The Not Really Book Reviews Post

I'd like to begin this post with some disclosure: I didn't get paid anything for this post. I also don't read. The problem with not reading is you can't really do book reviews for friends who deserve them. That's a reality I'm just going to have to work around, because these people deserve kudos for the books they wrote. So consider this a people review. I'm going to talk about the people behind these books, and hopefully that will get you to purchase them (the books). By the way, none of these are affiliate links. The only thing I earn if you buy any of these books is the satisfaction that you did something because of what I said. Sometimes power is more satisfying than money.

Minimalist Parenting, by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest

Christine and Asha are two of my favorite people in the world. There is no such thing as small talk when I see them. Every conversation I've ever exchanged with them has been big. They make me laugh, think, admire or be simply dumbfounded at their insightfulness. They are the kind of people to which people always say "you need to put that in a book." And that they did. I've had a copy of this book for a while, and it's perfect for a non-reader like me, because it is made up of easily digestible sections. A few months ago, I sat down to read it and I spilled my Jack Daniels all over it. By the time I cleaned it up, the window of opportunity had passed (i.e. I tweeted it, and then got sucked into the internet).

I'm sure I will read it someday again, but I hope more that you will. And I hope even more that you will purchase this book before Nov. 1. Because if you do, Christine and Asha are donating ALL of the proceeds to help women in Ethiopia. Their publisher is also matching that. So do the right thing and purchase your copy of Minimalist Parenting (and read more about the organization they are helping) today... or tomorrow: minimalistparenting.com/helpwomenatrisk/

Julie Black Belt, by Oliver Chin

A few years ago, my sister bought me a kids' book about my Chinese zodiac sign, so I could read it to Fury. When she gave it to me, she told me that she met the author and he was a really cool dude. He was also doing a reading of his book at the local Children's museum. So of course we went. The author's name seemed familiar to me, so I went with notion that maybe I knew him. When we got there, it turned out that I did know him. He was the graphics editor of my college newspaper when I was an illustrator there. I used to work for him almost 20 years ago!

A few weeks ago, we went to see my sister compete at the San Francisco Dragon Boat races. Guess who was there promoting his books? That's when I figured out that the universe wanted me to get back into illustrating for him, but we settled instead on me giving his newest book some well deserved mention on this blog. So check out Julie Black Belt (the 2nd in this series) and get it for your kids.

Dad's Book of Awesome Projects by Mike Adamick

In 2009, at the BlogHer Voices of the Year reading, I didn't know who Mike was. Then he got up on stage and read his post. It was then that I realized that there are some people I will never write like. Well at least I made better crafts than he did. Wrong. His crazy book of crafts that make me feel like a total slacker dad came out earlier this year. I haven't attempted any of these projects, but I thumb through them often. Kind of like I do with cookbooks. It's all about inspiration, right? Mike lives in the Bay Area like I almost do, and I've run into him a few times at conferences, but I really think we need to hang out. I want him to make me a pair of comic book shoes.

Acknowledgement

I'm no longer married. This transition has been happening for over a year, but now it's official. I'm checking off a different box when I fill out forms. My life has changed - logistically, emotionally, fiscally. But as altering as that is, I can roll with it. It's distracting enough. But when I check that box, there it is, without context, without ambiguity, without distraction: divorced. There's not another word in the English language more laden. At any given moment, that word can trigger frustration, hope, anger, happiness, sadness, relief, regret, elation, guilt, redemption, fear, anticipation, resentment, confusion. At this moment, it's acknowledgement. Simple as that.

This blog is my story, and I'm going to keep telling it. But divorce is a pretty major plot twist. It needs to be acknowledged. The story has taken a different direction, but it will keep meandering toward its point B. There, that wasn't so hard.

The hard part is real life; all the moments that happen when I'm not sitting in front of a blog template or Twitter. In my real life, my kids have to deal with the fact that life is now "mom" and "dad," not "mom and dad." And while it's true that they aren't forced into the conflicts that dictated our life, there was an "our life" in that equation that we all shared. They aren't old enough to understand that I wasn't happy, and that would trickle down to everything around it. I hope one day they will, but that doesn't change the emotions they feel right now, and no cognitive change down the line ever will. You can't retroactivley feel different.

And my relationship with Lisa. That's a doozy. I wasn't happy. I was quite the opposite of that. However, I did not want to be the bad guy. So instead, I harbored my resentment until it became a justification for anything and everything. I tapped out years ago, but I was too scared to just rip the band-aid off, put my head down, and deal with what ensued. At best, I hoped that she would catch up to my feelings about the marriage and we'd one day over coffee just say "so, you want to get a divorce?" At worst, I hoped that she would end up hating me so much that she'd be the one to make the move. She didn't. And even though we fought all the time, at least she was fighting for something. I wasn't. In not wanting to be the bad guy, I became the bad guy. For that I'm sorry. No matter how it ended, I would have been responsible for this marriage ending. I wanted out, she didn't. But what I feel is more important to apologize for is the hurt I caused, over so many years. Whether or not I liked how she tried, she tried. And no matter what resentment drove me to sabotage the marriage, I still did, and caused a lot of permanent hurt. 

No matter how I felt about Lisa, I always loved and respected her family. In fact, I often joked to myself in the darker times that it was her family that kept me from pulling the plug. They gave me pep talks and provided a sympathetic ear during our toughest times. And this is another reason I regret going about this the way I did. It hurt them in a way that cannot ever be repaired. I would hate me too if I were them, so I can't blame them. I can't go back and change history. I can only apologize and learn from it.

This acknowledgement isn't going to fix anything, I know. But it's a necessary step toward my point B, and I hope it in some way helps my kids, their mother and her family toward theirs. We all deserve to find resolution. I only wish it were as simple as that checkbox. Only divorce can make you wish you were filling out an IRS document.

The minivan of the future won't have lasers

One of the best things about having a blog is that really fun stuff happens. It’s not everyday that a major auto manufacturer asks you “hey, can your kid draw the minivan of the future so we can animate it for you?” Duh. Of course! “Can we also pay you money to allow us to do this?”

Oh you mean like make my kid his own cartoon video that he narrates, so you can put it on the Chrysler blog, so when his friends ask what he did last weekend he can say “oh nothing much. Automotive industry pioneer Chrysler commissioned me for a drawing and used it in a national marketing campaign and you can see it at http://blog.chrysler.com/vehicles/next30years/ (because he always reads off full URLs to his friends) and then dad took me to Hot Topic with the money and we spent it on pop cultural artifacts he’d usually not let me buy, because something about college tuition, and then we ordered all of the milkshakes.” At which point his friend crushes the popsicle stick Optimus Prime that he made last weekend underfoot.

Yes, of course you can pay me for that <-- this is called a well hidden, integrated disclosure statement. More disclosure: I probably would have paid them for that. But that would cause a tear in the blogger/brand continuum so I negotiated hard. Now I’m writing this astride my very own camel with a laptop saddle/charging dock powered by the sun. If you want the good brand swag you have to be willing to fight for it.

So what was this all about? Basically, it’s the 30th anniversary of the minivan, which Chrysler invented. I remember that, actually. I pushed my dad hard to buy one because it had a sliding door from the future. Instead, he bought a Camaro. In hindsight, never argue with dad. He is always right. While no minivan made by anyone could ever compete for a spot in my heart for that ’84 Camaro, I have to give Chrysler props for changing the way families transport their children (lying in the back of the station wagon with the groceries was my mode of transport back in the day).

And they'll probably keep on innovating for the next 30 years. Of course, now they have the power of crowdsourcing to help steer them in the right direction. Chrysler asked Fury if he could help them envision the minivan of the future. I was excited about this because I envisioned laser guns, hyperdrive and all sorts of cool stuff coming from him. His response to my vision?

"Dad, think back 30 years. That was like the 1980s. Cars weren't that different back then. We probably thought cars could fly in 30 years.  I'm not going to do that. I will look stupid."

"But Fury, they want you to imagine. Imagine the future. Think Star Wars!"

"The terrain will be different because of war and natural disasters. I will add all-terrain corkscrew wheels."

Some peoples' kids are dreamers. Some are strategizers. 

So, here's a well thought-out, practical and attainable vision for the minivan of THE FUTURE 30 short years from now, as strategized by my son. He likely already called his lawyer to patent this idea. Sorry Chrysler, I'm sure your legal team did not anticipate this move.

I love this video, but I cannot help but feel a void where MY vision of the future should be. What about my dreams? What about a minivan that I would want to buy for my family a generation from now? I strategize for a living. On my blog, I want to dream. So Chrysler, I submit to you my minivan of the future. 

Presenting the Chrysler 2044 Town and Country. Key features include: 

  • Military grade half-track truck mobility for a comfortable post-apocalyptic ride with the option of Zombie mode (for negotiating terrain with more organic debris) or Skynet mode (for transport across infrastructure damage and better maneuverability for avoiding hunter-killer drones).
  • Strong box for survival essentials made by Gladiator Garageworks because I renovated my garage a few years ago and couldn't afford to install Gladiator Garageworks cabinets, and this is my dream so let me have it.
  • Astromech navigation/companion because, Star Wars.
  • Ghost flames. Of course. 

