Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Grossest Family Vacation Ever (Also, San Diego is Beautiful)

Midsummer 2007: The freshly minted Mrs. Dude and I relaxed on the beach in Maui and briefly considered never returning to the mainland. Vacation is supposed to be a place to relax and recharge and after our wedding, we were thrilled to do just that. Little did we know it would be a very long time before it happened again.

For many years, our getaways have consisted of trips to Ohio to see my family or trips to Northern California to see hers. Both are enjoyable, though just getting there, either with a car packed so full I need a crowbar to pry the kids out, or a mountain of stuffed suitcases, is a process unto itself. One that usually reminds me why we don’t do it more often.

All the while, those remembrances of the Hawaiian sun lingered and we wanted to do something. Plus, I’d maxed out my vacation time at work and with my family all still on their various summer vacations before starting at three separate schools in the fall, I pined for a getaway. Hawaii was the dream, but this times still an oasis. Maybe for our 10th?

But one of the great things about Southern California is you can do so many cool things within a few hours drive, whether you like sand, snow or desert. (Alternately, you can be miserable on a two-hour drive that should take 30 minutes, because traffic here makes less than zero sense. That happens much more often.)

So after much consideration, and minimal planning, we packed up the car and headed down the freeway toward the land of Ron Burgundy, San Diego.  People say SD has the best weather in the country, most often 75 degrees, warm and sunny. Eager to get away from two months straight of triple digits, I couldn’t wait to sit by the bay and relax. Hopefully the Junior Dudes would feel the same.

As we made the journey that Sunday afternoon, a group hunger set in, so we stopped in a scenic little town just off Interstate 5 and found a local burrito joint. I ran in to order while Mrs. Dude coordinated the scene on the patio. I won’t get into details, for they are much messier than I care to rehash, but before we got back in the car for the last half hour of our journey, half of us had a fresh set of clothes on.

We rolled into the Bahia Resort, a place whose website flashed great looking amenities, free breakfast and parking, AND seals living on the property. Sold. Plus the location was just a whale’s splash away from Sea World.  The registrar bumped us up to a suite and things were off to a great start. We went straight into the pool to cool off, since it was an unusually toasty 90-degree day. Hopefully it would break by the next day, for our big trip to Legoland. Little did we know that the heatwave was going to be the least of our problems that day.

We went out to grab a bite nearby for dinner and tried to put the boys to sleep. They were beyond thrilled to sleep in a pullout bed for the first time and Mrs. Dude and I were equally thrilled to have our own room, bed and separating door. As we read a few bedtime stories, what sounded like gunshots rang in the distance. I opened up our sliding glass door and looked out to see Sea World’s fireworks just across the water. Painting the sky and reflecting on the water, their unexpected excitement punctuated an overall great day. Then the boys went to bed and we hoped to do the same.

It never quite happens that way, though, and after we stayed up to get situated in the room and everything set for the next day, Mrs. Dude fell asleep. I was still up for a bit, fiddling on the laptop before dropping out around 1:00am.


What seemed like 15 seconds later, though actually a whopping 15 minutes, was the Little Dude waking up to use the bathroom. Afterward, he come over and said that his bed was wet. Thinking someone had had an accident, I went to investigate and as I felt around the sofa bed, I felt something lumpy, almost like a plate of chili. Apparently the Littler Dude’s earlier bout of GI distress had returned and he must have eaten too much for dinner, as he lost his lunch, dinner and seemingly every other meal he’d ever eaten, all over the bed.
The calm before the barf
Moments like these remind me how grateful I am to have a wife who is calm and organized under pressure. Also, I was thankful that these were not our own barfed-on sheets and pillows. I called for replacements and went to scrub whatever I could as I waited for housekeeping to deliver fresh sets, knowing deep down that I had a greater chance of winning the presidential election than of us going to Legoland the next day. We cleaned up the bed, the boys and ourselves and once again collapsed in our room, hoping that had been the last sleep interruption of the night. Or forever.  


Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Ultimate Cure for the Babysitter Blues

The first time Mrs. Dude and I left the Little Dude with a babysitter was on our 3rd wedding anniversary. He was almost 8 months old and a friend offered to relieve us for a quiet and diaper-less night out. Long story short, he was asleep for the night before she arrived, we went out and had a lovely meal and upon our return learned that he’d woken up 30 minutes after we’d left and proceeded to cry for the next 2 hours until we got home. That evening pretty much set the tone for almost all of our subsequent babysitting experiences. 

