Christmas Lights: A Holiday Card To You

Christmas Lights

When we moved into our house this past summer one of the first things out of my wife, Ashley’s mouth was an enthusiastic remark about being able to put up Christmas lights.

Ah, come on people. As if it wasn’t already bad enough that I needed a lawnmower and had to keep straight the trash pickup days. Now another article in the unconditional terms of the Suburban Surrender Treaty was being stipulated for me to accept. Calculating the cost of an extension ladder required to reach the roof’s overhang prompted the reminder that I would have to clean the gutters on a regular basis too.

“Hey, there’s already hooks for you to use,” my stepdaughter Allie said pointing toward the front entry.

My head immediately dropped, a response that's practically become a reflex for me anymore.

House or no house, stringing up Christmas lights never ranked high on my lifetime list of domestic to-do’s. As a boy growing up, I don’t recall my family doing much exterior decorating for the holidays, at least not beyond a traditional, hand-made wreath constructed from ground pine from the nearby woods. At some point later on, my mother started placing a solitary plastic candle in each of the windows, but then she’d leave them up year round, so technically speaking these don’t qualify as Christmas lights.

In any case, the annual hanging of holiday lights just wasn’t that important to us and thus, never earned a spot among the pantheon of our family’s regular holiday traditions. In the off chance my sisters or I did raise the issue, however, our parents’ standard response was to challenge us with the moral dilemma of should they spend money on flashy lights and cartoon reindeer or on our gifts. End of discussion.

I have now adopted this pat comeback whenever my stepdaughters ask me the same thing. It’s enough to silence them for the moment, but yet it fails to deter their long-term persistence, especially Allie who is becoming quite the master of passive aggressive behavior as evidenced by the long, doleful sighs she lets out as we drive through the neighborhood.

Meanwhile the residents in our community appear to be on some sort of mission from God in their attempt to celebrate the Christ child’s birth by taking down the city’s power grid. In other words, these mega-watt, burnt offerings serve as the ultimate reminder for Allie and her high need for keeping up with the Joneses …and the Smiths …and the Gomezes. It’s become so annoying that I’ve started zigzagging along a harrowing eighteen-mile route through our subdivision just to avoid the gaudiest and most extravagant yuletide yard displays. A ten foot snow globe with Santa on a motorcycle and psychedelic laser lights? Really?! Where do people get this stuff? Baby Jesus would be so proud.

I forget, though, that simple acts like transforming your house into the facade of a Las Vegas casino in a humble show of the Christmas spirit represent different things for Allie and me. In my mind, stringing up blinking lights and then syncing them to the power-charged stylings of Mannheim Steamroller signals another blow to my cosmopolitan elitism by the hands of suburban conformity. To Allie, however, this is how life was intended to be. It’s the life she dreams of.

For an eight year-old, Allie has endured more upheaval than any kid should at that age. The safety of the world Allie knew as a toddler was shattered when her parents divorced. She’s had to move from apartment to apartment about fifty times, and the only consistent aspect of her experiences has been the inconsistency of it, a sad fact that also includes the failures by some of the people she’s needed most to be there for her, namely her biological father who possess a chronic aversion to committing to his paternal role.

Deep inside, Allie knows this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Little girls are supposed to live houses and wake up in their own bedroom. They’re supposed to have friends at school and be in gymnastics and have regular evening meals with a mom and a dad sitting at the table. They’re supposed to sip on hot cocoa and listen to holiday music as they open gifts on Christmas morning. And they’re supposed to have lights.

Despite my bah-humbug attitude, I understand Allie’s need for the life that’s supposed to be, and so, a few weekends ago, I rummaged through the disaster that is my garage, hoping to scrounge up a set of working lights left over from my and Ashley’s wedding reception. The tangled bunch I managed to fine were nothing special, just the plain white ones with short strands that dangle freely in a fashion meant to imitate hanging icicles. By comparison they were a paltry at best, and as I finished fastening them to the pre-set hooks Allie had noticed months earlier, a slight feeling of guilt came over me. I wished I could afford to hang more. 

Then I heard the front door open. It was Allie. I had asked my wife earlier to keep Allie preoccupied because I wanted to surprise her, but apparently my stepdaughter had seen me through the window and came to investigate. Now she stood in the doorway, rocking back and forth on her bare feet, a smile on her face. 

I folded my arms and signaled upward with my eyes. “Well, goofball, what do you think?”

Allie didn’t say a word. Instead, she wrapped her arms around my waist and hugged me …the way families are supposed to. 


On behalf of my entire family I'd like to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas. We hope you enjoyed our little Christmas card video. We'd also like to wish you a Happy New Year as this will be the Lunchbox's last post for 2010.

I'll be taking a blogging holiday until the middle of January 2011, when Clark Kent's Lunchbox will return with a whole new look while also taking an whole new approach in content. Until then, see ya.


Viva la Resolution!

I'm launching into the future a bit here. This is my January 2011 "Back Talk" column for Houston Family Magazine. I know it's not even Christmas yet, but I thought I'd put it out early for a couple reasons: One, there's a prize at the end and two, I'm announcing something in my Christmas post later this week that indirectly relates to the timing.

Viva la Resolution!

January is widely recognized as the time when we make personal resolutions aimed at improving ourselves in some way, shape, or form over the course of the new year ahead. By the same token, February is the less-celebrated month where we say, “Eh, close enough,” before then returning to our old habits and dismissing said resolution(s) like silent ill-timed flatulence that no one in a crowded elevator is willing to own up to.

