They’re Gonna Getcha, Getcha, Getcha, Getcha

On May 4, 2016, in Family, by Chris Baccus
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I have never vaped. I did smoke. When I was 14, I started having a cigarette here and there, usually when friends and I would head down to the teen dance clubs in Portland, Oregon. The harsh flavors of a Camel or Marlboro didn’t really do it for me when I started. Fortunately, for the cigarette industry, there were clove cigarettes that smelled sweet and made your lip numb.

Vaping and e-cigarettes didn’t exist back then, but I can see in the video above how it could have easily been my gateway to smoking, much like how clove cigarettes became packs of Marlboro Reds later for me (I did eventually quit in my early 20s.)

Like clove cigarettes, e-cigarettes come in flavors that today make cloves sound dull. According to some research out of Yale, appealing flavors was one of the top reasons students experimented with e-cigarettes. E-liquids come in a variety of flavors like Fruit Loops and Cap’n Crunch that are enticing to youth.

Now as a dad with twin boys with only one year of elementary school left, I have to start thinking about these things. Knowing my past of succumbing to cigarettes in my foolish youth, it’ s important to know what has changed in 30 years and how the tobacco industry has found new ways to hook kids.

Here are some tips on what we can do as parents.

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A granola company wants you to make sure our families are not the last generation to get out and enjoy nature.  This is the insight of the latest campaign from Nature Valley called #RedescoverNature.  It begins with grandparents sharing what they did as kids including fishing, berry picking and other outdoor activities.  We then hear from parents who talk about playtime in the neighborhood when kids would get together and play a sport or ride bikes.  Finally, we hear from kids who say they love playing video games and watching shows.

Nature Valley’s video tells an interesting story about how childhood play has moved from outdoors to indoors.  It is a very common theme that isn’t lost on parents who struggle to cap screen time with their kids.  It’s a battle played out across the country as homes are full of game systems, cellphones, tablets, and TVs all grabbing the attention of mom and dad and their kids too. Which leaves a nature named company an opportunity to connect with parents about the lack of nature in our lives.

I like the ad. It’s good. It shows a strong research insight and one most families can relate to.  I also like how the ad simplifies the outdoor versus indoor paradigm.

I also agree with the end of the video where the family goes out in nature to get away from all the devices and to start exploring.  This is something our family does a lot. We especially love going to farms and ranches where we can learn about where our food comes from.  Even going to a farmer’s market where the farmers are there to sell their produce is an experience that increases awareness about what we eat and where it comes from more powerful and staying.

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As a parent today, you have to create these experiences.  Yes when I was a kid we mostly went outside rode our bikes and skateboards, played sports in the street or in someone’s backyard, or we played Dungeons & Dragons or some board game.  We had some crude early video games like Commodore 64 and Atari 2600, but they were nothing like the rich experiences of gaming today.  If we had the game systems of today, we probably would’ve spent a lot more time inside too.

The bigger enemy in my experience as a parent isn’t video games.  The big enemy is structured activities.

Today there are no kids who wander around the neighborhood playing sports or riding bikes. That’s because they are all in after school daycare, swim class, piano class, on a soccer team, or in some other structured sport.  They’re all off doing an activity at a set time every week that are piled on top of each other giving no one time to just go outside and play.  To do that you have to meet with the parents to schedule a playdate.

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That is the death of nature and community.  The structured activity has sucked out the life of childhood and replaced it with $700 classes and finding time on everyone’s calendars to get together for a hour of play in the next couple weeks.

We’re lucky we have twins.  Our boys go bike riding together, play outside together, and yes play video games together.  We do a couple structured activities, but minimally since we don’t want to be a slave to our kids’ calendars.  We do a tennis lesson and a swimming lesson each week.  The rest of the time is unstructured that way we can enjoy life and have kids who aren’t being coached every second they not in school.

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Yes we do battle screen time, but it is set consistently every week and the boys know when a day is not a day for gaming or at the computer.  They fight it time to time and they try to stretch out the time playing games when we are not paying attention, but that’s okay and in the end they do a lot more than play games.

They do a few play dates here and there, but honestly that’s the biggest problem.  So many of their friends are off in some structured program so the ability to just go out and play like I did as a kid is lost.  We’ve made playtime a business.  It’s now $700 for this and $250 for that and $80 for another thing.  Everything that used to be play like shooting hoops with your friends in the neighborhood is a basketball program with a fee and cost for an outfit.  All the kids who love basketball are in a structured program.

