Dads Helping Dads Figure Out Being a Dad

A work in progress…

This section is a major work in progress.  I am working on an education-related project as a part of my MBA program, and am hoping to get feedback from readers.  As I do my research, I will be posting/documenting my work here along with proposed applications.  My hope is that you, the reader, will be able to make use of my research – summarized and stated succinctly –  in the early education of your children, and push back against some of my crazier ideas as they relate to education.  The initial focus will be children between age 2 and first grade, and will expand with time.  This project is heavily academic, but also inherently pragmatic.  I will focus on the latter here, and discuss the academic just enough to support my proposals.  Check back often!

The Infant Car Seat in a Simpler Time

I feel like I grew up in an intermediate age in regards to the evolution of the infant car seat.  I clearly remember my mother placing me on the seat next to her so that she could reach out her right arm whenever she stopped the car in order to prevent me from flying forward and hitting my head on the un-padded car dash.

She used the same routine with my younger brother and sisters, well into the 1960′s.  In those days, seat belts were a rarely-ordered option on new cars – if they were available at all.

If I remember correctly, California mandated a bunch of smog and safety features in 1966 and these became federal requirements in 1968.  Seat belts became a standard feature, but many people resisted their use, preferring the thought of being thrown clear in an accident rather than facing the possibility of being trapped by the seat belt and burned alive inside a wrecked car.  (Sometimes I marvel that we managed to grow to maturity and pass our genetic material on to another generation at all!).

By the early 1980s, “baby carrier” designs had evolved to include provisions for securing  them with the auto’s seat belt.   There was not much thought given to keeping the baby secure inside the baby carrier, but the thought seemed to be that if the baby carrier was secure, the baby could pretty much bounce around inside the baby carrier and it was “good enough”.

But “the infant car seat” was beginning to appear also.  These were somewhat similar to what we see today … except that they were simpler, lighter, and a whole lot less expensive!  The car seat we used with Jeremy was plastic and was held in place with a seat belt.  He was secured in the car seat with a three-point harness made from materials – both belt and buckle – similar to those used in automotive seat belts.

As he grew, he graduated to a larger car seat – I believe made by Graco – that had a chrome tubing frame that elevated him maybe 6 inches above the automobile seat.  It placed him in an upright position and allowed him to see through the windshield.  Again, he was secured with a three-point harness.  By this time, his cooperation was required as he was quite adept at getting out of the car seat on his own when he decided that he wanted out.

If I remember correctly, the first time I had to visit a chiropractor was after I tweaked my back placing Jeremy into this car seat.  Think of it … take child, bend 90 degrees at the waist,  lean into car and extend arms holding child, twist (somehow) to the right to place child into the car seat …. and OUCH! … forget about standing up again.  Yep.  That is one vivid memory!

Eventually, the car seat was replaced by a simple “booster” seat.  This just sat on the rear seat of the car and once Jeremy was in place, the automotive seat belt was stretched across in front of him, securing both the seat and its cargo into the car.

I confess to suffering from sticker shock after shopping with Jeremy and Mel for their “baby transport systems”.  Science, government regulations, and inflation have all added to the cost of providing state-of-the-art safety for this most precious cargo.  In some cases, the lineage of today’s models can easily be traced to those models I remember.  Sometimes, today’s state-of-the-art car seat little resembles those of yesteryear.  They are heavier, better-built, and probably safer – so I guess the cost makes sense.

And while you are counting the cost – check to see if your medical insurance covers chiropractic treatments.  I highly recommend it!

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Take a Stroller Down Memory Lane

When I went shopping for a stroller with Jeremy and Mel, I could not help but reflect on our experience with Jeremy and his sister.

Our stroller played a key role in our early life as parents.  Each evening, my wife and I would take Jeremy for a walk in the stroller.

One day, my wife phoned me at work to tell me that Jeremy had spoken his first word!  This is one of those “celebration days” that all parents look forward to and treasure in their hearts – or in our generation, on video tape – for years to come!  What did he say?  ”Momma”?  ”Dadda”?  What???  Well our precocious son clearly said, “Stroller”.  He said it for her.  And he said it again for me when I got home.  And he said it each evening when it was time for our walk!  Like I said, a day to remember!

So, we walked the wheels off of several strollers, and there is one overriding characteristic that I would encourage you to consider when you buy:  ”How convenient will this stroller be to use?”

