Tag Archives: grandchildren

A Fond Farewell to Summer 2016


Aug. 17, 2016–morning damp on a redbud leaf from rain the night before.

The opening day retreat took place today at Mount Mercy University today, so summer is officially over. Students will be moving in this weekend, and the pace of academic life will take over my life.

It was a good summer, and it was a busy summer. It was the summer of a grandson. This summer, my wife and I watched a baby grandson who just turned 8 months old.

My wife did more of the baby care than I did, but there was often at least one a day a week when I was the primary grandson caregiver, and it was both exhilarating—a baby of that age is often quite charming—and tiring. Parenthood, I’ve decided, is for the young.

So it wasn’t as lazy a summer as some past ones have been, nor as lazy as some future ones will be, I hope. That’s OK. A baby is only young once, and it was nice to get to spend time with him. We also had several visits from other grandchildren, a few adventures and a couple of family reunions, but not much in the way of travel this summer. That’s as was planned, however. And I do expect that we will travel more in future summers. We have a son who now lives in San Francisco, and it would be a shame not to drop in on the West Coast next off season.

Anyway, it has been a warm, wet summer in our corner of Iowa, and on Wednesday, the day before school officially began, I shot some photos both of the damp post-rain morning and of the deck that will soon be gone.


Rose of Sharon, above, by deck. Bee, below, drinks moisture from a damp pillow on a bench on the deck.


We’ve put a down payment on a three-season room, which I hope means we’ll be spending even more time in the semi outdoors in future, lazier, summers. In a few weeks a crew will tear down our deck in prep to build the new room.

It’s a pretty positive change, I think. We can watch spring rains while sipping our morning coffee. I sometimes ate breakfast or other meals on the deck, and that was fine, but sometimes a buggy experience. I hope the three-season room is a bit less insect rich. The deck was fine, and I will miss it, but sometimes something good gives way to make room (no pun intended) for something better.


Wind chime, above, hanging on eave over deck. We have several and a couple of hummingbird feeders–I bet next summer they will hang outside the windows of our three-season room. On rail of stairs, below, some art by out oldest daughter, who signed the name of a different daughter. I may have to try to save that piece of wood.


I’m not sure how to describe my mood as the school year starts. At the moment, I haven’t done all that well getting all the stuff ready that I need to, but I also just don’t seem too worried about it. The first class meets on Wednesday of next week, and I hope I’ve prepped a bit more before then.

Well, goodbye summer 2016. I’ll miss you and the playtime I had with a charming young boy. I’m sure I’ll get to play with him and other grandchildren in future summers, too—but this season was unique. And I’m a little sad to see it go and to say goodbye to both it and the deck, but I’m pretty excited to meet new students, see old ones and have another school year begin.


View of the back deck. There will be a smaller deck off o the new room, so we will still have an outside spot for some of the plants.

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An Old Dog and New Tricks

A photo, of sorts, at Lindale Mall. It's a bit blurry. I am trying to learn to focus.

A photo, of sorts, at Lindale Mall. It’s a bit blurry. I am trying to learn to focus.

Now  can focus. But how did I turn both cameras on so image includes me taking other image? And why is that even an option? Granddaughter looks like she's thinking, "You're doomed, old man."

Now I can focus. But how did I turn both cameras on so image includes me taking other image? And why is that even an option? Granddaughter looks like she’s thinking, “You’re doomed, old man.”

I’m having an educational interlude this summer. One of my daughters, who has four young children, is off on a vacation trip with her husband. Recalling our own experience of how rare and treasured our own breaks from parenthood with our six kids were, my wife and I readily agreed to watch said kids for a “baker’s week,” basically 8 ½ days.

It’s been fun. It’s been tiring. I’m writing this quickly at 10:25 p.m. because it’s the only time I have to myself, although in truth I’m usually a night owl—although most days, when I do crawl into bed, it’s with my wife. This week, there’s usually been a 4-year-old who has adopted me as her reluctant “sleep buddy,” although my wife has often had two or three bed companions.

All in all, a night with the wife is way more restful. She doesn’t lay crossways in the bed and occasionally kick me, nor celebrate the coming of a new day by jumping on me and then pretending to eat my face.

Oh well. I should not complain. The good nights have been with the 4-year-old. A few other nights have included her 2-year-old sister, who is a much, much wigglier sleeper, and who joyfully joins in the morning “let’s kill grandpa and eat his flesh” game. Being jumped on by one hungry morning hunter is one thing—two of them is a bit more challenging.

Anyway, would I ever do it again? Indeed I would—time with these youngsters is precious—but I also confess I’m glad that they’ll have another home to return to at vacation’s end.

I’ve learned several things this week:

How to take pictures with a my new cell phone. I’m a dumb old person with a smart new phone. I’ve installed Instagram on it and have not figured out how to use it. I forgot my usually carry-along camera for one of our outings today, and had to resort to phone photos. It felt odd, and needlessly complex, but the phone can take photos. Eventually.

What my cute 2-year-old granddaughter’s favorite word is. Dialogue from a van ride today—my wife is talking to my granddaughter: “Relena, do you see the bird?” “No.” “Do you see the truck?” “No.” “Do you see cars?” “No.” “Can you see the sky?” “No.” You get the idea. After Relena tired of the game, she started shouting, in a surprisingly loud, grating voice for a 2-year-old: “Stop talking, you guys!”

