Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Rob: 12 Inexpensive Things To Do As A Family This Summer

School is out and after a long Canadian winter combined with an unseasonably cold spring, summer is finally here.  The kids are in shorts and the suburbs are alive with the sounds of lawnmowers, laughter and evenings are permeated with delicious smells coming from barbecues.  

Now that school is out Laura and I were talking about how we are going to keep the kids occupied all summer long. As a young boy, I took lots trips to amusement parks, rental cottages and several epic cross-country road trips. But honestly, it's the memories of the simple, fun, inexpensive things that we did together as a family that have really stuck with me over the years and it's those same things that I'm really looking forward to doing with my children this summer and so I present:

12 Inexpensive Things To Do As A Family This Summer

1. Go for a family walk/bike ride: Assuming the kids know how to ride their bikes or you have the proper bike trailers, a bike ride is a great way to spend time together with the kids.  If you don't have the right equipment or don't live in an area that's conducive to family cycling, a walk is also a great way to spend time together.  An after dinner walk or bike ride gives you and the kids a chance to get some exercise and get away from the television, though you may need to lure them with the promise of finding a new park. 

2. Get real old-fashioned ice cream: I know, I know it should be about healthy lifestyle but there is just something about going to a old-fashioned ice cream shop where the kids can see and pick from all the various flavours.  Why not combine the family walk or ride with ice cream and work off that delicious ice cream?

3. Take a day long road trip: Pick a destination and plan a route that allows you to interact with your kids along the way.  Growing up, there used to be all kinds of signs along the side of the road pointing out historic landmarks or places where famous people did what famous people do. I always got a kick out of seeing what General Such and Such did in this field or how a certain bridge was the first of it's kind and really want the kids to find that love of history. In today's technological world why not take a road tour and discover the history in your area. 

4. Have a water balloon fight: I think the best kind of water balloon fight is the surprise kind.  If you know the next day is going to be a hot one, spend some time the night before filling up a few buckets of water balloons for each family member.  Then, the next day when the kids are just starting to complain about how hot it is, BOOM, out comes the balloons and let the water-filled fun fly.

5. Play tag, hide-and-go-seek or similar outdoor games: I see my daughters playing tag in the park all the time.  Tag or hide-and-go-seek are great games that all kids love and we should all join in for the fun and exercise.  For the older kids, I remember playing a night time version of hide-and-seek that involved the person who was "it" capturing and turning the rest of the participants into monsters.  As a 10 year old, that game was awesome.

6. Go to a farm: Okay, if you live on a farm, this probably won't be the most exciting one but perhaps you could take your family and visit another type of farm.  For everyone else, what kid doesn't love exploring and seeing all the animals up close.  Assuming your kids aren't allergic, playing in the hayloft, collecting eggs from the chickens and feeding carrots to the horses is absolutely magical for little ones. I'm sure a quick google search will bring up any number of local farms that offer tours for families.

7. Go to a small village or town for the afternoon:  Whether you live in the suburbs like us or the heart of the city, I'm sure there is a small town or village within a short(ish) distance.  These places always have the best little shops to explore and are guaranteed to have at least one great locally owned restaurant to enjoy lunch as a family.  Most villages also have a great park and community centre for the kids to run around and perhaps even make some new friends.

8. Take your kids on a tour of your own community: Wherever you live, I'm sure there are lots of fun and interesting things to see and do.  Spend some time the night before putting together a homemade maps for the kids of all the places close by that you want to see. Then take your maps with you the next day and tick off the stops along the way.  A fun way for kids to learn about their own community.

9.Walk to the local store and buy the kids a treat:  I hope I'm not so old that when I talk about buying gummy bears for a penny people think I'm crazy.  While money doesn't stretch quite as far as it used to in the candy department, as an occasional treat take the kids to the corner store and let them pick a little assortment of 5 and 10 cents treats to take home and enjoy.

10. Have a picnic at the beach: If you live near the ocean, a lake or even a river with a nice beach, once properly sunscreened, I doubt there is a kids that won't splash and play for hours.  Why not bring a picnic lunch and make a whole day of it.  If you don't live near the water, most communities have pools which could substitute in a pinch.

11. Go to the drive-in: These aren't the easiest places to find anymore but if you have one near-by, drive-ins can be great for the whole family and if the little ones fall asleep during the first movie,
it's kind of like getting a date night.  If there aren't any drive-ins close by and you live in a large urban area, many cities are doing evening movies in the park.

12. Go for a nature walk: Maybe it sounds a bit hokey, but kids love this and with a small amount of research the night before a whole days worth of adventures can be had collecting leaves, pine cones and flowers.  As an added bonus, when the kids go back to school in the Fall, they can legitimately tell the teacher that they learned something new over the summer.

I hope these ideas have got your vacation creativity flowing because every family should have the opportunity to get out, enjoy some of that beautiful summer weather and make great memories.  It doesn't always have to cost a fortune to be a fun, family friendly activity that your kids will cherish forever.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rob: You Don't Understand the Pressure - Life of the firstborn

As I originally wrote this, our eldest was hosting her 7th birthday party; a sleepover with three of her closest friends. Pile on our 4 year old and our 20 month old and there was no doubt that the first three hours of the party were a total gong show.  

The party got me thinking about the challenges that our firstborn is going to face and the challenges that we are going to have to navigate for the first time together. As the eldest, she has no choice but to pave the way. As she gets older, situations are new to us just as they are to her. 

With our middle child, I believe we were able to avoid some of the chaos and perhaps correct some of the rookie parenting mistakes we made with our first. Certainly I was a lot less timid and much better prepared to handle to lack of sleep during the early years.  

With our littlest one, since we’d already gone through most things not just once, but twice, so far it’s more “been there, done that."  In spite of her nickname, Angry Baby, it’s actually really nice to avoid or at least be prepared for most of the standard issues and be able to watch her develop on her own terms.  Don’t get me wrong, I hold no illusions regarding our “super parenting” skills.  Rather, I like to think of it more like muscle memory; once you know the moves, it’s just going through the motions.

The birthday party also got me thinking about how our eldest has managed this past year.  She changed schools and has struggled with competing for our attention with a demanding baby and another little sister who always wants to be the centre of attention.  For the most part, I would say she did well, but the year was not without a few challenges like nightly 1st grade homework which was a struggle for me, let alone a kid who'd been up since 5:30am.

