Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I'm Alive

Just enjoying the Christmas holidays. Check back next week for a full report!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Tis the Season to be Tired

Man. I planned to write a short post on Friday, noting that the school Christmas break had arrived, and that I wouldn't be blogging much until January. Maybe I should have written that for Tuesday! I've been kept hopping by christmas preparations, trying to make sure everyone has good presents lined up, shopping for food, running other errands and such. I've been left wiped out! I was out for 4 hours yesterday. You'd amazed how hard it can be to find something like a sleigh bell the one time you really want one (thanks to the Polar Express movie. His school saw it yesterday at the IMAX. I liked the original book a lot, too. Highly recommended).

All this and the tree still hasn't been decorated. Heck, it's not even in the house. We got a live tree this year, and so it weighs a ton. We also need to move the loveseat in order to make room for it. Moving the loveseat and the tree are both two-person jobs. But someone has either been sick or busy everyday for the past week.

Last night, George, the dog who was wearing the funnel, got into Hubert's anti-inflammatory medication and at 20-45 pills. At most a dog should have 1 of those a day. So Trish forced hydrogen peroxide down George's throat, making him throw up and rushed him to the emergency vet. He should be fine, but that pretty much put the kibosh on tree moving last night. Make a note: Medication that tastes good to a dog is not always a good thing.

Oh, I've fixed the link to the Hubert Blog. I hope.

Now off to clean house and run more errands. Today is Jake's class party, and I'm supposed to bring the drinks.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Santa Clause Is Comin' To Town

There are days when I envy my parents. Every generation faces its own troubles in rearing kids, but I know that when it came to toys, my own folks were only constrained by three considerations: 1) can he hurt himself 2) will he play with it for more than 10 minutes before becoming bored 3) can we afford it?

Now, Trish and I are hardly the sort of parent that sweat over getting Jake into the right daycare at the age of 18 months so that we can be sure he'll make it into Harvard Medical School. On the other hand, we aren't the laizez faire sort of parents that are happy to get him the latest Power Rangers gear, GI Joe Armageddon Playset (be it noted that I had a lot of GI Joe stuff as a kid and loved it), or every Hot Wheels racetrack package that was ever extruded from a plastic mold. But we do have a few more somewhat vague criteria for toys than I think my folks did.

Striking the balance, between something he wants and thinks is fun and what we think might be fun, educational, and non-harmful is hard. We do, occasionally, from time to time, maybe sometimes try just a wee bit too hard to get him interested in something like the Junior Nobel Laureate Practice Science Kit (Create your own weather Station! Design a Computer from tin cans and old D batteries! Make your own working submarine! Clone your pets using our simple techniques! Some Assembly and/or Parental Supervision Required.).

This desire for balance is compounded a bit by our recognition that we have overdone it in the past (and lets not get into trying to convey the real meaning of the holiday. That's another series of posts, probably). Christmas 2002 was way excessive in terms of stuff. A bike, 3-4 Matchbox/hotwheels playsets, just too too much. We've been struggling to make space in his room ever since, including tossing out or giving away toys he broke, lost many of the parts to, or just plain doesn't play with anymore (just to be clear here that we only give away stuff that either still works are is virtually complete. I've little use for people that give away broken toys, unless the receiver is aware and okay with it).

So he has made his list, which includes an Xbox (no chance), a toy-size dirt bike (for sure), and many, many items that require a long hmmmm. Now we get to cull it and try to sneak in our own brilliant (we hope) ideas. The proof shall be in the pudding Christmas morning.

Friday, December 10, 2004

No. Yes. Maybe.

Last night, I checked my Site Meter and was surprised to see I had over 25 hits. I figured someone must have linked to me. Sure enough, there were many from Rebel Dad. So I moseyed on over to see what he had to say, which was that I was walking away from the title of "at-home dad." Am I? Well, yes and no.

In my last post, I stated that I was choosing a certain way to try and approach life. I wanted to try certain things, and was uncomfortable with the "pure" label of a stay at home dad, even if it was likely that was what I was going to be in practice. In re-reading, it has become apparent that when I talked about writing and acting, it might have sounded as though these were to be, well, careers, that would put Jacob back in day-care…

Hah.

One problem with blogging (or any sort of personaly narrative communication, come to think of it) is that you occasionally forget that other people have not necessarily been privy to your thoughts and ruminations of the past several months, in all their branching, back-tracking, and wandering 'round in circles past the notions counter one-two-three, glory.

I don't intend for either of those activities to be careers. In fact, one of the reasons I chose to pursue them (other than I like writing and I really really like acting) was that they would allow me to continue doing something I'm enjoying quite a bit, namely, being around the home, taking care of things, and being around my son for more than a couple of waking hours each day.

It seems to me that what I object to on some level is the seeming limitation of the label of "stay at home dad". It strikes me as every bit as limiting and non-explanatory as the older label of "housewife" or "homemaker" was to another generation. Perhaps that is just my own biases rearing up too strongly. Perhaps to many other SAHD contains multitudes. I don't know.

I wonder. Has this cleared up anything, or is it still clear as mud? Am I simultaneously avoiding the title of SAHD and not wanting to "abandon" those who have embraced it with pride? Am I conflicted amd writing way too much about a simple matter of nomenclature?

I tell ya, its a lot easier to tell people how to make a PB&J sandwich that won't go soggy in your lunchbox.

My lovely and brilliant wife once said that I had a calling to be a husband and a father. So while my lifestyle choice may not qualify in the Census Bureau's eyes, or even in my own self-image, I intend to honor that call, and hope that I can pursue acting and writing in addition to that.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Ch-ch-ch-changes

As Jan 1 approaches, I feel a certain sense of trepidation. Months ago, during the summer sometime, Trish and I decided that I would get the rest of the year to decide what I wanted to do with myself. I was to decide upon my career direction. I read a book or two on the subject, wrote in my blogs, dealt with matters domestic and not-so domestic, and settled into something approaching a routine. From time to time Trish and I discussed various aspects of the decision.

But that time is coming to an end, and even though I had really made the choice some weeks ago, the passing of the deadline nevertheless carries a fair amount of psychic weight.

In the end, I'm not calling myself a stay-at-home-dad, full stop. I do want to try and make a go of writing and acting. Now, it may be this is just some foolish attempt to pretend to remain intellectually engaged in some outside activity while I become, in fact, your basic househusband (which, I should note, is my problem). I have to be honest with myself about this. However much I talk a good game of pursuing some very creative if probably not terribly renumerative gigs, I'm well aware that doing much at either of them requires one to do a fair amount of duff-getting off of. The hard truth is, I've never been great at getting out of my ruts.

For me anyway, for all I periodically grump about the number of things I need to get done, I have a pretty clear set of tasks, and I also have complete control over how they get done. Plus, I get to build in my own rest breaks, and take them the way I want. Surf the 'net? Sure. Play loud music? No sweat. Fire up a game? Right on. Read? You betcha. And of course, the dress code is very casual.

This is a long-winded way of asking the question: If I say I want to be an actor and a writer, in addition to being a SAHD, just how hard am I going to work to make that happen? Not how hard am I going to have to work, how hard am I willing to work.

Haven't the foggiest. The acting part is easiest, oddly enough for precisely the opposite of the reasons its nice being a SAHD. You take an acting gig, you be there, on time, wear what they give you, eat when the director is done shooting, all that sort of thing. Writing is quite different. You have to seek out topics, you have to seek out people to talk to, you have to make yourself sit down and write (and its not like writing a blog).

We'll see how it goes. Forth the great adventure.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Misc

The smoke alarm went off a few minutes ago. It seems that Trish, who isn't feeling well and is home today, wanted to make herself some tea. Unfortunately, she turned on the wrong burner, and now we need to re-season a cast iron skillet.

I've always been sentimental at the darndest things. Music has the strongest effect. So it may not work for you, but I reckon if I need to gin up some tears for a scene in acting, I could do worse than getting the chorus to Kelly Clarkson's song "Fly Away" into my head and visualizing a grown-up Jacob preparing to head out into the world as the music swells. Makes a lump in the throat, it does.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Housekeeping Note

Actually, this is about blog housekeeping, not the house housekeeping. Got that straight? Anyway, if you look over to the right will see that the blogroll, once empty, then for some weeks a whopping two, has expanded considerably. I hope I've included everyone who has placed Homo Domesticus in their blogrolls -- if I've missed you, please let me know, I'll add you in ASAP.

Right now, its just a list. I hope to do a bit of categorizing eventually, but what you have are SAHD blogs, personal blogs, several friends who cover everything from politics to the personal, and last, but not least, our dog.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

One Unexpected Bent Gender role Reversal from a Prior Decade, Hold the Mayo

Life is constantly handing us things we do not expect. Some are good, some are bad, some are just weird. This is about the third one.

