Saturday, April 25, 2009

Relay for Life

I thought we'd be spending the night at Relay for Life, so I set up the tent and then went to help with the Dutch oven dessert cooking. The Boy Scouts know how to cook; I have learned a lot from them already. They know how to cook in huge quantities:


Isn't that efficient? When cooking with Dutch ovens, you can just stack one on top of the other! And you thought your double oven was snazzy, didn't you? That little one in the lower left corner? That's mine. Brian M. "forgot" to bring his Dutch oven - or a recipe - and so, upon tasting my S'mores Brownies (another variant of my infamous "Chocolate Soup Goop") and my Seven-Layer Bars (wow, did those ever turn out FANTASTIC in a Dutch oven!) graciously conceded defeat.


Brian, if you're reading this, I just want you to know that if there's ever a team competition, I'd be happy to have you on my team!

William was the top fundraiser on the team! Thanks to all of you who helped us reach our fundraising goals, our team brought in $1500. The "Team within a Team" final standings were:

Holly Jahangiri $85.00

Katie Jahangiri $45.00

William Jahangiri $125.00 (That's before Crabby's donation, so the final total isn't in yet!)

It's never too late to help the American Cancer Society, so if you think you missed your chance, the pages are still live and you can still contribute if you want to. It was really moving to watch the Survivors' Lap - people of all ages whose lives have been brushed by Cancer. The memorials placed around the grounds were touching as well; a reminder of the fact that while we've made great strides in the development of effective treatment for many forms of cancer, the battle's not over yet - not by a longshot.

You can't have a Boy Scout food booth without smoked meat. The savory, smoky smell of sausage-on-a-stick had our mouths watering:


Does Mr. Cool up there look familiar to you long-time readers of my blog? He's the one who taught me never to turn my back on the brain-damaged disaster victim during my CERT graduation drill in 2008:

Class8FinalDrill031_thumb Class8FinalDrill039_thumb

Andrew's on the left. William, playing "Boy with bolt through wrist" is lying "bloodied" in the triage area on the right, wearing the purple shirt.

The guys also served hot dogs - copious quantities of hot dogs served with ketchup, mustard, and pickle relish - and dinner was wonderful. All proceeds, of course, go directly to the American Cancer Society.


Hungry walkers and runners kept the kids busy throughout the evening. It rained on and off, and Mr. H. kept a close eye on the radar through his cell phone. He predicted that the worst would pass to the south of us, so we just ignored the intermittent showers as best we could, or huddled under tents for five minutes until the rain slowed. Around 10 PM, though - just as we were about to announce that the next batch of cobblers were ready - the heavens drenched us and the field was lit by lightning as well as floodlights. Car alarms blared at each clap of thunder. The temperatures dropped quickly, and we reluctantly began to pack up. I got to experience the joy of packing a tent in the rain - but I was aided by Katie and her friend Meg, who had come to walk and run in the true spirit of a Relay. They were determined to run at least eight miles, and - despite everyone calling them "crazy," they did. It's too bad my real camera was under a different tent, getting slightly damp. All I had on hand to capture this was my cell phone, as we huddled, cold and wet, under the big tent and watched Katie and Meg run the last five miles in the rain:

Now that's dedication.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bring It, Brian!

I finally found the perfect Dutch oven recipe for tomorrow night's rematch. My competition's tough - and determined - and I know he's been plotting and scheming for weeks, now, disappointed that we couldn't go head to head at last month's camp-out.

Click the picture. Go know you want to.

I'll be winging it.

Brian has, no doubt, been testing, refining, tasting, and tweaking his recipe for weeks, now.

We'll let the hungry folks at Relay for Life decide who's the best.

Pick me, pick me!!

Wanna go "Best of Three"?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The "Cool" Factor vs. the Sacred Cows

Why are Some Brands "Cool?"*

Because they're like cows...outstanding in their field.

Seriously, part of the "cool factor" is uniqueness - the product isn't as necessary or as ubiquitous as a toaster. Toasters aren't cool, but most of us own one. Ho hum. Makes great toast, but it's about as cool as your grandmother, who probably made even better toast.

Another aspect of "cool," I think, revolves around our need to rebel against the establishment, coupled with our instinctive urge to cheer for the underdog - Apple the upstart vs. Microsoft the monolith. Isn't David cooler than Goliath? Microsoft and HP were cooler when they operated out of someone's garage.

