Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Be a Henson, Not a Peary

People usually seem to break down into one of two types as we get to know them: nice people and jerks. While it seems that the majority of the glory goes to jerks because they get things done, once in a while a nice guy gets the top spot.

I don't know anything about Arctic exploration so I'm getting my information from the article I link to below. It tells about Robert Peary and Matthew Henson. While Peary is usually noted to be a great Arctic explorer, he couldn't have done it without Matthew Henson -- a black man that Peary considered inferior.

Peary was your typical jackass -- he had to be on top and right all the time. He couldn't be bothered with other people, unless they were pulling him out of frigid waters. All that mattered was what he wanted and that he got the credit for it.

Henson, on the other hand, was the de facto leader of the crew over their several expeditions. He connected with the Eskimos and learned their language. He was respected by them and the men on the expedition. He was a hard worker and always worked on expanding his skills.

I think about this because it's report card time at school. While I push my kids to do well in school, I try to temper it. I want them to succeed like Henson, not Peary. Because if you're a jerk, success doesn't really matter. People do, and the kids need to learn that.

You can find the original article here. It's a very good article and I would recommend taking the time to read all of it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Build a Killer Pinewood Derby Car

Brett and Kaye McCay at The Art of Manliness have an excellent article about building a great Pinewood derby car.

Their suggestions:

  1. Remember, he’s supposed to do most of the work.

  2. Check the rules. Different packs have different rules.

  3. Trace the template on the block of wood.

  4. Cut the block.

  5. Prepare the axle slots.

  6. Drill holes for the weight.

  7. Sand.

  8. Paint and finish.

  9. Check the wheels.

  10. Polish the axles.

  11. Mount the wheels.

  12. Lubricate the axles.

  13. Add the weight and seal the holes.

Building Pinewood derby cars isn't just for boys. The parachurch Awana group, which reaches out to kids, also hosts a similar contest and uses the same cars. You can find the site for their Awana Grand Prix here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Different Types of Manliness

Over at the blog "The Art of Manliness", Brett and Kate McCay write about the 6 different types of manliness. They break down the pros and cons of each type and list some examples of each type.

  • The Warrior

  • The Lone Wolf

  • The Adventurer

  • The Gentleman

  • The Statesman

  • The Family Man

They say it's not possible to combine all of the types in equal parts into one person, but I'm not sure that's right. Some of the traits are diametrically opposed to others -- such as the ferocity of the warrior and the diplomacy of the statesman. But that doesn't mean that they both can't exist in the same person. There is a time to talk and a time to act, for example.

I think Jesus did the best job of embodying all of these values. He exhibited the traits of each type. Some examples:

  • He could be fierce and angry, as in when he upset the money changers in the temple (Matthew 21:12-13)

  • He was an individualist and would stand up against the authorities (Matthew 23). He called them hypocrites and a brood of vipers. Do you think that's going to win him friends with the authorities?

  • He was an adventurer in that he intended to go out to new places. He sent his disciples to spread the word, not stay at home to preach (Matthew 10).

  • He could show mercy and diplomacy (John 4:4-26).

So what does this have to do with being a dad? I think it's a great thing to model. My son needs to see that kind of model so he can grow up to be a strong man, who will stand up for what's right. My daughter needs to see that kind of model so that she can grow up to stand firm and to find a man who will cherish her like she deserves.

I am often times a poor imitation of it, but if I keep it up my kids may just turn out to be better at it than I am.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sexualizing 5-year-olds

The U.N. has decided to recommend sex education for kids as young as 5. They break ages down into several groups: 5-8, 9-12, 12-15 and 15-18. For 5-year-olds, they want to teach things like the definition of masturbation; that there are certain areas that boys and girls have that feel good when touched; and much more.

It gives you a whole new picture for kindergarten show and tell, doesn't it?

The original article on the report can be found here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Staying Organized

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." -- Albert Einstein

It seems like staying organized is a constant challenge for parents -- at least it seems that way to me. With kids around, work schedules, school activities, house work, and more, there is always something to keep me too busy to really plan.

Crawl Before You Can Walk

I remember the Daytimer craze when I was younger. In movies and in the real world, executives and others were carrying around black notebooks that organized their time, contacts and more. Of course, that was before the advent of the Internet. The Daytimer didn't really appeal to me but then I didn't have a lot to organize.

