Got Mongo? Feed On This!"
Become a fan of the STORE on Facebook. Click here.
Become a fan of the BLOG on Facebook. Click Here

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Five Greatest Moments In Pittsburgh Steelers History

Here We Go: Part Two

Moment One: The Immaculate Reception

You had to know it would be this moment. But I’m not going to dwell on the mechanics of the play. Everyone knows what happened. It occurred during the 1972 AFC Divisional playoff game between the Steelers and Oakland Raiders. With just 22 seconds left to go in the game, Pittsburgh found themselves in a dire situation. Oakland had just scored taking the lead 7-6. It was fourth and ten and Pittsburgh had no time outs remaining. Bradshaw, after shaking two defenders, searched for an open receiver. Eyeing fullback John “Frenchy” Fuqua, he threw the ball towards the 35. The Raiders safety, Jack Tatum hit Fuqua just as the ball arrived and the pass tumbled end over end towards the ground. Franco Harris, who had been blocking, made his way down field as an additional receiver and managed to be in the right place at the right time. Snatching the ball just before it hit the turf, he ran for a touchdown which gave the Steelers the lead and the win.

The irony of it all is that most people who take that play out of context think two things. This occurred during the Super Bowl and that Pittsburgh won it. To put it into perspective, this occurred during the 1972 season, the fairytale undefeated season of the Miami Dolphins who beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship game and eventually won Super Bowl VII. The reality is that there has never been a more controversial call in American football. Who did the ball touch first, Tatum or Fuqua? Did the ball touch the ground before Harris grabbed it?
Players, professors, and historians have all but definitively proven that the ball hit Tatum on the shoulder but the only films of the play are either obscured by goal posts are missed the catch as Harris nabbed the ball out of frame.

What cannot be disputed is the effect that the play had on Pittsburgh football. After 40 years of disappointment and mediocrity, the Pittsburgh Steelers had been given a spark of success. That spark burned into a blazing inferno known as Steeler Nation. Two years later Pittsburgh began their NFL dynasty winning four Super Bowls in six years. A town that faced hardships with the collapse of the Steel Industry were suddenly giving a beacon of hope in team who were named after the very industry which collapsed. As residents of the area moved away to find work, they took their love of the team with them and passed it onto new generations creating a tidal wave of Terrible Towels across the nation and the world. The Steelers became a force to be reckoned with and are now attempting to capture their sixth Super Bowl trophy, a record in the NFL. They currently share the record of five wins with Dallas and San Francisco.

Had Harris missed that catch or had it been ruled illegal for one reason or another, who is to say what would be the legacy that followed. The following year the club went 10-4 and had a rematch of sorts with Oakland to which Oakland won. In any case, Miami won their second Super Bowl that year. However, the history of the Steelers success can be attributed to a snowball effect from support of the fans, the emergence of Steel Curtain, and the humble and blue collar rooted work ethic of the team’s administration. But if you had to cite a moment when the tide turned, I think you can agree that the Immaculate Reception is it.

If I had to pick five more moments to make this a Top 10 list, here's the ones I would pick.
  1. Harbaugh to Bailey hail mary pass broken up in the end zone.
    1996 AFC Championship Game: Colts vs. Steelers.
  2. The first ever Terrible Towel wave
    1975 AFC Divisonal Playoff Game
  3. Gary Anderson 50-yard field goal in OT to beat the Oilers on New Year's Eve.
    1989 AFC Wild Card Playoff Game
  4. Antwaan Randle El's 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward on a fake reverse.
    2005 Super Bowl XL
  5. Lambert throws Cliff Harris to the ground after taunting Roy Gerela for his missed field goal attempt.
    1975 Super Bowl X

Friday, January 30, 2009

Five Greatest Moments In Pittsburgh Steelers History

Here We Go: Part Two

Moment Three: Polamalu’s Interception
The Steelers aren’t a team that capitalize on having big name players on the roster. There are certainly big stars in the league like Tom Brady, Terrell Owens, and Peyton Manning but Pittsburgh prides itself on being identified as a whole team, not just a superstar running back, quarterback, or linebacker. However, the individual does contribute as a whole and sometimes, they are the reason for greatness that comes to the whole team.

Case in point, a young long haired Samoan from California can be cited as having a lot to do with Pittsburgh’s appearance in Super Bowl XLIII. During the 2009 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field, Troy Polamalu exhibited why he is a necessary component to the success of the ball club. His speed, agility, and instinct make him a threat to any offense. His off the field calm and gentle nature make him an enigma to everyone else. Troy is one of those players that plays the game. There is a switch that flips when that helmet goes on as if the compression of that mane stirs up a hornet’s nest within him which he unleashes on the opposing team. Hard hitting aside, when he actually comes up with a fumble or interception he becomes what I can only describe as the Pittsburgh version of The Tazmanian Devil. He holds the ball like it was a live bomb ready to go off and he has to get it off the field. He runs with it held in both hands and manages to traverse from end zone to end zone and sideline to sideline, sometimes during the same play.

There are times, while watching the game, when I feel like victory is slipping away from the ball club. I think to myself, “If only Troy could make something happen.” To that, it’s like someone hears my thoughts and climbs to the highest reaches of the stadium to flip on the Troy Signal. A bright beam of light pierces the sky and the outline of a head with flowing locks appears to alert him on the field. Within an instant, he finds himself in between the quarterback and receiver, poised to play take away.

That being said, my pick for The Third Greatest Moment in Steelers History is Polamalu’s interception of Joe Flacco during the 2009 AFC Championship Game. Troy returned the interception for a touchdown which helped propel the Steelers into a commanding lead resulting in a win against divisional rivals, The Baltimore Ravens, and a trip to Super Bowl XLIII.

Moment Two: Super Bowl XIV Comeback
After winning three Super Bowls, greatness seems to be a secondary thought to the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers. Still, sometimes, you don’t have to always be great, just when it’s necessary. Super Bowl XIV was one of those necessary times. In fact, the entire fourth quarter makes the list at number two.

PhotobucketHeading into the last quarter of the game, the Steelers were losing, 19-14, to the underdog Los Angeles Rams. If life truly mirrored fiction, then the Rams were destined to win as depicted in the film Heaven Can Wait released just 18 months earlier. Pittsburgh had other ideas. With just under 13 minutes left to go, Terry Bradshaw threw a 73-yard pass to John Stallworth, scoring the go ahead touchdown. With only a two point deficit, the Rams looked to gain the lead back, but made a crucial error. Ferragamo didn’t see Jack Lambert skulking around behind Preston Dennard when he threw the ball from the Pittsburgh 32. Lambert intercepted and shut down Los Angeles drive.

PhotobucketOn their subsequent drive, Bradshaw found lightning again and hit Stallworth for a 45-yard reception that took them to the Rams 22. An interference penalty by Los Angeles in the end zone brought the Steelers another 21 yards to the goal line and on third down and one, Franco Harris punched for six giving Pittsburgh a 31-19 lead and Los Angeles heartburn. After a turnover on downs, Pittsburgh ran out the clock, winning Super Bowl XIV.

Stay tuned for the Number One Greatest Moment

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Five Greatest Moments In Pittsburgh Steelers History

Here We Go: Part Two
Moment Five: The Tackle

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 60 minutes away from making history. A sixth Lombardi trophy would put them into a class all by themselves. After winning four Super Bowls in the span of six years, there was a bit of a drought. It would 16 years before the Black and Gold would make another appearance at the big show. The outcome of that game, Superl Bowl XXX, was a disappointing loss to the Dallas Cowboys. During those long years, other teams staked their claim to term dynasty. The San Francisco 49ers won their five Super Bowls between 1981-1994. Dallas picked up two more wins before adding number five against The Steelers.

It would be another 10 years before Pittsburgh would make another appearance. During those years another team would standout by winning three rings in four years. In fact the New England Patriots thwarted Pittsburgh's dreams of going to Super Bowl XXXIX in a year that seemed storied. A young, rookie quarterback making his mark at the helm, a seasoned running back in the twilight of his career, and a coach looking to make good on a promise that he made to his bosses all seemed like the ingredients for a great sports film like The Natural. At 15-1, who could have thought they would seem easy to beat in the AFC championship game. Especially, against a team that they easily dismantled three months earlier on Halloween.

Ironically, it was only the preamble to an even greater story. Immediately after their 41-27 loss to the Patriots Ben Roethlisberger offered a doozy of a bond to Jerome Bettis. "One more year."
The 33 year old running back took up the challenge from his 10 year younger QB.

After starting out their season with an impressive opener against the Tennessee Titans, the weeks took a turn towards the disappointing. Losses to the Patriots, Colts, and Jaguars marred their outlook of being able to beat these teams in playoff situations, if they arose. Further losses to two divisional rivals at the hands of the Ravens and Bengals slid the Steelers into a must win situation for the rest of the season's match ups. Beating the Bears, Vikings, Browns, and Lions didn't seem like much of a challenge, but that was only half of the equation. As a sixth seed team in the playoffs it would take winning on the road for the next three games to get to Bettis' hometown of Detroit for Super Bowl XL. A win over the Bengals poised them to take on their toughest post season opponent.