Real "cool" doesn't try too hard to be cool - and it certainly doesn't toot its own horn and tell you how "cool" it is. It's the same with authors - I laugh when I hear someone describe their own work as "classic literature." That's not a genre; that's a label to be applied, posthumously, by literature critics. If you have to tell people you're cool, you're not. And just as anti-snobbery can be the worst form of snobbery, anti-cool tends to be cool. James Dean and Steve they're cool.






* Visit Mike C J, author of "Why are Some Brands Cool?" at Mike's Life. He's pretty cool, too.

Earth Day: Get the Kids Involved

I remember making posters in elementary school: stop littering, stop drop and roll, stop forest fires, stop smoking...stop, stop, STOP!! I joined the Animal Protection Institute and circulated an annoying number of petitions: stop bashing the brains out of baby harp seals, stop slaughtering whales, stop leaving your cat or dog in a hot car on a hot day (now we need to remind folks to stop leaving their babies in hot cars on hot days)...stop, stop, STOP! I trick-or-treated for UNICEF; I walked for the March of Dimes. Stop hunger. Stop birth defects. I could never understand why CARE wouldn't take "care packages" of leftover food (usually liver and broccoli) that I wanted to send them, but my parents said, "Stop!"

We were anti-litter, anti-fire, anti-animal cruelty, anti-hunting - but what were we for, really? I'll tell you - we were all for annoying our parents and we all wanted the Indian guy to stop crying. We were for cute, furry animals like kitties and puppies and baby harp seals, and we were for cool sea creatures like whales. By making posters and circulating petitions and walking for our chosen causes, we were getting involved. We were helping to save the world. And that felt good.

I wrote, yesterday, on importance of feeling like a useful, needed member of the family. It's also important to give children a sense of connection to their community - a community that can be as small as their neighborhood block or as large as the entire world. What better way to do that than to teach them to care for the planet that sustains us?

A good source of environmental information for kids is National Geographic Kids. Their list of "green tips" to conserve resources is an easy way to involve even the youngest family members in making meaningful changes that really can help save the world (or at least make it a better place). Need more ideas? The Green Guide for Kids is a great resource that shows how kids around the world can make - and are making - a real difference. Here are a few other sites that focus on getting kids involved in a good cause:

Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and faith-based organizations are also good ways to get kids started in community service projects. What are some of the ways you encourage your children to be more active in the community?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Author-Publisher Chat: On Women (and Zombies!) in Fiction

I was chatting, online, with my friend, fellow author (we co-authored the book Hidden Lies and Other Stories), and publisher, Vivian Zabel. We got to talking about what we liked and didn't like about some of the books we'd read lately. She mentioned that one was a little too "gritty" for her taste.

"But some of us like gritty," I said.

"I think what I don't like is women who want to act like a man and be rougher and tougher than a man but then allow their 'emotions' to override their good sense."

"True. I like strong women who are women. You know," I said, "the sort that'll take down a big man with a Vulcan neck grip rather than a kick to the family jewels."


"I can't stand fluffy women - the kind who trip over the carpet, land on their butts, crawl backwards like terrified crabs, and get their brains sucked out by zombies with a bendy straw. We're better than that."

"And a woman," said Vivian, "or a man for that matter, doesn't have to cuss like a sailor to be strong. Strength is often mental more than it is outward swagger."

"I agree," I said. All my female characters began knocking at the inside of my skull, clamoring for attention. To placate them, I added, "But she's allowed to cuss like a sailor under duress, in my book. Not to 'be one of the guys.'"

"Hey, every other word in anyone's vocabulary doesn't have to be profanity. Ish."

"True. But honestly, if the zombies were chasing me with the bendy straws, I'd probably drop an f-bomb on 'em before I figured out how to turn the Bacardi and a Bic into a flamethrower."

"I have tossed books because the characters, usually women, acted so stupid. And usually the authors were women. It doesn't make sense to me that women would work so hard to make women seem like dumb, emotional idiots. I can't stand the silly woman who puts herself in danger when all she has to do is call 911." There was a slight lull in the conversation while Vivian did a mental double-take. "Why associate with zombies in the first place?"

"Good point. Waste of good 151."

Relay for Life is This Weekend!

