Tag Archives: blogging

Assessment Week: Freaky Friday

So here it is.

My first post in days upon days. No doodle to go with it.

What is this world (or at least my corner of it) coming to?

I suppose six months is something like a decade in blog years, but in reality, I’m still figuring out this whole life-work-blog balance. And I’m not doing very well, apparently.

See, with one wife, two jobs, and three kids, I keep pushing blogging off in favor of work that pays and actual human interaction with my immediate family members. I mean, I guess I could technically stop sleeping (which is kind of what I’m doing now, typing, as I am, at 12:39 a.m.), but I’ve been dieting lately too, and I don’t want to give up everything.

I realize that daily postings shifting to roughly weekly postings is a bit jarring to my hundreds of loyal readers, but as I said before, I’m still figuring this out. The Shallows are still very much important to me, and I’m working out some kinks that will allow me (or encourage me) to post here more often. In talking with my wife tonight, I realized that my posts don’t have to be perfect. My life isn’t, after all, and this blog is a fairly accurate depiction of that.

I aim to start posting more snippets. More quotes. More small stuff.

For instance, I could have posted something short yesterday, in honor of my wife’s birthday, when our 4-year-old burst into our room at 6:30 a.m. singing at the top of her lungs: “It’s Mommy’s birthday! Happy birthday, Mom! It’s her birthday! I’m not going to hit her!”

It’s not like the secondborn hits my wife often—or at all—on other days of the year. I think the lyric was just a statement of fact.

And boom: That’s a post.

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‘Who is REALLY caring for your children?’

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My wife came with me to the recent Dad 2.0 conference in New Orleans (thanks again, Cottonelle, for the trip!), where I attended sessions and workshops while she drank cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, visited cemeteries, and otherwise explored the city.

I’m joking. Mostly. While she did sample more of the local cuisine and color than I did, she actually attended some sessions, too, and visited the sponsor booths and suites, and met and talked with dads from around the country. She was an active attendee, and I was excited and proud to be able to share the experience with her.

My wife works with developmentally delayed infants and toddlers, a job for which she attended a conference of her own on Tuesday earlier this week. The day after she got back, she surprised me with this e-mail:

“Yesterday, I went to a conference in a neighboring city. It was nothing like Dad 2.0, with all of its glitz and swag (the entirety of my ‘swag’ for this one was a printout of the PowerPoint presentation and a folder—in my color choice—to store it in). No Lee jeans, no Starbucks (in fact, the first announcement of the morning was an apology for the fact that they forgot to buy Half and Half to accompany the industrial urns of watery coffee). I left my house at 5:45 in the morning and returned roughly 12 1/2 hours later. The conference was attended primarily by educators, child development specialists, child advocates, and foster parents.

“During the breaks, I chatted with the people at my table. One woman asked if I hoped to have children someday. I informed her that I already have three children. She declared, ‘Oh, you do not look old enough to have children at all!’ Bless her heart. Of course she asked my kids’ ages. I told her. Upon learning that I have a toddler, she asked how I could get away from him for an entire day to attend a conference. I assured her he was safe and sound with my husband/his father, and I had no concerns about being away for a day. Then she said, ‘Sure, but who is REALLY caring for your children? You must have a nanny or a daycare provider. A man couldn’t possibly handle a toddler and two older children ALL DAY LONG.’ I was shocked. I’m sure I said something about my husband being an amazing father and just as capable of caring for our children as I am. But mostly I remember working very hard to keep myself from expressing my outrage in a way that was sarcastic, rude, or unproductive.

“I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but this conversation—and the sentiment behind it—was repeated all day long as I chatted with more and more conference attendees. I am disheartened to realize that in a room of more than 150 professionals who work with children for a living, so many people are clinging to the idea that men cannot be competent (if not excellent) caregivers.

“I am thankful for Dad 2.0 and the blogging world that is working hard to change stereotypes of men and fathers. I am happy to see small changes in the media and advertising that are depicting involved, loving fathers. I hope to see more. I hope, as each year passes, fewer and fewer people react with surprise and shock when I say my children are with their father for the day.”

I was humbled and grateful to read my wife’s perspective, and though I have flown solo with the children before, I do have to point out that the two girls were in school for part of this particular day, and a friend did watch the kids for a couple of hours in the middle of the day since I edit two weekly newspapers and we were on production deadline. But I did get everyone out of bed, dressed, fed, brushed, and packed up in the morning; had the toddler with me in the office for the first third of the work day; handled all of the school drop-offs and pick-ups; edited articles for two newspapers with and without kids tugging at my sleeve; gathered up all the kids for the third third of the work day; drove them to an appointment in the late afternoon; and took all three back into the office with me at the end of—and past the end of—the work day because a computer crash in our production department deleted several files and I had to re-approve already-done work in order to make sure the paper could get to the printer late but intact.

