Monday, February 28, 2011


Today we played an opposites game in the car as a distraction from calling each other "rit rat."

I asked for the opposite of "finished."

Victor thought for a minute before suggesting, "You missed a spot."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Customer Service

Customer service is very important to me.

I expect clerks and phone reps to be knowledgeable, courteous, and helpful. I also expect easy returns and flexible policies.

Barnes and Noble flunked my customer service test this week when they refused to let me return a book without a receipt. You see, I had received two copies of the same book as gifts. It was a great book! But I don't need two copies.

Barnes and Noble was unmoved, despite their sticker on the cover and the unopened condition of the book. The woman at the customer service desk actually ordered me, in a very loud voice, to go and ask my friends for the gift receipts. 

Also, I deeply resent the not-so-subtle implication that either I or my friends stole the book and are now returning it for store credit. I felt very uncomfortable and will now purchase books elsewhere.

Dish Network, on the other hand, has excellent customer service. Whenever I have a problem or question about my bill, I use the online chat feature. I love it. The reps always fix my problem quickly and courteously.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More Loss

We also no longer eat /n/unch, go quick/n/y, admire a backhoe /n/oader, or have a peanut butter and je/nn/y sandwich.

Fortunately, Zeke wuvs me.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sad Progress

Victor has made some progress that makes me a little sad.

He doesn't say /n/ for /l/ any more.

No more wearing s/n/acks to church.

No more f/n/uffy bunnies.

No more s/n/ippery floors.

On the plus side, Zeke says "worm" instead of "warm." That's cute, too.

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Victor Likes about Zeke

Victor (sincerely): I like that Zeke is good at breaking glass.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Housekeeping Question

A friend asked SwindleFun about keeping house.

Question: Which housekeeping tasks do you do every day?

Answer: Daily maintenance is the secret to keeping house. But you will notice in the lists below that I do not vacuum, dust, wash walls or windows, or do laundry every day unless there is a specific mess to clean up. These tasks are done several times a week, but not daily.

More time-consuming tasks, like serious kitchen cleaning, serious bathroom cleaning, serious organizing, and ironing are done weekly or every two weeks. Daily maintenance makes them easier. 

But our Friend wants to know about daily tasks. I have divided them into two lists.

These first items are done throughout the day, or once as noted. Each task takes between seven seconds (#4) and seven minutes (#7). I do some alone (#5), and the boys help with others (#3).

1. Make the bed first thing in the morning.

2. Tidy bedrooms.

3. All dirty laundry goes directly into hampers. Any stains are treated.

4. Towels are hung after use, in a way that allows them to dry.

5. Sort the mail as soon as it enters the house.

6. Return out-of-place items to their right homes. This includes shoes, jackets, backpacks, screwdrivers, telephones, keys, pencils, cameras, blankets, toys, books, movies, puzzles, laundry baskets, papers, flashlights, slippers, and helmets.

7. After each meal, clear dishes and either load into the dishwasher or, if the dishwasher is running, rinse and put in the left half of the sink. Put away food. Clean table and counters. Sweep floor and spot clean where necessary.

8. Clean boys' bathroom floor. Wipe down toilet. Wipe down sink and faucet.

9. Take out trash and recycling.

10. Vacuum or clean anything off the floor that (a) is food or (b) can be tracked around the house.

11. Keep family room presentable by periodically removing toys to the toy area.

12. Put all trash into trash cans.

13. Unload the dishwasher.

14. Start the dishwasher.

These next items are done at the end of the day. Some of them may take up to 20 minutes. Jeremy helps complete these. 

1. Final kitchen cleaning. Dishes, pots & pans, counters, table, stove, sink, floor.

2. Pick up toys. Sort into appropriate containers.

3. Fold family room blankets.

4. Fluff couch pillows.

5. Return out-of-place items to their right homes.

6. Take out trash.

7. Tidy bedrooms. Clear floors, hang clothes, put away books, etc.

8. Put away outside toys. Sweep tiny decorative rocks out of path to car. (Okay. This one is aspirational.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Victor's Birthday Plans

Victor turns five in less than a month, but he is vague about his birthday wishes.

So far, I know he wants a rainbow cake with candy on top and "a little table with a lamplight" to go next to his bed "so I can put my glass on it."

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Zeke likes to do jigsaw puzzles. In this way, he takes after his mother.

He has some medium-sized puzzles that he does on his own. But when he does his 100 piece elephant puzzle, he likes me to help.

I have not figured out how he decides if two pieces fit together, but I think it's based on shape. Unless that shape is a straight edge, the function of which he does not seem to appreciate.

Usually, my job is to mete out the pieces in manageable groups and to say "try another spot" or "turn it around." But today I tried to hasten the puzzle process by explaining about edges and matching colors and finding parts of the elephants among the pieces.

I discovered that my explanations had no effect on Zeke's performance or the time in which he completed the puzzle.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


We don't allow insults and are quick to ban typical insulting language, such as "you idiot," "dummy," and various words for a person's bottom preceding the word "head."

So it is amusing to hear the boys come up with new insults. (Which we then ban.)

