Monday, December 17, 2012

Transfer of Wealth

Interesting article on regarding some "Super Wealthy" individuals calling for higher estate taxes.

Richard Rockefeller, an heir to Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, noted that a stronger estate tax would also encourage more philanthropy, since charitable gifts can reduce one's taxable estate.
"If the world I leave behind is one of gated communities, growing inequality and misery among the have-nots, downward mobility for the middle class, a degraded environment and a rotting social and physical infrastructure -- then [my children's] inheritance will be a shabby one -- no matter how much money they get," he said.

It's a challenging debate - how much to tax inheritance. The two sides I will discuss:
1) If I manage to save a lot of money over my lifetime, why shouldn't I be able to pass it along to my children if I so choose, and without the government getting their hands all over it?
2) Use it or lose it. Spend it or donate it, but passing it along to perpetuate a block of wealth is not in greater society's best interests.
Let's say that I do really well at my job financially and decide to save a lot of the money I earn rather than spend it as I take it in. With those savings, I did a few things that worked out. The financial tools like stocks, funds, and bonds that I chose, overall, did very well. I purchased some real estate that I turned into rental property and that made some money. The house that we bought and improved over the years is worth much more than the price I paid plus the equity invested. Now it's time for me to decide what to do with my money.
On the one side. . .
I have two children and they're pretty good people, so they get the money. It will not only allow them to lead comfortable lives as well as help provide for their families, but may allow them to pursue an occupation that, perhaps does not pay as well but it what they love to do. Perhaps they will, in turn, invest it effectively and see it grow.
What I don't want to see is the government decide how to spend my money. They already took taxes out of it once, either through income taxes or capital gains taxes. Now they want to tax it again? If I want to donate some of it to schools, medical research, or another benevolent purpose, that is my business.
On the other hand . . .
I want to give some money to my children. Like paying for clothing, food, college and weddings, I enjoy gifting to my children. At some point, though, they need to stand on their own two feet and make their own way. By giving them an abundance of wealth, I am enabling them to live lives of leisure rather than action. I made my money though hard work and making wise investments. Those are the lessons that I want to pass along. By no means do I want my legacy carried on by people who live in the spotlight or at a country club.
Having a higher tax rate will either force me to donate part of my wealth to organizations and groups who have values that I would like perpetuated or it will go toward paying for government expenditures on things that we all need like infrastructure and research.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gimme The Beef

Of course, just after posting something about adding more vegetables to my diet, I am posting something about finding a better way to consume a bane of climate change in roast beef.

It spawned from my desire to get away from consuming meat purchased from a deli counter. I love deli. Love it. The problem is that the stuff behind the counter is preserved with shelf-stabilizing additives that, I believe, are not fit for human consumption. We are able to process these chemicals but, over time, they wear us down. So I began to look for a meat slicer.

As it turns out, my search was happening around the time of my birthday and someone was generous enough to buy a very nice consumer-grade slicer. (If ever my kitchen decides to expand on its own, a commercial-grade slicer may follow.)

The next task was to find recipes for turkey breast and roast beef. Googling "home made deli meat" gave me several hits to roast beef recipes, so that was my first attempt.

One of the things I wondered about was, what cut of beef is used for your typical, sliced roast beef? Top sirloin and eye of round seemed to be two common cuts for the job. While Peoria Packing in the Fulton Market District had it for $3.29/lb, I took the easy road and bought from Costco for $4.89/lb. (If I start doing it more often, I will likely head for savings.)

The recipe I used, from the Hungry Mouse, called for 500 degrees F for 20 minutes, then drop the temp to 300 for another 30 minutes. In re-reading that, I realize that I failed miserably, still achieving good results. Attention to detail is not always my strong suit. I only blasted the meat at 500 for 20 minutes, then took it out. It's on the rare side, all right! But it is delicious.

Back it up. So here I was with this meat and Bunny, my daughter. She loves to cook, so she helped me pour and spread the olive oil. Then I poured some Kosher salt, ground black pepper, and garlic salt into ramekins for her to sprinkle over top. After we seasoned both sides, into the oven they went.

Now I know why I thought the thermometer was broken! After 10 minutes, I expected the temp to start moving. No such luck. After the "full" 20, nothing. So I pulled the meat and tented it, thinking the thermometer was broken. Turns out, I basically seared the stuff.

Still, it was very tasty. Costco sold two eye of round roasts in a package and the total weight was 2.75 lbs. I roasted both at the same time. They were both wrapped in foil and put into the fridge to cool. (Meat is easier to slice when it's cold.) The roast that was not sliced was put into a Ziploc bag and I sucked as much of the air from it as possible before sealing it and placing in the freezer. Maybe after I thaw it, I will put it back in the oven and cook it low and slow. Could be a great way to partially cook and freeze. Will let you know how that turns out.

In the meantime, roast beef sandwiches all week!!!

More veggies!

Many of us struggle to add vegetables to our daily diet. I just made a really yummy veggie dish and wanted to share.

I took I hand full of Normandy vegetables that I bought from Costco which has broccoli, carrots, squash, cauliflower, added in some frozen chopped bell peppers and onions and put them into a pan preheated with olive oil. After reducing the heat to medium low, I covered with a lid. This defrosts the vegetables and steams them in the ice crystals that formed naturally during the freezing process.

After 3 or 4 minutes, I took the lead off, returned the pan to medium heat, added a pinch of salt, pepper and a sprinkle of red chili powder and tossed. After 2 minutes I added a precooked piece of bacon that had been chopped into one inch pieces and cooked with the vegetables for 2 minutes. Then I served myself.

Good stuff.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Reliving Other's Experiences

Bunny has been talking about her make-believe dog dying.

This morning, we learned that our friend's dog passed away overnight. He was old and was having a hard time getting around. He was a sweetheart.

Now, Bunny says that her dog ate a bug, started coughing, and died.

I plan to update this with more analysis when I get back to my desktop.

Recent Developments

JD used the house key to open the lock on the front door today.

He has also begun the early stages of reading, as he can see and say somewhere between ten and twenty words.

Seek but not much hiding

Funny how kids think nobody can see them when they close their eyes.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Best Present

My birthday is tomorrow but we had our families over to celebrate today. After opening my gifts, Bunny brought a princess gift bag filled with some of her toys. She said, "Happy birthday, Daddy!" And I opened my gift. It was as sweet as it gets.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Girl's Best Imaginary Friend

Apparently, Bunny has three dogs. Their names are Harley, Gas, and Bass
She also has four cats: Rags, Katy, Hazel, and Bass.

Coincidentally, our Bunny's best friend Hazel and her mom, Katy, recently moved away.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Financial Lessons from the School of Hard Knocks

What I was told: "Live cheap, accumulate wealth."

I did not take that saying from my father to heart. I did not make a plan to do so. What did that mean, accumulate wealth? What does it mean to live cheap?

Here are some of the plans that I plan to teach my children.

When you get a job, that is not the time to start living the high life. Take 10% of every check and put it into savings. 10% of 10 paychecks = 1 full paycheck. Having three months of savings is essential. Having six months is a luxury. That means it will take 2.5 years to accumulate 3 months of savings and 5 years to save up 6 months.

What can you do with savings?
Avoid financing purchases. When you put savings away, you accumulate interest that compounds. Compounding is when your interest makes interest. It is small at first, but that is how the wealthy stay wealthy. When you finance, let's say, a car, you are paying interest. Instead, keep driving your shitty car and sock away the $250-500+ per month that you would be paying for that car. In one year, you will have a lot more money to put down on that car. And you can wait for the car company to have a special interest rate, possibly 0%.

Live cheap.
I did not know how to work backwards through my fiances. I think I took home around $500 per week at one point in my career. So that's around $2100 per month. My living space should have been less than $550 per month, or 25%. I should have been saving $210 per month. That's 35%. Food, realistically, around $100 per week, or around 20%, so that's 55%. Then you have clothing, utilities, gas and car insurance.

I should not have been in the apartment where I was, as the 4th roommate in the smallest room, paying $650 per month. I ate lunch out regularly, though cheaply. And I went to bars. Now that gets expensive. And so on and so forth.

