Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fall Photoshoot: The Ponds

After Sunday dinner we went for a walk down to the ponds that are near Grandma & Grandpa M's house, getting a few twilight pictures in before the wind can blow all the yellow leaves off the trees. We saw a muskrat swimming in the pond and Katie tried to eat a cattail. I love autumn, but I wish it lasted a little longer here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"I Painted My Toes Again"

We have done quite a few renovations around the house this month and Scotty has been a most enthusiastic helper. Whatever project I come up with, he is more than willing to help. No job is too small or too insignificant for him. He wants to help with them all.

For example, I was changing light bulbs and he insisted on helping, so I had to lift him up to the ceiling and let him screw and unscrew several bulbs. It was also his job to operate the light switch for our quality-control tests that followed each replacement. When I took down the old ceiling fan in the kitchen, he dutifully carried each piece of the fan to the garbage bin outside. You tell he was having a fabulous time -- being helpful.

Any time I pulled out a tool I heard: "Can I try that?"
This got complicated for some jobs. At one point, I found myself standing with one foot on a chair, one foot on the kitchen table and Scott sitting on my raised knee, pulling the trigger on the drill so that we could drill a hole in the ceiling. I used one hand to keep him steady on my knee and the other to hold the drill. Essentially, I had my own 40-pound automatic trigger -- this is a convenience that I think will sweep the construction trade.

One of the best jobs was when we repainted the side porch to its original dark brown -- the trim colour of choice for houses built in the 1970s. It is technically a stain, but it sure looks like paint, so we will call it painting. I used the roller and Scott had the brush. His job was to slather the porch planks with paint and my job was to do the rails and trim, stepping in occasionally to "smooth out" his work on the planks with my roller. He was fairly jealous of his territory, and didn't want me sticking my nose in his business and breaking his concentration. We were both working in our bare feet, and several times I heard him say, "Oops! I painted my toes again!"

At one point, when we were maybe 2/3 finished, he ran off with excitement and said, "We should show mom!" He appeared a minute or two later with R, who gave her approval of the job so far. And then when it was all over, he told me that we needed to go paint some stuff. He didn't really care what it was -- he just knew he was a painting machine and he was on a roll.

One day I am going to have twist his arm to get him to do chores around the house. I guess I should take him up on his offer now and put him back to work.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bad Donut Karma

[From July 2, 2011]

I scratched up a few cars in my early days as a new a driver, but I have been blemish-free for more than ten years, from 2000 to 2011. I blame the broken streak on Bad Donut Karma.

I have only ever crashed into another car once, and that time was kind of a weird circumstance back in 1996, when I was trying to merge onto the highway and suddenly, when the car ahead of me pulled into traffic, I saw there was a car pulled off the road at the end of the merge lane, right in my way. I almost got stopped in time, but I still crashed into that car going about 15 km/h. I was so mad at myself. So was the lady that came jumping out of the back of the car, screaming at me. Other than that, I have mostly had minor encounters with immovable objects in tight parking spots, the most recent being in the year 2000, rubbing my roommate's truck against the staircase behind our rental house south of campus.

Eleven incident-free years passed, until the Saturday afternoon when I took the kids to Superstore to get some Sour Patch Kids candy for R's birthday. Scott was super excited to help carry the purchase, but he was kind of sad that he wasn't going to come away with anything tasty to eat. I told him we could go to the bakery section and get a donut.

We picked out a container of donut holes, which would be perfect for all three of us to share. Once we got in the car, Scott dug into the donut holes, and Katie started whimpering her desire to get one too. I told Scott to give her one, but he didn't. He put another one in his mouth and Katie's whimpers turned to tears. I told him that he would have to share with her or I was going to throw them away. Still, he didn't give her one. So I made good on my threat and got drastic.

