Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why To Run Fun Runs by A Dad Who Dislikes (Hates) Running

Though "hate" is a word my wife and I don't allow our kids to use, it accurately describes my feelings about running.  I don't dislike physical activity.  I like elliptical; I like full court basketball; I like soccer; and I like bike riding.  I don't like running.

Too hard on my knees/ankles/feet, too painful in my chest, no scoring, not enough ground covered (to make me feel like I am accomplishing something),  you name it, I have a million reasons.

But, I am running in my second fun run type run today, the Run for the Rolls, in Chelsea.  And I am going to be miserable.  Chloe, my daughter, won't love it.  But..we've leveraged 3 to 4 days of running and bike riding out of it.

Why do you have to do a race?  Like almost all things, kids/people engage more when there is going to be an audience.  If the letter is going to grandma or grandpa, careful spelling and letter spacing are used.  If writing is to be for improving for school in the fall (without the teacher seeing it), the writing is quickly and unenthusiastically done.  It helps to have a place to show the world the fruits of your labor.

Chloe was pretty tentative before our first race.  She was nervous about racing, as fun runs seem a little bit like a race.  She's been a dance and gymnastics participant; she only played basketball for the first time last winter (and we did not keep score for the first and second graders).

She had done a running club with a couple of cool teachers at school, so that is where an interest (amplified by me) came up.

She liked the dressing up part.  She liked the excitement of race day, as we signed up.

Once we were off, we talked; sometimes, we walked.

The last quarter mile, where a small group of people gathered (waiting for their 5K or 10K), she was off.  After finishing the race, she enjoyed the small gift certificate for a free ice cream cone, but she loved the ribbon.  She had accomplished something she didn't think she wanted to do.

Here are my tips for training:

  • Vary it up.  Bike riding is cool.  Playing soccer for a half hour is cool.  As long it is running, it is training.
  • Let the kids use headphones.  Adding "Frozen" songs to the training made Chloe like the running portion of the training.
  • Praise the effort (not how fast, how smooth, or how well he/she runs)
  • It's frosting for the adults.  I do my own workout in the early morning or at night.  I do not rely on training with Chloe 

I do hate running. I will all during today's race.  However, if I am willing to coach sports I know little about, I certainly should be willing to run.  And have fun doing it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park (Traverse City Area)

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park

Ages- 5 and up

Cost- $10/vehicle (if there is a senior citizen in the car, they can purchase a lifetime pass for $10)
$20/year pass

Location-  6748 Dune Hwy (M-109), Glen Arbor, MI 49636—Directions to Different Locations

Phone- (231) 326-5134

Parking- Free on Site

Places to eat nearby- Joe’s Friendly Tavern (Empire), Boondocks (Glen Arbor), Good Harbor Grille and Botanicals (Glen Arbor), The Homestead (Glen Arbor)

Why to go there: It’s flat out going to be the prettiest water scene you’re going to see in the lower peninsula of Michigan.  The Dunes climb is a mix of adventure, exercise, and challenge (and a killer view once you get
to the top).  The scenic view tour sounded silly, but had some pretty cool spots for the kids to run around on the dunes (without physically taxing themselves beforehand).

The museums and the little village are subpar.  Dipping your feet in Lake Michigan is nice and convenient at the end of the park.  It’s hard not to marvel at all of the natural beauty in the Sleeping Bear area.

What to do before hand: Read and understand the legend of the dunes.  Research some of the plants and animals you’re going to see.  Talk to your kids about the prettiest place they’ve ever seen and why it is so pretty.

Be careful:  Pick a day 80 degrees or below if possible.  Bring water for the Dunes climb.  Do not use the bathrooms in the scenic drive.  They are gross.  Don’t go down the Dunes on the scenic drive.  We saw a few families do that.  Long way back up.

Summary:  Great stuff for adults and kids.  Simple, beautiful, pure Michigan way to spend an afternoon around Traverse City.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Halloween in August? Yes and Why

Do I complain about the over-commercialization of my favorite holidays?


Do I sigh when I see Halloween and Christmas decorations out in August?


Do I also make myself “part of the problem” by going out on Thanksgiving night to get fantastic bargains on Christmas gifts and other things I need?


I am torn on preparation, buying things, and many things regarding holiday celebrations.

Do I think you should consider getting your kid hooked up for Halloween in August?



It comes down to the kids now being able and interested in designing their own costumes.  They have
definite ideas and that is good.  Before this year, my boys would take whatever (more or less) that was handed to them.