Instead, eat out rarely, if ever. I did manage to figure that out at some point. Cereal and milk, peanut butter and jelly, pasta, chicken, and veggies are all very reasonable to keep on hand. Find a cheap but good hole-in-the-wall restaurants for date nights (BYOB!) I have found that, while girls like to be wined-and-dined, they also like to go to a place that is unique. And if you're dating a girl that is interested in big money, move on. It'll be cheaper in the end. Conversely, if she's into you, she won't care that you don't have a lot of money but will respect that you are smart with your money. That makes an attractive long-term partner.

Accumulate wealth. This is what I really didn't understand. There is a difference between being rich and being wealthy. I mentioned before that the wealthy stay wealthy because of compounding interest. But you're not going to make a lot of money when money markets are yielding less than 1% as they are right now. Bonds and dividend stocks may yield 5-10%. Real estate! Buy a 3-flat and start collecting rent. If you buy smart, the rent covers the mortgage and insurance right away. Over time, rent goes up but the mortgage stays the same, which pays back your down payment. And real estate has, historically, risen steadily over time, the last ten years being an exception. So after ten years, you've got a piece of property that has, theoretically, increased in value and the rent being collected is probably 10% higher (or more) than when you started.

What am I doing now that practices what I preach? Wife has been maxing out her 401k contributions since she began working, so that helps. We purchased a house that was slightly above our budget but in a stable neighborhood. After five years, we are just starting to break even over our fiscal budget and our property only lost 10% of its value (much better than some people whose property lost 50% or more.) I shop for value, so not everything that we buy is inexpensive, but it is made to last. There are cheaper places than others for various foods, so I shop at several grocers. Both of our cars are paid off. Know what I did with the money saved from paying off our car? Put it against our mortgage. We shop for clothing during sale times at places like the Gap family of stores and have their Visa card so that we accumulate rewards dollars that we use during the next sale (you can count on minimum 25% off sales regularly and often as much as 40% off.) And don't neglect Salvation Army and other thrift stores! Bunny's favorite nightgown is a Cinderella dress that cost $1. Even on sale, most pajama sets cost $15 or more.

How I continue to be stupid: we eat out more than we should, or at least more expensively than we should. I should not play golf and hockey during the summer, but pick one.

What we did not expect: JD does speech and occupational therapy three times per week total. While our insurance is very good, it doesn't cover everything.

How I have improved over time: I created a budget on an Excel spreadsheet and it has evolved over time. I now have enough data over a few years to be able to forecast future spending.

How I plan to improve: I am going to create a new portion of my budget that reflects our wish list. Things like a new car for Wife, landscaping, a special vacation, and home improvements are some of the things that we can quantify and figure out what we can and cannot afford as well as prioritize.

The last word on savings: it allows you to live for today. Now that we've got some money in the bank, we can say, "Fuck it," once in a while. I am thinking about taking the family to a water park over New Year's. We should take that $1,000 and put it against our mortgage. But what if one of us dies in a car wreck? Or gets cancer? Having a few extra bucks will not make you happy, but is does create a certain level of freedom and confidence.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Me: we're not taking the stroller.
Bunny: we're taking our feet?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Good when...

I know I'm a good at-home Dad when the preschool Moms text me about what time they need to be somewhere.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I'll never be able to think about tomorrow if I am forever doing yesterday's work.

Friday, October 26, 2012

For my records

Bunny is now able to write her first and last names in capital letters.

Wrong Refuge

I’ve noticed that I don’t set aside a lot of time to play with the kids. They aren’t neglected, by any means. We do all of the necessities together - eat, dress, clean up, and go to the bathroom. Beyond that, though, I do not dedicate a lot of time to play.

Why not? Theoretically, I have the most time with Bunny. She is done with preschool at 11 am. We typically get home at 11:30, then have lunch. Now it’s 12 or 12:30. There’s kitchen cleanup, laundry, bills, phone calls, email, and all of my “grown-up” agenda.

With JD, I have even less time. 2:50 pm dismissal. Then he has after school activities four days per week. By the time we get home, it’s dinner, cleanup, then bedtime.

Weekends are packed with family, friends, and shopping with Wife. There is no time set aside dedicated to playtime.

Seems easy enough, doesn’t it? Put the smartphones away, turn off the TVs, maybe turn on some music. Get out a board game or some paper and crayons. Do home homework or read a few stories. Dress them in costume and have an adventure. Take a walk around the block with no agenda, no time table.

And yet, a week will go by and I’ll wonder where it went. I am terrified that someone will ask what we do when we play together.

Sounds bleak, doesn’t it?

We do have story time at bedtime. We do walk to and from school together, during which we talk about the world around us. When they have questions, I give them complete answers using adult-level vocabulary. So it’s not like we don’t spend quality time together. It’s just not often at home.

One thing that turns me off to play is bad behavior. Most of us know, as parents, that many of the best times are when we’re playing together. So it should be second nature, when the kids are not behaving well, to redirect to a game and get them back on track. Instead, it makes me more recluse, taking refuge in my domestic or administrative work. I enjoy focusing on cooking or making the budget. The chaos of children can put my nerves on edge and bring my serotonin down. I’ll even find a corner, pull out my smartphone, and look at email or play a video game. And that, to me, is unhealthy. I may as well light up a cigarette or pour myself a cocktail.

On the other hand, I know that it’s perfectly normal to want to escape chaos. While I’m at my best in an emergency, I am not good during irrational emotional breakdown. I often have difficulty empathizing with Wife when she’s facing or looking back at a challenge. Making practical sense or providing unsolicited constructive criticism seems to come out. Or, even worse, having a don’t cry over spilled milk attitude. And yet, that’s all that is something that these individual instances share - they are trying to make sense or to cope emotionally with their own versions of chaos. The kids are trying to play together without giving the other their space or things, creating a paradox of situations that cause their minds to get confused resulting in emotional breakdown. Wife is either coming from a stressful situation and is trying to release herself from the stress that enabled her to be at her best during that, while coping with the work ahead of her, all resulting in challenges to human emotional stability.

And there I am, running away, yelling, or being critical. I guess one of my challenges is the capacity to look at the present from a third person perspective. To hear the kids yelling at each other and think about what they need as opposed to allowing the noise to cloud my mind. I need to listen to Wife and think about what she’s actually telling me, rather than thinking about what I want her to hear.

Preparation is one of life’s consistent solutions. Preparing myself for the chaos that will occur over the course of the day. Preparing myself for Wife’s need for emotional support. Preparing activities to play with the kids, like an art project, an adventure, or making cookies (and not turning on the TV or handing them the iPad). Having things in place so that Wife has fewer things to check off of her mental list, like making sure that the laundry and the dry cleaning are put away and remembering to simply say, “That sounds like it was / is going to be challenging.” And putting myself in the best position my planning my day efficiently so that I am not running around, doing things at the last minute, reducing my own chaos.

While it’ll never be perfect, thinking it through will make more days good days. But I sure do love a good game of solitaire.

Monday, October 22, 2012


JD has learned the joy of blowing bubbles in his milk.

Tonight at the dinner table, he blew some bubbles and asked, "Did somebody farted?"

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Just a thought . . .

I'm sitting here, working in a fundraising letter for our elementary school when I noticed something. My computer screen has the wrong orientation. When I'm working on documents or looking at the internet, my screen should not be long left-to-right (landscape) like a widescreen TV, is should be long top-to-bottom (portrait) like a periodical or a sheet of paper.

So if any hardware or technology developers are out there reading this, take note that I want a monitor that can rotate like a tablet so that, when I'm doing word processing or web surfing, I have more space top-to-bottom. When I'm watching visual media, I can turn it to "landscape" orientation to maximize the wide aspect ratio.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What's going on down there?

"Daddy, why do you have hair on your penis?"
JD's question over dinner raised my wife's and my eyebrows. I was able to quickly recover.
As boys and girls get older, hair grows on their bodies. Boys grow hair around their penis and girls grow hair around their vagina.
That seemed like a good, objective, scientific explanation. It was a bit disconcerting to JD.
"But I don't want hair on my penis! I love it [the way it is]!"
Well, it won't happen for a long time, I replied.

