Monday, March 20, 2017

That's No Moon! It's a City Museum!

Ask Charlotte what was her favorite part of last week's spring break, and she will shout, "The City Museum in St. Louis!" 

According to Wikipedia, "The City Museum is a play house museum, consisting largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, housed in the former International Shoe building in the Washington Avenue Loft District of St. Louis, Missouri, United States." Instead, I would describe the City Museum as a playground that was designed by Dr. Seuss. It is unlike anything we have ever seen.

At first, Charlotte wasn't very impressed with the first floor. All she could see was this huge whale that you could walk into.

Then she spotted a kid climbing out of a hole like this in the whale.

And then another kid entered the hole on the other side and disappeared.

Charlotte followed that boy into the hole, and Daphne and I followed her. I couldn't see her face, but Charlotte was giggling with joy inside the hidden space.

Then she spotted a hole in the ground under the whale. That hole led to a tunnel that went under the floor and ended about 30 yards away. Here's the hole under the whale.

Here's the end of the tunnel. The sign on the right stated that the tunnel was 48" high and 18" wide.

Now, I have to admit that I'm claustrophobic, and there was nooooo way that I was willingly going into such a tight space.

Charlotte and Daphne were fearless, but for me this is the stuff of nightmares:

I did slide down this hollowed out log, though.

Beyond the whale is a maze of caves. Here's a protip from the City Museum website: bring a flashlight. There is an ant colony's worth of cave tunnels to explore, and they can get pretty dark. There are a few lights in there, but the flash on our camera belittles how dark the caves can get.

The first floor's "ceiling" is decorated to imitate water, but don't think that is all there that is up there.

You can kill more than an hour exploring the tubes, passages, and rebar latticeworks that are above the phony water. It looks like a tree house that fell into a metal spiderweb.


Charlotte was so excited to lead us around the wire trails. We would be crawling through some uncharted territory, and she tell us, "You stay here my faithful companions. I shall journey forth!" (And yes, that's a direct quote.) Then she would leave us behind while she crawled ahead to make sure the path was safe.

And that was just the first floor. This place has at least four floors of attractions. I'll confess that after an hour I forgot about taking pictures. I was just trying to survive. This is a place that can beat you up. The gift shop sells knee pads, and I would wear them next time. I spotted a couple of dads wearing professional grade knee pads, and they didn't look strange, they looked like they were smart. 

The mazes, tubes, and walkways continued outside, but we didn't spend much time out there. It was cold, and we left our coats in the car. 

The third floor features the world's largest underwear in place called Beatnik Bob's. I had to take a picture of that. 

They also had some vintage arcade and pinball macines!

EM pinball? Now you're talking. "Char, Dad needs a little break. Why don't you run around the skate park?"


I was ready to go after three and a half hours. Char didn't want to leave, but our argument was that we wanted to avoid the 5:00 traffic. We also promised her that we would come back this summer. That way we could check out the roof and spend more time outside. I bet we spend most of our time on level one, though.

"Head, shoulders, knees, and toes (knees and toes)."  Yep, they were all sore the next day.

"Back, bottom, shins and nose (shins and nose)." Those too.

Still, we will be back! ( I'll be shopping Harbor Freight for some industrial strength knee pads before that, though.)

There are tons of YouTube videos about the City Museum. Here's a link to one video I like. The narrator/guide also uses Dr. Seuss in his description. Link

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Little Things

When I started this blog, I knew I wouldn't be writing about "elevated" topics. I am not that sophisticated, and I would fail miserably if I tried. I wanted to create a blog that was a love letter to parenting and a record of Charlotte's early life. I wanted to find a small pocket of the internet where I could keep my little family stories - hence my blog's title. My title is also a riff on Don Freeman's classic children's story, A Pocket for Corduroy.

After deciding on a title, I needed to find a quote that would set the tone for the blog. A line from Barbara Pym's comedic novel, Excellent Women, neatly encapsulates my philosophy. I really believe that, "The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things..."

Barbara and I are not the only people who have felt this way. Ben Franklin, in a letter to Lord Kames on February 28, 1768, stated, "I have long been of an opinion similar to that you express, and think happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a man in the course of his life."

There is nothing wrong with homecoming crowns, first place medals, or winners' trophies. They represent great accomplishments and recognition for hard work (well, maybe not the homecoming crowns.) However, none of these great events are going to sustain a life of happiness. As Robert Frost noted, "Nothing gold can stay." The crowd's adoration wanes, memories fade, and gold plate tarnishes. 

