Happy Birthday Dad

15 Aug

Happy Birthday Dad…you old fart.

With my dad on Basin Bay at age 13

With my dad on Lake George, 1992.  We both had hair back then.

My Boys’ First Movie Theater

14 Aug

1982I have racked my brain to try to remember the first movie I ever saw in a theater and I don’t know.  I can remember my sitter, Mrs. Riordan, taking me to see Fantasia when I was very little but I’m sure my parents took me to something before that.  Its hard remembering back that far and it seems 1984 is kind of the cutoff point for my memory.  The Black Cauldron, American Tale, Goonies, Howard The Duck, The Muppets Take Manhattan and so on.  I can remember Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981) and E.T. (1982) but it is hard to say if they were my first or if I saw them after they were first released in theaters.  Maybe my folks know but both my boys were baptized into the light of the projector on the same day.  Sunday, August 10 2014 my wife Kate, her mother Kathy (Nan), and I took Max and Dodge to see what they had been asking for:  Planes: Fire & Rescue!

Max (3) is afraid of the dark and hates loud noises so I was prepared to leave early if need be.  To date the only theater experience he’d had was the dolphin show at the Atlanta Aquarium which was a disaster resulting in months of nightmares.  Dodge (1) is pretty much down for whatever so long as there is juice and food there.  I (30-something) am an over-controlling grownup with anxiety being around large groups.  Fun!

warreneastI prepared Max by telling him exactly what was going to happen.  I explained that the lights would dim, there would be previews which are like commercials for other movies, and then the movie would start…and the movie was going to be like watching a TV the size of our house.  Max had many questions about the dimming of the lights and if we could leave the lights on.  I explained I didn’t control the lights and unlike TV we could not pause it so any bathroom breaks would have to take place prior to the movie.  The theater we were in did not have a cry room and that ended up being fine because everyone there was either a kid or a parent.  Almost every parent uttered the same thing to each other in the minutes leading up to the movie, “Mine gets scared before but settles down once the movie starts.”  The room seemed to swell with nervous kids…one would start to sniffle, then another, then tears from the back row, then cries from the front, then a wave of crying followed by the returning tide of “shhhhhh” from the parents.  Max and Dodge looked around and took it all in.  I snuck off and grabbed a bucket of popcorn, a large water, and a box of Goobers.  Then the lights went down and the curtain opened.  Showtime!

Planes-Fire-and-Rescue-PosterMax was pretty scared of the THX sound demo and covered his ears.  Dodge was enthralled.  The previews got Max relaxed and laughing and he scooched closer to me in his seat till he was hugged right up next to our shared armrest.  He clutched his toy planes in his hands, Skipper and El Chu, as the opening credits rolled and the boys’ eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.  Planes!  Lots of planes!  On a giant screen!  I think Max forgot to breathe and then caught himself before he blacked out.  Dodge was like a moth to the flame, sitting in Kate’s lap with his mouth agape.  I pulled the giant popcorn bucket from under my seat and Max hugged it as if it were his most cherished stuffed animal as he and Dodge devoured the contents.  Occasionally, Dodge would shout over to me for more popcorn or juice which we all shared.  Max stayed quiet the entire time and only once burst out shouting with a question for me before remembering we were in a theater.  Time flew by…flew…eh?  See what I did there?  Cause the movie was Planes.  Fire & Rescue.  Okay moving on.


When the closing credits rolled Max would not leave until his eyes and brain had soaked up every last bit of the film.  We watched every credit and listened to every song.  He was a fan.  To my surprise Dodge had stayed awake and engaged for the entire film!  He had occasionally found the kids sitting behind us more interesting and of course there was the popcorn…but he sat still(ish) for almost 2 hours!  It…was…lovely.  Max and I had put a good dent on the Goobers when the lights came up and he stood for the first time.  We all asked if he liked it and he jumped for joy while shouting, “Yeah!”  Then he took off running down the long hallway of the theater with his arms out like wings.  Dodge took off after him, wings spread wide.

20140810_175911I cannot wait to take them to the movies again.  It was the first movie I have seen in a theater in almost 4 years!  …and I loved it!  Sure, the boys aren’t going to go see Dawn of the Planet of The Apes with me…but maybe Guardians of the Galaxy?  Definitely a sitter for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies.  Mad Max: Fury Road is coming out soon…just saying.  Sure, I can’t take them to the action shoot-em-ups I like but I can happily go see things like Big Hero 6 if it means we can go as a family.  It’s like a whole new thing we can do when the weather sucks!

