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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

 

Hot Turkey



Somebody's ready for turkey!

This is my son, waiting to dig in to the Thanksgiving feast, back in 2005. The scene should be just about the same this year. Except he's bigger and taller and eats a lot more.

Happy Thanksgiving to all the moms and dads out there. I'm thankful that you're reading my blog.

I'm spending the next three days away from the computer, working on projects around the house and hanging out with the family.

By the way, book winners will be announced on Sunday.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

 

Wicked History



A decidedly happy benefit of being a part of the dad blogger universe is when some of them decide to send me things.

One such care package arrived a few months back from the north of England. Dan, proprietor of All That Comes With It, sent a few little anglocentric gifts for each member of the family. It was a fun box to open, and we really appreciate Dan's thoughtfulness.

Included for my son was an entertaining, but rather gruesome, book of history called The Wicked History of the World, by British authors Terry Deary and Martin Brown, and published by Scholastic. We've all been enjoying it, so I thought I'd write a mini-review.

And here it is.

Geared toward the ages of 9 to 12, this is not a book for sensitive young children. Although the illustrations are cartoony, the text is history in all its gory glory. Bloody battles, barbarians, human sacrifices, slavery. Not the best place to start your kids off learning about history.

The authors do not spare the details in showing that people could be cruel toward each other throughout the years. They shine a bright light on villains like Cortes, Robespierre, Tamerlane, and Hitler, and all their cruel misdeeds.

And why do they think it's important for kids to learn about this stuff? So that future generations continue to reject the horrible side of history until the day comes when this kind of behavior is no longer tolerated. A heady task, but we are getting there.

It's a fascinating book, filled with plenty of disgusting trivia for kids to recite during family dinners. Again, not for the squeamish, and not for a newcomer to the negative aspects of history. My son and I had already spoken at length about topics ranging from the Spanish Conquistadors to The Holocaust, so he was not disturbed in the least.

In fact, just as the authors had hoped, my son was newly outraged at man's inhumanity to man. There is definitely hope for the future!

Buy the book at Amazon.com


Saturday, November 22, 2008

 

Talking In Your Sleep

11 o'clock on a Saturday night. The house has finally quieted down after the movie and popcorn. I'm reasonably certain the kids are asleep.

As I tiptoe back down the hall to peek into each room, I hear a thump.

I find my son sitting up in bed with that faraway bleary-eyed look of someone who is half asleep. He looks at me, but not really seeing me, and I ask, "Are you okay?"

He looks off into the distance and says groggily, "The force of everyone..." then lays his head back down and goes to sleep.

I'll be scratching my head over this one for days.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

 

Stocking Stuffers

There's nothing more reliable as a Christmas gift than a good book, and here are a few that will appeal to parents everywhere.

First, something for the moms. Mama Rock's Rules, by Rose Rock, is subtitled "Ten lessons for raising a household of successful children." One of those children just happens to be comedian Chris Rock. His mother knows what she's talking about, having raised ten children of her own, plus 17 foster kids. In her book of parenting rules, she offers strategies for teaching kids how to be more self-reliant and illustrates them with stories from her own life and experience. It's funny, serious, and definitely unique.

Next up, something for the dads. Dads, Teach Your Child (Ages 2-6) About The Computer, from the Wonderdads group, is a teaching manual, offering four lessons and a variety of activities to help dads show their young kids how to properly, and safely, use a computer and the Internet. The lessons have a step-by-step format and even include lists of material to prepare beforehand. What a perfect way to spend quality time with your kids while, at the same time, introducing them to one of the most valuable educational tools they'll ever use.

Last, something for the expectant parents. A is for Atticus is another baby names book, but with a twist. This one offers up a fresh collection of meaningful names culled from great literary characters. Whether you're a fan of the classics or more modern works, you'll find plenty of options here, from Lucan (of King Arthur fame) to Orinthia (used in a George Bernard Shaw play) to Amory (F. Scott Fitzgerald). There are plenty of old standbys as well, like Daniel, Margaret, and Evan. All the names in this book come with in-depth entries explaining the literary source, meaning, and appeal of each choice. This is definitely one of the best baby names books I've seen. It's focused and fun to read.

Now here's the best part of my post. I have one copy of each book to give away! Simply leave a comment and tell me which book you'd like to have. You can only win one, so choose wisely. I'll pick a winner next week.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

 

The Written Word

Do your kids like to write?

Homeschooling my two kids, I've seen firsthand their frustration in trying to put thoughts to paper. So far, the tears have only come one time.