From my experience, in addition to being conscientious caregivers, most sitters we’ve used have been generally at least 1 of 2 things: expensive and/or late, both of which are more environmental issues than anything else.  For those reasons, among others, we don’t splurge on babysitters as often as we might like and usually reserve them for special occasions.

For our recent wedding anniversary, which was also the 5th anniversary of the experience mentioned above, I decided to spin the wheel again. This year, our big day fell on a Tuesday, which further complicated things as reliable, and available, weekday sitters are infinitely harder to find.

As we’d just gone out for a nice dinner a few weeks earlier for Mrs. Dude’s big birthday, I came up with another idea for our anniversary: a night at the movies. I know that may sound a tad pedestrian, but it had been quite a while since Mrs. Dude and I had been to a movie without the boys, so I splurged and picked a movie at a fancy theater with reserved leather-recliner seats where they serve dinner while you eat!

We’ve gotten used to going to movies and seeing somewhere between 50-90% of the film due to kids’ myriad bathroom breaks, snack requests and questions about what’s happening onscreen, so this time it was going to be feet-up, 3D glasses on our eyes and plates of hot noms in front of us. My biggest concern was our sitter. Not that I don’t inherently trust her to treat my children as her own, but would she be able to successfully battle the L.A. freeways to get to us with enough time for us to make it to the theater?

Thankfully, I could relax due to Fandango’s worry-free ticketing system. I booked our tickets and picked our primo seats via the Fandango mobile app, as always, so I knew we weren’t going to be shut out at the box office or stuck in the front row craning our necks to see the dinosaurs flying toward us. But sometimes life happens and your babysitter gets stuck in traffic, or their grandmother dies or the dog eats their homework and you can’t make your movie. Fandango takes care of that for you, too, with their Worry-Free option to return or exchange your Fandango tickets at least 2 hours before show time if you change your mind or if your babysitter changes theirs.

So how’d it go? As I’d planned (and prayed), our sitter arrived promptly, we got to the theater 5 minutes before the lights dimmed which was enough time to order drinks and dinner, leaned our dead-center seats back with our feet up and enjoyed an uninterrupted night at the theater. Plus, I can’t forget the gold star for our sitter who reported two sleeping boys and zero tears when we returned home a few hours later.

Needless to say, we fared much better than the dinosaurs we’d just watched onscreen.

Disclaimer: I wrote this post as part of my participation in the Fandango Family Digital Network. I was compensated for this post, but all content and opinions contained within are mine entirely, for better or worse. Come hang with the FF team on Facebook, too. 


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Monday, July 13, 2015

How to Stay Cool During Summer (Through Your Mouth)

Living in Southern California, in an area where summer means you could vacation on the Equator to cool off, we’ve made it a family tradition to take a trip to Northern CA every June to visit Mrs. Dude’s sister and her family. The sisters have fun, the cousins get to play and we all cool off. This summer, however, things were a tad different.

Sure, we made the trek and everyone had a good time, but this visit was as hot and humid as a bonfire in a sauna. And they don’t have air-conditioning, like most homes in the area, because it never gets hot up there. (Except when it does.) So I took it upon myself to figure out alternative method for cooling the gang off.

California is in a drought so running through the sprinkler is off-limits.

Taking an ice bath sounds cool, but I imagine hypothermia isn’t too much fun either.

Creating a vision board with images of igloos and glaciers could help with mind over matter, but I 
doubt that would satisfy my scorching inner core. 

As I sat there contemplating options, I heard an alarm go off in my brain with the perfect solution. Well, actually it wasn’t an alarm as much as a cacophony of annoying rhythmic earworms designed to draw children out of their homes by that fellow every parent hates, AKA the Ice Cream Man.

Thankfully my kids are not yet fully aware of or attuned to his jingle-jangle but I had an idea, so I headed to their local grocery store for A) a few precious moments in free air-conditioning and B) some cool delicious treats.

I’d heard that Klondike recently added some heavy hitters to their classic brand of ice-cream bars, but I wanted to find out for myself. Thankfully with 4 adults and 4 kids staying under one hot tin roof, I had the perfect sample size to not feel guilty about trying out a smorgasbord of Klondike’s newest creations.
I was impressed by the options I discovered, as I was previously only really familiar with the old-school Klondike chocolate-on-vanilla variety. After looking over their lineup, with choices like Heath Bar and Rocky Road, which took up almost its own section in the freezer aisle, I settled on a quartet of diverse options for every palate in the house. Also, I didn’t rush my decision as the A/C felt as amazing as the ice cream options looked. 