January 15, 2006 was the date of the AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Colts and the Steelers. Their loss to the Colts in Week 13 was surely in their minds. An seemingly unstoppable offense led by Peyton Manning and a deafening 12th man filling the seats of the RCA dome was two obstacles the Steelers had to overcome. Both teams commanded the game in separate halves of play but, by the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh looked to have the Colts dead to rights. A fourth quarter turnover on downs left the Steelers in possession of the ball with only 1:20 remaining on the clock. As professional clock managers, the Steelers only needed to down the ball but the Colts still had all of their timeouts which forced Pittsburgh to advance the field.

An insurance touchdown by their best goal line running back seemed like the proverbial nail in the coffin. However, in a twist of fate, the player who had not fumbled all year long had the ball popped from his possession inches from the goal line. Bettis' fumble was recovered by Nick Harper, who then ran towards the opposite end of the field. The task of running nearly a hundred yards would be hard enough if you had people chasing you, but Harper seemed to have a gracious head start and only had one person to beat, Roethlisberger. If ever there was a moment of, "I can't screw up," it was now. Roethlisberger had promised Bettis and somehow managed to grab Harper's foot as he made his way towards freedom. Six points by the Colts with little time left would have been nearly impossible to answer. The Tackle or The Immaculate Redemption as it's also called makes the list at Number Five.

Moment Four: Wide Right

In all fairness to built up drama and tension, Number Four should be Number Five. However, since it happened chronologically in the same game, I choose to not spoil the story by putting it ahead of Moment Five.

Now, who is to say that a tie game would spell a loss for the Steelers' Super Bowl dreams. Their would still be an opportunity to win a coin toss, drive the ball into field goal range and win by three. But those are odds that are usually not in your favor when you leave it all to the toss of the coin. However, Mike Vanderjagt was mister perfect in the playoffs. He hadn't missed a field goal yet. Overtime seemed like an inevitable conclusion in the minds of the capacity crowd at The RCA Dome. I guess you can't mess with fate, though. Vanderjagt went wide right on a 46-yard attempt and that allowed Pittsburgh to run out the clock and head to Denver. The rest is history.
Stay tuned for Moments 2 and 3.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Have Terrible Towel, Will Travel

Here We Go: Part One

With the anticipation mounting for Super Bowl XLIII, finding a nice spot to enjoy the game might be a daunting task. If you can’t make it to Tampa, and are a Steelers fan, have no fear. Steeler Nation is a phenomenon that is rampant everywhere. The Pittsburgh Steelers have probably the most expansive fan base. Some credit the collapse of the steel industry as being the genesis of the movement. When the steel mills closed in the region, folks were forced to move away to find jobs. While their addresses may have changed, their love of the blue collar style team didn’t. They raised their families abroad loving the Steelers.

And Pittsburgh is a town that loves and remembers its roots. It’s a microcosm of immigrant America. The area is rich in varied backgrounds and even though the size of the city isn’t close to places like LA or New York, the population is just as diverse. Pittsburgh football is a testament to this culture. We’re the mutts of the NFL. We’re not the flashy, “bling” style of ball club like you find in Dallas or New York. The Steelers are hardworking, hard playing, and beloved across the nation.

In fact, at one point in time, NFL films offered the Rooney’s several titles that would market the Steelers much like The Dallas Cowboys, who are considered America’s Team. Dan Rooney turned down several saying “We’re Pittsburgh’s team.” Well, if the unofficial title bestowed upon Dallas’ club is America’s Team, then surely the Steelers must be “World’s Team” as evident by their symbol, The Terrible Towel being well recognized and documented all over the globe. And shame on the NFL for trying capitalize on a charitable cause by introducing the Trophy Towel. This cheap copycat is going to be draped over the winners of Super Bowl XLIII and then be available at retail outlets for $25.

What you may not know is that Myron Cope came up with towel as a gimmick to garner media sponsors. The towel was introduced in 1975 during the playoff run for The Steelers second Super Bowl win. 20 years later, Cope gave the rights to the towel over to the Allegheny Valley School. Sales of the towel have raised over $2 million dollars in the last decade for the school which cares for over 900 physically and mentally disabled people, including Cope’s own son, who has autism. The fact that the NFL is trying to piggyback the popularity of the towel in order to make a profit is deplorable.

So, if you find yourselves out of town for the big game take a look at these sites and see if you can find a local establishment that welcomes the sons and daughters of the black and gold.

From The Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Terrible Towel Sightings
On Saturday Night Live
At The Beijing Olympics
Even In Space

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eat At Sam And Ella's

Over the last few years there have been numerous reports about contamination in foods.

In 2003, restaurant chain Chi-Chi’s closed down over a hepatitis A outbreak due to contaminated green onions. The largest outbreak in the United States resulted in the death of four people and over 600 cases of illness right in my backyard. Granted, the company was on the verge of collapse due to bankruptcy, but the hepatitis outbreak put the nail in the coffin.

In 2004, Sheetz, Inc. was hit with a salmonella outbreak identified in their tomatoes which were used in their MTO (Made To Order) service. The vegetable was pulled from the menu and Sheetz emerged from the tragedy, still going strong.

In 2007, pet foods were recalled because of melamine contamination. The largest consumer product recall in North Amercan history resulted in the withdrawal of over 60 million cans of food which led to the speculated death of over 3000 pets and numerous cases of kidney failure.

Milk and baby formula from China was also found to contain melamine and, in 2008, a scandal erupted as it was reported, by China, that over 300,000 babies had died from kidney disease.

Also, in 2008, Burger King pulled tomatoes due to salmonella contamination. They have since been added back to the menu.

Get Sam & Ella's Deli on a shirt
from Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! the store.

Tap water has been investigated for trace amounts of pharmaceuticals including Viagara and antidepressants. It's not some government plot to keep us doped up and reproducing. It's just that filtration of old water is pretty poor. And don't think bottled water will save you, Aquafina is really.....tap water.

I think the only thing safe left to eat is junk food. Twinkies, Cheetos, Soda Pop, and Skittles just became the primary items on the food pyramid.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Merry Christmas To My Cat And My Car

The tree is at the curb and the decorations are back in the attic. All signs of the holidays are gone except for one, the credit card bills.

Previously, I’ve given insight into why Holidays make me nervous. I’ve also gone on at length about my car issues. But when those two concepts collide with my pets’ health and well being (1),(2), wackiness ensues.

I’ve been making small attempts at reducing my debt. I’ve been using bonuses to pay off credit cards and trying to get expenses under control to better weather the rough economy. However, Christmas always becomes a deal breaker. Presents are plentiful and utilities are utilized to their fullest. My wife grew up in a home where Christmas was a special time of year, so the house is always decorated above and beyond the norm and the tri-state area is subject to brown outs a la The Griswold Family Christmas. All night shopping trips result in the killing of small forests in order to produce enough wrapping paper to cover all the purchases and of course, the credit card bears the brunt of the weight. In essence, everything I’ve worked for towards reducing debt over the year reemerges come January first of the next one.

This year was supposed to be different. I was heading into Christmas with a small cushion. My wife took a second job, which used to be her first job years ago, to make some extra money. I was forgoing a lot of extra luxuries to keep my costs down. The result would be to give our daughter her first real big Christmas. In order to make this happen, we knew we had better start by getting the house decorated, ASAP.

One of my biggest pet peeves with decorating for Christmas is having to move furniture, especially my love seat. I’ve been having issues with my love seat since 2002. Every year because of the way my floor plan is laid out, I have to sacrifice seating in order to have the tree up and lit. For two years in my townhouse, the love seat resided in the dining room against the sliding glass doors that led to my patio. When we bought our current house, we had to move it to a spare bedroom. This also presents a problem because the hallway and spare bedroom door are too narrow for the love seat in its usual state. The solution to this problem is to remove the feet from the love seat and the door from the hinges of the bedroom doorway. You can see why I love decorating.

Two weeks after Thanksgiving when the Christmas shopping hits its full swing and decorating is usually completed we hit our first major road bump. My wife and I are attempting to do the majority of the work while our daughter was present. She’s free to roam around the room, within reason, and we didn’t have a babysitter to keep her out of the house. So, as she continually gets underfoot I get continually frustrated. Finally, about 10:00 pm we were ready to move the love seat to the bedroom. Because of my daughter’s age and her affinity for cat tails, some of our cats tend to hide out of reach. I had made mention to my wife that we were likely to move a couch and find a cat underneath, along with various toys and dust bunnies the size of the Cloverfield monster.

Truer words were never spoken, yet hardly followed as I prepared to move said love seat. I figured that by flipping it onto its end, I could remove all the feet and have it ready to slide without having to readjust it. Unfortunately, when I tipped it up on to its end, a cat that had been hiding and attempted to make a break for it in the direction of the movement. I looked down to see the hind quarters pressed towards the floor, legs flailing about the floor. I immediately grabbed the couch and lifted it off the ground freeing the poor cat. My wife did what any animal lover would do and freaked out. She went to console the cat while my daughter, noticing the drama of the trauma, began to cry. After a quick exam of the feline, she appeared to be no worse for wear and we moved her to our bed to take it easy.

We continued to finish moving the love seat and proceeded to put the baby down and relax with the evening news. My wife went to our bedroom to grab some pillows for us to lounge on and noticed the cat sitting next to a pink puddle. She did what any animal lover would do at the sight of their own pet’s blood and freaked out. She grabbed the cat and tried to determine if she was bleeding externally but from the shade of the stain, I concluded that she must have passed it in urine. In any case, something was definitely wrong and we sprang into action.

