Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Day the Music Stopped

The plans were set. The next morning I would be headed with my closest friend to say goodbye to our friend Oren Miller forever. Mother nature had other plans and unleashed an ice storm that turned my car into a popsicle.

They said the roads were covered in ice and that travelling was not a good idea. My kids' school went into panic mode and delayed opening and the mad scramble for Jeff and me, as stay at home dads, was to do whatever it took to make sure we were there.

Through the sacrifices of our wives and generous offers from friends to care for our children we somehow found a way. Though our moms were worried, we soon discovered that the roads were clear and as we made our way to Baltimore, the sun came out lighting everything covered in ice like shining diamonds. The ice and fears melted away but our apprehension remained.

I hadn't thought about what I would say to my kids before I left. I was so focused on getting there that I didn't know what I would say to my three kids and especially my four year old about why Daddy wouldn't be home when she finished school.

I told them I was saying goodbye to a friend who had died. That he was a stay at home dad and a writer like me. I told them I wanted to be there for his family and for their two kids as well. Maybe that scared them to think it might happen to me too that dads are not invincible. As with a lot of things with kids, I felt the truth was the best way to approach talking about death. It serves children better to not be lied to when it comes to death.

We've been fortunate enough to have never had to deal with it up until this point. The kids are too young to remember the passing of my uncle and we've never lost a family pet. I simplified terms for my four year old mentioning cancer and how it makes people so sick that sometimes medicine can't make them better.

"You're going to see your friend Orange, who died?" she said. My older kids laughed and tried to correct her but it made me smile to think of him with his new nickname. I thought he would appreciate it and think it was funny.

If it weren't for the final destination on our minds, this might have been a guy's road trip, just two guys in a car on their way to see their friend. A trip with Jeff usually meant we were connected to our phones or wielding a camera. Instead, we were in suits and ties headed to a funeral home representing over 1,000 dad bloggers who wished they could be there too.

We talked about his life, how we met him, the impact he had on us and our community and the importance of the Dad Bloggers group on Facebook that he started. We laughed and bullshitted, listening to music of course, and ate some Wawa subs. It's not until we stopped to get his family a card that the weight of it all came crashing down on us.

Here were two writers, sitting in a car unable to think of any words that would make this all better.

No words could describe our heavy hearts. The sobs of his wife and daughter at the service were reminders of how precious life can be, how fragile it becomes when it is wrenched from our hands too quickly.  In that instance there is no way to not think of your own family. My tears could not be contained and I wept for my friend.

At the end of the funeral, a song that I didn't recognize played. I looked over at Jeff, the ultimate musical guide and saw him nodding his head, mouthing the words in affirmation.  It showed just how important music was to Oren; how important music and notes juxtaposed could have such meaning in our lives. Jeff said "Of course he picked that song" and as we queued up to head to the cemetery, Jeff's iPod played it for us again,  I Love You But Goodbye by Langhorne Slim.

On a bitterly cold and blustery afternoon Oren was laid to rest among the iced over drifts of snow. The sun was shining but the wind howled. It was the kind of wind that cut right through you. The kind of wind that freezes you from the inside as if my heart wasn't feeling heavy enough. My legs felt disconnected as I walked over to his final resting place to scatter the earth and say a final prayer to him. "Rest in peace, my brother." is all I could manage.

Later, at their house we gathered to pay our respects and his wife showed us around. They had recently moved into the house before he got really sick and it was all still new to them. One of the reasons they loved the house was because it was wired to play music in every room.  She talked about how the house was always filled with music and how strange it was that there wasn't any at that moment. The gathering of people that was void of music marked his absence.

I returned to my kids with a renewed sense of purpose. I didn't ever want to take my moments with them for granted even the ones that absolutely drove me up the wall. I never hid talking about his passing with them. It's amazing how the mind of children can simplify the most difficult of obstacles.

My youngest daughter still talks about Oren anytime we talk about something dying. I suppose it is because she saw the way it affected me and because she in turn experienced the loss too.  We had a plant that didn't make it over the winter and she said "Maybe it is now with your friend Orange, maybe he gets to take care of it"  That's how little minds work as if nothing is impossible.

For the longest time after I was extremely sad and my daughter could see it. She came up to me when we were playing on the floor and I had tears in my eyes. "Daddy, are you sad because you miss your friend Orange?" Yes, I said. "But Daddy, all you have to do is close your eyes and you can see him."

I still listen to that song from time to time. It will undoubtedly stay with me forever just like he intended it to. We all know that feeling when you hear a song that has somehow indelibly has been etched into your very being.

It's the way that song from college reminds you of a girlfriend, that song from your wedding, your spouse. It might be your grandfather's favorite song or a lullaby your mother once sang to you. Without it, we forget but the instant it plays we remember. I think about that silence and know that all we have to do is let those songs play. In time, when silence is more than we can bear there is comfort in knowing that wherever Oren is now there is music playing and it's perfect.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Grace and Frankie : Finally A Show My Wife Will Watch With Me

After the kids go to bed, it is time for my wife and I to watch shows "together". I say "together" because we may end up in the same room but we are never really together. She is usually on her device or I am not mine, unable to make a compromise on the content.

She likes her shows and I like mine. We haven't been able to agree on many that we like to watch together. I like drama and she doesn't. If she is overwhelmed, she leaves the room and comes back for the synopsis which I have to then relay to her before the show ends. She can only handle comedy which I enjoy but after awhile I get bored of it because there isn't enough drama.