I’m glad we’ve had this chance to spend a few days with these kids. It’s a reminder of what our lives were like years ago—and of how much energy and planning everyday tasks required. It hasn’t been a perfect visit—there have been a few fights and scrapes and slightly ridiculous testing of rules. But these are pretty good kids, and the experience overall has been quite good.

Except for the cell phone photos. I’m still working on that.

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2014—A Summary of My Year in Facebook Photos

March 24 snow

Swing in back yard near the end of March. Winter month this year.

I’ve seen many Facebook friends post their “year in review,” with a heading that goes something like “2014 was a great year, thanks for being part of it.”

Of course, as part of the Facebook user base, I’ve seen my own year in review that Facebook prepared, but I’ve not posted it for others to see because I didn’t choose those images.

But, still, thanks for being part of 2014 anyway, if you in any way chose to interact with me and shared any good thoughts or energy. However, if I am to sum up 2014 and look ahead to 2015, what would I say?

2014 was a year of transitions. Jon and Nalena finished the Peace Corps and are in the UK even as I write this, on to some time in Portugal. She is in graduate school in Pennsylvania studying human-computer interaction or world domination or something, and he is along for the ride and doing various projects. Nina finished her tenure as a social worker in Omaha, and was off in fall to Baltimore and law school. Ben graduated from Iowa State, but stayed there to pursue a combined master’s and PhD math program.

I wish them all the best in their new adventures. While it didn’t change my life right away, graduate school nonetheless opened to door to the life I live now, and I hope it does the same for all of you.

In professional terms, 2014 was mixed. The newspaper at Mount Mercy, which I guided to a weekly publication some years ago, is again now published every other week. I hope that it can thus become more multi-media and web oriented, but our moves in that direction have been tentative, so far. Well, if more than a decade of college teaching has taught me one thing, it’s that change is usually not easy nor swift.

But this was also the year I coordinated a fall semester World War I remembrance event, which brought lots of communication attention and people to campus. That was nice.

It’s also the year that I’ve branched out, just a bit. Besides starting to learn to play the piano, I’ve also begun writing a media column in a regional weekly newspaper, The Corridor Business Journal. I hope some of you have seen my monthly missive, which began in November and continues in 2015.

Anyway, what were the major events of 2014, tracked partly the trail of images I posted on Facebook?

January—sometime in the previous year, Amelia had discovered scissors. After a cutting incident in February of this year, where she apparently decided her short hair was not short enough, throughout the rest of 2014 a truce prevailed—she agreed not to use scissors to cut her own hair, if her mom agreed to regularly take her to have her hair cut at a salon. (Katy reports this kind of dialogue ensued: Hair cutter at salon attempts small-talk with Amelia. “Do you like princesses?” “No, I like fish.”) The truce has held, so far, but we hide all scissors whenever Amelia is around.

Amelia in January--sporting the short hair she insists upon. And remember. She sin't into princesses. She likes fish.

Amelia in January–sporting the short hair she insists upon. And remember. She is not into princesses. She likes fish.

Nikayla and Amelia are super heroes in January.

Nikayla and Amelia are super heroes in January.

February—winter is cold and snowy, so a lot of indoor play is in order. Hide-and-seek is an ever popular game, but only for the older grandchildren. It seems to be around age 3 or so when the whole idea suddenly becomes attractive and the child has an idea of what the game is about.

Tristan in February

Tristan’s reaction in February to being “found’ during hide-and-seek.

It's hard to believe when playing with the little girl today, but in February Relena was a baby just learning to walk.

It’s hard to believe when playing with the little girl today, but in February Relena was a baby just learning to walk.

March–it was around this time that I began to take piano lessons. Progress has been slow, but I’m an old dog learning lots of new tricks. I can slowly read music now. This was a very cold March, almost a second February, but by the end of the month was finally getting warm enough to play outside and visit parks, which was nice.

By March 30, the cold March was finally giving way to spring. Flying kites at C Avenue Park.

By March 30, the cold March was finally giving way to spring. Flying kites at C Avenue Park.

April—spring semester, as it always does, is getting into chaos. But the weather is turning nice—finally the world in Iowa is greening up and blooming. Audrey and I take some joint bike rides, a nice trend of 2014, although I doubt I’ll ever talk her into RAGBRAI. Well, maybe a day of it, we shall see.

Audrey and I ready for an April 11 bike ride.

Audrey and I ready for an April 11 bike ride.

April 21--the long winter is now well gone, spring at Mount Mercy campus.

April 21–the long winter is now well gone, spring at Mount Mercy campus.

May—Graduation, a bittersweet time—time to say farewell to some talented students. We had a nice Sheller family picnic and began to enjoy more “normal” warm weather. I still haven’t replaced a dead crab apple tree in a back garden. The Hawthorne tree in front is declared dead and replaced by a new redbud tree. Transitions begin as I think it was near the end of the month where Nina joined us for the time between her job and starting law school.

More MMU flowers, on May 2.

More MMU flowers, on May 2.

Dinos line up at sandbox to celebrate Mother's Day, 2014.

