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Monday, September 29, 2008


The Watchers

Today I give you a second guest post from Dr. Rajiv Vaidyanathan, Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and Executive Director of the Association For Consumer Research. He's also an enthusiastic, almost obsessive, music fan (like me) who worships at the microphone of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, and Neil Finn, among others. In fact, we first met over a spirited discussion of The Beatles outside a college classroom. I would point you to his blog, but he is still refusing to update the seventeen blogs he started last year, so today he's taking over mine...

The Watchers
by Dr. Rajiv Vaidyanathan

Every move you make
Every step you take
Every bond you break
They’ll be watching you
- Minor adaptation of lyrics from The Police

I have always been convinced that one of the biggest influences on children as they grow up is the behavior of their parents. That is, you can read all the parenting books you want and try to influence them by telling them all the right things. But, ultimately, it is difficult for most people to be consistently different in their actions from who they are. Kids spend so much of their time with their parents that, ultimately, they end up forming judgments about the world based on observing their behavior. Even when you don’t know what judgments they’re making based on the behavior.

I’ve always considered myself very responsible and ethically sound in my behavior. I distinctly remember an incident when I was all the way back to my car from visiting a store before I realized that a cashier had returned too much change. I immediately went back to the store and gave the money back. My son happened to be with me and I didn’t realize that this was even being processed by him until we got back in the car and he asked me why I had returned the money. It was only when I was explaining that if I was the cashier, I would want a customer to return the money that I realized that he had noticed my automatic behavior of returning the money even though I had done nothing to draw attention to it.

Every move you make...

A few days ago, I was visiting my brother’s house and I asked him for some rare CDs he had so that I could rip them to my laptop. His 13-year-old son looked at him and said, "But you told me never to rip CDs I don’t own!" His dad said, "Yes, because once you decide you like some music and want to listen to it again, you should buy the CD. Otherwise I think it is unfair to the musician." I meekly said, "Well, this one is a rare CD and I just want to listen to the other one on the flight." I turned a shade of scarlet when my son turned to his cousin as they were walking away and said, "But my dad even borrowed a bunch of CDs from the library and ripped them to his computer."

Every step you take...

I hope the RIAA Gods will forgive me for admitting in this public forum that this fact was absolutely true. The details that (a) I did this only once a year or two ago, (b) I really wanted to listen to the CDs to see if I even liked these songs, and (c) I am constantly buying CDs from artists I like and strongly believe in supporting independent musicians, were details my son had not picked up on. He had seen me borrow a stack of CDs from the library and rip them to my computer. And the honest truth? They’re still there on some hard drive. I probably never really got around to listening to them and have never bothered to delete them off my drive. And I did rip CDs that I sorta liked but knew I didn’t love enough to actually buy.

Every bond you break...

That simple throwaway comment from my son to his cousin as he walked away shook me more than I expected. It reinforced my belief that it is very difficult to be someone you are not just for the kids. They’re always there, always watching you behave in your environment, and always shaping their worldview based on seeing what you do. It doesn’t matter that you buy twenty CDs from musicians to show them your support if you are caught copying a single track that you never bought. It brought on a reassessment not only of my own beliefs and actions, but also the critical importance of setting an example for your kids who are probably going to grow up to be more like you than you think (or want to believe).

I better get going. I’ve got to sit down with my son and delete several gigabytes of MP3 tracks from my hard drive.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


If You Keep Losing Sleep

We have a sleep problem in our house.

Bedtime in our house is 8pm, which is actually when the kids start getting ready with pajamas, teeth brushing, showers, etc. Then they have until 9 to read quietly in their beds.

It's a routine we've kept for years now.

But lately, both kids have been fighting falling asleep. They're "thinking about stuff" or "not tired" or "too hot" or "too cold." The hours pass by and I find them still awake as late as 11pm.

I've always been a huge believer in kids getting the right amount of sleep. Up to age 5, we made sure it was more than 12 hours a night. Since then, we've dropped it down to 11 and now 10 hours, which is what most experts recommend for first through fifth graders.

