Monday, June 22, 2015

Mr. Mommy Guest Writes

Over the last year, I've been lucky enough to have the time to work on this blog and other personal writing projects because of my awesome and fulfilling job as an English professor at FRCC and because my amazing and supportive husband has sacrificed his own career to take over as our daughter's primary caregiver. I thought it would only be appropriate to invite him to share his experiences as a full-time stay-at-home dad. This is what he said.

Recently when people ask me what I do and I explain that I stay home with my baby girl I often get rather extreme reactions.  As a stay-at-home dad, it seems as though I am either The Greatest Guy Ever or kind of a deadbeat.  I do not believe I am either and hope I do not portray either role to my daughter.  But sometimes I can't help but feel that I have involved myself in a position that everyone seems to have a strong opinion on and sometimes I can't help but feel a little self-conscious. 
Take for instance this morning, my baby girl and I were running around the lake (well, I had been running, she was still sleeping in the stroller, her preferred exercise technique).  Sometimes on beautiful mornings like this one, when I get to participate in the leisurely activities that I enjoy without hardly any displeasing responsibilities looming over the rest of my day, I cannot help but feel a little spoiled.

As we approached the home stretch of our run just south of the lake along 34, I began noticing the cars on the road and wondered what those people must have thought when they saw us.  I naively assumed that there were only two possible opinions behind those eyes watching me jogging on a Tuesday morning while heading to work, or to school, or to jury duty, or to the dentist, or to the hospital to visit a sick loved one: either a good-natured envious perspective, thinking that it must be so nice for that guy and his baby to be able to enjoy a beautiful morning together, or a more critical perspective thinking that this loser needs to be working like the rest of us and stop rubbing his laziness in our faces. I knew I was simultaneously reminding some people that their day would not be quite as enjoyable as mine and others that their ideas of social structure and family values were being challenged. 

By the end of our run I felt an awkward sense of guilt, even though I knew I shouldn't have.   I crossed at the crosswalk and stopped to change my music to distract myself from this bad mood.  As I scrolled through my playlists I felt that someone was watching me, that someone must be judging me again.  Then I looked up to see an older gentleman smoking a cigar in a two-toned Ford pickup truck; he looked directly at me, smiled, and gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up.

As a stay-at-home dad in Loveland, I understand that some people may have a negative opinion of this choice my family and I have made.  I mean, women are supposed to raise the kids and take care of the house and do the dishes and the laundry and cook dinner and wake up at night to quiet the babies and wipe the butts and change the diapers, right? And men are supposed to be part of the workforce and be responsible for paying the bills and supporting their families with paychecks and health care and coming home to hang up their hat  to say, "Honey, I'm home!" and shower their families with love and attention, right?  Shouldn't children see their dad as a strong bread-winner who sacrifices for his family to keep a roof over their head, because, after all, fathers are better at that than mothers are? Shouldn't daughters and sons see their mothers as a source of unconditional love and devotion and as a comforting caretaker and custodian of the home, because, after all, mothers are more suited for these roles anyway?  After all, isn't it true that most male mammals in the wild are more concerned with providing security and protection than they are raising the children and occupying the home? 

Look, I realize there are societal norms in our country that suggest women are more fit for the raising of children and the caretaking of the house and that men are more valuable for labor and money-making, and for most cultures, these norms have historical and sociological significance. 
But, I also realize we live in the 21st century and every family is different and we are not wild animals.

The truth is, I just feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to do what is best for my family. I get to spend quality time with an adorable 9 month old baby girl every day.  The worst things in my day consist of not getting as much sleep or eating a respectable meal as much as I would like or experiencing a diaper fiasco that leads to getting all that poop on my hands.  I once was so tired that I feel asleep at the breakfast table waiting for my daughter to finish her banana and woke up sometime later to her looking at me judgingly while a half-eaten banana peel lay slack in her jaw;  my daily sustenance usually consists of whatever leftover  foul mixture of fruits and veggies and meats she won't eat. But I can't really complain; I obviously get enough sleep and food, and all that poop washes off easily.  And trust me, the highlights of my day will always be more powerful than the low points that can be boring or stressful.   

Even though some people may think I'm a deadbeat and others might think I'm The Greatest Guy Ever, I have to believe that most people understand that I am simply doing what is best for my family and they probably don't react as much as I would like to think.  For all I know, that guy in the Ford pickup could have given me a thumbs up not because of anything to do with me pushing a stroller on a Tuesday morning, but because he liked my beard, or maybe he noticed my new Nikes, or maybe someone he knows was behind me and I didn't know it.  Regardless, his gesture reminded me that I am very lucky to be able to spend so much time with my daughter every day and have a wife that loves her job and supports me. I can't remember a happier time in my life.

