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Thursday, January 31, 2008

 

Animal Playground

We've been dumped on by a record snow this week, which makes driving around not much fun if almost impossible. Luckily, we've had this awesome new compilation CD, Animal Playground, to keep the smiles on our faces as we bounce around the rutted and icy roads.

It's a collection of children's songs from all over the world, in different languages but with the same playful animal theme. Dancing monkeys, slithering snakes, curious bears, friendly dinosaurs. It's what kids love the most, jumping around and singing about their favorite creatures.

The CD is from Putamayo Kids, which is one of those companies that you can always count on for quality music. The mix of languages and styles works perfectly as the songs switch from English to French to Portuguese. Kids in every country know how to have a good time, and that's exactly what is reflected here by artists such as The Be Good Tanyas (USA), Ze Renato (Brazil), Ladysmith Black Mambazo (South Africa), and Quartetto Cetra (Italy).

Besides the fact that it's an incredibly fun collection of songs, it will help your children to realize that even though there are many different cultures, languages and people in the world, we're basically all the same.

Animal Playground gets the highest recommendation from my family! It's great for ages 1 to 10, and is another one of those CDs that won't drive parents crazy after seventeen listens. You can buy it at Amazon.

Here's one of our favorite tunes off the CD, from Caribbean children's musician Asheba, it's a new take on the old favorite, "No More Monkeys."


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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

 

Snow Business



We have five feet of snow in our yard! That's just what I shoveled off the driveway. The kids quickly went to work carving out intricate networks of tunnels and caves throughout the many snow berms around our house.

But they don't want to sleep in their new caves. I think they're as tired of the snow as I am.


Monday, January 28, 2008

 

Cool Tunes For Spokane Kids

Hey Spokane and North Idaho families! Don't let all the snow stop you from getting down to your local library over the next few days to see a free kids' concert from Eric Herman!

He's in the Spokane area for the next week, performing his award-winning shows twice a day at the following libraries: Spokane Valley, Cheney, Medical Lake, Otis Orchards, Fairfield, Airway Heights, Argonne, and Moran Prairie. Click here for dates and times.

Eric recently posted a brand new video on YouTube. It's a fun one! Be sure to watch until the very end.



Saturday, January 26, 2008

 

Secondhand Wisdom

We sat down the other night and watched Secondhand Lions again. What a great family film. It was even better the second time around.

I loved these lines in the film, delivered by the magnificent Robert Duvall, and I loved that my kids were hearing them...

"Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in."


Friday, January 25, 2008

 

Against The Wind

Life is just so unfair sometimes.

And cruel too. Insanely, unfairly cruel.

The whole family was sitting in the music store's waiting room as my son was taking his piano lesson. My daughter and I were sitting on the comfy loveseat, nestled together in the chilly room, each reading a book. Suddenly she got up, walked to the other side of the room, and sat down next to her mother, who was sitting where she could see into the piano room.

My daughter leaned over to my wife and said, in a disgusted voice, "I'm sitting over here because Daddy stinks."

It's not fair, I thought. What could I do? Be tactless and point to the real culprit, a dad sitting two chairs away? Shout across the room, "No, it wasn't me! It was that guy right there. He's the one that stinks!"

No, that wouldn't be nice, so I made an indignant face and tried to subtly tilt my head toward the guy who let one rip, but both my wife and daughter just stared at me with accusing eyes. Soon, other people in the room were staring at me and wrinkling their noses.

All I could do was take the blame and go back to my book. Like I said, sometimes life is just not fair.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

 

Tales Of A Fourth Grade Something

I don't remember the fourth grade.

And here I am teaching it.

Actually, I do remember being in fourth grade, but I have no recollection of what subjects were covered.

Thankfully, I have a curriculum to guide me as a teacher. Without it, I'd probably overwhelm my son with polynomials and comparative economics. The curriculum keeps us on track to build a solid foundation of knowledge before moving on to the next level. Step by step, I always tell him.

Leave it to me to jump ten steps ahead the first time the curriculum gets a little vague.

A month ago my son started learning about writing reports. He'd actually been introduced to the subject last year, and wrote a simple report on toads. This year, however, he was expected to do more. Multiple sources, library research, note taking, topic sentences. Easy, right?

