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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

 

Wordless Weird Wednesday





Tuesday, October 30, 2007

 

A Lifetime of Movies

Wow, David Ansen has seen 7,714 movies in his lifetime! Granted, it is his job as a movie critic to watch several films a day. But to know exactly how many he's seen?

In a recent Newsweek article, Ansen revealed that, since he was 12 years old, he has kept a detailed list of every one of those nearly 8000 movies.

This is fascinating to me for several reasons. One of which is that my son is currently learning the fine art of journaling. He's been practicing writing about different ideas and topics, but at times doesn't seem terribly motivated to keep up with it on his own. Ansen's experience might just be an inspiration to my movie-loving son to get into the habit of writing in his journal.

This article also makes me reflect upon my own experiences with movies. I have no idea how many of them I've seen over the years. If I had to guess, it would probably be around 3500. 200 of those would've been seen during the first 18 years of my life. So, what happened at 18? Two wonderful inventions called cable TV and the VCR.

My kids take movies for granted. They've already seen hundreds, some of them more than once. Finding Nemo, a dozen times. Sleeping Beauty, eight times. Thomas and the Magic Railroad, twenty times. When I was a kid, there were just a handful of movies that the TV networks would show once a year. That was the only way to see them again. The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, The Ten Commandments... Those are the ones I remember. The day after, every kid in school would be talking about how they got to stay up late to watch Moses part the Red Sea or Dorothy melt the Wicked Witch.

Of course, watching a film on TV was never quite as good as going to the theater. I have fond childhood memories of sitting in the dark with my tub of buttery popcorn while the big screen lit up with such magical movies as Charlotte's Web, Race For Your Life Charlie Brown, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and Herbie Rides Again. My kids will mostly have memories of movie nights at home, sitting on a comfy couch with pizza, popcorn, and a pause button on the remote control for bathroom breaks.

I wonder which movies they'll remember. If I can get my son interested in keeping a journal like David Ansen did, maybe he'll remember all of them!

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

 

Yellow Fever

There's a higher standard in children's music these days. Discerning parents now have more than just Raffi and The Wiggles to choose from. And school-age kids, especially mine, have become increasingly sophisticated about what they want to hear. No more "Wheels On The Bus" or "Hot Potato" for them! Children's musicians like Dan Zanes, Ralph's World, and Eric Herman have responded by producing intelligent, thoughtful songs that appeal not only to the kids, but also to the parents who are monitoring the boomboxes and car stereos.

Well, Morgan Taylor has raised the bar even higher with his astounding new release, Gustafer Yellowgold's Have You Never Been Yellow?, a highly imaginative tale of a curious creature named Gustafer Yellowgold who leaves his home on the Sun to explore Earth. It's all wildly inventive and surreal, just the kind of lyrics that kids of all ages will eat up. The music is shimmering pop that sounds like a cross between XTC, Robyn Hitchcock and Donovan. There are plenty of jangly guitars and hand-claps mixed in with the gentle pianos and horns. The CD also comes with a DVD of animated videos for each song, beautifully drawn by Taylor. It's a treat for the ears and eyes.

I've played this disc for friends who raved about it, having no clue that it was a children's CD. Most importantly, though, my kids give Gustafer Yellowgold the highest praise, both asking for songs to be repeated while we drive around town.

Listen: Gustafer Yellowgold - "The Mustard Slugs"

You can buy the CD/DVD at Amazon, or visit Gustafer's website for fun and games.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

 

The Big Winner



Junie B. Jones, Toothless Wonder

By popular demand, here's my daughter's grand prize winning pumpkin. Well, it's one of the many grand prize winning pumpkins (see previous post).

She was quite thrilled with the prize she received - a pair of sparkly hair clips that she's been wearing for two days now.

You know, if you squint real hard and use your imagination, that pumpkin could also be Elvis Costello.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

 

Everybody's A Winner

My daughter is only six, and she understands.

Her school had a pumpkin carving/decorating contest. The challenge was to transform a pumpkin into your favorite literary character. Awesome prizes were promised.

