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Monday, June 30, 2008

 

Hello Cruel World

Parents play so many roles, but one of the most important is that of protector.

I still remember the feeling that came over me when we brought our first child home. Driving away from the hospital, I was on full alert, ready to defend my newborn son with every ounce of my being. I had our car surrounded with a psychic force field the seven miles it took to reach the safety of our house.

Those early years were easy. My job as protector was mostly physical -- making sure the house was baby proofed, or that my son didn't get carried away by eagles. The perceived dangers were clear.

But as he got older and started learning about the world around him, suddenly things got complicated.

When he was three years old an airplane flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. My wife and I couldn't help but watch TV coverage for days, but we didn't encourage my son to absorb any of it. "Go play," we'd tell him. I felt he just wasn't old enough to think about this kind of evil.

You don't sit a 3-year-old down and teach him about things like terrorism, rape, torture, and disease.

Eventually, though, they have to start understanding the harsh realities of life.

One of the saddest things about your children growing up is when they start to figure out that the world isn't a blissful paradise with smiling people living on candy mountains.

I just want these feelings to come slowly. Step by gradual step.

One day last month, my son took a big leap in his grasp of how cruel this world can be sometimes.

We were learning about Anne Frank, and how her family hid from the Nazis during the German occupation of the Netherlands. We read about the years of isolation, and then the betrayal and arrest of everyone in the hiding place.

At first, my son was mad that somebody had ratted them out. But then he asked me, "So what happened to Anne?"

I answered, "She was sent to a concentration camp."

"And?"

"And, she died there."

He looked up at me suddenly, and I could see it in his eyes, this sort of angry bewilderment. It was like he was thinking, "What the hell is wrong with us that we do these things to each other?!"

He thought about it for a minute, and then the understanding dawned. Yes, this is, was, and always will be a cruel world. Bad things happen sometimes.

I think he really truly gets that now.

As his protector through the years, I've slowly guided him toward these moments of wisdom. Because of that, I think he'll be better able to process the information and make good choices for himself.

But at the same time, I've given both my kids the chance to grow up with a foundation of hope and love, to know that the world is, first and foremost, a beautiful place with countless reasons to be happy and optimistic.

Even in our worst moments, I trust they will never forget that.


Friday, June 27, 2008

 

DVD Giveaway

It was one of my favorite movies of 2007, and I have a brand-new DVD copy of it to give away.

Disney's Enchanted is a magical fairytale about a cartoon princess lost in New York City. I found it to be absolutely enchanting, especially the career-making performance of Amy Adams.

If you'd like to have Enchanted on DVD, just leave a comment on this post. I need picnic ideas for the 4th of July. What are some of your favorite quick summer recipes?

UPDATE: The DVD winner is Shadeslayer. Thanks to everyone for your picnic recipe ideas!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

 

Memories Can't Wait

The other day my son asked me about cereal and who invented it. I had the answer to that one, telling him about W.K. Kellogg and his accidental invention of corn flakes, which was the first popular "milk and cereal" combination to change the way Americans ate breakfast.

That reminded me of the cereals I used to enjoy as a kid. My favorites were Cocoa Puffs, Captain Crunch, Boo Berry, Sugar Smacks, and Honeycomb. And whatever had the best stuff to read on the back of the box.

And thinking of those cereals made me realize that there are certain memories that can't, and shouldn't, be re-visited. It only leads to disappointment. Yes, I've sampled some of those cereals recently. Hard to believe I used to get all "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" when I was 8 years old. These days the mere thought of eating chocolate first thing in the morning makes me want to reach for the Tums.

It's like that with memories. Many of them are best left as just memories.

I was so excited to buy H.R. Pufnstuf on DVD to watch with my kids. In fact, they did enjoy the series just as much as I did when I was a kid. But the grown-up me was aghast that the little kid me could actually sit through the show. Same with old kid faves of mine like Lidsville, Wacky Races, Gilligan's Island, and Land of the Lost. I don't have the patience for stories like that anymore, and my happy childhood memories have been tainted by my grown-up judgements and critiques.

It's the same with certain movies from the past. As a kid, I loved Disney films like The Cat From Outer Space and Escape To Witch Mountain. But my palate has become too refined for the ancient special effects of those years. My own memories have been replaced by the ones of my kids laughing and enjoying those movies, so it's not necessarily a bad thing to re-visit those old loves. My kids don't notice the strings and fake blue-screen effects just as I didn't notice them way back when.