See the dilemma? We'd like to come together in the perfect marriage of drama and comedy. That's exactly what we found in a Netflix Original series Grace and Frankie which premieres on Netflix May 8th. Do you think the way we've watched TV together has drastically changed? So has the family dynamic.

In Grace and Frankie, Jane Fonda (“Grace”) and Lily Tomlin (“Frankie”) star as two women whose lives are suddenly turned upside down when their husbands reveal they are gay and leave them for each other. Both sparring partners and partners-in-crime, they form an unlikely bond to face an uncertain future together and discover a new definition of “family,” with laughter, tears and plenty of mood enhancers along the way. Together, they must face starting again in their 70s in a 21st century world.

Sounds perfect right?  With stars like Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin who we haven't seen together since 9 to 5, you know their chemistry is going to be amazing. Supported by male leads Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston this is a show that had us laughing and crying at the same time. My wife loved Lily Tomlin's character, Frankie for her no BS hippie persona which is a great contrast to Jane Fonda's straight laced socialite character Grace.

Honestly, the greatest premise of the show is the dynamic relationships built by the show's excellent writing. In secret, Sol (Waterston) and Robert (Sheen) have been building a gay relationship unbeknownst to any of their families who just assumed they were close because of their business relationship.

The series breaks new ground in the complicated relationship they have forged despite their marital ties. They both come out at a time in their lives when they feel safe sharing their true feelings for each other. Only this isn't your typical, he's been cheating and he's trading me in for a younger model. This is a true story about a blended family that proves that family is what you make it. I applaud Netflix for doing something new. We've finally found something my wife and I can watch together.

Watch Grace and Frankie on Netflix starting May 8th. You can watch the trailer below:

Why We Should Be All In : Interview With Josh Levs

AllInPhotoI just listened to the keynote speaker at my very first Dad 2.0 Summit and I was so pumped up by what he had to say that I knew I needed to talk with him. Josh Levs talked about the changing perceptions of dads in the world today and he was interested in finding out directly from the source, what that meant to them.  He told the entire room that he was in the process of writing a book and the throngs of people were queuing up just to speak with him excited to be a part of it.  Having a good father and role model growing up, I wanted to share everything I could with him and share what it meant to me as a stay at home dad.

I made my appointment with him for the next day. I was flying out of New Orleans headed back home in the afternoon and figured that would give me plenty of time to make it. Conversations went long before me. Everyone was feeling that same excitement. This was something big for the good of fatherhood. We talked for a good amount of time and when we were done Josh he asked me when my flight was. I looked at my watch sort of panicked "In about an hour and a half" was my response. "Chris, you'd better get in a taxi now!" he said, worried that I wouldn't make it home.  I did, though it was close but I knew the value of sharing what I needed to say and so does Josh Levs in his new book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses Alike – And How We Can Fix It Together which will be available May 12th.  I was fortunate to have a chance to return the favor by interviewing him about the book and what he discovered about the state of modern fatherhood.

CB - What experience has really opened you up to writing about the transition of the modern man from the 1950s version we are used to seeing to the versions of fatherhood now?

JL - I was covering fatherhood, and parenthood from a dad’s perspective, on air and online at CNN.  As I explain in the book, I saw all these changes happening, and when I began covering them I got tons of amazing feedback, including from other media.  I realized that this story was largely untold.  Then, the tables were turned.  I faced a discriminatory policy that prevented me from being home with my daughter (my third child) after her birth.  When I announced I was taking legal action, it was like I had unleashed the floodgates of love.  So much support came in from women’s groups and men’s groups.  I realized that those of us committed to equality -- for our daughters and sons, for our wives and husbands, and for ourselves -- are All In this together.  I came to see how our laws, policies, and stigmas are still based on that outdated 1950s vision of gender roles, and how out of touch those structures are with our real lives.  Our workplace culture needs a wakeup call.

CB - You mentioned in your book the disconnect between the business world and family. Are you finding that most corporations value the bottom line more than relationships with their employees? Are there exceptions that see the light at the end of the tunnel?

JL - I’m an optimist. I believe most business leaders want to do the right thing by their businesses and employees.  But they don’t know the facts.  Better policies that respect workers as parents -- of both genders -- improve the bottom line.  I explain this in detail in the book, and I really hope business leaders will take note.  And yes, there are some businesses leading the way.  More and more businesses are creating sensible policies (Johnson and Johnson is among the latest).  In the book I highlight some big businesses that are thriving with better policies.

CB - Why is the balance between men and women so vital to the survival of our culture?

JL - I’d say it’s vital for our culture to thrive.  As a nation, we profess to believe in equality, but our laws, policies, and stigmas prevent that happening in the workplace.  We have so few women as CEOs and in the halls of power in government.  And these policies that act as gender police are a big part of the reason -- they’re pushing men out of caregiving roles and pushing women into them.  As I show in the book, economies thrive with more gender equality.  And that’s the world I want my daughter and sons to grow up in.

CB - Women have been fighting and continue to fight for equal pay for equal work. Some males in traditional roles will argue that men, especially white men, have no reason to fight or complain about inequality in the workplace when it comes to flexibility in their jobs. What would you say to those men?

