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Friday, July 31, 2009

 

Ants In Our Pants!

The winner of the new Eric Herman CD is Brighid. Congrats!

Oh, and that video contest Eric is having on YouTube? We made a little entry.

What do you think? Can we dance like we've got ants in our pants, or what?



Thursday, July 30, 2009

 

A Recovering Pack Rat

One more article I wrote for the San Diego Reader in 2005...


I'm A Recovering Pack Rat

Last night it took me just over two hours to pick up and put away every toy, game, puzzle, doll, crayon, pillow, blanket, cup, rock, and book strewn about on every floor in every room of the house. This morning it took the kids about 15 minutes to make it look like I hadn't done a thing.

We are suffering from that popular American malady known as Too Much Stuff, and it's really starting to bug me. There's a line from a Crowded House song that goes, "My possessions are causing me suspicion." I keep hearing that in my head as I look around at the piles of toys, books, knickknacks, and things that defy categorization.

The clutter gets in the way of my desire for a simpler life.

I'm a recovering pack rat, and it looks as though my kids have inherited that particular gene from me. My son saves every rock he picks up from our travels. Each stone and pebble represents a happy memory of a day at the lake or a trek up a mountain trail. Trouble is, he has no idea which rock is which, so they're all just one big jumble of quartz and granite all over his room.

Many years ago at the University of Idaho, where I was a student, it was discovered that an old building on campus was in danger of collapse from the sheer weight of the geology department's rock collection. I'm afraid my son is on his way to that.

My son also loves Star Wars toys. Way back in 1977 I never could've imagined that my future child would love the film more than I did. He wakes up each morning and plays with his Star Wars action figures before breakfast, then eats Star Wars cereal out of a Star Wars bowl with a Star Wars lightsaber spoon!

Every time we're near a toy store, my son pleads to go look at the Star Wars figures. "Maybe they have some new ones!" he says. "No," I reply, "you have them all."

But still we look, because it's fun and because I secretly want to look too. Me and the other dads, pretending we're only there for our kids but really just wishing we could buy them all for ourselves and re-live our childhood battling Tusken Raiders on Tatooine. Now I read that George Lucas is creating two different Star Wars TV series in the next few years. That will make my son happy, and I can continue standing in store aisles feeling like a kid again.

My daughter doesn't actively collect anything yet, although she does love her Princess gear. The biggest box of toys in her room contains kitchen play items. She has more pots, pans, utensils, and dishes than we have in our real kitchen. And her stuff is nicer too. She's also still at that age where a cardboard tube turns into a trumpet or a telescope, and a blanket draped over a chair becomes an enchanted castle.

I've asked both kids if they want to weed through their toys and give away the ones they don't play with anymore. That didn't go well. So we wait until they're asleep to sneak the old baby toys into a box bound for Goodwill.

But I have a hard time parting with some of their things, especially those items that the kids played with a lot -- like the little wooden Thomas the Train engines and tracks. Those toys hold special memories for me, as I spent many hours helping my son build train tracks all over the living room floor and into the kitchen and down the hall.

Beyond the toys, I've begun to notice another growing problem. During my son's kindergarten year, we saved just about every piece of paper he brought home... The first squiggly attempts at writing and math, the art projects dripping with too much glue, even the handouts and calendars the teacher would send home.

Now, in first grade, the amount of paper that he brings into the house is starting to overwhelm us. I have to be much more selective about what we save and what we toss or by fifth grade our home will be a fire hazard.

It's like that Stephen Wright joke: "You can't have everything; where would you put it?" My son laughs and laughs at that line, even though he doesn't quite grasp the wisdom of it. So we fight the war against clutter on a daily basis.

At the same time, I teach my kids not to place too much value on things and to be happy with what they have. Unfortunately, I have to battle against the forces of a consumer society that tells us contentment can be found at the shopping mall.