I started a few years ago by trying to write things down. I kept the events on the calendar at home and the contacts in an address book next to the calendar. It didn't work real well because I didn't have the information available when I went out. If something came up while I was out I had to write it down on a scrap of paper and remember to transfer it when I got home. Not foolproof by any means.

Learning to Walk

Then I moved to a Palm Pilot to store things. I kept all of my events in Google Calendar and bought a program called GooSync to sync the Palm Pilot and the Google Calendar. That worked okay. Anyone who has used a Palm Pilot knows it can be frustrating to put in anything lengthy. I still hadn't found a good way to sync my contacts by the time I accidentally crushed the screen. Palm wanted $150 to repair the screen. Time to move on and find something different.

I kept the Google Calendar and started using Gmail to work with my home email account. If I needed to add an event or something, I sent a text to my email account and it was there the next time I logged on. It saved me lots of scrap paper and I had a copy on my phone for a while. I didn't have a way to access my calendar or email so it wasn't a perfect system but it was workable.

Running with the Big Dogs

Then my contract with Verizon came due and I was eligible for a new phone. I looked longingly at the iPhones and considered switching. Then I compared it with the Blackberry Storm and found what I was looking for -- and found it for less than an iPhone. Ahhhh, heaven for a frugal geek like me. I downloaded Google Sync and it syncs my calendar, contacts and email in the background. It has a massive storage card so it has now taken the place of my MP3 player. I put the Facebook application on it and I am in contact in every way possible -- email, phone, text message and Facebook. I still use my computer at work and home to access things when possible but the phone works well for when I am away.

This system works for me because I'm comfortable with having a single device with me that takes care of everything. If you aren't comfortable with cell phones this won't work for you.

Your Turn

Does anyone else have suggestions on how you stay organized? What are your challenges with staying organized?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Good Education

Lynnae at has a question about fixing education. She has just started home schooling her kids. She has been hearing a lot in the news, as we all have, about the state of education for kids in the U.S.

I have been lucky because the kids are in a fantastic school. Most of the students are motivated and the school is very involved in the community. Businesses hand out prizes for reading goals and support different activities at the school.

Schools are beset by all kinds of problems that impact learning. We have thrown more and more money at the school systems but the state of our kids' education isn't changing much. Money is obviously not the issue (in my humble opinion).

Lynnae takes the approach that parents have a lot of influence in kids' education. I can certainly vouch for that. Kids are going to have a hard time committing things to memory if they only review things in school. I spend a lot of time with my kids going over math flash cards, spelling words, you name it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

My Health Care Letter

There has been a lot of discussion lately about overhauling health care. Here is my take on the whole mess. I sent it to the Indianapolis Star, the New York Times, the Omaha World-Herald, the LA Times, CBS and my representatives in Congress, Ben Nelson, Mike Johanns and Lee Terry. So far I have not heard a thing from the newspapers or my elected representatives.

My name is Dave Campbell. I am a private citizen that is sick and tired of this debacle of health care reform. No true debate is going on. We have Democrats looking to take over more of the economy, weak Republicans with no solid ideas of their own, a partisan press and an apathetic electorate. Health care has been an issue for years. We have huge costs for coverage and care providers. Some people are shut out by the private insurers because of pre-existing conditions. Jackpot justice in the courts drives up costs incredibly. Seriously, the door handles on court rooms should be changed to slot machine handles. It would be more appropriate. Politicians have blathered on about reform but only recently have they gotten serious.

The plans put forth by our so-called leaders, however, don’t address these issues. They only create new problems and shift the burden of paying to all of us, even those of us that have private insurance.

President Obama wants health care reform at all costs. He and the Democrats are pushing with everything they have to nationalize approximately 17% of the U.S. gross domestic product (1). This is a huge issue but they want to rush it. Obama says the reforms would bring greater "inefficiencies" (2) to the health care system. Assuming that was a Freudian slip and he didn't really mean that, let's look at the federal government's track record.

Let's keep in mind here that most of these politicians, including Obama, have NO EXECUTIVE EXPERIENCE running private industry. Profit and watching costs are not something these people are used to. "Budget" is just a buzz word because they will spend what they want, no matter what the original plan. Name one government program that not grown over the years. Name one government program that has closed down because it accomplished its goal.

The government intended Amtrak to be a for-profit enterprise but it has yet to achieve that goal. In 2007, the government decided to quit hoping Amtrak could ever turn a profit (3). The post office has had many rate hikes over the years and yet still cannot operate efficiently. It has been looking at closing offices and ending Saturday delivery (4).

