Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: Disney/Pixar’s "The Good Dinosaur" Is Really Not That "Good" At All...

What do you get when you combine photo-real beautiful environments with an out-of-place silly-looking bright green cartoony bulgy-eyed Dinosaur (maybe done to differentiate from Jurassic Park dinosaurs to sell toys?); use familiar story themes from the "The Lion King", "Lilo & Stitch", DreamWork's "How To Train Your Dragon”, and then fill it with basically filler scenes?

The Good Dinosaur! 

The movie isn't bad, it's just barely O.K. It's hard to believe this came out of Pixar especially after their last movie "Inside Out." Sadly, this one ranks somewhere above Pixar's Cars 2 and Brave. The films primary characters, Arlo and Spot, are so generic that they could have come from any animated film from any other studio. I really did expect more from the people that made great movies like, "The Incredibles", "Toy Story", "Finding Nemo", "Ratatouille", and "Up"? Maybe they were all working on the next film "Finding Dory"?  Or maybe Pixar is losing its touch? I sure hope not. 

Overall, a mediocre story with good visual scenes that show off how computers can really make water look like water and leaves blowing in the wind look completely believable. Too bad they made the goofy looking dinosaurs that looks completely out of place. Seriously? What Director or Art Director thought that was a good idea?
My recommendation: wait for the rental or go see the charming "Peanuts" instead. This move isn’t worth spending money on at a theater. Unless you really want to get away from family this weekend or have nowhere else to go, or both. 

Hoping next year’s "Finding Dory" makes up for "The Good Dinosaur." 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Tokyo, Japan: Tips and Places to Visit While Traveling With Kids

We just got back a few days ago from a family vacation to Japan something that we had been planning for years.

My wife and I have been there before, years before we had kids and at the time couldn’t believe how shockingly kid-friendly Japan was overall. Completely clean, the safest city on earth, and so much to do. 
We’ve always vowed we would return when our kids were of good traveling age. Now that our youngest is 5 and both kids had a "fall break" vacation at school plus airline tickets are pretty half of what they normally are, and a really strong dollar (best I've ever seen) it seemed like a perfect time to go.  

So what’s there for kids to do in Tokyo?  A few places I recommend:

