The misadventures of a first time father

Category Archives: Money

Car Seats 04

where we were a month ago

Come and knock on our door…

Just don’t make it the car door. We’re maxed out on space.

Hard to believe that just over a month ago we were still parents of two, that we hadn’t met our wonderful, second daughter, nor knew that she was even going to be a girl (we like the surprise), and that at the time we were still lamenting over how we were going to make three children (and three carseats) work in our existing (and paid off) cars.

New cars (even new-used) weren’t an option as the money just wasn’t there for monthly payments. So we read, and read, and read. And we ordered, and purchased, and tried, and returned.

And we’ve hit upon something that, lo and behold, seems like it’s working.

Meg owns a 2009 Kia Sportage, while I have a 2011 Chevy Cruze – two very different vehicles, but the parameters we’re challenged to make work with.

We knew that with a newborn baby, we didn’t want to be picking the baby up and down to get into the car if we didn’t have to, so keeping the Graco click and connect ‘bucket seats’ were huge on the priority list if we could make it happen.

We even called in my dad, who we jokingly call the master of spacial relations, honed through years of enjoying Tetris on the home computer. And between all of us, here’s what we came up with:

2009 Kia Sportage

new car seats 03

three seats, one Sportage

The Graco bucket seat placed in the middle means a bit of a reach to get the baby in an out, but was necessary to get our son’s Graco Highback Turbooster seat on one side for the shoulder strap seat belt that it requires. On the other side is a Diono Radian R120 Convertible Car Seat for our two year-old girl. The Diono proved to be skinny enough to help make configurations work but well-built and sturdy enough to feel secure.

Now, all that said, it’s important to note that it IS a tight fit between the booster and the infant bucket seat. I say this because, of course, the thing with a booster is that you’re using belt buckles like you would elsewhere in the car, not latch systems like you do with the Diono on the other side. And it DOES take some maneuvering to get the buckle into the latch. Having the bucket seat base next to the booster, though, does provide some maneuverability to finagle the belt into the latch as needed. Due to where the seatbelts all fall (on the same side of the car), it meant this was the only configuration where this would work – bucket in the middle, Diono behind the driver and booster behind the passenger. Otherwise, we could in no way get the booster’s belt buckle in to click. Regardless, it does mean that for the time being, we adults will have to buckle him in and out versus doing it himself, but it works for the situation we were faced with. And will change as the baby grows and moves into other seats herself.

 

2011 Chevy Cruze

new car seats 01

The amazing disappearing back seat!

Faced with an even smaller backseat than the Kia Sportage, my Chevy Cruze proved a bit more challenging. But I’m glad to say that we made it work and yes, kept the Graco click and connect bucket seat for the infant in the mix.

With the bucket seat in the middle, we used two Diono Radian R120 Convertible Car Seats on either side for our little guy and now the eldest of our two girls (still weird to say that). The Diono’s thin but sturdy frame meant it fit within the confines of the backseat. It just meant that we had to ditch using a booster in my car (you’d never get to the seat belt) and use the Diono on either side and their latch system.

So, there we have it. Three seats for three kids in both cars. Yes, there was the expense of buying three new car seats (the Dionos) and one Graco booster, but that cost far outweighed what would be new car payments for each of us every month. And while we’ve been primarily using my Chevy Cruze in our daily travels since the conversion, it has (knock on wood) gone rather well.

While every car is going to be different, I hope this proves useful, and maybe provides a few options to someone out there who may have been in a similar situation.

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Car Seats 02So, in under a month we welcome our third child to our family and warn them of the impending insanity that they’ll be forced to tolerate for the rest of their little lives.

And while the occasion is certainly one for celebrating, it’s left our family with a particular dilemma – how to fit three young children in either of our cars.

My wife owns a 2009 Kia Sportage, and I, a 2011 Chevy Cruz. Both have gotten us by just fine, on our own and through parenthood with our first two. We use the one we call the ‘bucket loader’ (a Graco Click Connect) for our daughter, only putting her in and out versus lugging that bucket in and out with her soon to be two-year old self. Our son, now five is in an Evenflo (the exact model of which I can’t remember as I write this) in one car and a Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65 in the other.