She chose the character of Junie B. Jones, complete with glasses and missing teeth (as Junie appeared in the "Toothless Wonder" book).

Tonight, at a school function, the pumpkins were on display after being judged. My daughter ran to the table, excited to see if she had won a prize.

A sign said, "You all did great, but we couldn't pick a favorite. So everybody's a winner!"

She read the sign, then turned to me and said, "If everybody's a winner, then nobody wins."

See, she understands. By rewarding everyone with a prize, there's little motivation for the kids to excel at anything. It can be very disheartening to know that your best effort will be judged the same as someone else's poorest effort.

I've taught my kids that they can't expect to win every game and contest. All they can do is try their best, then work hard to do better. Every now and then they might just taste a well-earned victory.

I haven't really explained the concept of "pure luck" to them yet. They can figure out that one for themselves.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

 

Wordless Wednesday



Tuesday, October 23, 2007

 

Errant Spelling

Misspelled words bug me.

Not necessarily the ones in blog posts, emails, or my son's science journal. I understand if you sometimes misspell calender, seperate, or ocasional in your writings.

No, what really bothers me are the misspellings in professionally made signs and products. A few nights ago we watched the 1973 musical Tom Sawyer, starring Johnny Whitaker and Jodie Foster, on DVD. The disc's main menu page featured the clearly misspelled word Tralier instead of the correct Trailer.

If you think about the sheer number of people who had to see and approve this 2005 DVD release, it's quite startling that so many of them could've missed it. The disc was released by MGM, not some one-man company turning out old movies on the cheap.

Not far from our house there's a street called Prairie Avenue. But the street sign at one intersection reads Praire. Again, how many people did it take to manufacture, approve, ship, and install this sign, with not one of them making note of how stupid they'd all look to the general public?

The worst is when the misspelling changes the meaning of the word. I will never again eat at that restaurant that sells cheesebugers. Why risk it?


Monday, October 22, 2007

 

Dadditude

I just finished reading Dadditude, a hilarious new book about fatherhood from author Philip Lerman, In it, he chronicles his journey from fertility treatments through the first four years of his son's life.

Along the way, he adopts a new attitude, or Dadditude as he calls it, that there's only so much you can control in your child's life, and all the rest you just have to learn to accept. Finding that middle ground, between control and acceptance, is the key to being a happy dad.

Another lesson that Lerman conveys is that fatherhood shouldn't be so needlessly complicated. Dads don't always know how to be simple and straightforward. It's in our DNA. We also need to learn to laugh at ourselves a little more, and you'll find plenty of "Me too" moments in this book.

An excerpt:
"I don't know why so many dads think they'll be able to relate to their kid so much better once the kid starts talking. I think dads forget that once they start talking, you have to start listening, which, with a four-year-old, is very much like watching soccer. Once or twice a game an actual goal is scored, but for the most part, there's just a lot of running around that doesn't lead to anything."
Dadditude gets a huge recommendation from me. It's a joy to find both humor and warmth combined so skillfully in a parenting book.

You can read more about it at Amazon.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

 

What's The Hurry?

There are moments during each day when I wish my son would grow up a little faster, just so he would understand things better or communicate with me in a more sophisticated way. He's nine years old and I see many little signs of maturity in him that I try to encourage.

But then, at night, when I go to check on both kids as they slumber in their beds, I find my son curled up with a stuffed shark that he's had since he was a baby, with his Star Wars figures and Lego creations lined up on the shelf above his head, and I have to think, "What's the hurry?"

I need to stop and remind myself sometimes that this is his time to be a silly, curious, creative, impulsive little boy who is doing everything that is expected of him - to learn, play, and grow.

There is no rush. In less than nine years he'll be an adult. For now, I'm just going to enjoy the fact that he's not grown up yet.

My daughter, on the other hand, needs to get with the program. It will be a happy day in our house when this 6-year-old stops whining all the time, learns to stay in her own bed, and figures out that a smelly butt is not an attractive feature.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

 

Snacker

My son is finishing up his fifth season of soccer. At this age, the kids still get more excited about the after-game snacks than anything else.