Trish is busy this semester (nothing tells the world you are married to an academic person more than the tendency to think and speak in terms of semesters). Really busy, at least in terms of time away from home doing stuff. And not just in teaching, research, and her writing (40K words this year) and trying to do her part to corral the herd of cats that is the typical university department (and really, you can just hear Alec Guinness intoning that famous line from Star Wars:TOS "never was there a more wretched hive of scum and villainy").

It's scary to consider how snowed under she would be if her classes this time around required a lot of grading, because in addition to that she has been working on our church's Call Committee, engaged in the search for a new minister for our congregation. Oh, and she has also been acting as a mentor for one of the teens in our church.

Now naturally, part of the reason she can do all this is because I'm not working late. This also creates an exaggerated sense of her being away; when I got off work at 4:30 and picked Jake up at his day care at 5:00, we might be home a hour or less before Trish arrived. But now he comes straight home from school and we spend three hours before she gets home. That, plus the extra time away because of these (note emphasis here) temporary extra duties have created a peculiar situation for me.

You see where this is going, right?

I caught myself the other day worrying if Jake is seeing enough of his mom, if she is working too hard, wishing she could get home earlier, and not have to have evening meetings.

About thirty seconds later I snorted my English Breakfast tea out my sinuses (I don't recommend that, by the way. Hot or cold). Was I in a Bizarro World Sixties time warp or a Seventies one? Or what? Whichever it was, I'm not sure if it means I need to switch to decaf or get as much more caf as possible. File this one away under Things You Don't Expect When You Become A Stay-At Home Dad, cross referenced with Gender Bending.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Back To Work, You Sluggard!

A good Thanksgiving. Had dinner with some friends across the street and the family of their son's best buddy from second grade. No work to rush to, no school to rush to, no rushing, period. A nice break from the Fall grind. We have to get back into it now, of course. With a vengeance.

I'm one of those people that doesn't think you should be thinking much about Christmas until after Thanksgiving. This year I swear I saw stores sneaking some Christmas d├ęcor up right after Halloween. It must not be as bad as I sometimes think; if stores really were moving Christmas up earlier every year for as long as it feels like they have been, we'd be hearing carols over the MUZAK in July.

Anyway, I still like to wait until Thanksgiving is done before giving much thought to Christmas. Problem is, that doesn't leave you with much time to do all the things you'd like to do. You have to think of things you'd like and see that the list is available (if you're the sort of family that does that), you need to shop for your loved ones, either in the increasingly insane stores, or on-line (which is calmer, but then you have to sweat things getting delivered on time); we need small things for Jacob's Advent Calendar, I need to get the lights up (and lights will be different this year, since we've pulled up a bunch of shrubs I used to drape the lights across), and…well, you get the idea.

This year I have more time available to do all these things, thankfully. No sneaking an extra half-hour into my lunch break for shopping. No need to squeeze the lighting into the half-hour of daylight left after getting home from work. Which is good, because looking at today's to-do list make me wish for one of those time-turner things from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Wanna see?

A few more groceries
Gift list for Jacob to his grandmother
I need to call three different people for three different things
Pay bills
Fold and put away laundry
Sweep floors
Make a vet appointment for one of the cats
Clean the litter boxes
Fiddle with Trish's scanner
Create a "garden tool nook" for Trish
Add to my blogroll there. A lot more than two links need to be on it
I need to write a book review
I have lines to memorize for acting class
I need to stuff leaves into the composters
I need to cook up some old meat and fish for dog food
I need to mail some stuff
I need to deposit checks at the bank.

If I can get half that done I'll be thrilled.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Minor Notes

This being a holiday week, I shan't be blogging much. Those of you observant types might have noticed that I have finally added some links. Only two at the moment, but I do intend to link back to all of you who have been kind enough to place me on your blogrolls. Probably I will be doing that over the next couple of days instead of writing up new stuff. But of course you never know when something interesting will turn up.

Enjoy your thanksgiving holidays!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Kiss the Food Preparation Specialist

I have blogged before about food issues, but I've never touched directly on the subject of getting Jake's meals. Back in the first part of this year, I used to live for Friday morning, not only because I got to sleep in, but also because I didn't have to deal with the issue of getting Jacob's breakfast and lunch ready.

It had developed into a hassle on a day-in, day-out basis. This time around, it's not so much, because of our effort to plan ahead. When I was a kid, I ate cold cereal for breakfast pretty much every day of the school week. Usually, it was Cap'n Crunch. We don't want to go that route with Jacob, but it does make our job a bit more complicated.

Here are the factors we need to consider. Breakfast should be ready quickly, to give him the maximum amount of time to get through it. Ideally, it would have protein in it (my wife's side of the family has this weird "morning slows" thing that protein seems to help) and complement his lunch and dinner in terms of stuff (your food groups). Lunch has to be something that will be okay to eat cold, can be put together fairly quickly, will fit into a lunchbox, and it also needs to complement his other meals. Both need to have plenty of variety, so he doesn't get sick of eating the same thing every single day (this was always a killer for me the first time around -- how to keep from repeating meals too often). We also like to avoid overdoing it on pre-packaged food. And last but certainly not least, both need to be meals a mom or dad who have just gotten out of bed and have not had any caffeine can make without violating any FDA or EPA requirements (I'm dead certain our kitchen is not OSHA-compliant, but fortunately I can only sue myself).

Like dinner meals, planning ahead and artful use of leftovers can work wonders (save some bacon from a weekend breakfast for a Tuesday breakfast or sandwich). Fruit is always good, keeps well, and is easy to mix up (banana one day, apple another, grapes another, etc.). Add condiments to the lunch (ranch dressing with the carrots, or maybe ketchup).

For Jacob at least, repeating the same things on a weekly basis is okay. We are kinda stuck with meat sandwich one day, cheese the next, PB&J after that, etc. etc. every week. That business of stuff that will be okay cold is a killer. I do try to vary the bread types, and toss in a bagel or a breakfast biscuit (Trish's excellent idea) from time to time.

One day a week, we let him take in a lunchable-type thing. But only one. For the most part, those things are just crap in a fancy package. Our local Whole Foods used to carry something called "The Good Lunch" which was mostly organic. It was still too high in fat, but at least the total calories were not indicative of a meal better suited for a company of US Marines than sub-teenagers. Unfortunately, they quit carrying it a while back.

So there you have it. A short look at the things we try to do to keep our son fed in a healthy and tasty manner. I'm happy to hear any suggestions from the gallery, and if you need any, I hope this entry sparked an idea or two.

By the way, here's a little trick to keep your PB&J sandwiches from getting all mushy (from the jelly soaking into the bread). Put the peanut butter on both slices of bread, and the jelly in the middle. The PB will serve as a lining to prevent the jelly from turning the bread into mush. Slick huh? Able to cook with Argon or not, Trish had never thought of that one.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Rain Rain Go Away

It's raining. It has been raining here for 4 days now. Today will be the fifth. According the the weather guys, we might get some sun tomorrow. I suppose for folks in Seattle or the UK, this must be par for the course, but we just aren't used to this level of continual steady rain for days on end.

Jacob at least can amuse himself on the computer or playing in the neighbor's garage with his buddy Luke. The dogs are pretty much stuck. I'm unwilling to walk them in the pouring rain, and with one exception, they don't want to go. Hubert pretty much hates the rain, and will wander to the front door and look mournfully at me, perhaps hoping the weather will be better out that door, as opposed to the door to the back yard. The back yard, of course, is a swamp. At the rate things are going, it may become a lake, which will pretty much put paid to my plans to file for federal funds to protect a wetland. Marquis isn't too wild about the water falling from the sky (on walks he enjoys splashing through shallows but refuses to swim), but is willing to go out long enough to do what he needs to do and give the squirrels a quick once-over. George doesn't care about the rain. In fact, he doesn't seem to be aware that it's raining.

Speaking of George, he's got his funnel off, and he has had his sutures removed. Still has some swelling in the spot, so I have to keep up with the warm compresses. I wonder at what point I should ask the vet about it.

Last night as the thunder rolled and the rain contrinued to fall, the dogs refused to settle down. Hubert was especially problematic. He kept ringing the bell to go out (we've trained the dogs to ring a small bell haging from the doorknob when they want out. It saves mucho wear and tear on the door). We'd get out of bed, let him out. He'd come right back in. We'd feed him, he'd eat, we'd all go to bed. He'd eventually get up and ring the bell again. Lather, rinse, repeat, as they say. I finally removed the bell, and got some sleep.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Reader

We have this ranch. Its located around 100 miles south and west of San Antonio, at the intersection of highways 97 and 72. There is much that could be said about this land (1200 acres, give or take), but all that is necessary right now is that it takes about 3 hours to get there from our home north of Austin, and we needed to get down there and take a look around.