JL - First, let me emphasize that very few men think that way.  Today’s dads who live with our children are very involved in family life when they’re home.  But they’re experiencing a lot of work-life conflict -- even more so than women, according to one study.  Many men who are fathers want more time at home with their families.   Many women want to have more time to pursue their careers.  So all those of us committed to equality stand together.  And that includes on equal pay -- men have as much at stake in that as women do, because men have every reason to want their wives to be able to make as much for the same work, so that the family has choices about how to structure their lives!  Plus, it’s just obviously the right thing to do, and men want this for our daughters and sons.

Yes, there are people who say men should not speak out on these issues.  And there are men who feel that when they do, they are told not to because they come from a place of privilege.  But as numerous women -- including actress Emma Watson, at the U.N. -- are pointing out, men must join these conversations.  All In is designed to help that happen in a big way.  We have the incredible legacy of the women’s rights movement to build on.

CB - What did you learn about stay at home dads when it came to asking questions about raising their children in an environment that often doesn’t see them as equal, competent parents?

JL - This is a place in which individuals all over the country can make a big difference in their communities.  Every dad, including me, has stories of being the one dad on the playground, or at storytime, or singalong or some other such activity, with a group of moms who are wary of him and don’t talk to him.  As Sheryl Sandberg says in the interview for my book, she always makes an effort to play with the dad.  Men and women need to get past the false suggestions that dads are untrustworthy, or for that matter incompetent.  This is also why there’s a section in All In that focuses on media and the portrayals of dads in fiction and news.

CB - Why is there such a gap when it comes to paid paternity leave? Does our society not put much value in a father’s impact on their children?

JL -It’s the same with the U.S. being the only nation with an advanced economy and no paid maternity leave.  It’s all based on the same false assumptions; that women should stay home (so who needs their salary?) and men should bring home the bacon (so why do they need paternity leave?).  It’s ridiculous and has to be rectified.  This thinking is hurting our businesses, our entire economy, women, men, and most importantly, children.

CB - At the end of some of your chapters, you give clear steps for the reader to follow to achieve certain goals that they can apply to their own lives. Have you found that people want to make a difference and often don’t know how to make it happen?

JL - Yes!  And I love that.  People are always asking for concrete steps, so I have laid out very clear step-by-step lists in the book.  Most people have never been told how these systems work or what rights, protections, and options they have.  I’ve learned through experience.  (Time Warner revolutionized its policy, making it much better for dads like me and for biological moms, as a result of my case.)  People get frustrated with Washington for good reason.  But here’s something big that we can make happen on a national level.  We can get this done.  (Hence the chapter title “Let’s Do This.”)

CB - What is so important about redefining our current world’s view on what makes someone masculine?

JL - False and outdated views about masculinity are at the core of these problems.  If you have children, being a committed and involved father is the manliest thing you’ll ever do.  Those who hold the power over our laws, policies, and stigmas need to understand that so we can all move forward.  Some Neanderthals, as I write in the book, are trying desperately to hold onto the old ways.  It’s important that we all reject that vociferously.

CB - We’ve begun to see a shift in the media away from the doofus dad. How important is it for brands to move away from that stereotype?

JL - Essential! Images of fathers are relevant to the public mindset.  Those stereotypes affect cultural thinking.  Some of the dads quoted in the book believe, by being active and involved, they’re the exceptions.  Even they don’t realize that they’re the norm!  The doofus dad imagery sends the message that men are less capable at home.  It sends bad messages to boys and girls.  Time to end it.

CB - What are some major ways we as men can be All In for our families?
JL - Being All In is about being empowered.  It’s about taking steps to improve life for yourself and your family.  There are things we can do in the workplace, in the public sphere, in our individual attitudes, and at home to make all that happen.  Rather than give you all the specifics here, let me just say: It’s in the book! :)

CB - Your book releases on May 12th. Where is it going to be available for purchase?

JL - Everywhere books are sold!  Also available via download.  See all this and more at Josh Levs.com

Josh Levs is the author of All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses Alike – And How We Can Fix It Together, published by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Book Publishers, May 2015, RRP $25.99 hardcover.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Reinventing Skylanders

The kitchen table might as well be in a war room with all the strategy that goes on there. My son will regularly talk my ear off, over a bowl of Crunch Berries, about Air, Water, Fire, Earth, and Tech Elements while I try to mainline some coffee into my system. He's memorized each character's stats and knows where every gate and special assignment in the game are. I love hearing all about Skylanders. I only wish his math was just as interesting.

It's times like these, in the boredom of childhood and not having play handed over to you on a playdate that a new game was born. It came into being purely through the imagination of a child looking for something to do.

It's a game born from a winter that was too brutal to even be outside. A winter that was so cold that just playing in the snow for more than thirty minutes might mean it could negatively effect your health. The game was born from pure imagination and invention and it's played without nunchuks or controllers or any kind of gaming system.

My son had friends over and they played Skylanders Trap Team. When their hour was up and they were looking for something to do, I thought I would find them turning to building or board games. Instead, they were running all over the house excitedly.

I thought at ten they were a little old to be playing hide and seek but what I discovered was that they weren't hiding and seeking each other, they were looking for Tree Rex and Hot Head somewhere in the house. They called it Elemental Hide and Seek and here's how you play it:

Players divvy up Skylanders picking by age order, youngest player picks first until all the figures are chosen for their team. You decide on the amount that each player can have as your house may be bigger or smaller.  Then, each player hides their element somewhere in the house near something that represents that element. Hot Dog was regularly near the fireplace and I sometimes found Thumpback near the toilet or Gusto near a fan. Those seem obvious but get into elements like Magic, Earth, and Undead and you can see the possibilities, they are ultimately endless.