Bringing goodies for our scheduled snack day used to be so simple. You just count up the number of players on the roster, then bring that many juices and granola bars.

But it all got so complicated. First off, people started bringing two snacks and a juice, sealed in Ziploc bags for easy handling. One snack is healthy, the other is something sweet and sugary. It's like an arms race for soccer moms (and dads), all trying to outdo each other from game to game.

The kids didn't help matters much. They've become such snack connoisseurs, immediately passing judgment on which parents are the coolest based on the size and quality of their Bag o' Snacks.

However, the biggest change I've seen in the Soccer Snack process came when someone deemed it necessary to bring snacks for all the players' younger siblings. Now it's an unspoken rule that you should bring extra bags of goodies.

I don't mind handing out snacks and drinks to the brothers and sisters who come to the games. We hear a lot less whining from the sidelines since these young kids are now focused on the possibility of receiving a treat after the game.

Hey, there's an idea. Maybe we wouldn't hear any whining at all if we start bringing snacks for the parents too!


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

 

Accidents Will Happen



Do not let your kids play with a nail gun!

My son learned this valuable lesson when he opened up the "box of horrors" he bought at the store and discovered what he now considers to be the best joke ever. Yes, Halloween is just two weeks away.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

 

For The Kids Three

If you've been avoiding children's music because you think it's all too simple and cutesy and you're afraid you might drive off the road if you hear "The Wheels On The Bus" one more time, then look no further than the For The Kids CDs from Nettwerk Music.

They've just released the third installment of this series of classic and contemporary children's songs performed by an incredibly eclectic line-up of musicians, including Barenaked Ladies, Moby, Of Montreal, Mates of State, and Rogue Wave.

Every track is a gem, done in a way that will have both parents and kids bobbing their heads and singing happily along. You'll even find yourself joining in on the chorus of Over The Rhine's "The Poopsmith Song" as they sing about toilet training. No, really, the poop most definitely goes in the potty! And try to resist the sweet charm of "I Want To Have Fun" by Of Montreal.

I have two copies of this wonderful CD to give away. Leave a comment telling me your favorite children's musician and I'll pick winners at random. Make sure you tell me how to reach you, either through your blog or via email.

In the meantime, here's a track from For The Kids Three...

Listen: Of Montreal - "I Want To Have Fun"


Check out more sound samples from this CD at Amazon.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

 

Put Out The Fire



Our local firefighters have a new training facility. It had its grand opening today, so we headed over there to take a look. They had a bunch of fun activities set up for the kids. My daughter had a great time putting out fires and hauling firefighting equipment over an obstacle course.



The centerpiece of the new facility is a five-story training tower that comes complete with burning rooms, smoke machines, and a 60-foot elevator shaft. Police agencies will also use the tower for hostage rescue drills and other SWAT team exercises. It's basically like one big playground for grown-ups.

I have to say thanks to our tour guide, who also happens to be a regular reader of my blog. Thanks Greg!



Saturday, October 13, 2007

 

Sleepwatching

Movies that have put me to sleep during the past few months:
Girl With A Pearl Earring
The Life Aquatic
I Heart Huckabees
Idiocracy
The Big Lebowski
Prick Up Your Ears
Bandits

I used to pride myself on never falling asleep while watching a DVD at home. But this past year I've found myself totally exhausted at the end of most days. If a movie doesn't capture my attention right away, chances are I'm not going to make it all the way through. Most of the above films I didn't even bother finishing the next night. I just popped them into their envelopes and mailed them back to Netflix.

My record for not falling asleep in a movie theater is still intact, although I came mighty close this past summer during a free morning showing of Curious George.


Friday, October 12, 2007

 

Hungry Heart

I've heard that when boys become teenagers they suddenly start eating double or triple their usual amount of food.

My son is only nine, but he already has a scarily voracious appetite. Tonight for dinner he ate two helpings of spaghetti and meatballs, green beans, a whole apple, two Fig Newton cookies, and two tall glasses of milk.

An hour later, he ate six celery sticks stuffed with peanut butter. And wanted more.

I don't know whether to make him stop or just let him eat.

He's not getting fat, thank goodness. But I do worry about the sheer amount of food moving through his system.

