SEINFELD AND THIS GENERATION

The problem in my house is that I made ONE mistake with regard to movies/TV and I cannot live it down. That mistake:

“Come on. I remember this movie. It is amazing. It was the first of it’s kind. You have to watch the original TRON with me”

I can admit I was wrong and I was VERY wrong. My rose coloured view of TRON has been tainted by age, time; remembering my youth and the beginning of science fiction movies.

Unfortunately, it was awful. The acting is bad and the effects may have been great for the early 80’s, but they just look bad now. So in our house whenever I suggest anything that is older than 5 years I get the “Seriously? You told us TRON was good and look how that turned out”.

Which brings me to Seinfeld. I am going to try it with my teenage boys, to see if it is dated or still funny. I know that reading The Economics of Seinfeld still makes me laugh. I saw Jerry Seinfeld at a charity event a year ago and it was great. I just don’t know how it will turn out.

You tell me, will it work or am I making another TRON level mistake?

A CLOSE CALL

 

When you enter a new country you are bombarded with new “norms”, how people do things will always be different. Part of assimilating into the new culture is a decision process of running through your own values, views and systems and determining where you will change.

In Tokyo, almost no one wears a bike helmet. In a city where biking is a primary form of transportation and hundreds upon hundreds of bikes line the streets, it is odd for me to see so few people without a helmet (usually only Gaijin wear helmets). It reminds me of the 1970’s when people had seatbelts in their car but no one bothered wearing them. I remember my parents buckling the seat belt together and tucking it into the seat to stop that annoying “Seatbelt not on” alarm bell. Scary.

Last night we had to run to the store and I wanted to bike. It was the first time we had ridden at night. There are not many street lamps in our area so it was quite dark. As I moved from the road to the sidewalk, to avoid a car, my front tire caught the cement edge and in a flash I slammed into the ground – hard.

What is still a bit nerve wracking is that only 30 minutes earlier I had debated not wearing my helmet as it was close and “no one bothers”. But I did and I feel very fortunate. Had I not, who knows what would have happened.  This is my helmet after the accident – cracked in 4 places.

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A close call. That could have been my bare head. As a side note, the eggs did not break.

A CHANGE IN OPINION

 

This year the hub-bub is all about Michael Buble’s new album. Of course, it was my first choice as the once a year Christmas CD purchase and it is good. Traditional music, in his jazzy style. But it won’t make it into my all time list. Not unique enough.

A contender for one of those slots is the A Very She & Him Christmas from She & Him. Featuring the quirky actress Zooey Deschanel (Think the sitcom New Girl, and the elf in Elf). I cannot get Christmas Wish out of my head … I find myself humming it all the time. Great album (I happened upon it at Starbucks).

I will add one holiday link. If you want to send a great Santa video to a child or to a friend for a laugh, one of the best of the season can be found here.

Enjoy!

A CHRISTMAS MENTIONABLE

 

Not a tradition, but worth a post. We also booked out Stuart McLean’s Christmas show for a couple weekends from now and cannot wait. For those of you who don’t know Stuart, he is a Canadian storytelling icon. Sure, there are some who find his stories too sentimental, but in an age where the sense of community is quickly disappearing, it is a nice reprieve.

You can catch his podcasts here, or consider his Christmas CD filled with heart warming stories and humor or if you are in Canada, catch his tour … seems like he goes everywhere.

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CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS

 

We have a few of traditions that have developed slowly over the years, the most important being that we ignore all Christmas music or references until December 1st, the day after our son’s birthday.

A few other elements which are becoming traditions:

  • A pantomime. This started in England and continues. This year we are seeing Ross Petty’s troupe perform The Wizard of Oz. It does not matter how old you are, a great family affair and I will always be one of the loudest ‘Booooers’.
  • A Christmas Story. Sure, there are lots of great Christmas movies. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, The Sound of Music (They escape during Christmas don’t they?) and of course those ones from our youth, Charlie Brown .. Rudolph … Little Drummer Boy and many others (Although animated, rubber character holiday shows seem to no longer be in vogue). But I always come back to this one. Every Christmas … it makes me laugh; the Red Rider BB gun with mom’s warning echoing through the house “You’ll shoot your eye out” and the double dog dare. A true classic … irony being that I had a BB gun and my mom wouldn’t let me keep it in the house for that exact reason (smile).
  • Great music. I have referred to a few of my favorites in the past and every year I buy a new CD. This year it is Michael Buble Christmas. We will see if he can stack up to my number two,  Harry Connick and my favorite .. BNL.

Let the music begin .. and let the snow stay away until the 22nd (smile).

