Homeless caveman squats in area sunroom

You can’t really call a room with coordinated throw pillows a man cave. It’s the closest thing I’ve got though.

My house is too small and my family is too big. I have only three children, but my boys have a way of building themselves in to a horde. They are everywhere, and even when you can’t see them, you can still hear them.

I lived many years in our home without feeling the need for my own special space. In the past year, things have changed. First, the living room TV has been taken over by video games. I have two kids addicted to PlayStation and one kid who is happiest when his brothers are playing it. Intently preoccupied boys have not one second to waste vexing a younger brother.

Second, I recently discovered I can read again, after a 10 year hiatus, if I hide myself well enough. Being better equipped to distract themselves now, these bloodhounds don’t hunt me down as constantly as they used to. I might be able to slip away for 20 minutes of solitude.

I need a sanctuary.

The bedroom doesn’t make for a good man cave, and it’s the first place they look. The basement is too cool and humid, and occasionally it floods. I’m not trying to spelunk in my cave. I just want to watch sports and read.

Over the summer, I discovered I could slip away to the Three Seasons Room to catch moments of peace. I even read an entire book out there, over three seasons. These stolen moments were a delight, but I can’t say I established a man cave.

Color coordinated pillows. Humbug! I can hardly bring myself to nap on them.

There are many flaws.

  • The name, Three Seasons Room, is pretty generous. It’s more of a Two Seasons and Spare Change Room. Maybe round it up to 2.5 seasons. November through March are cold, barring a very mild day with hours of sunshine.
  • The room is right off the kitchen, so if any kid needs help getting an emergency cup of juice, I’m the first responder.
  • It was furnished by the lady of the house, which means it’s tasteful, and worst of all, inviting. It has matching stuff, no neon, nor any of the other assorted, tacky paraphernalia that tells people to zip it when the game is on.

    Breakfast nook with table centerpiece. I expect this to become a man cave essential any day now.

  • I made the mistake of putting a Roku TV in there. It’s kind of a poor man’s smart TV. It’s a TV with an average IQ that seems genius compared to the dim-witted TVs I’ve always had. Now, anybody can watch Netflix movies at the push of a button. Maybe I don’t know enough about man caves, but I don’t think they’re meant for men to watch Smurfs with their families on football Sundays.

My 2.5 Seasons Room is not much of a man cave, but it’s a baby step forward. I’m not greedy; I don’t need a whole cave. I can live in a man cubby for a while.

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Everything’s going stale, except the vodka

With three boys, it’s a challenge keeping foods fresh in their original packaging. Little boys can’t read the instructions on packaging. Older boys can, but reading is a chore reserved for schoolwork, not to be mingled with the pleasures of gluttony. You’d swear our victuals were opened with a sledge-hammer.

The impatience of hungry children leads to bags and boxes ripped beyond recognition, incapable of keeping contents fresh until the next feeding frenzy.  This serves the little piglets right, and would be a great lesson, except sometimes Daddy seeks an edible morsel from the pantry.

We have lots of random foods sealed in storage containers.

Sometimes you can’t blame the kids. Some foods have been packaged to combat freshness.

Exhibit A

 

embrace the stale

Defuse this time bomb.

Saltines, in their waxy, rectangular sleeves, have vexed me since my first bowl of Lipton Noodle Soup.  I learned how to mix the soup powder in water 45 years ago. I’ve still not figured out how to open a sleeve of saltines.

I feel like a bomb disposal recruit trying to defuse the end of a saltine packet, gingerly tugging at the corners, visualizing the package blossoming into a neat square opening. In spite of my great care, I will send a gash halfway down the sleeve.

Even when opened perfectly, there is no good way to close up a sleeve of saltines for later. After the first use of saltines, I might as well throw the remainder of the sleeve away.

Exhibit B

I consider the 1/3 portion that will be wasted as tribute paid to the Universal Baking Mix Gods.

The bag inside a box of Bisquick is recycled from old bullet-proof vests. You have to be a strongman competition winner to open it with your bare hands, and if you do, you’ll find yourself lightly breaded. You can cut it open with scissors, if you have scissors tough enough to pierce Kevlar.

Bisquick does not deteriorate like saltines, but I find myself spilling a good portion of it, pouring it from the bag I mangled during the “attack with sharp objects” step of my baking recipe. When the bag is empty, I can get three more pancakes from the loose mix accumulated at the bottom of the box.

Exhibit C

Do they still even make the triangular hole punch can opener anymore?

Dole makes delicious pineapple juice, but was it packaged in 1918? A sealed can of juice? I suppose that makes it easier to ship to our troops fighting Kaiser Wilhelm.

