Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Oh Ye of Broken Wallets

Good Lord is it an expensive week. Here's a small list of the entertainment choices available at fine retailers everywhere this week.
  • Heroes Season 1 on DVD and HD-DVD
  • Friday Night Lights Season 1
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2008 for the PS3, 360 and Wii
  • Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the Wii
  • Blue Dragon for the 360
I'm sure there are other games out there as well, but that alone represents over 200 bucks if you just stuck with the DVD release of Heroes and one release of Tiger Woods. Me, I've already purchased Heroes and Friday Night Lights and have Metroid paid for with trades, and am reviewing Tiger Woods for the Wii, so the burden is lessened somewhat. I say somewhat because I managed to hit the Transformers jackpot at both Target and Wal-Mart this week, so what I didn't spend on additional games, I more than made up for in robots. It was worth it though as I am now the proud owner of the Leader class Brawl the Real Gear controller dude (I forget the name) and the Deluxe versions of Dreadwing, Longarm, Dropkick and Payload. Thank goodness I was able to flip that Collector's Edition of Bioshock as that money paid for this bounty of robotic goodness.

Leader class Brawl is a great toy if you want either a tank that makes lots of cool shooting noises, or a robot that makes lots of cool shooting noises. If you want a robot that turns into a tank, it's far less effective, however you'll still get all of those cool shooting noises, which are decidedly less cool, especially when you're trying to transform it while watching TV with your very patient and beautiful wife. A word of warning: after the 9th accidental set of shooting noises, she will attempt to brain you with the remote, so either try and transform Brawl in another room or take the damn batteries out. As a tank, and as a robot he's great and comes highly recommended. I'm hoping that the transformation becomes easier the more that I do it. After the Great Megatron Foot Fiasco of 07, transforming my Leader class Megatron became a lot easier, so hopes are high for Brawl. At the same time, he is at work, and my employer's tolerance for my hobby will plummet dramatically should I repeatedly disrupt the calm of the workplace with the sounds of heavy artillery, so I don't know how much extra practice I'll get transforming him. Looks like he may be going in for a batteryectomy.

Longarm is pretty cool, despite my residual hatred for him from the Transformers video game. I'm slowly getting over it, however there are still times that I want to pick up a random telephone pole and throw it at him, as I had to in the video game, and then stomp him into little pieces while raving like a lunatic. Those moments are getting farther and farther apart.

The video game controller dude, or High Score 100 if you want to be specific, is the biggest disappointment. As a little controller, he's pretty cool. As a robot he's not very poseable and has small, somewhat unsturdy legs. He also doesn't have hands. Well, he has hands, but the fingers are molded plastic, and not separate, so it appears that his arms end in clubs. He also has the Autobot logo on his crotch, which I find unsettling. I don't want my vision continually drawn to his robotic nether regions, but alas, it is. On the plus side, he looks as much like a gorilla in real life as he does in the package, and seeing how I wanted him because he looks like a gorilla, I guess I can't be too upset. I can assure you that my attraction to a robot being based solely on his similarity to a gorilla isn't even close to being the strangest thing about me.

I know that I spoke of a humor column in the past, and nothing has come of it since then, but I've been told that the "art is coming" and that I should "hold tight". That certainly sounds promising, and I look forward to having my humorous words seen by the public at large, but at the same time, once the art has come, and my words are let loose into the hive mind, that means that I have to come up with another idea for another column. Then, two weeks later, I have to do it again. I find this prospect terrifying because, at present, I don't have any other ideas. Sad, I know. Why I would specifically ask for a biweekly column when I knew that I didn't have more than the one idea, a poorly executed one at that, is beyond me. It's like I wish to spend my evening as a writhing ball of anxiety rather than sleeping soundly, dreaming of future fame and fortune as a critically acclaimed humor columnist. My prediction is that eventually, the fine folks at GameShark will realize that I can't deliver on my promise and all their artwork efforts have been in vain. The distrust and disgust will run so deep that they won't even want me writing reviews. I can only hope that I can string them along until November as I really want to review Manhunt 2.