THE IMPACT OF FAMILY

 

I was listening to the Harvard Business Ideacast Know your Power Persona on the way to the office on Monday which centers on the impact that our family life has on who we are today (good and bad). The podcast featured Maggie Craddock who wrote the book Power Genes: Understanding Your Power Persona–and How to Wield It at Work. From their website:

We’ve all joked about it: the domineering father figure as top manager, the boisterous elder brother type as heir apparent, the caring mother hen on the executive team. But that leaves the rest of us in the workplace as a gaggle of siblings battling for recognition, resources, and rewards from our "parents". Next thing you know, we’re doing exactly what we did when we were kids to get what we need at work–trying too hard to please, acting out, brownnosing. Yet these responses aren’t productive in the workplace. In "Power Genes", executive coach Maggie Craddock reveals how to kick those old habits and use your power more effectively to advance your career. Craddock identifies four "power types"–Pleaser, Charmer, Commander, Inspirer–and explains how to diagnose your type. Next she walks you through a process for avoiding your type’s signature destructive reflexes and replacing them with new behaviours. She also shows how to interact productively with other people–peers, bosses, employees–of each type. "Power Genes" helps you jettison unproductive habits and take charge of your workplace relationships.

It is a good 12 minute listen, and made me reflect on a realization that I had a few years ago – my childhood still impacts who I am in ways that I have just come to understand. I came to that understanding through the book Overcoming Your Strengths’. I referred to it here in a different context. Lois Frankel made a very interesting point on tough childhoods midway through the book (pg. 132):

Ironically, those who are unable to be humble are often raised as children in households so withholding of praise and affirmation that the child must call attention to himself or herself or otherwise fade into oblivion. The behaviours that we learned to survive difficult childhoods later become the cause of derailment.

I was pretty fortunate, I lived in a good home, was never concerned about whether or not I was loved, was imbued with a strong Dutch work ethic and ‘never give up’ attitude and surrounded by a very rigid – black and white view of the world (which I railed against). But they made me who I am – good and bad.

Once again, I was reminded just how important the parent’s role is. The impact is profound.

FACEBOOK EDUCATION

 

A couple weeks ago we attended a parents evening on Facebook. I am not a big Facebook user. I have it turned on, I have pictures posted for friends and have connections to a host of old and current friends. It is a convenient way to stay in touch. But I don’t post … because I blog.

The evening event was hosted by Chris Vollum of Social Media Trust and was titled Facebook 101 for Parents. During the day he had held 3 sessions for the lower, middle and upper schools. I consider myself pretty technical, but I was a bit naive on Facebook as I have not invested the right amount of time into understanding it (our boys are just now showing interest). The biggest eye openers for me were the long term impact that Facebook activity can have on children. I am very personally aware of what I write on this blog, but do children of 14 or 15 think before they do something off the cuff?

The photograph of his slide is chilling .. sent to a student who was enrolling in the University of Connecticut:

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Consider these statistics from a University of Massachusetts study that polled 453 college admission departments:

  • 26% are actively researching students through search engines
  • 21% are checking out social networking profiles like MySpace and Facebook

More concerning is just how open most people are on a few fronts:

  • Too many people do not understand the privacy settings. They may think that they are just with their friends, when in fact, they are wide open. The speaker showed a random woman in Florida who had her university info, birth date, and a host of other private pieces of information up for everyone to see. A identity theft just waiting to happen. Sophos has a good guide on how to lock down here.
  • People post too much. As per the last part, they are wide open and then they post everything. He typed in ‘Friday vacation’ and up came hundreds of posts from people talking about how they were going on holiday on the weekend. He told the story of a friend who posted ‘leaving today, coming back late next Sunday night’. The only thing missing was which mat the spare key is hidden under.
  • Facebook policies are changing and people don’t understand it. Last fall Facebook reset everyone’s privacy settings and if you had a fully locked down profile, you had to go back in and set it back to ‘locked up’. And they will do it again.

A very eye opening and cautionary evening.

AROUND THE CORNER

 

That is right. The aisles of the local Costco are stuffed to the rafters with junk. Signs adorn the local party store. Yes, it is almost Halloween. Out comes the kitsch. Who will have the coolest smoke machine in the neighbourhood?

Probably not us. Don’t really do the whole ‘decorating’ thing. But I did find a few quality ideas for consideration. The first is from The Onion:

(I also like their idea’s for naming a wireless network and The Moral of the Story).

I am also getting inspiration from Esquire who suggested a way to give your pumpkin a little flair. Take a roll or toilet paper, soak it in kerosene and light well away from everyone as it will shoot a 3 foot flame for 45 minutes.

I will follow that up with some good quality treats, I would wager the advice will be the big hit?

A PET

 

From Stuart McLean’s Stories from the Vinyl Cafe:

Dorothy knew exactly what she was doing buying the dog. It wasn’t for company – although, at the time, the notion of having something in her life that loved and, more importantly, listened to her, was a comforting thought. She bought him because she didn’t want her life getting too easy. Complications were important. Without something messing up your plans you became self-centered. Then you became selfish.

