Saturday, February 18, 2017

Putting things to bed

Good morning, or good afternoon, or whenever you get this blog post.  I want to thank you for coming and joining me at this blog, and following me as I am growing as a blogger.  There were just some things that I quickly realized while I was on here that I would not be able to do.  As the list of things grew, my concern grew about what I wanted to do with this blog.  Could I make it into the thing that I wanted it to be?  And if I kept writing on here and eventually tried to migrate to somewhere else, how much work would that be?  So I made a decision.

I am going to leave this up, but put this blog to bed for the time being.  I don't believe I will resurrect it as I have begun to blog on a different site.  It is practically the same site, with some minor changes in look and some upgrades that I hope will be able to provide me with a better following.  When you start something and you really like what you are doing, you are a bit afraid of change.  And so I was worried what would happen as I leave here.  But I don't believe that I would have been able to make this grow here the way I wanted, and I worry that I wouldn't retain the following I wanted either.

Please visit my new blog site: singledadsguidetolife.wordpress.com  It has all the old stuff on there and some new stuff as I have begun writing exclusively on there.

Thank you again for following me here and I hope to see you soon as I migrate everything over there.

David Elliott, Single Dad's Guide to Life

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Top Five Brunch Places in Southern California


Speaking as a dad who is trying to be healthier for the sake of his child, I'm not strictly sure that I should be posting this.  In fact, I think that I definitely should not be encouraging overeating in any form. But it's Valentine's Day coming up, so yeah . . . Valentine's Day.

What is Valentine's Day? Other than the holiday to celebrate love and some saint... whatever his name was. That's right. St. Valentine. So it's the holiday that celebrates some saint who performed weddings for some soldiers who were forbidden to marry by law. And so he was martyred for love or some such nonsense.

But we all know what St. Valentine's Day really is for. It's Black Friday for all restaurants, candy shops, flower shops and greeting card companies, without all of the Black Friday deals. But then again, Black Friday deals were just deals on over inflated prices for items that were magically brought down to legitimate pricing by the Walmart price reduction fairy. Or the Target Fairy. Or the Best Buy Fairy.  And all of those fairies are in a nasty civil war with the Amazon Fairy that comes out the night before Cyber Mondays. But I digress.

St. Valentine's Day.  That blessed day where all the single people in the world are reminded of their singleness. It's the day where all the lonely people suddenly remember how lonely they were, until some guy named Ralph decides that he will finally discover that the perks of being a wallflower weren't all that great and he gets off his butt and invites Janice to the company picnic, only to find out that it doesn't happen until July, and he would rather invite June instead.

Or maybe I really mean it's St. Valentine's Day. That day created to remind all of the married schmucks of the world that they better actually buy their wife a card and a rose and take them out to a nice dinner because they forgot that their wives were special for anything the other 364.  Well maybe 363 because there is that Christmas Day thing too.  Valentine's Day, that beautiful day when the man in your life purchases you that new silent mixer for your kitchen because he doesn't want you to disturb him while he is watching his football games. Go Packers!

It's the day where you go nervously to a restaurant with your significant other while you stare at one another nervously with your cell phone on the table waiting to hear the slightest buzz; because Julie the baby sitter has shifty eyes, and you can't possibly trust any baby sitter with shifty eyes. (Who cares your husband John told you that it wasn't shifty eyes but actually she has a lazy eye? They were shifty to you. And you just know she will have Steve her boyfriend over the minute you two leave for dinner.)

Valentine's Day. The day you remember sitting there 10 years ago with the foolish grin on your face, staring as your fiancée Shalyn tries to explain to you that she is running off with her ex boyfriend Brandon or Benjamin or some other B name. (Although you can think of a better B name for him.) The day where she threatens to take off with the engagement ring you gave her; because you gave it to her, and she earned it for putting up with you for the last six months, despite the fact that you still have one years of monthly payments left on it. That beautiful fun loving Valentine's Day.

Just kidding. Kind of.  I'm actually not as against the holiday as the last couple of paragraphs would lead you to believe. If Valentine's Day is about love then celebrate it with someone you love or someone who sacrificed themselves for you.  "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay his life down for his friends."  Who has laid their life down for your benefit or who would you lay your life down for? Spend it with them. And do a romantic dinner at home with wildflowers. Because screw the card companies, candy shops and flower carts. (Or not... )

But if you are going to go hog wild this Valentine's Day, why not do it at a Buffet? My daughter gave me the inspiration for this post at breakfast today while we were eating.  And as she is my inspiration, I will hand this inspired thought down to you.  In that light, I'm going to discuss the five best buffets to take your family or significant other in Southern California. (Sorry Golden Corral and Hometown Buffet, you didn't make the list.). And if you disagree I am as always open to disagreement. Make me change my mind. I dare you.

5. Kyoto Japanese Buffet (Brea, California) - Tucked in the north east corner of Orange County, the Kyoto Japanese buffet offers a plethora of fresh options of all imaginable foods. From sushi to steak, from chicken to vegetable options, this buffet has a little bit of everything.  Anyone who wants to eat at a buffet has to be able to have amazing options at their finger tips. The greatest thing about this place was the vast selection of choices that you have.  For instance, usually if you go to a buffet with sushi rolls you may have a California roll and a few other options.  Here there were tons. Chicken was cooked in various ways, salads were prepared in various ways. It's not Soup Plantation for salads as far as selection but it has such variety I doubt anyone would complain. As it trends towards Japanese dishes, you do need to be prepared for that as a focus of your meal. But as my daughter isn't a big Asian food fan and still loved this place, it's well worth a look.

4. ILCHA Korean BBQ (off of Olympic in Los Angeles) - If you have not been to Korean BBQ then you are really missing out on something. Rated 4.6 out of 5 stars on Yelp, this is a must go place for Buffet lovers.  I was out on a date hiking a couple years ago. (Cue the "you needed to go hiking afterword to work off all that food" joke here.) After the date she suggested we go to this Korean BBQ place out near where we were at. I was seated at a table with a cooking area in the center and a list of the meats we could have for the all you can eat main course. Then they had all of the side dishes that you could choose from as well. It wasn't exactly classic buffet style served out in front of you, but they were on top of our order and gave us everything we wanted almost immediately. The meat did come last and we were the ones responsible for cooking it after they lit the grill in front of us.  The side dishes were great and the meats were marinated in some amazing Korean marinade, both sweet and spicy at the same time.  If you love Buffet and have never had Korean BBQ, you should check this place out.