How well has the government done at health care for our veterans? How many people remember the terrible conditions found at VA hospitals? Broken wheelchairs, mice, torn robes and mold at Walter Reed. Fruit flies, overflowing trash and syringes in the open at Naval Medical Center in San Diego. Peeling paint, mold, non-working windows and no nurses at Fort Knox (5).

The costs involved in these reform proposals is staggering. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the legislation would cost $1.3 trillion during its first decade: $438 billion for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, $53 billion in tax credits for small businesses that offer health insurance to their employees, and $773 billion in subsidies for a government-administered "insurance exchange" in which people could choose among various health plans, including a newly created "public option." Also keep in mind that government spending, especially on health care programs, tends to be much higher than anticipated. "When Medicare was launched in 1965," note Cato Institute policy analysts Michael Tanner and Chris Edwards, "Part A was projected to cost $9 billion by 1990, but ended up costing $67 billion. When Medicaid's special hospitals subsidy was added in 1987, it was supposed to cost $100 million annually, but it already cost $11 billion by 1992." (6)

Supporters point to countries like Canada and Great Britain to show that socialized medicine works. Canada, however, is moving back to a single-payer system because their experience has been so awful. Long waits extending to YEARS, bureaucrats deciding treatment and more. Private insurance is outlawed. Great Britain and Europe have their own problems, where state-of-the-art drugs are not available to patients. In 2003, 15,000 elderly people died in France during a heat wave because many doctors were on vacation and hospitals were overflowing. (7)

The American Medical Association is not on board with all of this. “The A.M.A. does not believe that creating a public health insurance option for non-disabled individuals under age 65 is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs. The introduction of a new public plan threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers, which currently provide coverage for nearly 70 percent of Americans.” (8) And yet Nancy Pelosi is adamant about a public plan. “A bill will not come out of the House without a public option,” she said (9). The Mayo Clinic, long a darling of liberals and progressives, is also against it (10).

Some people, myself included, say this public option will run private insurers out of business (11). Health insurance is a major expense for businesses so when a public option at half the price comes along, how many businesses will remain loyal to their providers? (12)

While the Democrats are happily plotting to make government even bigger, the Republicans have not put forth any real reforms. Anything they put forth sounds an awful lot like the Democratic plans. Instead of addressing the fundamental problems they propose more government interference. Really, I can't tell which party is more pro-government.

Just as bad as the politicians in this are the media. When it comes to covering Obama, you act like giddy cheerleaders ogling the star quarterback. Change into some dry shorts and ask yourselves if he wants you for you or for what you can do for him. Is it any wonder newspapers are going bankrupt and trust for newscasters is so low? I can put together an article with all kinds of sources but you can't seriously dig and investigate. You're supposed to be watchdogs, not lapdogs. Do us a favor and go back to journalism school to learn the basics, you worthless partisan hacks.

The only real chance for reform that isn't going to negatively affect us is going to have to come from the American public. Let's face it, the politicians only care about the next election. Doing the right thing is only an option if it will get them elected. If you want them to do the right thing, you need to get in touch with your representatives and let them know. Get the facts on your own; the press isn't going to do it for you.

Buy your KY now and pray Obama Care covers proctologists, because we’re all going to need it if this legislation passes.

1. The National Coalition on Health Care (2009). Facts About Health Care

Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

2. Obama, Barack (2009, July 20)
Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

3. Policy Archive (June 2002). "Amtrak Profitability: An Analysis of Congressional Expectations at Amtrak's Creation"
Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

4. Big Money, The (2009, June 26). "Could Your Post Office Be Closing?"
Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

5. Priest, Dana and Hull, Anne (2007, March 5). "It's Not Just Walter Reed". The Washington PostRetrieved July 24, 2009, from

6. Sullum, Jacob (2009, July 22). "Paying a Premium for Insurance". Reason Online.
Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

7. Gratzer, David (2007). "The Ugly Truth About Canadian Health Care"
Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

8. Pear, Robert (2009, June 10). "Doctors' Group Opposes Public Insurance Plan", The New York Times
Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

9. Pear, Robert (2009, June 10). "Doctors' Group Opposes Public Insurance Plan", The New York Times
Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

10. "Mayo Clinic's Reaction to House Tri-Committee Bill", The Mayo Clinic. (2009, July 16)
Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

11. "Critics Question Obama's Assertion No One Would Be Forced to Change Health Plans", Fox News (2009, July 23).
Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

12. "It's Not an Option". The Investor's Business Daily (2009, July 15)
Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

Through Dad's Eyes

People say that having kids changes people. Those with kids are more conservative and more settled in their lives. I have to agree. Everyone I know with kids keeps the kids first in their thoughts and actions.