As we were driving out of the parking lot, I reached back and grabbed the container, opened the door and dumped them all on the road. I don't know if I've ever heard Scott cry so hard in my life. It just broke my heart to hear how sad he was. And, of course, Katie was crying too. I explained to Scott that he had to listen, and he had to share, and that he lost his treat because he did neither one. The air was coming in gasps between his sobs, and I worried that I'd been a bit heavy-handed. I asked him, "If we go get more donuts, will you share them with Katie?" He agreed, and we turned around. I hoped that the painful experience had at least taught him a memorable lesson, rather than just being a painful memory.

We parked again and headed back into the store for another package of donuts. When I pulled out of the parking spot I felt the car smack into something with a solid thud. I hate that sick feeling you get in your stomach at that moment of realization.

I had parked on the end row, where there were no cars behind me, so I hadn't been terribly careful about watching out the rear window, and I had crashed the back corner of the car into the cement base of a light pole. I hopped out of the car, took a quick frustrated look at the damage (scratched bumper, scratched panel, cracked light), then jumped back in and drove away.

Driving back, Scott did his best to share donut holes evenly with Katie, but we quickly realized that she did not eat them fast enough to keep up with him. He still got to have more than half, and she got all she wanted. Out loud, I reiterated the important lesson about sharing, but in my mind I was weighing my own actions.

Painful lessons for both of us that day, I think.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blurb Books

Starting with the entries for 2009 and 2010, I have created a professionally-bound volume for each year's blog posts. The service that I used is called Blurb (, and it has free publishing software that lets you scoop up all the content from your posts and then tweak the formatting for printing.

The 100-page book that I published for 2009 is quite nice, but I was still learning how to make the best use of the pages back then, the pictures ended up small (default size) and there were quite a few pages with short amount of text at the top and blank space the rest of the way down -- not the best use of the page.

The 2010 book is much better. It's also much longer. I went right up to the maximum page count for a hardcover book (160 pages) and made sure that I used really big pictures as much as possible, which was a long process.

The software usually renders the pictures in a very small size, leaving lots of room for text. I found that I had to reformat every page in the book to make the pictures larger -- sometimes dedicating a whole page to one photo (which the software would never do). And that's the other problem: Although the software pulls down a copy of each photo, it just takes it as it appears on the website, and that usually isn't at a good resolution for printing. So I had to go in and replace the web versions of the photos with the original images to ensure the best print quality.

It takes a long time to prep each book, but it's totally worth it. I had two copies printed, one for each of the kids to keep. Maybe I should have ordered an extra one for us to keep after they grow up, but that is still a ways off and having so many copies around the house seems a bit excessive. Plus the 160-page book normally costs $63 per copy; however, I had a groupon coupon that brought it down to $48. Also, I use the ongoing advertising revenue from the site to offset my printing costs.

I just love these books, and I think the kids will love them too -- once they get old enough to actually touch them. Right now they are off-limits by order of Dad.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Happy Birthday Blog

The blog is another year older this month.

5 Years
632 posts
That works out to an average of a post every 2.89 days since September 2006.

Reaching this milestone makes me wonder a little bit about the future of this website. As Scott gets older, I see how a blog becomes a very detailed record of a child's life (for Katie it's still a bunch of baby pictures), out in the public domain for anyone to see. I would half consider taking it to private channels, but the feedback I get from the web provides me with the immediate motivation to keep posting every 3 days or so.

The blog has transformed in purpose somewhat. It used to be more about entertainment value. Now it's more about record keeping. The posts are now professionally bound into a book at the end of the year with the intention of giving the kids copies as a history of their young lives.

I guess it is still about entertainment value, actually. I love it and so I will continue.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

B is for Basketball

A is for Autumn, which means new experiences for R and the kids.

This week R starting holding "school" sessions with Scotty during Katie's afternoon nap. They do various crafts, like doing crayon rubbings of leaves, making "ant cars" from celery or making a dragon puppet from a paper bag. Scott told R, "I didn't know you could make a dragon!" He was quite impressed. The experience has been great so far, because it gives the pair of them some much-needed, quality "Mommy-Scotty Time".