I worry more about how much food he's going to eat when he hits those teenage years!


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

 

Scout For A Year

I made a deal with my son. He would join Cub Scouts, participate, try to have some fun, and if, after one year, he didn't want to continue on to Webelos then that would be his choice.

His year was up in August. He wasted no time in reminding me of our deal. He wanted out, badly.

At the very beginning, things didn't go well. He had a major meltdown in our van over having to appear in public with his Cub Scout uniform. I told him, "All the other boys are wearing the exact same shirt and neckerchief." But I literally had to drag him into that first Pack meeting. We told everyone he had a bad cold and had been rubbing his eyes.

After that it was better. There was a fall daycamp that was a lot of fun. My son learned to shoot a slingshot, make bird calls, whittle with a knife, fish, run an obstacle course. He had a good time, and was warming up to being a Cub Scout.

Through the winter he worked hard on earning belt loops and Arrow points. He loved receiving them at the Pack meetings and ended up with twice as many belt loops as the other kids in his den. Hey, homeschooling has its advantages when it comes to working on those things.

As a den, we took hikes, made crafts, built woodworking projects, and played all sorts of games. My son grudgingly admitted at one point that Scouts was better than he had expected. He even took to putting on that dreaded uniform before a meeting without having to be asked.

So when the time came to continue for another year, I was a little surprised that he dismissed it so quickly. But a deal is a deal. It was his choice, and I was not about to force him into an extracurricular activity that he was so deadset against.

I asked him several times if he was sure that he didn't want to go on with it, and his reply was always the same, "I'm very sure. I'm just not interested in Scouting."

When your kid tells you, in a mature way, that he is absolutely sure of his thoughts and feelings, you owe it to him to listen. Scouting was a one-year experience for him. I think he learned a lot and had some fun, but now it's time to move on to something different.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

 

Mind Games

I begin each school day by asking my son to tell me the date. It's my way of trying to get him to pay more attention to the calendar. So far, his response is usually, "Ummm, I don't know." Sometimes he tries to guess, badly.

So I tell him the date and have him write it down. Today, as I announced, "It's October 9th," I realized it was John Lennon's birthday. Since my son is a Beatles fan like me, I announced that fact too.

He asked me, "How old would John Lennon have been today?" I quickly did the math and said, "Sixty-seven." Then I said, "No, wait, that can't be right." You see how much confidence I have in my mathematic abilities? It just didn't seem possible that John would've been that old today. But my calculations were correct. It really has been twenty-seven years since that terrible December day when a friend called me to say "Lennon is dead!"

We listened to a few Lennon and Beatles tunes to commemorate his birth. Even after all this time, many of his songs still sound fresh and vibrant. I love watching my kids discover all this great music from the past.

Children's musician Eric Herman has been thinking about John Lennon lately. He was recently honored as one of the finalists in the 2007 John Lennon Songwriting Contest for his classic "The Elephant Song." View the video here.

Congratulations, Eric, for writing such a great song and receiving such an amazing honor! I can just imagine that John would get a big kick out of your song. It has the kind of quirky humor he was famous for.

I highly recommend Eric's latest CD, Snail's Pace. You can read my review of it here.

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'Tis The Season

It's that time of the year, in the months leading up to the holidays, when the movie studios release the good stuff on DVD.

Here are my recommendations for upcoming family entertainment releases:

The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones

My son's going to go nuts over this when he finds it under the Christmas tree. I've managed to convince him that Indiana Jones only appeared in three movies. Technically, I was being truthful. Young Indiana Jones was an early 90's TV series that followed a teenaged Indy as he traveled all over the world. It's part adventure, part education.

More info at Amazon


Michael Palin's Pole To Pole

Michael Palin has made a new career, post-Monty Python, as a world traveler, and he invites us along for his hilarious adventures. Pole To Pole is his journey from Greenland to the South Pole, through 17 countries. Along the way, he goes camel shopping in the Sudan, visits a Zambian witch doctor, and meets Santa Claus. Again, you have adventure mixed with education, plus a lot of laughs. My kids have already seen Palin's other travel series, and this is the last one to be released on DVD.