Well put.

A DRY EYE

 

I don’t usually watch these videos when they float around, but if you can keep a dry eye while watching this video of US soldiers coming home to their families and children then you are truly a rock. I don’t know how they do it, leaving their families for 6 months+ at a time. I know I couldn’t.

 

Hats off to the troops and the sacrifice they make on our behalf.

EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS

 

I am constantly amazed at how different my children’s education is from mine. The volume of homework (they actually have homework in the evening, I don’t remember doing homework in Grade 5, 6 or 7), the rigour (my eldest is going through full 1.5 hour exams in his classes in Grade 7 this week) and the quality of education.

A few weeks ago, our son brought home the class science project …. they hatched them in the class!

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Progress, for sure.

A HAPPY COUPLE

 

Recently forwarded to me: The Top 10 habits of happy couples according to Today’s Parent:

1. Talk, talk, talk
2. Date each other
3. Spend time apart
4. Let small things slide
5. Fight fair
6. Stay intimate
7. Touch
8. Say thank you
9. Keep it surprising
10. Make the effort

Always be learning.

SMARTMUSIC

 

This year the boys are back in music, each taking a wind instrument again. The house is filled with music. Very nice to hear. What I find fascinating is how musical training has been impacted by technology.

When I was a kid, I played the saxophone (for about 7 years). I played a lot of Saxophone, taking a private lesson once a week, practicing a half hour a day, took band at school (The high marks helped) and I was fortunate enough to be the youngest ever member of the community band. A lot of hard work.

Today that hard work is augmented by the computer. When I was a boy, I would learn with a book, scales and feedback from a teacher. Not anymore. Thanks to the inexpensive program called Smart Music, our boys clip a microphone onto their instrument and play away with a full orchestra or solo. The program records their progress and provides instant feedback on the note (did they hit the right note) and tempo (were they on time).

They can then listen to themselves play (if they recorded it), view the results (visually maps which notes they hit and which they did not) or forward the results off to the teacher via email (both the visual results, and the recording). Amazing. And if they are having trouble? A full help guide on how to finger the note properly and other tips. It is interesting to watch the program push the boys too, as they strive for perfection with instant feedback.

I have also enjoyed flipping through the eBooks that are included in the program. Many of the music books are the same ones I used as a kid, which made me laugh.

What a wonderful piece of technology, what an amazing world we live in .. and all of the above for only $30 a year. Amazing.

OUR FIRST CANADIAN HOLIDAY in a while …

 

It has been a while since we spent a Christmas holiday with family and it was great. I will admit, spending Christmas in Paris and Brugge was also spectacular, but there is something about being home that is different and great.

It also meant that we are facing our first winter in many moons and while it isn’t as crazy as I hear it was last year (feet of snow versus inches of snow), it is still a bit of a shock to the system. The biggest issue with winter is activity. It is natural to want to hibernate from the cold, but that isn’t good for the heart, mind or soul.

So we spent the holiday skiing, snow shoeing, tobogganing and playing more board games than we have played in years. I forgot how fun the Game of Life can be (there are many ways that statement can be interpreted). Rummikub, Sequence, Apples to Apples (at a friends house) were high on the list as was COD6.

What we didn’t do was attend a New Years party. Instead, we celebrated as a family. It was fantastic and as we went to bed, the snow started to hit. It was beautiful ..

2009 New Years Eve  (2)

And it hasn’t stopped snowing since.

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2010 awaits .. it is going to be fun.

‘Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful’

                                                                                                                   Albert Schweitzer

ROBIN HOOD: THE PANTO

 

Our family was introduced to the art of the Christmas Panto two years ago in England. The best way to describe a Panto is crazy musical, appealing to kids while being full of hidden adult jokes and the occasional water gun. In other words, something that every family should attend each holiday season:

Traditionally performed at Christmas, with family audiences consisting mainly of children and parents, British pantomime is now a popular form of theatre, incorporating song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, audience participation, and mild sexual innuendo. There are a number of traditional story-lines, and there is also a fairly well-defined set of performance conventions. Lists of these items follow, along with a special discussion of the ‘guest celebrity’ tradition, which emerged in the late 19th century.

We hit the Robin Hood Pantomime at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto last weekend and it was two hours of fantastic entertainment and laughs. And surprisingly, Tiger Woods was the butt of some very funny jokes (how fast the high and mighty fall). The best being when the villain first came on to the stage (it is tradition that the entire audience must begin booing him the second he shows up in any scene) and he stood there, smirking and said ‘What? Not like I am Tiger Woods’.

The only thing that it was missing? Water guns …. (smile). Guess that is distinctly British. Well worth seeing.