Video games are an easy solve for more time outside.  Getting people to move away from structuring every afterschool activity, that is a huge problem with no solution in sight.

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Our household is pretty good about brushing our teeth.  Every morning and every night before bed the boys have to get ready, that includes brushing.  My wife and I used to do all the brushing for them, but as they got older we have turned the reigns of responsibility over to them.  Of course, this now means a less than rigorous attempt at cleaning one’s mouth for the satisfaction of getting said “chore” done as early as possible.

The Firefly company reached out to me a couple weeks back sharing information and sending a pair of toothbrushes that are Star Wars themed.  They come in Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi styles.  You get a choice of being good or bad.  Funny thing is when the toothbrushes arrived, the boys fought over who was going to be the good guy. Apparently, I’m raising freedom fighting rebels, not members of the dark side – parenting win for us parents!

I’m personally a bigger Star Wars fan than our boys and I’m hoping that will change a bit as the new series of films arrive over the coming years.  Seeing old movies with dad is fine, but you want something to feel like your own to really love it. Here’s to J.J. Abrams getting it right and making Star Wars as awesome for my kids’ childhood as it was for mine.  So, the Star Wars themed toothbrushes were cool, but they weren’t that much of a draw for the boys until they found out they make lightsaber sounds and they could battle each other.

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The battle then took place. Eventually, they did brush their teeth.  My wife and I really liked how the toothbrushes timed one minute of sound and character voices to help the boys take the time to brush longer than they normally do.  Amazingly, they stuck to it and fingers crossed the novelty doesn’t wear-off.

My wife was somewhat interested in having her own adult version after she heard Ewan McGregor’s voice.  Perhaps Firefly can make a version from Moulin Rouge that has McGregor signing for one minute to help adults brush longer too.

If you’re interested in learning more and possibly winning a trip for four to a California amusement park, checkout the Firefly #BrushBattle Facebook page and enter their Sweepstakes. (You must enter before June 30, 2015.)

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Also, as if it’s not obvious enough already in life, you can learn more about the benefits of brushing your teeth.

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Disclosure:  I received free products from Firefly for this article. All thoughts and opinions are my own. My experience may differ from yours.

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A Gen-X Parent’s Guide to Music for Your Kids

On December 11, 2014, in Family, by Chris Baccus
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A musical education is an important part of parenting.  My father, knowingly or not, passed along some key moments in my musical life that exposed me to Cheap Trick, Fleetwood Mac, and The Rolling Stones.  Every time I hear “Go Your Own Way” I’m transported back to sitting in my parent’s family room recalling the first strums of Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar and the power of the chorus blaring from record needle and speakers. Music is part of my childhood and some of that experience came from what I heard from my parents.

The following list of 18 albums is what you need to breakthrough the latest Kidz Bop CD of vacuous pop hits.  Why 18? Because you have 18 years as a parent to influence you kids before they leave for college. To help you increase your children’s Music IQ, this list is here to help. It’s meant to be an education on 1980s and 1990s music.  Music I grew up with as a kid and as a college student. It is what I intend to expose to my kids through the years so they know great music.

Sure you’ll have your own thoughts of what is missing or why something made the list.  Please leave a comment as I’d love to see what others think and mostly what I may need to add to the list. So please leave your thoughts in the comments section and thank you for reading.

 

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David Bowie “Young Americans”

“Right” is one of Bowie’s greatest musical contributions and this record combines 70s/80s Euro rock with American soul music.  Luther Vandross is even a backup singer.  I could listen to this over and over again with songs like “Fame”, “Fascination” and “Somebody Up There Likes Me” standing out with the oh so perfect “Right.”  Having kids who know all the songs on “Young Americans” will give your children a musical advantage to the other kids who may have heard “Let’s Dance” and that’s it.

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Nirvana “In Utero”

This is possibly the most controversial choice from a band on this list.  Sure Nirvana belongs, but shouldn’t I have selected “Nevermind” over “In Utero”?  “Nevermind” is amazing; however “In Utero” has a solid mix of the commercially successful tracks and the hard-core punk roots found on the band’s debut “Bleach.” Some notable favorites to share with the kids are “Heart-Shaped Box”, “All Apologies”, and don’t miss “Milk It.” Your kids may not understand it at first and you may reconsider and think “Smells Like Teen Spirit” will get a better reception, but stay with it.  Your parenting will be rewarded when they one day appreciate your going with the final, masterful end to Nirvana as part of their musical education.  They’ll find out about “Nevermind” later and they’ll love it, but they might miss this great record if you don’t expose them to it early.