  1. Tokyo Disney Sea/Tokyo Disneyland. You can buy your tickets in advance on the Tokyo Disney resort website. The best part is - the tickets are about 40% CHEAPER than U.S./EU Disney-owned Parks since the ones out there aren’t owned by Disney. They’re licensed by a Japanese company, Oriental Land Company. In my opinion they're actually better than Disney-owned parks in regards to merchandise and food quality. I recommend 2 full days exploring these parks. If you only have one day, definitely visit Disney Sea which is in my opinion, the best theme park in the world.
  2. Kidzania. The only way to describe this place is what my daughter said about it, “if one of these were near our house, I would live there!” It’s basically a giant indoor kid city with about 70 different careers. Kids choose what they want to be and ‘work’ there for about 45 mins and then they get paid in Kidz Cash and can spend money or use an ATM to deposit their money into savings. It’s pretty overwhelming and something that can't all be done in the allotted time. I recommend buying tickets online (early shift or afternoon shift) as it gets crowded. They have english Wednesdays, but my kids got by just fine as the 'hosts/managers' speak a little english.  
  3. Kawagoe. A great day trip to old Japan or "Little Edo" as some called it about 30-mins from the Tokyo Ikebukuro station (on the rapid train.) You can walk by foot through the the old downtown to the warehouse district. Lot’s of traditional houses with clay roofs, old buildings, shops and museums. The highlight for the kids was Candy Alley or “Confectionery Row” with traditional candy. There's even a cool Shaved Ice place with a monkey! Oh, and one more cool place - a Cat Cafe on the main downtown pedestrian street. You pay around $1.50 per 10 minutes to sit in a cafe/living room with cats. 
  4. Harajuku. Crazy shops and character restaurants and nearby “Kiddy Land” a 7-story toy store like no other in the world. I highly recommend getting a "crepe" - which really isn't a crepe at all but a giant cone of deliciousness. Afterwards wander right over to the Meiji Shrine through an amazing forest in the middle of the city.
  5. Robot Restaurant. This is basically the Moulin Rouge of Japan, except with giant robots and monsters, and it’s totally fine to bring your kids here. Some reviews on Trip Advisor will say "there are women dressed up in crazy costumes and dance suggestively" but in reality, I've seen worse on Disney Channel. In reality, they're dressed like characters out of a video game, not  even bikini's but board shorts/volleyball shorts and skirts. The show is bizarre yet spectacular and is now my most recommended place for anybody visiting Tokyo! Both my kids couldn’t stop talking about it, especially about how in the world they get so many floats and robots into such a tiny basement-type space.  During intermissions, they sell popcorns, soda's, beer, and Dorrito's!? A warning - it's extremely loud, so loud that they give kids headphones (take them!) and it's in a seedy alley in Shinjuku, which in Japanese terms means - you'll never really know it walking around. Get your tickets ahead of time and if you get them at Veltra, they're around $15 off per ticket. 
  6. Genki Sushi, Shibuya. This place is so cool that we visited twice. Order food from an iPad (english option) and then a little robot car brings it to you and while you wait, the iPad plays rock, paper, scissors and you can win a capsule prize. 
  7. Shibuya pedestrian crossing at night. This area brings shame to New York's Times Square. We just stood near the train station and people-watched. It's pretty amazing. 
  8. Tokyo Tower at night. Tokyo’s version of the Eiffel tower, except with lots of shops and stuff on the lower levels. The lights at night are spectacular. 
  9. Ueno Park, Zoo, shopping. Great zoo and swan boats on a giant “pond.” Great pedestrian shopping/eating area under the JR tracks just south of the Ueno station. 
  10. Meiji Shrine (Harajuku.) A giant forest in the middle of the city. Great walk after visiting Harajuku. 
  11. Shinjuku Gyoen (Park.) This is one of those places were you pick up food at a Lawson’s or 7-11 and picnic. It’s huge! There’s always some fair or festival happening on the weekends on the large lawn area. 
  12. Akiharbara - This place feels like stepping into Blade Runner. Near the station they have all kinds of weird (USB) junk you can buy really cheap along with some of the coolest capsule machine finds (cat bandana's, waitresses IN food, and underwear for your water bottle.) The only odd/bizarre thing around are the “Maid’s Cafe’s” which we did not visit.  Read the link - these weren't that big in my previous visits. 
  13. Ghibli Museum - Mitaka. The home of Totoro. This place is a trek but totally worth it. Even the walk from the train station to the museum is nice. Only downside, you need to get tickets in the U.S. beforehand as they sell out fast. 
Some overall tips and etiquette for visiting Japan, in general:
  1. Summer is humid. Really humid. Fall and Spring are best time to visit. Spring is my absolute favorite during the Sakura/Cherry Blossom festivals that happen at nearly all parks and in Kyoto. I recommend bringing a light blanket along sit on. 
  2. Don’t eat or drink while walking,  it's considered rude, even if you have a Starbucks coffee in hand. People sit. It’s a strange and nice cultural thing, but makes sense especially in the subways and trains when that many people are walking without distractions.
  3. No trash cans, anywhere! For being the cleanest city on the planet, there are virtually no trash cans anywhere. You need to carry your trash with you until you find one. Oh and if you find one, they separate everything: plastics, cardboard, food, whatever. 
  4. Never sit on the ground without first placing something down or step on a seat. Even on Disney park rides, people don’t use any ride seat as a step. 
  5. All restrooms are extremely clean. Like immaculate compared to U.S. public restrooms, even at public parks but they don’t have paper towels - some have dryers. You'll need to carry along a small washcloth to dry your hands. Nearly everybody has one with them. 
  6. Women shouldn’t show cleavage. Unless you want persistent stares; on the other hand, if you like stares, go right ahead. Although really, really short skirts showing a lot of leg are somehow O.K. 
  7. Don't stab your food with chopsticks, or worse, leave your chopstick sticking out of a bowl. If you can't use chopsticks, bring along a fork with you or chopstick trainers.
  8. Although you don’t need to learn Japanese it’s good to learn a few phrases such as “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Good morning”, “Excuse Me”, "No, thank you" "Thank you very much”, “Do you understand English?” These are easy to learn and people there really appreciate the effort. Get an App to learn! Most people in the city, shops, restaurants, and hotels speak/understand a little English, enough to get by and/or point to menu items. Most restaurants have at least 1 menu in English. It was never an issue for us communicating. 
  9. Japanese are extremely polite. They never speak loud, or scream, and are rarely rude, so don’t be rude or act angry. Especially in public. Another fact, nobody tries to rip you off or steal even in stalls/marketplaces. It’s pretty shocking, but true. 
  10. The trains and subways are extremely efficient and are overwhelming at first the nice part is all stations have English written and the main trains say the station names in English. I highly recommend buying Suica cards from the JR Rail Ticket Office (located at JR stations) that are good for all Tokyo subways and trains, then load them with money at the machines. The machines have an “English” option. Afterwards, you can get a refund from any JR Rail Ticket Office on anything unused (minus a $2 return fee) which was great! For kids, they need their passport to validate age. And another fun thing - they "tweet" like birds when the kids use them.
  11. Taxis - I recommend taking trains and subways first and foremost. Taxis in Japan are like nowhere else in the world - very clean, white doilies, and white gloved drivers in suits. Never touch the door handle is my advice! They're more expensive that anywhere, in the world but they offer great service. In addition we used UBER twice (from Haneda Airport to our hotel in Shimbashi/Ginza) which was great and fast. I recommend using a Taxi or UBER as lugging around luggage on the train/subway is just crazy with the stairs. I regularly use UBER for work in other countries and it's always been great! But in Japan, the App is really 'iffy' - I kept getting server issues responses. I don't think UBER is as big in Japan as the Taxis there are just fine, unlike every other place on earth where they're just plain bad (New York being the worse!)
  12. Fly into Haneda Airport and not Narita. Haneda is really convenient - around 20 minutes from Tokyo and the Taxi's/UBER's are around $50 one way. Narita is FAR. Like $180-240+ for a Taxi or UBER, or hours getting to your hotel on a "Limousine Bus" for $26/per person which stops a million times. I've been to Tokyo a few times and will never fly into Narita. It's like landing in Santa Barbara when you want to land in L.A. I don't understand why people land there; it's completely inconvenient especially when you'll been on a plane for 12 hours. 
  13. Use your ATM card to get cash. It’s OK to carry large amounts of cash and to flash it as stealing is virtually nonexistent (still hard to believe until you see 100’s of unlocked bikes on the street or purses left on table unattended in public spaces.) The best places to find international ATM’s is at the airports or 7-11 ATM's which are pretty much everywhere. 
  14. Credit cards are normally accepted at larger shops, department stores, or larger restaurants. For the most part Tokyo is still a cash-only place. 
  15. Don't talk on the cellphone on the train. Although you can play games or do whatever on your cellphone. In fact, trains are quiet and really clean as everybody is on their cellphone!
  16. If you have a cough or are sick, wear a sterile mask. They all do - it's pretty common and quite frankly, I wish we did this in the U.S.
  17. 100 yen stores are the best! Pretty much their version of $1 stores. You can find gifts and all sorts of cool things at any one of them. 
  18. Tipping? Don't do it. Nobody does and it's considered rude. The first time I tried 'tipping' (my first time in Japan) the waitress ran out the door to give me my 'change.'