I'm continuing to enjoy BioShock and have amassed a nice collection of both audio diaries and gene tonics, so barring game gliches, I should be able to get achievements for everything but completing the game on Hard in one run through. Playing while searching is both more satisfying and less satisfying at the same time. Not being able to throw myself headlong into the story and just mow down splicers is less fun, however when I find an audio diary or a gene tonic, I get to cross it off of a list and that is very empowering. I never used to be this anal. Scratch that. I've always been this anal, I've just never had a socially acceptable outlet for displaying it. There are a few things that I think the game desperately needs though to make the experience "top shelf" as my mother-in-law would say. First of all, once you have a system, as in The Darkness, that tells you how close you are to completing a certain achievement, it's hard to go back. With all of the research photos you have to take and diaries to find, it'd be nice if there was something that showed you that you found 20 of 22 audio diaries for this level, or you're 75% complete with researching security cameras. Also, it'd be nice if I could see my inventory at any time. As you progress in the game, you pick up random bits of trash that you can use to invent things. You can see how much stuff you have when you go to invent things, but if you're anal, like me, and want to be able to invent things the minute you get the required amount of stuff, you have no way of checking your progress. They're minor things, but when you have a game this good, it's usually only minor things that you find. Even though it will kill me, literally strike me dead, to not start playing Metroid tonight, I think the story of both it and BioShock will be better served if I finish one and then start the other. Ok, it might not kill me, but I will have a vague feeling of unease for most of the evening.

Finally, I have obtained the most important coaching tool, the whistle and am well prepared to use it when necessary. We also purchased other things for Ben, such as shinguards, shoes, socks, a ball and practice cones, so we feel confident that at some time, someone will play soccer. The shinguards and socks are large enough so that he should be able to get more than one season out of it. He has no choice in this matter as I need to recoup my investment and they sure as hell won't fit me. His sister appears to be getting smaller, rather than larger, so she won't be able to fit into them until sometime in her mid 30's, so it's on him to make sure we get the most for his 60 bucks. I've been told that he'll have a good time. Hopefully his good time will intersect with my value proposition or he's in for two years of unfulfilling sporting activity. Play ball!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Some time with Bioshock

As the title suggests, I've been able to spend some time with Bioshock over the past 24 hours and I'm quite impressed.

First of all, I'd like to thank Joystiq as I was lucky enough to win a copy of Bioshock from them. I had planned on buying it anyways, and in fact, I did buy the Limited Edition, however winning the game from them allowed me to turn the Limited Edition around on eBay for a nice profit. For the record, I won a copy that was purchased last week when Toys R Us broke the street date. This is a first for me in two ways as a) I never win contests and b) I never have an item I'm able to sell quickly and capitalize on the popularity of. So, yay for me. Twice. If Bioshock gamers are willing to pay an extra 30 bucks for the Limited Edition, I'm hoping that Halo 3 gamers will be willing to spend even more for the Legendary Edition of Halo 3. All I need is for the Legendary Edition to sell out before the Halo 3 release date and I'll be all set.

Ok, so Bioshock. In a nutshell, this game kicks ass. Not since Crackdown have I sat down at a game and didn't realize that over an hour had passed. It's just that immersive. Everything looks and sounds amazing and the AI is some of the best you'll ever come across. The weapons are nicely balanced and there's a good selection of Plasmids (active powers) and Gene Tonics (passive powers) to play with.

On that subject, the game does allow you to "play" with powers to a certain extent, however switching up your layout requires you to backtrack to the nearest gene bank thingy and then go find a bunch of baddies to fuck with. Sure, there's always one or two Splicers (think crazed drug addicts) roaming the halls but you don't get a feel for what your powers can do until you go up against a room of baddies.