My favorite part of the game is that everyone seems to win. When a character cannot be found, the hider can give clues to the seeker. As long as you can justify with logic why it was hidden there, you come up with how they are connected.

If both players find each other's hidden characters, it is a draw and goes into a second round. The object of the game is to stump your opponent by connecting the figure to something obscure, just have your reasoning ready to defend his or her placement.

The best part of Elemental Hide and Seek is that kids can remain in Skylands long after their screen time limit has been reached. The beauty of these toys-to-life figures lies not in the gaming but in the potential for imaginative play when the gaming system is powered down. So if you're stuck inside on a rain Spring day or you're hiding inside this Summer from extreme heat, play a round or twenty of Elemental Hide and Seek with your Skylander and be a Portal Master in real life.

If you were playing the game with your kids, which character would you pick and where would you hide it? 

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Authentic Signature

I loved the hot corner. The anticipation of every pitch, raising up on the balls of my feet making a move on the ball. The ping of the ball hitting the bat over and over on field next to field like a demented pinball machine. The wind would kick up every now and again and blow the dust right off the field, blowing between the stands and the concession stand where no matter how you played, a shockingly cold Mr. Pibb bought by the coach was waiting for you afterwards. The hiss of that pop top was like the roar of the crowd to some.

There is something magical about a coach calling your name for the on deck circle. Looking over at your parents in the stands and getting a thumbs up as you tried to play it cool. The sound of your teammates cheering you on as you walk up to the plate: your heart pounding in your chest like it wants to get out. Digging in at the plate, establishing your territory, and staring down the pitcher while you waited for his delivery.

I played baseball just like my brothers did. I played third base and was, when I started growing taller asked to eventually pitch. My last year in, I hit my first and only home run all the way to the tennis courts in deep left center and ran so slow around every base knowing it might be my last.

Back then it was just me and the dirty pants boys who slid that day, slogging down grape pop mixed with the grime from the field talking about baseball with mouths chock full of Big League Chew trying to emulate Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, or Ron Kittle. The firm allegiances to North or South firmly etched in your family but divided in any conversation about who was the better team that year.

Just like every boy my age, collecting baseball cards and memorabilia was an extension of that passion. The thrill of the hunt to complete an entire set or collecting your favorite player's baseball cards. Nothing could keep us from going to our favorite stores, even a six mile bike ride on our dirt bikes to the closest store didn't seem impossible.

Back then, it wasn't about game used this and uniforms embedded in the card. It was about the player and his stats, the look of the card. Sometimes it was about collecting enough packs to get a decent size bubble from the bubble gum which lost its flavor immediately but left that powdery residue on whatever unfortunate soul was at the bottom.

I became a rabid collector with my younger brother and when sports card shows came to the local Holiday Inn where treasure became a reality.  The most coveted of all the memorabilia was the autograph. Sometimes our older brothers would take us to the shows where local legends and sometimes big stars lined up on a long table and you waited with baited breath to say something, anything to them while they signed your ball.

At Comiskey Park in the summer of 1981 my parents took me to a game. I went down to the bullpen to see who was warming up. The pitcher I don't remember but when you see Fisk on the back of the jersey this Chicago boy who played baseball got all numb inside.

I fought for position at the rail among the throng of other boys, some of them much bigger than me to get to the front. I was mere feet from a hero, hanging over the rail as much as I dared and I asked him "Mr. Fisk. Mr. Fisk, can you please sign my ball?" He lifted his catcher's mask, turned to me, as if in slow motion and said "F*** off kid."

I was devastated and hurt. Though my parents explained later that he was warming up the catcher pregame and he had his job to do, I didn't expect the harsh treatment. I stopped collecting anything that had his name on it. If I got him in a pack, my friend instantly knew he was up for grabs or just to get back at him his card instantly went in my dirt bike's spokes.

That's when I found Cal Ripken Jr. The Ironman. He started his career in 1981 as a third basemen like me but soon moved over to shortstop where he redefined the position. I watched him whenever I could and wanted to emulate his toughness. Not only that, but I discovered he was a nice guy and that meant even more to me as a young kid who looked up to ballplayers.

Since that day, I have been collecting every Cal Ripken Jr. card since he rookie year. It's the reason I bought a Cal Ripken commemorative baseball like the ones you can get from Steiner Sports for my shelf from his retirement game. There is something of value to being truly authentic. The signature is a symbol for me about who to be no matter what success you have in life and above all else to remain humble among accolades and praise.

The signature is much more than a collectible, it is a part of how I shaped myself as a person. It's a personal connection to a person that I never met but shaped my life through his actions. I forgive you Carlton Fisk because thanks to you, I found Cal Ripken Jr. when I needed him the most.

FTC Disclaimer: I received compensation from Steiner Sports for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

Get Dinner Done Pronto

This post is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group® and Barilla®, but all my opinions are my own. #pmedia #OnePotPasta http://my-disclosur.es/OBsstV

What's for dinner? is a phrase my son utters every single day after school right when he gets off the bus and I'm starting to resent it like it's an affront to my cooking.