Our curriculum materials only talked about the process of writing, not the depth and length of the report. It was up to me to help him limit the scope of his subject.

He wanted to write about something he enjoyed, so he picked magic. That's a big subject, so I told him to narrow it down. He then decided to write about "Magicians Through History." This is where I was supposed to remember being in fourth grade, just starting out in the wonderful world of report writing. Instead of having him narrow that subject further, I simply told him it sounded like a good thing to write about. Which it did, if you're writing a book.

It turned out to be like a three-week trip to the dentist's office. My son read three books on magicians, took a huge amount of notes, made an outline, and then sat down to write the report only to discover that he was drowning in facts and figures.

But still I encouraged him, because it all looked fine to a guy who couldn't remember that fourth graders aren't quite ready to write a dissertation on the evolution of magic from the high priests of Ancient Egypt to the special effects wizards of the TV age.

This is the point in my post where I cut a bunch of stuff out, because that's exactly what my son had to do after I came to my senses and suddenly remembered Mrs. Robinson, my fourth-grade teacher, who gave me an assignment to write a report about Thomas Jefferson. It didn't take long for me to feel completely overwhelmed with the subject and give up. I never did finish that report, despite many missed recesses and parent-teacher conferences. The experience soured me on writing for several years until a very helpful seventh-grade English teacher put my head back on straight.

I didn't want my son to get beat down by a pencil and paper, so toward the end we threw out half of his note cards and simplified things immensely. We got back on track, and I think he actually enjoyed the process of putting together a research report. I told him he'd better like it, because there are several hundred more in his future.

His paper turned out well. Six pages, handwritten. He learned a lot from the experience, and it will be another solid brick in his learning foundation. I won't repeat my mistake of outpacing his learning level, so the next project should go more smoothly.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a report on Thomas Jefferson to finish.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

 

Wordless Wednesday



Tuesday, January 22, 2008

 

Too Much Information

The family gathered last night to watch the 1964 Disney movie The Three Lives of Thomasina...

Me (pausing DVD): "Hey, look, it's the girl from Mary Poppins!"

Movie resumes.

Me (pausing DVD): "Cool. Her father is Patrick MacGoohan from The Prisoner."

Movie resumes.

Me (pausing DVD): "Kids, see that little boy? He played the girl's brother in Mary Poppins."

Movie resumes.

Me (pausing DVD): "Whoa. You know who that is? The vet's assistant? That's the actor who played Paul's grandfather in A Hard Day's Night! He looks so different."

Movie resumes.

Me (pausing DVD): "What? I don't believe it. Honey, do you recognize her? C'mon, we just watched the last season of her TV show. Hello? Monarch of the Glen? That's Molly McDonald, only 40 years younger."

Movie resumes.

Me (pausing DVD): "Did you know that the girl playing Mary is the daughter of..."

Everyone Else: "Somebody take the remote away from Daddy!!!"


Sunday, January 20, 2008

 

Just Act Casual



Friday, January 18, 2008

 

Trading Places

Being a stay-at-home dad is a privilege and a joy. I would not trade places with anyone if it meant not being able to parent my kids on a full-time basis. I am absolutely, perfectly content.

Well, most of the time.

I think most stay-at-home parents have those moments when they feel a bit envious of those who command respect and authority through their jobs. At home, our authority is always in question by belligerent children, while respect is... well, mostly non-existent.

I have a friend who is a well-known TV news anchor. He gets to interview politicians, celebrities, and business leaders. Viewers trust and admire him. From the outside, his career seems exciting and challenging. It's the kind of life I had once envisioned, before the children came along. I've had those moments, when talking with my friend, where I wished I could trade places with him and experience some of the prestige and energy of a job like his.

So it came as kind of a shock when my friend sent me an email expressing his desire to trade places with me! He wrote: "I work hours you would puke at. I'm known around the company as the Devil Who Wears Prada. Everyone's scared of me around here. It's all about BS on the air and stroking egos. I envy your life, you're my living example of Adam@home. You're doing well, my friend."

Maybe he was just telling me what I wanted to hear. Or maybe he was having one of those moments where the grass looks greener on the other side.