3. El Torito Sunday Buffet- (any El Torito location near you). If you have never been to a Sunday Brunch at an El Torito then you are missing out on an amazing spread. Only served every Sunday they do omlets made to order, waffles, banana crepes, ceviche, posole, taco bar, fruit salad, freshly roasted meats and a ton more, all with a Mexican flavor.  Once again, having a daughter who is a picky eater and is wary of anything spicy, Mexican food can be quite challenging for her to eat. She had no such problems here. Rice, beans, eggs, bacon, freshly made tortillas, waffles, apples, enchiladas, all served with just the right amount of spice. And if you needed to add some heat to your dish, they had plenty of pepper of various varieties and salsas on hand to up the spice quotient. The service was friendly and the people taking our orders did not seem to take offense to the usual Sunday Brunch crowd. They served with a smile and were always there to clean plates, refill drinks or give you any extra things that you might need. If you are looking for Buffet with a Mexican flavor, there is not a better place.

2. Goofy's Kitchen (Disneyland Hotel - Anaheim) - Speaking in all honesty, my daughter helped me select the order here. But as a 10 year old she had amazing rationale. Quality of food came first. All things being equal, entertainment was what pushed something over the top.  This is why Goofy's Kitchen is at number two.  The quality of food isn't necessarily any better than El Torito. But all things being equal, the experience here was definitely worth a trip. You pay for the meal up front, which can be a it pricy. (Here is one of the places where having an annual pass really cuts the cost down.) Its about 20 dollars per child and another 40 for adults, which can add up quickly. They then put you in a line to take pictures with chef Goofy.  Afterwards, they seat you and it's off to the races.  My daughter got six plates of food. (She didn't eat it all and yes I demanded a long walk all across both parks of Disneyland afterwards.) They had all sorts of things to choose from, plenty for dessert and some unique Disney food options. (Where else can you get both peanut butter and jelly as well as macaroni and cheese pizza?)  the food was of good quality and the service as well. And of course between your meals they had entertainment.  Whether this was a dance with all of the different Disney characters, or the Character wait staff coming to your table to take pictures, it's all in good fun.  And this is a Disney adventure that you can do while not having to pay to go into the park. Just make sure to park in Downtown Disney and have your parking ticket validated.  Good food.  Live entertainment. Great fun.  And all with the Disney ambience.  Try out Goofy's kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel.

1. Buffet at the Queen Mary (Queen Mary at the Long Beach Harbor) - I know you were thinking, as I have a kid, what could be more kid friendly or Disney fun than Goofy's Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel? All I have to say is that my daughter reiterated what was important when grading, and food was the most important. First, the sheer magnitude of the food in the banquet hall was crazy. I never saw a spread quite as big as that. I don't think I will ever see a spread like that again. There was food everywhere. And the food was sectioned off into themes whether it was ethnic or breakfast or Italian or whatever.

Second, the quality of the food was the best I've seen bar none.  Usually you get a little worried by how long the food has sat underneath the heat lamps. The longer it's out there the scarier it is. But they had a ton of wait staff watching the food and rotating it out so that it never seemed to go bad.

Third, the food itself was surprising. To give you an example: I hate oysters. I have had them a million ways. Raw, cooked, seasoned, fried, etc.  It didn't matter which way it was cooked. I hated it all. But there in the banquet hall of the Queen Mary I had raw oysters with ceviche.  I loved it. I was shocked. If a buffet could change my mind about a food anything was possible. Maybe the Clippers could win the NBA championship. (Nah! There is the impossible and the stupid impossible. The Clippers winning the championship fall under that second category.). The truth is . . . The Queen Mary Buffet was great food, beautifully spread, and an experience unlikely to be forgotten. But as my daughter reminded me, it's just on Sundays so plan in advance. And going on a Sunday Holiday like Mother's Day would be insane, especially for those who hate long wait lines and tight spaces.

There are a ton of Brunch places out there. Let me know about some of your own.  I'm always willing to check them out... every few months... while my stomach has a chance to forgive me in between now and then.  Because it will need it.  And may my daughters blessing this morning be the same for you as you eat your brunch: "May I eat well, and may my stomach forgive me later."  No eleven words were truer spoken.

So this is me again, signing off.

David Elliott, Single Dad's Guide to Life.

If you like my writing, continue to visit me at singledadsguidetolife.wordpress.com

Friday, February 10, 2017

My Fitness Journal - Week One




Ok, so I had this great idea last week to keep track of everything I was doing at the gym. And so I am going to follow through on this. Unfortunately, this week, I will have to say I totally screwed up. Wish I could say I did wonderfully. Wish I could say a lot of things. Usually, the first week of diet and exercise I attempt after not working out for a while, I lose 5 pounds.  Well that is somewhat problematic for me this week. I will go into the particulars here shortly. But woah what a week. And yeah I'm working at this and it's been a pain in the butt.  But let's begin with my Friday.  Or maybe slightly before my Friday.

So I have to admit that I cheated... kind of. Last week I wrote my blog on the evening before Friday because it is the easiest day of the week to go to the gym. Maybe it's not quite cheating but it feels like it is because I know I can do it without a doubt.   So I kind of went to the gym a little high on myself.  I was going to the gym and everything was going to change. I've done it before I can do it again.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, I got to the gym and I started in on elliptical. This would be an easy 30 minutes going around and around, pumping those feet.  Well you have to decide what pressure you are going to start at. I began at 7 but decided it wasn't enough.  I moved myself to 10, then 13, then 16.  And about 5 minutes later I was out of breath. First, this meant I was out of shape. Second, It meant I am stupid. Not the unintelligent kind of stupid. The proud stupid who doesn't then move back a few levels because I can do it. I did it. Woohoo!! Colapse!!

No I didn't fall on the floor. I just made it to the men's locker room before I made it to a bench. Whew!  So now would be the time to go home right? I'm out of breath and barely standing. It's the perfect time. But did I listen to my inner mind? No!! Heck no!! I made a promise to myself, which makes me extremely smart, extremely proud, or extremely stupid. And maybe I was a bit of all three.  But I was going to do that half hour on weights.

So I sit down on the Hammer strength machine, which is basically a crunch machine although you are actually lifting weights with your legs as well as your arms, moving into a crunch position.  I decided to test my limits, as if I hadn't already. And I did it at 60 pounds. I'm sure that once I do this for a few weeks I will get to lifting 100+ pounds. But for now, I'm going to be forgiving to myself as I'm getting back into the swing of things.

Then I move over to the abdominal crunches, pull downs and back extensions, working my core and a little bit of my arms over the next half hour.  Finally I move on to doing the bicep curls. I didn't know how I would be doing because I used to curl at 140 when I last stopped so I cut back quite a bit this time.  This time I did it at 80. I could have pushed myself harder but I didn't want to wake up the next day unable to move my arms.  I know that's why you are supposed to alternate what area you are working on as far as weights, but I'm trying to pretend I know what I'm doing... at least for a week or two. Then I can break down and talk to a fitness expert.

So I finish up my bicep curls and whoops!  Holy crap!?!? I know that crap isn't holy, and I'm certainly not going to set it aside like Mr. Hanky Poo a la South Park. But wow!!! Going back to the gym after a week makes me feel weak. I have got to see this through. What's even crazier is that I feel like my arms are all tucked in like a weight lifter who can't carry his arms close enough to his body because of all his muscles. And I don't even have that many muscles. What gives?   At least I kept up what I wanted to do as far as exercise.