My 5th grade son is in his second year of writing narrative, persuasive, expository, and descriptive essays. I thought he'd be an old hand at it by now, but he has to be pushed and pulled through the process. Somewhere in the middle of writing a paper, he'll start to give up, claiming to be overwhelmed.

Inevitably, the one-week writing assigment will turn into a three-week ordeal.

Like I said, the tears only came one time. Last year, in the middle of his research report on The History of Magic. It was my mistake, not helping him to narrow down that monumentally huge topic. He got through it, and the paper turned out well.

That's just the thing. His writing is very good. His grammar and spelling are mostly top-notch, his vocabulary is quite vivid, and he knows how to structure his paragraphs. But it's the actual transfer of ideas from brain to paper that slows him down. Way way down. It's like his brain is full of molasses and his thoughts have to swim in slow motion, and he's not patient enough to wait for them to surface.

I think my son would be happy to not have any writing assignments at all, preferring to just take short answer and multiple choice tests in history and literature, the subjects in which I have him do the most writing.

But that would be a shame for two reasons. First, when he finally does get the words out, they're usually clever and original. When you're good at something, keep working at it. Second, written communication is a vital skill in this world. You have to be clear and concise or people won't listen to what you have to say.

I tell my kids these two things all the time. Learning to write properly is just as important as memorizing the times tables. And it should be an automatic thing in their minds, like answering "56" when someone asks for the product of 8 times 7.

How about you? Do your kids like to write?


Saturday, November 15, 2008

 

Weekend Whatnot



Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Teach your kids about the holiday at the outstanding Scholastic website, The First Thanksgiving. Loads of fun stuff over there, presented in a kid-friendly format. I learned a few things myself.

Perusing audiobooks at the local library, my son spotted a CD version of the Bible as read by James Earl Jones. He looked it over with a frown, then said, "I don't think I'd want to listen to Darth Vader reading the Bible. Sounds kinda creepy."

Spelling Bees are coming up after Christmas, and there's no better place to practice on-line than at BigIQBee.com, a free site that simulates the whole bee experience, including a stage and a big audience, to let kids practice their spelling.

My son just spent two weeks working on a research paper about bubblegum. It was supposed to take him one week. I had to really push him to finish. And by "push" I mean frequent stern glances in his direction to stop him from daydreaming. The look on my face over these many days did indeed inspire him... to come up with a new nickname for me: "Devil Daddy."

Don't overlook those goofy 70's adventure movies the next time you have a family movie night. We just finished watching The Land That Time Forgot, a 1975 epic starring Doug McClure and a whole bunch of pre-CGI dinosaurs. It gets a bit violent in places (guys get shot, speared, and eaten), so I don't recommend it for younger kids. But the 8 to 12 crowd will be on the edge of their seats.

Every winter, when cold weather hits, it takes me about a month to adjust to one change in particular - driving with my heavy coat on. My back and arms feel lumpy and sluggish behind the steering wheel. It's like swimming in mud. Meanwhile, it's 40 degrees outside and my daughter's scootering around in a summer dress. And my son thinks a t-shirt is "plenty warm."


Friday, November 14, 2008

 

What Happy Parents Do

When you're raising children, and especially when you're homeschooling them, it's all too easy for parents to lose their focus on themselves as a couple. It takes some extra effort to maintain a good relationship with your spouse when most of your daily activities revolve around the kids.

There's a fun new book that is here to help with the effort. It's called What Happy Parents Do, and it contains fifty hints, tips, and anecdotes about how to be a happy parenting couple, collected over the years by Carol J. Bruess and Anna D.H. Kudak, college professors specializing in interpersonal communication.

The book is set up in an easy-to-read format, with colorful graphics and creative fonts, designed to be picked up and randomly thumbed through when you need a little insight into just the right thing to do or say to spark your relationship.

The advice ranges from the serious to the silly, such as holding your own private dance party, making up secret nicknames for each other, or re-watching your wedding video. Whatever it takes to build and maintain a strong bond between a husband and wife that does not involve the children.

One of the most important things you can do for your kids is to model a happy marriage for them. What Happy Parents Do will definitely teach you ways to get beyond your hectic, child-centric day and back into being a loving, attentive couple.

Pick it up at your local bookstore, or find it at Amazon.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

 

Stuck in Boise, Idaho

I used to be stuck in Boise, Idaho. Thirteen long years there.

It wasn't the ideal place for us to live, but that's not to say it isn't a fun city to visit. In fact, Boise's a good place to take the family for a couple of days. Just in the downtown area alone, there's plenty to keep you and the kids busy.