We called the vet but due to the late hour they could not accommodate us since we probably would require scans. They suggested a 24 hour animal hospital nearby. We woke the baby up and took her to my in-laws and then made our way to the hospital. Did I mention that it had been snowing all evening? The mild temperatures we were used to this time of year in the past were just that, the past. A front had moved in, icing over the roads and laying down a layer of snow on top, disguising the danger. I had just put snow tires on the car, against my usual argument that we get more ice than snow negating the benefits, and was sorry to have been right. We slid and spun most of the way to the hospital. Then, my wife told me to take an alternate route that put us right on path with a big hill that we had to first, descend. All the while, she worried that the cat was not going to make it to the hospital, while I worried that we all would not make it to the hospital.

We arrived at our destination and subsequently surgically removed my wife’s fingernails from the dashboard. After explaining the situation and filling out paperwork, they took the cat in for an exam. An hour later, they called us back to give us no news whatsoever. In fact they pretty much challenged us that this was the cat that bled on the bed. “Um, I’m pretty sure.” I emphatically stated. “How do you know for sure?” The doctor retorted. “Because, I dropped a couch on her.” I yelled.

The doctor reassured us that she saw this kind of thing all the time in healthy animals. I then asked how many of those had recently had a piece of furniture sitting on their major organs. Not wanting to admit that I knew this was the cat, we consented to getting x-rays done to verify if any internal damage was done. We then went back out to the waiting room and sat for another two hours, learning all the benefits of the Shamwow.

Just before I was ready to place an order for Mighty Putty, the staff called us back to go over the results of our pet’s scans. The first thing the doctor did was tell us that they managed to collect a sample of urine and did notice blood in it. Not exactly a vindication, but I’ll take it. The doctor then proceeded to show us the x-rays, but never actually said if anything was wrong. Slide upon slide came up on the screen and without knowing cat anatomy, I had no clue if she was giving us bad news. Finally, she said she could find no obvious damage or rupture to the bladder. Of course, never once telling us one way or another if the cat was going to be fine, she gave us options. We could take the cat home and follow up with our vet or we could leave the cat there overnight for observation to see if any changes occurred.

I asked if something were to be wrong, would we know it before it was too late. She would not answer that question and said that if we were really concerned that we should leave the cat there. Again, I asked her if it was possible that the cat just experienced some bruising and would be otherwise fine. Again, she would not answer that question and said that if we were really concerned that we should leave the cat there. Again, my wife did what any animal lover would do, she freaked out…on the inside. We decided to take the cat home and follow up with our vet when weather permitted. I think the poor thing suffered enough just from the trip and the treatment. Total bill for the evening, $400.

Two days later, our vet did an exam and found no evidence of trauma. The cat was still passing blood but we were told that this is common in a bruise of this kind and could last for a few days. Everything soon returned to normal and the house eventually got decorated for Christmas.

The week before Christmas I decided to use up my last few vacation days left in order to finish up my shopping…actually, that’s a lie. I hadn’t even started shopping yet. Regardless, I knew that car I had been driving, a Pontiac Sunfire, was due for inspection. The car is paid for and is depreciating faster than most businesses traded on Wall Street. I was fully prepared to spend at least $200 on tires, inspection, and emissions. Again, I went against better judgment and asked for winter tires. When I got the call from the garage I did what any normal car owner would do at Christmas, I clutched my chest and groaned. Turns out the car need a new brake line. The existing one was rusted out. It also needed new rear brake drums, new hoses, and a few other items that were rusted.

Once I was able to breathe at a normal pace, gave in and said do the work. The inspection was up at the end of the month and I needed the car for shopping and holiday travel. My Mother-in-Law asked me for a Christmas list and I said, how about new tires. That at least saved me $140. That along with the rest of the charges brought the total cost to $527.

Everybody that had heard my tale said I should just get a new car. In fact, as if he were psychic, the salesman who helped us buy our family trickster, a Malibu Maxx Wagon, even called to try and pitch us on incentives for new cars. I wasn’t about to get involved with a loan right now and conceded that if I have to pay a little over $300 ($527 - $140(Tires are a given) - $40 (inspection & emissions)) a year to keep that car on the road then it is worth not having a monthly car payment.

So it came to be the 23rd of December and I had already spent close to $1000 without buying one present. I actually made out pretty good this year, despite all the expenditures. My boss presented me with $200 in prepaid credit cards, I managed to find $100 in gift cards that I had in a drawer from birthdays and last Christmas. My wallet contained another $100 in gift cards from returned items from birthdays and last Christmas. And, one of my Christmas purchases ended up being refunded due to a shipping error. All these savings probably amounted to almost all of the total car/cat. That puts it all into perspective. And, at least I don’t have to worry about my car and cat asking for the receipts for returns.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Free Wii 4 Me: Part Two

Part Two: Wii-Wards

Someone ought to tell me to tone down the puns. I’m beginning to really reach……I guess it could be worse. I could have said, “Wii-ly Wii-each.”

So, in Part One I explained how my Father-in-Law got a Wii for Christmas and I got a little jealous. Now, I am going to outline my plan for getting one for free. Honestly, the more I think about this plan, the more I think I should have just did my Wii site instead. It would have been less work. I just didn’t want to have to pimp my site in order to get referrals. It’s a lot harder to convince people that it’s legitimate. By that token, I decided to do this myself. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I realized I could pull it off in earnest. The gist of this concept relies on me utilizing my Debit and Credit Cards. I’ll try to be as clear and to the point as possible explaining this, but I cannot guarantee that I won’t ramble and spin off into a tangent along the way. Ready…?


My bank has a program that offers rewards points for purchases using my check card. For every purchase I make in the store using it as credit instead of debit earns me 2 points per dollar. Every bill I pay online like utilities, mortgage, car payment, etc. using my account earns me a bonus of 25 pts per transaction. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to do the 2 pts/1 dollar method. If I did, my mortgage alone would get me thousands of points each month. Regardless of how I earned points, I didn’t get caught up in the hype of redeeming them right away. They weren’t set to expire anytime soon and the catalog of prizes was a bit laughable.

At first, I didn’t think much of my rewards card. I joined up four years ago when the program began and figured that I would just accrue points until I had enough for plane tickets and hotel stays. Then, I could take my wife on a real honeymoon. We just went to Niagara Falls for a week and she spent most of it with the flu. A couple of airline tickets would probably run me something like 400,000 points. Since I started earning rewards, I’ve accumulated about 100,000. With that I could get a free putter. You see the ridiculousness of the redemption? It’s like that scene from The Jerk where Steve Martin is explaining what you can actually win from the weight guessing game. “Uh, anything in this general area right in here. Anything below the stereo and on this side of the bicentennial glasses. Anything between the ashtrays and the thimble. Anything in this three inches right in here in this area. That includes the Chiclets, but not the erasers.”

Every so often, I’d check in on my account and see how I was doing and I’d also look at the catalog to see if there was any new items that I would enjoy. I skipped the low end stuff like water bottles and travel bags and went right for the items that were worth over 100,000 points. There it was, a Nintendo Wii, and for only 200,000 points! Well, I was half way there and it only took me four years to do that. Just think, I could get a Wii by the time they introduced the next generation of gaming console. In reality, that means that I would have to spend another $50,000 to get it. Sarcasm aside, I decided to check the low end items to see if I could get something I could tolerate. For 2000 points, I could get $4. Wow. That’s 500 points for a dollar. Well isn’t that crap….wait a minute. 500 points for every dollar. I get two points for every dollar I spend and one dollar for every 500 points I redeem. If I redeem my balance now, I would $200. That’s not too bad. I did some checking throughout the rest of the catalog to see what else there was. Here’s a rundown.

$4 Visa Cash Value Award for every 2000 pts
$15 Visa Cash Value Award for every 7500 pts
$25 gift card to GameStop for every 11500
$40 Visa Cash Value Award for every 20,000 pts
$50 gift card to Best Buy for 22,500 pts
$100 gift card to for 40,000 pts
$100 Visa Cash Value Award for every 50,000 pts

Doing some quick math I determined that Amazon, at 400 points to the dollar, has the best point to dollar redemption ratio giving $250 for my total rewards. The straight Visa reward is 500 pts to a dollar, while Best Buy is 450 and GameStop is 460. Suddenly, I began to formulate a plan. Redeem the points for Amazon gift cards and buy the Wii for an addition $50.


Whether I choose to redeem points now for gift cards or cash or wait until I have 200k to get the Wii outright, I decided that maybe I should step up the process a little. Every little bit helps. I went to my bank’s website and looked at their FAQs. Here’s what I found.

Regular Activity
CheckCard purchases - 2 per $1
credit card purchases - 5 per $1
Home Equity Line of Credit access card spending - 2 per $1
Small Business Line of Credit access card spending - 2 per $1
Checks, online bill payments, PIN purchases at point-of-sale, direct debits from checking - 25 per (up to 500 points monthly)
First time use of the first three items above - 5,000 each

Bonus activity
Open an use a new Home Equity Line of Credit - 5,000
Open an auto loan 5,000
Open and use a new Small Business Line of Credit - 5,000
Add direct deposit to a checking account - 5,000
Open a Personal or Student Savings account with a preauthorized monthly transfer (PAT) or any other type of savings account without a PAT - 5,000
Pay a bill for the first time with Online Bill Payment - 5,000
Open a new mortgage - 50,000

I’ve already been rewarded for most of the 5,000 options and I’m not about to get a loan or mortgage just to get a Wii. I already went through my monthly expenditures and found that I average about 2500 points a month through various purchases and bonuses. That still puts me on track for four years until I rack up another 100k. There has to be a way to get more points without having to spend more money than I already do. That’s when it hit me.