I have been listening to music and watching TV and movies with a more critical eye. When listening to the radio, for example, I will change the station based upon the song starting to play. I recognize that lyrics and dialogue have small changes in the way we think. For someone who would argue against that, I have to ask why advertising remains such a big business. It's about influencing peoples' behavior. Advertising, song lyrics, movie dialogue, life experiences and more color our thoughts just the slightest amount. Each is imperceptible but in the aggregate they change us in big ways.

For now I am trying to instill some critical thinking skills. I am trying to get them to question why things are the way they are. I want them to think of alternatives and weigh pros and cons. I try to open up the world to them, little by little, in bite-sized chunks they can digest. It's by no means a coordinated effort. I make my mistakes and once in a while I get it right.

When my kids get older, I will allow them a greater range of music and entertainment choices. For now, though, they are small. They don't understand the complexities of life and can't think critically. As they understand more and can think more for themselves, I will give them more latitude. Hopefully by the time they are young adults they will possess more independent thinking than their peers. That, after all, is part of my responsibility as The Dad.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Slavery of Stuff

We all gather stuff throughout our lives. We gather momentos. Sometimes we want to buy ourselves toys, movies, music, you name it. J.D. at Get Rich Slowly calls it Stuff.

We try to keep up with the Joneses and buy ourselves the latest gadgets. Our old car is getting dirty or needs some work, so we buy a new one. But all that clutter takes time, energy and money to maintain. We're forcing ourselves to work more hours to pay the upkeep on what we have -- a bigger house, storage, maintenance, etc.

We have gotten materialistic and it weighs on our spirits. The extra work takes time away from our families and we feel guilty. The extra clutter around the house actually gives us some stress because it needs to be organized and maintained -- something else to do in an already hectic schedule. I've been thinking about this penchant for keeping up with the Joneses and I have come to a conclusion.

The Joneses are friggin' idiots.

There comes a turning point in our lives, maybe, when we realize Stuff isn't going to make us happy. It clutters our houses and our lives. In the meantime we flounder, needing to pay our debts and working like crazy to support our lifestyle. J.D. at Get Rich Slowly wrote about his turning point. Adam at Man vs. Debt also talks about how liberating it is not to have a bunch of Stuff to tie you down.

I have had a turning point, too. We have to draw a line between something useful and something just for fun. I used to buy a new toy that entertains me for a little bit and then it sits around. I'm trying to declutter my house. It's time to thin out the stuff that doesn't get used. If you really want to curb your appetite for Stuff, Frugal Dad lists some ways to do it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Yard Sales

We always seem to gather extra stuff in our houses. Once in a while we need to get rid of things. We can give stuff to charity or to others with kids smaller than ours or we can roll a big dumpster next to the house and start pitching. But make sure the kids aren't watching or they will cry over every little piece that gets thrown out.

One way to get rid of extra clutter and get the kids excited about it is to have a yard sale. Let the kids have their own table and let them keep the money from the things they sell. Suddenly they're happy to get rid of things.

Frugal Dad has some tips on how to have a successful yard sale. Some of the tips bear repeating here:

  • Plan the yard sale for the first of the month so you can coincide with pay periods.
  • Plan on starting early, about 7 a.m. or so. The hard-core yard sale skimmers will be out by then or earlier.
  • Set up a staging area in the garage or the front door. You can set up quickly that way.
  • Sell kids' clothing or baby clothes in a large bin. You will likely have a lot of these clothes and bulk is an easy way to get rid of the clothes.
  • Have change on hand. It's easy to forget this one in the madness leading up to the yard sale.
I would also add in that if your kids are old enough to know the denominations of money, you should consider letting them take turns giving change. Watch over them to correct mistakes.

After the yard sale is over the kids can split the money from their table and you can use the rest of the money to treat everyone to lunch at McDonald's or Burger King. Take them to one with a play ground and you can relax while they wear themselves out.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kids and Money

"That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly." -- Thomas Paine

Allowances are a good way for kids to learn money management and the value of money.