As it happens, pineapple juice is a great mixer for vodka. When you’ve made vodka your summertime choice for that after-getting-the-kids-in-bed relaxer (because it’s much cheaper than scotch and goes good over the rocks with pineapple juice), you’ll want a supply of pineapple juice that will keep in the fridge. No matter how you manage to open it, a metal can is hard to close up again.

That liquid in mason jars in my fridge isn’t liquor. It’s pineapple juice, which I happen to mix with my liquor, which, by the way, comes in a bottle, with a cap, that I can put back onto the bottle to keep its contents safe and civilized. Now that’s packaging!

Mr. Owl, why do they keep making brown Tootsie Pops?

Remember this guy?

“Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

Wise

When you have to say “I don’t know,” but you want to appear wise about your own ignorance.

Mr. Owl is almost as old as I am. The Tootsie Pops he’s selling are older. Tootsie Pops were my favorite lollipop in those days. My boys seem to enjoy them as much as I did.

In all the years I’ve been eating Tootsie Pops, one thing has never changed: the chocolate ones (wrapped in the brown paper) are horrible.

All the other flavors are delightful, but the brown ones just plain suck. Even the texture is off-putting. The worst part is the brown always seem to be the most plentiful color in the bag.

study in brown

How did an orange one survive this long?

This is a photo of our candy bowl. It could have been a photo of any waning stash of Tootsie Pops from my childhood. The other colors disappear but the brown ones just sit there forever. Eight kids grew up in my house. We competed like wolves for treats. The brown ones collected dust.

Today, the tradition continues. Big Man is our most avid fan of Tootsie Pops. Whenever I see him with one, I tell him he shouldn’t be eating that color. “The [insert non-brown color] ones are for me,” I say. “I bought the brown ones especially for you. Those are the ones you should eat.”

He laughs like that’s the most ridiculous thing ever mentioned to him. “No. The brown ones are yours,” he answers. “You have to eat them.”

For a long time, I wouldn’t buy bags of Tootsie Pops simply because I feared my house would become full of uneaten brown ones and I’d have to move my family to a place with more storage.

But the orange ones won’t stop calling my name.

I stave off temptation as long as I can, but between me and a bag of Tootsie Pops I’m the biggest sucker.

Why do they keep filling the bags with the awful brown ones?

The world may never know.

Toys R Us dies the way it lived: disappointing children

Guess who got stuck holding a Toys R Us gift card?

No, it wasn’t me. That would have been sad.

It was my nine-year-old son. That’s even sadder.

Last weekend Big Brother decided it was time to buy a new game for the PS4 he got for Christmas. He dug through his wallet to count his money. In the midst of digging, he exclaimed, “We can just get a game from Toys R Us. I have a gift card!”

He produced a bright, festive, probably worthless, Toys R Us gift card with the unfulfillable words, “happy birthday” emblazoned across it. He must have got it at his party last summer.

bankrupt

What kid doesn’t want a lesson in bankruptcy law for his birthday?

I knew Toys R Us is going out of business, and even though they are still selling toys for cash money, some bankruptcy court somewhere had given them the right to refuse their own gift cards as payment.

Did I know my son was holding one of those quickly-expiring cards? Nope.

My son probably knew he had a Toys R Us gift card, and maybe he knew Toys R Us is in the process of going out of business, but being too young to understand the logic of the adult world, he certainly did not know that a business can lawfully stop honoring its obligations to its customers even though it is alive enough to accept money from those same customers.

Toys R Us has been in the business of killing joy for years. One Christmas I tried to order something online for my kids. It was in stock online, but I couldn’t have it delivered because it was available in stores, except it wasn’t in stock in any store within 100 miles, so I couldn’t get it either way. They’ve always played these games, which explains their demise.

I warned my son to ask the Toys R Us cashier about his gift card before he picked out a game. Sure enough, we’d missed the deadline for redeeming by one week. The worker couldn’t even tell us how much the card was worth. Instead, she handed him this paper.

File a claim

Step 1: File a claim. Step 2: Hold your breath.

As much as I would like all the stiffed nine-year-olds in the nation to file claims with the US Bankruptcy Court, I would advise them it’s not worth the effort. The form is several pages long. If they fill it out and file it properly, they might get some portion of their $20 gift card refunded, but probably not, because unsecured creditors (e.g. gift card holders) are last in line for repayment.

Big Brother found a game on sale at a different store and used his money. He got over the gift card disappointment faster than I did. (I’m sure I’ll get over it soon.) I can’t even completely pin this on Toys R Us, though I’m not ready to exonerate them. It seems to me, this is the American legal system putting giant corporate lenders before individual children.

The foolish children spent their money on games instead of lobbyists.