I’d heard about Klondike’s new Kandy Bar lineup and was tempted by the Cookies and Cream option, which is my 5 year old’s favorite flavor, but wasn’t sure if he’d be down with the white chocolate shell. Luckily there is an Oreo option in the regular collection which made for a great alternative for my picky eater. On the flipside, I debated the Mint Chocolate Chip classic-shaped variety, but opted to give the Kandy Bars’ Mint Fudge Cookie a shot because it had a few extra bells and whistles to nom. Peanut Butter anything has long been my jam, so Reese’s was a no-brainer for the cart. Cookie Dough is another one of my favorites, as it is for pretty much everyone I know.

My choices waiting in the freezer.
After dinner that night I opened up the freezer and the sampling began. With three 6-packs and one 4-pack (the Kandy Bars), we had at least 22 opportunities to try things out without anyone having to share. To make sure everyone got to try everything, however, we did some slicing and dicing of the bars, quartering them to afford everyone ample chance without over committing.  

I immediately jumped into the Reese’s bar and that classic PB flavor did not disappoint. Rich and creamy peanut butter is always the perfect answer, no matter the question. Next I decided to give the brand new Cookie Dough bar a whirl, since cookie dough has long been one of my go-to ice cream choices. I like my cookie dough ice cream to be full of chunks and, when I unwrapped it I was disappointed to see that unfortunately that wasn’t the case with these, which contained “ribbons” of cookie dough, per the wrapper. I wanted to like this one, I really did, but to be honest, it tasted like Vanilla ice cream with just a miniscule hint of cookie-dough flavoring that only an ice cream sommelier (if there is such a thing) could sniff out.
I wish the Cookie Dough had been a little more doughy. 
The Little Dude is an Oreo aficionado, so we split one of those next. It was definitely a good choice, like a classic Cookies and Cream kicked up a notch. Definitely a solid selection.

Mint Fudge Cookie is the way to go. 
Finally I dove into the brand spankin’ new Mint Fudge Cookie choice from the Kandy Bars collection. These deviate from the classic Klondike square shape and are shaped like, you guessed it, (rectangular) candy bars. This one was nails. The mint ice cream was light enough to be the perfect balance for the rich layer of fudge lying atop it. The dark chocolate crunch-filled outer shell really made this the best of the 4 options we tried. I only wish it came in a 6-pack, rather than 4, because these went like hotcakes, which would definitely NOT be a good flavor for Klondike to expand into.

Overall, I was impressed by the diversity of Klondike’s 12 different options, especially since I was previously unaware that they made anything beyond their original classic chocolate shell on vanilla ice cream style. I give them credit for trying to mix things up with some new varieties, even if they weren’t all my cup of tea.

I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Klondike. I received free product coupons to facilitate my review as well as compensation for my participation.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Another Independence Day Loop Around the Blogosphere

It was a holiday weekend and I had Friday off from work. The zoo kicked things off and the beach wrapped it up. In between came a long day in the pool leading into a night spent watching the summer sky become splatter-painted as we celebrated our nation’s birthday. I’m tired. And busy. And often lately I’ve been tired of feeling so busy.

Zero score and four years ago on Independence Day 2011, I sat down at my laptop and started typing. I only had one son and he loved naps, just as I did the simultaneous several free hours they afforded me every afternoon. I miss those days. Life is different now. Mrs. Dude and I are the proud owners of two sweet and occasionally sour sons who, as of just a few weeks ago, combine to take zero naps on a daily basis. My older son ditched his afternoon delight shortly before his brother was born and in a couple short months, the younger and Littler Dude will turn 3.
A few hours after my first post, July 4, 2011
The calendar seems to turn faster every day, week and month and my two babies have become boys. I miss the babies, but enjoy being able to have a two-way conversation now and again. They both sleep about 11 or 12 hours per night, which seem to go much quicker than the other half-day which often moves s-l-o-w-l-y, even when filled with amazingly fun activities. Also, especially when dinner is about an hour away and 60 minutes feels like 600 thanks to the constant snack requests Mrs. Dude and I field.

