Monday, February 27, 2012

THP's THPs ("Tips for Happy Parenting"), PART 3

Read PART 1 here, and/or PART 2 here.  Up to speed?  Great!  Pay it forward, and read on...

All caught up?  Great.  Read on...

GROUP C: Working & Learning
7. Song Lyric Packets. Everybody loves children's songs, especially when they are played over and over and over, and you happen driving in traffic or snow or both.  Strangely, there is actually another genre of music that I generally prefer over children's songs: grown up songs.

What I have discovered is that my children seem to enjoy grown up songs, too--perhaps even more than I enjoy children's songs.  My integration of grown up songs into their musical consciousness has been gradual and calculated.  I started off with songs that I was sure would be crowd pleasers, like "Pop Goes the World" by Men Without Hats and "MMMBop" by Hanson.  I also let them watch (carefully screened) music videos on Yahoo, so as to get them doubly excited about certain songs.

Later, I realized that having the lyrics would help the monkeys enjoy the songs even more AND help them with their reading skills.  The structure of the packet evolved, but this is the finished product:

There are two of them.  I let the monkeys choose the color of the paper.  I bought a $20 Scotch laminating machine at Walgreens, which was cheaper than having FedEx do it; the machine worked well.  Beth had a scrapbooking tool that rounded the corners so they weren't pokey.  Each page has 2 songs that begin with the same letter, so that the sheets can be organized alphabetically, even if the songs within each letter are not in order.  I copied lyrics from online into a Word document so I could format consistently and print them out all together.

So now on car trips longer than 15 minutes or so, we take turns picking songs from an itunes playlist of about 95 songs, about 25 of which have their lyrics printed out for the girls to sing along with.

Yes, Springsteen is represented on the list: "Long Walk Home" and "American Land" are their favorites.  There is also a good sampling of Christian music on both the playlist and lyric packet, which has prompted several good theological discussions with my girls (like when my younger one asked, "What does it mean to be 'sweetly broken'?").  My older one is currently most into "MMMBop" and "Rocky Mountain High," while my younger one has been interested in "Let My Love Open the Door" and "Song of Hope".  Oh, and I'm pretty sure that my 6-year-old has a crush on Rob Thomas.  Which, if I'm being perfectly honest, I can relate to.  There, I said it.

8. Plate Storage. When we moved into our new house, one of my first organizational tasks was finding homes for all of our dishes and utensils.  Without even giving it much thought, I put as many dishes and plates at a level where they could be accessed by my children.  Of course, if they were toddlers with grabby hands, things might have been different.  But my girls were just the right age take on jobs around the house like--oh, I don't know--unloading the dishwasher.

It just made sense.  We run a load of dishes every day or two, and unloading is pretty low on my list of favorite jobs around the house.  When one of my daughters asks if she can watch something or play Wii, my answer is almost always, "Unload the dishwasher first."  It's like having a robot, but one that won't go crazy and try to kill me.

9. Historical Action Figures.  The principle behind #7 above is that if the girls are going to enjoy music, they may as well enjoy music that is enjoyed by the entire family.  Similarly, the idea behind tip #9 is that if the girls are going to play with dolls, they may as well learn while doing it.  Hence, the introduction of historical action figures.

The long and the short of it is that there's a company out in Seattle that manufactured these, and I stumbled across one of them on Amazon--I think Ben Franklin was the first I saw.  The company that makes them is called "Accoutrements", and in addition to historical action figures, they make other awesome stuff like candy bacon jewelry and a sleep mask with zombie eyes printed on the outside.  I eventually purchased every figure I could find (I think I have every one that has been made except for Pope Innocent III).  They're action figures, but they are people from history.  Here are about a third of them.

back row: Mozart, Alexander the Great, Blackbeard, Anne Bonney, Van Gogh;  middle row: Moses, Wilde, Wagner; front row: Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette (w/ removable head), Annie Oakley, Austin, Houdini

Instead of just turning the kids loose on them, we spent some time putting together an informational chart that they can refer to while they're playing.  On the packaging is printed a short bio, often with a few interesting facts.  Here's an example:

