Adventures in Pinewood Derby Racing

On June 6, 2015, in Family, by Chris Baccus



For many years I would not consider letting the boys join Cub Scouts. The reason was the organization’s stance against allowing gay members from joining, that policy ended in 2013 and our boys joined scouts last year. What I didn’t realize is that there is still in-place today a policy against allowing gay leaders. Hopefully, that policy will change soon.

So while I’m not a fan of the continued discrimination against homosexual leaders, the scouts is an organization that is finally progressing and having families who are pro-gay rights active in scouts will hopefully end such archaic policies, because scouting is a fun time for kids and our boys wanted to join and are having a great time in it the past year.

As we neared the end of our first year in scouts, the marquee event – Pinewood Derby races – was upon us. This was the boys and my first Pinewood derby car builds. It was technically my second time doing it as I was once a Webelo Cub Scout and raced back in the early 1980s. Thirty plus years later here we were with a couple blocks of wood and the Internet.


Today is very different than my experience as a kid. The only kids who ever won were usually kids with a dad in engineering, physics, or a skilled woodworker. My dad wasn’t any of those things and neither was I at 10 years old. So we lost. In fact, it wasn’t too memorable, as I can’t even recall what my car looked like back then.

As a car nut and someone who has a decent garage of woodworking tools and I have even taken some woodworking classes in my past, we had a chance. We also had the power of YouTube, which opened up a lot of suggestions on how best to build a Pinewood Derby car.

The most significant video we found is The Science of the Pinewood Derby. This video was immensely helpful in how we approached our build.

We learned a lot about weight placement, smoothing tips and most significant the wheel configuration showing how to “ride the rails.”

Oscar and Theo looked at some online design templates. Oscar chose one and Theo passed wanting a simple wedge shape. The boys each worked on their cars with me out in the garage where I cut the blocks using a power handsaw and smoothed them out with an electric sander. They each help smooth the axles and sand the wood by hand.


Once the shape was done, we worked on the weights. I drilled 3/8” holes about a inch in front of the rear axle and filed each with tungsten metal weights. Then sealed each hole with wood putty. This gave the cars a clean look and the best weight placement.


The kids chose their paint colors and some transfer decals we found at a local hobby store. If you live near Pasadena, Hobby People is a great place to find what you need. We used spray paint and applied some primer before doing a few coats of the color they chose. Then we made a stripe on each car with the boys selected where and how thick they wanted it.


I finalized the assembly. Our local Pack let everyone do practice runs the Saturday before Sunday’s race. So we went down to do some trial runs. Initially we were getting smoked as the other families saw the same videos we did. I also hadn’t played around with the axles because I wasn’t sure if our track was free of flaws so we could run using the “ride the rails” technique. Watch the video to learn more, but basically you bend the axel nails to get the car to hug a side of the track so you minimize friction.

We finished our initial trial runs and I went back to the garage to tweak the axels. An hour later we went back to the practice and tested significantly faster. I made a few additional adjustments that evening.


Race day was a lot of fun. The competition was fierce. Oscar’s car was tearing it up and coming in first in all but one of his races. Theo’s was mostly placing third and once second. I must of bent Oscar’s axels in a more beneficial way.

In the end, Oscar won second place for his age group. Theo wasn’t too happy with me since he felt I hadn’t made his car as fast as I could.


We learned a lot in our first year. Next year we hope to get two cars to place and who knows maybe Theo will place first as I’m sure he’ll be on me to make his car faster than his brother’s…



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I Played Frogger for an Afternoon and Loved It

On February 3, 2015, in Family, by Chris Baccus


We are gamers.  That’s why we were high-fiving each other all week counting down the days for the Neon Retro Arcade to open last week.  It’s a new arcade that opened in Old Town Pasadena. It’s full of classic arcade games like Mario Bros, Q-bert, Frogger and many more.

You buy unlimited play for $10 a hour.  So for $30 the boys and I went game to game playing tons of video games I hadn’t played in about 30 years and they had never played before. How did a bunch of 8-bit games excite two 8 year olds?  They loved it!  They had a great time playing the classics. Plus how awesome is it not having to worry about running out of quarters?


We can’t wait to come back.  We all had a blast taking a break from our systems at home.  Neon Retro Arcade is soon adding a menu thanks to the restaurant next store. Just note there are no alcoholic drinks due to city code.

If you find the time, take a trip to Neon Retro Arcade and see if you can beat my high score on Frogger, though I’m sure it no longer stands.


28 S Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91105

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Adding Some Activity to Time Outs

On December 12, 2013, in Family, by Chris Baccus


So our latest parental attempt at trying to reduce the battle royal that is brotherhood is to do the Bart Simpson Chalkboard thing.  Write the behavior you will no longer do multiple times. With no chalkboard in our home, a scrap piece of paper works good enough.

