Monday, September 11, 2017

How to Feed a Houseful of Dudes in 30 Minutes

As summer s’mores melt into back-to-school prep, seismic shifts occur in homes with school-age kids. Though this annual evolution is not unexpected, drastic changes occur on a daily basis, like kids reacclimating to wearing socks again after a summer of flip-flop fun, and eating normal meals again, rather than shoehorning an apple and string cheese into 8 hours of playing outside, becomes a necessity.

With school back in session, one thing I know for sure is that the minute the Junior dudes get home, they are ready to eat. That means dinner must be quick and easy to prepare while three kids simultaneously ask for snacks.

That’s why my famous Turkey Pasta Bake is a ‘Dude Family classic’.

My boys love pasta (who doesn’t?), and would be happy to eat it 8 days out of 7, but variety is important, as are incorporating protein and vegetables into their diets.  So when the Little Dude was even littler, Mrs. Dude and I started making this tasty recipe that is also fast and easy, because when hunger hits, the food is never ready fast enough. But in as many years, I’ve learned that I can boil some water, put an episode of their favorite show on the DVR and when that 30 minute show ends, voila, dinner is served.

One of the trickiest parts of dinner is choosing everyone’s favorite pasta cut, and Barilla® offers 38 different options, so you could eat a different one every day of the month without repeats. For this recipe, I used two of my boys’ favorites: Barilla Blue Box Penne and Rigatoni.
While the pasta cooks to a perfect al dente, in about 12 minutes, I brown a pound of ground turkey meat on the adjacent burner. Once the pasta is finished, I drain it and add Barilla Mushroom Sauce (my favorite!) to the fully-cooked turkey meat, along with garlic, oregano and a few other seasonings.

Then, I mix the pasta into the sauce and pour the combination into a glass baking pan, with a layer of shredded mozzarella cheese on the bottom and provolone slices on top. Last, I put the combined dish into the oven, which had already been preheated to 350°F, and bake for 15 minutes, or until the top layer of cheese is lightly browned.

To balance the meal, we mix a nice green salad, garlic bread and some fruit while we all talk about highlights and lowlights of our days.

Once the pasta masterpiece is served, it’s only a matter of minutes before my hungry kids are not only no longer hungry, but asking for seconds. And after they clear their plates, hopefully there is still enough daylight remaining for them to play outside for a bit before the school night bedtime activities begin, and we start everything all over again the next day.

Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad and Barilla Pasta for this promotion. Though I have been compensated for my participation, all ideas, thoughts and tasty treats are my own, for better or worse.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Why You Should Have Another Kid, Even If You Think You Shouldn't

When you first get together with a romantic partner, after you’ve introduced them to family or friends, the first question from everyone you encounter becomes “when are you getting married?” After you’re married, the first question becomes when are you having kids? After your first child is born, shortly after the placenta is delivered, the big question evolves into “when are you having another one?” This process seems to continue until you eventually become a grandparent.

Asking about someone’s potential reproductive plans is not only nosy, it’s not a simple question as there are always myriad factors that go into these decisions. When Mrs. Dude and I began talking about starting a family, I wanted 3 kids (because I came from a family with 3 kids) and she wanted 2 kids (you can probably guess why). We got married in our early 30s, became parents a couple years later, and then again 3 years later, so time was not working in our favor. But thoughts of “what if?” lingered in both my wife’s and my mind after the Littler Dude was no longer so, um, little.
As our 40th birthdays approached, the conversation continued, and we went back and forth on how we could potentially add another child into the mix, if we could even get pregnant again, that is. Then one day, I read something that helped solidify the plan for me. In a Facebook group I belong to, someone mentioned that you don’t only have kids for yourselves as parents, but it’s important to consider having kids for them to have each other, as time passes and life evolves. Nine months later, give or take, Little Miss Dude was born. 

