A week between entries? Way to keep people interested, dummy

Jesus Christ, can somebody open some windows in here? Talk about stuffy. Place smells like a morgue.

Whew. Sorry ’bout that.

So, yes, I’m back from my weeklong semi-hiatus, and much love to you the faithful who have continued to return, day in, day out, to see if I’ve gotten off my ass and written something for you, only to find that I sucked, and hadn’t. (Which reminds me: Hi! Have you met my sort-of-daily Photo of the Day-ish feature? It usually comprises not only a breathtaking piece of photographic brilliance, but also some elegant, witty and wonderful prose relating to said photo. I generally update it Monday through Friday—unless I’m, say, staying at my in-laws’ and working until 3:30 a.m. on a side project three consecutive nights in a row, or driving to/home from Philadelphia for six hours after a full workday … so, even when all those words on the homepage look old and stale, there’s usually something new to look at and read by clicking on that little Photo of the Day thingy over there on the right. And thank you for allowing me to indulge my inner salesman right there, whose presence I was unaware of until I just slipped into full-on Photo of the Day-promotion-whore mode.)

Alrighty, then. So, how many of you, once every few months, take a 700-mile-roundtrip drive with your 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son? Raise your hands. Mostly just me? Well, then you are missing out.

Around 7:15 last night, about 50 miles into our journey from the suburban-Philadelphia area to the suburban-Boston area, Zan, who was playing a game on his Nintendo DS, began clapping his hands together—slowly, forcefully, loudly, repeatedly. A few moments later, I heard him frantically scratching something plastic against something plastic.

“Dude, what the bloody fuck are you doing back there?” I asked when the next round of clapping began. (No, not really; “bloody” is considered very offensive in Britain, and we’re raising our children to be citizens of the world.)

“I’m playing my game,” he said.

“And you have to clap like that for the game?”

“Yes!” he said exasperatedly.

Then the frantic plastic-rubbing-plastic sound again commenced. I turned to Wonder Woman, who turned to look at Zan, who was seated behind the driver’s seat. She then turned back to me and pantomimed for me what she thought Zan looked like as he flailed his plastic stylus back and forth across the touchscreen in an effort to make his cartoon hedgehog run faster. She contorted her face in a look of extreme physical exertion, tensed her entire body and wagged her hand maniacally back and forth in a masterful display of air-Nintendo. I managed not to crash the car as we laughed our asses off.

While all of this was going on, Jayna was watching “Tinkerbell” on the DVD player, the two screens for which are mounted on the rear of my and Wonder Woman’s headrests … meaning the speakers are, like, three millimeters away from our ears … so our heads were filled with the sounds of clapping and scratching and “Tinkerbell”-ing.

And Jayna doesn’t just watch the movie; she accompanies the movie with her own running commentary. In fact, she accompanies every waking moment of her life these days with a running commentary so rapid and incessant that onlookers probably think we have her hopped up on crack.

“Zan, look! See those glasses! They make his eyes look BIG! AGGGHH! He’s silly! Zan, which one is he? Zan? Which one is he? Which one is he, Zan?”

“I’m trying to play my game, Jayna!” Clap-clap-clap, scratch-scratch-scratch.

“Mommy? Mommy? Mommymommymooooommmmmy? Mommy? Mah-moo?”

“Yes, Jayna? Yes? What?”

“Which one is he?”

“Which one is who?”

“The one with the glasses. Which one is the one with the glasses? Which one is he?”

“Umm—”

“He’s Bobble, Jayna!” offers Zan.

“Oh! Yeah! Bobble! Haha. Bobble! Bobble is sooooo silly!”

And now Wonder Woman and I are having a laughing fit, because we have both looked at each other and shared a non-verbal, spontaneous epiphany, and that is: we live in a fucking insane asylum.

In all fairness, the kids are actually great at doing this ride. Five-and-a-half hours is a hell of a long time to expect two kids to sit in their car seats, and they have never once complained about getting in the car to do so. Part of that is because they’ve both been doing this drive several times per year since birth, and part of it is because we leave shortly before bedtime, and they sleep most of the way home. (And part of it is because, seriously, they’re really great kids, if I do say so myself.)

