Eat Your Worries

It’s been a long time since a stuffed animal has impressed me, and that’s going back at least 5 years when my daughter went through a significant Webkinz phase.

But the cutest little creature recently showed up on my doorstep.

Worry EaterHis name is Flint. He’s missing an eye, has crooked horns and stubby feet, and sports a zipper for a mouth.

And he’s here to eat your worries.

Flint is one of the Worry Eaters, the colorful family of cuddly creatures that can help a child express their fears and concerns in a playful way.

Children are able to write or draw their worry and place it into Flint’s wide zippered mouth, so he can munch on it for awhile. It’s a great way to start a discussion with your kids about the things that are weighing on their mind. Even parents can get in on the act by sharing a worry or two and letting the Worry Eater hold on to it for awhile.

No matter how big or small the worry, it’s good to acknowledge that a problem exists. Giving their worry to a Worry Eater, and then sharing it with a parent or caregiver, is the first step that kids can take toward resolving conflicts and developing healthy coping skills.

Introduced by The Haywire Group, the Worry Eaters come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, guaranteed to be cute, cuddly, and very hungry. There are nearly two dozen to choose from, with names like Biff, Polli, Flamm, Saggo, and Pomm.

And choose you will, if you win my Worry Eater Giveaway!

Use the widget below to enter in several different ways. The winner will get to pick their very own Worry Eater to bring home. See the entire family of them here. All Worry Eaters are washable, either by hand or on machine gentle cycle, and made with quality soft velour. They don’t just eat worries, but they’re also pretty good snugglers.

No matter how big or small the worries, they are all important in the life of a child. Parents can help kids learn to manage stress and tackle everyday problems with ease using Worry Eaters as a tool.

Enter now, and I’ll pick a winner in about a week!

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Worry Eater Family

Baseball History for Kids

Babe Ruth

Opening day is less than three weeks away.

April 3rd is that glorious spring day when the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd gives hope to fans of every team that this will be their year.

The sights and sounds that give rise to that eternal hope have been ingrained in the American experience since 1845, when Alexander Cartwright laid down the first set of rules for the modern game of baseball.

For me, the great thing about baseball is the way kids pick up the essentials of the sport and learn to play it.

The game is simple. Throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball, run!

Baseball may remain a relatively simple game, but the history of it has been anything but.

Baseball History for KidsRichard Panchyk’s new book, Baseball History for Kids offers a fascinating look at baseball’s complex and fascinating transformation into a professional sport that is now played all over the world. The author takes young readers through key eras and events of the game with engaging descriptions, highlighted by firsthand interviews with more than 175 greats of the game.

It’s a fun book to read, with loads of photos and interesting sidebar stories. The author makes frequent comparisons between the past and present, such as the fact that facial hair on players was unheard of for most of the 20th century. Or how today’s minimum major league salary is one hundred times higher than it was in the 1950s. Or that during the “dead ball era,” the 1902 National League home run champion had just six homers, all of them inside-the-park.

But the biggest kick you and your kids will get out of this book will be the 19 hands-on activities peppered throughout each chapter. They’re an engaging way for you to introduce the game of baseball to your children. Sit down and build a miniature version of your favorite stadium, or cook up some homemade Cracker Jack. Hold a contest to see who can throw a ball the farthest or the closest to a target. Teach your kids to keep score and to throw a palm ball.

This book is packed with fun activities to share with your kids. In fact, it’s going to be as much fun for you as it will be for them. You’ll easily pass along your love for baseball, while also sparking an interest in the history of our country. This book can be a gateway to further learning about World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and the growth of the American West.

Thanks to the good folks at Chicago Review Press, I just happen to have a copy of Baseball History for Kids to give away to one of my readers. Use the widget below, and I’ll pick a winner next week!

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A Selfie For My House

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We’ve lived in our house for over a decade now.

That’s ten years of raising a couple of kids and making incredible memories, while at the same time not really paying much attention to the health of the house in which it all happened.

So, I downloaded this free app for my phone, called HomeSelfe, that lets you easily evaluate your home’s energy efficiency. It’s like taking a selfie, but no stick involved.

Using it is simple.

After downloading the free app and setting up a brief profile, HomeSelfe walks you through each area of your house, from basement to attic, asking you questions about such things as insulation, appliances, light bulbs, and windows.

The process literally takes minutes.

When you’re done, HomeSelfe gives you a report on the overall energy needs of your home. It provides simple solutions, and makes recommendations for more complex fixes. It also tells you about rebates that might be available in your state or city. This type of energy audit normally costs hundreds of dollars, but it’s free with the HomeSelfe app.