Quickly moving from assessing libel risk to changing a poopy diaper is an odd shift, but not a prohibitively taxing one.

I am fortunate to have giving and flexible friends, bosses, and co-workers, without whom none of this crazy juggling would be possible. I’m amazed and grateful at the help we receive, and at the fact that my wife has a similarly busy schedule—plus she remembers the laundry—and pulls it off.

I’m not doing any of this (or mentioning it) for applause; it’s what has to be done. But I’m sure glad she’s the one I’m doing it with.

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New Orleans, Part 1

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I was looking for New Orleans. After two days in the city, I was itching to find it. It being an undefinable something I hadn’t yet discovered, but that I would soon recognize as being quantifiably New Orleans. Maybe I was looking for the heart of the city. Or its soul.

But that it can’t be forced. Truth be told, I don’t think it really exists.

The problem is that I was looking for my idea of the city: a fictional amalgamation of various incarnations of the Big Easy pulled from books and movies, music and stories, even visits to Disneyland. I was looking now for a New Orleans that no longer existed and would never exist, a romantic vision that mingled the most haunting and historic aspects of its past with the most poetic and glimmering hopes of what it could be.

As a visitor, I nonetheless didn’t want to be a tourist. As a stranger, I nonetheless wanted this city to be familiar.

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Whatever I was looking for wasn’t in the drunken bustle and hooting on Bourbon Street. It wasn’t in the hemmed-in stretch of water that I belatedly realized was The River. It wasn’t in the unshaven beggars and tipsy street artists, the bands competing for ambient dominance on every block in the French Quarter, the slick nods to voodoo and ghosts and vampires in every corner shop selling suggestive T-shirts and factory-produced Mardi Gras masks.

I didn’t want the New Orleans everyone else got. I wanted my own, private New Orleans—one that met my lofty expectations and revealed to me the secrets it knew I was looking for, even if I didn’t know what they were.

I wanted, I suppose, to be welcomed into a family that had been waiting for me to return to a home I’d never lived in, to feed me with authentic, generation-spanning crawfish-and-catfish recipes, to speak to me with a Creole patois and pull back a beaded curtain to reveal—aha, yes—the New Orleans I’d built in my mind.

My search was, of course, both naively selfish and obviously fruitless. I think we all do this when we travel—if we travel—though we do it to varying degrees. We search for the Hollywood sign in the redwood forests of Northern California. We look for smoky, starlit French cafés in the middle of a Parisian traffic jam.

I do, anyway.

I imagine wandering alone or with my wife along otherwise deserted stretches of parks, museum corridors and galleries, famous and photogenic thoroughfares, architectural marvels and monuments—and then bristle at everyone else doing the same. As author Bill Buford wrote, “The crowd is not us. It never is.”

When I arrive, I complain that I can’t see the city for the tour buses and tacky merchandise and people. Really, I can’t see the city for my own expectations.

And when I realized that—remembered it, really—I was able to find the New Orleans that was there: the solid, welcoming, real New Orleans with wet sidewalks and commercialized mystique. It.

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All history is manufactured, and it’s still being churned out today. Marie Laveau’s tomb. The graffiti on Marie Laveau’s tomb. The historical society member/tour guide lamenting the graffiti, the attempts to remove the graffiti, the attempts to repair the damage made by the attempts to remove the graffiti.

One night, my wife and I ate at an obviously modern restaurant set up in a building erected in the 1780s. We bought locally made pecan praelines that were individually wrapped in plastic and packaged for shipment anywhere in the United States. At another restaurant, we asked about the property’s history, only to learn that our apologetic New York waitress had only been in town for a couple of months and had no idea as to its past. “I think a princess lived here?” she ventured. We sipped absinthe in a pirate-themed bar, where we pushed two chairs next to a gas fireplace and ignored the ATM against my wife’s back. Next door was a bookstore set up in the space where William Faulkner worked on his first published novel. Election-day paraphernalia for a local office littered the streets. Emergency-vehicle sirens split the night in numbers the likes of which I’ve never previously heard.

I had expected a city preserved like a dragonfly in amber. But despite all my looking down for what was crystallized and unchanging, I was fortunate to catch a quick glimpse of iridescent blue-green wings lifting into the muggy Southern air. To catch a quick glimpse of New Orleans.

