Daddy Dynamic

Daddy Dynamic - All the Posts

ANCHORAGE DAD OF three, Chris Paoli, considers the dynamics of being a dynamic man of the house - dad to his children, David, Joseph and Isabella, and husband to his wife, Jorie. It took him a while to warm up to the "Stay-at-home Dad" label, but he's getting there. Join him on this journey...

February, 2011

  • My Defining Daddy Moment - A candid, emotional first post on how Chris' fathers helped make him into the dad he is today.

March, 2011

April, 2011

  • Pancake Art 101 - The kids' favorite cartoon characters join them for breakfast. Then get eaten.
  • Cars, Character & the Pinewood Derby - "...the point of the Pinewood Derby isn’t a contest to see who can build the fastest car, it’s about building a bond between father and son and building character."
  • Om - Finding peace and harmony after the stress of three kids screaming, yelling, crying at once.
  • Alaska Summer: Green Means Go! - Relishing the culture and outdoors of being an Alaskan family in the summertime. 

May, 2011

  • Wonders of the Anchorage Museum - Chris takes the 3 kiddos to the Imaginarium where they all find something to love.
  • The Gift of Grandparents - Those beautiful memories of spending summer vacations with grandma and grandpa.
  • The Classroom in the Backyard - Garden, wood pile and more - the backyard is a good place for learning skills and work ethic.
  • Subsistence & the City - "...we are the picture perfect example of an Alaskan Family living in the 'Big Village' of Anchorage, with one foot in our fast-paced city life, and the other foot trying to keep a toe-hold on our cultural subsistence life of hunting, fishing and gathering."

Daddy Dynamic: Subsistence and the City

Merriam-Webster defines for us the word, “subsistence”, as it pertains to Alaskans as :” means of subsisting: as a : the minimum (as of food and shelter) necessary to support life b : a source or means of obtaining the necessities of life”

Alaska Native Peoples exemplify what the dictionary strives to define. They obtain their food, shelter, and clothing from the land. The land provides everything they need to sustain their lives, their existence.

In my mind, the word “subsistence” conjures images like an Iñupiaq hunter waiting for hours poised over an air hole ready to strike a seal (oogruk) with his harpoon, or a whaling crew hunting bowhead. I think grandmothers and grandchildren gathering eggs from migratory waterfowl in woven grass baskets.

I think of the Athabaskan families on the Yukon River harvesting fish from their weir and putting up fish for the winter. I think of Athabaskans hunters in moose hide mukluks on snowshoes hunting hares.

I am always comparing my life to that of a subsistence culture, because that is what I have always gravitated towards, and the life I value most. Unfortunately, the life I desire is not the life I lead.

Our family is not the poster-child for the subsistence lifestyle. However, we are the picture perfect example of an Alaskan Family living in the “Big Village” of Anchorage, with one foot in our fast-paced city life, and the other foot trying to keep a toe-hold on our cultural subsistence life of hunting, fishing and gathering.

Life in Anchorage is like that. Our “Big Wild Life” lies on the fringe of wilderness and concrete and we do everything we can to preserve our traditions, but unfortunately our life does not center on a subsistence lifestyle. We do what many families do, and we supplement our subsistence lifestyle with our Safeway lifestyle, or vise-versa, depending on your point of view.

My wife is Iñupiaq Eskimo (Unalakleet, AK). She works for a non-profit corporation that works to advance Alaska Natives through social, economic, and educational means. Though she Alaska Native herself, she works in downtown Anchorage. It’s hard for her to find the traditional foods she loves like herring eggs, salmon strips, and her grandmother’s caribou stew.

Though Jorie is Iñupiaq, she has spent her entire life living in Anchorage aside from a few summers spent in Unalakleet, and at her grandparent’s cabin on the Unalakleet River. She only possesses relics of information passed on to her from her mother, uncles, and grandparents.

Living a subsistence lifestyle takes knowledge and skill. Nearly everything I know about hunting, fishing, and gathering edible plants, I have learned on my own by studying, talking to people, and trial-and error. Hunting, fishing and gathering in Alaska is different than it is in Michigan where I grew up.

The challenges of new species, terrain and climate prove difficult and much of the time I am not successful hunting moose or caribou, but I keep trying. Even so, I pass on things that I have learned about hunting, fishing and wild plants to my children and even my wife. It’s really hard to teach your children something you don’t know yourself. Subsistence is no exception.

Preserving your fish and game, and plants is also hard work. It takes a lot of time to prepare fish to be canned, dried, smoked, frozen, and pickled. It takes time to butcher game meat into steaks and roasts, grind it for hamburgers and sausage.

