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!