Category: Parenting

Once Again, I Feel Old

Once Again, I Feel Old

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So she absolutely hates it when I post about her, or even mention her in passing on social media, so I’ll leave names out to protect the innocent and merely note that my oldest daughter turned sixteen today. Whether she wants to admit it or not, that’s a big deal.

I feel old, and I often get nostalgic on my kids’ birthdays, remembering when I held them first, brought them home from the hospital, watched for first steps, listened for first words, went to tea parties and school shows, picked them up when they fell down, held them when they were sick, and all of the other firsts and events and tragedies.

She doesn’t allow her picture to be taken these day, but I’ll go back a few years for a couple of memories and just say that I love her more than I can possibly express. And I won’t post this anywhere she can see it.

Be well, everyone.

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You Are Not a Pet Parent. Really.

You Are Not a Pet Parent. Really.

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02 CyrusSo I’m not sure why the phrase “pet parent” irritates me so much, far more than pet owner.

Actually, that’s not true. I am sure, but that surety actually had a couple of people willing to argue about it with me yesterday, even after I offered a better word.

What’s the word?

Guardian. You’re not a parent, you’re a guardian.

Someone is shouting semantics at their computer screen right now, but it’s not. The difference between parent and guardian is not like the difference between big and large, far and distant, or brother/sister and sibling. Parent and guardian are not synonyms, they define two different relationships.

As a parent, your job is generally to raise a child from birth (or sometime later in childhood in the case of adoption) to adulthood, gradually teaching them how to think and act for themselves and to become a functional member of society.

This is not what you’re doing with your pet. (There are exceptions with children, too, but these are not the rule, and then I’d suggest both parent and guardian as relationship titles.)

Any animal you bring into your family—and that’s absolutely what you’re doing, no matter how small they are—you’ve taken responsibility for every aspect of their life, from the moment of their arrival to that horrible day when they die in your arms or you have to make that decision no one wants to make. You’re a guardian.

Children eventually start to detach themselves from you and find their own place in the world. Pets don’t. You’re never going to explain sex, love, death, or other complicated things to your cat. You’re never going to teach your dog to drive or help your Guinea Pig study for a math test. Your gecko isn’t looking for dating advice and your corn snake won’t need to be taught the realities of social media.

Your child will eventually learn to feed her/himself, but you’re opening a fresh can of dog food every single day for as long as that dog is with you. Your child will (someday) clean things up on their own, but you’d better keep scooping the litter box.

Pets are not children. You are not their parent. Think about it. Really think about it. To your pet, you are everything, the bringer of food and warmth and affection, the solver of problems and the cleaner of messes, and the absolute centre of their world. Your child will learn how to do or be all of these themselves and if it takes longer for some than others, it also takes longer than most pets will be with you.

Guardian. It’s a different kind of relationship than parent. To your pet, it’s all encompassing.

“Pet Parent”, I’m fairly certain, is a term coined by some marketing whiz to help sell us stuff for our pets we don’t really need.

Be well, everyone.

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Life Lessons From 2014

Life Lessons From 2014

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We should always be learning. I’ve learned lots this year as well as others. But some lessons stand out and sometimes because they were hard to learn or relearn. I have four picks for this year, each learned or relearned or reinforced in a different way.

If someone is wrong on the Internet, it’s not that important.

Rather than telling someone they’re wrong on FB (or Twitter, or wherever), it’s often just as satisfying to comment out loud to yourself without posting. Humans being humans, most people are just going to resent the correction anyway. Make an exception when they’re posing a danger to themselves or others.

If you haven’t got anything nice to say, say something nice about someone else.

There’s something about our modern society that entitles someone’s opinion to be as valid as carefully researched and proven facts. Combine this with the fact that many people think that just because they have an opinion that other people have to listen to it. Throw in a little anonymity on the internet to bleed belligerence through into the real world and you’ve got a veritable douchebag cocktail at work in western society. Try not to contribute to it. Find something you like about someone and say something about that instead.

Do something to make the world a better place.

Anything. Stand up for something that’s wrong. Be kind to strangers, animals, and small children. Pick up a little garbage. Write a protest letter. Be the person you wish everyone could be.

Meet your kids where they are.