We have this trip down to a science. We leave around 6 or 6:30, and, when the first bathroom break is requested—usually about an hour into the drive—we make a pit stop so that we can all use the bathroom and I can top off the gas tank. That is usually the only stop we make, and shortly thereafter, I am the only one left awake in the car. Me. And silence. For hours. And an iPod full of Howard Stern. Ahhhh.

Of course, every now and then, that first bathroom request can come at an inopportune moment … like, 12 miles from the next rest stop.

“Mommmyyy, I have to go to the potty!” Jayna alerted us.

“OK, sweetie, we’ll pull over in a minute.”

And then we saw the sign: “Next services: 12 miles.”

And it is at this point that it became time to play the “Let’s Distract You and Appease You and Make You Believe We’re Almost There” game for 10 minutes.

“Mommmmyyy, I can’t hold it!”

“OK, honey, we’re almost there. We’re just looking for a bathroom.”

Another two minutes pass.

“Mommmyyyyy.”

“I know, sweetie. Daddy’s just looking for a place to stop.”

Daddy is also trying to find the right speed at which to travel—one that is supersonic enough to get us there before she pees herself, but yet, reasonable enough that the nice policeman would be understanding if he pulled us over and discovered on board a wailing three-year-old with a soon-to-burst bladder.

During the last few miles before we reached the next rest area, Jayna gave up on words and instead let out a pitiful whining sound every 30 seconds or so, to which we responded each time with an “We’re almost there, baby,” and a “It’s right up here, honey” and a “We’re just about to pull over, sweetie” until finally, thank sweet Jesus, we made it. (And there’s always something kinda cute and special about seeing the kids in their pajamas and sneakers heading into a rest stop; it’s as if their participation in this journey gives them carte blanche to break some kind of “Pajama-Clad Children Are Supposed To Be In Bed” law, and they feel like they’re getting away with something.)

Once we got back on the road, I soon had a carload full of sleeping family, and it was smooth sailing the rest of the way home … except for the fact that the car, which had handled so splendidly all the way from Boston to Philly, and halfway from Philly to Boston, started making The Noise again … the very disconcerting noise … the one that made me wonder if something really, really catastrophic was about to happen … but then quickly subsided and made me think that I should just keep going and hope for the best … which is what I did. Thankfully, we made it home in one piece, and, while a story about abandoning our packed vehicle on the side of the Garden State Parkway in the middle of the night for fear of a potential catastrophe would probably make for a fascinating blog entry, I’m glad I kept going.

And on that note, it is time to begin repairing my sleep pattern before my transformation into a vampire becomes irreversible. Buenos noches.

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Posted in Jayna, Life, Parenthood, Zan | 15 Responses

Driving me crazy

It’s time for one of our periodic drives to Philadelphia for a stay with the in-laws. (And before you get all “Oy, vey, the in-laws!,” let me just say that I actually enjoy visiting my in-laws. I know, right?) We’re scheduled to depart at around 6 p.m. today.

The thing about driving to Philadelphia is that we actually have to drive to Philadelphia … and a 700-mile roundtrip adventure sort of demands a safe and reliable automobile. The thing is, keeping a 12-year-old Honda CR-V with 35 bazillion miles on it safe and reliable is becoming more and more of a challenge.

But both of our cars are paid for, and biting off a new car payment would be even more of a challenge right now (read: impossible) … so, instead, we have to pinprick ourselves to death with this repair here, and that repair there.

And there was more pinpricking last week, because the oil pan was leaking, and just as I was getting ready to take it to the shop for that repair, the exhaust started to go all Harley Davidson on me, and the thing sounded like a Sherman tank, so I had to get that fixed, too … to the tune of about $800, and can you say “How much room is left on this credit card?”?

So, yeah, that sucked, but at least we took care of it a week before our drive to Philly, and it actually seemed to be running and handling quite nicely in the wake of the repairs, and, my gosh, honey, I think we might still be able to milk some more life out of this thing, because it really—BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG-RATTLE-RATTLE-RATTLE-RATTLE.

Well. That’s a disconcerting noise.

And now the Philadelphia trip was looming larger on the horizon, and I was wigging, both because of the limited amount of time we had left before departure, and because, Hello?? Just spent $800 on repairs that we thought would put us in the clear for some time to come!

