education

Happy Earth Day: Let’s B Global!

April 22, 2013 | By Brent Almond | THINGS DAD DIGS, THINGS MY KID DIGS

I recently checked in with B, toys, my favorite toy creators on the planet, and they asked me to try out their brand new-ish Global Glowball. Being the clever person I am, I thought it would be a perfect way to celebrate Earth Day!

globe

Looking at the Global Glowball (Their toys just have the most awesome names, don’t they?) online, I was immediately intrigued. B. toys always has top-notch playthings: colorful but not garish; creative, never predictable; exciting without being over-the-top-in-your-face. And of course all their packaging is recyclable or recycled [BONUS EARTH DAY POINTS].

READ FULL ARTICLE >>

Designer Daddy Goes to Annapolis

February 16, 2013 | By Brent Almond | LESSONS LEARNED

On a recent Thursday I saw a post on Facebook from fellow dad blogger Oren Miller, saying he would be meeting with the governor of Maryland, thus was soliciting questions from fellow Marylanders to take with him. He mentioned he was part of a group of parent bloggers the Governor’s office had invited for an informal Q&A regarding issues important to Maryland families. My immediate question – of course – was, “Do you have a gay parent blogger yet?” Oren, being the connected and generous fellow that he is, passed along my info which resulted in an official invite for the meeting…which was happening the very next day.

Giddy as all get-out, I quickly scrambled around, emailing, Facebooking and Tweeting (even LinkedIn-ing, I think) to get questions from friends and blog readers to take with me to Annapolis…so I wouldn’t look like a completely uninformed dolt. I ended up with a decent number, and narrowed it down to three priority questions to ask. I knew in a room full of bloggers my chances at getting a word in might be slim.

The next morning I sped through the nasty, wet traffic the nearly hour drive to Annapolis, eventually found parking, and trudged up the hill to the State House. Our meeting was in the Governor’s Reception Room — think the White House’s Roosevelt Room, only higher ceilings and more portraits of Maryland Governors. Our group consisted of 8 bloggers (5 moms, 3 dads), Governor O’Malley, and a few staffers.

The other guys in the group ribbed me for wearing a coat and tie and making them look bad. But in my research the night before, I’d been informed that O’Malley was not only the Governor of Maryland (home to the very recent Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens) but also a graduate of Gonzaga High School in DC. So my tie and my socks were purple (Designer Daddy’s got a rep to uphold) and I made sure to point that out when introducing myself to the Gov. I realized soon after though, that I was the only person NOT to specifically mention my child and how old he was. Smooth, huh?

The meeting was fairly informal, with Governor O’Malley talking a bit about the goals of the remainder of his term (which ends in 2014), using a projection of the office’s web site to illustrate certain points and show how citizens can keep track of the state’s goals and review progress in real time.

“Get a load of this guy in the purple tie.”

Not surprisingly, the first blogger question was about education, as were many that followed. Education-related discussions included the quality of public schools vs. private; school meal programs and the overall issue of hunger; and the lack of mental health providers, among others. The issue of mental health inevitably led to the topic of gun control, at which point I was able to mention one of the questions on my list.

A store near our house sells toy trains and guns. It’s always seemed odd disturbing to me (and many others) to have a gun shop so near residential areas, within walking distance of several parks and schools. It was even broken into a few years ago — apparently the thieves weren’t into toy trains, as only guns were taken. I mentioned all this to the Governor in order to say, “I don’t know what the zoning laws are for gun shops, but it shouldn’t be on the way to walking my son to the park or preschool.”

My comment wasn’t addressed directly, but the topic of gun control was discussed in general. And in a follow up email we were invited to a rally in support of his Gun Violence Prevention Bill on March 1. Information on this bill and the rally are listed at the end of this post under Resources.

Somebody’s not paying attention…

Our meeting was only an hour long, and by the time I’d gotten out one of my three points, we were already nearing the end. So at the close when the Governor asked if there were any further questions, I threw a Hail Mary to get in the comment I’d most wanted to:

“I just wanted to personally thank you. My partner and I moved to Maryland nine years ago, A) so we could afford to buy a house and because of the schools, and B) so we could adopt. I wanted to thank you for your support of the Same Sex Marriage Bill. It’s not a political issue for us; it’s our life, our family. We have a 3-year-old son, and I was excited the morning after the election to tell him that [his Daddy and Papa] were going to get married. He didn’t really understand what ‘ring bearer’ meant (laughter) — he thought it meant he was going to get to ring a bell. And I think since we already have rings, we’re just going to let him ring a big bell or something.” (More laughter)

(Pause) “So do you do weddings?” (More laughter)

Governor O’Malley’s reply, “I’ve never done a wedding. Technically I guess I’m allowed. I’ve never gone down that path, for fear that if I did one it would be impossible for me to justify saying no.” (Laughter)

He continued, “I think we found a broader way to communicate around that issue, by talking about the dignity of every child’s home. And I don’t think any of us agrees that’s it’s right or just that one child’s home would have lesser protections under the law than another child’s home depending on who their parents were.”