The memories that I'm most uneasy about re-visiting involve friends and family. My favorite images of childhood include playing hide-and-seek with my cousins on my Grandma's farm, building cardboard box forts with my neighborhood pals, playing kickball on the playground in 2nd grade, and making silly home movies with my best friend in elementary school. In recent years, I've met up with some of those old friends and relatives. And, for the most part, my cherished memories of them have been completely demolished. In the worst case, an old friend from junior high who always used to make me laugh grew up to become a director of gay porn. Now there's something I really didn't want to know.

I think I'm going to leave most of my old memories alone. And go make some new ones with my kids.


This post was originally published on June 25, 2005. Summer is a good time for reruns!


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

 

America's Hidden History

My son's interest in history turned into a passion after he saw the movie National Treasure.

It took him awhile to figure out that the screenwriter blurred the line between fact and fiction. It's fun to think there are secret symbols and treasure maps hidden in our monuments and historical documents.

In a way, though, there is treasure of a different kind contained in the countless fascinating stories that make up the history of our country.

Some of them are told in the new book America's Hidden History, by Kenneth C. Davis. He's the author of the phenomenal 1990 best-seller Don't Know Much About History, which presented the "big picture" of our nation's history in a fun and easy-to-read format.

His new book has a much narrower focus, telling six dramatic stories from the earliest days of America. Davis brings to light little-known facts about the first real Pilgrims, the less than idyllic relationship between the Puritans and Indians, and the war crimes of George Washington.

You know, basically all the stuff they never taught us in school.

Whether it was out of ignorance or fear, our educational leaders decided long ago that children can't handle the truth about history. So, all of our founding fathers became saintly heroes and early settlers lived in peace with the natives. Davis breaks many of these cherished myths with color and intrigue. And, most importantly, with facts about America's past.

This book is ideal for anyone with a love of history. Recommended for high school and up.

Check it out at your local bookseller, or at Amazon.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

 

Tiger Attack

While we were at Cat Tales on Sunday, we witnessed a white tiger viciously attacking a zookeeper.

I just hope my video will help with the investigation into this horrific incident.

WARNING: Video may contain spurting blood and flying body parts.



Monday, June 23, 2008

 

A Perfect 10



It was Birthday Weekend for my son, who turned a decade old.

Hard to believe it's been ten years since that life-changing day when I became a father for the first time.

We've done so much, made so many memories, seen such tremendous changes, and yet the time seems to have flown by all too quickly.

Like it or not, birthdays wait for no one.

After my son announced that he didn't want a party with friends, we started planning a special weekend of festivities just for him. It included an afternoon on the lake, a viewing of Iron Man at the movie theater, and dinner at his favorite Italian restaurant.

That was just the first day.

The next day we made a special trip to Cat Tales Zoological Park to visit the big cats. My son loves felines of all sizes, so this was a big thrill for him. The highlight of the tour was when he got to feed raw meat to a Bengal tigress named Ceylon.



The other highlight of the day for my son was when I announced that his allowance would be doubled. I could see the dollar signs sparkling in his eyes as he started adding up his future earnings.

It was a memorable 10th birthday celebration. At first, some weeks ago, I was surprised that he didn't want a big party. But then I remembered that I gave up on large multi-friend parties when I was 11 or 12. There comes a time when you just want to share your birthdays with loved ones and close friends.

My son is 10, and it's yet another strong reminder that the clock is ticking. I have such a short time to make memories with him.

This weekend I think we made some good ones.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

 

Where Were You In '82?






Or, right-click here to download for later playback.


It's my second podcast! This time I venture back to 1982, a defining year of music for me. So many songs that make up the soundtrack to my life! From artists like XTC, Squeeze, Elvis Costello, Madness, Sparks, Split Enz, and Oingo Boingo.

Sit back and enjoy a trip through time as I play a few of my favorite songs from a long, long time ago. I hate to call them "oldies" because that would make me one too. To me, these songs still sound as fresh as the first time I heard them on the radio (or on MTV, which debuted in August of 1981).