Their late bedtimes might not be a problem if they would sleep in, but both of them are up at 7am like clockwork. Without fail. Even on the weekends when they know it might mean losing an arm or leg to wake daddy at that hour.

Losing sleep has a huge negative effect on a kid's performance in school, and that's something I see directly as a homeschooler. It's frustrating to teach a yawning, drowsy child with drooping eyelids. I have to repeat directions and stand over them so they don't drift off in a daydream. I can't even imagine being a public school teacher with a dozen or so sleepy kids sitting zombie-like at their desks.

Our solution to this problem has been to simply remain steadfast about bedtime. I make sure the house is quiet, and that lights are out for good at 9pm, with no exceptions. For years, my son has fallen asleep to a sound machine (set to "gentle rain"), but I'm wondering if that device has outlived its usefulness.

When I check up on the kids around 9:30, if I find someone awake I use gentle tones to remind them of the importance of sleep to their developing brains. I've always told them why they need sleep, rather than simply ordering them to bed.

Other than what we're already doing, I'm not sure what else would help. If anyone has advice that has worked for their children, I'd love to hear it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Iron Homeschooler

I'm not here right now.

I'm guest-posting over at Discovering Dad with an article about homeschooling called "Dad and Teacher - Choosing To Homeschool."

Until I get back, here's a contest for you.

I have one brand-new DVD of the summer blockbuster, Ironman, to give away!

In case you haven't heard of it, this high-flying adventure movie stars Robert Downey, Jr., as the man in the iron suit. It's rated PG-13, so not for the little kids, but my 10-year-old had a great time watching it in the theater.

Just leave a comment here, telling me your favorite superhero. Or maybe you can make one up, like Homeschool Man (able to teach three subjects at the same time!).

I'll pick a winner next week.

Monday, September 22, 2008


May The Floors Be With You

Anyone remember that basement project I started last year?

Well, it's almost done.

Almost. Done.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Or, in this case, the floor at the bottom of the basement stairs.

The framing is done. The drywall is hung. It's been taped, mudded, textured, and painted.

I was going to hold off on the flooring because of cost, waiting until Christmas to put something down. But, as I moved furniture onto the bare concrete floor of the basement, I realized that it would drive me completely insane having to look at it almost finished for three months.

So, credit card in hand, it was down to Home Depot to pick out some laminate flooring. We decided upon Dupont's Real Touch Classic Red Oak.

Which has turned out to be a breeze to install.

And now it really is almost done. I have a few more planks to cut tomorrow, and then we can start moving into our new classroom/fun room/guest room/clutter collector basement.

Oh wait... What's that you say? Baseboard molding?

Oh man, how long is that gonna take me?

Friday, September 19, 2008


A Pirate Sings Through It

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

I'm back with another edition of A Family Sings Through It, my modest attempt at entertaining you with a medley of musical favorites.

Today, it's more kids music! But, this time, with a twist.

In honor of Talk Like A Pirate Day, I unfurl the skull and crossbones, put on my dusty old captain's hat, and try out my most gravelly pirate voice.

I sound like a cross between Captain Barbossa and Harvey Fierstein.

A quote from the Pirates of the Caribbean comes to mind: "You are without a doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of."

Well, at least you and your kids can enjoy the music - 30 minutes worth of humor and fun. You'll hear songs from Eric Herman, The Hipwaders, Thaddeus Rex, Sean Altman, The Terrible Twos, Nada Surf, The Jellydots, The King's Singers, The Wiggles, Relient K, Barenaked Ladies, and The GrooveBarbers.

If you like what you hear (the songs, not me), go to iTunes or Amazon and buy some music for your kids!

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Return To Summer

Thank you, summer, for returning to us, if only for a couple of days, so I could once again float on my back in the refreshing waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene while watching my kids splash and play and explore.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Blackbeard, Bluebeard and Redbeard

To celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19th (and every other pirate holiday throughout the year), Eric Herman presents "Blackbeard, Bluebeard and Redbeard", a video depicting the story of three famous pirates who sailed together on a most colorful voyage.