There have also been lots of positive growth and improvement. Chores and general direction were more or less followed. She found a sport that both she and Laura love which has meant some great quality time for the two of them. She has been learning to give us the time to deal with her sisters when needed.

But I think the thing that has struck me the most has been her emerging independence and growing personality.  Sometimes this was reflected in a positive manner.  Other times, not so much.  I will never, ever forget a few months ago, when tears streaming down her face she told me how I just don’t understand the pressure she’s under. I believe I had asked her to pick up a banana peel and put it in the garbage can.....

As the girls at the birthday party watched the pre-teen main character on some American Girl movie work through her angst over friendships and an apparent inability to make good French Toast, I started thinking about the upcoming challenges that will face our children as they get older.  Our eldest won't have the benefit of her siblings' experience and I know It’s been a long time since I was a teenager.  Truthfully, I'm not certain that I ever was a tweenager. (Is that even a word?)  

In talking to friends with teenage girls, I am led to understand that the years from 9 - 19 can be a wonderful, but emotion-filled time for the entire family.  I have been told to expect some tears, mostly my own and perhaps some extensive hair loss due to worry.  

For now, I’m going to do my best to look for all the wonderful positive things that come with our eldest getting older and more mature. I'll try my best to enjoy the new, hope the “you don’t understand the pressure” moments are kept to a minimum.  I'll pray to higher powers in every faith that by the time our littlest one goes through the same stages, we'll be fully prepared for whatever comes our way.

One final tidbit related to the birthday party slumber party:  Bedtime drama over whom was going to sleep next to whom went on for least 45 minutes.  Perhaps the only real reflection should have been to host only infrequent sleepovers.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Rob: A Slowpoke's Perspective on Putting in the Distances Part 2

For those of you who missed my keen insight into shorter distance running, A Slowpoke's Perspective on Putting-in the Distances Part 1. Go ahead and have a read. It's okay. The internet will wait. 

Now that everyone is fully versed on who should run, how they should run and are prepared to break PR after PR on the 5km and 10km distances, let's move on to a brief discussion on longer distances. Without further ado, I present the highly anticipated Part 2 of A Slowpoke's Perspective on Putting in the Distances.

Before starting, I should point out that there are some major differences between preparing for a 5km or even a 10km and preparing for half and full marathons. While that would seem like a statement from not just, Captain Obvious but backed by a statement from his boss; Admiral No Shit Sherlock.  However, since it's something that I don't think I took seriously enough before completing my first marathon, I felt it was important to say.

The Half Marathon

I fully realize that I am like the 108,746th person to say this, but I really like the half marathon distance.  It is long enough to be challenging but short enough that you don't need to be an elite athlete to complete one. The half takes an upfront training commitment that realistically shouldn't be ignored and while I know of several people in really good shape who completed a half with limited training, they have all admitted afterwards it was probably a bad idea.  Kind of like that time I ate an entire pizza by myself.  Adrenaline and stubbornness can make the body and mind do amazing things but usually comes with consequences.

There are lots of great half marathon training plans available online and a wide range of different running approaches that can get you successfully to the finish line.  For instance, my wife Laura, completed her first half marathon this past May using a walk/run model, while others, like me, tend to run the entire way.  There is an ongoing debate in the running community over which one is better, but it simply comes down to finding a training style that works and commit to it.

Each time I ran a half, I started out with the intention of running at least three or four times a week. This worked great right up until my long runs got over the 16km mark.  At that point I found that I needed more time to recover and ended up missing a few runs here and there.  Now granted, I wasn't really doing it to break any speed records and it was always more about finishing uninsured, but I still found it frustrating to deviate from the plan I had originally set out.

While it was much worse for the full marathon, I found that training for a half marathon meant sacrifice once the mileage started to climb.  Whether it was not having that extra drink the night before or needing extra time to recover after the 19km long run, training meant sacrifice. I think the extent of these issues decrease with the number of half marathons a person completes, the better shape they are in and the more consistently they run. Like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets.  My second half was mentally and physically much easier for me to complete.  I knew when to push the training and when to back off and let my body get some extra rest and I think I can take many of these into my next half which I'm tentatively planning for this Fall.

In my previous post I wrote about how much I enjoyed and encouraged the 5km and 10km run as something that families can do together. This could also be true of the half marathon, but likely not as something to do with your 3 year old (running stroller people aside).  I have read some wonderful stories about young adults cherishing their long runs with a parent and then completing a half or even full marathon together.  I not-so-secretly hope at least one of my girls will develop a passion for running and want to complete a half with me.  I think it would be a great way to spend time with your teenager doing something together and really connecting over the challenges.  I could really see those long runs would being a great opportunity to talk and find out what is going on in your kid's life. I've even less secretly got my eyes on running in one of those Disney Half Marathons with the girls but that's more than half a dozen years away so I suppose I shouldn't get too far ahead of myself.


Running in a full marathon is a real SOB and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. For the average everyday person like me carrying around more than a few extra pounds, attempting to complete a marathon without serious commitment and preparation is definitely a bad idea.

Marathons are long, really long, and grueling.  Even the training to complete them is tough.  I can only speak from my experience, but I had spent several years running at least twice a week, had just completed my second half before embarking on a roughly 15 week training program to prepare for the full and I still don't think I was really ready.  The longer runs beat me up to the point where I struggled to put in the regular runs.  The amount that I was trying to run affected my appetite and I honestly think I may have ended up in worse shape than when I started.  I actually think I ended up on runner's overload and kind of lost motivation at one point.  I also tried to push through a minor injury but just ended up losing a few important long runs. I think worst of all, I ended up finishing the last of my long runs in brutal Canadian winter weather only to complete the marathon in scorching Florida heat.

In the end, I finished the marathon and to be honest it really was one of the most rewarding things that I have accomplished.  After the initial rush, I don't talk about it much anymore, but I'm proud of the fact that I completed a marathon.  Sure there are lots of people who have done it, but not that many, and it honestly feels pretty good to shrug nonchalantly at a party or gathering and say, "Yeah I finished one. No big deal."  Maybe I wasn't fast and I *may* have injured my foot completing it to the point where I had to take several months off of running. But I finished and I have the medal to prove it.