But after that? Epic fail!!!

Well at least it was a mini Epic fail.   First I have to say that I kind of screwed myself when it came to exercising this week. I cannot blame my daughter, but I really wasn't feeling all that well and I worked all weekend.  I finally did get back to the gym on Tuesday and did another hour, with mostly the same gym machines only I upped the weights I was lifting a little more.   But then I skipped Wednesday again. (It wasn't my fault, exactly. I had to ask myself whether I wanted to go to my daughters concert at school or the gym? It's not that hard a call.) And on Thursday morning I got up early and was ready to go. But then I was side tracked. By the time I did get out the door I had to deal with an accident on the road and it pushed me back as far as time even further. I only got a half hour of cardio completed before I had to go to work.  So as far as my exercise this week, I was off a day from my goals and I didn't get to do weights all three days either.

As far as counting calories, I'm going to say no comment. It is a pain in the butt to try to count calories when you are making your food.  And then when you aren't making it and relying on someone else for the calorie counts, you probably aren't eating healthy.  So this week was mostly based on guessing. Guessing is not a long term solution so I'm going to have to either invest in one of those expensive calorie counting machines or I'm going to have to be more vigilant. I'll let you know again next week.

Ultimately success or failure comes down to my weight, how I look, and how I feel.  As far as weight, I didn't move the needle at all. This is disappointing but not too unexpected based upon how I counted calories this week.  A couple people commented that I looked trimmer. I didn't see it but if I do then that's a small win.  And I do feel like I have slightly more energy. That's definitely a win.  Hopefully next week I will have three wins. Either way I know I'm moving in the right direction.

How did you do with your goals this week?  What things are you going to change for next week? What does your ideal self look like?  I hope I hear some good stories from you as well. It's always great to hear other people's success stories.  They inspire me to keep my own goals.

Hope you are all having a Good Friday, or had a good one. I'm going to sign off again for today. Looking forward to the weekend with my daughter. This is me signing off.

David Elliott, Single Dad's Guide to Life

If you like my writing, as I have changed website locations, please visit me at singledadsguidetolife.wordpress.com

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Libraries!!! Who Knew?


I remember when I was a child going into the library, it was like entering into another world, filled with books and information on almost any subject.  The other thing I remember is that I had to circumvent my natural childhood tendencies and be quiet upon entering those hallowed library doors.  Absolute silence was to be respected on the premises.  And as fun as hide and seek in the stacks could be, catching you at it would place you in library jail, where books go to rot, and rats would eat away at your infested toes.  Well maybe not the books . . .  or the rats . . . or the image of being behind bars.  But they would severely scold you, or you would be removed from the premises expeditiously.  That was the library of my youth.

Many year later, when I was told that there was a library job opening at a local library, and I was thinking transitioning careers, I was curious as to what I would find.  The internet revolution was already underway and hints and rumors of the libraries quick demise were being spread throughout the land faster than fake news, a George Bush malapropism, or a Donald Trump tweet.  We were being told by everyone that we were living in a post library age.  Kids doing research papers were told that they could no longer just use books. (Gasp!!!)  They had to find at least a couple of their resources off of the web.  They were to get them from reputable sources. (Of Course!)  But we were rapidly being moved away from the need for a book. 

And after a few false starts with online book publishing, IPads, Kindles, Nooks, and e-readers galore rapidly replaced the need to have a hard copy of anything.  We were at the dawning of a new digital revolution.  Nothing was going to stand in its path.  And Libraries, an outdated source of information, were going to be among this revolution’s first victims.

As I was beginning my work at the library, the whispers amongst the staff were about whether the library would be able to adapt to this new digital environment and how.  We were the gatekeepers, after all, of the world’s most reliable information. (And for those who think Wikipedia is that source of reputable information, all I have to say is, “Shame! And Unpardonable Shame!!!!”)  Maybe we were a little bit stuck on ourselves, but we had taken years collecting, organizing and managing information, deciphering what was quality versus junk.  (Or Fake News in hard copy for those of you who were born after the year 2000.)  How could we be left out of this new world of information? 
The Library needed to rethink itself.  And so we have.  Not only have we rethought what we are doing, but we have been able to grow in ways that we would never have thought of before.  The Libraries are not just mausoleums for books, where they go to die. (Although I did work for a place as a page once where maybe that was their understated goal.)  Libraries have become vibrant, community centers, welcoming you with opportunities that go far beyond what you may have thought. 

What’s bad, and yes we librarians know this to be true, is that people frequently don’t know the services that we provide to the community.  So in light of our understanding about our marketing weaknesses, here is a list of ten different goods or services that the library provides (going from 10th to 1st so be patient for the last one) of which most people are unaware:

10) DVD’s/Movies to checkout – Now I know that some of you know about this, especially if you were an Oprah watcher right around the time of the recession in 2008.  We were a hub for job seekers of all stripes.  But one of the things that Oprah focused on was the large movie collections that we have been able to develop.  These movie collections have only gotten larger and what’s great about them is that they are free.  “FREE???” You ask.  How could anything that awesome be free?  I mean, I pay 10 bucks a month for my Netflix subscription and I get one great movie at a time.  There’s a catch right?  Well, kind of . . .  You are subject to whatever movies that we have in house, unless you want to place a hold for 25 cents.  Twenty-five cents per movie.  So for 10 dollars I could place holds on 40 movies???  I can’t even watch 40 movies per month.  But wait . . .  there’s more!!! You can check out up to 10 movies at a time and renew them for up to 5 times which means you can have 10 movies up to 6 weeks at a time.  Sure you can have that one Netflix movie forever, but would you want to at 10 dollars a month?  You might as well purchase the movie at that price. 

9)  Author Events – I would usually rank this higher.  In fact, it could very easily be rated higher, but this is the thing that the library tries to market about itself the most.  It does go along with the whole theme of the place.  A large repository for books?  It would only seem natural that author’s would go to visit them.  But that wasn’t always the case.  In recent years, many of these authors would go to large chain stores to try to peddle their wares.  Libraries weren’t exactly a hotbed of sales.  The fit between libraries and authors did not seem natural.  But as virtual places like Amazon have taken over the publishing industry by storm as a distributor of materials, authors have needed different venues to reach out to their public.  Libraries have become a more natural fit to these author’s once again.  There have been some pretty amazing author visits to libraries by luminaries such as Ray Bradbury.  But the Orange County Public Library system goes one further in that it showcases 30 or more authors at a time with its Literary Orange event every April.  I know that many other systems are doing similar things, so check your local library for information about author events in your area.