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U2 “Joshua Tree”

Long before they were the band that auto-downloaded their new album to everyone’s iPod, U2 was an extremely talented band still trying to break into the U.S. charts in a big way.  This was their first huge American moneymaker.  It deserves your child’s attention for those times you want to relax and enjoy a moment together with “Bullet in the Sky” or “One Tree Hill.”

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Frankie Goes to Hollywood “Welcome to the Pleasuredome”

How can I choose a double-LP featuring mystical animals having sex on a music list for parents?  Because it’s my list and of all the 1980s Euro alternative bands out there, Frankie Goes to Hollywood deserves to be part of any Gen-X perspective music education.  They were controversial, sang about safe sex long before it was acceptable, and there’s a lot of depth to this musical journey.  The long instrumental exploration that is “The World is My Oyster” begins a complex, musical adventure full of political commentary packaged in dance inspiring music from vocalists Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford.
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Van Halen “1984” 

You can’t raise musically educated children without them knowing about the mess that is Van Halen.  Some day they may learn about the constant lead singer curse that plagues this band.  Or they may want to learn electric guitar and then hear the name Eddie Van Halen, wondering who he is..? Therefore you must expose them to Van Halen. The final days of David Lee Roth where the success went insane and songs like “Jump” and “Panama” dominated early MTv with too many moments of David Lee Roth running around in spandex.  As ridiculous it all sounds the reality is this record is amazing.  And what better way to create intrigue in your music collection than a toddler smoking with angel wings?

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The Police “Zenyatta Mondatta”

While any Police choice will do, “Zenyatta Mondatta” features one song that will capture most kids attention – “De, Do, Do Do, De, Da, Da, Da.” “Canary in a Coal Mine” and “Man in a Suitcase” also are songs you can sing-a-long with kids that have up beat, positive notes sure to make any car ride to school fun and musically rich.  Sure there’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” about a schoolgirl’s crush for her teach, but younger kids are unlikely to get that nuanced.  Zenyatta Mondatta is a great way to introduce your kids to Sting and The Police.

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Lenny Kravitz “Mama Said”

Lenny Kravitz’s music is so derivative from many influences like Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Smoky Robinson, and Stevie Wonder.  “Mama Said” is an album that captures all these influences so well.  The songs are positive and mostly sing about love.  Plus what mother isn’t going to enjoy the kids singing “My Mama Said…”? It’s fun, creatively rich and enough funk and soul to be authentic but not pretentious.  Plus it’s good for kids to know about one of the coolest guys in rock from the past 30 years.


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Red Hot Chili Peppers “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” 

This is Anthony Kiedis, Flea, Chad Smith and John Frusciante at their peak.  There is so much energy and sentimentality in this record to make for a significant experience in any child’s life.  What kid isn’t going to enjoy playing some sport with “Give It Away” or “Funky Monks” humming in his or her head? Think of the edge your kid will have with this as their soundtrack in life.

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The Dead Kennedys “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death”

Okay, so you might want to wait a long, long while before introducing The Dead Kennedys to your child.  “Too Drunk to Fuck” and “Kinky Sex Makes the World Go ‘Round” likely may end in Child Protective Services showing up at your door. However, we are in the iPod Age and you can simply remove some of the songs and still expose your child to one of the best punk bands ever. There is no one –no. one. – like Jello Biafra in music history.  This is by far his best lyrical masterpiece and there’s just too much here to not miss that you must find some time to expose your impressionable child to punk rock.  Your child will think you’re either nuts or a genius for including them in this musical journey.  If they think you’re nuts, that is an okay response.  So either way you’ve won parenting.

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The Smiths “Louder Than Bombs”

“The Queen is Dead” is a more concise excellent example of The Smiths, but singing about a double-decker bus crashing into you and killing you probably isn’t the best image to imprint in one’s mind (yes, I know I just recommend The Dead Kennedy’s a second ago.  Please disregard that now.)  “Louder Than Bombs” is a more intellectual endeavor than the other Smiths efforts.  “Panic” and “Ask” are great sing along road trip songs the whole family can enjoy. Tracks like “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” might become your children’s new version of begging come time at the toy store, so this recommendation could backfire.  But Please, Please, Please stay with it as The Smiths are essential music for many a teenager moment that is bound to be thankful for “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” even if that misery is misery your child feels you have brought on them.