Hope these tips are helpful for anybody considering or planning a visit to Japan. It's definitely a amazing cultural experience like no other!
For any other tips or questions, feel free to comment below.

Friday, September 04, 2015

10 Year Blogiversary!

Back in 2005, just 3 weeks after my daughter was born, I use to do what any sane new parent use to do late at night - wonder if what my wife and I were going through was “normal”. Seeking advice and insights from other parents, online, not just relying on our own family or the decades-old traditional parenting magazines and books from people that hadn’t had kids in their own households for generations. 

In that time, I found so many parents in the same boat and some just off the boat from everywhere around the world. 
I in turn started blogging about my own experiences eventually becoming part of the daddy/mommy blogging community. 

I never imagined that I would still be doing this 10 years later. So much has changed during that time: my oldest is now in 5th grade and youngest just started Kindergarten and I've been married for 16 years now. 
Most other parent bloggers have stopped blogging altogether or continue to blog but are now exclusively product review sites instead. (In their defense, I do product reviews on occasion too!)
Some have moved to Facebook which definitely (still) isn’t my thing; some are exclusively on Twitter, which I do often now @creativeTypeDad

I’m not entirely sure how much longer I’ll be doing this as my posting has become more infrequent over the last 2 years, not like the old days where I would post 2-3 times a week. But between work, spending time with my family, I continue to seek advice of other parents and do enjoy sharing some fun stories along the way. 

Who knows? I may be granddaddy blogging...but hopefully not until my kids are at least 28 and married. 

Some favorite posts of mine over the years:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How To Deal With Kids Nightmares

*3:12 AM

I was awoken abruptly by my 5-year old standing 5 inches from my head saying he was too scared to sleep because Zombie’s outside were going to eat his brain if they got in the house.

Then he started walking over to my sleeping wife to which I told him immediately, in a whisper-panic, “NO, NO! NO! Don’t tell mommy!!”

Why? Because then I would get in trouble and that just can’t happen (again.) 

Yesterday, I downloaded this game Plants Vs. Zombies to his iPad after he saw some older kids playing it over the weekend. And by "older" I mean 6-7 year old’s. He thought it was cool because they thought it was cool and couldn’t stop talking about it. 
I played the game years ago and loved it, so I thought, “Hey! A fun little Zombie game were they’re attacking a house, and when they get in, they mumbled 'brains'... and a guys yells 'NOO!!’, and then you hear crunching noises, wouldn’t be so bad for a 5-year old... right?”