They’re still pretty young when they stop automatically coming to where you are and joining in with your interests. Finding their own path is important, but you’ve got to learn to walk it with them, and that’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s bloody hard. But it’s also incredibly important.

Be well, everyone.

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Understanding My Kids’ Relationship With YouTube

Understanding My Kids’ Relationship With YouTube

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So lately I’ve been trying to watch some of the YouTube video channels that my oldest daughter is into. I watch them with her, because none of them are things I’d likely go to on my own, trying to understand what she sees in them. This is a bonding experience, I suppose, because from my perspective, the attraction to most of these is like a train wreck: you just can’t look away.

Let’s be clear: not all of them. There are actually a small handful I enjoy, although I wouldn’t sit down and watch a whole bunch in a row.

 

Fun Stuff on YouTube

Movie Sins is probably my favorite. Produced by a guy who goes through popular movies and points out all of the problems and plot holes that are running through my head as I’m watching them. While I manage to keep the easy ones to an eye roll while I’m watching the film, he adds them up. And every movie gets a score at the end of the video. Higher numbers are bad.

I also kind of like Game Theory. This is an entertaining little segment where the host takes some strange little, or not so little, item or incident from a popular or classic videogame and then blows up into a giant conspiracy theory, completely “supported” by “evidence” in the game it’s from and from other related games if necessary. This is fun, and shows immense creativity.

Your Grammar Sucks is also worth a mention. The host, Jack, takes user submitted scrapings of comments from YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook of the most atrocious grammar, spelling, and things that just don’t make sense, and reads them as seriously as possible. He has a couple of other channels in his feed, too.

And I get some of the College Humor material. Some of it. There are videos that are absolutely hilarious. Some of the work, well, a lot of it, is clearly not targeted at me and most of that I don’t find particularly funny. Some isn’t even mildly entertaining.

 

Sturgeon’s Law

Now, before you get the idea that I’m actually liking everything YouTube has to offer, or at least the chunk of it my kids are watching, let me remind you of the generalization of Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap.

In that light, I’m trying to understand the attraction to streaming video of someone playing a videogame with running commentary that never stops. I mean, I get the idea of an exciting play through. Fun and weird stuff happens that can make it really entertaining. Watching a two player or team game is the geek equivalent of watching football or hockey.

I don’t understand watching something where the commentary provided by player is a never ending stream of meaningless drivel and noise. I mean, we all went to school with the guy or girl never shut up and thought everything that fell out of their mouth was hilarious. We didn’t pay an awful lot of attention to them back then, so why are we giving them hundreds of thousands of views YouTube now? (This is the same reason I don’t like Deadpool, by the way. Deadpool is that guy only with superpowers. No thanks.) There are some fun and entertaining play throughs happening, but remember Sturgeon’s Law.

Then there’s amateur standup or sit down comedy hour.

Hours.

Days.

Eternities.

A lot of YouTube are somebody sitting in their bedroom, living room, basement, etc, talking about random stuff for no apparent reason and we’re supposed to hang on every word like it’s life changing. Or at least we’re supposed to find them incredibly entertaining. Unsurprisingly, Sturgeon’s Law applies again.

The question becomes how work with the Law, how to find the good stuff among the random chatter. Clearly, we can’t trust popularity. If a girl telling the story about how she knows everyone and is friends with everyone who works at the local 7-11 because she’s there every single day gets a hundred thousand hits, there’s clearly something wrong with us as a species.

I have developed three rules that I think apply beyond YouTube.

 

Rule Number One

If your kids are watching it, watching it with them.

Yes, you can make fun of it here and there, but only after you’ve taken the time to see what they’re seeing, ask questions, and make efforts to get them to explain to you what it is they find so entertaining or attractive about the particular channel or the selection of shows it has. YouTube is a lot like TV or movies this way.

 

Rule Number Two

Give something three chances. When you’re checking out something new, don’t assume the first thing you see is the creator’s best work. Everyone has an off day sometimes, but if they have, by your perception, three off days in a row, then either they’re going through some major issues, or they only have an on day every so often. If it’s the former, watching their unappealing video content is probably not going to help them get through, though putting extra views on the good stuff might. If it’s the latter, you’re just encouraging them and it isn’t going to help either of you. Either way, I’d suggest finding something else to watch. If you’re far enough along the path, ask the child you’re watching with to switch to a channel in their list to one you know have a chance of liking. But do it casually. Hey, is there a new Movie Sins this week?