I found this out by accident. This actually serves another purpose which I’ll explain later. When I was working on my Free PS3 account, I frequently add funds to my PayPal account for support. It’s a long story, don’t worry about it. Anyway, I noticed that every transaction earned me 25 points. That got me to thinking. I can transfer money from my checking account to PayPal for free as long as it takes the usual three to five business days. I can also transfer money from my PayPal account back to my checking account for free as well. What if I set up a revolving door of transactions? The only way to be safe about this was to keep the amounts small. I didn’t want to be overdrawn on either side.

  1. I transferred $10 from my PayPal account on a Monday.
  2. On Tuesday, I went in and added $10 back to my PayPal account $1.00 at a time.
  3. After the cycle was over, I had the same amount in both accounts that I had when I started.

I just made 250 points without spending a dollar.

Ok, it’s not a pretty process and according to the rules, you can only earn up to 500 bonus points per month this way. The concept behind this is to maximize my rewards. If I’m only paying five bills online every month, then I’m only getting 125 points. I’m throwing away 375 points a month, that could be building towards my Wii. It seems petty, but here’s another angle. Forget about the Wii. Think of that 500 points as a free dollar. After four months you can redeem 2000 points for $4.00. You can use that $4.00 to pay off a credit card. In this struggling economy, paying the minimum balance on credit cards isn’t going to cut it. Every little bit helps. If you start redeeming your reward points for cash, you can start to work down your debt. Thanks to Me Vs. Debt for this tip.


In looking at the list of gift cards I can redeem for cash I noticed that perhaps the GameStop route is the best method of redemption. While I lose 40 points on the dollar for the gift cards I also found other ways to get cash from this particular outlet. I recently won an eBay auction for a game. It was for my brother’s birthday. He also has a Wii. Apparently, everyone but me has one. I opted for the Buy It Now button and paid $34.95 for a brand new Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures with free shipping. When I got the game in the mail it was the XboX 360 version. After I calmed down, seeing as how I had now missed my brother’s birthday due to this error. I explained my case to the seller. They apologized profusely and overnighted me the correct game and told me to just keep the wrong one. I suspect that this was more than just shipping error since it looked as if they had to go and buy the correct version which had a price tag of $44.95 on it. Not only did I save close to $15 on the game, I have a free Xbox 360 game to barter or sell. I can take that to GameStop and get some store credit towards my Wii. I don’t know what the trade in value is but it’s free money.I could also just take the cash from the points redemption and buy gift cards for GameStop in my local grocery store. For every $50 I spend I get $0.10 off a gallon of gas. For my 200,000 points I could get $0.40 off resulting in about $5.00 saving overall. That $5.00 can go back towards the Wii fund and now I’ve whittled down the cost further.

If all this seems rather silly and overly complex akin to a Rube Goldberg Device (i.e. Mouse Trap Game), that’s because it is. For all the calculating and planning and spending I could easily just go to the store and buy the damn thing. But this is about something more. It’s about getting it for free. Call me cheap, call me lazy, but these are the little challenges I like to on and see if I can make it happen. It may take a few months to acquire enough reward points or free gift cards, but so what. It’s fun to do. Besides, this will give me just enough time to teach my Father-in-Law how not to throw the controller.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Free Wii For Me: Part One

PART ONE: Wii Didn’t Buy It For You

If you follow my blog with any regularity…..which I know no one probably does…you know I am a pretty enthusiastic gamer and gadget head. For the better part of the decade, all of my gaming has been done on Sony platforms, namely PS One, PS2, and PS3. I haven’t gotten into the PSP for the simple reason that I don’t even like carrying around a cell phone. A PSP is like three times the size.

I also didn’t want to start collecting various game consoles because I barely have time to play anything and I don’t have the money to spend on such things. However, anytime I can get one cheap or even free, well, I’m there. I’ve been trying in earnest to figure out how to do this for the Wii. Now, I can sit here and promote some Incentivized Freebie Website for a Free Wii. But, I know that it requires more work than I can commit to right now. It’s not that I don’t think those sites are trustworthy. After all, that’s how I got my PS3 for free. It was also the subject of my first ever Blog Post here at MAMS. But, I wanted to see if I could do it a little quicker. It took me almost four months to complete the process on the PS3 and I just don’t have the free time.

I really wanted to get a Wii but having to find one in stock or pay $300 for one was a keeping me from just going out and buy one. I also have a friend who has one and they confess that there isn’t a lot of Wii specific games out in the stores. Yeah, there’s Music and Wii Fit, but beyond niche gaming, Wii has just as much available content as my PS3. I had pretty much decided to wait until prices came down considerably. Of course, by then, I could have cashed in on my Free Wii program.

That was, until this last Christmas. I’m turning into my Father when it comes to Christmas presents. It would be easier to get a confession out of a prisoner at Guantánamo than a Christmas list from my Father. Now, when my wife or family asks me, I tend whittle down “what I really want” to “what I would be comfortable with if someone bought it for me.” I mean there are tons of DVDs and games I would love to have, but I hate to see someone pay for something I can find cheaper on my own. I don’t expect my family to sift through eBay or the bargain bins at media stores to find me a cheaper version of what I want. I also tend to become a little particular when it comes to movies. I try to be extremely specific in criteria by telling them middle tier pricing, which usually means “2 Disc Special Edition” and wide screen. This usually results in me getting something else from the list instead. Still, this past Christmas, I decided to be a little sarcastic and said to my wife and her Mother. “I want a Wii.”

I really didn’t expect them to take me seriously, but somehow that stuck in their head. I was serious. I did want one, but I didn’t want them to buy it at full price. When my wife got back from her annual all night shop fest with her Mother, she informed me that there was one Wii left at the store and they bought it. Before I could feign modesty and inform her that she wasn’t supposed to buy me one, she let on that it wasn’t in fact for me. It was for my Father-in-Law. I was a little surprised, to say the least. And it’s not like they just decided to get it for him, spontaneously. He actually asked for it.

To understand what we’re dealing with here is to provide you with a little background on my Father-in-Law. Now, I love the man dearly. I mean my wife’s parents have done more than I can say to help us out. They are extremely generous and a riot. That being said, my Father-in-Law isn’t exactly technically inclined. Well, that’s not an accurate statement. He is a retired technician and is working part time for a company doing contract and prototype work for the government. Test bench work and such. He’s very smart when it comes to mechanics. He’s also a skilled craftsman and has picked up the bass guitar in the last three years. In all, that’s not bad for a 70 year old. But, he’s a bit of a novice on things that involve microchips and small electrical components. He’s constantly messing up the settings on his television remote and the extent of his gaming capabilities is an old NES with Duck Hunt up at his hunting camp.

Needless to say, I am going to have to help him with this thing. It’s kind of like having to train someone new in your job because you are being let go. But, I will be more than happy to set up and teach him the Wii. It might be the only way I get one, for now. Just to show you how much of a good sport I am, I bought him Tiger Woods 2009. Now, if I could only get him to take it out of the box. It’s now the middle of January and it’s still in the closet.

In Part Two, I’ll explain how I intend to get one for free or very cheaply..

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Project 10 to the 100th

Ten years ago a little search engine was launched. Until that point there were around fifteen search engines already handling the inquires of would be web surfers. Web directories like Yahoo were on top of the pile, but when Google hit the scene, all that changed. It was a simple concept that provided useful results. Now, Google is a monster with total assets in upwards of $25 billion.

For its tenth anniversary, it’s using its charitable arm at to reach out to the community that made it great. One such project is 10 to the 100th. The concept is a contest of sorts. Come up with an idea that would help the most people. Submissions were taken until October 2009. The five winning finalists based on votes from a panel of judges and the public wins up to $10 million to make their idea a reality. A selection of Google employees will review all the ideas submitted and select 100 for public consideration. The 100 top ideas will be announced on January 27, 2009, at which point we will invite the public to select twenty semi-finalists. An advisory board will then choose up to five final ideas for funding and implementation. We plan to announce these winners in early February.

So, I’ve grabbed the torch and submitted my own idea. I did some searching….on Google, of course, to find out if this idea has already been realized. I’m constantly thinking of ideas and my train of thought is that “If I can think of it, someone probably already has.” But in my surfing of the web I could not find the exact idea and application of such anywhere. There are similar products but nothing specifically geared towards this concept. Now, I’m not one to really pimp or solicit my projects or products for financial gain, but I do ask that if you could just take the time to read my drivel and decide for yourself. You can even put in your email address to be reminded when to vote.

With that in mind, I give you my idea for Google’s Project 10 to the 100th. If you would like to vote for me, Click Here. (THIS LINK WILL BE PROVIDED ON JANUARY 27TH.)

The Idea: Forget Me Not
I know, it sounds corny, but I didn’t have a lot of free time to test out ideas for names. Ultimately, it could probably be changed.