Because of the time commitment, I find very difficult to balance with our lifestyle here in the city. Most of the time, the demands of our life in town with work, school, extracurricular functions, and child-rearing, take precedence over subsistence.

Still, we strive to do what we can. Though we missed gathering fiddle head ferns, and Devil’s Club buds this year, there are still plenty of other opportunities for gathering this year. Morel mushrooms will be out in just a couple of weeks, and Shaggy Manes come out in late August and early September. This will be Isabella’s first year to come with us to pick blueberries, salmon berries, and cranberries.

In the next few days, I’ll be taking the boys down to ship creek to flog the water alongside everyone else hoping to land a King Salmon. As each successive wave of salmon species begin to return to their home streams, David, Joseph and I will be trying to catch them. And, when the Alaskans-Only dip net fisheries open up on the Kenai, and Kasilof, we’ll be out there too! I’ll be holding the net, and the boys will be doing the dirty work dispatching those beautiful Reds.

This fall will be the first year I take David and Joseph hunting for small game like Snowshoe Hare, and Ptarmigan. And, if things work out, I’ll drive up the Dalton Highway, AKA: “The Haul Road” to bow hunt for caribou again this year. Although last year I got skunked, I learned a LOT, and I’m confident I can return successful this year.

My most cherished time of year are the few days I get to hunt for moose. Those days belong to me, and whether I harvest a moose or not, isn’t really the point. In the next year or two, when I think David is ready I’ll start taking him with me. I’m really looking forward to the day when I have both boys (and Isabella if she wants to) by my side hunting moose.

In our family, subsistence is a choice. We don’t have to hunt, fish, or forage for our food. In a way we’re very fortunate to have that luxury. However, if I had my way, I would live by the land. It’s difficult, but I think it’s the way we were meant to live.

Daddy Dynamic: The Classroom in the Backyard

Summertime in Alaska is SHORT. When it's summer, all I want to do is enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, I have obligations, chores, and a never-ending “To Do” list that ranges from the day-to-day stuff - like making breakfast and changing Isabella, to the “ginormous” - like getting the driveway re-paved, rebuilding the deck in the back yard, building an arctic entrance, and painting the house and storage shed. Oh, I forgot. I also have to install gutters.

We were supposed to plant seeds early this year for our garden starts, but life happened and we were too busy, and then forgot. Now it’s May and, because we still want a garden this year, we have to buy our starters, which I think is lame. Before we can even plant the starters though, I need to turn the soil—with a shovel.

While I’m talking about the garden, I need to build a three-stage compost bin, since now we only have a compost pile which is highly inefficient. But before I build a compost bin, I need to move the rhubarb plants to where the compost pile is now. I need to move them out of the garden where they are now, because they get so much sun and nutrients that they grow HUGE and overshadow the smaller vegetables like the onions and rutabagas.

Another ongoing backyard project is the procurement and preparing of firewood for the winter. I usually “procure” my firewood from the Municipality of Anchorage’s woodlot. It’s a great place for a guy like me (with a trusty pickup truck and nothing but time on my hands), to wait for homeowners to drop off their unwanted logs. The woodlot opens mid May, and usually closes sometime in September. A great time to get wood is a day or two after a big windstorm. The nice thing about getting firewood there is that it’s free. You can also get mulch for landscaping at no charge as well. However, if you need to discard organic material at the woodlot, there is a small fee.

I already have ½ to ¾ of a full cord of wood (4’x8’x4’), and I’ve already split and stacked the wood that I’ve already cut into fireplace size logs. My Husqvarna chainsaw needs some chain and bar maintenance before I can saw any more logs. Once I get the logs cut to length, it’s time to throw down the maul and split them into fire-size portions. After splitting the logs, I also prepare a large quantity of kindling to help get the logs burning.

The middle birch tree in our back yard needs to be cut down. It has developed a solid fracture that resulted from the last big wind storm a couple of weeks ago. The fracture separates the live wood from the rotten wood that developed from the lack of proper care from a previous owner after a de-limbing. The trimmed limb should have been sealed with an arborist’s tree wound dressing/pruning sealer, but wasn’t and is now rotten. Unfortunately, birch trees seem to suffer from this condition anyway. I’m still hesitant about cutting this tree because it provides so much shade, we hang our hammock on it, and most importantly, a pair of woodpeckers have had their eyes on it as a suitable nesting tree.

I also need to address the hay bales making up my backyard archery target, which won’t really take long at all. I just need to keep the kids from tearing down the hay bales.