 

Rule Number Three

Don’t be afraid to try something new, especially something completely new. You never know what you might like, and at least it will give you some insights into your kids’ minds, if you’re following rule number one.

Bonding with your kids is never an easy thing. You can only force them to like what you like for so long. And it’s probably better if you don’t force it in the first place. Let them see you like something to decide to join you. That will stop at some point, a different age for every child of my three. After that, if you want to spend time with them, you’re going to have to find things that they like. You need to go where they are, not drag them to you. That way lies and madness and sulking.

 

There is no rule four, five, or six. At this point, I’m working with just the three. And believe me, it’s hard sometimes.

Be well, everyone.

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Field Trips

Field Trips

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So all of my children have different ideas of what school should be, and what it means to be social, and things they should have to do. This is normal and natural, and I expect no less from them, but they are coming into an age where they can actually argue better than, “I don’t want to”. This is a good thing, but sometimes makes discussions take a little longer. I love that they are using their brains to try to get their way rather than a just flat black and white argument.

But as a result of this growing brain power, both of the girls did not go on their year end field trips this year.

Amanda, because hers was to camp Quin-Mo-Lac again and she feels she’s done that one before, and doesn’t really like to go outside anyway. Melanie did not want to go to the the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, for a similar reason: been there, done that, on several previous occassions.

I kind of agree with the reasoning. They’ve both been on this trip two or three times with the school before. Unless they have something really new and exciting, and that seems possible, but is a difficult argument to make next to all of the e non new and exciting things still at both locations, they’d rather not go thank you.

So, my counter proposal is that they will each go on a field trip of my choosing with me in the first week or so after school is out. They both easily agreed to this, although I’m not certain what I’m going to do with either one of them, especially considering my promise that it would be something each would enjoy. I’m not going to drag them somewhere they hate to punish them. That would be pointless, and really punish me more.

I thought about taking Amanda to a geocaching event in Toronto, although, as a day trip it doesn’t have as much to recommend it as an overnight or weekend. The COG event, Central Ontario Geocachers, is in Tottenham, and looked big and exciting the Saturday after school is over, but it wouldn’t necessarily be something different. We’re already planning to go to the mega event in Nappanee in August, and I’d rather have that one be exciting and new than her making comparisons to the another one. So I’m still stuck.

And I have no idea what to do for Melanie.

But we’ll figure something out. Preferably something in less than a two hour drive from where we live. Shouldn’t be too hard. Summer is coming, and there’s an awful lot of stuff to do.

And that’s aside from the fact that I’m hoping to manage a number of short duration summer adventures in the area. Amanda and I are going to learn to kayak. Both of the girls have expressed some interest in the idea of a tree top trek with zip lines and rope bridges. I’ve also been threatening white water rafting for several years now.

Plus the debate has continued between fan Expo and Montréal Comic Con, though I think this has probably been decided now.

Montréal had my vote on the strength of the announced guest list, having booked the attendance of almost the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation crew, including Denise Crosby who was a main character in first season but was killed off, with the exception of Patrick Stewart. With the addition of John DeLancie, who played Q as a guest star several times, plus visited the ships and sets of both DS9 and Voyager. Of less interest are several of the Power Rangers. Oh, and Robert England will be there. Since we missed him in Ottawa that will be a good opportunity.

Fan Expo on the other hand has announced William Shatner who is always a big deal for me. It’s hard to beat Captain Kirk. Elijah Wood (Frodo from the Lord of the rings movies) tops my wife’s list of any announcements made for any con so far this summer. They’ve announce some other big names as I write this, but are doing just a few announcements per week, building tension as much as they can.

All that said, my understanding is that if you want to go to a hockey game, and spend the night, you’re going to spend between $300 and $500 spending on your tickets and how much you like expensive beverages and food at the arena. So, for me, that equates a single evening hockey game with an overnight stay ito a three-day science fiction convention extravaganza. Fan Expo is closer to two hockey games with the high ticket price and extra night. Yes, I need more spending money for a con, and so do the kids, although they tend to save a little bit leading up to the con, but we’ve never been, and will never be sports fans. No competition, and even if it were, I think a convention wins value-wise.

