The misadventures of a first time father

The Little Lamp

Little Lamp booksSo, this is a pretty important week for me.

Not because I’ll be one step closer to forty by the time the week is through, but because a tale that’s been floating in my mind for many years is finally seeing the light of day.

This week marks the release of my first children’s picture book, The Little Lamp. It’s the story of a small table lamp who shines his love on a family for many years. But as their lives change, so does his, and as the years pass, he finds himself old, dusty, and eventually at the curb. And it’s with that he starts to re-think what these changes mean for him and what purpose he might still serve in life – as he has so much more love light to give.

Available in hardcover, paperback and e-book, it’s a story I hope offers some inspiration, some hope, and some, all pun intended, bright light to anyone of any age, going through a life change, doubt, and just wondering how they fit in. It’s beautifully illustrated by artist Ada Konewki, with whom I loved working with and hope to one day get the chance to do so again.

It also holds quite a lot of meaning because The Little Lamp has been with me since I was about nine years old, a doodle inspired by the small table lamp my parents bought for my bedroom, which then became crudely-drawn, xeroxed stories passed around to my elementary school friends.

And now, thirty years later, here he is, for anyone to enjoy.

It really means so very much.

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Odds & Ends (and the end of an era)

odd squad finaleIt seemed like an era came to a close on PBS Kids recently, and if you’ve been watching Odd Squad with your kids (or maybe on your own, I do it. It’s okay. It’s a great show no matter how old you are), you know exactly what I’m talking about.

PBS Kids recently aired the Odd Squad special, Odds & Ends, which set out to answer questions that have been looming throughout the show’s entire season of odd-busting, and at the same time, brought one era of the show to a close while leaving the door open for a fresh new start.

Avast, matey! Scroll at your own peril! There be spoilers ahead!!

Olive Pirate

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Odd swuad who is otisWhen the original Odd Squad duo, straight-laced Olive and goofball Otto (Dalila Bela and Filip Geljo), left the show at the end of the first season, audiences were introduced to a brand new dynamic with uber-optimist Olympia and the by-the-book Otis (Anna Cathcart and Isaac Kragten, respectively). From the start of the second season, audiences were told that unlike other Odd Squad cadets, Otis didn’t attend the Odd Squad Academy, leaving the door open to all sorts of questions as to where he came from.

Series mainstay Millie Davis continued to guide agents on their missions and paths as the big boss, Ms O, with Sean Michael Kyer also staying on for several episodes as scientist and resident gadget-maker Oscar, eventually exiting to pass the torch along to his protege, Oona (Olivia Presi).

oddsquad ms oOver the course of 35 episodes in its second season, Olympia and Otis used math skills to solve a myriad of wacky cases that ranged from houses being covered in jam to a man turned into a spaghetti monster, and continued to rack up Daytime Emmy wins for its cast and crew in the process. And all along the way, they and the roster of changing agents, scientists and others around them, the duo had series mainstay Ms O to guide them.

Until now.

odds quad villainous ducksWith this special, the show’s second season came to a close as Otis is put on trial for suspected treason against Odd Squad and on the stand tells the story we’ve been waiting for – just where he came from and how he came to Odd Squad. And in typical Odd Squad fashion, it turns out he was raised by ducks. Villainous ducks that in his heart he knew he had to stop, which brought him to Ms O, and eventually, to joining Odd Squad. Of course, Otis committed no treason and we learn that it’s really been the work of a mastermind under our noses the entire time – Agent Ohm!

Yes, Agent Ohm. The goofy, hapless, mucking up every case he touches Ohm, has really been a genius working from the inside to destroy Odd Squad this whole time. And what a delightfully fun turn of character for the young actor who plays Ohm, (Jaiden Cannatelli) to take on, cackling all the way. When all is revealed (and after some wonderful cameo appearances by regular Odd Squad rogues Mr Lightning, Jamie Jam and of course, Joshua Kilimnik’s Odd Todd along with a wham-bang, over the top opening with David Tompa’s delightful villain, Noisemaker) the dust settles, the end of the world is stopped and Otis (along with Ms O) are cleared. With the mystery solved, Ms O moves up the ranks from running one Odd Squad to all of them, and we get a nice farewell hug among the regulars before duty (and battle against giant Laser Chickens) calls.

oddsquad ohmOur son got a little misty as the special came to a close and I can’t say I blame him. He’s been watching Odd Squad since shortly after it debuted. More than four years later, he’s grown up alongside the characters he’s watched regularly on TV. He wondered what’s going to happen next, but I told him we’ll all have to find out together. I’m sure only show creators Timothy McKeon and Adam Peltzman truly know what oddness the future holds.

