Metcha Tres

Anniversaries are a way to remember, relive, reflect upon, and fully appreciate again important experiences and events in our lives. And today marks one of those major milestones for us. Words fail to paint the significance of that day, but it was life-altering to say the very least…

On our second day in Moscow, Russia, 3 years ago today, Monday, December 3rd, 2007, Dede & I met Liam for the first time!

We weren’t allowed to post or email photos of him until the adoption was finalized several weeks later, but of course we took lots of pictures on that special day. This is the first time we saw our son, being brought to see us by his kind caretaker, on that frosty morning in Podolsk:

Liam's "Metcha Day" photo

Big congrats to Melissa & Nathan who’re experiencing their own “Metcha Day” today!

Two For Tuesday: Painting Tools

I’ve done a few Tuesday Tool Twofers posts in the past to highlight software or web-based apps that I’ve come to rely upon. But this time, I’m breaking out of the digital realm and showcase a couple of “real” tools that I’ve been using lots lately.

Not long after we moved into Kirkwood Manor, we asked the trusty handyman near me (Truett) to replace a few of the old, cruddy interior doors. (The guy is a wizard, literally replacing a door, hardware and all, in less than 30 minutes!) Well, he took it upon himself to do all of them. Right, he swapped out every interior door in the place except for the bi-fold closet doors in our master bath! Now, the new 6-panel doors do look fantastic, and we were very pleasantly surprised to discover that he’d done them all, but it did leave us with one small problem…

Painting all of those newly-hung doors!

Months later, I’m finally getting some traction on that project. Painting is a bit of a chore anyway and the raised panel styling of these doors made that even more tedious a prospect. Add into the mix an eager-to-help 4 yr old, and you can begin to see why I dragged my heels on getting this started for so long. But I splurged on a tool that’s making a huge difference: the Graco Spray Station 2900.

Graco Spray Station HV2900

The Graco is working very well! I do have to thin out the latex paint to get to a viscosity suitable for spraying, and this took a little trial & error to get just right. Otherwise though, I’m very happy with this! It’s an easy-to-use paint spraying system that requires minimal adjustments. And cleanup—the thing I feared the most—is much easier than I had imagined.

So, I’ve got a makeshift assembly-line setup (complete with Dexter-inspired plastic sheeting) in the fenced off carport behind Liam’s room where I’m knocking out the doors 2 or 3 at a time:

spraypainting interior doors

Wooster Painter's CombIn keeping with the painting theme, the 2nd tool that’s become an essential part of my toolkit is a very inexpensive gadget I read about in Family Handyman magazine (a very practical Christmas gift, courtesy of my bro Rich!) called a painter’s comb.

I found mine, a Wooster brand, at Home Depot for about $5 and it makes cleaning out paint brushes a breeze! The stainless steel pins work paint out of the interior of the brush and reshape the bristles after washing so they dry straight & flat. This tool will help you get lots more mileage out of your brushes!

Some painting tips we’ve picked up along the way:

  • Splurge on better brushes. They yield much better results when painting, clean up easier, and hold their shape better if you clean them thoroughly (with a painter’s comb, of course!).
  • If you’re going to leave your brush idle for even 5-10 minutes, toss it in a ziplock baggie and squeeze out as much air as you can. This will help prevent the paint from setting up within the bristles, which makes cleaning all the more difficult.
  • Forget the evil blue masking tape and instead go green! Get some Frog Tape for masking off areas when painting around trim molding, cabinets, etc.
  • You can keep your paint cans clean, dribble-free, and easy to reopen by snapping one of these inexpensive spout stretchers on the inner rim before pouring the paint into a tray or other container. These little gems are only about a buck at nearly any home improvement store and while they call them “disposable,” they’ll last forever with a little care.

Have any tools that you find indispensable? Let us know about ’em! Any painting tips you’d care to share? Please leave a comment!