Dinos line up at sandbox to celebrate Mother’s Day, 2014.

Maddy and Tom, two very talented students who graduated in May form MMU. Both were editors on the student newspaper.

Maddy and Tom, two very talented students who graduated in May form MMU. Both were editors on the student newspaper.

May 24 Sheller family picnic , organized by Nichole Ose while her sister Barbara initiates the series of UK visitors we enjoyed in 2014.

May 24 Sheller family picnic , organized by Nichole Ose while her sister Barbara initiates the series of UK visitors we enjoyed in 2014.

June—we take pleasure in a visit by our oldest daughter and her daughters. I don’t recall that we “did” that much, but hanging at home and enjoying their company seemed quite a treat, a highlight of the year. Also in June, Cate and I ride the Raccoon River Ride with Brigid and Eldon—and since Francis was in the shop, I rode that 100-mile, two-day ride on The Beast. Cate saw, and I photographed, a monarch caterpillar, and that prompted a project later this year, where I collected milkweed seed and scattered some in my gardens. We’ll see if any come up in 2015.

Relena, already looking more grown up, ready for her first bike ride on my bike's toddler seat.

Relena, already looking more grown up, ready for her first bike ride on my bike’s toddler seat.

June 115--Raccoon River Ride. Eldon's bike has a custom-made "pod" which holds lots and also improves airflow around the trike.

June 15–Raccoon River Ride. Eldon’s bike has a custom-made “pod” which holds lots and also improves airflow around the trike.

Baby Monarch seen on ride--Cate pointed it out.

Baby Monarch seen on ride–Cate pointed it out.

June 24--visitors from the East. Juliet and Amanda from Norwich, England.

June 24–visitors from the East. Juliet and Amanda from Norwich, England.

June 27--Elizabeth and Juliet enjoy some water play on the back deck.

June 27–Elizabeth and Juliet enjoy some water play on the back deck.

July—early in the month, we bid farewell to the Moscous, who are back to Norwich. Skype is a good tool for touching base several times a month, but there’s no doubt it’s great to see people in person. This is RAGBRAI month, and the ride this year is sometimes a challenge, with one of the worst rainstorms I’ve seen on the ride (fortunately on a morning when I had a driving shift).

July 2--some smiles shortly before return to England.

July 2–some smiles shortly before return to England.

July 20--Team Joe is about to start RAGBRAI.

July 20–Team Joe is about to start RAGBRAI.

July 20--the Roccas on the road during the first afternoon of RAGBRAI.

July 20–the Roccas on the road during the first afternoon of RAGBRAI.

July 22--Cate and I tackle the excess sweet corn problem.

July 22–Cate and I tackle the excess sweet corn problem.

August—Nina is off to Baltimore. Katy and Wyatt kindly volunteer to move her there, which means some extended play time with grandchildren. School starts at MMU, and the WWI series also kicks off and proves, right from the start, to be popular.

Reading on deck Aug. 9.

Reading on deck Aug. 9.

September—Nalena and Jon come home for a quick weekend trip to attend a wedding. She has already started graduate school, and is busy with homework. Well do I remember those days! My life now can get very busy—and in academia, as a professor, I still feel like I’m in that campus rat race at times, but frankly, I don’t miss the stress of being a graduate student.

Grandparents Day at Novak School, where Tristan is in preschool. He shows us how to play with LEGOS

Sept. 9–Grandparents Day at Novak School, where Tristan is in preschool. He shows us how to play with LEGOS

Sept. 19--Nikaya seem to be helping Nalena with some graduate school homework.

Sept. 19–Nikaya seem to be helping Nalena with some graduate school homework.

October—we do a breast cancer walk with a niece, and we attend the wedding of one of Nina’s close friends. Brittany and Steve Hoover have a very nice ceremony at a celebration barn near Solon, and Audrey is treated as a featured guest, escorted in and seated in the front row, as the official stand-in for Nina. During fall break, we visit Ben in Ames and have a lovely bike ride there, too.

Oct. 5, Niece Marina takes selfie with Audrey at start of Especially for You breast cancer walk.

Oct. 5, Niece Marina takes selfie with Audrey at start of Especially for You breast cancer walk.

Oct. 10--Audrey dances with groom at wedding.

Oct. 10–Audrey dances with groom at Steve Hoover at his and Brittany’s wedding.

Oct. 17--fine fall day in Ames--bike ride is followed by dinner with Kate Hunter and Ben Sheller.

Oct. 17–fine fall day in Ames–bike ride is followed by dinner with Kate Hunter and Ben Sheller.

Oct. 25--visited pumpkin farm with Theresa and her kids, here two of Katy's kids make some noise.

Oct. 25–visited pumpkin farm with Theresa and her kids, here two of Katy’s kids make some noise.

November—a nephew, Matt Schultz, gets married near Des Moines, continuing the nuptial theme of the fall. Audrey and I introduce Theresa to Zombie Burgers in Des Moines. Jon and Nalena manage to make it home for Thanksgiving, and we enjoy both a traditional turkey dinner and a spicy, slow-cooked pork dish.

Nov. 23--Ben and Audrey visit Shirley.

Nov. 23–Ben and Audrey visit Shirley.