The raspberry plants that David hacked down last year aren’t budding, so I’ll have to have to re-colonize them, which shouldn’t be too difficult as there are many healthy runners to choose from.

With all the projects I have to do, there doesn’t seem like there’s time for the kids, however… as a stay-at-home dad I get to work with my kids to accomplish those projects and see them through. At times, having your children with you all the time while trying to accomplish anything can be more exasperating that anything, but with the right attitude, working on projects can be such a valuable experience for me as a father, and to my children. There are so many ways for the boys to help and get their hands dirty, and have “Daddy time”. There are so many “teachable moments”.

In our backyard, they learn about hard work and have a sense of satisfaction in working with their hands.

They learn a sense of order, as they help stack wood, pooper-scoop doggie-doo, transplant vegetable starts, turn compost, and try to heed the words of their Daddy to, “take pride in what they have, and in what they do”.

The kids get hands-on experience and learn about how their environment works. They learn where their food comes from, and that worms aren’t just good for fishing, but that they’re good for healthy soil, which makes healthy plants, which keep us healthy. Everything is connected, and that one thing cannot be changed (for better or worse) without having an effect on other things as well.

Some things the kids help with are just work, and aren’t fun, but they still need to be done. The back yard is a good place to for children to learn that lesson, and I would rather they learn it from me than have to learn it the hard way—after they leave home and go off on their own.

But, even though we have a highly scaled down “operation” in our backyard, I really believe that it is an excellent environment for teaching my children to be better men, and learn to take care themselves, each other, their family, and the earth.

Now, to get going on those projects…

Daddy Dynamic: The Gift of Grandparents

My paternal grandmother is an obsessive-compulsive cleaner. Grandma Paoli’s home always looks like a demo model that any real estate agent could literally walk into at any moment and sell the joint to the first couple with the dough.

I think she still vacuums three times a day. It was (and still is) an impossible task to not mess up her vacuum lines on the floor which ran exactly parallel to each other. It would’ve made things so much easier if she’d hired a magic carpet to ferry you to the bathroom where you’d never have to worry about a single strand of carpet slipping out of alignment.

In her family, it must have been a measure of excellence as a Stay at Home Mom to be so clean. I don’t know, but she takes it VERY seriously. An American of Italian descent, she used to joke, “You mess-a, my house-a, I break-a, you face-a.” I don’t think she was really joking, but I liked to hear her say that.

My maternal grandmother was the polar opposite. Grandma Yotti was a hoarder. One of my fondest nicknames for her was “Hobbit.” She seemed to get shorter and shorter every year until she was only 4’7” when she passed away, and I lovingly called her home the “Hobbit Hole.” She was so short that it was easier for her to stack things on the floor, than on a counter, or table. And she made these little pathways that only she could walk through. Every time I tried, my feet always kicked over her little piles of memories, and she would say, “Oh, Sugar Lumps,” but she never got mad about it. I’d feel so bad, and clumsily try to re-stack her things, but I could never reverse-engineer her designs.

One of my fondest memories as a kid was the ritual of going down to the basement of the Hobbit Hole with my brother and digging out a glass bottle of RC Cola every time we drove the 600 miles to visit my Grandma. To my 16 year old palate nothing beat the smooth flavor of ten year old cola. We had to pry the rusty lid off the bottle with the refrigerator magnet bottle-opener with the white plastic handles and daisies on it. Of course we wiped off the rust first, but it was a real honor to take the first sip. I loved the feel of that cellar-cold glass bottle and how the carbon flowed up my nose as that sweet concoction burned my throat. That was just one of the many treasures in my grandma’s house.

In my mind, summer was never complete if we didn’t get to the Paoli’s camp on Little Lake Gerald in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (The camp was named The Three Flags by my Grandfather because on the lawn near the lake he proudly flew the flags of Italy, the State of Michigan, and of course “Old Glory,” for which he fought for in World War II). At The Three Flags, there were only two things on my mind: fishing in the morning, and fishing at night, with a splash of swimming mixed in, only because I had to ditch the mosquitoes.

Every kid should be endeared to their grandparents, and vice-versa. I think it’s important to have an awesome relationship with your grandparents. I’ve heard it said that “grandchildren are your reward for time lost with your own children.” Grandchildren are kind of a “do-over.” Grandparents get a second chance to do the things they wished they could’ve done with their own children but weren’t able to. Children get to have a full-time “buddy” that listens to them, and is sometimes more accepting of their faults than their parents.