It’s all been well and good and served us very well through these past several years. But baby makes three and I’m not quite sure how we’re going to pull this off.

Car Seats 04This past weekend I disconnected and pulled each car seat out of both of our cars. I also assembled the Graco Turboboost booster seat we bought for our son, and spent the afternoon trying every conceivable combination of the various car seats, and found no way to fit three of them in either of our backseat.

We’ve visited many a website about the issue, we’ve solicited questions online from the general interwebs populace. And so far, we’re not having luck.

Yes, Helen. I’m very glad that you love the three booster seats you use for all three of your kids. But we’re talking about a newborn, a toddler, and a kindergartner, so that response, while bringing about much joy from me to you, does not help the question I posed.

And it’s wonderful, Karen, that your family loves the new SUV/Van/Car that you bought when you were having your third. I hope it serves you well. However, it doesn’t quite answer our question as to how in the world to make things work for our situation and the vehicles we have.

[All names have been changed to protect the innocent, of course.]

Car Seats 03Now my reactions may sound a bit snarky, and I say them in half-jest, but it’s because, truly, we’re in a pickle. We can’t use three booster seats across, as only one child is in the realm of possibly being eligible for a booster and that’s our oldest. And even using a booster in one slot does not allow for two other car seats in the space provided – at least not with the car seats we currently have.

And it’s easy to say “just get a new car,” and I wish we could. But we just can’t afford one right now. While we consider ourselves very fortunate for what we have, we don’t have enough money currently to go car shopping. Both our cars are paid off, which is one of the things that made it a lot easier for us to afford moving into a new home this past year. However, my undergraduate student loans, these 12+ years later, are still a shackle that I wear that holds back the entire family. I am currently paying double the amount on each of my student loans every month, and it equals out to roughly the same as our mortgage. Even at that overpaying rate, there is still 14-16 more months left before they are paid off completely and that money is freed up. To slow down and lessen those payments means prolonging that debt (and increasing it due to interest) and taking on even more debt with monthly car payments. So that part, really is not feasible.

As I say, we’re very grateful for what we have in our lives. That said, we try very hard to budget each dollar we have, because it all has to go someplace every month. We don’t use credit cards. We don’t do much extracurricular unless it’s something affordable or free. So we don’t tend to go willy-nilly with money. It’s just all allocated somewhere.

Car Seats 05So the best theory we can come up with for the time being is the short-term, one time pain of shelling out money to buy some new car seats that will work in combination with the booster to fit all three kids in our cars versus the long-term commitment of money to monthly car payments.

But what seats to use? That has been the biggest and toughest challenge.

We’ve been at this for far longer than now, but now it feels like the clock is ticking faster as we move more and more toward our new arrival. Any seat suggestions are appreciated if anyone’s been in a similar boat with similar-sized cars.

Because right now the only thing I’m driving is the crazy train.


library-shelvesRepository of knowledge. Information Center. Bibliotecha. Whatever you call it, libraries are the bomb.

Do kids still say the bomb?

I absolutely love libraries and these days I’ve rekindled that romance after a shifting mindset with an emphasis on simplicity and purging. This summer, Meg and I made it a goal to sort through the numerous boxes in our basement and closets that have sat there since we moved, and some well before that sat dormant in the basement of our previous house. And while the amount of ‘stuff’ varied, one thing that we certainly had a lot of, was books. Books we’ve read, many books we hadn’t, books we’re likely to never, ever read that just looked nice on a bookshelf. But of those books we had read, they were rarely, if ever going to be read again.

First LIbrary Card Rev1And so this growing fire of simplification was inspiration to start using the public library system more for things that were only going to get one use. The best part of all – we brought the kids with us.

On our son’s fifth birthday, Meg took him to our local library where he excitedly signed up for his first library card and walked away with an armful of books to sift through at home (yes, even though mommy told him to limit it to three). The next week or so were filled with great new stories at bedtime and any random time. And the best part – when we were all done, we brought them back.