This song, which was voted the "Best Children's Song" in 2006 by the Just Plain Folks organization, was written in collaboration with Kenn Nesbitt, a popular funny poetry author from Spokane, Washington. The video was animated and directed by Eric's wife, Roseann Endres.

For more information about Eric Herman's music, CDs, and concerts, visit Cool Tunes For Kids.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Too Much Skin?

The cheer squad at my alma mater, the University of Idaho, is embroiled in a minor controversy over uniforms.

At the first home football game, they debuted skimpy new outfits. Apparently, those were too risque for some fans, and by the next weekend the cheerleaders were clothed in burqa-like shorts and jerseys.

What do you think? Are the new uniforms too revealing?

I've seen worse at the grocery store, but certainly these uniforms are quite conservative when compared to most NFL cheer squads.

And I won't even mention Olympic Beach Volleyball.

Would you care if your adult daughter wore a uniform that showed too much skin?

Photos by Larry Johnson

Monday, September 15, 2008


An Unfinished Opinion

Today's guest post is from Dan, at All That Comes With It. He's a dad blogger from the north of England, where he works as a community mental health nurse (I think that means he chases after people with a giant butterfly net). In his spare time, he walks a lot, takes beautiful photos, drinks Diet Coke by the barrel, and manages the Huddersfield Chives (which is either a new boy band or an imaginary football team). Best of all, Dan is funny, generous, and kind, all of which shows through in his posts about family life in rural England.

An Unfinished Opinion On Homeschooling
by Dan Hughes, All That Comes With It

The comedian Daniel Kitson once said that an opinion is something that you reach when you decide that you can't be bothered thinking about an issue any more.

He's right too. Or at least I think he is, to be honest I was so taken with the idea that I didn't bother trying to think of any alternatives.

And that to me has always been my main concern about homeschooling. The lack of different perspectives, different thought processes. We've all seen those documentaries about homeschooling parents driving seven shades of nonsense into their children's heads. Evolution is a myth, the white man is superior to all other races, football is actually called "soccer"; all that sort of guff.

Of course I'm not saying Phil is one of those wackos. He's an eminently sensible chap who just wants the best for his kids. In fact I've actually had a conversation with Phil about my reservations before. While I can't remember exactly how he responded, I do remember that what he said made a lot of sense.

Ultimately it boils down to this. I respect and admire the majority of homeschoolers for what they do, but I'm not sure I'd choose to do it myself. Above anything else I don't think my knowledge base is wide enough. Sure I could give a pretty riveting lesson on the top ten Batman villains, or the responsible use of Diet Coke as an IV drug. But ask me about algebra or the War of the Roses and all you'd get would be a blank look and a whiff of the scent of fear.

My own daughter started school for the first time last week. And while my feelings surrounding the event are bittersweet to say the least, I am optimistic that her experience will be a positive one. Of course I say that in the knowledge she is going to a rural school where the average class size is just 14 children. What I'd be thinking if she were starting her educational career in an deprived urban environment with 35+ pupils per class would probably be a little different.

Certainly I have some pretty major issues with the educational system. The constant barrage of testing for no reason other than to move the school up or down a league table, compulsory French lessons in a world that speaks English, and the setting of homework that bears no real educational value. Bullying, indifference, the loss of individuality within a system that values cold results over process. I can see why people opt out.

In conclusion there is no conclusion. I have no point to this meandering ramble of a post. There is no proclamation that homeschooling is a good or a bad thing. No criticism or an endorsement. This post is merely the blathering of a man abusing the hospitality of a friend to thrash out his thoughts on a subject. A subject he is still hasn't finished thinking about. A subject he has yet to form an opinion on.

Check out All That Comes With It for more of Dan's unfinished opinions on parenting and life in general.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Bee Charmer

How do you cure a kid of a mild fear of bees?