For anybody considering a marathon, I would recommend taking some time and seriously consider the commitment required.  It was really hard for me with young kids.  It was even harder during holiday seasons and I had to ask my family to put things on hold or plan around my training plan.  My wife was great and supportive but I could see there were times that she was fed up with the whole process.

Again, I think that those in really good shape or who have already organized their lives around a serious commitment to fitness, would have an easier time of it. However, for average Joes like me, the recovery from your 24km through 32km long runs is significant.  It takes time to run and your body needs even more time to recover.  I'm sure the speedsters don't mind them as much, but for me those last long runs were just torture. Three to four hours, alone, running in below zero temperatures with a few energy gels, some water and the iPod led to one frozen exhausted dad who was essentially useless for the rest of the day.

The ironic thing is after all my cautioning and complaining, I keep thinking that I think I'd like to run another one.  I want another crack at 26.2 miles but this time I want to make sure I'm prepared.  I want to pick a race that ensures the training occurs at a time that's convenient for our family and I want to make sure that it doesn't put too much pressure on us.  I don't think it's going to be this year, or likely even next year, but I guess if I keep running regularly at least I'll have a base to build from if and when I decide to go for it.


One last bit before I go.  While I have no experience with Ultras, I didn't think I could finish this post without mentioning them.  Those of you who run and compete in ultra events are amazing.  I don't know how your bodies and minds do it.  Enduring the strain of the training and focused commitment to get in the kind of shape required to even compete, let alone complete these types of events.  I salute you, even if you are just a little bit crazy (especially the 100 milers).

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rob: I was going to write this heartwarming post and then....

I sat down to write this heartwarming blog post that would make dads and moms smile while remembering a similar touching moment shared with their own children....

Then the littlest one tugged hard at my pant leg and desperately needed a snack. 

Pause for crackers and cheese.

I sat down to draft a great blog post with sage-like advice that all parents, new and old, would want to incorporate into their own parenting repertoire....

Then the middle child elbowed her sister in the side over a raging doll ownership dispute requiring a "judge dad" intervention.  

Pause for adjudication and decision rendering.

I sat down to craft a beautiful piece with just the right mixture of humour, sadness and soul that it would be good enough for the best of the Chicken Soup for the Great Dads series.....

Then a wave of sickness erupted upon the house felling children like the mighty Paul Bunyan and his bull Blue clearing forest after forest in the days of old.  

Pause for mandatory disinfection and nurse duty.

I sat down to put together a blog post that would catapult me into the upper echelons of the elite daddy and mommy bloggers.  One that would make my site one of those listed in Top 10 Hot Bloggers List or 5 Must Read Blogs.....

Then someone let the dog out and she escaped to the park, resulting in two hours of searching, crying, door knocking and posse mobilizing.  

Pause for skunk spray eliminating tomato juice bath and fence building.

I sat down to write a blog post so charming and witty that it would get noticed by the Huffington Post and half a dozen publishing companies who would end up in a massive bidding war over the rights to my first epic novella....

Then a not so gentle reminder in the shape of the increasingly long Honey Do list was waved in front of my face while a child waded through the savanna of two foot tall grass in the backyard.

Pause to fire up the lawnmower, pull out the paintbrush, clean out the shed, fix the siding on the house and then call in a favor to re-fix the siding because of my "handy work."

I sat down to craft the literary masterpiece of blogs that would cause both Barbara Walters and Oprah to come out of retirement and work directly with Ellen to host a 2 hour long special dedicated to the brilliance of my writing.....

Then the sound of keys striking the keyboard was interrupted by screams that both the toilet and  sink were overflowing in two different bathrooms.

Pause for daily plunger workout, regular lecture on the principle of moderation regarding toilet paper usage and payment to the plumber for extraction of toys from sink drain.

I sat down to prepare the first draft for the blog post that would dazzle all the Hollywood executives and producers who I'm certain already follow my blog religiously, into signing me to a multi-million dollar three script deal based on the hilarious antics of a suburban dad and his wacky family....

Then one of the kids shoved six legos up her sister's nose in an in-depth experiment on nasal capacity.

Pause for three hours of Operation style tweezer work, a trip to the local hospital and a stern lecture from an unimpressed doctor on the importance of keeping everything except perhaps your finger out of your nose.

I sat down and actually wrote this post because life happen and I want to have time to live and not miss the best moments of raising a family.

Now I'm going to get the family, go exploring, have adventures and eventually, after the kids go to bed, I'll write about them because truthfully they are pretty funny as well as heartwarming and should be shared.  



Monday, June 22, 2015

Rob: A Slowpoke's Perspective on Putting in the Distances Part 1

I’m fairly new to the blogging scene and have thus far focused mostly on family related posts. However, I have read lots of great race reviews over the years and I’ve also gotten sucked into reading more than a few running blogs. As I've mentioned in previous posts, running is an emerging passion of mine and I think my complete and unabashed mediocrity gives me a unique perspective.    

I’m not fast.  In fact, I am perhaps the antithesis of fast. In my previous post on The Clydesdale Effect, I provided my interpretation of my heavy horse-like running gait that often leaves me wheezing like an 100 year old man who has just walked up 10 flights of stairs.

Joking aside, I have spent a significant amount of time pounding the pavement over the past few years and have run in my fair share of races including 5ks, 10Ks, 5 milers, 10 milers, two half-marathons and one marathon despite my snail pace.  

While I’m no technical expert and am someone who has never really taken the time to really understand the mechanics of efficient running, I think I’ve grasped the one foot in front of the other basics.  I understand the concepts of pace, tempo runs, LSDs and even the dreaded FARTLEK. Although I will admit I’m a fuzzy on that last one. I feel as though I have spent enough time on the road to give some supportive advice on various aspects of the of the sport for the amateur runner as well as offer suggestions on how to turn running into a family activity.  

A few things to note before we get too far:

If you are a regular runner, please don't judge me too harshly.  I mean no harm and really am in awe of your running prowess.

I am not now, nor will I ever be a great runner.  The intent here is not to teach or coach.  Rather, I want to provide my perspective as someone who has probably done almost everything wrong in training for races. 

The 5K

These races are great for everyone.  It’s an awesome distance for beginners and an even better race to run with the family.  Most kids five and older can handle the distance making it a wonderful way to spend time together as a family in a healthy and fun way.  Who knows maybe you’ll unlock a passion for the sport in one of your little ones and find a new running mate.