Resolutions can be measurable, like for example, aiming to lose fifty pounds before bikini season. Others might be more subjective such as say, determining to be nicer to the checkout clerk at Wal-Mart even though that person refuses to bag groceries according to the categorized grouping of items as you’ve consciously arranged them on the conveyor belt—frozen food, refrigerated meats, refrigerated vegetables, refrigerated liquids, pantry cans, pantry boxes, pantry glass, toiletries, cleaning supplies, guilty pleasures, miscellaneous. Seriously, is the logic here that hard to understand? Do you know how aggravating it is for me—uh, I mean for shoppers to discover that the ice cream has smooshed the bread, and now I—uh, they have to make multiple trips to the freezer and the pantry. Can I get an “amen” here, people?

Like most, I’ve made my share of New Year’s resolutions, even achieving success in some instances, though, I’ll admit, many were “gimmes” that could be viewed as more than a little self-serving. A typical list from a while back, for instance, might read something to the effect of: 1) Blast abs five times a week. 2) Improve self-esteem by stocking wardrobe with more designer labels. 3) Work on vanity issues.

However, since becoming the full-time at-home parent, my compilation of annual resolutions, like most things in my life, has undergone some changes. Here are but a few.

1. I will keep the house cleaner: Rather than ask, “Who does this belong to?” whenever I find discarded Happy Meal toys; ripped up, old art projects; broken crayons; dried up magic markers; and containers filled with contents unknown, I will instead just throw them away. For some reason these items are always important, yet they always manage to end up relegated to some out-of-the-way place for me to discover… again. 

2. I will ensure that the children eat healthier: My plan for success here includes hiding their Easter and Halloween candy, and later eating it all by myself when they aren’t around.

3. I will follow through on disciplinary actions: No more allowing the kids to play video games or watch TV when they are grounded just because it keeps them occupied when I need some peace and quiet. 

4. I will help build the children’s self-confidence: I’ve already signed my stepdaughters up for acting, singing, dance, and harp lessons using their Christmas money. Experts claim these sorts of activities really boost a child’s confidence. And as the girls’ biggest supporter, I will guide their rise to fame and oversee all those complicated financial matters that go along with this.

5. I will inspect the kids’ bathrooms everyday: One question I don’t really want the answer to is, “How long have you children been using this commode when there’s no toilet paper?” I probably wouldn’t have thought to look had the strong, mildew-like odder emanating from pile of rotting, damp washrags tossed up under their bathroom sink not aroused my curiosity after choking me from ten feet away. My bad.

6. I will expose the children to more culture: “I don’t care if your mother plays Katy Perry and Ke$ha for you kids when riding around in the van, listening to NPR will make you a more interesting person.”

7. I will drink less around the children: This will alleviate my wife and I of those awkward moments at parent-teacher conferences when we are asked why one of our girls told the class during Drug Awareness Week that her parents were addicts because “they drink a lot of beer and wine every night.” If anything, we should drink more.

8. I will empower my children by using more forms of creative encouragement: Take cleaning their room for example; the girls have improved a great deal in this area. Before, they used to stash their junk wherever it was easiest to hide. Now, though, the girls have demonstrated they can put things in their proper place without me hovering over them ever since I started placing scary adult Halloween masks under their bed and in other likely hiding spots.

9. I will stress to my children the importance of conserving natural resources: Analyzing our utility bills, I’ve determined that the biggest drain on our electric and water comes from the six-thousand loads of laundry we do in a week, an amount that could be cut by 75% if the kids would stop changing outfits ten times a day. Despite not being dirty in the least, each of these ensembles ends up being tossed in the hamper. Ironically, the lone article that should make it into the basket daily, yet somehow never does, is their underwear. 

10. I will do a better job helping the children with their homework: Actually, I do help them with their homework on a regular basis, but when I am tired, errors can slip by, like the accidental use of expletives. Leaving out a certain letter from the word “shirt” can add the right amount of gritty realism that a third-grade, sentence writing exercise needs; but asking a second-grader to list all the words that rhyme with “luck” is just begging for trouble. 

11. I will make my needs a priority: It’s a well-known fact that ignoring your own needs will subsequently leave you too drained to tend to the needs of others. With this in mind, I went out and splurged on a fancy, padded toilet seat. This will now allow for more quite, Ronnie-time, in a comfortable, relaxed sitting where my legs won’t fall asleep as I enjoy the tranquility. 

12. I will seek treatment for Parental Tourette Syndrome (PTS): I’ve been suffering from this neurological disorder for several years now, but the symptoms are getting progressively worse of late. For me PTS most often manifests itself when I go into public alone after long stints being cooped up with the children. Midsentence in a conversation with another adult, I find myself jerking my head in the other direction and spontaneously yelling things like, “Stop touching that ceramic vase!” and “Get down off of there!” even though none of my kids are present. It’s a serious condition. Thankfully several new treatments available, and I’m going to take advantage of them.

Reviewing my above list of goals for this year, I feel optimistic about the future. It’s possible I may even make it past February. Viva la Resolution!

* * *

Now, about that prize. But first a little background. One of the most recognized New Years traditions is the dropping of the ball in New York City's Times Square. But along with this there's another famous local attraction known as the Wishing Wall where people write down their wishes and goals for the coming year and a small piece of paper which is then collected up and dropped along with the confetti that get's tossed out on those celebrating in the square. Of course, most of us can't make to the Big Apple so, Carnival Cruises has set up a site (click here or on Facebook) where you can share your own hope for 2011 which will also be thrown in with all those filled out at on the actual wall.

In conjunction with this, Carnival has a New Years Eve party package they are looking to give away. It actually contains some fun stuff--a bunch of party hats, a couple Champagne flutes, a bottle of sparkling cider, a big Carnival beach towel, and a book by celebrity life coach and bestselling author Robert Mack, Happiness from the Inside Out: The Art and Science of Fulfillment I guess it's meant to help you stick with your New Years resolutions or something. Anyway.