Each day they also work on writing the letters of the alphabet. Scott is very, very particular about writing each letter just perfectly, so it is great that they have a dry-erase writing tablet that allows him to fix any mistakes. When he makes a mistake writing on paper he tends to despair very quickly. The tablet is also nice because he can write really large letters, rather than the small letters in his workbook. They did capital 'A' on Monday, added lowercase 'a' on Tuesday, and then went on to capital 'B' on Wednesday.

B is for Basketball class, which also started this week. This is part of a conscious choice we made to put him in athletic courses rather than pre-school. This boy THRIVES on physical activity and games, and we figured he would benefit most from the chance to get out and run with other kids. R has been really impressed with the quality of the courses at Vecova (fka the VRRI), which are really focused on skill development and playing the sport. In our experience, the YMCA classes are more about singing songs and freeplay, which can frustrate Scott a little bit, because he just wants to play the sport itself.

When this first class ended Scott couldn't believe the 45 minutes had already passed. He could have stayed all day, I'm sure. He was on a countdown until the class started, and now he can't wait to go back. Afterwards, R took him to the store and let him pick out a size 5 basketball, paid for with the money they'd just received from returning a big bag of bottles to the Vecova depot. The leftover change went to his "Buzz Lightyear" savings fund that he keeps in his black zippered "Bendy Em" wristband in his room.

This is the last September before he starts school for real. Gasp.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

King of the Hypothetical

Scott and I have had essentially this same discussion countless times--

S: Dad, will aliens come into our house?
D: There are no aliens.
S: But what if there were, and they came here?
D: I have never, ever heard of any aliens anywhere.
S: But if there were aliens, they might come in our house, right Dad?
D: Uhh...

S: Dad, will a monster come in my room?
D: No. There is no such thing as a real monster.
S: But what if a scary monster did come in?
D: That wouldn't happen. I know that there are no monsters.
S: But what if it did happen?

At first I thought he was being unreasonable, illogical. Then suddenly it clicked--

D: If the monster came in, you would hit it. And then run away.
S: [Eyes light up] Yes! Because I am stronger than the monsters. And faster.
D: Right. So it wouldn't even be a problem.

I realized that you can't dismiss his concern outright with an appeal to reason. Instead, you have to give him something to work with. For example, the solution to the possibility of wild animals breaking in was that we could lock all our doors. However, some problems are tougher than others to solve--

S: Dad, did you know that a tornado can pull the roof off of a house? What if a tornado did that to our house?
D: There are no tornadoes here.
S: But what if one did come here?
D: It wouldn't. We never get tornadoes near our house.
S: Why?
D: Because... we live close to the mountains.
S: [Later] Do all my cousins live close to mountains?
D: Yes. Except for Ava and her mom and dad.
S: They need to be careful of tornadoes then. Right Dad?

(I should note that Scott does not call me "Dad". He has called me by my first name ever since our late-June visit to Kalispell, where he picked it up from all my nieces and nephews. I should also note that there have been 9 tornadoes in Calgary in the last 40 years, so it is technically incorrect to say that we "never" have them, but I don't think Scott would interpret the statistical data properly so I left that out.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pedal With a Cause 2011

After nearly collapsing and/or vomiting last year in front of the news cameras, I am climbing back on my bike again this year to raise money for Juvenile Diabetes (JDRF Ride for the Cure).

The arrangement is the same: Each person on our 6-person team ("Credit Cycle Fury") rides a resistance-free stationary bike for 8 minutes as fast as possible, and the winning team is the one with the greatest aggregate distance. Our team won last year, and I have been training for a repeat. For the last two weeks I have altered my ride into work by staying in one of my lower gears, with my feet moving comically quickly.

I will certainly pour everything I have into this year's effort, and I promise to post a photo of my post-event dramatics if you will consider donating to the cause.



Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Football Experience

I danced my way to free football tickets for my boy and me.