Well, at the time it seemed like a pretty good idea. 

So I did what any sane and tired parent would do. I put him back in his bed, kissed his forehead, and told him as long as he doesn’t wet his bed he has nothing to worry about. 

Friday, August 07, 2015

Yes, Kids Are On Instagram

Back in 2011 I signed up for a little photo-sharing App called Instagram. I loved it from the start - the filters, the creativity of people from around the world of photographers, artists, interesting hobbyist, vinyl record collectors, hand-letterer's, foodies taking pictures of food - who knew that could be so interesting? 

Oh, and of course, close friends!

What I like most about it is that everybody is mostly anonymous, unlike Facebook which I'm no fan of at all (ironically Facebook bought Instagram in 2012.) Instagram still remains my favorite and go-to, even when I'm taking a break from work. 

My wife soon jumped on in 2012 and has since used it more than anything, even Facebook, which she has pretty much nearly abandoned.

The Kid "Follow's"
Soon my daughter, 8 year's old at the time after getting an Apple iTouch that she got for Christmas, asked for her own Instagram account.

After some discussion and setting some rules, my wife and I made sure it was private and we would approve who she followed and who was allowed to follow her back. 
Over the years, now pretty much all of her friends ranging from 9-11 and some as young as 7 are on it. Kids from school, church, kids of our friends, camp friends, friends from after-school activities, whatever. 
The kids these days now use it as their premiere go-to social network. Who knew that Instagram, or IG as they call it, would have migrated that way?

To be clear, most ALL of her friends are on it. And they use it a few times a week some a few times a day and all of their parents (well parents that we know) know about it. Yes, some are not-private which scares me personally, but the vast majority are private, using anonymous names, or just first names, and we all follow our kids and watch them.

Breaking The Law?
So imagine to my surprise I come to find out that Instagram is actually illegal for kids under 13?
Yes! And YouTube. YouTube, second to Netflix, is what the kids watch all the time much more than TV with its cartoons and lots of great how-to videos and such. The legal terms says this:

"In any case, you affirm that you are over the age of 13, as the Service is not intended for children under 13. If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service"

To skirt around it and to their credit, YouTube launched a new limited "YouTube Kids" App that is really only for preschoolers.

This took some digging, and reading, and more reading, and then eventually what turned into many conversations with a few privacy attorneys that specialize in COPPA law.

 My research and take in a nutshell-

Back in the 90's government officials got together with some so-called parent advocacy groups (which pretty much was the 1% vocal minority with no real experience in technology) to create laws "protecting kids" from the internet called the "Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 ". To their credit, it seemed pretty well-intentioned at the time to non-techie parents who didn't get the internet at all. But because parents became more tech oriented growing up with the stuff, and technology pretty much re-invents every 18-months or so and creates new ideas fast, and the old web turned more into the mobile web from the advent of the Apple iPhone in 1997 creating the modern-day smartphone with all of it's Apps, the laws became outdated fast. 
Then, because the government is pretty much slow to respond to anything, they got back together and in 2013 updated those laws. To their credit they did talk with a few of the larger tech players this time around, and again to the vocal 1% minority which got most of their way, but now it did give some advantages to some really large players like the YouTube's and Disney's of the world as they can cover the expenses but smaller entry players are out of luck trying to comply to COPPA laws. Make one minor mistake and they're bankrupt with the absorbent compliance fees. 

But of course those 'new' laws have become outdated, once again.

How To Fix It?
One major thing lawmakers and the vocal 1% so-called advocacy groups don't understand is that kids WANT to be where everybody is and not on some remote island and parents just need controls that are specific to the App. The "one-size-fits-all" rules don't work! These advocacy groups want their ideal scenario in the world that all should conform to, but in the end, they end up hurting the people (kids) they want to help by pushing them into breaking the law. 

So back to Instagram, I'm absolutely sure they can easily make a 12 and under setting.  Just put in the parents email address instead of their own, allow parents to make it private/approve friends, or allow the kid to do so, or even allow the kids to the ability to drop in open comments. If my kid gets crazy with them - I can turn them off delete, erase. BUT the law doesn't allow Instagram to even figure any of that out -  it's pretty much black and white. All in 13+ or not at all 'in compliance' with COPPA laws.