One problem we've had in past in making the trip is that three hours is a long time for a little boy to sit still. I cannot complain (much) about Jake's ability to put up with this journey. He has done about as well as a guy his age could be expected to, but there were times when the patience of his mom and dad wore mighty thin.

But not this time. You see, at some point over the course of the summer and fall he has become a Reader. Not just able to read, but a Reader. There's an important distinction here. An ordinary reader is capable of reading, perhaps even at a very high level. But a Reader wants to. And not just Dick and Jane either. I think he first started reading independently with Zia. No, I'm not kidding.

We've been reading the Harry Potter books lately. He's seen all the movies, and was sort of agitating to read the next book. I convinced him to start at the beginning, and though we started by having Trish and I do all the reading, he has gradually taken to doing a lot of it on his own, briefly before we finally make him turn out the lights, at odd moments at the house, and on our way to run various errands.

This past Saturday, for three hours on the way down, and another three hours on the way back, he read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Six hours of reading. I'm not sure if I should be proud or scared.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Domesticity Isn't Always Pretty

I sure don't want this blog to turn into "10 Easy Ways to Brighten Your Whites without Using Bleach" or anything, but I had to share this, its a case of my outsmarting myself.

When I was in college and doing the MBA thing, I took several marketing classes. One of the things we learned was about ways to increase the sales of your product by finding ways to get people to use more. "Lather, rinse, repeat" is one example. Arm and Hammer Baking soda is another (it seemed for a while there they had a new use for baking soda every week).

Anyway, I've been suspicious about the amounts recommended for various uses of household stuff for quite a while now.

About two months ago now, I noticed that the glasses in our dishwasher were coming out covered with a bit of a film. They just weren't sparkling clean. I re-wahed some, but it didn't do much. Then I thought that it was just a too-full washer, but over the next few days, the size of the load didn't matter. Then I refilled the rinse-aid dispenser. No good. Then I tried running the washer empty except for some stuff supposed to help clean the washer and get rid of calcium deposits. No help. I pre-washed the glasses. Zip. I was getting a bit frustrated. What's the point of a washer if you have to re-wash half the stuff?

Finally, I consulted the owner's manual and carefully read the directions on the back of the detergent box. they indicated amounts to be used based upon the hardness of the local water. Well, I had no clue what the local hardness in parts per million was, but I knew it certainly wasn't soft.

Based upon my marketing classes, I had been going a bit light on the dishwasher detergent. So this last time I filled it up about 2/3 of the way instead of 1/3 to 1/2.

The glasses were much cleaner. The next time, I loaded the detergent thing up the whole way. Super clean glasses. So now it was clear what was going on. I had been underfilling the soap dish, and thus the water wasn't getting enough of whatever chemical reaction was needed to keep the calcium from sticking to the glass. Busted!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Revenge of the Funnel Dogs

George update:

He's smashed two e-collars so far. The current one is looking pretty banged up, but no cracks yet. He upended a legal pad my tea was sitting on this morning, spilling it into my keyboard.

I literally poured tea out of my keyboard. Too often people use the word "literally" as a form of hyperbole, but in this it its the actual truth, I poured spilled tea out of my keyboard.

It's still working, but I'm guessing its about to become an insect hazard as the sugary tea sends out its tiny siren call of tasty goodness to the zillions of sugar ants living in the walls. At least the keys aren't sticky.

He's also developed some swelling on the place where the surgery was done, so now I get to apply warm compresses to it three times a day. At least he's pretty good about keeping still while doing it. Just rub his tummy and he blisses out.

I hope I can make it until Friday.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Attack of the Funnel Dog

Our middle dog Geaorge, tangled with something a couple of months ago that left a small knot under his right eye. We're sure some bug, like a scorpion, did it, because it appeared overnight. Heck it might have appeared in minutes. Anyway, the first round of treatment didn't get rid of it, so recently we took him back to the vet for a more radical bit of surgical removal. As a consequence, he has a bunch of stitches across his face, and he is now a funnel dog.

You may have seen these things. They are called e-collars because the resemble the giant collars and ruffs of the Elizabethan era. George is supposed to wear this thing for 10-14 days, until he has his stitches out.

Now the reasons for this are sound. Basically it boils down to protecting the wound until it heals. Dogs scratch, and those claws can be rough on sutures. It also helps keep dirt and what-not away. But they do make any animal forced to wear them look completely ridiculous. And even if animals lack concerns over their appearance and dignity (something I am given to doubt, even for dogs), they hate the collars, and with good reason. It's weird, it's strange, it's on their heads, and they don't understand what the heck is going on.

I like the vets we deal with, but one thing vets ought to be forced to do is spend some time with the animal at the beast's home before prescribing any sort of behavior modification lasting more than a day or so. In theory, George is to be on very restricted activity. He is to be taken on a leash into the back yard to do his business, then brought back in. No walks, leashed or otherwise. For 10-14 days from his surgery.

Yeah, right. This is a part-lab barely out of puppyhood. He's a teenager in human terms. These dogs are not slugs, people. They like to run around. George is no excpetion. He's also so totally a dog in that he dashes around when you come home, jumps up on beds with, gets in your face to lick it and get petted, etc. And there is more.

You see, George is a believer in the Squirrel Conspiracy. I'm not entirely sure what he thinks they are going to do if they get to hang out in our yard unmolested, but whatever it is, its bad. Really bad. And it is his job to make sure they are kept away. And he has to be out there as much as possible keeping an eye on things.

It has more than a small element of the ludicrous. If we're upstairs, every time we move towards the stairs, he's down them. And waiting. I really do not know if I can impress on y'all just how eager this dog is to run outside. I can stretch a certain way while sitting in my chair at my computer, and he's off whatever bed he's laying on and down to the landing. Assuming of course, he hasn't been sleeping on the landing in order to get a head start on the next opening of the door.

By now you've probably figured out that the odds of keeping such a dog in restricted activity are somewhere between slim and none. At least, not if I have any interest in maintaining my own sanity. We have two other dogs that like to go out periodically and check to make sure the squirrels haven't tried anything funny (they just aren't obsessed about it), and George would go nuts (no pun intended) if he were prevented from joining them. So he has to go out unsupervised (for at least short periods) and he has to go on walks.

Now, remember that e-collar he has to wear? In order to do its job, it has to cover his face, which means that it sticks out, funnel-like, all around his head. What should be the predictable result of a largish but lean dog who likes to dash about but now has to carry around something bigger than he is?

Yup, he crashes into everything. He's knocked stuff off the coffee table, cleared the fridge of low hanging magnets, walloped my legs innumerable times, scratched up walls, moved chairs and smashed into doorways. He also broke the first collar in about 24 hours. I ran out and got another, and so far its holding, but it does have a (duct taped) crack in it, and the snaps that hold it in place have been yanked out at least three times so far.

We've got about 7 days to go before he can get rid of the stitches and collar. I'm not sure anything below three feet is going to be able to make it that long.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

A Post Halloween Note

Trish likes Milk Duds. A lot. The Tuesday after Halloween, Jacob came downstairs carrying an empty Milk Dud box. His expression was gravely puzzled, a bit like that of a puppy from whom you had just taken a very fun and especially tasty sock. Please note for the record that a bag containing at least 3-5 pounds of candy was squatting in near-overflow conditions on the kitchen counter.

He said "You said you would ask me before eating any of my candy." He didn't precisely say J'ACCUSE! but you could hear it.

Trish was caught off guard. "Bear, you were already asleep. I didn't want to wake you."

"You said you would ask."

Hugs and apologies restored the situation with no harm done, though I nearly sprained my face trying to maintain a neutral expression.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Halloween Debriefing

We had a nice Halloween. Jacob went as a Cheyenne warrior. Or was he Crazy Horse (Crazy Horse was Sioux, but at the time of Little Big Horn, was working with the Cheyenne)? I got confused after a while, things shifted a bit near the end.

Trish is always in charge of Jake's Halloween costumes, which is a good thing. They are always pretty cool. He's been Robin Hood, a pirate, Bob the Builder, and a knight. I think I might have been able to get him into a sheet he wouldn't trip over...

We met up with the neighbor kids and did the loop of our block. Our block sits off by itself, not reachable by other residential streets. You have to go out to the main arterial and walk down a length of sidewalk. Not all that far, but you could be spending that time wandering more easily reached streets and getting a lot more goodies. So after the initial rush, things get pretty quiet at our house, and this year was no exception. I took Jake around the block, which went much faster this year (he skipped some houses in his excitement, but mostly he can just move a lot faster on those growing legs). Then Trish took him to neighborhoods farther afield. All in all, I'd say everyone had a great time, except maybe the younger two dogs, who had to stay in the house. Hubert sat out on the sidewalk with us and helped distribute candy, but I'm not sure he enjoyed it exactly, what with all the odd noises and strange creatures wandering about.