When you do have the opportunity to play though, it's tons of fun. For example, I came across a Big Daddy that was just roaming around and knowing that I was going to have to go into a new area, no doubt filled with new baddies, I hit him with the hypnotize power and had him tag along. We get to a room, and sure enough, some Splicers meant to do me some home, so I let Rosie take care of 'em. Once the smoke cleared, Rosie was still in my thrall, so I was going to let the hypnosis just wear off, but lo and behold, here came the last Little Sister of the level, complete with her Big Daddy guardian. I'm not one to let a perfectly hypnotized Big Daddy go to waste, so I tagged Rosie with another hypnosis sphere thing, peeked out from behind some crates, and took a shot at the other Big Daddy. He goes ballistic gunning for me, and Rosie rushed to my aid. Me, I continued to hid and then threw in some grenades to finish the job that Rosie couldn't. No muss, no fuss.

Even with these kinds of interactions at my fingertips, I still find myself equipping the same combination of Plasmids. Part of that is because, as I mentioned before, it's not always convenient to switch up your layout, but part of that is because I found a combination that works, and once I do that in a game, I'll stick with it until the cows come home. The game limits how often you can expand the number of Plasmids and Gene Tonics you can have equipped at a time so it forces you to experiment with different combinations. That being said, this game is just screaming for a cheat mode similar to Crackdown's "Keys to the City" mode that allowed you to turn on whatever abilities and weapons you wanted and go to town against the city's gangs. It'd be great if you could switch out Plasmids and Gene Tonics on the fly and mess around with the baddies.

I know that some people were complaining about not being able to die in the game, and yes, it is a bit of a crutch, but it makes the game so much more fun to play and is part of what makes the game so streamlined. Personally, I think it's great and helps reduce the frustration level. You still don't want to die, as you always have to do some backtracking and sometimes you come back in a tank that's in an unexplored area, one teeming with baddies at that. Basically, all it does, is allow you to keep your progress when you're not so quick on the draw. Nothing bad about that.

As much as I gushed over the voice work in The Darkness, this game blows it out of the water. Every performance is amazing and really does a lot to flesh out the game world. Special effects are similarly well done and help to draw the player in. The story comes in little pieces, through audio diaries you find along the way, and while having this kind of story telling mode carries with it the risk that some players won't get the full story, in my case, it makes me want to explore every nook and cranny so that I don't miss anything.

My only grudge with the game is that managing weapon ammo can be a bit of a pain. You can have various types of ammo for each weapon, picked via the d-pad when your weapon is equipped. The problem is that when you run out of a particular type of ammo, it doesn't cut over to the next available type. Combat in this game is very hectic and when switching between using Plasmids and using weapons, it's all too easy to forget that you don't have any ammo and end up getting punched in the face by a Big Daddy. Guess I shouldn't complain too much. They made the game so that I can't die. The least I could do is keep an eye on how many anti-personnel rounds I have.

With this game, one of the most expensive and "game of the year" candidate filled holiday seasons kicks off, and if the subsequent big releases from all three companies come even close to the level of quality in Bioshock, this will be a holiday gaming season for the ages. If the other games don't come close, then just having Bioshock be this good will be enough.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Musings

Ah, the pre-bowling calm, when everyone dreams of perfect scores and the crushing weight of reality has yet to fall upon them. What better time to compile my musings? Sure beats working.

The Bioshock demo has only intensified my already crazed levels of enthusiasm for this game. This holiday season is jam packed with delicious content, across all platforms, yet Bioshock is the game I'm the most excited about. How fitting that it should lead the charge! Oh sure, I'm giddy for Metroid 3, and look forward to finally having some closure in Halo 3, and who doesn't want to set Venezuela alight in Mercenaries 2, but Bioshock is the one game I would pick to play this fall, if I had to only pick one. The next game I'm this excited about is Super Smash Brothers Brawl, which drops in December, to provide a nice, violent exclamation point on the holiday season.