Now, as awesome as these action figures are, there are several disclaimers that need to be mentioned:
-It appears that many of them are out of production.  I got most of them for less than $10 each, and some of them are still that cheap.  But some are clearly priced for collectors ($80 for an Edgar Allen Poe doll, anyone?).
-A lot of them contain small parts, like hats or guns or paintbrushes.  Make sure your kid knows not to eat them.
-Though they're called "action figures" they're kind of built more for "standing still."  About 3 of ours have limbs that have broken off.  Be warned.
-The company also makes action figures of professions and fictional characters.  I have limited our purchases to specific, historical figures.  Just my preference.

With that, we conclude our series of Tips for Happy Parenting, Hungry Preacher Style.  I hope they were at least enjoyable, and perhaps even helpful.  Until next time...


Friday, February 24, 2012

THP's THPs ("Tips for Happy Parenting"), PART 2

This series kicked off yesterday.  Read that post first or you will have no idea what this post is about (unless you read the self-explanatory title of this post).

All caught up?  Great.  Read on...

GROUP B: Matters of Food
4. Giant Chicken Nuggets. Sidestepping the issue of how bad McDonald's food is for ANYBODY, most parents find themselves treating--whether from generosity or necessity--their kids to McDonald's at least once in a while. A problem I discovered was that once the girls tasted Chicken McNuggets, said McNuggets were usually their entree of choice at the Golden Arches. Chicken nuggets, it so happens, are NOT an item on the dollar menu at McDonalds.

Now if I could sell the girls on, say, a McDouble, I could make it through McD's spending 2 dollars and some change on 2 burgers and 2 waters. But when the girls wanted chicken, it was hard to sell them on anything else. If they both wanted nuggets, this would add about $5 a trip.

This is when I discovered/invented the "Giant Chicken Nugget," AKA "a plain McChicken sandwich." If you're in the drive-thru, make sure to lean your head out the window as far as you can and order in a hushed voice, or risk being rebuked from the back seat with, "No, Daddy, I don't want a McChicken, I want a giant chicken nugget!"  When the food comes, quickly reach into the bag, and with your hand out of sight, slip your fingers inside the McChicken wrapper, and pull out the Giant Chicken Nugget. As an added bonus, after the little one has finished her nugget, I reach into the bag again and announce, "Hey, sweetie, it looks like they gave us a bun, too! Do you want that?" I come across as a hero AND pay $2 less than I would have for a small chicken nuggets.

The only drawback here is that a couple of years ago, McDonald's ditched their spicy McChicken and made the plain McChicken just a little bit spicy (why please half the people when you can please no one?). My younger daughter is very sensitive to any sort of spiciness, and has abandoned the giant chicken nugget in favor of the plain McDouble which, it turns out, wasn't so bad after all. As long as it's a dollar, it's all the same to me.

5. Candy Serving Sizes. Sidestepping the issue of how bad candy is for ANYBODY, most parents at least occasionally find themselves earning their children's love and respect by blessing their offspring with the sweetest of all blessings: candy.

We postponed our daughters' introduction to candy as long as possible.  I even remember going through a bank drive through and having the teller signal her willingness to include a sucker along with my cash withdrawal; through the glass window, I politely shook my head, and remember thinking, "I'm pretty sure my daughter doesn't even know what a sucker is.  Can't think of why I'd be the one to enlighten her on this matter."

Once the monkeys discovered candy--which, given their daddy's sweet tooth, was inevitable--the next best thing we could do was limit their intake.  Of course, you and I know that it takes 3 entire bags of "fun sized" candy to equal an actual "serving size" of the goods.  My daughters, however, are blissfully convinced that their daily candy ration can be filled with, for example: a single Pez, 10 Nerds, or one half of a Tootsie Roll.

It started with Starbursts, which I remember cutting into quarters with a steak knife.  Yes, a single Starburst could feed both of my children for 2 whole days.