There's no "Hi dad, how was your day?" or "Good to see you dad, tell me something cool you did today" It's a "I haven't eaten since one o' clock and I want to know if I am going to bed hungry tonight" question.

I've begun to dread his answer these days because when it comes to meal planning I am the absolute worst.I'm not sure why I am so adverse to having a plan, I suppose it has to do with my desire to be flexible and to fly by the seat of my pants. It's my job as the stay at home parent to keep the family fed and to stay on budget when it comes to spending.

From Monday to Friday I am carting kids from karate to choir, school to preschool, and everywhere in between. I'm cleaning the house, writing blog posts, mowing the lawn and doing the grocery shopping.

With a family of five this can be a problem as the after school homework and activities can really cut into my time for creative cooking. Feeding a family of five day in and day out can test your creative talents especially when you are in a time crunch.

When my wife comes home I want to have dinner ready so she doesn't have to think about it after her long day providing for our family. Cleanup after dinner is also my responsibility and when you are the cook and the dishwasher what you need is something fast and easy that isn't going to have you using every pot in the kitchen to make it.

When I do plan out the meals, I look for things that will take 20 minutes to prepare. Less cooking time means less clean up in my experience. That's why I went to my local ShopRite and picked up some Barilla Pronto pasta. Not only does it cook in 10 minutes, it is also cheap. In fact, if you can buy any FOUR (4) Barilla® Pronto™ pasta products for $5.00 or $1.25 each available until 5/16/15 while supplies last.

Do you want a quick and easy recipe using only one pot to make it? Look no further.


Bacon - 6 strips
Cherry tomatoes - 1 pint
Green onion (3)
1/4 cup Feta Cheese
1/4 cup Light Sour Cream
1/4 cup Mayonnaise
1 package  Barilla® Pronto™ - Penne


1. Cook bacon in the pan and remove to paper towels. Drain fat, wipe out pan.
2. Pour in entire box of   Barilla® Pronto™ - Penne
3. Cook on high stirring often until water is completely cooked off. Remove from heat.
4. Mix feta, mayonnaise, and sour cream together to create the sauce
5. Pour into pan with pasta and mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper
6. Slice cherry tomatoes into small slices
7. Chop green onion
8. Add tomatoes and onion into the pan
9. Crumble bacon and add to pan and mix
10. Dinner is served!

Note: Store the leftovers in the fridge for a nice cold salad that is good for work the next day or summer barbecues. Once cold, you may have to add more mayo to achieve the same creamy consistency after it cools down.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Unlock The Avenger In Your Daughters and Assemble!

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #AvengersUnite #CollectiveBias

The mission is set. It will be fraught with peril and I will have to overcome enormous obstacles if I am to be victorious. My enemies are well prepared for my power. They know my weaknesses as well as my strengths. I will need brains and brawn to make sure this mission is a success, That, and some minimal amounts of spandex.  You see, I'm a superhero so it comes with the territory. The evil Ultron is hellbent on world domination and I need help. Last time I thought I could do it alone but this time, I brought my friends, The Avengers. 

Okay well, they are really my three great kids. But, we make a heck of a team. What they've learned from this comic book nerd is that dress up is a part of life and that playtime, especially when playing superheroes, that dad will be flying along side them on the way to battle. That's why it is important to be a part of the Avengers Unite movement. See our MARVEL's The Avengers : Age of Ultron  DIY projects below. 

I grew up in a time when I became Iron Man and my bike was just an extension of my Iron Man armor. Just a simple trip to the store became a battle against all odds. Where four lanes of traffic was a perilous asteroid field and another dimension was waiting just across the street. 

Overcoming all the odds, I would make it to my safe place, White Hen the local convenience store where I would sit in the aisle, near the magazine stand in the rear of the store and pour over the comics every week. The owner would always yell once he discovered me tucked in the sunny corner near the window "Hey Bernholdt! This is a store, not a library!" I couldn't help it, I just got lost in the stories and had endless hours playing, pretending it were me instead. 

I've never been one to shy my girls away from comic books and playing superheroes. Each kid has received a mask and cape as a gift at some point regardless of whether they were a boy or girl. It's always been an intent of mine to show my two daughters how strong and smart women of the comic book world can be. That's why I don't hesitate to buy them superhero toys just because they are "supposed to be for boys" as many of the boys in their classes have told them. Instead I prepare them by teaching them about Iron Man, Black Widow, The Incredible Hulk, Hawkeye, Iron Man, and Captain America. In most cases they know way more than their male classmates will ever know. You too can help your kids get up to par with the Super Heroes Assemble app available in iTunes and the Google Play store now. 

That's why we're excited for the release of  MARVEL's The Avengers: Age of Ultron movie set to release on May 1st. To celebrate the release, we went to pick out a new Avengers toys and snacks from WalMart and their the huge variety of MARVEL's The Avengers:Age of Ultron toys. We also found some Avengers treats. You can't fight crime on an empty stomach!

My daughter couldn't contain her excitement when we took in the in store display. When we found the Hulkbuster Iron Man we knew we had to have it. The fact that it came with Hulk had my daughter yelling "HULK SMASH!" all the way down the aisle. 

So inspired by all the great toys and masks we purchased, we assembled outside to play MARVEL's The Avengers : Age of Ultron in the backyard and that's when the inspiration for our two crafts came. My older daughter Sarah, wanted to be Thor but she didn't have a hammer and Heidi, wanting to smash something for real, wanted her own Hulk Smash Hands. Now, we are really going to assemble something! 