Or perhaps he's realizing that when his kids are grown, he's going to wish he'd spent more time with them instead of at the office where friends are few and memories are trivial at best.

There's nothing about my life as a stay-at-home dad that I would trade away. Even in those fleeting moments of "what if" I never forget the value of my experiences with my kids. Hands down, it beats anything a career can deliver.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

 

Dress Up Your Pet

I had no idea that last Monday was National Dress Up Your Pet Day. Our poor cats missed out on all the fun and games. My daughter frequently pulls Basil into her closet for impromptu dress-up sessions with doll clothes, jewelry, and ribbons. He's a very patient cat.

Brighter Minds Media has turned the day into a contest, which lasts another few weeks, until February 4th. The rules are simple: Dress up your pet, take a picture, and then upload it to their site. Great fun for the kids, and the prizes are cool... A set of DVD games from Brighter Minds, including Jurassic Park Explorer, which I reviewed last fall.

There's another contest going on at the Why Homeschool blog. Janine and Henry are asking people to try their hand at creating a logo for the Carnival of Homeschooling. Visit their site for more details.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

 

Cold Comfort

One day last week, after a heavy snowfall, we spent the afternoon making a huge snow fort in the backyard. After we topped it off with a heavy tarp for a roof, the kids hunkered down inside to plan a snow battle. But they soon had other ideas.

My daughter said, "It's so warm and cozy. We can sleep in here tonight." Then my son's face lit up and he agreed that this would be a wonderful idea.

I didn't think they were really serious, but after dinner they lugged the sleeping bags out of the basement and started making a pile of quilts and pillows at the back door.

They seemed determined to sleep in that snow fort. Surprisingly, I said okay, expecting them to get cold feet (so to speak) at the last minute. I stood back and watched as they loaded the fort up with their gear. They even brought out snacks and drinks, for survival purposes I suppose.



My wife and I helped them get settled into their sleeping bags, under several blankets and quilts, then we said goodnight to them and ventured back into the warmth and comfort of our living room, where we could sit on the couch with one eye on the TV and one eye on the snow fort.



They stirred for about fifteen minutes, then were still. We figured they were either frozen or asleep. I even walked outside and whispered, "Have you turned into ice cubes?" They seemed okay, so we just left them to continue their little adventure.

Around midnight, when it was 25 degrees, I heard a light tapping at the back door and there stood my daughter, half asleep and shivering miserably in her stocking feet. She said, "It's c-c-c-cold," and ran up to her room.



Her brother, however, was a trooper. He made it through the whole night, waking up around 7:30 in the middle of a new snow storm. No extremities were frozen, and he said he'd had the best night's sleep ever.

I asked him if he wanted to sleep out there again the next night. His response, "No thanks. Once was enough."

Good thing, too. That night the snow fort collapsed in on itself.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

 

Ray Of Light



The early morning fog was lifting from the lake as the first rays of sunlight broke through to create these dazzling lines through the trees near Beauty Bay, on Lake Coeur d'Alene.

Click on the picture for a better view!


Saturday, January 12, 2008

 

Weekend Whatnot

Don't ask me how we did it, because I don't know. She must've just decided it was her time. Yes, my daughter is now sleeping through the night in her own bed! What a nice Christmas present.

I've been framing in my basement for six weeks. It goes slow when you're doing it by yourself and you only have a spare hour here and there. But it's coming along nicely. I'm not completely incompetent around lumber and power tools. So why did a friend of mine send me this message today: "Hey, how's that basement project going? I hope this wasn't you."

Movie ratings, like PG and R, are mostly meaningless these days. The only ratings that you can count on when it comes to choosing appropriate films for your kids are those created by Kids-In-Mind. I always consult this site before going to the theater or renting a DVD.

I love winter, but I don't like the fact that the inside of our car smells like a wet dog. The kids get in the car with their slushy boots and then it melts into the floor mats. I'm pretty sure there's some moldy french fries in between the seats too. The combination is nauseating.

It snowed in Baghdad, for the first time in 100 years. Is this what they mean by "when hell freezes over"?

I won a photo contest, almost. My image of an Idaho wheat field earned an honorable mention, out of nearly 3000 pictures, in the landscape/nature division of The 2007 Everyman Photo Contest. Not bad for a little point-and-shoot camera.