We’ve been fortunate to have some incredible experiences as a result of this little blog. Many I’ve shared and countless more I’ve wanted to write about but haven’t quite had the time to finish. I frequently think of the tired movie trope of the wannabe writer longing to publish “The Great American Novel”, but settling for being a teacher, actor or whatever, and I find it oddly parallel to my blogging own writing situation. I wish I published more, I really do, but those afternoon hours my boys once filled with sleep (and I with writing), they now want to use for playing, swimming and silliness which, like naps, are finite activities with a likely expiration date of about 10 years when they become tweens and teens who will want nothing to do with me.

So I brainstorm ideas in the shower, when I have no ability to type and the Great American Blog Post once again eludes me. I have a folder filled with dozens of drafts I haven’t finished, or whose timeliness has passed, and wonder if I’ll ever make the time to post them all. There is funny stuff, sad stuff and random ideas which could go either way. I want to push them out. I need to push them out. The thoughts in my head need to be released, but I have to make the time. And I will. Just after we finish putting this puzzle together, then making dinner, bath and bedtime, laundry, dishes and those precious few ZZZZ’s I so long for.

For better or worse I’m still here four years later, which was inconceivable to me on July 4, 2011, when this all began with a very sleep boy and some random silly thoughts. Please stay tuned for there IS more to come, and thanks for sticking with me through it all. Your eyes on my words mean more than you know. 

The Dude family, 4 Independence Days later


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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

5 Things I Learned about Parenting from Star Wars

Spoiler Alert: There are key Star Wars plot points inside this piece. I shouldn’t need to warn anyone, as the original movies were all released 30+ years ago, so if you haven’t seen them and are shocked by any revelations here, that’s on you.

During both of Mrs. Dude’s pregnancies I received suggestions of must-read pregnancy and parenting books from more than a few people I knew and myriad more that I didn’t. I did explore a couple, partially to pacify those who had shared their recommendations and also, more frequently, to help me fall asleep on those I-can’t-freakin’-do-this pre-delivery sleepless nights.

But there is another source of parenting tips I’ve reflected upon countless times over the last 5+ years since the Little Dude was born. And now, with Father’s Day once again upon us, I want to share with you some of the great parenting dos and don’ts I learned from one of the most infamous movie fathers of all time, Darth Vader.

1) Be present for, and with, your children: As Vader was pretty much a deadbeat dad, albeit for very atypical reasons, his son was lucky to have his old man’s former mentor (aka Obi-Wan Kenobi) looking out for him during his most impressionable period. Sure, being raised on a farm in Tatooine by his father’s stepbrother Owen was probably not nearly as exciting as a childhood spent roaming the Death Star, but Luke received a good education (also from Mr. Kenobi), had a large outdoor area for playtime and ultimately proved to be a high moral character Jedi…despite his father’s best/worst/completely nonexistent efforts.

2) Don’t give your kids trendy names: Luke & Leia were excellent choices given their time and place in history. Context and family history are important, but when selecting names for your children, consider that they are the ones who will have to live with them for the rest of their lives, and it’s got to be difficult to be taken seriously in a professional workplace with a first name like Boba, Qui-Gon or Jar Jar.

3) Support & encourage your children’s interests: Luke was a skilled farmer thanks to his uncle’s tutelage, but he always yearned for something more than a normal (i.e. boring) desert life.  If not for Obi-Wan and Yoda, both of whom were contemporaries of Luke’s father, Luke might not have achieved his true destiny as a Jedi Knight. As it turned out, Luke was probably subconsciously hoping to earn his father’s respect, or at least attention, when he trained to become a skilled Lightsaber user. I doubt either of them anticipated how that one was going to turn out.
If only Vader had used his Lightsaber for dental hygiene instead of evil.
4) Use Your Words: In both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, father and son Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader were brought together via one-on-one physical combat. They shared a common dearth of quality time together, so it might have behooved them and their nonexistent relationship to air their grievances (i.e. Luke about his abandonment and Vader over his son’s refusal to join the family business and join him over on the Dark Side). When children are not mature enough to fully express themselves as they wish, they often resort to hitting, hair pulling or other physical actions and reactions as a method of communicating a message or getting the response and/or attention they truly crave. “Use Your Words” is teaching them that verbal communication is a more effective method for earning a desired outcome. Had Vader been a stronger communicator with better grasp of his emotions, he might have been able to convince his son to join him in the family business. Does it matter that said business was less than legit? Not really, after all, family is family.