I write about a few things to see and do in Boise over at the Uptake blog. Pay me a visit and find out what your family could do if you ever find yourself stuck in Boise, Idaho.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

 

Ready For Readeez?

Last week I wrote about this fantastic new DVD called Readeez, which uses music, cartoons, and on-screen lettering to give positive reading reinforcement to kids.

I had one to give away.

Well, now I have five to give away. The founder of the company wrote and graciously offered up four more DVDs for the moms and dads who read my blog!

So, Tamara, Orlund, Jen, Oda Daddy, and Piseco... Readeez will be on their way to you soon.

Here's another clip from the DVD:



Sunday, November 09, 2008

 

The Rake's Progress



How do you get a bunch of kids to rake leaves for senior citizens?

Well, you start off by telling them that it's a good deed to help someone who isn't physically able to clear the heavy, wet leaves from their lawn. Then, you explain the meaning of community to the kids, and how if we all work together then the world will be a much better place.

And last, you stuff them full of hot dogs, Rice Krispie treats, and hot cocoa, hand them rakes, and let them go crazy.

Over 100 Girl Scouts, along with their parents and siblings, spread out over my town today to rake leaves. It was a wonderful sight to see. My own son and daughter were working harder than I've ever seen them work before.

Now if I could just get them to pick up the clothes and toys scattered across the floor of their bedrooms.

Hmmm... What if I feed them hot dogs, Rice Krispie treats, and cocoa, hand them a rake, and send them up to their room? It might actually get clean!


Friday, November 07, 2008

 

Very Helpful Songs

Christmas is coming, and I'd like to plead the case for getting your young kids some new tunes as gifts and stocking stuffers.

Most parents I know don't give children's music much thought. They're missing out on introducing a whole world of rhythm, melody, and poetry to their kids.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Music is important in the development of creative minds.

Over the next month, I'm going to highlight some of our favorite CDs from the past year. Mostly children's music, but also some grown-up discs for the moms and dads to check out.

First up, David Tobocman's I Count To Ten and Other Very Helpful Songs, a heartfelt collection of smooth pop songs, with a Vince Guaraldi jazz piano sheen. Tobocman has one of those lovably plain voices, like a cross between James Taylor and Ralph's World, that sounds like a guy who really means what he's singing.

And what's he singing about? Stuff that kids as young as three will immediately nod their heads about, like getting ready for bed. Simple lyrics like, "Brush your teeth, you and me; Brush your teeth and go to sleep; Try your best to keep them clean," set to clever sound effects and a bopping tuba beat will become a new nighttime ritual song for you and your kids.

Every song is a gem, but there's one in particular that makes David Tobocman stand out from the crowded kids music field. "Home" is a perfect little ode to the place that gives us comfort and security. Accompanied by a lilting piano and a plaintiff clarinet, this is a timeless song that should catch the ears of Disney executives for their next big Pixar film (check out the video for "Home" below).

Tobocman says that he wrote the songs on this CD to teach his own children about the important things in life: washing your hands, admiring rainbows, making friends, and wearing comfy pajamas. He's done that and more with this memorable disc.

My family gives it our highest recommendation.

Visit his website for more information. The CD is available there, and for download through iTunes and Amazon.

Watch the video for "Home" by David Tobocman:



Thursday, November 06, 2008

 

Friendly Fire



I wouldn't say my kids are pyromaniacs, but they sure like to watch stuff burn.

At least, when it comes to Grandma's big bonfire each fall. It's second only to Christmas morning, watching this huge pile of farm refuse go up in flames.

We tried roasting marshmallows, but the heat was too extreme, even with the proverbial ten-foot pole.

After the flames had died down, I inched close enough to the red-hot embers to test the macro setting on my camera. In the process, I managed to actually melt part of my favorite fleece vest.

I'm lucky I didn't spontaneously combust.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

 

History Is Made



"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."
- President-Elect Barack Obama

I took my kids with me to the polling place so they could help me vote. They watched as I bubbled in each of my selections, and they were particularly excited when my pencil stopped at the name of Barack Obama.

My daughter said, "Yay, you voted for Obama!"

She couldn't tell you why she likes him so much. She just does.

We came home and turned on the network news to await the results. My kids sat still for six hours. Well, except for that one moment at 8pm when Charlie Gibson, of ABC News, called the election for Obama and my daughter started jumping up and down on the couch in joy.

That's the one time it'll be okay to jump on the couch. Because it was history, and I'm glad my kids had a chance to see it. I think they'll remember this night for the rest of their lives.