Real happiness is not found there, it's found in the memory of dancing to Wiggles music with my daughter, kicking a soccer ball with my son, hiking Tubbs Hill with my family, or splashing with my kids in the cool waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene. These are simple things that don't require a cluttered and complicated life to experience them.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

 

Lightning Strikes Twice



A huge lightning storm woke me up from a rare early bedtime last night. I took this shot out our back window. The storm lasted for hours and shook the house like nothing we've experienced before.

Apparently that storm was just a warm-up for what's heading our way right now. A tornado!

Yes, a tornado in North Idaho.

This might be my last blog post... We're heading to the basement.


 

Hey, Daddy, I’m a Candyvore!

Another article I wrote for the San Diego Reader in 2005.


Hey, Daddy, I’m a Candyvore!

Hi, I'm a stay-at-home dad.

Now, before your eyes glaze over and you slowly back away, let me just tell you why I am one. Most boys don't spend their childhood dreaming of one day changing diapers, emptying dishwashers, washing pee-soaked bed sheets, kissing boo-boos, and learning to make chicken broccoli casserole. They want to be firemen, baseball stars, soldiers.

As they get older, most men strive for career, status, and a lower golf handicap. Me, I had early dreams of a Hollywood career, collaborating with the likes of Spielberg, Lucas, and Coppola. Later, after grad school, there were visions of corporate ladders and hostile takeovers.

But once my first child was born, everything changed, and my focus was placed squarely on the infant in my arms. Soon, my wife and I realized that one of us had to be home with him permanently. By financial default (my wife made more money than me), I was the lucky winner.

At first I had no idea how to be a father. Not having one around as a kid, I had no male role models to look to other than the ones I'd seen on TV. So I thought, "What would Charles Ingalls do? Or John Walton? Mike Brady? How about Darren Stevens?!"

Actually, I discovered a really good role model on TV in Fred Rogers. I listen to him most carefully still. He's not just talking to pre-schoolers when he smiles into the camera and doles out sage advice... He's talking to us grown-ups too when he says things like "You don't have to look like everybody else to be acceptable and to feel acceptable."

I learn a little wisdom from The Neighborhood most every single day. Plus, it's fun to see how graham crackers and crayons are made.

So I found myself in this new role, and it didn't take long to discover that it's one of the most difficult, exhausting, emotionally-draining jobs in the world. It's also the most rewarding. I get paid with hugs, smiles, and the occasional funny quote from my kids, like when my son learned that some animals are herbivores and some are carnivores, so he figured, "Hey, Daddy, I'm a Candyvore!"

I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing than to be my kids' dad. It's how I introduce myself to people when they ask what I do for a living. And it sure feels good to say that. I must be pretty good at my job, since just the other day my son said "When I grow up I want to be a daddy too!"

Taking on the role of Daddy meant giving up a few other things that once defined me, including a few friends who didn't understand why I was no longer sitting at a desk and earning an income.

But I don't really miss the old life. This new one brings new adventures and challenges every single day. And I go out and solve the problems and figure out the challenges, every now and then seeking advice from the memory of some old TV show, like Little House on the Prairie when my daughter tells a fib, or The Brady Bunch when my son teases his sister.

I've long given up attempting to explain to people I meet what I do and why I do it. Most folks just don't understand. They're either confused, condescending, or highly critical. Surprisingly, stay-at-home moms are the worst, almost like I'm attempting to gain membership into their exclusive club. The moms don't accept me, the dads don't understand me.

Luckily I meet enough welcoming parents, including other stay-at-home dads, who also realize that having one parent at home with the kids is the best way to raise them. Daycares are fine for single moms and dads who have no other support, but when a child has two parents in their lives it should have at least one of them as the daily caregiver.

So, I'm a stay-at-home dad. You don't have to be afraid. You don't have to feel sorry. I love what I'm doing (except for folding laundry) and, more importantly, I love my kids. Doing right by them is just about the only thing that's really important to me. Why would I want to do anything else?


Sunday, July 26, 2009

 

They Are Always Watching Me

I was looking over some old blog posts and re-discovered several columns I wrote for the San Diego Reader magazine in 2005. I didn't have as many readers back then, so thought I'd republish a few of the articles as I spend this week celebrating my daughter's 8th birthday.