And with that, we wrapped things up, got a group photo in the Governor’s office, and said our final “thank yous” and goodbyes. As I was shaking O’Malley’s hand, I told him I’d mentioned to JJ the night before that I was going to meet the Governor, which didn’t register. I told him he was the President of Maryland, which seemed to impress him a bit. O’Malley got a chuckle out of that, then encouraged me to “Keep Kensington strong.” A very politician thing to say, but not a bad admonishment.

Gov. O’Malley with MD parent bloggers. I look like I just won a bodyguard reality show competition.

I realize this post isn’t very meaty with policy details. One thing I learned from this experience is that real politics — not the issues-driven sound bites that fuel most election year debates, but the statistics, dollars and logistics — boggles and numbs my mind. I have new appreciation for elected officials and those that work for and lobby them.

However, I did email all my questions to the Governor’s office. I’ll be sure and send answers to those that asked, as well as to anyone else who’d like to read them — just say so in the comments or a direct message. I’ve also included a Resources list below: links and documents provided by O’Malley’s office in reference to several of the topics we discussed in our meeting.

While there’s still much to be done to improve education and decrease hunger and gun violence, I came away from this experience hopeful for my state and the country as a whole. I was proud to have been able to thank the highest person in power that helped bring about marriage equality, and thrilled to have this as part of our family’s story. I imagine this will be one of those tales my son will grow weary of hearing as he (and I) grows older. Designer Daddy Goes to Annapolis

“Ugh, Dad’s telling the Governor story again!”

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Resources:

State of Maryland 15 Strategic Goals: https://data.maryland.gov/goals

Legislative agenda this session: http://www.governor.maryland.gov/legislation2013.asp

FY2014 Budget (includes graphs showing education investments): http://www.governor.maryland.gov/BudgetFY2014.asp

Governor’s State of the State Address: http://www.governor.maryland.gov/stateofstate2013.asp

Gun Violence Prevention Bill Facts:
“We can reduce gun violence without infringing on law abiding gun owners’ rights” http://www.governor.maryland.gov/blog/?p=8133

Press release on bill: http://www.governor.maryland.gov/blog/?p=8020

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EXTREMELY SILLY EPILOGUE:

My original intent on bringing up the Same Sex Marriage Bill was not only to thank the Governor for his support of it, but also to ask if there was something that had personally inspired him to be such a strong proponent on such a divisive and provocative issue. I never got to ask, but in researching afterwards I came across his bio on Wikipedia, and I think I found my answer…

Governor O’Malley is apparently a HUGE “Will & Grace” fan.
(Although I’m not sure what he’s got against Karen…)

Am I a Helicopter Parent?

February 8, 2013 | By Brent Almond | LESSONS LEARNED

Helicopter Parenting: it’s totally annoying to hear about, yet I fear I may be one myself.
I’m a bit of a worrier anyway, and being a dad of a toddler has me spinning pretty closely sometimes, especially when it comes to impending crashes. I hope I’m not enough of a psycho, though, to call my son’s potential employers when he’s applying for his first job.

Sounds extreme, I know. But it’s not unheard of. READ FULL ARTICLE >>

Schoolhouse Rock

December 4, 2012 | By Brent Almond | LESSONS LEARNED, MAKING MEMORIES

I’ve had this post in my “draft” queue forever… JJ’s had a renewed interest in spelling which reminded me of this early (and hilarious) attempt to understand how it all works.

Schoolhouse Rock from Brent Almond on Vimeo.

The Adventures of Anger Log!

August 30, 2012 | By Brent Almond | DESIGN STUFF, LESSONS LEARNED

Click to see Anger Log up close + extra scary

Geez Louise, it’s been a while since my last bloggering. I’ve been busy prepping for a whopper of a trip (more on that later) and all I can come up with is to share this little doodle I did the other day. Introducing Anger Log!

Anger Log’s origin story is pretty mundane. I was taking a parenting class and one of the homework assignments was to do keep a journal documenting a week’s worth of situations that pushed my buttons, got my goat, or anything veering close. As soon as I wrote down the words “anger log,” he sprang to life in my head, hand, and then page.

“A parenting what?” you may be asking… Yes, a parenting class. I’m sure you’ve heard new parents (or everyone, really) joke about raising kids, exclaiming, “I wish there was a manual!” But there is. It’s called a bazillion dollar book/TV/magazine/website industry, all focused on helping you rear a young’un. Yet I learn best with some face-to-face interaction, where I can ask questions, bounce ideas off others, compare battle scars. And PEP (Parent Encouragement Program) was a great experience for me. Look them up… I highly recommend.