One thing that Wife and I do is to use "dictionary" words with the children. We say penis and vagina. We use words like rhetorical, negligible, and conspicuous. And we definitely don't refer to our private parts as "wee wee" or "pee pee". Okay, I guess we say pee and poop instead of urinate and bowel movement. You got me there.

Something that I have always disliked is, "Because I said so." That doesn't come out of my mouth. I hated hearing it as a kid (though rarely did) and I cringe when I hear fellow parents say it now. How dumb do people think their kids are? Or, how hard is it to give a simple explanation for the decisions we make? Why do I have to tie my shoes before going down the stairs? Why do I have to look both ways before I cross the street? Why don't I have hair on my penis? They all deserve answers, especially if you want to develop critical thinkers and good decision and policy makers.

There are questions they could ask that require greater maturity to understand. For example, what if one the kids "walked in on us" or accidentally clicked the wrong link while online. How would I handle that?

At times, I may have to delay my response. To that, I would say to JD or Bunny, "Let me think about that."

To me, "Because I said so," means that the parent does not have a good reason. The behavior seems wrong, though she doesn't know why. When our employer makes a change in the workplace and the government enacts a new policy, we like an explanation. Why is it different for kids?

It also helps them understand how we form our values. There will be times that you tell your child that she can't do something that her friend is allowed to do. If you say, "Because I said so," you are telling your child something demeaning about her character. While it is likely that the explanation will not make them happier about the decision in the immediate, she will appreciate and probably regurgitate the explanation at a later time.

And, as in all things parenting, it's all about the long run because her behavior sure as hell isn't going to change today or tomorrow. Or the next day, or the next day . . .

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Leadership is not a light switch, it is a state of being.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Unnecessary Glances into the Future

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned it in earlier posts, but I was bullied when I was in fourth grade. Not physically, but mentally. I'll skip the particulars, but it is something that I have to live with and will never forget.

Occasionally when doing parent recon, I come across articles on bullying. On one hand, JD just started kindergarten, so I'm not worried that it will happen soon. What if he ends up socially awkward like I was, combined with being around a group of kids who enjoy exploiting it like I was?

Part of me wants to do my best to teach JD and Bunny what I wish that I was taught - that the kids, at least initially for me, didn't mean harm. They were probably teasing me like they would any of their friends. When I didn't react well to the ribbing, they wanted to see what would happen if they kept going. And going. And going.

Here's our family philosophy: first, talk to the person. If that doesn't happen: second, talk to a teacher or authority or parents at home. Third, our kids have our permission to take matters into their own hands.

Let's say that it doesn't work and that the kids do keep going.

Here is what happens in my head. Perhaps this is the big-talker, creative writing mind taking things to extremes. Nonetheless...

First, I would talk to the school. Then to their parents. Then if it continued to be a problem, I would actually threaten physical harm to the parents, or at least the father. Then I would take a baseball bat to their house, car, etc. I would not use a baseball bat on a person. I am 6'5" and can handle myself. Maybe show up at their place of business. I envision some loss of my sense of right and wrong.

When I think back to how I was treated, it is a nightmare. My blood rushes, I get warm, and have the feeling as if I'm being backed into a corner. My body is preparing for a fisticuffs. (I am using the present tense because those are the symptoms happening right now.)

Being Jewish, there is a saying: NEVER AGAIN.

Do you know what that means? If not, then Google it.

But, when it comes to my kids getting bullied, NEVER AGAIN. Not on my watch. No fucking way.

For those who are reading this and wondering whether it's a good idea to teach kids that violence solves problems: there is a time to stand up to a bully and punch him (or her) in the face. Like if someone is picking on your little brother or sister. Yeah, then it's okay.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It comes so easy

It's interesting to see that Bunny has a much more challenging time getting her shoes on the correct feet, whereas that came very easily to JD.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Yesterday's Carrot, Today's Funny

Bunny checks the results of her wiping herself post-poop. Today, she had a particularly successful wipe, looked at it, and said, "It's so carroty!"

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Bunny became a woman today. She didn't notice that the toilet seat was left in the up position by her brother and sat in the bowl.

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Disciplining Creativity

Bunny ate Cheerios but did not finish all of the milk in the bowl. As I was unloading the dishwasher as I do every morning in the time between my finishing breakfast and their being done, when I heard stirring.

Bunny was stirring her milk with her spoon, then dunked her hands in the bowl and finger painted the table.

What to do?

I threw a towel on the table and told her to clean up when she finished.

Is that teaching her that it's okay to play with her food? Or is it teaching her that food can be wasted? Or did I demonstrate patience and compassion in allowing her to follow her creativity? Perhaps I missed an opportunity to teach her that such behavior is not usual but that I was going to make an exception.

I suppose that I discuss discipline and behavior so much because it weighs heavily on my mind. It is i. These times that I feel the least sure of myself as a parent. We all know to teach kids about stair and street safety, but how does it come across? Are we yelling when we should be calm and sweet when we should be harsh?

In the end, we're going to make lots of mistakes. We will screw our kids up in some ways and make them stronger in others. Hopefully we do a good enough job so they don't go postal one day, screaming, "You never let me play with my milk!!!"

Friday, August 24, 2012

Homemaker Tip - Food Storage

When storing any food in plastic containers (I prefer Snapware) I have begun putting a folded paper towel at the bottom.

One thing it does is control the condensation and regulate the humidity within the container. It also prevents fruit from soaking in it's own juice. I believe the juice breaks the solids down.

Example: i chopped a cantaloupe two days ago and put it in a container with a paper towel at the bottom. Not only is the bottom free of sticky syrup, but the fruit has remained firm and retained its taste.

I do so with chicken nuggets that have been cooked and it keeps them from getting soggy and sticking together. I do it with raw chicken and with cooked bacon.

Try it sometime and you'll find that your prepared food lasts longer and tastes better.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Cousin O passed along this tidbit of wisdom :
You're only as happy as your least happy child.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

No fun at all

My friend shared this story with me:

We were on our way to PJ's birthday party. James asked, "Where are we going?"
"We're going to PJ's birthday party."
"Are there jumpy houses?"
"No," I replied, "It's a restaurant."
"Restaurants aren't fun for kids!"

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A little fun

Bunny, please be quiet
But Mom, I'm just being silly.
You can be silly, but when you're loud it gives Mommy immense headaches.
But it gives me a little fun.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Costco Outing

If I recall correctly, I went in to Costco to buy chicken nuggets and pick up my contact lenses. Oh, yeah, we need turkey. Oh, yeah, I need plastic wrap. Oh, yeah, we need bacon. Oh, yeah, we need broccoli.

In the checkout line, I decided to get some frozen yogurt at the concession stand as the kids had behaved reasonably well during our shopping excursion that included two previous stops.

So we were standing in line and JD asked for pizza and a glass of water. Oh, all right.

The concessions people gave us a giant piece of pizza that required dividing. After sitting down, I gave Bunny the large cup of frozen yogurt (they only have one size - Costco size) and set out to make the pizza more able to be handled by a five-year-old. As I began to cut the pizza, JD picked up the water, and on the way to his mouth, dropped it in his lap. Yikes. I grabbed a pile of napkins and dried him off. No big deal. As I finished cleaning him up, I looked over at Bunny. She had apparently taken a huge scoop of frozen yogurt which led to slowly melting chocolate frozen yogurt drip-drip-dripping on her sea green skirt. Ugh.

Finally, they were cleaned up and eating. As they were finishing, I decided to alert the employees that there was a pool of water on the concrete floor under our table where JD had spilled. That's when Bunny came running up to me to say she had to go potty. When she comes to get me, that means it's time to go.

I quickly cleaned up and we headed to the bathroom. JD headed to the urinal and I took Bunny to the stall. She quickly pooped (she's quick,) then yelled, "Daddy, I stink! STINK!" Over and over again. I glanced over the stall walls (if you've forgotten or didn't know, I'm 6'5".) There were a couple of guys in the bathroom chuckling a bit.