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Depeche Mode “Music for the Masses”

This is a rather mellow Depeche Mode record, yet that’s what makes it so powerful.  There is a beauty in songs like “Never Let Me Down Again” which brings us back up from a lesson learned, to carry on, to have faith in our best friend, even with their fault. Plus you can watch the music video featuring a BMW Isetta. Followed by tracks like the powerful “Strangelove”, “Music for the Masses” is great introduction to Depeche Mode that may lead to dancing in front of mirrors and spinning around like Dave Gahan.

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Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense”

This is the only movie soundtrack to make this list.  It brings together several seminal Talking Heads hits into one album that captures so much of what is genius about David Byrne and the significance that is The Talking Heads in the early 1980s. This is also the only CBGB’s band on this list and how can one not include one of the main regulars from the famous NYC club? Well you can’t and “Stop Making Sense” showcases the band just as they were gaining significant momentum. This record documents the tour that was happening as the band was charting in the States.

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Sonic Youth “Daydream Nation”

Often recognized as the most influential record from the 1980s that impacted music in the 1990s.  It is the transition from 1980s post punk to 1990s alternative rock.  It is what inspired bands like The Smashing Pumpkins and many others to come out of what defined Alternative music radio in the past two decades.  Their fifth album, “Daydream Nation,” got everyone’s attention.  “Teenage Riot” and “The Sprawl” are must listens when passing along one’s music experience to the next generation.  Sonic Youth is a band that feels timeless like they could be having hit singles over the past thirty years since so much of what we hear in the alternative music scene is influenced by how Sonic Youth approached their songs lyrically and musically.  Perhaps that influence will be heard when our kids are all grown up.  Knowing this album is key to understanding it all. It’s foundation. A sensory foundation that pleases even the most jaded music fan.

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New Order “Low Life”

This is New Order’s transitional record that took them from being the band that used to be Joy Division to becoming New Order. Finally leaving the baggage that was Joy Division and making art that begins the night club gods that New Order served as in the 1980s dance scene.  Songs like “The Perfect Kiss” and “Love Vigilantes” are essential New Order and still remain on the top of my list for best songs from them. There are deeper cuts too like “This Time of Night” and “Sooner Than You Think” that uplift with their heavily synthesized sophistication.

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The Cure “Head on the Door”

I discovered The Cure when videos like “Close to You” and “In Between Days” hit the MTv show “120 Minutes.”  This was the breakthrough album that got them international attention; though, it wasn’t even close to the crazy commercial success the had next with “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.”  “Head on the Door” is fun, playful, yet music any depressed alternative kid can enjoy while feeling they are part of an exclusive club of people who found the music holy grail that isn’t on the radio.  At least, that’s how it felt in the early 80s when all of us in our black and white clothes felt when listening to the Aqua Net hair extravaganza that was and still is Robert Smith.  Your kids need to know The Cure and there is no better way to understand what this band brings than “Head on the Door.” It is simply brilliant.

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R.E.M. “Document”

The best-known track is “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” but that isn’t why it made the list.  It’s here because this is R.E.M. at their peak.  “The One I Love” and “Finest Worksong” are classic R.E.M. that make you want to know more about the band.   This was the band’s first commercial success and started my love affair with their contribution to 80s alternative rock.  Spending some time reliving this album with your kids is something you can all enjoy, ending with who can sing all the words to “It’s the End of the World…”

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Prince “Sign O’ the Times”

There are so many excellent choices from Prince’s catalog.  Sign O’ the Times is a perfect combination of funk, soul, rock and pop culminating in his best single ever “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.” One aspect of Prince that is often overlooked is how amazing he is as a guitarist.  Sign O’ the Times showcases his guitar work in so many of its tracks.  Even The Cure’s Robert Smith called the album amongst the best things of the eighties. He was right and your child should get to know why.

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Michael Jackson “Thriller”

This was the last addition to the list.  I debated what uber mainstream album from the 80s or 90s is the most important for any child growing up in the 21st century to know. The obvious answer is “Thriller.”  For all of Michael Jackson’s faults, this record is the perfect pop example.  I recently found it in my vinyl collection and while big hits like “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” are always a good listen there are some deeper tracks that really stand out.  My favorites are “PYT: Pretty Young Thing” and the sentimental “Human Nature” both show the range this record embodies.  And in the end you can look up the “Thriller” video on YouTube to enjoy with your kids on Halloween.