Beyond my prognostication that we were only ever going to have boys, having baby #3 changed my mindset toward parenting. We were never the type to sterilize the baby if they encountered a speck of dirt, so laid-back parenting has always been our M.O. But it’s the knowledge gained via almost 7 years of parenting experience when she was born that has made my daughter a different type of gift. She was a gift for my wife and for me, but also for her brothers, who at almost 7 and 4 when she was born couldn’t believe how lucky they were to have another life to help shape.

From day one, which began early one Friday morning at 4:15am with Mrs. Dude’s water breaking three weeks before her scheduled C-Section date, Little Miss Dude has made the perfect punctuation for our family. Unlike after our boys’ births, I was able to take paid paternity leave after she was born, and the almost 10 weeks we spent together day in and out, helped lay the foundation for our now complete quintet.

Now that her first year is 3 quarters over, I can’t imagine life without this little girl, whose infectious smile helps her makes friends in every grocery store line, restaurant and little league game she attends. I know how lucky I am to have three wonderful children, even if they usually wake up too early and are sometimes too picky with food. They are happy and healthy, which helps me feel confident that they will live long healthy lives, as wonderful children, siblings and hopefully parents themselves.


We usually think about all that we are thankful for later in the year, with turkey and pumpkin pie, but with Father’s Day upon us, I’ve partnered with Life of Dad and Pampers to say #ThanksBaby for helping complete my family.

I’m sure you have stories about your kids and what you are thankful for, so please use the #ThanksBaby hashtag on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with a picture and a few words about what your little ones have done for you.

Also, take a moment to check out this great video that Pampers put together to honor all kinds of fathers on Father’s Day:

Friday, June 17, 2016

My First Day as a Father

What am I going to do with a baby?

I always knew I’d wanted to have kids, and had been a very experienced uncle for years, but when the moment of truth was upon us, what would I do with my own child? How would I take care of him? Would he be OK? Would I be OK?

After 9 months of waiting eagerly, suddenly I found myself nervously observing in the operating/delivery room, sitting behind a draped cloth with my wife’s upper body, while doctors and nurses worked their magic scalpels and tools on her midsection. In 10 minutes, the anesthesiologist announced, “it’s a boy”, but I’d never considered otherwise. He was here, I had to be ready. Even if I didn’t think I was.

Are you ready to cut the cord?

I tend to overthink things, especially all of the possibilities of everything that could go wrong. What if I cut the cord too long or too short? What if I couldn’t even cut all the way through it? At that moment, as I watched my son on the table, just minutes old, I knew I had to jump in with both feet. I grabbed the scissors from the nurse and cut the cord swiftly, which freed my son from his only source of life up to that point and suddenly gave me a new one of my own.

We headed to the recovery room where my wife was able to rest for a bit. As adrenaline pumped through my body like a gallon of espresso, I watched this little miracle lay swaddled snugly and started to feel inklings of confidence return despite the enormous uncertainty squarely before me.     

After a while, we were given a room. My wife was understandably exhausted when the nurse came and examined my hours-old son. She asked if I wanted to give him a bath. As I pondered the joyous task, the feelings of doubt returned? How do I even give him a bath? He’s so little; I don’t want to break him.

She reassured me: “They’re hard to break”.  Whether that was true or not, who knows. But she seemed to know what she was doing, and mentioned that she’d been doing it for 20-something years, so I had to let go of my fear once again and literally get my hands dirty to clean my still somewhat goopy child. With each soft swab of the washcloth, he amazed me even more. Before I knew it, he was clean. What now?

“Are you ready to put on his diaper?”

Well, I’d attended the pregnancy class before he was born and strapped one on a plastic baby, knowing it was foolproof. Guess what: so is diapering a real baby. Sure, I may have ripped a couple straps pulling too hard, but my boy was fine. His scrawny little legs dangled out of the Pampers Newborn, a size he fit in for exactly one day. As I watched his body temperature even out after the bath as he lay upon the warming table, I knew he’d be OK. And so would I.