Be well, everyone.

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Sushi and Onigiri (Mostly Onigiri)

Sushi and Onigiri (Mostly Onigiri)

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So I’m not a big sushi fan.

There’s nothing wrong with sushi and millions of people like it, but it doesn’t do it for me for reasons that have nothing to do with Japanese cuisine (a lot of which I do like).

I don’t really like fish. Sorry. I know that’s a sweeping, general statement, but it’s more or less true. I like it better than squash, if that helps, but given two choices of protein for a meal, I want to choose the other one.

And sushi uses raw fish.

I’m good, thanks.

You can keep the seaweed, too. Tastes like fish.

But take that sushi rice and squish it into a ball with some tasty surprise in the middle and you have one of my favourite foods: onigiri.

Pretty awesome onigiri. Mine don’t look this good.

We discovered onigiri at Anime North last year. It was being billed as ‘Japanese Street Food’ on the sign of the restaurant in the con hotel and they were selling them 2 for $5 without having to go in and sit down. A little expensive, I’ve since discovered, but we were hungry and it was convenient.

We were also hooked. The girls liked the salmon ones best, but I found them better with chicken or beef inside.

The filling is really just for flavour. Most of what you’re getting is rice, but that’s good as long as you’re not eating a dozen of them at a sitting. Although I may have had as many as four that first time.

Yes, I was completely addicted.

ANd, knowing we’d never find them where we live, I decided to figure out how to make them myself. Turns out it’s not that hard.

  1. Cook the rice.
  2. Cool the rice a little.
  3. Squish the rice into the desired shape.
  4. Stick some stuff in the middle and squish some rice over top.
  5. Consume

Yes, it’s that easy.

Step 3 can be messy, if you let it. My oldest daughter (the Japanese food and culture addict) prefers the handmade balls. A little messy, but made with love. I like to keep my hands mostly rice free, and use a measuring cup, some plastic wrap, and a glass to squish them with.

Mine also don’t look this good. But they’re close.

Neater, and pre-wrapped for my lunch.

But they really are easy.

Oh, the filling might be a little work, but that’s up to you. Most of the time we do a miso paste, green onion, rice wine thing that’s absolutely delicious. The girls are quite fond of salmon inside, and we’ve done beef once or twice as well.

{picture of my onigiri}

They do tend to dry out very quickly, though. My experience is they degrade quickly into dryness after 24 hours and even near the end of that time they start to need a drink to go with. But, wrapped, if you make them in the evening, they should be fine for lunch the next day. Better still to make them in the morning if you want them for lunch. Waiting for the rice to cook is the longest part of the process.

Oldest daughter's hand made onigiri.
Oldest daughter’s hand made onigiri.
DSCN4636
My pre-wrapped onigiri. Not bad!

I think we make them about once a week lately. They’ve become a sort of comfort food and they’re popular with everyone in the family except for the teenage carnivore. Insufficient protein.

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Video Game Companies Need to Get Smarter If They Want My Money

Video Game Companies Need to Get Smarter If They Want My Money

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Backing that up a bit, I appear to be raising several gamer kids, although of distinctly different types.

At some point, we’ve all been Halo fans, and fans of first person shooters in general. Those days are mostly over, I think. We’ve decided we’re not going to bother with the XBox One at this point for a variety of reasons, but the 360 still has a solid place in our entertainment unit. So does the PS3. The Wii (although that’s mostly for Gamecube games, and the Gamecube itself has migrated to my son’s room with an older 360). And the recently acquired Nintendo 64. There are a variety of handheld devices in the house, too. DS and 3DS mostly, but there’s also a game boy and a PSP hanging around, as well as the game potential on several iPods. I won’t rule out a new console in the future, either.

Personally, I’m fairly eclectic in my gaming (surprise!), though that usually means I don’t get really good at any one game. But it’s more about the fun, or with bigger games, the story telling. I’m not competitive, so I don’t need to be better than anyone else at something. I just need to be good enough to watch the story unfold in a reasonable time frame.

But, like I said, the offspring are all different.