The stroller that we ended up using the most, was a cheap, light little thing then called an “umbrella stroller”.  It probably only weighed a couple pounds.  The seat of the thing was little more than a hammock.  There was a cheap little belt to hold the child in the seat.  The outstanding characteristic was that you could fold the thing up in about one second and throw it into the trunk of the car, and pull it out of the trunk and deploy it just as quickly.  That cheap little assembly of plastic, nylon, and chrome alloy tubing just kept going and going.  It was not pretty, but it was the stroller that we used the most.

Just something to consider!

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Mobile again!

I got my car back today, on budget and fixed.  I love my shop — the owner does great work, and I’ve never had the experience of taking the car in, only to get it back with a lighter pocketbook and the same problem.

This blog, having just started it, is proving to be an interesting experience.  I have been posting like crazy, and have put up a lot of, what I believe is, very good content.  I would appreciate feedback and requests!

Being in the third trimester, my wife and I are in the market for a video camera so that we can film the kid and capture those all-important firsts.  After a great deal of research. we have decided on a camera.  This is the replacement for the very well-reviewed TM-700 by Panasonic.  I do some photography and want the ability to manually adjust settings like I do with my DSLR, which this camera does well.  We considered one of the new SLR cameras that have video capability, but I was not thrilled with the results when handheld (they are fantastic on a tripod).  The TM-700 and TM-900 seem to be some of the most capable cameras available until you break into the $1200 price range.  When we order this camera, I will be shooting and posting some videos in the DIY and Food sections of the blog.

I hope that you are enjoying our site, and we will be adding more content on a daily basis, so stop by often!

Chicken and ravioli alfredo

This is a quick and easy dish, and one of my go-to’s when I have a little time for dinner, but am also in a bit of a time crunch.  This dish takes between 20 and 30 minutes.

Take out a large sauce pan or stock pot, fill 2/3′s with hot water (2-3 quarts of water), add salt olive oil and set on high heat.

Pull the chicken from the fridge (it is thawed, right?), cube, lightly season each side with kosher salt, pepper, and some italian spice blend (go a bit heavier with this one).  Take out a saute pan, and put it over medium heat.  When it is hot, add a tablespoon or two of oil to the pan and put in the chicken, stirring frequently.  Monitor the chicken and look for an internal temperature of 165 degrees (use an instant-read thermometer for this) and remove from heat.

Once the water finishes boiling, add your frozen ravioli.  When the water starts boiling again, the ravioli should be about done.  Stir frequently and gently to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan.  When finished, pour the contents of the pan into a colander over the sink, and spray with cold water to stop the cooking process.

When the chicken is done cooking, remove from the pan, add a tablespoon of oil and put over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add a heaping tablespoon of flour and whisk until the yeast (bread-like) smell goes away.  Turn the heat to high and add cream or half and half or a combination of cream and milk (about a cup total).  Use your wooden spoon to scrape any bits stuck to the pan off and integrate them into the mixture.  Whisk if necessary to break and integrate up the oil-flour mixture.  When the mixture boils, turn down the heat and add chicken stock until the consistency of alfredo sauce is reached.  I like to add a tablespoon of dijon mustard and about a cup of fresh-grated Parmesan cheese (grate directly into the pan, stirring to integrate, and taste to determine when you have enough).  I also add a generous amount of an Italian herb blend and pepper.  Check to see if it needs salt, and add small amounts until the proper salt flavor has been reached.

Put the cooked chicken back into the mixture and stir to coat.  Kill the heat and add the cooked ravioli, stirring gently so that they don’t break open.

Serve.

Organizing the kitchen

Who organized your kitchen?

If you are a new stay-at-home-dad who has not been primarily responsible for cooking, it was probably your wife.  While there is nothing wrong with that, men and women tend or organize… differently.  If the person responsible for cooking has changed, it may be time to reorganize the kitchen so that you are not constantly trying to determine where your significant other put something!  It may be helpful to put some labeled post-it notes on the drawers and doors to help everyone adjust to the new organization.

When I organized our kitchen (I have always been primarily responsible for cooking), I had some challenges that others may also have experienced.  Our house was built in the 50′s, and while the kitchen has been updated to get rid of those metal cabinets, there is still a lack of storage space.  I cook very seriously, and have many kitchen gadgets, so this problem is compounded.  I have utilized some unique storage options — many of which are not my ideas — that I would like to share to help you find more space.

General

In general, I try to put similar things together.  For example, I have a cupboard that houses white sugar, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar and powdered sugar.  I also try to keep ‘back stock’ separate from open containers to prevent having 2 or 3 open containers of the same item.  If you have a standard unfinished garage, the fire breaks (the horizontal boards nailed between the studs) can be used to store unopened pantry items (if you can, put them along the wall that is shared with the house, as this wall will stay cooler than external walls).  A simple shelving system could also be installed using 1×4 stock, if your garage is finished.  If you have a bedroom that is used as an office, you could consider converting the closet into additional shelving space by removing the shelf and hanging rod and installing wall-mounted shelving or a free-standing shelving unit.