Please animate this, Chrysler. Or better yet, just build it. I haven't patented it yet. 

What else are you going to spend $20,000 on?

In case my lighting-fast publishing rate of 0.57 posts per month is too much of a literary firehose to drink from, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that many months ago (i.e. two posts ago), Happy Family Organic Superfoods chose me to be one of their Bright Side Bloggers. I would embed the video I made with them, but it's easier to just scroll two mouse-wheel revolutions and see the original post. Anyway, the point of that project was of course to entertain you, but it was also to give you a chance to win $20,000 toward your kid's education. 

So, in case you missed it the first time, go back and check it out. Basically, you submit a funny story about feeding your kids, written or video, and they enter you into a contest where you could win all that money towards your kid's education. Regurgitated mashed potato in your face was never more lucrative!

"$20,000 towards education?" you ask. 

"Yes," I say "It's a pretty good investment."

"What's it really worth, though," you say.

"Let me Google some stuff," I respond. "I need to make this post longer, anyway."

So here goes. So in addition to making your kid smarter, what else is worth $20,000 in this world? Start with these:

  • You could start your own concrete restoration and beautification franchise. I actually explored this on behalf of a friend, a few years back. I went to the 2-day seminar and everything. There are so many things you can do with driveways and concrete. They involve intricate stamps and finishes, and being bored off your a%^ applying them (I know I bleeped out a harmless word, but Happy Family is wholesome and they paid me, so respect!).
  • You could buy a really nice coffee maker like this:Of course, you'd have to give your customers the option of cash, credit or monthly installments for a cup of coffee. I'm waiting for my credit score to improve before I actually set foot in a Blue Bottle Coffee Shop (which is where this machine sits, or presides).
  • My second job was worth $20,000. Actually $19,000. For $19,000 a year, I did publicity for The House of Blues in West Hollywood. Hey, I was young and I needed the bragging rights! I got a private concert from Johnny Cash (I sat in on sound check), I got to wristband Eddie Vedder, and shake Tony Bennett's hand, so who cares if being there 15 hours a day worked out to less than minimum wage. I'm STILL bragging to you about this, 20 years later. That's longevity.
  • Or, you could have a kid with Halle Berry and then get $20,000 per month for child support, like Gabriel Aubry did. Work smarter, not harder!
  • Or work funner. You can buy this on Craigslist for $20,000:"I will destroy your yard and lift random things for $20 a pop." That would be my billboard.
  • Get a friend to throw in an extra $20K and you can add "disposal" services to your repertoire.
  • Or just get a lionThe guy who owns this $20K lion lives in Kabul. "I like a stable, predictable life" is probably not the bubble he filled in on his OK Cupid profile. He probably also didn't realize that lion cubs grow up to be grown up lions, and that grown up lions like to remind themselves that their claws and teeth work pretty well together. Know why? Because he probably didn't invest in a good education.

And BAM. I bring it all back to the beginning. A $20,000 investment in education is worth quite a lot more than other things with a $20,000 price tag. Go shoot a video, or jot down some words. But don't think too hard about it because I am a slow poster and left you just a few days to do it. The last day to enter is August 31. Go to the Happy Family Stories from the Bright Side page on Facebook and enter. 

 

Not Cool Enough For Kia

I thought my coolness portfolio was pretty solid. My Facebook Likes page has bands like TSOL, Black Flag and Minor Threat in it, and as of last winter, I could still bomb drop off the hood of a car (post-skateboarding Ben Gay application notwithstanding). While all those things weren't cool when I was in high school, I figured those were investments in my future. "They'll be cool when I'm 41," I used to assure myself. 

Earlier this summer I turned 41, and around the same time, Kia invited Fury and me to check out the Vans Warped Tour and also drive a Kia around for the weekend. This was a blog post I couldn't refuse. And that's pretty much my disclosure statement right there: me, Fury, Vans Warped Tour, a Kia to review, no financial compensation, but a priceless experience with my kid. Totally worth it. What I missed, however, was the fine print: you will realize how old and uncool you are. 

Before I get into it, here's a brief history of Kia and me. For years, I thought of the brand as a low cost alternative to Japanese cars, since Japanese brands have risen from resignational to aspirational in the past three decades. Our family had a Honda CVCC in the 70s, and the only thing aspirational about that was hoping you didn't fall through the rusted floorboards on the way to school. A few years ago, a car ad caught my eye as I was watching a show on my DVR. I thought it was a Luxus or Infiniti. When the ad flashed a Kia logo, I rewound and watched that ad three more times because it made no sense that this was a Kia. This was an ad for the redesigned Kia Optima. What? Around that time, I also went to the LA Auto Show. My favorite car of the show? A Kia (I even wrote that on the Flickr caption). This is the picture I took from that show (a concept Kia GT, I believe). Undeniably slick. 

So yes, I was double excited to not only drive a Kia for the weekend, but to also check out the Vans Warped Tour with Fury. Although I didn't get to drive the Optima of my dreams ("dads with grey hair" isn't their target demo, I suppose), I did get to try out the Sorento, their heftier, more dad-appropriate SUV. So this post will be part car review, part Vans Warped Tour adventure. To make it easier for both me and you, the rest of this post will proceed in two tracks, clearly labeled. This facilitates your reading only the parts you want, and my laziness when it comes to formulating clever transitions.

Car stuff:

The Kia Sorento is a solid-looking SUV. It's not as beefy as a Chevy or Ford, but it can hold its head up high and share the road with them. It doesn't try to look space-aged or cross-over-ish. That's good, because I don't like that at all. Are you noticing that I am not a professional car reviewer? Me too. Also, Fury is not a professional car ad model. That's him, falling off the curb as I tried to take an establishing shot. Well, you pretty much know how the rest of this post will go. Buckle up.

Tour Stuff:

The Vans Warped Tour is all about youth, expression, angst, constructive aggression, sweat and adrenaline. I'm sure glad Kia tempered it by putting us up at the W Hotel.  True gentleman make sure to catch up with local and world happenings over poached eggs prior to crowdsurfing the pit. 

Car Stuff:

The Kia has push-button start. I have never driven a car with push-button start. So my first observation with the Kia was "wow, this car is as quiet as my sister's Prius!" You know why? Because the car wasn't actually on when I made that observation. You apparently need to step on the brake while pushing the button to start a push-button starting car. I did not know this until I put the car in reverse to back out of my driveway. It rolled a little, due to gravity and then the steering wheel locked up due to "Jim you are an idiot, this car isn't even on." Conclusions: the Kia Sorento isn't actually as quiet as an electric car. Also, it is important that you know how to properly start a car before you review it. 

Once I did figure out how to start it, I found the drive to be quite pleasant. Great sound system, and a really really huge sunroof that extends from the front seat to the back. Also, this vehicle has an Eco Mode if you want to save gas. Disclosure: when Kia is paying for the gas, screw that. Disclosure: I like the environment, but I like overtaking cars on the freeway more. Disclosure: the picture below is merely a re-enactment of me driving, as portrayed by my son. 

Tour Stuff: 

When I got the invite for this trip, the first thing I did was go to the Warped Tour website to check out the bands on the roster (Kia is the main tour sponsor, BTW).  I really shouldn't have done that. There are literally dozens of bands on the Warped Tour. I only recognized one: The Aquabats. Know why? Because they performed on Yo Gabba Gabba. These guys below were also performing. That's the band We Came As Romans, and we got to hang out with them prior to the show. 

I hope these guys make it big because they are genuinely nice guys, and the autographed picture they gave us will be worth some good money in the future, and Fury will be able to hang this picture in his office when he's an executive, or running a small country or something. 

It's really hard to be 41 and sound cool when conversing with an up and coming rock band. First, I tried to play up my Vans cred by explaining to them that I had to mail order Vans from the back of a Thrasher magazine back in my day. I may as well have added that I did this uphill in the snow both ways. Then I told them that I was really into hardcore when I was their age and rattled off a bunch of bands I was into, like Minor Threat, Adolescents, Government Issue, Decendents, etc. In the nicest of ways, they were like "yeah, the kids aren't into punk stuff anymore, the Warped Tour kind of evolved with with the times." I always pictured the day I could bust out the hardcore punk card as an adult and bask in coolness. I'm now filing that card away, next to "Super Sounds of the 70's"

Car Stuff:

I've never had a back-up camera before, so using with this was really fun. I think it actually saved a life as well. I live in a cul-de-sac, so no random people ever traverse the sidewalk in front of my house. One day, I was backing the Sorento out of the driveway and did my usual check-over-the-shoulder for neighborhood kids. The coast was clear. I started backing up. Just then a random guy walking a German Shepherd appeared smack dab in the viewfinder, out of nowhere. I slammed on the brakes. After he passed, I stopped and observed him out my rearview. He made a circle around the cul-de-sac and then walked out. Really odd. Kia, if you planted him there so I'd talk about how great the backup camera is, I must say that was indeed well played.

Tour Stuff:

Perhaps the best thing about being at the Warped Tour was the fact that Fury and I got wristbands that gave us all access with "no escort required." The picture below is Fury taking full advantage of that and watching a band play the arena, from the stage. My favorite part of that was being able to enjoy free gyros and lemonade backstage. Super Sounds of the 70's.