I’ve read online that a Season 3 is already in the works.. What that will look like, I have no clue, but it certainly will be a challenge to carry on in a post Ms O world. Young Mille Davis has been with the show since the very beginning and has been nothing short of a delight to watch in every scene she’s in. But then, I wondered how the show would carry on with the loss of Bela and Geljo as Olive and Otto, and went on to find Cathcart and Kragten incredibly charming as successors Olympia and Otis. Hopefully they’ll stick around, regardless of who’s in the boss’ chair, along with Presti, who has found all the comedic quirks over the course of Season 2 that developed her character, Oona, into a wonderful source of awkward comedy moments. So whatever the show’s creators choose to do, it’ll no doubt be fun. And odd.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Odd Squad is the best family show for all ages on TV. Whether it’s our three year old, our six year old, or me, every episode is cleverly written, delightfully acted, and brilliantly put together in a way that delivers action, humor, and some great math lessons along the way. Did I mention that time that ⅗ of the Kids in the Hall appeared in a first season episode spoof of Clue?

So, seriously, tune in to your local PBS or PBS Kids station, download the free PBS Kids app to your television or electronic device and delight in all the oddness and fun. I promise, it’s hard to resist and you might just find yourself watching well after the kids have left the room.

What are you waiting for? Go!

🙂

We did the mash…the folded monster mash

blizzard-snow-winterHere in the northeast, it’s supposed to be pretty snowy this weekend, and with no plans for us set in stone, we’re likely to be hunkering down inside as much as possible, watching the birds at the feeder in the backyard and likely a ton of PBS Kids programming. Maybe I’ll even make some popcorn.

That said, three kids inside all weekend long is a recipe for the “what can we dos?” or a case of the “I’m boreds.” Fortunately, we’ve found that one of the best tools in our arsenal is not a toy, or a show but a ream of paper. Well, and a box of crayons. Creativity can only go so far with a stack of blank paper and nothing to write on it.

Amid the drawings and makeshift storybooks that come out of the messy dining room table that doubles as an art studio is a fun littlegame our son enjoys that puts both of us to the creative test.

folded monster 01It was an activity we lifted from a magazine and recreated with just a blank piece of paper, folded into four sections, each with its own designation – head, body, legs, and feet. Whoever goes first, draws the head (of a monster, a robot, whatever) in the head section, leaving just a little bit of neck on the body section, then folds it over so the next person can’t see what’s drawn. The next person then uses what is exposed of the neck to draw a body and arms, leaving just a little bit onto the legs portion for a guide and again folds it over so the bulk of what’s been drawn so far can’t be seen. So on and so forth, until all four sections have been drawn.

Then, comes the big reveal, unfolding the paper to see what you two (or possibly even four if you wanted) have jointly, but blindly created.

Easy, fun and resulting some pretty wild stuff at times.

Give it a try. And if you do, drop an image or two in the comments and let’s see what you and your kids created!

folded monster 03

The Gnome that saved our Christmas

Gnome 03With the hustle and bustle of life keeping us in an ever-increasing flurry – what needs to get done, who needs to be where – this time of year can lose a bit of its magical luster as we get older and slip into the robe of responsibility that is adulthood and parenthood.

We carry that magic around with us well after childhood. It might not always be so easy to see as we grow older and our focus finds itself divided among so many other things than we concerned ourselves with as children (though several years ago, I did spend winter wearing a Macy’s “Believe” button on my coat), but it’s still there, even if below the surface. It’s in the smiles on our faces, the kindness in our hearts and minds, and our actions to others – now, and hopefully all through the year.

So when a child, all but the age of six, starts asking questions on just how Santa Claus can do all he does, I admit, I started to wonder if the magic of the holidays season was already beginning to fade away from our household. I was feeling crushed.

When what, to our wondering eyes did appear, but a tiny little gnome, but no reindeer.

Gnome 01Not long after the questions began to arise from our oldest, our family returned home from an evening story time at Barnes & Noble and there, sitting in our living room, was a small gnome. With him was a note, explaining to us that some of Santa’s elves were doing reconnaissance work in the area and dropped off this little gnome, who wanted some visiting time with a good family. Unlike those elves on shelves we hear so much about, the note explained that gnomes aren’t the mischievous types or cause trouble. Instead, they just like to play hide and seek, careful not to move when we humans are around, but often enjoying finding places to hide out until we can find them.

Though his stay is only temporary until he hops a ride back to the North Pole with Santa, the little guy, whom our kids named Rex, has reinvigorated the energy and magic of the holiday in our home. Since his arrival, our kids awake, anxiously looking forward to what funny places Rex found to hide in overnight. Together, we share in the silliness, the laughs, and somehow, this little guy has very simply brought back a bit of magic to all of us, and made many of the questions of weeks past fade away.

