The 12 Days of Christmas Past: Day 3

December 20, 2012 | By Brent Almond | DESIGN STUFF

This year’s card is a collage of some of our photos from Italy — they were just too delicious to not use. So on a related subject… today’s DoXP card is from our first trip to Italy in 2003, AKA The Honeymoon.

Thankfully I had the forethought to take a sketchbook to the breathtaking, life-changing, awe-inspiring Amalfi Coast, and thus ended up with an incredible keepsake of drawings from all the wonders we witnessed. Sketching (as opposed to zipping around with a camera) was a wonderful way to experience the country. I had to actually be still and soak it all in. (Obviously, this was pre-JJ) My favorite moment was sitting with my pen and pad in the square with the Amalfi Cathedral looming overhead.

Upon our return home, I scrapped the original idea I’d had for the Holiday card/promo, and used my sketch of the Cathedral for the Christmas card. Additionally, I had 8 different note cards printed featuring various sketches and photos from our trip. I designed a belly band/cover, boxed them up and gave them as client gifts — by far my most popular client gift to date. I was even able to sell quite a few sets in the years since.

Sketch of the Amalfi Cathedral (Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea)


Trip to Italy: Daddy Album

September 24, 2012 | By Brent Almond | MAKING MEMORIES

As promised, here’s the Daddy Album. And this one was even more difficult to winnow down than the Designer Album. Again I went for the ones that told the best stories from the trip, as well as some variety. But I cheated a little and included 12 instead of 10 photos. My loophole is that two of these weren’t taken by me, so YAY, bonus pics!

Perhaps as a surprise to no one, the majority of these are of JJ. So WARNING: if you don’t think you’ll like photos of my adorable tyke charming the entire country of Italy, you’ve come to the wrong place…

Spider-Man and his Nonna strolling through the Bari airport, beginning their week-long adventure together.


Trip to Italy: Designer Album

September 20, 2012 | By Brent Almond | DESIGN STUFF, MAKING MEMORIES

We’ve been back from Italy over a week now, and I’m still trying to get back into the swing of things. We left during summer, came back and it’s fall, with rumblings of Christmas off in the distance. Yikes.

I haven’t had the time/energy to do any proper blogging, so I’m going the “picture is worth a thousand words” route and sharing some of my favorites from the trip. I took over 1,600 photos during our 10 days abroad, which I painstakingly (there was literal pain) narrowed down to about 350 for Facebook. For my DD readers, I’m breaking them up into two smaller collections: the Designer Album and the Daddy Album, natch.

This Designer Album features 10 of my favorite designery shots. Even narrowing down these was difficult, so I chose photos that were not only nice to look at, but best narrated highlights of this unique trip. You can see photos of the Sistine ceiling or Mount Vesuvius any old day, but we spent most of our time with family in non-touristy areas. So these may not be the 10 prettiest, but they are the 10 most personal images. And as always, click on the images to see them molto grande.

Papa's parents, aunts, uncles and cousins all live in Rutigliano near the southeastern coast of Italy (top of the boot heel) This shot was taken from Nonna's terrace depicting a somewhat dismal suburban landscape (aren't they all?) backlit by dramatic Adriatic clouds.


Beatles 101

September 2, 2012 | By Brent Almond | THINGS DAD DIGS

So the big trip across the pond is upon us. I admit to having my fair share of nerves leading up to this point, but I suppose by the time you read this I’ll be cruising through the skies, my bambino wistfully slumbering against my shoulder. At least he better be.

A massive amount of preparation has been going on — which I guess is to be expected from two anal-retentive gay dads taking their toddler transatlantically. So a couple of weeks ago we were Skyping with Papa’s Zia Jo (AKA The Cool Aunt) to ask all our most pressing questions: “Do they have playgrounds in Italy?” “What about fish sticks?” “And Dora?” During the conversaton we noticed a lot of Beatles stuff in Zia’s house — she’s a huge fan from back in the day. As in the day when they were still together and taking over the world. That must have been something to behold.

Hence I decided to make JJ a mix CD, a Beatles primer of sorts. Before you read ahead to the track list and blow a gasket, yes there are a few covers by non-Beatles. Keep in mind this is for an almost 3 year old — he needs some variety. Besides, as the son-of-a-preacher man, I had to discover The Beatles on my own. This initially came in the form of The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits (on vinyl, checked out from the library, no less). So I learned my first Beatles songs from some rodents, a few more from the “Stars on 45 Medley,” and then finally discovered the real deal in high school and have been a huge fan ever since.