So I cleaned her tush and exited the stall to find JD with his shorts and underwear dropped to the floor, his butt just hanging out. I just looked up and laughed, got their hands washed and headed home.

Totally Emotional Recall

July 30th was my parents' wedding anniversary. Except that my Dad died in 2004 and my Mom remarried in 2007. But it would have been 46 years.

I miss my father terribly. He was a considerable influence on my life. My parents' marriage was a considerable influence on my life. They had what many considered to be an ideal marriage.

I do not know whether they would have considered themselves that, as few of us see ourselves as others see us. (That is the burden of celebrity.) What I do know is that they were in love and worked hard to make their love persevere.

But now he is gone from my life in a material way. I do not have my "parents." How fortunate for me that the memories of my father are so positive and full of examples that help guide decisions.

When I miss him most, when I feel closest to him, I am very emotional and there is usually a good deal of crying involved. Why crying and sadness are necessary, I do not know. Perhaps that is an immaturity; in time, I may find that I can feel extreme joy or laughter and feel the same closeness.

In fact, it is those times when I am crying that I not only feel close, but feel as though he is in my presence.

I am learning to say, "I wish Dad was here to see this," or, "Dad would have loved this," out loud more often. It's something that I have not done until recently, and he died almost eight years ago. Last week, Wife and I went to a jazz club. Or when I cook something particularly good or eat something wonderful and spicy. I wish Dad was there.

I will spare you my thoughts on the afterlife and whether or not I think that he's always with me. We all have our own definitions and perceptions. So much so, that putting my feelings on that subject into a short paragraph would not provide a proper definition.

What I will say is that it makes me feel better to make a regular effort to remember Dad. I need to tell my kids stories about my Dad more often. I can even talk aloud to him, as if he were there with me, my consigliere. On the other hand. failing to recall his words and actions would equal discarding my math or reading education. It would be tragic to be around a person with so much wisdom and fail to recall it for practical use.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Know When to Scold 'Em, Know When to Walk Away

I am so angry with JD right now that I had to walk away for fear of doing something regrettable.

He was telling Bunny to put the stick of a flag-shaped noisemaker in her mouth. While not a good game to play, this should not cause me to blow my top.

The best advice, of course, would be to tell Bunny to remove it from her mouth and explain to both of them simply but with a tone of importance the dangers of putting objects in one's mouth. Then ask, "Is this something you put in your mouth?" They respond, No. "What do you put in your mouth?" Food.

A few days ago, though, Bunny came crying to me. JD had stuck a sword in her mouth. Not a real sword. It was actually the plastic shaft of a play golf club that had come unscrewed from the club head. Now, it was a grey, tubular stick about two feet long. There was no damage like bleeding other other visible damage. However, I did not react calmly and demonstrate the situation with a degree of reason.

I scared the shit out of him. First, I yelled about the danger. Then I yelled about whether he would like it if I stuck it in his mouth. Then I held him and held the "sword" and asked him again, as if I was going to stick it in his mouth. Then he got to spend some time in his room.

I was scared that he would hurt Bunny or someone else and wanted to scare the behavior out of him. Clearly, it didn't work.

Again, the lesson is to me, not to the kids. And it's something that I've theorized in the last year or so: hitting, spanking, yelling and other aggressive parenting tactics may curb the behavior in the moment, but such tactics do nothing to change behavior over the long term.

I do believe that there is a time when I have to give them an attitude adjustment. Those times are when their behavior is catastrophically dangerous and must be stopped immediately. I yelled a bit when the kids tried to go into the street after a toy. Or rough-housing near stairs. To me, those are times when the gentle approach isn't good enough or strong enough. A good dressing-down in those situations did not adjust long-term behavior, but it did get them to stop at that time. Once the behavior has been stopped for that instance, my takeaway is that the child needs more instruction about that behavior. Later in the day or the next day, a lesson about staying out of the street and proper street-crossing behavior is imperative. A lesson about falling down the stairs and general stairs safety is a must. When I'm at my very best, I give a quick, attention-getting yell, like, "HEY!" Then I return to calm and have an intelligent, rational discussion.

But expecting their behavior to be permanently altered after screaming or even a spanking is having unrealistic expectations. What is your hobby? Mine is golf. That would mean that I need a coach who, after seeing a flaw in my fundamentals that had been taught to me, screams at me or even smack me and then expect me to hit the ball correctly henceforth.

Call attention to the flaw, help the student come to the correct solution, practice, review periodically.

In this case, I again need to ask JD if things go in people's mouths. Then we should probably go though many different objects. Then we should talk about things that we do put in our mouth and when they go in our mouth. Then some positive reinforcement with a treat.

We are all human with limits in our patience and various reactions when that patience limit is reached and surpassed. One of the most difficult things as a parent is to know when we're getting to that point and find a way to redirect our negative reaction so that we can deal with the situation rationally and intellectually. The challenge is finding that voice inside of you that tells you when your limits are being reached - and then take action. Being strong (taking action) feels good. Being weak (failing to take action) feels bad. And nobody is perfect. Some of us ask God for help. Some of us tell ourselves that we can do it on our own. Whatever method gives you the strength to be your best, use it. Your children will thank you, you will be happier and spend less time regretting your emotionally charged negative outbursts.

And after writing this, I'm not angry and am prepared to deal with JD in a rational, intellectual manner.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hanging art

These are the kinds of the items I find hanging all over the house. Silly JD

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Little Chat

Bunny stopped me and said, "Daddy, I want to talk to you about elephants."

That conversation went nowhere, but it was funny to hear this serious question come from her.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Small Scale of Huge Decisions

Deciding whether to save between $200 and 500 per month on our mortgage could have long-reaching ramifications.

Good problems. Before I get into the discussion, I want to acknowledge that this is a good problem to have. We are able to refinance our house. We already have a good rate and have the opportunity to get a better rate. For the people who are "under water" in their house, I cannot stress enough how much that must suck and the crappy decsions you have to face.

In this decision making process, I decided to ask three different brokers about my situation.

The first person I asked, Broker A, has been my mortgage broker for several years. He refinanced our condo and did the lending work for our house including one refinance. What I didn't like was that, upon my inquiring into refinancing this time, there was no discussion initiated into what our current situation was, what our future held. I felt very much like a commission. Hindsight suggested that he might not have made all of the right moves in the past for us, so I decided to talk to two others to get some perspective.

Broker B I found by way of his radio show. I decided to email him on a Saturday afternoon. He called me from home almost immediately and we talked for around half an hour. I suppose I set him up to ask a lot of questions because I came from a disappointing conversation with another broker. Any salesperson will tell you that the best customer is one who had a bad experience elsewhere. At any rate, he quickly gave me several scenarios based on the different ways our life could lead. I was very happy with his honest, creative approach.

Broker C was a personal reference. He wasn't as responsive nor as creative. However, he did go the extra mile in having a friend do an unofficial appraisal of our house to see whether or not we would qualify for certain rates. That saved us a lot of time. Else, he was very friendly and also ran some scenarios to demonstrate our potential monthly payments.

It felt really good to talk to several people. What none of them could do was tell us what was right for us. 30 year fixed? 7 year ARM? 5 year ARM?

But, wait, you say, what's with all of the uncertainty?

Most of you probably know that a conventional 30-year fixed mortgage is the best way to go for people planning on staying in their houses indefinitely. Therefore, you can guess that we were not certain that we would stay in our house permanantly. Why not?

We live in the City of Chicago. We bought into the school district and for the proximity to Wife's work. We got a lot more than that. Our city block of neighborhood is on a short, one-way street. On it, there are 27 kids under age ten. The families have become good friends. We are within one of the best elementary school districts in chicago. Wife's commute is fifteen minutes in the morning and twenty-five to thirty minutes at the height of traffic. Shopping and dining opportunities abound.

On the other hand are the suburbs. The legend of those blissfully safe communitites whose grand schools are the source of great migration lure many in our situation. More house for your money. Your own yard. A sense of community. A more homogenous environment. (Okay, the neighborhood I'm in isn't exactly a wealth of diversity.)