Nov. 29, wedding near Des Moines.

Nov. 29, wedding near Des Moines.

Nov. 30--Jon and Nalena at mall in Des Moines on morning after wedding.

Nov. 30–Jon and Nalena at mall in Des Moines on morning after wedding.

December—Christmas finds the family celebrating on two continents. Nina travels to England for the season, and Jon and Nalena make a stop there before heading to Portugal. Early in 2015, Audrey will be in England too in January, but it remains to be seen if she can manage to meet Amanda and the girls. Nikayla performs in her First Grade holiday concert. The last surviving brother of my mother died at the end of November, and in early December, we attend his funeral in Illinois. On the last day of the year, we have a big outing to the Children’s Museum, followed by a sleepover party for Katy’s four children.

Dec. 4--Nikayla in Wilkins Elementary School Holiday Concert.

Dec. 4–Nikayla in Wilkins Elementary School Holiday Concert.

Dec. 6--O'Mahoney family picture at Uncle Jim's funeral. My mom is on the right.

Dec. 6–O’Mahoney family picture at Uncle Jim’s funeral. My mom is on the right.

Dec. 13--Chris and Michelle and Audrey visit Shirley.

Dec. 13–Chris and Michelle and Audrey visit Shirley.

Amelia gets the last word. She is at the Children's Museum on Dec. 31, 2014. She knows what she is doing, she ordered me back into a room so she could set up the photo.

Amelia gets the last word. She is at the Children’s Museum on Dec. 31, 2014. She knows what she is doing, she ordered me back into a room so she could set up the photo.

Well, it is fun to look back on 2014. Much happened in our little corner of the world. It took me longer than it should to write this post—I thought I would have it done before the New Year’s Eve party, and here it is Jan. 2 as I wrap it up.

Maybe I should have let the Facebook robots handle it. But it was also nice to actively look back.

What will 2015 bring? Well, we know one thing for sure.

A new season of Downtown Abbey!

Good luck to all of you, especially family members who have started new adventures—may you find the path that you are on leads you to a good place. For any who mourned a loss in 2014, I hope time heals. For those who in 2014 started a new chapter or a new family, best wishes and good luck in 2015 and beyond.


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What It’s Like To Plant With 3-year-old Helpers

One of my helpers. Not 3 yet, but master of her universe. She has a cousin of about the same age, and he and she helped me plant today.

One of my helpers. Not 3 yet, but master of her universe. She has a cousin of about the same age, and he and she helped me plant today.

Well, I don’t think they are technically 3 yet—since both have birthdays later this month—but they are 3ish. They are certainly a dynamic pair, my two young garden helpers today. I had met the grandkids at a park and given one nearly 3 something a ride home on my bike, then took the other on a short ride before sprinkles called us home.

And then it was planting time. Phlox are still on the way, but pink Lily of the Valley and a bag of 25 Asian Lily bulbs had arrived in yesterday’s post. I don’t know where my not broken trowel is, so I had instead a handle less blade from a broken trowel, a shovel, a hoe and two energetic “helpers” as I headed out to the back door.

She: “I want to hold the scoop.” Apparently, “scoop” is 3-speak for “broken trowel.”
He: “Where is MY scoop?” He looked at me suspiciously when I suggested that instead he hold the flowers, and merely marched off toward the garden empty handed.

We arrived at planting site number one. It was lucky there were three Lily of the Valley, so I give one to him, one to her and put one in the hole myself.

That went well. The hoe cleared gravel, the broken trowel make a narrow, shallow trench, and into the ground went the hope of future pretty pink flowers. I’ve got a lot of white Lily of the Valley, which I really enjoy, but I’m looking forward to the variety of these pink ones.

The Asian Lilies, which involved deeper holes (rather than going 1-inch underground like the roots for Lily of the Valley, these bulbs were to be buried 6 inches deep) proved a bit more problematic to plant with ornery children as my posse.

Me: “Dig here.”
He: Digs in random place 6 inches away.
She: Tromps through daffodils to stand next to him and demand: “When is it MY turn?”

Actually, she had a bit more focus than he did, so her turn came up way more often than his since he was off randomly playing during some of the planting. I almost laughed out loud when he came up once, huffing with indignation that she had gotten to put all the bulbs in one hole. I hadn’t sent him off, he had wandered off, and it wasn’t her fault that she stuck around and got to do more planting. Anyway, he was quickly mollified when he got to hold the scoop and randomly fail to dig before I got my turn and actually made a hole.

It’s a bit of a trial planting stuff with young children. On the other hand, it’s totally worth it. There’s something deeply binding about planting with kids, and both of these young rascals are a bit more in tune with nature due to experience gardening with parents and grandparents.

He even has asked for flowers to plant for his third birthday, a request that seems unbearably sweet. I’ll have to find an actual trowel to take to his party along with some flowers.

And, in the end, the plants are in the ground. Here’s hoping they will produce more than rabbit chow!

I liked this bee image so much, which I shot Friday afternoon at Mount Mercy University, that I'm using it on both blogs. So there.

I liked this bee image so much, which I shot Friday afternoon at Mount Mercy University, that I’m using it on both blogs. So there.