More info at Amazon


Looney Tunes: Golden Collection 5

The fifth volume of classic cartoons from Warner Bros. My kids have practically memorized the first four volumes. This new collection will include one of my favorite Bugs Bunny shorts, Ali Baba Bunny, as well as Tweety and the Beanstalk and a whole disc of cartoons based on fairy tales.

More info at Amazon


The Addams Family - Complete Series

This offbeat 1960's sitcom seems almost timeless. John Astin and Carolyn Jones are perfectly cast as the heads of one of the weirdest families ever. The clash of cultures whenever the outside world intrudes upon the family provides much of the humor. My kids have seen much of the first season and just laughed and laughed at the macabre characters, especially Thing the hand.

More info at Amazon


Meet The Robinsons

A 3D-animated film from Disney about a young inventor who time travels to the future. My family thought it was charming and inventive, and well worth seeing again on the small screen. One of the things I remember about it was that there was so much going on that I wished I could've hit pause and rewind. We also love the score by Danny Elfman. I expect this movie to have a larger audience on DVD than it did for its theatrical run.

More info at Amazon


Ratatouille

Quite simply the best-looking CGI film ever. Plus, memorable characters and an enthralling story. In other words, Pixar does it again. Director Brad Bird spins a tale about a gourmet rat who becomes head chef at a Paris restaurant. Sounds silly, right? Well, it is. Very silly. But the movie also has wonderful lessons about family and relationships.

More info at Amazon


Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End

The third film in the series continued the swashbuckling adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow and crew. I found it to be a satisfying end to the trilogy, tying up loose ends and expanding the Pirates universe with new characters and mythologies. I hope they make more.

More info at Amazon


Shrek The Third

Quite honestly, I don't remember anything about this movie from seeing it in the theater last summer. But I do know that my kids love Shrek, so the DVD should have plenty of repeat value. They're making three or four more of these. I'm sure I'll buy them all.

More info at Amazon


Gilmore Girls - The Complete Series

During the seven-year run of this series, I never had the time or inclination to watch a single episode. But after 20-plus recommendations from friends, I figure it must be worth a look. The show is about a mother and daughter who move to the small New England town of Stars Hollow, where they build their relationship with the help of zany family and townsfolk. My kids are a few years away from enjoying this kind of quirky drama, but it will be nice to watch it all in one run with no commercials.

More info at Amazon


Monday, October 08, 2007

 

This Is So Extreme

Extreme Home Makeover is one of our favorite TV shows. We love it when some deserving family get a big new house, plus my kids like the clever ideas the design team comes up with for some of the bedrooms, like the volcano bed featured in last week's premiere.

But at the end, when the family gets to tour their new home, we have to laugh at hearing "Oh my God" and "Oh my gosh" every ten seconds. Can't they come up with some other exclamation? How about "Great Googly Moogly!" Haven't heard that one yet. Maybe producers could invent some exciting new catchphrase, like "This is so extreme!" or "Is this heaven? No, it's my house," or "This is Ty-riffic!"

Better yet, I'd like to hear someone say, "You think I'm gonna clean all this?" or "I can't wait to sell all this stuff on eBay!"


Sunday, October 07, 2007

 

Meat The Family

There was another big meat recall last week. This time it's E. Coli-infected frozen hamburger patties from two different companies.

We're meat eaters. Chicken, beef, pork, fish. It's all good to a family of omnivores. I've explained vegetarianism to my children, but they just aren't interested in cutting out the chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and sirloin steak.

I've never worried much about E. Coli because I cook all our meat thoroughly. Medium Well, at the very least. I worry more about the raw vegetables we eat than anything else.

But the news stories do have an effect. I find myself buying more fish than I ever have before. The kids love salmon, halibut and catfish. When I buy ground beef, I pay more for organic brands.

I don't like being scared of the food I serve my family. As careful as I am with meal preparation, it would still be nice to have some assurance that the various meat companies and government agencies are doing all they can to help keep our dinner tables free from things that will kill us.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

 

Ancient Cedars



We love hiking trails, and the more off-the-beaten-path, the better. Last month we took our last summer hike on the Settlers Grove of Ancient Cedars in the Idaho National Forest near Murray, Idaho.