So now we have a whole slew of "tweens" on Instagram breaking the law with most all parents allowing it, but with NO controls because Instagram is not allowed to even acknowledge it or they'll get fined for each 'violation' which can pretty much turn into billions the way the law is written. I'm sure Facebook, their owner, just doesn't want to bother with the PR nightmare of changing, or better yet, abandoning the the law. Imagine the field day the so-called vocal parent advocacy groups would have with that and the news headlines of, "Facebook WANTS to put your children in DANGER!" (photo of preschoolers.)
Yes, my 10YO is on Instagram and I allow it because our laws won't allow places like Instagram or even game Apps, to work with real parents (not so-called non-tech savy advocacy groups) in relation to their specific App or product to put in controls for parents. 

Until these laws are downright removed altogether or greatly amended allowing individual Apps to work with parents actually using the service, they have to conform to a one-size-all outdated government policy ultimately hurting the kids they think they're helping. 

*photo credit: @cats_of_instagram 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Happy 10th Birthday!

(A letter to my daughter on her 10th birthday)

Happy 10th Birthday Miss B or as you call it, “finally in the double-digits.”
A few things you did and said this past year that I’m going to remember forever:

  • Hearing all about your new adventures in your new school this year. 
  • The day you said you can’t order off the kids menu anymore because "somebody might find out” and you are not a kid anymore.
  • You’re still completely obsessed with stuffed animals. You don’t mind being, “the cat lady of stuffed animals.”
  • You still like it when I put little doodles in your lunch and share then with your friends. Except the Olaf one, apparently he’s not cool anymore but Unicorns, Pigicorns, and Pandacorns are totally fine. 
  • You play with your little brother, have better patience, and help him out. 
  • Playing Minecraft together for hours.
  • Speaking of Minecraft, your obsession with watching Stampylonghead videos (that english voice haunts me!)
  • Your obsession with building things, be it crafts or contraptions out of random junk. Yes, your mother doesn’t like the 'mess' but I think it’s all creative and love the things you’ve come up with. 
  • And your obsession with cute things - baby red panda’s, kittens, puppies, bunnies… whatever! All the cute posters have taken over your room.
  • Handmade gifts you’ve created for Father’s Day or just any day "just because.”
  • Your bravery this past year - you can now sail, surf in the ocean, and play the piano in front of crowds. You overcame your fears and now you know you can do anything you put your mind to. 
  • The time we spend together on hikes, vacations, weekends, or just sitting around playing games. 
The saddest thing I’m going to remember - you excitedly said just before going to bed, “Say goodbye to your 9YO forever, because tomorrow I’ll be 10!”

I’m going to miss that 9YO versions of you, but looking forward to our new adventures when you’re 10.

Love, Daddy

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Real Review of Dollar Shave Club

A friend sent me a hilarious video on YouTube called Let’s Talk About #2” from a place called Dollar Shave Club. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend watching when the kids aren’t looking over your shoulder. 

I remember hearing about DSC a few years ago but didn’t think much of them. But after watching the video I thought, “hey, why not try it out... seems pretty cheap and useful” so I broke out the credit card and ordered the famous $1 razor along with some other items that were pretty reasonably priced.
The humor of the site really sold me over from the “real-world” humorous descriptions to the overall look of the website. These guys are clever to say the least. 

The order came FAST, like, Amazon Prime fast. The packaging felt similar to that famous 'opening experience' you get from opening Apple products. I was expecting some small envelope but they send a coolish-looking box with some messaging printed on the top lid. Included with the products were card descriptions of each product and a new member handbook that even included a membership card for a free drink at "any bar in America!” with an asterisk of *not really. 

Too bad, but clever nonetheless. 

I must admit the build-up to using the product was pretty exciting. I hadn’t even tried it out yet and was sold on this club. But how were the goods?

I hooked up the new handle to the razor, put on their Shave Butter and tried using it. Nothing happened. The blades barely picked anything off. Thinking it must be the blade, I pulled that one off and tried another. Barely anything again.
And then tried tapping the blade to get the Shave Butter off to rinse and the blade fell off the handle. The handle connector is really flimsy. That happened a few times, the blades don’t connect to the handle well at all. 
I tried washing the Shave Butter off and tried using a new blade, but again, barely any whiskers were coming off. 

I broke out the cheap Target brand single disposable blade and it worked just fine. I even tried the Target brand with the new DSC Shave Butter and all worked just fine. 

Highly disappointed with the Dollar Shave Club blades and razor to say the least. Their razor is about as effective as my 5YO’s fake Spiderman Razor he uses in the bathtub.

My 5YO's favorite razor uses Spidey-sense for the closest shave possible.

I do like the Shave Butter, I’ll keep that. But the membership is now cancelled as the blades are a bust. Sorry Dollar Shave Club, you sold me with the videos, humor, brilliant messaging, and even the packaging but in the end... your razor sucked!

