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Friday, January 29, 2010


Character Assassination

Ever since he was a toddler and we took him to see the Berenstain Bears "LIVE AND IN PERSON!" at Barnes and Noble, my son has held any and all costumed characters in great disdain.

He doesn't hate them. He's just disgusted by them.

Maybe because he realized from an early age that they weren't the real characters, but just some sweaty teenagers earning minimum wage underneath all that cloth and foam.

We have hundreds of pictures of the family with characters like Snoopy, Garfield, Mickey Mouse, Homer Simpson, and the Wicked Witch of the West. And in almost every photo, my son is either missing or frowning miserably.

That kind of "my dad made me do this and now I'm going to ruin the picture" frown.

Actually, on our recent trip to Disneyland, he didn't frown so much. Instead, he gave a defiant stare into the camera every time we stopped to pose with a character.

The closest he's ever come to a smile was in California Adventure when Stitch bounded toward us, already in a mischievous mood.

All I had to do was whisper in his ear, "My son used to like you, but now he thinks he's too old."

That did it.

Stitch followed my son around the square for a good couple of minutes, trying to get a rise out of him, and eventually settling for a faint flicker of a grin.

After all these years, it was a real breakthrough!

The next time we go to Disneyland, I think I'll take the family for pictures with Snow White, Ariel, and Cinderella. After all, my son will be a teenager by then, and I doubt he'll have any trouble smiling for those characters.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Grandparents Giveaway

Here's one for you grandparents!

Quirk Books sent me a copy of their new book, The Grandparents Handbook, a beautifully designed guide to games, activities, and all-around fun for grandmas and grandpas to share with their grandkids.

I've seen quite a few of these kinds of books, and this is by far the most interesting to thumb through. Many of the sections, like "Top Ten Greatest Snacks of All Time" and "A Guide To Camping In The Great Indoors" are useful even for a veteran parent like me.

But most of the book is specifically geared toward grandparents who might be a little rusty in dealing with children. Especially today's kids, who have different expectations than the kids of 30 or 40 years ago.

There's an entire 50-page section of the book solely devoted to refresher courses, from baby-proofing your house to how to deal with quarreling siblings. Beyond that, though, the emphasis here is on having a good time and building a positive, memorable relationship with your young grandchildren.

Like I said, it's a beautiful book, with whimsical illustrations and bright, bold text. The Grandparents Handbook was written by Elizabeth LaBan, with plenty of advice from her own children's grandparents. They did a wonderful job of putting together what is obviously a labor of love.

I have a copy to give away to one of my readers. If you'd like to have it, just leave a comment on this post telling me so. Don't forget to leave a way to reach you via email or website.

I'll pick a winner this weekend.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Welcome To My Nightmare

My Wordless Wednesdays were never wordless, so I'm going to join the other blog tradition of Photo Friday.

Now here's something you really don't want to see as you're reaching into a kitchen cabinet for an old box of Stovetop Stuffing.

Luckily, this black widow wasn't in our kitchen. It was in a jar at Knott's Berry Farm, in California, and it was all I could do to not drown that nasty little creature in the nearest pickle barrel.

Ick. I hate black widows.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I Hear Music

Both kids started piano lessons today.

The past few days have seen me worrying if we would get our money's worth out of this expensive undertaking.

Very expensive.

Like, the equivalent of a monthly car payment.

I was wondering if either of my kids would take to the piano in a way that would quell the pain in my checkbook.

My goal is not to make concert pianists out of them. Rather, I want them to have a musical skill that gives a certain amount of satisfaction and confidence.

It's one more piece of my diabolical parenting plan to create well-rounded adults.

But first they had to begin the lessons, which they did this afternoon.

I'm happy to say there is hope. Each kid listened intently to the teacher, followed directions, and even made some semi-pleasing sounds come out of the piano.

Daily practice of 15 minutes will be a part of our lesson plans from now on.

I hear music in our future.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Don't Know Much About Geography

He had a year to prepare, but he didn't.

Because, while my son has more than a passing interest in geography, he's not passionate enough about it to sit down and intensely study the subject.

He'd pick up information from reading books, magazines, and websites. Occasionally I'd find him casually perusing a map.

But I didn't lock him in a closet, threatening to take away his Wii games until he'd memorized every capital city of the world.

I left it up to him.

When the regional Geography Bee was held last week, he did his best.

And he blew away the competition.

Out of ten kids in the contest, my son answered 9 of 12 questions correctly. The next closest student only answered 5 of 12.

Now, before you congratulate him on being the Geography Bee Champion of 2010, let me just tell you one thing.

He came in second place.

But, how can this be?

How can a kid answer four more questions than anyone else and end up losing?

It's because of a little thing called Rounds.

Unlike the Spelling Bee, the Geography Bee features different rounds, after which all of the students start anew. No points carry over to the next round.

In the first round of his Bee, my son answered 7 of 7 questions correctly. The next best contestant only answered 3 of 7 right.

The crowd was definitely impressed with his performance. There was much buzzing and murmuring.

In Round Two, more of the same. My son was 2 for 2. An 8th grade girl was 1 for 2. None of the other students could answer a question, so they were eliminated, and we were left with the Final Two.

The Championship Round was now upon us. My son, pitching a Perfect Game, against the girl who didn't seem to know her geography very well.

And that's when the wheels fell off.

In this Best of Three round, they both missed the first two questions.

It came down to that last question. I was sure my son would know it. But his lack of preparation made it difficult for him to recall place names and border areas.

In other words, his ability to make an educated guess was severely hampered.

And that's exactly why he lost. The girl didn't know the answer to that third question either, but she made a better guess and came up with it.

So, my son learned a few lessons that day. First and foremost, if he wants to win the Geography Bee, he's going to have to do a little studying over the next twelve months. Hard work goes a long way toward ensuring you receive the rewards you seek.

But he also learned that sometimes life has rules we don't much like but still have to play by. You just have to make the best of the situation. Given the proper preparation and focus, I don't think it matters what obstacles are in your path. Most of the time you will succeed.

It's also said that success is the result of learning from failure. So, in a way, I'm glad that my son lost the Geography Bee. He came to me the next day and said he's going to put in more study time because he really wants to win in 2011.

Last week's failure might just result in next year's success!

Oh, I know what you're all wondering...

"What were the last three questions in the Championship Round?!?!"

Here they are, in order:

1. Gorky Park is in which European capital city?

2. After the United States and France, what country produces the most nuclear power?

3. What Mediterranean country sits at the end of the Balkan Peninsula and is the leading producer of cotton in Europe?

Do you know the answers without Googling them?

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Robot Monkey Head

Kids will love this funny new video from John Hadfield...

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Burping Poetry

My 8-year-old daughter has taken to writing poetry. Here's one she's particularly proud of:

The Burp

What a beautiful sound, a burp
It comes out of your mouth with a quaint little "Urp!"

The sound slides so smoothly off of your tongue,
With the breath flying away from its now empty lung.

"For the joy of it," I would declare when I blew,
Everyone would agree with a loud, "Yessiroo!"

And walking away I knew they were still glad,
I could hear them a-laughing at the joke they just had.

That divine sound still rings in my head
Even when I go to bed.

I lick my lips in delight
And keep burping through the night.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Universal Props

Sorry to alarm you with my previous post, but the psycho who chased us was just an actor portraying the infamous Norman Bates.

Yes, on our recent vacation we spent a day at Universal Studios, amidst the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. Actually, there's really nothing glamorous about Universal. For the most part, it feels like yet another theme park.

For our visit, however, we were able to see a few things that most tourists don't get to see. And that made it kind of special.

Going behind the scenes at a film studio was cool enough, but when they walked us into this giant building marked Universal Property Dept., well, I knew I was in movie geek paradise.

My kids haven't seen all that many movies in their young lifetimes, but even they were impressed with the sheer number and variety of props, from the pile of fake cheese bound for a Saturday morning TV show to the lifesize terracotta warriors featured in The Mummy 3.

I'm pretty sure they've got everything known to man inside that place.

Here are a few photos from our trip inside the Universal Property Department.

This pile of fake food was headed for a Saturday morning show called The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Apparently, teenagers eat a lot of food.

Props from The Mummy movies. My son's eyes went really wide at the sight of these. Okay, mine did too.

Another Mummy prop. Notice the furniture in the background. They have thousands of chairs, beds, dressers, etc., ready to outfit a movie set.

Among their dummies and mannequins was this Meryl Streep lookalike, created so she could be thrown off a cliff in the movie The River Wild.

It's like the world's biggest thrift shop, with shelves and shelves of knick-knacks and baubles.

Salt and pepper shakers! Considering those are among the most common items to have on a kitchen or restaurant table, they need to keep hundreds of them on hand.

If you can name a movie or TV show where you've seen these tikis, then you are definitely a Super Movie Geek.

These futuristic gloves appeared in the movie Minority Report. Either that, or they're the most amazing back scratchers ever, and I want a pair!

Monday, January 11, 2010


Nobody Walks In L.A.

Driving around the Los Angeles area on our recent vacation, we witnessed some very strange scenes.

This one happened so fast, I didn't even notice until I was browsing through our digital photos this weekend that this guy was carrying what looks like a dead body out to his car.

We wondered why he chased after us with a knife. I thought maybe that's just how people in L.A. greet out-of-towners.

There are some real psychos out there.

Friday, January 08, 2010


The Princess and The Frog

When we were at Disneyland in November, there was a daily parade through New Orleans Square of characters from the new movie The Princess and The Frog. We hadn't seen the film, so the jazz-filled procession was simply a fun way to liven up the afternoon.

Well, we still haven't seen the movie, but I've heard plenty about it.

Did you know that Time Magazine declared The Princess and The Frog to be the Best Film of 2009?

That's some high praise, especially when there are other critical favorites like The Hurt Locker, Up In The Air, Avatar, and Invictus to be considered.

So it strikes me as odd that a charming, timeless tale that is beautifully animated in the traditional 2D style is actually struggling at the box office.

And that the movie most parents are bringing their kids to is Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.

Alvin is simply destroying all comers, far out-earning Princess and almost assuring that Disney won't take another chance at traditional hand-drawn animation.

This is the same Alvin movie that is described by critics as soul-sapping, and packed with gags that involve violence and humiliation.

Given a choice between the two, I would hope parents would opt for the uplifting, wholesome experience over the cruel and tedious one.

Or at the very least, save the farting chipmunks for a DVD rental.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


The Real World

My son is becoming more and more interested in the news.

He wants to know what's happening, and he's well aware that the news is usually happening quite fast.

My iPhone receives a push notification whenever there's a breaking news story, and my son has learned to listen for the special ring that announces it.

He also gets really antsy when Time Magazine comes in the mail, telling me to "hurry up and look at it so I can read it."

You see, I'm not sure he's prepared, at the age of 11, for everything the real world has to offer.

So, I do a little censoring.

Time Magazine isn't much of a worry. I think I've ripped out just 3 or 4 stories in the past year. Stories about rape, beheadings, serial killers. You know, the lighter side of the news.

I'd rather my kids arrive slowly to the realization that people can do horrible and selfish things to each other rather than have it all dumped into their immature brains with one sudden flash of grim awakening.

How much of the real world do you let your kids know about? And at what age do you simply open the flood gates?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


Top Dad Blogs

Keith, of, gave a whole bunch of dad bloggers a very cool Christmas present a few weeks ago.

He crunched the numbers, using ten public measures of link authority and traffic, to compile the ultimate Top Dad Blogs List for 2010.

Mine came in at #21.

A nice way to kick off a new year of blogging.

Check the list out for some great dad blog reading!

Well, except for blog #2. You dads try to stay away from having to read that one.


Monday, January 04, 2010


Don't Let Your Kids Play Football

Several years ago, we signed my son up for a flag football league. After just one practice, he told me he didn't like it and wanted to quit.

As I wrote in my previous post, I encourage my kids to not be quitters. But he was adamant about not wanting to play football, so I gave in.

My son is so much smarter than me sometimes.

I just finished reading this eye-opening article about former NFL star Dave Pear and his debilitating injuries, in which he says, "Don't let your kids play football. Never."

Now, the vast majority of kids will not go on to a pro football career, but you have to wonder how many painful life-long injuries are incurred in high school and college alone.

Is a game worth wrecking your body?

I want my kids to be active, and to participate in team sports, but I also don't want them doing things to their bodies that they'll regret in later years.

I would hate to hear my son echo the words of Dave Pear, who also said, "I wish I never played football. I wish that more than anything. Every single day, I want to take back those years of my life."

The fact that my son isn't interested in playing football makes it easy for me. I will not push him into it.

He likes soccer, swimming, and basketball. Any of those sports could result in an injury, but nowhere near the type and frequency which are inflicted in football.

Heck, he could hurt himself playing Wii Bowling.

But when you read that 60 percent of former NFL players experience blistering pain from a sport they last played two decades ago, it makes you think about the words of Dave Pear.

So, do you let your kids play football?

Friday, January 01, 2010


Vandals Never Say Die

Idaho head coach Robb Akey (AP Photo)

We finished 2009 on a high note with my alma mater, and really the only sports team I follow closely, the University of Idaho Vandals, turning in an almost magical performance in the Humanitarian Bowl down in Boise.

Maybe you saw the thrilling ending to the game, when Idaho drove down the field, scored a touchdown, and then opted for a 2-point conversion as the clock was running out.

Or maybe you were among the group of people I was watching with. Many of them got up and left the Kroc Center lounge when Bowling Green scored their go-ahead touchdown with just 30 seconds left in the game.

They were certain it was all over.

One man muttered as he walked out, "I knew they'd lose this game."

I looked around at the near empty room and thought, "Am I the only optimist around here?"

I'm always telling my kids things like, "Never give up," and "Finish what you started."

So I sat and watched that last half-minute, and witnessed one of the most exciting finishes I've seen to a football game in quite some time.

Made even more sweet because I've been loyal to my team for, well, for a very long time. It's been 25 years since I watched my first Vandal game, but it's been the last decade that tested the patience of most fans.

But I never gave up.

Goonies, or in this case Vandals, never say die.

A good lesson for the kids, who witnessed NONE OF IT because they were having too much fun swimming in the pool. Which is as it should be.

Thank goodness for YouTube, they got to see the highlights. Over and over and over.