The weather was good, a bit warmer than it should be for this time of year, but the forecasters had been predicting rain. It stayed dry until the kiddos were done, and sometime during the wee hours we got 1.5" of the wet stuff. I finally find the perfect lawn sprinklers, and have no need of them (some day I'll have to talk about my quest for the ideal lawn watering device).

And after that, Fall finally arrived. It was pleasant yesterday, but today we've got the gloom and wet and cold (for Texas) of November. About time, too. But I'll have to stop wearing shorts, and they are mighty comfy.

Oh yeah, keep hearing about something going on today...Correction, detection, dissection, or some such. Gonna have to look into that, it might be interesting.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Recycled -- Hubert

This post originally appeared on my other blog, but I realized you folks would almost certainly get a kick out it. I originally wrote it last January, before my job ended and I became a stay-at-home-dad.

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We have two dogs (and three cats, but that’s a story for another day). Hubert, a three-year old Great Dane, and George, a 3.5-month old – something. He shows signs of Dane, Lab, and German Shepherd. Odds are he’ll be pretty big, though not as big as Hubert, who is skinny at 120lbs.

Hubert is a peculiar creature. All dogs have personalities of their own, but some have more than others. Hubert is one of those. There’s no need to go into all his traits. For now we need only recall that when he gets upset about something, he has a tendency to grab low-hanging food and eat it. And being a Great Dane, just keeping stuff on a counter or table isn’t enough if he is determined. Being left alone all day when it looked like Trish or myself was going to stay home is something that upsets him; and trust me, he knows by how we dress if we’re likely to stay home. In particular, he takes note of Trish’s shoes.

But I digress.Yesterday, I picked the munchkin up at day care and we got home. He headed up to let George out of his crate, and I let Hubert outside to take care of business.Then I noticed the onion. Or rather, the bits of dried onion skin on the floor.

There was a bag of red onions (big red onions) on the edge of the kitchen table, with the bag opening hanging over the side. This did not look good.While Jake proceeded to watch a little TV (PBS, natch), I hurried through the house looking for signs of onion. I couldn’t imagine Hubert, Mr. Finicky himself, eating an entire red onion, but there was no sign of a partially chewed and spat out onion anywhere. And George had been in the crate all day, so he couldn’t have done it. I tried calling Trish, but she wasn’t in her office or answering her cell phone.

I decided I’d better call the vet, a place that should be on our speed-dial.The vet people were a bit taken aback at the idea a dog would eat a red onion, but promised to look it up.

One of the many nice things about having a really big dog is that it takes a lot of whatever is bad for them to make them sick. But the onions in that bag were at least as big as my fist. At any rate, I was hoping that we would only have some really bad gas to deal with (our recently deceased Dane mix Chester once got into some moldy bread. Even the French would have voted in favor of the UN resolution to disarm the resulting gaseous WMD).

No such luck. Although no toxic dose was found for a dog of Hubert’s size, red onion could do unpleasant things to a dog’s liver and thus his blood. They recommended I try to induce vomiting, and if I couldn’t get that to work, to call the emergency vet for more advice. Oy. I tried calling Trish again, no luck. I made a last-ditch effort to find a partially chewed onion carcass in all the places Hubert normally liked to lie down. No dice. I began to sweat. I fielded a call from Trish’s father, a retired pathologist, but he had little advice except to remain upwind.

I gathered up the hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting. You ever try to get something that legitimately wears a horse bridle instead of a collar to take hydrogen peroxide? Yeah, I didn’t think so.The phone rang. It was Trish. I asked her about a missing onion.

She laughed. I resisted an urge to strangle someone. She told me about how George had gotten himself an onion, carried it upstairs, and taken a nice big bite. And immediately spat it back out again and got as far from the offending vegetable as possible. I looked deeply into the trashcan, and found the onion.

“Is everything okay?” She asked.

“It is now,” I replied, and allowed myself to fall into post-adrenaline rush collapse.

Ahead Flush Factor Four...

We are thankfully done with potty training, but my friend Mark will get his chance in a year or three. I'm just glad they didn't have this sort of thing when we were working with Jacob:

Oh sure, I know, you probably already have a laser in your toilet. But does yours make noise? When this one first turns on, it sounds like Microsoft Windows starting up. It's a nice little chime, and while it doesn't explicitly ask, "Where do you want to go today?", you know that's what it's thinking.

Found on The Trixie Update.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

What Is It About Errands, Anyway?

One thing I had not counted on when started this kind of blog was getting worried that I'd start to repeat myself. And its only been what, 3-4 months? Still, there are things that keep coming up in my mind, even if they haven't made it onto the blog. I hope.

Like the need to run errands. This week, for example, I am going to spend at least part of every day away from the house. Why is this? I really do not know how it happens every week, but I seem to have to leave at least 3 out of every 5 days.

You have your groceries, then the inevitable forgotten items, a run to the Lowe's for a sprinkler and sandpaper. The dogs need to see the vet, something is happening at school. The car needs an oil change, you need to make copies of some documents, then they need to be mailed from the mailbox store because you need the correct postage. Stuff needs to go to/ get picked up from the cleaner's. And on and on. And it always takes longer than you expect, which certainly plays hob with your desire to get the 196,483 little items done around the house.

And we haven't gotten into the trekking out to Jake's karate classes, which I don't count.

It's really strange. I can view paintings hanging across the ocean in the Louvre without moving from my desk, but to get dog food I have to drive 3 miles. And no, I do not intend to walk those miles with a 40lb bag of Senior Canine Hip&Joint Formula slung over my shoulder.

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Weekender

Busy weekend. Fun, but busy. Herewith my observations of taking Jake out of school on Friday and dashing off to Houston for Friday and Saturday:

The Houston Children's Museum is way cool. Jacob thought so too, judging from his bouncing.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science is pretty cool, too. Saw exhibits on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the treasures of Tibet. The scrolls exhibit used little MP3 players with headphones to explain a lot of the stuff. Jacob listened to all of the kid level ones and many of the adult as well.

Churrascos is as good as ever. I think the plantain breaded fried shrimp was not quite as good as the last time. Which means it is still in the top two of fried shrimp I've ever had anywhere (the other place being the King's Inn, located on the Texas Gulf Coast near the small town of Riviera).

You can still educate 1st graders better by an occasional outing than leaving them in school every single day, but its getting harder. The little nipper know 6 x 7 = 42, which was a lot more than I could do at that age.

Getting dressed up for the Renaissance Festival works out okay, even in the rain, as long as you have a big hat. It quit raining after lunch, but for a while there I managed to be both hot and cold at the same time, something I don't think I've ever done before.

And finally...

One should take advantage of the chances to do things like this. Near the end of church yesterday, I watched Jake crawl into his mom's lap to snuggle. He just did it, totally unselfconscious about it, because he wanted to. He's almost physically too big for that now, but how many more years until he's emotionally too big for that? Two? Three? And how fast will those years go by? Better not waste them.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Off Into the Wild Blue

Only for a couple of days, though. Off to Houston for various kinds of fun and the Texas Renaissance Festival. Kind of a last-minute thing, but now my next few days are very busy. Blogging to resume Tuesday, probably. A good weekend to all except Colorado Buffalo Fans! Heh.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Minor Bummer

Last night, I found out that the acting class I had signed up wasn't going to have enough students to go forward. We had four, we needed six. There had been six signups, but two of them never showed. Our instructor said that wasn't uncommon for this class. The problem for those people was likely the thing that attracted me in the first place: the class puts on a performance at the end. You don't just practice being an actor, you get to do it, live and on stage with no nets.

One thing I've hoped I might be able to do if I pursue the stay-at-home route is return to this long (delayed? sublimated? restrained?) love of mine. I got the acting bug back in high school, like a lot of people. I was in three plays (should have been in four, I'm told, but the director stuck his favorite in), got Best Actor once, All-Star Cast the other times. I also did other stuff on the Speech Team. Probably my finest hour came when I and three friends did a little skit in the finals of a tournament and got both a standing ovation and a encore! After, I had bit parts in college plays, made extra on a few movies, but nothing that really satisfied.

Any performer can tell you that a sincere standing "O" is pretty much the best feeling you can get short of marriage, births, or illegal drugs. Indeed, the one complaint I have about our otherwise excellent local theater is that the audiences are way too generous with standing ovations. Almost every performance I've seen has gotten one. Those folks are good, but not that good. Anyway, even plain old applause short of the standing "O" is worthy, and its been too long since I got to hear that. It's an amazing rush when you know the crowd is with you, and you can feel it on the stage. It's easier to tell with comedy, since you have the immediate feedback of laughter (or silence when there should be laughter) but even with drama you can sense what's going on out there most of the time.

Ah well, I've waited this long, I can wait a little longer for the next go-round. At least now I know I'm waiting for the opportunity to come by, not for the time to take it...