I need to talk to my folks and figure out what my first movie in a theater was.  Max and Dodge?

6172036511438You boys were sitting at the 13th Street Warren Theater in Wichita, KS on Sunday, August 10th for the 4:30 PM showing of Planes: Fire & Rescue…and you both loved it.  Max, you got a Fire & Rescue Dusty toy plane a few days later for good behavior and having to give blood which scared you, and you were a champ.  Dodge, you got a light up toy microphone because you loved the music in the movie and were dancing the entire time…you’ve been shouting into it since.  You both hugged Nan extra hard that night (she bought your tickets) and you cried when she had to leave Tuesday morning.  Max, you bawled in the front door waving bye-bye.  You both love your Nan very much.  She cried too.  It was a special weekend and I don’t know if you will remember it when you are 30-something, but I will.  I’ll never forget it.  I love you both.  -Dada.

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Grandma Dawn

5 Aug

DawnLookoutOn Saturday I stood between my wife Kate and my first cousin once removed Barbara as my grandmother Dawn was laid to rest.  Surrounding the gravestone was my family including my sister, my cousins, my uncle, my parents, and those conducting the memorial service.  It was supposed to be a cold rainy day, but Dawn was too nice to have a funeral on a grey day…so the clouds cleared and let the sun beat down as crystal clear blue skies opened up overhead.  My black suit jacket stuck to my back, Kate squeezed my hand, and Barbara read a poem her daughter had written as Dawn Kathleen Preston was finally free from the confines of her body.  Tears rolled down my face hidden behind sunglasses as I stared at that little marble green urn and came to terms with the fact that I was never going to see one of my most favorite people in the world again.  Grandma Dawn was gone.

I’m not much of one to read deep into things but funerals make you question the meaning of life and the happenings of the world around you.  It didn’t rain a single drop during the 48 hours I was in Bolton Landing, NY though it was supposed to be riddled with thunderstorms.  Aside from my flight to Albany being delayed by 3 hours, travel was smooth.  The lake was warm, the air was warm, the water wasn’t rough, and I got a mini vacation…as odd as that sounds…but I like to think that was the purpose of this trip.  I know Saturday, August 2 is a day I will never forget…but it is a day I’ll remember for good reasons.  The service afterward was conducted by my uncle and father in which they set the tone by telling funny stories from my grandmother’s life and our family’s trolley car diner.  They got the whole place laughing hysterically and quickly tears of sadness turned into tears of joy as we celebrated her life instead of mourning her death.  Then, people from the town of Bolton started standing up and adding their two cents…and it was the same message over and over…Dawn had touched their lives in some way that had brought them there that day in love of her.  She was simply put, “A nice lady.”

She was never mean, she always carried a smile on her face, she was generous, she was loving, she gave hugs and kisses, and she cooked for every single person in that town at some point or another whether it be from the diner days or baking later in life.  Her pancakes are still a well guarded family secret.  Her love was felt by all…and if you were forced to think of something bad about her you’d find yourself with nothing to say.  She was just a good person who left a wake of happiness in her path.

2014-08-01 14.11.21My sadness came for my dad and my uncle…watching them in the cemetery as their mom went to rest next to their father Bill and their sister Jeanine, both whom died far too young.  Jeanine was 53 when she died of lung cancer and I never smoked a single cigarette since.  Bill was 69 when he passed, the same age my uncle is today.  Barbara clenched my hand and I couldn’t help but realize she and her brother Bob were the last of that generation.  Dawn was my last grandparent, outliving my mother’s mother by 18 years.  18 years I got to bask in the sole adoration of one grandparent…Grandma Dawn.  I was 17 when my maternal grandmother Florence passed away and 10 when both my grandfathers passed away in the same year.  I was a child then.  Now…as an adult, the full consequences and emotions were apparent to me as I tried to process it…and I couldn’t.  It was easier when I was 10…I just cried and cried and cried.  When I was 17 I lamented for time I should have spent.  At 35…I just keep thinking about that green marble urn and I don’t know what to do.  I didn’t know what to do.  So when the skies cleared and the sun came out I did what I think Grandma Dawn would have wanted me to do…I took a little vacation.