My Grandma Yotti was able to articulate to me things that nobody else could, and I loved her for that. She and I had a very deep and strong bond. I want my children to be able to have that kind of relationship with their grandparents, but that kind of relationship takes a considerable amount of work to keep up and nurture especially from 2,200 miles to 4,000 miles away.

It’s difficult living in Alaska while our children’s grandparents live in Washington and Michigan. So many times I feel like the annual pilgrimage to Michigan isn’t nearly enough, and there is no way to compensate for the lost time.

Even though my parents visited for Christmas and were able to celebrate Isabella’s Baptism with us, they’re missing out on all the stuff in between like her toothless grins, and the way her hair curls after a bath. They’re missing out on her adorable first giggles and her first bites of tasty real food. They’re also going to miss David’s First Communion.

We try to stay in touch as much as possible. I call home and let the kids talk to Nonna and Papa using my cell’s speakerphone. Or, we’ll try to Skype once a week (usually on Sunday) but for one reason or another that plan often fails. We text and e-mail, but technology will never substitute real-life quality time.

I saw this movie once where this guy could plant an idea in someone’s subconscious in order to make it seem like it was their own idea during a dream-state. He had an Italian name too; Leonardo. Anyway, I should hire him to get my parents to move to Alaska from Michigan. That would be the inception of something wonderful.

Daddy Dynamic: Wonders of the Anchorage Museum

During the Free After Three season which ran from last October to last Thursday, I’ve made it a point to try and take David and Joseph to the Anchorage Museum as much as possible, however, with different family events such as Cub Scouts, (which happens to be on Thursday nights as well) we haven’t gone as much as we would have liked. Lately, David has had quite a lot of homework on Thursdays, and since visiting the Museum is a privilege, homework and his commitment to Cub Scouts come first. Since last Thursday was the last time the Anchorage Museum would be free, I thought we should do our best to visit again before they reinstated normal admission.

Going to the museum is really more for the kids than it is for me. Although I could literally spend days in awe of the Native artifacts on display in the Alaska Gallery, or imagine myself in any one of Sydney Laurence’s paintings in the Art of the North exhibit, I really need some time to do that alone.

Instead, I let the kids explore the Imaginarium Discovery Center. There, the kids can literally jump around and watch a video of their own jump in slow motion, watch sand dunes form, create hot lava volcanoes, blow “ginormous” bubbles, play with centrifugal force, study aquatic life, and experiment with tons of other exhibits designed to teach kids about science in a fun way.

There’s also an infant and toddler area, where the smaller children can play on and crawl through a “mountain” and a “pirate ship.” They can also play with an Alaska Railroad wooden train set, puzzles, and other types of games that allow children to build and explore their own imaginations.

We spent two hours at the museum. By the time our two hours were up, I was pretty beat. Isabella was already napping, and I badly needed to nap myself. By about 5:15pm, my wife, Jorie met us at the Museum and was able to help me out. She provided welcome relief by taking the boys over to some exhibits, while I held Isabella asleep in my arms.

Our plan was to visit the Mammoths and Mastodons exhibit when Mommy was through with work, but quite frankly, I wasn’t feeling up to it, and it was going to be difficult to bring the kids back down to a level of excitement that was manageable, which entailed lots of me telling them to, “Calm down.”

Yeah, right!

I still have a “To Do” list for the Anchorage Museum which inclueds attending the Guided Star Show. It’s a 45 minute presentation on astronomy in the planetarium. The cost is $10 for adults and $8 for children. Museum Members receive a $2 discount.

I also still really want to take the kids to the “Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age” exhibit which runs through October 9th, 2011. The cost for this exhibit is $24 for adults, $21 senior/student/military, $17 ages 3 to 12 and free ages 2 and younger. Tickets for museum members are $10 member adult, $8 member child. (Remember, prices for exhibits and presentations are in addition to regular admission prices to the Museum.)

If you go to the museum, you could literally make a day of it. They have lockers for your stuff which is especially handy for all your baby gear. After perusing the paintings downstairs, you could grab some lunch at Muse Café then head upstairs to view my favorite, the Alaska Gallery. When you’re ready to head out, be prepared to either accept or deny requests from your little ones for cuddly wooly mammoth stuffed animals for sale at the gift shop! But, before you leave don’t forget to make a wish at the fountain in the court yard. The boys love to toss pennies in the fountain. I’ll bet their wishes were to return soon.

Whatever you do, just have fun! It’s one of our favorite places in Anchorage!


For more information visit AnchorageMuseum.org

Daddy Dynamic: Alaska Summer: Green Means Go!