To get this package simply leave a goofy resolution of your own in the comments section of this post from now until December 27th and my wife will pick out the best one to determine the winner who will be announced in an update to this post on the 28th.

Disclosure: Carnival did not threaten to make me walk the plank unless I wrote this post. They did send me the giveaway package and I promptly drank all the sparkling cider upon it's arrival in the mail. 


Happy Holiday Blogtastic Shout Out: Just Add Father

Last week I was invited by Kate from Recommended Daily Dose to take part along with others in the Happy Holiday Blogtastic Shout Out. That sounds like a mouthful, but in actuality it's a great opportunity to promote someone else and their blog. There's about a bunch of people I could mention, but I could only submit five blogs which Kate then narrowed down to the one I should spotlight: Just Add Father by Wolf Pascoe (@JustAddFather).

I came to find Just Add Father after and email exchange with Wolf, who introduced himself as a big Superman fan. I liked him immediately. After reading his blog, I liked him even more. Wolf and his wife Nora are parents to their adopted son, Nick, but Just Add Father is not just any ol' daddy blog. When Wolf was eight he lost his father, which is roughly the age Nick is now, and in Wolf's words, "With no models, Nick and I row in unknown waters."

As you read Just Add Father it's clear those waters are deep and reflective. There's a calming literary tone to the writing that readers can't help but to connect with. Read "Strange Visitor from Another Planet" in which Wolf talks about the void that Superman filled in his young life.

"I collected those comics with a furious passion. My mother was appalled. She had read a book called Seduction of the Innocent, about the evils of comic books. Neither of us had any idea that my love for Superman was filling own loss. When my collection reached a hundred, my mother prevailed on me to throw it out. One evening, she watched me put every comic I owned into a grocery bag and set it inside our garbage can on the curb."

I mean it when I say that, Superman or no Superman, it's the best post I've read in all of 2010. With such high quality writing by such a conscientious and loving dad, I recommend everyone "Just Add Father" to their blogrolls and RSS feeds for 2011. 


Tasks For Toys

From my "Back Talk" column in December's Houston Family Magazine. I suppose it's mildly cruel for me to use Christmas in bending the children to my will. Does anyone else have their own version of this or am I alone here? noise.

* * *

Tasks For Toys

I don’t think there’s anything out of the ordinary in saying that I like Christmas. It would be a different story entirely if I added that this also included competing in several rounds of “That’s My Spot!” driving through the mall parking lot or using a roll of “Joy to the World”—themed wrapping paper to fend off some ‘roid-raged old lady trying to steal the store’s last set of nativity figurines from my shopping cart. Trust me, I dread these and all such other contentious, holiday season scenarios. Plus, it feels rather disconcerting having to superglue ceramic baby Jesus’ arm back on before placing him in the manger.

That aside, my heart warms like a chestnut roasting on a open fire when I hear Christmas carols playing on the radio or witness the surprised expression on my kids’ faces as they unwrap that special gift they had claimed they would absolutely die without, but that I had told them Santa Clause gave to a good little boy in Pakistan who knew how to keep his room clean.

“Boys don’t play with dolls,” my stepdaughter Avery said, calling my bluff when I had threatened her with this earlier.

“Oh really, ” I countered. “Guess what? The kids in Pakistan only have gender-neutral toys like sticks and rocks to play with; so, I don’t think the boy really cares. I think he’ll just be happy to have a toy.”

Avery still remained skeptical, but not enough that she was willing to risk losing a toy to some poor kid halfway around the world, and she commenced to cleaning.

Exchanges such as this take place throughout the entire year with a slight rise in frequency at the start of October followed by a predictable spike beginning the minute Thanksgiving dinner plates need to be cleared from the table. And it’s a universal phenomenon amongst the children; simply switch out the child, the chore, and the requested gift—kind of like naming the suspect in the board game, Clue. Miss Avery. In the messy room. Without a baby doll.

I believe that leveraging Christmas with the children, constitutes effective parenting, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I use it often. In fact, like many practically minded people, I once used to roll my eyes at the sight of red bows and silver bells hanging in department stores when outside, the leaves hadn’t yet turned orange and fallen to the ground. Now, I welcome it. The earlier the better, I say. Do you know how much work gets done around our house all because of the four-month lead time created by greedy companies sucking the spirit right out of Christmas through premature marketing campaigns?

Sometimes, if I think the kids’ motivations are waning, I’ll take them to Toys ‘R’ Us for an hour on a Saturday morning. “Here,” I say, handing them each a notepad. “I want you go through the entire store and make your Christmas list. There’s only nine weeks left, and we’ve gotta get this done.” Once they’re done we head straight home, and the kids, buoyed by a renewed sense of purpose, spend the remainder of the weekend preparing the house for a white-glove inspection.

Should anyone bring up that we already ran through this exercise last month, I plan on telling them that I got an email from an elf at the Children’s Gift Requisition Department saying the original lists were destroyed in a warehouse fire, and we should send new ones. Then I’ll add, “Better hurry. Miss the deadline you’ll be put on the “standby list.” Those are the kids who get stuck with the leftover toys from last Christmas.” I’m sure I could sell it.

If anyone thinks I’m being cruel, then I’d like to point out that I grew up in stable, traditional family where this “tasks-for-toys” methodology was employed on a regular basis, and I am not suffering from any psychological scars as a result. My parents were judicious in using the holidays to bend us their will. My father was particularly adept at milking the situation for everything he could right up until my sisters and I tore into our first gift.