So I brought it to the mechanic Tuesday, and described the BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG-RATTLE-RATTLE-RATTLE-RATTLE noise we had encountered, and explained that I had only been able to reproduce that sound by traveling on the highway at about 65 miles per hour, so I suggested that they would probably need to do the same in order to properly diagnose the problem.

A few hours later, the trying-way-too-hard-to-sound-sincere shop clerk listed off a litany of things they discovered that might have been producing the troublesome noise … which disturbed me greatly, because I didn’t want a list of things that might be producing the troublesome noise; I wanted a single, definitive explanation for what exactly, precisely, specifically, beyond a shadow of a doubt was producing the troublesome noise.

“Are any of those things a safety concern?” I asked him in an effort to locate the fine line between fiscal responsibility and daredevil-like lunacy. He told me the one item on his list that was an immediate safety concern, particularly in light of our plans to drive to Pennsylvania, so I really didn’t have any choice but to tell him to go ahead and make that repair. The rest of his list would have to wait … until, like, never.

So they repaired what they thought might have been the problem, but when I asked if they had taken the car on the highway to see if they could hear the noise, either before or after making the repair, they said they had not. So, after waiting two days to get the car back, I picked it up this morning … as in, eight hours before we were due to depart for Pennsylvania. And I just knew I was about to drop $450 for a repair that hadn’t solved the problem. (And I knew this because I KNOW EVERYTHING. Sure, the guy at the shop is a former Honda employee who has worked on nothing but Hondas for decades now, but I am Daddy Scratches, and my inherent superiority therefore trumps his, you know, “real world experience.” Pfft.)

So I slapped down another credit card, signed the slip, climbed into my car and headed for the highway … and began accelerating … until I got up to 65 … then 70 … and I was certain the drive shaft was about to drop from beneath the chassis, spear itself into the pavement and pole vault me and my car into New Hampshire … but …

Nothing. Not a sound. Hmmm. Maybe I had misjudged my superior knowledge of auto repair.

Still, I can’t help but worry that sometime around, say, 11 p.m. tonight, while cruising down the New Jersey Turnpike with my wife asleep in the passenger seat and my children zonked out in the back, I will suddenly feel the engine fall out of the car, tearing off all four wheels in the process.

So keep your fingers crossed and an eye on the Twitter feed (a.k.a. Daddy’s Briefs, over there on the right), and I’ll let you know if we make it.

[UPDATE: For those of you who didn’t catch the “tweet” (could Twitter please think of something less ridiculous sounding than “tweet” to describe a text message? Speaking of which: could Twitter please think of something less ridiculous sounding than “Twitter”?), the Scratches family arrived safe and sound in the Philadelphia area at around midnight … and the Honda handled as beautifully as it ever has, if not more so. Go figure.]

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Posted in Life | 17 Responses

Wall of shame

Oh, Scott. Things were going so well. So well indeed.

You see, Scott, I am a major control freak … but, unfortunately, I am neither qualified nor equipped to install Verizon FiOS. Thus, I begrudgingly had to relinquish control and allow you to have free reign around the inside and outside of my house today.

Don’t take it personally, Scott; I get twitchy and anxious when anyone is doing any work of any kind on my home. I always worry that the person performing the work is going to accidentally fuck something up and leave me with a new problem that didn’t exist until they dicked around with whatever it was they had to dick around with.

So, when you started drilling that big, fat hole in the side of my house in order to run your fiber-optic line into my basement—well, let’s just say that my anxiety rose to threat-level orange. Were you drilling through the cement along the outside foundation? And, if so, was that cement cracking and/or breaking off in big chunks as a result of your drilling? And just who is going to fix that, Scott? Hmmm??

Or maybe you were drilling through the asbestos shingles that form the siding on the house, in which case: were any of those shingles cracking?? Because then I’m really going to stress out, since a.) I’m told it’s nigh impossible to repair those, and b.) ASBESTOS DUST! AGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!! (Yes, I’m fairly certain a cracked asbestos shingle wouldn’t actually pose any health threats, grave or otherwise, but what if I’m wrong about that and WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE BECAUSE YOU COULDN’T HANDLE DRILLING A HOLE WITHOUT FUCKING UP MY HOUSE, SCOTT? HUH? WHAT ABOUT THAT?)