The Concept: Car Seat Safety Alarm
My wife always says that I’d forget my head if it wasn’t up my ass. I have a tendency to forget things. Now that I am a parent, any extra assurance in well being of my child is worth any price. I know I always talk about how I am going to be different than most parents by not putting a lot of safeguards up like outlet covers and actually watch my child when she’s roaming around the house free but the car seat is something I take extra care in being aware of at all times. It’s a lot easier now, because she’s a toddler and doesn’t sleep a lot in the car but any extra long trips may result in her taking a nap in the back seat. I would never forgive myself or expect to be forgiven if anything ever happened to her as a result of my absent mindedness. Even if it was just an accident.

Sometimes careful, intelligent, and good natured people become forgetful. We’ve become a society of on-the-go, multitasking individuals and once in awhile we can forget the precious cargo we carry. Too many stories detail the death of a child left in a car while the parent goes into a store or place of business. Often, the act is purely by accident. I try to always be aware of my child’s location. While my wife is usually a backup set of eyes and ears, there are times when I have to go it alone. With the Forget Me Not device, everyone would have a second set of eyes and ears alerting them if they become forgetful.

The Device: Key Chain Transmitter and Receiver
The device can hang on a key chain and separate into two parts. The Receiver continues to hang on the key chain while The Transmitter can clip to the baby’s clothes, toys, or car seat. If the driver exits the car and travels more than a pre determined safe distance from the transmitter it flashes, vibrates, and alarms, alerting the driver that they’ve forgotten something important. The design can be simple and cute. The transmitter and receiver can look like anything, perhaps even a representation of a parent holding a child when the transmitter (child) is connected to the receiver (parent) on the key chain.

The Impact: Redundancy Perpetuates Responsibility
Initially, the device is intended to alert drivers of a child left behind. While we cannot guard against individuals who misuse or do not utilize the device, the same can be said for seat belts. This is a backup measure for anyone who becomes absent minded. Ideally, Forget Me Not could be packaged with car seats and offered in hospitals as a part of a new mother discharge care package. Most hospitals offer assistance installing car seats and this can added to that service. If the device can save one child, I feel it is worth any investment in its design and implementation. Packaged mailers can develop a user base. Websites and blogs can track progress and allow for comments and future enhancements. Beyond the initial offering, applications can include pets, keys, wallets, and other items you may misplace.

The Development: Statistics and Measurables
Research into statistics of car seat deaths to establish a frequency would be needed. Why did it happen? What could have prevented it? Design and testing of the electronic components in regards to actual distance, battery life, reliability, and awareness of alert would need to be conducted. Sourcing of materials and vendors needs to be researched. Marketing research of designs and consumer acceptance of function, aesthetics, and ease of use needs conducted.

The Outcome: Awareness, Acceptance, Automation
Acceptance of the device on a global scale would be optimal. I also hope that there would be an increased awareness in driver and car seat safety. Besides just being a device that reminds you that your child is still in a car, there can be a change in behavior. Habits can be formed and made automatic. Surveys and mailers packaged with the device can develop a customer base. Websites and blogs can track progress, allow for comments and sharing of experiences, hopes, fears. This could spark future enhancements and other markets that could be targeted. Beyond the initial offering, future applications can include pets, keys, wallets, and other items you may leave anywhere.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I Don't Remember You, But Your Facebook Rings a Bell

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to that summer camp love from across the lake or that girl you met on the beach during a family trip to the shore, look no further than Internet Social Interaction Sites. In a world dominated by technology, the ability to find anyone, anywhere, is entirely possible without working for the government or as a private investigator. All one needs is a few pieces of information and they can let the Internet do the crawling.

The world, as we know it, is shrinking. People are connected to each other in more ways over the Internet than they are in real life. In an odd twist of fate, the world seemed to be moving away from social interaction by inventing new ways to be anonymous. Message boards, chat rooms, and the advent of email nearly stole every last drop of emotion and personality from interactions. We could hide behind our keyboards and avatars and just type away. But with the acceptance of sites like MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Friendster, and Facebook, even at the corporate level, the prospect of being anonymous is disappearing faster than unregistered Internet domain names.

I possess a somewhat odd eidetic memory. While I can’t recall that my wife just asked me to take out the trash, I can remember someone that I met 20 years ago by name, face, and various personality traits as vividly as if I met them a week ago. Some memories are just burned into my subconscious like the high score screen of a Pac-Man game is burned into the monitor. Sometimes, I do forget a few details but, for the most part, I’m fairly accurate. I can remember songs on the radio, weather conditions, all the minutiae that surrounds a particular event. It is quite frustrating when I can remember these things but others have no idea what I’m talking about.

In the case of people, I can remember someone I may have just met for a moment. Not everyone knows or remembers who I am, although most people who meet me for the first time say I remind them of someone they have known all their life. A few details given about the relationship sparks their memory, or at least their politeness as they lie and say they remember me. Most often, because of what sounds like an uncommon last name, I am constantly asked if I am related to someone they know. There are a few rare cases which are the exception to the rule but I am usually never related to their person they are referring to.

So, now here we are at the end of the first decade of the 21st century and I’ve probably met close to 25,000 individuals, in person, over the course of 34 years. That’s not counting online friends or people I’ve spoken to in groups. Now, I’ve seriously whittled down the frequency over the years since college. I would say there was a brief spike when I manned the phones of a call center because in actuality there were relationships established due to the nature of the business. But think of it. The normal everyday person probably meets close to 60,000 people in their lifetime. How do you expect to remember even a tenth of that?

During my life, I have attempted to keep in touch with numerous people that I made friends with in college or at work. I spent four summers working in amusement parks. Five years in college which consisted of two different universities. I’ve been on vacation to various beaches along the Eastern United States and I’ve worked at various jobs in different cities across the South Western corner of the state. Those, that I’ve had the pleasure of calling a friend, have scattered to the four winds or married. Yet, thanks to my memory and a little help from the Internet, I’ve managed to find some of them. Again, it takes a little jogging of their memory, because quite frankly, I’m just an oddball with a weird ability to recall people. It would be arrogant to think that I made a lasting impression on anyone, especially after only meeting them for a day or a week. Still, memory being what it is, I’ve sought them out and added them as friends on Facebook.

There are some that I attended school with for only a semester. I worked in a scene shop for three months during my Freshman year of college and to pass the time I carried on a sort of pre Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon type game with a guy who introduced me to my first college beer, Reservoir Dogs, and an awesome three tiered grilled cheese sandwich at a local pub in Myrtle Beach. He now works in the Southwest. I’ve also found at least ten others from my days there. All of them only knew me for a semester and that was 15 years ago.

I have a few friends from my Amusement Park days. One, is probably the coolest gal I’ve ever met. I’m not sure she understands her coolness factor or perhaps she does and is modest about it. I had a particularly rough summer my second year, the product of working there with someone I was dating. To make a long story short, my girlfriend took off for three days with some guy and I was a bit upset. She found me alone in a bar, drinking and playing with those trivia boxes. Now, for whatever reason, she felt the need to saddle up at the table and keep me company, ultimately forced to listen to my sob story. She could have been at anywhere else having drinks bought for her by better looking and cooler guys than me, yet she sat there while I wallowed in my own stupidity. I hadn’t spoken to her in 10 years. We now rib each other with pop culture idiosyncrasies associated with our status updates.

The two newest friends in my arsenal are a couple of girls I met while vacationing in Myrtle Beach as a teenager. It was one of those weird things where myself and a friend kind of just became part of a group of kids who hung out together during the week one year and by some stroke of fate ended up staying in the same group of condos the next year. I kept in touch for a little bit through letters and pictures but we all grew up and eventually the letters stopped coming and going. I never forgot their names and happened to find them just after the new year. I haven’t spoken to them in nearly 20 years.

Most of my friends on Facebook are people I went to high school or college with over the years. A few are from previous work related relationships. There are those oddball ones that thought I was someone else and added me as a friend, not realizing I wasn’t who they thought I was. It’s here I find the few quirks with my memory as I may or may not have ever met them, but have accepted their friend request out of shame for not remembering them if I have.

I have to date, 164 friends on Facebook and I probably speak with about 12 with any great frequency. The others are those who I’ve reconnected with and then that’s it. There have been some back and forth “pokes” or green patch requests. I’ve had a few mob wars invitations and some flair exchange hands but for the most part, I’m just a notch on their friend wall. It almost seems common practice or courtesy to accept a friend request from anyone. This might be the reason I’m friends with the lead singer of a local rock band, who just happened to graduate with my sister from high school, and an actress/comedian known for her innuendo laden phrases as a spa manager on one show and the host of another on HGTV.

The oddest turn of events on Facebook has been how people in various aspects of my past seem to know each other as witnessed on my news feed as they exchange wall posts or gifts. A girl I met through another friend’s girlfriend at a local university happens to be friends with a guy I work with, currently. I met each of them almost a decade apart and unknown to the other. Oddly enough, the one, I met before I met my wife, the other went to high school with her. Another friend, who I met in my days as an Amusement Park worker is a friend of and former classmate of a girl who I worked with until a couple years ago. Again, you’re talking almost ten years between the time I met one to the other and they already knew one another.

