Thursday, April 14, 2016

10 Things My Daughter Needs to Know

Our sweet, beautiful and funny Drew...

I can't take complete credit for this and there are a ton of similar type articles out there, but much of it is my own words.  It's something I've held on to for the past 5 years waiting for you to get old enough to understand the meaning behind it, but also when it might be needed most.  Sometimes I think I should have sent it sooner, and yet now seems like the perfect time for you to read it.

Please don't skim through it like you're prone to do with other blogs, articles, posts, etc.  These words are from the heart and I want you to keep them close for those days you really need to hear/read something uplifting and positive.  Read it in Morgan Freeman's voice if you must.  Just Read It ALL.

1. It is not your job to keep the people you love happy.  Not me, not mom, not your brother or sisters, not your friends.  I promise, it's not.  The hard truth is that you can't, anyway.

2. Your physical fearlessness is a strength. Please continue using your body in the world: run, jump, climb, and throw.  We love watching you streaking down the road on your skateboard, or swimming proudly in the pool, or chasing Bubba Jay around the house and then him chasing you back.  There is both health and a sense of mastery in physical activity and challenges.

3. You should never be afraid to share your passions. If you are sometimes embarrassed that you still like to play video games with dad, for example, or brush mom's hair and you worry that your friends will make fun of you, don’t be.  Anyone who teases you for what you love to do is not a true friend.  This is hard to realize, but essential.

4. It is okay to disagree with me, and others. You are old enough to have a point of view, and we want to hear it.  So do those who love you.  Don't pick fights for the sake of it, of course, but when you really feel mom or I are wrong, please say so.  You have heard me say that you are right, and you've heard me apologize for my behavior or point of view when I realize they were wrong, albeit sometimes not as soon as I should.  Your perspective is both valid and valuable.  Don't shy away from expressing it.

5. You are so very beautiful. Your face now holds the baby you were and the young woman you are rapidly becoming.  My eyes and cheeks and mom’s coloring combine into someone unique, someone purely you.  I can see the dark clouds of society's beauty standards hovering, manifest in your own growing self-consciousness.  We beg of you not to lose sight with your own beauty, so much of which comes from the fact that your spirit runs so close to the surface.

6. Reading is essential.  It is the central leisure-time joy of my life, as you know although I've been too long with a book in my hands.  Mom and I are immensely proud and pleased to see that you share it.  That identification you feel with characters, that sense of slipping into another world, of getting lost there in the best possible way.  Those never go away.  Welcome.

7. You are not me. We are very alike, but you are your own person, entirely, completely, fully.  We know this, I promise, even when we lose sight of it.  I know that separation from both mom and I, are one of the fundamental tasks of your adolescence, which I can see glinting over the horizon.  I dread it like ice in my stomach, that space, that distance, that essential cleaving, but I want you to know I know how vital it is.  Mom and I are going to be here, no matter what, Drew.  The red string that ties us together will stretch.  I know it will.  And once the transition is accomplished there will be a new, even better closeness.  I know that too.

8. It is almost never about you. What I mean is that when people act in a way that hurts or makes you feel insecure, it is almost certainly about something happening inside of them, and not about you.  I struggle with this one horribly, and mom and I have tried very, very hard never once to tell you that you are being "too sensitive" or to "get over it" when you feel hurt.  Believe me; I know how feelings can slice your heart, even if your head knows otherwise.  But maybe, just maybe, it will help to remember that almost always other people are struggling with their own demons, even if they bump into you by accident.

9. There is no single person who can be your everything. Be very careful about bestowing this power on any one person.  I suspect you are trying to fill a gnawing loneliness, and if you are, you inherited it from both mom and I.  That feeling, Virginia Woolf's "emptiness about the heart of life," is just part of the deal; a conflict between community and independence.  Trying to fill that ache with other people (or with anything else, like food, alcohol, numbing behaviors of a zillion sorts you don't even know of yet) is a lost cause, and nobody will be up to the task.  You will feel let down, and, worse, that loneliness will be there no matter what.  I'm learning to embrace it, to accept it as part of who I am.  I hope to help you do the same.

10. We are trying our best.  I know we’re not good enough and not the father and mother you deserve.  We are impatient and fallible and raise our voices.  We are sorry.  We love you more than anyone else in the entire world and we always wish we could be better for you.  I'll admit we don't always love your behavior, and we’re quick to tell you that.  But every single day, we love you with every fiber of our being, no matter what.  Never, ever forget this.

There are probably 10 more things.  Hell maybe there are 20-40, but these are the most important for you now.  We'll cross off the others as we get to them.  For now, that's a "moo" point.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

20 Things All Dog Owners Must Never Forget.

Credit for this article goes to PawBuzz, but like most of those sites, I can't stand the "Slideshow" delivery of the content, so I cleaned it up.