Every Christmas morning, we would burst into our parents’ room at o-dark thirty, and every time our dad would pose a series of questions prerequisite to opening presents. To my sisters and I, this was excruciating, but we figured out that by knocking out what equated to Dad’s version of the pre-launch checklist for the space shuttle Atlantis, before waking him, we could reduce the agony.

“Did you make coffee?” Dad would start off with, to which we would reply, “Check."

“Is their a fire going in the furnace?”


“Christmas music on?”


“Film in camera?”


“Tools for toys requiring assembly?”

“Check.” My sisters and I would glance back and forth at each other, grinning over the possibility that we were batting a thousand, but then our father would throw us a curveball by adding a new item not previously on his list.




Our heads would drop. Bacon!?

Then my sisters and I would trudge towards the kitchen as Dad reminded us to easy on the syrup. “Try not to drown my pancakes like last time.”

“Come on! We’re just kids, not short-order cooks from Denny’s” we’d grumble to ourselves.

Back then I’d prepare Dad’s coffee, deliberating whether or not to spit in it. Now, however, I consider him an artist as I slide underneath my covers while my own kids shuffle out of the bedroom. I have to say, though, children do catch on quick. Mine are already up to bacon. What will I tack on next year?


Blogging To Restore Paternity And/Or Fear:

Christmas Cookies of Dysfunction

Given that the majority of what I write about centers around parenthood, it’s something of a job requirement for me to keep up with all the hippest trends, hottest gadgets, and biggest news in the world of parenting in order to find new material. Every morning I open up an RSS page containing the latest and greatest from a vast array of resources—, iVillage, Momversations, Strollerderby, ParentingHacks, MomLogic and the list goes on. Frankly, this daily tsunami of information is a tad overwhelming, not to mention repetitive.

In the past week alone, I’ve noticed at least a baker’s dozen or more article titles touting some variation of the headline, “Fun and Easy Cookies You Can Make with Your Child This Christmas.” Seriously? Are there really that many different fun and easy cookie recipes out there? I had no idea. At some point it occurred to me that maybe I should throw together a spreadsheet with a crude rating system to determine which of the umpteen different cookie mixes could indeed claim the undisputed title of being the easiest and most fun. In your face MomLogic!

Even so, had I actually gone through with this ranking, the results would’ve been skewed since I intended to place a higher value on the “easy” aspect of the cookie’s production while assigning a much lower rating to anything capable of inciting the potential for “fun.” My rationale here was that very simple cookies, low in merriment, equated to a sweet treat my kids could mirthlessly churn out faster than a roomful of seven year-olds hunched over sewing machines in a back-alley Bangkok warehouse.

I eventually abandoned the idea, though, after coming to grips with the unrealistic expectations involved with such a notion. Still, my snickerdoodle sweatshop is more realistic than the utter fantasy being depicted in the photos that accompany these Christmas confectionery exposés. I kid you not, every one of these posts shows some skinny mom with air-brushed skin and perfect teeth standing in her gourmet-size kitchen where she scoops out another glob of golden cookie dough and plops in down on the bar for her angelic children—one boy and one girl of course—to sculpt into shapes so symmetric, only ancient alien technology could’ve been used in producing something so precise. Essentially, all these photos are some variation of a life-size Holiday diorama Martha Stewart farted out of her poop chute after hitting the eggnog a little too hard.

(And besides, BetaDad and I are the token dads amidst a whole host of mommies. Come help a couple brothers out.)


Why The Senators From Texas Are Cowards

This has never been a political blog--not a serious one anyway. For the most part I've steered away from such issues, not out of apathy, but because, for a lack of a more eloquent explanation, it's complicated. No longer can discerning citizens place a reasonable amount of trust in choosing a straight-party ticket with the belief that that party will, for the most part, do what's best in representing their constituents' beliefs. It's just not that simple anymore. Political ideologies aren't quite as black and white; instead they are ...political.

I realize this sounds vague, and so what I'm trying to say is that in order to be informed, one has to put forth quite a lot of time and effort to stay on top of what their elected representatives truly are doing. For those who do make decisions based on research  over a pundit's bullet points, this may result in their backing an elected official who falls on the other side of party lines. Unfortunately, copious amounts of time, energy, and discernment are, like jobs, in short supply. So too are brains which is another reason why I steer clear of politics in an open forum.

That's not meant to be a dig at anyone with a differing opinion. I can respect anyone able to rationally present another perspective and will hear them out. I don't feel a high need to convert others to my way of thinking. At the end of the day, if we can agree to disagree and that's where we leave it then I am satisfied. It's the brainwashed simpletons who believe that their religious deities are aligned with their political ideology and who use bias, overly sensationalized party propaganda to berate me into their way of thinking--those are the one's I'd like to punch in the throat.

Sen. John Cornyn
Now, I'm not writing all of this to tout my personal political views or to endorse one party over another. In fact, there are elements in both the Democratic and Republican platforms that I take issue with. For example, no, I don't like the idea of bigger government in business, and yet, at the same time, I believe the government has to step in because corporations, particularly in the financial, energy, insurance sectors are too greedy and immoral to do it themselves. 

This brings me to my point and why I am beyond disappointed at the cowardice of senators like those of the Lone Star State, John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, who, as a strong-arm tactic to ensure Bush tax cuts are extended to the wealthy, refused to pass a measure that would provide health assistance to 9-11 responders. I've been following this issue over the past week, but after seeing this clip, I was nauseous. 

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Lame-as-F@#k Congress
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

To interject some context, a friend of mine recently shared with me a Christmas card sent to their company from a man in Austin who is one of, if not the largest lobbyist in Texas. Rather than something Christmas-y, the front of the card was an expensive portrait of himself, his shiny, plastic wife, and their two genetically perfect, designer-outfitted children sitting outside their opulent home. 