I always feel safe playing this music for my kids, because I know the songs so well. Plus, there was a real sense of fun and melody in much of that era's new wave and pop. If there's one thing I've learned about what children want in music, it's something fun and melodic.

By the way, my short intro music is by Andy Partridge, a veteran of 1982 as the leader of XTC. The software I'm using to create my podcasts is Propaganda.

Let me know if you can't see the embedded flash player. I was using Odeo, but they seem to be having some trouble, so now I've switched to BlogAmp.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

 

You're A Winner!



Thanks to everyone who left a comment in my big book giveaway. Over 150 of you left me some awesome book recommendations to check out. I wish you could all win.

But on with the announcement... The five winners of the book package are:

Nic
The Stickman
Mannequin
Tricia
Annie


If you left an email, I'll be contacting you. If not, you need to send your mailing address to me so I can forward it to the good people at Hachette Book Group. They're the ones shipping the books out (maybe they'll be in a giant box marked FRA-GEE-LAY).

Watch my blog next week for another fun, but much smaller, giveaway.


Monday, June 16, 2008

 

Cookie Monster



How was your Father's Day?

I got a plate of cookies.

They were special because my son, without asking for help from anyone or even telling anyone what he was doing, got up and made double-chocolate chocolate chip cookies. He looked up the recipe in a cookbook, found all the ingredients in the pantry and cupboards, preheated the oven, and followed the instructions precisely.

The cookies were delicious!

The only thing he didn't do is clean up the mess in the kitchen.

But that's okay. He'll figure it out next time.


Friday, June 13, 2008

 

Weekend Whatnot

My son has been waiting for this day since last summer. It's Friday the 13th, and I guess he's intrigued with the idea that bad things are supposed to happen today. He won't even realize the date unless I remind him. It's apparently very difficult for him to look at the calendar on the wall of his room right next to his door. I might have to stage a few "accidents" and see how long it takes him to get a clue.

We've been watching the old 70's series, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, on DVD. I find these shows incredibly dated and hokey, but the kids love them. Good time for me to take a nap.

All my kids want to do with their summer vacation so far is read and play computer games. They don't want to help me hang drywall in the basement. I heard something about "fun" and "do what I want" and "relaxation." I don't know what those words and phrases mean. Must be a kid thing.

Sunday is Father's Day. If you happen to end up at Outback Steakhouse for dinner, they're offering dads a chance to win a $100 gift card for later use. Plus, when you eat there on Sunday, you'll get a $10 coupon good during another visit.

If you're staying home and grilling something on the BBQ, pay a visit to Betty Crocker's Great Grilling site for tips, recipes, and coupons.

Dancing With The Star Wars Stars. My son, the Star Wars fanatic, loved this:



Wednesday, June 11, 2008

 

Father's Day Giveaway!

It's my biggest giveaway ever, just in time for Father's Day!

The good people at Hachette Book Group USA are offering a set of 11 of their books, specifically selected for dads, to five of my readers.

In other words, your summer reading list is about to be filled.

Here's what they're going to send the winners:

1. The Whole Truth, by David Baldacci
2. Child 44, by Tom Smith
3. The Film Club, by David Gilmour
4. Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember, by John Feinstein
5. The Last Real Season, by Mike Shropshire
6. Lone Survivor, by Marcus Luttrell
7. A Tale of Two Subs, by Jonathan McCullough
8. A Terrible Glory, by James Donovan
9. The Training Ground, by Martin Dugard
10. The Adventures of Slim & Howdy, by Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn
11. The Dudes' Guide To Pregnancy, by Bill Lloyd & Scott Finch

These 11 books are all extremely well-reviewed bestsellers from the past few months. From thrillers to sports to history to comedy, there are some awesome books included here.

If you're a dad who'd like to win a set, or if you're a mom who'd like to give them to your favorite dad, then all you have to do is leave a comment under this post. Tell me the last book you read and enjoyed.

Only one restriction... You must live in the USA or Canada.

Happy Father's Day!

This contest has ended. Thanks!


Monday, June 09, 2008

 

Let's Hear It For The Moms!

After ten years of being a stay-at-home dad in a stay-at-home mom world, I'm used to it now.

I mean, ten years ago it made me flustered and angry.

But now I just have to laugh about it.