On the way to lunch with some old work colleagues we ran into some cheerleaders for the Calgary Stampeders Football Team. They said that if we would get up on a bench and do a cheer, they would give us free tickets to the upcoming Labour Day Classic game against the Edmonton Eskimos. Honestly, I don't need much incentive to make a fool of myself, so I agreed immediately. They gave us pom-poms and eye-black and showed us a quick "Let's Go Stamps" cheer to do.

Following on the success of our Baseball outing, I took Scott to the game. He had a great time... up until the end of the first quarter. Actually, he loved the lead-up to the game better than the game itself.

We took the train there, which he loved. Then we walked past a very alternative looking bagpiper-busker and across a pedestrian bridge that goes over the highway. I don't think he's ever been in such a crowd of people, and he was craning neck to look in every direction, looking very cute wearing his little red backpack. We walked past a barbeque trailer in the parking lot shaped like a fighter jet (he told me that it probably doesn't fly while it has food in it), and reached our seats in the stadium just as the fireworks went off right in front of us to welcome the home team onto the field.

A few minutes later, half-way through "O Canada", a CF-18 Hornet flew right over our shoulders and nearly shocked Scott right off his seat. The jet circled back around, buzzed the stadium again -- this time pulling back on the stick and blasting steeply upwards as soon as he got to our end. Scott was covered his ears and staring with a worried crease in his brow. Just after the big kick-off, the jet made one final pass, complete with barrel rolls, and we settled in to watch the game.

Calgary scored first, and we all jumped to our feet to witness the customary barrage of fireworks and the white horse galloping down the sidelines, the rider holding a big Stampeders flag. Scott loved it, except that the girls throwing out little padded footballs didn't have the range to get one to our seats. Sadly, that was the only time Calgary would score in the whole game, and most of the first-half action was on the opposite end of the field. Also, we were getting roasted by the full glare of the sun, so I had to make several concession trips to get beverages.

At half-time we abandoned our free seats on the edge of the stadium to take up a better position on the opposite, shaded side of the field, right behind Grandma and Grandpa M -- and they happened to catch a little football that they gave to Scott. With his new prize and a few games to play on my phone, he was able to hold out until the 4th quarter. Unfortunately, the Stamps couldn't hold out, and suffered a lopsided defeat, so we left before it was quite over.

On the way back, we saw a lady who was clearly abusing some sort of substances attempt to shut down the bagpiper (personally, I would mess with that bagpiper) and a fight nearly broke out. Once again, it seemed like the game was the least entertaining part of the whole experience.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Katie's Voice

Katie has starting speaking! Something magical about the month of September has inspired her to expand her vocabulary. She learns new words every day as she is suddenly willing to try to repeat the words that she hears, including the following:
- Uh-oh! (her success with this one started the ball rolling)
- Yeah (by far her best pronunciation)
- Baby
- Cheese
- Outside
- Ball
- Again
- Shoes

The Fashionista
Of course she can say Shoes -- she loves shoes more than anything else! Any time she encounters a pair of shoes she has to try them on. Whether we are visiting someone's home or in the ball pit at Calaway Park, she wants to try walking in everyone's shoes. Her sartorial ethusiasm does not end with footwear -- she will actually try on anything that she thinks will fit her. If she encounters a pair of pants, she will yank off the ones she's wearing to give the new set a try. I recall an instance when she was trying unsuccesfully to put on a pair of frilly green swimming shorts, designed to fit over a diaper. She came over and held the shorts out to me to request assistance, so I put them upside-down on her head. Her eyes flashed wide with wonder and she toddled over to the full-length mirror, a look of sheer joy on her face. For the next two days she could frequently be seen trundling down the hall with her green frilly "hat" on.

Puttering Around
Scott always wants someone to play with him. Even if he is playing a computer game, he wants you to come and watch. Katie loves to hug and snuggle, but once she's filled up her tank with love she can fly solo for hours without making a peep. Typically, when your toddler is out of view and silent, you know trouble is brewing -- you expect to find that the child has covered him/herself with glue, carried a seive of honey down the hall, or flushed grandma's knitting down the toilet. R says that she frequently runs around the corner to investigate "the silence" and finds Katie just sitting on the floor, playing with a new hat or a toy. I find that I spend most of my time finding fun things to do with Scott, and Katie is happy to putter around the fringes, only joining in when there is a chance to dogpile on someone.