Give him a camera, and tell him to go take pictures of them in the backyard.

My son took this with a point-and-shoot camera:

Yes, he had to get really close.

No, he's not afraid of bees anymore.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The Perfect Little Family

A relative who reads my blog once told me, "You have the perfect little family."

He was right. My family is perfect.

Here on this blog, that is.

Because I decided a long time ago not to write about all of the frustrations and disappointments that go along with parenting.

Oh, I do let a few get into print. But for the most part, I like to "accentuate the positive" and keep my blog upbeat and hopeful.

So, you probably won't see long posts about my son's lazy attitude about chores, or my daughter's bad manners at the dinner table.

And I'm not going to vent about the piles of toys I find on the stairs, or the fights we have over bedtime, or the stubborn inability of either kid to sleep past 7am on the weekends.

When I look at the Big Picture, I see the good things outnumbering the bad by 100 to 1. So why focus on the negatives when they mean so little in our daily lives?

I used to read several mom and dad blogs that were just non-stop whining and moaning, as if the job of being a parent was nothing but a hassle.

Even on my worst day, when I'm tired and the kids are talking back and the cats are barfing on the rug, I still like to end my night with positive thoughts.

So, do I have the perfect little family? Of course not. But in my memory, and here on this blog, they come pretty close.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


There's Room For Everybody

Today's guest post is from Carla, at Blah Blah Blog-o-Licious. She's a blogger from Western Washington who writes about a wide variety of topics, ranging from Seattle rain to kitchen remodels to her Sweet Husband. I have no idea how I stumbled upon her blog, but I've long enjoyed her quirky view of everyday life. It's a nice break from the 137 dad blogs in my reader.

There's Room For Everybody, Including The Cats
by Carla, Blah Blah Blog-o-Licious

When I first met my step-daughter, she was 10 years old. A few short weeks ago she turned 18 and WOW, those eight years sure went fast. I met her when dad was still cool and I thought I was. What I didn’t know was how uncool I really was. Nothing like a 10-year-old to put you in your place.

But I was acceptable because I had two cats and she had none. I could have easily been snatchin' the pootie, but my situation was legit. I didn't have to "get in good" with the dad or the kid, I had it made. It was the child’s acceptance that I was worried about.

Now keep in mind that while my Sweet Husband was off being married the first time around and having a family, I was content with living in the work a day world and not being married.

I had lived in my home for about ten years and was pretty settled in. I knew where all the cobwebs were and which door needed WD40. When they came to live with me the hardest adjustment was my step daughter's sleeping habits. She had always had separation anxiety at night and a new house and a new person didn’t help the matter much.

But the saving grace was the cats. She had never had cats before and she loved them. I had always been rather fond of the little beasties myself because they always seemed genuinely glad when I came home. You may interpret that as, "the feeder’s home, the feeder’s home," but I choose to think they like me in spite of my innate ability to open cans and doors.

So it was a bonus that she liked them and they liked her. I should point out that "they" are two aged cats. In fact our eldest cat is the same age as our daughter - 18 years old (they could share a room at college). The other cat is 15 or so, she’s a bratty younger sister. I lose count when it comes to their birthdays, but the cats don’t seem to mind. As long as I remember the daughter’s birthday, things are all good.

You would think that me living by myself for several years and having not only a man invade my space, but a part time child as well, would have turned my world upside down. But not so. It was so easy. I equate them moving in to my house with scooching over on the couch to make room for someone. The move is graceful and effortless. There’s room for everybody, including the cats.

One of the first nights we had dinner together we had just sat down to the table when Sweet Daughter announced there was a cat hair on her plate. Being the fast thinker that I am, I told her that finding a cat hair on your dinner plate was good luck. And that it was important to take it off the plate as quickly as you found it and make a wish.

Yeah, uh huh.

Hello kid, and new man in my life, yes I actually do clean my house occasionally. I was so embarrassed and it was even before I knew that my Sweet Husband had a thing about cat hair or any hair for that matter. As I recall he did turn an odd color and didn’t eat much dinner that night.