It’s been often said that dogs are the only creatures on earth that love you more than they love themselves. Well, ain’t that the truth! Sometimes, we take these wonderful companions for granted. If we want to pay back the favor and give them the best life possible, these 20 important reminders should serve you well as awesome dog owners…

Don’t be upset when I jump for joy when you come through the door.

I only live for ten or fifteen years. You are what makes that time enjoyable. It’s hard on me when you go away.

Image Source: Flickr – Jim Larrison

Give me time to understand what you want from me.

I don’t always get it right on the first try, but I promise I’m trying as hard as I can.

Image Source: Flickr – E Greens

Give me your trust.

Just like I trust you, I need you to trust me, too.

Image Source: Flickr – John Tyler

Don’t be angry with me for too long.

And please don’t lock me up to punish me. You have your friends and family to keep you happy and entertained. I just have you.

Image Source: Flickr – Christopher Michel

Take me inside when the weather gets bad.

The backyard doesn’t have air conditioning or a heater. You don’t have to let me on the couch, but a small part of the kitchen is much better than sleeping in the snow.

Image Source: Flickr – Tim Dorr

Talk to me.

Sure, we don’t speak the same language, but the sound of your voice brightens my whole day.

Comfort me when I’m scared.

You know a lot more about loud noises, strange people, and new places than I do. I need to know that you’ll protect me from them. I always feel safer when I’m with you.

Remember that I’ll never forget how you treat me.

Teach me that humans are made of love, not pain. And don’t ever let me forget it.

Image Source: Flickr – Eunice

Come outside with me.

The sights, sounds, and scents of nature are some of my greatest pleasures in life. I don’t care if we play, go for a walk, or just sit under a tree together — I want you to experience them with me.

Image Source: Flickr – Pedro Ribeiro Simões

Let me make new friends.

Introduce me to other dogs, cats, or even bigger animals. We might now get along in the end, but having some more friends that look and smell like me makes my life that much brighter.

Image Source: Flickr – Sam

Give me a treat ever once in a while.

Food is one of my greatest pleasures in life. I know you want me to be healthy, so I understand when you don’t share your own meals with me. But giving me a dog biscuit when I’ve been good or mixing tasty vegetables mixed in with my dinner is guaranteed to make me wag my tail extra hard.

Image Source: Flickr – Audrey

Please don’t hit me.

I have teeth that can crush bone. Instead, I cover you in sloppy, wet kisses. Just as I choose not to hurt you, please make the choice to not hurt me.

Image Source: Flickr – Beverley Goodwin

Understand when I need my alone time.

I love you more than anything, but even though it’s rare, I don’t always want to play or cuddle. Don’t be sad if I’d rather sleep on the cold tile floor instead of in your bed on hot summer nights, and be understanding if I don’t want to play as much as the years go on.

Image Source: Flickr – Keoni Cabral

Show me your world.

The house and yard might be the only places I ever see unless you let me come with you. A trip to the pet store, the park, or even just a ride in the car is exhilarating for me. I can’t wait to see what you want to show me.

Image Source: Flickr – Don Graham

Teach me new things.

Learning new tricks keeps my mind active, but most of all, it gives me a way to impress you. I love showing off for your friends, looking up at you, and seeing how proud of me you are.

Image Source: Flickr – Philip Bump

Let me get dirty once in a while.

Your world is inside, but I thrive outdoors. Sometimes I find a lot of mud or a lake that smells like all of its fishy inhabitants. I understand if you don’t want to wash all that stuff off every day, but as long as it’s safe, let me go back to my wild roots every now and then.

Image Source: Flickr – Cavin

Touch me.

Nothing makes me feel more loved than when you take time out of your day to rub my ears or scratch that itchy spot on my back that I can’t reach. I can’t understand your words, but I definitely understand the feelings behind a hug.

Image Source: Flickr –

Pay attention if I don’t seem like myself.

It might seem like I’m just being lazy or stubborn, but I might not be feeling well. I can’t get help for myself, and I need you to look out for me.

Image Source: Flickr – hannah k

Love me when I’m old just as much as you did when I was young.

I might not be the cute puppy that I once was, but I still love you just as much now as I did then. Please take care of me when my body doesn’t work like it used to.

Image Source: Flickr – Paul Kline

Come with me on my final journey.

I know it will be difficult, but I need you by my side when the time comes for me to leave this world. Every moment down to my last breath is easier if I have you with me.

Image Source: Flickr – Nomadic Lass

And even when I’m gone… remember these words.