Appropriately enough, as I was working on PART 1 of this post, my older daughter came up to me with a two-pack of Starbursts from Valentine's Day and asked if she could open up the pack and eat one of the Starbursts.  Not having a steak knife handy, I said she could. She disappeared for a moment and then came back with a single, wrapped Starburst and, perhaps wondering if she had misunderstood me, sought clarification, "So I can have this?  It's pretty small.  It's smaller than my finger."  I said, "Let me take a picture of you first."  She seemed to think that I needed to look at the picture to confirm the sub-finger-size of the candy, for after I snapped it and looked to make sure it turned out OK, she came beside me and said, "See?  My finger is bigger."  Indeed it was.  Enjoy your Starburst, sweetie.

Not pictured: Daddy scarfing down a king-sized pack of M&M's later that day
6. Condiments. I am a man who likes his ketchup. But I do not think that my love for ketchup makes me a happier person.  See, when I order fries, my love for ketchup guarantees that I will either consume scores of extra calories that are encased in the ketchup-y goodness, or that I will be sad and feel cheated if ketchup is unavailable.

So why would I offer ketchup to my daughters when they are just fine without it? Why would I give them reason NOT to take the raw hot dog I give them and gobble it up with not a drop of ketchup in sight? Surely they will grow up happier and healthier having acquired this taste.

This applies for any food typically enhanced with a sauce or topping (like hot dogs, chicken nuggets, or salad) and for any condiment (like ketchup, honey, or salt).  The cat has been let out of the bag with pasta: they almost always request Parmesan, Nature's Seasoning, or both.  But for other foods I serve them, I frequently have to stop myself from automatically including the condiment I would have with it.  Instead, I wait for them to ask.  As often as not, they don't.

I'll wrap up this series over the weekend with part 3, "Working and Learning."  See you then, and thanks for reading.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

THP's THPs ("Tips for Happy Parenting"), PART 1

Being a preacher's kid (a "PK" in church lingo) can be tough; being The Hungry Preacher's Kid can have its challenges, too.  But what about being the parent of The Hungry Preacher's Kids?  Also challenging, but I've worked hard to make parenting as effortless and rewarding as possible for hungry preachers everywhere.  Well, mostly just for myself.
Until today.

With today's post, I stroke my proverbial long, white beard and pass on some of the wisdom I have bumped my head into in my almost 8 years of parenting.  Some of these are variants or applications of tips I have learned elsewhere.  All have been helpful to me.  None are guaranteed for you.  Some are aimed at parent well-being, some are aimed at child well-being (hopefully, neither to the neglect of the other!).  All may be shared or commented upon.

Without further ado, I present "The Hungry Preacher's Tips for Happy Parenting (that may or may not work for anyone else), PART 1."

GROUP A: Things I Say
1.  "Hands up!"  One of the most aggravating experiences of parenting multiple children is watching a battle of possession or position unfold before your very eyes, and being powerless to stop it.  Sometimes my hands are full, like with groceries and I'm walking in from the car.  Meanwhile, the monkeys are both grabbing the doorknob trying to turn it.  Other times, I may be playing with them, but even my presence doesn't subdue the grab-and-yank reflex when they both want the same toy.

Once, out of frustration, I yelled something like, "Let go!  Both of you!  Now!"  The directive was not concise and the letting go was not instantaneous, but it was a start.  Later, I revised to "Hands up!" and explained to my children, who were 5 and 4 at the time, that when I said "Hands up!" they each better let go of whatever she was grabbing and put her hands up like a common bank robber.

Just missing the cut were "Put your hands where I can see them!" and "Jazz hands!"

It only took a few times for them to get the hang of it. I established right away that anyone NOT letting go and putting their hands up would, minimally, lose claim to the disputed item. "Hands up!" meant, "Do this right at this moment, and daddy is not messing around."

Now, I almost blush seeing them react to "Hands up!"  Occasionally, I'll move into "sorting things out" mode, and realize about a minute later that they still have their hands straight up in the air.  Oops.  If you learn the "Hands up!" phrase, make sure you also learn the follow up phrase, "OK, you can put your hands down but don't touch anything."  Also, if you use this at the grocery store or in public, prepare to feel like people are thinking, "They totally must beat their children to get that sort of reaction."

2.  "I need to be a good daddy."  Every parent uses the "if/then" threat on their kid at some point (e.g., "If you don't finish dinner, then you won't get dessert," "If you don't stop crying, I'll give you something to cry about," etc.).  The hard part is following through.  Of course, you don't want to threaten things that are either ridiculously disproportional to the crime or far more burdensome to enforce than they are worth.  But what about when you said, "If you whine one more time, you are going to bed," and five minutes later, the kid whines?  And what if the kid starts crying and asking for one more chance?

If you choose to follow through (and you should, almost without exception) then one tack is to explain to your kid that THEY made the choice.  I have found this to be only moderately soothing in most cases.  My kids often respond with something like, "I would like to make a different choice now."  This is where I defer to the "Law of Good Daddyhood."  I explain, "Sweetie, I need to be a good daddy.  Part of that means telling you truth and not lying to you.  Now, I told you that if you whined again, you would need to go to bed.  If I let you think that it's OK to ignore what I say because I may not really mean it, I would not be being a good daddy."

I don't say this apologetically, but matter-of-factly.  This consequence HAS to happen, or I won't be being a very good daddy.  I've used this a few times, with generally effective results.  Without being happy about their situation, my girls do seem to recognize the dilemma and accept what must happen.

3.  "Do you want to help me clean, or do you want to keep playing nice?"  Preemptive troubleshooting.  If the girls are happily playing, and I'm happily focused on housekeeping or blogging or whatever, then this little gem is wonderfully appropriate, for lots of reasons.  Compare it to the more reactionary, "Stop fighting or you'll have to help me clean."  The preemptive phrase empowers them by giving them a choice.  It reminds them that continuing to play nice is an ongoing choice.  It presents consequences for fighting without my having to frame them negatively.

The best time to say this is when they've been playing nicely for about 45 minutes, which is to say they are due for a spat.  When I throw this out there, I estimate that it extends their patience with one another, on average, by about 30 minutes.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this series: "Matters of Food."  Until then...


Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Why Don't You Clean Your Room?" (Spring '12 Edition)

Back in the fall, I reminisced about my youthful boredom, and shared with readers of WPFF that whenever I tried to open up about my boredness with my mom, she would reply with some variation of "Why don't you clean your room?"

Though I'm not currently bored, per se, I suggested that it may behoove me in my role of "male domestic goddess" to have certain tasks--e.g., cleaning my room--to work towards completing by a certain date.  You know, something like g- g- goals (sorry--that word is hard for me to type).

I laid out 6 quests upon which to embark, then recently reflected on my completion (or lack thereof) of said quests.  A couple of posts later, I reflected on my fantasy football draft.  Today, I transition from reflecting to preflecting, as I lay out my challenges for the spring semester of 2012 to you, my faithful accountability partners.

Of course, these are just the tasks I get credit for, for I have designated them "special".  There are plenty of pro bono jobs I do all the time, like make Kool-aid, update our "Now Playing" list on Tivo, and practice personal hygiene.

But the special tasks: To begin with, I get to copy and paste all 6 challenges from the fall.  The 4 challenges that I did pretty well on (1, 2, 4, 5) are ongoing, and the 2 that I didn't do so well on (3, 6) are the ones that, had I completed, could have been scratched off the list.  So here are those 6, amended as needed for the spring.

