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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.


Everything You Want

I hope your Christmas celebration was a memorable one.

Ours turned out to be surprisingly cheerful. It was just what we needed after the recent funk brought upon us by the passing of our cat Milo.

In fact, it was his brother Basil who provided the merriment, dressing up like jolly old Santa Cat on Christmas Eve. With his twinkling eyes and merry dimples, it was hard not to smile when we saw him, in spite of ourselves.

Okay, maybe it was my daughter who dressed him up. And maybe he was more like moody old Grumpy Cat. But we still laughed.

Grumpy, or Santa, sampled the egg nog and nibbled at the cookies, then left some presents under the tree for us all.

The morning came like they always do with kids. Way too early. But the joy of Christmas was on their faces, and that was enough to wake me up. Soon a small mountain of shredded wrapping paper was forming in one corner of the room.

After presents, we enjoyed a tasty lunch of ham, potatoes, green beans, glazed carrots, salads, and pumpkin pie.

It was all very good, and pleasing, and healing.

And it was almost perfect.

At the end of the day, I asked my daughter, “Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?”

She replied, “No. I wanted Milo to not be dead.”

Ah well, she knows that couldn’t happen. But her heart was right where it should be at this point.

Other than that, our Christmas day was peaceful and happy. What more could you want?