Dollar Shave Club video. The bear's performance is top-notch!


Dollar Shaved club sent me the $6 razor in place of the $1 and wow, what a huge difference! It worked pretty well and the blade didn't fall off the handle at all. Dollar Shave Club should axe the $1 razor or maybe keep it around for teens that really want to shave but in reality don't need to. I bet nobody is getting cuts from that thing.
For everybody else, go for the $6 and the Shave Butter which is really like shaving with butter. Just don't taste it.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Preschool Graduation: just like watching an episode of the Muppet Show except with lots of crying!

And it wasn’t the parents doing the crying. 

My son graduated preschool yesterday, which is a little bittersweet, because it still amazes me how fast the time just flew by with the second child. Sometimes I just stare at him and think, “whoa little man - when did you get so tall? And how did you beat that FRAMED game on your iPad all by yourself? I can’t even do that. ”

I must admit preschool graduations have to be one of the most entertaining events on planet earth. I nearly forgot as the last one I’ve been to was around 5 years ago when my daughter graduated.

Kids walking out, all confused, waving at parents, making weird faces, pretending to poop/fart in the air. Then there’s always that one that refuses to walk out standing with her arms crossed looking angry like somebody just told said she couldn’t have any candy ever again, or a unicorn, while the teacher is bent over trying to negotiate just like arms treaty with communist Russia.

Hopefully, quiet and calm gets the job done.

While all of the kids were singing the infamous, “kindergarten here we come” song one girl stood at the end crying for her mom to take her home ‘now.' The kid next to her turned his entire body and stood quietly to just *stare* at her while the other kids were singing in the same key William Hung but with the energy and stamina of Beyonce’. 
For a moment I thought a giant hook was going to appear off the side of the stage and pull her away. 

When it was all over my son got a little upset about never going to school there ever again. Hard to believe this was the same kid which 2 hours earlier didn’t want to go to preschool because he would rather play baseball in the backyard instead. 

He took pictures with his friends and on the way out, ran away from us to hug his teacher, Miss Julie. He told her that he would "miss her forever" in a dramatic tone that sounded like she was about to die - she was even taken back a bit. 

Then he ran back to us and calmly asked if we could get stop and ice cream on the way home. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Happy 5th Birthday!

(A letter to my son on his 5th birthday.)

Happy 5th birthday Mr. E! Or as you call yourself, “SUPER-E!"
How can you be 5 already?
Just a few things you did and said this past year that I’m going to remember forever:
  • Announcing at breakfast that your imaginary friend of 3 years, Sneaky Gumball, died the previous night riding a tiger Tijuana.  
  • Dressing up in costumes (Buzz Lightyear, Cowboy, Vampire) and then playing the piano.
  • Watching Jurassic Park at least 100 times. Telling people to be careful going poop and to go quick because a dinosaur might eat them. 
  • Me coming home from work, you telling me that you’ve changed your name to “Popsicle.”
  • Wearing your cape and mask pretty much anywhere out in public whenever you feel like it.
  • Your obsession with meat. Bacon, sausage, meatball, steak, hot dogs. 
  • Walking into my room any weekend morning and saying,"good morning" to the sun out the window. 
  • Holding anything in your hands lovingly (candy, toy car, food) and saying in a creepy voice “My Precious.” That’s fun to watch especially in public places with people around. 
  • My argument with you about Russia being a planet. You still refuse to say it’s a country. 
  • The “knock-knock” jokes you make up on the fly that make entirely no sense. But I can’t keep from laughing because you roll on the ground laughing hysterically. 
  • You telling me what you dream about when you wake up,”in my dream I was stuck to a cheetah’s butt. And then we became friends.
  • You got married at preschool to Zoe, and then she stopped playing with you. First marriages are the toughest…

Your favorite things at this moment:
  • Puzzles. Lot’s and lots of puzzles.
  • Playing on the beach and rolling around in the sand for hours and hours. Then washing you off for hours and hours.
  • Playing with your sister: school, store, building weird contraptions in the yard.
  • Netflix. Woody Woodpecker, Animal Mechanicals, and other offbeat cartoons. 
  • Making preschool art for mommy and me. The jeweled birdhouse flowerpot was a good one!
  • Riding bikes, scooters, people, animals, and things not made to be ridden. 
  • Hiking and throwing rocks in water.
  • Monsters, Sharks, or anything with large teeth and growls. 
  • Anything that shoots or makes really loud noises, or both.  

What you asked for your birthday:
  • Trumpet
  • Rooster
  • Sword
  • Jack in the Box

And I’m always going to remember what you told mommy last night before going to bed - buy Scooby Snacks for your birthday party at preschool, “just in case dogs show up.”