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
There's nothing wrong with a family photo for Christmas cards, but this one seemed more like an exhibition of wealth, and based on the expressions everyone had on their faces, I half expected the inside of the to read, "Let them eat cake. Merry Christmas." I've got to say, the whole site of this card brought on the sudden urge to storm the Bastille, the single retraining factor being the lack of money needed to pay the $500 insurance deductible required to fix the front of the minivan after I rammed it through this guy's front gate. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a socialist. In the United States everyone has the right to be wealthy--from white trash lottery winners to professional politicians, but for some reason, the thought of putting more money into the pockets of a Texas lobbyist, while denying benefits to those who were saving lives at Ground Zero seems, well ...messed up. Assholes

No doubt, Cornyn and Hutchison know this lobbyist, and in fact, they probably received more than just a card from him--a pig to roast over a spit, perhaps? It really doesn't matter either way as I am disgusted by both senators' lack of decency. 

It's sicking to see how greed and convenient self-righteousness, under the guise of partisan unity, have stymied this great nation's ability to do what's right for its heroes and it's citizens.

painting by Alex Ross


Vanity Hair

Vanity Hair

I’ll admit to being vain when it comes to fashion. If it doesn’t have a quality brand label sewn on the inside, then it’s not going on my body. Whoever coined the phrase “clothes don’t make the man” obviously never donned a Valentino suit with a corresponding pair of Kenneth Cole shoes. Since high school I’ve prided myself on the regular compliments earned by the keen sense of style I’ve continued to hone over the years. Oh, I’ll say thank you, should anyone mention how good I look in Ralph Lauren, but underneath this feigned modesty, I’m thinking, “Yeah, I know.”

I’m equally narcissistic when it comes to grooming, yet for all my savviness in pairing patterned, silk ties with modern cut, poplin shirts, the same cannot be said when it comes to how I wear my hair. Keep in mind I’ve consulted men’s books and stylists. I am fully versed on basic head shapes; and I understand which cuts best frame them. Even so, I’ve never found a style that has completely worked for my noggin.

Naturally this has fostered an insecurity that forces me to stop dead in my tracks and critique my hair anytime I’m within five meters of a mildly reflective surface. Furthermore, my lack of coif confidence has made me susceptible to outside influence, namely celebrities whose look I’ll attempt to mimic in the hopes of finding my hairdo’s doppelganger. It’s been a strange dream of mine to have random strangers approach me for no other reason but to say, “Wow. For a second there, I thought you were [insert famous personality]. I think it’s the hair that fooled me.” To date, however, this has yet to happen as my history of celeb-inspired ‘dos are actually a long list of “don’ts” dating back to kindergarten.

The Joan Rivers: During elementary school, my stylistic choices were up to my mother who saw little need for regular haircuts, thus resulting in a huge ducktail protruding just above the base of my neck. Even more unfortunate is the stack of class pictures chronicling the transformation of my hair into what looked like a bad wig worn by Joan Rivers.

Read about the rest of my hair disasters including the "Joey McIntyre" and the "Brad Pitt" HERE. Match them and others to the photos below (Header photo: "The Jon Hamm).

"The Carrot Top"

"The Richard Simmons"

"The Joan Rivers"
"The Joey McIntyre"

"The Crunch" (Think Goonies)
"The Brad Pitt"

"The John Kransiki"

"The Situation"

"The Tom Welling"

"The George Clooney"

"The Nathan Fillion"


Movember's 2010 Pornstache Hall of Fame Celebrity Nominations

I don't think I really need to say anything here....


Road Trippin'

Ready to load up the Chevy Traverse? Not really.
In a few weeks the family and I will be making our trek from Texas to Pennsylvania, and I’m thrilled about spending the time together, especially since it’s one of the few occasions when my sons and stepdaughters are able to see each other. We stay at my boyhood home which is located in a rural part of the state; so the kids spend most of their days much the way I did at their age - catching fish, building forts, chasing fireflies, etc. Scattered throughout will be visits to local festivals and nearby points of interest. Photos will be taken, and videos will be recorded as we catalog these near perfect memories.

It’s possible a case could be made accusing me of painting an overly nostalgic picture of familial bliss shaded with Norman Rockwell-like undertones, but I assure you—never mind, you’re right. I am. I’m ignoring the umpteen thousand-mile drive there and back that sandwiches the week of carefree fun in between.

As opposed to said “carefree fun” (who am I kidding; said “carefree fun” has its less-than-carefree moments too), cramming five kids into a minivan for a two-day journey is like stuffing a bunch of cats into a mailbox and expecting everyone to emerge unscathed. Not. Going. To. Happen.

Improvised Sleep Mask
Early on the trip is fine. The children revel in the novelty at having what seems like an endless supply of goodies, games, and movies all within their reach to be consumed at their leisure. However, once these resources have been exhausted, discontent and restlessness set in. Start to finish, this takes about 30 minutes.

Of course, at 30 minutes we’re barely beyond the city limits, but still, that doesn’t prevent the inevitable question: “Are we there yet?” 

This sudden lapse in the children’s understanding of time and distance astounds me. Even when I point out that we are just now passing the mall where we do our Christmas shopping, the blank expressions of “so what” staring back through the rear-view mirror convey that any further explanation would be the very definition of an exercise in futility.

For some odd reason my silence in response to their question is interpreted as an invitation for them to register their individual grievances simultaneously. Any parent who has traveled with children for more than several hours is familiar with what I’m referring to.

“I’m bored.”

“I’m too hot.”

“They’re touching me.”

“I forgot my [favorite toy that they were told 6,000 times to pack].”

“I dropped my [blank] into [unreachable crevice of vehicle’s interior].”

Etcetera, etcetera.