I'll be working diligently to finish my Alien Syndrome and Boogie reviews in the next few days so that I can enter into Bioshock with an uncluttered calendar. As irritated as I was to not get any broken street date lovin' and get my hands on Bioshock early, in the end, I'm glad I didn't. If I had to stop playing Bioshock to play Alien Syndrome, I'd be pretty pissed. That's not a knock against Alien Syndrome, more a word of praise for Bioshock. I'll be pissed when I have to stop playing it to go to bed, or eat or do any of the other myriad things necessary to keep me alive and with a healthy marriage.

As for Alien Syndrome and Boogie, I have informed Linda that this weekend, our basement will be host to not only a dance-off, but a cooperative effort to eradicate the aforementioned Alien Syndrome. Despite her lack of enthusiasm, she's secretly, silently thrilled. Just ask her.

The biggest news of the week is that, not only has Ben been signed up to play soccer this fall, but I have volunteered to coach his team. This flies directly against my nature, which includes a deep and bitter hatred for the offspring of others, however I need material for this column, and if I can't find something funny about 5 year olds being coached by someone with no athletic skill whatsoever, well, I have no business writing at all.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The hits just keep on coming...

My review for The Darkness is up. Revel in my critical genius!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Picross review up

My super special Picross DS review is up. Bonus points for not hating it. Wahey!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Random Bits + Dinner

Some random stuff today, and then the first of a semi-regular feature highlighting some of the Cackowski-Schnell dinner favorites. Exciting, I'm sure but what the hell. I stole the dinner idea from Andy, who in turn, stole it from Booster. We're all thieves and liars over here.

Finally, some non-GH1 songs are available for download for Guitar Hero 2. They're all from My Chemical Romance, and all from "The Black Parade" album, which makes them A-OK in my book. It doesn't hurt that they're particularly crunchy and full of mad shredding, which is probably why they were picked. Naturally, the interwebs are aflame with youngsters railing to the heavens about how MCR is such a bunch of emo queers. Whatever. I stand by the statement that "Dead" is one of the most fun songs to play in GH2 and these songs are just as much fun to listen to, so I'm sure they'll be as much fun to play. Besides, I stopped caring about what others thought of my musical tastes a long, long time ago.

The Bioshock demo has also dropped but somehow a cruel trick has been played upon me and I seem to be unable to download it with anything more than glacial speeds. I'm hoping that tonight will prove more successful than Sunday night or last night. If not, the game comes out in a week, but man, it sucks to hear how much people are loving this demo and I can do naught to experience it.

It would appear that I've been able to fool the folks at GameShark into believing that I can write a bi-weekly humor column. All of the details have yet to be finalized, but hopefully I can announce something soon. I have no idea how I'm going to come up with something to write about every other week, and be funny at the same time, but I figure it's a good opportunity and it will be a good learning experience. That being said, if you are able to come up with a funny, bi-weekly gaming column, please let me know. I pay 25 bucks a column. Hopefully that will free up my creativity to devote more time to this place, but as that has yet to happen, I wouldn't hold my breath. I'll see if I can get this site linked to from the humor column, thereby forcing myself to update here but I'm not sure they'd go for that. We'll see.

Enough prattle. Let's eat.

What's For Dinner - Sausage and Peppers
As you may or may not know, I do all of the cooking at home. This is, in part because Linda doesn't enjoy cooking, and in part because I really, really love to eat and the only way I can eat a bunch of different things is by cooking it my own damn self. It's all just selfishness when you get right down to it, but seeing how I can rock a kitchen 'til your hair turns gray, no one is complaining.

My Sausage and Peppers recipe was originally a Cooking Light recipe but I modified it to meet my own discriminating palate. It hasn't changed that much, just a little here and there, mostly to remove the "Light" part. As it's a fairly simple recipe, the quality of the ingredients is very important. There's not a lot there to mask sub-par sausage, so just buck up and be willing to spend the time to find peppers that don't look like they've been out on the sidewalk for 3 weeks.