When I was a kid I grew up moving from place to place. By the time my parents finally settled in Erie, Michigan, it was 1990 and I was 13. I had moved 14 times, lived in 9 states, and attended something like 8 schools - including the Amish school I went to for Kindergarten. It was tough to make friends for a shy introvert. Just when I was beginning to find my groove and was making friends, it seemed like it was time to move, and I’d have to start all over again.

The great thing about moving so much while growing up was that I got to see a lot of America. And I learned how to make friends across cultures -something that served me well during my service in the Army. I also got to live in some very cool and interesting places.

One of my favorite places we lived was in the town of Plano, Illinois, which is west of Chicago, by about an hour. It was my favorite because I felt like I belonged there. It was an old homestead built in the late 1800’s by our landlady’s father. There was a tributary of the Fox River, that ran through the property and I would always go fishing after school with my little brother. We could’ve been the Mclean Brothers going down to the Big Blackfoot, as my mom would yell, “Chris! Wait for your brother!” while I tore out of the house with my fishing pole in my hand.

Nearby was Merrimack Hill, where a battle took place during the French and Indian War. Our landlords had many Native American artifacts their family had found over the years on that land. I even found an arrowhead in a freshly ploughed field, not far from our house.

On the old homestead in Plano I felt like a Frontiersman exploring and living off the land. I’ve always wanted to live in a place like that where I could raise my family and I could share some of what I learned. I wanted them to have some of the same opportunities and adventures I had.

As soon as I was able, I made the logical move to Alaska. And, this Michigan boy of French, Italian, and Native American (Ojibwa) descent married an Eskimo girl! We have three awesome children and we’re just about as diverse as any family can be.

I love Alaska, and although we live in the big village of Anchorage, It’s still a great place to live, even though I would prefer a little more space. But, living in Anchorage has its benefits. We have such a diverse mixture of culture here in Anchorage. I’m so glad my children have the ability to connect with their Alaska Native family and culture right here. This weekend they’ll be able to watch the Native Youth Olympics (NYO), and learn more about their own traditions and culture. Jorie and I are eagerly waiting for when David will decide to compete in some of the events at NYO.

In many ways I’m thankful that my children don’t have to move all over the Lower 48 to see and experience culture, there is so much to do right here. This summer we will be connecting with the land and culture by fishing, dip netting, clamming and berry picking and honing our bushcraft skills. We’ll also do some canoeing and backpacking.

I’m sure we’ll also throw in a road trip or two, for what is summer without one? Since, I’m kind of a nerd, I would really love to drive down to McCarthy and explore the Kennecott copper mine with the kids and try to find some copper ourselves. There’s also a place up about six miles north of Wrangell, on Garnet Creek at the mouth of the Stikine River where I’d like to take the kids to search for garnets. David and Joseph mentioned going back to Sutton to dig around for fossils again, and I’m definitely up for that. I’d also like to drive down to Haines just for the fun of it. And, if possible, I would really like to squeeze in a family trip up the Dalton Highway, and see if we could “catch” a caribou or two just before school starts!

Back in Anchorage, we’ll also be attending events at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, as well as the Alaska Museum of Natural History, and I’d really like to take the kids to the Mammoths and Mastodons exhibit at the Alaska Museum that began March 4th and continues through October 9th.
That’s a lot to do in just three months, but I think we can handle it! When it’s summer in Alaska, green means Go!

Daddy Dynamic: Om

Have you ever been alone lying on your back on a quiet day on some remote hilltop overlooking the tundra somewhere in Alaska? I have. It was in late August, 1999 and I had just been dropped off to pack a trophy caribou a hunter shot, (who was wealthier than he was in shape) to the top of the mountain where the Super Cub pilot could land and fly the meat , hide, and antlers back to main camp.

As I lay there waiting with my eyes closed, hands folded beneath my head the sun beat down on my tired and aching body. I heard the blow flies race by me, like Formula 1 cars. But, even between the racers, I heard a distinct “hum”. It wasn’t the props from a distant aircraft either. I wondered what that sound was. Later I asked some of the guys in camp, and they told me it was called, “Tundra Hum”.

Tundra Hum as I perceive it, after much thought, seems to be the frequency of living things on the tundra. The sound emitted by all living organisms combined into one frequency: Tundra Hum. I don’t know the exact frequency, or the exact note, but according to my experience and my ears, it sounds a lot like “Om”.

According to the Yoga Journal, “Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe.” In addition, “Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of Om.”

The sounds in my home are FAR from the tranquility and peace of Om or Tundra Hum.

