and do it very cheaply. This is a big help, especially when you consider the wine bill from this week. But, we’ve been economizing there too and the wine of choice for us is 3-buck Chuck.

The lesson learned: It doesn’t have to be expensive to be damned good.

That s all.

***Basement update on the left*** (or right)


5:30: CREAK! (This door, while annoying is an excellent early warning system and that’s why I don’t fix it)

“Are you wet?”
“Then go to the bathroom and go back to bed!”

I drift back to sleep. Through the haze, I hear the cat yelping.
(In my head) “Goddamn mother blerging stupid cat…my life for a pellet gun”

At this, I leap straight out of bed, hit the ceiling fan, bounce off the ceiling, suffer a heart attack, stroke, and a series of involuntary muscle twitches
“I don’t feel good”
I hold out my hand, in a “Get over here and press your head against my hand” motion.
She stands still.
(Hand still extended) “Come on!”
She feels slightly warm and is also reporting “Boogs (short for boogers) in my mouth”
I have no idea what that means, but it sounds nasty. I crawl out of bed, happy that I don’t have to pee (Men everywhere just nodded in appreciation of what I’m really saying) and stumble to her bathroom.
She turns the lights on.
I recoil like a vampire and nearly fall down. Blinded, I reach for a bottle of any kind of medicine. Cold Medicine? That’ll do. I pour a shot of it, hand it over and stumble back to bed.

6:00: CREAK!
“What’s wrong?”
“I need to go potty”
I drift back to sleep…only to wake up 3 minutes later remembering to set the alarm.

Meanwhile, the cat decided that now is a good time to crap and yell about it. Earlier this week, I had to move the litter box to the landing on the stairs because the basement’s been taped off and the litter box is too big for any of the bathrooms. So, we get to listen to scratching and yelping in F-minor.

Shoot me.

I stumble out of bed, brush my teeth, shave, pee and get dressed. Into her room I go.
“I don’t feel good”
I feel her head…it feels warm. I get the thermometer. She’s warm. I fetch some Tylenol, hand over a shot and tell her to go to sleep.
“If I feel better later…”
“NO!” (CrazyAnne had offered to have her over this evening for movies with her grandson.) “Go back to sleep”

I stumble downstairs and decide that today warrants a full pot of coffee. I normally make a mug of instant during the week. Don’t make that face at me. It’s quick and it has caffeine in it. As long as you can get to the place in your head where you stop thinking of it as coffee and think of it as “what you drink in the morning”, it’s passable acceptable. As it brews, I start composing this story in my head. Chuckling to myself because, let’s face it, I’m just so darned witty, I start reading the paper. 4 minutes later, I’m done with the paper. My favorite part today was how the NAACP plans to picket the town of Wilson, NC because they have higher than average utility bills. Clearly, it’s because they’re racist and has nothing to do with how Wilson has decided to buy power from the grid…

In my head, I’m making a list of what I need to do.
Move the car so the drywaller can get the spot
Dial in to my 8:00 call
Think about doing a restore on the finally-repaired laptop

Out loud, I mutter “OK…move the JESUS CHRIST! WHAT ARE YOU A GODDAMN NINJA?”
The child is standing right in front of me. I didn’t hear her sneak into the room.

“Um…Um…Daddy? Um…I…um…”
(I lean back against the kitchen counters and put my head in my hands)
(At this point, you should be imagining the Chocolate Cake routine)
“I didn’t tell the truth…I…um”
(I now bend over at the waist with my head in my hands and pray for death)
“I only slept for 15 minutes…I didn’t tell the truth…um…I…um…then I read for a while”
“OK…whatever. Go back upstairs and get slippers and a blanket”
“Can I have breakfast?” Here’s where I notice a gleam in her eye. Time to test her because I think I see where this is going.
“Eggs and bacon and toast!”
“You’re kidding me. How do you feel?”
“FINE!” I check her head…she’s cooled down.
“Do you want to go to school?”
(I die a little inside)
“Go upstairs and get dressed”

We head upstairs and she proceeds to get confused. Today, at her esteemed, hopefully soon to be former, school is Pajama Day! Next week, we’ll have “Let’s make up another excuse not to educate your children while the teachers sip bourbon day”. She puts on another pair of pajamas. I log into the laptop. I need to tell the 8:00 people I won’t make the call.

Here’s the email I send:

I will certainly be late and may not make the call.

Little Miss 7 decided that she was sick at 6:30 this morning. However, she now claims to have recovered and wants to go to school.

With my wife away, tending to her ailing father, I’m flying solo this week, so I have to get her moving and off to school.

Remind me weekly to thank my wife for all she’s done during the MANY times I’ve been away over the past 5 years. I’ll probably need to put in a standing order at the local florist.
**Work stuff follows**

“Are these too small?” She’s got on long sleeved PJ’s that stop mid-forearm. She’s also not wearing underpants.
She gets another pair. These are skin-tight.
“You look like a fool” (To self…we may need to buy more PJ’s) “This school of yours is so stupid”
She brushes her teeth and goes into her room. Clearly pissed at me, she gets another pair and VERY SLOWLY gets them on.
I die 467 more times.

Downstairs we go. I nuke some pancakes and she eats.

We head to school where she is signed in as “tardy”

I sign her in as such and leave a note for the school’s Data Manager. The same woman who, a week ago, sent home a note claiming that the child had not been properly vaccinated. This was discovered after she was bitten by another student. Of course, they sent home the other child’s medical records to our house…in which we could clearly see that this child was not properly vaccinated. Score 3 for Wake County! Nothing like a good old fashioned medical-related privacy violation to the home of the kid whose father had made a career in the business of managing people who routinely make such errors and then gets blamed for them thusly causing him to switch jobs to a far more rewarding job at Xerox with a lot less stress and annoyance in which he routinely thanks coworkers for being so darned wonderful and not publicly humiliating me to the point that the child can now perfectly imitate the voice of a Senior Director who liked to call me “Rooooooooooooob”
(Whoa…I may have gone into a fugue state there)

They decided she’d been improperly vaccinated because she got some shot before she was 6 months old. However the rule says “24 weeks (6 months)”. She got it at 24 weeks and 4 days. Rather than argue the point to the woman at school who claimed not to have access to a 2002 calendar (making me wonder how a Data Manager exists without the internet), the child had gotten shots on Wednesday…the day of the delayed opening and early release from school…in other words, a 3 1/2 hour school day.

JewelrySlut gets home tomorrow. I shall hug her when I see her.

In as few words as possible

Shmuppie bitten
School sent home medical records
of another student
I had a stroke
School claims Shmuppie was not vaccinated
School can’t read a calendar
JewelrySlut is in FLA
Chicken is in FLA
I don’t have to use fancy pillows or pillow shams
Drywall is going in the basement (update at left…or right….just look for it)
Work is busy