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Imagination Week: Worry Wednesday

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If you can read this, it means I’m still alive somewhere.

No, I’m not holed up while defending my family from the zombie apocalypse. I’ve been trying to make some technical tweaks to my blog—changing the address to a simple standingintheshallows.com, for one—and for a while, nothing seemed to be working.

I was worried because I couldn’t see the Shallows anymore, and I imagine you couldn’t either.

But as I could still get into the admin side of things, I could still write posts. And I knew that said posts would go out to more than 700 readers who’ve subscribed via e-mail (and who now know that I’m not exactly on track to be the next Steve Jobs due to my online fumbling). So I started writing this digital message in a virtual bottle.

Some of the technical jargon I read noted that it can take up to 24 hours for domain name changes to take effect, but the “page not working” message I repeatedly saw had the word “never” in it—as in “don’t wait around for this to start working, because you broke it and it’s never going to get back together again.”

I turned to some fellow dad bloggers for help—thanks Adam Cohen from DaDa Rocks!—and they talked me through the mini-crisis I was having, assuring me that it all looked fine on their end.

I’d like to say that I was sure all along that I didn’t do anything irreversible, but you know how I worry. Not even all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could help with Humpty Dumpty, and they had to have been pretty well trained, right?

On the plus side, I spent the evening worrying about web stuff as opposed to my kids’ health—though I didn’t like the sort of raspy sound of my son’s cry when he woke up a little while ago. Ah, well. The night is young.

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Tradition Week (Christmas): Like Kaiju

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When I was in high school, my family—along with four others—began an annual summer camping trip that still continues to this day. We head to the mountains to spend five or so days hiking around, building log rafts on the lake, playing disc golf on a course we made up, taking day trips to waterfalls, reading, playing board games, and the like. Or at least we used to. Since most of us kids are now in our 30s, and many of us have families of our own, we’ve slowed down a bit. Hammocks feature predominantly in the activity line-up.

Those five families also get together in the week after Christmas to have dinner each year. My wife, children, and I historically aren’t able to attend the post-holiday meal due to my work schedule, but as I took a week of vacation this year, we were able to make it. Other friends, who now live in other cities and on other continents, weren’t able to come, but I still got to see many of my favorite faces.

Two of my friends, in particular, hounded me with requests to appear on my blog. They waved their arms around and everything. I think they were attempting to do something funny. Something blog-worthy. So forget that I took my three children to see snow for the first time in their lives today. (Actually, don’t forget that. I plan to post about it later.)

I’ve been friends with both of these guys since I was in junior high, and they’re both very tall. One is now a lawyer, and one is a Crossfit coach. One of them I frequently refer to as the funniest person I know, which is really saying something.

We were at one of those all-you-can-eat salad-bar buffet places, and he left half of an avocado on his plate when he went to get seconds—adding a request to not let any passing servers take the avocado along with his messy tray. Not five seconds went by after he left when a server came to our table to ask if he could remove anything. I handed him the entire tray, avocado half and all. But I had a change of heart and rescued the coveted food item before it was gone for good. Then I hid it on my lap.

My friend is the type to appreciate the joke, but he’s also the type to sort of wish I had really gone all the way through with it: to have actually let the waiter clear away the avocado. My friend prefers a good punchline to getting what he wants.

He also “accidentally” spilled some chicken pozole soup down my back when he was walking back to the table and noticing that his precious avocado half was gone.

Anyway, he’s really tall. So is my other friend, which is why I granted their request for a blog appearance tonight. And it’s late.

I miss them.

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Tradition Week (Christmas): Not Blogging

Hey all! Sorry I didn’t post for the 26th. I was enjoying the follow-up to a semi-tradition my wife and I have of staying at a bed and breakfast on Christmas night. The next morning started with sleeping in and some eggs benedict delivered to our room, and everything just got better from there, so I decided to make a day of enjoying life instead of enjoying writing about life. And doodling. I did doodle little caricatures of my wife and I in the B&B’s guest book, and I only now realized I should have taken a picture of that for the blog.

My wife slept for her first night ever away from the thirdborn, which was a full night’s sleep 16 months in the making. I slept pretty well, though I got up to pee in the middle of the night and then banged my leg on an antique chair as I was walking back to bed in the dark. The bed was so tall, my wife needed help getting up on it. It had a lot of pillows, too.

I really liked our room, except there was this door to an unknown feature—closet? adjoining room? hallway to outdoors? Narnia?—that was locked and had a doorknob that endlessly spun when I turned it. Anyone or anything could have come into our room while we slept. I managed to get to sleep, though—a couple of times.