It’s as if they believe I’m some combination of flight attendant, entertainment director and omnipotent god, able to scrounge up pretzel snacks, amuse their weary minds and exact justice on unrighteous siblings with a mere blink of my eyes (which, by the way, happen to be focused on the tractor trailer closing in on my tail-end). 

Being a veteran traveler, I’m accustomed to my childrens’ low threshold for discomfort during long cross-country hauls, and this has lead to some very advanced techniques in dealing with such situations. I ignore them. In fact, my ears are programmed to filter all the fussin’ ‘n a feudin’ into a form of white noise that allows my brain to submerge into deep thought. And should they crank “Whale Songs and Clamoring Children” to a volume higher than an inside voice, my headphones come in rather handy. 

The "Thousand-Mile Stare"
On one trip I succeeded in listening to Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys in it’s entirety … well, most of it anyway. Fed up with being ignored for the previous six hours, my stepdaughter proceeded to (purposefully I suspect) pour a full cup of hot chocolate down her front letting it pool in her lap. The hot cocoa wasn’t even warm, but her wailing scream scared me so bad, I swerved off the road. Lesson learned: Children are masters of escalation when it comes to demanding attention, and they will not be deterred by an iPod. 

This truth is also evident when the kids repeat their questions over and over hoping to have the validity of it confirmed via my response. At a certain point it’s clear that the incessant droning will not cease until it’s been acknowledged, which I eventually do but with standard, pat answers that restore silence without making any concessions in the process. 

Discontented Child: “I’m hungry!”

Me: “We’ll be stopping for lunch in a few more miles.” (And by “few” I mean anywhere from 50 to 100).

Discontented Child: “The sun’s too bright. I can’t see.”

Me: “Close your eyes until it goes down.”

Discontented Child: “I have to go to the bathroom.”

...Read what happens next at MAN OF THE HOUSE

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It's Black Friday At Mega Mart

For those of you crazy enough to be out there... of course if you're reading this then you're not part of the madness.


Happy Thanksgiving

Just wanted to wish everyone and their families a Happy Thanksgiving.


Baby's Remorse

This is from my "Back Talk" column in November's issue of Houston Family Magazine. Want to how I deal with the can-we-have-a-baby question?

Baby's Remorse

My wife and five children have been pestering me about getting a puppy. They’ve been at it for quite a while too, but to no affect. Their nagging has become an almost daily occurrence thanks to the innumerable prompts that pop up. Every time Disney releases another superhero/master spy/incredible journey-type move starring talking dogs, or the neighbor’s lab saunters up our driveway to sniff my crotch, it’s a sure bet that I’m going to be hammered with an incessant barrage of, “Can we get a puppy? Can we get a puppy? Can we get a puppy?”

Under other circumstances this would qualify as annoying, yet, despite avoiding references to hot dogs, feeling dog-tired and being in the dog house, I’m unfazed by their badgering. You might be asking yourself how that’s possible. Simple. I am the culprit responsible for suggesting the puppy—a tactic meant as a diversion to keep them from asking for what they really want: a baby.

To be fair, I should point out that my three boys never in fact voiced their desire for a new sibling. They’re purely in it for the puppy. It’s my wife and two stepdaughters who are the staunch proponents of inviting the stork over for a visit. That the whole puppy thing has rallied our blended family behind a cause is an unexpectedly fortuitous byproduct of my scheme.

What’s truly beautiful about my plan is that three of the kids are allergic to dogs virtually guaranteeing that big bags of puppy chow won’t be propped up in the corner of our garage. I would’ve thought that someone, my wife in particular, would’ve caught on this Catch-22 by now. Nope. Even I’m surprised to discover that the enthusiastic affection of a cocker spaniel and the adorable daintiness of a Teacup Yorkie can trump the powdery smell of a three month-old infant. 

Ah, that new baby smell—like new-car smell but for women. This is the precise issue that kicked off the whole “make-a-baby” campaign in the first place after someone asked my wife if she would like to hold their baby, a request I consider to be the mommy version of the infamous pull-my-finger prank. Granted, the aroma may be a more pleasant than what Uncle Jim been holding in for an hour after hitting the taco buffet, but the consequences can still reek an equal amount of havoc.

In mere seconds the scent being emitted from this baby’s smooth, doughy skin wafted up into my wife’s nostrils, triggering that expression of joyful longing all women get anytime they’re within a swaddled newborn’s thirty-five meter, aromatic bursting radius. One whiff and boom! They’re gone. I have to imagine this is why Glade hasn’t introduced a new-baby fragrance for their Plug-In air fresheners or, heaven forbid, the same thing in an aerosol form. Rehab clinics nationwide would be overwhelmed with an influx of loopy women caught wandering in a euphoric stupor through Babys “R” Us stores after having sprayed the stuff into a paper bag. 

Seriously though, I realize there’s a bit of science involved here. If memory serves me correctly, I believe the Germans—a country known for its long history of cuddliness—published a study claiming that a baby’s smell (dirty diapers excluded) can awaken a woman’s nurturing instinct: therefore, explaining the correlation between olfactory stimulation and the desire for a baby. Strange as this may sound, I can relate. I feel the same way pulling a tray of blueberry muffins from the oven—I smell them, and I want one. The only major difference, however, is you can eat a muffin and walk away; a baby lasts forever. Fore. Ev. Er. 

Thus, when my wife glanced over at me with wistful eyes, I cut her off by rolling mine. Oh, boy, heeeeere we go. 

“Hey, honey, couldn’t we—“

“No.” Emphatic as my answer was, I knew, like a New Orleans levy, it wouldn’t hold her back.