Back to my story…  Anger Log was an exercise in recognizing what kinds of scenarios, times of day, and states of mind I was more likely to be impatient with JJ, Papa, Cordi… and in being more cognizant of that, take steps to essentially cut myself off at the pass. I found early evening was a big trigger for me. Take a long, sweltering walk with a stroller-full of wiggling boy and an extra-pully dog, add my lack of creativity in the kitchen, throw in a little residual stress from the workday, serve steaming hot with a dash of impatience…and viola! A perfect Grumpy Dad Stew.

Yet I’ve already found Anger Log to be quite helpful, despite his disconcerting appearance (yes, that’s a frightened worm coming out of his mouth). Being AWARE is the first — and very effective — step in managing anger. And impatience, insecurity, and… well, you gotta take the class yourself.

The class (and Anger Log) came along just in time. Because in three days we go on the aforementioned trip. With a toddler. Across the ocean. To see in-laws. For two weeks. Log, give me strength.

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So whaddaya think of Anger Log? Saturday morning material? Who would do his voice? What flavor would his inevitable cereal be?

Back-to-School Giveaway!

August 18, 2012 | By Brent Almond | LESSONS LEARNED

Just in time for back to school — or, for my non-parent / math nerd readers — I’m giving away a pair of numerically awesome goodies! The prize includes magnetic numbers from Mudpuppy and a tin of Fox Run mini number cookie cutters.

The varnished wooden numbers (that come in this awesome storage carton) are exponentially cooler than your run-of-the-mill fridge magnets! They’re bright, bold and funky, and the 40-piece set includes numerals 0 to 9, plus symbols for adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing and equaling. Among their many other gorgeous and creative products, Mudpuppy also makes a matching set of letter magnets.

I also own a tin of these cute-as-pie cookie cutters, and have put them to good use in many attempts to lure my toddler to eat. I haven’t yet used them to make cookies, (And really, who wants a cookie that small? Seems pointless.) but they’re great for using cheese to turn dinosaurs into cars or cars into racecars or whatever shapes these nuggets were supposed to originally be.

In any event, magnets + cookies x numbers = MATH FUN! And anything that helps make math less torturous is tops in my book.

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TO ENTER:
In the comments, share an idea for how you’d use the cookie cutters
OR
Share a word or phrase you can spell upside down with numbers (like on a calculator).
Sorry, “BOOBIES” is already taken — see above.

EXTRA ENTRIES can be earned by posting/liking/sharing on Facebook or retweeting/favoriting/DM’ing on Twitter. I can’t make it any easier for you, sorry.

Winner chosen at random. Contest closes midnight (EST) on TUESDAY, AUGUST 22.

Happy 100th Birthday Girl Scouts!

March 12, 2012 | By Brent Almond | DESIGN STUFF, LESSONS LEARNED

The Girl Scouts turns 100 today (Congrats, ladies!) so I thought I’d share a project I did a bunch of years ago for them. I know I say this about pretty much everything I post here, but it really WAS one of my favorites. And it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to illustrating a children’s book.

Follow the Reader was an activity book for the Daisy Scouts (K-1st grade) meant to encourage parents to read to their kids and generally take a more active role in their learning. It was chock full of word games, matching activities, and cute-as-pie illustrations (if I do say so myself). The biggest challenge was that the book was also bi-lingual (English/Spanish) which meant 2x the type in an already jam-packed layout.

Like the Girl Scout organization itself, the book was about as inclusive as you could get. There were kids of every skin tone, all shapes and sizes, a girl with leg braces, one in a wheelchair, even a couple of girls NOT in dresses!

However, after having already completed most of the illustrations, the Girl Scouts decided they wanted to add a little girl with a hearing aid. The only problem was that none of my people had ears! So, I created one little girl with an ear so it could show a hearing aid.

I remember thinking at the time (2002) that it would be cool if they showed a girl with 2 mommies or 2 daddies. Back then it seemed a bit far-fetched, but I’d like to think that if I were hired to do an update they’d include such a family.

Bully Pulpit

March 3, 2012 | By Brent Almond | LESSONS LEARNED, LGBT STUFF

Following in the footsteps of the “It Gets Better” campaign is a new documentary called Bully. Though not due for release until March 30, it’s already garnered lots of press, due largely in part to the efforts of a bullied high school student.