We also checked out a number of the smaller stages, where I realized that screaming at the top of your lungs is now a musical genre, and apparently the big thing with kids these days. I think it's called Screamo (hyperlink to wikipedia for you). Get off my lawn so I can listen to my Samhain and sip my iced tea in peace!

Lucky for me, Fury isn't too into the Screamo stuff, but here's a big flashing neon sign of the times for you: his favorite band of the day? It consisted of nothing more than a kid with a Mac.

Summary Stuff:

As far as father-son bonding experiences go, you couldn't really top this. This was a concert and a car review, but what I'll remember from this was that it was a moment in time for me to share stories of my "rebellious youth" with my son. While the music itself will forever change, the fact that it is loud and grownups can't understand it will always remain constant. You can't be cool in the eyes of the next generation. Just like the gap that's required for two electrodes to make a spark, healthy mockery between kids and parents is simply a part of movement. So with that, I'm proudly passing the cool torch to my son. And not a moment too soon. I'm going to a Hall and Oates concert tonight. 

How Happy Family Organics Helped Me Become a Kinder, Gentler Guerilla

My child feeding philosophy is simple: tis better to put the good stuff in than keep the bad stuff out. In other words, even though I would rather my kids not eat sugar, I know it tastes mighty fine, and everyone deserves something mighty fine every once in a while. So you can have it. You just need to make sure something good goes into your system along with it. Our dessert rule has always been in order to earn dessert, you have to finish your vegetables and/or fruit. Simple as that. You can leave the bread, the meat, the rice, the pasta etc. You just have to eat the good stuff in order to eat the bad stuff. If you opt to skip the green, dad eats your dessert. 

Now you can argue that this makes kids see vegetables in a negative light and this is sabotaging them from the get-go. But let's get real. Vegetables suck. And fruit is ok if it's perfectly in season. A Snicker's bar? Always delicious. Always in season. Frozen, room temp, or melted. At least I'm not hiding broccoli puree in a brownie, like a wuss. I'm owning this! When my kids eat broccoli, they are eating broccoli, stem, floret and all. And the whole time, I'm reaffirming "you'll poop good. You can thank me later." Not everything in life has to be shiny and fun. Chomping down those 3 asparagus stalks makes that chocolate chip cookie all the sweeter. Nothing wrong with teaching my kids the value of a hard earned reward. If vegetables have to take the fall, so be it. 

So Happy Family royally messed things up for me. 

It all started when they contacted me to be a "Bright Side Blogger." They told me that they wanted to film me talking about getting my kids to eat healthier and then have improv actors do silly things. Everyone has me at silly things. Here is where I would insert my FTC disclosure, but seeing as I created an entire disclosure post already, I will spare you. Watch this instead (click the image to go to Happy Family's Bright Side page).

While the filming of all this was amazing, and I will always look upon it as one of those unique experiences that bloggers are so lucky to be able to partake in, I still don't forgive Happy Family for messing up my healthy eating tactics. When I arrived in NYC to film this, I was given a bag of goodies, consisting mostly of squeeze pouches in different flavor blends. I don't remember specifics, but I remember trying one because I figured I should at least try the product. You know what? I liked it. Not because I was in NYC on their dime, but because coconut makes everything good, and Happy Family knows this. I hadn't even gotten into the car to take me to the studio before I skipped a quick run to the bar and opted for another pouch instead. I'm not proud of this, but these are that good (not to say I wouldn't squeeze some vodka into these sometime). During the shoot itself, I consumed four more.

But that's not the worst of it. When I returned home, I experimented on my kids.  Here are the results:

The easist fruit they ever ate. One part of me wants to jump up and down and declare that I have discovered a solution to healthy kids eating; the other part of me curses Happy Family. This teaches kids that they can have it all. That healthy and tasty can coexist in the same pouch. Now they probably think they can get into any college they want, or that they will get great jobs when they graduate. This is not good! 

See this picture below? Those are Happy Yogis: little organic freeze dried (or I think so - I'm no snack creation guru) discs of yogurt. She passed up cookies for these. 

And this weekend, I was opening a bag of Skittles that she asked for when she spotted this canister of Happy Puffs, which I wasn't planning on giving to her because they are for babies. Evidently not.

You win, Happy Family. Now my kids have learned that you don't have to suffer in order to have good things. While I'm amazed that there is something out there that is healthy to a fault and can compete with candy and cookies come dessert or snack time, I have to say I will really miss taking cookies hostage as bargaining chips in my quest to get my kids to eat healthier. 

All that I stated above was true: my opinion, my own words, my own kids, my own healthy eating tactics. If you have similar healthy eating tricks, experiences or amusing stories, and would like to possibly win $20K toward college, go to the Stories From the Bright Side page and share them. EARN it, because evidently, earning dessert is now an obsolete activity. 

Fatherhood is all about

Reaching the tallest branches and sharing the fruits of that labor

... and then adding butter, flour, sugar and ice cream on top for good measure.

Protecting them from butterflies. No, I mean actual butterflies. Every kid has his phobias.

Letting them be amazed and awed, even if that which amazes and awes is simply the Hello Kitty store.

Realizing that sometimes it really isn't fun until you actually poke your eye out. 

Handing down family traditions

... and the love for awesome things in general.

Working at the kids' table even though it's a pain in the neck.

Because a pain in the neck is sometimes worthwhile.

Selfies with a lot less duckface and a lot more faces.

Letting the zombies win.

Just riding life's ups and downs with your belt low and tight across your lap and one hand on the bar. 

Taking a moment to savor it all. You deserve it, dads. Happy Father's Day. 

Cheers!

The disclosure, the whole disclosure and nothing but the disclosure (and a little organic fruit snacking goodness)

Some people think "sponsored campaign" is a dirty phrase. I don't. In fact, without these, I would probably let this blog languish its way down the SEO relevancy ladder. My life has been so crazy busy lately that the last thing on my mind is updating my little piece of the internet. Mainly because I write slow. If I commit to a post, that's an entire night, shot (I have to wake up in 3 hours to catch a plane, in fact). I tell you, contracts and beer money are the only thing keeping this blog alive. And it's less the money part than the "here's a topic - write about it" part. It is so much easier to write a post with a writing prompt (pronounced con-trakt) than to just pick something out of thin air. I'm horrible at finding things in thin air. I'm really good at just doing what people tell me. I'd be the gold star earner at labor camp that all the other prisoners hated. Funny thing about this campaign -- I didn't realize it was a paid gig until after I said yes. It involved a trip to NYC and a day in front of the camera. Ever since I tried out for Karate Kid part 4 in college for the role of "thug #5" and didn't get it (true story), I've hungered for my day on the screen, any screen. The compensation part was my "oh damn, for real?" moment. Don't tell their PR firm this because I had to fake that I expected to get paid once they told me ("oh, yes. That amount should be workable, since I really like your product and want to help you out."). Accidental money rules, as does healthy fruit-based squeeze pouch snacking.

FTC disclosure statements are my superpower. In fact, I think I'm going to be the first person in blogging history to make his disclosure statement his enitre post. If you couldn't tell from the artfully crafted picture above, I was chosen by Happy Family to be one of their Bright Side Bloggers. As part of the deal, they flew me out to New York and filmed me recounting my various mealtime adventures with my kids. While I did this, they had an improv comedy gang act out random skits inspired by my words. See? You'd do it theoretically for free too! They also sent me home with a ton of their snacks -- all organic, and truthfully, all pretty damn good. I mean, nothing beats a cold beer, but I actually found myself consuming convenient squeeze packs of organic fruit puree goodness througout my time in NYC. 

Look ma, no beer! Also, I am eating how the astronauts eat. Squeeze packs: It's not just for babies anymore. Anyway, they are still editing the videos and mine should be done soon. That (and cuter pics of my kids enjoying the product we got to take home) will come in a post I will publish in a few days. Yes, I said a few days, not a few months, as has been par for the course lately. Amazing what organic fruits and contracts can achieve. Stay tuned! 

Equations

I've been telling people "wow, I haven't blogged in a month!" for three months now. How quickly time flies between posts that you don't write. And this is one of them. I have no idea how to write it, but it's one of those posts I can't let myself skip. Not because I feel a pressing need to share it, but because the equation of my life won't make sense without it. And I'm a very linear person. So bear with me while I solve for X. 

When I started this blog, Fury was 5. He turned 11 last month! I love reading his birthday posts and I always look forward to writing them. There's so much I could say this time around. I'm seeing him evolve by the minute from "little guy" to "guy" and it's as awesome as it is sad. He'll snark like a 30-year old, but will still reach for my hand when we're walking across a parking lot. Those are my favorite moments with him, and I know 11 will take that away from me. But I also know I'm going to love the hell out of whatever it brings me. Happy birthday, son.

On the same day he turned 11, Lisa and the kids were moving to their new place. The night before, as we were loading the moving truck, both dogs got out of the house. 

Moving day/birthday started with a phone call from the police at 6:30am. And like all calls at 6:30am, it was accompanied by something you would rather not hear, but will be stuck on loop the rest of your days. Krypto had been struck and killed by a car, just minutes prior.