In fact, just after we checked in at 5:30, we both fell asleep for about half an hour. We took a nap on Dec. 25. Merry Christmas to us. Later on—after not sleeping for a while—I was reading out loud to my wife (Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan) when I suddenly declared that I was tired, and, apparently, according to my wife, instantly fell asleep. It was 9:30.

Cut to the day after Christmas, when we finally managed to get all three kids asleep by 9:30. Their usual bedtime is 6:30. I could use another Christmas sooner than next December.

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Tradition Week (Christmas): All About Eve

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My 4-year-old drew this on my parents’ porch today with chalk she got in a present. Later in the afternoon, I was carrying a load of boxes out to our van and didn’t want my son to get out too, so I asked her to close the door behind me.

Her: I need my chalk!

Me: Close the door, please.

Her: Where’s my chalk?!

Me: The door! Close it now, please!

Her: I need my chalk!

Me: Close the door!

Her: I forgot to draw the tornado!

I’ve been blessed to have Christmas traditions that are roughly compatible with my wife’s family’s traditions, as well as to have parents and in-laws who are willing to be flexible. So my wife’s parents’ annual Christmas Eve fondue dinner was on Christmas Eve Eve this year. And we treated Christmas Eve itself as Christmas day with my family. We’ll spend Christmas Eve night with my parents and my dad’s brother’s family, and Christmas Christmas with my wife’s family.

It sounds busy—and it is—but we’ve more often than not managed to schedule out big blocks of time so we don’t feel like yo-yos spinning rapidly between a couple of houses.

Plus, we have a tradition of going away Christmas night when we can, just my wife and I, to a local bed and breakfast.

Amid it all, we get to see friends and cousins, aunts and uncles, and multiple generations enjoying conversation and fun under one roof.

When my cousins were little, we would go to my uncle’s house for Christmas Eve, and I would tell them elephant jokes on the drive across town back to my house, where we’d read the Christmas story. Now that they’re older and we get together at my parents house, we tend to show each other Youtube videos.

I love seeing my family, which is why I’m cutting off this post here and rejoining the chaos—though it is nice to have an excuse to sequester myself away for a breather. (I’ve found since starting this blog, however, that they also tend to worry that certain stories or anecdotes will find their way onto the Internet. Some will, someday.)

Also, my girls are right now shouting about seeing the Magic Shoe, which is a pink, glittery sneaker that’s been known to peek in windows or skitter across the lawn at my parents’ house from time to time.

Merry Christmas!

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Late Week: The Final Assessment

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Late Week was fun and all, but one of the reasons I picked the theme was to see the difference between focusing on posts at night and posts in the morning.

Things got interesting. I was literally falling asleep as I wrote this post: Saturday’s writing appearing finally on Sunday. It probably didn’t help that I was in bed. Here’s a line I went back and read after I woke up for a while, talking about writing at night vs. writing in the morning:

“While I’ve tended to do a little of both since launching this blog, I’ve found that I don’t so as well if my deadline for the day is actually that evening.”

It’s not overtly terrible, but it does produce a “huh?”

I’ll be going back to my regular method of posting this next week. Christmas might throw it off a bit, but in general, I’ll be back on track.

In Worry Wednesday news, I’m struggling to stay calm amid concern that my 6-year-old has appendicitis. She complained of pain, briefly, in the area where that would happen. I called an advice nurse and everything, but by the time I was dressed and ready to take her in for some tests, she said she felt fine. She never had a fever. She stopped complaining of any discomfort. She went on a bike ride.

We’ll see …

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Late Week: Remember, Remember, the Efforts of Movember

Back when I was just a fresh-faced young blogger (about two months ago), just starting out with my daily posts and preparing my face for the moustache-growing endeavor that is Movember, I learned that Just for Men hair products was looking for facial-hair-friendly bloggers willing to review the product line.

Eager to test out just how far the Shallows extended, I threw my name into the hat—and I got a response. In exchange for a review, they’d send me a bunch of free products, as well as some Movember goodies, like a T-shirt and stickers. I just had to be honest and post by mid-December. I knew I could do the former, and was reasonably certain I could do the latter. As my grandma sometimes says, “I’ll be there if the good Lord’s willing and the crick don’t rise.”

When the package arrived, I got a little worried. I had thought the Just for Men product line would include moustache waxes or similar products, but it was actually their complete line of hair coloring, from sandy blond to real black. I knew that Just for Men did hair coloring, but I figured a product line involved something more. It was my first product review, and I was already fumbling around.