Monday, October 18, 2004

Time, Again

I blogged once before about how going the stay at home route (for either spouse) gives your family a lot more time to do fun stuff together because you're doing all the stuff that used to get stuffed into the cracks of your workdays and weekends during that vast river of time between 7AM and 5PM.

But I have come to realize that, despite being a lot of time, its not as much time as you think! Yup, when I started this gig, I figured I would be able to read the morning blogs, do the laundry, write long, complex analysis in my political blog (that would change the world you know, or at least the face of American politics), walk the dogs, sweep the floors, deal with the family finances, write an article for a magazine, exercise for 45 minutes, read more books, watch that blood and guts sci-fi comic-booky movie the wife would never want to see, work in the yard, get the groceries, run miscelaneous errands, and play some computer games. And that was just Monday.

Hasn't worked out that way, and if you've been doing this for longer you no doubt are wearing an indulgent smile. Sure, I probably could do more than I actually get done (I'm a famous procrastinator), but even so it would never approach what I thought would happen.

Well, we live and learn, yes? Reality is always such a pisser, as my old buddy Pete would say.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Interesting Question

My friend Mark Hasty asks the question: If you could choose your kid's vice, what would it be?

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Daddy Agonistes

As time marches on, I come closer and closer to deciding that what I want is not to go back to a regular, 9 to 5 type job. But I confess this is something that also makes me feel guilty. I would be making this choice because, well...I like it.

Yes, it sounds ridiculous put that way. Why should we feel guilt for choosing something we like? But this choice, while good in many ways (I'll skip talking about time issues) does have the problem of not likely to be making much money. No, we don't really need the income, but...there is a second-hand couch in the living room right now. If I was working it would be a new one.

It has to be said that even so, we could have afforded a nice new couch. But a thought that we needed to be more careful played a part in that decision, and the fact that thought existed has irked me more than I had thought it would.

And yes, I am well aware of the fact that not being able to afford a nice new Pottery Barn couch is really a pissant level of problem in one's life. But since it connects the issue of what I am choosing to do with my life, it gets a certain kind of magnification.

Of course, getting to choose one's life and having the option of not working full-time is also fairly close to pissant level on the Great Life Problems Meter. But, they are the ones I've got right now. And here I always hated those sorts of "woe is me, the SUV has a scratch and the lawn service can't come before the party this weekend" kind of yuppie suburbanite angst tales, only to find myself living part of one.

Where was I? Ah yes, life choices...Granted, my thoughts were leaning in the direction of getting an acting gig from time to time, and trying to write articles for a magazine, in addition to becoming a true Stay At Home Dad (though I guess that technically would make me a Mostly Stay At Home Dad, or MSAHD). That would make a few bucks from time to time, enough to provide us with some extras. I haven't the foggiest idea how much realism there is in that. I can write, and I can act, Austin gets a fair number of movies, etc. etc.

Can I demonstrate the discipline that writing real magazine articles takes? Its one thing to crank out something like this for a blog every few days. It's quite another to write long articles for publications. And just how good can I act? Better than average, but acting classes or no acting classes, there are a lot of good actors out there working as computer programmers or whatever.

Where did I start? Oh yeah, guilt. Yeah, I'm thinking of taking up a life choice that is, from my POV, very low stress. Nobody is on my case, almost all the deadlines are my own, the commute is very short, it leaves our weekends free, etc. etc (I rhapsodized about the sudden expansion of time in this older post). But the pay is low.

Man, this is a gloomy-sounding post! Thank God for proofreading (which will still fail to catch a missing word or extraneous letter).

I think they call this "buyer's remorse". You get it almost any time you make a major purchase, like a house or a car. No matter how much homework you've done, no matter how many other options you've looked at to arrive at the decision that this is the right one, once you've committed, you spend some time worrying if this really was the right way to go. Well, this is a lot more committment than a house or a car. I think I've touched upon this before.

I hadn't really done very much thinking lately along these lines until I started this post today. Something about writing forces you to think about things you skip over while making sure the chicken is properly defrosted and the celery chopped, I guess. Funny.

And now I can't figure out how to close this. I'm not as gloomy or angst-ridden as the first part of this post sounds, but just saying "I'm fine guys, really!" doesn't seem like its enough. Is this what they call writing yourself into a corner?

I guess it is. Well, yes, I do sometimes worry if I'm doing this just because its fun and easy as opposed to right, but I'd be less than human if I didn't. But I'm also determined not to allow myself to be guilted into a choice I don't want. I guess thats just going to have to do for now.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Take the Day Off

Today is looking like a simply gorgeous day. Mild, sunny, with a bit of a breeze. Texas gets some payback from its typically miserable Augusts and lame winters with lovely mild weather like this. It's also a school holiday, so Jake and I are going to head out for a bit of miniature golf and video games after he gets done practicing his drums.

We also slept in, ate blueberry muffins and banana for breakfast, and will almost certainly manage a quick run to the grocery store. If I was at work, he would have gotten up at 6AM and be sitting in his day care right now[*]. And I would be making DO loops or some fool thing.

Later, before karate class at 5PM, we might do some soccer or go to a park. Assuming his best buddy across the street isn't home. I am apparently great fun to have around, but 7-year-olds are still WAY cooler. :-)

* Actually, I shouldn't snark about his day care. Bluebonnet was actually a very good place with fun and some teaching, not simply a holding tank. Pricey, however, like most better day cares.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Dust to Dust. Hair too.

One of the few bad things about Austin from a geographical perspective (other than sitting on a Hellmouth) is that it is Ground Zero for allergens. Austin is the intersection point of several of the areas of major allergy creating molds and pollens. Probably space aliens as well, as anyone who spent much time on South Congress might suspect. So at any point in time, something here making someone sneeze.

I myself do not suffer too much from allergies, though like most people I get them in the spring. Right now is a bad time for ragweed, apparently. Bad enough that I've actually had to take antihistamines from time to time over the last 2-3 weeks. Trish has suffered a lot more, especially in the past week. It doesn't help matters much that she reacts strongly to all antihistamines we've tried. You know that bit about operating heavy machinery? They wrote that for her, poor thing. Again, that's something I don't suffer from. Kind of a cosmic joke that I don't need the medication as much and also don't suffer from its most common side effect.

Because of all this, I've tried to be a bit better on matters related to dust. Now, you might imagine that in a house with two cats, three dogs, and a six-year-old boy, there would be a fair amount of dust and hair to get up. I certainly imagined, but the reality is amazing. I feel like I gather enough animal hair every two days to make a small dog or cat. And enough dust that God could whip up another Adam at least twice a week, should He feel like it. Or if you're looking to start making your own island, I can help you out.

Before I stayed at home, the floor might get swept twice a week -- if that. Most likely it was once a week, Friday. That's when we have someone come over to do housecleaning. Yes, she still comes over. Cleaning was never my strong suit. And she does stuff I'd never even think of, like dusting off pictures on the wall. Anyway, I shudder to think of the amount of dust and hair and what-not she used to find.

I think I'd better go deal with the air filters now. They don't last three months at our house like the label says.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Time, Tasks, and Getting Off Your Duff

There are days when it seems you have so much to do that you just sort of sit there and don't do much of anything. You look at the list of things you need or want to do and it seems overwhelming. Where to start?

This certainly feels like a day that could happen. I have at least three phone calls I should make. I need to get some more dog food, milk, and 60-watt light bulbs. I wanted to clean out a device we originally purchased to hold bills but instead has morphed into a thing where we hold generic papers we can't decide what to do with. You know the sort of stuff, you need to keep it, but you don't need it every day. Where does it go? Where do you put it so you can find it again if you need it (preferably without having to search for an hour). You organized people with file systems you actually use can stop snickering now.

Then there's some laundry. And I wanted to get more air filters and change the old ones out. And dust the air vents. Spread some soil out in the area we are going to turn into an herb garden. Write some blog posts (one of which Blogger already ate as I write this one -- So I'm composing this in Notepad, just to be safe). Oh, and gather some materials and send them off to the bank.

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Well, I didn't get it all done but I got some of it done. Did the dusting and laundry, got the dog food and light bulbs and milk. Made two out of three phone calls. Wrote blogger posts. Realized I needed to straighten out the kitchen and put away all the clean dishes. Amazing how little that seems, yet I spent almost 6 hours today doing it (and some incidentals like lunch).

I truly don't understand how time manages to pass that way.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Smart Kid

I was "the smart kid" in school. I got the best grades, knew almost all the answers, raised my hand all the time, etc. I was the Hermione Granger of my time, only I was a guy and didn't even have to study the way she does. My lovely wife claims she wasn't that way in her school (something I doubt -- I suspect she was bored), but she does have her PhD and can see way deeper into a millstone than most (unless she's looking for her keys, but that's a different sort of thing).