I'm not saying that you should give up your dreams of winning the big game or being number one at something. There is nothing wrong with wanting to win. Just don't think these "...great pieces of good fortune that happen seldom..." are all you should look forward to. 

The world is full of little things to enjoy. Learn to appreciate them, and they will build into something bigger and shinier than anything that is gold.

For example, here are fifty-some small things (in no particular order) that make me happy.

  1. Saturday morning breakfast
  2. Rereading a favorite book 
  3. Learning a new skill
  4. Starting a new project
  5. Helping out a friend
  6. The end of a work day 
  7. Helping out a stranger 
  8. Pop music with hand clap percussion
  9. Farmers' markets
10. Flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores
11. Back rubs
12. When my daughter teases me
13. Afternoon naps
14. British accents
15. Fixing something broken
16. Autumn leaves in someone else's yard
17. Making my wife and/or daughter laugh
18. Vintage t-shirts
19. Movie theater butter
20. Coasting downhill
21. Finding coins 
22. State and county fairs
23. Mail packages on the front step
24. Hot fudge sundaes
25. Gas station pizza
26. Vintage motorcycles and cars
27. Scooby Doo movies
28. Being a husband
29. Being a dad
30. Buying presents for others
31. Movie nights on the couch
32. Fireplaces in winter
33. 90s alternative music
34. Slow cookers
35. Digital photo frames
36. Adding peanut butter to anything edible
37. Telling my dog it is time for a walk
38. Writing this blog post
39. Loud high fives
40. Charcoal grills
41. Using old tools
42. Pinball
43. The SNES game Aladdin
44. Long showers
45. Making meals for others
46. Waking up my daughter
47. Discovering a new author
48. Sharing
49. Sleeping in
50. Coffee filters

Really? Coffee filters? Yep. Check it out:


I could have easily added another 50, but I'm easy to please. Thank goodness.

Oh, I forgot. I also like getting into a cold bed and kicking my legs back and forth to warm it up. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Curse You, Lifetouch School Portraits!

We haven't taken church photos as a trio yet, but Char gets to take school pictures twice a year. That seems excessive to me. These picture packages aren't cheap, either. I wasn't too concerned about buying round two this year. The situation didn't seem very promising.

Charlotte insisted on picking out the cheesiest of the offered backgrounds, and she chose the unnatural pose where her hands are curled beneath her chin. On top of that, her second front tooth was about to fall out, and it jutted out of her smile at an odd angle. 

Confidentially, that tooth kind of freaked me out. I kept asking Char if she wanted me to pull it, but she would run away with her hand clamped over her mouth. Mom finally extracted the tooth during dance class.

Anyway, Charlotte came home with her pictures last night.  

What? This picture is way better than I expected! That weird tooth even looks cute. 

How much will this cost? Well, here's the deal. The company sends home five photo sheets with various picture sizes. You choose how many sheets you want. You return the unwanted photos with your payment, and then the company takes the unwanted pictures of your child and sends them to a shredder. 

This isn't an order form, it's a ransom note!


Just Tilt Your Head to the Left

(I wrote this back in December 2009.)

The only time I dread going to church is when we have to take pictures for the church directory. 

Daphne and I have taken these pictures at the church twice: once six years ago and then again last September. After your scheduled "shoot" in the fellowship hall, the photography company moves you into a classroom where you have to sit through their sales pitch and a computer generated slide show of your pictures. You get one complimentary portrait, but they want you to purchase a whole photo package so you can embarrass yourself by giving these terrible pictures as gifts. The ugly frames are extra.

Speaking of embarrassing, this year's photo package has Christmas card options. One design places your image above the manger scene - on this card you are in the clouds looking down on Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. I know products are being tailored for the "me generation," but that's horrible. (Unless your Christmas card has that design, then I really like it.)

Anyway, the first time we heard the pitch the salesperson wasn't even looking at the screen as she scrolled through our picture display. When she stopped on the photo where Daphne's eyes are shut and my unsmiling mouth is open, she turned to us and gushed, "Ohhhh, that's a nice one!"  

This year the salesperson, a gal in her 60s, abruptly stopped the slide show, tapped my knee with a finger, and asked me if it was "Daphne's beautiful eyes or those long legs of hers" that first attracted me. What kind of crazy question is that to ask in a church? I awkwardly replied, "Ummm... both." But the truth is the pictures of us are so bad I had actually been wondering how either of those two people ever got dates.