Spices

I use small metal tins to store my spice inside of a cupboard.  I attached a metal strip using command adhesive and stick the tins to the strip.  This can also be done with velcro, if you prefer.  This way the cans are accessible, visible, and they stay out of the way and off the counter.  I keep more than 40 spices on hand at any given time, so it is probably a bit more of an issue for me than for most, but it has proven to be a great way to store those little things that always seem to be in the way.  I have found that I can fit about six canisters on each metal strip.

Pans

You know those pans that are always in the way?  You know, pie tins, loaf pans, bundt pans, and cupcake pans?  Try attaching the same strips above and hang them upside down inside the cupboard, or if you have room, to the doors of the cupboard.  You will need to use a couple of magnets to attach them.

Knives

I am a fan of knife blocks.  The wooden blocks help to wick moisture away from knives that are often made from carbon steel (carbon=rust, but also holds a sharper edge for longer) and helps to protect the blades.  It also prevents the “Drawer of Doom” which upon opening looks like something from a horror flick.  If you hate blocks, and some people do, look for one of these.  They take an entire drawer, but hold a variety of knives and help to prevent rust.

Pantry

I don’t have a good answer for this one, as it depends on your particular situation.  In our house we don’t have a typical 6-ft high deep cupboard.  We do have two counter-height corner units that house a 3/4 round (a circle with a 25% pie-slice removed) lazy suzan.  One of these houses our pots and pans, and the other is used as a pantry.  I organized it with tall items in the middle and shorter items towards the outsides to allow for easier access.  If your cupboards are deep, I would recommend considering a lazy suzan.  You lose a bit of space in the corners, but it makes the space much more usable.

Also, get some containers.  The link has the ones that we use.  In spite of a nasty ant-infestation that has been going on for the last couple of weeks, they have not managed to find any of the sugar that those containers hold.  Sure, you could use plastic bags — but they make for a mighty messy cupboard!  I label my containers with a labeler to prevent someone else from mistaking flour for powdered sugar.  I also keep cake flour, rice flour, all purpose flour, whole wheat flour and bread flour on hand, so labeling is necessary.  If you have a bunch of containers of the same size, it can also be convenient to adjust your shelves so that the containers fit somewhat tightly.  This can provide quite a bit of extra height on the other shelves for taller items.

Countertop Space

If you have very many kitchen electrics (toaster oven, food processor, stand mixer, vacuum sealer, microwave, blender, etc.), they are going to end up on the counter because they take up SO MUCH cupboard space.  If you are fortunate enough to have an appliance garage, get as many inside as you can!  Otherwise, try to have a couple of work stations (at least two) where there is nothing on the counter, and keep the appliances against the back-splash one deep.  This provides space to put down groceries when putting them away while providing depth that you need not to feel claustrophobic when performing tasks like cutting.  I have a nice thick butcher block that I keep permanently in one of those spaces, right next to my knife block.  I have also found it necessary to hang a lot of my kitchen tools to get them out of the drawers — this also makes grabbing them very convenient.  Think of it like pegboard in the garage.  I used these, although there are more attractive options if these don’t pass the WAT (wife approval test).

There are an infinite number of ways that additional storage can be ‘found’ in the kitchen.  I hope that these ideas stimulate some thought and help you to make the kitchen your own!

DIY — Doing it yourself

As a stay-at-home-dad, you spend a lot of time at home.  Duh.  Being at home means that you notice those things that are going wrong at the house — and they will start to drive you nuts.  That corner of carpet that won’t stay down and that you trip on every time you walk over it.  The light switch that has been switched one too many times.

If your house is like ours, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of things that need to be done around the house.  Things that you are capable of doing in 30 or 40 minutes while the baby sleeps!  Perhaps you are handy and accustomed to working with electricity, drywall, paint, and tools.  Fantastic, you probably won’t need the DIY section.

On the other hand, if you have trouble remembering the names of the screwdrivers that look like + (phillips) vs – (straight), I will be sharing my experiences as I fix things around the house — with instructions and possibly pictures!

Infant Car seats

When looking at the infant car seat arena, one would think that there are only two options.  Sure, everyone makes a car seat or 10, but only a few of them are talked about.  The Graco Snug Ride and the Chicco Keyfit 30.  I might add the Britax Chaperone to the list, given that it has the anti-rebound bar to prevent excessive motion in the case of an accident.

