Around this time last year, I was feeling weighed down by both my age and my weight. The strain of my mental and physical health was taking a toll, and I was becoming increasingly less social. So when my husband asked what I wanted to do for my 50th birthday, I half-heartedly suggested a trip. I was in no mood for a big party, to be the center of attention, to spend hours around other people pretending to be upbeat and happy.
Then somewhere along the way, I took some much-needed steps to resetting my life. As these steps grew into leaps and bounds, I gained confidence, got excited about life again, and determined that I did, in fact, want a party. Inspired by a friend’s 90s-themed birthday, I decided to show these Millennials how it’s done and throw the most bodacious 80s-themed party ever!
If I’ve learned anything these past nine years of fatherhood, it’s that pampering yourself, partying with friends and blowing off steam are VITAL to being an effective, happy and sane parent. Having also been in a creative slump, this birthday party became a great outlet for me to flex my design muscles in fab, fun ways.
If you were there, thanks for celebrating with me! If not, here’s a taste of how much fun I had turning 50… and here’s to 50 more!
[click all pics to enlarge]
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WANNA’ BE STARTIN’ SOMETHIN’
The invitation was going to se the tone — and hopefully get folks excited to come — so the pressure was on for it to be beyond tubular. A few selfies, a little retro font hunting and a bit of Photoshop later, and voilà!
Pride this year didn’t go quite like I’d hoped.
When you’re a parent, things don’t always hardly ever work out as planned. You’d think after almost 10 years I would have figured that out, but I guess hope springs eternal. Especially when it comes to parades full of rainbows and glitter.
2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — the event widely regarded as the start of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. So Pride is a big deal this year. And as always, DC’s pride celebration fell on the weekend closest to my birthday… which this year also marked the 50th anniversary of ME!
But alas the universe had other ideas.
I love Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka so much. Like most people my age, I saw Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory many, many times growing up. I was drawn to Wonka as a kid, and even more so as a parent. Not because he’s sweet and colorful and cheesy — well, not JUST those things. It’s because Wilder also plays him as clever, sarcastic, and a little intimidating.
My son doesn’t scare easily. He was largely unfazed by The Avengers or The Force Awakens or Jurassic Park. Yet Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is one of the few films that sent him crawling into my lap — of course during this scene. Any kid’s movie that can creep out my un-creepable kid (and cause him to need some cuddles) — while encouraging him to both behave and follow his dreams — is tops in my book.
Speaking of following dreams, the quote on my son’s lunch note today is from one of my favorite WWATCF scenes. Just reading the words themselves, this looks to be an inspiring, heartwarming sentiment. But when Wonka said it, he was smooshing Veruca Salt’s face in his hand, scolding her for doubting the existence of snozzberries. As well he should have, because Veruca was being a whiny brat. And because if Wonka says something is real, it’s real, dammit.
My other favorite role of Wilder’s was Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein. In it he played opposite the most amazing comedic actress of all-time, Madeline Kahn. I’d like to think they’re up in heaven reenacting this romantically riotous moment…
Rest in Peace, Gene. Thank you for sharing your magic with us — your smart, stupid, silly, sarcastic, snarky, sweet, scary, splendiferous magic.
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Check out the lunch notes I make for my son every school day, by following me at SuperLunchNotes on Instagram.
It was JJ’s second week of preschool, and while reviewing the calendar for the next week I noticed something that made my heart skip a beat. “TUESDAY: DRESS UP AS A CLOWN DAY.”
I had known it was going to be Circus Week all week (OMG, how fun is preschool?!?), with visits from clowns, balloon animals, and a tumble on the Tumble Bus, but somehow I’d missed this little detail. Thus, on the eve of Dress Up As A Clown Day, it became Daddy’s Making a Homemade Clown Suit the Night Before…Day, er… Night… something.
As soon as JJ was in bed, I morphed into full-on Designer Daddy mode. I giddily sent out a tweet, void of my frequent sarcasm: “Making a clown suit for Circus Day at preschool tomorrow. Now THIS is what I signed up for!”
I dragged all my bags and boxes of unused crafts out of the basement (organized craft supplies are for wimps and people with their own talk shows), grabbed a Diet Coke, shut my office door and set to work.
I know you’re probably here for the cute pics of JJ as a clown (we’ll get to them), but I thought I’d first share my “process,” in the off-chance any of you ever need to whip up an emergency clown suit.
It’s kind of a step-by-step, except without the easy-to-follow part. I was making it up as I went along…
DESIGNER DADDY’S DIY CLOWN COSTUME:
STEP 1: Dump all your crafts onto your desk.
Okay, this isn’t ALL my craft stuff, but is a bunch of what I thought might come in handy.
- Glue gun (Essential adhesive extraordinaire. Works for pretty much anything but Styrofoam)
- Elmer’s glue (the old standby)
- Big-ass buttons
- Pipe cleaners
- Foam paper (my new favorite craft thing)
- Clown nose (duh)
- Clothes that already look kinda like clown clothes (Stripes, polka dots, plaids — the more garishly colorful, the better. C’mon, you know what clowns look like.)
Okay, so maybe that title isn’t the most revelatory ever. But once in a blue moon I have a moment of true parental creativity. I want to savor those moments, as they are few and far between. So this is me savoring…
Like any average toddler, JJ is a picky eater. I don’t even know why you would qualify a toddler’s eating habits as “picky” — it’s just understood. Sure, there’s the occasional hippie/hipster-type who’s little lamb has been vegan/organic/locally-fed from the womb. Don’t you just wanna slap those parents with a cold fish stick?