This week, Isabella (6 ½ months old) is sick, and seems to cry at everything. Nothing seems to console her. My heart crumbles every time she looks at me through those watery eyes, looking so rough with her disheveled hair, runny nose, and quivering lips.

My youngest son, Joseph screams at the top of his lungs because he feels like he isn’t being heard as the middle child. Or, he screams in retaliation against his older brother David who did something he didn’t like, whether David was justified or not. And, when his mini-Sumo wrestler legs hit our hardwood floor with every step, it reverberates throughout the house and sends shockwaves into my spinal column.

Much of the time, I hear David talking, but I couldn’t tell you a word he’s said, because he’ll talk regardless of whether anyone is actually listening or not. He seems to talk…constantly, about nothing in particular. And, unless he gets into my face and says, “Excuse me Daddy…” I don’t know that he’s talking to me.

It’s easy to tune out the sibling bickering, or light crying, but when my three children erupt into a volcanic chorus of crying, yelling, and screaming in syncopation, It disrupts the temporary sense of balance I’ve worked so hard to reconstruct after the last meltdown.

I haven’t figured out how to handle that kind and level of stress yet. It’s a different kind of stress than being in the military. It’s different than being in a life-threatening situation, It’s different than stress at work, or stressing over finances, or being unemployed. These are my children, and I love them dearly, but when they push me beyond what I think is the threshold of my patience, “ I am angry. I'm like a large tornado of anger, swirling about,” as Will Ferrell says in 2005's Kicking and Screaming.

The truth is, I’ve given up a lot of my own dreams, desires, and little pieces of myself here and there in order to be the primary care-giver for our children. Sometimes I feel resentful for making that sacrifice as I watch my future prospects of employment slip further and further beyond reach.

The days I feel most frustrated are the ones filled with absurd temper-tantrums thrown by both boys, and an insane amount of attention and care needed by Isabella, in addition to not getting anything done around the house.

On those days, the really hard days, there seems to be no incentive to stay home. I can’t see how I’m having a positive impact on my children’s lives. I feel like a failure as a father, and by proxy a bad husband because I know I’ve caused my wife grief. It hurts her to hear about the tough times because it means we’re not living in harmony.

The longer I stay at home and take care of our children, the more I realize just how important it is to find and keep harmony in my life. I take care of my children, but I haven’t been taking care of myself.

Now that Spring here in Alaska, it is time for me to align myself with the season of renewal and schedule time to reconnect with nature by doing things I love, like backpacking, canoeing, fishing, and hunting.

I have always found my harmony in the wilderness. That is where I have always found my deepest connection with God. It’s where I find the answers to my most difficult questions. The wilderness is where I reconnect with my physical, mental, and spiritual strength. It’s where I find my balance. There, I know Om.

Daddy Dynamic: Cars, Character and the Pinewood Derby

The memory of my first Pinewood Derby still haunts me. I have never seen a more ugly, or slower car than mine. If they issued a Red Lantern to Pinewood Derby cars like they do in the Iditarod, mine would’ve been towing it down the race track like an anchor. That’s how slow it was.

But the point of the Pinewood Derby isn’t a contest to see who can build the fastest car, it’s about building a bond between father and son and building character. This year, David and I both worked on his Derby car. I also built Joseph’s so that he’d have a car to race in the Open Class.

On the 7”x 2 ¾” block of pine, I drew the outline of the shape which we would cut. Once it was rough-cut, I filed it down then I instructed David how to sand it. Once David and I both felt it was smooth enough, I drew the outline of their theme.

The theme for our cars this year was the boy’s favorite characters from Disney’s cartoon, Phineas and Ferb, which were their ideas. I drew Perry the Platypus on David’s car and Evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz on Joseph’s car. David colored his car himself, and I colored Joseph’s. This year, we just used colored pencils instead of paint to get the color.


After the cars were colored, I sanded and polished the axles using my Dremel. I even sanded imperfections in the wheels. I set the axles and wheels in the grooves. Then I hollowed out the car from underneath and set up the weights to weigh an even 5.oz, (the maximum allowable weight).

We all worked really hard on our cars. We knew they looked good, and were confident they would also go really fast.

Unfortunately, they didn’t go fast. Both David’s AND Joseph’s cars finished last in each of their heats a full second behind third place. DEAD SLOW!

The boys were really bummed, and Joseph cried that he didn’t get a trophy. David was really disappointed because last year his car also finished last. So, I talked to him about sportsmanship and about teamwork. I explained that even NASCAR, Formula 1, and World Rally Championship (WRC) race teams have difficulty finding the right combination of engine, suspension, tires, and teammates for each track and the weather conditions they’ll encounter. Unfortunately, we only had one night to test our cars on the track making it difficult to measure results of each modification in order to find the right combination for race day.

