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Friday, October 31, 2008


This Is Halloween

Halloween snuck up on us this year.

Our plans for a zombie graveyard have been reduced to one sad little ghoul propped up against a rock.

We have ghosts hanging from the eaves, spiders crawling up a web, and rats gnawing on pumpkins, but it all looks a little underwhelming to me, like it's some Halloween display at Walmart.

The kids are happy with it, though. They think it's scary enough to make the neighborhood toddlers wet their pull-ups.

If the trick-or-treaters don't like our decorations, at least they'll love our candy. I passed right by the big bags of poisoned Chinese candy and bought the good stuff: Reese's Cups, Hershey's bars, M&Ms, Whoppers, and KitKat bars.

I did buy one small bag of cheap lollipops for the slouching teenagers with the hoodies pulled over their head who didn't get the memo that 16 is too old to be begging for candy.

I hope you all have a Happy Halloween with your kids.

Just remember the real reason for the season:

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Blue Sky Farming

A farmer tills his field underneath the most beautiful blue sky last weekend, just north of Moscow, Idaho. He was turning the wheat stubble back into the ground to help with water retention and soil health.

I like showing my kids that their food doesn't just magically appear on the grocery store shelves.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Easy Reader

The best thing you can do to start your children off on a lifelong love for learning is to teach them to read.

The younger, the better.

Surround them with books that they can look at, chew on, and play with. Eventually, they'll be curious about the funny squiggles inside the books.

You'll also want to read to your kids every day.

TV shows like Sesame Street and Between The Lions provide more positive reading reinforcement.

And now, there's another tool available to parents to help their kids learn to read. It's a new DVD from The Readeez Company, called Readeez, Volume One, that encourages kids to "giggle and grin while the knowledge sneaks in."

Readeez are short cartoons and live-action videos that combine the written word with the spoken word. Not subtitles, or sing-along lyrics, but words placed front and center, alongside funny characters telling stories and riddles, and singing songs.

Michael Rachap founded the company as a reaction against the loud, fast-moving cartoons and ads that so many young children are exposed to before they even have a chance to learn how to read. He figured that if kids could both see and hear words in the same instant, their brains would form new connections between hearing and writing, and saying and seeing.

Toddlers and preschoolers will love Readeez for its friendly characters, catchy songs, and fun format. And parents will love having one more resource for growing eager young readers.

Visit the Readeez website to learn more and to buy the DVD.

I just happen to have a Readeez DVD to give away! If you'd like to have it for your child, leave a comment and I'll pick a winner this weekend.


Foks Nooz Is Grate!

It's not the misspelling that bugs me so much as the fact that this graphic was up on the Fox News main page for the better part of a day, apparently unnoticed by Fox employees who should have a higher standard for their product.

I understand that quick-typing graphic artists make mistakes, although this story certainly wasn't some bit of breaking news that had to be rushed to the web site. The employee really should've checked his work twice before hitting that publish button.

No, it's the institutional indifference that gets me. If they don't care about spelling, then they probably don't care about the accuracy of the information they report.

Which is why Fox News is the very last news source I rely upon.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Math Class Is Tough

Back in the early 90's, Mattel released a new Barbie doll that said, "Math class is tough!" Controversy ensued, of course, and the company quickly pulled those dolls off the market.

I'm wondering if maybe one of them found its way into my daughter's collection.

For the past few weeks she's been telling me that math is too hard for her. Second grade math. Addition and subtraction. Especially subtraction.

She was having trouble with the simplest problems. Like, "You have 15 pennies. I take away 7 of them. How many are left?" She'll think about it and then answer something completely wrong, like, "Three."

This went on day after day, and then I started to suspect something.

She's putting on an act.

I think she's afraid of challenging herself, because she's seen what her 5th grade brother is working on in math, and I'll bet it's incredibly intimidating to her. As if we're asking her to make the leap from simple subtraction all the way to dividing fractions.

My daughter is bright and intelligent. I know she can learn these things. What we have to do is show her that math is not an insurmountable series of obstacles, but rather a gradual river of knowledge with each lesson flowing toward the next.

I don't want her to think that "Math class is tough!"

I want her to say to herself, "I can do anything by starting at the beginning."

It's funny that she would put on this dumb blonde act when we've always told her that she's anything but that. I can only guess that she picked up the idea last year in public school, where there are too many young girls already starting to believe that fashion and make-up are more important than learning.

