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!
As a gay dad, teaching my son to celebrate the LGBTQ community has been a top priority from the beginning. Doing so not only ensures he feels proud of his own family, but it also reinforces the compassion I want him to show to others, including those that are bullied or excluded because of who they are or who they love.
Once again, pop culture has proven to be a fun and creative tool to introduce my son to all manner of colorful, queer characters. Not surprisingly, they made their way onto quite a few of the notes I put in my kid’s lunchbox, which I’ve pulled together in this list of LGBTQ superheroes.
Some of these may come as a surprise, as they are depicted as LGBTQ in certain media but not in others. Unfortunately, few are clearly and consistently portrayed as queer, so I’ve provided context and resources when warranted.
There are lots of ways to teach children about diversity… and not just during Black History Month. Certainly it’s important to introduce your kids to African-American culture through leaders like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Dr. King. But I’ve found some of the most effective lessons are those integrated into everyday life.
As a family of gay fathers and an adopted son, it’s vital our child feels visible, included and loved. Beyond surrounding ourselves with other queer and adoptive families, we also make racial diversity a priority. This has informed all aspects of our lives — from where we chose to live, to the friends we make, to the school our son attends. It also factors into the books, TV shows and movies we expose our son to. And of course that includes superheroes.
For those new to the blog, I’ve been creating superhero lunch notes for my son since preschool. They’ve been a great way not only to send him a bit of encouragement (or remind him to flush), but also a fun tool to introduce him to a wide array of heroes. And since this is Black History Month, I thought I’d highlight some of the awesome black characters I’ve doodled for my kid over the years.
I’ve listed family-friendly sources under each note so you and your kids can learn/watch/read more about these heroes. Feel free to copy or print the notes for your family’s lunches — be sure to send me a photo if you make your own!
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This is the black superhero everyone now knows, thanks to the record-breaking, history-making Black Panther film. WAKANDA FOREVER! GOOD LUCK AT THE OSCARS!
FUN FACT: Black Panther was originally conceived by artist Jack Kirby as a character named “Coal Tiger.”
I landed in San Diego fresh off a week-and-a-half of my son’s spring break — however, I was feeling anything but fresh. Spring break as a parent is not the Bacchanalian catharsis you may remember from your youth (or from watching MTV); it’s not even a relaxing week spent lounging in the sun. Instead it’s a lot of scheduling/juggling of play dates, museums, movies, trips to Grandma’s, and whatever the hell you’d call Dave & Buster’s — all of which has the potential to suck the life out of you.
Yet this short jaunt to Southern California was just the thing I needed to recharge my batteries, rev up my engine, and get me back on track for the next adventure. [FYI: This was a parent blogger event paid for by Kia, hence all the car/driving metaphors. Buckle up — there’s more up ahead.]
From the start, this two-day immersion excursion sparked my creativity at every turn.
First off was the rock & roll theme — meticulously carried out in every aspect of the experience. Most of our time was at the Hard Rock Hotel, which was cool and contemporary and comfortable all at once — a music museum with turndown service and a mini bar.
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Amazon, as part of my participation in the Mom It Forward Influencer Network; the content and opinions are my own.
Since my son’s very first Halloween, I’ve had a blast channeling my creativity into our family’s costumes. I love the challenge of trying to pull together something unique, fun, and not too difficult — all while placating the kid and not embarrassing the husband (too much).
This year I’m kicking the challenge up a notch in a partnership with Amazon… our costumes will include repurposed Amazon Smile boxes! The official term is “BOXTUME,” by the way.
After you’ve read through my step-by-step directions, go grab all the Amazon Smile boxes you can find, get to brainstorming, and come up with your own boxtume masterpiece! If you don’t have any boxes, take the opportunity to get a head start on your holiday shopping, or empty out your own wish list! Amazon Prime has pretty much anything you need (including everything used to make these costumes!) and has the fastest — and free-est — delivery around!
Then snap a photo of your cardboard creations and share it on social media using the hashtag #Boxtumes.
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First of all, I didn’t want to make anything too literally boxy. Who wants to walk around a party or crowded sidewalk in a giant box? That’s a spilled bag of candy waiting to happen!
So to keep things relatively easy, these start with a toga base. Why togas? Togas are comfy, simple to make, and can be easily layered with long johns or sweats if it’s chilly on trick-or-treat night. Also because I came up with some awesome visual puns around everyone’s favorite toga-wearer, Caesar!
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Barilla; the content and opinions are my own.
Jumping back into a school year schedule can be scary. Trying to serve school night meals that are quick, simple, healthy, and delicious can be downright terrifying.
Adding to the terror is the fact that I’m not much of a chef. What I am is a crafty mad scientist. I don’t so much mix ingredients as I do assemble supplies. Hence my most successful creations end up looking more like experimental DIY projects than respectable meals prepared by an adult.