Sleeping Beauty
Katie regularly sleeps for 13 hours per night and takes about 3.5 minutes to put to bed. You put her in her sleep sack, brush her teeth, read her a book and then put her in her crib, say goodnight and that's it. She waves at you and sniffs her blanket as you close the door. Done. It's amazing. She is seriously an angel from heaven.

I guess her angel disposition has one caveat: she gives me an sidelong, impish grin just before she disobeys -- a look that lets me know there's fire in there. Once the words come, I'm curious to hear what she has to say.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Toughskins Cycle

[From May 2, 2011]

I dimly recall owning a pair of pants called "Toughskins" as a kid. I am hazy on the details, but I believe the fabric was super-tough and may have had a second layer to avoid wearing out the knees while playing with cars on the carpet or sliding down the stairs or the other things we did. The alternative to Toughskins was to have Mom sew a patch over the hole in your regular jeans and keep rocking -- unfortunately, you had no idea whether she would choose a cool fabric & thread for the patch, so the pants could really take a turn for the worse (of course, that patched look seems cooler now than it did then -- Mom could see the future).

Somewhere along the line, I stopped wearing Toughskins and patches, and just wore regular jeans (of course, there was that embarrassing period for about a year in grade 5 when I only wore sweatpants, but we will try to block that out as much as possible). Now I believe I have made one full cycle, and may require some Toughskins again, because I have a 4-year-old son who likes nothing better than to "fight" with me on the carpet. As a result of all this crawling around, I have burned through the knees of about 4 pairs of jeans over the last month or two. Jeans that had lasted for years have simultaneously given up under the strain.

Sewing a patch on the knees seems unlikely, so perhaps what I need are some Toughskins.

Camping Out with Nasty Cookies

Last year I told Scott we could sleep in the back yard. We had the tent set up in the yard for a week, but we never slept in it. This year, I finally made good on my promise -- we did a complete "Father & Kids" camp at our house, since I wasn't available to go to the official Father & Kids camp by Ghost Lake.

Scott was super excited to help set up the tent and was giddy with excitement once it was up, checking out every tab and zipper. This particular tent is obviously intended for families that are driving to their campsites -- given the doggie door on one end and the power cord tab on the other end.

Since we have the facilities, it seemed appropriate that we should have a campfire, roast marshmallows and eat smores.

R S K by fire

I think we had traditional smores 3 or 4 different times on our big reunion trip, so I wasn't too anxious to go down that path again. Instead, I sandwiched the roasted marshmallow between two Voortman's Strawberry Turnovers, which are much softer and tastier than the standard graham cracker. I discovered this accidentally during a biking camp with the scouts in 2009.

K Marshmallow

In the end, the kids were just interested in eating the marshmallows, and they didn't really care if they were toasted, let alone in a smore. Katie is particularly big fan of marshmallows.

A week earlier, my childhood friend Big Brett asked me if I was going to the Ghost Lake camp, reminding me that eating Nasty Cookies (Oreos) is an essential part of any Fathers & Kids camp. (Truth be told, in our day it was called a "Fathers & Sons" camp, but I applaud the expansion of the program to provided all children with the opportunity to play with fire and eat Nasty Cookies).

With the onset of her eight o'clock bedtime, Katie and her mother retired to the comfort of their cribs/beds indoors, leaving only the Father & Son to bed down in the tent. In the spirit of roughing it, we watched cartoons on the laptop until we finally dropped off to sleep.

It was so much fun that we set up the tent again the next weekend and did it again -- although the second time we skipped the campfire and played Monopoly Junior in the fading evening light.

