How Long Can You Look at Something Cute?

I have volunteered my services in the near future to watching the newborn of a pair of friends for around three months. So Melissa came up with the great idea to have a little staycation with the four of us before things got hectic with our schedules. I loved the idea and it has certainly given me a great number of things to write about so you can expect several upcoming posts that are Idaho-specific, but hold some universal ideas. I hope you enjoy!

One of the best things I have ever done in life is nothing. I mean that, I really do. To this day, Melissa and I will talk about the time we took a full week off from our jobs and barely left the house. It was not a sexy thing, I can assure you. We ordered in lots of food, we barely wore anything outside the realm of pajamas, and our activities were almost exclusive to TV and computer games. Part of what I loved about that week was how little effort we put into any of it. It seems like most vacations are so stressful. You worry about getting things in your life to a point where you can leave for however long. Then, you worry about making sure you bring everything you need. Then, you worry about filling your days with new and exciting things that you wouldn’t normally experience. Then, you worry about making sure everything you’ve brought is making the return trip home. Finally, you worry about getting everything back to normal. Vacations can be a real nightmare. That’s why I love staycations, and Melissa and I were having those before it was even a word.

So as I mentioned there is probably going to be a write-up for each of the three major activities we took part in during our week, and I should add that a staycation with two little ones is a lot different than the ones with just the two of us. Kids really do change everything, including your definition of “relaxing.” This, the first in the series of three stops is for Zoo Boise.

You can check out their website at http://www.zooboise.org/ .

So let’s get the little stuff out of the way. A zoo can be a great day trip destination for the family. Zoo Boise is very conveniently located just inside the downtown limits, which is a quick and easy 20 minute drive from our house. The price was fantastic at $7/adult and both the boys (3 and under price range) were free. So at $14 to go in, that seemed more than fair. The animals were as fun to look at as you could expect and the zoo itself was clean and easy to navigate. There’s even a food place with very reasonable prices, but I have never tried the food and can’t speak to the taste or quality of any of it.

That being said…

Every time I go to our zoo, I leave in a pretty sad state. This most recent trip, like all the others, gave the wink of what was to come from the moment we drove into the parking lot. Zoo Boise is located at the most eastern side of a park. It’s one of those very simple, but very beautiful parks that is basically a well maintained lot of grass and shade trees. I love it, and can’t wait for the boys to be old enough to sit and have a picnic lunch there without running away every possible moment. What does that have to do with the zoo? Parking! Here’s the kicker, I don’t even mean that it creates a parking problem, but the city has placed two-hour parking limit signs for almost every spot near the zoo. Really though, that’s only an issue if you’re going to be at the zoo for more than two hours (more on that in a moment), and to be honest, I’m not sure how strictly that policy is enforced.

For our visit, we wanted to be there when the gates opened. Our plan was to go from open (9am) till about noon at which point we could leave and grab lunch at one of our favorite little spots in the downtown area. We thought it was a pretty solid plan. We were a little late (surprise) and ended up getting inside closer to 9:15. Here’s where I started to get a little…cranky. As we entered (a mere 15 minutes after they opened) we noticed a great deal of people inside the various animal exhibits cleaning things up. So strolling down an uncrowded zoo, we found that it was pretty easy to move from sight to sight since there were no actual animals to look at. Lucky for us, moving along so quickly allowed us to catch up to the guy using a blower to get dirt off the walkway. I’ve mentioned before that I’m from Florida – Land of Theme Parks. I don’t understand why basic clean up couldn’t be done prior to the opening time. I feel like we interrupted the workers, similar to when I’ve just mopped and William must run across the floor at that moment. It was a big turn-off, and seriously, why open the park at a time that you’ve specifically put all the animals out of sight? I can look at empty cages at Petsmart, even online!

We brought our double stroller to avoid the rental prices, which led to yet another issue. Every theme/amusement/aquatic/zoo park I’ve ever been to was more or less a circle. As I said, it was easy to get around the zoo without the use of the map (possibly due to the small overall size), but I like to think of Zoo Boise as more of an “E” that has been laid down flat. As you enter, you have three choices of direction but for anyone with wheels, they all dead end somewhere. It stopped bothering us at some point and just became laughable. We’d walk a little ways and get cut off by a locked gate or stairs and be forced to turn around. Easy to navigate, but equally as annoying.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment was the zoo itself, and this sadly gets echoed for a number activities locally. Here in Idaho, the grand scale just isn’t that grand. I still love when local people complain about “traffic.” It’s pretty cute. The big announcements just aren’t that big, and it’s due in no small part to the small number of people really willing to help fund these types of projects. I love the parks systems here, but some are very underwhelming when you compare them to others that are a five minute drive away. Likewise, the zoo has a great selection of animals, but they feel presented in a way that I find myself in a constant state of “ready for the next one.” I didn’t feel drawn in by the exhibits and many have such a small viewing area that as a family of four with a big double stroller, you are either blocked from any sort of view or boxed in by the mass of people trying to find a way to look around you. Not to mention that since the viewing areas are so small, you pretty much get all the view you ever will, in about 5 seconds. It becomes as interesting as going online to look at photos of the animals. Cute yes, but how long can you look at something cute? Going very slowly through everything, stopping at various exhibits multiple times and an extra special trip back through everything to actually see the animals once the cleaning crews were done, we were still done in around an hour. We used the second hour of our parking time to let William run around in the park.