I finally started giving my kids an allowance. Nothing extravagant, just five dollars each a month. They have a list of chores to do and if they don't keep up with them, I knock off a little. Their duties around the house are to keep their rooms and the living room picked up, clean their bathroom, etc. They are always eager to do things around the house and are much better about keeping the place picked up.

Here's a post from Get Rich Slowly, where a guest poster tells about taking a survey about money to 4th graders. The results are interesting. The kids seem to have a good grasp of money and advertising.

I know the effects of advertising on my kids. They want about everything. I know this isn't anything new; a lot of parents go through this. Part of our jobs as parents is to teach them to be skeptical of what they see. Then they can buy things with their allowance that they will truly appreciate.

This is teaching them for later in life. They need to learn value and how to find it. Now is a good time to be teaching them about unit pricing and calculating value. Now is when they start to learn good financial habits. Make sure you're not one of the parents that is failing the kids in their financial literacy.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Giving our Kids Perspective

"What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun." -- Ecclesiastes 1:9

The wonderful thing about kids is everything is new to them. We notice things anew because the kids point out things we have long since forgotten.

We need to steer our kids in their enthusiasm. Most things are just recycled ideas. The wise writer in Ecclesiastes said it: "there is nothing new under the sun."

Kids can understand current events better if they understand the history. We need to make them understand that history didn't start when they were born; they plopped down in the middle of it and to get their bearings about where we are, they need to understand where we've been.

What are some of the ways we can give our kids perspective?

  • If a new movie comes out that they think is great and it's a remake of another film, tell them about the original.
  • If a new toy comes out that's just a recycle of something from your childhood, tell them about your memories of playing with the old toy.
  • To help them understand current events between countries, explain what you know about how they've gotten to the current point. If you don't understand, now is a good time to read and figure it out yourself.
Giving your kids perspective helps them to be more skeptical of things they see. It gives them a frame of reference for evaluating things they see.

Do you do something so that your kids understand what's going on around them? Do you even think it's important? Why or why not?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Healthy Snacking

"If you are what you eat then I am fast, cheap and easy."

If your kids are like mine, they always want a snack. Usually I let them get whatever they want in the pantry. Sometimes, though, I try to give them good snacks. A couple of articles on Lifehacker caught my eye.

We tend to believe the marketing when the box of dried fruit says it's healthy. Fruit is healthy, right? A lot of foods sell themselves as healthy when they really aren't that healthy. This article lists five snacks that aren't as healthy as you would think.

But eating those snacks packs on the calories if the kids eat enough of them. Then they need to burn off some calories. What seems to be a good idea is to eat a snack that burns more calories than it gives. This article points to several that fit that bill. The Wikipedia article that it is based on is found here. It is disputed, however, so be careful. If you use any of these foods for snacks, use them as healthy fillers and not necessarily because you think they may burn more calories than they give.

In the end, we need to instill healthy habits in our kids. If they choose fruit more often than cookies, we are doing a good job. And remember that healthy eating isn't just for snacks. We need to keep an eye on what's going down at meal time, too.

What do you use for good snacks? How do you try to instill healthy eating habits?

Thursday, May 7, 2009


"If it weren't for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, we'd still be eating frozen radio dinners". ~ Johnny Carson

I love Netflix. I love catching up on movies I never got the chance to see in the theater and seeing old favorites. The cost is negligible and I can stream some movies to my home computer.

But I really love Netflix for my kids. We rent "Gilligan's Island", "Hong Kong Phooey", "Fraggle Rock" and more. I rented "Wonder Woman" so my daughter could see a good female role model in there. Plus, Lynda Carter looked so dang good in that outfit. :)

I use Netflix to watch movies my kids are interested in. I watch the movie if I haven't already seen it, or if it's been a long time, and I let them watch it if I think it's suitable. Since we don't have to have the movie back within a certain time frame, I don't have to be in a big rush to return the movie.

Renting old TV series is a good trip down memory lane for us and it's good entertainment for the kids. It's wonderful to hear my kids laugh out loud when Gilligan trips up the Skipper and it's great to be able to watch a TV show that I don't have to worry much about.

Next up for the kids are probably some old "Brady Bunch" and "Andy Griffith" episodes. Any more ideas for good old TV shows that kids can enjoy?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Summer Vacation

“Vacation is what you take when you can't take what you've been taking any longer."

Summer is coming soon and the kids will be out of school in just a few weeks. I have to find something to fill their time.