“People are born so that they can learn how to live a good Life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

- Spoken by a 6 year old boy who had just lost his family’s 10 year old, Belker, to cancer.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Programming for Kids

In the past few months, I've seen this topic come up several times from friends and parents wanting to introduce their children to the world of computing.  To be fair, programming is only one aspect of computing but it is a great tool building math skills and cognitive thinking.  First, I would tell you that your child needs to have basic computer skills; keyboard familiarization, mouse control, and understanding basic concepts like typing are a must simply because a lot of the programming tools are going to assume that this is already known.  Second, programming is not for everyone.  If your child shows no interest or becomes bored, don’t force it.  Programming can be fun and exciting, but forcing the concepts won’t help.  Like most things, we as humans need to have an interest and desire to be driven towards certain aspects in our lives and this is no different.  Our kids are just little humans trying to find their way in the world too.

Enough of that.  Let’s get the juicy stuff!  I’m going to try and make this as easy as possible for you and your child to decide which tools are best for you.  Each have their benefits and likewise, their faults, but they are just mere stepping stones into the world of programming.  Also, each programming language is like Apple vs. Android; we all have our favorite flavors and each one serves a different purpose for reaching and end goal.  Try things out and if it doesn’t work for you, try another, but give them each a chance and see what fits your style best.

Computer Tools

Tools best suited for Primary level school children are growing everyday but here I’m going to list some of my favorites and explain why I've chosen them.

Scratch offers an online community that is great for both sharing ideas as well as getting feedback and learning from others.  The team at Scratch is also committed to making the online community user friendly, by not only encouraging constructive feedback, but by also policing the site with CleanSpeak and following up on reports of others who do not follow the rules.  As with all online services however, also do your own monitoring to be sure kids are safe while on the site.

PROs:  I can’t speak enough about the community, but if you prefer not to join in, there is also an offline version of Scratch available.  I should point out that Scratch is maintained by a group of MIT folks called the LiFELONG KiNDERGARTEN team, whose mission is to build technologies for all children to learn design.

CONs: If I had to point one out, it’s that Scratch isn’t for all ages.  Older kids 
may find it boring and it’s good for introducing coding, programming principals, but I would suggest quickly moving on to more detailed concepts


Kodu similar to Scratch, Kodu offers online communities and forums for getting help and sharing ideas.  Kodu is backed by Microsoft and uses visual programming to help teach creativity and problem solving.  Where it differs from Scratch, is that the concepts are built around games, so the while the learning is similar, the end goals are not as broad.  I chose Kodu though, because of this.  Sometimes FUN is what we need to get value out of things and seeing a game you built come to life is amazing.  Also, Kodu extends from the PC to the XBOX game system and while not necessary, provides additional outlets for your creations.

PROs:  Community based, backed by Microsoft, so you know it’s going to be around a while and support is good.  What I think is best however, is that anyone can help teach Kodu and they even have prebuilt curriculums for home school or public school settings.

CONs: Requirements for the computer are a bit higher than most, simply because you’re building games.  Kodu is a great tool, but depending on the age of your computer, you may be pressed to look elsewhere.
PRICE: PC is Free; XBOX Marketplace ~$5

Alice teaches programming using an interactive interface and allows you to see immediately how the programs run which in turn, allows you to understand the relationships between the language and the objects on screen.

PROs:  Community based, and backed by software giants such as Oracle, EA Games, Sun Micro, Google and Disney.  Oracle even provides further resources using Alice at their Oracle Academy.

CONs: Some of the teaching content is limited to brick and mortar schools, which I think is a shame.  While I understand their desire to keep the integrity of the source material, it defeats the purpose of providing a free learning tool for parents who home school.  That said however, there are other resources made freely available for teaching Alice.  One of my favorites is provided by Kathy Menchaca at Duke University, which also provides workshops for teachers.  You can find the Duke Resources here.


KidsRuby Ruby is becoming a big part of today’s programming, in part because of the natural flow of its language, but also because of its power.  Ruby is my favorite of the programming languages, due in part to how easily it can be modified to suit your own needs.  It can do everything from simple web design to more robust Windows, MAC OS and Linux fully functioning programs.

PROs:  Visual guide allows you to write, run and see the output all at once in the same window and because Ruby language is built more on simplicity, the code is easy to pick up.

CONs: The one downside to all this is that while Ruby is gaining popularity, Ruby tutorials and kid friendly programs are still very rare and sites like KidsRuby are just getting started up.  There is a silver lining and thankfully KidsRuby is the successor to Hackety Hack, which is still around and has some good tutorials.  The best part; the Hackety Hack code works in KidsRuby so you get the best of both worlds.