The Beatles 101

(All songs by The Beatles unless noted otherwise)
Drive My Car
(from Rubber Soul)
She Loves You
When we were teaching JJ animal sounds, Papa taught him that beetles went “She loves you, yeah! yeah! yeah!” You should have seen his eyes the first time he heard the actual song. Now when he hears it, he yells “BEETLES!”
All My Loving – Alvin & The Chipmunks
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (from The Beatles/White Album)
Funnest Beatles song ever? Gets my vote. Although it’s probably about drugs or somesuch.
We Can Work It Out
Rocky Raccoon (from The Beatles/White Album)
I didn’t realize until I finalized the list how oddly well-represented The White Album was. Whodathunk?

You Won’t See Me – Anne Murray
Piggies (from The Beatles/White Album)
Hello, Goodbye (from Magical Mystery Tour)
Love Me Do – Alvin & The Chipmunks
Help! – Carpenters
Leave it to The Carpenters to take a sad song and make it sadder…
I’m Looking Through You – The Wallflowers
Taken from a quite good soundtrack of a semi-okay movie, I Am Sam
Here Comes The Sun (from Abbey Road)
Stars On 45 Medley – Stars On 45
I spent many a Saturday roller skating to this baby.
Silly Love Songs – Glee Cast
Take It Away – Paul McCartney
Two Of Us (from Let It Be… Naked)
I love how this version starts with the lovely guitar intro instead of John?/Ringo? yammering about pygmies.
All You Need Is Love – (from Magical Mystery Tour)
Yesterday (from Help!)
I remember learning “Yesterday” and “Help!” in 6th grade music class. Do they still do that?
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey – Paul McCartney
If I Fell (from A Hard Day’s Night)
One of my all-time favorites
Blackbird – Glee Cast
I challenge all you Glee-haters to listen to this version and not marvel at the sweetness of Chris Colfer’s voice.
Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) – John Lennon
This song is already on a JJ-inspired mix CD, but it’s too good not to include on every single CD I ever make for him. He heard it tonight and said, “It’s my song!”
Yellow Submarine (from Revolver)
We’ve been singing this one in the tub since forever ago. Also a great singalong-in-the-car song.

For more Beatles-related kids stuff, check out:

Rockabye Baby
This mix isn’t the first JJ’s hearing of The Beatles. I started him off early, buying both volumes of Rockabye Baby Beatles covers. But we’ve been way beyond lullabies for a while now.

Yellow Submarine interactive book

Wonder Pets episode, “Save the Beetles”
Adorable, clever, educational. The whole package!
Download from Amazon or iTunes.

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Alright music fans — what essential tune did I leave out? Keep in mind it’s for kids, so no Helter Skelter craziness or Elanor Rigby moroseness. What would you take off? I’m sure there will be a Volume 2 at some point, so all suggestions are welcome!

Children + Cars: The Dangers of Hyperthermia

August 8, 2012 | By Brent Almond | LESSONS LEARNED

The end of what has been a crazy-hot summer is in sight! Okay, maybe it’s a little further off for some of us than others — either way there’s still quite a few hot days to come before the cool breezes of fall.

And if you’ve got kids, you’ve been carting them around in the car all summer. While no one likes to talk or even think about the dangers of leaving a young child in a hot car, I’d like to share some tips and reminders so that we all make it safely through the remaining warm days. approached me with the following information, so I gladly offered to pass it along to my readers. Please read, share and stay safe!

To help keep your kids safe this summer, Safe Kids Worldwide and the GM Foundation have compiled a few tips on how to reduce your child’s risk of hyperthermia.

Remember to ACT:

  • Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked so children can’t get into cars on their own.
  • Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car – a briefcase, your purse, or better yet, your cell phone – that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your normal routine.
  • Take action. This is something we can all do. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel are trained to respond to these situations.

For more information on preventing child heatstroke deaths, visit


  • Heatstroke, also known as hyperthermia, occurs when the body isn’t able to cool itself quickly enough and the body temperature rises to dangerous levels. Young children are particularly at risk as their body heats up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s.
  • And when a child’s internal temperature gets to 104 degrees, major organs begin to shut down. And when that child’s temperature reaches 107 degrees, the child dies. Because of this, and because cars heat up so quickly – 20 degrees in 10 minutes — it can happen faster than you think.
  • Safe Kids supports NHTSA’s hyperthermia education campaign and the increased national coordination on the issue. In addition, with the support of the GM Foundation, Safe Kids and its network of 600 coalitions and chapters across the nation are helping to educate parents and caregivers through its hyperthermia awareness campaign, Never Leave Your Child Alone In a Car.
  • These types of tragedies can happen to anyone and most of the cases are to the most loving, caring parents you will ever meet.