But David was still having a hard time dealing with the loss.

I asked him, “What is the Cub Scout Motto?”

“Do your best," David replied.

I asked him, “Did you do your best to make your cart the best it could be?”

“Yes,” he said.

“And so did I. We did our best, and that’s what’s important,” I explained. “As long as we keep doing our best, our cars will get better and better."

“Maybe next year, we’ll have learned enough about building a car that could win the state championships! “ I told him.

But, even if we never win any race, the most important thing is that we keep trying to do our best, and never give up. That’s fortitude. And fortitude is a character trait that people respect. Character is the basis on which people base their opinions of you. That determines your reputation. Your Character is what will get you through life’s difficult times.

Daddy Dynamic: Pancake Art 101

Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at making pancakes. I’m not pounding my chest saying, “I’m the best pancake maker in the world!” or anything like that. I’m just saying… My wife and children love my homemade-from-scratch pancakes and that’s what really matters. Pancakes tend to be the breakfast of choice on Sunday mornings in our home. So, I’ve had quite a bit of practice and time to experiment with the recipe that I got from my mom.

A couple of years ago, I decided to try to make some pancake dinosaurs. I remember making a triceratops for David. That seemed to work out pretty well. I made a Christmas tree for David and a Snowman for Joseph in December. After some trial and error, I developed a technique for pancake art.

All you really need to make good pancakes are:

• Your favorite batter recipe
• A good pancake pan heated to just the right temperature (I use a nice flat, Teflon coated square pan)
• A good, stiff-but-flexible spatula
• A squeeze bottle for batter (I use a little travel bottle I got from REI)
• A great idea or image to create in pancake form

Last Sunday, I decided to try to make some characters from my boys’ favorite cartoon: Disney’s Phineas and Ferb with a new squeeze bottle and a new spatula that Joseph picked out from Fred Meyer over the weekend. I’m pleased to say, they both worked out very well.

The boys really loved eating their favorite characters in their pancake form!

David said, “Joseph, look! I’m eating Perry the Platypus’ feet!”

Joseph said, “David, look! I’m eating Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s nose!”

In order to make good pancake art, you have to understand that you’re making a negative, reverse image of what you’re trying to produce. Whatever parts of the art you want darkest, you have to cook those parts first, and then the darker shades and the lightest shades last.

The image will also be reversed because when you flip your pancake it will face the opposite direction of when you poured it on the pan. So, you’ll need to take these things into consideration when making your art. I don’t usually make a reverse image on the pan in order to have an exact replica of my model. I just pour the batter on the pan and I get a reverse pancake image.

Before you begin your design, make sure the pancake batter is runny enough to be squirted through the bottle, yet gooey enough not to spread out too much on the pan. It’s kind of a judgment call, and you’ll have to experiment with the texture.

Next, make sure your pan is the right temperature. If the pan is too hot, the batter you lay down first will burn. You want the lines to be dark, not burnt. If the pan is too cool, the batter won’t cook at the right speed, and will be too difficult to lift off the pan with the spatula.

Begin pouring the batter, making dark areas first because these will cook the longest. Make the outline of the eyes, center of the eyes, outline the figure, and outline things such as arms, legs, and any other dark areas.

After the dark areas have cooked for a short period, begin the next shade. Fill in anything that’s not dark, but not light; like the whites of eyeballs.

Next, quickly fill in the lightest colored portions of your character, or pancake art. After the whole pancake is cooked, flip it over, and check out your work. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with your results. I know I was. My wife was so stoked about how the kid’s pancakes turned out she high-fived me with a big ol’ grin!

You’ll probably have to play around a bit with your recipe and the consistency to get it just right. You’ll also have to get used to timing your shading and the time it takes for your pancake art to cook. Don’t get discouraged. Just have fun! Get creative! You can use whipped cream and sprinkles too!

I’ve included some examples of my pancake art from this weekend. Good Luck!

Daddy Dynamic’s Pancake Recipe:

2 Cups sifted unbleached flour (or your favorite flour)
1 Cup sugar (more or less depending on how sweet your tooth is)
1 Heaping Tablespoon Baking Powder
¼ Teaspoon salt
1 egg
¼ cup Canola oil
Milk (add until proper texture is attained: approximately 2-3 cups)

Directions: Mix all dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, mix all wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing as you add. I use a hand blender to remove any lumps as they could clog your squeeze bottle and ruin your art.

