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For a Few Dollars More…



Tired of making those trips to the grocery store?  Stop!

There’s something comforting in knowing that 144 rolls of toilet paper will show up at my front door before I need them.  And that opening the four cases of San Pellegrino sparkling fruit beverages that follow will make me happy like nothing else can.  Well, nothing except that I will never again run to a drugstore for feminine hygiene products because they, too, show up regularly.

Image courtesy

At my house, we have given up buying large things at stores because I’m tired of carrying them up stairs.  So I just pre-order my household supplies on and let FedEx carry them up the stairs.

I subscribe online (on the Subscribe and Save menu) and schedule monthly, bimonthly or quarterly deliveries.  For instance, paper towels and laundry detergent arrive every other month.  Basmati rice arrives quarterly.  And like the toilet paper that also arrives every three months, we maintain a perpetual supply of dishwasher soap, orzo and chia seeds.

I probably pay a few more dollars than at a store, but I save a lot of money on the cost of blood pressure medicine, wear and tear on my artificial knees, and gas.

The only down side I’ve found is that sometimes we have too much of a good thing and find ourselves over-stocked, perhaps with two gross of toilet paper rolls, or 40 pounds of rice.  In that case, I simply suspend delivery online until we use what we have stashed in closets, cabinets and under beds.

And honestly, the only way Amazon could have made my life any easier is if it had also delivered my children.

And the winner is…

and the winner is…

The battle is half the battle


Written by Thespine Kavoulakis

Queensberry Rules? Forget ‘em. These are the Thespine Rules.

Oh, those school holidays, vacation days, and snow days…how I anticipated them when I was a child!  What potential they offered!  They were like a song in my heart that I couldn’t wait to share with the world. Years later, I shared that enthusiasm with my children.  We planned half-day excursions during teacher conferences and ventured farther for long weekends.  Snow days meant snuggling in bed before heading outside to shovel.  There were snowmen; there were snow angels.  Always, there was hot chocolate made with real milk and chocolate waiting on the stove.

But that was before The Teen Years dawned.

Now I’m singing a different tune.  Days off school still offer opportunities—potentially disastrous ones.  Our family spends a lot of time together voluntarily and for the most part does very well.  But when we have to spend time together, something happens: my teenagers become like large caged, drooling animals, circling one another, watching for a moment of weakness, waiting for the right moment to attack.

When they were young, if one crawled on top of another, I simply grabbed the back of a shirt and carted the attacker away like a piece of luggage—problem solved.  They were easily distracted and easily calmed.  In those days, the rules were simple: be nice, be loving.  Unfortunately, they are no longer portable, so these days I have a new set of  tried-and-true rules that for the most part work well, as my 22 year old survivor—I mean, son—will attest.  (Don’t ask the younger two.  They’re only 12 and 14.)

  • If you get hurt, you win.  You get hugs from Mom, and Dad yells at your siblings when he comes home.
  • If you bleed, you win.  If you require a tourniquet, you win this fight and the next automatically.  Winners go to Dairy Queen, once for each win.
  • If a sibling breaks your arm or leg, you win.  Winners get to choose the color of their casts, plus  the punishment Dad will inflict on the losers.  (But beware: if you break your own arm or leg and blame it on someone else, you lose.  Your sibling gets the photo I took of you proudly using a potty chair.)
  • If I have to call an ambulance for you, you win.  You can have any snack you want from the machines in the ER, and your sibling will pay.  If you stay overnight in the hospital, you can have anything you want from the gift shop, and your sibling will pay.  If you stay more than one day, you can order anything you want from eBay from your hospital  bed, and your sibling will pay.  If you require surgery,  you can buy anyhing you want online and your sibling will pay.  Dad and I will find a lawyer to attach his or her future wages.  If you do not survive surgery, you automatically win.  Forever.
  • If you blind your sibling, you lose.  If a sibling blinds you,  you win. (Even though the one who poked the other one’s eye out will be walking a lot due to losing car privileges, this does not mean that we will get a dog.)
  • You can use any weapons you find or create, but be aware that while a fireplace poker, rake or lamp can hurt your opponent, you must be hurt worse to win.  If you win, you can keep the car out past curfew.  If you win but are too maimed to drive, you can have all the junk food you want for a year.  If you win but your injuries prevent you from eating, you get comfy cashmere clothes and silk underwear—custom made so as not to interfere with your feeding tube.  If the police can trace a weapon back to me or Dad, you will pay our lawyer fees, plus  mileage and per diem expenses for court appearances.  We’ll work out a payment  plan by which we continue to own you past your 18th birthday.  If you are permanently maimed while using a weapon to attack a sibling, you will be left in the care of said sibling while we wrestle with the legal system.
  • If you win but Mom and Dad are sued by traumatized bystanders, you lose.  If you want to ever leave the neighborhood, you’ll have to hope the lawyers let you chauffer them in the luxury cars they’ll be buying with your inheritance.  If you lose too often and can’t afford to date, eat at Chipotle or see a movie, then you’re welcome to sit at home with your parents and watch the Travel Channel.  We can make popcorn and have family sing-alongs.  And you can run back and forth to the refrigerator.  (That way, Mom and Dad win.)