In summation, we had a good time but it was one of those moments where you must ask yourself, “how long do I need to be here to get my money’s worth?” Perhaps the two-hour parking is enough for anyone. I just couldn’t help but leave with a little pit in my stomach thinking it could have been better. It’s unfair to expect a huge, expensive beast of a zoo in this area but I can’t help but wonder if it’s out of the question to want a little more. Yes, we had a nice time, but I’ve been to hockey games where I had a nice time…and my team lost.  Fun and disappointing don’t always travel separately.

I’ll add: We’ll go back. Of course we will, what are the zoo options around here? The price is still good enough to not feel bad about an hour visit. Also, like any zoo, they do great things for conservation and animals in general. I’m happy to support good programs, but it will take some amazing change before I feel real desire to go back.

It doesn’t have to be a zoo, but it’s always a good idea to send money to the places you really want to do well. Our little staycation has certainly shown me that Boise has a lot to offer, but without help from donations it’s never going to be a draw that makes people want to visit this amazing place.

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The Daddy Meck will make ya, Jump! Jump!

When I was young, I was a big fan of places like Chuck E. Cheese’s and Showbiz Pizza. Of course it had nothing to do with the pizza served, but there’s something amazing about walking into a place like that and trying to take in all the sights, sounds, colors, and smells. Heck, I still get a little twitch of excitement when I see a row of skee ball tracks. I like skee ball.

As I got a bit older, arcades became my biggest draw. Thinking back to those days I remember spending a great deal of time trying to persuade my mom to let me go to the arcades that inhabited every mall around. Were we really at the mall that often? We must have gone enough to make those memories pretty vivid.

By the time I hit middle school there was a whole new level of play place in the world. Huge warehouse sized buildings filled with “safe” playground style equipment that you could pay a small price and play on for the entire day. Great value for parents, but in the end it was just a large version of all the McDonald’s or Burger King playgrounds. I went a few times to those places, and they were okay, but there’s only so many times I’m willing to jump into a ball pit that smells like pee.

Kids have it easy today.

Almost two years ago, I started to hear a little buzz about a new breed of place for kids to play. A place where the always popular bounce houses were brought inside and combined with room-sized trampolines. I can’t speak for every child in the world, but I know I had my share of dreams involving a mansion that had one room where the entire floor was a trampoline. Someday.

Locally, we have Jump Time Idaho, and I could not be more pleased with our visit.

The continuous challenge for us as parents with young children, is finding a place where we can let our guard down a little. This is where Jump Time Idaho delivers, and I mean that in no small way. Sometimes we have trouble taking the boys to places because we’re worried about what they might break or if might be remotely child safe. So I ask you, what could be more safe than an place where falling is part of the fun?

We took the boys to the area called Jump Time Junior, a special section for children seven and under. At ages three and one, the grand total for full day (without leaving) access was three dollars. THREE! I can hardly comment on customer service as once inside there was little responsibility for them, however, at one point a large inflatable slide began to lose air and once notified the staff had everything fixed up in minutes. That works for me.

Within the Jump Time Junior section there was a very large trampoline area with room for plenty of kids, a very cool foam pit, several inflatable bounce houses and slides, as well as a few plastic play things which was a great way for the kids to break up the bouncing with something familiar. Pretty brilliant idea on their part.

It’s hard to put into words the pure joy for both William and Carter as they ran through the different areas jumping instead of walking and bumping into countless other children, all with a smile. Yeah, yeah, so they still need work with their socialization, but Jump Time Idaho is the type of place where real progress can happen. It was truly amazing for Melissa and I to not need to hover over them, especially Carter. I really can’t name another place (that isn’t our house) where I’ve ever felt so comfortable keeping my distance from Carter, it’s a pretty special feeling. Well worth three dollars.

I would like to mention one last thing, and you’re going to want to lean in close for this…psst…it isn’t just for kids. I don’t side-step the facts: I’m really out of shape, but seriously, for eight to nine dollars an hour (depends on the day) I would love to spend some time perfecting a sweet backflip. My plan is to wink in mid-air at the ladies like Lightening McQueen.

From their website, “Jump Time promotes a safe and fun environment while providing great exercise for the whole family” and I couldn’t say it better. So thank you Jump Time Idaho, for being exactly that.

Look for indoor trampoline parks near you! I even found this place which has locations all across the country. Indoor activities have certainly changed since I was young, but I’ll gladly take the foam pit over the foam-flavored pizza.

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The Dad Life Goes Aquatic

The last big stop on our staycation was the Boise Aquarium.

Before I get into this, I’d like to reiterate a point I made in my post talking about our trip to Zoo Boise. The Boise Aquarium has been in the works for quite some time, and financially it’s been nothing but an uphill battle. There have been countless fundraisers and pleas for donations to the public, and in all honesty I’m really happy for the people involved that this dream has become a reality. Sadly though, lots of people who insist that Boise is the type of city deserving of high quality, tourist-drawing destinations are the same people who won’t do anything to help bring these places into the area. When Melissa and I decided we wanted kids we didn’t just complain to the city, we took action. So we’re faced with this issue. It’s great that we have an aquarium, but you can’t do much without proper support and funding. I feel bad to some extent, but my point is that I understand their situation and I did keep that in mind during our trip there.