Oldest appears to have migrated away from first person shooters of his “youth” to online battle arenas as his primary gaming entertainment. Not exclusively. He has a couple of handheld devices, so he’s never without games, though seems to prefer some of the classic Nintendo varieties. He’s ranked somewhere in the Platinum levels on League of Legends at this point, but plays several others, too. These are mostly too complicated for me to have time for the learning curve at this stage of life, but I like Smite as it gives you the ability to automate certain things to streamline play. We keep saying we should check out War Thunder, but haven’t managed to yet.

Youngest Daughter is a Minecraft fanatic. I admit to having been bitten by this bug (as evidenced by a previous post) and intend to allow myself an account of my own for my fast approaching birthday. She likes the Pokémon type games, too, and has a fairly extensive and eclectic collection of DS games. But Minecraft is her current love and gets the vast majority of her gaming time at the moment. Often hours per day. As many as three people in our house have played Minecraft together at the same time.

Oldest Daughter, on the other hand, is the RPG fan. She does some action-adventure games, too (like having just finished off the entire Assassin’s Creed series), but RPGs tend to hold her interest longer. For solo play, she keeps coming back to Skyrim lately, but we’ve played a couple of multiplayer games together in the last little while: War in the North, and Dungeon Siege III. Two very different games in the same general genre, but both a lot of fun. I think we probably enjoyed War in the North more, as we played through it at every difficulty level building our characters up to game maximum, but our interest did eventually die out.

And that’s the problem right now. We haven’t found another one we can play together. Most of the really good games on the shelf get passed by as single player games. We want something that allows for the two of us to play together, as in at the same time. A lot of game developers seem slow to wake up to the idea that gaming can be social, that it almost has to be and not just in an online, can’t see the other players’ faces, smack talk kind of way. (Which I personally find to be a complete turn off.)

Gaming can be family time.

For me, that’s always what it’s about. Can I play with one or more of my kids? If the answer is no, it’s probably going to stay on the shelf at the store. Now, I recognize that I’m not part of the target market of young men with more money than sense that the video game industry seem to survive on by fleecing on a regular basis. But the thing is, I should be. I have the potential to spend more money on entertaining my family.

And there are five of us.

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The Perils of Minecraft

The Perils of Minecraft

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Dig, farm, make, build, create.

Minecraft is hard to describe in only a few words. It takes place in a randomly generated, blocky, heavily pixilated world where just about everything is made out of cubes.

Okay, that’s oversimplified, but it starts to find the flavour of the game.

It’s a mostly creative endeavor, and can be either cooperative or competitive (with a heavy emphasis on the first one, which is why I like it). It’s also rather addictive if you have the right mindset for the game.

Harvest resources (mining, digging, farming, chopping, fishing, etc, etc, etc) and use them to create your own home, castle, shop, world, whatever. It’s a fun, varied, and entertaining time sink.

And it’s somehow become a huge part of my youngest daughter’s life. She spends hours a day playing Minecraft on various servers and various game types, creative. She has friends she only sees on Minecraft. They meet up, play together, and go their separate ways to meet up again later. When not playing, she’s watching videos of other people playing. Screenshots of her play make it to Facebook. She’s thrilled to run into Minecraft, Gamer, and Youtube “celebrities” and makes sure she gets screenshots of their Minecraft characters (called skins).

So the only thing you can do in this situation as a parent is dive in.

I don’t have my own Minecraft account (although I’m considering it), but all three of my kids do. To play with my youngest, I borrow one of the others when not in use. We dig, we build, we farm. She tries to get me to play Hunger Games. I remind her that I don’t really like to kill other people. Even in Minecraft. But, we dig, build, and farm. Mostly dig and build. Actually, we dig so we can build, mainly, though it’s fun to just explore sometimes, too. Or go on expeditions to far off biomes and see what there is to see or harvest or what other people have built.

Playing with your kid, it’s best to have both computers in the same room if you can manage it. Then it becomes kind of like a social experience because you can talk to each other outside of the in-game chat. Of course, webcams can manage this for you, but where’s the fun in that?

Be careful, though. It’s addictive. You can sit down to play for an hour, look up and it’s past time to make dinner. Oh, and don’t take on an Enderman unless you really mean it.

Time to go dig!

Be well, everyone.

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