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Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Wordless Wednesday

One of the joys of homeschooling.

Not for the cat, obviously.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The Watcher in the Woods

Strange experience at my son's soccer practice this evening.

Shortly after arriving, I took my place on a nearby grassy hill along with the other parents.

Along one side of the soccer field is a forested area. I soon noticed that there was a man in the woods, leaning against a tree, watching the field.

I didn't think much of it, as there were five or six practices going on all over the field, and parents are all around the perimeter watching their kids.

Sure enough, next time I glanced that way the man was gone.

That's when another parent noticed the man was now lying face-down on the grass, sniper-like, behind a low hill at the edge of the field, aiming a camera with telephoto lens at our kids.

Alarm bells went off in everyone's head, so one of the dads got up and walked over to find out what the man was doing.

The man showed the dad the pictures on his camera, then whipped out his wallet to show some ID.

Turns out the man works for the ATF and was investigating someone on the far side of the field, where a parks & rec football team was practicing.

He didn't say if it was a player or a parent.

Kind of freaky, but at least he wasn't some pervert taking pictures.

However, a note to all ATF investigators: You'll probably have an easier time gathering information if you don't disguise yourself as a pervert taking pictures.

Oh, and I hope I didn't just blow your secret investigation.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Imperial Bedroom

She wanted a pink bedroom, so I bought pink paint.

Then she wanted a purple bedroom, so I bought purple paint.

Then she wanted both, so I gave her a two-tone room, with opposite walls of each color.

Then she wanted a real bed instead of just a mattress and box spring, so we searched all over town, and the next town, and the town beyond that, and finally found a beautiful, solid bed with a trundle drawer underneath where she could keep her Webkinz menagerie.

Then she wanted a set of shelves, like her brother's, where she could stack her books and display her trophies and trinkets. So we drove 300 miles to IKEA and found a set that just happened to match her bed perfectly.

And after all of that - the paint, the bed, and the shelves - her new room was finally ready for her by the end of summer.

And she wanted none of it.

We're back to her climbing into our bed at all hours of the night, telling us, "My bedroom makes me sick."

Yes, for all the time and money we spent on that room, it kind of makes me sick too.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


The Short Walk

I'm getting emails from people who think I've gone insane.

They ask, "Why would you leave your family for months and months to walk across the country?"

I should've been more specific.

It will take me only six days to walk across the country.

Oh. Maybe I should be even more specific.

Because you didn't really think... What? You did? I mean, seriously? You thought I was going to walk across the United States? Now that would be crazy on my part.

You know, the last guy that did that ended up divorced. Yikes!

No, my intention is to traverse the width of a very thin country. Chile, Panama, and New Zealand looked attractive. Italy and Portugal were certainly candidates.

But the invite came from my blogger friend Dan, to join him next summer on a week-long trek across England, following the path of Hadrian's Wall from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway. All in the name of a wonderful children's charity, which I'll discuss at a later date.

Coast to coast. 84 miles in six days.

I can do that. I hope.

One big thing I need to get done over the next ten months is to get in shape. Hikes of around 15 miles each day demand some stamina, and I'm told by Dan that anyone lagging behind on the trail will have to bed down for the night in some ancient Roman latrine.

So, that's my big adventure. Not as big as you thought. Sorry about that.

But still, quite exciting for me. Like I said before, a big step out of my comfort zone.

Monday, September 21, 2009


The Long Walk

I've made a big decision to go for a long walk.

Next summer I'll leave my wife and children, and my long-occupied comfort zone, to embark on a personal odyssey.

I will be walking across the country.

From one coast to the other.

For charity, for myself, and for whoever wants to live vicariously through my journey.

I have a new pair of sturdy boots, in which training has already begun.

Soon I'll be looking for sponsors to help me raise some money for a good cause.

More details in the months to come!

Friday, September 18, 2009



For her birthday, my daughter received a box of Bendaroos, these flexible wax-covered sticks that you can easily bend and twist into imaginative shapes.

Strangely, if you read the reviews of this toy at Amazon, opinions are almost evenly split between "Bendaroos are awesome, we loved them!" and "This is the toy from hell."

I don't get the hate, because these little sticks have been wonderful for my daughter, allowing her to stretch her creative wings in all sorts of different ways.

She started out making little animals, twisting layer upon layer of multi-colored sticks into lion and elephant shapes. Then she began making necklaces and eyeglass frames, before realizing she could wrap actual objects with them.

Finally, she decorated every light switch in the house with her own unique designs. That was over a month ago, and the Bendaroos are still on display for us each time we flick a light on or off.

Here's some of her handiwork:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The Joy of Eating

Walking through the grocery store, my son pointed to this food display and said, "They're telling us that eating makes you fat."

The point of the marketing campaign was clearly that having a mouthful of Sara Lee products will bring joy to your life.

But my son was right. The photo makes it look like Sara Lee wants us to stuff our faces like fat little chipmunks. Maybe even right there in the store! That's either overeating or shoplifting.

One of the truths about food that we forget in this age of dieting and low-fat labeling is that eating does bring joy to our lives.

Food just tastes good.

Unfortunately, I'm finding it harder and harder to find things in the grocery store that not only taste good but also make me feel good about serving them to my kids.

For example, there are simply way too many corn-based processed food products on the shelves. Empty calories, devoid of proper nutrition, yet labeled as "good for kids" or "all your daily vitamins."

It's sad to have to bypass 80% of the store aisles to get to the fresh fruits and veggies.

Don't let me mislead you, though. Every now and then, a box of Pop Tarts or a bag of Lay's Potato Chips makes it into our cart by my very own hand. I'm certainly not against those foods. Just trying to cut back. Way back.

I agree with Sara Lee. Eating can be a joy. But as the photo on that ad display accidentally suggests, eating most of today's popular food products can easily lead to obesity, diabetes, and worse.

No joy in that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Happy Food

How can you resist such happy food? My wife made these jello slices in orange peels because she's just clever like that.

Speaking of food that will make you happy, I have the winners of the Sunsweet Dried Pineapple Giveaway from a few weeks ago! Ten readers will receive a prize pack containing a Sunsweet reusable shopping bag, and a VIP coupon good for any Sunsweet product, up to a value of $5.50.

The winners, picked at random, are:

Lake City Girl
James (SeattleDad)
Eric S

Please send me an email (it's in the upper left corner) with your mailing address and your Sunsweet Prize Pack will be on its way soon.

By the way, a couple of entries were from outside the U.S., and I just learned that this contest wasn't open to other countries, so I had to skip over you. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Summer Is Over

Four days into our school year, and summer seems like a distant memory now.

I'm thinking back, just two weeks ago, sitting on this beach near Seattle, on the Puget Sound. The kids played in the sand and water the entire day, digging for clams and crabs and other creatures of the intertidal zone. The parents sat and watched, happy that their children could find contentment in such simple activities.

It won't be long before the kids will be digging snow tunnels and building snow creatures.

They're already talking about Halloween costumes.

And I saw my first Christmas tree display at the store today.

Summer is over.

Monday, September 07, 2009


The Kids in the Basement

When we started homeschooling three years ago, my son and I took over a corner of the family room with a couple of desks and a small shelf. That cozy space served its purpose well during those first two years when it was just him and me.

We knew a bigger space would be needed when my daughter joined us at home for second grade last fall, so I turned my attention to the 400 sq. ft unfinished basement that nobody but the cats ever ventured into.

I quickly learned how to frame (thanks YouTube!), install insulation, and hang drywall. It was all rather simple and straightforward once I was familiar with the process and had the right tools at hand, such as the incredibly handy drywall lift. The taping and texturing I left to an expert, so it wouldn't look like I did it.

For financial reasons, I decided not to put a floor in before the school year. So my next step after painting was to move all the furniture onto the bare cement floor. Desks, shelves, tables, futon, chairs, all went down the narrow stairs and into the almost-finished basement.