So just like my Zoo Boise post, this story got interesting right as we entered the parking lot. I’m really going to try throughout this post to not be overly mean, but the aquarium is located right by our local mall, across the street from a Sheriff’s office, and shares a strip mall with two bail bond places and a mattress place. Seriously. That was the location that people scouted and haggled over. Architects spent days drawing up detailed plans that had been discussed with the aquarium staff to ensure things were laid out in a specific way. Construction workers spent weeks building the inside, sculpting the fake rocks to make the fish feel comfortable when they were added, and adding giant filtration systems so that fish that don’t even exist yet would someday be added and be able to survive in the water they use. I just don’t understand what drew them to that spot. Maybe it was close to someone’s house.

Next comes the price. I’ve said several times that for us, we live by the idea that ticket costs for our family only need to be justified by the ability to get our money’s worth out of the visit. I hope that makes sense to other people. Fourteen dollars for an hour long trip to the zoo is not too bad. For the aquarium, prices were $9 each for Melissa and I, $6 for William (12 and under pricing) and Carter was free (2 and under pricing). $24, and ya know, that’s really not expensive. The problem for me was what we got out of that $24, and it really didn’t seem like much.

So, the inside. Right off that bat it was pretty clear that they were fishing (PUN!) for a certain audience. When you walk into this very warehouse style area you are instantly greeted by a large open-top tank filled with all the familiar fish from “Finding Nemo.” Okay, ha ha, I see what you did there. It kept both boys in total amazement for what felt like a while, but we found it a challenge to keep up with William. The large tank was made as a feeding area. For an additional three dollars you could get food to feed certain fish, and the tank was very low to the ground to help with that. Low enough, you might say, to entice a very excited toddler to jump in and swim with his favorite fish in the world. So we found ourselves in deep water (PUN!) trying to battle between moving on to the other tanks and William so desperate to stay and jump in with “Nemo.”

With such a grand entrance, it was unfortunate that most of the tanks within the aquarium walls are no bigger than anything you’d buy for your own home, and more than a few house the famous clown fish. There was another larger tank filled with small sharks and sting rays, another area that we found difficult to get William to leave. We found that even though it was not exactly crowded within the aquarium, the sharks and rays tank was the most interesting thing and was therefore quickly overwhelming for the boys. There was actually a really neat area for starfish made out of an old boat, but while Melissa and I thought it was interesting, the boys did not.

The two bigger tanks held the attention of the majority of the people, the majority of the time, and why shouldn’t they? The alternatives just couldn’t compete. There was also an octopus, a few reptiles, and a new puffin area, but none of them could pull people away from the two bigger tanks. There was also, according to their website, supposed to be a loggerhead turtle which was nowhere to be found. They are also trying to raise money for a 130,000 gallon tank to be filled with sharks and rays that people will swim with, as well as a seal at some point. Honestly, I can’t imagine where that is going to fit because at a normal walking pace I could go from start to finish in two minutes. Considering the adult price is two dollars more than the zoo, that hardly seems worth it, someday perhaps. They don’t seem to be using the right bait (PUN!) to get people in the door.

How about something positive…

A very unexpected, very cool thing happened as we were milling around the exit area trying to decide how many times we should go back to the beginning and start the process over to make the trip worth it. There is a sort of learning area at the end with lots of books and a desk are where kids can color in books that have fish that surprisingly were not clown fish. As I was making a mental note that the last fish tank held lion fish, meaning we start with “Finding Nemo” and end with “Deuce Bigalow” a staff member rounded up kids who might have been there as a group, and read them all one of the books. I really liked that moment.

So will we be going back? Again, like the zoo we don’t really have options for this type of entertainment. When the boys are a bit older and understand they can’t just jump in with the fish it will be easier, of course it will also be more expensive when we have to pay for Carter. As the aquarium continues to ask for money and have fundraisers it is possible that things make great forward strides. Till then, we watch “Finding Nemo” all the time and we can get our fill of clown fish that way.

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How to Incorrectly Give Advice

As a parent, giving advice to other parents is a tricky thing. Some people are extremely passionate about their own particular style of parenting and take strong issue with people who don’t wholeheartedly agree with them. Parenting has become a cautious subject, much like politics or religion and while everyone has the right to discuss their point of view on those subjects, everyone else has an equal right to disagree. You really have to be careful when talking about parenting. Even more so now that there are more and more men taking a very visible presence in the upbringing of the children. I’m in no way implying that fathers of previous generations had no tangible role with their kids, what I’m saying is that lately dads are making a stand against the idea that mothers make all the choices for the children. Sadly there are still negative stereotypes flying around insisting that the majority of men have no clue how to change a diaper or simply take a child for a walk.