Besides that, even though the company has three photographers working, both times we have gotten the same sleazy guy. He first takes pictures of us as a couple, then I pose for a few, and then it's Daphne's turn to get grossed out. The guy doesn't touch her or anything, but after each pop of the flashbulb he feeds her lines like, "Heyyyy, Hollywood's calling.", "Over here, Super Model!", and "Wow! The camera luuuuvs you!" 

Daph haaaates that man.

By the time we left the church our uncomplimentary picture was "in the mail," and we felt the need to go home and shower. 

And then maybe go workout. 

2017 Update:

I can't show that photo of Daphne and I; I have no idea where it went. Honest. I can show you a photo collage with pictures with Daphne and Charlotte wearing hairnets at church (top left/ bottom right). We were making meals that were sent to Africa.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Couple of Knuckleheads (An Email Reprint)

(This is from October 3, 2011)

I found a music sampler CD from June, 2000 while rooting around in our storage room. I probably bought the CD for the opening tracks by POD and A Perfect Circle, and I doubt I gave the last track (number 21) even a cursory listen. The least commercial songs are always buried near the end of these samplers.

Today I think "Knucklehead" is the most interesting song on the CD, and I wrinkled my nose when playing tracks by the previously mentioned bands. Their songs haven't aged very well and were definitely a product of their time.

If I was able to time travel back 11 years and take a car ride with my 31-year-old self, I'd probably tell me, "You know what past Brent? A lot of your "new" music is actually pretty dumb."

Then I'd probably reply, "Shut up future Brent. You got fat."

Knucklehead link

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Friday, March 3, 2017

Going Old School

I work in the "new" high school in Urbandale, Iowa. The building looks like this.

The "old" high school was torn down around 2009. This is what it looked like.

Originally built in 1959, the building was showing its age when I arrived in 1992. Seventeen years later, UHS was full of band-aid fixes. Plumbing pipes and electrical wires were exposed and hanging from the hallway ceilings. Snow and rain leaked through the skylights. The foreign language hall reeked of urine, and so did building's one elevator. Few of the bathroom stalls had doors. The difference in temperature between the first floor classrooms and the second floor classrooms could vary as much as twenty degrees.

Speaking of temperatures, the building's heat was lowered during the winter weekends, and that change often caused the posters taped to the walls to fall off. Did you know that cockroaches are attracted to the adhesive layer on tape? It was not unusual to walk into your classroom on Monday morning and find a poster on the ground with cockroaches stuck to a tape hoop. My hallway had a cockroach catching contest. The winner found five insects on one "You Can Read!" poster.

The building was also victim to several senior pranks that left a permanent mark. The crickets and mice that were mischievously released checked in, but never left - welcome to "The High School California."

The fact that large insects and rats lived in the walls of UHS made the rumors about the tunnels beneath the school even scarier. The tunnels were real. Throughout the building there were trap doors in the floor that lead to the spaces below. The tunnels were a way to access plumbing and electrical problems, but in the 70s when the building was cleaner, students would skip class by hiding in them.  Custodians would find candles, flashlights, playing cards, and cigarette butts down there.

Thirty years later, no one dared to even open the trap doors. The tunnels were said to be infested, full of rodent skeletons, and flooded in many areas. Just the smell could knock you out.

Mr. Bachmann teaches Japanese at the high school, and he made a movie trailer that spoofs scary movies by playing with the tunnel mythos. The video also features various UHS staff members. Bachmann did a great job on the trailer, and I want you to watch it. Actually, I want you to watch it twice.

During the first viewing, enjoy the trailer. During the second viewing,  look at the hallway floors and classroom carpet. Check out the pipes that hang next to the ceiling lights. Check out the rats nest of wires next to that printer. Look at how dark and depressing the place could be. UHS was actually a pretty good location for a horror movie. I suppose most old schools are.


I tend to be nostalgic, but I'm not when it comes to that old school.

(I do miss my old classroom, though...) 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

We received this email from Charlotte's first grade teacher.

"Tomorrow we will celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday by reading in our cozy pajamas! Your child is welcome to bring a flashlight for quiet reading time. Please do not send stuffed animals."

Ham Bone wanted to pretend she was sleep walking this morning.

That lasted about three seconds.

Honestly, Char doesn't stop moving. It is a wonder that I ever get a decent picture of her:


I suppose it is easier to move all over when your head weighs three teeth less.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Lunch at Smokey D's BBQ

Today I got to pick where we would go for lunch, and I was jonesin' for BBQ. The plan was to get the BBQ Sampler. We went for turkey, sausage, and burnt ends this time.

But we spotted a couple enjoying some nachos, and we slipped 1/2 order of pork nachos into the mix.