Materials : 

2 small box tissues (may allow children to empty these for fun)

Masking tape/Painter's tape

Roll of green duct tape 

Newspaper or brown paper bags 

Black Sharpie 


1. Empty the small tissue boxes of all the tissues. Kids may want to go crazy doing this or you may already have one that has emptied one recently. 

2. Take a piece of newspaper/ cut paper from brown paper bag and roll them into a long strips. These should be about 10" long. Fold it into three equal sections. Make five of these for the fingers. 
3. Using masking tape or painter's tape, tape these into position. You'll want to attach them to the top and front with the opening for the hand facing you. Four of the skinnier ones can be used for the fingers and a larger one for the thumb. After four have been attached, position the thumb diagonally across the top of the box. 

4. Place green duct tape strips down first between all the fingers by pinching it in the middle and leaving the tape open at the ends. These pieces will anchor the pieces to the box before you can cover it.

 5. Wrap the entire box using duct tape strips that will cover two sides of the box. Cover the remaining two sides the same way.  Leave the area where the tissues would come out open so the kids can put their hands inside.
6. Depending on the size of the hand, you may have to tape the opening closed slightly so it becomes more snug. Use the Black Sharpie to draw on fingernails and delineate the space between fingers to give it depth.  

7. Go outside and smash stuff like Hulk but don't hit your older brother because he may cry. 


Cereal box of the wider variety

Two paper towel rolls

Black and silver duct tape



1. Cut the box down the seams to your desired "hammer" size. Remove one long side at the same height as the bottom of the hammer leaving you with three flaps. Bend the long flap so that it is even with where you cut the other one and crease it to form a rectangle.  Fold in the side flaps and close the long flap. You should have a rectangular box.

2. Using the paper towel roll, trace the outline of the paper towel roll on the bottom and top of your rectangular box. Cut out these circles. 

3. Since you don't want this thing to cave in, stuff the inside of your box with newspaper, making sure the side flaps don't block the holes you just made.

4. Creasing one paper towel roll slightly, fit one roll inside the other and twist until your handle is at your desired length. Mojilnir's hammer protrudes slightly above the top of the hammer. Slide the entire assembly through the bottom and up out through the top. 

5. Secure the handle into place with silver duct tape. An easy way to adhere the round roll to the box is to slightly rip the middle of the tape so it can be wrapped around the roll when placed. Where it is ripped on both sides is where the box meets the paper towel roll. 

6. Use silver duct tape to cover the short sides of the hammer first just on the top and bottom. When that is done, wrap the hammer long ways in silver duct tape sealing the work you just did. 

7. Stuff the rolls with newspaper top and bottom so it doesn't fall apart after the first use. You can reinforce the handle with a strip of cardboard to ensure it doesn't bend. 

8. Cover the tops of the rolls with pieces of black duct tape. Then, wrap the handle starting from the hammer to the end. For the top, you may have to tear the duct tape horizontally to ensure it doesn't overlap too much at the top and is flush with the rest of the tape. 

9. Go outside and raise it to the sky to summon some lightning and use Mojilnir's hammer to wield Thor's might! 

How will you celebrate the opening of MARVEL's The Avengers : Age of Ultron with your family?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

First and Ten: Tips for My Brother, a New Dad To Be

Dear Brother,  I can't even begin to describe what it feels like, holding your own child for the first time. It's a moment I will never forget. The first time I held Adam I just couldn't stop staring at him.
The whole thing is exciting beyond words. That's why we went through it three times. Well, that and Susie forgot what labor was like at least enough that she was interested it it happening more than once.

What is incredible about it is first, seeing your wife deliver this tiny human whom you have been talking to for months, watching him move like a little alien inside her pregnant belly, and seeing him grow on ultrasounds from a tiny raspberry to a full grown T-Rex. You'll never forget him responding to your voice when you read him your favorite book before he even made it out into the world or the way he would kick when he heard your voice.

Your first kid is going to scare the crap out of you and at the same time make you cry with happiness. I was scared that I was going to do something wrong. The first time I changed Adam's diaper, I was shaking so hard I could barely do it. All the while Susie laughed the entire time, so that helped.

This month, Adam turned 10 years old and my baby is becoming more than just that little boy. If I knew then what I know now it sure would be a whole lot easier so I've put together ten tips for new fathers like yourself. I did all the research, so you're welcome.


Being home with the kid is great and for the first few months people are going to inundate you with dishes they prepared to keep you well fed. Once that runs out, you're going to hate casseroles. My advice, go out with the baby in the infant carrier.

These dry runs not too far from home gave us a chance to get out together and test taking the baby everywhere. Not to mention, when it is Crab Cracking Tuesday at Red Lobster, that kid isn't going anywhere while you plow through a pound of crab legs.


It's never going to make up for your lack of sleep. Ever. But enjoy the snuggle time with the baby sleeping on your chest while you play Mario Kart or watch The Walking Dead late at night. You can catch up when he starts consistently sleeping through the night. I once witnessed you crawling to class the next morning after a night of drinking at The Pace so I know you have it in you.


Once, while changing Adam he peed straight up into my face and into my mouth. I guess they make something called the Wee Blocker now because of this very thing. I never made this mistake again as I always kept it covered while the change was happening from then on. Little boys are like sprinklers when they whiz.