I guess then, it might be a little surprising that on occasion people will ask for my advice on parenting topics. I really do welcome questions from people looking for my honest answer and not just some form of permission to continue doing whatever they are already doing. See, I’m not one to interject my opinion without question, and yes, I can see the irony in the fact that I have a blog filled with unsolicited opinions. This is different though. Out in public I don’t just flash my ID card and announce that I’m from the dad life blog – let me tell you the things I feel you are messing up with your kids. I really am happy to give advice when asked, but I also be sure to include the warning that kids are not a one way street. There’s a lot of paths to choose from, and it is gonna stay that way for their whole life. I can only offer people my side of things.

So what really bothers me is when I say something which in turn becomes true for the person and they act surprised. As if, “How could he possibly have been right? He hasn’t bought a new shirt in like five years, what the heck could he possibly know?”

Short example – I’ve told at least four couples that kids often force you to withdraw a little from the outside world, at least at the beginning. This can be as small as an almost pointlessly quick visit to a friend’s house just to have that quick connection with another adult. On the other hand, I sometimes feel trapped in the house. I’m not someone who takes my appearance too seriously, but on those rare occasions that Melissa and I try to fancy up a bit, I have a few options in the closet. I went camping this past weekend and knowing that it was gonna be a bit cold at night I needed to get to my jackets. They are in the farthest area away from the closet door which means I walked past my small collection of “nicer” shirts. THEY ARE DUSTY! I haven’t needed to upgrade beyond tee shirt in such a long time that my fancy button-up shirts are a worse option due to DUST! So again, telling someone that it gets lonely and I’m obviously around so please come over when you need some company, it’ll be good for both of us; only to hear those people say to me, “Wow, I haven’t seen anyone in so long. I wish there was someone a bit more on my schedule that I could hang out with during the day. Do you know what I mean guy with dust covered suit?” Well it’s a little sad.

Not everything with children is absolute, but there are certainly things that tend to echo for everyone. When our due date for William (our first) was approaching people often said things to us that were completely untrue. I heard many tales that painted a picture of the first few months as living in some dark dungeon that smells of poop and vomit. The newborn will scream, peeling the paint from your walls and causing such vibrations that your hair simply falls from your body like the first snow in winter. This sound will become trapped in your ears, a prisoner for eternity as you struggle against the will of god to sleep. As the days turn into months, your sleepless body will become fat and weak till one morning you finally emerge from your home, squinting as sun flashes against your eyes. As you raise your arm in hopeful victory, a majestic hawk will welcome you back to the world by defecating on your shoe and hat….and you will be a parent. My approach to advice has been more realistic, I hope.

Let me put it this way – In this forum, people need to walk the line between truth and entertainment, and that’s not to say that the truth is not entertaining at times. What I mean is when it comes to blogs, there’s often necessary fluff to a post. This is not a twitter feed and 140 characters just will not cut it. I can’t am not interested in putting up a bunch of posts with one or two sentences that read like, “What’s with these kids pooping all the time, am I right people? Meh! #TheDadLife”

I try to do my best to keep things honest when answering a question or concern about parenting, but perhaps the simple and truthful method just takes people off-guard these days. So in your own lives you might try something different to get your ideas across. Internet meme? Rewrite the lyrics to a popular song and sing it to the person? Flash mob your answer somehow? Maybe something elaborate like having an office building spell out your answer one letter at a time using the lights in the windows to create each letter.

In my experience, the direct approach to advice seems to be largely ineffective.

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Aww, look at the baby!

Age 32 – Realized I am no longer “cute” or “adorable”

Today we went to visit Mommy at work! It’s always good for the boys because there’s several people who genuinely like that two adorable, awesome kiddos have stopped in to break up the same old daily routine. Others politely ignore the small chaos tornado that rolls by, which is totally fine. I would likely do the same. Of course there’s a few people who give the subtle facial suggestion of, “GET THE HELL OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUT!!! NOOOOOOOOOWW!” which is difficult to pull off in a subtle way, but I understand that as well. We try to keep it brief.

Something happens every time we visit that makes me laugh. Sometimes it happens a couple times, but always at least once. There’s always that moment during the conversation where someone glances over and notices that the escaped midget sloth has been standing there the whole time. It usually winds up like this:

“Oh Melissa! The boys are so big, and soooo cute. You guys make such cute babies! And William is 3! I can’t believe it, and now look at you! You’re so thin and beautiful, I can’t even believe it.”

*Carter bashful face*

*William panic face, wants to go watch cartoons at Mom’s computer*

“Oh, hey Ev. How are you?”

“Pretty good, I -“

“LOOK AT WILLIAM’S SHOES! SO CUTE!”

———–

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are people in the office who like me. If that’s even the right word. Heck, one of Melissa’s co-workers was one of the first followers of this, my version 5.0a (let’s hear it for several consecutive days of posting people, I’m on a roll) blog. Still, it’s gotta be hard to figure out what to say to the overly shy, quiet, Michael Cera stereotype guy, who shows up like 4-5 times a year. I do appreciate the effort. It just dawns on me that I’ll never get back to that place where people made a big fuss about me. I’m just not that cute or adorable anymore.

I may need to start having my birthday parties at McDonald’s again.

Damnit. I hate McDonald’s.