So while there were no guarantees it would happen, Jacob was very likely to get a double dose of the gray matter. So far, that seems to be the case. We met with his teacher today for the regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences at his school. And with one small exception, he's tops in everything. When it comes to reading, he's actually off the scale. Her main concern is keeping him from getting bored.

Pardon me a second while I strut...okay, I'm done.

Now, I do worry about this a bit. By the time I was in 4th grade or so, I had learned to wait and see if anyone else had raised their hands before raising mine. I'd also learned to be very careful about the answers I gave. I wasn't wrong much, but when I was wrong, people seemed to enjoy it a lot. It wasn't as if I was ridiculed for being smart as much as people resented what they saw as showing off.

And I did get bored. Eventually, I took to reading in class after being done with work and daydreaming a lot when the teacher spoke about something I already knew. And I think either thing can cause a kid to get turned off from learning. It didn't happen with me, but it could have.

I don't want my son to have to deal with either of these issues. In many ways, I think schools (at least the ones around here) seem to have striven to deal with that, but there is a limit to what they can do. And I really don't have the foggiest idea what I can do to help out.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Not for My Convenience

One thing that has become something of a refrain in the modern era is the issue of kids and their activities keeping families constantly on the go. I'm not sure who new this is; my wife describes times her mom spent the entire day shuttling her, her two sisters and her brother from one thing to another. Things weren't so bad in my family, but then I was an only child, and in my two-horse town, there wasn't a whole lot to do outside of school activites and the Little League.

Early on, my wife and I decided that we were going to restrict Jacob to two activities at any one time (preferably one physical and one cerebral), to prevent precisely that sort of shuttle existence we read about and occasionally saw. For about two years he did gymnastics, which he discovered while at the birthday party of one of his friends (a local gymnastics school allowed members to have birthdays there, pretty good way to drum up business). At the end of the summer, though, he finally tired of that wanted to do karate. I promised to look into it.

But before karate could happen, he expressed an interest in music. And so after some discussion, he began taking drum lessons about 8 weeks ago. He seems to have a reasonable aptitude for it. So we do that one day a week, plus 15 minutes (minimum) practice 4-5 days. And the time has come for me to get him ging on his karate classes. I've even done my due diligence and selected what seems to be the best place around. But karate is not a one day a week thing; its a two day thing. I hadn't known this at the time.

Which means that three days a week we will be trekking somewhere for an activity, not the two my wife and I originally had in mind.

I confess this issue has almost certainly caused me to procrastinate getting him in a class. Oh, I've had my excuses; wait until he had settled back into school, this was a week too busy for me to deal with the karate people, etc. What I'm really dealing with here is a desire to keep my own life simple, not his.

And thus I am reminded of something important. Despite our responsibility as parents to set appropriate limits, our kids need to be allowed to live their lives for themselves, not for our convenience.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I Coulda Been a Contenda!

I've discussed mostly nice things about being a stay at home dad, so I suppose its only fair to consider some downsides as well. Or at least potential downsides.

At all but the most toxic of workplaces, you have a group of friends you can commisserate with. You go to lunch, you occasionally have a few beers after work, stand around the coffee machine, that sort of thing. Naturally, no workplace, no circle.

Granted, there are these sorts of groups, where dads can get together to recreate that workplace socializing. And some guys seem able to break into and be comfortable in the "mommy club" (for lack of a better term).

The other possible downside is a bit more tricky, and also, I think, a lot more insidious. Let's call it the "mid-life crisis". Most of us have something that we're good at. Some of us even know what it is. And most books about getting the right job try to find a combination of things you can do and things you enjoy doing.

While I think most people enjoy parenting, I would hazard a guess that relatively few think they have a flair for housework (for lack of a better term) or that their talents run in that direction, or that they truly enjoy sweeping the floors and folding laundry.

At some point, sooner or later, I think for a fair number of people the question has to arise: "Is this the best use of my abilities? Am I wasting my talents?"

There is a distinction between someone who "works from home" and someone for whom home is the work. And sometimes figuring all that out can be relatively easy. In his entertaining book Housebroken, writer Dave Eddie quickly realized that he was not a good fit for almost any kind of typical job, and that his wife was better suited to be the family breadwinner. He became a writer/stay at home dad.

For Dave, it was fairly easy. But if you read Po Bronson's excellent book What Should I Do With My Life?, we find a lot of other people, some of whom did not find it so easy.

No one wants to wake up ten years later feeling like they made all the wrong choices, and stay at home types are as vulnerable to that as anyone else. It's a truism that no-one facing death ever seems to say "I wish I'd spent more time at the office" but somehow I don't you'd be human if you didn't sometimes wonder if you would have been happier or more useful to society doing something else.

Certainly this is a feeling anyone can get, but I bring it up because I think stay at home dads are likely to be particularly vulnerable to it. There is a tendency, I think, for people to sort of "end up" in careers they had neither expected nor planned for. Sometimes this works out great, sometimes its neutral, but it can be disastrous.

Some SAHD's have already thought about it, and power to them. I'm thinking about it now myself, wanting to be sure whatever I choose to do is what I want to do and what will be best for my family. You be sure and think about it too.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Cable Monster

This isn't a problem unique to SAHD's, but its one you're going to have to deal with. Television. How much of it? And for that matter, how much computer time, playstation time, and whatever else is out there that isn't akin to white-water rafting followed by a ten-mile hike in full packs.

People like to complain about how much TV kids watch, and what they watch, but who's in charge of the TV? Hmmm? Helloooo? Yeah, you are, and as tempting as it is to just park the little beasties there as long as they want, we all know we really shouldn't do that.

We decided that our son can have two hours, total TV and computer time in a day. How he splits it up is up to him, but that's all he gets. There are exceptions for special movie nights, colds and injuries, rainy days, sick dads, etc, but the point is that there is a limit.

And in addition to time limits, there are limits on what he can watch. Well, no duh, we aren't going to let him check out Naughty Night Nurses or pretty much anything on Spike TV, but even kids programming can be exceptionally lame or even offensive to my wife and I. And very little of it is educational in any sense of the term. SpongeBob is reasonably inoffensive to me, but its just cotton candy. And our view is, if we limit his time on the TV, what he does watch should be of some redeeming value.

It gets trickier as they get older. As insipid as it is, Barney (is that still on) and its cousins do fairly well at hammering home the idea that you should be nice, share, etc. But these shows tend to be for the really younger crowd, from 2-4. You have to move on, and find something else that might engage their minds and be entertaining. We're not trying to run a joyless Gulag here, after all.

PBS kids shows (once you are safely past the Barney stage) and the Disney Channel are pretty safe if not always terribly inspired. A lot of the Nickolodean shows are actively good, like Blues Clues and Dora the Explorer.

Other shows that I found really good in the past, in that he liked them and they actually taught you something besides "be nice to people" were shows like Stanley on Disney, Liberty's Kids, now syndicated on the WB (previously on PBS), the Magic School Bus (also a way cool set of books. Note there are two sets, the originals, plus newer ones based on TV show episodes) running on The Learning Channel, and right now, CyberChase on PBS.
Stanley is about a 6-year old who loves animals, and each episode contains two short stories where Stanley learns something about life via animals.

Liberty's Kids is a totally cool show covering the American Revolutionary War, from the Boston Tea Party through the creation of the Constitution. Its seen mainly through the eyes of three (miraculously non-aging) kids who are apprentice newspaper reports for Ben Franklins Pennsylvania gazette. It strikes a nice balance between being rah-rah and noting the occasional warts of the Americans.

The Magic School Bus (theme song sung by Little Richard -- no joke) is about the science adventures of a class and their wacky teacher Ms. Frizzle. They get shrunk, go back in time, inside volcanoes, etc. learning about all sorts of science stuff along the way.

Cyberchase is a a show about three kids who work to foil the schemes on the evil Hacker to take over the cyberworld. Along the way, it does a cool job teaching math and logic concepts.

As I noted earlier, kids grow.

Some of this stuff (the Nick shows especially) are not geared for a 6-year old. Jacob finds them boring and babyish. Perhaps in some cases its just because he's seen every episode ten times. Even little kids have their limits when it comes to repetition.

Timing is a bit of an issue as well. Magic School Bus comes on at 7:35AM CST. Jake is on the bus at 7:15. School starts at around 8AM all over the state of Texas. MSB is a great show, but who's watching? The Mountain and Pacific Time zones, I suppose, but those of us further east are stuck unless we Tivo it or manage to work the VCR. Other of the Nick shows come on later, geared to younger stay-at-home kids.