This was probably one of my worst moments as a new dad. I felt like the baby was always with Susie and I felt helpless and sometimes useless. I felt like I should be doing something to help so with the first two, instead of making every effort to let the breast have first billing, I deferred to the bottle which probably confused the kids.

Let's put it this way, your wife is the Chef and you are the Sous Chef. Do whatever it takes to support her. Get the breast pads, the nipple lotion, the nursing bras, whatever. Do the laundry, keep the house clean, keep her hydrated. Be the best breast supporter you can be. Yes, I said that.


Admire them. Cherish them. But keep in mind, you aren't going to touch them. No sir. Basically they are strip club boobs. As badly as you want to touch them, you're going to be bounced if you do. You may want to take some mental snapshots for later though.


After Adam was born I thought it was sort of boring. All he did was eat, sleep, crap, and repeat. People will tell you it goes fast and they are right but you won't want to listen and it may seem to drag on forever. One of my absolute favorite things to do with the kids was to give them baths when they were babies. Eventually, he will scream at you like you are pouring hot acid on him, so enjoy it.


When Susie was calling me on my cell asking for a chocolate shake from Steak N Shake I always thought "He that sounds good, I should get one too" I should have done crunches instead. You know that freshman 15? That's nothing compared to the new parent 25. You may want to store veggies in your car.


The good thing about parenting is that there is no wrong way to do it. We've seen plenty of bad parents on the news and there is no way you will be one of those. People are going to give you lots of unsolicited advice. Just nod your head and smile, then do the opposite.


Moms are great for advice but to be honest, they forget shit. Heck, I already have forgotten so many details so you may want to ask Susie. You know she never forgets anything and if she did, she probably has it written down in a spreadsheet somewhere.  The more kids you have, the more you mix up who did what. That's why I took a bazillion photographs.

Just because a person is a veteran when it comes to having kids, doesn't mean they are up on current happenings. Ask the people who recently went through it or have babies. They are the gold resource. I'll never stick my nose in your business but know that if you need help, I'm always around for encouragement or make fun of you, whichever comes first. Hey, we're brothers!


Believe me, you're going to make mistakes. We all have and it's okay. Babies are resilient and you need to be too. Forgive yourself now for anything that may go wrong and will. Have a sense of humor about it and NEVER TELL YOUR WIFE. Just kidding, tell her, maybe.

Once, while severely sleep deprived, I dropped the bottle of milk and it rolled under the couch. I grabbed it in the dark and fed it to him. He cried and screamed and made a fuss that woke Susie up when it was my turn to take care of him. The next morning I found out I had force fed him a bottle that had been under the couch for days which had gone missing. No wonder he screamed. My bad.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

One Less Thing To Worry About

From the minute I wake up the demands for the day start rolling through my head. Get up, get dressed,  clean up the cat puke at the foot of your bed. Wake Adam up and make sure Sarah is dressed. MAKE COFFEE STAT.

Did Adam feed the cats yet? Is all of their homework in their take home folders and is that research project that is due today in the car for safe travel?  Make sure the kids eat breakfast and inspect their lunches. Did they brush their teeth? IS THE COFFEE DONE YET?

What's for dinner tonight? What activities are going on after school. Did I clean the toilets yesterday? Why do I go to the grocery store everyday?  DRINK THAT COFFEE BEFORE YOU FORGET!

Have they made their beds. Why isn't the youngest awake yet, I have an appointment! Are the backpacks ready to go? Why are their rooms already trashed? Did they brush their teeth? The bus is coming in two minutes! WHERE DID I PUT DOWN MY COFFEE?

Once I get them off to school, the voices never really stop. I'm that guy walking around the grocery store talking to myself like a coach hyping up his players. It helps me stay in the game. Being the primary purchaser for the family can make you crazy. There are so many decisions to make in one day that affect the health and safety of my family that it can get overwhelming.

I mean, have you been in the vitamin aisle lately? They have vitamin gummies for kids and adults but they are made mostly of corn syrup. One says it is a multivitamin but then doesn't have Omega-3 in it. Another claims to have the everything you need yet tastes absolutely horrible. How can I force my kids to take something I wouldn't even eat?

The good news is that you don't because of SmartyPants Vitamins. SmartyPants was the first to combine four vitamins into one. With a full multivitamin, eco-friendly Omega 3s (DHA and EPA) over 100% of your daily Vitamin D3, and an amount of B12 equivalent to a standalone supplement, they focused on those nutrients toughest to get from food. Not only is it packed with all that good stuff your body needs, but it tastes delicious which simplifies your decision even more.

Have you ever looked at a product's label and wasn't sure if it was safe for your family depending on your lifestyle or allergies?  SmartyPants Vitamins have no artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, or preservatives. You won't need them because they aren't going to last. My kids love them.

There are made without high fructose corn syrup, are gluten free, tree nut and peanut free, and contain no dairy. They are the perfect little package of delicious and nutritious and they are made for the whole family.

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Disclosure: DadNCharge received compensation for review of this product by SmartyPants Vitamins. All opinions are my own. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Celebrated Man

The baby is screaming and I can't find her bottle. TSA won't let me through because I am over the liquid ounces limit. All our belongings are now on the belt, making their way to the other side. I wish I was over there with them. My son is zig-zagging between the poles like a crazed slalom skier and everyone is waiting on me to fold up the stroller.