And what is the deal with that FiOS box and backup power supply you have to install in my basement, Scott? You’re mounting it where? On the wall? And you have to run a plug into the outlet shared by the washer and dryer? Well, surely, I should brace myself for an outright catastrophe of monumental proportions … one that likely will result in the wall being destroyed and Wonder Woman and/or I electrocuting ourselves while washing clothes.

And let’s not forget the fact that your installation almost surely is going to cause me to have no Internet access for, like, a week … which is unacceptable, Scott. The Internet is my livelihood, and my security blanket, and my friend, and I—why are you looking at me like that? OK, so maybe I love the Internet a little too much … but that’s none of your business, Scott. No, the thing that is your business is setting up my Internet service, and I just know you’re going to fuck it up.

Then, of course, there’s the whole FiOS-television situation. That’s really what prompted me to take Verizon’s bait to begin with: we’ve had Comcast cable for four-and-a-half years, and the picture quality, Scott … you’d weep. Weep openly. You wouldn’t? Well, I’ll do the weeping for you, since I’m the neurotic one here.

But now you’re telling me that, instead of installing a new FiOS jack near the television, you’re just going to use the existing coaxial cable—the very same cable that snakes its way through the basement and comes up through the floor and wraps its way around the room and has been delivering to us lo these past four-and-a-half years the aforementioned shitty picture. Well, that’s just great. All is lost. I’ve allowed you to fuck with my home for no reason, because clearly, I’m just going to end up with the same shitty picture.

So you see, Scott, I had concerns about your visit today. But you, sir, did a phenomenal job. Seriously. Everything went like clockwork. I was without Internet access for less than an hour, and when I established my new FiOS connection, I was more than pleased with the speed at which I was cruising the Internets.

And there was nary a hiccup with the phone service; my old phone number was transfered over without incident, and the phone works just fine, so no worries there.

And I’m not exaggerating when I tell you, Scott, that the FiOS television experience has positively exceeded even my wildest dreams about how much better the reception would be once Comcast was in my rearview mirror. I swear to Christ, everyone in the house feels like we just got a brand-new, kick-ass television. I can’t believe the same television we’ve had all these years is capable of producing a picture so crisp and clear and vibrant … and just in time for baseball season! I could kiss you, Scott. (No, don’t worry; I’m not really going to kiss you.)

Although, on second thought, I might have to kiss you, Scott, because you actually took the time, without my asking, to properly configure my new Verizon FiOS remote control so that I can control the television, the FiOS DVR, the DVD player and the surround-sound receiver with a single device. Did you happen to see the FOUR separate remote controls on the coffee table, Scott? Did you? We’ve been using all four of them ever since that fateful Valentine’s Day when Wonder Woman shared a little too much love with our universal remote. (And I’ll let you in on a little secret, Scott: even when we had that fancy-shmancy, expensive, universal remote, I still wasn’t able to get it to properly handle the whole simultaneously-turn-on/off-all-of-the-entertainment-center-components-with-a-single-click thing. But you made it happen. I don’t know what to say, Scott. Frankly, I’m a little verklempt.)

So, not only did you show me that all my anxieties about the FiOS installation were unnecessary, and not only did you do one hell of a job upgrading the technological infrastructure of my home, but you also bonded with me a bit about the Red Sox and U2, and my goodness, sir, it was a delight having you here today.

And then you left, and I marveled at the television picture some more, and then sat back down at my desk to do some work using my ultra-fast Internet connection, and man, was I relieved.

And then I heard a noise unlike any other that has ever graced my ears. I had not the foggiest idea what it was, but I was quite sure that whatever act had produced that sound was one of a wholly destructive nature. Was it a tree falling on a neighbor’s house? A nearby construction project collapsing? A giant ogre bowling a strike using a boulder and 10 cars?

Intrigued, I made my way to the front room and cast my gaze out the window, whereupon I discovered the source of that oh-so-unnatural sound.

And the source was you, Scott. You and your big, bulky, Verizon-FiOS-installer-guy truck, which you all-too-sharply turned to the right before clearing the end of my driveway, thus crashing the right side of said truck into the corner of the stone-and-cement retaining wall that runs around my front yard. And the truck won, Scott. Handily.