It remains to be scene if this is effective; though, there is the bonus on their working on handwriting and spelling. Theo tries to negotiate what is written. Here he tried to get away with just writing “I will not bite.” ten times instead of what I asked him to do. Hence the additional “my brother” after the period. Nice try little dude.

What do you do when punishing a behavior you don’t want to continue from your kids?  Have you tried this?

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Let the Robot War Begin!

On October 28, 2012, in Family, Featured, by Chris Baccus

Our son Theo told us about a year ago that he wants to be a “robot builder” and race car driver, when he is not building robots.  Oscar decided to join in the idea too.

Fortunately, our move to California br0ught us a 10 minute drive to a Rolling Robots store where robot building can happen at age 6.  We signed up a for a Sunday morning robot workshop where Theo made “Robo6” and Oscar made “Robot1.”  The robots took about 2 1/2 hours to build ending in a robot battle where claws were used to try to pullout each others robot wires.

The boys had a great morning building and playing with their robots.We’ll definitely be back.


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Notes in a Lunchbox

On December 8, 2011, in Family, by Chris Baccus

No surprise to anyone who knows us or reads this blog regularly, but we rarely have the boys buy lunch from the school cafeteria. This is great in so many ways:

#1: We control what our kids eat, not some school lunch meal planner.

#2: I think it’s cheaper though doubtful with all the organic this and organic that. But I like to think we are saving a few bucks this way.

#3: Lunchboxes are so cool these days. Our boys have personalized lunchboxes by Yubo.

#4: My wife Stephanie’s art degree gets used every morning.

I like Reason #4 the best because it’s always interesting seeing what napkin art is happening every morning.  The other day, I noticed the picture above. Apparently, Theo wanted a dancing clementine (orange) in his lunch. Ta Da! Dancing Clementine with top hat and dance shoes created in a minute.

Perhaps I should start having Stephanie pack my lunch. I wonder if I too would get dancing fruit?

Do you pack your children’s lunches and if so do you leave a note or some artwork for them to enjoy later that day?


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Trying New Food and Instant Feedback

On November 28, 2011, in Family, Food, by Chris Baccus

This is definitely a vote for Yucky

There is pretty simple voting system when it comes to trying new food in our house.  Our identical twin boys Oscar and Theo do their best Siskel & Ebert impressions. Instead of a dull thumbs up or thumbs down they add their own twist.  Basically there are three votes:

Yummy: Thumbs up.

Yucky: Thumbs down.

Kinda Yummy, Kinda Yucky: One thumb up and the other thumb down. This one can mean several things. They like a flavor in the food, but not all the flavors. Or they like all the flavors but not the texture.

The above image of Theo came one afternoon after trying some arugula. We have a tradition you have to try something new when we parents have a food item the boys haven’t tried yet or tried awhile ago and we are hoping opinion has shifted to the Yummy status.

And in case you’re wondering, identical twins do not have identical tastes. The boys do like different things so we may get a Yummy from Theo and a Yucky from Oscar; though, arugula was an unanimous Yucky.

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Family Cooking Time: Pizza Balls

On October 10, 2011, in Family, Recipes, by Chris Baccus

Getting our boys to eat something new is never easy; though, it’s a lot easier when we include them in cooking the meal. Tonight we did a recipe my wife found from the website Weelicious: Pizza Balls.

Pizza is by far their favorite meal (unfortunately.) Making pizza a new way made it a bit more interesting for us, but for Oscar & Theo there was doubt about what it is that came out of the oven and ended up on their plates. See, it didn’t exactly look like pizza so it received some scrutiny. Fortunately, after a few bites they agreed it was “yummy” and the best part is we can control what ingredients go into this pizza.

We made a few alterations from the Weelicious recipe.  First of all, we used Eden Organics Old Fashion Pizza Sauce.  Yes it is from a can, but unlike others it has no sugar and honestly tasted fairly close to my homemade recipe. Here are the ingredients:

Organic Roma Tomatoes, Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sea Salt, Organic Basil, Organic Oregano, Organic Black Pepper, Organic Roasted Garlic, Organic Dried Onion, Organic Thyme

Not bad. For the dough, we bought frozen pizza dough from Whole Foods. It too is pretty good and only with a few ingredients, no chemicals or sugar. For the inside we went with mozzarella cheese, sliced black olives, and diced green peppers added to the pizza sauce.

Wrapping the pizza balls is fairly simple. You just make several 3″ round discs and let the kids spoon in a tablespoon of the inside mixture. Then fold over the dough to shape a mini hotpocket looking “ball” and add to a greased oven-safe casserole pan. Heat the oven to 425 and cook for 20-25 minutes.

One change I’d make after doing this recipe is to add the cheese to the top of the pizza balls 5 minutes before they are finished cooking. Adding at the beginning, like the recipe calls for, burns the cheese.  Cooking for a small time-frame should make for a little brown coloring and keep some of the flavor of the cheese.

For the full recipe, please visit Weelicious Pizza Balls.

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