It was a year or so ago that Sweet Daughter brought up the good luck cat hair, asking about its origin. I think I mumbled something like, "Embarrassment. Embarrassment is the origin."

Check out more from Carla at Blah Blah Blog-o-Licious.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Foggy Monday

My daughter roams the Pacific Coast beaches of Washington on a misty morning.

My Monday morning feels like this, foggy with a chance of forgetfulness.

All of my ideas and inspirations from the weekend seem to be fading away like a dream upon waking.

My focus returns to school and teaching young minds to be thoughtful of the world around them.

You cannot homeschool in a mental fog.

I wish I drank coffee.

Friday, September 05, 2008


Walking On Sunshine

Another spectacular sunset on Kalaloch Beach, Washington. I don't know the couple walking on the sand, but I appreciate them being in the right place at the right time!

After four good days of school this week, the kids are settling back into a routine.

My daughter's getting the hang of it, only she's decided that she doesn't want to do anything easy. Math review is out of the question. "Too easy!" she declares. Straight on to the big numbers we go.

She listens in on some of her brother's 5th grade lessons and thinks that's where she should be. Maybe she should... She frequently helps him out when he's stumped for an answer.

"What do you call the indigenous peoples of the Arctic Circle?" I ask him.

He strains his brain for a moment.

His sister looks up from her work, frowning. "Don't you know?" she asks, then gives him the answer, "Inuit. Sheesh!" and goes back to her papers.

I'm pushing my son to write, write, and write. He's at that age where he needs to build that skill, so most of his lessons involve writing in a journal of some sort. History, literature, language, science. He has separate journals for all of them.

Both kids are learning Spanish, and riding their bikes before lunch, and playing badminton in the backyard. They don't just sit at a desk with their nose in a book.

We're gearing up for bowling, museum trips, fall hiking, and soccer season (I'm coaching my son's 5th grade soccer team).

It's a busy busy time, but that's good. It makes us happy.

And it makes me appreciate the weekends so much more.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Back To School Giveaway!

Just in time for the new school year, it's another huge book giveaway from the good folks at Hachette Book Group USA.

This time, they're offering an amazing selection of ten new non-fiction titles:

1. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, by Vicky Myron
2. The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning, by Peter Trachtenberg
3. Say You're One of Them, by Uwem Akpan
4. Bo's Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership, by Bo Schembechler
5. Knowing Right from Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience, by Fr. Thomas D. Williams
6. Titanic's Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, by Brad Matsen
7. A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative, by Roger von Oech
8. Ethics 101: What Every Leader Needs To Know, by John Maxwell
9. The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance, by Polly Young-Eisendrath
10. Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey, by William Least Heat-Moon

Now THAT is a variety pack!

Five of my readers will win this book package, and all you have to do to be eligible is leave a comment on this post telling me something new you just learned.

Oh, and you have to live in the USA or Canada (sorry, Dan).

I'll pick the five winners next week.

Monday, September 01, 2008


Give Them What They Want

Today's guest post is from Dr. Rajiv Vaidyanathan, Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and Executive Director of the Association For Consumer Research. His biggest claim to fame, however, is being a groomsman at my wedding. I'm not sure why he's remained friends with me over the past 21 years. Maybe it's the fact that his children owe their very existence to my wife and me (we introduced Rajiv to his wife). I would point you to his blog, but he is currently without one, so today he's taking over mine...

Give Them What They Want
by Dr. Rajiv Vaidyanathan

I was in class teaching my consumer behavior students about reactance theory. I was explaining how people generally have an innate negative reaction to any attempt to restrict their freedoms. That is why censorship invariably does not work.

When you tell someone they cannot have something or cannot see something, they instinctively want it more. The implications for marketing are clear – sellers will often try and imply that a product is scarce or running out of stock fast in order to get people to "pull the trigger."