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Daddy Being Daddy and Fixing Female Hair

“Good Morning America” often disappoints. I watch the local Channel 9 news in the morning, and, if I’m too late, I end up catching GMA and usually feel the worse for it. This morning, for instance, I set my elliptical machine at the gym for 20 minutes (it was a warm up before weight lifting) and I let GMA wash over me—celebrity gossip, “amusing banter” between the show personalities, light, fluffy, no-news-here background morning TV stuff.

Sigh. Is nothing actually happening in the world?

From http://daddydoinwork.com/, the photo.

From http://daddydoinwork.com/, the photo.

Anyway, one short segment did catch my attention, even if it is just GMA fluff. A blogger who calls himself “Daddy Doin’ Work” posted a photo of himself, one child in a baby carrier on his chest, while he fixed the hair of a second, older, daughter.

And the photo went viral, and the comments rolled in. Most, I take it from GMA and from reading a related Huffington Post article, of the reaction was positive, but there were a few naysayers, including some rude, racist comments such as assuming he must have illegitimate children because he’s black.

Whoa, internet. Let’s hold on a minute. Some of my reactions:

  • Any picture haters out there, racist or not, get over it. The man wasn’t doing anything extraordinary; he was simply a father taking care of his daughters. A parent being a parent.
  • Any picture lovers out there, man or woman, get over it. The man wasn’t doing anything extraordinary; he was simply a father taking care of his daughters. A parent being a parent.

I’ll put myself more in the second category, because it is a cute picture. It’s just a bit sad to me that anybody would think what he’s doing is worthy of extensive comment. So, of course, I will …

True, biology dictates that women bear a baby for around 40 weeks. But then the child is born. I’m old fashioned enough to think that raising a child is best as a two-person operation—and I have had lots of experience. I can’t say I was an ideal parent. I made plenty of mistakes, and did and said things I am not proud of.

But, at least I went into the business of being a parent, in the 1980s, with what I think is the correct and only healthy attitude: My job was to do my best to take care of my kids. Part of that job means having a healthy relationship with their mother, true. But, no, while I agree part of a dad’s job is to love his children’s mother, it doesn’t at all end there.

If the child is hurt or sick or has a soiled diaper or needs feeding or needs a bath or a story or a hug or some playtime—well, that’s not a mom’s job. Nor is it a dad’s job. These all are parenting jobs.

From Amazon.com. And it's still a decent book.

From Amazon.com. And it’s still a decent book.

I remember reading Bob Greene’s 1984 book about his daughter’s first year, a book called “Good Morning, Merry Sunshine.” It was a pleasant enough read, except Greene said (and this is a very approximate paraphrase of something I read decades ago) at one point that comforting or caring for his daughter was something his wife was simply better at. I remember there being a subtext, at least to me, that the ladies are simply able to comfort the crying or heal the booboo or whatever better by some gender magic.

And I wanted to gag.

What ripe BS. OK, true, not all parents, or grandparents, are equal in all things. If your wife breastfeeds, as mine did, there’s an aspect of baby care that necessarily involves the person with functioning mammary glands. And true, when a grandchildren has an ouch, he or she will often prefer a hug from grandma rather than grandpa.

But, if grandma is not around, grandpa does the hugging. And even when she is around, he does some of the diaper changing.

Parenting may not always be 50-50, and sometimes that’s just a reality of how people live their lives. If, in a household, a man works and a woman stays at home, that’s going to have a huge impact on the relationship that the man has with his children. But, they are still his children. When he’s home, he owes them the best parenting he can provide. And, sometimes, the shoe is on the other foot. There is no law of the universe that says it’s always the dad who works and the mom who stays home.

So guys, man up. Or dad up. If your daughter or son needs a parent, be the parent. What does that mean?

  • Do what needs to be done to meet the child’s immediate needs. Whether bathing, diaper changing, feeding or whatever, know your child and your home well enough to know where the baby wipes are kept and how to use them.
  • Be emotionally present for your children and spouse. Form a healthy family “culture” where the kids sense, at a young age, that they are wanted and loved.
  • Forget being perfect. You won’t be. Being your best doesn’t make you super human, and to err is human. It’s not a guy thing, however.
  • Learn from your experience. Observe others, see what they do, seek advice, watch your spouse, pick up new skills as needed. Want your hair braided? Check. What a French braid? Well, if you have my wife do it, it will sure look a lot neater, but yes, I know what a French braid is and I can make one.
  • Take the good with the bad. Parenting isn’t all honey and unicorns. Even “good” kids, and I would say I’ve been blessed to have generally happy and contented children and grandchildren, have bad times and bad days. There will be crying. There will be meltdowns. There will be sleep deprivation. If the genetic or environmental lottery runs the wrong way, you might face conditions—colic, for instance—that greatly increase the bad:good ratio. I guess my best advice on dealing with the “bad,” at least were babies are concerned, is that whatever is going on today won’t necessarily be going on tomorrow. The good news is that babies change quickly. (The bad news is that not all changes are improvements, but still, at least the problems of tomorrow won’t be the same as the ones today).

So, good on you, Daddy Doin’. I hate the cutesy title of your blog, by the way, but I agree with your general attitude—being a Daddy is mostly just being a caring adult human who has children. Such a person is known as a “parent,” and it’s not a gender specific role. Your picture is cute, but shouldn’t have caused any ruckus because it just shows a dad fixing hair, as he should.