My home’s evaluation came back as Very Good, although there were a number of recommendations for becoming more energy efficient. The app recommended that we:

  • Replace an old refrigerator
  • Install new weather stripping on a back door
  • Turn off electronics when not using them
  • Use more LED and CFL light bulbs
  • Get an annual tune-up on our furnace

It amazes me how much energy we waste in the US. Up to 60% of our energy is wasted each year, by some reports. Imagine if every home owner took the time to figure out all the different parts of their home that could be improved. And with the HomeSelfe app, it’s easy, so there should be no excuses.

The HomeSelfe app is also a great source for energy saving tips, even common sense ones that we don’t always think about, like using lids on your pots when you cook, or setting your thermostat one degree cooler in the winter.

Go and download the HomeSelfe app for your phone. It’s free, no strings attached, no in-app purchases. Take a few minutes to let it evaluate your home’s energy efficiency. You might just end up saving a ton of money on your energy bill.

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This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of HomeSelfe. All opinions are 100% mine.

The Walking Dads

Hadrian's Wall

“Bloody hell!”

That’s what my British friend exclaimed after I informed him of my plan to walk the Hadrian’s Wall Path for a third time this summer.

He thought I was insane, to once again take on the 84 mile trail in the north of England, to suffer the blisters and twisted ankles, the rain and rough terrain, the sleepless nights in barns and hostels.

Yes, I would have to be a little crazy do it a third time.

Or, maybe, I would have a very, very good reason.

And that’s exactly what I have. A very good reason to pull on my boots, fly across the Atlantic, travel to the wilds of Northumberland, and walk in the footsteps of Roman Centurions as I did the first time in 2010, and again in 2014 with my son’s Boy Scout troop.

The reason this time is Oren Miller.

2631607_55e4b2017c72bOren was a dad blogger, but he is most remembered for establishing and maintaining the largest community of dad bloggers in the world, via Facebook. His efforts to bring together writers of all kinds who want to be a voice in support of modern fatherhood has paid off with a cohesive group of dads who support each other and support changes in how dads are viewed and treated.

Oren passed away in 2015 after a long battle with cancer. Since then, Oren has been honored for not only the work he did to support dad bloggers, but also for the beautiful and poignant words he wrote for his children during the time that he fought for his life.

And now, one more well-deserved honor for Oren.

Camp Kesem, the only national organization that supports children through and beyond their parent’s cancer, will be opening a new chapter of their summer camp at the University of Maryland in Oren’s name. It will join 80 other locations around the country which provide a free camping experience to over 6,000 children touched by a parent’s cancer. These week-long camps are run by passionate college student leaders and gives kids a peer-support network that understands their unique needs, builds confidence and strengthens their communication skills.

It’s an amazing organization, doing real good for children affected by a parent’s cancer. And all completely funded by generous donations from individuals and corporate support.

So, what does this have to do with my long walk?

12 well-known dad bloggers, writers and influencers, including myself, have taken on the challenge of walking the Hadrian’s Wall Path this July to call attention to and raise funds for Camp Kesem. All of the money that our group raises during this effort will go directly to launch the new Camp Kesem chapter at the University of Maryland, which happens to be the alma mater of Oren Miller and his wife, Beth.

It won’t just be a dozen dads hiking that trail. As one of the group, Brent Almond, recently commented, “This is a community effort – backed by so many members of the mom and dad blogging community. There may be 12 of us going on the walk. But there are literally thousands of us committed to the journey.”

Please be a part of this journey by visiting our Camp Kesem fundraising page, and making a donation. Or by helping us publicize the page. Or simply follow along as a bunch of dads take a very long walk for an amazing cause. Over the next four months, I will have much to discuss as we make preparations for the trip.

Again, our website and fundraising page is www.Dads4Kesem.org

Do You Want To Build A Snow Fort?

IMG_5229Do you want to build a snowman?

Well, no, not really.

Actually, my kids would rather build a snow fort.

A huge, awesome, epic snow fort. Big enough to fend off an army of snow goons and abominable snowmen.

Some people view winter as a time to avoid outdoor activities. If they aren’t skiers, then they prefer to curl up next to a warm fire on a comfy couch, hibernating through the cold and snow until spring brings them out into the sun again.

That’s too bad, because winter can be filled with awesome family fun. It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, and it can even be right in your own backyard. Getting outside in the snow is a great time to make memories with your kids.

Especially the planning and construction of your very own snow fort.

