Sunday, July 26, 2015

Songs About Food: Another Internet Playlist

I recently saw a cool post on "On a Good Day," a music blog for parents. The author put together a playlist of songs about fathers and fatherhood. It got me thinking about playlists that I've put together as a dad. There was about 5 years of my life or so that I really drifted away from listening to music. If I was at home or in the car I usually listened to talk radio and podcasts.

At some point I realized I was doing my kids a disservice by not having music playing in the house on a regular basis. I also wanted something fun to use as a distraction to get my young son through meals times. I started making a playlist of songs about food that I thought would be fun for kids. I modeled it on two aspects of my own childhood. The first was that my mom hated "kid's music" and refused to have it around. The second was a series of mix tapes that her friend made and gave out called "Carlo's Kids Songs for Adults." The tapes were basically regular rock and roll and pop songs that were fun for kids (think "Octopus' Garden" etc.).

My one other criteria was that the songs had to be primarily about food. They couldn't just have a food in the title, or make one reference to food in a lyric.I asked friends on Facebook to contribute to the list and got a pretty good set. Over time I did add some clear kid centered songs like "Don't Drown Your Food," and "Beans and Rice" from old PSAs. The list has also changed as videos are deleted by the people who upload them. Still, it's a great playlist for meal times or meal prep times. Basically any time you're in or near the kitchen. Hopefully your kids will enjoy these songs, and you'll have a good time together.

If you think there's something that should be added to the list please let me know in the comments.

Monday, July 6, 2015

My Free-Range Lesson

Buddy learns to play War, his new favorite pastime
I thought I’d find them wet and miserable sheltering under a tree. Instead I found them tromping down the trail towards me singing, “An adventure is a wonderful thing!”

It had already been a tough week at the end of a tough month. The house we had been renting for that last three years was being sold.  The owners had good reason to sell, it wasn’t just trying to take advantage of a good market. They were willing to work with us as we looked for a place to move. Still, it meant moving again with two kids and an infant.

We finally got to closing and it seemed like the long days of packing and being a sub-par stay at home dad would be behind us. Finally, instead of having to work on securing the new house or packing up the old one, I’d be able to take the kids to the museum or the zoo or the playground or wherever else they’d expected to go this summer. Then it all started falling apart.

The discount mover we’d hired put us off and ended up not showing up. Not only that, but he lied to us long enough that we couldn’t find an alternative for that day. Between lost wages and paying for day care it was already an expensive day for us, now it was massively stressful because we didn’t know how or when we’d be able to move. T was ready to cry over the idea of putting Yo in care for a second day.

We ended up finding a mover at the last minute, someone who could fit us in on the Thursday before the Fourth of July weekend. It was only going to cost three times as much as we’d originally planned.  The movers were good enough that it somehow seemed like it was worth the cost. With that squared away it looked like everything would be fine.

So we headed off on our long planned camping weekend. It seemed like a little bit of a foolhardy thing to do a day after moving, but off we went. The move was behind us and it would be smooth sailing from now on.

We arrived at our rented rustic cabin on the Appalachian Trail. We unloaded the car and T headed to town for supplies. The kids and I set up camp, played music and waited. And waited. An hour after T was due back a truck pulled in to the site. A man got out and asked if I was Robert. “Your wife is broken down up on 81. She’s waiting for AAA” At least she was safe. Everything would fine.

Two hours later as dusk fell an enormous tow truck pulled in to the too tiny dirt path near the cabin. I was shocked, all this for a flat?  Couldn’t they just fix the flat? Nope. Turns out our van didn’t have a spare when we bought it used. The tow truck driver let us know that it would be impossible to get new tire before Monday. It made sense, today was the Federal holiday, Saturday was the fourth, Sunday was Sunday. So we agreed to have the guy come back and tow us to town on Monday morning and resigned ourselves to being stranded.

Did we have enough food? Enough diapers? Enough water? I was a wreck on the inside. “Dad, are we going to roast marshmallows?” It’s all the kids had cared about all night as we waited for mommy. They had expressed concern for her well being, but underneath it was a concern that she wouldn’t be back with the marshmallows. It was late, T had taken the baby to bed, Lou had just peed all over herself because she was afraid of the potty in the woods, I wasn’t doing marshmallows. Instead I was jerk and sent everyone to bed.

The next day I woke up stressed. I slept in a good long time, until 9:45, but I woke up knowing there would be no coffee until Tuesday. Also, it was raining. Being stranded camping can be fine, but being stranded in the rain sucks. I was grumpy. I was exuding grumpiness. I was being a jerk. Lou had another pee accident.