Key Stats:

  • Since 1998, more than 530 children across the United States have died from hyperthermia when unattended in a vehicle.
    • 52% – child “forgotten” by caregiver
    • 30% – child playing in unattended vehicle
    • 17% – child intentionally left in vehicle by adult
  • In 2010, 49 children died from heatstroke. In 2011, one of the hottest years on record, we lost 33 children. So far in 2012, 13 children have died.
  • Heatstroke deaths have been recorded in 11 months of the year in nearly all 50 states.
  • There are a staggering number of near-misses – children who were rescued before a fatality. Palm Beach County reported more than 500 near misses in one year alone. And if that many are happening in one county, can you imagine the number happening across the country?

About Safe Kids Worldwide
Safe Kids Worldwide is a global organization dedicated to providing parents and caregivers with practical and proven resources to protect kids from unintentional injuries, the number one cause of death to children in the United States. Throughout the world, almost one million children die of an injury each year, and every one of these tragedies is preventable. Safe Kids works with an extensive network of more than 600 coalitions in the U.S. and in 23 countries to reduce traffic injuries, drownings, falls, burns, poisonings and more. Since 1988, Safe Kids has helped reduce the U.S. childhood death rate from unintentional injury by 53 percent. Join our effort at

Congrachoolations National Train Day winners!

May 17, 2012 | By Brent Almond | MAKING MEMORIES, THINGS MY KID DIGS

A big, rootin’-tootin’ thank you to everyone who entered the National Train Day / B. toys giveaway! Here are the winners:

Morgan M. – Stackadoos
Brandi H. – Elemenosqueeze
Bill S. – Train Day swag

Winners have been notified by email, and have 30 days to claim their prize before another name is drawn. So check your spam filters, folks! 🙂

For some extra fun (and to get people to enter… hello, free toys aren’t enough?!?) on Facebook I had folks post their favorite train song. It was such a great collection of tunes (several of which I’d never heard, or not heard in 30+ years) that I wanted to share them, along with a few (okay, twenty) of my own favorites, in what I’m titling:

The Great Train Collection!

Volume 1 (Reader faves)
C’mon N’ Ride It (The Train) – Quad City DJ’s (C’mon n’ admit it… you love this song, too)
Long Train Runnin’ – The Doobie Brothers
A Peanut Sat On a Railroad Track (One of the oldies-but-goodies from childhood. This version has additional hilarious verses about other foods getting pulverized.)
Peace Train – Cat Stevens
Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight & the Pips
Marrakesh Express – Crosby Stills & Nash
Chattanooga Choo Choo – The Andrews Sisters
Casey Jones – Furry Lewis (Thanks to Bill Steber of The Jake Leg Stompers, who performs lots of train songs!)
Love Train – The O’Jays
Train – Goldfrapp
The Trolley Song – Judy Garland
All Aboard – The Nat “King” Cole Trio
Down By The Station
Trains – Jill Sobule
My Baby Thinks He’s A Train – Rosanne Cash
Morning Train (Nine To Five) – Sheena Easton
City Of New Orleans –  Willie Nelson
Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie – The Manhattan Transfer
I’ve Been Working On The Railroad – Pete Seeger or, if you must The Chipmunks

Volume 2 (DD’s faves)
Conjunction Junction – Schoolhouse Rock (An all-time favorite, and so educational!)
Cross the Tracks (We Better Go Back) – Maceo & The Macks
Jumping Someone Else’s Train – The Cure (coolest train song, ever)
Big Rock Candy Mountain – Harry McClintock
Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne
Ticket to Ride – The Beatles (It’s debatable whether this is really about trains, but it’s my blog so I agree with Paul.)
Golden Train – Penguin Prison
On A Train – Yuksek
Freight Train to Nowhere – Mark Heard
Last Train To Clarksville – The Monkees
Orange Blossom Special –  Johnny Cash
The Loco-MotionLittle Eva or, if you must Dora the Explorer (sorry, I draw the line at Kylie)
Locomotion – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Trans-Europe Express – Kraftwerk
Trains And Boats And Planes – Dwight Yoakam
This City Never Sleeps – Eurythmics
Zoo Station – U2
Train Song – Mindy Smith
People Get ReadyEva Cassidy (original version by The Impressions, written by then member Curtis Mayfield)

You can hear the whole playlist on Spotify.