I find this phenomenon crazy because it just goes to show how truly small this world is. Granted, this covers people I’ve met in a geographic radius of less than 40 miles but to give further credence to this concept, consider this. My first semester of college was spent in Myrtle Beach. During that time I became friends with a girl, who lived right down the hall from me. She grew up in upstate New York and was childhood friends with a cousin of mine. This same cousin is the son of the guy who was the source of The Baseball Story. To tie this all together, I happen to be able include myself as a degree of Kevin Bacon. I was an extra in Sudden Death which starred Jean-Claude Van Damme. He was in Bloodsport with Victor Wong, who was in Tremors with Kevin Bacon. There you have it. Now, if I could get on Kevin Bacon’s list of friends on Facebook, I’d be connected to everyone in the world. That’s a lofty goal for a guy who can’t remember to put the lid back on the Rice Krispie Treats container, as evidenced by the call I just got from my wife.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Mongo Home Companion

I wanted to share or…ram down your throat the latest home project at the House of Mongo as a Diary Companion to the series The House That Mongo Bought and a sequel, of sorts, to Can’t You Smell That Smell? For time’s sake, I will jump right into the problem. Thanks to one of our beloved cats, we had to do some renovation to our basement/family room/man cave. We decided to redo half of the basement in ceramic tile. The next three months can only be described as either a renovators’ nightmare or a serious case of adult onset ADD. You can click any of the pictures to make them bigger.

Here is what the project area looked like before we began.

Brown shag carpet, 80's style.

I didn't have a picture of the bar area but here is the tile.

September 21st, 2008
We need to do something drastic with the basement. Lucy’s little issue is a bit more than little. The vet says she’s fine, which is good. However, it went so long without being noticed that I think the carpet is ruined. I’ve tried to scrub the carpet and soak it with that Simple Solution, repeatedly. The still the smell won’t go away. There are at least 4 spots around the room where she’s tagged the floor. I hadn’t planned on replacing the carpet until we finished everything else. This was a few years away, in my mind.

The order in which I would have liked to have done it would be to first, replace the ceiling and install new lighting. Second, replace the paneling with drywall and add some insulation. I can’t understand why the previous owners didn’t. The basement is so cold without it. Lastly, I would replace the floor. Unfortunately, those will have to wait. The holidays are almost here and we’ve already lost most of this month from my Mother-in-Law being in the hospital and my wife being in our friend’s wedding.

After going round and round over how to approach this project we’ve decided to replace only half of the carpeting with tile. If we replace all of the carpet and Lucy continues to have an issue then we’ve ruined new carpeting. Also, this will serve as protection against dirty feet. There is a lot of traffic on that side of the room and if we replace with carpeting we again ruin it with tracked in dirt and water. Now, what kind of tile? We’ve had to upend our lifestyle by restricting the cats and their litter boxes to the upstairs. We need to get this done. Self stick vinyl flooring would be cheaper and quicker. Lowes is offering a deal on their credit card which allows you to pay off the balance of your purchase in 12 months with no interest and no minimum monthly payment. After we rip up the carpet we’ll head there to check out the selection.

September 26th, 2008 10:31pm
The removal has begun. I’m making the first cut tonight so that I can have all the carpet gone before the weekend. We’re going to look at tile tomorrow. Then, the little one….kid, not cat, is going to her grandparents for the afternoon while we work on the floor. I should be ready to lay tile on Sunday and have everything back in order by the first weekend in October. I took some photos of the project area for posterity. Also, I figure if we ever sell the house, we could provide a little binder for potential buyers on what we’ve done to improve the place.

September 26th, 2008 10:35pm
You’ve got to be shitting me! Tile?!?!? I’m removing carpet in pieces for easier transporting. Underneath the padding is this ugly tile that’s probably older than my wife. It looks like something from my high school cafeteria. Removing more of the carpet reveals exactly how much dirt has been trapped underneath the padding. To think, I’ve let my daughter crawl around on this carpet. I think I even observed a five second rule on a potato chip once. I’m glad we decided to put down tile. Hopefully, we can get some extra money put aside to do the rest of the room. I can only imagine what I’ll find underneath the rest of the carpet by the wood burner.

September 26th, 2008 11:35pm
Ok, almost all of the carpet is removed from the project area. I may have to trim some from the edge but I’ll do that once we have tile situated. I’d rather leave a little extra than take too much. The room already smells better. The spots that Lucy tagged were really bad. Some of the paneling soaked some of the smell but I don’t know if I can fix that easily. The piano is now in the garage and it has some smell to the wood on the base. Hopefully, I can clean that, too. I’m done for tonight. Tomorrow we shop. Sunday I lay tile. Monday, I go back to work for some rest.

September 27th, 2008 5:35pm
That was not fun. We got a late start today so Lowes will have to wait. I’m already a day behind schedule and it hasn’t been 24 hours yet. We began removing the tile in earnest but I must say it will take us a long time and a lot of Ibuprofen. Both of us are using hammers and putty knives to chip up the tile. After three hours I think we’ve eliminated about 20 sq feet of old tile. I don’t think I’ll be done by next weekend.

September 28th, 2008 6:05pm
Another trip to Lowes proved beneficial. We bought a chipper that looks like a shovel with a bladed end. It made short work of the tile. I can have the floor cleared of tile in no time. We haven’t bought tile yet. Now my wife wants to do ceramic instead of vinyl. I’ve never worked with mortar and grout before. It will require a lot more work and probably some help. Unfortunately, since she wants to have ceramic, we had to pull up the old tile behind the bar. Might as well be consistent. You’ll never believe what I found underneath that tile…more tile. Apparently, the owners had laid the ugly white tile first before they finished the basement. When they put the bar in, they didn’t take up any of the old tile. Instead they dug a trench for sink pipes right through the tile. Then, they filled in the hole and cemented right up to the existing tile. Lastly, they built the bar right on top of the new tile. I should have known that this would be the case when I found old tile underneath the existing ceramic tile in the entryway.

September 30th, 10:00pm
Just got back from Lowes. After looking at all the tile we found some 16 inch, beige colored ones on clearance for $0.88 a tile. I bought 20 boxes. Also got two bags of mortar and a bucket of tools. I should be be finished with the project by the end of the week and life can get back to normal.

October 1st, 2008
This is going to take longer than I thought. My wife had been toying with the decision to go back to work at the farmer's market where we found Lucy. It would only be weekends in October and maybe early November. I know that every little bit of money helps and she plans on using all of her paychecks for Christmas, which is a big help. Unfortunately, that means that I'm responsible for the little one during the weekend when I'm supposed to be working on the basement. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for relatives. I have a babysitter lined up for the weekend and can get cracking.

October 4th, 2008 7:00pm
I could just die right now. I've been on my hands and knees all day. Luckily, I had the help of my Father-in-Law and Sister-in-Law's boyfriend. They've actually done some ceramic tile work. I bought one of those tile splitters which look like a paper cutter. You put the tile in and score it with a small cutting wheel. The tile teeters on a raised edge that runs the middle of the device and you press down on a lever which snaps the tile in two pieces. We ended up going through three tiles before we learned how to work the damn thing. After we surveyed the work, I was actually quite impressed. We managed to lay nearly all of the tile from the door of the laundry room back to the garage door. We haven't laid the tile behind the bar because we need a wet saw. The tile cutter isn't very adept at small edges and it's hit and miss with the crimper. Some tiles ended up breaking.

October 5th, 2008 7:00pm
Here's a little tip for you folks, playing at home. Clean your grout lines as you go. I spent the better part of the day chiseling out the grout lines that had been filled with dried mortar. My hamstrings are ready to snap. Standing bent over like I was touching my toes, I used a screwdriver and hammer to bang away at the mortar.

After that was done we realized we were going to need another bag of mortar, so I made a quick trip for some more. What I didn't realize was that I bought quick set. Sadly, I don't move that fast and some mistakes were made. We finished laying all the straight edge pieces of tile behind the bar. However, since there are hardly any 90 degree angles in my basement, the walls behind the bar aren't square, so my measurements were a little off in some places. That, coupled with the fact that one of the first pieces I set into the quick drying mortar did not have spacers properly placed between it and other tiles caused my grout lines to be off and the corners didn't match up. It would be a costly mistake if I chose to pull up all those tiles. I'd need additional mortar, tiles, and time.

October 11th, 2008 7pm
Another full day of work. A friend of mine happened to have a wet saw and was nice enough to lend it to me for a bit. Today took a lot of math skills. I had a decision to make on whether I was going to all out with the tile or stop short of the pipes under the bar sink. We decided to give it a shot since we had a lot of leftover tile. After all, I didn't want to be lazy like the people I've been cursing under my breath since I bought this place. It took a lot of work and finesse but we managed to finish it off and it looks fairly decent. We managed to get a small bit of grouting done before we had to quit.

Sunday might be a lost cause for work. I don't have any help and I don't know if I feel confident enough to mix and grout by myself.

October 18th, 2008 5:30pm
At first I thought this day would never work out. My friend with the wet saw offered to come over and help finish the grouting. He recently redid his kitchen floor and he has all the tools for the job. However, he was late. My Father-in-Law needed a break from the work and while I think he's nuts, he considers a break to be babysitting. After dropping off my daughter, I waited for my friend. I told him to be there around noon and by 1:30 he was a no show. I felt that I was wasting weekend, so I tried to mix up some grout by myself. Here's another little tip for you playing at home. Use just a little bit of water and then add to the mix. I had a soupy mix and pretty much wasted a half of a bag of grout.