Call it an igloo, or an ice palace, or a snow fort. Whatever it is, go beyond stacking up some snow, sticking a carrot in it, and calling it Frosty. Hey, building a snowman is fun, too, but an actual structure takes a lot more imagination. And, at the end, it becomes functional.

snow fort

My kids and I built this snow fort using a smooth plastic storage box to create blocks of tightly packed snow. We then stacked them up to about 4 feet, making parapets, windows, and secret doors along the way. They improvised as they built, and learned a few lessons about structural integrity. The nice thing about snow, you can change things up any time you want.

After a few hours, the kids had the idea to sleep in the fort that night, which they did, under a pile of quilts and blankets. I stayed out there with them, enjoying the warmth and comfort of our hand-built shelter.

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But as nice as it was, and as tough as I like to think I am, I would not have made it through the night without some help from Fisherman’s Friend, the strongest, most effective throat lozenge on the market. Originally formulated in 1865 for the deep-sea fishermen of Fleetwood, England, these extra strong, extra soothing lozenges are perfect for cough and cold relief. It’s exactly what you need to tough it out during the long winter months, when the cold wind seems to blow right down your throat every time you open your mouth.

I’ll never buy another brand of lozenge when I have a cough or cold. Fisherman’s Friend is the perfect all-natural menthol relief, available in cherry flavor and sugar free formula. They’re perfect for anyone over the age of 2 in need of instant relief of sore throats, coughs and congestion.

Whatever you do during the winter months, make sure you get outside. Build a snow fort! Okay, build a snowman too. Ski, snowshoe, dig tunnels, play disc golf, have a snowball fight. Just get outside and enjoy the snow. Carry a packet of Fisherman’s Friend lozenges and you’ll be tough enough to do anything.

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Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad and Fisherman’s Friend for this promotion.

Carry That Weight

“Carry me, daddy!”

My son, all of 5 years and 50 pounds, did a little dance in front of me, waving his arms in the air, insistent that I bend down and let him climb up onto my shoulders. It was a place of great comfort to him in his early years.

Daddy’s shoulders.

With his hands firmly clasped around my forehead as if to stay, “I’m steering now, I’m in charge.”

There was no better place to be than up on daddy’s shoulders, surveying the wonderful world from a place of majestic height.

And security. It was always safe up there on daddy’s shoulders.

That day, my son’s playful plea came while we were hiking a dusty trail on the top of Silver Mountain in North Idaho, where we’d come to ride the gondola and chairlifts during the warmth of summer. I didn’t tell him the place used to be called Jackass. He would never stop giggling.

We were over a mile into our hike, and my son had already walked and ran and skipped for hours. He’d even jumped in a bounce house back at the lodge. Now his little toddler legs were tired and it mattered not that mine were as well.

When I heard the words, “Carry me, daddy,” I gladly did as I was told.

I could never have imagined the sudden emotion of dread that came over me after he climbed up and settled into place.

An unwelcome voice quietly grunted from my subconscious, “He is too heavy now.”

Immediately, I knew that this was the last time I would carry my son on my shoulders. I just knew it. Even though you can’t always be aware of “lasts” with your kids, this one felt final because he was in the middle of a growth spurt and he had passed the point of no return as far as my muscles were concerned.

With each struggling step, I covered my grimaces with smiles. I wanted to remember all of this happy time. Would my son remember it too?

Here’s what I did not know: That I would never stop carrying my child.

When your children are newborn, so light and precious that you never want to put them down, you have no idea of the burden that is to come, and just how heavy it’s going to be. Nobody can truly warn you about it.

My son is a teenager now. Almost an adult. And, even though he has not sat atop my shoulders in a dozen years, I feel the weight of him there.

The weight of his worries and his fears. The weight of his struggles and accomplishments. The weight of his journey from adolescence into adulthood.

It’s monumentally heavy, and I feel every ounce of it.

You will say that it is not my weight to carry.

And you would be right.

But how does any parent not empathize with their children each and every day? So, yes, of course, I have that weight bearing down upon my shoulders just as sure as when my son was a toddler and he looked up to me to say, “Carry me, daddy!”

As he has moved through the teen years, dealing with all of the emotional and physical changes that come with them, I have watched him and felt almost paralyzed by the weight of his responsibilities.

My son doesn’t know why I am so tired. Why I stoop a little lower and move a little slower these days. He doesn’t know how much I work each and every day to keep my mouth shut so that he can figure things out for himself and carry the things that weigh him down without my help. Even though I’m feeling every painful step right along with him.

He thinks I’m just getting old.

I hope I’ve taught him well. I hope others have too. He’s very close to adulthood now, preparing to go away to college next year. Where, hopefully, he’ll develop brand new muscles to carry all of his burdens through life.