They Are Always Watching Me

I noticed my four-year-old with her thumb in her mouth. I said, "Aren't you a little old to be sucking your thumb?" She replied, "I not sucking my thumb. I cleaning my face like a cat." And then she proceeded to wipe spit all over her nose, cheeks, and forehead. Well, okay... Just as long as she doesn't start using the litterbox.

I write things like this down so that we can have a good laugh about it when she's grown up. Sharing good memories is one of my favorite pastimes. If only I had more people to do it with. Most of my friends and family profess to having Swiss-cheese memories, but I think that's just an excuse to avoid dredging up any bad times they may have had. In my life I've had pain, disappointment and plain bad luck, and I'm not afraid of letting those ghosts out for some fresh air. Remembering the past can sometimes be the best way of figuring out the future for myself and my family.

Satchel Paige said, "Don't look back, something might be gaining on you." Well, if something from my past is coming to get me, I'll just talk it to death. At seven years of age, my son is already an old hand at rolling his eyes and commenting, "Daddy's telling another one of his stories!"

Regardless, I think my kids enjoy hearing about my past. And hopefully they learn a little something about life and how to live it. I didn't get that from my own dad. He was, and still is, reluctant to talk about anything much past yesterday afternoon.

So I regale my kids with stories from my youth, with only slight embellishment for dramatic effect. I tell them about my brief reign as tetherball champion of the second grade, and about the time I got conked in the head by a painting during an earthquake. They also know that I was "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" as a kid and loved to build Lego mazes for my hamster. And that the very first song I ever remember hearing was "Hey Jude" and it's still my favorite song of all time.

They've also heard my sad memories, like when I saw my brother lying in his casket, I touched his hand and stared at his face hoping that it wasn't really him in there, and how my dad never comforted me during that time or ever spoke about it afterward. And how lemon cake still brings back uneasy memories of the reception after the funeral.

My kids are getting a clear and honest picture of who I was and who I am right now. They also understand the value of open lines of communication between family members. Hopefully they'll remember that when they become teenagers.

I had nobody telling me what to expect in life, which was a lot of fun during my own teen years. A friendly male voice of experience would've been most welcome during those times, but unfortunately I had no role models around. My dad left us, my brother died, there were no grandfathers, uncles or cousins nearby... No teacher took me under his wing, our pastor was a womanizer who eventually divorced and left the church... It goes on and on. The few men in my life were neutral influences at best.

Which is probably why I want to be such a strong presence in my kids' lives. They'll never have to wonder why there were no positive male influences around them. I know I won't be the only one, but I will be the best one. I want to be my kids' hero.

Nothing else matters... It's the foremost thought in my mind as I teach and guide my children through to adulthood. They are always watching me, learning from my actions, listening to my words. It's a monumental responsibility, one which some men shirk from too easily. But it's worth doing, and the payoff is immense.

Being a good dad is not complex. You just have to choose to wrap your mind around the idea that your family is more important than your career or your hobbies or your friends. There's nothing better you can do for you kids than to become their protector. There is no paycheck or promotion for doing this, and you will not receive accolades and awards from the community at large, but every now and then you might just get a little pat on the back when you least expect it.

I was at my son's school recently, checking in at the front desk, when a teacher's aide recognized me and yelled to everyone in the office, "That is a true dad!" My first reaction was to give her a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look because, quite frankly, I am not accustomed to positive comments about my situation as a stay-at-home dad. I must have looked thoroughly confused because she came over and said, "That was a compliment," to which I mumbled something like "I do what I can."

It wasn't until a few days later that I began to feel really good about it. Those two words keep popping up in my head: true dad...I like that label. It's so much more refreshing than some of the other things I've heard from friends and family over the past few years. In fact, I've rarely been complimented for my choice to be a stay-at-home dad. And by rarely, I mean not at all.

It only took one person to say two little words to put me on top of the world for a short time. If you have a chance to compliment a stay-at-home dad (or a stay-at-home mom), don't hesitate to do it. You'll give them a really good memory to share with their kids.