I always enroll my kids in summer school. It keeps them busy and learning and helps solidify what they have learned. The school has also made sure it preps the students for the next grade. It's only a few weeks long so the kids still have plenty of time to be lazy before school starts again.

It's also a good time for them to visit family they don't normally get to visit. My mother likes to take them for a couple of weeks in the summer because we don't get to make it there often. I take them to see more family in Indiana, too.

But between travels, they are home without much to do. I have to put my kids in daycare because I can't stay home to take care of them. I try to do activities with them on the weekends, like going to the zoo on nice days or the children's museum on really hot days. We go to minor league baseball games sometimes.

The best part of summer vacation is I get some down time. We have no school activities, no scouts, no Awanas. Our evenings are free and I don't feel so stressed. While they are gone I can catch up some movies I wanted to watch, do some reading or sleep in without interruption. I also get in some exercise that I don't have the time to do while they're in school.

The worst part of the summer for me is they go to their mom's for six weeks. I try to break it up so they're not there the whole six weeks at once. They get to stay up as late as they want, snack all the time, and basically run free. When they get back from her house they are a rowdy couple of kids and I have to come down on them to get them back in line. It usually takes me a couple of weeks to get them straight.

What does summer vacation mean for your family? If your kids go off to a parent's house over the summer, how do you restore order when they make it back? What activities do you do to keep them busy?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Planning a Camping Trip

"Some national parks have long waiting lists for camping reservations. When you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is wrong." -- George Carlin

Spring is in the air and school is about to end. My kids are anxious to go camping. We went last year to the Memphis State Recreational Area outside of Omaha.

You're going to want to plan well to make sure you have everything you need because it's a pain to go back out and buy something you forgot. Here's a list to get you started:

* Tent. Ours is a dome tent that's big enough to fit an air mattress.
* Air mattress. Queen sized works well. You can also bring a cot. You really want something that keeps you off the ground.
* Air pump. If you're bringing an air mattress, bring an air pump. Something that can plug into your car's cigarette lighter.
* Sheets and blankets. The air mattress will leave you cold if you don't have something between you and it.
* Fishing poles and tackle. Don't forget worms or shad if you're going to use them.
* Gas or charcoal grill. Don't forget extra propane or charcoal and lighter fluid. Either way, bring a fire source.
* Cooler with ice. Buy the ice right before you go or you'll have a cooler full of water.
* Food to cook and food for snacks.
* Drinks. This includes an extra gallon of fresh water. You might consider having a canteen handy so everyone can have some cool water through the day.
* Plastic cups, paper plates, napkins and plastic ware. Don't forget a trash bag or two. It will keep your campsite clean and makes it easy to throw away the trash when you leave the campground.
* First aid kit. Make sure it's stocked and handy.
* Sunscreen and insect repellent. Really.
* Extra money. You'll want cash on hand. If you go to a state park you'll need to buy a permit for the day(s) and usually they only take cash. Not to mention you might need some extra supplies. Don't expect a lot of these places to take debit or credit cards.
* An extra pair of clothes outside of what you plan to wear, in case you get wet or excessively dirty.
* Camera. Record all of the good times. You might consider buying your kids disposable cameras if they don't have cameras of their own.
* Binoculars. The kids can see a lot more of nature and get excited about being outdoors.
* Flashlight/lantern and extra batteries. Or make sure to put in fresh batteries before you leave.

I will post again about how well it went and if I think the list needs to be updated.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fear and Education

"You can't believe everything you hear."

This was common advice when I was growing up. I tell it to my kids quite often. Of course, they had better believe everything they hear from me.

"There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth." This is how the article from Newsweek published in 1975 begins. Global warming, you think? No, it was about global cooling. This was some of the hysteria going on when I was growing up.

Some might question that if the Earth was cooling then but has been warming recently, what is the net effect? The Earth is now at the same temperature it was in the 1940s, when the last cooling cycle began.

In addition to the global cooling garbage, there were other calamities waiting to end the world:

* acid rain was going to eat away everything.
* pollution was rampant and was going to blot out sunlight, leading to a new Ice Age.
* oil was going to run out and no cars would be able to move.
* the deserts were expanding every year.
* the waste from nuclear power plants, which had to be buried, were going to contaminate the soil -- that is, unless
* the U.S. and the Soviet Union didn't annihilate each other in World War III.

Think back to when you were a kid and see if you can remember anything like that.