When we camp we try our hand at free-range parenting. We let the kids explore the woods around the cabin and hike up the trail on their own. This morning we let them head up the south side of the trail, but after a while I decided to go look for them. It was dripping lightly, I took the baby with me to try to give T a break. Not one of us had rain gear on. So of course to started to pour. The first little one I found was one of our dogs who had followed the kids up the trail. She had clearly had enough and was headed back.  The baby seemed fine. She made no expression either way, just allowed herself to be carried through the warm rain.

I thought I’d find them wet and miserable sheltering under a tree. Instead I found them tromping down the trail towards me singing, “An adventure is a wonderful thing!” There it was. The weekend had turned around. My mood, my attitude, my jerky grumpiness melted away. The kids didn’t care. They didn’t fully understand the situation, they didn’t sense the peril that I did, and all of that is completely appropriate. It means T and I were doing pretty well as parents in that moment. It was also a reminder that the rain and the stress didn’t have to ruin our trip.

Here were my two soaking wet happy kids filling me in on their adventure, “We found a salamander. It was orange with yellow spots. We met a bunch of hikers and they didn’t ask why we were alone because when we saw them Lou told them that our daddy let us go on an adventure on our own so they never even had a chance to ask us!” They were happy, so I decided right then that I would be happy too.

We spent the rest of the day playing card games and napping and playing in the rain in the creek. The next day the kids (4 and 6) completed a 4.5 mile hike. I’m glad the kids were there to remind me what really makes a great trip. The stress was behind us. Lou had another pee accident. Everything would be fine.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Are you a Bigot? (A Simple Test)

Friday was a great day for people who love equality. The Supreme Court of the United States found that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. This is a huge victory for equality. Of course resolving this one issue doesn't mean everything is fine, there's more left to do, but it was great being able to celebrate for one day.

Sadly, not everyone was happy about the ruling. The segment of the population that instituted these bans to begin with were pretty unhappy and irrational about the whole thing. (I'm looking at you Alabama.) With this unhappiness the word "bigot" has been coming up a lot. I never noticed this before, but people really hate being called "bigot." I found this out when I posted the following comment on a conservative Facebook page that found its way into my news feed, "Bigots lost. Sorry Bigots. (I'm not actually sorry.)" Many of the replies boiled down to this, "It's not nice to call people names just because they disagree with you." The sentiment there is correct, but it doesn't work in this context. If we support different football teams and I call you names that's terrible. If you decide that your religious beliefs mean that you should deny civil rights to others you're fair game. Still, a lot of people I came across wanted to believe that even though they were against equality, they were not bigots.

Over the course of the day I devised a handy test to help people check to see if their views on gay rights are bigoted. It's very easy to apply, but it assumes you are not a horrible racist. (If you are a horrible racist then there's no hope for you anyway.)

Here's the test: For any statement you make about homosexuals replace the word "gay" with "black." If the resulting sentence is shocking and horrifying you are being a bigot about gay rights.


I don't think ____ people should be allowed to get married

I don't think ____ people should be allowed to adopt children

I don't think ____ people should work in food service

I don't think ____ people should be K-12 teachers


See? It's not hard. If you wouldn't say it about African Americans (or Asians, or women, etc) you don't get to say it about homosexuals without being a bigot.

If you find that you are a bigot you have two choices.

1) Change. It might not be easy, but we'll all be better off.

2) Own it. Just admit what you are instead of having completely irrational arguments with people. It will be easier for you and for the rest of us.

You might be thinking, "But I have religious freedom!" Yes, you do. You can privately believe anything you want. You can sit in church and scream about it. I personally don't care what you choose to believe or who you hate in the privacy of your own little community. But if you try to institute laws based on your religion, and especially if those laws seek to discriminate against a class of people you just happen to not like, then you are a bigot.

In closing, I'm thrilled that no matter what anyone thinks about marriage equality, it no longer matters. The issue is settled. I no longer have to try to convince anyone because it's no longer up for a vote. I am thrilled that I may never have to have this conversation ever again.

Love Wins.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

#TBT: My Mom on Twitter

So right, my mom was never on Twitter. If Twitter had been a thing when I was kid I'm sure she would have been posting these quotes from her four-year-old son just like I do with my kids. Instead she had the first two pages of this journal where she put down some of her favorite quotes.

I think this first one was influenced by my love of West Side Story

I've written about my mother's journals before, and I've posted a passage from the diary I kept when I was nine-years-old. I'm still packing up for our move and I'm still looking through everything as I go.