8) Gardening, cooking, or home improvement workshops – Trying to learn how to install systems to collect greywater for usage on your lawn or plants?  Wanting to learn which fauna work best with the kind of weather and soil you have locally?  Want to get tips on the care of Orchids that you always seem to kill off?  Would you be surprised to hear that you might want to take a look at your local library?  Sure, you have all of the books that may discuss all of these issues in detail, and you can read about them to your heart’s content.  But being a more hands on person, I prefer being able to hear from these people who can help you out first hand.  Watching a person make a rain barrel is very different then seeing them online and trying to install one yourself.  (Sure I learned to pick a lock watching a YouTube video, but . . . whatever.)  As far as gardening, I’ve seen tons of gardeners talk about this or that mulch, fertilizer, etc.  But none of them on TV were as good as seeing someone at a Nursery care for a plant.  And if cooking is your passion, watching a chef prepare one of their meals right in front of you and allow you to try it out is a lot better than trying to glean information from the Food Network on TV.  (Nothing wrong with the Food Network.  Alton Brown is my hero as a nerdy science chef!  Just Saying!)  The library is a hotbed of useful instruction!  Tsssss!  (That’s the sizzle.)

7)  Database Offerings – Woah!  I know that the library has those stodgy databases of years past.  Why would I want to go and get on one of those sites?  They are the programs from bygone eras where the graphics barely move and the pixels are more visible than a Super Mario Brothers Video Game.  How can you possibly convince me that you have anything worth viewing on there?  Let’s begin with Ancestry.com.  You know, the website that helps you put together your family history. Oh and then there is Mango Languages, a website that teaches you through various different methodologies to teach you hundreds of different languages, including how to speak like a pirate.  What could be any better than saying arrrrrgh???  Or how about the database Hoopla, with thousands of song titles, movie titles, books, comic books, and magazines, all at the press of a button?  Still not enough?  What about all of those jobs that you have where continuing education units are a perennial requirement?  Through Universal Class, and Lynda these are all just one click away.  Why would you go to all these databases at the library?  I think the real question is, how could you not?

6)  Artist Displays – Whether doing whole exhibits or just a few paintings on the walls, take a look at the art always on display at your local library.  The artist themselves may come out and do a talk, or you will see it displayed along the walls of your local branch.  You will find some hidden gems in there from time to time, and garner an appreciation for the arts and for local artists that communities under appreciate.  Find out who the artist is and make sure to thank them for their display.  Artists are rarely praised gems in every community and it’s important to support people who bring beauty and meaning to our lives.  Check out the local art gallery as well.  They are also quite an underappreciated gem.

5)  Technology Classes – I know that for many, you have faced a job market that is unkind and not very forgiving.  Some of you may have gotten into majors, with very few exceptions, which leave you only qualified to work behind the cash register at a McDonalds.  (Cha-ching!)  Well you were able to get through college in the first place, learning at least a general education curriculum, and having to navigate the world of various learning platforms.  You are qualified to do so much more than McDonalds.  You just need to improve your skills and qualifications for that next job.  Where are you going to go?  Some job seminar?  You feel like one of thousands with very little hope of finding anything to match your skill set.  Instead, you should go to your local library.  Wait, what???  Why would you go there you ask?  Well how about all of the various different technological offerings they provide.  Job seminars, coding classes, Microsoft office classes, app classes, 3D printing instruction, etc. etc. etc.  The list goes on and on.  Each library may have their own specialty, or person at the branch whose specialty may be in a particular area of technology.  But my experience with libraries and librarians is that if they see a need in the community, they fill it.  Libraries have to justify their existence just like any other organization.  How do they do that?  With numbers.  Enough people want any particular class and you will have a library with a technology class in some area that you are interested in.  Go to expand your mind.

4)  Film Screenings – I know some of you may have remembered your local library playing Pippi Longstockings from the Betamax or VHS that the place had on a little TV screen inside the building.  The screenings at your local library go well beyond that today.  Whether hard to find foreign faire that allows you to see films that you would never have seen otherwise, to mainstream movies being showed to family audiences as a local movie night at the library, or film festivals where artists, directors and film historians come out to discuss works and engage with the community about topics that are current and relevant, the library provides it all.  What could be more amazing than that?  Oh yeah, they are no longer making you watch it on a small screen or even a big screen TV.  They are using laser projectors to put these movies out with quality sound systems making you feel like you are watching these movies at a theater with other theater goers.  And if that weren’t enough, refreshments and a discussion often accompany these screenings.  What makes the library amazing?  All those little things that they can add to your everyday life for the cost of . . . wait for it . . . Zero Dollars and Zero Cents.  Does it make much sense not to go?  I don’t think so.

3) Summer Reading Magic – I kept debating where I would put this one.  I struggled with this position mainly because it encompasses so many different things and it’s frequently something that a Library is known for, encouraging children to read.  But if you think that the Summer Reading Program is just about having kids learn how to read, then you have not been to your local library in quite some time.  Aside from the reading, and the prizes, and keeping up your child’s education for the summer, they have a world of magic that needs to be explored.  What do I mean by a world of magic?  Well on some level I literally mean a world of magic.  Libraries often hire performers during the summer, many of which are magicians, to put on shows for the kids.  But wait!  There’s more.  There are dancers, talent show contests, cosplay days, skateboarding demonstrations, caricature artists, painting classes, Lego building, balloon wearing, sky diving, bungee jumping, hang gliding . . . whew!  The list goes on and on and on . . . Ok maybe I went slightly overboard with the hang gliding and bungee jumping but the sky diving is a thing at the library . . . right?  Right?!?  If you haven’t gone to your local library by the end of May to pick a list of activities that they are doing for the summer then you are truly missing out on some spectacular, free, events for yourself and your kids.  And there is a little known secret at many of the branches.  Adults can win summer reading program prizes too.  (Shhh!!! Don’t let anyone else find out about it before you win that IPad.)

2)  Dance/Exercise Classes – Wait What?!?!  A Library is actually going to teach me how to dance???  You have to be kidding me.  Why in the world would the library teach anyone to dance anything?  How could they possibly do that?  And where would they possibly do that?  Well . . . I have to say, have you bothered to check out your libraries community room lately?  When you clear out the tables and chairs Libraries are the perfect place for some dance instruction.  I have seen hip hop, tap, salsa, swing, waltz, and a plethora of various dance styles and music that people have been able to pick up at the library.  And you won’t be able to beat the price anywhere because it’s free.  Well that’s a relative misnomer.  Usually, unless you have someone who is really gracious, there will be some funding through the library itself or from some grant to cover the cost of the instruction.  But it costs you nothing to be able to go in there and pick up a couple of lessons.  Or if dance is not your thing I have seen classes on Tai Chi, Yoga, Zumba and many more.  And what’s great about these classes is that they are not for professionals.  It’s not like the local swing night at some place where they have an hour before the dance for instruction and you are the only person who has never taken a swing class in your life.  It’s a little intimidating to go in there.  Here you are in good company with a bunch of amateurs learning the various different dance moves.  The library is the Planet Fitness equivalent of the judgement free zone.  If you haven’t gone to check it out by now, what are you waiting for???