Personally, I am of the opinion that global warming is a hoax. It's junk science. Plenty of scientists disagree with it, too. I would advise anyone that truly believes it to follow the money. See who is getting rich off of it.

This is all new to our kids. It scares them into thinking there will be no world left when they grow up. We as parents need to provide some balance to them -- teach them to question, to think critically and not to blindly accept what they learn in school or see on TV. Provide them some perspective so that they can be skeptical of claims given to them.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Down Time for Dad

I do my best to keep my kids involved in activities and learning. I keep them in Scouts because it teaches them good social values and more. I take them to museums to see new things and to expand their horizons. I take them to school events, sports events and parades.

How busy we have been has crept up on us slowly. At first they were participating in Awanas on Wednesday nights. Then my daughter was old enough to join Brownies so I helped start a troop so she could attend. The next year my son was old enough to join Cub Scouts so all of a sudden we had three nights a week where we had activities.

Recently I decided that they needed more exercise and to learn to participate as part of a team. I decided to sign them up for soccer. I have a girl and a boy, a year apart, and didn't think much of it. I heard howls of discontent from them but told them they needed the experience. I told them this year they don't have a choice but next year they can choose to continue. After their first game they were excited to play soccer.

The worst of it for me was that I hadn't realized I was near my full capacity when I signed them up. Between two nights of Scouts, a night of Awanas, and now two soccer practices through the week and two soccer games on the weekend, I am beat. But I still have to fit in two jobs and housework.

Through the week I get only an hour and a half of "me time" on Wednesday night while they are at Awanas. I have slowed down the activities we do on the weekends they are here because I need a little bit of rest. On the weekends they are gone I now sit around the house and do basically nothing. Kind of like a slug, but with even less action. I need the time to rest and get ready for another two weeks of activity.

We as parents want to make sure our kids are involved, learn about community spirit, learn about life and about people, and in general turn out to be good kids. But doing that can wipe us out. We have to balance our needs against what we're doing for the kids.

Dual parents can take turns shuttling the kids to activities or watching them at home but they have to make sure to make time for themselves as a couple as well. I have heard of parents in the neighborhood trading off babysitting as well.

How do you other parents, especially single ones, handle it? Have you tried something to give yourself some time?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Motivating Good Grades

"Nine tenths of education is encouragement." -- Anatole France

My kids do well in school and are still at the age where it's exciting for them. The school certainly plays a part and does its best to keep them interested -- field trips, experiments, activities, you name it.

The school does a good job of motivating the kids to learn. For example, each month the kids bring home a calendar so they can write down how many minutes each day they read. If they reach a goal of 200 minutes in the month, they get a certificate for a free meal from a local restaurant. And now that baseball season has started, the kids each get a free pass to an Omaha Royals (minor league) game if they read four books in class. I took the kids to a game last year and I'll take them again this year.

The school hosts a lot of activities like Books and Bingo. If you get a bingo, you get to pick a book. The kids love that activity. There's also Breakfast and Books, where we get a donut and juice and get to read. The school has a book fair during parent/teacher conferences; a perfect time for the kids to extort money from the parents. :)

The teachers also have their own systems to motivate the kids, such as tabs: each time a kid brings home some homework signed, or does something good in class, a tab with the kid's name goes in a jar. At the end of the week some tabs are pulled and the kids get some prizes. Obviously, the more tabs, the better a kid's chance of getting a prize.

The kids are graded on their report cards as Not Sufficient (N), Satisfactory (S) and Excellent (E). My kids for the most part get S, S+ and E. I don't have to try hard to motivate them to do well in school because the teachers are doing a good job of that. For their next report card, which will be the last for the year, I did make them a deal: I will pay them a dollar for every E they get on their report cards. Nothing for S+, only Es. They had several Es already and many more S+s. The idea was to turn the S+s into Es. I will let you know how that goes.

So far I'm pretty lucky. My kids enjoy learning and it isn't a major chore for them. They don't bring home much homework, outside of spelling words and some reading for the weekend. They're only in elementary school so that will change when they get older.

What does your school do to motivate kids to learn? What has worked for you in the past, either as a kid or as a parent?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Community Service

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." -- Anne Frank

We are our kids' greatest teachers. More than anyone else, they will remember what we taught them. And that goes for what we model as what as what we talk to them about.