12 oz uncooked penne pasta - If you don't have a kitchen scale (which you should) and don't feel like doing the math, you can use the whole 1 lb box. The S&P is served individually, on top of the cooked pasta, so having extra cooked pasta won't throw off the balance or anything.
1 lb Italian sausage - I like to use hot sausage here as it pairs nicely with the peppers, but I guess you could use sweet if you preferred it. I'm not a big fan of sweet Italian sausage, but that's just me. Just don't go trying this with some bullshit turkey sausage or gourmet chicken and apple shit. This is an Italian dish and as such, needs good, old fashioned pork sausage. Save your Sam Jackson speech for someone who cares.
1 red, yellow and green pepper cut into 1/4 inch strips - Again, get good peppers here. Nothing all wrinkled and pitted. It's worth it.
1 26 ounce jar of pasta sauce - More than anything else, this ingredient will really change the flavor of the dish. I prefer something sweeter, like a garden sauce with lots of vegetables. Linda prefers something more herb-y, like a 7 herb tomato or a simple tomato and basil. I do not recommend a meat or a cheese sauce as it's way too overpowering. Ditto for vodka or tomato cream sauces.
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or 3 tsp of minced garlic - Garlic is good however you do it, so it's your choice
Shredded Mozzarella cheese - the amount is up to you, but somewhere between 1/4 cup to a cup should do it.
Love - I know this is a stupid ingredient, and maybe I'm just channeling generations of Italian moms here, but ever since my wife and my son have started asking for this dish by name, I've been better at making it.

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, just without any oil or salt. You don't need it as this dish has enough fat as it is.
2. Cook the Italian sausage. The original recipe called for frying it for 8 minutes over med-high heat, which I did for quite some time, but I have since switched to grilling them as it's cleaner and I think the sausages benefit from being grilled. For some reason, this dish has a rustic feel to it and when I think rustic, I think open flame, not anodized aluminum pans. If you decided to grill, do them on direct-medium (directly over a medium flame) for 8 minutes, turning them over after 4 minutes.
3. Once the sausages are done, heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. If you have one of those nice chicken frying pans that are like 3 or 4 inches deep, use one of those. Cook the peppers in the frying pan for 6 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. While the peppers cook, let the sausages cool a little and then slice them into 1/4 inch slices. Don't eat any yet, as they're probably not fully cooked yet and you don't want to get sick.
5. Add the sausage to the peppers and cook for another 2 minutes.
6. Add the garlic to the sausage and peppers and cook for another 2 minutes.
7. Add the pasta sauce to the pan (see why a deep pan is helpful?), stir and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer the mixture for 5 minutes.
8. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese. Keep stirring until all of the cheese is melted.

Serve up some pasta in shallow, individual pasta bowls and cover with the Sausage and Peppers. A big loaf of crusty Italian bread always helps, as does the tasty beverage of your choice. This dish is particularly good as leftovers too, provided you don't eat it all in one sitting.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Transformer Game Reviews

My reviews for the Wii and DS versions of the latest Transformer movie games are available for your perusal. While you're there, check out the PS3 and 360 reviews too. We're unified in our hatred.

Monday, August 06, 2007

John Mayer + Ben Folds

Once again rose from my cave and ventured out into world to take in some live music. Sunday night's performance? John Mayer with Ben Folds and James Morrison.

I should point out that prior to this show, I was a much bigger Ben Folds fan than I was a John Mayer fan. Nothing against John Mayer, as I have all his albums, but the only live recording I had of him was in support of his first record and didn't show off a lot of guitar work. Ben Folds, on the other hand, I'd already seen twice and both times were treated to an incredibly talented performer with a lot of personality and a great sense of humor. After seeing the show, I will do my best to see John Mayer whenever he comes to town as not only is he an incredibly talented performer with a lot of personality and a great sense of humor, but that dude can play the hell out of a guitar. Holy shit, can he lay it down.

James Morrison had a great voice and a tight band, but alas I spent most of his set trying to get a t-shirt in the right size, so I can't comment on him. He seemed pretty good and he's sold like 2 million record in Europe, so obviously he's doing something right.