One of their favorites is from Aladdin, courtesy of the VHS tape at my parents' house.

You may recall that the palace guards refer to Aladdin derisively as a "street rat." They say it with such venom that Victor and Zeke filed it under "truly horrible insult" in their brains.

They use it occasionally. But they also make new rat-based insults. Zeke's latest were "bottom rat" and, awesomely, "gut rat."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Personal Question

Liz has asked SwindleFun a more personal question.

Question: Was it actually your FIRST-EVER romantic weekend, or just your first since having children?

PLEASE tell me it wasn't actually the first-ever.

Answer: I cannot recall any other romantic weekend. The only times we've traveled, our destinations were family reunions or relatives' homes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Romantic Weekend

Last Friday and Saturday, Jeremy and I went away for our first-ever romantic weekend.

Actually, we went to 12 hours of continuing legal education and it was only half a weekend. But it was great.

We had a lot of fun learning the latest and greatest in insurance, tax, and regulatory trends, as well as updates on the 4th Circuits's employment cases, DOJ and the SEC's FCPA enforcement (watch out!), and copyright law.

(Don't say it, Liz.)

We also ate at one of the more memorable restaurants I've ever patronized (down a rural highway and off the paved road) and stayed in a hotel.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Torrie's Gracious Question

My cousin Torrie has our next question.

Question: If someone writes you a thank you note and sends a gift for the kids in response to something nice you did for that individual, is it then expected that I write a thank you note for the gift? It's like writing a thank you note for writing a thank you note. It could be a never ending cycle!

Answer: What a lovely question! It is always correct to send a thank you note when you receive a gift. Even when the gift was given as thanks.

You do not, however, have to thank a person for her thank you note.

So, unless you receive another gift in response to your note, the cycle has reached its conclusion.

Enjoy your stationery!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Non-contentious Hostessing

Carrie has a question!

Question: I am not someone who enjoys heated political conversations, particularly when they are started in my home by someone who is not part of my household. This is partly because I lack interest, but more importantly because I don't enjoy the feeling of contention it brings.

How can I ask this person to stop bringing up politics, or at least keep them friendly, without offending him/her or making him/her feel unwelcome?

Answer: I sense that you would like a non-confrontational approach to this problem. Three ideas come to mind.

1. Don't go there.

As hostess, you can steer conversation away from political topics. For example, even if you have a non-political comment, do not mention the EPA, Sarah Palin, or high-speed rail.

If you hear someone else mention such a topic, jump in with a segue, i.e. "Did you ever hear about Greg's trip on a Soviet train? It was so interesting." and then turn to Greg expectantly.

2. The sudden interruption that you simply cannot contain.

Let's say Guest starts down a contentious path. You might say, "OH! I just remembered! Before I forget I have to ask you . . . ." and then ask about a totally different topic within the person's expertise.

You could also call away his conversation partner to do something that only he or she can do. Jake might be required to open a jar of pickles, for example. Be sure to act embarrassed that you are interrupting.

3. Look politely blank. Say, "Oh." And then change the subject.

Depending on your relationship with this person and this person's personality, there is a fourth option.

4. Disagree blandly. "Really? I don't think so." Or, "Really? I read [the opposite]." Then shrug and change the subject. You can only do this if you appear calm, slightly bored, and well informed. It will not work if the person is intent on evangelizing. 

Happy hostessing!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Wendy's Tricky Question

Dear SwindleFun,

How would you approach an oven that needs to be cleaned last year and has recently experience an exploding potato. (Yes, I know you are supposed to poke holes in them. I was in open rebellion and paid for it.)

Dear Potato Lover,

The first thing I would do is consult the Good Housekeeping website. It recommends that you use any commercial oven cleaner as directed on the can. It also recommends that you soak your racks in a solution of ammonia and water.

Does this work? Never fear. I tried it for you.

Except for the ammonia part, because I didn't have any. I used S.O.S. pads instead. They did the job, but next time I'm going to try ammonia in the tub.

I used Easy Off oven cleaner as directed by the can, but I was not amazed with the results. My oven wasn't even that dirty. S.O.S. pads took off most of what the Easy Off left behind.

In light of my Easy Off experiment, I recommend:

1. Knock loose any charred bits with a dry rag.

2. Vacuum up any loose charred bits with your hose attachment.

3. Use the oven cleaner as directed on the can. (Spray. Wait. Wipe, wipe, wipe.) Don't spray the ceiling of the oven if it's not dirty--it's a real pain to clean around the broiler element.

4. If you have some spots left, use an S.O.S. pad on them or follow the can's directions for spot cleaning.

5. Wipe, wipe, wipe.

Happy cleaning!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Wendy's First Question

Question: Wendy would like to know if she should submit her questions in the SwindleFun comments field.

Answer: Yes. That is fine. You may also email me with a query, or ask me in person.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Miss Manners on Favors

This afternoon, I read a recent column from Miss Manners that explains the etiquette of favors.

Given our recent discussion of the same topic, I thought we might all enjoy it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Question for You

Our carpet is, despite my best efforts, awful.

Does anyone have any experience with do-it-yourself steamers?