We are down to the wire, folks, and still slightly short of our $100 fundraising goals for Relay for Life. Current standings:

Holly Jahangiri $85.00

Katie Jahangiri $45.00

William Jahangiri $95.00

If you're looking for a great way to contribute to the efforts of the American Cancer Society, here's your chance. Help put us over the finish line! Just click on any one of those links above, and donate $10, $20, $50, or more - any amount helps in the fight against cancer. We'll be out there with HP and my son's Boy Scout troop - Troop 626 - selling food, drinks, and homemade Dutch oven cobblers and cakes. I'll post pictures on my blog this weekend.

Chores: to Pay, or Not to Pay?

"Mom, Joey's parents give him a dollar every time he takes out the trash."

"Really? Why?"

"I don't know. Can I have a dollar for taking out the trash?"



"Because taking out the trash is something you do as a member of this family, something that benefits us all. It's not something I should have to bribe you or pay you to do. Are you going to give me a dollar every time I do your laundry?"


Busy parents sometimes take the "easy way out," employing outright bribery to get kids to help out around the house. Take it from someone who's been there, done that: It's not the easy way, in the long run. Everyone has a need to feel useful. When a child has a sense that he's not needed or valued, he becomes less motivated to pitch in and help. This is the point at which the exasperated parent often gives up and gives in. "Fine, I'll give you a dollar if you'll just take the stinky garbage out of the kitchen and put it in the garage." If money is the only motivator, the child still doesn't feel needed or valued. He recognizes that "getting the trash out of the kitchen" is something that has value, and that mom or dad is willing to pay for it. But it doesn't satisfy the child's need to be needed; it doesn't teach anything about the balance of give and take in a healthy relationship.

That said, there are times when payment may be appropriate. Times when mom or dad, weary from a long day, ask for something above and beyond the norm - such as doing another family member's chores, or a chore that doesn't benefit the one doing it. "Would you go into your brother's room and ferret out the dirty towels so I can do laundry? I'll give you a quarter for every towel you can find in that mess." Occasional bribery can be effective and rewarding, and may even encourage the enterprising child to take on additional duties.

Allowances ought to be tied to such "additional duties," and not be treated as an entitlement, unless they are meant to be a lesson in budgeting, and the child's "expenses" are clearly understood. The unearned allowance ought to come with obligations: a portion set aside each week for charitable contributions; a portion set aside to share in gas expenses when asking to be chauffeured somewhere, perhaps. I don't believe in asking a minor child to pay for room and board, no matter how miniscule the "payment" may be. Nor do I think they should be required to pay for necessary clothing, books, or family travel.

Accessories, make-up, movie tickets, candy, and video games are all things a child can save up for and use to learn the value (and the hardship) of saving money over time. Even so, parents should set expectations early on: no child should be entitled to spend his hard-earned savings "on anything [he] wants." If mom or dad disapproves of the purchase, then the money stays in savings. Imagine a child with a sense of entitlement: "It's my money! I can buy drugs with it if I want to!" Or "I'm going to pay for that piercing with my own money, and you can't stop me!" There are less extreme - more legal - examples: the short, short miniskirt; the t-shirt with a sexual come-on emblazoned across the chest.

I've given my kids a choice between their current deal: all reasonable expenses (including the occasional frivolous purchase) covered, or an allowance where all frivolous expenses become theirs. They're smart kids. Suddenly, "But Johnny gets five dollars a week!" doesn't seem like such a lucrative deal. And I'm not willing to pay my kids to clean their rooms, take out the trash, or do the occasional load of laundry. That's just "stuff we do" because it has to get done, and we're a family. But I'm also willing to pay a quarter a towel to the kid who didn't leave the dirty towels upstairs, to save me the trip up and down, as well as sparing me the aggravation of seeing a messy room.

What's your approach to chores and allowances?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Keeping Your Family Close In The Face Of Techno Trends

by Jacob Duchaine

In today's world of deteriorating family values and decreasing real world social interactions, establishing and nurturing family values and bonds that were once standard is becoming more and more of a challenge. I'm sure no parent likes the idea that their children may grow up lacking a strong familial bond, but if you let yourself simply surrender yourself to the idea that it's simply the new way of things then that's how things are going to be.

Instead you should realize that while the old ways may be going out the window, it's your place to bring in the new way, and there's no reason that the new way of things can't include close family bonds, even in the face of a new age of electronics.

I can think of at least three major ways you can bring your family closer together, even in the face of the growing techno trends. The first of the three ways is to adapt, and work to help family bonds survive in the new age. The second way is to preserve. It may seem old school, and they may hate you for it while it's happening, but nine times out of ten they'll love you for it later. The third way is to teach. Too long the youths have been considered the world's computer savvy people. The fact that you've been around longer only means that you have had longer to learn about these things, and if you can be the one to teach them about technology, that's an opportunity to shape how they interact with it.