I feel somewhat bad for Ben Folds because, as the opening band, he wasn't awarded the same attention and interest that the headliner gets. This is a shame, because he did a great set with lots of material covering his work with the Ben Folds 5 and his solo stuff. Oddly enough, he toured with only a drummer and a bassist, which is the exact makeup of the BF5, but they weren't the BF5. They only sounded exactly like the BF5. Whatever. It was a good time, and I did my best to represent and sing along and such, but it's hard to do so when most of the people around you aren't paying any fucking attention.

Thankfully, with the exception of the text message addict next to me, people gave John Mayer their full attention. His set list was mostly from his latest two solo albums, which makes sense as they're better tuned for displaying his mad guitar chops. He could have had some stuff from his Trio album, but as I don't have that album, I have no idea. There was a nice range of material and the crowd loved every minute of it.

This was probably one of the best produced shows I've ever been to. The lighting was awesome, which is saying something because I usually don't notice stuff like that. There were 3 screens behind the band, made to look like windows, that they used to show the band members, or JM's face, or his guitar work. They weren't big, jumbotron screens, so you didn't get the feeling that they were there to help out those in the cheap seats, more that they were part of the set. It was all done really well. His touring band is quite talented and everyone got a chance to show off.

Having never ventured to that part of downtown for a show, I was hesitant about being able to find parking, however by being willing to walk 10 minutes to the venue, I was able to save 10 bucks. This also gave me the opportunity to walk through Olympic Centennial Park at night, which is quite a sight. Unfortunately, it's easier to get into the park at 11:15 PM than it is to get out of it, so I had to do some creative fence hopping to escape. Then I was treated to the sight of my fellow parking lot customers tearing down the gate blocking exit from the lot when it dropped and locked into place inexplicably. Atlanta residents are many things, but patient is not one of them.

This now makes 5 shows that I've gone and seen since moving to Atlanta, which is more than I ever saw in 5 years of living in VA, if memory serves. While I still prefer to go with other people, I'm learning to enjoy going by myself, and take the opportunity to stoke the bitter flames of resentment that I feel whenever I'm surrounded by other people, all of whom are arguably beneath me. I mean, for fuck's sake, turn your goddamned phone off for 2 hours. It's a fucking rock show.


Here are some crappy pictures to commemorate the event.

This is James Morrison's set. He's there, somewhere. I think he had a guitar.

After Morrison's set, as they were setting up for Ben Folds. It's just a reference shot to show where I was. The seat was pretty good, as it should have been as one ticket was like 72 bucks. Stupid fucking convenience fees.

Ben Folds's set. He's on the left, in front of the piano. Yes, there's a piano there. Jesus, my phone's camera sucks.

John Mayer, singing the first few lines to "Why Georgia, Why?"

John Mayer and the band in full swing. John is in front of that super nova in the center of the stage. You can somewhat see the screens I was talking about. Somewhat. I'm such a shitty photographer.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Lesson on Value

Let's say you buy a set of three movies on DVD. For the sake of argument, let's call it the Die Hard Trilogy. Three movies for 26 bucks may seem like a great deal, but what if you already own Die Hard? Well, 26 bucks for two movies is less of a great deal, but, in the interest of complicating matters, let's say there's a ticket in the box for $8.50 off of an admission for Die Hard 4. Is this still a good value?

This is a trick question. The answer is "no" because I'm too fucking stupid to realize that the goddamn movie ticket had a goddamn expiration date, particularly an expiration date of July the goddamned 21st. Arrggh. Further compounding the insult is that not a week or two after I bought the set, the individual movies were on sale at Circuit City for $7.50 each. Nice! I honestly thought that I'd go to the movie, but alas, I'm too damn lazy. In my defense, once I work a full day and then make dinner and get the kids put to bed, going to a movie takes a supreme effort. Oh well, something to grow on for the future.

In other news, I'll be reviewing Picross for the DS for GameShark soon. In the meantime, I'm going to pull an IGN and say if you like logic puzzle games, you'll love Picross!!!!!