No finding shelf space or storage space, no added clutter around the house.

And the selection! So much to choose from, right at your fingertips! Whether some Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems for the kids, or a non-fiction or novel for mom and dad (or graphic novel, even!), we get to enjoy the pleasure of reading, enjoying, then returning and it’s wonderful.

Yes, at times it can be a bit of a struggle to pull the kids away from the fun of toys in the play area, or the cool games on computers or tablets set up for public use. But it’s just part of what the library has to offer folks and I can’t encourage patronizing your local library enough.

library booksLibraries are books, they are knowledge, they are information for the masses versus only those who can afford it. It is access to technology to complete homework, to apply for a job, or conduct important research. They’re more than stacks. They’re a community center.

I know. I know. This post reads as if I only just discovered the library.

On the contrary. I worked in a public library for a bit of time when I was in college and my wife is a school librarian. And we’ve both been visiting our local libraries since we were little, but I think in this modern, internet-commerce world, it becomes easy to hop online and drop a few bucks (or a lot of bucks) for a book we have a sudden urge to read, but might never read again.

Are we done with bookstores and online ordering? Gosh, no. But we’re just becoming pickier about what we want to have eating up space, about what we’re buying that we don’t need to. And visiting our local libraries has certainly helped.

Yes. I’m excited to talk about my love of the library because let’s just think about this for a minute. There is a place where anyone can go, find information on almost anything, or entertaining reading on almost anything, catch up on the newspaper, use resources we may not be able to afford on our own, and all for free, provided we return it or use it in certain parameters.

To me, that’s simply amazing.


DuckTales_NES_Cover.pngI’m not really a video game guy.

Sure, I played some Nintendo when I was in elementary school, but it was always at a friend’s house. I didn’t own one myself until I was a pre-teen and had earned enough delivering the weekly Pennysaver once a week for the tidy sum of $8 a week to buy one myself. And at that point most people had moved on to Super Nintendo.

But I’ll say that one of the games that was a childhood favorite for me at many a friend’s and was the first that I went out to buy when I had my own NES system was Disney’s DuckTales.

And I am all about the nostalgia of my youth, especially when it comes to DuckTales. Any quotes and notations you find hereon in come from the book Mediated Nostalgia by Ryan Lizardi. Check it out if you want to take a look at what drives you or folks like me to cherish things from our past like Disney ducks so much.

The graphics in retrospect were not the best. You knew who the characters were, but compared to their animated counterparts, seen daily on the Disney afternoon cartoon block, it was the limits of 8 bit gaming graphics in 1989. The storyline didn’t explain much other than that Scrooge had to travel the world, collect treasure, and win. That was it, really. Why these places, why these enemies? The purpose? It was a bit thin, but it was okay. Because the gameplay, its music, and its sheer relationship to a favorite hit cartoon series was fantastic enough to get one hooked that it became one of the most fun games on the system and a part of many collective memories of both cartoons and gaming in the late 80s/early 90s.

For years I remember the mere mention of classic Nintendo with folks often led to one of the conversations – Mario and DuckTales.

My original DuckTales game went, along with any other NES games I had, when I sold my NES system shortly after I got married and we moved into our house. There just wasn’t room for a lot of things, and many of the things that had been sitting in boxes for a lengthy period of time hit the bricks via ebay. NES was one of them. That lack of access certainly added to my desire to play again.

So it’s no wonder that when I got a smartphone with enough memory to do so last year, the only game I ever spent money on was a revisit of that now classic game under the title DuckTales Remastered.

“The economic concern derives from a desire on the part of a film remake producer to construct a maximum audience base consisting of those who are already familiar with the original text and those that are not.” (Lizardi 2015, 118)

ducktales-remastered-comparison

Released in 2013, just a bit shy of 25 years since the original game’s release, this is a nostalgic fan’s dream. Because it’s evident from the get-go that, while anyone could play it, this is truly aimed at fans who grew up with the original and now as adults have the chance to revisit not just the game, but a fully improved-upon visual game that taps into your longing for the characters, situations, shows associated with it by adding even more characters, layers, and story to it.