So, on the morning of Fury's birthday, on moving day, I pulled up in front of the middle school to meet two policemen who helped me place Krypto in the trunk of my car. Animal control doesn't work on Mondays, so I couldn't just leave him on the street. Not that I would. But the alternative they suggested of putting him in a bag until Tuesday didn't sit well with me either. I didn't know what to do. I just wanted him back with us. 

We buried Krypto in the backyard. 

"Well, it's only 9am," I told him. "What else could go wrong?"

This was April 15. Back in my hometown, the Boston Marathon was well underway. 

And this is all I know how to say about this. I want to change Fury's age on my About page. I want to write about nonsensical, stupid things again. Boston is still the greatest city in the world. 

Last night I sat in my backyard next to where Krypto is buried. I smoked a cigar and listened to the quiet, no closer to solving for X than I am now. But maybe that's the answer.

Choose Their Own Adventure

Back in August, I set my wok aflame in celebration of an amazing campaign that raised $200,000 for Shot at Life. One thing I dread doing (aside from growing my eyebrows back) is explaining what Shot at Life does. Mostly because no description does it justice. Shot at Life delivers life-saving vaccines to children in 3rd world countries. See? Doesn't sound all that exciting. Fortunately, cavemen invented storytelling. And thanks to this ancient art, Shot at Life has given my previous description, well, life. Throughout the past 28 days, bloggers have been telling the tale of this organization via real stories of people who have made an impact in, or been impacted by the efforts that Shot at Life has made in helping to give children a shot at ____. Space intentionally left blank because when you give kids a chance, they will do anything and everything.

This month, we've seen tales of survivors giving back, stories of heroes in the fight, and even first-hand accounts from my fellow Shot at Life blogger ambassadors who were fortunate enough to witness progress from the front lines.

And now it's my turn. When I was given my story to highlight, I was expecting something totally different. Perhaps a Shot at Life volunteer who had to fend off warlords with nothing but a bo staff and illegal ninja moves. Maybe it was a mom who walked for two days with a 2 year old on her back and 7 year old in tow to get to a vaccination clinic in Uganda, who had to tape broken bottles on her fists to fight off packs of grey wolves in the mountains of Alaska (hey, this is my imagination. If you don't like it, get out of my head). No, my story wasn't any of that. My story was simply a few sentences long.

My story was about this little dude:

And his older brother:

Credit for both photos: Christine McNab/ Measles and Rubella Initiative website

See how older brother is doing that thing with his arm over his head? That's because he doesn't know how old he is. The health worker made him do this because if you can touch your ear like that, you are most likely older than 5. Because he and his little brother were under 5, they both got shots for measles and polio. After that, they were given purple marks on their thumbs to show that they had been vaccinated. Big brother and little brother then went home by themselves, the same way they showed up. 

The end. 

Wait, wait, wait!! This is the final story of this amazing 28-day series? Two kids show up at a clinic, get shots and then go home? It can't simply end this way. We don't even know their names! This is worse than the series finale of the Sopranos. Ok, Shot at Life, you gave me this anchor position for a reason. And that reason is you knew I would pull out all the stops to make the end of this series epic. And that I shall do. 

First, we're going to give these kids names: Ronnie and Mike.

Now, we're going to make this interactive. You, dear reader, will now have to choose. After Ronnie and Mike leave the clinic, do they head:

A) North

B) East

C) West

If you picked North, read paragraph A below. If you picked East, skip to the paragraph labeled B. If you picked West, skip to paragraph C.

Paragraph A

Ronnie is pretty proud of the fact that he didn't even flinch when they gave him that shot. Mike sees the pride in his little brother and smiles. Just then, a meteor-like object whizzes by in the sky in front of them and lands with a crash, rattling the sun-baked dirt below their feet. The boys run toward the crash site in time to see a dozen aliens emerge from a saucer-like object. They're all wielding hypodermic needles and snarl threateningly at the boys as they approach. But Ronnie does not fear their weapons. In fact, he rolls up his sleeve like a big boy. The aliens are so amazed by Ronnie's courage that they crown him and Mike their new leaders. The boys get into the saucer and make their way to their new domain, where they now preside as supreme rulers. Their YouTube channel "Ronnie and Mike: Space Dictators" has 17 million subscribers, and the ad revenue from that alone supports the planet's universal healthcare plan, which includes vaccinations against internet trolls. 

Paragraph B

On their way home, Mike notices a swirling vortex underneath a boulder along the path. Curious, he picks up a pebble and throws it in. Immediately, he hears a whinnying noise coming from inside the vortex. Ronnie utters "horsey!" and jumps into it. Not wanting to get in trouble at home over losing his brother to a vortex, Mike jumps in after him. After several moments of sliding along what can only be described as a rainbow slip n slide, both land with a thud. As the two brothers look up, they notice that they are surrounded by a gentle herd of unicorns, one of which tells them to get on his back (via telepathy of course). The unicorn flies them back through the vortex and to their house. The boys love this new pet that has followed them home, so they feed it some hay. Hay is like the best thing this unicorn has ever tasted (he is totally sick of the bacon that grows on all the trees in his home world), so he calls all his friends up. Now unicorns run wild in the streets of Nigeria. Snopes confirms all this a day later, so for once the email your great aunt Edna forwarded to the whole family is legit.

Paragraph C

The boys wander through the desert and come upon a great deal for a droid. When they get him home to clean, he plays a hologram who keeps asking someone named Obi Wan for help. They wonder if it's old Ben. After a series of incidents that lead them to Ben, who just so happens to be Obi Wan, they enlist the help of a real scoundrel of a smuggler to get them all to a peaceful planet called Alderaan. Little do they know, a dictator has already blown it up. They decide they really dislike this guy and join an opposition party. This opposition party, they discover, isn't the type that enjoys debates. In fact, they too love to blow things up. Especially the thing that the dictator lives in. And that thing is no moon! So they learn how to fly these aircraft with wings shaped like an X, and they launch an attack on that non-moon planet destroyer thing. Some aircraft shaped like bow ties attack them, but in the end they destroy that thing. It's really kind of sad, though, because they will later discover that the dictator is really their dad, which means they totally could have inherited that non-moon thing, given it a more upbeat name than the Death Star, and thrown some wild parties in there. Instead, they get some medals.

You might at this point be asking "hey, um, Jim... this is awfully random. What is the point of all this?" 

I'm glad I pretended that you asked. The answer is this: there is no limit to what kids can do. You just need to give them a shot.

The impact of vaccines on the lives of children around the world is incredible. Now, you can help sustain the impact by sending an email to your member of congress. Welcome your members to the 113th Congress and ask them to make sure that global health and vaccines are a priority in the new Congress. Take action and make an impact!

This story comes from the Measles and Rubella Initiative and is part of Shot@Life’s ’28 Days of Impact’ Campaign. A follow up to Blogust to raise awareness for global vaccines and the work being done by Shot@Life and their partners to help give children around the world a shot at a healthy life. Go to www.shotatlife.org/impact to learn more.

Minecraft Dynasty

Some dads look upon their kid and see a budding athlete; some a rising scholar; others a blossoming thespian. I see a future honoree of the Inc5000. It started with surplus fruit. A few months later, the spark of entrepreneurship manifested itself as Starburst bracelets at his school's open marketplace event. Last week it was open marketplace time again, and Fury went straight for the elementary school jugular: Minecraft. In case you didn't click on the link I conveniently left you in the last sentence, the open marketplace is an event at Fury's school where they let kids sell anything they want, with school-regulated "Colt bucks" serving as legal tender.

If you don't know what Minecraft is, you haven't spoken to anyone between the ages of 7 and, well, dead. Simply put, it is a video game that puts you in an 8-bit world where you build and destroy things with your friends. That's it. It's like playing outside if you had access to earth-moving machinery, demolitions, were able to fly, and didn't have to secure permits or heed zoning laws.  

Marketers (and my 10-year old) have not overlooked the merchandising potential of this phenomenon. Fury called me while I was at work the other day to discuss this. 

This is a creeper. This 8-bit creature scoffs at your HD ultra realism and steals your money.While he knew he wanted to sell something related to Minecraft, he hadn't quite settled on the product just yet. He floated the idea of some sort of paper handcraft. However, as his entrepreneurial advisor, father and fellow Shark Tank devotee, I cautioned that this project would involve too much skilled labor and certainly wasn't scalable. We needed something that could be easily manufactured by exploiting low cost foreign labor. Always prepare for success. 

We decided upon Minecraft Creeper necklaces. Creepers are the bad guys in the Minecraft world. I texted Lisa a list of items we needed to buy in order to make these. She took Fury to the store and bought a bunch of things that weren't on my list, but would actually make the manufacturing process easier and more efficient. Some things never change.

Then he got to work. 

When I got home, my job was to figure out how to make those double slip knots that make necklaces adjustable. Never try to tie fancy knots via YouTube. You end up hating YouTube, string, and life itself. I finally found a simple necklace knot tutorial and we managed to complete all 23 necklaces. Of course, because I just threw them in a pile, they all got hopelessly tangled. After 15 futile minutes trying to separate them and reaffirming my hatred for string and life, I cut them all and started over. But we eventually got there.