We can't eat all of this, but we love leftovers!

So what did Char eat? Cottage cheese and toast. 



Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Games People Play

It was a whim. That's all it was. I was looking at pinball listings on Craigslist, and I spotted an original arcade cabinet retrofitted with 60 vintage arcade games. It was cheap, and that is always a plus.

I didn't do any research, but I knew these things usually sell between $800 - $1200. This listing was well below that. I emailed the seller about the size of the cabinet, and within three hours the thing was actually sitting in my garage. I was excited, and Char giggled like no other as she tried to avoid the ghosts in Mrs. Pac-Man.

That was on Saturday night. By Sunday afternoon the air began to leak out of my balloon. I started noticing how rough this thing was. It wasn't rough in just one place; problems were everywhere. From a distance it looked okay, but when you got close you could see that the previous owner had no pride in his work. Bare wires were hanging loose and screws were missing. This cabinet had lived a tough life in an arcade, and its rebirth was not much better.

I thought about posting it on Craigslist for a bit less than I paid and selling it quickly. That would solve my problem, and I could say that I learned my lesson. But I would have been too embarrassed to sell this to someone else. It did work; you could play the games, but it was was filthy and it looked terrible.

I sent the seller some questions about adjusting the 60-in-One Jamma Board, but he didn't return the email. "Dangit!" I complained to Daphne as I was pointing out problems with the games, "I didn't want to learn how this thing works. For once, I just wanted to plug something in and just play it."

"Well," Daphne said as she walked out of the garage, "you do like your projects, and I think you bought another one."

She was right. Heavy sigh. It was time to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

My Process

1. Get out the vacuum and the shop brush. I found a very clean quarter in the bottom of the cab while vacuuming, so that will go on the cabinet's key chain. I'm a bit surprised that the coin is from 1995, that seems pretty new, but then again, that was 22 years ago. Geeze, am I that old?

Yes I am.

2. Someone had removed the coin mechanisms from the coin door panel. That's not a big deal, this machine is free to play, but that left two gaping the holes in the wood. Someone had crudely cut a piece of plastic and a piece of metal to make two covers, but the pair were worse than the holes. Horrible.

I covered the coin door panel and the kick panel with wood-grained shelf paper. This is a short-term solution. I'll replace the coin door panel when I find a suitable piece of wood, and I'll paint the kick panel to match.

3. Install new cabinet locks. The previous owner was using a drywall screw to hold the coin door panel in place. Two locks cost less than ten bucks at Home Depot, and they look a lot better than that stupid screw.

4. Remove the old side art decal. Clowns with X's for eyes are not welcome anywhere near our home.

5. Sand the sides of the cabinet and wait for the weather to warm up for paint. 

6. Learn how to put the computer board into test mode. This allowed me to adjust the game's volume and adjust the individual games. Playing Pac-Man w/o getting a free guy at 10,000 points feels empty.

7. Relax. Review the games. Realize this cabinet is pretty fun. Remember how hard Pac-Man Jr. is.

8. Order new "Multicade" side art decal and marquee decal from eBay. Also buy 20 feet of T molding.

9. Spray paint the sides black. I used silver paint for a splatter effect.

10. Install the T molding. This was simple once I figured how to cut the plastic so it could be bent around corners.

11. Listen to Charlotte's compliments, "This is looking sharp, Dad. The sides look like stars in the night sky."

12. Reward her with copious amounts of nachos at Fuzzy's Taco Shop.

12. Enlist Daphne to help to apply the side art. I suppose there is a way for one person to apply these large decals without getting them crooked, creased, and bubbled, but I could not have done it without Daph.

13. Replace screws that secure the joystick. The previous owner had installed a new joystick, but instead of using four new screws, he used two rusty ones. That, my friend, is the very definition of half-ass.

14. Cut some wood trim pieces, paint them, and install them. 

15. Touch up the paint where it had been chipped off.

16. Repaint an old, thrift store bar stool so you have a retro place to sit.

It's coming along. Soon I'll have a plastic sheet cut to size, and I'll ask Daphne to help me apply the "Multicade" marquee to it. That will scrape all of the "Do" off of this project.

It will look like this, but brighter.

I'm not embarrassed anymore. There is still some work to do, but the Multicade can go into the basement. In reality, I didn't save as much money as I wanted to by buying a basket case. Maybe next time I'll remind myself how much my whims actually cost me, and that maybe I should wait for a better deal to come along.

Orrrrrr, maybe I'll just buy another project...

Some people never learn.