My son kind of stunned me with this thought: "Just think, Daddy, it was only 50 years ago that black people weren't even allowed to vote in some places."

Whatever you think of Barack Obama's politics, you can't deny that this was a good night for the soul of America.

And the future feels just a little brighter.


 

Traveling Man

Can I still call myself a stay-at-home dad if I have a paying job?

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know how much I like to take the family on road trips and excursions. Now I'll be sharing our adventures with a much bigger audience.

I'm proud to announce that I've been hired as a writer at the new travel website, Uptake. I'll be one of several bloggers writing about family vacations and activities on Uptake's Travel Stories blog.

Uptake is the ultimate search and discovery site for travelers trying to decide where to go, where to stay, or what to do. Uptake brings together more than a thousand sites, 400,000 hotels and attractions in the U.S. and 20 million opinions from all over the web so you can find what you need in one place.

Check out my very first post, and make sure you subscribe to the Uptake blog for more great ideas about family travel all throughout the U.S.


Monday, November 03, 2008

 

Silver Valley Girl

Today I give you a guest post from Silver Valley Girl, a North Idaho blogger from Kellogg, a picturesque mining town about 30 miles from where I live. She's a writer, singer, actor, educator, and mother of three. In other words, she's very busy. But she took the time to write a post to introduce herself, and her beloved hometown, to my readers.


Silver Bloggin'
by Silver Valley Girl

Blogging was an unknown phenomenon to me until my brother, Raymond Pert at Kellogg Bloggin', started writing daily almost two years ago. It was so interesting to learn about what he was thinking about, and how he viewed the world.

Early the following year, I decided to jump in and start my own blog, Silver Valley Stories. My motivation was to share stories from the daily goings on with my husband and three daughters, share stories about growing up here in North Idaho, and also share some history about the Silver Valley.

My sister Inland Empire Girl also started a blog around the same time at Gathering Around The Table.

With the three siblings now blogging, each week we rotate giving each other a sibling assignment. Sometimes it is recalling a memory or event from our past and telling our version of what happened. Sometimes we take pictures. The assignments are always very revealing.

I was born and raised in Kellogg, Idaho, part of what is known as the Silver Valley. This area was originally inhabited by the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe for years as their hunting and fishing grounds. Then Jesuit Priests came to the area and built a mission, called The Cataldo Mission, which was completed in the 1850’s. It is the oldest standing building in Idaho.

Soon after, in the 1860’s, the army commissioned Capt. John Mullan to build a military road from Walla Walla, Washington to Fort Benton, Montana. The road was constructed right by the Cataldo Mission, and is now most of what we know as Interstate 90.

In the early 1880’s gold was discovered in the Murray and Prichard areas of the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. Prospectors flocked to this area, creating mining boom towns. As the gold rush died down, an old prospector named Noah Kellogg explored the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, and, in 1885, discovered an outcropping of galena. This discovery led to the formation of the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mining Company.

Soon, other silver and lead mines were discovered along the south fork, and this area became one of the largest silver producing areas in the world.

This history didn’t interest me growing up. But after I had lived in Montana and southern Idaho for about 15 years, we returned home to Kellogg. I realized my dad, who was born in Kellogg in 1930, was born into a very "young" area. Noah had only discovered the Bunker Hill Mine 45 years before my dad was born. This information fascinated me. My family were pioneers in a new and growing mining area, one of the last frontiers discovered in this country.

I am currently writing a historical fiction novel on the Silver Valley, and enjoy reliving some of the past through the eyes of the characters in my book, as they observe the forming of the mining unions, labor and union unrest, and life in the early days of this mining region.

Not only am I interested in telling the history of the early Silver Valley, but also the history of my father’s family, and writing my own stories of history here in Kellogg. I also enjoy hearing from other people who live or have lived in the Silver Valley during their lifetime, and hearing their stories as well.

Drop by at Silver Valley Stories and look back on my archives to find out some stories about the Silver Valley.


Kellogg, Idaho, from atop Silver Mountain


Sunday, November 02, 2008

 

National Blog Posting Month

November sees the return of NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, during which bloggers are challenged to write a post a day.

I did it the past two years, but this time around I'm turning down the challenge.

Homeschooling two kids has me swamped for most of the day, and then playing catch up on chores, projects, and other obligations takes up the few hours I have at night.

However, I was thinking of some sort of compromise with NaBloPoMo, just to stay in the spirit of the event.

I might sit down one quiet weekend afternoon and write 30 posts in one day.

Does that count?

Good luck to everyone who is participating. I'll be reading.