The Chicco (left, $189) is about $30 more than the Graco (right, $159), and the Britax (Center, $229) is about $30 more than the Chicco.  These can be had for less, so check the sales or amazon.

The Britax is a great seat, but it seems to fit a fairly small number of cars.  The rebound bar adds enough length to the base for it to be unsafe in some cars due to seat overhang.  In other cars, you can’t fit it in the car at all as there is not enough space between the back of the front seat and the car seat itself.  This was sufficient for us to decide against this seat.

The Chicco seems to be the standard.  These are tested and a fantastic choice.  This is the seat we chose.  If it has a downfall, it is the sun screen, which is a bit short.  Also, if considering one of these, keep in mind that different colors come with different options.  Weird, I know.  But apparently only certain colors include the foot cover to provide extra warmth.  There are certain color options that you will only find at BabiesRUs, so if you don’t like the standard colors, check there.  The Keyfit Magic, available only at BabiesRUs has a larger sun shield that has mesh at the back to allow for additional airflow.  This is the one that we purchased.  Some have reported that the infant insert is smaller and perhaps less supportive, but we don’t have a standard keyfit insert for comparison.

I don’t know much about the Graco as we eliminated it in favor of the Chicco fairly quickly.  Much of what I read indicated that the plastic felt flimsy and that the fabrics were of substantially lower quality than the Chicco.  That said, the Graco is considered one of the best infant car seats on the market, and should be seriously considered as an option.

Remember that infant seats will be used for a relatively short period of time, as kids will likely outgrow the seats in terms of length long before they reach the weight limit (around 30 pounds).  Practically, you will not want to be lugging a 30 pound kid in an 18 pound seat.  However, the car seat is also vital for providing safety.  These can save your baby’s life in an accident and are not, in my opinion, the place to pinch pennies.

That said, remember that as of Jan 1 (in California), children will be required to be in a car seat/booster seat until age 8 or 80 pounds.  If you buy carefully, you can find a convertible seat that will last them from for the remainder of their car seat years.  However, if you can wait until the new models designed to comply with the new laws come out, there should be a better selection to choose from.  The Britax convertible is a very nice choice.

Apparently the 8/80 law is lower than federal recommendations which are suggesting that kids be in a booster seat until age 12!  I think that most of us cringe a little at the thought of taking our Jr. Highers to school in a car seat — let alone the cost of a car seat that will support 120 pounds — so let’s hold our breath that they refrain from increasing the booster seat age any further.

And so it goes…

The shop called today about my car.  $550 for a new cam sensor and oil change. Ouch.

Living in Southern California, you simply have to have a car.  The nearest market is about 3 miles away with stretches that don’t have sidewalk.  Getting home with a week or two worth of groceries would be very nearly impossible.  Well, I guess you could steal a shopping cart… but they have even started attaching alarms to those.  So, I’ll bite the bullet and pay the bill.

 

“Daddy Fitz It” (translated, “Daddy, can you fix this?”)

All of my various experiences combined to enrich my ability to parent and to contribute to family life – at least in the eyes of my son (which really means a LOT to me!). It seemed to him like whatever got broken could be repaired by the magic words, “Daddy fitz it.”

Somewhere around age 4, Jeremy had a little toy dog that would open its mouth and bark and walk … and what ever. In Jeremy’s creative mind, it even ate. Cheez-Its. Lots of ‘em. Eventually the little thing was so full of crackers that they jammed up the mechanism and the puppy “died”. Jeremy held the thing  up to me, looked at me with his puppy-dog brown eyes and said, “Daddy fitz it?”  What’s a parent to do?  In a child’s eyes, we are omnipotent.  Gotta try!

Well, I did not know what the problem was. Until I used a razor knife to remove the stitches from the puppy’s “skin” and peeled it away to reveal the “skeletal” mechanism inside. Then I laughed out loud! We cleaned out the Cheez-Its, gave it a transfusion of WD-40, and gave it to my wife to “close”. The puppy survived the surgery with a little reduced range of motion, but it survived. And I was a hero in the eyes of my first-born.  It was a real “chicken soup” moment for this parent!

A few words of encouragement. First, you cannot break it if it is broken. Your choice is, trash it or fix it.  Be a parent!  Give it a try! Second, a little time and common sense will often repair precious things. Third, you won’t know if you can “fitz” it until you investigate and see what is wrong. And, most importantly … Four, twenty-five years from now, your son or daughter will remember you for the things you do – and that is entirely under your control!

You are parent!  You can do it!  Enjoy the adventure!

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