 


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This afternoon I attended my first ever Traverse City Film Festival movie.  It was a film called “Ivory Tower” from the same director Andrew Rossi, who did one of my favorite documentary films “Page One: Inside the New York Times.”

 

It was an interesting expose on what is happening in higher education.  Big topics like rising costs, rising student debt, value of a college education, and the roots of college education for the masses are all covered and more.  It’s a thoughtful documentary where you do care about the people profiled and see through the eyes of experts what is happening with college education in this country.

The focus is purely undergrad education, but it also looks at how education is changing as people look at online learning and alternatives to 4-year universities. Controversial don’t go to college programs like “UnCollege” are explored too.

The use of online education gets a bad rap in the documentary due to a failed collaboration in California.  I found this not surprising as anyone who has experienced the use of CBTs (Computer Based Training) at work will tell you that computer learning is mostly useless. Later in the film a hybrid of class time and use of online learning did look somewhat promising.

In the end it’s emotional documentary, because you see the struggle happening in education and how so much has fallen apart since I was a student.  See when I went to school kids came out of school with some debt, but not crushing debt.  It’s this crushing five and six figure debt that is a horrible way to start one’s career.  Worse I see new students getting jobs after school, but the jobs are not full-time jobs. They are internships!  We have created massive college debt and then the newly graduated students get to do internships (hopefully paid) for a year or two after school.  The system is a mess, a very sad mess.

The sadness is best represented in this chart that shows how tuition has increased so massively in the past few decades outpacing every other expense considerably.

tuitiongraphI kept going back to my path in higher education.  It wasn’t typical.

I left high school with a 3.8 GPA my senior year and had a lot of opportunities to apply to 4-year colleges and take on debt to do it. I didn’t have rich parents and in fact was living with my grandparents after my parents divorce.  Fortunately, I had a very affordable option down the street from me – Community College.

My first two-years of college were spent taking transferable accredited general education classes at Pasadena City College.  I particularly chose 3-hour night classes four to five times a week so I could work during the day and the weekends at my two jobs. I was saving for my planned move to transfer to a 4-year private college I decided I wanted to go to when I was 17, Hillsdale College.

Those two years at Community College were great. I was focused and saved enough cash to pay for 1 ½ years of my college degree at the school I wanted to attend. I figured I’d make up the other half year over a couple summers working, which I mostly did.  And yes I did have a social life.

I eventually went to the college I wanted and finished it in two and a half years, meaning I did have about $10,000 in debt mostly due to the extra semester I needed to finish my degree as I changed majors from Economics to English my Junior year.

Even though I didn’t come from a wealthy family, I came from a frugal family and my grandparents took care of the $10,000 I went over.  So I started my career with zero college debt.  Some of that was due to family chipping in including my grandparents and my father’s child support, but most of it was due to my attending Community College and saving to pay for most of it.

I kept thinking during the film if my path is even doable today.  Simple answer: No.

The school I went to ran $14,000/year for the 2 and half years I went there.  Today it runs $33,000/year.  I would have to save over $50,000 during my two years at Community College to save the rough equivalent of 1 1/2 years of college savings.  I saved over $20,000 when I did it back in 1990-2.  Of course, pay hasn’t increased enough for entry-level jobs in customer service at Six Flags Magic Mountain or working as a bank teller to cover the additional $30,000 I would today need to earn to save for school.

So today I’d have to stay at the community college 5 years before going to Hillsdale College or a similar priced college or university.  I could choose a different, cheaper local state university to keep costs lower than Hillsdale, a private liberal arts college.  Likely that would’ve been the choice I made as I didn’t want to leave college in debt.

It’s a pretty sickening situation where education is today.  The cost increase has been massive and unreasonable.

Now I’m a parent of two boys and all I can think is where is education going and how are we going to help our kids navigate the insanity of a college education come 2024!!!

Lottery. I must play the lottery.

And there you have it.  The Ivory Tower is fucked and that’s too bad. Hopefully, the film becomes part of the wake up call in the country to reevaluate education and how we can make it a reasonable, responsible decision again.

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Adding Some Activity to Time Outs

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

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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Trying New Food and Instant Feedback

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