Kate and I ate sushi together in Chicago, drank to my grandmother’s memory at 30,000 feet, dined on lobster with family at the club, and plunged into the dark waters of Lake George for a skinny dip on Friday.  Saturday we took an early morning waverunner ride to Huddle Bay, caught up with old friends and family, swam in the lake together, drank together, had a big boisterous meal together with friends, and again…plunged into the cool waters of Lake George to cap off the day.  Sunday we had a big family breakfast, we swam off the dock, went for a long boat-ride, and went to my favorite spot on Lake George: the buoys off of Commission Island.  Kate and I explored the tiny islands to the north, swam along the point, stacked rocks to make a structure above water in the middle of the lake, swam the channel, and enjoyed the company of our family.  It is one of the things we didn’t get to do during our planned vacation to the lake 2 weeks prior.  It was a blessing.  It was like desert.  Its my Heaven on Earth.

My hand clutched a tiny rock I snagged from Commission Island Point as Kate and I ate sushi at Wicker Park in O’Hare before the final flight home.  We took our time during our 2 hour and 45 minute layover to savor each bite, sip our drinks, and enjoy our “date” before returning to our lives as parents with jobs, responsibilities, and needs.  Grandma, however you want to take this, gave Kate and I a date weekend…and it was lovely.  I still see that green marble urn in my mind, I know what I whispered to it before leaving the cemetery, and I know it hasn’t quite sunk in…and that’s okay.  My only fear is that when my father processes it, I won’t be able to be there to hug him the way he has hugged me so many times throughout my life since we are 1,500 miles apart right now.  Mom is there.  My sister is there.  My uncle is there.  Friends are there.  I just wish I could be there, to comfort him the way only he can comfort me.  So I woke up my 1-year old son Dodge on Sunday night and showered him with kisses before handing him to my wife to do the same.  I then climbed into bed with my 3-year old son Max and hugged him as tight as he’d let me hug him while stroking his soft blonde hair and whispering over and over, “Dada loves you, Dada will never stop loving you…”  Then Kate took my hand and led me to bed where I slept for 10 hours…and I dreamed Grandma was standing on the boat waving while I swam around Commission Island Point.

DawnBeach“Look at me Grandma!” I shouted as I stood on a rock.  She waved back and gave that sheepish smile of hers.  I slipped on the rocks and caught my balance, Grandma gave me her look of goofy surprise.  “You can see so deep today!”  I shouted back, then dove into the water.  My ears should have popped at about the 12 foot mark but they didn’t and I swam past the point where I normally turn around til I touched the bottom.  Rocky and smooth.  Calm.  Peaceful.  I placed my feet on the rocks and pushed upward toward the surface and emerged victorious!  “Grandma!  I touched the…”  But she wasn’t there anymore.  Just a warm summer day with blue skies, perfect water, and my favorite swimming spot.

I can’t wait to get back there next year and go for a swim.  I discover something new every year.  It is a special place to Kate and I and for some unexplained reason other than that dream…it will always be a place for me to go and connect with my grandmother, perhaps because it is a better way to remember her than thinking about that small green marble urn.  I don’t know where she is, but for me…I think she’s on the boat some days waving to me when she’s not drinking a beer on the couch or jabbing Grandpa Bill in the ribs for saying something embarrassing.  So…no “So Long Grandma.”  How about, “See you next summer.”

Me and Grandma, 1980.

Me and Grandma, 1980.

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Hidden Waterfalls of Bolton Landing New York

30 Jul

After moving away from Lake George for work…I often find myself as a tourist in my own town when I return home to Bolton Landing, NY.  When I am home, I usually find myself giving visiting friends and family tours of the lake, Bolton Landing, and the surrounding areas.  As a kid we walked everywhere, our boats required oars to move, and gas was less than a buck.  Nowadays it has become expensive to getaway, that is unless you are smart about how you travel.  With today’s economic changes, consider taking advantage of alternative transportation opportunities like carpooling, talking public transit, or peer-to-peer ride sharing like RelayRides to have a great vacation without breaking the bank.  Vacation destinations can also be exploring hidden gems in your own back yard which in my case, is Bolton Landing, NY.  While some places will always be private and special to me, here are a few waterfalls and nature spots you might not find on the tourism maps when visiting Bolton Landing:


  • Short drive
  • Park/walk

brook-at-melody-manorIf you haven’t visited the Bolton Historical Museum, you should.  I like learning about small towns, especially when I spend time there or have work to do there.  In the museum there is some information about my family and how we helped settle the area along with some amazing artifacts and stories from over 200 years of Bolton’s founders and inhabitants.  The Gates family settled Huddle Bay (“The Huddle”) and remnants of our farm and property are still there today such as the 1800’s homestead, trails, and Gates Falls.  Gates Falls is tucked back behind Melody Manor and often confused with the overflow fall just south of Villa Napoli Restaurant.  However, if you follow the sound of the Huddle Brook behind the restaurant you will come to a beautiful 15 foot waterfall that cascades down to a shallow pebble wading pool before feeding into the lake.  The north side of the falls is owned by Melody Manor and the south side is private property.  The lake is everyone’s to share.  This little waterfall can be walked to easily and there is parking 100 feet away in the Melody Manor parking lot.


  • Boat ride
  • Anchor/3 mile hike

4747044592_cd3b8b975d_zThis is no mystery and every local or regular visitor knows it is there…but it is still a must!  By boat go to Log Bay and drop anchor in the shallow sandy waters.  Be sure to lock up your boat and secure your anchor.  You’ll want shoes so either wear water shoes or wade in while holding your hiking shoes.  There are trails on both the west and east end of the creek, so enter where you like.  The trail is on the east side of the creek and for the best experience take the low road, though it will require climbing over logs, tiptoeing across ledges, and sliding in some mud…but you are right on the creek with all the little falls.  For an easier climb take the high road which is a steep incline but more direct and smooth.  At the end is Shelving Rock Falls which boasts a gorgeous wading pool at the bottom, double falls from the top at about 35 feet, there are sections kids can slide on, a deep pool near the top on the south side, and you can cross from side to side at the bottom or top.  This is the east side of the lake so if you need to rent a boat, I suggest Chic’s Marina.


  • Long drive
  • Park/walk

23579_433570718834_2282992_nThis drive is best in the fall and done in either a convertible or with all the windows down.  Drive north out of Bolton Landing on 9N to the flashing yellow light of County Route 11, make a left then an immediate right onto North Bolton Road.  A few miles up, the road forks and you want to stay right onto Padanarum Road.  After a while it will turn into a dirt road by a marsh and you’ll wonder if this is the right way to go…the answer is yes and you need to keep on going.  Padanarum twists and winds through the trees following the water.  You’ll pass the oldest cemetery in Bolton.  Just keep staying right and if you choose to get out and look around, be respectful of the Private Property signs.  You’ll pass Indian Pond before coming to an “intersection” in the middle of the woods.  Should you choose to go left you’ll wind up on Crystal Lake or Route 8 eventually, I stay right and make the loop back to Bolton.  After making the right the road opens up a bit as it jogs back and forth across the river with little bridges and great spots to pull off and explore a little.  Then the river drops away below you as the road goes higher and higher til you find yourself driving along the edge of a deep gorge with the falls rushing below you!  At the end of the road, you’ll find yourself back at Route 9N and all you have to do is turn right and you will be back in Bolton in 10 minutes.  It’s a great little loop to drive and take your mind off things.


  • Short drive
  • park/hike

northwestbaybrookfalls04_575At about the same spot the Padanarum Road lets out onto Route 9N you’ll find a parking lot on the east side of the road with a small reservoir.  Park your car here (about 10-12 spaces) and walk south along route 9N on the east side till you come to the trail head.  Follow the trail, which is a very easy hike, to come to the top of the falls on the east side.  The falls are about a 25 foot plunge and they feed into Northwest Bay of Lake George.  For a view from the bottom you’ll need to trek through the woods on unmarked trails from the bridge by the highway and simply follow the sound of the water.  From the base you can launch a canoe or kayak and paddle your way into Lake George through an amazing marsh area.  I recommend having someone drop you off with a canoe or kayak and then picking you up at Bolton’s Memorial Park.  There are also kayak rentals on Green Island and you can easily paddle to this spot from there.