And finally . . . the number one Library service that you probably have never heard of is . . . Books!  Wait, no . . . not books.  What was it again?  Oh yeah . . .


Even Bears Can Learn How To Read.

1)  How to Events – “Ok . . . ok,” you say.  “I appreciated everything else on your list, but how can you possibly excite me about an event where you learn a bunch of how to things at a library?  That just doesn’t sound very impressive.”  Well . . . I guess it depends on what you mean by impressive.  I suppose this could fit within any of the previous categories, but “How to” events combine the best of what’s in a library.  Think of some of these class offerings: how to pair wine with your meals; how to play the harmonica; how to knit; how to tend your garden; how to create art from your old and musty books; life hacks 101; how to do henna tattoo art; how to do designer nails; how to play the electric guitar; how to make Cuban coffee; how to talk like a pirate; how to build your own space ship out of spare parts and fly it to the moon; etc.  Well maybe you don’t want to fly that space ship to the moon.  That drying machine engine might have a few problems getting you there and the panels off the shingles of your house may burn up a little too easily while reentering earth’s atmosphere . . . but I think you get the point.  There are so many different things you can learn how to do. There are housing interests, safety concerns, hobbies, art, and a million other things that you could learn in life.  The library gives you the opportunity to light the fire of your imagination and consider the world that is out there.  The library is only limited by their own imaginations.  And as any librarian will tell you, their imaginations can run pretty wild.

After reading this list, why would you go to the library?  Well, if you wouldn’t go to the library after reading all this, you would be a pretty boring person indeed.  Or you might be agoraphobic.  And then you need to get a book on the subject and help . . . serious . . . serious help.  But aside from that there seems to be no limit to all the things that you can do and learn at a library.   If you haven’t been recently, you might want to drop on by and see what’s going on there.  The books are not all musty and dust isn’t coming from every corner.  I swear.

If you have other amazing events going on at your local library, I would love to hear about them.  Or if you know another place in your community that is a world of unexpected treasures, I would love to know about them as well.  The Library is my world of unexpected treasures.  And we seem to create more of these treasures every day.  This is me, signing off again.


David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life 

If you liked my writing, continue to visit me at singledadsguidetolife.wordpress.com

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Common Core Yay! Now Can We Bury It Already?




Being that I am a father of a ten year old daughter, and run an after school program at a library, two words have haunted me more than any other. If you had guessed Donald Trump, orange hair, or Steel Magnolias, your were close... really close. Truthfully those two words have been Common Core.

When I first heard that phrase in the educational lexicon, I asked myself what they considered core, and who was going to determine what was common?  It made me question what they were going to do. Why create a new educational system wholesale, leaving parents in the dust?  What were they correcting with the old educational system that they were somehow fixing here? And why do packages of hot dogs have ten and yet there are only eight in a hot dog bun pack? I mean seriously, it's like a math problem. When they came out with the No Child Left Behind initiative under President Bush, I didn't realize that they weren't taking about parents.  I thought parents and children were a package deal. To the government, evidently not. This travesty can not stand!!!  I was going to have to do some research on what Common Core was if I hoped to help my child.

At first I was going to have to figure out the why's before I figured out the what. Why was Common Core created in the first place? Why was the older system considered inadequate?  This story began in the 1990's, as standardized testing revealed that many students were not able to grasp some of the basic functions of math and writing.  They found these students were trapped in substandard schools, whose dropout rate would make even a prostitute blush.  The government decided that too many schools were substandard and so decided to come up with an accountability project that would standardize what everyone needed to know at every grade level.  The thinking was that they would hold the teachers responsible for failing students.

There had been surveys taken among employers who would hire high school students and these students were determined to be woefully inadequate to handle the tasks that they were given. Whether through a system that was declining or whether employers expected more from their students, people decided they needed to do something. So they started to develop the common core methodology.

So based on the belief that the system was failing them, a need to hold someone accountable for those failures, and a society that was telling them that their students were spectacularly unprepared for life, people went about changing things.  But here is the problem. Everyone is interested in maintaining power, and those in power are excellent at shifting blame.  So instead of taking a better look at the teachers who are phoning in a paycheck, the administrators who have allowed their students to run wild for fear of lawsuits, or the lives of the students going to these failing schools who have living situations not unlike war zones, the blame was shifted to the set of standards that were previously in place.

Now when anyone tells you that you have to do something because you can't not do something, be afraid, very afraid.  It's not a question of whether something needs to be done. You should be afraid of these people because it's most likely not your best interests they have when they want to do something.  They have ulterior motives! What a shock right? And even if they plan on dealing with a situation, they overcorrect. Imagine an apple grower who finds one bad apple on a tree. The grower decides to not just take out the apple, or just the tree.  He burns the whole orchard completely so he can start fresh. One might consider that apple grower crazy.  One might even have a straight jacket and anti-psychotic pills waiting for him.  This is Common Core.

But as a parent, and as a practical matter, why they decided to go about doing that doesn't help you with your child. And it certainly doesn't help me with my ten year old.  I needed to find out the what part of my question.   What had they started teaching my daughter and when?

I remember the two scary words being uttered when my daughter was four, but I think it wasn't until she was seven that they started to implement these standards. I started to take notice and ask my daughter questions about what she was learning and how she was being taught.   Then the students I was helping in the after school homework help program started showing me questions that made me have to think for a while before I could even answer.  I knew I needed to investigate further. (Another side effect of this is it made my tutors who had come to help these kids stressed because they had not been taught mathematics or English that way. They felt unprepared.)

While I suppose that there was no great way for changing a whole system of standards and making everyone happy, the real issue for me is the application of those standards and their practical effects.  As an English major I wasn't too troubled by the direction of the standards.  Arguments over what is classic literature and what should be taught has been going on for eons. It didn't start yesterday. And it won't end tomorrow.

How they teach spelling I'm a little less comfortable with. I realize that more reading gives you more exposure to words, which should help ones spelling skills. (Autocorrect and spell check are not good spelling teachers. But they do make for hilarious sentences.)  Having students continue to write out sentences when their spelling is atrocious does not assist them in the process. And watching people leave elementary school now having to be taught basic spelling lessons is a consequence.

The way they teach reading and argumentation is not a bad thing. It promotes, at an early age, students being able to develop their critical thinking skills.  Teachers focus more on the ability to defend ones position than on whether they believe the argument to be right or wrong.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Whether these teachers then add their own political beliefs that they impart on our children and make them come up with critical defenses for those beliefs is another matter entirely. Developing critical thinking does stretch the student, and for that I'm pleasantly surprised they might have done something right there.

