Bob Ingrassia

5 Toys And Games That Should Never Require Batteries

September 3, 2014 · Leave a Comment

I swear I’m not a curmudgeon. I’ve never uttered the phrase “those kids today” without a healthy dose of cool, urban-dad irony.

Yet here I am today, in full “Get off my lawn!” mode, lamenting the never-ending proliferation of electronic gizmos aimed at kids.

I’m not squawking here about video games, phones and other such devices. Those are part of the flow of technological progress. The march of time and all that.

What gets my goat is how batteries and electronics continually creep into realms where they serve no real purpose. In fact, I feel like a many toys and games are more fun and more memorable without the circuitry.

This rant has been brewing for years. I have kids who are ages 10 and 9, so you know they’ve received scores of toys that require batteries. Many of the items are great. I love a remote-controlled monster truck as much as my son. “Dad, Dad … DAD! … Give me a turn!”

But we’ve taken in a lot of toys (mainly via birthday parties and holidays) that have no business slapping the “batteries not included” phrase on the packaging. We have a classic board game with an electronic device thrown in for no reason. We have toys with battery-powered sounds that actually thwart a child’s imagination. We have bleeping things that captivated the kids for all of five minutes before being ditched into the Forgotten Toy Graveyard under the bed.

Is nothing sacred? When I was a boy…

Oh, forget it.

Here’s my list of five toys and games that should never require batteries.

What It Is

What It Should Be

What It Is

What It Should Be

What It Is

What It Should Be

What It Is

What It Should Be

What It Is

What It Should Be

NOTE: I wrote this post for the Idea Peepshow. The original post is here.

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Making Progress: Doors, Windows and Crown Molding

March 2, 2014 · 113 Comments

I’ve been plugging away on the 2nd floor of our new house. I’ve wrapped up repairing and refurbishing the hardware on 11 doors, and have turned my attention to other tasks.


This old house had big gaps under the bedroom doors. Why? Who knows … maybe the previous owners shaved the doors to make room for lime green shag carpeting in the 1970s.

Whatever the reason, I needed to do something about those unsightly spaces under the doors. I rip cut some 2x4s and went to town.

Before: Mind the gap!

Before: Mind the gap!

Before: Just slide that sandwich under the door!

Before: Just slide that sandwich under the door!

Giving it some good wood.

Giving it some good wood.


How do you like me now?

How do you like me now?

Done deal

Done deal


I’m missing the “before” photos. But imagine thin, heavily painted and ill-fitting molding. Now, after tons of mitered cutting and a swear word or two, here’s what we’ve got.

The crown.

The crown.

More crown.

More crown.


I’ve got several windows with broken sash cords. Those are the ropes attached to the sashes of old-school double hung windows — they’re attached to weights in the frame and keep the window open when you want it to stay open.

I spent some time on YouTube before gaining the confidence to give this a shot. Turned out to be fairly easy. Remove the sash trim, pull out a few screws, scrape paint off the pulley and fish the new cord through the hole. Good to go!

A heavy job!

A heavy job!

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My War Against Painted Door and Window Hardware

December 16, 2013 · 4 Comments

house exteriorI’m in the middle of an epic war against painted hardware.

The battlefield is the Victorian house my family recently bought in St. Paul. The bedrooms, nice and bright in times of peace, have been overrun with paint. Hinges, door knobs, latches and window pulls have succumbed to the onslaught of latex.

My battle is ongoing, but I’m pleased to report that I’m advancing nicely against the enemy.

Secret weapon: baking soda. I’ve been attacking the paint by simmering the parts in a pot of baking-soda laced water. My defense against counterattack from any latex fumes is a U.S. Army-issue gas mask. For a detailed battle plan, see my previous post about boiling metal parts.

After the painted parts get out of the pot, I go after the invasive paint with my fingers, a soft wire brush and steel wool. I finish off any dead-enders with a bit of Brasso.

Check out these photos from the front lines:

The Enemy: Painted Hardware

door mortise

door handle

window pull painted

Who paints hinges?

Secret Weapon: Baking Soda

door plates

Winning the Battle

door plates

hardware clean

window pulls after

photo 1

photo 2

photo 3

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Sauté Old Hinges to Remove Paint

November 24, 2013 · 1 Comment

Painted hinges in an old house scream “Low rent!”