Bonus: Under the “learn from your experience” and share advice idea, here is a parenting or grand parenting tip for you guys out there whose hearts are in the right place but who don’t know how to make a braid in a daughter’s (or son’s) head of hair. How to braid:

  1. Brush the hair out. With the fingers of your left hand, divide the combed hair into three roughly equal strands. Hold the right two of the strands between fingers of your right hand, but not between consecutive fingers—have an empty spot between your two middle fingers. The far left strand should be in your left hand.
  2. Cross the middle strand with the strand in the left hand. Now, what was the far left strand is the new middle strand. Take the far right strand, and cross the new middle strand–what was far right is now the middle strand. Take the far left strand and cross what is now the middle strand. Then right. Then left. Then right. Then left, etc. until you reach the end of the hair—when you have an inch and half or so left, tie the strands together with a hair tie.

I’m sure a few seconds of Google research can find better directions with illustrations. Or you can just watch how your wife or sister or best friend Joe does it. Trust me, braiding is not hard. And to do two braids, you just simply divide the hair into two equal strands and then individually divide each strand into 3 and proceed.

French braiding means you start with three strands at the top of the head, and work your way back, adding a bit of hair to each strand before you cross over the head. It’s a bit tougher. And, if you never get the hang of it, so what? If you can braid, and you can, you can be a good dad.

Frankly, I’ll admit, even if you cannot braid, even if you can only do a pony tail, as long as you’re willing to, you can get by. You can person up. You can be a dad.


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Trying On a New Identity for a New Year

Granddaughter in mask, New Year's Eve, 2013.

Granddaughter in mask, New Year’s Eve, 2013.

Four grandchildren from one daughter were over to celebrate New Year’s Eve with us. Actually, they were over to be watched as their parents celebrated New Year’s Eve, but we had quite a party that wound down around 9 when we celebrated 2014 in whatever time zone is two hours east of the East Coast by going to bed.

Anyway, one of the activities of the eve was decorating, and wearing, foam rubber masks. The kids, who range in age from 5 to 2 (there is also a baby under age 1, but she didn’t do the mask thing), enjoyed decorating their own masks and then wearing them.

They also tied blankets around their necks and tore around the house, becoming characters in their own superhero dramas. Their main activity as superheroes, by the way, was to “get Ben,” which is, to run down the hall to Ben’s room, yell at him, and then run the other way down the hall.

Rescue Man tears down the hall.

Rescue Man tears down the hall.

The 2-year-old girl several times arrived at my side, breathless, put her hand on my knee (I was sitting on the floor to photograph the melee) and announced that she was “Rescue Man.” I suggested once that she was “Rescue Girl,” but received a severe reprimand and reminder that, no, she was “Rescue Man.”

As far as I know, no actual rescues were performed.

Anyway, the masks had a transformative effect. The kids thought that they became someone else, and they briefly acted the parts. At one point, the 5-year-old girl and 4-year-old boy announced that they were getting married and marched off together down the hallway, apparently intending to have Ben perform the ceremony. I hope it went well.

The donning of masks, I suppose, is a New Year’s Eve tradition. In addition to putting on new identities, it’s a time of year when we look ahead and decide what we would want to change in our own identities.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, and I’m not great at setting effective life goals anyway (you know, ones that are attainable and measureable, etc.). But, how would I change my own identity? What do I hope to do or be in 2014 that I have not done or been before?

If you’re expecting a list, forget it. As I noted, resolutions aren’t my strength. Mostly, to be honest, I’m fairly comfortable in my own skin, so part of what I most would want to do would be to retain the best of what I’m already.

In this new year, I am planning to take piano lessons. This should improve my bell ringing, I hope. At my age, I don’t expect miracles, but I also think it’s healthy as you grow older to continue to try to learn and do new things—and I own a piano and I don’t play the piano, and piano lessons seem an obvious, concrete thing to do.

In this new year, I aspire to only plant native trees in the woods behind my house, and to give my poor, well forested, yard a break. No more trees in my yard. For a year. Unless one dies.

In this new year, I look forward to the blooms from fall bulbs planted in 2013. And while I plan to give the lawn a break from new trees, I said nothing about new flowers …

In this new year, I hope that my family, wife, children and grandchildren sense the unexpressed love that wells up in my heart for them. Perhaps I can find more ways to express it. I’m a guy, and not always comfortable with familial emotional expression, but to all my kin who are reading this, may you prosper, grow happier and feel more comfortable in the world in 2014.

OK, so I did a New Year’s list after all. Must have been the mask I was wearing.

Me and youngest of the four visitors, the one without a mask.

Me and youngest of the four visitors, the one without a mask.


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Grandchildren Start Their School Adventures

Nikayla waters my gardens on Aug. 18. On Aug. 20, she starts kindergarten.

Nikayla waters my gardens on Aug. 18. On Aug. 20, she starts kindergarten.

I don’t recall my kindergarten experience very well, except that I know it was cut short. Near the end of the school year, we moved from one California town to another, and I didn’t finish my kindergarten year.