It's the perfect project for you and the kids to work on during these cold winter days: A Secret Hollow Book. Junglepop did it, and gives step-by-step instructions on his blog.

My son loves board games, but isn't having much luck finding other boys his age who want, or even know how, to play games like Risk, Stratego, Chess, Pictionary, and Monopoly. They all would rather play videogames.


Friday, January 11, 2008

 

Time Travel

It's January, but my mind's on June.

We have to make our summer travel plans now because my wife's work schedule for the next eight months will be set in stone by March. For the past few weeks, we've been discussing various family vacation options. It always seems odd to be planning out most of the summer a full six months ahead of time.

It's not just the days off that have to be reserved. If we have any hope of getting a decent hotel at a popular destination, then bookings have to be made now. At National Parks like Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, and Olympic, the best accomodations are pretty much gone by the end of February. I've already discovered that Yellowstone's Old Faithful Inn and Cabins are sold out through September.

So, in addition to everything else I have on my mind these days, I'm also flipping through maps, studying travel websites, talking to travel agents, and highlighting specific days and weeks on the calendar.

It's like a military campaign. Even our spontaneous day trips will be planned in advance!

Last summer we missed out on an out-of-state family wedding because of short notice. My wife couldn't make the last-minute changes to her schedule and we were sadly absent from the event. We've always told people, if you're going to get married, or have a baby, or plan a family reunion, we'd better hear about it six months beforehand so the date can go on a vacation request form.

The nice thing about all of this is that I can stop worrying about it in a few weeks. Our summer travel plans will be set and I can get back to the winter and spring projects that seem to be occupying every minute of my free time. By June I'll need a vacation!

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

 

Snowball Fight

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

 

Poetry Corner

My son's assignment today was to write a poem featuring exaggeration.

LeZoom And His Room

There once was a filthy, muddy kid
His name was Lee LeZoom
He never picks up anything
In his volcanic room

Octopus creatures swing from wall to wall
They eat his moldy toys
Skeletons of cousins and friends
Dance and make scary noise

Then one night a dustmite came
It sucked him and his toys away
When they saw how clean his room was
His parents shouted "Hooray!"


Saturday, January 05, 2008

 

I Love You More

My kids' reading skills are beyond most picture books, but that hasn't stopped them from enjoying a clever and touching new book called I Love You More, by Laura Duksta.

The story is simple, and the illustrations are bright and colorful, but it's the design of the book that sets it apart from so many others. Read as a conversation between a boy and his mother from the child's point of view, the dialogue comes to an end in the middle of the book. At that point, you flip the book over and the story begins again, only from the mother's perspective.

It's a never-ending story, and one that will absolutely delight toddlers who are just learning how to read and express themselves. But, as I've seen with my own kids, some books are classics to be left on the shelf and taken down every now and then just for fun, no matter what your age.

My family highly recommends I Love You More. It would make a perfect gift for a new mother who needs to learn that it's never too early to start reading to your children.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

 

Brothers

My son and I were talking about our cat, Basil.

SON: "Did Basil have a lot of other brothers?"
ME: "Yes, I think he came from a litter of eight."
SON: "Oh. Do you think they miss Basil?"
ME: "I'm sure they don't even remember him. They haven't written or called the past few years."
SON: "Kind of like Mommy's brothers."
ME: "Yup."


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

 

Show Me The Money

When my son turned eight, we started him on an allowance.

$1 a week. For keeping his room neat, clearing his dishes from the table, feeding the cats, putting away his clothes, and a few other chores.

We promised him an increase as he grew older and added more responsibilities to his chore list.

After a year and a half, though, he seems rather content with just the dollar each Friday. He has yet to see the value of a raise.

When we started his allowance, it was with the understanding that he would have to come and ask for it. We wouldn't just hand it to him. So, he forgets a lot. I feel bad for him, so I give him hints, like, "Hey, is it Friday already? I think I need to go to the bank today."

He's good at saving his money into a bank account. He'll spend a little here and there, on a pack of gum or a Star Wars figure, but for the most part he wants to store it away for the future.

I'm interested in hearing about how you've handled allowances for your kids. How much is appropriate? And at what age?