Perhaps next year we will take it to the next level and go to a campground. If we can find a power cable long enough, that is.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Baseball Experience

Baseball is tailor-made for little boys. The mechanics of the game are fairly easy to grasp, so even a boy of 4 can quickly learn how to play the game and enjoy watching it. And the smack of the bat hitting the ball is tremendously satisfying.

We got Scott a tee-ball set last summer that he used fairly steadily (even breaking it out on sunny winter days), learning to crank it across the yard. He also used his $5 birthday money from his Great-G&G M to buy whatever he wanted from Superstore: a big red plastic bat with a ball.

When we went to Brian Head for the reunion, he discovered a baseball on a tether that he could hit all he wanted, with the added thrill of hitting a moving target as it swung back around. Once we got home from our trip, I rigged a similar tether in our back yard, hanging from a tree branch. It required frequent repair because the garden twine that I used did not stand up to the constant abuse.

It was fun to watch Scott crank the ball hard enough that it swung full loops around its anchor point 8 feet up. He impressed me with his ability to hit the swinging ball consistently. I switched from twine to light-gauge aluminum wire that I had on hand, but that eventually broke too. As a result, we often revert back to pitching the ball to him.

Once again, I was impressed -- by both his timing and his enthusiasm. He seems to always swing at the right time, so he only misses it because he's off the mark a bit trying to track the ball's flight. And he will keep at it forever. We went to a playground a little while ago and he chose to go to the nearby baseball diamond rather than play on the playground equipment. After we both settled into our respective positions, he was consistently hitting the ball to the edge of the infield -- and one time he nearly took my head off. He also tries to bite my head off when he is unimpressed with my pitches -- in my defense, the strike zone is pretty small.

Scott picked a library book called "How Babe Ruth Saved Baseball", which we read probably 10 times in the 3 weeks that we had it. This book choice may have been influenced by Scott's habit of calling everyone "Babe" (if he's not calling me Babe he's calling me by my first name).

Coming home from church last week I heard the sound of a game coming from the nearby baseball stadium and asked Scott if he wanted to go see a real baseball game. He did, of course. I picked up Thursday-night tickets to see the Calgary Vipers play the Edmonton Capitals for us and some friends (2.5-year-old Ty and his dad T), sitting front row right behind home plate.

Our vantage point was great because everything was so close and so loud -- the sound of the ball smacking into the catcher's mitt was fantastic, as was the crack of the bat on every hit. And there were a lot of hits, with the score reaching 11-1 by the time we checked out in the 5th inning. Scott asked questions about everything he saw, learning about scoring, the foul lines, strikes, balls, walking a batter, the advantage of line drives over flies, stealing bases, innings, etc. He was fascinated by the game, and kept quite focused on it for most of the time we were there.

Seeing a walked batter throw his bat towards the dugout before heading to first base--
S: Why did that guy throw his bat?
D: He didn't need it anymore because he was going to the base. Do you think he should throw his bat?
S: No. [throwing bats is a big no-no in our back yard]
D: You should go tell him not to throw it anymore.
S: I can't tell him. He's playing BASEBALL!

To keep things interesting we moved to the 1st Base line for a few innings, we checked in with Slider the Viper mascot (Ty did, Scott was hesitant), and we kept the cotton candy, slushies and French fries coming at a steady pace.

Many of the foul balls shot up high enough to land on with a clang on the roof of the stadium, which is shaped like a massive backstop (when quizzed about the game later, Scott identified this as one of his favourite things about the experience). He asked me about the errant hits --

S: What happens to the balls that land outside the stadium?
D: I don't know. Do you think the snake [Slider the Mascot] eats them?
S: [nods] Yeah.
D: Do you think that snakes like to eat baseballs?
S: [pauses to think] Probably not.

Scott also saw numerous foul balls drop into the stands many rows above us, so we took up position up there for the 5th inning to try and snag one, but the fouls suddenly dried up and it was time for us to go.

It was a perfect night for baseball with a vivid sunset as the backdrop behind the right field wall. We will definitely be going back next year.