The bulk of our extended family lives in the suburbs of Chicago. A number of our "old" friends have been moving that way and it seems likely that more will follow. It's also inevitable that our neighborhood will change over time. Someone will change jobs, want a new house, or have had other plans all along.

So now Wife and I have to make a major financial decision based on an uncertain future. If we do an ARM and decide to refinance later, what will the rates be? Will it be worth it in the long run? What is the long run? What are our other financial goals and how will this decision affect those?

Again, these are good problems to have. Wife has a good job and is important to her company. We have terrfiic credit. We have some savings for a safety net as well as retirement.

On the other hand, like pretty much every American homeowner, our house is less valuable than when we purchased it four-and-a-half years ago. We have illusions of grand remodeling that we can't possibly afford anytime in the immediate future. By choosing the lowest rate possible, we can pay down our total long-term debt faster within the fixed portion of the contract. What happens when we decide that we want to continue living in our home? What will the interest rates be at that time? I did a worst-case-scenario and it didn't look pretty. With such doubt, going with the most stable investment seems the smart choice.

Sometimes the smart choices are the hardest ones to make.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Scheduling Freedom

In many ways, I feel like Wife and I have our family on cruise control. Things are pretty stable around the house. Here are some of the contributing factors.

Wife has been finding recipes and creating dinner menus for the week.
I have stayed on top of laundry.
Cleaning the house and maintaining some level of organization has been consistent.
We have maintained our calendar so that we are generally aware of events coming sooner and later.

There are many people who do not like to live life by a schedule. They feel that the schedule rules their lives and leaves no room for the unexpected.

I could not disagree more. Having lived both sides of the coin, I can say that I have more freedom now that I keep a tight schedule. Sounds like a paradox?

When I am keeping my schedule, there are fewer times where I am wondering what I'm supposed to be doing. In effect, my time is used more efficiently. Things are being done in the order that will allow things to be done when needed rather than spending time on the wrong things, only to get hit over the head with an insurmountable number of tasks later.

One example is that of Wife creating a dinner menu. When she does so on Sunday nights (sometimes even earlier,) I can make a shopping list Sunday night or Monday morning and do all of the shopping then for the week. Now that I have all of the ingredients for all of our meals (except things like fish and other items I buy the day-of) I do not have to spend that time later in the week or running to the store in the eleventh hour.

Wife's laundry is a pain in the ass, as I've stated in the past. There are so many items that require special processes that it takes planning to make sure these items are done right the first time. Else, I'm doing a ton of ironing (or a stack of wrinkled clothes accumulates waiting for my ironing motivation to to build.) I have a better sense of when the washer needs to be started so that I can be there to separate the line dry or dry flat items from the items that need to be put into the dryer until damp and then hung or laid flat. These items cannot wait in the washer or dryer for even a moment or they will be wrinkled. With a bit of planning, I can work it out so that I can do many other things in the meantime.

Keeping the house clean has been great and easier than I thought. One thing that helped: put more toys in the basement. We recently had a shelving and storage unit installed in our basement. Having small toys in the upstairs living room is unnecessary. The only things still kept there are dress up outfits and some action figures. Everything else is in bins that are kept out of reach unless adult supervision is available.

Maintaining kitchen cleanliness has proven more elusive. I have done a much better job of cleaning as I cook (so that the kitchen isn't a total disaster,) but post-meal cleaning has not worked itself into my routine consistently. The transition from meal to the next activity to timed too close together. The best thing I have done is to consistently run the dishwasher at night and empty it while making breakfast in the morning. Being able to put dirty dishes directly into the dishwasher over the course of the day improves efficiency.

With JD in so many extracurriculars, in particular dealing with speech and occupational differences, we have many appointments consistently throughout the week. Without a tightly run schedule, we would spend a lot of money on eating out, laundry service, and cleaning service. I only dry clean items that are dry-clean-only and have maid service bi-weekly to do deep cleaning.

When I do take the time to plan my days, I find that it gives me freedom to do fun things. I know when we have time to go to the park and when we have time for playdates. I have time to hit golf balls and surf the deal websites for wish list items. I have more time to maintain our investments and to consider home improvement projects. I have time to play guitar and to make meals that take 90 minutes to cook. By having a well-established calendar (thanks, Google calendar and my Android-based Motorola Droid), I am able to think about my day and how to make the most of my time. And, in the end. make the most out of life.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Should "Banks" "forgive" student loans of the deceased?

Here's an email that I received from William Winters at

Marc -
A family tragedy. In 2004, Ryan Bryski's younger brother, Christopher, went into a coma following a traumatic accident. The coma stretched on for two years. Christopher passed away in 2006, when he was just 23 years old.
Heartless creditors. Even though Christopher has been dead for six years, Key Bank is still trying to collect on $50,000 of his student loans -- Christopher's dad has even had to come out of retirement just to make the monthly payments. Nearly every other major lender (Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo, Citi, etc.) works to forgive the debts of students who pass away. But Key Bank refuses to follow suit with the Bryski family.
You can help. Christopher's brother, Ryan, started a petition on asking Key Bank to forgive Christopher's debt. Ryan believes that shining a public spotlight on Key Bank's heartless behavior will force them to follow the lead of other major lenders and forgive the debts of students who pass away.
- William and the team
Here's a lot more information about Ryan's campaign, in his own words:
On June 17, 2004, my brother Christopher Bryski sustained a severe traumatic brain injury in a tragic accident. He remained in a persistent vegetative state for two years before passing away on July 16, 2006. That's when the calls began.
You see, our dad cosigned Christopher's private student loans with Key Bank. When Christopher died, Key Bank came after my dad to get their money back. Our dad has had to come out of retirement to make the monthly payments. When Christopher died, my family didn't just lose a loved one -- we inherited debt for an education that will never be used.
Key Bank's actions are dramatically out of step with the status quo. The federal government and even large private student lenders like Sallie Mae and Wells Fargo all forgive student loans once the borrower dies. But over the years, Key Bank has ignored our calls to take this humane step.
In the years since Christopher's death, my family has tried to keep others from facing what we have. We've worked with members of Congress to pass "Christopher's Law," which would make sure student borrowers and their families know exactly what could happen if they die or become disabled, and we've started a website about our efforts to get Christopher's Law passed.
This work has been meaningful and important. But it doesn't change the fact that every month we're reminded of my brother's death in the worst way every time dad puts a check in the mail to a heartless bank. That's why I'm asking Key Bank to relieve my family of this terrible burden and discharge my brother Christopher's student loan debt.
Thank you,
Ryan Bryski and Family
U.S. Air Force Veteran

Here's my response:
Ryan should have had life insurance. The story is sad, but the lesson is not forgiveness but in proper planning for the future and taking responsibility. Neither the shareholders nor the employees of the bank nor the entire taxpayer system should have to shoulder the burden.

On a more empathetic note, it is a terrible shame that the family not only has to live with the loss of a beloved family member, but a constant reminder of his passing.

Cold? Perhaps. But debt is debt, regardless if it is student debt, credit card debt, or mortgage debt. Debt means that there was money borrowed from one party by a second party to pay a third party. Why does the bank eat the money? Why doesn't the payee have to give the money back?

And when the bank forgives the debt, it's not some faceless entity that loses the money. That means that shareholders of the bank have less profit from which they can be issued dividends. That means that hardworking bank employees have less money for salaries or that bank employees may have to lose their jobs to accommodate these losses. (Yes, on a side note, I know that recent events have banks in bad light, but don't blame bank tellers and people at those "expendable" positions take the fall. The CEO and other high-ranking, high bonus positions will not lose their jobs in this case.) And if the government steps in to pay for the debt, that means that the entire taxpayer system is paying the debt.

That is what life insurance is for - to protect in case of premature death. An insurance policy that would have covered that debt likely would have been very inexpensive.

So instead of petitioning Key Bank, take the time to teach yourselves and your kids about financial awareness and good financial habits. Teach kids to save money so that they have 3-6 months of expenses in the bank that they don't touch. Teach them to get life insurance to protect their family (wife and children or, in this case, siblings and parents).