So happy Throwback Thursday, here's the wit and witticisms of preschool Berto.

Sorry kids, I've been making these terrible jokes since I was your age

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Excerpt from Myself

I'm packing up for a move, so of course that means stopping and looking at everything before boxing it up. My mom encouraged me to keep a diary when I was a kid. I didn't stick with it for very long. There are about eight entries. This is the last one.

As an adult I wish the kid I was had kept with it. I'd like to read more of what I thought about back then.

I wonder if my kids would like to start keeping a diary. Maybe I'll ask them.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Pink Still Rules for Refs, Another Cool Experience, and a Lesson

Yes this has mostly been a parenting blog lately but as I mentioned in the renaming post there will be other content here and there. If you bear with me, I'm going to tie the whole thing back into parenting at the end. I promise.

I recently ran a post about the trend of rugby referees wearing pink, which got some good response. I promised a follow up from the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s in the event that they also used a pink kit for the referees, and indeed they did. This means that three of the six jerseys I've been given this year have been pink.

It makes sense for referees to wear pink. You need to have something that contrasts with what the players are wearing. This is especially important in sports like rugby and soccer where the referees kit is essentially the same as what the players wear, unlike in baseball or football where the official's attire is markedly different than that of the players.

Still, pink can end up being too close to some reds or purples so the good people at USA Sevens Rugby gave out two jerseys with our kits.

Varsity Cup referee Kurt Weaver
I think I only ended up wearing the black jersey one time during the weekend, but we were glad to have it when we needed it. Some of the other refereeing squads wore the black fairly often. Of course I was perfectly happy to wear the pink, which I am not ashamed to say I love.

You may be able to tell the kits were sponsored and made by Rhino Rugby. Rhino made kits for most of the teams at the CRC as well. The dot matrix graphics are a thing at Rhino as you can see from the ref's kit at the Varsity Cup. Penn Mutual is the new tournament sponsor. My only wish is that the USA 7s/CRC 7s logos were featured more prominently.

CRC weekend ended up being huge for me in another way. In a small way I was able to finally fulfill the promise some saw in me when I started reffing. About nine years ago I was occasionally told, "You'll be on TV some day." I never believed it. I should have, but back then there was less rugby on TV and I didn't think I'd ever make it to the level of being an international ref, so I thought they were just being nice.

The world changed when rugby was added to the Olympics. Suddenly it was possible for a ref to be on TV in the US. By that time I was a little older and due to circumstances and life choices it seemed I had been passed up by younger refs. I understand why. I don't begrudge anyone their opportunities. Over the last few years I've been content to take higher level assignments as a lower level assistant (sideline) referee, but I did secretly lament that I'd likely never do a televised game in a stadium as the center ref.

Then I unexpectedly got an offer to referee a game in the stadium on Saturday. It wasn't a CRC match, it was a lower tier game in the City 4 Philadelphia Cup, a competition between four Philadelphia based universities. The game was on at 6:55pm and broadcast on Comcast Sports Net. In some areas it was preempted for hockey coverage and shown later on tape delay. I'm not sure if there were announcers. The video I have only has the stadium audio. But it happened. I did my TV game. As an added bonus I was an In Goal Judge for the Bowl Final on Sunday. The game was broadcast on NBC so every time there was a try scored on my end I was on TV for a few milliseconds.

I know the classy thing is to "act like you've been there before" and play it all off like it's no big deal. Maybe the real high level refs do that. Maybe I should be emulating it. But I think that for many of them it isn't a big deal. They expect it. They know it's going to happen for them. I don't. So it is a big deal to me.

For me it reaffirmed what I had been telling myself and my kids for years. If you keep your head up and work hard you can eventually achieve what you set out to do. It doesn't help to complain or get angry. There were times when I felt like I wasn't getting the resources I deserved. I certainly wondered what other refs had that I lacked. I felt periods of frustration over the last few years.

Instead of getting angry I asked questions. I watched the other refs to see if there was more to them than just youth (there was). I volunteered to help out whenever I could. I made myself available. I worked hard at improving my knowledge of the game and my physical abilities. I also tried to find ways to ask for opportunities without sounding like I was complaining. I asked for things based on my own merits, not by comparing what I had to what others had. I did all the things I tell my kids to do.

It worked.

I'm 38. I'm old for a referee. The refs my age and older who do high level games were already doing high level games when they were younger than I am now. I may never get a center game on TV ever again. But I got one. I'm happy.