My daughter, though , always wanted very specific things for her Halloween costume.  This year, it is Elsa from Frozen.  The coolest part about the whole dressing up thing is that your kid can put his/her mind into creative ways to make their chosen character/creature come to life.  This year, that visualization did not align with whatever Target, Party City, or Costco had in mind.  One is example is my son Max's desire to have a Captain America shield to go with his Iron Man costume.

Guiding kids through how to turn their vision into reality is a great precursor to how to bring arguments to life (by thinking them through, using resources, and carefully assembling).  If you start this process in mid September, school will be in session.  It will be harder to get things.  Timelines will be tight.  Visions will have to be cut short.  Not cool.

So, this year, we decided to let the kids begin thinking about these things on the weekend before they went back to summer camp/pre-school (after spending a month with me, adventuring).  It worked great.

Backorders, difficulties, special requests, and other complications were able to be addressed.  For example, Chloe wants a cape/shawl to go with her Else costume.  Because it is August,  she can ask one of our extremely talented family members to help sew what Chloe envisions.  She wants little snow flake patches.  These can be identified and procured.  The costume can fulfill Chloe’s vision.  Nice.

We also can read reviews of the costumes (instead of quick buying in a store).  Max wanted to by a Skylander.  The reviews online said the mask was heavy and made it hard for kids to breathe.  We were able to steer him to a better rated (and just as cool) Iron Man costume.

It also leaves you time to think about how you decorate the outside of your house for Halloween.  Lights, pumpkins, ghouls, and goblins can all be a part of the drawings and plans.  Another avenue for the vision->planning->procurement->completion cycle.

Yes, is weird to be penning a column on Halloween in August.  I accept that it seems early to do it.  However, I want the kids to get used to the process of bringing what they envision into reality, so I think it is worth the acceptance of decorations out a little before I am ready to see them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Buffalo Ranch and Horseback Riding- Hanover, MI

The Buffalo Ranch- Hanover, MI

Ages- 4 and up

Cost-   Horseback Riding-$5.00 for 5 minute lead around; $20.00 for 1/2 hour; $25.00 for 1 hour; and $45.00 for 2 hours

Buffalo Tour- $35.00 for a wagon ride to feed the buffalo (up to 7 people) $5.00 for each additional person;  $25.00 to take the Bronco to feed the buffalo (up to 4 people)

Check website for other prices

Location- 12770 Rountree Road, Hanover, MI 49241-    Phone- (517)563-8249 Email-

Parking- Free On Site

Other attractions nearby- Not is 240 acres in the middle of farm country.

Places to eat nearby- Snacks there..The Cuttyshark (American) and Backwoods Bar and Grill (American)

Why to go there:  Feeding buffalo and riding horses are both awesome.  You also have interesting and colorful wranglers to take you out to the buffalo or help your kids ride horses.  If the kids are 6 or over, they can ride their own horse (Chloe rode an older horse and she was able to do it all on own).  Max and Will
needed help.  I would recommend the 30 minute horseback ride.  We got to go through trails, across a small stream, and even got to gallop.  The kids just beamed about it both then and for the rest of the day.

The buffalo tour comes with an interesting tale of a white buffalo who was born on the premises.  Feeding the buffalo is not for the weak at heart; those dudes are really big. 

They also have zip lining and other things for families to do.

What I really liked was it was like a Michigan safari.  You get in the back of a Bronco and ride out to buffalo.  It is not well paved or overly slick.  You’re going into the woods in Michigan.  The air is fresh; you get to kick it with the animals.  A really refreshing experience.

It is a little expensive.  Basically, you have one or two of their employees with you all of the time, so you 
have to compensate those folks for their time. 

For four people to ride horses and do the buffalo tour, it is about $100.  For a safe and real ride of horses (with the buffalo thrown in), it seemed worth it.

You’ll need snacks, but my kids were so excited they didn’t realize we missed lunch until we were pulling into our hometown.

Be careful:  Eat first.  Call ahead and make reservations, so you won’t have to wait.

Summary:  They all wanted to go back on the weekend, just two days away.  Kids loved it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Form or fun: How to teach your kids sports

Basketball.  Hockey.  Soccer.  Baseball.  Gymnastics.   There are few parents who would not like their kids to be physically skilled and able in sports.  Maybe this is because parents see their kids as little versions of themselves.  Maybe it is because athletics are so important in many American high schools.  Maybe it is because many parents think they were just a little bit better than the coach thought and see their kids as a way to get it right.  Whatever the reason, it seems a certainty of raising kids.

