Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why I Hate Halloween Costumes

I love candy. Always have, always will and I have the extensive relationship with the entire staff of my dentist’s office to prove it. I even owned a candy company for several years, which afforded Mrs. Dude and me the opportunity to attend the International Candy Convention several times, which nearly sent me into a diabetic coma and I don’t even have diabetes. Needless to say, there’s a lot I’d do for candy, but there’s one thing I absolutely won’t: dress up for Halloween.

When I was a kid in the 1980s, I used to get packaged Halloween costumes that came in one of those boxes with the cellophane window to check out the mask you’d inevitably almost suffocate in during the quest for another Baby Ruth. Having worn glasses since I was 3 added another level of discomfort to that soft plastic face cover held in place on the wearer’s head by a tourniquet-tight elastic band stapled to both sides. Beyond that, I was raised in the Midwest so my mother-mandated heavy winter coat further compromised my attempt to look like a superhero and made me into more of a supergeek. Thankfully most of the other local kids were equally unlucky and geeky at the same time.  

Needless to say those costumes discomfort and general awkwardness was a nuisance and as soon as I was capable, I figured out a way to reach my objective (pillowcase overflowing with mini Snickers bars) without not only avoiding one of those lame boxed costumes, but really any costume at all. I’d simply throw on a baseball hat and become a member of the Cleveland Indians. Another year October 31st wasn’t quite as cold, so I wore my regular clothes and went as a “student”. Creative, right? Thankfully there were no minimum requirements for costume qualifications, but had there been so, I would have skated by, like the “ice skater” I dressed as another year with my parka, gloves and wool hat costume.
I'm pretty sure I had this GI Joe costume, complete with the trashbag quality bodysuit.
Ever since, and especially since becoming an adult, I’ve been baffled by adults who not only dress up for Halloween, but go all out to do so. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I lived in an area called West Hollywood, which holds a massive Halloween extravaganza every year. After attending during my first couple years in town, and seeing an inordinate amount of costumes which can’t be described in a family blog among the impossible-to-cross swarm of people, I had no need to ever do so again.

So now that my boys are 3 & almost-6 and super into Halloween, they asked me to dress up with them this year. They both chose to be Darth Vader this year after having spotted the costumes a couple months back during a trip to Costco, shortly after their first viewing of Star Wars. Though costumes have come a long way since the old cellophane-box days, there’s still no chance I’d wear an official costume. Instead, I think I’ll complement their costumes by dressing as intergalactic smuggler Han Solo. After all, he wore relatively normal clothes, and more importantly he was a smuggler, which will be useful when I pilfer the mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from their Halloween bounty without them knowing. And when the calendar flips to the 1st of November later that night, we can all rest our heads comfortably knowing that we did what we had to do to reach our objective, a handful of sweet treats and, for me, another year without a silly costume.

My Junior Vaders prepping for their big night out. I'll wash my jeans to do the same.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Teaching My Kids What I Don't Know About Toys

They say that everything old is new again and for me that proved true on a recent Saturday afternoon with my boys. While playing with some new toys, the almost-6 year old Little Dude started asking me questions to which I held no answers. For most people my age, they would have probably been no-brainers, but I was baffled in a way that I was not used to.

Opening the big brown box to discover adventures waiting to happen from Jurassic World, Transformers and Marvel I felt a twinge of unease in my stomach. I pride myself on being a pop culture aficionado, but these were items to which I held virtually no knowledge. Sure, I’d played with Transformers when I was a kid – THIRTY YEARS AGO; but I had no clue who the Rescuebots were or what they are about. Same goes for the Jurassic universe, where I had never made the journey until seeing the new film over the past summer. And as for the super heroes, I can admit (though I probably shouldn’t) that I still don’t instinctively always recall whether characters are from the Marvel universe or its alternative, let alone their origin stories.  

What’s weird about this is that these are three ginormous watercooler-type properties and I felt like a dunce in front of my children. I’m sure they didn’t notice, but I had no clue what the alternate blue suit Iron Man could dress up in was about. That did not stop them, however from having a great time exploring the characters and blurring the lines between these three respective universes.

Who cares if Iron Man doesn’t usually ride a T-Rex, or if that same T-Rex was hanging out on a big boat? Certainly not my boys. They played the afternoon away as I stealthily searched for Iron Man factoids on my iPhone. We learned together, which turned out to be a fabulous methodology. 

The one thing that was most familiar to me that day was Playskool, the classic brand behind these Playskool Heroes sets designed to introduce kids to some franchises they may not have been typically exposed to. Intended for kids 3 to 7, sometimes even kids older than 37 can benefit from the creative play they afford.

I remember seeing the first Iron Man movie shortly after its release about 6 years ago. Mrs. Dude was pregnant and I thought the movie was a lot of fun, which is not my typical take on superhero movies but I dug the snark from Mr. Stark. Flash forward a half dozen years and two births and we just never quite made it to see any of the sequels. Tony Stark’s lair was memorable, and this set was a great introduction for my boys into the world of Stark Industries, or at least the cool house you can have if you work hard enough and have a rad goatee.