While there are the usual jack rabbits in every 5K I have ever run who finish before I even cross the start line, it is the kind of distance where you can leave it all out there.  It’s short enough that, assuming you have been running on a semi-regular basis or are in good shape from other activities, you don’t really need to worry about pace.  You can leave it all on the track and burn rubber.  In my case that's kind of like watching a bear chasing something on the Nature Channel: You’re both shocked that something so large and hairy can move that quickly and a little disturbed all at the same time.

As a non-race training distance, for those who only run occasionally and aren’t really into serious training for any races at the moment, I think it’s the perfect going out for a run distance. Long enough that you feel like you’ve gotten a decent cardio workout while not eating into too much of your day either.  As a father of three kids who works full time, I’ve got to fit the runs in.  Usually this means early in the morning or between meetings at the office which makes the 5km distance perfect for me.  I know there are evening runners out there but as a habitual early bird, unless I’m putting in "serious" training for a longer distance race, I’m too pooped for post sundown runs most of the time.

The 10K

I know lots of people run 10km races all the time and while I think anyone over 10 and under 25 years old can likely finish one without putting in too much training, I would consider tackling a 5km run and building up a bit of a base first. For old farts like me, those who aren't in good shape or haven't had any previous running experience 10km can be a looong run.  I’m not saying you can’t do it but if you aren’t going to enjoy it or are risking injury or worse, why bother without the proper training? Start slowly and work your way up to the distance.  That way when you actually run the race, it’ll be a snap.  

As a family race activity, my kids are a bit too young to run this distance with me but I can certainly envision a day when we might run one or two of these together.

Once you are in full on training mode for longer races like the half or even the full, I found the 10km training run was my absolute favorite.  After running 18km, 20km or even 32km long runs for hours at a time, the 10km was perfect.  Long enough to be a substantial workout, but short enough that unless it was blazing hot, you didn’t need to bring water.  It's the Saturday morning distance that doesn't keep you out too long and doesn't burn you out for the rest of the day like some of those longer distances.

Maybe it’s just me, but I also found it was my push it distance during half or full training.  For me, the 10km run became the distance where I usually found my groove, my zone, my mojo. It's long enough that you need to think a little about pace, but short enough that if you’ve got your jam that day you can throw caution to the wind and give it.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I'll provide some truly mediocre tips and tricks on how to prepare for and complete a half and full marathon and be the envy of all your non-running friends.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Rob: 7 Things All Fathers Should Do On Father's Day

I wrote a post the other day about what Father's Day means to me. Rob: What Father's Day Means To Me  It was an emotional writing exercise for me and I found it extremely cathartic putting pen to paper.  I really enjoyed my walk down memory lane and thinking about all the wonderful times I have spent with my own father.  I also really enjoyed thinking about some of the great things that I have done with my kids and the great experiences yet to come.

However, I also made several broad, grandiose statements about how I didn't care about the actual holiday and that it wasn't about the day itself. Rather, it was that Father's Day is a symbol to spend more time with your family, reflect on our kids, reflect on our fathers, etc..

Don't worry, I still feel the same way but that post has got me thinking about what a dad should do on Father's Day.  While they are aren't big things, I think they are important, so without further ado, I present:

7 Things All Fathers Should Do On Father's Day  

1. At the very least call your dad:  I know it's not always possible to take time out on Father's Day and visit with your father.  Sometimes fathers and sons are separated by distance and sometimes they have drifted apart for other reasons and likely spending time with our own kids will inevitably take precedence.  However, I also know for those of us who are lucky enough to still have a father in our lives, the least we can do is take a few minutes and give him a call.  Even if you're not close, I'm sure he'll appreciate it.

2. Spend some time with your kids: Sounds pretty simple right?  Unfortunately all I have heard on the radio and seen on TV in the past week are dads hosts talking about getting away from their kids. Everyone talks about going golfing or out with the guys and I'm certainly not saying you shouldn't do those things.  Rather, I'm just saying that if you can, take some time out of your day and do something with the kids.  It doesn't have to be fancy or even expensive.  9 times out of 10 just spending time with them is enough although I don't really recommend sitting around and watching TV all day.

3. Start your day right:  I'm not sure what your vision of the perfect start to a day is.  Heck, I'm not even sure what my perfect start to the day is, but I do know Father's Day is probably the one day in the entire year where at least for the first couple of hours, you get to call the shots.  Spend a bit of time and come up with something that will put you in a great mood from the moment you open your eyes.

4. Thank your wife or partner: Sounds stupid right, but for those lucky enough to have someone special in our lives, sharing our parenting journey, even on our special day, I think it's worth telling them how important they are to us.  I know my journey as a father would be infinitely harder and a lot less enjoyable without my wife walking through it with me.

5. Do something that you want to do (within reason): I know just a few paragraphs above I was questioning the golfing or going out with the buddies concepts so I'm not talking about going on an 8 hour fishing trip. Rather, is there something that you don't often get the chance to do or do you have a favorite dish that you never eat? Why not take advantage and do something special together with the entire family.

6. Call your dad: It's worth saying twice.

7. Take a few minutes for a friend: What??? Let me explain. I think most of us know someone who has lost their father or even children and could use some support. I honestly think one of my favorite Father's Day moments was when we invited a good family friend who had lost his father to join us for an activity with my dad, my brother and I.  I could tell that it meant a lot to him and frankly, the memory has really stuck with me so take a few minutes and reach out to someone who might not be having the best Father's Day.  I'm sure you won't regret it.    

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rob: What Father's Day Means To Me

I’m not sure about the other dads out there, but around my house Father’s Day has never really gotten a whole lot of hype.  Growing up, I don’t remember putting on any ticker-tape parades for my dad either.  As a young child I’m sure I brought home the obligatory clay ashtray even though my dad didn’t smoke.  Can you imagine how incredibly inappropriate that would be as a class project today?

I have some hazy memories of graduating from school crafts to the good old tie and coffee mug gift and finally on to the current state with my own dad: A card and sometimes a trip to the movies during the month of June. 

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a pity party. I’m not trying to drum up sympathy for my poor neglected father and I’m certainly not trying a passive aggressive approach to get my wife to buy me that motorcycle I keep talking about.  However, I’m also not saying she shouldn’t do that….