I made a trip back to Lowes to getting matching grout and called my friend to let him know I would be right back. I ended up leaving a voice mail which further angered me. He did end up calling while I was in line to buy grout and I told him I would be back in 20 minutes.

After returning home and with everyone present, we started grouting. Either he was really good at this or just in hurry, because we were done in an hour. He was cleaned up and gone by 4:30pm. Now, all I had to do was get some baseboards, lay the carpet back down and finish it. I might be done by Halloween.

November 9th, 2008
In case you've been wondering what happened, there's been a work stoppage. Buying baseboards for the project proved rather annoying. We pretty much destroyed the existing, wooden baseboards, so we had to buy new ones. All of the wood boards were not the right color and I didn't have the space and patience to stain them. We opted for pre-finished fiberglass base boards but there was a lead time of two weeks for the order. I also bought carpet strips for the edge of the tile. They are kind of work like anchors. You drill the holes into the concrete and slide these plastic pins along a channel in the underside of the strip. You place the pins in the holes and use a rubber mallet to sink them into the holes. Then you have no hardware showing. Once I get the baseboards I should be able to finish this in a couple of days. Unfortunately, the wife has continued working weekends which limits my free time to finish the project.

November 30th, 2008 8:00pm
The baseboards finally came in and if I couldn't get any free time on the weekends to do the work, until after Thanksgiving. I took the week off and had plenty of time to work while the little one was being watched by the wife. My Father-in-Law lent me his miter saw so that I could cut the baseboards. Unfortunately, the plastic guards on the saw arm were lower than the top of the baseboard. I ended up carving out a notch next to my cut which really pissed me off to no end. I had to do some fancy cutting to make it work including cutting through the top half and then flipping over the board to cut through the bottom half. If I was lucky, the angle of the cut would meet. Again, my walls are not square and some angles weren't exactly 45 degrees forcing me to shim behind the baseboards along the bar.

The whole bar was a catch 22 situation. In one aspect, I was glad we had that previous water damage from the overflowing AC drip pan. It made the old vinyl tile very brittle and was easy to remove. The bad part was it warped the paneling creating uneven lines for both the new tile and the baseboards.

Another lousy site to see was four out of the seven baseboards were splintered on the one end. I lost an entire eight feet and had to make do. I managed to have just enough to finish the project area but am going to return the broken pieces for a new one in order to replace the last bit of baseboard on the other side of the room to make it match the rest.

Behind the bar, I cheated in one spot. Between the sink and the brick wall, behind the bar, I didn't do angle cuts. I just nailed two pieces side by side and you can sort of see the seem between them. I didn't have enough left for one piece so I had to use two smaller pieces. The upside is that the refrigerator sits in that space an will cover the screw up.

I could also shoot myself for screwing up the carpet strips. I had wait another few days to get a hammer drill from my Father-in-Law. This thing nearly killed me. First off, I ended up drilling twice as many holes because I couldn't drill deep enough in some spots. At times, I leaned on the drill with all my weight which resulted in a weird sensation in my chest. The percussive motion of the drill acted in a manner that I can only describe as a negative pressure In-exsuffaltor. The continued pounding on my chest made me short of breath and anxious. I did produce some great coughs from the experience which cleared my lungs of all the dust from the drilling. Secondly, I didn't properly evacuate the holes of all the dust and debris which led to a warped appearance in one of the strips. The plastic pins stopped short of the bottom of the hole and bent in half leaving a gap between them and the tile. I'll have to go back and fix that after the holidays. We skipped decorating for Halloween because of the delay in completion and I'm not about to deprive my daughter of full on Christmas decorations this year.

December 7th, 2008
Well, we're done....for now. I still need to get another piece of baseboard and fix the carpet strip but we've managed to get it usable for the holidays. Once we take decorations down and begin to get things back to normal I will finish the few loose ends. I did a tally of what I actually spent and I must say, for the amount of work, it's not bad. The bad part is how long it took. From start to finish it took two and a half months to do what should have realistically taken two weeks.

As a weekend warrior, I have a lot of work ahead of me on this house but I'm in it for the long haul. I only set one stipulation with my wife. Any big projects need to be scheduled between the beginning February and the beginning of June or the middle of July and the end of September. That gives me four months in the early part of the year and two and a half months in the later part. This avoids all holidays and my daughter's birthday. This is all in accordance with planned renovations. If the cat pisses somewhere, well then we need to jump on it right away.


$364 - 20 boxes of 16” tile, 3 bags of mortar, 2 bag of grout
$30 - Tile scraper
$23.95 - Tile Cutter
$21 - Case of Beer
$80 - Help
$10 - Additional bag of grout.
$142 - for baseboards and carpet strips.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

The House That Mongo Bought: Joy and Annoy

We conclude the Home Ownership series with Part Three. An additional entry will serve as a Diary Companion to this series as well as a continuance to the entry, Can’t You Smell That Smell?

I put way too much into this series. It was supposed to be a quick history of the trials and tribulation of buying my house but it ended up being a long winded opinion on what I think you should do. I apologize. Maybe my wife is right. I do go to Erie to tell a story. In any case, we’re here now and this is what the series was supposed to be about. The joys of home ownership and the issues that make me want to reach for a flask.

Power to the People.
Prior to moving into our home in 2004, the original owners had to replace the 100 amp fuse box with a 150 amp breaker box. When we toured the house, the breaker box was in the corner of the basement behind a small, latched door. From the picture below, you can almost make out the huge surrounding cabinet, adorned in wood paneling.

The cabinet door blended into the entire panelled wall

When they replaced it, they had to make the opening bigger for the larger breaker box, thus leaving a gaping hole in the wall, exposing some pipes and the breaker box. The first real project I started on the house was to mask the breaker box without having to change three walls. My Father-in-Law and I built custom cabinet doors out of regular plywood, routed the edges and installed some nice handles. We hung the doors on the existing frame with an overlap cutout to eliminate any gap in the doors. You can see a closer shot of the newly installed doors, highlighted, in the shot below.

Now, the entire cabinet is covered by the doors

Now, when they upgraded the electric to 150, I thought I would be safe from power outages. Unfortunately, the holidays have proven to be a challenge. My daughter loves having the lights on all the time. She’s not even two, yet. She walks into a room and says, “Light! Light!” For some reason, whoever wired the house put all of the outlets in the basement on the same breaker as most of the upstairs ones. We didn’t start having major problems until we got one of those electric stoves. It looks like a fancy stove with fake logs and uses a light bulb and a blower to heat the room. A spinning shade gives the effect of flames against the background. It does a good job and brings the temperature up 5 degrees in less than an hour. Because the basement is not lit very well, having only two glass block windows in one wall that receive no direct sunlight, lamps provide much of the illumination. The dark paneling and brown carpet make the basement extremely dark. So, with all the lamps on, and the electric heater running, the breaker gets overloaded due to the upstairs lights, television, and Christmas tree being on at the same time. This really gets my goat because my digital cable box resets and I have to wait an hour for the guide to come back.

The reason we have that stove, other than aesthetics, is because our basement is notoriously cold. The door to the garage and what I call the pantry under the front porch are poorly insulated. Also, the paneling is hung on stud walls with no insulation behind it, throughout the room. We have a wood burning insert but that’s usually up to me to take care of and during the day she leaves it alone. There is one other peculiar fixture in the basement. On the wall, next to where the hearth, is a gas heater It’s very small and functions like a gas grill. It only serves to heat the ceiling and the stairwell up to the main floor. It also uses a lot of gas, so I try not to use it. To make matters worse while simultaneously improving the living space, we recently replaced the half the carpet with ceramic tile. It’s a long story that will be covered in the Diary Companion to this series to follow. While a definite improvement to the overall décor, it decreases the temperature in the room by almost 10 degrees in the colder months. This is why we opted for the stove.

AC Idiocy
Here’s a lesson in checking out your air conditioner before firing it up. We bought our house in January. We didn’t have to start using the AC until nearly July. That’s one of the perks of having a lot of shade from two big oaks and two big maples. When we finally did get the thing going it worked really hard to cool the house for the first time. I mean it ran constantly and it never seemed to make an improvement in the temperature. We have an attic fan which helps, but you have to keep the doors open throughout the house because we fear the pilot light on the furnace could blow out. It could be an urban legend for all I know, but I’m not taking chances. In any case, I didn’t trust something about this AC unit and I didn’t find out why until we had 50 people at our house.

We had a 4th of July BBQ our first summer and the added body heat and the constant opening of doors to the outside worked the AC harder than ever before. So much that we flooded in the basement. I know that seems rather impossible but hear me out. In what I like to call the Man Cave bathroom, there is a flimsy shower which we never use. It’s basically three wobbly plastic walls with holes cut out for the handles. It also serves as a runoff for the drip pan in the furnace. The bottom of the shower has a lot of sediment and looks a little rusty. However, that’s not what caused the flooding. Apparently, the drip pan overflowed down through the furnace and onto the floor. It then proceeded under the stud wall into the family room behind the bar. There is a sink behind the bar, so it took me a few hours to figure out where the water was originating. I kept checking the pipes underneath the bar, looking for a leak.

Once we figured out where the leak started, we called an HVAC technician to make sure our furnace wasn’t damaged by the water. He said everything was fine, but that someone had inserted the drip pan in backwards causing the water to improperly drain. It just filled up and overflowed. It was an easy fix, but caused the first of some lasting damage to the tile floor behind our bar.