We were at an end-of-the-year homeschool picnic last week when one of the organizers started calling up the kids by grade so we could give them a round of applause.

After she finished up with the high schoolers and we clapped, she looked around and said, "And now, let's hear it for the moms who worked tirelessly all year to teach these wonderful children. Yay moms!"

And that was it. She thanked everyone for coming and told us all to have a good time.

I looked around to see if any other dads were thinking what I was thinking, but then I realized there weren't any other dads at the picnic.

And rather than get upset, I simply shook my head and chuckled.

Which made the moms move even further away, convinced now that I was crazier than they had assumed.

So, I gave myself a round of applause.

Quietly.

"Let's hear it for the dad! Yay dad!"

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Friday, June 06, 2008

 

Are You Smarter Than A 4th Grader?

My son finished his school year last Friday.

He ended his 4th grade career with a little quiz.

Okay, so maybe it was a big quiz. A really big quiz.

I went back through all the lessons, books, worksheets, and web sites that we've covered over the past year and came up with a hundred questions that every 4th grader should know.

The subjects covered are math, science, history, geography, literature, art, social sciences, and grammar.

My goal was to test his memory. Completely. Which means no multiple choice questions. It's all fill-in-the-blank. No hints. And no review!

Two examples:

What do you call rocks that have been changed by pressure or heat?

In which two hemispheres is Australia located?

What's that? You say you'd like to take the test yourself? See if you're smarter than a 4th grader?

Here you go:

Phil's 4th Grade Super Test Printable PDF

It took my son about an hour to complete, and he answered 89 questions correctly.

So, I'm very happy. He's very happy (and smart!). His knowledge and understanding of these subjects is a testament to the job we're doing with homeschooling.

If you take the test, I'll be interested in how you do. Give it to your kids, too. Have fun with it!

Here are the answers (no peeking beforehand):

Phil's 4th Grade Super Test ANSWERS Printable PDF

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

 

MetroDad and Me?

It's long been a fact that you just can't compile a Top Ten list of daddy bloggers without including blogs like GeekDad, MetroDad, and DaddyTypes. They are among the major players of the parenting blog world.

So, imagine my surprise to find my little blog included with those three on Sampa's list of 10 Daddy Blogs You Should Read.

Somehow I slipped in there at #10.

Here's the list:

1. GeekDad
2. Sweet Juniper
3. Nordquist Blog
4. Creative Type Dad
5. Daddy Dialectic
6. Daddy Types
7. MetroDad
8. Mitch McDad
9. Thingamababy
10. A Family Runs Through It

Visit Sampa's post for links and reviews of these ten daddy blogs.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

 

Here Comes The Flood



Or rather, there goes the flood.

Our lake has been overflowing with snow melt lately, covering up most of our favorite beaches and picnic spots. Not to mention a parking lot or two. But now it's slowly receding back to normal levels.

The kids are fascinated by this, and we've been to the lake three different times to walk up and down one long stretch of shoreline. Each time, the kids make excited observations about changes in the landscape.

Nature can be an awesome teacher.


Monday, June 02, 2008

 

Total Frustration

I don't bang my head against the wall for things my kids do. They're just kids. They're still learning. And I try not to get upset about most things in front of them. I like to show control.

But today I absolutely had to throw up my hands in total frustration over something.

All I did was move a desktop computer from one room to another. That's ALL. I. DID.

I got everything unplugged, cleaned up (wow, the dust!), and then moved to another desk in another room, where each part of the computer was put back together exactly as it was ten minutes before.

I turned it all back on, everything was working, only... What's this? It suddenly can't connect to our home network.

Check the plugs, check the wireless adapter. Nothing.

Wait. It's on. No, now it's off. Now it's back on. Then it's off.

This is the moment when my hands went up to my head to start pulling hair out.

The watchamacallit... The wireless thingy, was finding our home network, starting to connect, then suddenly saying, "No connection found."

It did this all day long, no matter what buttons I pushed.

The maddening thing is, all I did was move the desktop from one room to another.

No amount of web searches, Cisco tech support, or voodoo dancing has helped me figure out how to re-connect our now lonely computer back to the Internet. I know the router works. I know the wireless adapter works (I connected to our neighbor's unsecured network). It's something in the computer that magically switched itself while I carried it 20 feet across the house.

Sometimes I just hate computers.