At our house these days, we do CyberChase at 6AM, then follow it with part of a VCR or DVD rented from Blockbuster for the remaining half-hour. We let him watch these things while eating breakfast, getting dressed, and generally emerging from the early-morning coma that characterizes my wife's side of the family (she jump-starts the process by fixing a double-size mug of coffee that probably violates certain FDA regulations) and also affects me to a lesser extent. Without the tube to provide him a bit of groggy focus, I truly think he would fall right back to sleep, face-first into his organic-wheat waffles. And we're putting him to be about as early as we can already. When he gets home from school, he typically hits it again until time's up or his buddy from across the street comes over (TV and/or the computer always goes off if someone comes to play. That rule is iron-clad), and depending on homework, etc.

So anyway, think about your kids TV, give my shows a try, feel free to suggest some others, and remember that, when in doubt, Scooby Doo is eternal.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Food Selection Issues

One thing about doing more of the shopping on your own is that you pay more attention to labels. And you really start to wonder about how things are presented. "Fruit snacks" for kids are an example. They generally say the things contain real fruit juice and are a good source of vitamin C. A better source than what they don't say. I suppose 10% of your child's daily allotment of C isn't bad for a little bag of chewy things, but you pay for that with an insane amount of sugar.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no sugar Nazi (my morning tea or coffee probably contains enough sugar to power the local hummingbird population for weeks). But its kinda crazy to present these snacks as healthy when they really aren't much more healthy than your old-fashioned Hershey's chocolate bar.

Organic foods are a small but fast growing segment of the food industry. I don't think I had even heard of the organic food movement before I met my wife, almost 10 years ago now. Granted, as a certified sandal-wearing graduate of Cal-Berkeley, she had a head start on me. After many years of shopping together and being alternately enlightened or befuddled by the nomenclature, I've begun to garner a better appreciation of all this.

The basics of organic are: no chemical pesticides, no artificial fertilizers, no antibiotics, no growth hormones, etc. etc. As close to natural as possible (there many variations, but let's stick to the simple case for now). I suppose the exemplars of this trend are the grocery stores like Whole Foods. WF sells non-organic stuff as well, but its all pretty clearly labeled. And they are one of the fastest growing grocery chains in the US.

Organically grown food is still a bit boutique. I'm not sure we can feed the whole world this way, but I'm happy enough to do my bit for the environment by spending a little bit more.

Trish had told me that orgo chicken tasted better than regular. Swore by it. To be honest, I'm not sure I was able to tell the difference. But you know where I can tell the difference? A big difference? Beef. Orgo beef tastes better. Whether because its grass-fed or all the other stuff, its just flat tastes better and is more tender (tenderer?) to boot.

So I seek out the natural beef products when shopping. And I treat "fruit snacks" like candy.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Clean Up on Aisle 4

Because it makes sense, I do most of the shopping these days. Grocery shopping is one of those skills we guys sort of lose upon marriage. Well, I did anyway. Granted, this assumes I ever really had grocery shopping skills to start with, which is not certain.

Anyway...

Once you're doing this again though, you realize the importance of the List. If you don't have a List, you're to buy all kinds of stuff and get home to discover that no matter how hard you try, potato mix, rice pilaf, and cous-cous simply don't add up to a satisfying meal. So you've spent twice what you should have, and all you get out of it are overfull shelves. And another trip to the store.

So first you need a Menu. Whether for 3 days or for 7, you need a menu of meals. Then you make your List, based on that menu, and what you know you're going to need of other stuff, like paper towels and what-not. Then you go to the store and try to stick to the List. This is hard for me. I can enter a store intent on only buying a half-gallon of milk and stagger out with three bags of chips, some cookies, breakfast cereal, toothpaste, etc. Oh, yeah, and the milk.

But as bad as it can be even with a List, doing without is much harder. Trust me on this one. Stick to your List! But don't get anal about it. I mean, if you walk down the aisle and realize you need more ziploc bags, don't leave them on the shelf just because they didn't make the List. But as much as possible, if you need to deviate from the List, deviate with stuff you know you are going to use.

While I haven't actually tried this yet, it seems to me that it would be okay to try different things if you set an amount to play with first. Say $10 or $20, or whatever your budget allows for. You can try as many non-staple non-list things as you like, as long as you don't go over your limit.

Next time, a word about organics.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

What Do You Do?

America is a place where people seem to define themselves by their career. When talking to people, inevitably the question arises "What do you do?" meaning: what is your job?

So far, my answer has been, either one of two, depending on my mood: 1) "I work at home" which is true, if a tad misleading, or 2) "I'm a trophy husband".

I don't think the out and proud RebelDad types would especially like either answer. But if you're going to do this, you need to decide what your answer is going to be. In my case, I can at least make the excuse that I've not fully committed to the SAHD lifestyle. I might decide to go back to full-time work come January. I might decide to become a writer or an actor or something that allows me most of the benefits of the SAHD way of life while still technically working, allowing me to answer the WDYD question differently.

But its about roles you know? SAHD types are assumed somehow to be...wimpier than the average. But average what? Accountant? Insurance salesman? Computer programmer? I've done that last one myself, and people, despite our atavistic notions that this somehow stands in for hunting bears and defending the tribe from rampaging lions, it just ain't the same thing. I've actually done real He-Man work like herding cattle, and let me tell ya, I don't care how underhanded you can be at office politics, feeling like a stallion because you just pulled the rug out from under Marketing is not the stuff of which legends are made.

Still, even if people figure that out, its going to be a while before being a SAHD becomes even as accepted as either of choices women get to make -- and any woman will tell you that no matter what they choose, someone is going to take issue with it. So you need to make your peace with whatever you choose, because people aren't going to make it for you.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Miscellaneous Friday

First, a thank you to RebelDad for noticing me. If I can ever figure out how to change my template without frying my dialup connection, I'll add him to my blogroll. Heck, I'll actually get to have a blogroll.

Today was Shield Parade day at my son's elementary school. I was working the last time and didn't get to see it. It's also hamburger cookout day, and I'm going to be there to help out. Didn't get to last time because I was working. Are we seeing a theme here?

Trish my wife, says that I need to make clear that one reason I'm getting to be a stay at home dad (unless we/I decide to change) is that she loves her job. If she didn't she'd feel jealous and resentful, irrational as that would be (as she fully and freely admitted). Also, more positively, she also feels that there is no reason I shouldn't love my job as well, whatever job that turns out to be -- including continuing a full-time stay-at-home track.

Its funny, because if the situation were reversed, I wouldn't feel resentful -- but that's because I'm a guy. I grew up with my mom at home, and that's still the norm. If someone is at home, its the mom. And if you (the man) have a job that sucks, too bad. Find a better one or stick it out.

Next week, I think I'm going to try talking about what this sort of thing means financially, unless something more compelling occurs to me in the mean time (even as I write this, I'm getting some idea about role issues. Hmmm). Enjoy Labor Day weekend!

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Quest For Fire

Last night I baked some bread. Nothing to get excited about, really, I just poured the mix out of the box, into the bread machine, and pushed "start". But Trish decided to praise me for not engaging in learned, purposeful, incompetence. Bill Cosby once had a great routine about making breakfast for the kids one day when his wife was feeling sick, and the upshot was that Dads that seemed to be bumblers about the house weren't as dumb as they looked. That's what I meant about purposeful incompetence.

My own Dad liked to pretend he couldn't work the microwave, though when Mom wasn't around he seemed to manage. Trish occasionally does this as well, though in her case I think this can be traced to a traumatic incident involving popcorn almost catching fire (people, if your microwave has a "popcorn" setting, I suggest you try it.).

Most men who make it out of bachelorhood have managed to learn how to cook at least a little bit. I don't mean microwaving the "Hungry Man" dinners, either. I mean taking food from a raw state to a cooked one, generally by the application of controlled amounts of artificially generated heat for periods of time. Even if it means getting really good with Hamburger Helper and the Potato Buds mashed potato mix, its still a kind of cooking.

I know for a lot of guys, especially where I grew up, your contribution to the family meals consisted mainly of occasionally working the charcoal grill.

I also suppose, if you were like me, that once married you were quite happy to turn the cooking chores over to your spouse. I certainly was. I did the dishes, and was quite happy to do so. So we men learned how to cook, after a fashion, but then quite promptly forgot again once hitched.

When I took to staying home, we kept that arrangement of her cooking and me doing the dishes. And it is still the official arrangement. But not as much. Lets face it, when the cook gets home at 6:00pm for a planned meal at 6:30pm, there is a limit to what they can do, even if you play the role of sous chef.

Now, there's always the leftovers route, which we take from time to time. Indeed, we plan to have leftovers, in order to deal with just this sort of situation. But there are limits to making that work.

So I gotta cook. And one thing that has happened since taking up the stay-at-home mantle is I've spent a lot more time looking over recipes and helping create the weekly menu. It complicated by the fact that my wife is a vegetarian. Once upon a time she was a pseudo veggie, in that she would eat chicken. But last year she decided to give that up as well (despite this handicap, she does grill up excellent steaks for me and the little guy) and become a full-fledged vegetarian. Except for occasional backslides under duress. But as noted, Jake and I are not vegetarians, and I mostly try to pick things where the whole meal is contained in one, well, container, to make life simpler and not to have to worry about trying to make everything be ready all at the same time.