We cannot blame the world for personal tragedies. We look inside ourselves, take the lessons learned, and move forward embracing the legacy of lives lost.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pickers Can't Be Choosers

I had an experience recently where I ordered sandwiches for myself and for a friend but things didn't go very well. The order was placed over the phone for a carry-out order. I ordered a turkey-and-cheese and asked for it to be "plain." Then I ordered my sandwich without any special modifications.

When we arrived at our destination and opened up our order, my friend's order was wrong. Usually, the friend would pick undesired ingredients off, but this sandwich had mayonnaise which cannot be completely eliminated. The friend was angry, as the lunch was ruined.

A word to my picky friends: it is on you to get your order straight. While the anecdote is a true story, it is not unique to her nor to others I know who choose to order their food in a manner other than the way the restaurant menu dictates.

Here are a few tips to help the restaurant get your order correct every time. First, ask for the things you want in your food, not what you don't want. Second, have the order repeated back to you (that was my mistake.) Last, if you have someone else do your ordering for you, help them get the order right by asking them nicely to order the right way.

Finally, don't get bent out of shape when your order comes back wrong. People make mistakes. Nobody is out to get you. If you want it right every time, either cook for yourself, go to salad bars and buffets, or go to restaurants where your food of choice is supposed to be built-to-order.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hidden Talent

Bunny is a talented gleeker.

Define, "gleek": with mouth open and tongue raised above the bottom teeth, squirt saliva out of the mouth from the salivary gland in similar fashion to spitting.

While eating an ice cream cone, she would open her mouth and a short, thin stream of saliva would shoot out from time to time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

If it sounds like a duck...

Wife: do you need to go potty?
Bunny: yes
Wife: do you need to go poop?
Bunny: no, just pee pee
Wife: ok
Bunny sits down. A distinct crackling sound is heard from within the toilet bowl.
Wife: do you need to poop?
Bunny: sounds like it!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Potty Training (yes, I'm back)

Yikes! It's been forever since my last post. Boo! DowntownDad! Keep up your blog! This is no way to have the material you'll need to someday write your book. But, as always, I digress.

Here's what's happening:
-potty training
-lots of cooking
-summer camp sign ups
-mortgage refinancing and the ramifications of decisions
-self improvement, growing up, and wondering where your old friends have gone
-when wife's on trial, I'm on trial

Wow, that's a lot to cover! So in this installment, I will take it from the top, starting with my proudest achievement that had almost nothing to do with me.

That's right, potty training. Bunny has been two weeks without diapers. Two full weeks of days, one full week including nights.

How does a person simply wake up one day and decide that she has figured out how to control her bladder? She went from being able to hold out for 60-90 minutes, requiring reminders and still having accidents to being able to control her bladder for three, even four hours at a time, not to mention full nights?

I had been working with her for weeks. Somewhat consistently putting her on the potty, talking about the potty, using every gimmick, praise, and punishment for stretches of time. I was always looking for the magic bullet.

About a month ago, maybe six weeks, I realized that it really didn't matter what I did. I realized, as I think I mentioned in another post, that all of my hard work was really a matter of suggestion. You can recommend that a person stop smoking, stop eating poorly, exercise more, or engage in other healthy or productive habits. The person has to decide for him or herself that she wants to engage in that new habit.

From another perspective, it is disruptive to one's routine. Let's say you were used to working all day at your desk or cooking or whatever it is that you do with your day. You could, whenever your bladder or colon required discharge, just let it go into absorbent material that was bound to you. Then, at some point, a higher authority would come along and deal with it for you. Sounds like a pretty good deal. Now they're telling you to completely change what you wear and then to schedule this activity that did not take up any of your time. The act of having the diaper changed is disconnected from the act of discharging stool and excrement that realizing that using the toilet is actually more efficient takes some time to accept. Then, it's cold, it's big, if you sit wrong you could fall in, and it makes a lot of noise, taking all of its contents into an unknown place (could it take me if I somehow fell in?!?) The hazard and discomfort seem more than some people would want to accept as a new routine.

But, after some time, Bunny realized how much better it is. I think she likes the control - the ability to decide when she goes and when she doesn't. After all, she is a control freak. She's had a couple of accidents, but maybe one of them was her fault. She still requires some reminding, but she's not on a short clock.

I mentioned that a week after going without diapers during the day, she began going without at night. This caused a minor communication glitch with Wife, but it was quickly settled.

She had been dry in her diaper for a week or two, even on and off for a few months leading into this new phase. I decided to give it a try, so last Sunday night, I asked Bunny, "Would you like to wear underwear to bed instead of a diaper?" Wife was walking by, overheard, and said, "I don't think that's a good idea." I replied, "I didn't ask you." Now, you're reading this, so, on paper, it sounds really bad. It wasn't the best choice of words.

I meant two things. First, that I was asking Bunny if it was something that she wanted to do. Second, the reality is that Wife has nothing to do with the consequences. If Bunny had not been able to go dry at night, I would have been the one changing the sheets at night or in the morning.

However, I should have engaged Wife in conversation instead of being curt. Fortunately, she didn't take offense and Bunny upheld her side of the bargain.

Last night, she even asked to go potty in the middle of the night for the first time. And wife took her. It was a nice moment.

Strange Storage

Kids leave their toys in some funny places, sometimes. Here's where Bunny left her princess action figures. 

Summer in March

I want to have on record that on March 14th, 2012, it reached a high of around 75 degrees.
JD, Bunny, and I went to Oz park in Lincoln Park and played for over an hour.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I didnt knowshe knew...

Every day at breakfast, I walk up to the wall calendar anging behind the kitchen table. I do the date and the schedule.

Today, I pointed to and said the name of the day, then pointed to and had the kids sound out the letters spelling March, then pointed to and asked what number. Bunny quickly replied, "15!"

I knew she could count pretty high, but not to read numbers that high.

Raise the bar while having realistic expectations. That allows kids the opportunity to excel without having undue pressure on the child or the parent.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Riled Up

Potty training. It's what convinced me that I have no desire to rear another child.

Here's today's example: Bunny, time to go potty.
No, I don't have to.
(I take my shoes off, then remember that I need to schedule a service call with out alarm company.)
Sniff, sniff. I knew it.

Holding my anger together was challenging. An accident is an accident. Bunny is yet not telling us when she needs to go potty, but is generally pretty agreeable to go on a regular schedule.

I suppose her refusal should've been my clue.

So when she takes a dump in her diaper within minutes of my potty suggestion, how am I supposed to react?


With how many tones of voice can the following be said: "Bunny, where are you supposed to poop? That's right, in the potty. But where did you poop? Next time, go in the potty."

Sweetly, gently, annoyed, anger, disappointment, disapproval . . .

I have used them all. Again I must remind myself that time will be the biggest factor in behavior change, not the way in which I remind and teach.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Disney Lessons

Disney movies of old teach us that, if you're really hot, you can overcome poverty.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


The pic was taken from the balcony overlooking our living room.

JD was trying to find a way to reach a string that I was holding. First, he tried jumping. Next was the long brown ottoman. Too short. Finally, as seen in the pic, he piled up pillows. He quickly found that the pillows' altitude reduced considerably when having fifty pounds of force applied atop. His next move was to bring me the big fleece blanket Wife uses to combat our drafty house.

Instead of finding ways to get to the string, he found a longer object to dangle from the balcony. I'm guessing this experiment has not seen its conclusion.

Quality Customer Service

I have to give some companies credit for giving me outstanding customer service over the past few months.

First, Playtex. I purchased some straw-style sippy cups from them. Some of the parts were lost / broken, so I called to inquire about purchasing replacements. They sent me out a couple of sets free of charge as well as guiding me to the best place to buy them in the future.

Second, Playhut & MerchSource. JD has a Star Wars tent made by PlayHut. One of the supports broke. I called to get a replacement and they sent out two for free. The same thing happened to Bunny's Discovery Kids Princess Castle (a tent similar to a PlayHut product.) MerchSource, the distributor / licensing company for this particular Discovery Kids product was happy to send out replacement parts free of charge.