Vitamin Me

Vitamins. They’re cheap insurance against so-so diet & lifestyle choices. Vitamin E, in particular, is known to be a very powerful, anti-aging, cancer-fighting, heart-protecting antioxidant, so Dede & I have always been diligent about taking that supplement. We started getting out supplements from

But I’d never thought much about the source of the vitamins we take, just focusing instead on faithfully taking them every day. Then last week, I read that while the natural vs. synthetic forms of most vitamins are usually chemically identical, Vitamin E is quite different. Maybe I’ve been hanging around pharmacists too much, but this really picqued my interest so I dug in and read a lot more. I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned:

“Vitamin E” is the collective term for a family of eight compounds: four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, & delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma & delta.) Tocopherols are the most studied components of Vitamin E as they have the highest bioavailability.
vitamin e capsule
Our bodies have specific binding & transport proteins for using natural, food-based Vitamin E and largely ignores all other forms. Okay wait, that bears repeating: your liver actually works to rid itself of synthetic Vitamin E as quickly as possible! In effect, synthetic Vitamin E is all but worthless.

What’s more, I discovered that synthetic Vitamin E is derived from petrochemicals (via an unholy-sounding chemical reaction between TMHQ with isophytol) and includes BHA and BHT, nasty petroleum-based preservatives which are believed to be carcinogenic. (These are also found in lots of highly-processed foods like snacks & packaged baked goods, all the more reason to avoid those whenever possible.)

So, natural Vitamin E is 3-4 times more efficient and is the only form you should take!

But how do you know what you’re buying?

It’s easy to determine which type you’re getting once you know what to look for: natural forms of Vitamin E have d- before the compound name (for example d-alpha tocopherol) and synthetic forms are labeled with a dl- prefix.

Some practical tips gleaned from the head-scratching scientific hooey I read:

  • Even with the natural forms of Vitamin E, many capsules supply only the alpha compound but studies indicate that a “mixed” formulation that includes the other three types of tocopherols is far more effective.
  • If you take both Vitamin E and iron supplements, take them at different times of the day. Also, inorganic forms of iron (such as ferrous sulfate) destroy Vitamin E but organic iron (ferrous gluconate or ferrous fumarate) leaves Vitamin E intact.
  • Taken on an empty stomach, Vitamin E’s absorption is reduced by an average of 50%, so this supplement is best taken with some food.
  • To get more of this vital vitamin via the food you eat, go for leafy green vegetables, tuna, almonds, sunflower seeds, avocados, sweet potatoes, kiwi, tomatoes, peaches, and grapes.

The Crust of the Matter

Ever heard of Smucker’s Uncrustables for kids? These frozen peanut butter sandwiches (of dubious nutritional caliber) come in a variety of flavors, are made from whole wheat or white crustless bread, and are thawed out an hour or two before lunch or snacktime.

I bring this up because earlier this week I read a brief post over at Bargain Briana about a kitchen tool that lets you make your own Uncrustables-style sealed pocket sandwiches. I read the article and promptly left a comment hoping to generate a little discussion on the broader topic of cutting crusts. Frankly, I’m kinda miffed that Briana apparently not only opted to toss out my comment, but didn’t even email me. Okay, fair enough—her blog, her prerogative. Perhaps she just didn’t want to get mired down in the dicey, controversial waters of crust-cutting. So, I thought I’d broach the topic here:

Let’s not mince words: I’m opposed to the idea of cutting crusts off of sandwiches for kids on a number of levels:

  1. Babies don’t come out of the chute with an inbred hatred of bread crusts; parents implant that notion. Why foster the idea that crusts are bad?
  2. Crust-cutting not only creates more work for harried parents, but unnecessary waste as well. Why instill the expectation that someone will always gladly take the time to needlessly trim off and discard an otherwise good portion of a sandwich?
  3. The crust is the most nutritious part of bread, containing 8 times more antioxidants and more dietary fiber, which helps prevent colon cancer! Why wouldn’t you want your kid(s) to have the full benefit of the foods you’ve chosen (and paid hard-earned money) for them to eat?
  4. And lastly, in support of my pro-crust position, I offer the following:

    If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars [and] heavens.
    —English poet, Robert Browning (1812-1889)

  5. But maybe I’m missing something here. Is there a valid reason for crust-cutting that simply eludes me? Am I some kinda retrograde Luddite or just being downright negligent by not trimming the nefarious crusts off of Liam’s otherwise delicious sammiches?