But for every praise you might heap upon this newly created mess, there is a Frankenstein monster looking for people to hurt.  Mathematics curriculum is that monster.  I call it integrated mathematics. They integrate multiple principles within every new concept.  It's a little complicated but let me try to explain.

My first foray into this new Math occurred when my daughter reached the fourth grade.  When my daughter's school first started implementing Common Core they did it slowly, and the teachers were not necessarily big fans.  But when my daughter reached the fourth grade, I met its first big proponent.

This teacher, who I will leave nameless, went into a whole lesson with the parents on back to school night about why it was important to her.  She felt that it gave explanations for all the different questions she had when she was growing up.  She encouraged math like it was a critical thinking course.  I sat there pondering whether she would correct me if I had stated two plus two equals five, or would she ask me to give a defense for my answer. And if I gave a good defense would she then consider me to be right?  The world may never know. (Just like tootsie pops and how many licks.)

What she really reminded me of was all the students who had been in my high school classes with their hands raised all day long. If they could ask 100 questions every class they wouldn't be satisfied.  Half the time you thought it was to get out of work. Half the time you wondered if they really could not understand something. And if they couldn't, why?

My daughter had been in class for a little while by this point and I started to watch how she learned multiplication, especially numbers longer than one digit.  I watched as she drew Mendelian diagram's to solve a problem. (Take a look at a biology textbook if you don't remember.)  Slowly but surely it dawned on me what they were learning. They were learning the distributive property of mathematics through this instruction. But why were they learning it here?  And isn't there a simpler way of teaching them multiplying large numbers. I thought there must be an easier way. But this teacher was convinced that this method of instruction would answer all the why's her students would want to ask.  I was not sure.

To demonstrate my trepidation about her misplaced confidence I will take you back to my senior year in high school. I was in a mathematics course for Calculus. We were doing summer school work because the teacher felt like we wouldn't have enough time to cover the materials if we had to cover those first three chapters during the school year. I'd come in once or twice a week to do the work and get credit. Problems we had to solve for those first three chapters were a ton of work, multiple steps, and would go on for three pages in length. But I was happy I understood how to do them and felt pride in my work.  And then the school started and we reached chapter four. What did the first lesson in chapter four teach me? That all of the work in the first three chapters only took one step. This means I could have written the answer on the next line, not three pages later.

I understand that with those three pages I was learning a larger concept. Analytic Geometry was like a revelation for me understanding the basis for the theorems and postulates of regular geometry, expressed in algebraic terms. But did I feel happy that I wasted my time learning those three pages of background, let alone those crazy theorems in geometry? No! No! And let me think . . . Heck no! I felt like it was a big waste of time.

I think that when these students are exposed to an alternative method to solving some of these problems, and they will be, they will be frustrated by a system they felt like had wasted their time. Yes, they may have learned concepts that they will apply later. But will they even care?   What they will feel is that you wasted their time.

While I didn't like this methodology of instruction, I could understand it.  But I didn't realize it's insidiousness until later that year when the teacher started teaching the kids long division.  That understanding would come with an email.

One afternoon, while at work, I received an email from my daughter's teacher about her intentions to teach my daughter's class division. Normally I wouldn't have cared. But the email had an addendum. Do not teach my child to solve the division problems the way I had learned or it will screw her up. And I will have a messed up child on my hands.  This intimation that helping my child would screw my child was bad enough.  But the real fun came later.

My ex, whose penchant was always to fight, wanted to fight the teacher after receiving this email.  After talking her off the ledge I told her she needed to tell the teacher that she needed to understand how to do division this new way or she wouldn't be able to help our daughter.  She agreed that was better, and did so.  The teachers response was less than kind.  She intimated that it would be a waste of time to do so, and that the kids would be learning in class anyway.

I now noticed the house of cards that Common Core was built on. And it needed to be kicked down.  Common Core wasn't about a new methodology per say. It did protect some inadequate teacher's behinds from firing; because how could you know whether a teacher was qualified enough to help your child if you couldn't explain what was going on in the classroom? It was about control over your child. If the parent can't help, the school and by proxy the government steps in.

I couldn't let that stand. So we got parents together to complain to the administrator about the instruction given. I knew that once my ex was on the war path, there was no letting up until success. And success came in an email with video instructions how to do these division problems.  We could be parents to our children once more. But this is not what happens for many.

So unless you have a state that has ditched the standard, and 42 haven't, you as a parent are stuck with this crazy system.  What do you do?  I suggest two things. Supplement your child's education where you need to, like with the spelling and reading curriculum. Try to appreciate the things it does right, like developing argumentation skills.  And finally, fight the administration and organize when it tries to supplement their parenting abilities for your own.  They are not your child's parents. And they aren't invested in your child's success the way you are. It may take a lot of time but it's worth it.

Tell me your own experiences of teaching your children. Or share horror stories about fighting the system. I'd love to know your thoughts.  So this is me, closing another chapter and signing off.

David Elliott, Single Dad's Guide to Life

If you like my writing, I continue to blog at singledadsguidetolife.wordpress.com

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Super Bowl! Man! Ugh! - Or The Top Ten Southern California Places to Visit


So today is the Super Bowl.  Many of you are sitting on couches, eating food, watching other people sitting on other couches eating food, watching commercials designed to tell you how your life is missing something, because food . . . or something.  Then you sit back with your friends and argue about whose cheese dip is the best, or whether guacamole or avocado is a better layer for the seven layer dip, finally getting into a heated debate over whose jersey is the most appropriate to wear for the game.  (For those of you who are still arguing, guacamole is made from avocado, and the Aaron Rodgers jersey needs to stay at home.  You can wear it again to your heart’s content starting tomorrow.  And it needs a wash.  Just saying.)  Steve, the company goofball, who was invited to the party or else your wife’s best friend wasn’t going to be able to come (Steve is dating her), is arguing over whether his barbecue sauce is better than the one you took hours slaving over a hot stove to get the sweetness and spiciness just right.  And your wife, while talking to her best friend, is spying on you out of the corner of her eye, making sure that you don’t murder Steve and bury him in the spot you had dug up to plant your new orange tree.  Before the end of the day you are all couch potatoes and planning the death of Steve.  And oh yeah, there is a game going on.

So in the spirit of generating more arguments, or at least getting you to think of the fun relaxing things you are going to do after the big game today (Ok maybe not today, but in the near future.), I am making a top ten list of places to go in Southern California.  It’s possible none of you live nearby, but this will make the Green Bay Packers fan jealous while he stares at the 10th straight day of snow falling.  And what could be better for a frustrated Rams fan, whose team looks like it’s in disarray and whose only rooting interest in the Super Bowl is watching Tom Brady lose again? Go Falcons!