Finally, Accessory Innovations, a product licensing company, is providing me with a new backpack for JD. I stepped in the plastic bracket that connects the padded strap to the adjustment strap and it broke. I called and they asked for a pic of the backpack and of the damage. I used my Motorola Droid with built-in camera to take pics and email them to the person while we were on my land line. She said they would send out an identical or like replacement this afternoon.

I guess the moral of the story is: don't get pissed off. Just call the customer service number or use Google or your preferred search engine to find the manufacturer. If you're forthcoming (I admitted to breaking the backpack and to my kids breaking the tent and sippy cup parts) instead of going in guns a' blazing, they'll probably take pity on you and hook you up.

Why the manufacturer and not the place from whence it was purchased? Regarding the backpack,Target said that after 90 days there may be nothing they can do. Much of their merchandise, like clothes, toys, and things like backpacks are seasonal. I would say that the manufacturer has a more vested interest with your happiness. Target figures that, unless they really piss you off, you're coming back. (Though Target, generally, does try very hard to please their customers. Sometimes their employees get in the way of that.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Potty Saga

She knows she has to go. It's not like it just comes out. She's gone on the potty enough times to know what's going on.

Recently, she's been going poop in her diaper (and underwear in Ms Polar Bear's class - to the extent that she had to cut the underwear off of Bunny) right around the time scheduled to go on the toilet. Yesterday, we came inside the house from going on a walk. I had to go, so I told her that I would go then she would go.

Big mistake.

I came back a couple of minutes later to find that she had pooped in her diaper. I could tell that it was fresh, as it hadn't been smashed by sitting down on it.

GRRRR! I did not hide my displeasure.

Reality check, Daddy, Bunny is all of two years old. Okay, she's 2 years, 8 months, 29 days old. The fact that she is, in general, on her way to being potty trained puts her nearly a year ahead of her brother's progress.

Perhaps that's consistently one of MY problems as a parent. Once I set an expectation in my head, I have a hard time allowing for age-appropriate setbacks.

You're able to go poop and pee on the potty? Then you should be trained right now. There's no gray area in my head. It extends to other places: getting dressed and undressed, cleaning up, using please, thank you, and you're welcome.

Chill out, Daddy.

I was just thinking about whether I should find a motivational tool like treats. In general, I am against rewarding "good behavior," as opposed to rewarding hard work, which I strongly favor. Saying, "Please," and, "Thank you," are things that we do because we respect other people and we're a polite family. Pooping on the potty is a basic function of being human.

Which takes me to another argument: does the end justify the means? Could I point to rewarding good potty usage as the cause of my success? First, at some point, Bunny will be potty trained, treats or not. Second, would treats in this arena lead to expectations for treats in other places?

I NEVER, EVER promise treats for good behavior at the grocery store and similar errand running. Nor for saying please and thank you. And not now for going numbers 1 & 2.

There was a time when I tried using "potty treats." Now JD, 5, asks for one when he poops. Forget it.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that patience and realistic expectations are the keys to success. Expecting JD to poop and pee on the potty every time is realistic. Expecting Bunny to do so is not. She's going to have setbacks and this week may be an example of that. (A bit of a "Duh" moment. Yes, I have been accused of being a Master of the Obvious many times before.)

One thing I have learned from dealing with JD's developmental issues is that we often see plateaus and even setbacks juts before a long string of success. While always difficult in the moment, if I can be future Downtown Dad, I would tell present Downtown Dad to chill out, that success is just around the corner, even if that corner is a month or two down the line. Keep being consistent with communicating expectations and scheduling and it will work out sooner than later. Getting angry will only hurt her self esteem and make me question my ability as a parent.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Too Funny to Hold In

#1 Bunny got a haircut today. Her stylist's name? Jana Bendova

#2 JD had a #2 accident today at grandma's house. The consequence? The only bottoms she had that would fit were girl's panties.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


My 32-month-old daughter is calling me, "Dude."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Good Start = Good Day

Today was a good parent day for me.

I hope that my best parent days are not when both the kids are in school.

What made it a good day?
-Maintained patience
-Use positive motivational tools and positive reinforcement consistently
-Managed time well
-Did some homemaking, some parenting, some stuff for me, some stuff for Wife

More specifically:

Started the day having woken up before the kids. That seems to make a huge difference consistently. There really is something that makes me . . . resentful when they wake me up. And it's not like they wake up particularly early - early for them is 6:30 while normal is more like 7:00, sometimes as late as 7:30, though that is rare. Bunny tends to wake up earlier than JD and will wake him up.

JD's 5th birthday was on the 12th. Included in his gifts from his (yikes) four parties were some math flash cards. So I busted them out and, using the wall calendar, did some simple addition.

I had laundry, phone calls and errands. Did everything get done? No. Does it ever? Rarely. Did the essentials get accomplished. Yes.

And that's where I struggle. Getting those one or two essentials done because I was focused on something that could have been accomplished at another time.

It's 11:42 PM! I have to go to sleep so I can get up before the kids and have another great start to the day.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tomato Sauce

Came out pretty good. This was adjusted from how I actually made it.

2T olive oil
1c onion, finely chopped*
1/2c carrot, celery finely chopped*
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1t italian seasoning
1/8t red pepper flakes (optional. the more, the more kick. 1/4t was used tonight and it was a bit more heat than I'd intended)
28oz can whole tomatoes
2T red wine
2t sugar
1/4c finely chopped parsley
kosher salt, divided
black pepper

*the veggies need to be chopped fine enough to fit through the openings of the immersion blender. If you're using a traditional blender or food mill it's probably not such a big deal

Heat olive oil in pot / pan over medium heat until drops of water fizz, not crackle and pop.
Add onion, carrot, celery, large pinch salt (appx 1/4t). Stir regularly. You do not want the onions to scorch. This is important. Continue 5-8 minutes until veggies are soft but not brown.
Add Italian Seasoning, red pepper flakes, garlic & stir regularly for 1 minute. You will notice the fragrance of the herbs lose its sharpness while that of the garlic becomes more noticeable.
Add tomatoes, bring to a simmer (you can turn up the heat to save a few minutes, but remember that, in general, the higher the heat, the closer attention the food requires.)
Turn heat to med-low, add Red Wine and sugar and continue to simmer. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, mashing the tomatoes against the side of the pot. As the sauce simmers, the tomatoes will mash more easily.
Total simmer time 15-20 minutes. That is when the tomatoes have broken down about as much as you can do and the sauce has reduced a bit.
Add parsley, blend with immersion blender.
Taste sauce. Add salt, black pepper, and sugar to taste. (What does to taste mean? It means until you can taste salt. Just kidding. Salt is not there so that you taste salt. Salt brings out flavors. As you add a little more, it will bring out the flavors. Just don't overdo it. A maximum of 1t total, but many people would be happy with 1/2t.)
Simmer 5 minutes, serve or store.

Served tonight with penne & meatballs with steamed broccoli and baguette. Yummy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

List of Awesome

The awesome things that happened today:
I ran 3.5 miles in 31 minutes in 20 degree weather.
Bunny and I shared a glass of chocolate milk. She absolutely loves chocolate milk and so do I. We are both big chocolate lovers, in general.
Instead of serving veggies on the kids' plates with the rest of their dinner where they could easily be ignored, I had them come to the table and handed them plates with nothing but a carrot each. That and the promise that their pizza (split 1/2 slice from a large pizza) and hot dog (uncured chicken dog from Trader Joe's) would be ready soon. Worked like a charm.
Remembered to pick up dry cleaning so that Wife would have a clean suit for her big deposition tomorrow.
Bunny pooped in the bathtub and I did not get arrested for toddlercide. Instead, I got the kids out of the bath and into the shower, gave her a good dressing-down, and sent her to bed with no story. Don't worry, she probably read or was read to 5-10 times today.
JD and I played some crazy game with cut-outs from paper plates I had intended for use in obstacle courses while watching the Blackhawks spank the Buffalo Sabres.
Kept my schedule.

Focus on the positive and the negative suddenly looks as insignificant and powerless as it really was.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

One Gift of Maturity

This past Saturday morning, Wife and I got out of bed at 10:15 AM. This is highly unusual. After all, we have a 4-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl. They certainly didn't sleep until 10:15.