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The Blame Knight Rises

I went to midnight showings for two movies. The first was the release of episode one of Star Wars. I did that completely legit. I waited in line for hours, I got my tickets, I saw the movie, I went home and cried for a few hours about how bad it was. The second time was for the first Lord of the Rings movie. A friend who was the manager of the theater got me in for the employee viewing.

I never got into the idea that seeing a movie sooner made it better. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand why people think it’s cool to say “First” in comment sections of…everything. I don’t like lines and I hate feeling like my personal space bubble has been popped forever. I think I understand why other people do it, and why some choose to dress up as characters from the movies, but it’s not for me. If it were possible, I’d love to go and always be alone in the theater or just have a few friends with me. Perhaps that’s why lately we tend to wait for the DVD release, or even the TV premier.

I have wanted to write a little on some current topics that have been floating around lately, and the shooting in Aurora is one of those topics. I’m still very new to blogging and sometimes I get the urge to run before walking, but something told me that people were going to be popping out write ups pretty fast. I guess I didn’t realize how quick that would happen. The morning after the shootings, as more and more information was making itself public, many bloggers were clacking away at their keyboards, salivating over being the first one to click publish on their post. As a steady outflow of posts began to make it’s way on to my twitter feed, I was reminded of a time when I was young. I was maybe ten or eleven and one of the neighborhood kids and I were having ourselves a heated little argument. Since I was so young at the time, I assume it was about which was better – bomb pops or orange push-ups. As the tension rose to the point of emanate fighting, I started to lose it a bit. I was so angry that everything I said was utterly stupid and made no sense at all. I would get my words out of order, and everyone watching would laugh, adding to my frustration of trying to explain how upset I was getting.

It doesn’t matter what happened afterward, for the point of what I’m saying here is reacting to anything at your highest point of anger doesn’t work. Reacting to things before you really know what’s going on is dangerous, and desperately rushing to react at all will often leave you stumbling so bad that you lose the entire point of what you wanted to say.

I can’t say if anyone regrets their knee-jerk posts or if they feel compelled to add or subtract from their statements. I will say that I was really disappointed with the theme of posts that were pumping out before the dust had even settled inside the theater.

Not surprising, it was all about who to point the finger at.

Blame Hollywood. Blame Warner Brothers. Blame Democrats. Blame Republicans. Blame the guy’s parents. Blame local police. Blame the theater. Blame the people who were inside the theater.

Sadly, many of these posts became a feeding ground of comments and finger pointing. Many people noted the baiting headlines and subject matter. As I stated, I’m new to the blogging world, and perhaps I’m just not sly enough to realize that if I really want people to read my work, I need to use titles like “Women are stupid,” “Shut up women, there’s a man about to talk,” or “10 reasons why men are just better at everything ever.” I find it a little sad that there’s a need to resort to trick tactics in the blogging arena to become “popular” but perhaps that’s why I don’t get many views each day (be on the lookout for my post next week: “You, yes YOU, don’t know how to do ANYTHING cause you are a DUMMYHEAD!”).

I’m going to close this with a story from my recent camping trip. A friend of mine received some heart wrenching news while we were on the trip. A troubled co-worker had killed himself. I’ve been in his shoes before, and watching him go through the instant pain of hearing the news was hard and brought up some of my own memories of dealing with that type of loss. In the middle of so much pain, it seems to be the natural human response to reach out for something to blame. A way to put an image in your mind of where to direct all the anger. The question of “why” becomes a sort of quest, as if the answer will make everything better. We talk about how we would have done things so differently, so much better, and so much smarter. We talk about our own adversities and how we’ve managed to overcomes them and be so well adjusted. I think we do this to distance ourselves; to pretend that in our world, tragedies of such a horrible nature never happen. We’re all very smart and in control of our lives. Reality is normally much more simplistic than the worlds we see in movies. It’s supposed to be. Movies are meant to offer a place of joyful escape be it thrilling adventures in space or spontaneously finding true love in a diner, but our lives are no more Gotham City than they are Mayfield.

Blame won’t bring anyone peace. I would offer instead the idea that when tragedies like this arise, it is a great time for thoughtful conversation, not angry ramblings. It’s a great time to remind yourself of the people you love and the need to make your time with them special. It’s a great time to try and push forward, not stand still and scream. This tragic shooting, and situations like it, are not rational, and they are not carried out by rational people. Trying to connect the dots of “why” is a long, unending road because you won’t find reason where it doesn’t exist.

I doubt anyone who I took note of as a person who felt they had the entire situation figured out during a time when many news organizations were still using the term “alleged shooting,” actually reads my tiny blip of internet. However, many people read their blogs, and from time to time that includes me. I have to say, sometimes the successful people in any given field, suck.

Seriously, the fact that people were writing hateful, insensitive, blame-crazy things to those who had just lost loved ones, including kids…is disgusting. No one deserves that.

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The Music of the Field

Music has always been a major part of my life. Now that I’m a dad it’s funny to think that had it not been for the actions of several parents, I would likely be working as a band director. What might have been.

Now, this post is not to rehash points I have made before but more to highlight a specific event that not only needs support, but showcases the talent that youth of this and many countries possess.