When I saw Fury the day after his open marketplace, he was chillin' on the couch with two necklaces dangling from his neck.

"How did sales go?"

"I sold out in two and a half minutes. I made $35,000."

"Why do you still have two left?" 

"One is for me, and the other one is in the middle of a bidding war."

"Nice! What's it at?"

"So far $25,000 is the highest bid, and I am keeping it open till Friday."

Future Inc5000 honoree? No, my imagination is far more ambitious than that. This is the image that flashed across my mind at that moment. Shark Tank, season 5.

While I could just end this post here with that clever display of Photoshop skillage, I couldn't leave out a conversation I had with Fury last night over dinner, because of course he has to top his own punch line. With one day left in bidding, I asked him how things were going.

"Well, I ran into some problems with a kid trying to scam me. He gave me half the money and he took the necklace and ran into the bathroom."

"He took it? Did you get it back?"

"Yeah, I paid my friend to get it back for me?"

"Why did you pay a friend?"

"Dad, he's a 6'2" fourth grader. I use him a lot."

"What, is he like your enforcer?"

"Yeah, I pay him all the time. $2,000 to take care of things. $5,000 to follow me around as my bodyguard and make me look awesome."

Maybe a different Photoshop and future ambition is in order here. And we might have to set up an Etsy store while we're at it. As a front.

Carhartt: the most badass thing to ever meet needle and thread

I’m not a clothes guy. Given the choice, I would buy everything from the Army Navy Store. Actually, that’s what I did until the need to procreate forced me to consider otherwise. But really, rip-stop pants with ample pockets and black ribbed sweaters with reinforced elbows are classic, versatile and mission-ready. So what if most of my missions end with “save as…” rather than necklaces made of enemy ears.

Let’s just say I’m not on the pitch list for many clothing brands. And let’s just say when they do send me stuff, I sit on it for years. Yes, plural. So the first part of this post is pure blogger guilt relief. Ralph Lauren and Gold Toe sent me stuff back in 2011. Actually, they sent stuff for Fury. And like a proper blogger’s kid, he wore his cool Ralph Lauren shirt and Gold Toe socks to the first day of school without me asking.  

When I snapped this picture, I was actually wearing the Gold Toe socks they sent me as well. But Fury got the cool socks that are labeled L and R because they’re built for the contour of each foot. What? Is that even necessary? He insisted they were the best socks he’d ever worn. So there you have it. Gold Toe makes the best socks (as an SEO guy, I have to say I just gave them killer anchor text– well worth the wait).  

Then last March, we moved from SoCal to NorCal, so there was actually another “first day of school.” Without missing a beat, Fury wore his Ralph Lauren shirt again.

Ralph Lauren makes the best shirts to wear on your first day of school (BOOM. Blogger guilt eliminated).

With that out of the way, I would like to get into the whole reason I’m writing this post: Carhartt sent me their Quick Duck Woodward jacket, and this post is a review of it. However, by doing this I’m keeping it real. You can buy Carhartt at an Army Navy store. In fact, I‘ve owned the iconic Carhartt Sandstone jacket for several years. Except I call it my Toby Keith jacket. Sometimes if I’m feeling more classic, I call it my George Strait jacket.

I’m an Asian guy who likes country music. Kindly lead the elephant out of the room now, so I can get on with this post.

Another reason I agreed to this review is because I was cold. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, San Francisco is always chilly. I started my new job in May, and so far there have only been three days I could walk outside without a jacket. The one I’ve been wearing since my first day is a thin Banana Republic sweater jacket (which in my professional years has become my Army Navy store for office attire).

I call my daily trip to work the “Commuter Triathlon” because there are three parts to it, and PowerBar could get some mileage sponsoring that BS. It starts out with a 45-minute drive to the train station. Then I park the car at the BART station and ride an hour into the city. Then, I unfold this bad boy:

Then I scoot the mile from the BART station to my office. Field mice gestate in less time than it takes me to get to the office.

But let me tell you something. Wearing this jacket makes my commute feel more like a conquest than a schlep. Because it is. Simply. Bad. Ass.

First, the Carhartt brand is synonymous with killing your own food, barehanded. I’ll get to that one day, I swear. No one messes with you when you are wearing Carhartt – even if you’re on a kick scooter. And that’s a bold statement, because ‘wheee!’

 

Next, this jacket is windproof, water resistant and WARM. Scooting through the mean streets of San Francisco feels like a warm cup of hot chocolate. In fact, I put this jacket through the ultimate test a few weeks ago when I lost my car keys. With my trusty scooter and battle-ready jacket, I rode all over town trying to find a car rental place and/or dealership. When that failed, I had to take a bus that dropped me off a few miles from home. By this time it was 10pm or so, which meant I had been outdoors scooting aimlessly for 7 hours. My face and hands were frozen, but my consistent core body temperature ensured my survival.

This what inability to move one’s face or fingers looks like.

So yes, this jacket saved my life in a #FirstWorldProblems sort of way. Speaking of which, this jacket also has an extra long “drop tail” which means no more embarrassing “unplugging your mac from the power strip” crack at work. It also has 6 pockets, and I’m not talking about costume pockets, either. I’ve transported water bottles, electronics, sandwiches, alcohol and other items in them. The other day, I even carried a lightbulb in one of the pockets. My favorite thing about this jacket is that even though it’s built to be rugged, it actually looks presentable in an urban professional setting. This is the jacket I wear to work. Colleagues and clients see me in it. It can hang with corporate America. Because when your jacket simply defaults to the popped collar look, you’re probably a big deal.

Hey guess what? YOU are also big deal, which is why Carhartt is giving one of you this jacket. Just leave me a comment explaining why you want yourself or your man in this jacket and you’ll be entered in my drawing. I will randomly choose a winner on Sunday, January 27 at 9pm PST. By the way, I wasn’t paid for this review. They sent me the jacket to use and abuse. I’ve so far managed only to spill coffee on it. Damn triple stitched seams.

Note: don't worry if your comment doesn't post immediately. This blog platform has a hyperactive spam filter. I will check it often and push legit comments live in due time.

The subtle art of manipul-- nuturing

Fury and Lessi have never had a problem sleeping on their own. There's nothing that contributes to one's sanity more than knowing that at a set time each night, you can heave a sigh of relief and wash dishes, pay bills, wash the dog, or stare at a wall uninterrupted. It's the parental equivalent of a rest between sets. As they tell you in parenting books, or as you figure it out on your own because duh, a set routine makes all the difference in the world. When I put Lessi to bed, I read her a story, then I place her baby on one side of her, her blue teddy bear on the other, and then I wrap them all up in a blanket and tuck one side into the mattress. As I leave, I place one hand on the sleepy bundle and give her a kiss on the cheek while whispering "Goodnight, Lessi. Love you. Go to sleep now." After that, I turn out her light, as well as the hallway lights around her room. 

On New Year's Eve, I spent an exciting night with the kids at home. We ate pizza. There might have been some Netflix and Minecraft going on too. Whatever it was, Lessi did not want to take a bath and miss all this. I think she had a feeling Fury and I were staying up for this and she knows bath time equals impending bedtime. So when it was time for a bath, she protested. "I don't want it," she said. "I'll take a bath later," she assured. But every time she offered a point, I would fire back a counterpoint (yes, I use logic on a two-year old — one day she will appreciate it!). But then she saw me break. Perhaps it was a yawn, or maybe I rubbed my eyes. 

"Dada," she said, motioning me to the couch, "you lie down." She punctuated that by patting the couch.

Blame it on cute overload, I walked over and lay down. 

"You need blankie?" It wasn't so much a question as it was a statement of fact, because she was tucking the throw blanket, on one side, under the couch pillows before I could answer. 

"Lessi, it's still time for a ba--"

"Shhh… it's time to sleep, dada. Close your eyes." And just in case I wasn't planning to comply, two little fingers quickly pressed my eyelids down.

Then she kissed me on the cheek and said "goodnight, dada. I love you. You sleep now." Impressed at her evasion techniques, I lay there a while. Then I noticed lights going off. Lessi came back after each one, kissed me and reassured me in a nurturing whisper "I turn the lights off, dada. Go to sleep now, dada."

At this point, I only protested so that she would come back, pat me on the chest, kiss my cheek and whisper "go to sleep now, dada." To seal the deal, she even brought me a stuffed animal. "Here's your bunny, dada. Shh. You close your eyes now." Fingers, eyelids.

I tried to get this all on video, but she learned the art of the blanket tuck too well, and my arms were immobilized. I eventually broke through it and propped myself up on an elbow. "Ok, nap time over, Lessi, it's time for--"

"Lie down, dada." Her little hand grabbed a tuft of hair, and pulled my head back down on the couch. Kiss on the cheek. "Go to sleep now." 

"Ok, maybe since it's New Year's Eve, " I thought. I think it's like bad luck to shower on New Years Eve anyway, according to Chinese tradition. The benefit of being descended from a 5,000-year-old culture is that you can find a tradition-based justification for anything. 2012 came to an end, and we all greeted the new year, unbathed and full of good fortune. 