An earlier version of this essay originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of The Fourth Street Chronicle.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

the blob you’ve been waiting for, and mega-blob too

This is a project that I had been waiting for since I found the post in a blog I frequent back in March, when I was having a serious case of spring fever and the surprisingly mild temperatures made me wish I could just fast forward three months. Too bad it was cold for most of May and the first half of June so I had to wait a little bit longer than I originally thought. But when summer finally came this year, it came in style, thanks to this little number I like to call the blob, and its much older sibling mega-blob.
I have to start with my sources on this one because I in no way take credit for the conception or planning of this amazing project. My only goal in writing this is to express how incredibly easy it was to execute and how much fun my family and friends had playing with it. Pretty much everything I did here came from Leisha over at her Homemade Toast blog.

If you follow the directions on Homemade Toast, you will see that it’s really pretty straightforward. You can find a lot of different tutorials online for how to do this, but most of them involve sealing the edgeswith duct tape, which I’ve heard results in almost immediate leakage. I would also think it would be more expensive, since you’d be using so much tape. What Leisha has come up with, with the iron and parchment, is nothing short of pure genius. I want to emphasize here that melting the plastic edges together is really the only way to ensure a true, leak-proof seal. You can get a few small holes here and there and be fine, but if the seams go, the whole thing is going to lose its structure. I’d hate for that to happen when the kids are running and jumping on it.
The only thing that I think was confusing was what to do with the parchment paper, so I’ll try to clarify that. The parchment is meant to create a buffer zone between your iron and the actual plastic sheet. That's why you draw the line down the middle. Once you fit the two layers of plastic inside the parchment, with the edges pushed up against the parchment's inside seam, the line will provide a guide that shows you how far in to iron, about 2" from the edges/seam. There will still be a couple of inches of paper between the line and the plastic, so you don't even have to be exact; just follow the line as best you can, like I'm doing here:

And here's a video just in case it still isn't clear.
Like most projects, I did a semi-trial run first. Turns out the painter’s plastic comes in various weights that correlate directly with the price of the product. So I purchased a smaller 10’ x 9’ sheet in .2 mil weight for about $4 the first time around. The only other thing I had to pay for was the water itself, so this is definitely an economical project to say the least. The only caveat I can offer with the .2 mil is that it was much weaker at the seams and over time small leaks began to develop where the material was stretched, and it was so thin on top that the girl’s toenails eventually began to poke little scratches and tears in it. This was okay at first, as it kept a perpetual skin of water over the top, but eventually it led to more leakage than we really wanted. So definitely go for the .4 mil if you want an end-product that you’re going to be able to use more than once or twice, or even fill and refill multiple times. I would also note that I do not recommend the .2 mil test version for use by any children over 30 pounds, as the thicker plastic is really necessary to support any more weight than that I would think. Here's a video of the original blog:
I also added a final step of spraying down the top and drizzling on  little eco-friendly dish soap so that the kids would have an easier time sliding around on it.
The addition of the slide was a huge hit, at least until they started getting all soapy and falling on the ladder to climb up. In the future I would put a baby pool of water at the base of the later so that they would have to rinse the soap off before climbing up.
Once I was ready to go all in on with mega-blob I went back to the instructions from Homemade Toast, and this time I followed her instructions exactly, rather than using the thinner and smaller plastic like I did for my prototype. The only thing I did differently is that I did not cut down the .4 mil plastic like Leisha recommends; instead, I used the whole roll! It was huge!!!

I am not kidding you, this thing took over an hour to fill up with water!
But the added bonus of mega-blob is that it is adult-friendly.
And here is a picture of the larger and thicker .4 mil version of the painter’s plastic that I purchased off Amazon for mega-blob. HomemadeToast’s instructions have a link to the product and I looked around and did some research and this is really the best thing. At $12 I still think that it’s a pretty economical project overall.

I have to say, this is one of those rare internet finds that reverses the typically inverse relationship that you find between how exciting and fun a project turns out to be and how difficult it is to pull off. Usually I find myself putting the most work into the projects that are least successful, but in this case it was much easier than I thought and the kids had a much better time playing with it than I ever could have anticipated. But I don’t know why I didn’t think it would be a total hit—it is, after all, a giant outdoor water bed covered in soapy, slippery water. It also looks cool once it’s filled up because the plastic is clear. If I ever make another one I might put some rubber sea creature toys inside or something so the girls can pretend its an inside-out-aquarium. But for now blob versions 1.0 and 2.0 have been quite enough. After it was finished we played with it for about three weeks before I found the time to come inside and write this post.