Later that night, as I watched my wife and son sleep in our hospital room, one day in the books, it finally occurred to me, as obvious as it had been all day to our gathered family and friends. I was a father. And had to be ready for whatever was coming next. Looking back, I’d read the baby books before he arrived but there is no parenting book as real, as honest and as true as the one you start to create upon becoming a father. It’s not an easy job and the benefits are crap, literally, but there is nothing better, nor more sleep depriving in life. Seven years, another child and yet another en route later, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Note: I have partnered with Life of Dad and Pampers for this promotion, but all ideas expressed above are mine and mine alone, for better or worse. I was compensated for this post, but I can assure you it was much less than I’ve spent on Pampers over the last almost-seven years.

Note 2.0: Pampers put together an amazing Father’s Day video, which I know you will want to check out. Spoiler alert: tears are looming that you may not anticipate.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Why I Want to Move to Zootopia

Movie Viewed: Zootopia

Moviegoers: Dude, 40; Mrs. Dude, 40; Little Dude, 6 & Littler Dude, 3 

Family Fave Flicks: The Star Wars saga, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, The Lion King, Despicable Me and Mr. Peabody & Sherman.

Fave movies for grown-ups: The Dude’s Faves (that the kids aren’t ready for): Bull Durham, Goodfellas & Old School

What’s the story: Growing up in rural Bunnyburrow, Judy Hopps enjoyed her simple life, but influenced by a bullying incident she witnessed as a young bunny along with her parents’ slow-paced lives as carrot farmers, she yearned for more. Judy’s goal was to become the first rabbit police officer in mega metropolis Zootopia, and being an optimistic overachiever, she does it!

After moving to the big city and being assigned to the largest police division in Zootopia, Judy is quickly ostracized because she’s not a typically larger police animal, but she’s out to prove her worth, no matter the task assigned. One day while on her beat, Judy encounters a sly fox named Nick Wilde who teaches her a lesson or two about trust, friendship and hard work. Judy enlists Nick to help with the case of a missing otter and together they work to solve one of Zootopia’s biggest mysteries.

What parents may like about this movie: Zootopia is an inspiring tale of how optimism, dedication and determination, even at a young age, can lead to a great future. There were also some very strong messages that about bullying and prejudice that are important for kids to be exposed to in this day and age.

What kids will like: The myriad animals are entertaining, adorable and subtly educational, too. Kids will love the top-flight animation (and grown-ups will, too!)

Concerns: No major concerns as Disney never gets too controversial, though there are some bullying scenes (with a positive spin) and metaphors for racial bias that could resonate with older kids. Also, a key storyline about some of the animals’ ferocious behavior might frighten some younger kids.

Bottom Line: Movie elements ranked on a scale from 1-5, with 1/5 being the least and 5/5 being the highest.

Positive themes: Overwhelmingly positive look at setting goals, achieving and overcoming obstacles on the road to success. Living up to your dreams is a great message for kids, even though Judy’s parents tried to temper hers. Thankfully for everyone, she didn’t let them stop her. Great messages about right vs. wrong and friendship permeate this cuddly flick. (5/5)

Violence/scare factor: There was no real violence in this movie beyond the typical cartoon variety. That being said, one storyline revolves around seemingly domesticated predators reverting to their savage nature. A couple scenes featuring some of these wild animals probably won’t scare kids, but might make them briefly squeeze your hand a little tighter, which isn’t always a bad thing. (1 ½ /5)

Sex/Romance: None. Though a relationship was briefly hinted at. (0/5)

Bad language: It’s Disney, so the closest thing was the word “butt” once or twice. (0/5)

Final thought: Zootopia is classic Disney and sure to entertain kids of all ages. The morals and lessons in this movie are applicable to everyone, including adults. The animation is excellent and there are a slew of jokes purely for the adults, including the sloth-run DMV vignette you’ve surely seen in the trailers.  I can’t recommend Zootopia highly enough. It’s a must see for all ages and my early prediction for next year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar.

I was compensated by Fandango Family for this review, though all opinions contained within are solely mine, for better or worse. Also, my family really wants to go to Zootopia now.