I’m going to miss the 4 year-old version of yourself,  but I’m looking forward to what new memories and adventures we’ll make together when your 5.


Monday, May 11, 2015

I Booked My Sons 5th Birthday At Chuck E. Cheese. Shame On Me And My Family For Generations To Come

How could I? I had no other choice, my options were exhausted from waiting too long. 

My wife and I have been talking about his birthday for months. My thoughts were to have it at home and invite a few friends, but apparently you can’t do that anymore when inviting friends from preschool - you have to invite half the school so kids don’t feel bad. 
Maybe that’s why these giant trampoline, child gyms, child activity centers, and indoor bounce house places exist because apparently having that many 4 and 5YO’s over the house is akin to having a late-night frat party where things get broken, drinks are spilled on the carpet, and sooner or later somebody ends up riding a goat through the house while wearing grandma’s brassiere.

Those 'party' places know it too and charge massive amounts to have birthdays. Weekend 2-hour party’s start at $500 with virtually nothing included. Well, maybe air conditioning, lighting, and carpet but that’s about it. And these places are booked months in advance - some up to a year! 

We attended a Chuck E. Cheese birthday some years ago for some neighbors (written here) and that was quite an experience. I walked away thinking, “I would never do that to my kid” and then years later I do the EXACT SAME THING! I’ve become "that parent."
Now I feel nothing but compassion for those people. I feel their pain. I still remember the dad apologizing saying things like, “Oh, I’m so sorry we had to resort to this place... we waited too long” 

Well, I didn’t realize definition of “long” was just a few weeks.

The party is this weekend. I better break out the humility, prepare apologies, and hope my son doesn’t end up with a gambling addition by the time he’s 15 all because I had his 5th birthday at Chuck E. Cheese.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Where Imaginary Friends Go To Die

Sad news at breakfast earlier - my 4YO told the family that his imaginary friend of nearly 3 years had died the previous night while riding a tiger in Tijuana.

After telling us the gloomy news, he went about finishing his Frosted Mini Wheat’s while watching Woody Woodpecker on Netflix with his sister. Obviously, to say the least, the rest of us were more shocked by the news than he was.

I can genuinely say I’ll miss the 1’ 6” little guy.

Sneaky Gumball loved living life on the edge of mischief and danger since his appearance in 2012 when our son was about 2 1/2. I still remember the day he came into our home instantly appearing when our son was standing near spilled juice on the family room rug. When we had asked, “did you spill this?” he replied with, “I didn’t do it, Sneaky Gumball did it.”

Sneaky Gumball did all sorts of bad things. He stole French fries, lost Lego’s, threw balls indoors, broke toys, farted in closed cars while driving through the car wash and elevators; he even managed to steal our son’s pull-up at night, pee in it, and put it right back on him. Sneaky that Gumball was. 

In addition, Sneaky Gumball's parents had made lots of questionable life decisions as they let him do dangerous things our son was never allowed to do. For example: when our son wanted to light matches for a bonfire and we refused, he would instantly respond with, “well, Sneaky Gumball’s parents let him play with matches…all the time.”
The conversation never ends well when your parenting choices are compared to that of some other “cool parents.”

Well obviously riding tigers in places lacking authority was not an entirely shocking ending. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sneaky Gumball’s parents bought him that tiger for his 5th birthday and left him alone at his parents Tijuana timeshare.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Things To-Do By 40

My birthday just passed. In addition to my regular annual questions of, “where did the time go?” or “when my Dad was my age, he looked like he was 63” another important thought came to mind now that I’m conformably in my 40’s and get asked occasionally  

 “What should have I done by age 40?”

Well, after deep thought, here’s my advice of things every father and maybe every man should have done by age 40:

1. Create a Will. It’s the responsible thing to do especially if you have kids. 
2. Save for retirement. Thankfully I started at 22 when my first boss told me these very wise and insightful words, “I have no idea what a 401K is, I just know you put money in it and you won’t die poor.”
3. Run a Marathon. Or in my case a ‘more achievable’ 10K. And then on the day-of feel like your doing pretty awesome; making really good time, and then when you start getting tired, you pass the 1 mile marker, and then for the next 60 minutes ask yourself over and over again, “Oh God, I can’t feel my toes/legs/tongue...! Why did I do this?” 
4. Celebrate a milestone birthday in a foreign country. Preferably at a local karaoke bar in Kyoto, Japan singing to the tune Bee-Gee’s “Night Fever."  Just don’t fall asleep at 6PM.
5. Do something really adventurous with your spouse before having kids. In our case, we went to New Zealand for 3 weeks. One major highlight and life changing experience - we went caving with 2 guides and thought we were going to die repelling 9 stories down a giant hole. At the time I told my wife, “if you survive and I don’t, please make sure my tombstone says, “Sacrificed his life saving his young beautiful wife, and ended up falling 9 stories into a giant hole in the New Zealand countryside’.” 