Only after I was done moving everything down there did I step back and notice something. That rough cement floor looked and felt horrible. An unsettling chill went up my spine as I realized how uncomfortable we all would be on that dirty gray slab.

With only a week to go before the start of school, I knew I had to act. I wasted no time, and without a word to anyone drove to Home Depot and bought 20 boxes of Dupont Real Touch Red Oak laminate flooring. For three long days I wrestled those planks into place, but when it was done the room was finally transformed into a warm, livable space.

Furniture was moved back down the stairs a second time, and we started the school year on time. Now the kids and I were able to spread out, with bigger desks, a large project table, bulletin boards, and plenty of shelving for books and supplies.

So why didn't I write about this last fall? Because our basement classroom wasn't perfect yet. I never completed the baseboards and door molding. And there were larger shelves to build. And you know we needed that whole first year to fiddle with just the right placement of the desks and rugs.

This past summer I finally had the time to finish it, so I can now reveal our homeschool classroom to anyone who might be interested.

My son and daughter each have their own large desks, facing away from each other to dissuade bickering and other distractions. They don't spend much of their day sitting in one place, though, as they like to read on the futon or recliner, work at the project table, and even spread stuff out on the floor. They also have their own shelves to prevent the mixing of books and supplies. You'd be amazed at the argument that can ensue over the accidental borrowing of a pencil.

So there it is. If you're thinking of homeschooling, you can do it anywhere. Family room, kitchen table, dining room, basement, backyard. For us, it was better to have a dedicated area for learning. I wanted my kids to have their own space, where books and papers could be left out overnight, and art projects could be worked on a little bit each day until finished.

It was clear from the first day of use that our new classroom made a big difference in how my kids focus and learn. That alone is a satisfying payoff for the time, effort, and cost we put into the project.


Saturday, September 05, 2009


The Best Year Ever

This blog has not been receiving much of my attention over the past week.

I've been planning for The Best Year Ever!

That's what I'm calling the new homeschool year, which began on Thursday with a couple of half days before we switch our brains over to full school mode on Monday.

When school ended last spring, all three of us forgot that we were homeschoolers and quickly dove in to a summer of leisure time and house projects. Guess which one was on my daily schedule? And I actually finished most of my to-do list.

The kids did what kids do. They read, built sandcastles, swam at the rec center and in the lake, rode bikes, begged for McDonald's several times a week, and generally had the carefree summer that I've always felt children should have at this age.

It was only ten days ago that I realized the school year was fast approaching, and I wasn't ready for it. The basement classroom needed to be rearranged and cleaned out, having been a combination guest room and storage room over the summer. Shelves had to be built, baseboards finished, and a new computer set up for my suddenly computer-savvy middle school son.

It's amazing what you can accomplish while under pressure. The night before our first day of school, I was busily pushing desks around, loading new shelves with books and supplies, and arranging cushions in the corner for our mascot, the Napping Cat.

The only thing left to do that night was to get a good night's sleep. Which I did not do. In fact, that's the one big thing I did not accomplish this summer, a re-setting of my internal clock to become a morning person who could greet the new school day with energy and enthusiasm. After 30+ years of being a night owl, I guess I'm stuck being a night owl.

And that's why the expected whining and crying of the first day of school did not materialize from anyone except me. At 7:30am, my kids were like shiny little teacher's pets sitting at their desk ready for knowledge to be poured into their brains. While I was hitting the snooze button for a fourth time.

Thankfully, we start school at 9am, not 7:30. It takes me that long to build up a respectable amount of fake energy to get them started on simple subjects like spelling and vocabulary. After another hour, I'm usually recharged enough to move on to more complex subjects like history and science.

Regardless, these first two days of school went exceedingly well. Better than I expected, actually. My kids always surprise me with their willingness to jump back into a structured school schedule after a summer of fun and games.

I have high hopes, so I'm sticking with the plan of having The Best Year Ever. I hope yours goes just as well.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Tubing Dad

Tubing on Lake Pend O'Reille.

This is about as extreme as I get.