I saw the robot replicas versions of Barricade and Megatron today. In a nutshell, they're action figues of the Transformers in robot mode. In a slightly bigger nutshell, they're butt ugly and hopefully super poseable because otherwise, there's really no reason to buy them unlike you like spending 10 bucks on an ugly toy that doesn't turn into anything. I don't really know who these would be marketed towards as the transforming inherent in Transformers is what makes them so much fun. These figures are decidedly less fun and might actually cross over into anti-fun.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Fear My Parenting

This weekend I had one of those pivotal moments in parenting, when you get the feeling that everything you're doing with your kids is finally setting in. Parents of kids older than a year know what I'm talking about. I say over a year, because parenting a child under 12 months is mostly just an exercise in keeping them alive. Maybe it's when your kid says "please" or "thank you" for the first time. Maybe it's when they do something without being asked five hundred times.Maybe it's when they can recognize the helmet of a professional football team without prompting. This past week, my son ran from me in fear for the first time. More specifically he ran from my mad disciplinary skills, but I'll take the credit.

Before we progress further, I should probably explain some things. First of all, neither I, nor my wife employ strange or violent disciplinary measures. We don't spank, hit, pinch, slap or otherwise use physical force. No one gets forced to stay in a dank cellar. No one lives under the stairs. No one gets whipped for using wire hangers. We use the tried and true methods of denying privileges and banishment to one's room. When I say "room" I actually mean the room of the house designated as owned by the child in question, not some shackled up outhouse with nothing but a bucket to pee in and an eye hole to look out of. So when I say that my kid ran in fear of being disciplined, I can assure you that it's not because he thought I was going to hit him with an oar.

Allow me to set the stage. Sunday mornings I get up with the kids while Linda sleeps in. Like all good parents, I do my best to avoid the children entirely and encourage them to play with one another. Anyone with multiple children knows exactly what I'm talking about as the only reason to have more than one child is so that you don't have to play, and lose, at race cars 500 bajillion times. Parents that say they had multiple children because they had lots of love to give, or some similarly rosy sounding bullshit are lying to you. They had multiple kids because they did the math and realized that 2 years of putting up with a child that can't do anything for themselves is better than being chief playmate and entertainment source for 18 years.

But I digress. As the kids play, I get the menu for the week together and make the grocery list. It takes some time as I don't like to repeat meals from week to week. The kids are usually content to spend this time playing with one another. They're playing, for the most part, consists of Ben ordering Abby around and her doing whatever he tells her. That is, when they're not arguing over something. Linda read somewhere that the normal amount of time between conflict for kids their age is roughly 10 minutes. If ten minutes were to go by with my kids not yelling at each other about something, I would worry that the book case fell on them.

Of late, Abby has taken to playing with this set of 16 wooden blocks that Ben had as a toddler. I don't know what it is about them, but she will sit for upwards of an hour and just dump them out of their wooden tray and then put them back. It's kind of strange, but it makes her immensely happy. Ben is less than thrilled about this recent development, in part because it's his right as a sibling to immediately want whatever his sibling is receiving enjoyment from, even if not 5 minutes ago he cast it aside as the most repulsive thing ever. The other part is that, and I think this is more important, when she's playing with the blocks, he can't tell her what to do. 4 year olds excel at few things, but instructing others how to do things is one of them. When Abby is in her block fugue, not only does she not listen to what he's saying to her, but it's like he doesn't exist.

Given that there is so little in this world that will actually make Abby happy, and not just happy but entertained and enthralled for long periods of time, the general rule around the house has become "don't mess with your sister when she's playing with the blocks." An odd rule, to be sure, and one that really only applies to the blocks, but it's necessary, because the boy absolutely will not stop fucking with this child when she's playing with those damn blocks. You might, at this point, say "well, why not make them share the blocks and get him involved so that he can play too?" No dice. He doesn't want to be involved, he wants to take over and once he starts playing with her, they won't be playing with the blocks in the manner she wants to, they'll be turning the blocks into eggs or Lego Racers or something else and using them to play Super Block Ball or some shit. All the poor child wants to do is dump out the blocks and put them back. We've told Ben that he can help her do that, but it rarely stays that way, so the block rule has been enforced.