It’s one thing for your offspring to be dominant in backyard sports and not to play official sports (for whatever reason: lack of interest, choosing another sport, and so on).  It is quite another situation if your son or daughter cannot play a sandlot game because they are afraid or do not know how to play.  Of course, there are a range of dispositions to sports in between.  Overall, every parent wants their kid to be able to make a hoop, score a goal, and hit a ball.

I’m sure there are kids (mine are not one of them) who have beautiful shots, wonderful swings, and slingshot arms.  For the rest of us, we have to teach our kids how to do those things.  Learning these things and how to do them consistently well can be pretty boring. should you do it?

The key is fun.  Fun comes with variance, encouragement, and making it into a game.  We’ll go over each.  then I read this..I now always try to praise effort, not outcomes.  Third, my kids never wanted to line up soccer balls and kick them into the goal..until I became the goalie monster and kept their balls we can try to kick balls in every night.  Another side tip: the goalie monster has to allow goals.  It hurts my pride, but I do.  There has to be occasional proverbial pay dirt.  There will be a time when I can try hard, but not to start. 
First, variance means you increase and decrease the difficulty of whatever you’re trying to do.  If you’re playing catch, move further away and then closer.  Then, further.  Count the number of tosses, include a brother or sister.  Keep it moving.  Second, make a big deal about the effort.  If a kid is throwing overhand, encourage the effort (not the outcome).  It sounds a little soft and maybe a little too politically correct.  I thought it was kind of lame too..

Expanding on the gotta watch the sports on tv with the kids.  And on the radio.  This might sound like a desparate plea from a Sportscenter  addict.  It is..sort of.  After bath on summer nights, we watch some of the Tigers game.  On Sunday nights, we curl up in our mother in law room and watch Chris Berman et al go over the football highlights.  In the winter, it is hoops.  It explain the game.  We cheer our team.  As much as possible.  It underlines the point: this sport is fun.  I talk a little more about it in this blog post.

Eventually, though, it comes down to a basic question, what happens when your child kicks with his/her toes?  Or shoots two handed?  Or doesn’t put his back elbow up when he/she hits?  Or throws underhand?  Or catches with his/her chest?

My daughter, Chloe (7), wants to shoot with a basketball that is bigger than she can control and shoot with good form.  She DOES NOT want to use a mini-ball (like you’d see in a pop-a-shot) because we used bigger basketball s in her first formal basketball league last winter.  However, she cannot shoot the ball with one hand (with the other as a guide) with the bigger ball.  I had to choose: her pride or form.  I chose to let her shoot the ball.  I concentrated on her shooting from her chin.

In situations like this one, I think it is important to focus on skills kids can do well.  For example, Chloe can do dribbling and passing with good form.  She also can learn how to move without the ball.  I can teach (or reteach) her how to shoot later.  Fun first.  

However, there are still ways you can encourage good form.  Lighter equipment, larger goals, anything to make good form and success both attainable.

I’ve also had success with making things like races, monkey in the middle, and swat-aways the way to learn good form.   When I work with one, two, or three, I can do this well.

I think form is important, as long as the kid is having fun and can have some success, while keeping form.  Overall, fun is more important than form.  You (or a more educated coach) can teach the kids form.  They cannot teach them games are awesome and sports rule.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The People Mover to Tour Detroit

Ages- 4 and up

Cost- $0.75/person

Locations- Station Guide (stations are in a circle; you can ride around the whole thing)

Parking- You can park at any of the stations, but parking tickets are now $45.  I’d park at the Joe or 
Cobo, easy in, easy out.

Other attractions nearby- You can access anything in downtown: Comerica/Ford Field, the museums, Wayne State, Renaissance Center, and the riverfront.

Places to eat nearby- If you click on the Station Guide, you will find all the stations.  Each station is listed with the places to eat nearby.

Why to go there: It is a great way to experience the city.  Detroit does not have any double-decker red buses cruising around, but it does have the people mover, an object of derision because of its simplicity.  It is
a little bit run down, but my kids, who have been visiting Detroit frequently over the last year, were able to point out many of the places we’d been.  There also is a tunnel.

Max and Will, both 4, love trains, so they really enjoyed just riding on one.  Compared to the $100 I spent to see Thomas the Train show, I’d say they liked the People Mover way better.

The best part of the day was the smile my son, Will, who has been saying he’d like to live in New York City since he was 2, had on his face throughout the ride.  He pointed to the Ren Cen and asked, “can we live there, Daddy?”