It’s no secret that I was in marching band for a long time. I began in high school, attending band camp before school had even started. All tired “American Pie” flute jokes aside, I signed up for band the same way I signed up for any other class, so going to school before any of my friends had even thought about setting their alarms for the first time could have been a real rocky start to high school…had I not loved it so much. I continued marching in college and even instructed for a period of time. I even moved up to the big leagues. Marching band big leagues? Yep, because what the majority of the population doesn’t know is that every summer since 1972 marching groups have competed all over the country under the title: Drum Corps.

The competition, known as the World Summer Music Games, operates under the governing body of Drum Corps International. Ask anyone who has marched what “drum corps” is, and you’ll get a wide variety of rehearsed answers. Truthfully, it’s not that difficult to explain. It’s marching band. Though woodwind instruments (clarinet, flute, saxophone, etc.) are not used and it is much more on a professional level. That’s it really. An extremely well rehearsed marching band. The problem is…it’s so much more than that, so people who have given their time and body to one of the almost 50 current marching groups, don’t want to give such a simple answer. In addition, people have a general stigma regarding marching bands which generally stems from underwhelming performances from high school bands during half-time at a football game. So people within the drum corps community try to avoid the marching band label.

I should mention, the people you’ll see in a drum corps show are the absolute best of the best within their ages (kids start as young as 10 in some groups and you become ineligible after 21). How so? These people go through rigorous audition processes, which from the start includes an audition fee. As there are not drum corps groups in every state, and people often want to march for a specific group, they pay extensive travel bills just for a chance  to maybe get one of 150 coveted spots. Should you be offered a spot, it comes with a very hefty bill (more on that in a moment) and once a month practices for which you pay more travel bills. After several months, you give up your life for the summer to tour from June to August, culminating in a week of finals competitions.

Why the major bills? Two reasons really. The first is fairly simple to understand. It takes an enormous amount of money to do what these groups do. Once you move in with your group, everything is taken care of for you. You are fed three meals a day, with additional snacks. You are given a place to sleep, which by and large means sleeping on a gym floor of a local high school at whatever city you happen to be in that night. You are provided with world class instructors to help you be the best you can possibly be through countless hours of practicing. You are given a uniform, which is altered for you and cleaned for you. Lastly, they transport you everywhere. If at any point over your summer you notice a large number of charter buses in your area, this could be why. Most performing groups make a little bit of money at every show, but it’s nowhere near enough. So in order to march, you pay “dues” which today almost always means a couple thousand dollars. Drink that in. The second reason, is interest. Which is why I’ll be asking you all for a favor shortly. The kids who march in these groups are mostly from America, and the tour itself stays within American borders (in past years there was a single stop in Canada), but while groups play throughout the country all summer long, most people who are not tied to marching bands in some way, never hear about it. Advertising is expensive, food for these kids is expensive, this is an expensive activity. So getting the word out, and proving that this is an exciting event to anyone who gives it a chance has proven difficult. However, technology has allowed us a very cool opportunity.

Live on the big screen, this is the quarter finals for the drum corps community and will showcase the top 12 groups based on scores leading up to the event. This is a chance to see these groups at their peak, and if you’re a fan of marching band or even if you just want to support music education and the arts, you’ll walk away happy. Check the site, it’s almost a guarantee you’ll find something in your direct area. With our rough economy and the rising price of keeping these kids safe while on the road, four groups have needed to pull off tour during the season this year due to financial issues. Keep this great organization that has been a dream for many kids, up and running.

Support music!

If you have further questions, leave comments below!

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He is Happy!

Lately, William has made bedtime a struggle. I’m not just talking about our little scare the other night, which by the way has not happened again, the new safety door lock is amazing. No, it’s much more than that. When we close his door at night, we do so with the understanding that the room we saw as we left will not be there in the morning. William has taken to a variety of tasks before actually falling asleep. Things like putting on extra clothing, flipping his mattress over, or taking the majority of his clothes out of the dresser. In the end, I’ll take cleaning up the clothes over finding that he’s been playing outside while everyone was asleep, but it would still be nice of him to cut me a break. A little one?

He is growing up, no doubt about that, and with new levels of expectations comes new levels of stressful situations. Potty training is proof of that. When your kids are very young there is always a lot of discussion of milestones or normalcy for their age groups. We as parents are trained, in a way, to expect certain things to occur with our kids within a set time frame. Tonight I was reminded that I’ve never thought to ask if my son was happy. No one told me at what age I should check into that. I see his smiling face and hear his laughter which indicates happiness, but even though I know William doesn’t say very much (although lately he has been kicking that habit), it’s only fair that I would ask him at some point.

Tonight while I was washing some dishes, Melissa came downstairs and announced, “You need to come look at your son.” Melissa and I have a general rule when it comes to the boys, and I think it’s a pretty common thing for parents. Phrases like, “That’s my boy” are for when we want to personally take credit for something. On the other hand, “your son” is generally followed by something not necessarily bad, just something we want to pretend doesn’t stem from watching us. Considering it was well past the time he should have been asleep, I was assuming it had something to do with dad’s inherited “angry sleeping face.” Yeah, I sleep with a very displeased face.