HOW TO HAVE THE BEST KICK BUTT KIDS BIRTHDAY PARTY

 

This applies to male 11 year olds.

1. Acquire several XBOX 360s (Video store – $40 for a week each) and hook them up to monitors, TVs or projectors.

2. Acquire copies of Modern Warfare 2 and Halo 3 ($5 each to rent).

3. Link them through your router and system link.

Let rip. Works every time, although 12 – 11 year old boys can be surprisingly loud. And it is sad to admit, but they can finally beat me …. I knew the day would come.

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A FATHER IS A MAN WHO FAILS EVERY DAY

 

The recent Globe and Mail interview with Michael Chabon is fantastic and a striking insight into how much fatherhood has changed in the last few decades.

Early in his new essay collection, Manhood for Amateurs , Michael Chabon offers a telling definition of what it means to be a dad: “A father is a man who fails every day.” Later, the author of the Pulitzer-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay writes that, as a father, it’s his job to be a hypocrite. For Mr. Chabon, 46, a father of four and one of the most celebrated novelists of his generation, this fatherhood thing? It’s not easy. Whether he’s talking to his kids about drugs or struggling to understand his daughters, he always seems aware of his shortcomings as a father. He talked to The Globe and Mail about how aspiring to a higher standard makes men good dads.

As you point out in the book, the historical standard for being a good dad is really low. Why do dads get off so easy?

There’s certain minimum behaviours that have long been accepted as marking whether one is or is not a good father, and basically those consisted of paying to raise your children, paying for their upkeep and sticking around. And that’s it. Anything more than that would just push you into some kind of Super Dad category. It’s not fair.

Do you think it’s encouraged dads to stick to the minimum requirements?

It has been bad for men that the expectations put on fathers are so low. It’s been bad for them as sons and bad for them as fathers as well. It’s incredibly satisfying and fulfilling to care for your children. It’s tedious and irritating and overwhelming and boring and it can be drudgery, but it’s one of those things that having done them gives you a feeling of satisfaction.

There have been critics over the past few years who claim parents are as immature as their kids for playing the same video games and sharing an interest in the same popular culture as their children. But you seem to be really happy to be able to geek out with your kids over, say, a shared love of Dr. Who.

It’s incredibly pleasurable. And it’s bizarre and arbitrary to draw designations between saying it’s okay to sit down to watch Claude Rains movies with your kids but it’s somehow not okay to sit down and play video games with your kids.

How would you say your version of fatherhood differs from your dad’s generation?

The model for him was that you are the breadwinner and that you stick around. He did his best and his best was a lot better than what was necessarily expected of him. But he never took care of me in the sense of cleaned up after me when I was sick or bought me new pairs of shoes or combed my hair or any of that kind of stuff. And then when my parents divorced when I was 12 and he moved away, I didn’t have the physical presence either. I definitely grew up with a sense of a lack. That might be part of what has impelled me to try live up to a somewhat higher standard in terms of presence and in terms of caring for my kids.

How do you define being a good father?

To me it’s just a question of presence, but not in the mere physical sense of the term. I think that, in a way, has been the standard for a very long time, that physical presence is adequate or sufficient. To me, it’s about emotional presence. It’s a standard. It’s not something, God knows, that I always meet or even necessarily meet consistently. But it is a standard, just to try to be there for your kids.

As a Dad who loves to play video games with his kids, build Lego and fool around with his boys – couldn’t agree more. It is all about investing time (which, with the new job, I have not done enough of lately – DULY NOTED!).  I have the book on order

CHRISTMAS MUSIC

 

I cannot understand anyone who does not love Christmas music (a debate I found myself in the middle of yesterday). I am a big fan of Christmas music. How can you not get in the mood?

Of course the season leads to the inevitable list of ‘favourites’ or ‘must have’ Christmas CDs. MSN had this list which made me scratch my head? Where is the Barenaked Holiday? Where are Bob and Doug? Was this list created by a Canadian because if it is a Canadian portal, a true Canadian would never put a Mariah Carey ‘anything’ on a top 10 list. And for goodness sake Harry, it is your 3rd Christmas album. Enough already – go make another Jazz album or star in a sitcom or something. Anything.

Personally, I am sticking to my top 6 that you can find here:

  1. Barenaked for the Holidays: It takes 1 or 2 listens before you get into it but it is still a family favourite. The Elf’s Lament is worth the purchase by itself (Who else would sing about the elf’s plight as forced labour? I can just here the elf calling out ‘But I wanted to be a dentist!
  2. When My Heart Finds Christmas, Harry Connick:  His first and best album. Ignore the next 2.
  3. A Very Special Christmas 3:  I bought this for one reason, Sting singing I Saw 3 Ships. Could listen to it 100 times.
  4. Bruce Cockburn Christmas: Bruce, sitting somewhere in Northern BC, strumming along. Borderline country (which leads to vigorous internal debate on whether it deserves to be in our home), but skates to the border and comes back. It is NOT country. Nice to see that he is not slinging a rocket launcher at Christmas.
  5. Great White North, Bob and Doug Mackenzie:  This reminds me of my youth. My brother and I wore this album out when we got it for Christmas and who doesn’t want 2 French toasts and a beer for Christmas?
  6. White Christmas:  Bing. Love yah big guy.