I know you can’t believe it, Scott. Neither can I. I mean, seriously, dude: after clearing every imaginary hurdle I had placed for you in my mind—with room to spare, no less!—you then caused a structural calamity when you were just inches from being in the clear (literally!).

You handled it well, though, Scott. You called your manager, and you sent to him a picture of the wall that you had taken with your phone, and you informed me that I can contact that manager and send him the repair bill, and he’ll see to it that Verizon picks up the tab, no problemo.

And for all of my neurotic anxiety, Scott, I was surprisingly undisturbed by the incident. In fact, if there was a predominant emotion that I was having in that moment, it was pity for you, because I knew you felt awful and embarrassed and silly about what had happened, and because I feared that you’d end up having to deal with some unpleasant repercussions at work due to your feaux pas.

But, truth be told, Scott, if you were going to fuck something up today, I’m actually glad it was the wall … because smashing the wall didn’t affect my ability to connect to the Internet, nor did it change the fact that I now have a startlingly gorgeous picture on my television.

Now, had it affected either of those things … well, that would have been unforgivable.

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Posted in Life | 20 Responses

Retaining wall: 0, Verizon FiOS truck: 1

Want the explanation? Here you go.

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TiVo’s ‘Video On Demand’ feature is AWESOME … and by ‘AWESOME,’ I mean it blows

One of the nice things about having two children who no longer are babies is that you can actually do things with them.

Yes, I know, there are those—Wonder Woman herself, even—who get all misty when they think about the baby years, and feel a twinge inside whenever they see someone with a newborn … a twinge that says, “Baby! Baby cute! Baby cuddly! Baby so sweet! Must have another!”

I feel a different twinge … a twinge that says, “Oh, you don’t even know what a great time you’re going to have during the looooooong, sleep-deprived, sanity-testing months to come. Have fun lugging around that kiddie carrier and diaper bag and bottles and burp cloths, and do be sure to enjoy changing poopy diapers that on more than one occasion will spectacularly fail to properly contain the poop, and embrace the notion of getting woken up repeatedly throughout the night by a helpless little being who can do absolutely nothing for itself, and screams and cries without being able to tell you what all the screaming and the crying is about, and, man-oh-man, I really need to send a fruit basket to the doctor who performed my vasectomy!”

But I digress. (Shocking, I know.)

Back to our topic, which it occurs to me I haven’t even mentioned yet, and thank you for your patience.

Here at Casa de Scratches, we’ve started a new family activity: Movie Night.

Movie Night is a weekly occurrence that we’ve decided will take place every weekend, usually on Saturday. So far, we’ve seen “Space Chimps,” “Space Buddies,” “Madagascar,” “Madagascar 2,” and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” and have I told you about the time my brain evaporated?

“Beverly Hills Chihuahua” was a last-minute replacement this past Sunday night (postponed from Saturday night so that Mommy and Daddy could drink—I mean, go to the Parents’ Social for Zan’s school). But before I tell you about Sunday, let’s jump back to a few Saturdays ago.

Because I don’t keep up with our Netflix queue, or with mailing back to Netflix the movies lying around here unwatched for months at a time, and because going on that grueling journey up the street to the video store is such a hardship, we, as of just before dinner time on the Saturday in question, did not yet have a movie for Movie Night.

“Ah-HA!” said I. “I shall use TiVo’s Video on Demand feature, which, through the wonders of modern technology, will beam a feature film right to our TiVo! Huzzah!”

Wonder Woman and I had used the service several months prior, and I remembered it as being quick and painless, so the kids and I headed to the family room to make a selection. As we browsed the menu on the TiVo, I noticed that the menu was moving sloooooowwwlllyyy—which I probably should have taken as a warning sign, but picking up on warning signs isn’t necessarily my strong suit.

We settled on the Pixar film “Chicken Little,” so I selected the option to pay for, and download, the movie. We then sat down at the dinner table while magical elves magically teleported the movie from their magical headquarters to our humble abode.

After dinner, Wonder Woman fired up the ol’ popcorn maker while I settled in on the couch with the kids, who were chomping at the bit. I attempted to cue up the movie, which had been downloading for some time, and was greeted with a message that said it would be several hours before we could watch the film.