A Chip Off the Old Ham

a chip off the old ham

Sweet memories of the taste of home


Written by Thespine Kavoulakis

I was at ritzy fundraiser where they served typical California food: all natural, unadorned and sustainable, from the fish to the three wines to whatever those grains were.

The man next to me had moved to La Jolla from New York a few years before and we were talking pizza because, well, good pizza is a scarcity around here and strongly impacts the quality of family life.

Dessert was a vegan “chocolate” mousse made from avocados.

When the word “Pittsburgh” slipped into the conversation, the man’s wife’s ears perked up and she scooted closer.

“My brother visits Pittsburgh on business,” she said.  “But the heck with the pizza–he raves about this sandwich people feed him…”

My children had just come back from a visit to Mt. Lebanon, and in their luggage, along with some Mineo’s Sicilian slices, were six pounds of chipped ham.

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Isaly’s Chipped Ham…simply the best

“It was barbecued something…” the wife started.  “I think it was ham?  Could it be barbecued ham?”

“Chipped ham sandwiches!” I said.  “Ham barbecue! Yes!”

There are few things as reminiscent of Pittsburgh as Isaly’s chipped ham sandwiches.  That’s one local tradition that has stayed intact, not been adulterated or commercialized or exported or knocked off, and it has stayed true to its Pittsburgh heritage.  Those sandwiches just don’t exist outside southwestern Pennsylvania.  Barbecued ham?  The uninitiated unknowingly picture thick slices of Christmas dinner slathered with Heinz barbecue sauce.

The woman called her brother in New York.  Unfortunately, it was 1 a.m. in New York, and until she called he was sound asleep.  But when he found out that I knew chipped ham, all was forgiven.  We made a date for pizza the next time he was in California, and he promised to bring one along with him.


Of Course You Know, This Means War

of course you know, this means war

All’s fair in the coffee shop

I love playing games with my kids.

My middle school daughter, Nina, and I sat at a coffee shop with chalkboard tabletops and chalk and Nina introduced a new game instead of the usual Tic Tac Toe. “It’s War,” she said, “but it’s Creative War…First, draw a stick figure,” and she drew a stick figure with a round head, stick hands and stick legs.

So I drew a stick figure, but I put boots and mittens on mine—better to be prepared.

Then she said “Now you draw an attack of some kind, and I’ll retaliate with a defense.”

So I drew a red circle with a stick figure inside and a diagonal slash across it.

Photo courtesy

Nina sighed.  Her defense: a big welcome sign.  A really big one. She won.

Then it was her turn to attack, so she drew a puddle of glue at my stick figure’s feet. She announced that my stick figure was stuck, despite the boots, I should probably draw boiling water to dissolve the glue.

So I drew a coffee pot full of steaming hot water and my stick figure poured it onto the ground to wash away that glue.  This time Nina said “Good Mom.”  I won.

Then for my attack I drew hedge clippers in my stick figure’s hand to chop Nina’s stick figure to pieces.

But Nina drew a wall around her stick figure as her defense.

As soon as I saw that wall going up, I got a head start on my next attack, but Nina stopped me midway to ask what I thought I was doing.

“My termite army is getting a head start,” I explained.

That just didn’t work for her, so she reached across the table, erased my termites, and said try again, her wall was made out of steel.

I drew a tall ladder and she countered with a steel Quonset hut.  War was escalating.

So I pulled out the big guns: I sketched a barn with a silo with a missile coming out of the top.

“What’s THAT?” she asked.

“It’s a Silo Missile,” I said.  “See: Silo.  Missile.  They were popular in the ’80s.  Do you want to hear about it?”

“No, Mom,” she sighed, and took her hand and erased the whole table.  Oh well.

We played at the coffee shop for two hours–a really big win for me.