Of course, after listening to these, it is off to watch the best Christmas movie every made: A Christmas Story. Let the debate begin.

Update: Looks like Bob & Doug are being made into a cartoon. Fantastic. Enjoy this 12 days of Christmas video. A Canadian classic.

 

YOU HAVE TO BE AN ACTIVE PARENT

 

I had a bit of a shock last week when I cranked up the new copy of Call of Duty, World at War. I cranked it up because the boys love Call of Duty, but whenever it is an older rated game I go through and check it out first.

Good thing I did. While it is a kick ass game, the initial cut screen of the Japanese solider beating the American captive with a bamboo stick and then jamming his cigarette into his eye was enough to pull the game from family general circulation. Same as Gears of War II and maybe Fable II (I need to look into that one, there is a reference in a review to prostitution and a number of other questionables). I remember when one 10 year old came over and explained how his parents let him play Grand Theft Auto. I just shook my head.

It is all about being active and not letting a company dictate what you allow your kids to do. A rating isn’t enough.

EDUCATING 4 YEAR OLDS ABOUT SEX WILL STOP TEEN PREGNANCY

 

In what can only be one of the most daft proposals I have ever seen, two leading sexual health charities in the UK are advocating compulsory sex education for children as young as four:

Julie Bentley, the Family Planning Association chief executive said ‘This is not about teaching four year olds how to have sex .. it’s like maths – at primary school children learn the basics so that they can understand more and more complex concepts at a later stage’

I read statements like this with an understanding that stupid people can be senior executives too.

On a lighter note, I was sitting in a presentation last week and a speaker made a great joke when talking about poor performance in an area of the business. He said ‘Our performance reminds me of high school sex. Everyone is talking about it, nobody is doing it’.

Julie Bentley, thanks for the laugh. I hope no one is listening to you.

PLAY TOGETHER STAY TOGETHER

An article in USA Today states the ‘Married couples who play together stay together’, a point of view that I subscribe to. From the article:

‘The more you invest in fun and friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time’ …

One of the reasons couples have trouble is that they have different takes on fun and bonding, Parrott says. "Intimacy and friendship for a man is built on shared activity, but for women, shared activity is a backdrop for a great conversation. What she wants on date night is a time of intimacy and friendship. He’s disappointed because she’ll never go to a game or golfing, and it’s during shared activities that his spirit is most likely to open up."

Gender differences also showed up in another study by the Denver researchers. They asked a random phone sample of 908 people how long it had been since they had been on a date with their spouse; women, on average, said it had been twice as long as men. (In couples married 11 to 19 years, women said 17.8 weeks, and men said nine.)

Of course, no article would be complete without the requisite graph, this one analysing how much time couples spend together. I wonder if the below (perhaps) also reflects family changes also?

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Just proves that I am a lucky guy. My wife plays golf (smile).

40

 

I turned 40 last week. The most common question asked: What will you do to celebrate your 40th? Some people head out and drink themselves into a stupor. Some people go on a special trip.

My answer is that I took it easy, watched my oldest son in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Think it is confusing watching Shakespeare performed by professionals, try watching a bunch of 11 year olds), had a wonderful dinner and an amazing Ben and Jerry’s cake. I could not imagine a better birthday.

What I did not enter into is an introspective stage on my life so far, that is something I try to do regularly. I did reflect on how fast time flies by. I was on the Weening family website the other day and looking at pictures of our extended family (190 and growing) … time flies by. I am fortunate so far, I do not have the Weening white hair which generally shows up around 30 (smile).

Michael MISC 36

TO BE THE OLDEST

 

As the oldest in a clan of four, I found the findings within the article ‘The Plight of the Older Sibling’ a fascinating read:

‘a new study has confirmed what first-borns like Joshua have always suspected: The oldest kid in the family really does bear the brunt of parental strictness, while the younger brothers and sisters generally coast on through.’

‘By the time the second and third kids come around, many parents lighten up, and realize that they probably overreacted a little with setting rules for their first kid, Leman says. “The first-born’s a guinea pig; we practice on ‘em,” he says. “Once the other kids come in, we lighten up. Or exhaustion takes over.”