That left me having to explain to my 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son that they couldn’t watch the movie I had spent the past hour getting them psyched up for because Techno Daddy decided to get all George Jetson with the Movie Night plans only to discover that the future has not yet arrived.

“But why can’t we watch ‘Chicken Little,’ Daddy?”

“Because Daddy is a boob, children. Get used to it.”

I apologized profusely to my clan, and we ended up picking as a substitute something from our own collection of mind-numbing children’s DVDs, all of which the kids have watched enough times to reenact them from start to finish.

The next weekend, Daddy wasn’t going to fuck around with Movie Night, no siree. I strapped the kids into the car and headed to Blockbuster. Zan wanted “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” Jayna wanted “Madagascar 2.” Daddy wanted a stiff drink.

I flipped a coin, and Zan won the toss, so off to the “B” section of the New Releases we went … and when we arrived, we discovered that every copy of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” was checked out, which he took really well—and by “really well,” I mean he teared up and blamed all of the evil in the universe on me, and threatened to boycott Movie Night entirely if we got “Madagascar 2.” Fortunately, he got over it by the time we returned home, and Movie Night came off without a hitch.

A week and a half later, shortly after returning from my trip to Austin, I noticed that the “Madagascar 2” DVD case was still lounging atop the television set. Balls.

Wonder Woman returned it to Blockbuster a day or two later, and I don’t even want to know what our balance is there. My plan is to never again rent a movie from them, and instead hope they go bankrupt before anyone notices how much we owe them.

So this brings us to this past weekend. On Saturday evening, Zan suggested drawing a movie poster for Movie Night, which I told him was a great idea. We agreed that we would pick out a movie the next morning and then make the poster.

On Sunday morning, Zan and I were on the couch shortly after 6 a.m., and he really wanted to get to work on the poster, so we navigated through some more agonizingly slow TiVo On Demand menus and chose “Robots.” The actual movie-watching part of Movie Night was a good 12 hours away, so even though the TiVo advised me that the download would take 10 hours and 26 minutes (???!!!), there was no chance of a repeat fuck-up, right? Am I right? Anyone?

(By now, you know where this is going, so let me try to get to it in under 25,000 words.)

Zan drew a very impressive “Robots” poster and we hung it on the wall by the television set, where it spent the day reminding us all of what the Movie Night feature would be. Each time Zan spotted it, he voiced his excitement about watching “Robots” later that evening, and I seconded his excitement, and it was just delightful, our enthusiasm about our family’s new Movie Night tradition.

As we took our seats on the couch roughly 12 hours after I clicked “Rent movie” on the TiVo, that motherfucking piece of shit had the balls to tell me that it would still be about an hour-and-a-half before we could begin watching the flick, because, as I subsequently learned via Amazon’s cute little “TiVo Video On Demand” F.A.Q., my Series 2 TiVo doesn’t support progressive downloading (meaning the ability to begin the movie even if the download isn’t yet complete) … except that’s bullshit, because when I move shows from my iMac to the TiVo, it lets us begin watching them immediately, even though only a fraction of the program has been transferred at the time viewing begins.

Of course, the F.A.Q. can’t be trusted anyway, because it also says that, on a fast broadband connection (which I have), downloading a movie can take up to an hour, and that on a slow broadband connection (which I don’t have, no no), downloading a movie can take up to five hours … and, as you math enthusiasts can attest, five hours is still a whole lot less than 13.5 hours. Cocksuckers.

So, once again, Daddy ruined Movie Night. As punishment, I had to sit through “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” which Zan’s grandmother bought for him while I was in Texas. I am substantially dumber for having watched that film. I estimate that it shaved a good 10 points off of my I.Q. score … though you shouldn’t rely on my powers of estimation, because, as noted in the previous sentence, me not as smart as me was b4.

Next week, the nice man from Verizon is supposed to come install FiOS and a set-top DVR. I am hoping that the “On Demand” feature will be the solution to our recent Movie Night problems. And if it isn’t, then I’m going to suggest we experiment with Karaoke Night or Shadow-Puppet Night … or, better yet, Early-to-Bed Night.

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Posted in Family, Geek, Parenthood, TV | 20 Responses