I let the go-between company know that I was sorry, that I didn’t actually have any gray in my moustache—though I do have some on my temples. They were cool with the situation and encouraged me to move forward however I thought best—but to keep the coloring on my facial hair, if I chose to use it. The stuff I got is formulated especially for coarser hair (though a warning inside the box said to not use it on body hair; I didn’t ask whether Just for Men has a product line for, uh, anything below the neckline—or below that).

I decided to take my dark brown moustache to black and, time and skills permitting, attempt to shave my facial hair into the Batman logo.

But first, my brother-by-choice—who does have a little gray in his facial hair, even though he’s a year younger than me—agreed to get in on the action, too. My review is supposed to be my own, but as I’ll still be posting my own thoughts, I thought this would be an OK write-up. He and I bleached our hair together years ago when we were roommates, and we’ve given each other haircuts (buzz cuts, but still), and we shared a bathroom mirror for shaving for a few years during and after college. We’re old hats at this.

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You can see some gray just under his lip and to the right. His wife likes it, but he still wanted to give the coloring a try. The application is super easy and quick, and the package—he chose dark brown—even comes with disposable gloves. I mixed the coloring up in a little plastic tray (also included), he brushed it in, we waited five minutes, and he shampooed it out. That’s it.

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He liked how it turned out. The single application made the gray strands take less of a spotlight. I asked if he would have wanted a darker color or a second application, but he said no. After he and his wife left, I turned to my own moustache. I’d let more of a full beard grow after Movember ended, but I was ready to scale back again. I change my facial hair a lot anyway.

As you can see below (despite the weird lighting), I’ve got dark brown facial hair.

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I opened the box of real black and repeated all the steps from earlier in the evening. Easy. I was pretty liberal with the stuff, but there was still a bunch left in the tube, so I could do this a couple more times if I wanted. I waited five minutes, then hopped in the shower. While I didn’t go from brown to jet black, my moustache is noticeably darker. It’s serious. Like, this is a moustache that wants attention. I trimmed it up, and here’s the initial result:

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I like it. I had got some of the coloring on the skin around my moustache and wiped it off as best I could, but there are still some stains as I write this. I’m sure they will fade. That’s totally not something I would typically worry about.

With my moustache blackened like a Louisiana catfish, I started the fine tuning. My tools: two straight razors, a detail trimmer, and a copy of the Batman logo.

A few experimental passes with the detailer in, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. The more I shaved, the more I said stuff like, “I should’ve kept that part,” and “Dang it,” and “Darn it,” and “Dagnabbit.” I really do say “Dagnabbit.” My 6-year-old has started saying it, too, in addition to “Nuts!”—which I don’t say.

I did the best I could, but the Batman logo just didn’t materialize the way I hoped it would. I took a picture anyway, which I won’t post now. I think I’ll hold onto it until the inevitable Fail Week here in the Shallows. My wife, however, thinks it’s recognizably the Batman logo—but as my wife, she’s legally required to say that.

Successful logo or no, the Movember effort was an unquestionable triumph. Friends, family, and an anonymous donor helped me to raise $375; I came in seventh on my team of 50 guys. That group, Dads/Bloggers, raised a collective $15,797. Boston, the city where our group was registered, netted $1,153,223. That’s one city’s total! The final numbers for the entire effort won’t be in until after April, but there has to be millions upon millions of dollars raised in the fight against testicular cancer, prostate cancer, and mental health issues. Thanks to everyone who supported the effort in any way.

I may reward you soon with a photo of my terrible Batman moustache. I also probably have some beard/moustache coloring in your shade, so let me know if you want to try some out. Maybe I can lob a box your way.

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Waiting Week: The Internet is Out

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I find that I’m more productive, more rested, more everything good the longer I stay offline. But, as a blogger, I do need a connection. Plus, Netflix.

So when my Internet cuts out, as it often does—as it did this morning—I’m both frustrated and relieved. Like it or not, much of life these days revolves around e-mail and Facebook, posts and threads.

Between dealing with a spotty connection, cleaning up the house (ha!) in advance of an inspection by our property managers, my day job, my side job, my freelance projects, holiday preparations, and—oh, yeah—actually spending time with my family, today’s post drew the short straw. Which is why the image is entirely unrelated (except, and I just now thought of this, there’s a whole “web” theme going on), as I drew this one back in 2011 and pulled it from my reserves because I think it’s funny no matter in what year it originated.

What do you do when you can’t get online?

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