(PS: For an unbelievably EXHAUSTIVE list of train-related songs, go here.)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Oh yeah, and here are a couple of pics from our ‘lil Train Day adventure to Gaithersburg, MD. There wasn’t a whole lot to it (Hopefully Union Station is repaired by next year) but JJ loved it nonetheless. Plus he got a cool hat out of it.

No, I can’t read yet. So?

The Little Engineer That Could

Did anyone else make it to a Train Day celebration? Send me some pics and I’ll post them here. You can also post them on the Designer Daddy Facebook page or share them on National Train Day’s gallery page.

Whatchoo-choo doing for National Train Day?

May 5, 2012 | By Brent Almond | THINGS DAD DIGS, THINGS MY KID DIGS

National Train Day is Coming Down the Tracks! Hook up with Amtrak & B. Toys for National Train Day! National Train Day: C’mon & Ride It!

(So many train puns, so little time…)


Saturday May 12 is the 5th annual National Train Day, a nationwide celebration of all things locomotive. Marking the 143rd anniversary of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad, National Train Day will be especially tootriffic for the kiddos!

There will be four big-time, whistle-blowing events* held in iconic train stations in NY, Chicago, LA and Philly. In addition to tours of real live freight and commuter train cars (as if that isn’t enough to make any little kid’s head explode) the events will also include:

  • Interactive/educational activities teaching kids how trains work through crafts and demonstrations
  • Radio Disney serving as emcee/DJ of the festivities
  • Dora (you know, the Explora) making appearances at select locations — meeting and greeting and probably pulling  things out of her backpack. Check out her feisty cover of Little Eva’s “Locomotion”!
  • Giveaways from Amtrak (the creators of National Train Day, btw) including t-shirts and other train-related swag

Can’t make it one of the larger parties? Not to worry! There will be 100+ smaller — but still fun — events all over the US. Chug on over to National Train Day’s web site to find the one closest to you, and check out what unique festivities your local train station or other family-friendly venue has planned!

The National Train Day site is also a great way to get all connected and interactive: visit the Gallery to share your photos, videos and stories about your train adventures for a chance to win prizes!

And speaking of prizes…

B.ONUS! (free stuff giveaway!)

One of JJ’s (and Daddy’s) favorite toy companies, B. Toys, is the official toy partner of National Train Day, and will have activity stations at each of the four main festivals, showcasing their awesome building block toys Elemenosqueeze (ages 6 mos – 3 yrs) and Stackadoos (ages 2 – 6 yrs). And because Designer Daddy is such a B. Toys fan, they’ve given me an Elemenosqueeze and Stackadoos set to give away to my wonderfully loyal and style-conscious readers!

Elemenosqueeze A-Z architectural blocks are great for squeezing, splashing or chewing (BPA free)!

Stackadoos are a big ole’ bucket of 68 connectable blocks that bristle with fun and color!

To enter, just post your toy preference in the comments section here! You can also be entered by commenting/sharing via Facebook, Tweeting and retweeting, or by becoming a follower (on Twitter) or liker (on Facebook). Enough options for ya? 🙂

The contest opens NOW and closes at midnight on Friday, May 11th (National Train Day Eve). I’ll draw one winner at random for each toy.

But what if I’m too old for B. Toys, you ask? Well, then I feel sorry for you. But if that’s the case, I’ll have a National Train Day goody (exact item TBD) to give away as well! Just indicate that in your comment, tweet, post, whatever, and I’ll draw a third winner from that pool.

Happy National Train Day everyone — all aboard for fun!

(Sorry, couldn’t resist one last pun)

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(PS: Anyone who attends an event, please send me a pic or two and I’ll post them on Facebook or in a follow up here. If you can snap a photo of your kiddo playing at the B. Toys station, I’ll forward it to them and it might show up on their site as well!)

*What?!? No event at DC’s Union Station? Unfortunately the station’s gorgeous ceiling is undergoing restoration due to damage caused by last fall’s earthquake, so they’re unable to host an event. Maybe next year…

NYC or bust

February 17, 2012 | By Brent Almond | MAKING MEMORIES

We’re heading to NYC* this weekend, so watch your back Naked Cowboy!