1) Disneyland  - This should be self-evident, unless you are claustrophobic.  And sometimes it makes me feel claustrophobic.   This is a great place to take the family, after you have embarrassed yourself yelling at the refs on the TV screen as if they could actually hear you.  Not only will your wife enjoy the time with you and your little ones, but you can and should take her to the Blue Bayou Restaurant which overlooks the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride in New Orleans Square for a romantic candlelit dinner.  As a former pass holder, I would suggest getting annual passes for the family if you live in the area.  I do understand the costs of the passes in recent years have become price prohibitive, but there is a sense that you get when you have one that makes the experience that much more relaxing and pleasurable.  I will tell you some amazing things that I have been able to witness being one, that I wouldn’t have experienced if I had been focused on jumping from one ride or show to the next.  I witnessed five Jazz bands jamming in New Orleans Square.  My daughter got to take part in a Musical Chairs game with Alice, the Mad Hatter and Peter Pan.  (Peter Pan cheated!)  My daughter won a crazy dance competition with some characters.  There was a game of fairy hide and go seek that we would have missed.  This list could be endless.  And unless you are at one of the other Disney parks, going to Disneyland is of the most unique experiences you will ever have at any amusement park, where you lose yourself to the magic and fantasy.  What could be better?

2) Knott’s Berry Farm – I know a lot of you will jump all over me for this selection.  But as a parent I am always thinking about the cost of things that I am doing, and Knott’s probably gives the most bang for your buck in amusement parks.  Not only is the park relatively inexpensive, and passes are as well, you can get a relatively cheap meal plan that covers two meals a day in the park.  Staring at the cost of your food going from 35 dollars down to 6 does make one feel good about the cost.  Just be aware that there will not be many spots where you can get air conditioning outside of the Snoopy on Ice Show, that they do during the summers and in the Christmas season, and the line for the Iron Reef.  Even the Bird Cage Theater, which has one of my favorite musical comedy acts, does not have an air conditioned venue.  As I have spoken about in a previous post, be sure to bring sunscreen and you might want to avoid the splash zone in the Wild West stunt show.  But the park itself has pretty decent rides that people of all ages, and constitutions can go on.  There aren’t as many shows as Disneyland but there are a few fun ones to go to.  But for those of you with slightly older children who crave more thrill rides; this is a better fit than Disneyland.  The Ghost Town is always a fun little jaunt into the past.  And they have the aforementioned Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies, one of my favorite shows in any park.  They used to be Billy Hill and the Hillbillies at Disneyland, but Disney’s loss is Knott’s gain.  This park is well worth a visit if you are in the area.  Just remember where you parked.

3) Universal Studios – To be honest, it’s hard for me to rank this one appropriately.  The last time I was able to go, they had almost constructed the Harry Potter area of the park.  So I cannot quite compare some of the magic of this park with other parks.  Also, I went right at the end of the Halloween Horror time there, and they had everyone leave the park at a certain time to have separate people come in for the event.  It’s not that Disneyland is open late every day, but I had a hard time comparing full day to full day at the park.  And then there seemed to be a lot of construction and preparation for Grinchmas, which I am told is a lot of fun.  Ticket for ticket, it’s quite a bit higher than the price of Knott’s, but you can purchase the buy one day get a year tickets for a little over a hundred, which isn’t much different than a Knott’s annual pass.  Although you have more blackout dates.  The park itself was a lot of fun.  You find yourself looking for all the different people dressed up as all sorts of characters and actors walking around the lot.  The Velociraptor outside the Jurassic Park area was spectacular, albeit a little frightening for young children.  The area with Gru and the Minions is a great place to take the little ones.   Just be aware if you have motion sickness issues with the Despicable Me main attraction.  And where else can you go to Springfield, entering the world of the Simpsons, and eat a donut while going on a zany ride? I always appreciated the Universal Studios tour ride.  As a big movie fan, I am not sure there is anywhere else in the world you get to see as many sets with a tour and remember all of the movies of your youth.  The fact that it’s still an active studio makes it even more fun.  And, oh yeah, now there is Harry Potter.  I wish I could speak more to this, but having a daughter who is almost 11, it almost becomes more magical.  Getting into wizard fights or drinking butter beer while walking down Diagon Alley . . . I’m not sure how it gets any better.

4) San Diego Zoo Safari Park – Beware for those who are really sensitive to what people do with animals. I would suggest that almost any park is not for you.  But the one thing I appreciate about this park is that there seems to be more open areas for the animals.  I do believe that the people there are interested in the preservation of these animals.  Whether we should be domesticating them in some way or not, is another argument to be had.  In the Safari park, the animals are provided with really large areas with which to roam.  There is a tram ride that goes around the outside of the park where you see these animals in wide open spaces able to walk about, fight, hunt, play or whatever activities they might be engaged in.  It does not have the feeling of watching these animals in a cage which many of the zoos in the area can make you feel.  I also appreciated that they have a lot of shows for the people that allow you to experience some of these animals up close.  Whether elephant engagements, butterfly areas, or Gorilla encampments, you get to experience these animals in as natural a habitat as you will see in any park featuring animals.  And the great thing about this park is that during the month of October, for the last several years, kids have been able to go for free to either this or the San Diego Zoo.  This makes the price of admission with kids much more reasonable and kind to your pocketbook.

5) The Griffith Park Observatory – Set up in the hills of the central LA Area, the Griffith Park Observatory has one of the most spectacular views of Los Angeles.  The Observatory itself is free and allows you to come and see a whole bunch of different exhibits.  There is the amazing Tesla coil that they turn on from time to time.  There are all the individual exhibits about the Discovery of Space.  There is the Leonard Nimoy Theater which can have a host of different programs.  We were able to watch them making a comet out of dry ice.  When they are doing a show instead of a movie, try to get up as close to the stage as you can, your kids will thank you.  And then there all the planetary exhibits down at the bottom, which talk about the studies we have made about each planet, as well as an area where you find out what your weight is on every one of the planets.  I am ten pounds I swear.  Just ask Pluto, which isn’t a planet anymore I’m told.  Oh and avoid the Jupiter scale at all costs, unless you are planning on regular gym visits from now to the next millennium.  On the top of the Observatory is a large Telescope, which they open up in the evenings to give you a great view of the night sky.  We were able to see Mars there the last time around.  It was a much better view of Mars than I have seen through other telescopes.  Finally, they have the round theater with the 360 degree camera which shows different shows throughout the days.  They have some pretty incredible movies in there where the entire ceiling is the screen and your chair is tilted to take it all in.  It’s the only thing that costs money at the exhibit (aside from the ridiculously priced food and the gift shop) but it’s relatively inexpensive and well worth going to at least one of the shows.  And if hiking is your thing, or your kids are still bouncing off walls because you made them sit on the couch while watching the Super Bowl, there is this incredible hike up into the hills where you have a spectacular view of LA all the way out to the coast, and as good a view of the Hollywood sign that you are going to get, unless you plan on illegally hopping the fence and changing the sign to Hollyweed . . . or Hollyweird.  That second one may be too many letters though.  Plus, as I have hinted at, aside from the theater, it’s a free day at an amazing park with a spectacular view, and a Tesla Coil.  