Not everyone can to get out on the lake, and sometimes its just nice to see it from land.  With lakefront property at a premium, sometimes it is hard to get someplace where you can truly appreciate the lake.  Here are a few hidden gems of places on land in Bolton Landing to see the lake without a boat or hiking:

If you like to hike, the Cat Mountain and Thomas Mountain trails are the way to go with stunning views from above!   Best in the fall.

Hidden gems are only found when you explore…so go out there and find your hidden gem.  I remember when I found Gates Falls and was amazed it had been there my whole life and I didn’t know.  I am a big fan of a little mini bay inside the bay across from Indian Brook by Fan Point, it holds special meaning to me and I remember “discovering” it.  There is another tiny bay like that on Gravelly Island in the Northeast corner.  My favorite underwater spot is the eastern rocks off the tiny island just north of Commission Island.  If you have never done the northern portion of the lake by boat and gone through the natural dam…you are missing out.  I love walking through the channel between Long Island and Speaker Heck Island…its fun on a waverunner or canoe too.  Standing on the rocks south of Canoe Island is a trip and putting through the Needles Eye channel has always been my favorite.  Fall is my favorite time on Lake George, when the water is calm as can be, the air is crisp, the leaves are changing on the mountains, and the lake is warmer than the air.  Sugerloaf Mountain comes to life with vibrant colors, reflecting in the glass-like water, and the only sound is wind in your ears, the splash of the water, and the hum of the boat.  However, you explore Lake George…have fun!

Boating on Lake George in Early Fall

Boating on Lake George in Early Fall, 2008

Standing In The Middle Of the Rapids on Padanarum

Standing In The Middle Of the Rapids on Padanarum in Fall, 2010

My Son Max at Shelving Rock Falls in Summer, 2013.

My Son Max at Shelving Rock Falls in Summer, 2013.

Lastly, much of Lake George’s eastern shore is owned by the state of New York and “forever wild.”  The Adirondack Park is the largest State Park in the United States and together, we can keep places like this for generations to come by respecting the environment and using alternative transportation to leave a smaller ecological footprint.  Check out solutions like RelayRides for fun ways to vacation in your area that save you money and are better for the environment…and be sure to tweet us at @SoLongFreedom if you’re ever in the Lake George area!  Now get out there an find your #HiddenGems!

Going Through The Needles Eye in Summer, 2014

Going Through The Needles Eye in Summer, 2014

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Product Review: KOHLER’s Touchless Toilet Flush Kit

28 Jul

With two little boys running around the house, germs are a constant factor we are combating.  Currently both boys have a virus and are running fevers of 100+ with sore throats…so this seemed like a good week to install a KOHLER Touchless “No Touch Flush” system and see how it worked. Kohler-Touchless-Toilet-Flush-Kit img_8817_draftMax (3) is potty trained and has transitioned into underwear, only wearing a pull-up at night in case of accidents while Dodge (1) hides behind the door and grunts out his business into a diaper.  One of the things I worked on with Max that I LOVE was teaching him to go on a full-sized toilet…which means when we go out to eat or travel, he can do his duty anywhere without me holding him over the seat.  All was well and fine til one night at our regular Sunday night dinner spot.  The bathroom had very nice toilets with the forward facing sensor as you see in most restaurants and airports.  You sit, you do your thing, you stand, and it flushes for you.  Unless, of course, you are a squirmy little 3-year-old.  Then it flushes while you are still sitting on it.  This toilet was also flushed with great vigor and the sound echoed throughout the high-ceiling bathroom scaring the sh*t out of Max…literally.  Since that moment, Max has been afraid of toilets and potty training has taken a step backwards.  Much of that is due to an error on my part, and it went like this:

Max:  “Why did you flush it Dada?

Me:  “I didn’t.  It did on its own”

Max:  “Why?”

Me:  “Because it has an eye, and it thought you were done.”

Max:  “It has an eye…like a robot?”

Me:  “Yeah, like a robot.”

Max:  “…and it was watching me.”

Me:  “Yup, to make sure you pooped.”

Max:  “I’m afraid of robots.”

Me:  “Oh…well…um…its not really a robot…er…its…”

Max:  “Is it watching us now?”