I was informed that he had put on a pair of underwear over his pajamas, which really isn’t that bad. It was so much better! He had put on six totally different socks, three on each foot. I’ll admit that I like to keep the house a little on the cold side, I run hot, but 3 socks per foot seems like overkill. He was in fact wearing underwear over his pajamas…backwards. Awesome. Also my personal favorite, a single sock on his right hand. It’s the kind of outfit women think of when the picture that perfect guy. William is way ahead of the curve.

Melissa woke him up, as he had pulled the top mattress off again. We got him all settled in and Melissa walked out of the door, saying good night. I stood for a few moments with a big grin on my face. Stuff like this, is the kind of ridiculous that makes people want to have kids. I believe that. I leaned in, gave him a tight squeeze, and a kiss. With one more stupid grin moment, I turned to leave saying, “You look silly, buddy.”

From a rather sleepy face, “I’m HAPPY!”

So I’ve got that goin’ for me…

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A Therapeutic Note

Every year I go through the phase of “What if I had continued on with my music education degree?” I have no regrets really, because in the end I wanted something that really wasn’t being a band director. I wanted to work with bands without administrative red tape. There are jobs within most band programs that fill that idea, but not many, and not full time.

I love music in most forms, and I feel it’s a bit of a “cause” for me because of how important it has been in my life, and how I believe it truly helps people. Which is why I was really excited to find that a good friend had taken a route with music that not enough people think about – music therapy. There’s a feeling as you approach college as a music student that your options are either to teach music or play music, but that’s just not the case. So I’d like to shed a little light on the work done by Metro Music Therapy and while they may not be in your area, perhaps you or someone you know could benefit from the services offered by groups like them to people of all ages.

Music therapy has been around about as long as instruments have. Through the centuries it’s been said that music could rid a person of demons, delay madness in mental patients, purify the soul, or even aid with healing of diseases. Modern music therapy really began with veterans from World War I and II. Musicians, some quite famous, were sent to hospitals to play for soldiers suffering from mental and physical trauma as the result of battle. The results of these musical interactions were discussed for years. William Congreve wrote that now famous (often misquoted) line, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast…” but did you know it goes on to say, “…to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” Congreve was on to something there, music takes hold of people in an almost indescribable way.

So what is modern music therapy? From the website, “Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. It is an established health service similar to occupational therapy and physical therapy and consists of using music therapeutically to address physical, psychological, cognitive and/or social functioning for clients of all ages.” In short, music therapists work with people who have any number of disabilities and use music to help in the way they live. If you are a mother who had a special “labor mix” on your iPod, you have used music therapeutically. So this is an idea that many people have used in their life while perhaps not knowing it. I took this opportunity to ask my friend, Mallory Even – who owns and operates Metro Music Therapy, a few questions that go outside the realm of the information provided on the website.

My first question was the one I was most interested to hear the answer. As a former music education major, I’m well aware that music therapy is not an obvious choice to most people. It’s something Mallory aims to change for other students.

With so many career choices involving music, what made you choose music therapy?
“I actually thought I wanted to be a band director throughout my time in high school, so I started out as a music education major my freshman year at Florida State. During one of our general music courses, Dr. Jayne Standley came to speak to our class about her work as a music therapist in the NICU. I had never heard of music therapy before,which I now think is sad and have made it a mission of mine to educate high school students about music therapy as a career choice. I was completely amazed that there was a field that combined my love for music and my passion for helping people. That same day, I walked into Dr. Standley’s office and told her I wanted to change my major.”

Dr. Standley has done some amazing work with pre-mature babies. Her research and efforts with The Florida State University has found them third in the nation for music therapy programs. You can learn more about Dr. Standley and her work right here.

How would people find out about music therapy groups in their area? Would it be doctor referral, internet/word of mouth searching, little of both? 
“If searching for a music therapist in your area, I would start with either The American Music Therapy Association or the Certification Board for Music Therapists – both have databases to help people find music therapists throughout the United States. A doctor’s referral is always a plus (especially if you are hoping to have insurance coverage for music therapy services), and even speech, occupational or physical therapists in your area can be great resources since a lot of music therapists network with those other therapeutic disciplines. (Of course, the internet/word of mouth is always a good option, too!)”

An important thing to reinforce there is that many insurance companies cover some or all of the costs of these therapy sessions.

I’m sure there are tough days (right?), tell me a story about a good moment that keeps you going.
“Definitely tough days … not only while working with challenging clients, but also as a small business owner in a field that can still be considered “new” or “different” by the general population. But, the work that we do is so rewarding that it makes it all worth it. One of my favorite moments as a music therapist could have been easily overlooked by an outsider – as a lot of our “it” moments can be – but, luckily my five-year-old client’s mother was in the room during our session that day. This little girl, we’ll call her “Bella”, was hearing impaired and had recently undergone surgery for bilateral cochlear implants – a surgery that is decided upon by a lot of families only after much thought and consideration for their child’s future. As usual, I started our session with the “hello” song (a simple song I had sung so many times before while Bella would look at me and smile, but usually never make a sound) … “Hello Bella, Hello Bella, Hello Bella, it’s time to say hello!” That morning Bella waved and smiled, but didn’t vocalize anything with me. I told Bella I wanted to sing the song again, and this time I wanted her to try really hard and sing her name with me. “Hello Bella, Hello Bella, Hello Bella, it’s time to say hello!” After I was finished singing that phrase, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Bel-la.”