We'll cure her of this. Even if we have to dye her hair brunette.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Harvest Festival

Our garden didn't provide much bounty this year, but it did manage to give us a few handfuls of green beans, a dozen onions, and one lopsided 50-pound pumpkin, which will be carved up for Halloween next week. And hopefully we can get a pumpkin pie or two out of it.

Next year, we plant things that give a little more bang for the buck.

What have you had good luck with in your garden?

Friday, October 17, 2008


Weekend Whatnot

My response to the dire economic times is not only to cut back on spending, but to pay cash for what we need to buy. To help my resolve, I've eliminated temptation by cutting up our last credit card. Sorry, economy, but we're taking a long vacation from the consumer culture.

My soccer team had a perfect season. We lost last night's match 3-1 to go winless in all six games. Despite the loss, the kids had a great time. In that last game, I saw them play their hearts out. They kept to their positions, made unselfish passes, and ran faster than ever. Unfortunately, the goal kicks just didn't go their way. I must say, though, that the pizza party was a huge success. Coach knows his pizza parlors.

After coaching a bunch of 5th grade boys, I don't ever want to hear about how the kids of today are slackers or punks. The kids on my team were smart, hard working, and polite. It sounds like a cliche, but I saw the future in them. I think the future's going to be in good hands.

Young readers and their parents have a new web resource to explore. PBS has just launched a site called PBS Kids Island, which offers reading games and activities for children ages 2 to 5. It's a fun way to help kids develop the basic skills they need to read.

Don't know much about geography? I think I've mentioned this site before, but it's worth repeating. One of the best geography games on the web is Travelpod's Traveler IQ Challenge. My son's been playing it a lot lately as he prepares for another geography bee.

It's that time of the year, when we litter our front yard with severed limbs, skeleton bones, grave stones, giant rats, and screaming ghosts. It really is kind of gross, but the kids take such delight in it. My son would decorate the house with skulls year-round if he could. This year he wants to have some sort of zombie jamboree on the porch, which means I need to find more PVC pipe and old clothes. Go here to find all sorts of good ideas for creating the spookiest house on the block.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


And The Team Played On

I wasn't eager to coach a soccer team of boisterous 4th and 5th grade boys, but no other parent stepped up, so I volunteered.

Surprisingly, it turned out to be kind of fun. I especially liked seeing the goofy smile on my son's face when he kept calling me "Coach."

The boys were blissfully unaware of my almost complete lack of knowledge of the game of soccer (or football for the rest of the world). Ummm, yeah, you kick the ball in the goal. What else is there to know?

We ran passing and kicking drills in practice. The kids worked well together, and I had them under control most of the time. They were coming together as a team, getting some exercise and, most importantly, having a lot of fun.

Then they started playing league games. Five so far. They've lost every single one.

Not by much. The games have all been competitive, except for that one team with the kid who scored seven straight goals (their coach would yell, "Just get the ball to James and let him take it.")

But still, losing isn't much fun. Only, the kids don't seem to think it's that big of a deal. They're happy just to run all over the grass field kicking a ball around with their buddies.

No, the losing part isn't much fun for me. Makes me feel like I didn't "coach" them enough, even though that's not really the point of Parks & Rec soccer.

But there's still hope. We have one more game, and it's tonight! If you've a mind to, say a little prayer for my boys to run faster and kick straighter, and hopefully we can pull out a victory in my farewell performance as a soccer coach.

After tonight, I'm hanging up the old clipboard and letting one of the other parents step up.

I'll still let my son call me "Coach" though.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Here Comes The Sun

This is from last August when we vacationed at Kalaloch Beach, in Washington's Olympic National Park. Our first afternoon there, in a scene reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the sun broke through the clouds in spectacular fashion.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


The Emperor's New Clothes

It's like the worst kind of torture you can imagine.

Waterboarding's got nothing on what I put my son through yesterday.

I took him shopping for new clothes.

To hear him tell it, I'm the worst dad ever simply because I made him try on eighteen pairs of pants.

It's not my fault, though. My son's a strangely shaped boy, and it takes a lot of guessing and testing before we figure out the right size.

Just trying to buy a new pair of jeans requires numerous variables.

Depending on the manufacturer, he can fit into a 10 or 12. In one case even a 14!

Then there's Slim, Regular, Loose, Relaxed, and Husky.