Even when he’s away from home, I’ll still get up each day and feel that heaviness that only a parent can know, and I will think of him. Maybe I’ll begin to feel lighter as he grows and changes on his own, and I am reassured that he can face life’s challenges with all the skill, strength, and confidence that I know he possesses.

I will always carry my son. I will always feel his weight upon my shoulders, for as long as I live. I’m used to it now. I like that it’s there, even on the days I wish I was free from the worries and strife that go along with parenthood.

Like gravity, it holds me to this world, the one that has defined me as a father over the past 18 years. There is a certain sense of comfort and security in it.

Without the weight of my children’s lives, I might just float away.

Family Vacation to Mt. St. Helens Volcano Monument

Mt St Helens

I will never forget that day in 1980 when a mountain in Southwestern Washington suddenly exploded with the force of several nuclear bombs. The deadliest volcanic event in U.S. history laid waste to hundreds of square miles around Mt. St. Helens.

It sounds like an unlikely destination for a family vacation. But, in fact, the Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument in Washington is an amazing place to spend a day with kids. From areas of utter devastation to hidden hollows teeming with new life, a trip to Mt. St. Helens will be both fascinating and educational.

====> Continue reading my article at TripAdvisor’s Family Vacation Critic blog.

The Power of Kindness

wind

I sat in the darkness of the living room, anxiously waiting for the roof of our house to be peeled away by the storm raging outside.

That night, we experienced the most destructive wind storm in our area for at least the past 100 years. Four people died, thousands of trees were split or uprooted, hundreds of buildings were damaged, and over a million people lost power.

No, our roof didn’t blow away. It sure sounded like it might. We only lost one tree in our backyard, a 20-foot Austrian Pine that was pushed over to a ridiculous 45-degree angle.

We were lucky. Many were not. Our power was back on within 8 hours, but other families in our town were told that they would be without it for days, even weeks. And this at a time when temperatures were dipping to below freezing at night.

At about this same time, my family was asked by KIND Snacks to seek out kindness in our community. It’s always been KIND’s mission to make the world a little kinder, and they now wanted our help in celebrating the art of being kind. We spotted the usual random acts of kindness all over town: donating food, holding doors for others, volunteering, drivers allowing other cars to pull in front of them. We found that kindness was all around us, working its magical powers in little ways.

But after that wind storm, suddenly kindness reared its beautiful head in a big, big way.

Everywhere in our community, people realized that their friends, neighbors, and even strangers were in need of some major and very specific acts of kindness. I saw groups of people rallying to deliver hot meals to those without power. I saw men with chainsaws offering to remove massive fallen trees from yards. I saw friends opening up their homes to those who needed a warm place to sleep for a few days.

Kindness is a beautiful thing. It enriches both the giver and the recipient. How can you not go through your day without naturally choosing to do the kind thing?

When KIND Snacks asked us to recognize kindness in our community, I had no idea that we would witness such an overwhelming number of people being compassionate and giving. I love that KIND has been on a mission since day one to inspire and celebrate just this sort of behavior. Time after time, this company has stepped up to lead by example. Just last summer, KIND donated 40 boxes of their snack bars to our local food bank, where they were much needed and appreciated.

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KIND continues to find new and fun ways to help spread kindness. Today, their #kindawesome campaign allows anyone to go online to recognize an act of kindness. Simply visit howkindofyou.com to nominate someone when you spot them doing a kind act.

As we saw in the aftermath of the wind storm, kindness has the power to ease a burden, brighten a day, and maybe even save a life. That’s the kind of power I want to help spread. If you have a story of kindness, big or small, that has affected you, I’d love to read it in the comments.

Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad and KIND Snacks for this promotion.

Photo courtesy of KREM-TV

The Afterschool Special Snack

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One of the greatest challenges of my years of parenting has been keeping up with my kids’ everchanging interests and moods. Their likes and dislikes seem to vary from week to week.

Especially when it comes to snacks.

Once upon a time, when my son was a toddler, a simple bag of baby carrots would keep him happy in between meals. As he grew older, his tastes became more complicated. And then simple. And then complicated. Continue reading

The Great American Tailgate

Tailgating at football games has always been a fun family activity for us.

27hs6we84mzwthm5rpg3For nearly twenty years, we’ve enjoyed the festivities at my alma mater, the University of Idaho, on sunny fall weekends in the perfect little college town of Moscow, Idaho. I’ve heard that the NFL version of tailgating is a tad more serious and mature, but I’m content hanging out with my fellow family-friendly alumni in the parking lot outside the Kibbie Dome. Continue reading