Friday, July 24, 2009

 

Purple Haze



It's that time of year again, when the Idaho mountainsides explode with the color purple.

Huckleberries are ripe, and we've been out picking a couple of times already.

The four berries pictured above now live in my freezer, awaiting their chance to be heated and served over ice cream. Or pancakes. Or whatever else I can think of. Because huckleberries make everything taste better.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

 

Ants In Your Pants Contest

Last week I reviewed What A Ride, the new children's music CD from Eric Herman. This week one of my readers has a chance to win that CD, courtesy of Eric himself. Just leave a comment here, telling me what new music you've been listening to lately. I'll pick a winner next week.

But that's not all you can win, because Eric is having a huge contest of his own.

The new video for his song "Ants In Your Pants #99" will debut on YouTube today, and Eric wants people to submit videos of themselves, or their kids, or their UPS guy, dancing along to the song.

To help you out, he's offering the track as a free MP3 download. All the details, and the download, are right here on his site.

He's giving away some great prizes, including $100 cash and full sets of his five CDs. So, get busy dancing!



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

 

The Road Less Traveled



Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
- Robert Frost

Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.
- Jerry Seinfeld


Monday, July 20, 2009

 

Foot In Mouth

One nice thing about blogging is that nobody can read your words until you've checked them over several times. I frequently have to edit myself, from simple changes like spelling and grammar errors to rearranging entire paragraphs so my thoughts make some kind of sense.

There's really no reason to experience foot in mouth disease on your blog.

I wish that was true in real life.

The other day I was up on the roof, knocking off an empty wasp's nest, when I saw our neighbor pulling into her driveway. She's been pregnant for what seems like forever, so I was curious if the baby had arrived.

She stepped out of her car by herself, no baby. But I looked at her belly for confirmation. I mean, that's always a good way to tell where the baby might be, right?

Only, I was way up high on the roof. And not wearing my glasses.

She waved, and I asked, "Did you have the baby yet?"

And then I said it, but only because I was trying to explain myself, being way up high on the roof without my glasses, and not to mention that she was wearing a loose black windbreaker so how was I supposed to know?!

I said, "I can't tell."

I kind of knew when I said it, but have since been informed by my wife that you JUST DO NOT SAY THAT to a woman who has recently had a baby.

Because, yes, she had the baby. Two weeks before.

I didn't mean to say she was fat. I was just up on the roof, without my glasses, and she was covered by this billowy jacket, and I think I really meant to say, "I can't see anything and am pretty much blind!"

If it had been my blog, I would've read it a few times, hit the delete button, and just left it at, "How's the baby?"

By the way, this post was edited seven times, with two major deletions, one rewritten sentence, and four small grammar corrections.


Friday, July 17, 2009

 

Eric Herman's Cool Ride



After four successful CDs of children's songs, Eric Herman knows what his audience wants, and he's not about to change things now.

Otherwise he'd have a whole lot of disappointed kids out there.

Eric has consistently delivered pleasing pop melodies, funny and engaging lyrics, and a clean, crisp production that is easy on young ears.

His latest CD, What A Ride, continues that winning formula with 11 amazing new tracks.

Imaginative songs like "Time Machine," "Carseat Snack," and "How To Move A Monster," are the kind that kids just eat up. Even my increasingly jaded 11-year-old son, who has said he's moving on to more grown-up music, cracked more than a few smiles while listening to the new disc on a recent car trip.

That's what Eric Herman does best. He makes kids smile.

I've heard a lot of good children's music over the years, but I can't think of any other artist who has such instant appeal to the elementary school age crowd as Eric does.

His years of traveling the country and performing at schools, libraries, parks, and festivals has given him a keen insight into what young kids think is cool. You know, stuff like monsters, stink bugs, trampolines, and heartbeats.

What A Ride is a very cool ride, and it gets my family's highest recommendation.