My son's scout troop does a cleanup at one of the local schools as a thank-you for letting them use the gym for pack meetings. The pack partners with one of the local Girl Scout troops and they also get to help. We did that recently. The parents brought the kids and some yard tools and we spent about 45 minutes pulling dead plants, raking leaves and picking up trash around the school grounds. It was cold and windy but the kids had a good time and they did a good job for the school. Afterwards the pack paid for a wildlife expert to bring in some wild animals -- a lemur, a skunk, a python and some others. The kids got to learn some things about the animals and touch them, too.

This is something in which the kids can take pride. When they get out of the car in the morning, or when they walk past after school, or hear someone comment on how nice the school looks, they can feel good they've made a difference. They're learning that life isn't just about themselves.

The pack is also doing a food drive and collecting old cell phones to be properly disposed of instead of just thrown into the trash, where they can leach chemicals into the groundwater.

In addition to the scouts, the school collects "pennies for patients" to help with medical expenses. The Awanas group they go to collects supplies for the local homeless shelter and food for the food bank. All around, they have good role models to show them how to be a positive community member.

Some ideas for community service are to volunteer with the Boy Scouts or Girl scouts, serve on the PTA or help at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. You could also donate old toys and clothes, which has the added benefit of decluttering your house.

What are you showing your kids, either through words or deeds?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Continuing Education

We as parents spend a lot of time making sure our kids get a good education. We watch over what they learn and push them to do well in school. But what do we do for our own education? Getting a Bachelor's degree or Master's degree is expensive and time consuming. Sometimes we think we don't have the money or the time to pursue that education. We all know that learning more helps our career chances and that in turn hopefully keeps us employed and earning better raises.

The site Lifehacker recently posted a couple of articles about some video sites that show lectures from various universities. Academic Earth and YouTube EDU are good places to find lectures on topics you find interesting. It won't give you any course credit but who wouldn't want to brag about having audited a class at MIT, Harvard or Yale?

If you don't have the time or bandwidth at home to access these, what else can you do to learn more?
  • Spend some down time at work doing research on things that interest you.
  • If your employer has a library that's a good place to start. Or just use the Internet to do some reading or watch some educational videos.
  • Along the route of educational videos, you can find a lot on the web. Microsoft has a bunch if you are interested in technical areas.
  • Go to the public library. Take your kids and let them get excited about books and reading while you spend some time in the quiet. Several of the libraries I have been in have had play areas for kids so even if they can't read they can have fun and get a positive impression about the library.
  • Volunteer for a church or non-profit. It's good for experience and it is still something you can put on a resume.
I am continually trying to learn something new. As a software engineer, there is always something new in the field. I have been learning more about investing by reading through The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham and learning about investing. I have also read through every single shareholder letter that Warren Buffett has written. I read several blogs a day like The Simple Dollar, Get Rich Slowly and The Motley Fool. I try to learn from other parents with sites like Parent Hacks.

What have I missed? What do you do to learn?

Welcome to Because I'm the Dad

Who I am

Like so many people, who I am depends on how you look at me. I'm a dad, a software developer, an employee, a Star Wars fan, a movie buff, a joker and more.

In more concrete and immediate terms, my name is Dave. I'm a single dad of an 8-year-old girl, a 7-year-old boy and a 12-year-old miniature poodle. I have been divorced for almost 3 years now. I'm no super parent and I don't claim to be an expert. I keep busy with school activities, two jobs and the kids' activities. In the time I've been a single parent I have been learning some things about finances, parenthood, childhood, cooking and more.

Why write a blog?

As parents we are involved in a lot of things at once. We have to manage money, manage time, manage behavior. We have to stay organized and try to plan ahead. We have concerns about today and the future. I've been working on improving my life and have been reading books and blogs on personal finance, cooking, budgeting, you name it. I wanted to share some of what I find (just the good stuff, honest!) and hear back from those of you that read this blog -- both of you. You can follow along and we can learn together from each others' successes and failures.

Where Did That Title Come From

I try to encourage my kids to ask questions and try to answer them at a level they'll understand. Sometimes that means they will ask me why when I tell them to do something. However, there are times I'll tell them to do something and I don't feel like explaining why -- I just want them to do it. For those times, when they ask why, I tell them, "Because I'm the Dad."

What's Ahead

I hope in future posts to go over subjects like money for parents, money for kids, activities, general parenting issues, organization and more. Stay tuned and read along. Subscribe to the RSS feed or check in every day to see if there's something new. And be sure to drop a line if you find something you like or don't like.

Thanks for stopping by!