It doesn't mean I'll stop trying to move up, but if this is it I'll be fine. If this is the only one I'll put the memory up on the mantle alongside my one hit, in my only at bat, in the only baseball game I ever played (an RBI single off a 60 year old Spaceman Lee). Mostly I'll have a real example to use when I tell my kids that hard work, showing up on time, and being polite really do pay off.

I was also able to snag one of these cool sky blue alternates from the Eastern Penn refs, so double bonus.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review: Sundrops by The Harmonica Pocket

Welcome to another installment of my semi-regular music review series. As I've written previously I am on a quest to find kids music that won't drive grownups crazy. I wasn't raised with kids music. My mother decided she'd rather hear The Sound of Music 5,000 times over anything that had been marketed to kids in the 1980s, so I was raised on a steady diet of show tunes and The Beatles. Since becoming a dad my kids have been listening to a lot of mid-90s rock and hip hop. As they've gotten older and started singing along I've realized that I actually would like for them to listen to something with more appropriate themes for their ages. Still, I can't go full Disney. I knew I had to find something else to bridge the gap between Can You Feel the Love Tonight and Cold Hard Bitch, so I started exploring kindie rock albums. As always the reviews are written from the perspective of someone who wants to help you find music that your kids will enjoy and that won't make you want to stab out your ear drums.

Today's offering is "Sundrops" by The Harmonica Pocket. Musically the album offers your typical guitars, drums and violins that seem to be staples of kids albums, but is also delightfully arranged with walls of horns that are energetic without being overly aggressive. Comparisons can be fraught, but I'd say the album sounds a bit like Belle and Sebastian for kids.

The album emotionally arcs like a summer day, starting light and lively, sauntering through the afternoon, and then winding down with a lullaby. Within this arc it explores three sets of themes tied to common childhood experiences. The first four songs (Sing In the Sun, Raindrops, It's Gotta Rain -If You Want a Rainbow-, Sun Song) are about the weather and its effects on the world and our moods.

Keeth Apgar and Nala Walla © 2015 Jeff Eichen
These opening tracks remind me of the kind of songs we would have sat around singing at my hippie Berkeley preschool. If you close your eyes and listen to Raindrops you can see kids at Esalen dressed in white linens and daisy chain crowns dancing in a circle. This is a great image for me, full of the freedom and thrill of discovery inherent in, "the free-range childhood" the artists (and I) remember in the late 1970s and 1980s. You could imagine these songs getting mainstream airplay in the late 1960s.

The only miss in the first four is It's Gotta Rain, which my wife and I agreed is "aggressively kiddie." It's Gotta Rain is lyrically repetitive, and front-man Keeth Apgar's vocals involve the common, hey-I'm-singing-to-kids intonation that I'm specifically trying to avoid when searching out music to listen to with my kids. That said, It's Gotta Rain has a beautiful melody and arrangement behind the vocals.

Parents who can power through It's Gotta Rain will be rewarded by the next four songs, which touch on near universal themes of childhood. Are You a Monster Too? on its surface about an insecure monster, explores deeper themes of childhood social anxieties. I can see myself name checking the song when talking with my kids about host of potential issues, from understanding the behavior of others, to accepting our own insecurities.

Digga Dog Kid and Surprise are up beat celebrations of childhood exploration and flights of fancy. I don't want to oversell Ukelele, but it's our favorite song on the album. The joy in the song is in the discovery so I'll leave it at that. (I know, I sound like the endings of the book reports that Ramona Quimby hated most, but seriously you have to hear the song for yourself in order to love it.)

The album winds down with the perfectly toned, melancholy yet peppy Sun Drops, a mellow cover of You are My Sunshine, and the sleepily bluesy It's Getting Night Now. Also included in the wind-down final third of the album is Butterfly Away, another beautifully arranged song that misses somewhat when it comes to the lyrics. In the person of a caterpillar dreaming of its future Apgar croons, "I'll be beautiful someday." It makes me want to hug the little caterpillar and tell it, "No no buddy, you're beautiful right now." I can see the message of the song being in line with the "It gets better" philosophy, and there's a good chance it can teach kids about the solace of being a late bloomer, but it's still not my favorite.

In the end "Sundrops" is a fun album that adults will enjoy, as will their kids. The songs are upbeat, educational, and very well arranged and produced. The music and instrumentation is on par with any current alt or folk rock album. I definitely recommend it for parents with young (pre-tween) kids.

You can find more of Harmonica Pocket including music clips, lyrics and the stories behind the songs, and a performance schedule at their website. They also have a YouTube channel.