And of course, that one container often contains meat of some stripe. So that's a complication. And when it comes to chopping and mixing, Trish is way faster than I am. And she can occasionally do that magic sort of thing of "whipping up" a pretty tasty and healthy little meal with little more than a cast iron skillet, a dash of soy sauce, and some stray molecules of argon (Symbol: Ar. Atomic Number: 18).

But there can be little doubt of one thing, and that is that I have become a lot more comfortable in the kitchen than I ever was during my days as a single male, and in a lot less time. And I don't mean knowing how to work a can opener. Is it because I've had a good example? Is it the time thing? It's a lot easier to prepare a meal when you can start at 4pm instead of 5pm or 5:30pm or 6, after all.

What does all of this mean? I dunno. Am I less a man because I can grill the meat instead of just killing it? Should I be worried that I occasionally find cooking a bit fun? What about shopping? I shop for groceries, of course, since I'm at home and have the time. Do I feel weird being a guy in the store on Tuesday morning? Do I care?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Walking the Dog

One of the particularly pleasant parts of my day comes after my son has climbed aboard the school bus and begun the punishing 2 mile ride to his school. I head down the small street that runs from the bus stop to the 4-lane surface arterial that cuts through the residential areas, hang a left, and proceed to walk north. Invariably, I am aware of numerous stares and smiles, and more than a few expressions of stunned surprise.

I wish I could say it my Greek god-like form that is drawing the stares, but I know better. People are looking at the dogs.

There are three of them, to be exact. First we have George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette. George is about 11 months old, weighs 80 pounds or so, is reddish brown and displays the characteristics of at least 3 distinct breeds (lab, Dane, and German Shepherd). Marquis is about 8 months old, 50 pounds, the same color, and looks to be Sharpei-something-something. As Trish says, both dogs are "mutts crossed with mongrels". They look enough alike to be brothers, or father and son, but we got them several months apart from different sources. Their names come from our son Jacob's love of a TV series called Liberty's Kids. The show was about the American Revolution, and was running on PBS at the time.

The story of our getting these dogs will have to wait for another post, though.

But as cute as they are, most of the stares are really for the three-year old Hubert. Hubert is a full-blooded Great Dane. Black, about as tall as my waist, and weighing 120 pounds, Hubert is the largest dog many people have ever seen.

And he draws many many admiring stares. I get a big kick out of seeing little kids straining to see over the door frames of cars as they go by, and full-grown adults staring with open mouths. The presence of the other two dragging me along just adds to the spectacle.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Adjustments

When you become a stay at home dad, there are adjustments both you and your spouse have to make. If you've fallen into the stay-at-home gig, like I did, instead of truly choosing it, I suspect the adjustment will take longer and have a few bumps in it. Mine certainly did.

Much of course depends on your spouse and how the two of you shared house duties before. I'm assuming here that said spouse has some sort of standard career, by the way.

At first, we did things where she got our son ready for school three days a week, and I did it two. It was her idea, and it seemed to make sense at the time, since she was getting up very early anyway in order to pull herself together and get to work on time (my wife is not a morning person. Neither is our son, and I managed by having a sort of ritual that got me through the first hour or two, but woe betide anyone who messed with my ritual). This arrangement lasted maybe two weeks.

Trish came to me one day and stated she couldn't do it anymore, and that in fact she was feeling jealous and even angry that I was getting to sleep in so much.

And here I think I should take a second to make a very important point: In my case, having left a job that was beginning to suck the life out of me via benign neglect, any change for me was one for the better. I loved what had happened to me, and why should I want to change what was fun and nice? Let it be known that had circumstances been reversed, it would have been me standing there demanding, not asking, that we do things differently.

And so we changed it around, from two days to three days, and eventually to one day. And it made sense. Okay, Trish was getting up early anyway, but she was trying to get out of the house and go to her job. I was doing my bit around the house, but I didn't have a hour-long commute.

And that is something you have to recognize and get used to. Your spouse may have done a lot of the traditional "Mom" things like getting the kids ready for school while getting herself ready for work, but if you're the one going to be at home, and you aren't having to get ready for work, then you're the one that needs to take on someone else's responsibilities to make things work.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Life and Its Discontents

I had to call the credit card company this morning. Our cards didn't work yesterday. I thought it might have been some tech glitch, that sort of thing has happened before. Well, not this time. It seems that a couple of checks bounced, including the most recent one. Don't know when the first one was, the rep could only look back six months, but from the sound of things, it must have been within the last year.

That's a pain. We've got plenty of money, but its obvious that the checking account needed a fresh infusion before that last one went off. Of course, my wife just noted that we're supposed to have overdraft protection on that account.

It's far from a disaster, but it's all very irritating. At least I can make lots of phone calls from my study to straighten it out and not worry about my cow-orkers eavesdropping.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Time Not Crunch

Any family with kids today can tell how hard it is to keep up with everything going on. Parents have jobs, kids have school and day care, and both may have activities. In addition, the groceries need to be bought, yards mowed, the house cleaned up, any pets cared for, and trips made to the Home Depot or Loews in order to get the latest thing to be installed or used to fix what's broken.

It is, in short, damn hard to make all that fit in to your lunch hour, time off after work, and the weekend. Oh, and of course, you'd like to do something fun as a family once in a while as well. If your spouse is a stay-at-home mom, then all that is much easier. She does it. But if you both work, well...

Until you become the stay-at-home spouse.

I tell you, the change in our lives once I had settled in to taking care of some of the housecleaning, the grocery shopping, and getting to do the other errands during the day while my son was at school and my wife at work was amazing.

When Jake got home from school, I was there to be with him. The animals had been taken to and from the vet already, the groceries were in the fridge, the errands done. It was so totally great. The time after school and work and the weekend available for us to be together and enjoying ourselves expanded immensely. It wasn't like stolen moments in between jobs. It was full, relaxed, and more enjoyable.

The dogs even got a walk. And the house was cleaner. And I got to blog. Pretty cool.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

How Did I Get Here?

I suppose it would be appropriate to begin by describing how I became a stay at home Dad. This is actually my second go-round, though the first was much shorter.

Starting almost two years ago, my boss at the company I worked for, a privately owned home health care company in Texas, sort of let it be known that there were some changes in the pipeline that might mean we would be losing our jobs. Management wanted to replace the computer system we had with another one -- and in that case, in-house computer programmers like myself would no longer be needed. Eventually, that turned out to be true, and in January of 2003, with 3 months of severance pay, I was let go. I really expected to get another job in reasonably short order, crappy economy or no crappy economy -- and despite the fact that I had been searching for 4 months before my last day with no luck.

I spent most of the next three months looking for work. I didn't even get an interview. At home I did random houseworky things, but really not much more than I had done already. Then my old boss contacted me. It seems the new system wasn't working too well, they were going back to the old one, and could I come back under contract for 6-7 months to make some changes that would get them through the time period needed to finish up yet another new system? Of course, I said yes.

Six months passed, and while doing my work at the old place in my old office, I continued to hunt for jobs. I got one interview, but no job. Eventually, on January 31 2004, I left for good.

One thing that was obvious the first time and even more obvious the second time, was that I was miserably unhappy at my job. I've had jobs I liked a lot, but this had not been one of them. No one treated me badly (indeed, my boss was quite understanding about needing to leave early some times for my family, getting me raises, listening to my suggestions, etc.), it just wasn't the kind of job that worked for me. It was interfering with my life away from work too, making me grumpier, less able to accomplish tasks, just a bad scene all the way around. It was bad enough that my wife was thrilled when my last day finally came.

After some time, we came to a decision. Because we had been both careful and lucky, I didn't have to get a job at the Starbuck's down the road in order to make the mortgage payment. And we decided I would be a stay at home dad for the rest of the year in order to figure out, well, what to do with my life. And here we are.

First Post

This blog represents my attempt to describe my life as a stay at home Dad. This life may be temporary or it might be permanent, I can't say right now. But I will be talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly of life as Homo Domesticus -- Domestic Man.

As I write this first post (which might get expanded into a sort of FAQ someday) I've been home for about 7 months. Somehow, it seems much longer, almost like I've been living this way my whole life. But it hasn't gotten boring or irritating yet.

One thing I should also say at the outset, and hopefully I won't have to repeat it too many times, is that what I will write about will represent my experiences. Yours may be different. In fact, they will be different. What I feel you may not feel, what works for me and my wife might not work for you or your spouse. What you find here might be helpful as a suggestion, or as an idea of what not to do. So please, if you choose to comment (and I encourage everyone to please do) do keep that in mind.

Now, on with the blog.