“Come on, it would have our best features—my brains and your—“

“Not happening.” I could say this with the confidence afforded me by one tiny detail. “Besides, dear, aren’t we forgetting something? Like maybe ‘The Procedure?’” 

“Oh, that,” she replied looking away.

I attributed her short-term memory loss up to the mystic powers being wielded by the baby tucked neatly her arms. Still, a vasectomy isn’t exactly the sort of thing you can wave off, especially in light of the biological impediments that go along with it. What’s more, baby or no baby, if there’s anything my wife should remember, it should be my vasectomy, an event she couldn’t keep to herself after getting loaded at her office Christmas party

“Seeee thizz righ’ here?” she said, directing the attention of a company’s VP towards my lower regions by swirling her open hand in a wax-on, wax-off motion Mr. Myagi would’ve been proud of. “Yeah. We’re gettin’ that righ’ there aaaaaall taken …taken care of tomorr—Hey! Who’s thirsty?” I’ll forgo the ensuing aftermath, but needless to say, it was epic, epic enough that a full frontal lobotomy couldn’t erase it from memory.

After bringing up the vasectomy, I recognized a slight hint of disappointment seeping through the weak grin on my wife’s face. The irony in all of this, of course, is that she’s the one who set up my urology consultation free of any prompting from me. Now, however, with the transaction long since finalized, she seemed to be hit with a sudden “baby’s remorse” after test driving this newer model.

Then my stepdaughters showed up inciting their mother’s storied mischievousness.

“Hey, girls,” she said in a leading tone. “How’d you like to have a little baby brother or sister?”

“Really? That would be awesome!” they both squealed while jumping up and down.

“How ‘bout a puppy instead?” I said.

There was a short pause as the girl’s eyes grew to the size of a jar lid for strained carrots. 

“A PUPPY!? We want a puppy!”

My wife handed off the baby to its mother. “I want a puppy too!”


V for MoVember & Whatever Happened to my Helper Monkey Mojo?

I know you've seen it all over on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. What? Movember. It's the combination of Mo (short for moustache) and the month of November. And why? I'll just use a quote from Movember's About Page.

"Movember challenges men to change their appearance and the face of men’s health by growing a moustache. The rules are simple, start Movember 1st clean-shaven and then grow a moustache for the entire month. The moustache becomes the ribbon for men’s health, the means by which awareness and funds are raised for cancers that affect men. Much like the commitment to run or walk for charity, the men of Movember commit to growing a moustache for 30 days."

What kind of men's health issues? Take for instance this fact: In 2010 tragically more than 32,000 men will die as a direct result of prostate cancer. (Hey, I've already had 2 colonoscopies and I'm not even 40 yet; so, stats like that are kind of scary)

Anyway. I've been letting my facial hair go, but instead of shooting for mange-inflicted, caterpillar after chemo, I'm growing a beard. It chafes. But it's for a cause; so I think I can manage to make it through to the end of November. Oh and what the heck!? It's week 3 and I haven't posted any pictures yet. Okay here's a peek...

Ta Dah!!!

Homer & Mojo
You might be wondering why I'm holding a Baby Bjorn baby carrier, but it's not what you think--trust me. We're not rounding out the Brady Bunch with #6. No, those wacky guys over at DadLabs were holding a giveaway during one of their live webisodes, and you guessed it. I won. However, since my kids are all too big, and my wife forced to give my helper monkey, Mojo, back, there's not much I can do with it. That being the case, it's going to get donated to The Women's Home on behalf of DadLabs and Baby Bjorn (Thanks y'all).

And on that note, I leave you with a link for you to donate the Movmember cause. 


Thanks Dad: Being There

During bedtime the other night my stepdaughter, Allie, made a remark to my wife that caught me off guard. “She sat up and said, ‘You know, Mom, Ron’s like a real dad to us.’” The way I leaned back in my chair made it appear as if those words hit me with the same physical force as they did emotional.

Allie said that? Really?

Earlier that day, Allie’s class had put on a show in honor of Veterans Day. It’s all she talked about throughout the week, and because I had served in the Army, she expected me to attend. But there was a problem—a doctor’s appointment that overlapped with the program. I winced realizing this. Rescheduling wasn’t an option, yet it was so obviously important to my stepdaughter that I see her singing—singing for me.

I explained the situation to Allie, hoping to set an expectation that would ease her disappointment if I didn’t make it. She said she understood, but still, I couldn’t bring myself to commit one way or the other as to my final choice. “Being there” is critical to my stepdaughter’s emotional well-being; so much so that she has to see a therapist in order to manage the anxiety that’s resulted from too many years of too many people not being there for her.

Well before I entered the picture, Allie’s life had already been a series of uncertain situations lasting just long enough for her to feel safe, only to then disintegrate the moment she did. Today things are different. Allie has stability, and the positive effects of this are a evident in her behavior and attitude. She’s come a long way. Still, despite the best efforts of her mother and I, Allie continues to be let down by the one person she wants a real relationship with—her biological father



Is This How The French Potty Train Their Children?

If this is how the French potty train their children, then I have no idea why they think they can act snooty to foreigners.

WARNING: For this being a children's show, the imagery is rather... gross.


Some Good Dads at Dads Good

I wanted to take a moment to announce a newly launched daddy blogger site called Dads Good: The Best of the Daddy Bloggers. Dads Good is a companion page to The Good Men Project Magazine founded by Tom Matlack and publisher Lisa Hickey. Among the featured contributors are a top notch bunch of fathers and writers that include the site's Managing Editor, Aaron Gouveia of The Daddy File, Craig Playstead (The Blog of Craig Playstead), Derek Markham from Natural Papa, Dad Centric's Jason Avant (Pet Cobra), Jim Higley of Bobblehead Dad, and John Cave Osborne of Tales From the Trips fame (and somehow I managed to make the short list too).