The giant cedars seemed to loom closer to us the further along the trail we walked. A creek runs through the grove, giving the kids plenty of places to splash. As we moved deeper into the shadowy forest, an eerie sensation took over and I almost felt like the towering trees might come alive and start grabbing at us. Funny how the imagination works.

It's a gentle trail, great for young and old. Our round-trip hike was about two miles, but you can turn around at any point for a shorter walk.


Friday, October 05, 2007

 

I Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down

Over the years I've developed a few strategies for getting through my stay-at-home homeschooling day.

Here's one of my favorites: Don't sit down.

The temptation to sit is strong, but the consequences can be disastrous. Sitting down leads to resting. Resting leads to relaxing. Relaxing can turn into a full-blown day-wasting nap.

And then nothing gets done and you end up cursing every comfy chair in your house. Especially that La-Z-Boy in the corner that sings its siren song just after lunch.

No, it's better to not sit down at all. Why take chances?


 

Lullabies For Grownups

This was a perfect week for lullaby music.

Not for my kids. They've outgrown the need for soothing sounds at nighttime. They'd just as soon drift off to sleep listening to The Beatles or Jason Mraz.

No, I'm the one who wanted to hear lullabies as I recovered from the flu and a couple of very tiring days of teaching.

I've found perfection with the new CD Siente: Night Songs From Around The World from classical guitarist Hilary Field and vocalist Patrice O'Neill. Siente is a collection of lullabies from around the world, sung in Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and English.

The warm vocals and lush instrumentation from the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra make for an absolutely beautiful listening experience. It's like a mental massage, bringing a real sense of peace and calm to my frazzled brain at the end of the day.

The artists' website describes their CD as "lullabies for grownups... and their kids!"

Forget the kids. This one's just for me. Well, almost. My daughter just asked to play this CD in her room tonight. I guess you never outgrow this kind of beautiful music.

Listen: Hilary Field & Patrice O'Neill - "A La Puerta Del Cielo"

Check out more sound samples at Amazon.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

 

Onslaught



Tuesday, October 02, 2007

 

Famous Last Words

There are some things you should never ever say out loud.

As soon as the words were coming out of my mouth, I knew I was doomed.

Last Saturday I mentioned to a friend, "Nobody's been sick in our house since January."

Oh yes, you know what happened next.

Monday morning I woke up feeling sore. By noon I was slightly feverish with mild nausea. By early afternoon I was parked by the toilet throwing up stuff I didn't even know I had eaten.

That lasted well into the evening and I spent the rest of the night curled up on the couch with a big bowl cupped in one arm.

Next time I'll know better. Never mention your good health to anyone.

Oh, and knocking on wood doesn't work.


Monday, October 01, 2007

 

Guns N Kids



When my son was born, both my wife and I agreed that we would discourage him from playing with toy guns. We simply wouldn't have them in the house.

I'm not talking about hunting. No, I mean games of "cops and robbers" or "cowboys and indians." We were nervous about the effects of that kind of imaginary violence on our child.

In other words, we were new parents who were totally clueless.

Because since then we have realized two things. First, there is not one darn thing you can do to prevent a boy from playing shoot-em-up games. From almost the time he learned to walk, my son was running around saying "Bang Bang" with a spoon or Lego or some other object in his hand.

I have no idea where he learned it. Maybe it's genetic. Maybe prehistoric toddlers ran around their caves with a stick in their hand yelling "Bonk Bonk!"

Even when we took away the toys, he found other things to turn into guns. He would even roll his napkin up into a tube and use that to shoot bad guys.

That leads me to the second thing we realized. Playing with toy guns is not going to warp our kids' minds. I believe it does just the opposite, as a fertile imagination can only be beneficial to a child. Shooting outlaws and monsters is not going to turn them into homicidal psychopaths or make them indifferent to human life.

I should've just remembered my own childhood. Yup, that's a 7-year-old me in that photo. I turned out okay. Right?

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