“Yea, Bella! That was wonderful!! Let’s do it again!!” And we did. We must have sung the “hello” song ten times that day. Bella’s mother remained very quiet and got very teary-eyed as we continued to sing, and finally looked at me and said, “That is the first time she has ever said her name.”

There are so many touching moments that make up a music therapist’s career. The elderly dementia patient that can’t remember their name, where they live, or who their family members are, but who can sing every word to the song, “You Are My Sunshine,” and who smile for the first time in days because you brought that musical memory to them; the child with Autism who remains isolated and withdrawn in their usual daily activities, but engages in eye contact, close proximity to peers, and appropriate social skills during the instrument-play activity in their weekly music therapy group. The changes evoked through music can sometimes appear to be subtle, but as a whole, music therapists are doing some big things.”

Ya know, it’s easy to dismiss a profession that traces back to ideas of tribes performing rituals of song and dance to cure illness. Yet, we live in a world that has blamed death and tragedy on music time and time again. It’s clear that people know that music is a powerful thing, but I’m not sure people know how beautifully powerful it can become when channeled in the right way. We all have a song that brings a smile to our face, ones that makes us feel calm or remind us of a perfect moment, and using that idea to help people is pretty special. These amazing people design programs for each individual person which can even include instrument lessons. It’s clearly rewarding and an industry that deserves a little spotlight.

If you know of someone who might benefit from music therapy. Look into it, please!

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I just want to like the stuff I like!

Melissa and I read several books leading up to the birth of our first son. We sort of, glanced, at them again prior to the birth of our second. I would encourage any to-be parent to read up on the process, but there’s just things that no book or even person is going to tell you. Now, while I highly suspect that anyone reading this knows me personally, I secretly want to believe that on some occasion you’ve told a friend that you know a guy who started a blog, and it’s funny (or kinda sad)…check it out! So for those theoretical friends of friends who didn’t get this bit of highly personal information…I used to be a baker.

The reason I mention this, is for a bit of perspective.

I may have accidentally been in the perfect profession as a lead in to being a stay at home Dad. The hours were generally long, and always started early in the morning. I was often ignored or given little respect. I was constantly expected to clean up another person’s mess. I would get stuff on my hands that I couldn’t wait to clean off. I was always indoors, with lots of noise, and almost always on the move. Lunch was always a test of speed, and most of the time…I kinda needed a hug.

The more thought I put into it, I realize that there seems to be only one thing my former job did not prepare me for when I made the jump to Admiral Von Homedad: TV.

BE WARNED! I will at some point do a posting of my over analysis of the shows on the Disney Channel. You people need to understand that in the almost 3 years now that I’ve been at home with the kids, I’ve spent a highly disproportionate amount of time with the characters on these shows versus people in real life. I suspect that all stay at home parents get that problem.

But no, when I say “TV” I’m not talking about the kid shows that try to throw in the clever “adult joke” from time to time. “huh huh, get it? Jimmy Moo? It’s like Jimmy Choo? Remember Sex in the City? That Clairabelle Cow is such a Samantha!” Furthermore, I’d like to ensure everyone that we don’t just watch TV here all day, neither my kids (who have much more pressing matters in the form of play destruction…hmm…playstrution? plastroy?) nor myself (aftermath containment unit) have time for that. I do though, get TV going as background noise for cleaning/mental unwind time.

Specifically I’m talking about the commercials. I’m sure there have always been bad commercials, and probably the idea of a line of commercials for a particular product. However, I’ve noticed that being in drastically more contact with certain ones have caused me to not only loathe those commercials, but to swear off those products altogether.

My biggest issue is with the current onslaught of Kit Kat commercials where everyone is just sound eating the already annoying theme song. Know those? I have a huge problem with overly loud eating. I used to go upstairs when my wife would eat chips or,oddly enough, cereal. I love my wife more then I could ever put into words, and I respect her right the eat however the hell she wants. So I didn’t do it in a mean way, I’d just disappear and come back when the carnage was over. My wife, who loves me an amazing amount for reasons I cannot seem to grasp, has made huge steps to bring down the volume. It’s when you’re able to make these types of compromises that you’ve got a strong marriage. Anyway, while it is mostly for that reason that the Kit Kat commercials make me want to live inside Kenny G’s saxophone for a year. The other thing that gets me is the locations. Offices, libraries, whatever the hell else; in every situation I would have been screaming at people to stop eating rocks and old chunks of metal. No one should ever make that much noise while eating, and NO ONE should be that self involved so as to completely zone out to the fact that, “Oh hey, look at all these people around me trying to work, read, or pay their respects at a funeral. Oh well, it’s time for me to have my barrel of bolts and roofing tiles!”

There’s like 4 of these commercials, and while I know that people are still buying Kit Kats, I have to believe it’s because people like Kit Kats and not because of the sound of a cement mixer going through a wood chipper. Much the way I don’t think women switch tampon brands because of a lady jogging.

The books just never said I’d slowly go crazy from commercial exposure.

Also I think they should bring back 3D Doritos.

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