Not to mention Cargo, Carpenter, Baggy, Wide Leg, Whiskered, and Boot Cut.

And each brand is different. A 10 Relaxed in Levi's doesn't fit the same as a 10 Relaxed in Wrangler.

So, my son tried on a lot of pants yesterday.

He was none too happy about it. Each new pair of pants that I passed over the fitting room door elicited hissing and groans.

I told him, "You have to keep trying them on until we figure out what fits the best."

But he couldn't see the logic. I think he would've just preferred wearing his Nike soccer shorts all winter than to have to go through the awful torture of taking pants on and off in a department store.

Anyway, after about four hours and three stores, he's now the proud owner of several new pairs of pants, including one Levi's 520 jeans, two Union Bay cargos, and comfy Reebok sweats that he'll probably wear every single day if we let him.

Hopefully these new clothes last longer than the psychological scars.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Don't Box Me In

My daughter has invented "a classroom within a classroom" for all her homeschool needs.

Only $19.95! Get 'em while they last.

Shipping is extra.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


The Pulaski Trail

Placer Creek waterfall, along the Pulaski Trail

If you ever find yourself in Wallace, Idaho, make sure you take some time to walk the Pulaski Trail.

The trail is named after Ed Pulaski, a forest service ranger who saved most of his 45-man crew during the Great Fire of 1910 by leading them through the woods to the safety of an abandoned mine.

The new trailhead follows Placer Creek to that very mine, now called the Pulaski Tunnel, and includes interpretive markers about Pulaski, the 1910 fires, and wildfire management.

We walked the trail last week. Or should I say, we walked most of it.

Unfortunately, we only had 90 minutes to get to the mine and back. I estimate we hiked about 1.8 miles before reluctantly turning back without actually seeing the tunnel where Pulaski and his men survived a long night of smoke and heat.

The kids were disappointed not to reach their goal, but we had to get back home for a soccer game. It was a good thing we turned around when we did, as we arrived at the soccer field with just minutes to spare.

Next year we'll hike the Pulaski Trail again, when we can devote half a day to it.

If you go, ask for directions in town. Bring a good pair of shoes and plenty of water. Much of the wooded trail is moderate to strenuous, with steep sections that will get your heart pumping.

North Idaho is filled with fun hiking trails. The Pulaski Trail adds yet another unique gem to the list.

Monday, October 06, 2008



I have very high standards for my kids.

I expect them to be clean, polite, well-fed, friendly, and respectful, among other things.

But nowhere do my standards rise to such lofty heights as they do with the education of my children.

Because we school at home, I have the luxury of expecting so much more from my son and daughter than I would if they were still working under the low bar set by the public school system.

Sometimes my kids get a little frustrated that I make them do assignments two or three times.

Like I said, my standards are high. But are they too high?

I make them write neatly. I demand that their sentences be complete. I ask them to stay within the margins of their paper. I require that their thoughts be coherent.

Best of all, I actually expect them to have correct spelling and grammar!

High standards don't have to be impossible standards.

I also expect my kids to read at or above grade level, to memorize the times table, to know how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, to be aware of the geography of our planet, and to have a general understanding of the foundations of Western Civilization.

I tell them to learn something new each and every day.

Is that so much to ask?

Kids today lack the basics for one simple reason. Nobody is setting high standards for them. Not the schools, not their parents, not society. In fact, it seems to be just the opposite as children all too frequently hear, "You don't need to know that for the test."

While everyone else is dumbing things down, I'm trying to smarten things up.

My kids know they're expected to do their best, on every lesson and assignment. If they don't, they do it over. And they keep working on it until they get it right.

If they do these things, I believe they'll find success in life, in whatever form they choose.

Those are my standards, and I'm sticking to them.

What are yours?

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Final Log

Just to assure the couple of nervous readers who emailed me with worries that my son suffocated under that 300-pound driftwood log...

He was fine.

Sandy, but fine.

By the way, the winner of the Iron Man DVD is KC. Congrats, and thanks to everyone for entering the contest.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


Coke Porn

A friend who works for the Coca-Cola Company sent me a screen-shot of what she saw when trying to access my blog at work.

Ah, Coke, I'm disappointed in you. It's almost enough to make me switch my refreshing beverage of choice to Pepsi.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Wordless Wednesday

Stuck between a log and a sandy place, my son makes a first attempt at digging an escape tunnel. Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington.