Monday, June 28, 2010

Boats, Bikes, and Bricks

Boats, Bikes, and Bricks
(click on image for more photos)

On Saturday I participated in Boats, Bikes, and Bricks (pdf), a ultra-mini triathlon put on by the Flint River Corridor Alliance.  It was the first time I'd ever participated in such an event, and it was a blast.  I entered as a beginner, since I just learned of the event a week earlier and have done no training, and I'm satisfied with my results.  I completed the 3k paddle, 7k bike, and 2k run in 57:08.  

I could ramble on about my experience, but this post isn't really about my race.  It's about the joy I got having my boys cheer me on during the event.  I was already excited to run the race, but when they arrived, their interest and energy were fun to watch.  I've written on this blog about wanting to be a good role model for my kids, and I think being active is an important aspect of that.  

With our society's modern sedentary lifestyle, it's easy to sit on the couch, let kids watch tv, play video games or fight with each other until one draws blood.  My wife and I try to limit all of those things, and we try and get the boys outside to play as much as possible.  Our youngest would live outside if he could, but the other two need occasional prodding.  But just being outside isn't enough.  We are often outside and still sedentary.  Related to the sedentary lifestyle is the problem of obesity, but I'll leave that for another post.  So, participating in this event, and having the boys see all the excitement and energy surrounding an active lifestyle was nice for me since I grew up on skateboards, bikes, surfboards, athletic fields, etc.  I played both sandlot and organized sports and found value in both for all of the stereotypical reasons people advocate participating in them.  But I'm not 18 or even 25 anymore.  I can't keep up as well as I could have and my recovery time is much slower. In fact, I'm dreading getting off the couch tonight and crawling my way up the stairs to bed this morning.  

Back to the race.  Our youngest was bothered by my being in my kayak, but the twins loved it.  They cheered me when I was on my bike, and they escorted me to the finish line as I dragged myself over the finish line.  They may have been more excited than I was.  And like flipping a switch, the all three lost interest in the race and wanted to check out the river and look for the elusive three-eyed carp.  

But a funny thing happened on our way back to the bike.  The twins decided they wanted to do a triathlon, too.  And since that time, they have continued to talk about racing, including making their own races from the back gate, through the back door and kitchen and into the living room.  

Now we're planning to ride the 15k ride in the Tour des Lacs on August 7th in Fenton.  They opted to be passengers in the trailer for the mid-range ride rather than to ride in the Tiny Tot Tour, but that's fine.  I get a longer ride, and I think the 15k will be more exciting for everyone.  I'm just glad they want to participate and begin to join the larger community of active humans.  And supporting babies born with heart defects by helping raise money for the U-M Congenital Heart Center at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital isn't bad, either.  But trying to raise kids to have a social conscious is a topic for another post.   

Monday, June 21, 2010

Crazy Cats

I used to think our cat was crazy because she just doesn't care what people in our house do to her.  She takes tremendous abuse from our littlest one, and all she does is cry and roll over.  Here is one of my favorite pictures of her:
Now I know she isn't unique because I stumbled across this.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Father's Gift

I won't be spending Fathers Day with my father.  He lives in California, in a relatively nondescript suburb of Los Angeles.  I wish I could spend it with him, and I know he wishes I were with him.  My life has taken me far from my upbringing, and it's days like Fathers Day that make it poignantly painful. 

Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times Op-Ed writer won't be spending Fathers Day with his father either.  His father, Ladis Kristof, died a few days ago at age 91.  I read Nicholas' essay about his father and was amazed.  I am always amazed at the at people's fortitude when faced with unfathomable challenges, in this case the Holocaust, and even more amazed when people can transcend those challenges to find the good in humans.  I'm not sure I could.  Read Nicholas' essay and be inspired and humbled.  I am.

My father has been fortunate to have had a comparatively easy life when compared to Ladis'.  And in some ways, thanks to my father, my life has been easier still.  But my fortune and my father's fortune does not mean we abdicate our responsibility to be compassionate.

So on Fathers Day, when my family pampers me, I'll take time to remember that each moment I have with my boys is a moment I can teach the same compassion and empathy my father taught me.  And I hope that my boys will be as lucky as I have been.  

Thanks Dad.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Attachment Parenting

Imagine my surprise when reading this blog entry about how to write with a distinct voice when I serendipitously stumbled across the Attachment Parenting Blog.  I'd like to consider myself an attachment parenting advocate, though I admit to not being as knowledgeable as I should be.  I mostly follow my wife's lead and, with guidelines we've established, I operate on instinct.  I've written elsewhere about our family bed. 

What I have found as a relatively quiet AP advocate is that much of Western culture pushes against this practice.  Dave Taylor, author of the Attachment Parenting Blog, has provided his definition of AP here, and in it he also describes the social pressure to create independent children as young as possible. 

I admit to having moments when I really want my boys to be more independent, but on the whole, I like the idea of really building a connected family that has unconditional love.  I know independence will come.  It already is for all of them.  The twins play on their own more and more every day.  They spend time across the street at their friends' house.  Our youngest has always had a bit of an independent streak, running away down the street as far as he can get before we can sprint and catch him.  He will be independent without any societal help. 

Soon after the twins were born, I was looking in this Montessori catalog at all their cool wooden toys.  I noticed they had a small corral-like structure for babies to sleep in.  They don't believe in cribs because they are really cages.  That stuck with me.  They really are like cages.  Some might argue that they are for the child's own good, but are they?  What do they do?  What message do they send?  I wondered that when our twins would wake and cry to get out.  I remember hating when they woke up because it felt like they nearly always cried to have someone get them.

Our youngest seldom cries when he wakes in our bed.  Certainly he calls for someone to get him, but he seldom cries.  I know all kids are different, but I'd like to believe their is a connection.  Our youngest wakes every morning surrounded by those he loves.  And he revels in it.  Despite the hour, it's always joyful to have a tiny someone repeatedly call your name with a face-wide grin.  It beats any alarm clock I've seen.  And I'd like to believe this is the foundation for a lifetime of good sleep and strong familial bonds. 

M crawls into bed next to me nearly every night.  Though he didn't have the same experience as our youngest, I believe this is his opportunity to forge a similar sleeping bond.  At least I hope so.  When he wakes with the rest of us, he's always happy and ready to go, excited to start the day. 

So one of my goals this summer is to learn more about AP and how I can be the best parent I can and help form the strongest family unit that I can.  For me, that is far more important than how to write with a distinct voice. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Super Heroes

Twin J: Super Monkey to the rescue!  With silliness power!

Twin M: Big Sister Monkey to the rescue!

The hours of parental frustration cannot touch the moments of pure joy, ecstasy, that only young children seem to posses.  Watching the boys so free and happy and unrestrained make parenting worthwhile.  In my adult life I feel like I've spent hours, days, weeks of my life trying to recapture a single free moment like these, but I suspect I never can.  I can, though, celebrate those perfect moments of happiness and freedom of my children and try and provide an environment so they can have as many of those moments as they possibly can.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Pancake Experiment

When I was kid we didn't have pancakes often, but I have fond memories of weekend mornings when my mother wasn't working and the day started slowly.  She would rarely make pancakes, but when she did, my sister and I were thrilled.  Sometimes I remember my sister and I would help make the pancakes, but most of the time we simply clamored for more.  It was a kind of family time that families don't have enough of.  It was perfect and beautiful in its simplicity.  

Kids love pancakes, and mine are no different.  What better way to enjoy some family time in the morning than making and eating pancakes with real, Michigan maple syrup?  Now, pancakes are a favorite around our house, though we don't have them a lot.  Though delicious, they aren't the healthiest breakfast option.

As an aside, when the twins were much smaller and first eating pancakes, I read the label on the box of pancake mix and then read the recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, our most trusted cookbook.  Well, if you read my post on Cool Whip, you know the story: ingredients that sound like petrochemicals vs. a short simple list of ingredients your grandmother would recognize as food.  So we started making our pancakes from scratch, including the baking powder.

One day while trolling the interwebs, I stumbled across Jim's Pancakes.  Wow was that a revelation, so with the goal of turning a family event into a foodie family event, we made a humble attempt at shaped pancakes.  Here are a few of my first ones.  The later ones were a bit better, but I don't have pictures of those; things got a bit chaotic in the kitchen around that time.

For a first go, I'm pleased.  I wish I had pictures of the ones the boys made.  I hadn't had my coffee yet, so I'll use that as an excuse for not having better pictures.  Jim's pancakes put mine to shame, but I have something to aspire to.  When I start making more complicated architectural pancakes, I'll be happy, but seeing the smiles on my boys faces this morning as they made their own car and dinosaur pancakes was perfect and beautiful in its simplicity.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Cool Whip

I'm a fan of food, but I'm not a food snob.  I enjoy my Cool Whip on pie at family gatherings.  But when I read this, I really have to reconsider my choices.  I've written elsewhere about Happy Meals and why I don't want to feed them to my children.  I'm a fan of Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan

So I'll now add Cool Whip to my list of potential auto and plumbing repair tools.  I've used plumber's putty and duct tape, but one can never have enough options. 

Still, it amazes me that companies, comprised of people, will create this kind of product and feed it to people.  And, more amazingly, knowing this, I suspect I will still eat it on occasion. 

Photo by lowjumpingfrog, from flckr Creative Commons

Here are the ingredients for whipped cream: heavy cream, sugar, vanilla (optional).

How come Cool Whip needs both high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup?  What is sorbitan monostearate, and how come they put it in my food?  Here is more information about Cool Whip's ingredients.  I don't even want to go there.   Wow. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

RIP John Wooden

Growing up in a UCLA family just after the tremendous reign of UCLA basketball coached by John Wooden, I quickly learned the power of a coach who was much more about living a full and meaningful life than about basketball.  Listen to his players and they seldom talk about playing basketball.  They often talk about his compassion and teaching life lessons to young adults.  I hope I can impart some of the lessons I learned from Wooden to my children. 

Rest in Peace John Wooden. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Home Repair Redux

My folks were in town for Memorial Day Weekend to visit their grandbabies.  That went fine enough; everyone seemed to have survived.  Unfortunately, on Sunday afternoon I went to the basement to get some laundry and I saw water all over the floor.  It seems our water heater had decided it was time to die.  17 years isn't bad for a water heater, but no one ever wants to see one die.  My father, with bad knees and hip, struggled down our basement stairs to declare it dead.  He and I had a moment of silence for it as we stared at water leaking out the rusted inlet port, down the body, onto the floor, and into the drain.

"Are you going to put one in or have someone do it?" My father broke the moment.  He and I had talked about replacing the garage door (that we still haven't done), and when to decide if I should do the work or have someone else do it.  He reminded me how lucky I am to even have the option.

"I'm going to have someone else do it.  I don't mind plumbing and sweating joints, but I don't like working with gas lines."

He told me it's not a bad job, especially if I'm comfortable with plumbing.  He wished he could help, but he and my mother were leaving the next morning to visit my sister in Maryland.  I didn't want to do it, though it seemed straight forward enough.  If I had a plumber do the job, we may have been without hot water for days, since Monday was a holiday and I didn't know how soon I could get someone into the house.  And since our home and auto repair bills seem to be piling up this summer, saving a couple of bucks wouldn't be bad either.

If you recall this post, you know I'm conflicted about doing home repairs at the expense of my family.  This job seemed smaller than a garage door, but with plumbing one never knows.  I always assume there will be at least two leaks and two unplanned trips to the hardware store.  Still, my manhood wanted me to do the job myself, to prove I still have the prowess to do home repairs myself. 

Bolstered by a quick lawnmower repair job earlier in the week, and after two trips to Home Depot on Memorial Day, I got a water heater and all the attachments to make the repairs.  A friend came over to help and we got to work late that day.  I could try to build suspense, but I won't.  The installation went better than expected; we did the entire job in under two hours.  We had one small gas leak we found while testing, but it was nothing a Crescent wrench and some elbow grease couldn't fix.  It works great.

While we were installing the heater, the boys came down to check on our progress.  I was conflicted about having them there to help.  I wanted them to see how to do plumbing and that jobs like installing water heaters isn't intimidating.  But it was also late afternoon, nearing dinner and bedtimes, and I had a friend willing to give up part of his Memorial Day holiday to help me.  I didn't want a 2 hours job to extend into a 5 hour job.  So I showed them a few things about the water heater and how the pipes worked.  I explained how a water heater worked, and the boys watched me fit some pipes together, using pipe compound to prevent leaks. 

They were interested, but fortunately not as interested as they might have been, and their mother shuttled them back upstairs so I and my friend could work.  I remember my father giving me similar opportunities to learn repair techniques.  I seldom took them.  I don't want my boys to miss opportunities because I don't provide them, but I have to balance those with their age, ability, and what time we have available.  I'm not sure I'm comfortable with them tightening down a gas line or leveling a 40-gallon water heater.  Or, more specifically, I'm not sure I wanted to spend the time having them help and then tweaking their work to make sure the bubble is between the lines.  It's my impatience.  I know they are young and there will be many more chances to teach them home repair, but I am cognizant of the window and don't want to close it on them.

One of the greatest things my father gave me was a belief that jobs like home or auto repair aren't as daunting as they seem.  I can do plumbing or electrical or auto repair work.  It isn't daunting or scary.  It takes some willingness to learn and a willingness to try and a willingness to know when to call the plumber or electrician or mechanic.  That confidence transcends the simple repairs I do around the house.  It allows me to do most things I put my mind to, like earn a PhD or raise children.  It isn't that hard.  It just takes a willingness to learn and try.  I hope to instill that confidence in my boys as well.  If they get only that, I know they will find their way in the world, no matter what the challenge.