“Considering the specific time period from which many remakes derive their source material, constructing those whose childhoods occurred in the 1970s and 1980s as perpetual nostalgics means economically targeting consumers who are currently somewhere between twenty and forty years old.” (Lizardi 2015, 124)

The gameplay, levels, music, and worlds are virtually the same as it was in 1989 with the exception of enhanced, better looking 3 dimensional backgrounds and two-dimensional characters that are almost identical to their onscreen counterparts in the original animated series.

ducktales-remastered-npc-character-roster-wubba-duck1

Character comparison from 1989 to 2013 courtesy of theirategamer.com

If that weren’t enough to make me feel nine years old again, the game developers gathered together all of the surviving cast members of the animated series to provide the voices of their characters in the game, which is quite the feat in itself. Alan Young, who voiced Scrooge McDuck was around 93 at the time he provided vocals for the game and he still wasn’t the senior cast member on deck. That goes to June Foray, voicing villainous sorceress Magica DeSpell just as she did in the cartoon series, and doing so at the age of 95. For characters whose voice actor had since passed on, the developers of the game were keen enough to hire very good vocal impersonators who were able to emulate the original voices from the cartoon series.

The voice cast was utilized not just to provide vocals as characters moved through gameplay, grunting if they got hurt or exclaiming as they located treasure. One of the greatest additions to the Remastered version of the game were full animated sequences featuring the characters to provide backstory, segue, and make sense of what otherwise made none for the show’s continuity back in the day of the original game. (How can Scrooge breathe in space? What the heck is GizmoDuck doing on the moon in the first place?)

“These re-imaginings prove time and time again that they are not only aimed at establishing a new audience base for rebooted properties, but are speaking primarily to the already established nostalgic base.” (Lizardi 2015, 130)

04618a0d50128249bbd57bc469eb783f

With a new DuckTales cartoon series headed to Disney this summer with an updated look, story, and voice cast, I’m sure there’s bound to be another, brand new game of some sort coming. And if it has as much care as has been put into this, it’ll be great.

But, for me, I just want that feeling of being nine years old again at a sleepover at a friend’s house hopping Scrooge through the Amazon, across the Moon, and finding treasure wherever it lay, reliving the adventure not just of a game, but of childhood. Isn’t that what nostalgia’s all about?

It is, and the game developers counted on it.

Mission accomplished.


georgebailey1“You really have built yourself a wonderful life.”

For a lot of folks, the end of a year is a bit of a refresher, closing out the bad of the previous 365 days while welcoming the good and the potential of the year ahead. But it can also be quite a time of reflection, looking back at the year that’s coming to an end and seeing how far our lives have come from the year before, the year before that, the decade before that, and so on.

Relatively recently, as a friend and I were catching up on life, and what was going on, including the birth of my daughter this past Fall, the incredible growth of my son, now 3, and what both my wife and I had been up this past year (from family outings and projects, to fixing up our little home, her increased freelance writing gigs, my baby steps into some publishing), my friend looked at me and said, very casually “you really have built a wonderful life for yourself.”

And he’s right.

It’s the kind of thing that I don’t take stock of as often as I really should. I’ve admitted in the past to what a list-maker I am – constantly setting multiple goals each day and mentally flogging myself for not accomplishing all of them. Always looking to what the next project or accomplishment can be. Whether it’s another attempt at trying to sell a script, a job pursuit, a house hunt. It’s always something. Some, next attainable goal, leaving little to no time to reflect on how much I really do already have.

When I met this friend roughly ten years ago, I was in my mid-20s. I was fresh off a delayed graduation from college, living at home, trying to cut it art-wise as a low-budget indie filmmaker, and working a quality control job at a factory with my eyes set on journalism.