For a person who wants his kids to love cities, that was magic.

What to do before hand: History of Detroit, things to do there, and why cities are important.  Read up on the different sites you will see so you can talk to the kids about them.  Bring quarters and single dollars (for parking and tickets to the People Mover).

Be careful:  Park somewhere you can pay an attendant.

Summary:  Under $5 for a family of 5 to see Detroit.  One of my kids’ favorite activities this summer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Modcontempern art museums for kids? Nah

I will admit I am not artsy, especially not visually.  I think Hopper’s Nighthawk.  I like various renderings of Yoda.  I naturally am interested in art that I understand.  I like to understand what the artist was feeling or the story s/he was telling.  Throughout the years, in various cities like New York, Boston, and Austin, I’ve tried Modern/Contemporary/Abstract Art Museums. In cities I’ve lived like Chicago and Ann Arbor, I’ve gone several times to get modern art.  It just merits a shrug from me.

The biggest reason, I think, is that I’ve haven’t ever studied the basic elements of art.  So, when I see a one foot diameter circle, drawn in pencil, over and over again, I think it looks like sophomore year Geometry class, not art.  I admit that.

I also admit I wish modabern art galleries and/or museums would give the viewer/visitor a little more. What is the artist’s story?  What is he/she trying to represent?  What was he or she feeling?

Emoting.  I know that is what I am supposed to do when I look at modern art.  I am supposed to look at the pile of laundry strewn across the ground and think of my responsibilities in life, the distress of the human condition, or the stench of humiliation the artist felt.  I can emote.  For ten seconds.  Then, I want to move past the post modern approach to art and get to the puzzle.   What does this pile of clothing mean to the artist?  What was his/her life like?

There just isn’t enough description.

I’ve also typically found people at abstmodary art museums to be snooty.  They don’t want questions.
I realize this piece might sound like sour grapes.  It might be.  Maybe there are great modern/contemp art museums.  I don’t want to over-generalize.  On the other hand…I have never experienced one.  I’ve experienced enough modcontemp museums to see some trends.  I’d just like to give fellow parents some advice, so they don’t have to struggle through like I did today…

You can see that I probably am not the best advocate of a modern art museum.  I do want to let me kids see, feel, and understand art and other things that are completely beyond me.

On a summer day, I took the three kids to MOCAD.  I thought modern art was a way to connect to the youngsters, who struggled with all the religious and royalty paintings at the DIA, would enjoy seeing paint/poo splattered on white walls in the name of art.

I was wrong.

When we got there, the entry person was very enthusiastic that I brought my kids.  She gave me a map and a warning not to go into the movie because it contained adult themes.  Great, I thought, that helps.  Then we went to see the art.  There were several people, as my kids charged ahead from what my daughter described as “someone scribbling on the wall” that gave us dirty looks. 

I felt badly for disrupting the whole bare warehouse feel of the place, I mandated everyone hold hands.  

However, it was hard to get into the “there’s no one else to blame” exhibit while holding hands.  I let the kids free.  Several people with nametags on started barking at my kids, who were trying to touch materials that should be touchable.  Like broken disk drives or crayons melted together or sketches on sticks.  No warnings on the art. 

The kids got scared.  I got mad.  First at the guy yelling at them.  Second at them for not listening.  Third at myself for bring the kids to a modern art museum.

I understand it is not a hands on museum.  The mad looks at my kids trying to get into art would not have happened at a hands on museum.  Or the DIA, for that matter.

It seems like if you want kids and adults to engage with modern art in a post modern way, you should let them touch the art.  Feel the art.  Emote? 



So, I forced handholding, as much as I could through the rest of the exhibits.  Some of which were disturbing.  Some of which were confusing.  None of which taught the kids anything about art.
Here is why I am not taking the kids to a modern art museum until they hit double digit age.
  1.  I don’t understand the art
  2. It is not self evident to my kids.
  3. There is no help to understand the art
  4. What the emote is boredom and wanting to leave
  5. People are too picky that you might knock over their conglomeration of balloons with a dog-head mounted on the top
  6. Everyone wants to shush the kids
  7. It makes me be overly strict
  8. Museums should be fun
  9. In my experience, the modern art workers think kids should not be allowed into museums
  10. They don’t learn anything.
Unless your home modern art museum varies from what I describe above, pick a hands on center, a history museum, or just look at some modern art on the internet.  Modern art museums=not for kids.