*Also to CT to visit Papa’s fam and all the cousins on that side. Road trip… yeehaw!

Advent In An Hour: Dec 24

December 24, 2011 | By Brent Almond | DESIGN STUFF, THINGS MY KID DIGS

Every year for the last ten or so, I’ve made a mix of Christmas music for the drive to my parents’ house. This is JJ’s third Christmas — and he’s become quite the verbal and musical sponge — so this year’s mix is geared mainly towards him. A Christmas Mix 101, as it were.

Track list:

1. Jingle Bells – Frank Sinatra (Bonus points for Old Blue Eyes teaching JJ how to spell “Jingle Bells.” And sorry Babs, but your version’s too frenetic for a toddler. And don’t watch the link if you’re prone to seizures…)
2. Welcome Christmas – from How The Grinch Stole Christmas (starts at 5:30 on the clip)
3. The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) – Alvin & The Chipmunks
4. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer – Burl Ives
5. Little Drummer Boy – Peggy Lee
6. Frosty the Snowman – Dan Tyminski
7. Here Comes Santa Claus – The Puppini Sisters
8. The Friendly Beasts – Sufjan Stevens (If you don’t have Sufjan’s Christmas box set, you must. I’d buy it again for the packaging and sheet of stickers alone.)
9. Linus And LucyVince Guaraldi Trio (“Christmastime Is Here” is probably more recognizable, but it’s a little depressing. And nothing beats the Peanuts gang’s wacky dance party.)
10. Santa Claus Is Coming To TownFred Astaire
11. All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) – The Nat “King” Cole Trio
12. Feliz NavidadJosé Feliciano (part of JJ’s unofficial Spanish immersion program)
13. Mele Kalikimaka – Bing Crosby with The Andrews Sisters (…and his Hawaiian immersion. I wonder if the Obamas sing this at Christmas?)
14. Over the River and Through the WoodsThe Chipmunks (Grandma literally lives over a river and through some woods. Just wish I could find a less annoying version of this ditty, which by the way was originally a Thanksgiving song.)
15. Carol of the Bells – The Bird and The Bee
16. Dominick The Donkey – Lou Monte (In honor of JJ’s Nonno Dominick, whose birthday is today!)
17. Christmas Is ComingJohn Denver & The Muppets (Can’t wait to teach JJ to sing in a round!)
18. Joy To The World – Nat King Cole
19. You’re A Mean One Mr. GrinchThurl Ravenscroft
20. Dance of the Sugar Plum FairyLondon Symphony Orchestra (In honor of Daddy’s favorite Christmas character)
21. The First Nöel – Annie Lennox
22. Sleigh Ride Relient K
23. Let It SnowMichael Bublé
24. Hark The Herald Angels SingVince Guaraldi Trio (Everybody now, “Loo, loo, loo…”)
25. Jingle BellsThe Singing Dogs (Cordi perked up for this one)
26. Silent Night – Sixpence None The Richer
27. Twelve Days Of Christmas – John Denver & The Muppets (It wouldn’t be a Christmas road trip without something from this CD. JJ applauds at the end of this classic gem every time.)

What songs did your family grow up on? Any others you’d recommend?

Mixtape: Road trip to Gramms’

August 18, 2011 | By Brent Almond | DAD STUFF, LESSONS LEARNED

Gratuitous baby in a car photo.

This past weekend, JJ and I took our first trip alone (sans Papa) and being the music nerd that I am, I made a mixtape. Below is the track list, along with some snarky commentary and a few sound/video clips:

I made the mix in kind of a rush — which is how I do pretty much everything these days. (Any thoughts from you seasoned parents at what point I can NOT watch my child for more than five minutes for fear of him pulling the TV down on his head, or something equally dramatic and horrific?) Anyhoo, the songs had to meet at least one of the following requirements: 1) the song includes a word or action JJ knows or is learning, 2) the song is already familiar to JJ, or 3) the song is generally pleasant and not full of screaming/profanity. So yeah, no Marilyn Manson.

But most importantly, the music would NOT (with the exception of 2 or 3 tracks*) be “children’s music.” I know, I know… there’s a lot of hip kid’s music out there that parents can enjoy, too! — but I already have the theme song to every show on Sprout and Nick, Jr memorized, so my car is a battleground I’m not willing to cede just yet. I think I’ve still got a couple of years months, so cut me some slack…

Without further, rambling adieu:

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