* * * * 

Last Sunday, I made lunch for the kids. I had just set out Lessi's tortilla pizza and satsuma tangerine pieces on a plate when she decided she wanted to watch The Wiggles. 

"Eat lunch later, dada."

"No, Lessi, it's lunchtime now. Come here." 

Lessi walked towards the table, but made a sharp left to the couch instead.

"Dada, you lie down…"

Some Christmas cheer and a bonus song

Am I allowed to say that my daughter is the cutest thing in the entire world? I offer this as exhibit A.

And here's a bonus exhibit. Because a 2-year-old singing "Call Me Maybe" is too good to just keep to yourself.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy weekend, happy it's-not-the-end-of-the-word, festivus and anything else you celebrate, because it's about the ones you love, and those who love you back. 

How to (grumble) eat better over the holidays (grumble) when you hate eating healthy and only do so in order to live longer

I do a lot of things that are healthy. I do a lot of things that are not healthy. But all in all, I think they yin and yang quite well.  And while it seems noble of me to work with The American Cancer Society strictly “on props,” I really do it to force myself to make sure the healthy keeps pace with the unhealthy. If I’m telling you how to live your life so that you can enjoy more birthdays, it forces me to more or less follow along, because if not, the internet troll that lives in my head will call me out on it. Congratulations! You are all unwitting participants in my self-help strategy.

That aside, let’s talk about holidays.

Over the holidays, you eat. That is what we are supposed to do as decent human beings. You are the ghost of ChristmasFAIL if don’t indulge over the holidays. I am all about going all out on the holiday table. Any dish can be improved with an extra stick of butter (name ONE thing that can’t be). Screw measuring the sugar. Carbs = love. Be a glutton for gluten. I’m not about to take this away from you. It’s only like half a dozen meals out of the year. Enjoy the hell out of them.

But what about the 30 or so other days during the holidays? Yang is such a buzzkill sometimes, I know. But that doesn’t mean healthier meals around those few indulgent holiday meals have to be lame. These are non-lame things that I actually do to keep my waist size the same as it was in college 20 years ago. 

Disclosure time: I hate eating healthy. I do it because I have to. I do it because I want to live longer and have more birthdays, because birthdays mean I can eat all the cake I want with whipped cream frosting (I hate buttercream frosting… how can anything with such glorious ingredients fail so miserably in execution?? That is fodder for another post, though). I am eating a donut right now as I type this. Transparency is the key to authentic blogging.

It is useless for me to write "without further ado" because ado is like my brand now (see above, and above that and above that).

Here are some recommendations from the American Cancer Society on how to live healthier, to which I have added some realistic ways to follow them in your day-to-day eating around the holidays. If you want more info, as well as actual recipes, click that badge on the left that I have worked so hard to try to align with this paragraph.

1) Eating lots of fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk of many types of cancer. I hate vegetables and I hate fruit (again, transparency). However, I recognize their importance when it comes to overall health. As a grownup, I will simply hold my breath and force a clump of vegetables down my throat whenever I get the chance. And I call my mom when I do, so she can tell me how proud she is of me (no, I REALLY do this. Shut up, before I punch your face).  For my kids, I try to incorporate them as seamlessly into dishes as possible. Here are some tips:  

  • Smoothies. Once they are liquid and you use a silly straw, kids cease to define things as "healthy food." A little non-fat vanilla yogurt in there, and you're golden. I also throw some raw quick oats in there because I know oats are also good for you. But drop the kale and step away. Everything has its limits.
  • Chop them into little pieces and put them into soup or on a pizza (whole wheat raw pizza dough is the best invention ever).
  • Put cheese on them in addition to chopping them up. Anything with cheese on it becomes delicious. Also, anything dipped in tempura batter and deep fried, but I'm not about to replace cancer with cornorary artery disease, so let's move on. 
  • Chop them up, stir fry with ground chicken or turkey, add hoisin sauce or terriyaki and make lettuce wraps.

2) Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products.  

  • My kids have eaten whole wheat bread since birth. They don't know any different. I tell them white bread kills kittens. We hang effigies of white bread up and beat them with sticks. That's how you instill an affinity for whole grains.
  • If violence against food isn't your bag, quesadillas made with whole grain tortillas are delicious, too. You can also incorporate the chopped vegetables and cheese into these. 
  • If you're making any kind of pie crust, banana breads or other goodies, whole wheat flour works there, too. I find it tends to be a tad drier, so go heavier on the wet ingredients, by like 10%. If some of those wet ingredients are butter... well, then so be it. At least you're eating whole grains. Rome wasn't built in a day. 

3) Limit how much processed meat and red meat you eat. This one makes me a little bit sad, as I tear into slabs of meat on the regular. If you would like to follow this guideline, here are my tips on getting the most meat per mouthful without consuming a lot of meat.

  • Take advantage of the concept of surface area. By maximizing the surface area of meat your mouth encounters, your body is somewhat fooled into thinking it has eaten more meat than it actually has. So take a piece of meat and cut it up into small pieces and add it to dishes like those below:
  • Chili: probably the best hearty thing you can eat that's not bad for you. It's not cream based; it has cooked tomatoes in it (which contains lycopene, which fights prostate cancer); and you can throw beans and chopped vegetables in it. You can also use pretty much any kind of meat you have lying around from holiday meals.
  • Stir Fry: while one steak can feed an individual, one steak can feed a whole family if you cut up the meat and use it in a stir fry with vegetables. I keep my stir frys simple: meat, scallions, onions, green and red peppers, mushrooms. Then I make a sauce using cornstarch, soy sauce, some broth, mirin or vinegar and honey. Serve some brown rice with that, and everyone is happy and has consumed 75% less meat. 
  • Fried rice: my post-Thanksgiving meal is always fried rice. And if you go easy on the oil, it's really not that bad for you. When I make my Jim's Super Secret Special fried rice I would never use brown rice. But if you want to stay on the healthy side of things, I will look the other way if you choose to use it. A few months ago, I wrote a full no-holds-barred fried rice tutorial, if you're interested. 

4) Drink no more than 1 drink per day for women, and 2 for men. I offer this one with no comment or supporting tips. Just sadness.

5) Here's some other random things I do when I'm trying to live longer: 

  • Olive oil and herbs (and a bit of parmesan) instead of cream sauces for pastas, or instead of mayo for pasta salads.
  • Grill vegetables (I make a marinade out of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and fresh herbs). The smoke makes them taste like meat if you're drunk enough. 
  • Chicken broth with chopped scallions as a soup base instead of cream. 
  • Corn starch instead of roux as a thickener. That's actually an Asian thing. I can't take credit. But there are a butt load of non-obese Asians in the world, so they/we they must be doing something right.
  • Make everything with spinach and feta. Although it isn't meat, the combination of spinach and feta wins my allegiance over any flavor combination on earth. I'm going to try and make a spinach and feta bundt cake this Christmas. 

That's all I've got. Don't stress out about holiday meals, stay mindful of healthier options on non-holiday days, hug your loved ones, and live for more birthdays, because the more you can stuff your face with cake, the more fulfilling your life will be. 

Costumes

I'm an aggressively heterosexual male. I slow down and admire the mannequins when I stroll past a Victoria's Secret. In middle school, I spent a disproportionate amount of time on the "Kiss My Bass" panties page in my Bass Pro Shops catalog. When the Body Shop in West Hollywood burned down in 08, I observed a moment of silence.

But today, I was disgusted at Party City. I'm using "at" in the locational sense, not the directional sense. This is not an anti-Party City post, because it could have been any store selling Halloween costumes. I just happened to be at Party City helping a buddy of mine pick up a costume for his kid.

As I perused the aisles, my eyes were naturally drawn to the requisite "slutty fill-in-the-blank" costumes that adorn the display shelves in any costume store this time of year. I have always taken this phenomenon with a grain of salt, and have even made social commentary slanted jokes about it. I've shaken my head, but never with true revulsion behind it. But then I saw this, and everything changed:

This is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume for women. Ninja turtles are male, reptilian and a cartoon. You can have your vampires, you can even have your zombies, but when you take something as non-sexual and child admired as Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo and make them slutty (technically, the term is *sexy* Ninja Turtle), we need to sit down and have a talk. 

When I take my daughter costume shopping in a few years, she'll notice this. She'll notice that while her brother can aspire to be a SWAT officer, Ninja, Doctor, Scientist, or Serial Killer, her future aspirations will include a police officer with a short skirt and handcuffs, a ninja with amazing cleavage, sleeveless dress and long gloves, a nurse who looks like she should be straddling a pole, a girl in a bun, glasses, a short lab coat, heels and a clipboard, or a girl in a tilted fedora and strategically torn dress mimicking the color pattern of Freddy Krueger's sweater. Of course, she can also opt to be a crime fighting turtle, with patent leather thigh high boots because, and I quote, "She's the smartest and sexiest of all the Turtles!" Oh, my bad, she's smart. Ok, the mini-skirt can stay. 