The baby is shrieking now. Where the hell, did I put that binky?  Simultaneously, someone is asking me to take of my shoes and belt while another is telling me my stroller will never fit through the X-ray machine. "It fits." growling a little too forcefully and the guy raises his hand. Hand check!

He yells. "Sir, I am going to have to ask you to step aside" But, what about my baby? I say. "The baby can wait" he curtly responds and as I am walking past the scanner through those swinging double doors, I know this can't be right.

Then I wake up in a cold sweat.

I will never forget the first trip I took with our first two children on my own. I was headed to Rochester, NY to meet up with my wife who was house hunting in our new state while I stayed in Chicago with the kids.  I knew what travelling with them meant with my wife along with me and was terrified of ensuring everything went well with no one to fall back on.

Going through security with the kids and our stuff was a nightmare I had weeks before the big day arrived. My wife said "You're a big boy, you'll do fine" but I still doubted my ability to get all three of us to the gate in time for boarding.

I approached the long Chicago airport security line trying to keep track of the older one and prepping to get the baby through with all our stuff. The car seat was inside the backpack bag strapped to my back making me look like a sherpa trekking up Everest. On either arm was a backpack and diaper bag while I pushed the stroller. My oldest son, at three was carrying his own tiny backpack full of toys.

The TSA person, delightful as ever, gave me the once over while I tried to hold up all the bags with a smile. I had the urge to say that I would like to buy this guy a Coke just to see what would happen. I felt like he was staring through me not at me. My nightmare was coming true, it was about to happen just like the dream.

Only it didn't. He asked me "Are you travelling all by yourself with these kids?" Yes. I replied, trying to look braver than I felt. "You can move to the left sir, into the travelling families' line." he said. I wasn't sure where that went to but it sounded gloriously better than the never-ending line I was in.

The family line was still a line but with poor saps just like me. In most cases it was a family going to Disney together from the looks of their matching shirts and permanent smiles. In many cases though, it was a mom travelling with the little ones maybe off to see grandma and grandpa while daddy was away for work. Possibly he was on a business trip and would meet them at their final destination.

We were in the same boat but our travels took different directions when we actually got to security. I took the left line and she took the right but once we were there, people rushed to help the dad with the kids and totally disregarded the mom in the same situation.

When TSA told the mom that she had to remove the child from the Baby Bjorn, she turned to a guy directly behind her and asked if he could hold the baby for a second while she took it off. He looked like she had asked him to hold a live grenade.

On my side, people were understanding. They were smiling and telling me I was a good dad while a mere five steps away, a mom was doing the exact same thing without any accolades. No one told her she was a good mom but they made sure my kids knew drawing attention to the fact that "They were so lucky that daddy was taking them with him."

Was this a double standard? Did I just pick the better line? Maybe these guys just had their break and were fresh and ready for the rest of the afternoon. There had to be a good explanation. I was wrong.

In the terminal, we picked up McDonald's before getting on. The mom was there too and again got the cold shoulder. People seemed to expect a mom getting fast food for their children as a ho-hum experience. When I went through the line I felt like the Mayor of Cheeseburgerville. You get a cheeseburger! You get a cheeseburger! Everyone gets a cheeseburger!

The mom sat near me across from her kids staring blankly into space. I felt like a Marsha to her Jan. We sat at the terminal and ate our lunches. Our collective kids found the only TV playing cartoons near each other and ate their Happy Meals while we all vegged out happy for the respite.

When our flight was called we went on during family boarding. The last straw was snapped by the flight attendants who coddled me and made sure I had everything I needed. I was grateful for all the attention because of my fears but I also felt bad. The mom was left to fend for herself like she was raised by wolves while I was asked repeatedly if I needed anything.

Why do posts of men combing their children's hair go viral? Why does a man taking his kids out draw so much celebration? Why should we highlight the same things a man does as a parent that other parents, especially moms do every day? The answer is, we shouldn't.

Men just want to be known as parents and not treated to a ticker-tape parade for doing what is expected of us. We don't want special consideration, just to be regarded as on the same level as moms and vice versa.  Our society shouldn't sensationalize the relationships that men are building with their children. We do those things out of love not for attention. We aren't Supermen, we are just dads doing what is best for our children and that just makes us a parent.

I've heard enough people when I am out with my kids or at the grocery store say "You must be giving Mommy the day off today" and wished that they would just say "Spending time with dad today?" or just a simple word of encouragement as I am trying to steer them away from the checkout candy.

We deplaned with everyone making a fuss about how good my kids were as we made our way to our bags. I smiled and thanked them promising to reward them for being so good. We deplaned slowly, gathering up everything we had spread out for the trip, making sure nothing was left behind. Eventually I managed to find the mom near the carousel while I waited to locate the luggage.

"Travelling with the kids is the worst huh?" I said.

"Yes, it's a lot to handle. she replied.

"Well, from one parent to another I just wanted to say, you're doing a great job" She was surprised but not ungrateful for the effort. She said "So are you." We parted ways and there wasn't any fanfare for either of us and no trumpets leading the way.

There wasn't a photographer taking my picture for the newspaper so they could run a story called "Brave Dad Takes Kids On Airplane Alone" nor a ticker tape parade as we walked to the car. Just the usual demands for Goldfish and the promises of an afternoon nap. I'm not an Amazing Dad and she is not Super Mom. We are just parents and we're the same so please, just treat us that way.