And yet, all that playing with food and making things more fun than they need to be works well with being the dad of a picky eater. And I’m not talking prefers-blanched-asparagus-over-steamed picky. I’m talking eats-roughly-the-same-number-of-things-as-he-is-years-old picky.
Luckily, my persnickety seven-year-old loves pretty much every variety of pasta. Also lucky? Barilla has 38 different pastas and 14 different sauces with which to satisfy my hungry, finicky beast.
In addition to their endless meal combinations, Barilla products fulfill that whole quick, simple, healthy, and delicious list I mentioned earlier. It’s not surprising they’re the #1 pasta brand in both the United States and Italy… as well as the preferred brand of my first generation Italian husband!
While our family certainly enjoys tried-and-true meals like spaghetti with meat sauce, lasagna, and baked ziti, I like to get creative from time-to-time to hold my son’s interest. Who am I kidding? It’s just as much fun for me! Here’s one of my favorites… MONSTER PASTA!
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If you’re looking for affordable family fun, look no further than Philadelphia. Our family got to spend four days with our up-the-coast neighbor; however, the first two were just me and my 6-year-old — a challenge I wasn’t sure I was prepared for. Under normal circumstances, my adventurously independent son is a handful. Now we were sans one dad, adding a train ride, a hotel stay, and a bunch of activities in a city I knew next to nothing about. Papa and I had spent an anniversary weekend years ago, focusing mainly on art museums and antiques. I knew my kiddo was having none of that, so we were in uncharted territory.
It’s also important to note that Jon was not as over the previous week’s stomach bug as I thought.
Known as the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia has plenty of affection for families and kids, too. We made it through the trip with lots of flying colors, great memories, and even learned a few things. And yes, there were lots and lots of trips to the bathroom.
Here are our five Philadelphia favorites — along with a score for the restrooms at each location, based on their ability to accommodate weary, middle-aged dads and a kindergartner whose bowels were constantly at DEFCON #2.
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5. THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE
The initial draw of The Franklin Institute was the Art of the Brick exhibit — which did not disappoint. Yet on further exploration, the entire museum was amaze-balls, as the kids say. From the giant interactive heart, to the train factory, a planetarium, and pretty much any invention or sciencey thing you can think up — it had it all.
S’mores are just about the most perfect snack. First, there’s the simplicity of them: chocolate + marshmallows + graham crackers; heat, eat, repeat.
They’re also super easy to customize, personalize, and accessorize. Maybe you like yours with peanut butter, or Nutella instead of chocolate; or maybe once in college you experimented with s’mores made from Pop Tarts and have always fantasized about trying that again.
And finally, s’mores are always in season: they taste just as gooey and delicious whether you’re huddled around a campfire telling ghost stories or huddled on the couch binge-watching The Walking Dead.
Speaking of zombies…
A while back I made some spooky monster s’mores for my son’s class Halloween party. They were such fun to make (and a big hit with the kids), that I thought I’d revisit this snack-craft and see what other monstrosity I could come up with. Then it hit me — ZOMBIE S’MORES. What could be more fitting than a gooey, melty, drippy snack made to look like a gooey, melty, drippy reanimated corpse?!
Let me drop some Jedi Master-level parenting knowledge on you: Just because you grow up an epic Star Wars fan, then became a dad and go into hyperdrive raising your child in the ways of The Force, things might not turn out exactly as you’d imagined. With the passing of time and the expansion of Mr. Lucas’ universe, stark differences have emerged between generations of Star Wars enthusiasts…
- When I was a kid, Darth Vader scared the bejeezus out of me — as was intended. Upon his first viewing of Episode IV, my then 4-year-old son squealed with glee at Vader’s debut.
- When I was a kid, we called it STAR WARS, not A New Hope. Not Episode IV.
- When I was a kid, you could easily find t-shirts with Luke, Han or the droids on them. Nowadays, the majority of Star Wars clothing for kids is adorned by the Dark Side — Vader, Boba Fett, Stormtroopers, etc.
- When I was a kid, we collected action figures. Today? After six films and multiple animated series, there are hordes of figures in every size, not to mention headphones, watches, bike helmets, lingerie, pet costumes, snowboards, wedding rings, toilet seat covers, bathrobes, chopsticks, sleeping bags, and oh yeah, LEGO. SO. MANY. LEGO.
- When I was a kid, there was no Jar Jar Binks.
Despite all these differences, there are two things that bind my son and I together like The Force: We both love a good light saber battle, and we both love to eat popcorn when we’re watching the Star Wars films. So when I signed on to help promote the #PopWars Video Contest for Pop Secret’s Pre-popped Popcorn, I knew my video had to include copious amounts of popcorn AND an epic light saber battle.
I’ve been teaching my son about superheroes since birth – beginning, of course, with Superman. His brightly colored costume and superhuman abilities, paired with an innate goodness and endless supply of hope, make Superman the understandable idol for even the youngest of superhero fans.