Water, Water, Everywhere, but None, Hot In the Sink.
My second and third experience with water wasn’t so easy to fix. After almost two years, we had to replace the hot water tank. It was late, one Friday night, around 2 AM and after a long week, I was looking forward to some much needed sleep I fell asleep on the couch before bedtime and my wife was doing some late night laundry. From within the deep recesses of my sub consciousness I could hear my wife calling out to me. As I began to wake from my slumber, the calling became yelling. “GET IN HERE! YO! GET IN HERE, NOW.” In my groggy state, I had no idea where the noise was coming from because the walls are only as thick as the paneling. After asking for my wife’s location, I found her standing in the bathroom which was filling with water. We both stood there looking dumbfounded at the hot water tank which was spewing water from the top like Old Faithful. Coming to my senses, I shut off the water. We spent the next two hours sucking up all the water with a Hoover Floor Mate scrubber and a Bissell Carpet steamer. Once again, the water flowed underneath the paneling into the bar area, warping the paneling and destroying the vinyl tiling. We got lucky because we were five minutes from going to bed. With the washer running, the sound of the water from the tank was muffled. It was just by chance that my wife happened to go in to the bathroom and found the problem. We could have had some major water damage after a few hours.

From what I could figure out, the tank had cracked and needed to be replaced. My second big home project was to replace the hot water tank and I used after getting a few hours of sleep from the big clean up, I went tank shopping on Saturday and installed it on Sunday. So much for recharging the batteries from the work week. Installing a hot water tank is fairly easy but there is some pipe fitting involved. Until now, the only pipe work I had done was removing and replacing old traps under the sinks. Loctite became a good friend. In this case we weren’t working with drains. We were working with pipes that were carrying hot water and Flux became my new best friend.

Once the tank was replaced, operations resumed as normal until we started experiencing a weird phenomenon. The cold water taps in our sinks dispensed hot water. My Father-in-Law and I started looking at each other thinking we installed the hot water tank wrong. For weeks we couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem. The exposed piping in the basement didn’t give us any answers. How could we have screwed this up? The cold water pipe doesn’t even go into the hot water tank. How could hot water be coming out of the cold water taps? Short of calling a plumber we thought we were going to have to disconnect the hot water tank and start over.

Then, one night (why do these things never happen in the morning?) my wife went into the garage and found the garden hose, that was hanging on the wall, broken away from the threaded end and the taps were gushing hot water everywhere. Here’s a quick overview of the setup in the garage. There is a hot and cold water tap in with shut off valves right above it. For some reason they continually drip, which is a problem with the taps I suspect, yet it still drips with the water turned off at the pipes. My quick and dirty solution was to hook up a garden hose with a spray nozzle and leave the water on at the pipe and the taps open. Somewhere along the way, I turned on the hot water only, probably to wash a car and when the hose broke, hot water came flying out. Luckily, there’s a drain in the floor and we didn’t have too many things other than rugs get wet. Oddly enough, that fixed the problem. I guess hot water had been back building into the tank and somehow made its way into the cold water main, heating the water coming through those pipes. Once the pressure from the pipes that had been relieved from the garden hose, everything flowed normally. Who would have thought that a simple garden hose could cause so much trouble.

Standing Water, Hidden Problem.
By now, I thought my water woes were behind me. Unfortunately, I have a reoccurring problem that needs to be addressed every couple of years. The house was built while Kennedy was still alive and President. In those days, they used terracotta for the sewage out to the street. Remember I was praising those 4 big trees in my yard? Well, they just became my worst enemy. The root systems from those trees have been feeding off my sewage line for decades. The pipes are in sections and the roots creep their way into the pipes looking for water. They often break the pipes open but also occlude the opening causing water backup when its coupled with solid waste, washer lint, and toilet paper….as well as some other objects. Certain hygiene products are no longer allowed to be flushed in my house. After we started noticing water backing up into the basement from the laundry room drain, we asked our neighbor about it since their house was almost identical in design to ours. They told us of their problems prompting them to replace the pipes under the driveway. They also gave us the number of a guy who could help with the short term. He came over with a big auger and snaked all the drains removing the immediate problem for about $60.00.

Unfortunately, the long term is a little more expensive. Our driveway is gravel and I would like to eventually pave it. In order to do that, I am going to have to replace the pipes. If I do it myself, I run the risk of taking a long time because of my schedule. I also, deprive us of a driveway. If that wasn’t enough, it won’t be a final solution to my problem. The guy that did our drains said that the terracotta pipes also run underneath the garage flooring towards the back yard, where my two big maples live. Maples are voracious drinkers and they will go far to find water. Much to my wife’s dismay, the more cost effective solution would be to get rid of the trees rather than dig up the garage to replace the pipes.

Bugs in the Bathroom, Mice in the Bedroom, and Stars On the Ceiling.
Here’s a little tip for you people looking to sell your home. Actually, let me back up a step. My wife’s favorite show is Designed To Sell on HGTV. Personally, the show sometimes irks me as I will attest to in the Diary Companion detailing our basement renovation. The premise is a fix for sellers who can’t get any offers on their house. They work within a budget of $2000 and a lot times their solutions are cheap gimmicks that disguise a bigger issue. My point is, I do recommend watching the show for the do’s and don’ts of home ownership in regards to selling. I wouldn’t replicate their solutions. They are effective, but your ears will be burning for years as the new home owners will curse you when they undo your work in order to do their own renovations. It’s personal preference really. I would rather do something the right way instead of just covering up someone else’s mistakes.

Three areas of my house have ridiculous enhancements that would have probably turned away a lot of buyers. In the bathroom there is standard wallpaper. It looks like a pond theme with lily pads and associated flora. The previous owner’s wife was a bit of an artist and decided to add the fauna with a paint brush. To be scientifically correct, it’s not all fauna. It’s mostly insects. There are all kinds of bugs and reptiles painted into the background of the wallpaper as if it was one big Where’s Waldo book. Open up the medicine cabinet and there’s a bug lounging at the beach on a chair. Above the vanity is a bus load of ants heading to the shore which makes me laugh because it looks like a tragedy about to happen. There are alligators poking out of the water, spiders in the shower, and ladybugs above the toilet. Whenever we have guests over, we tell them to play a game when they use the bathroom. Try and find all the bugs, reptiles, and amphibians. In addition to eventually removing the wallpaper and painting the bathroom, we also need to replace the fan. At one time, the bathroom had a window that opened onto the back porch. It was bricked up and a shower was installed cutting off the natural light and ventilation. The fan sounds as if the bearings are shot and it grinds pretty badly. Because the lack of good ventilation, mold and mildew become an issue.

The master bedroom is another experiment in anthropomorphic artistry. It was converted into kids room with bunk beds. Red shag carpet was installed over top of the hard wood flooring and the walls have paper depicting infant Mickey Mouse and friends in various states of sleepiness. This room is primarily a junk room known as The Red Room as depicted in Behind the Red Room Door and also serves as a guest room. The master bedroom was moved to the small corner bedroom. We’ve repainted the room in peach and I added a hand painted leafy vine border on all the walls. When we first moved in, we did not have a bedroom suit for it. My wife and I slept in separate full size beds, side by side on the floor. We didn’t take into account the size of the room when we purchased a sleigh bed, tall dresser, night stand, and long dresser with vanity. We literally have to turn sideways to get around the bed. We would like to eventually redo The Red Room as the master bedroom and turn that one into our daughter’s room. I, for one, do not want her to have a bedroom closer to the front door from me. I want her to have to walk past my room to sneak out, or in, when she’s older. A common theme between all three bedrooms is another no-no for home sellers. All the ceilings have glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to them. While fun in a dorm room, they don’t exactly shout class when potential buyers look at your home. Still, we’ve become used to them and our daughter looks up and says “Stars!” when the lights go out in her room.

Her room is the best looking room, in the house to date. When we first moved in we nicknamed my daughter’s room, The Pooh Room. It was a bedroom that was converted into a play room for the owner’s kids and it had two walls painted yellow and two painted mauve. I have no idea why. This room served as a pseudo guest room/second junk room prior to my daughter’s birth. The year before my wife got pregnant we repainted it white but still called it The Pooh Room. Ironically, when we converted it into a nursery, we painted it green…..actually called “quaking grass,” and decorated it in a Classic Winnie the Pooh theme. After all that it is technically, still, The Pooh Room. I changed the light fixture and we added a couple of framed pictures of Classic Pooh Scenes that I printed off of the Internet.

The Pooh Room redone as The White Room with green curtains

The Pooh Room redone as the nursery

What Were They Thinking?
To this day, I continually find quirky little annoyances with the house. Things that make me go, “AWW DAMNIT!” I know I’m not the smartest person in the world but the people that originally owned our house really screwed things up. Granted, at the time they probably weren’t thinking in terms of wanting to sell the house down the road but there are a few things that they just did lazily. I dread having to make improvements because I’ll have to undo whatever band aid they put on the problem. The biggest head scratcher was the basement. That whole project is being covered by the Diary Companion to this series which is to follow.

How to Build Equity in Your Home from
Designed To Sell from HGTV
10 Recession-Proof Home Improvements from
10 Smart, Low-Cost Home Improvements from

Shredded Tweets