Unsolicited advice may be hazardous to your health

Ever notice how some well-intentioned people always seem to offer bright ideas about how best to raise your kids, regardless of your lifestyle, where you live, what you do for a living or if they’ve ever raised any children themselves?

If you’ve got offspring from 1 to 18 years of age, you’ve probably heard heartfelt advice from hardware store clerks, law enforcement officers, schoolteachers, bartenders and any number of thoughtful in-laws.

And the news media are always ready to add their advice to your already jumbled child-rearing formula.

We may not be able to tell the IRA from the IRS on any given day, but we’ve always got a sackful of bright ideas about how you should be bringing up your kids.

Just last month, Universal Press Syndicate sent out a helpful list of summertime activities “to keep you and the kids busy for 50 days!”

Uh-huh …

Rent a canoe, start a hobby, go to the library, do weekly science experiments, plant a garden, learn about nature, visit a farm or go berry picking, the article suggested, along with about 40 other activities to fill the doldrums that occasionally crop up during the lazy, hazy days of summer.

A trip to the library? Sure. No problem. The worst the kids can do is drive the librarian into a complete mental breakdown or set their pet tarantula loose in the reference section.

On the other hand, “do weekly science experiments” could lead to more excitement than most parents really need, even during the final days of August.

The summers of my own childhood were, of course, filled with a variety of scientific experimentation that my playmates and I engaged in before the dreaded return to elementary school in September.

We were all patriotic kids, so national defense was a major consideration whenever we launched a summertime research project.

Growing up during the height of the Cold War, it seemed as if we were always in the shadow of potential Soviet aggression. In response, our carefully planned summer science projects expanded to include such devilishly clever offensive weapons as the dreaded “Cannon Cracker in a Dead Catfish.”

This little-known but vital part of America’s Cold War arms race was devised by one of my 9-year-old neighbors who grimly announced, after a deafening explosion, “The Russkies may have Sputnik, but we’ve perfected the anti-personnel catfish – messy but effective.”

Placing a large firecracker in an overripe catfish was, of course, just the beginning. If memory serves, this was the same summer that we future physicists also discovered the remarkable properties of the gasoline our fathers kept in little red cans to fuel their lawnmowers and chainsaws.

I think we were trying to make a hot-air balloon out of a big shopping bag one sweltering July afternoon when the first explosion occurred, which somehow led to the fire which eventually spread to the front porch …

Needless to say, it’s always a good idea to have kids’ summertime science experiments conducted under strict parental supervision. That way, the neighbors will know where to send the bill when your daughter inadvertently blows up their new Winnebago …

Originally published July 9, 2000

Some things are just better not seen

The great summer grilling season is nearly upon us and every backyard pyromaniac from Cecilville to Cape Porpoise is beginning to amass a glittering collection of barbecue accessories.

Multi-grilled, propane-fired barbecues, electronic forks that sense the interior temperatures of meats and spatulas big enough to flip a Doberman pinscher are much sought after.

The newspaper was recently advised of yet another innovation in backyard barbecue gadgetry when The Sharper Image company announced the debut of their portable BBQ Grill Light.

For only $29.95 – less than six pitchers of beer – outdoor gourmets can not only grill foods but actually see what they’re cooking.

Whadda concept, eh, amigos?

“Our portable lamp projects a high-intensity beam onto your grill, allowing you to enjoy the evening and the food!” wrote The Sharper Image. “Light has an adjustable head and turns on automatically when its 16-inch arm is extended.”

Yes, this certainly sounds like the next great grilling accessory for avid outdoor chefs to acquire – anywhere but here.

Who knows what the folks at The Sharper Image were thinking when they sent news of this illuminating little gadget to the very heart of S’lano County, where men are men and the women grill chicken with welding torches?

Remember, barbecue chefs here are a little more primitive than the ones found in, say, Marina del Rey. Grilling accessories in S’lano County usually run to things like:

A. Fire.

B. Meat.

Admittedly, some guys have been known to get really dressed up for the occasion by slipping into one of those aprons that proclaim “I’m The Chef” and have a hidden squeaker strategically located just below waist level.

Regardless of attire, though, the last thing any self-respecting S’lano County chef actually wants to see is what’s smoldering on the grill. If our gourmet can discern enough of what he’s cooking to stick a bayonet into it and flip it over every half hour or so, that’s really all he wants or needs.

Most barbecuers hereabouts familiarize themselves with foods by simply memorizing basic silhouettes of grillable objects – round means hamburger, cylindrical means hot dog or sausage, crescent indicates prawns, oblong signifies trout or salmon and square means your toddler has been dropping his alphabet blocks on the grill again (they’re not too bad if you baste them with a tangy honey-lemon marinade).

Even without knowing or remembering exactly what he’s tossed onto the grill during any given barbecue exercise, the average S’lano County chef can probably still see enough of his meal to move it around without having to resort to silly little grill lights.

That’s because the average S’lano County grillmaster enthusiastically utilizes any available flammable substances to fuel his barbecue – charcoal starter fluid, kerosene, gasoline, transmission fluid, perhaps a dash of white phosphorus – and applies them with giddy abandon.

The 3-foot flames shooting through the grill are usually more than sufficient to let the chef see what’s being incinerated if his cornea haven’t been permanently damaged.

Finally, whether you opt for that grill light or a half gallon of kerosene, remember the real secret to successful barbecuing in S’lano County: Stop, drop and roll…

Originally published May 7, 2000