As the eldest, I would often look at my two younger sisters and notice that they were treated differently. There was so much more flexibility and I would often think ‘Hey, I was never allowed to do that’. What the study does not allude to is where this goes wrong. When the oldest child gets ticked off with the unbalanced nature of the treatment. I know that as I left home, I clearly rebelled against the strict and stifling rules that I was put under. When I came back into that home environment where the younger children were treated differently, I openly resented it.

In our family, we have often discussed being harder on our oldest. I think back to being a new parent and how we were so worried that the littlest bump would damage our new born baby. As parents, where every experience is new and a book can only tell you so much, there is that natural protectiveness. When our second child arrived, we were easier going – in large part because of experience and confidence (we had done it once before, we knew that a bump on the head would not break the child).

A very interesting parental read.

SNOW

 

Many people have been keeping us up to date on the Canadian snow situation: lots is the word. I cannot say that I miss it. The people who are taking care of my dog sent photos and I miss hanging out with him in the snow.

CHILD SAFETY AND THE POOL

 

We built our first pool when our son was less than a year old. A shedload of thought went into child safety as we had heard more than one horror story of a child unattended and drowning. My mother told us the story of my brother and I playing in one of those tiny little round pools (with 12" of water) and the phone ringing. She ran in, told the caller she would call back (no answering machines in those days) and ran straight back out to find me holding my brother under the water. As he turned blue I proudly proclaimed ‘Look mom, Brad is blowing bubbles’.

For us, the second planning factor was our big moronic lab who would do anything to get in the water. I can still remember when we was 9 months old and he jumped into the open water of a Toronto river in -20 weather. He walked out with icicles instantly forming on his belly, shook once and dove back in.

With these goals in mind we set to building a child and dog proof pool. With regard to the children we proudly proclaim success. With regard to the dog and one almost drowned squirrel – we failed. The dog was in the pool more often than we were and the squirrel required 2 months of rehabilitation.

It would now appear that our efforts to save the children are being augmented by new child drowning training. Take a moment to watch this video, you will amazed. If we had known about it when our children were young we DEFINITELY would have taught them (while also fencing in the pool). If you know someone who has a young child – pass the video on, they will thank-you for it.

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We will miss that pool and I miss my buddy.

OH CHRISTMAS TREE

2007 Dec 11 Sunrise Virginia Park_-3

 

In our British home there is a lot less room so one of the things to go this year was the 14′ tree that we usually have. We also skipped the process of a) going to a farm and cutting one down ourselves and b) getting a fresh tree. We went artificial for the first time ever.

At least it was not a cursed tree. There is always that.

FIRE

 

I was reading a very interesting article on the weekend about fire alarms. In this story a family was saved by their young son who woke up as a fire erupted from the dryer downstairs. The family of 5 quickly vacated the home, no one was hurt and the fire department arrived quickly. I have heard that dryer fires are common (lint build up).

They had a fire alarm. It had no batteries in it. Amazing.carbon_monoxide_detector.jpg

In our last house, we had fire alarms that were linked into the alarm company (total cost – $25 per month to monitor). We also had carbon monoxide monitors. In our new home, the previous owners were American consulate people who appeared very paranoid. The house is like Fort Knox: highest quality locks, fire alarms in every single room and a state of the art alarm system.

The only problem? When the batteries start to go, the go in mass. A few weeks ago, one went .. then another .. at one point, I had 6 spread out on the kitchen table. In the end, I just replaced all the batteries to be done with it.

A pain, a little bit of investment but worth every penny.

RETIRING

 

I know a few people who have retired and are now taking their money and moving to traditionally 3rd world nations where their money goes a long way.

One friend built a place in Costa Rica, which you can check out here.

I came across an article on Corazal, Belize which is a former British colony near Mexico.  There is no capital gains tax on buying and selling property with prices for a 2 bedroom apartment starting at $140K. The official country language is English. Atlas International has an interesting site to peruse.

If you are a little more adventurous you could go to Bali. Interesting retirement options where the dollar goes a long way.

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5:1 AND RELATIONSHIPS

 

According to Dr. John Gottman, you need a 5:1 ratio of praise or kind actions to criticism with your partner. If the ratio drops to 3:1, Gottman says your marriage is in trouble.

I wonder if the same is true in business or with children? I think so.

LEGO MOVIES: ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO ENJOY A DAY

 

Technology is very accessible these days and one of my boy’s favorite pastimes is doing Lego movies. After many experiments, I believe that I have found the simplest and most enjoyable way to make this happen – so here is my step by step guide.  What you need:

1. A digital camera.

2. A computer.

3. A tripod for the camera. You can buy these for as low as $15.

4. The more Lego – the better!

The steps:

1. Set up a small ‘stage’ for your shots. This can simply be a box or a table. Your call. Make sure you have a Lego baseplate(s) on which to build the scene. Set up some type of background (The kids can draw one or you can do what I do, just put up a big blank sheet of paper).