Upon realizing this, I took a stroll down the costume aisle to find anything non-slutty (sorry, I mean... sexy... and smart!) for women. I failed, but I did learn that Harry Potter, Minnie Mouse and even Big Bird can be quite arousing. If there were a bouncer at the door, I'd be fine with that. But there wasn't. I was in an establishment full of little boys and girls who are forming an association between aspiration and fantasy, admiration and imitation.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the ideal progressive male. I will never be. I will objectify. I will sexualize. I will walk into an establishment with a bunch of my buddies, armed with a stack of ones. There is a time and place for everything when you're a consenting adult. But just as there's room in this world for a woman who starts out as a girl choosing a Halloween costume to put her sexuality front and center, there is just as much room for her to put her writing talents, love of quantum physics, musical ear, punching and kicking ability, entrepreneurial drive, crime fighting instincts, leadership qualities, and etc. etc. etc. etc. in front of the world to see. 

These are the "fill-in-the-blank" possibilities I want to see for my daughter. When I finally take Lessi to buy her costume, I will try to shield her eyes, because there's some scary stuff out there this time of year.

Finding Zen (and donuts) in Business Travel

I started my first job three days after I graduated college, and that was only because I graduated on a Friday. I've never done a semester abroad, set foot in a hostel, or partaken in a cross-country journey of self-discovery, only to realize that what I really loved was right here at home the whole time.

I'm 40 years old, and I've never even taken a real vacation in my adult life -- the kind where you aren't there to visit or bury someone. My sedentary ass would be easy pickins for a drone strike if it weren't for business travel.

Most people I talk to hate traveling on business. The jet lag, the fast food, the rental cars, and of course, the hotels. "Nothing beats sleeping in your own bed," people say. While there is some truth to that statement, there's something to be said for hearing the "beepbeep" of a properly magnetized key card, walking into a tidy room with a made bed, throwing your stuff on the floor, sitting on the bed for a quick secon-- and then waking up at 3:30am fully dressed with your shoes on, trying to guess where you are. Because once you figure it out, you realize that nobody cares that you passed out, smell like $7 bottles of airplane booze and Designing Women is on TV.

The best part is you pick up the phone, hit zero, and somebody polite not only answers, but they call you Mr. Lin. Then you ask them to wake you up at 6:30. You can't even get your mom to do that anymore! You crawl under the blankets, shoes on or off because it's totally your choice, and fall soundly asleep because you don't have to worry about if you set your alarm for PM instead of AM. 

The next morning, you take a shower, throw your towels on the floor because you can, get dressed, and go do what you have to do. That night when you come back, guess what? Your bed is made, there are clean towels on the rack, your toilet paper has a pointy fold, and you have brand new shampoo. Some of my wildest fantasies don't even involve folded toilet paper!

When you know you've got a decent place to rest your head at the end of the day, everything else just falls into place. I offer some highlights from recent business trips as proof:

I got to fulfill my dreams of driving around like a jerk and still have everyone slow down for me because they think I'm a cop. Nothing like renting a Crown Vic for the week! 

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Actually, there is one thing better... and that's driving around like Jack Ryan from Clear and Present Danger. Wearing a suit and driving a Suburban with tinted windows (in Washington DC no less!) makes you feel like a man's man. My only disappointment was that nobody tried to take us out with a rocket-propelled grenade. But fate more than made up for that by granting us a parking space. In NEW YORK CITY. Smack dab in front of THE APPLE STORE, when we were trying to find parking to go to the Apple Store! It was such a sign of divine intervention that we simply left the car there and walked back to the hotel, on principle, and picked it up the next morning. I know... pics or it didn't happen. See below. Amazing.

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From the city to the country, I was all over the map the past couple years. And for most of it, Shannon was there to snap the most memorable moments (you should have seen her massive eye roll when snapping that Crown Vic one). But where our opinions differ on police vehicles, we both like donuts and fishing. This one below was snapped two hours before we had to be at a government conference in North Carolina. 

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We caught this beauty, pictured below, in Portland. That is a maple bacon donut from the world famous Voodoo Doughnuts. We found this because we saw a line wrapped around a city block and figured something must be good at the end of that line, so we waited. We were so right.

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I should really just end this post here because nothing tops a donut with bacon on it. Wait... this just in. Oh yeah, we also caught ourselves a double rainbow! 

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Later that year, work brought us to the other side of the world, where I was able to do things that looked really official, like sign documents that celebrated some glorious spirit of partnership or something like that. I don't know. I'm just up there because the suit fits me.

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I also got to do some planking. I say that like it's some privilege or something. It's not. It's just idiotic. Which simply ensures that I will do it. 

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Here's me failing the "you must be this civilized to ride this ride" test in Shanghai. 

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So why am I writing about business travel? Because all successful business trips have one thing in common: a good night's rest at a great hotel. And it just so happens that one of these great hotels is turning 50 this year. You might have guessed that it's the Radisson because you skipped ahead and looked at the graphic below. I cannot control you people. It's frustrating sometimes.

Anyway, Radission is celebrating its anniversary by giving away one room a day for 50 days, through 50 blogs. Today is my day to choose one of you to be the next winner. Just leave a comment by 9pm PST on Friday, Nov. 2 telling me what your favorite thing about hotel living is, and I will throw your name in a hat. Then I will think "This is so stupid and inefficient" and then use random.org instead to choose my winner. 

If you don't win, but want more chances, just go to Radisson's Facebook page for that day's giveaway blog. 

And in case you're wondering, yes, I did get some free hotel stays in lieu of cash compensation for this post. I fully intend to use them, ironically, for non-business travel. 

Not Winning

In second grade, I was on the baseball team that won the town championship. Part of the thrill of victory is knowing that the other guy didn't get your trophy. A few years later, I was on the soccer team that lost every single game we played. Nothing like knowing you suck to strengthen your resolve not to. That's the ebb and flow of life, and it's just as essential to one's development as knowing what foods to eat to avoid constipation. Of course I'm still bummed I didn't get selected for MTV's Singled Out when I auditioned in 1995, but it made me realize my energies could be better spent on less futile things than trying to impress women. I can quote you any line from Pulp Fiction.

Winning is good. Losing sucks. But losing gives us the opportunity to reinforce some really important things: self-confidence, resilience, perspective, and will power. By removing loss from the equation, we end up raising a generation of kids who cannot deal with things not going their way, and that leads to things like reality shows. So I guess you can tell how I feel about the "everybody gets a trophy" thing that permeates youth sports today.

Yes, sport is about about fun, it is about learning the value of teamwork, it is about pushing yourself beyond your perceived limits. But just as much, it is also about winning and losing. 

Fury had his first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament this past weekend. As someone who has trained in martial arts for more than 20 years, I can say that this was one of those life-defining moments for me, characterized ironically by my inability to define the mix of excitement, pride, apprehension, and anticipation I felt as I saw him lined up, ready to do battle.

I was also pleased to see that, although every kid got a medal for participating, only one competitor's hand got raised at the end of each match. There was a clear winner, and a clear loser; and the loser got a different colored medal. As the matches progressed, I thought, "good on them, they totally get it." As kids' anticipation turned to disappointment when their names did not complete the sentence "and the winner is..."  I thought "hey, it builds character." As my own kid got taken down to the mat moments after the opening bell, and the tears in his eyes begin to well up, I thought "oh... shit."

When the final whistle blew, it wasn't Fury's hand being raised in victory.

There was my boy, who has seen the fire in my eyes when I talk about K-1, UFC or a sick KO clip on YouTube. My boy, who has heard a thousand times the story of how I bought him his first pair of Muay Thai shorts when he was just three months old. My boy, who has felt the pride emanating from every pore of my body when we talk about Jiu Jitsu practice at the end of the day. My boy, a 10 year old with expectations now turned to tears streaming down his face. 

What he saw was the other kid's hand being raised. What he didn't see was the one hell of a fight he put up against an opponent who was more experienced and a full rank higher than he was. He didn't see the hours in the gym that he's put into training -- the hours that transformed theoretical moves into an arsenal of instincts. Nor did he see the relentless hustle, the heart of a fighter, and in the end, the grace of a sportsman he displayed in defeat that we all saw, including his coach. 

Right after the match, before he even left the mat, his coach awarded him his next stripe. Right after that, Lisa hugged him as he cried and said the things that moms know how to say so well. And after that, I knelt down, put my hand on his shoulder looked him in the eye and told him today he was a warrior. 

Fury didn't win his first Jiu Jitsu match. And I couldn't be more proud.

The Conservation of Momentum

It's amazing how many zoos and museums you discover within a 75-mile radius when you only get to see your kids a part of each weekend. Divorce forces you to be more creative because you'll be damned if that Xbox, Netflix or Yo Gabba Gabba will define your day. This is why Google searches like "I've been to all the museums in the SF area, so HELP ME GOOGLE I'VE RUN OUT OF EDUCATIONAL FUN THINGS TO DO" exist.

Even better, these results also exist: Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition at the Tech Museum of Innovation.

Google, I am feeling lucky.

Wasting no time, I got the kids into the car, hit the drive-thru for lunch and headed down to San Jose. I even timed it so Lessi's nap coincided with the 90-minute drive. I am a highly effective and efficient parent (especially when you, dear reader, cannot see the chicken nugget in her hand, rising and falling in cadence with her snoring). 