I sometimes have dreams about that. You know how, years after college, you sometimes dream of the class you forgot you were enrolled in but you have to go take the final exam? My kindergarten dream is a bit like that, except I’m an adult who is required to sit on a floor with a bunch of 5-year-olds and a pair of blunt, short scissors, trying to do some kindergarten-style art. (Despite being a creative lefty, I pretty consistently sucked at every academic art experience, which must be why the dream always goes for that subject). In the dream, my master’s degree is in danger of being revoked if I don’t finish the K year.

Let’s hope it comes true.

Anyway, my oldest granddaughter is about to embark upon kindergarten. Nikayla begins her formal school education on Tuesday. The next oldest, Elizabeth, who lives in England, will be starting school soon too, because their system is different and schooling begins earlier. Anyway, what advice would I have for Nikayla or Elizabeth as they start their school journey?

Like I know. I was such a great elementary school pupil. That, kids, is called “sarcasm,” but I think it’s so deeply embedded in your genes you’ll master that genre pretty early. Anyway:

  • Minimize the times you’re a bully. I would say “never be a bully,” but in the simian world of school, sometimes you’re the victim, sometimes you’re the alpha kid. Social interaction among great apes inevitably involves a certain amount of threat display, and despite what some misguided religious fundamentalists might tell you, yes, we’re a branch of the ape family. Remember what it feels like when you’re on the receiving end and try to restrain when it’s your time to dish it out.
  • Don’t take criticism too seriously. Listen to feedback, but don’t let anybody define who you are and what you can do. So what if the current “it girl” in second grade, or whatever, doesn’t like your singing? Even a bigger deal, so what if your second grade teacher doesn’t like your singing? It’s too easy, and it happened sometimes to all of us, to shut a door and decide you “can’t” do something because of some cruel remark. Cultivate the mental ability to get over it and get on with it.
  • Do your best to read. A lot of the school books—especially for subjects like social studies or science that will cover intrinsically fascinating material in the dullest possible way—seem designed to convince you that reading is a bad idea. Too many kids learn that lesson. But the aptitude to read well is the single biggest separator between the academic achievers who will go on to graduate school and the checkout clerks at discount stores—the ability to absorb the complex experience of humankind accumulated over thousands of years in written form is the key to your future regardless of your life path. In today’s instant world, it’s more important than ever to be a reader. The post literate universe belongs to the readers.
  • Don’t get too lost in reading. Play a sport, even if you’re terrible, for a while. Go out and climb something at recess. Go ahead and play Barbie. Reading is the most fundamental of academic skills, but it can also be such a consuming passion that you forget how to ride a bicycle. I urge you to be a reader, but I urge you to be other things, too. Balance in everything. Even reading can get to be too much.
  • Don’t fret the small stuff. It’s possible the principal’s kid will win an academic contest through fraud. It’s possible you’ll do something original and cool in a science fair competition and your teacher will be too dense to understand it—your uncle Jon once wrote encryption software for a middle school science fair. At least one judge recognized it as actual original work, but his teacher did not. He became a programmer at the world’s leading software company. She didn’t … in the long run, the small stuff doesn’t matter, and pretty much everything that happens before your high school graduation is small stuff.
  • Don’t avoid school. I developed a habit during elementary school of having vague gastronomic symptoms that often kept me home to watch reruns of “Andy Griffith” rather than going to school. The irony, of course, is that in my adult life my digestive tract has caused me virtually no problems at all. I’m sure part of it was I was just extremely bored with school, but part of it was I also excelled at being lazy. School is there whether you’re there or not, and despite the social embarrassments and difficult peers, you’ll get more out of it if you’re there.
  • Don’t suffer in silence. If somebody really gets serious about picking on you, and threatens to make it worse if you tell, TELL. It won’t always solve the problem and certainly won’t solve the problem immediately, but if someone tries to threaten you into silence, it means that their nightmare is you won’t remain silent. Give them the opportunity to live out their nightmare.

Most of all, you’ll have teachers good and teachers bad, peers who are scholars and peers who are training for a life with a parole officer, opportunities to define yourself and risks that others will define you. It’s 95 percent guaranteed that you’ll emerge years from now with, on balance, an overall positive experience from your educational journey.

But it’s not 100 percent guaranteed. And it’s more than 95 percent guaranteed that there will be some bumps along the road. The only sure thing you can control is your own attitude towards the whole experience. I think both Nikayla and Elizabeth have pretty good attitudes towards life in general, and that’s a good sign.  Anyway, be a little skeptical—don’t buy every idea on the first try—but smile and enjoy yourself, too.

And laugh. That I can 100 percent guarantee. There will be plenty to laugh about.


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In Praise Of The Back Deck

Kids in pool.

Grandkids play on back deck in kiddie pool–only practical pool to own.

If I were a rich man, there are certain rich-man things that I’m not sure I would have. My own airplane, for instance, would seem like more of a hassle than it would be worth—even if I were so insanely rich that I could hire my own pilot and crew for “Joe Air,” I would still put up with commercial air travel.

Planes already go practically everywhere I would want to go, anyway. I’ll gladly just rent a little space on one when I want to go. And no, despite the crash in San Francisco, I doubt I’m taking much risk by doing that—commercial air is probably the safest part of the whole transit system anyway.