The MPAA has given Bully an R rating for language. But the filmmakers (and a whole lot of other folks) are lobbying the ratings board to change it to PG-13. They fear the R rating will prevent the film from being played in schools or allowing kids to see it without adults, thus limiting its reach and effectiveness. Based on the trailer, Bully isn’t about a bunch of adults telling teens to stick it out till they graduate. It’s about kids helping kids, rallying together to make outsiders feel in, reaching their troubled peers where they are. The message being – while it does get better after high school, it should be better now.

Speaking of kids helping kids, high schooler Katy Butler (herself a victim of bullying) launched a petition for the PG-13 rating that has already garnered over 190,000 signatures in less than a week. While it’s often unclear how much difference petitions like these make, it’s clearly getting Katy, the film, and the subject of bullying extensive coverage — so it certainly couldn’t hurt.

I’d also like to echo Lee Hirsch, the director of Bully, who admonishes on the film’s web site: “Everyone has a story when it comes to bullying, what’s yours?”

MY STORY
My sophomore year of high school I was the target of several months of bullying by a guy named Ken, a senior on the football team. We lived and went to school on an Air Force base on the small island of Okinawa, Japan, so there was no escaping the torment. I was punched and pushed out of the way walking the halls at school; cornered and yelled at in the bowling alley; hit and called “faggot” when I went to the movies. He also came to my house a couple of times — one terrifying night when I was alone, but even scarier was the time he cursed out my Mom who had gone to the door to tell him to leave. I even skipped the cast party of a play I was in, on the off chance my tormenter might show up.

The most painful and isolating part was feeling like none of my friends really saw or understood what was going on. And I was ashamed to tell them how scared I was. Because Ken had come to my house, my parents knew — but like most teenagers, I was embarrassed and tried to keep them out of it as much as possible.

I became so lonely and frightened to go to school (or anywhere, really) that one night I searched the house for pills, thoughts of suicide floating around the back of my mind. Luckily my search proved fruitless, and I managed to brave another day.

I don’t remember exactly how the bullying ended, but Ken eventually moved on to other conflicts. Not long after, he got kicked off the football team for fighting. He then proceeded to get kicked off the basketball team, out of high school, and eventually off the island and back to the States. Later I heard he’d enlisted in the Air Force, but had then been discharged and ended up in jail. Clearly this was a troubled individual, and I’ve sometimes wondered how many other victims of his hostility there were along the way.

While the subject of bullying has obvious connections to my role as a father, you might be asking “What does this have to do with design?” Well, it has everything to do with everything. From my earliest memories I’ve been drawing and wanting to be an artist when I grew up. And by surviving those few months in high school, I got to grow up and live out my dream. As a bonus, I have gotten to work for many companies and organizations that help children. And I got to be a dad, and to teach my son all about color and drawing and super heroes and music and helping others. My hope is to also teach JJ to not only stand up for himself when he can, but to ask for help when he can’t.

SIGN THE PETITION LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FILM

In addition to signing the petition and supporting the film, I encourage you to share your story, whether it’s here, in the petition’s comments, or with family and friends.

A day just to read? That’s what all of us need!

March 2, 2012 | By Brent Almond | LESSONS LEARNED, THINGS MY KID DIGS

Today is March 2nd, and whaddayasay?
It’s also NEA’s Read Across America Day!

So head over to Target, and plop down your kid.
They’ll hear a fun story, just like my kid did.

They’ll hear stories of fishes of hams and of hats.
Then they give them some goodies! What do you think about that?

If you think that’s a lot, there’s still more, so just wait…
Today Dr. Seuss turns one hundred and eight!

And oh yeah, The Lorax opens in theaters.

DDQ&A: Doug Powell

January 26, 2012 | By Brent Almond | DESIGN STUFF

Doug Powell designs and dads in chilly Minneapolis, and is the current president of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts, for you non-designers). I had the privilege of hearing Doug speak recently on the topic of AIGA’s Design for Good initiative, as well as his own work inspired by a very personal experience involving his daughter. Doug was kind enough to answer my DDQ&A, as well as some additional questions specific to his presentation on Design for Good.

Q&A with designer dad Doug Powell

Tell me briefly about your design business: how long in business, what kinds of clients you have and/or work you specialize in.
My wife, Lisa, and I founded Schwartz Powell in 1989. For most of that time we operated as a traditional graphic design studio working for a variety of clients ranging from Target and Andersen Windows to local arts organizations and schools. In 2002 our daughter, Maya, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (aka juvenile diabetes) and this caused Lisa and me to really reset our priorities around family and work. One of the outcomes of this experience was a line of products that Lisa and I designed to help families better manage life with diabetes. This grew into a bigger business vision over the subsequent years, applying this approach to a broader range of health care scenarios. In 2007 this business, called HealthSimple, was acquired by a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. Since then, I’ve been continuing to work with organizations in the health and nutrition space to work with design and design thinking.

READ FULL ARTICLE >>

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