Rather, now that I’m a seasoned father of three, I was thinking about Father’s Day and what it actually means to me.  I’m sure it means something different to each and every one of us. I’m also certain those feelings have been shaped and moulded by our experiences with our own fathers and children.  

I think, like many sons, I have often taken my father for granted.  When people ask me to describe my dad, I mostly talk about his interest in music, his passion for collecting art and my appreciation for the almost 50 years of marriage between he and my mom.  

What I don’t often do, is talk about all the wonderful things that my dad has done for me over the years.  I don’t take the time to tell people how much I have been influenced by many of the small things that my father and I have done together since I was a little boy.  Things that I doubt he even realizes like watching old wartime documentaries, going canoeing in Algonquin Park, sharing the best chicken wings in town at the local bar, shoveling the driveway together with him and my brother, going to McDonalds after Saturday morning hockey games and watching the original Star Trek reruns.  These things have shaped me and evolved into a love of history that comes from him in spite of my mother’s Degree in History and perhaps an unhealthy appreciation for all kinds of science fiction. Things like my dry, sarcastic, quirky sense of humour that I have come to appreciate more and more everyday (as seen in this shot from my wedding).

I also look at my own children and think about how I need to be more patient, more understanding and spend more time with them.  How I need to take the time to listen to them and hope that I can guide them into developing mutual passions that they'll want to share with me.  I want them to look forward to spending time with me and not just on Father’s Day.

When I was tucking my eldest daughter into bed the other night she was telling me that she was making me a Father’s Day present at school.  She was so excited and we had a wonderful conversation about how much we love each other.  Apparently it’s two times infinity plus one. Now, I would appreciate anything that she made for me but I think what I appreciate the most was the look in her eyes when we talked about the gift to come.

I think for me, Father’s Day has actually developed several meanings.  It’s an opportunity to reflect on those special moments that we've had with our fathers.  To really and truly appreciate the help and influence our dads have had on our lives.  It’s also an opportunity to give our children a chance to do and feel the same about us while providing us with a chance to appreciate the magic that is our kids.

For me, Father’s Day is not about the gifts, although again, I am not saying I don’t accept and appreciate them. Hint: motorcycle.  

In my world, Father’s Day isn’t about going golfing with the guys or getting out of the house for the day.  It’s not even about the actual day.  Rather, the important thing for me is what Father’s Day symbolizes: The special bond between fathers and their children and an opportunity to take the time to reflect on those special memories.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Rob: I am middle aged, dadbod athlete: Hear Me Roar!

I like sports.  I like team sports and individual sports.  I do struggle a bit with baseball and soccer, mostly because I suck at both. However, as a spectator, I do have a strong appreciation for their valium-like ability to put me into a deep comatose napping state.

As every other good Canadian kid, I grew up playing hockey; on the ice in the winter and on the road in the summer.  I also really liked individual sports like tennis and badminton.  In high school, I played several organized sports like football and basketball until the lure of girls, partying and money to be made at part-time jobs side-tracked me.  I also picked up a pack-a-day smoking habit that followed me off and on for the next 20 years.

For the record, I have never been a slender fellow, but throughout the latter part of my teenage years, my entire twenties, and into my early thirties, I never bothered too much with the scale. If I put on too much weight, I worked more and smoked more, replaced food with coffee and more times than not a decidedly unhealthy night life.  All of which, shockingly, did a great job of taking off or at the very least maintaining my “dadbod” weight and physique.

Once Laura and I made the decision to have kids, I felt I needed to make a number of significant lifestyle changes.  I didn’t want them to grow up in a house with a smoker and I also wanted a job that would allow me to spend more time with the kids.  So, I quit smoking cold turkey and found an office job with hours that were better suited to the suburban dad. Neither was quite as easy as that sentence may have lead you to believe, but perhaps those are topics for another day.

Needless to say, cigarettes were mostly replaced with food, and extensive walking on the job was replaced with a sitting on my rear office job lifestyle.  I ballooned up to an unhealthy weight and for the past seven years have spent a lot of time going up and down the scale and I mean way up and down the scale - Like 100lbs swings! 
Note: This isn’t a post about body image and it’s not a post about weight loss or weight gain.  Rather, I’m trying (hopefully with some success) to give you a sense of who I am and how I’ve gotten to this exact place in my life.

Once I quit smoking, something crazy happened - I slowly started to find myself wanting to exercise again.  It is possible that some of that sense of urgency may have stemmed from the 3 young children IN the house creating a burning desire to get OUT of the house, but nevertheless, I started taking some of those little steps towards getting back in shape by joining a gym, a Friday night hockey league and jogging on a semi-regular basis.  

While I have come to enjoy each of these activities, sometimes as a means to get healthier other times as an exit strategy, I have also come to realize that the things you could do as a free-wheeling teenager become so much harder to do as a middle-aged man since I don’t recover as quickly as I once did. Once upon a time, many years ago, I could shake it off, sleep it off, or even perhaps drink it off.  Nowadays I need ice, heat, bed and likely a good dose of Advil to get over the hurt.

Given my schedule and demands both at work and at home, I have also come to realize the importance of finding the activities that you really like and making time to fit those in. 

Yes it’s about getting exercise, but it’s also about finding the right balance and the right mix.  For example, the past three years I have played hockey on Friday nights.  It’s late but it’s a good group of guys and the skill level is right for me.  While there are a few really good players they are also very accepting of beginners or those just getting back into the sport after a long breaks.  However, last year I was invited to play in an organized Over 40 league that play on Wednesday nights.  Also a good group of guys but a much higher skill level.  In fact, a bit beyond my current ability and let’s face it, I’m not likely going to get much better - I think I’ve peaked skill-wise when it comes to my hockey awesomeness. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can play both and continue to run at least a couple times a week so I have to make a choice.  

As Laura can attest, I am useless on most Saturdays if I play on Friday night.  Especially if I go for a pint. In a house like mine where getting up at 6:30am is considered sleeping in, after a Friday night playing hockey, I can hardly function and have zero patience.  Basically, I'm a total dill-hole the next day.  I’m leaning towards cutting out Fridays on a regular basis and going occasionally when I know Saturday responsibilities are limited, but haven’t made a final decision yet.