Needless to say, my life’s changed quite a bit in those past ten years. I left the Quality Control Job at the factory, landing an entry-level reporter job at a weekly paper. That led to a full-fledged reporter job at the daily paper soon after, leading into a foot-in-the-door job doing digital media/web content for a local television news station. That in itself then led to various positions over the years, from assignment editor, assistant news director, a reporter, and a new anchor. It was a long journey over almost a decade, but the experiences along the way were, despite the struggles within, what was dreamed off as I sat doing quality control forms back in the day. And during my tenure in news, I re-sparked my love of the theatre by getting involved in community theatre productions, meeting the woman who’d become my wife, bought a house, got married, and had our first child.

I’d leave news for a job on the professional side of academia, keeping my feet in the creative pool through pieces for this blog, various websites, and the occasional TV appearance on Mass Appeal, one of my favorite stops in New England, to pal around with hosts Ashley and Seth and some mid-morning Dorky Daddy life tips.

I’d see the publication of my first comic book series, which, as a fan of comics most of my life, is still an incredible feeling, to hold one’s own work, tangibly, in their hands.

This year we welcomed our second child, our daughter, to the world, and nothing beats coming home to see her crack a smile and the open arms of my son, who can make you feel like you’ve been gone an eternity with the welcoming hug upon arrival.

In those 10+ years, I went from drowning in credit card debt to not owning a single credit card. Sure, the student loan debt is still there, but it’s paid on, steadily, and more than the minimum amount, every month, chipping away as best I can.

The day job isn’t always perfect. But then, very few jobs are, am I right? Neither was my career in news, no matter how much I miss the work at times.

Yes, there are bills. There will always be bills. Yes, the small house that was perfect for the two of us seems a bit cramped with us, two kids and three cats. But that too will eventually change over time.

You catch my drift, I think.

George Bailey drinksSo much time can be spent focusing on what we feel has to be accomplished next, that we don’t step back and see just how far we’ve come.

And man, I feel I’ve come a damn long way.

Thanks for the reminder, Clarence. My friend’s name isn’t Clarence, but it seems appropriate in name-changing to protect the innocent.

Maybe with a new year beginning, I need to make it a point to still maintain goals, but not to allow them to make me lose sight of what wonderful things I already have in this life. Because it will (and already has) go by pretty quick. If you don’t realize, respect, and appreciate what you have while you have it, it’s going to go by even quicker.


So today it was announced that the Children’s Television Workshop, which of course produces the legendary Sesame Street, has inked a deal with HBO to air the next five years worth of new episodes on the premium television channel.

Those new episodes, will then later be made available for airing on PBS Stations.

And I kind of feel like it’s serving a lot of kids and families the leftover scraps.

The program isn’t leaving PBS, its home for the past 45 years. But it is being cut down from an hour to a half-hour and will be reruns that have been re-edited.

Any new episodes of the show will air on HBO first, finding their way to PBS some nine months later. Will these new episodes be an hour on HBO and cut down to a half-hour on PBS as is being done with reruns? Or will they be a half hour on HBO and then presented as-is on PBS? I haven’t found that to be clear just yet.

However, the move to HBO will allow them to nearly double the number of episodes they produce each year, from 18 to 35.

So more episodes. Something that was getting harder to do financially for PBS. That’s good, right? But the only families and children who will get to watch them are those paying for HBO or HBO’s streaming service. Nine months later they’ll be able to catch them on television on PBS.

I can already see the critics of PBS using this in arguments against public funding, citing what seems to be the big thing lately, privatization, or that trendy new buzzword, ‘public-private partnerships’ in the fight against the use of funding for something they may not be a fan of.

Much of this deal is wrapped up in the concept of streaming, something I tend to, admittedly, forget about. HBO will get the exclusive digital/streaming rights to Sesame Street. Many news articles on this deal cite that two-thirds of children watch Sesame Street via a streaming device.

So, if that is the case, two-thirds of children watch Sesame Street via streaming. And that streaming option is now being removed from Netflix, Amazon, and most importantly, the free PBS Kids app. (Or at least, it’s implied it will disappear from the PBS Kids app. That doesn’t seem to be directly addressed in any article I’ve come across so far. I’ll gladly correct if I find one.)