The Rescuebots set was actually an area where the boys taught me, having been slightly familiar with the brand from playing with their cousin, a big Transformers guru, and I dug the refresher given my slight frame of reference went back to the original
late ‘80s Transformers cartoon. Let’s just say that I thought they were more than meets the eye THEN, so I was quite impressed by what they are now.

And as for good-old T-Rex? Everyone can relate to him, whether familiar with the Jurassic world or not, including even the trainer who joins him in the set and who will inevitably get eaten by Rex roughly a thousand times per play session.

So where does this leave us? Well, now that we all have a base-level feel for these three franchises, a great launch point for my sons and me to learn about them together.

I received compensation & toys from Hasbro, makers of Playskool Heroes, in exchange for this post, but all opinions contained within are mine alone, for better or worse lest I be eaten by a T-Rex.

Want more pics from our Playskool and other adventures? 
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Friday, October 23, 2015

Will My Son Take His Baby Bottles to College?

The Littler Dude was never a baby who wanted a pacifier. His older brother was the opposite, taking his trusty froggy Wubbanub everywhere for his first 18 months until he woke up one day and was done. But for my younger son, baby bottles were his jam. He loooooooooved to chew on them, and of course the white creamy liquid inside was a major bonus. In fact, he loved them so much that I assumed he would be taking them to college with him, given his reluctance to giving them up.

So Mrs. Dude and I came up with a plan to convince him to give his beloved Dr. Brown’s blue bottles to Oliver, a baby chimp at the LA Zoo we’d seen on several of our visits. We prepped our 2-year-old before one of our regular trips to the zoo, bagged the bottles up, and he left them outside Oliver’s viewing area under the premise of passing them on to someone who really needed them more than him.

Not wanting to litter, we subtly snatched them up and stashed them in a bag until we got home that night and the Littler Dude felt so proud for being such a big boy and graduating from bottles to big milk cups like his brother. Our plan had worked to perfection!

Except it didn’t.

The next morning he woke up pining for his Smurf-hued drinking buddies and was stunned to be told they were now in the care of baby Oliver.  We rehashed the whole plan to graduate to big cups, but he was not interested. We tried putting his milk in several different cups, but he wouldn’t take a sip, choosing instead to drown his sorrows with swigs of water.

Now water is obviously not a bad choice, but while it is wonderful for hydration it is lacking in protein and a slew of other vitamins which come standard in dairy milk. I thought watching his older brother devour one of his multiple glasses of milk daily would convince the Littler Dude to give it a shot, but no go. He’d often ask for milk and I assume he must’ve hoped we’d forgotten about the bottle removal plan and were going to revert, but that wasn’t going to happen. So he stopped drinking milk altogether.

Mrs. Dude and I began to wonder if we’d made the wrong choice, or were being unnecessarily strict and agreed we were not. Change is an integral part of life and it was OK for him to stick to the decision he’d made to give up the bottles. Still, I worried about my growing boy getting enough important nutrients to stay healthy, grow big and strong and feel like he was consuming enough, and since he’s a tad stubborn, like his old man, he wouldn’t budge. So I started to look for other options.

Fortunately he’s the most open-minded eater I’ve ever encountered. Anything edible that he sees, he’s willing to try. He might spit it out, which happens rarely, but at least he gives everything a chance. Shortly after Milkgate erupted in our house, we went to visit some cousins who exposed him to their kid-friendly little smoothie bottles and yogurt tubes. Boom! Just like that we were back in the business of dairy protein and he’d found something yummy to easily take on the go. Thankfully these seemed to be a gateway because after a milkless month, he gave those big boy cups another whirl. Just like a lot of things, he dipped his toe in the water first by starting with a few sips before following his big brother’s lead and enjoying a giant big boy cup of milk first thing in the morning to power up for school and another after arriving back home to recharge the batteries spent playing all days with his pals.

Thankfully he’s always been open to a variety of fruits & veggies, so while we were concerned about his nutrition at first, I had no doubt he was always in good hands with the vast dairy options. And his recent 3-year-checkup at the doctor confirmed that he’s growing like a weed and smarter than a parent. Or at least this one, who doubted his choices, not expecting him to come full circle so quickly during Milkgate. But he knows what he likes and I guess all the protein, vitamins and nutrients, which are making him smarter, stronger and bigger every day, helped him find his way.


This post was sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board, who are once again participating in the Fuel Up to Play 60 campaign with the NFL to encourage kids to eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods, powering and empowering them to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

As part of this program, qualifying California schools can apply for grants up to $4,000 to help support their health and wellness curriculum. They need to implement plays from the 2015-2016 edition of the Fuel Up to Play 60 Playbook to be eligible.

Want to get your school involved? To apply for a fall grant, visit for more info. Grant deadline is November 4.

I was compensated for this post by the California Milk Advisory Board, but all opinions contained within are entirely my own, for better or worse. That’s all I have time to include, as I have to run to the market to grab my kids another gallon of milk.

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.