Now, on another note, my take is that Abby, whom I love to pieces, don't get me wrong, can be a fucking hornet's nest if riled up, so why, in the name of all that is good and holy, would you do anything to bother her if she's happy and content? I'm not saying you should tiptoe around the kid if she's smacking the dog with a fireplace poker, but if she's playing with something that is completely ok for her to play with, and having a good time, why not just leave her the fuck alone? Alas reason is lost on 4 year olds, although he will be the first one to point out when his sister is screaming at the top of her lungs.

So, back to Sunday morning. She's playing with her blocks, I'm menu planning and he starts messing with her. I tell him a number of times to leave her alone and then I hear silence. Then I hear the sound of a pom-pom being waved. The kids have some stupid pom-pom they got at the grocery store as a giveaway or something. I really have no idea how it got into the house. Then I hear the sound of the pom-pom being smacked into something. I assume it's the floor. Then I hear Abby plaintively wailing "Daaaaddddyyyyy!!!" It would appear I was wrong in my assumption.

I get up and come into the room, but as I'm coming into the living room, I hear him running out of the room, a sure sign that something's up as he's never ran that fast to do anything in his life. I check on Abby and she's ok, playing with the blocks, with the pom-pom on the floor next to her. I then leave the living room through the other door into the foyer and I still don't see Ben but I can hear him. He was actually moving away from me to escape capture. "Well played," I thought as I was impressed that he didn't just pause outside the door.

I may be many things, but capable of being outsmarted by someone who can't tie his shoes ain't one of them. Knowing that he might think I'm still in the living room and not come back, I went back the way I came, into the hallway connecting the living room to the family room and waited. This way, when he came back through a glance from the foyer or the dining room would make the room appear to be safe to return to. In a moment he returned and just like that, the steely jaws of my trap sprang shut.

I walked out and the look of surprise on his face was priceless. Then the interrogation began.

"What were you doing before I came into the room?"

"I don't know." This is his new thing. It rarely works, yet he persists in trying it.

"Don't lie to me boy." I don't know why I call him boy in these situations. It must be a southern thing. "You must have been doing something you knew was wrong or you wouldn't have run away. Now, what were you doing?"

Pause. Another pause. "Hitting Abby with the pom-pom."


"Because she wasn't sharing the blocks with me."

At this point, I went into the whole thing about not hitting and you're a big brother, you should be looking out for her and she's half your size and blah blah blah. The end result was that he got sent to his room for 45 minutes. The entire time, Abby played with the blocks with the biggest smile on her face.

Now, had it just been a he said she said thing and he hadn't ran and hadn't confessed, there wouldn't have been much that I could do because I didn't actually see anything and I couldn't trust that Abby would tell me the truth. 2 year olds are notoriously unreliable eyewitnesses. Even if he had just ran, and not confessed, I still wouldn't have been able to do anything, because again, I didn't see it and he could have just been running to run. I'm glad he did confess, because I want my kids to be honest, even if it means owning up to something they're going to get punished for, but at the same time, I know that there will soon come a day when I know he's lying to me, but I can't do anything about it because I won't have seen the infraction occur.

In the end, it wasn't a big deal. He got lectured again when he came out of his room, he didn't hit her again and the day continued like any other. Obviously, I don't like punishing my kids, but at the same time, it's nice to know that they know there are consequences to their actions. It'd be nicer if they didn't carry out the act that they're going to get punished for, but alas, punishment is not about prevention, it's about teaching accountability.

For the record, were that Abby whipping Ben with the pom-pom, not only would she have stayed in the room as I entered, but she would have flashed me the "hold on one second" hand sign as she continued to beat him about the head and neck. As much as it pains me to have her in this emotionally volatile state, I fear the days when she's older because I know that she's stubborn and willful and traditional disciplinary techniques won't work with her. When those days arrive, I may have to go out and buy an oar.