The CD is available for purchase and download everywhere:
Eric's website
Amazon
CDBaby
Eric Herman and the Invisible Band - What a Ride!


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

 

Dirty Magazines

My house is filled with dirty magazines.

No, not those kinds.

I mean, Smithsonian, Time, National Geographic, Discovery For Kids, and Real Simple.

The kids grab hold of them as soon as they arrive in the mail, and the next thing I know there are dirty, ripped-up magazines on the floor, behind the couch, on the stairs.

And sometimes they actually read them.

One time I caught my son engrossed in a Time article about health-care reform. I asked him, "Do you understand what you're reading?" He answered, "Sort of."

I've long been disappointed by the magazines that are specifically geared toward kids. Highlights was good when they were younger, but for pre-teens Discovery For Kids seems to be the best of a very small bunch. I wanted some kind of printed media coming into the house, so we settled on those few that I listed above.

Years ago I gave up on newspapers. Printed on paper, anyway. I read three local papers on-line, as well as several nationals. When the news is urgent and important, I'd much rather rely upon the Internet for its delivery.

But magazines are different. The computer screen just doesn't cut it for leisurely reading articles about the ancient wonders of Alexandria or life in colonial Jamestown.

And I love how my kids soak up the words and pictures, even if some of it is a little over their heads. I don't mind at all if the magazines get a little dirty in the process.

Which magazines do you subscribe to?


Monday, July 13, 2009

 

On The Patio

Because some of you asked, here's a before and after of the concrete patio we had poured last month. It sure cleans up the yard, and gives us an incredible amount of leisure space outside our back door. Not to mention, my daughter now has a chalk-drawing surface beyond her imagination.



Next year, I'll build an overhang to cover the sliding door and large window on the right. We face west, and that afternoon summer sun bakes the back of the house.

I've always felt that a backyard should be a comfortable extension of the indoor part of one's home, a place where a family can hang out and relax during the temperate months. Our yard is just about there. Just a few small projects left, and then I can stop thinking about it.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

 

Summer Book Bag Winners



We spent part of Saturday at the Old Mission State Park in Cataldo, Idaho, where history re-enacters were displaying their pioneer skills for visitors. The kids' favorite was the booming cannon, courtesy of the Frontier Regular Army of the 1880s, which was shot off every hour.

Now on to the winners of the Summer Beach Bag Book Giveaway.

Wow, 57 entries! I think that's a new record for one of my non-iPod giveaways. Thanks to everyone who entered. Visiting my favorite random number generator on the Web, the lucky book readers are:

2 - Renee G.
5 - Erin
17 - Sammie
23 - Susan (susieqq13)
48 - Marie

Congratulations! This collection of ten books from the Hachette Book Group should keep you content through the rest of summer (only six weeks left, yikes!).


Friday, July 10, 2009

 

Happy Feet, RIP

My son experienced heartache for the first time yesterday.

The quail chick, which he had named Happy Feet because of the little bird's tendency to jump and dance, grew weak in the evening and stopped breathing.

After three weeks of turning the eggs and maintaining a consistent temperature in the small incubator, my son's efforts were rewarded earlier this week with a cute little fluffball that chirped happily whenever we came around.

He liked to be held, to sit in our hands and peck at seed mash, then nuzzle his beak against our fingers. The bird was doing what it was supposed to do. Drinking water, eating seed, pooping, sleeping, chirping.

My son was so proud of himself, and in just a few days had grown quite fond of Happy Feet. We talked about what the future would hold. Would we turn him loose in our backyard? Or build an enclosure? Or take him to grandma's farm where he might find other quail to be friends with?

But it was not to be. The little guy wasn't destined to be long in this world. Just five days old and he was gone.

I've never seen my son so sad. Like I said, he was quite proud of himself. And he had such hopes and plans for his new pet. We all forgot that these birds are fragile, and many of them do not survive into adulthood even in the wild with a mother quail looking after them.

We'll have a quiet ceremony this evening and bury Happy Feet in a place of remembrance in the backyard. My son picked a spot near the Japanese Maple that he planted last year.