This is nagging at me because I keep thinking about the purpose of Sesame Street being on public television to begin with – to have its educational lessons via entertainment accessible to all, regardless of the economic status of the household.

If you had a television set, whether it was antenna, premium cable, or just basic cable as we have (the cable company refers to it as ‘lifeline cable’ sometimes. It’s just channels 2-13), you could still learn along with Bert, Ernie, Big Bird and company.

I’ve gone back and forth but keep feeling like overall, there’s a loss here for anyone that’s not HBO or an HBO subscriber.

PBS keeps the reruns and down-the-line gets some new episodes and doesn’t have to pay for it. Great, but if all these articles are true, stating that two-thirds of children get Sesame Street via a streaming service or app, then that’s just been taken away from them if their families don’t subscribe to HBO.

I dunno.

If your childhood home gets saved from being torn down, but you don’t get to live in it anymore because it’s not in your financial reach, who is it a win for?


judgehardyandsonI’m a big fan of old movies.

And among those old movies that rank up there as some of my favorites are The Andy Hardy movies that starred Mickey Rooney as the impetuous, excitable youth learning about life, love, family and friendship in his small town of Carvel in the 1930s and ‘40s.

From his ‘man to man’ talks with his father, Carvel Judge James Hardy, to his active involvement in the school and its social scene, to walking down the sidewalks of a quaint Main Street full of grocers, mechanics, druggists and any other essential store, manned by a smiling face tha knows everyone in town, to gliding beside the white picket fences that adorned the houses of people who lived beside each other, laughed with each other and looked out for each other, the Andy Hardy movies provide life as an optimistic, we’re in this together, looking out for your fellow man journey to being a better person, even if you get into a scrape along the way.

It defines that ideal that we look back on thanks to those movies (and later, TV shows) of life during those years of perfection. Of Americana.

06-mickey-rooneyAnd it’s not real.

Oh, how I wish it was, but deep down, I know it’s not.

The films, set in the fictional town of Carvel (somewhere, never named, in the Midwest) were sentimental comedies that celebrated ordinary American life as if it walked off the cover of a Norman Rockwell cover to the Saturday Evening Post. The people in Carvel were generally pious, patriotic, generous and tolerant.

But it was not real. Not even for the time.

The town of Carvel was a representation of what MGM movie mogul Louis B. Mayer wanted his adoptive country of America to be. It was an idealized vision.

As writer Victoria Balloon points out in a 2011 Matinee at The Bijou Blog post brilliantly dissecting the Andy Hardy film series, Louis B. Mayer was not looking to reflect what America was at the time. He was instead looking to instill an idea of what he, as the son of Jewish-Russian immigrants, wanted America to be. Rooney himself referred to it as “part of L.B. Mayer’s master plan to reinvent America….He wanted values to be instilled in the country and knew how influential films could be…”

I know this. Every time I watch one of these movies I know this, and yet, it makes no difference in my longing to find such a place for my son (and soon to be children) grow up.

We love our little house, purchased right before we got married. Our next door neighbor’s are always there with a helping hand and watchful eye when we need it, families across and down the road that are a pleasure to see and chat with, and up until a few years ago, we had two WWII vets (one next to us and one across from us) also among our daily cast of characters. Both have since passed away.

Andy Hardy HomeBut I’m fooling myself if I didn’t admit that with our family expanding, we continue to be on the lookout for something a little bigger, something with a little more space. While our street itself is relatively calm (with a few exceptions), it’s becoming apparent to me that the surrounding area as a whole is not faring as well, be it crime, drugs, or other issues. Maybe it’s a residual effect of working in news and having the press releases constantly stream across your desk, making you realize what’s going on in your tiny village, but it of course has me concerned how long things can hold.

But when we do, even casually, look outward, I find myself constantly shrugging my shoulders at potential locations.

Because it’s not Carvel.

Maybe not Carvel specifically, but it’s because in the back of my mind, even if it’s not conscious, I am looking for Carvel. And it doesn’t exist.

It never did.

If I could just convince my subconscious mind of that…

Leaving Carvel



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