2. At this point, I leave the artistic component up to the kids. If they want to draw out a story – let them. If they want to go free style – let them. It is all about the fun of the process, not the rigor of the process. They will evolve the process over time.

3. Set up the tripod. Turn the flash off on the camera (if you leave it on, you get uneven lighting). Make sure there is enough light (you may need to shine a lamp onto the scene).

4. Start taking pictures. The process is simple, take a single picture for each movement. Move everyone/everything a little bit, take a picture. Move everyone, take a picture. This will take some time to get accustomed too. A few tips:

  • Less is more. If there are tons of things in the picture, it will be difficult to follow the story.
  • Remember, slow. They take a single picture for each movement. So, move everyone a little bit, take a picture. Move everyone, take a picture. After they have done a few they will understand exactly how this works. My sons have now evolved to where they will slowly remove body parts to show someone sinking into a lake. Their creative juices will start flowing.
  • Show people flying or vehicles in the air by using clear Lego below the figure or vehicle.
  • Remember, it will take a LOT of photos to make a short movie. A lot! At least 100 shots for a little over a minute.

 IMG_4059 IMG_4060 IMG_4061 

5. Once the pictures are taken, move to the PC. I initially started by using Pinnacle Studio (full blown movie making suite) but that is overkill and adds complexity that is not required. If they keep doing this and want to start doing complex movies, then migrate to that product. For me, Windows Movie Maker (free – good overview in the link) works amazing and is surprisingly robust with transitions, sounds, etc. The steps to video processing:

  • Load the pictures to the PC. I found it is best to import them into My Pictures first, then choose the Import>Pictures option in Movie Maker.

    Picture of the Collections pane

  • Simply drag each photo to the storyboard (viewed below). You will want to go into Tools>Options>Advanced and adjust the timing between pictures (This is the amount of time that each picture is shown in the movie). I found the best settings are around 3/4 of a second per picture. I set the picture duration to 0.5 seconds and the transition time to 0.25 seconds.

Picture of the storyboard view

  • Play around with transitions (great for going from scene to scene) and effects.
  • Switch to timeline view (below) and add in sound. Adding in sound is as simple as clicking Import, Audio or Music. What I have done is scour the web for cool sound clips that the boys can add (Try WavSource or Daily Wav or .WavCentral. So many out there!) Simply take the audio clip and drag it to a spot in the timeline and it becomes part of the movie. You can also use the narration feature (Options>Narrate timeline) to add voice.

Picture of the timeline view

  • At any point, you can review the ‘status’ of the movie by clicking on the play button in the right corner viewing pane.
  • If you want to get really fancy? Import the pictures into a picture program (As simple as Microsoft Paint (free)) and you can add in special effect (i.e. An orange ‘burst’ behind a space ship or a ‘laser cannon burst’ from a gun). They love that. Personally, I used PowerPoint and saved it as a JPEG. The reason? It is dead simple and PowerPoint 2007 has a boat load of shapes, fancy text options and a huge amount of clip art (HUGE if you use the ‘web’ collection – which is free to users). Much easier than a painting program as the majority of our editing is not actual picture editing – but adding cool effects like star bursts and the below (which is a PowerPoint shape where I re-colored it). Also – note the clear Lego below supporting the spaceship (We had some clear and some bluish. As you can see the pure clear ones are almost invisible).

2006 067

  • Last click on ‘titles and credits’ to add in a title page and of course, the all important ending credits! Make sure you get special mention in the credits as technical support (smile).

Now publish (Click on ‘Publish To’ on the left side). You can publish to a file (which I do) or to a DVD, etc. Simple and limitless.

There you have it. Truly one of the easiest and coolest things to do with your kids. If they like Lego and are creative, they should love it.

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FAMILY QUOTE

 

I had an interesting statement shared with me around family dynamics, the law laid down by a mother: ‘You all show up or no one shows up’.

A family philosophy which is the ultimate equalizer. It eliminates sibling rivalry and makes everyone clearly understand that no one sibling is more important that the other.

A great saying and one I will remember for my children, as I have seen what happens when it is not central to the family’s values. In the end, someone is always left on the outside.

QUOTES ON FAMILY

A few family quotes from an article that made me think:

“one of the most glories messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day, don’t clean it up too quickly” Andy Rooney

“You know what this family needs, a mute” Dennis Leary in THE REF (great movie)

“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you might as well make it dance” George Bernard Shaw

And the one that I want to always remember:

“The best way to give advice to children is to find out what they want and advice them to do it” Harry Truman

TO BE BLESSED

As I walked the recycling out yesterday (there was lots, we hosted the family this year), I reflected on how blessed we are in Canada and how fortunate our family is. On Christmas Eve day (awkward description) I was emailing and old high school buddy back and forth.