RIP, Happy Feet. You gave us a little love, and taught a valuable life lesson too.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

 

The Return of the BBQ

Six years I've been waiting to replace the old BBQ we left behind at our previous house because there was no room in the moving van.

With the recent pouring of our patio, there was finally a place for a new grill. And for Father's Day, that's what I got.

Only, the one I wanted, a Weber Q 320 Gas Grill, wasn't available locally. So I ordered it from Amazon, where the 75 rave reviews convinced me that this was the BBQ for me.

It arrived yesterday, and I was excited to get it up and started for dinner, so I dragged the 70-pound box through the house, down the back stairs, and onto the new patio.

I opened it up and took everything out of the carefully packed box, spreading the bits and pieces all around me in preparation for assemblage.

Finally, after plastic bags were opened and ties were untwisted, I sat down with the instructions, ready to build, and then my daughter walked by and said, "Is this supposed to have a crack in it?"

The supposedly sturdy body, with glass-reinforced nylon frame, had a giant crack in it.

Have you ever tried to re-pack a gigantic box with several dozen odd-sized parts? It must've taken me an hour to puzzle it out and make them fit. What a waste of my time.

Amazon was great, as usual. UPS is on its way this morning for a pick-up, and my refund should be following.

As for the BBQ, I soured on the Q 320, so went down to Home Depot and bought a Weber Spirit E-210. Webers are famous for being well-built and efficient.

So, as soon as I get this one put together, we'll return to the joys of BBQing!

Any recipes, hints, secret sauces, let me know.


Monday, July 06, 2009

 

Hot Chick

This morning my son became a proud papa. And a mama too.

The tiny quail eggs he's been so carefully turning and maintaining the past three weeks have started hatching.

The first little chick pecked his way out of his egg earlier today and is now basking in the glow of an electric lightbulb.

The little guy is kind of cute. And very noisy.

Both newborn and new daddy are doing well.





Friday, July 03, 2009

 

Happy 4th & Summer Book Giveaway



July 4th is always a lot of fun at our house. As you can see, my wife is very patriotic and likes to dress up in her finest red, white, and blue while parading around the neighborhood waving sparklers and handing out laminated copies of the Declaration of Independence to all the boys and girls.

No, actually, this is a figure skater from one of the ice shows at Silverwood Theme Park just up the road. My wife only dresses like that for President's Day.

To celebrate the 4th of July holiday, I have another huge book giveaway, courtesy of the Hachette Book Group USA.

This time it's a "Summer Beach Bag" packed with ten new and best-selling titles, sure to keep you busy reading through the lazy days of summer:

1. The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith
2. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
3. Swimsuit by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
4. Obama's Blackberry by Kasper Hauser
5. A Summer Affair by Elin Hilderbrand
6. When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris
7. Any Minute by Joyce Meyer & Deborah Bedford
8. The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer
9. Kill For Me by Karen Rose
10. Miscarriage of Justice by Kip Gayden

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 how you're celebrating the 4th of July weekend.

Oh, and you have to live in the USA or Canada (once again I apologize to Dan, who feels left out of all these wonderful contests but is probably far too busy planning his next big walk to sit down and read a book).

I'll pick the five winners next week! Have a fun, but safe, holiday weekend.


This contest has ended. Thanks!


Thursday, July 02, 2009

 

Hiawatha 2009



We took another excursion on the Hiawatha Trail this week.

I think it's the ultimate family bike trip. 17 miles of incredible mountain scenery, through nine tunnels, and across seven high trestles.

And best of all, it's all downhill.

My kids normally tire out after two or three miles of bike riding, but the Hiawatha's gentle grade allows them to pedal without pushing too hard. Which is good for me, too.

We introduced some friends from Minnesota to the trail, and they loved it. Especially at the end when the shuttle bus was waiting to take us back to our car.

If you want to know more about the Hiawatha Trail, I wrote about it at the Uptake blog.

It's a refreshing ride through some of the best nature Idaho has to offer. I highly recommend adding it to your list of family outings.