By the way, I still want my tombstone to say that regardless of how I end up dying. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Average Teen in 2015 Will Spend $919 on...Prom?

I had to read this study/release a few times as it seemed completely foreign to me - 

Costs include: 
  • Attire
  • Limo (seriously..?)
  • Flowers
  • Pictures
  • Food
  • Tickets
  • “Accommodations”  (Dear God, as a father that scares me…)
  • "After Party" (don’t like the sound of that too. Amen.)
  • "Promposal” (what-choo-talkin-bout?)

In my senior year I went to 3 proms and spent around $75, maybe $90 tops, and paid for it all out of my own pocket; I worked at a movie theater part-time. Of course, I went to those proms back-to-back Thursday, Friday, Saturday and used the same $25 tux! 
It’s a good thing my dates didn’t know about the other proms. That was something that could be done back in those days and can never happen today due to Instagram, Twitter, and social media. 

Something I find completely crazy is this new idea of a promposal. Kids today spend an average of $324 on these newly created elaborate schemes which are similar to wedding proposals. I can’t think of anything more ridiculous than spending that kind of money asking somebody to go to the prom. There are so many ways to ask these days - text, DM, call, FB, Snapchat, or here’s a novel idea: in-person without an audience...

Oh, and the most unbelievable fact from the article - parents pony up around 3/4 of that $919 mentioned above.

 Parents, why? 

Monday, April 20, 2015

When Your Kids Asks, “Have you ever heard of a vinyl record?”

My daughter asked me recently, “have you ever heard of a vinyl record?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

She went on to tell me how the neighbor’s 19YO had one and played them on this funny thing called a "record player.” 
I nearly died laughing inside just listening to her explain it to me.

She went on, “oh my gosh…in the old days, it was a lot of trouble to hear just ONE song. There was no Pandora. Can you believe that!?"

Then I went downstairs and hidden in our cabinet showed her my record player and around 200 records in boxes bought in the 80s and a good chunk bought in goodwill and antique shops while I was in college in the early 90’s because people were just giving them away. Most of then still had the price tags of $.25 to a steep $1.50! I’ve always had a thing for records as it always reminded me of my grandmother listening to records (mostly Tom Jones) on Saturday mornings while eating breakfast. 

Now nearly every Saturday morning she loves getting up early and playing records on this novel record player and telling her friends about her dad has this huge collection that she’ll get one day. 

Now I’m feeling like some hipster; of course before hipsters were cool. So does that make me a pre-hipster? 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Connecting With The Kids On A Family Vacation

Last week, for my vacation and my daughter's spring break, our family spent the entire week on the California Central Coast (San Luis Obispo) area doing activities such as hiking, “geocaching", playing on the beach, visiting wineries, riding bikes, picnicking at parks with playgrounds, and my personal favorite: the occasional afternoon nap in the sun to the sound of crashing waves (I can’t think of anything more relaxing than that!)
It was so much better than our normal family affair of a multi-day theme park visit to someplace like Disney World. 
On the way home I asked my kids what their favorite activities were from the week. My 4 year-old answered, “eating Easter candy and visiting a farm” and my 9 year-old, “playing on the beach and the REALLY fun conversations we had while hiking.” 

"…the REALLY fun conversations we had while hiking.”


A trip well spent. 

Monday, April 06, 2015

Leaving a Lasting Positive Impression

I met an interesting friend-of-a-friend last week visiting from Ireland. 

His name is Paul. 

A really nice guy that likes to talk a lot about life in general; topics like family, friends, work, travels, people all in an upbeat and positive sort of way. He’s the kind of person that would easily call you a 'good friend’ as an introduction to another after just meeting and speaking with you for a hour. 
He makes a infectious and positive impression just from his upbeat attitude and outlook but probably doesn’t realize it.

This morning after my wife and kids made my annual Birthday breakfast, I found out Paul passed away last night from an epileptic seizure. 

Paul was 38. 

It really puts things in perspective when rushing through life: what kind of impression are we making to those around us? It could be one of many or possibly the last.  How do we want people to remember us? We could have the best heart and intentions in the world, but what we do, what we say, how we act, our actions, how we treat others, our gratitude, acknowledging how blessed we are in life -- that's what matters. 

I strive to leave that kind of lasting positive impression on others, as Paul left on me.