Context In Focus

This is from my column from Houston Family Maagizne's Fall Baby issue.

Context In Focus

When it comes to writing about babies I tend to find myself at a loss for ideas. One would think that for a guy who has five children, spitting out stories about babies shouldn’t be a problem by virtue of the sheer amount of material that many kids could generate. That’s logical reasoning, although, my two stepdaughters should be removed from the equation since Allie and Avery were ages five and four respectively when I first met them. I was, and always will be a spectator to the lives they lived prior to our fateful union as stepparent and stepchild. But even with that being the case, I’m still privy to the details of Allie toddling out the back door to find a dead cat, and the circumstances of Avery gloriously entering this world three months ahead of schedule, (which incidentally, must have filled her quota for being on time, because the child is never where she’s supposed to be, when she’s supposed to be).

Of course with my sons, Noah, Sawyer and Harrison, it’s different. I was there when they were born. I’ve seen their faces smeared with strained carrots, and cleaned “accidents” on the carpet, but wracking my brain for a good story about them as babies can be difficult. I’m not sure why this is. Am I a bad parent? No. That’s like saying you’re a lousy driver because you forgot where you put the car keys. My theory on why it’s hard to sometimes recall the details from those days of diaper rashes and teething is a matter of context. READ THE REST HERE...


Some Hockey Fun Facts From Texas

Last friday my family and I had the chance to go see the Houston Aeros hockey team play as part of a H-Town Blogger's Night Out event. Honestly, I had my reservations about how much of a good time we would have. Everyone was crabby; there were several meltdowns, and we ended up getting out the door late. Turns out, we had a blast. Hockey? In Texas? Who woulda thunk it?

I'm from Northwest PA, and hockey was a big deal. I went to a few of the minor league pro games up in Erie, and it was a blast. But I was teenager, so I had my doubts as to how long Allie and Avery would last. They loved it. In fact their enthusiasm for every body check and fight bordered on blood-lust, the likes of which caused me to make mental note never to expose them to the WWF.

As the evening progressed, Allie started asking me all kinds of questions about the game, prompting me to send out some facts about hockey via Twitter. It's been a while since the days when I followed the game closely, but I think most of what I sent out is fairly accurate. (I also added a few more.) 

Hockey Fun Facts*

Hockey Fun Fact: A faceoff is when a player from each team have a staring contest & make mean faces until one of them laughs

Hockey Fun Fact: When it comes to picking a team to root for my wife will pick the one that has the better font on their jersey.

Hockey Fun Fact: The players like to slap the puck out of things

Hockey Fun Fact: Not sure what “icing” means, but in hockey, it doesn’t go on cake.

Hockey Fun Fact: They’ve got nachos? Mmmmm, naaaachoooos.

Hockey Fun Fact: Zambonies make ice shiny.

Hockey REALLY Fun Fact: There are cheerleaders!

Hockey Fun Fact: A “slap shot” is when you’re wife catches you looking at the cheerleaders

Hockey Fun Fact: Being in the “penalty box” is like timeout for adults. There’s another definition but I can’t say as this is a family event

Hockey Fun Fact: A “2-on-1” is …you know what, let’s just not go there.

Hockey Fun Fact: “Poke Checking” is—Hey! I thought this was supposed to be a family event?!

Hockey Fun Fact: “Shuffle the muffin” “ringing the pipes” “hip-check” “wrist shot” & “stickhandling” More proof this game is filthy

Hockey Fun Fact: Fights occasionally happen. Ooo, Ooo! Punch that mutha effer in da throat you pussy!!! #houstonaeros family night

Hockey Fun Fact: For Texas hockey players Line Brawling is done the same a Line Dancing but with 2 fists not 2 steps

Hockey Fun Fact: You keep track of periods, the players wear pads & it's not unusual to see blood.

Hockey Fun Fact: When your wife shoves you after reading your tweets, it's referred to as a “bawdy check.”

Hockey Fun Fact: “Ripple the twine” is a phrase for scoring a goal 1st used in a poem by Emily Dickinson after seeing her 1st game in 1848

Hockey Fun Fact: If a player pulls 3 goals out his ars in the same game it’s called a hat trick. (I don’t get the connection)

Hockey Fun Fact: If home team scores during a predestinated 90 second stretch fans are treated to free hot wings at local eatery

Hockey Fun Fact: “Stoned” – an AWESOME save by the goalie …who is also high as a kite.

Hockey Fun Fact: A delayed penalty is when a player gets distracted for a few seconds before committing a foul.

Hockey Fun Fact: “Pulling the goalie” is like when the goal tender gets laid off.

Hockey Fun Fact: My old girlfriend & I sat in this same section of the arena to see a Coldplay concert.

Hockey Fun Fact: Same girlfriend and I watched NIN from VIP skybox on the other side of arena. What a night.

Hockey Fun Fact: When your wife says it's time to go early because she’s pissed at you it's called a "Power Play."

*some of the items listed may be longer than 140 characters as they have been modified for clarity purposes here

Before I close this post out, it would be wrong of me not to express my gratitude to Jamie from Love to Shop Mom and Christina of Rant Rave Roll, who did a fabulous job of organizing the event in conjunction with Nikk Welsh, the @houston_aeros social media coordinator. I do feel badly, however, about arriving late since it deprived me the opportunity to talk to Elz (Elizabelz) again, and meet other bloggers like Stacey of Tree Root Twig, Mile High Mama, and many others. I hope to get the chance again in the near future.

So the FTC doesn't body check my skinny butt into the glass, I'd better point out that I received four free tickets in order to attend this event, but no one asked me write this post. I only did it to boost my stats.

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