Jorie really likes it when I add cinnamon to this batter. You can also add blueberries, nuts, or anything else. It also makes really great crepes.

I ALWAYS serve my pancakes with pure maple syrup, either Grade A or Grade B (the really dark stuff) depending on what mood I’m in.

Buon Apetito!

Daddy Dynamic: Operation T.O.Y.S. (Throw Out Your Stuff)!

Jorie and I try very hard to teach the boys to treat their possessions with respect because their possessions and toys are gifts from people who love them very much. We try to help them understand that their toys have been difficult to come by for some relatives and even myself. It takes resources such as time and money to be able to give gifts which are given mostly out of love (and social etiquette in the case of birthday parties).

I personally believe that treating their things poorly shows a lack of respect for the people who love them and the thoughtfulness they showed in giving the boys gifts. It shows a lack of respect for the people who work in both good and miserable jobs to earn an income to support themselves and their families. For example, a $30 full-sized Buzz Lightyear that gets thrown around and left behind could buy enough milk from the Matanuska Creamery for about a month for a small family.

While some of you reading this may argue that these ideas will be lost on a 7 and 3 year old, and that children shouldn’t be expected to understand such things, I believe that they need to be taught early that nothing should be taken for granted and that they are blessed to have their needs and many desires provided for.

Honestly, most of the time I think my children are happier playing with things like sticks and stones, rocks and rope, paper towel rolls and tin cans, and cushions from the couch. I don’t think they need toys.

An ancient proverb says, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I think that holds true for a child’s need for play. They can turn anything into something awesome. A stick becomes an Intergalactic Demon Vaporizer. They don’t need a plastic gun to do the job for them. Frankly, I’d rather hear my boys making their own sound effects than listen to the whirling, head spinning, headache making, eardrum ringing sound effects of some electronic plastic gun that disturbs my Chi, wastes batteries, and breaks after a week’s worth of use and winds up in the mountain of garbage buried in the municipal landfill.

A couch-turned-fort becomes a fortress being defended against a hoard of attacking dragons. They don’t need a $50 Lego set from Wal-Mart that takes “Adult Supervision” to construct. “Adult Supervision” means that I need to spend 5 hours reading the directions and constructing a Lego set that will get constructed ONE time the way it shows in the directions, before it gets “blown up” into a thousand pieces, and stuffed into the Lego bin with all the other long-lost Lego pieces which inevitably get left on the floor only to be chewed up by our Jack Russell, Rigby.

Sunday, I finally launched Operation: T.O.Y.S. (Throw Out Your Stuff)!

First, I had the boys clean their room. While they were busy completing that task, I gathered all the toys from the toy bin downstairs and the toys in their cubbies upstairs in their bedroom. When their room was clean, I dumped all their toys into a pile in the middle of the floor.

Then I gave the boys their instructions:

1. Anything chewed up, broken or incomplete gets thrown away- Period.
2. The only toys they would be able to keep must fit in their bins and cannot be overflowing. (I gave the boys two rows of small cubby bins each).
3. Pick your favorites first.
4. Everything else goes in this Rubbermaid tub to be sold in the garage sale or donated.

And then, as a family, we went to work. Jorie said, “I think it went so well because we all worked on it together.”

I agreed, but I also think that allowing the boys to make their own decisions about their toys helped tremendously by empowering them, and giving them a sense of voice, and control over their own future.

I asked David what he thought the hardest part of going through his toys was. He said, “There was no hardest part.”

That surprised me. I’m proud of them for handling the resignation of their toys so well. Hopefully, with a more manageable amount of toys they’ll learn to appreciate them even more.


Below are just a couple of ideas for places to donate toys, but keep in mind most places will only accept gently used toys. Please do not donate toys that are broken or have parts missing; clean and stain-free stuffed animals are accepted.

Abused Women's Aid in Crisis, Inc. (AWAIC):
100 W. 13th Avenue, Anchorage, AK 99501 – (907) 279-9581
Office Hours Monday-Friday 8am to 5pm
24-Hour Crisis Line: (907) 272-0100

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska:
600 W 41st Ave # 101, Anchorage, AK 99503
Call (907) 563-1997 in Anchorage, Eagle River or Mat-Su for a pick up.

Bishop’s Attic:
1100 Gambell Street, Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 279-6328 or in Palmer: (907)745-4215
Open Mon-Sat 10am-5:30pm

Salvation Army:
300 West Northern Lights Boulevard, Anchorage, AK 99503
(907) 561-5514

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