What I have come to understand is that when Laura and I aren’t renovating or dealing with a newborn (both of these activities seem to happen in my world with an alarming frequency), however poorly or inefficiently done, I need to find time to get my sweat on.  I just have to understand that I only have so much time and I’m also going to have to plan extra time for recovery.

I'm not likely to get drafted to the NHL this year.  For some reason,  teams just aren't into drafting slightly rotund guys with limited skills.  I've also begrudgingly accepted that my running a consistent 7:00ish minute per kilometer pace is unlikely to qualify me for Boston. 

In fact, I think I have even come to embrace my dadbod. I have accepted that I am never going to get a six-pack or ripped arms and that's okay.  I think the important thing for me is that I have found several activities that I like doing and are good for me; mind, body and soul.  I know I'm never going to be an elite athlete.  Heck, I know I'm never going to much more than a mediocre athlete but I try hard, its fun, gets me moving, and it's certainly better than smoking a pack a day.      

Monday, June 15, 2015

Laura: Hurricane Half Marathon

Tune in to hear more about my experience at the Pelee Island Winery Half Marathon on the RunningFlat Radio Show on Tuesday, June 16 at 7PM.

About this time last year, I succumbed to years of peer pressure and registered for my first half marathon. More specifically, the Pelee Island Winery Half Marathon. A few of my girlfriends had run it before and raved about their experience. It's not about the run, they said. It's the weekend of bonding, the island vibe, and the wine at the finish line.

This year, 14 of my favourite ladies from Ottawa headed out at the crack of dawn on a sunny Friday morning ready for 4 days away from the hustle and bustle of suburban life. We had a day of travel ahead of us - 9 hours of driving followed by a 1.5 hour ferry ride to the island. We jumped from rest stop to rest stop all the way from Ottawa to Leamington. We made great time and even had time to stop in for a drink before boarding the ferry. As you might expect from a group of suburban ladies and no kids around, this was where the party started. The fact that the ferry sold wine and Caesars was the icing on the cake!

We settled in quickly upon arrival and headed over to the pub to grab a bite to eat followed by a little bonfire and a few too many glasses of wine.

Saturday morning, most of us headed a few driveways over to rent bikes for the day. Given that the circumference of the island was pretty close to the 21.1kms we would be running the next day, a bike was the perfect vehicle to explore the island. We headed late morning and I couldn't get over just how free I felt, riding along the shore with no tiny humans following behind. About 5kms down the road we stopped in at the most amazing little bakery for lunch. I am still salivating over the delicious wraps, salads, and baked goodies they had. By the time we got back, most of us were happy to sneak in a nap, have glass or two of wine (it was on our training plan, afterall!), and hit the hay early to be in good shape for the run the next day.

Sunday morning arrived and while we had all been checking the weather leading up to this day, none of us were prepared for the incredible wind and rain that greeted us as we woke up and started our pre-race rituals. We all kept the wheels in motion with many glances out the window and nervous laughs asking ourselves "are we really going to do this?" Despite the raging weather, at 9:45 we found ourselves dressed and ready to go, covered in makeshift ponchos that we made out of a box of garbage bags we found in our little cottage.

As we stepped out the door to walk to the start line only a couple hundred feet away, the butterflies were fluttering around and the excitement was brewing. We were not the only lunatics ready to run in this monsoon. There was a small herd of runners smiling, jumping, and ready to go. At 10am, the start gun went off and the race had begun.

Now I could go on and describe how the run felt, kilometer to kilometer, but I really don't think my words would do it justice. Each kilometer passed in a blur of 50 mph winds, rain, and hail coming off the Great Lake. I kept waiting for the race organizer to drive by and tell us they were shutting it down. It wasn't until about the 6k mark that I accepted the reality that we were really going to do this. 

Head down and the most encouraging run buddy by my side, we trudged through puddles and mud for 21.1 kilometres and crossed the finish line soaking wet and full of smiles. We were greeted by the rest of our ladies and a post-race buffet fit for a queen, not to mention the flowing wine and live music. We capped off the day eating, drinking, crying, and dancing, celebrating victories for every single runner who ran the worst and the best half marathon ever.

During the race, I felt the need to document just how crazy this half marathon idea really was so I took a few videos at various milestones. I've put them all together here to give you a glimpse into our experience.

Rob: Three is the new two

I know it may seem crazy, but when Laura and I decided to have kids, the conversation immediately jumped to having a larger family.  No, not like the Duggers or Kate Plus 8, but we were both drawn to the number three. Having both come from 2 kid families, this would be a new adventure!
At the time, I kind of remember a number of articles going around the internet about how having three children was the new “in thing”.  Three was the new two for the nuclear family and that lots and lot of suburbanite parents like us were choosing to have larger families. Now, I don’t really think this played much into our decision making, but rather I think we had both seen how close larger families seemed to be and I was certainly struck by the caring and time that plus-sized families seemed to make for one another.
Don’t get me wrong, we are close with both of our families. We certainly spend lots of time juggling schedules to ensure grandparents on either side are given sufficient face time with the kids. Sometimes this means that our kids are spoiled rotten (and not always in the good way) like this past weekend when Cate got to celebrate her birthday three times.
I can also say with 100% certainty that whenever we have needed them, our parents and siblings have been there for us. I really appreciated my brother helping us to demo the basement last year and my father coming to help me pull apart and load a full sized play structure in our minivan.  It really is amazing how much crap you can shove in a minivan. 
I also remember a number of people that I can only now describe as truly evil, telling me what’s one more when we were rocking it with our first two. They said: “Three is easy! You’re already know what to do with babies and the older ones are getting to an age where they can help out around the house.” Perhaps there is some miracle family living out there, who I can only assume own some sort of unicorn farm, dress in matching overalls and sing show tunes from the Sound of Music. But of course, that is not our house. 
In my humble opinion, those people don’t exist and the folks who told us having another kid would be easy are just plain wrong.  From the day our littlest one arrived, we have been plunged into a prolonged period of pure, unadulterated chaos. Our house is a gong show.  It is like going into a fun house, a house of horrors and a dysfunctional daycare all at the same time.  It’s a swirling kaleidoscope of laughter, tears, anger, mess, drama, joy and exhaustion.  
We have come to refer to the period of time from when Angry Baby, as we refer to her, was born until her first birthday as the Year From Hell.  It started 20 minutes into her young life when a heart complication forced a trip to the local children’s hospital.  Thankfully after a few scary hours and 5 days in the NICU, the great doctors and nurses were able to get everything under control.  However, this event seemed to be the starting point for months and months of sick kids, sibling rivalry, work stress and perhaps the most miserable Canadian winter I can remember.     
Those same evil people kept saying, “Just ride it out! Once they all get a bit older things will get easier.”  I am begrudgingly willing to admit that more recently I have started to see a few glimmering lights at the end of the tunnel.  It does seem to be getting a bit easier to do a few of the things that used to seem so simple when we only had two kids, like go to the grocery store.  Or perhaps, I have just started to get numb to the chaos.  I will admit our house is certainly not the quietest one on the block and it's no surprise to get the stink eye when we go out to a restaurant for dinner. 
When I think of those happy, close-knit larger families I had envisioned ours being, I am starting to realize that most of the encouragement came from families whose children were grown and had left the nest long ago. I have no idea if they went through the same prolonged little kid hurricane that we are experiencing and if I ask their parents, most seem to have a vague and fuzzy recollection of the younger years.  I suspect this to be some sort of coping mechanism that I refer to as “Rose Coloured Memory Syndrome”.  
While I don’t presume to know for those multiples, for us, it’s the age gaps between the kids driving a lot of the family friction.  The seven year old isn’t interested in doing the things the baby can do.  The four year old wants to do everything the seven year old does but the seven year old wants mostly nothing to do with the four year old.  Finding an activity that we all want to do is something akin to find that matching sock in the laundry: You know it’s there but just can’t seem to find it and the more you look the more frustrated you get and the more laundry ends up piled up on the bed. In the end you just put on two different socks because it’s easier.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love my kids.  I even secretly kind of love the chaos. We made a conscious decision to have three kids which I don’t regret for even one minute.  I am however, going to continue to hold a deep seed grudge against those who said it was going to be easy while looking enviously at those Von Trappe families crooning down the highway in their stylish station wagons without a care in the world.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Rob: Thank God Kids Love Farts