A few weeks ago, Wife and I were in bed. The night before, I had a hockey game that started at 11:10 PM, so I didn't get to bed until 2 AM. So on Sunday morning, the kids woke up around 7 AM. That's pretty normal for them (yes, we're pretty lucky in that respect.) I was not prepared for them to crawl around our bed and bicker in our room while we clamored for a few extra minutes rest. So I said, "Hey guys, go play with your toys downstairs."

This had not occurred to either of us, but it resounded with them, as if I gave them permission to do something they'd longed to do for some time.

So that's what we do. They come to our room and I tell them to go downstairs. (My side of the bed is next to the door.) Usually by 8 AM one or both of us are ready to get up and deal with them. Or one or both of them will come up and demand sustenance. The nerve.

While this is newfound glory, there is always the flip-side. Getting up late means getting up late. That means breakfast at 9, start to get groomed and dressed around 10 and not ready to do anything out of the house until 11.

That's a dramatic departure for a family who, just a few months ago, would be waiting for Toast Lincoln Park to open at 8 AM on Saturday or Sunday morning. Up by 7, out the door by 7:40 or 7:45. (After all, there's a wait to sit down by 8:15 or 8:30.) Then we'd be home by 9:30 and starting chores, planning our shopping trips, or simply playing with toys.

Like all new changes, this will take some adjustment. It will be tempting to take advantage, but the reality is that time during a weekend is precious and, while some mornings require additional rest, most will require the full duration of the day.

The best part, really, is that the kids are able to go and play independently and, in general, without killing one another or themselves. One of the best things about having siblings is that, in the event that they play nicely together, it is among the most satisfying feelings I have experienced as a parent.

Of course, when they bicker and fight, it creates some of the most enraged feelings I have experienced as a parent. But that's all part of the fun, isn't it?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Fights Not Worth Fighting

I am not going to stop Bunny from dipping tortilla chips into her water, then eating the chips, then drinking the water.

Aside from the inherent disgustingness of it, there is nothing dirty about it. Carry on, my terrible 2-year-old. Experiment away.

Time Management *update*

This is an update from the "Email Backup . . ." entry from yesterday, 1/4/12.

How'd it go? There were a few things that I didn't get to, but overall, a success. There were some things that I couldn't foresee.

First, the UPS store entry. I was helping a friend who took her family to San Diego for a month. They forgot one piece of luggage that had some important items. In trying to find the best way to ship the bag, I tried to call the UPS store before going there (you know, from the old Illinois Bell commercials, "Phone First.") Though it was during business hours, they didn't pick up in several phone calls spanning about an hour. That threw off my cooking timing and time to spend with JD. C'est la vie.

Bunny was being "extra special" yesterday. Highly volatile. Well, even more so than usual. After returning home from preschool, it was a battle. Sitting down to play a game probably would have been the best thing to do, but I had to tend to the Chipotle Chicken Chowder on the stove. Then she pooped in her diaper just before we were scheduled to leave. That was my fault - not making time to put her on the toilet in plenty of time before we left the house.

And that's the thing that I see is a problem with having a tightly wound schedule like this. It sets time limits rather than priorities.

Oh, and it took a long long time to construct that schedule.

Perhaps I can set blocks of time in which I can accomplish like items. For example, I probably could have started JD on a table time activity together with tasks he could do on his own while I did various steps of the recipe. Instead of setting a time for Jewel, USPS, dry cleaners, and UPS store, I should have done them all after showering, as they are all within a square block of one another.

Thanks, Ed, for giving me some software tips. I fell asleep during TV time with Wife, but will peruse them tomorrow night. Of course, I did make time for some guitar. Working on Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues and Turkey in the Straw. Probably should work on some more relevant songs than Turkey in the Straw, though. :-)

Tonight is stir fry night with brown rice, an 8:00pm haircut, then a 9:40pm hockey game.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

For blogging purposes, I will call Bunny's preschool teacher Ms. Polar Bear because Bunny is in the "Polar Bear Room."

While picking Bunny up today, Ms. Polar Bear recalled this story from earlier in the day.

Ms. Polar Bear said that she was working with Bunny about being a good listener and taught Bunny about "listening ears."

In talking about being a good listener, Bunny (who will be 3 in May), said, "Please don't tell Daddy."

I like a little fear in my kids. It means I'm doing my job, not being their friend. And her exclamations of, "Daddy!" when I pick her up from preschool show me that she loves me. I'll be her friend when she's graduated from college.

Finger lickin' good

JD: Dad, what are you eating?
Me: pirate booty and a sandwich
JD: you like pirate booty?
Me: I do. It's yummy.
JD: (between licks of his hands) my hands are yummy, too!

Ever had Pirate's Booty? Good stuff. Slightly less bad-for-you than cheetos, possibly more addictive.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Email Backup Is A Reflection Of A Larger Problem

75 emails. That's how many emails I have in my inbox that have "unread" priority. That's 75 individual items that I have putt off until later.

The reality, is that that number is hardly the only place in my life where I have projects hanging in the balance.

Too much aspiration, too little focus, or poor time management?

Choosing between those is like deciding whether to call a penalty for high sticking or cross checking when a hockey player gets a cross-checked to his head.

Rather than focusing on how to dissect the problem, I am moving forward with an attempt at a solution.

Trying to block off every minute of every day on my Google calendar. I have an Android-based phone, so my calendar is always with me, can send me reminders, can be shared with others, and can be updated anywhere.

Make time to clear off my desk. You know what, wait here while I put that into my calendar . . .

I'm back. Yes, I stopped writing my entry to input "Clear off basement desk". This Saturday at 9am. What's more, I sent the "event" to Wife so to avoid the scenario where, come Saturday, I haven't told her about this grand plan.

And that's what I need to do, but for everything. In fact, I'm going to design my day tomorrow:

6:30am wake up, put on weather, get dressed for morning run to school
6:50am go downstairs and get breakfast ready for kids, wash face, put in contacts
7:15am wake kids if they haven't woken already
7:16am Bunny (formerly Toodles) on the potty immediately, send JD downstairs to get dressed
7:17am fight with JD who wants to play with his 'guys' and not get dressed
7:18am read "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?" to Bunny
7:25am get Bunny dressed, hope that JD isn't just staring at his plate but is actually eating.
7:40am walk out the door with dry cleaning bag & checkbook & mail
8:00am arrive at Bunny's preschool
8:30am USPS
8:35am Jewel
8:50am dry cleaners
9:00am stretch
9:10am shave, shower, dress
9:40am UPS store
10:00am make chipotle chicken chowder with JD
11:00am table time with JD
11:15am pretend play with JD
11:45am prepare lunch
12:00pm serve lunch
12:30pm leave to pick up Bunny
1:00pm back home
1:10pm exercise with kids (wii fit / just dance?)
1:40pm get kids out the door for JD Tx session
2:00pm go to park for 20 minutes
2:28pm arrive for Tx appt
2:30pm - 3:30pm JD Tx appt
2:35pm go grocery shopping with Bunny
3:00pm play in Tx center lobby / waiting area
4:00pm arrive home
4:05pm TV time for kids; get dinner ready
4:45pm play with kids (matching game?)
5:30pm Mommy comes home
5:45pm dinner
6:15pm clear dinner; Bunny & JD to bath
7:00pm pajama time; help Bunny get dressed herself
7:15pm story time
7:35pm kids to bed, take out contacts, wash face, brush teeth
7:45pm put laundry away while watching TV
7:55pm watch TV with Wife
9:00pm write blog entry
10:00pm play guitar
11:00pm go to bed

And there's so much more that could go in there.

Some people would look at that and see the lack of time for incidentals / what-ifs. I am the kind of person who isn't afraid to change the schedule. It's making the schedule and prioritizing things that's the important part. If I actually look at this tomorrow, it's more like a grocery list that's written with intricate knowledge of the store. There's always a chance that an unexpected sale will pull me away, but I'll still get everything on the list. And if the kids don't get as much TV time or we have to make park time the exercise time, that's okay.

Will follow up with my progress.