The house in St. Paul that Lida and I just bought has a bunch of painted hinges in the bedrooms. So I Googled around and discovered a solvent-free method of cleaning up the hardware.

Here it is: First remove the hinges. Then find an old pan you never plan to use for food again. Pour some baking soda on the bottom of the pan, lay in the hinges (or other painted hardware), add enough water to cover everything and heat to a low boil.

Simmer for about 30 minutes, pull out each piece one at a time and peel away the rubbery paint with your fingers.

For hard to reach spots, use a toothbrush or soft metal brush.

It’s actually quite satisfying work … undoing the extremely poor decisions painters made over the decades. Who care if I was inhaling a little lead-infused steam. Worth it!

hinge before

Who paints hinges anyway?

hinge before 2

Removing the hardware

hinges before 3

Getting ready for a hinge boil

Sauteed hinges!

Sauteed hinges!

hinges after 2

Good as new

Clean hinges

Dead sexy hardware

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Plan To Get An iPod Touch

September 4, 2013 · 1 Comment

My daughter, who is 10, hatched and implemented this plan after her first day of 5th grade. My wife and I discovered this document after the fact.

Plan to get an iPod Touch

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Snow, No!

April 10, 2013 · 2 Comments

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Exploring the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary

November 21, 2012 · 2 Comments

An unseasonably warm November weekend sent me out with Roman (son) and Roxy (poodle) in search of adventure. I’d been meaning to check out the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary on St. Paul’s East Side, so we hit Google and then hit the road.

I was only vaguely aware of what to expect. From my days reporting at St. Paul City Hall in the mid-2000s, I’d heard about the park taking shape on the river flats east of downtown. But I’d never found the time to visit until the other day.

What we discovered was awesome — sandstone cliffs, great views of the river valley, a sacred cave, and up-close views of the rail yards that still bustle with activity. The on-site signage gives you an overview of the history. How the Dakota entombed their dead in Wakan Tipi, the cave that once featured glyphs carved into the soft stone. How the North Star brewery helped forge St. Paul’s reputation as a great beer town. And eventually, how a big coalition of civic groups worked with U.S. Rep. Bruce Vento (who died of lung cancer in 2000) to reclaim and restore this portion of the river flats.

You should make an effort to explore the nature sanctuary. Check out this site and then go.

Some highlights from my visit:

Mississippi River valley, looking south

Sandstone bluff, topped by a layer of limestone

A tower of sandstone

Sandstone throne

A pond outside the sealed entrance of the Wakan Tipi cave. Dakota still consider this a sacred place.

Wakan Tipi — Rail construction in the mid-1800s destroyed part of the cave. Explorers and sightseers erased the glyphs. A steel gate now blocks access.

Rail lines bustle between the sanctuary and the river.

A bald eagle scopes the valley.

Just north of the sanctuary is Swede Hollow, the small creek gorge rich in history

Swede Hollow, looking north

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More Tiling

October 28, 2012 · 3 Comments

Here are photos from the second half of my back splash project.

This beadboard was totally inappropriate. Impossible to clean.

Tools for the demo job.


Beadboard gone. Note the ancient wallpaper.

Roman fixes a hole in the plaster, using wall repair compound.


Tiling tools.

Wet saw in the back yard.


Progress. That horizontal board holds up the bottom row while the mastic takes hold.


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Tiling Like A Mad Man

October 9, 2012 · 2 Comments

I just completed a task that lingered on the “Honey Do” list for years: Installing a back splash in our kitchen.

We bought marble subway tiles a few months back … and I finally got some time this month to tackle the job. The first task was removing the dingy bead board that was there when we bought the house.

No home-improvement job goes as expected. The unexpected hurdle in this one was the out-of-level counter. Turns out our counter slants down about an inch from left to right over a run of about eight feet.

That meant I needed to lay a first course of tile that made up the difference. Some Googling gave me the good advice of starting from the low side with a full-width tile and then working toward the high side, making each tile narrower as needed.

And that’s what I did. So check out that bottom row in the photos below. You’ll notice the tiles on the far right are taller than the ones on the left. That’s a lot of rip cutting!

Here’s what things looked like after Day 1:


And after Day 2:


This job called for a lot of cutting. There are about 125 tiles in this project, and 85 of those needed cutting. The wet saw from Menards got the job done!

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Saint Paul to Minneapolis: You Can’t Get There From Here

May 2, 2012 · 6 Comments

St. Paul Minneapolis road construction

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