    So, what do you think? Do you cut the crusts off of your kids’ bread?

When Life Gives You Trees, Make Firewood

It’s been suggested that chopping down a tree in barren West Texas could be considered a sin.

Well brother, if that’s true, we are sinners!

Unquestionably, the biggest, most aggravating, ongoing chore we’ve had since moving into our wonderful Kirkwood Manor has been keeping the swimming pool clean & free of debris. The big old oak tree in the back yard was perpetually dropping something—we were overwhelmed with bucketloads of leaves back in March & April, pesky little pods scattered by the handfuls daily during Spring & Summer, some kind of cottony fluff started falling during late Summer, and of course there were a couple of different types of seeds & acorns that dropped off the tree almost all the time (for which the neighborhood squirrels were very thankful). Especially bothersome, the high tannin (yup, the same acidic compound that gives your mouth that dry, puckery feeling when you drink wine) content causes oak debris to quickly leave nasty rust-colored stains in the pool and surrounding decking.

Even beyond the constantly-falling tree debris, the tree’s roots had already caused some minor damage to the concrete formliners and decking that the previous owners had patched up. There was every reason to believe that the this would only continue to worsen since the tree was just a couple of inches from the decking and less than 6′ from the pool itself. And I’m a little surprised that this hadn’t already caused any problems with the pool’s plumbing (which is the case to call plumbing service for Mesa, Arizona | Whitton Plumbing). Really, whoever had the pool installed should’ve removed the tree at that time.

But maybe worst of all, the big oak tree almost completely shaded the swimming pool except during early morning and evening hours, so even at the peak of Summer in triple-digit West Texas heat, the water was still a bit chilly.

Even as much as Dede & I both really hated the thought of getting rid of a big, thriving shade tree, we finally decided that, for the sake of enjoying the pool and prolonging the life of the pool plumbing & filter equipment—and preserving the pool cleaner’s (that would be me) sanity—the tree needed to go. So, last week, I found a really nice tree guy, Seth Moore, who had the gear to tackle the job, offered to do it for a reasonable price and came highly recommended; and also he knows how to do garbage disposal repair And down the mighty oak went…

oak tree

The mighty oak tree in its previous glory

cutting down an oak tree - day 1

Tree removal progress - Day 1

About halfway through Day 1, I got a call from Seth reassuring me that, “The firemen said there’s no problem. These things just happen.” I instantly had visions of smoldering embers in a pile where our new house had previously been. Fortunately, the house was in no danger, but the tip of a large branch had snagged a nearby high-voltage power line and snapped it, causing all manner of chaos. Fire department crew and electric company linemen in large “bucket trucks” ascended on the scene to restore service to the neighborhood.

When we came home from work that day to survey the progress, we saw a whole row of birds perched on the nearby power line—yeah, the very same one—and I’m fairly sure they were cussing us fiercely over the loss of their beloved tree.

cutting down an oak tree - day 2

Tree removal progress - Day 2

Keen-eyed readers will also notice that the pool water went from sparkling, clear blue to a brackish, black swampy catastrophe by day 3. Yup, there’s nothing like a 40′ tree’s worth of sap, sawdust, and stray clippings to thoroughly wreck a swimming pool. So, the cleanup begins again. Seems even on its way out, that danged ol’ tree was determined to get one last cruel dig at me!

oak tree removed

Day 3 - All gone!

What else is left in the wake of this carnage? Lots of firewood! My best guess is that we probably ended up with well beyond a full cord of wood but from according to what we’ve heard & read, it probably won’t be “seasoned” enough to use in the fireplace for nearly a year.

oak firewood

oak firewood

Wonder if this is going to negatively affect my Arbor Day Foundation membership…

No Loitering

National Delurking Week banner

Thanks to an early morning tip from my bro Rich, I discovered a couple of problems with the WordPress comment settings. Something I did recently switched comments off for all posts, which explains why things have been so quiet for the past week or so. (We were starting to think you just didn’t care about us anymore!) Now that I’ve got that resolved, there’s no reason to be a lurker.