Kohler_Touchless_toilet_conversion_kitOops.  Smooth move Ex-Lax!  Now my kid is deathly afraid of toilets and bawls every time we go into the bathroom.  Incidentally, he hold his hands over his ears whenever we go to a bathroom (public or private) in fear of the loud sound, which means his dirty hands are touching his face and he can’t sit on the toilet without me supporting him.  He is scared to death of “THE EYE!”  Like Lord Saruman is constantly watching him as he treks through Middle Earth with the one true ring.  With that in mind…I thought the KOHLER Flushless System could be a great way for him to learn that not all toilets are loud and he can get back to going all by himself.

Kohler TouchlessThe install took about 10 minutes and is very self-explanatory.  The hard part is getting the right height because if the sensor is touching the lid it will flush every time you flip the seat up, bump the top, etc.  If it is too low it either won’t flush or you have to touch the lid of the tank to flush.  I didn’t need any extra tools, everything clipped into place, and once tweaking things a little bit my toilet was magically flushing by waving my hand over the top of the tank instead of reaching over to the handle.  Fun.  Kate and I keep reaching to the side for the handle and then remembering the sensor is on top and there is no need for the handle (which I chose to leave on for guests).  One of the things I love is that we had one of those old toilets where you had to hold the handle down for a good flush.  The KOHLER Touchless eradicates the need to do this because the kit automatically holds the flush for a set period of time.

Max Kohler ToiuchlessThe real story though, is Max.  Max thinks the Touchless Sensor is the coolest thing since sliced bread.  The old handle was too hard for him to flush and this one is a piece of cake.  He liked it so much we had to have a talk about how it isn’t a toy since he was flushing it over and over and over again.  I like that he can get up on the toilet and do his thing, then flush the toilet without touching the handle and spreading…whatever he has touched to the rest of us.  We also picked up a KOHLER Transitions seat which has a seat for the little guys as well a seat for the adults which is going to be a blessing when Dodge is ready to stop hiding behind the door and grunting.  Max is pretty excited about it too.  The seat fits our downstairs toilet while the sensor was installed upstairs and Max has asked if I am going to put one on the downstairs toilet as well…and I think I may have to.  Maybe a touch-less faucet too?

Here is the breakdown of PROS vs. CONS:


  • Easy to install
  • No more touching the toilet
  • Less germs/cleaner
  • Can leave handle on for guests
  • East to use
  • Kids can use it easily
  • Makes potty training fun for kids


  • Can accidentally flush when lid is bumped
  • Can’t place anything on top of lid
  • Can be confusing for guests
  • Can’t set length of flush hold

20140728_092248The pros greatly outweigh the cons and honestly, the only part that I don’t like is that we can’t place anything on the lid of the tank anymore since that is where the sensor is.  Also, I had to make a little riser to get the sensor just right for my old janky toilet.  Not being able to put things on the tank lid is why we chose the upstairs bathroom over the downstairs.  In the downstairs bathroom the tank lid is home to a vase of flowers, 2 picture frames, and a box of Klenex since it is the only surface in the small powder room.  If we installed the sensor, the Klenex would have to go.  I like that the kit holds a timed flush but it would be great if there was a way to set it for short, medium or long depending on your toilet…or a way to do a long flush if you held you hand over the sensor for a long period of time.  This would allow you to do short flushes for water conservation when flushing #1 and having a little more force for #2.  I also think future models should look at the idea of a remote sensor so you can put it wherever you want instead of only on top directly over your canister or flapper, you could even install the sensor in the old handle hole.

In conclusion, I think this is a low-cost and effective way to reduce the spreading of germs on any toilet and I would definitely recommend it to anyone with little kids that like to touch everything…which is every little kid.  It has helped Max start to get over his fear of auto-flush public toilets, made going to the potty easier since it is now fun, and made me feel better knowing that I’m not touching a ton of germs on the toilet handle.  I think it would be great in houses without small children as well, as a sophisticated option for guests to show you care about sanitation.  I am also recommending my office buy them as it is a great option for small businesses or restaurants.  For me, I like going to a restaurant and having the toilet, sink, and hand drying all be touch-less.  It shows the restaurant cares about sanitation and is a direct reflection of how clean the kitchen is.  The KOHLER Touchless Kit is the same concept but in your home.  Great for kids, great for parents, great for adults, easy to install/use, and an affordable upgrade.  I give it 2 thumbs up and Max jumps for joy! 20140728_100257

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