Happy blobbing, everyone.

Friday, June 5, 2015

boxing back the front

One of the best things about having one of us stay home is that we don’t always have to make decisions out of convenience but rather get to find ways to save money by putting in a little extra effort to make or reuse things ourselves. One way in which we have done so is by investing in a substantial garden from which we can pull fruits and veggies for at least four months of the year (I know four months probably sounds pathetic but this is Colorado, after all). This is nice because gardening also happens to be one of Mack’s life passions—something that he throws himself into fully without hesitation or reserve. Usually, we spend our summers embarking on our semi-annual pilgrimage to Kentucky, but with a few recent developments in our family’s living situation, we didn’t feel the need to do so this year. This has left our summer plans wide open in a way that we have yet to experience since moving to Colorado—in eight years, we had never really spent a full summer here. And because of that, a garden was something that we’d never really been able to achieve (since June is such a crucial month for growing here and that’s usually when we would be gone). As Colorado readers already know, the soil out here isn’t necessarily conducive to growing a lot of product in a short amount of time, and coaxing even a modest yield out of in-ground plants seems to take an amount diligence far surpassing that necessary even to get my toddler to eat. So it should go without saying that nothing requiring that much effort could possibly be worth it, and any respectable home-gardener around here will tell you that above-the-ground is the way to go. For my east-coast and southern friends out there, this means that here in Colorado, we buy our dirt at the store. We started by digging down about six inches below where we wanted the surrounding mulch to come up in the bed alongside where the boxes were going to go. Then, Mack hammered in the stakes for the four corners of the western-most box. Here is a picture where you can easily see the corner stakes that we hammered into the ground and then built everything else off of:

But we must have hit rock or something because the far southwestern stake got stuck with about three feet still sticking up in the air. After nearly an entire afternoon of frustrated pounding, Mack decided that a three-foot-tall garden box might not be such a bad idea, in terms of our tomato crop and maintaining his sanity. I personally thought it would look weird to have three-foot-tall garden box sticking up randomly in the air, and so the idea was born to build a second-level tier around the outside of the taller inner box, to make it all more proportional and Roman-looking; because the idea involved more planting, building, power tools, and general digging in the dirt, Mack took little convincing.

Here’s a picture of what the tiered corner looked like (never mind what is going on in the background):

Of course, our limited income makes the economic benefit of growing our own edible plants an added bonus, and it was important to us to maximize our return by spending as little as possible on the overhead. You see a lot of nice-looking and bountiful gardens that probably cost more than a whole summer of trips to Whole Foods (never mind a Costco membership) to get up and running. Once again, we decided that pallets were the way to go—they would provide cheap lumber, after all (and my definition of cheap is really free). Mack had to spend about 100 hours at the dump busting up pallets into their individual panels, which he loved. But after doing some research Mack realized that it can be very hard on the wood to sustain multiple waterings year in and year out, and he didn’t want to have to keep fortifying the thing over and over again, so we decided to go ahead and purchase some ¾” plywood, which we covered in plastic sheeting. This will prevent the side panels from bowing out from water damage after a couple of seasons, and instead allow the wood panels from the pallets to really serve as just a fa├žade. This is basically what you are going for on the inside:

You can also see that there are horizontal braces running the length of the plywood. On the larger box we added an additional vertical post in the middle. All of this lumber came from the dump (read: free). The plastic sheeting was one of our larger expenses, at about $10 for the three-mile-long roll, but we will have plenty to use for slip-and-slides throughout the summer, so win-win-win, I think. In this picture, you can see the plastic sheeting covering the plywood panels on the inside a little more easily (Mack just used a staple gun and wrapped the plywood panels like a present):

For the southeastern corner we just made a single-tier box in line with the proportions of the larger western box (Roman, again). Then, Mack had the absolutely genius idea of finishing the edges, corners, and borders with 2” trim, which we purchased for about $7. This also allowed Mack to use the miter feature on his chop saw, which is always an event worth celebrating in the Holly household. Note his particularly fine craftsmanship here:

And here are some pictures of Mack looking hot and lining up the corners:

And here’s the finished version with the trim (you can see that this again is the smaller of the two):

We coated everything in a clear poly to protect against weathering, but the best part is that the inside is completely protected by the plastic sheeting so if any of the outermost panels become damaged all we have to do is replace them. Overall, we have planted flowers, tomatoes, and herbs in these boxes, which are south-facing and add a much-needed addition to our modest crop. It’s also kind of convenient and nice to just walk right out the front door and grab whatever herbs I need while I am cooking.

Because the backyard is so far away.

Happy gardening, everyone.