Code Kingdoms JavaScript has been around for a while, but it’s still very much alive and kicking, which makes it another great programming language to learn.  Here is where Code Kingdoms comes in.  While the site and tools are still under development, the kids who are currently involved are actually helping to write the code with the developers of Code Kingdom.  How cool is that?!?!  The concept is simple; play games that help you learn programming concepts from the very basics.  The site also grows with your child’s progress.  Where you start out with dragging and dropping, you later advance to actual text based coding.  They guys at Code Kingdom keep it fun by “leveling” your skills and discovering new content as you progress.

PROs:  Code Kingdoms is my favorite of all the kids coding sites and tools, so I won’t lie to you when I say I’m biased.  The concept is great, the folks behind it are clearly in tune with what makes learning to program fun and the tools just work.  The best part is that it’s web based so you do everything from a browser window.  While this may not seem like such a great benefit, think about this: most other tools need a PC to run on or a tablet device for on the go fun, but rarely both.  Code Kingdoms is one of the first to cross that barrier and because of it’s web friendly design, it works on PC, Linux, Mac, Android and Apple iOS devices.  Essentially, if you can open a browser on it, you can run Code Kingdoms on it.

CONs: Sadly, Code Kingdoms is currently free, but will likely go to a paid structure at some point in 2015 when they officially launch.  There may be some perks to early adopters to get in with a discount or some other bonus, but expect that you’ll be paying something in the near future for continued use of the Code Kingdom tools.  What is great, is that the developers maintain that they will always keep it free for schools, but it is still unclear if home schools will be included in that statement.

PRICE: Free (during development) Suggested to be “paid service” at a future date on launch.

Apps for on the go learning

We covered the tools that are great for use at home on your PC or MAC, but what about taking the learning on the road?  Here are a few suggestions for the traveling coder in your class.

Daisy the Dinosaur Great little programming app for the iPad that teaches the basics.

PROs:  Fun and cute entry level programming for the little guys.

CONs: Very few options to keep kids engaged for long.  Daisy really is geared toward the much younger kids (4-6), but even then, they will be left wanting to make Daisy do more.  There hasn’t been much development or updates to Daisy, but the developer Hopscotch may have meant for this to be the stepping stone to their flagship app.


Hopscotch The programming app that just keeps getting better.

PROs:  Where Daisy leaves off, Hopscotch picks up in a big way.  I’ve been playing with Hopscotch for a year now and the updates just keep getting better.  There is even a new iPhone version that lets you play the games you design in the iPad app.

CONs: You really have to dig deep to find something wrong with Hopscotch on the whole.  My biggest complaint and it seems like I’m not alone, is that there isn’t enough sound.  Music, or sound effects would make this app a 5 star rating for me.


Move the Turtle Another great app for iPad with fun “tasks” that help kids learn
the basics by moving your turtle to draw shapes or pictures.

PROs:  Great fun, visually appealing and simple to use.

CONs: With other up and coming apps like Hopscotch, the developer for Move the Turtle needs to brush up the app and fix some current issues with the new iOS 8.  Aside from that, it’s still a great learning tool, but one that is getting outdated and comes with a price tag.

PRICE: $2.99

Beyond the kid stuff

There are a myriad of tools out there for learning, even beyond the children’s tools.  I won’t go into great detail here as many of these sites are already well known, but if your child excels at programming and is eager for more, try some of the following as the “next step” in their programming adventures.

CodeAcademy – Great site with easy to follow steps.  All the classes are free and broken up into small chunks to make learning easier and at your own pace.

udemy – While somewhat new to the online learning scene, Udemy is making a name for itself with its ease of entry and mobile apps for on the go.  While not all of Udemy is free, there are some really great deals for learning programming (or even other skills).  I recommend checking out “Fractus Learning” and their Programming for Kids course.

KhanAcademy – Like a cross between CodeAcademy and udemy, Khan offers a lot of great courses for free.  Their Computer Programming line will take you through several modes of programming starting with Into level and ending on high level development.

Pluralsight – Normally a high end paid computer based learning vendor, Pluralsight has done something really amazing by offering some of its courses FREE for kids.  Not only do they have their own programing course, but they’ve also offered up some beginning courses on many of the tools I’ve talked about; Scratch, App Inventor, Kodu and Hopscotch.

Honorable Mentions

Stuff that isn’t free but may be worth looking into.

Other resources

For educators, both home and brick and mortar style, having a good website to get feedback from is always a plus.  While I’m not an educator, I was very involved in my children’s schools back in the day and I found Graphite to be a great resource.

Lastly, never forget the power of the written word.  We live in a technological society and it’s easy to forget how much impact a book can have on our learning and development.  For this reason, I also wanted to include a few great examples of books geared toward introducing programming to your kids.

Happy Coding!!