We eventually got there, found parking some ways away, and headed toward the big orange building, ready to bust some myths.

Turns out the myths weren't ready to be busted. The Mythbusters Exhibit starts October 13 (I know it's Oct 15 today - this story took place 2 weeks ago. I just hadn't gotten around to writing it.). Like it says on that huge banner in the lobby, or everywhere on the museum website, or like the lady at the ticket counter tells you after you pay for your tickets and remark on how awesome it is that no one is here and you'll have the Mythbusters exhibits to yourself.

At least we did have the museum to ourselves. And luckily the Tech Museum is pretty cool, even without Jamie and Adam blowing stuff up. We learned about genetics, sustainable technologies, space and underwater exploration, earthquakes and best of all, they have an infrared camera. Or as Fury and I more aptly deem it, the Predator cam. 

On our way out, we stopped at the gift shop, where Fury picked out a Newton's Cradle. Being that these are educational, as well as the requisite desk accessory for every high powered executive and/or criminal mastermind, I bought him one. 

As kids are wont to do, Fury took it out of the box and set it up on the sidewalk. 

As he watched the metal balls clack back and forth, I told him "that's called the conservation of momentum. The energy you put into one side, comes out the other side, with a little loss due to friction."

You have now witnessed the strength of street knowledge.

Since Lessi and I wanted ice cream more than a science lesson, I told Fury to pack it back up. We trekked to the parking lot, got in the car and drove off in search of ice cream. The ice cream was easy to find. The parking, not so much. So of course Fury took his new gadget out of the box again.

"Dad, can you help me? This is all tangled up."

Apparently my boy should never work in a restocking room. Those balls and their corresponding strings were gnarled up into a latticework that could rival that of kevlar. 

"Fury that there is beyond hope. I'm going to drive you back to the museum and park outside while you run in to exchange it."

As with anything worth blogging about, things were not as easy as the statement above implies. I had already thrown the receipt away, and outside of school book fairs or his impromptu fruit stand, Fury has never done a retail transaction before. It makes no sense that he'll wheel and deal with customers in his front yard, but be too self-conscious to pay for something at a store. I guess that's the beauty of kids.

"Dad, can you just pleeeease do it? I'll watch Lessi in the car."

Any other situation, I might have caved. He just looked so fearful. Also, this was a tricky transaction. He had no receipt, the tangled mess wasn't entirely the item's fault, and he had already thrown most of the packing material away. The odds were stacked against him. I would be sending him into a retail suicide mission.

But there was no parking outside the museum, and we would have to trek to the parking lot all over again, at which point it would just be easier to order another one for him from Amazon. So I parked in front of the museum, hazards on, and started coaching him.

In our household, I am the customer service whisperer. I can profile a rep within the first 5 seconds of an interaction and find a way to speak to them in a way that will have them giving me refunds, free stuff, upgrades and their first-born before they can ask me for my account number. 

"Ok Fury, you tell them your dad is parked out front with a baby in the car. You tell them you just bought this a few minutes ago and all you want is an even exchange. You don't want your money back. They will ask you for a receipt and you tell them 'my dad threw it away' and you just wanted to learn science with this. You offer them all the packaging that comes with the new one, so they can properly process the return with their supplier. You use all your polite words. You ask, you don't demand."

"But dad, I can't--"

"If you can't, then you have to live with the fact that your Newton's Cradle is going to always be a tangled mess of balls and fishing line. It's now or never. I can't stay parked here."

He took a deep breath, gathered up his Newton's Cradle, exited the car and headed into the unknown. But first, he paused in front of the door and made the sign of the cross.

That's his mom's doing.

A few minutes later, Fury came bounding out the door, all smiles. As he got into the car, I high-fived him with as much pride as I would had he scored a goal in lacrosse. 

"NICE GOING FURY! I am proud of you! How did it go down?"

"The lady said that this is the 5th time this month someone has returned one of these all tangled, and it happens all the time. Then she just gave me a new one!"

As I pulled away from the curb, listening to the silver balls clacking rhythmically from the back seat, I wondered how much of this latest victory was due to my coaching, and how much of it was due to that momentary pause before he stepped into the store. It doesn't much matter, I guess. Friction be damned, I just want to conserve this momentum.

I can't read. And now I'm part of a reading club?

Here's a fun fact: the only reason this blog exists is because I can't read. The moment I open a book, I can't make it more than five pages before my face is planted nose deep into the spine, drooling. I'm sexy and I know it. This proved to be problematic back in 2007, when I had a two-hour LA Metro train ride to work. The Metro doesn't exactly traverse the "wish you were here" LA hotspots. When you fall asleep and miss your stop, all you wish for is your mommy. Blogging meant I could stay awake, and that led to good things like getting to work on time, and also not being dead.

My kid used to take advantage of this affliction of mine. He'd pick the longest story possible at bedtime (i.e. longer than 5 pages) just to make me dream talk. You know what I mean, right? You know when you're on the phone with someone and you're dead tired and you start dreaming and say something totally non-sensical, and then they're like "what did you just say?" and then you wake up just enough to kind of remember what came out of your mouth, at which point you scramble to explain what you just said, as if you totally meant to say it? "Um, you were talking about back stabbing friends and I said pickle sunny side up ergonomic because everyone knows you can't eat on a Sleep Number bed, yet I have jerk friends who come over and eat breakfast on it. And to add insult to injury they add gherkins to that bullshit! God! Don't you hate that?"

So, getting back to my original point, Fury used to make me read long books to him because he knew that five pages in, Peter Rabbit would be riding the cashmere pineapple Pythagorean theorem. His squeals of laughter were totally worth the feelings of complete parental ineptitude that this phenomenon would trigger, however. 

In addition to the above, I also have to admit that I can't do fiction. Just never got into it. With a few exceptions (pretty much all having the name Stephen King attached to them), I have never enjoyed, nor appreciated fiction. I read true crime books. I read history. I read business, pop psych, biographies, memoirs... but fiction? Never appealed to me. When I read, I feel like I need to learn something. Fiction isn't true. Therefore, it is a waste of my time. I know this is wrong, and I know movies are fiction and I enjoy those. What's life without inconsistencies?

I recently bought The Final Storm for a plane ride, thinking it was a WWII history book. When I found out it was fiction, I tried to read it on the plane anyway. Big mistake. After every sentence, my brain countered with "you know, Jim, this never happened." I fell asleep three times and got through about 30 pages before accepting that I hated it. If you did the math, that's twice my reading endurance. This proves that I tried.

So now I'm part of an online book club. 

Say what??

This is a good time to give you my FTC disclosure statement: I said no at first. I said I don't like to read because I fall asleep after five pages. I said I don't like fiction either, which means half the catalog is dead to me. They said they would pay me. I was between jobs at that time. I said "ok, keep talking." They said that this is a reading app that lets you write comments in the margins as you read; and your friends who are also reading the same book can read your comments, and you can read theirs. It's like live tweeting a book! It's like a sidebar conversation. It's like the filmmaker's commentary on a DVD. Plus, I could pay the electric bill. Done.

Real-time social reading. This is the answer to all my reading problems. Being able to read your friends' notes on each page is like having that friend who makes conversation with you in the car so you don't fall asleep at the wheel. And that is what the Copia social e-reading tool is all about. And a 6-paragraph preamble is what I'm all about. Bullet points are nice too: 

  • Copia is device agnostic. It's not going to iPad heaven, but it'll have a good time on any platform while it's here. It'll even work on a web browser.
  • You can buy millions of book titles direct from the site. I just read Escape from Camp 14. It's a memoir of the only person to ever escape from a North Korean labor death camp. You will never look at life the same way ever again. Don't say I didn't warn you.
  • If your friends are reading the same book, you can read their notes in the margins as you read. So in the case of Escape from Camp 14, I fully expect to see notes like "Jim I hate you" "I am now depressed for life. Thanks a lot, Jim" and "Kim Jong Il can suck it!" 
  • If you go to someone's profile page, there's a cool Venn diagram thing that shows how their library overlaps yours. That's the kind of dangerous technology that causes soulmates. 
  • Copia got a whole bunch of us parent bloggers together for this, so if you're into that kind of thing, check out the Copia Parents Book Club.
  • You can also set up impromptu reading groups with your friends on Copia. Some of us decided to read the same book at the same time to take advantage of the real-time commenting feature. Feel free to join MrLady, Redneckmommy and LaidOffDad and me in our splinter group, Tanis, Doug, Jim, and Shannon Do Books. I believe you need to be logged in for that group link to work, but getting an account is free.

You may have noticed that the book we decided to read is a work of fiction. That's because Doug picked it and I'm trying to remain open to new frontiers. Just note that if you happen to be reading Telegraph Avenue with us, you might see a comment that reads jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjafvirwj'bvowirtjrq. Just be thankful Copia hasn't yet figured out how to share drool.

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If you want to jump into the pit with us, or simply enjoy agnostic reading, leave a comment and share with me one book you've been wanting to read by Friday, Oct 5 11:59pm PST (leave the comment by then, not finish the book by then). I will draw TEN lucky winners to receive any book of their choice through Copia. So get a book, fire up the iPad/iPhone/Droid/laptop and join us!