I think it’s extremely important that I start by stating that this post will not solely be consumed with exploring flatulence.  Yes, that will certainly form the basis of it, but I think in some sense what I really want to discuss is the joy and pleasure that kids (and the rest of us) get from the simple everyday things that most of us take for granted.  It’s that unbridled, true belly laughter that your kids get when someone cuts the cheese or falls for the old “pull my finger” gag that makes me smile.
I think that at a certain point most of us start to take the humour in farting for granted. Or at very least, learn to keep our toots confined to the inner sanctum of the bathroom. I am finding that as I move through my late thirties, passing gas in public just doesn't seem to be as acceptable as it was in kindergarten. Lucky for me, I do have a good friend that has a true appreciation for some good old butt thunder.  I feel that I cannot in good conscience write a post about farts without mentioning her. – Sorry Katie, but I know how indiscriminate your love of gas really is.  
I grew up in a house of primarily men but now live with all women - wife, three young girls, and heck, even the dog is a girl - and I can certainly say that I am still adjusting to the how, at least in my house, the interests and behaviours of little girls are different that those of little boys.  While it would make no difference to me if they weren’t, my girls are true girly girls, especially the middle one.  They love dancing dresses and dolls and they do not much care for bugs and “icky” gross things. This has lead me to believe that once they reach a certain age they would also start to find flatulence gross.  
Oddly enough, even with my eldest turning 7 this weekend, all three girls still think that backdoor trumpet solos are hilariously awesome. They love talking about them, they love hearing them (their own and others) and they cackle with real, genuine laughter whenever someone lets a ripper go.
 I’m sure you’re asking yourself, really how much laughter are you talking about?  Well let me tell you this, many years ago, a very wise woman (my grandmother) gave me some sage fart-related advice that I still follow to this day.  At 12 years old, I was with my grandmother and we were driving to her cottage.  I really had to let one fly but had reached the age where I knew that it probably wasn’t using the best manners to fart in a car in the middle of the summer and definitely not the best idea with all the windows rolled up (her car did not have power windows).  So I’m sitting there I guess looking incredibly uncomfortable and my grandmother looks at me, somehow knows right away what the problem is and with a deadly serious face says, “Rob, when you have to fart, just let it go.  It is not healthy to keep those bottled up.  Everybody farts.”  
With that in mind, I can assure you that certainly say there is a plethora of flatulence in my house. Well, that is from everyone but my wife.  
Every parent will agree that babies fart a lot and don’t get me wrong, I totally get that they have no real control over bodily functions but that doesn’t really make it any less funny. There is nothing quite as amusing as a 7lb tiny human letting out a long rumbling ripper. To this day, the big kids howl when the little one is cutting loose.

I can't say that the big kids are frequent farters but they are big, big fans of the “pull my finger” game and if you remember my grandmother’s advice from above, I bring that special brand of laughter whenever I can.
In fact it's not just me and the kids, the dog farts a lot too. Not only does she fart often but they are the worst smelling things I have ever smelled and about this, I am truly not joking.  They sneak up on you and it’s like you all of a sudden get hit by this blast of putrid, nasty dog fart.  We have tried to change foods, we have cut out the people treats, we have tried everything, but that dog can totally clear a room with one silent bum bomb.
A happy house filled with laughter is really what I think living the (suburban) dream is all about and while I can’t say that our house is the best smelling one on the block, I can definitely say, thanks to farts that we have lots and lots and lots of laughs. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Rob: The Clydesdale Effect