One of JJ’s favorite snacks are gummies. For a long time he ate only the Gerber ones, which seemed all fruit-filled and healthy. Then he got seduced by the Dark Side, and now joneses for Spider-Man, Batman, or <shudder> Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-flavored gummies. I can only imagine what manor of chemical imbalance is found in them. But I’ve all but convinced myself they’re still fruit-adjacent, and certainly better than soda, hard candy or Doritos. (Hands off, those are Daddy’s)
We were in Connecticut visiting family over the July 4th holiday, and I ran into a Whole Foods to look for the snooty dog food we forgot to bring (for the dog, just to be clear), and I saw these beauties at the register, looking very natural and juicy and non-turtle shaped:
They were labeled with a small white sticker, “Juju Stars.” I snapped them up and then promptly forgot about them.
Fast-forward to Wednesday, and the nightly battle over dinner is in progress. Unless his afternoon snack is timed just right, JJ won’t be hungry at a normal dinner time. It might also have something to do with the tides or cicada migration or something. Who knows? Furthermore, we’re not only arguing that it’s time to eat, but also what to eat, how much to eat, and of course STAY. IN. YOUR. CHAIR.
Then I notice the Juju Stars sparkling on the counter in their little generic plastic cup. Bells, whistles and the Dora theme go off in my head…
“Hey buddy! Do you want to play a game?”
Miraculously, he stops whining.
“How about I give you one of these MAGIC DORA STARS* for every bite of food you eat? How many stars do you think you can win?!?” My voice was probably sounding a bit crazed at this point as I tried to amp up his excitement.
“YAY! I want to win FIVE!”
So the game began. And he ate a fish stick. Then another. Then his spinach patty. Then drank his fruit smoothie. “DUDE! You won ALL FIVE STARS!”
And yes (THANK GOD IN HEAVEN) he liked them.
The game has now been played (and won) for the last three feedings. Woohoo! Daddy wins, too!
But now we’re out of stars. And I Googled the hell out of them, and only found a couple of old photos from 2010. Looks like Daddy will be playing Find the Juju Stars all day tomorrow.
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*If you’ve watched much Dora the Explorer, you know there are occasional episodes that feature these annoying stars she has to collect on her adventures. Because the show wasn’t already enough like a video game. One morning JJ and I stumbled across this video on YouTube, while having “VIDEOS TIME!” on Daddy’s computer. It’s a video of a video game. So each time JJ begs to watch it, he tries to click on the big green PLAY button, and it pauses the video. DUDE. It’s not going to work. Let’s move on, PLEASE. How about I give you a gummy star?!?
Like most of the world, I was first introduced to the work of Evan Spiridellis (the designer half of the humor site, JibJab) through the still-hilarious lampoon of the 2004 presidential election, “This Land.” In 2011, he and brother Gregg launched StoryBots, an awesome online land of apps, videos, books and activities for kids (and parents). As a longtime fan, I was downright giddy Evan agreed to a DDQ&A!
Q&A with designer dad Evan Spiridellis
Tell me briefly about your design/illustration career.
My brother and I started JibJab back in 1999. Early on we supported the studio by doing service work for clients like Disney, Scholastic, Kraft and Sony — but the goal was always to build a new kind of entertainment company. So we would take on enough client work to pay the rent and our team, then we would turn down commercial projects until the coffers ran dangerously low. Nowadays, JibJab supports itself by selling our products directly to our audience without commercial interference. We much prefer this approach 🙂 READ FULL ARTICLE >>
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!
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].
It’s been said many times (and yes, in many ways…) that Christmas goes by too damn fast. Not the “Holiday Season” itself, mind you. That’s an ever-expanding, multi-month period of excessive eating, spending and stress we could all do with a little less of. But December 25th comes and goes in an instant, so I find it beneficial to not only savor it while it’s here, but reflect on it afterwards. This is also helpful because I can never remember who gave me what.
Childhood, too, is known for speeding by much too quickly.
Case in point: I had this post planned for a couple of weeks, to showcase various holiday phrases JJ mispronounces in his cute toddler vernacular. But by the time I got around to hunting through all the letters and taking the photos, he’d already learned to say two of the phrases correctly. Slow down, buddy!
So yeah, I’m writing a Christmas-themed post after Christmas. And yup, JJ no longer mispronounces “Candy Canes” or “Merry Christmas” (He’s thankfully still working on his “th”s, so Frosty the Snowman’s refrain remains adorable). But I needed to write it all down before he races ahead to the next milestone — and so I can savor this little morsel of Holiday sweetness a bit longer.
Lately we’ve been using Santa’s naughty/nice list (and the above song) to motivate JJ to niceness (hey, whatever works) — which reminded me of this blast from the past…
Day two of my journey through Christmas cards past brings me to a one that proved quite popular… and delicious! The card was 2-sided, so depending on how you opened it you got either a “naughty” or a “nice” message.
Last December I undertook the gargantuan (some would say unwise) task of doing 1 post a day — complete with an original doodle/graphic — as an online Advent calendar of sorts. While it was fun and enlightening for me (and I assume a few readers, too) it took up a WHOLE lotta time. And time ain’t something in abundance come December.
So this year I’m going recycled/retro and sharing some of the cards I’ve designed in Christmases past. While that may not seem very “Daddy”-related, the fact that I’m scaling back on holiday blogging is due entirely to my very celebratory three year-old, and all that he entails. Yeah, I’m really tired a lot.
I’m not necessarily going to do 12 — or go in chronological order — but today’s Days of Christmas Past (DoXP) post is my first ever original Holiday card of the modern era (post-college). The year was 1999 so it was not just pre-Designer Daddy, but pre-Design Nut. However I think you can see the seeds of design nutty days to come.
Another interesting (only to me, probably) fact: this illustration/collage was printed out on my own little Epson and adhered by my (and Papa’s) hands to the cards, which had also been cut and folded by me. I was young, poor and crafty… and this was the LAST year of such nonsense. That’s why God made professional printers.