What’s a lurker? In Web parlance, it’s someone who reads forums, newsgroups, or blogs, but rarely participates. Don’t slink around our site unnoticed – post a comment or two! Let us know that you were here!

Oh sure, we’ve got colorful little pie charts & graphs from Google Analytics that say people actually do occasionally visit our site (and we really do appreciate that!) but blogging is all about community. Want to share something cool? Feel the need to rant? Having a burning question you’ve been dying to ask? Cut loose! We love feedback!

After all, if you don’t leave a comment, you’re letting the terrorists win.

Mr. Motormouth

We’ve mentioned a few times (most recently on our Labor Day trip to Round Rock) how thankful we are that Liam is such a great traveler and generally loves riding in the car. Even on long rides, he doesn’t usually sleep much, but instead just occupies himself with a book, his doodlepad, a toy or just looking out the window. But regardless of whatever else is going on, he’s always talking.

Don’t get me wrong, Dede & I love how communicative our son is and we’re often outright floored by the very mature way he converses with us. (Dede would probably say that he’s inherited his Dad’s propensity for “big words.”) But y’know, while Liam’s very articulate speech is usually fun & impressive, there is a downside:   he almost never stops yakking!

So, so many times, I’ve flashed back to the old Bugs Bunny cartoon where the loose-lipped rabbit is mistakenly kidnapped by gangsters and ends up driving them batty with his incessant chatter. Sure, we’ve doled out more than a few “hushes!” but more than once I’ve wanted oh so badly to be able to instead just say this (without the gun, of course):

(Naturally, Liam clams up tight when we really want him to say something clever or cute on cue. Oh yeah, then he’s a regular Michigan J. Frog.)

So, what about your kids—are they chatterboxes or as quiet as church mice?

Leaping For the Frog

Y’know how suddenly, you (or more likely, your better half) decide that you desperately “need” to redo a wall with that trendy new “Frosted Mojito,” “Dried Plantain,” or “Hula Blue” color? Yeah, those diabolical little paint swatch strips practically leap off the endcap featured prominently at the home improvement store to snare you as you unwittingly try to make it to the checkout with wallet intact.

Ok sure, a couple of your walls could use a little freshening up, but it’s such a hassle because you don’t want new paint slathered all over your pristine door trim, crown molding, or cabinetry. So what do you do? Well, you could try to be like those smarmy designer guys on HGTV and just cut in free-hand to get that perfectly clean, straight edge. Um, yeah. No, you grit your teeth and reach for the dreaded blue tape.

Oh yeah, we’ve all been there—you lay on the blue painter’s tape with meticulous precision to mask off the baseboards or windowsills, only to find that when you peel off the blue tape, the new paint has seeped right unerneath it in spite of your good intentions and tedious prepwork. Worse yet, as you’re removing the blue evil, you find that it has latched onto the trim paint that it was supposed to be protecting and peels chunks of it right off! You can almost hear the wicked cackle of the evil scientist who brewed this stuff up.

Well, good news is, you may never have to buy another roll of that aggravating adhesive tape from Hell again. Forget the blue, think green!
FrogTape logoFrogTape is a new painter’s masking tape with ‘PaintBlock Technology’ that activates When latex paint comes into contact, creating a micro barrier along the edges of the tape that helps prevent paint from bleeding underneath. No, really. In fact, the “sodium-based super-absorbent polymer” in FrogTape creating that barrier is the same chemical compound that causes diapers to gel when wet. No, really! And FrogTape won’t tear off the paint it’s protecting when you remove it. No, really!!

Just smooth the tape down as you apply it and you’ll end up with clean, crisp paint lines afterward. Yup, it’s that simple. Okay, it is a bit pricey at $5 for a roll (wider widths ratchet the price up another buck or two). I know, I know… You’re screaming “$5 for some masking tape?! What kinda crack ya smoking over there?” But this stuff is fantastic! Splurge on a roll and you’ll never go back to the blue junk again.