Adapt Your Family Functions to Technology

It's been said a million times a thousand ways. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Your family is moving into the future. You cannot keep yourself or your family in the past, and any effort to do so will make you seem out of date.

If you want to adapt, learn what the other members of your family are doing on the computer, and you do it to. Don't just do it, like it. Get good at it and make it serve your needs like it does for everyone else. You may think that since you've never done it before, you don't need to do it now, but the reality is that while you may not need it, you may find you like it, and even if you don't it will give you something in common with the more technological of your family's members.

In your efforts to adapt, you will no doubt come across the social networking sites. Use these especially, because they are in fact the heralds of something greater, and getting to know them will help you more than the current can show. Use the social networking sites not only to watch your children, but also to communicate with them, and organize your family's daily living. Integrate technology into the way your family functions.

Use social networking to organize family events. If there's a birthday party, a play, a family outing, or anything else, mark it online and invite the appropriate family members. This will not only help the family members remember, but will also make them feel like the family life is perfectly integrated with technology.

I'm sure you can think of other ways to adapt your family values into the technology age. Use Twitter to keep up with each other. Run a blog of major family events. Maybe even require that a child visiting a friend’s house, a summer camp, or some other location away from home, tweets at least once each day.

Preserve Key Experiences In The Face of Technology

While it wouldn't be wise to try to ignore technology, and I suggest adapting yourself and your family structure to technology, there are some things that can only be preserved. These are things that can't be done online. Things that you can either save, or let fade away. Things like eating dinner together, going to the park, camping, or a multitude of other vital experiences.

While it may sometimes seem tempting to let your family scatter through the house while eating dinner, you may require that every family member eat dinner at the table, as a family. This will provide a family ritual that you all do together, which will help create a sense of family bond if practiced over months and years. Do not teleconference your dinner. It's not the same thing.

Especially when your children are young, take them to the park. Some parents today essentially let the television and computer raise their young children, but the reality is that watching a park on television will never have the same emotional effects or health benefits as being taken by your parents to a real outdoor park to play on the swings and roll in grass. You just can't digitize real life.

Take your children camping. I know that a lot of parents have taken to the idea of RV camping, but it's my opinion that an RV is a bad plan. RV's have electricity, and if there's electricity your children are likely to want to bring and use their electronics. When you go camping, don't let your children bring electronics. No laptops, no blackberries, no cell phones. The adults should have cell phones for emergencies, but should not use them unless someone is hurt. Do not make business or social calls while camping for any reason.

Once again, I'm sure you can think of many other family traditions to preserve. Reading bedtime stories, family outing, things your parents did with you when you were young. Maybe you want to teach your daughter to bake, or maybe you want to have your son build a table or a shed with you. They may be resistant while it's happening, even after it's happening, but the truth is that later, maybe years later after they've grown up, they will love you for it. I know I do.

Teach Your Children About Electronics

Children have in general gotten a reputation for being more tech savvy than adults. Adults have been in general considered resistant to technology as they tried to preserve old things like pencil and paper that they were used to. Don't let yourself be the resistant adult, because if you are it will take away some of your authority as your children subconsciously realize that you're out of date.

Instead, learn about new technologies before your children. Tell your children about the technologies before they've gotten into them. This will be easiest if you have young children who haven't yet gotten into Twitter or Facebook. Teach your children about these services yourself, and it will make you seem up to date, and will keep your children's opinions of you higher than it might be if they think you live in the past, and will help you when it comes time to teach your children to moderate there use of technology.

Further Reading

There are lots of sources for inspiration in carrying out the tips in this article. I've included only a few of many article's you may want to look into. If you're looking for ways to integrate technology into family life, you'll find many of the articles in Family Tech Report useful. If you're looking for some ideas of family rituals to preserve, you should read an article by Mary Ann. If you're seeking to learn about technology... well I think if you want to learn about technology you should start by going out and experiencing it if you haven't yet. Get a Twitter, a Facebook, or a MySpace account or start a blog. Try to use technology daily to learn it for yourself, and don't let yourself feel hopeless if you don't know what you're doing, but instead push on until you know what you're doing.

Jacob Duchaine is a writer and student. He runs and writes the growingly popular blog, Blogging Guy, which aims to help guys interact with web & world.