As I was explaining this, I realized there are significant implications of reactance theory for parenting too. We know from psychology that people react against any attempt to limit their freedom. Countless times I have seen parents get into arguments with their kids when they tell them they CANNOT have something (or alternatively MUST do something). Suddenly, the item the child cannot have is infinitely more desirable than any other option and it ends up leading to a loud argument or out-of-control tantrum.

Although my kids are young and I should never say never, I am quite proud of the fact that I rarely, if ever, get into arguments with the kids. Even when I want them to do something, I almost always frame it as a choice THEY have to make.

For example, it is accepted practice in our house that if the kid does not want to eat what is served for dinner, they can just go straight to bed. However, I think it is effective in our case because of the way it is framed to them. I have NEVER framed the "going to bed" as a punishment. There is never an argument why they should or should not eat something that is served to them.

Here's a typical interaction with my 9-year-old daughter:

Her: "I hate pesto pasta."
Me (in a perfectly sweet and reasonable voice): "You don’t have to eat it, honey. But you know the rule, you can always go straight to bed. Actually, it is getting a little late, so maybe you want to go to bed a little early. I'll tell you what – you can even read a little longer."
Her (eyes filling with tears): "But I don't want to go to bed. Can I make myself a PBJ sandwich for dinner?"
Me: "Honey, you know that mom has made the pesto pasta for dinner. But you decide – you really don’t have to eat it if you don't like it. I know there are some things I don’t like too much. I'll tell you what – if you decide to skip dinner and go to bed right now, you can even read a little longer. What's the book you're reading now?"
Her (picking at the food with a little sulk): "But I don't like this stuff."
Me (in a continuing "I’m willing to accommodate anything you want" voice): "Okay, I'll tell you what. You really don't have to eat it. BUT, why don't you just try a little bit and see if you can at least get through some of it. Then, if it really is terrible, you still have the choice of just leaving it and going to bed. So, best of both the worlds – you can try it and see if it is edible and if not, I won't be upset if you just leave the rest on your plate and go to bed. Fair enough?"

Invariably, the child will eat a reasonable amount of dinner. If she eats most of the dinner, but not all, she will try and negotiate with me and say something like, "If I eat everything except this one bit can I stay up until regular bed time?" If she eats very little and decides she hates it, there is still no argument and I just say, "That’s fine honey. Don't worry about it. You don't have to eat something you don't want to – just make sure you brush your teeth before getting into bed, okay?"

This technique works in a variety of situations. Generally, giving a child the choice of two undesirable options is far better than arguing with them about what you want them to do. To me, this is almost instinctive now. Any time one of the kids tells me that he or she does not want to do something, I immediately agree that they don't have to do it, but then they need to do something else.

Here's an interaction with my 14-year-old son:

Me: "Have you done your book report for school yet?"
Him: "No, I'll do it later. I just need to read the book a little more. I'm almost done reading the book, so I'll probably do it tomorrow."
Me (in a completely neutral "oh yes, I understand" voice): "Okay, fine. By the way, I need you to spend some time with the SAT practice software I bought last week. Can you just spend a couple of hours doing that? How about we play some Rock Band when you're done?"
Him (making an exasperated face): "Daaaaddd..."
Me (looking genuinely surprised at his exasperation): "What? I thought you'd be happy. If you don't feel like doing the SAT stuff now, you can work on the book report. All I'm saying is that you can do whichever you prefer – either finish up the book report or spend some time with the software. I know what sounds good depends on your mood. So, I'm trying to be accommodating here. Just do whichever you feel like, okay?"
Him (looking none too happy): "Fine. How much of the book report do you want me to finish today?"
Me: "Let’s see how far you get. Basically, I need to see something in written form. So, as long as you get a rough draft done, that should be fine for now. Does that sound reasonable?"
Him (still sounding a little unhappy): "Fine."

Never in these interactions is there a "You will do it because I say so!" argument. I cannot recall when I have EVER used those words with the kids. Reactance theory suggests that those words may actually be less effective than having the child feel he or she has chosen what to do.

So, give them what they want and get exactly what you want.