Note that FrogTape comes in a plastic canister and it’s not just for looks. You want to keep the tape stored there to help maintain its freshness and keep the roll from getting dinged along the edges. And when the roll is all gone, the empty container can be used for storing spare parts or pitched in your recycle can. (You do have a can in the garage for recyclable plastics, doncha?)

Scream, Wilhelm, Scream!

Wilhelm Scream logoEver hear a sound during a movie that seems incredibly familiar but you just can’t place it? It may have been sly, yet still so distinctive that it stuck in the back of your brain? It was probably the Wilhelm Scream.

Dating back to 1951, the sound was first recorded and used in the Warner Brothers movie “Distant Drums” starring Gary Cooper. As a stock effect, it was reused fairly often and gradually garnered an underground following by sound editors either paying homage to earlier films or just as an in-joke. But then the sound was rediscovered, named, and repopularized by legendary film sound designer Ben Burtt (who now works at Pixar) in the late ’70s. The Wilhelm Scream has since become a veritable sonic cliché, featured in (by some claims) over 200 movies, dozens of TV shows, and has even made its way into a handful of video games!

And now that you’re really aware of this revered cinematic sound effect, your ears will perk up at it much more often. It practically leaps out of the speakers at me now, even when it’s used very subtly:

The Wilhelm Scream

Sunscreen Sundries

sun scale
Summertime is in full swing and you’re probably having lots of fun in the sun but there’s nothing more sure to spoil your fun than a nasty sunburn. So, in addition to reminding you to Slip, Slop, Slap, Wrap as you prepare to head out the door, I thought I’d also share some interesting sunscreen trivia & info:

  • The ancient Greeks used olive oil as a type of sunscreen, although it wasn’t especially effective.
  • The first effective, mass-produced sunscreen was invented in 1944 by airman turned pharmacist Benjamin Greene who was looking to protect World War II soldiers stationed in the South Pacific from the sun’s harmful rays. Greene tested the sticky, red substance which he called “Red Vet Pet” on his own bald head. After the war, he refined the formula and sold it under the new company name, Coppertone.
  • Sunscreens work by either blocking or absorbing ultraviolet light. Opaque minerals like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide physically block or scatter UVA (the “aging” rays) whereas chemical blockers like avobenzone and Mexoryl SX absorb UVB (the “burning” rays) and dissipate that as heat. You should select a sunscreen that combines these two approaches for a broader spectrum of protection—look for one with at least 7% of one of the physical blocker ingredients (zinc is better!) and an SPF of at least 30.
  • SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, was introduced in 1962 as a measurement of a product’s ability to block out the sun’s burning rays. Note that more is not necessarily better with SPF. Stick with a product with an SPF of 30-50. Sunscreens with an SPF of 70, 90, or even 100+ certainly sound impressive, but they’re only marginally better, if at all.
  • The FDA has proposed a “star-rating” system to identify the level of UVA protection found in sunscreen, with 1 star indicating low and 4 stars indicating the highest UVA protection available in an over-the-counter product. The proposal also mandates that sunscreens which do not provide at least a minimal level of UVA protection must bear a “no UVA protection” marking on the front label near the SPF value.
  • Researchers suggest the most effective protection is achieved by generously applying sunscreen 15–30 minutes before exposure, followed by a reapplication 15–30 minutes after the sun exposure begins. But you also need to reapply every 2–3 hours and after swimming in order for the sunscreen to remain effective.
  • There’s mounting evidence that sunscreens containing retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) should be avoided because when used topically, this ingredient may actually increase your risk of skin cancer. For more info on this and much, much more, be sure to check out the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide. (Link updated for 2012.)
  • Cover up! Although UV rays can still penetrate them, using a wide-brimmed hat and clothing made of tightly-woven fibers can significantly boost your sun protection. And don’t forget to use sun-blocking lip balm and UV-protectant sunglasses!

Bonus trivia: Hippos spend up to 16 hours a day submerged in water to stay cool. But while the water prevents the lumbering mammals from getting overheated, it doesn’t offer much in the way of skin protection. So the hippopotamus produce their own sunscreen! They secrete a highly-acidic, blood-red, gelatinous, oily fluid from glands underneath the skin that protects them from UV rays and insects.