I also don’t think that I would own my own pool. Not that it wouldn’t be tempting, to have a cool, clean body of water always at the ready whenever I want. I suppose I consider a pool more practical than an airplane, but even so … there are plenty around that I don’t have to buy. And I don’t want that much garden-tree space taken up by stuff that is not gardens or trees.

Anyway, if my wife or I won the big prize in the lottery, say the half-billion dollar award, she has always said she wants to replace the deck on our house with a three-season room.

I would go along with it, but I would sort of miss the deck, too.

Granted, it’s useless when it rains, and it’s a pain to have to clear snow from it just to ensure none will melt there and enter the house. But on a day like today ….

Well, today we set up a little kiddie pool and had six grandchildren splashing around on the deck. A huge mature maple tree keeps the deck in shade for all but the late afternoon hours, so despite the heat it was not a bad place to be.

It’s the one spot on our property, besides a few hanging baskets or planters on the front porch, where we put in annual flowers. The splash of color they provide is a nice counterpoint to the splashes of water that were happening there today.

The deck used to be where Zoe our dog hung out. Honestly, it’s a much nicer place without her. It’s easy for grandchildren to go out without “going out,” since it has a gate. And a built-in barbecue, which has been under-used this summer.

We should do something about that …

Anyway, a deck is like a kitchen—a homey place where people naturally gather.

So if I win the Powerball, I’ll miss that deck. Although I bet I will like the three-season room, probably even more than the pool and the Lear Jet.


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The Roll Bake-Off And Other Important Events

The nap.

The nap.

On Thursday night, following a long journey from Norwich, England to Amsterdam, then Minneapolis and, finally, to the Eastern Iowa Airport, Amanda and family arrived in Cedar Rapids.

The house will be full again for the next few weeks, as my eldest daughter, her husband and two little girls are keeping us company. We have yet to figure out what we’re doing and where we are going during that time, although I hope we’ll see most of the family in Iowa at one time or another.

Cousins meet baby cousin.

Cousins meet baby cousin.

Anyway, we had a sibling reunion today. Jon, wish you could have been here, but all the others made it.

The play parachute and plastic balls were a hit. Clementines are popular fruit with all of the young set who have been weaned (several have not). Through the miracle of Skype, the English children don’t treat us as strangers at all, and the cousins have been having lots of fun.

After lunch, I even fell asleep on a love seat, with a granddaughter who had crawled on top of me to hear some books read and who also fell asleep.

Play ball!

who Play ball!

For lunch, we had chili and cinnamon rolls. Katy brought over a pan, and I made a double batch. It was dubbed the roll bakeoff—she made her dough in a bread machine, I used my more traditional method. Her rolls turned out lighter, but mine had a pleasant, crusty texture. I think it was a tie on baking. She won on frosting, since she was generous with homemade cream cheese frosting, while I merely opened a can.

Well, I’m looking forward to more adventures. I’ll have a lot of grading to complete by Monday, but then most of the week can be devoted to family fun. I think that will be nice.


More ball play.

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Life When You’re Making Other Plans


Tulips in back garden by house. There’s 6 inches of fresh and old snow on the ground, but not on this garden and the flowers aren’t waiting.

My two new grandbabies, born just weeks ago, will know that life can sometimes be a bit spontaneous.

When a first child is born, his or her parents’ lives are changed forever. A nursery may be prepared, a baby book purchased, scrapbooks filled with locks from the first haircut, or pictures of the first step. The world, at least in that little home, revolves for a time around the tiniest family member.

It’s not always that way for child number two or four.

The grandson and granddaughter who entered the world this February aren’t first children. The grandson is number two, so he’s still unique—he is the baby who changed his older brother into a “brother.” But, he’ll figure out pretty soon that he was never “first.” The granddaughter who entered the world this February isn’t even number two, in anything. She is the fourth child and the third daughter. She has a lifetime ahead of mended, slightly stained clothes and toys that are, well, “broken in.” It is to be hoped that they aren’t usually broken.

Somehow, today made me think of these two new babies, with their melodic, pretty names. One was born Feb. 13. The other Feb. 8.

Both entered loving families, but families long established before their arrival. They will have to work a little extra hard to be heard, to be noticed, to feel the love that I can assure them is and will be there, even if the nursery wasn’t first created for them and the volumes recording their baby lives a bit thinner than the volumes that record the lives of the Number Ones.

After all, love isn’t measured in volumes. It’s measured in how a mother’s and father’s heart can feel just as close to the nd and rd and th kids.

Anyway, why did today make me think of these new babies? It was an odd, typical early spring Iowa day. We started with a heavy snowstorm, but as I write this, the sun is peeking from the clouds and the snow patches on the pavement are rapidly disintegrating. It didn’t exactly move from winter to spring in the course of a day—we have way too much snow for a lick of sun at 30 degrees to make that much difference—but the sunny afternoon sure feels springy.

After the hard labor of clearing the snowfall, I checked the back garden, were new flowers are already poking above the frozen ground. If it were me, little flowers, I might choose a safer, more expected, more protected time.

Like my new grandchildren, you’ll have to take your chances. Life isn’t always totally mapped out or expected. Sometimes, it just happens. But it is always grand.

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