About four years ago and during a downward swing on the scale, I decided that I would try running; and by running I really meant jogging; and by jogging, I really meant moving forward faster than walking - most of the time. 
When people describe elite runners you often hear them compared to a gazelle.  They are lean, they are graceful and move with a sense of purpose and efficiency. 
I am more like a Clydesdale: There is a lot of up and down motion (trotting or possibly cantering), mixed with snorting, heavy breathing, sweat flying off my body like rain drops in a monsoon and the longer I run, an increasing amount of swaying like a drunken college kid trying to walk home from the bar. 
Combine my movements with a heavyset physique I like to think of as a brick shithouse on short but wide, muscular legs and a shaggy mane of brown hair ( and more recently a beard) and voila: Clydesdale.
It’s not pretty, or frankly even efficient, but I’ve moved to the stage in my life where I don’t really give a crap what people think about me and I’m not doing it to impress anyone or break any speed records.
When I started, I had a cotton t-shirt, shorts and a pair of cross-trainer shoes that I had bought when I decided to play squash with my brother on a semi-regular basis (my squash career was short and uneventful) however, I found I had a real passion for running.  I know some runners like the companionship of running with a buddy and the comradery in races, but I like the solitude.  I really enjoy getting out there and huffing and puffing my way down the road looking like the wolf trying to blow down a house, all red faced, listening to some tunes and observing the rest of the world.
Since the start of my running career, I have ran 5kms and 10kms, several half-marathons and even one eventful marathon in a very hot Walt Disney World.  I really have tried to be faithful to running and follow a schedule however, I seem to go in spurts and frankly with three kids, a fulltime job and a somewhat unhealthy addiction to home renovation projects (in the past year and a half we have reno’d our kitchen and basement not once but twice due to a flood), running seems to be the first thing on the chopping block.
Additionally and I’ll level with you, ever since running my last long run (4 hours) for that marathon I mentioned above in  -22C weather in December of 2012 in a snow storm, I have become more of a fair weather runner.  I don’t mind running in the rain and I don’t hate the heat or the windy day or even running at night but cold runs are out. 
However, this past winter my wife decided we should buy a treadmill to help her train for a crazy half-marathon she ran in May (Her first! Way to go honey!!).   I always found the treadmill at the gym super boring and really hated when you went all the way there only to find half of them were out of order and the other half were in use but for some reason have really liked using ours.  We have it set up in the basement, right in front of the TV and I find one Netflix episode of something light (42 minutes) is just about the length of time that I want to run.
My office has also recently opened up some change rooms complete with showers so I have been taking advantage of getting a run in about twice a week there so that it doesn’t eat into my home time.
All this to say that I’m on an upswing in running and trying to work my way to a downswing on the scale and I’ll leave you with a few random thoughts related to running:

1. There is nothing quite like that day when you drag yourself out to go for a run, not really in the mood and it turns out awesome. I won't say I run like the wind because unless Clydesdales are seen as the windy breed of horse, I will never be know as a fast runner, but rather I hit that groove, that zen-like state when everything else just fades into the background.

2. I have nothing but admiration for those who train hard, have that natural genetic shape or size or structure to run fast for sustained periods of time. However, there is nothing worse that when you're out plodding along and wave after wave of Bug Bunny runners blow past you with an obligatory smile and a wave. I know they mean well and in all reality are probably thinking to themselves: "Good for that guy getting out there ---he doesn't look so good---is my CPR certificate up to date--seriously, he does not look good." 

3. Running isn't for everybody. Those who like it, probably love it and those who don't actually probably hate it. Those who say they are indifferent to running are likely lying and actually either love it or hate it. However, if you haven't tried it in a while and need a break from your hectic life, maybe it's time to get your shoes on and go for a run.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Rob: A**hats and my problem with swearing around the kids

I fully realize that I have read several similar blog posts about this topic recently but like a group of parents sitting around in the suburbs having a few drinks, I wanted to tell my own version of the story.  Be prepared that I have no lightbulb illuminating, sage parenting advice to impart here.  Rather, a tale of my own, ongoing poor judgement and the inevitable consequences.

So I have a problem.  It’s not what I would define as a serious problem but it’s a problem nonetheless.  I am a chronic “cusser ”. As such, I don’t really seem to have much of a filter. Hell, if I’m truly honest I have no filter at all.  I’ve had this problem as long as I can remember and I think at this stage of my life I’ve come to accept that I am unlikely to change.
I read an article a few years ago that said swearing in public, and even at the office, can instill other's confidence in you.  Apparently, people who swear  (assuming this is in the PG sense with the odd F bomb, as opposed to the X rated sense--use your imagination folks), are seen as comfortable, confident and open by those around them.  A person who is not afraid to cuss in public is a person you can trust!  

Well, while I had always sworn a lot in private and around friends, I took that article to heart and ever since have been dropping nuggets of juicy curse words every chance I get.  I swear at the office, in meetings, around the house and even in front of my 91 year old grandmother. It shows I’m confident and open, right?

However, I will also admit that as someone with three young kids, I have come to realize that they are little sponges that soak up everything around them and perhaps unleashing a string of Alphabet Swear Soup on a regular basis could have some fire consequences.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done it and will do it again, but rather, I recognise the value in practicing some level of restraint. 

My motto has always been that PG language makes it acceptable and is usually okay even in front of the kids and with that in mind, somehow I came up with a mental list of what I refer to as “Lite Swears”.  Crap is okay.  D-bag, D-canoe, D-nozzle, the occasional F or SH bombs (but only if you are really mad or hurt) are also okay but must be followed with a stern look and an obligatory comment about how those are adult words and not for kids.

But, my all-time personal favorite curse word is Asshat.  I really feel that it has the appropriate level of funny, mixed with just a touch of crude.  Asshat, in my vocabulary, is super versatile and can be used in almost any bad behaviour context.  For example: “Honey, stop being such as Asshat and get that Barbie doll’s hand out of your sister’s nose” or “Did you see what a total Asshat that guy driving in front of us is being? What a D-canoe”.

I must have used that word at least twice a day for years until one day I came downstairs and caught my eldest sternly lecturing her baby sister at the dinner table about how she was being a total Asshat for not eating her Cheerios.  When I tried to intervene and calmly explain that Asshat was a word only for adults, I got the following response: “Dad…what do you want from me? She was being a total Asshat.”  In the meantime, my middle daughter (2 at the time) was dancing around in a circle in the background singing the Asshat Song she had just made up. 

It goes something like this:
 Asshat, Asshat, Asshat,

 Asshat, Asshat, Asshat

Asshat, Asshat, Asshat (giggle, giggle)   

I kind of hate to admit it, but the song was catchy and my eldest was right, the baby was being a total Asshat.  I would like to say it was a super parenting moment and either I scolded them or taught them some wondrous lesson about respecting others, blah, blah, blah, but truth be told, I laughed my ass off and tell this same story all the time to other parents.

Bottom line, am I going to stop swearing even if it’s just in front of the kids? Nope.

Am I at least going to tone it down when they are around?  I doubt it, but I will commit to continuing to keep it to the PG level and I'm patiently waiting to see when they will drop the A-bomb next.