He is a Major in the Canadian Forces and near the end of the exchange; he mentioned that he is off to Afghanistan in January. He will leave his family and non-military friends behind for 9-12 months and face a wide range of dangers.

I am sure that through 2007 I will think about what he is going through over there. An enemy that is disguised within the general population; snipers, random suicide bombings and many other things.  What was interesting was his perspective on the Afghan people (one that I have heard before). These people do not know normal, it is not part of their history. They spent a decade with the Russians, then it was the Taliban and now it is random chaos where the things that we take for granted are luxuries (like electricity and running water).

Prayers are with him and his comrades, doing the work that our government has set in motion while we enjoy the benefits of freedom and an evolved civilization in North America.

MY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS TUNES

It is that time of year where we listen to Christmas music pretty much 7/24 and love it. My favourite Christmas albums in no particular order:

1.       Barenaked Holidays:  It takes a few plays to fall in love with this rendition of Christmas music (the heavy use of the organ took a bit to warm to), but in the end it sticks. A great album with a mix of heart warming songs (Green Christmas) and fun Christmas songs (Elf’s Lament .. listen to the words carefully).

2.       When my Heart Finds Christmas, Harry Connick Jr:  This is Harry’s first Christmas album from 1993, made during the height of his popularity. Great album. I am not as big a fan of his second album Harry for the Holidays which seems forced, as he tried to take traditional songs and make them too unique.

3.       A Very Special Christmas 3:  These albums (There are 5) have contemporary artists sing Christmas songs. Think of these as compilation albums like Now! Christmas albums. What makes this album particularly great is Sting’s rendition of Three Ships. I could listen to that song over and over.

4.       Bruce Cockburn Christmas: Yes, turning in his rocket launcher for a wooden chair and mittens, Bruce belts out an amazing album filled with traditional Christmas songs. A beautiful album.

5.       White Christmas: What Christmas is complete without Bing? While I type this I am singing Mele Kalikimaka in my head.

6.       Great White North, Bob and Doug Mackenzie: I know, this only has one Christmas song on it, the 12 days of Christmas (where they only get through 6 days). But, this album has special memories for me. I remember getting it the Christmas of 1981 (I was 13) and listening to this album with my brother over, and over, and over, and over. My boys can sing it by heart, although having them sing it during the intermission of the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular was a little embarrassing for some.

I love Christmas. Let the music fill the home with good cheer! Merry Christmas!

notty update

Interesting, our little buddy has gone wild and while he still comes to us, it is interesting to see his instincts come out. Growing like a weed too. Nice to help the little fella out.

(archives) PANCAKES

At a dinner: “My mom used to say, kids are like pancakes. The first one never turns out”
We laughed. Those who were 2nd, 3rd or 4th children laughed hardest and vowed to tell their oldest sibling. Those of us born first laugh along … and wondered … (smile)

THERE AROSE SUCH A CLATTER … (from the archive)

I ran downstairs to see what was the matter … it was about the right time (11:55p,m) but 2 weeks too early?
Could it be Jolly ole St. Nick? Was it his team jumping around delivering presents?
Nope, it was my 12 foot tree sprawled across the living room, glass everywhere … and a very guilty cat sitting beside it. I know those cats laugh at me …. This is the first year I did not tie it to the wall (I was questioning whether or not it has an impact. I now have the answer to that question).
This is a cursed tree.

JACK: STRAIGHT FROM THE GUT (archive)

I just read my first Jack Welch book – Straight from the Gut. While his points are interesting and have become standard business practice: the vitality curve, etc., I was left with a different impression than the one that gets sold to the world; captain of industry – trend setter – business icon.
In the end, I could only think: Nice life Jack. I do not admire you.
1. He worked all the time. He often referred to his work schedule of in the office early, traveling often, going on marathon business reviews (as a regular part of the business – ending at 8 or 9PM and then going out for drinks).
2. He constantly talked about how his first wife did a great job of ‘raising the kids’. Good business man – absent father, it would appear. I wonder if they will grow up to be titans of business or ticked off youth who never want to be like their workaholic dad.
3. That great wife divorced him. As he put it, they had grown apart. I wonder why? Good for you Jack. You built a great company. You are famous and rich. You have a second wife who you are close too (He refers to the fact that she can talk business with him). But at what cost?
4. When he did have time to spend with the kids, what did he do? He went off to the club to golf every Saturday morning.
For me, no thanks. I often see executives who are leading companies or divisions and doing it at a break neck pace – traveling everywhere, doing all kinds of dinners with clients and long night business reviews and I honestly do not know if it is worth it. On the other side, I see people running companies and doing it in a completely different way (balanced), and I admire those business people.
To be successful in business WHILE being successfully at home is – in my mind – the ultimate accomplishment.
Sorry Jack – I read your book and in the end, you and I are on different pages.
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