5) Don’t Be a Jerk: Vader sliced his son’s hand off with a Lightsaber AND THEN finally revealed that he was Luke’s father. It’s well known that children learn both positive and negative behaviors from observing their parents’ habits and actions. Vader shouldn’t have been surprised when after forcefully removing Luke’s limb in the heat of battle, that Luke returned a year later and did the same exact thing to him. Darth should have considered the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, which Luke obviously took quite literally.

All of the above being said, the Star Wars saga is about family, relationships and dealing with others you may not see eye to eye with. There will always be issues up for debate (maybe Luke should have listened to his father and joined the Dark Side, with the goal of turning everyone good again?) but maintaining open lines of communication can help clear murky things up. I haven’t shown the Star Wars films to my son yet, but I think he may soon be due. After all, I know I can hardly wait for Part VII, aka The Force Awakens, which will be released later this year, on December 18!. Maybe we’ll find out if Luke settled down and had a family of his own. I’m hoping he taught his own son a lesson or two, unlike his father ever did for him.

Happy Father’s Day and May the Force be with you.


Disclaimer: I wrote this post as part of my participation in the Fandango Family Digital Network. I was compensated accordingly, but all content and opinions contained within are mine entirely, for better or worse. Come hang with the FF team on Facebook, too. 

Want to take that special person in your life to see some movies, care of Fandango? Enter below for your chance to win a $100 Fandango Gift Card that you can use to take the fam to see something great this summer! You have up to 5 chances to enter and the entries will close Sunday, June 21, 2015 at 12:00am PST (midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning). 

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Why and How and Thank You Very Much

Over the last four years, I’ve shared stories with you of birth and death, sickness and health, not to mention bodily functions, birthday parties and bubbles. I’ve shared elated and somber, and all else in between, just as is the normal flow of life’s constant waterfall.

Why I’ve done this requires a twofold answer:

1)   To have a record of ups and downs that my boys will hopefully want to read some day to restore memories they were probably too young to hang onto.
2)   To scratch the left-brain itch that brought me from Ohio to Los Angeles 15+ years ago to become the TV writer I never became.

But how I’ve done it is a different story, and one I’ve never really talked about. It’s not that it’s a secret, but rather I must admit that it’s only recently that I’ve realized that I’ve taken this privilege for granted: every word I’ve published in the last four year has been possible due to one person, and she’s known around here as Mrs. Dude.

Today my wife Shana turned 40 years old. We were just kids when we met, if you consider 27 the tail end of adolescence. Now a dozen years, a couple kids, 5 homes and an incalculable amount of joy she’s brought me later, I want to present her with a small fraction in return.

When I’ve had deadlines she’s never blinked an eye while I’ve sequestered myself with my digital quill and ink until the task is complete. Oh, and those incredible conferences which have literally changed my life? My wife is the one who encourages me to go, despite my entirely-self-imposed guilt, even knowing how much extra work it means for her on days when I’m not home to get the boys fed and delivered to school on time in the morning, make dinner or get them bathed and bedded for several days in a row. Needless to say she carried and bore the two Junior Dudes, too, which are tasks obviously way out of my wheelhouse. 

And for all this, I say thank you, Shana.

Through nearly eight years of wedded bliss and stress, plus another four of dating/engaged trepidation, I’ve been beyond fortunate to have the world’s most calm and patient partner by my side. When I get frazzled about being late to a 3-year-old’s birthday party, she’s the one who restores logic to the equation and reminds me that no one will ever remember or care that we arrived 10/20/30 minutes late. Clearly this is an unintended side effect of marrying a math teacher.

I tend to be my own harshest critic and those moments when she returns me to earth often make me feel not only like I’ve just discovered an endless canteen while lost in the desert, but also that I didn’t know water even existed.

Though I know she’ll likely not see these words, given how hard she works at her full-time job, tutoring other kids on the side AND co-grooming two of the sweetest, yet most devilish, boys on earth, I felt compelled to share this for her, and for our boys, and for you to know how we all got where we are today.

It was legendary rock concert promoter Bill Graham who once said “They’re not the best at what they do. They’re the only ones that do what they do”, about pioneering jam band the Grateful Dead. Excelling at any chosen task is a challenge. Blazing a trail and doing things unlike they’ve ever been done before requires patience, vision and endless supplies of energy. I was beyond fortunate to hitch my wagon to someone who has off-the-charts levels of all three and who helps instill those traits in our family on a daily basis. For this, I am grateful and I trust that my boys will realize someday how lucky they are to have such an incredible mother and role model.

I’m even luckier to call her my wife.

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