1.  Blog at least 2x a week.  Not getting off to a very good start here, as I've been at about 1x a week for the last 3 weeks or so.  This challenge is retroactive to January 1.  In other words, I'll need to average about 2.5 posts a week for the rest of the semester to meet this goal.  I know what you're thinking: "Do you think you'll be able to pull that off, Hungry Preacher?"  Yes I do.  "Really?  'Cause that seems like a lot."  I think I can.  "Might you just be kidding yourself?  You tend to overestimate how productive you can be, then get discouraged when you fail to meet your expectations."  Uh, good point.  But I'll go with what I've got, and brace myself for a "I told you so" if we get to that point.  Thanks for your insight, though.
2.  Finish landscaping and lawn-tending that needs to take place in the spring.  Spring lawncare includes seeding bald spots on the lawn, fluffing up the mulch, assessing/implementing further landscaping options, and not being the last person on the block to mow their lawn.
3.  Sort through the boxes of art that my children have created the last couple of years.  Yes, I need to finish this.
4.  Stay social, scheduling at least one lunch or coffee a week.  Off to a good start on this one, averaging about 1 meeting a week so far this year.
5.  Visit the girls' school at least 3x.  Another good start.  I'm actually the leader of the kindergarten-aged Lego Club at the girls school, with the first meeting being this afternoon.  I am SO going to show those kids my Lego building awesomeness, they won't know what hit them.
6.  Burn at least 3 DVD's of video from our computer so as to erase the data and free up disk space.  Plugging along.  Did some editing over the weekend.

In addition to these 6 golden rings, I add:
7.  Finish all filing.  I made a pretty large dent in this in the fall, but there are some lingering stacks that need to be put in their place.
8.  Install outdoor lights on our garage and fix the basement light sockets that need fixing (this needs to happen soon).  Beth bought the outdoor lights when we first moved to our new house, and they've been in their box in the basement ever since.  Meanwhile, a couple of the sockets in the basement have cracked or stopped working.  I have not been able to passively absorb the expertise needed to easily tackle this electrical project, so I'm going to have to get all active on this one.  Which means setting up a play date with my dad, who knows how to do this sort of stuff without getting anyone electrocuted.
9.  Write at least 1 significant email a week.  I'll know "significant" when I write it.  Doesn't have to be long.  But there are lots of people I've been meaning to say hi to via an email, and not everyone can meet for coffee or lunch.
10.  Clean my room.  Literally.  It needs to happen.

So we've gone from 6 target-tasks from the fall, to a baker's dozen minus 3 in the spring.  It's a big jump, but nothing that seems undoable.  Expect a full report in the summer.  For now, I've got a Lego club to prepare for.  15 kindergarteners.  1 Hungry Preacher.  Game on.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Commiserating with the Patriots

As a competitor and athlete, I can empathize with the pain that the New England Patriots are feeling right now.  My sport is not playing in the NFL--as far as that goes, I had to settle for performing in the halftime show.

That's me on the left

No, my sport is Fantasy Football, and this year hearts all across the country were broken as the Monkey Moos lost in the first round of the playoffs.  I've long thought of the Monkey Moos as "America's Team" in the sport of Fantasy Football, so the pain I felt was not so much for my team or my players, but for the country, especially the children.

What went wrong?  You can read my whole post-draft post here.  Careful, though: It's dripping with optimism, and that stuff doesn't just wash out.  In a nutshell, every choice I made that I thought was good ended up not being so good.  And everything that I thought was a mistake ended up not really being so bad.  No, really.  Everything.  I'm not exaggerating.  Here, I'll prove it.  Here's the team I drafted, followed by my post-draft analysis.  Italics are what I wrote at the time; regular font is what I'm writing now:

QB Tony Romo, $23
RB Ahmad Bradshaw, $25
RB Felix Jones, $19
WR Hakeem Nicks, $36
WR Calvin Johnson, $47
W/T Lee Evans, $2
TE Jimmy Graham, $16
K Adam Vinateri, $1
DEF Minnesota, $1

QB Kevin Kolb, $4
RB Tim Hightower, $8
RB Ben Tate, $7
RB James Harrison, $1
RB Mike Tolbert, $5
RB Delone Carter, $4
WR Anthony Armstrong, $1