Thanks, Rex. We owe you big time for the visit.

Gnome 04

Touring the crayon factory with you, neighbor

mrrogerscrayonsMaybe it’s the calm feeling of the wax being poured into the molds, or the soothing narration as each yellow stick gets stacked, sorted, and place amid a rainbow of color sticks for boxing.

Whatever the timeless appeal is, every day for the past several weeks (no exaggeration. I mean every day), our three year old daughter wakes up, wanders out of her room, the lull of sleep still filling her eyes as they flutter in adjustment to the morning light and her little voice asking us “Can I watch the Mr Rogers where they learn to make crayons?”

Available now on the PBS Kids app for free on your streaming device or mobile device, by the way. Download it if you can…shameless plug from this PBS Kids family.

And so, every morning, for several weeks, mornings have started with that familiar chime of music through the model neighborhood, the friendly greeting of Fred Rogers, who takes some time to show us how to assemble a three legged stool (with leather seat delivered courtesy of Mr McFeeley, of course) and setting himself atop the stool in front of an easel, begins to color away on a large piece of paper. Then comes the piece de resistance! The tour of the crayon factory, the payoff that keeps her 3 year old eyes and mind glued without interruption. And I have to admit, as much as I had a memory of it from my own youth, I never realized how soothing it could be as an adult.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FszGkMqAF0c

There’s more to the episode beyond the tour of course, such as King Friday’s declaration of a coloring contest in the Neighborhood of Make Believe and Lady Elaine’s insistence that winning is everything and makes people like you. This provides the perfect opportunity, as trolley exits the neighborhood and heads back to Mr Rogers’ home for Fred to use Lady Elaine’s skewed perspective as a wonderful lesson to the viewers at home:

“Lady Elaine has just heard about the contest, and all she’s thinking about is winning. Not doing, but winning. It should be the fun of doing it that’s important.”

Mr Rogers at easelFrom there, as he so often does, Mr Rogers reminds us of our contributions to the world with his wonderful song of “You are Special” and lets us know as he exits that “You make each day a special day. You know how, by just your being you.”

She never seems to tire of hearing it, every single morning. And you know what? Neither do I.

Maybe in this crazy world, in the stress and hectic days of adulthood…maybe we could all stand to start our day out with a little lesson and a little affirmation from Mr. Rogers.

Cooler weather, warmer beverage

beer-pouredWith the crisp, cool weather of autumn in full swing, and the chilly frost of winter preparing to make its way in (if it hasn’t already), I absolutely love the coziness of this time of year. Hunkering down inside the house, watching the leaves blow by the front windows (and later the snow fall to the ground), some festive music on the radio or programming on the television, and a good drink in hand to sip on while soaking it all in.

Yes, I sound like one of my favorite Onion articles about Mr. Autumn Man making his triumphant and cliched return, but that’s okay.

All that in mind, I have to admit, that one beverage I miss having in my hands as I hunker down is a nice glass of beer.

For those of you who aren’t tired of hearing about my low-to-no carb and added sugar diet in an effort to bring my cholesterol down, it has meant that beer, like much else, has been off the menu the past several months. I’ve instead been having an occasional glass of red wine, which I enjoy, but it admittedly is an entirely other animal.

hot ciderSo, this season, I’ve picked up a new favorite as I enjoy all the cliches of the season – hot apple cider. When the kids go to bed and I’m attempting, post-our nighttime responsibilities (because let’s face it, when those kids finally fall asleep, it’s a shotgun start to get anything done around the house or next-day prep we couldn’t get to earlier), I’ve been pouring myself a mug of apple cider and popping it in the microwave for a good two minutes so that it’s nice and piping hot for a little bit of time on the couch decompressing with the window, the TV, some music, or even a little silence.

Hot cider with spices, known as Wassail goes back centuries to Europe, a yuletide tradition.

beer-gardenMy own transition from beer to cider as my indulgent beverage of choice seems to be in direct opposite to their paths (especially that of hard cider) in early America, where, according to the Smithsonian, the once popular apple beverage (popular with and easier to make for colonists and settlers than beer because barley was harder to grow in New England), was eventually dwarfed by waves of Germans and eastern Europeans settling in the midwest where an easier environment to grow barley in, and their own love of the brew, brought beer across the pond in a more robust way.

So while I admit to some longing for an Oktoberfest or Winter Ale as we move into this chillier holiday season, I’ll stick with it, saving the beer in the fridge for company and keep substituting a nice steaming mug of apple cider when that cold winter craving (and weather) comes a calling.

Your favorite part

A comic about our trip to the museum of play.

DD - Day at the Museum


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