  • I like to stock up on cheap running backs with upside, and I'm pretty pleased with my haul this year
I rolled the dice on injuries, banking that one of my cheap running backs with upside would be thrust into a season-long starting roll due to the guy ahead of him getting hurt.  If Arian Foster had reinjured his hammy, Tate would have been a steal.  If Ryan "Fragile" Matthews had gone on IR, Tolbert may have broken out.  These two guys took advantage of my hope, lighting up the scoreboard in the first few weeks (Tolbert had a 3 touchdown game; Tate rolled off several 100 yard games).  Then they settled in behind the starters on their respective teams, leaving me hurt and afraid of commitment.  Meanwhile, Delone Carter got chances, but appears to just not be very good.  Harrison went on IR with, of all things, a brain tumor.  The big in-season addition to my RB carousel was Jackie Battle, who may be the fourth best RB for one of the worst teams in the NFL.  So much for my "cheap running backs with upside."
  • Felix Jones for $19. Could be the steal of the draft, especially since we get 1/2 per reception. I'm hoping that he turns into this year's Arian Foster (who I drafted last year for $15 or so).
Remind me never to call anyone I draft "the steal of the draft."  Jones was a nightmare, too talented and promising to cut, but never reliable enough to start (and win).  The worst thing was someone swooped in and grabbed his backup ahead of me once Jones went down for an extended stretch, so I had to watch Demarco Murray rack up dozens of points for another team while I stashed Jones on my bench waiting for him to get healthy.
  • Lee Evans for $2. Could be that rare "veteran with upside." Even without exploding, he's probably a good 3rd WR, especially for $2.
Ah, Lee.  The thing that you DID catch in the AFC championship game was a snapshot of the frustration of your season.
  • Kevin Kolb for $4. Some projections have him in the top 12. If I had known he'd fall, I may have gone after a pricier RB instead of bidding $23 on Romo.
I am very, very glad that I did NOT know that I could get Kolb for $4.  $23 for Romo turned out to be a pretty good bargain.  $4 for Kolb turned out to be a waste of $4.  That didn't keep me from starting Kolb a couple of times early in the year OVER Romo.

  • $47 was probably too much for Calvin Johnson. Larry Fitzgerald went for $38, and he's frequently ranked higher than Johnson, especially with PPR. But I really wanted 2 elite WRs, and ended up mis-timing the buying window.
$47 turned out to be a pretty good price for Calvin Johnson.  If I had taken $40 of that money and invested it in Larry Fitzgerald, my team would have dropped from "OK" to "sucky".
  • Having both Romo/Jones AND Bradshaw/Nicks may come back to bite me, both on bye weeks and because, in theory, there's only so many points to go around for each team, and my guys may end up stealing points from each other. I'm hoping for a lot of Romo-to-Jones TD passes. Would 3-4 trick plays with Bradshaw passing to Nicks (or vice versa) be too much to ask?
The problem wasn't not having enough offense to go around for the Giants and Cowboys.  The problem was Jones and Bradshaw getting hurt.  Also, I did not benefit from a single Romo-to-Jones TD pass.
  • Graham may end up being worth $16, but it was more than I wanted to spend. Me and my brother bid-up each other at the end. We both seemed to be eyeing Graham as a late-round sleeper with lots of upside (maybe because our brother-in-law is a die hard Saints fan and swears that Graham is a beast ready to break out). If not for my brother, I probably could have gotten him for $7 or $8 (of course, my brother might be saying the same thing).
Graham was a steal, even at $16.  He was the second best TE in the NFL, putting up one of the best seasons EVER for a TE, and he carried my team (together with Calvin Johnson).
  • Lack of true, stud RB. As I implied, I go for quantity over quality at RB, and hope that someone rises to elite or near-elite status as the season progresses. If, by week 9, I'm consistently losing to guys who get 35+ points from at least one of their RBs, then my plan is not working. :)
OK, so this was an actual problem that I may have gotten right.  But it's still hard to say if Jones and Bradshaw could have been "stud RBs".  They just kept getting hurt.  So the guys I drafted as my starting RBs (Jones and Bradshaw) got hurt, and the guys I drafted to "break out" generally stayed healthy--and on their teams' benches.

So yes, Patriots, I feel your pain.  We'll get them next year (by "them" I mean "a legitimate starting RB to go with our elite WR and TE").