6) The California Science Center – Tucked in the heart of L.A. across from the Coliseum, the California Science Center is a large interactive exhibit allowing you to experience the science of everything.  From space, to the body, to Eco zones, this center allows your children to engage in a myriad of exhibits helping them to understand the world that they live in.  It’s going to cost you $10 to park, but as the Science Center itself is free, it’s a relatively inexpensive place to take your kids with so much information.  There was the incredible Ice wall that was in the Arctic Zone, learning about how erosion works with a large trough of sand with water flowing through it, and space capsules that had been used during the Apollo space missions.  Your kids will be able to not only view all of these different things, but participate actively in all of them.  And where else can you have them play and allow them to engage in some amazing different scientific areas of discovery?  Inside of this center they also have two exhibits and a show that do cost some amount of money.  The exhibit up top changes from time.  When I was able to go with my daughter, it was the Pompeii exhibit.  They had some amazing information about the city of Pompeii and all of the cultural relics that they were able to dig up from the lava and ash that had settled after the eruption back in the days of the Roman Empire.  You could learn about ancient art, culture and ultimately how a civilization died with one tragic occurrence.  I admit it was a bit harrowing at the end to see the bodies of the victims on display.  You couldn’t really see them but the lava had hallowed out areas where the bodies had been.  I could see people reaching up as the lava incased them.  Then they have a 3D movie screen that you can watch some show about a science topic.  Finally you have the Space shuttle Endeavor on display where you can reach out and touch a piece of history.  To get into this exhibit, it was free with the cost of going to the Pompeii Exhibit.  But check their website for pricing.  www.californiasciencecenter.org

7) The Pantages Theater – I couldn’t have a list with all amusement or scientific theater type stuff on it for the Southern California Area.  You want to have a variety of experience for you, your wife, your children, and Steve who you are trying to suck up to until the day comes when your oranges are happy, or you can convince your wife’s best friend that your coworker John is much better marriage material.  I love this amazing theater on the Hollywood strip.  Get yourself dressed to the nines with your date and go out for an evening on the town.  I will say that it is a pain in the butt to find parking.  Just expect to pay twenty dollars in parking wherever you go, or a long walk from a seedy area which is fine during the day, but a little sketchy when you are leaving the theater at ten in the evening.  (Is that Steve dressed like Marilyn Monroe?  I wondered what he did on his Friday evenings.)  When you go in you see an incredible hallway with a huge staircase on both sides, and people selling memorabilia for the show.  I went with my daughter to see Mama Mia! (Don’t judge me!  My daughter loves ABBA.  What can I say?)  Entering into the theater itself, it felt like a palace.  There were all of the ornate decorations on the ceiling. You could stare at it for hours.  And oh yeah, there was a show that went along with this whole experience.  Now I would pick the show that you really want to go to, but it’s definitely something I would do while you are out in LA.  It may not be Broadway, but it’s the best we have here on the Left Coast.  I just want to send a shout out to the person who got me the tickets.  It was an amazing experience and my daughter loved it.  And Hamilton, the show, is coming there in August.  Get your tickets while you can.

8) Angelo’s and Vinci’s – Tucked in the heart of downtown Fullerton, this little Italian restaurant is worth an visit and the food is amazing. (What?  You don’t know where Fullerton is?  It’s about 20 minutes north of Disneyland, so stop on by while you are in the area.)  As you enter into this amazing restaurant with a vaulted ceiling you get a bit of the old world, with flair.  It’s about three stories tall and in one corner they have a spire that is decorated with angels and art all the way up.  Every inch of the place is decorated with some piece of art.  And they have a couple of rooms for people who are looking to hold larger celebrations.  Down below, for those of you who are interested in a little old world horror, go to visit the dungeon with Halloween haunts galore.  And, oh yeah, they have some pretty amazing Italian food and wines for those of you who would imbibe.  (Please drink responsibly.)  I just can’t tell you of a place in the area with the same kind of atmosphere and ambience that you will find here.  They have great food, reasonably priced. And it is kid friendly, although you can always threaten to leave them in the dungeon if they don’t behave.  Just be sure that they don’t leave you locked down there first. For the past 43 years, Angelo’s and Vinci’s has been one of the most amazing unknown Italian places in the area.  Come enjoy the incredible food and ambience like nowhere else.

9) La Brea Tar Pits – If you come to the LA Area, visiting the La Brea Tar Pits is an amazing look into the natural history of the place.  (You can always forget to put the La in the title and inform Steve you went to the Brea Tar Pits.  He will end up an hours distance east and never find where you are.)  In this tar they have been able to preserve natural history in ways they have not been able to do in other regions.  For Scientists it has been the equivalent of finding fossilized animals buried underneath layers of dirt.  The Tar has been able to preserve animals like Mammoths, ground sloths, saber tooth cats, bears and Dire Wolves.  (This last bit is for all of you Game of Thrones fans who have not gotten enough violence after the beating that Tom Brady will take today.  Did I say go Falcons yet?)  As these animals and humans have been stuck in this tar, it preserved the bones in ways that other areas more subject to erosion have not been able to.  We have been able to understand what life was like in the area for eons.  You will be able to see some of the Tar Pits themselves and go into the exhibits where they talk about means of excavation and preservation of the creatures.  It’s relatively inexpensive and a good place to take kids interested in anthropology.  Just beware that parking can be a pain in the butt to find, and sometimes they close off the lot early so you might have to find parking in the neighborhood.

10) The Getty Center – Located in the heart of Brentwood, a la O.J. Simpson Fame, the Getty Center contains amazing views, some incredible art and a garden area that is awe inspiring.  If your bent is to the artsy side, you can see masterpieces by Vincent Van Gogh, other European artists, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts and decorative arts.  When you are finished looking at all of the amazing art, do not forget to visit the central gardens.  The central gardens are an amazing walk through a truly beautiful and uniquely arranged fauna.  You do have to park at the bottom of a hill but you get taken to the center by a cable-car hover train.  It costs $15 to park and is only $10 after 3:00 PM but you will need more than a couple of hours to take in all of the amazing pieces they have on the grounds.  Originally the Museum was created in 1954 out of the original Getty House in the Palisades, but upon Getty’s death they wanted to have it more accessible and put it up in the Santa Monica Mountains.  The Center itself is free and can be enjoyed and appreciated at your leisure.  Just make sure that your children are still not bouncing off the walls when they get there.  

Honorable Mentions : Six Flags Magic Mountain, The Huntington Gardens, The San Juan Capistrano Mission, Nobu Restaurant, Disney Studios, Chinese Theater in Hollywood, Disney’s El Capitan Theater

The crazy thing is that there are so many different things to do in Southern California.  I didn’t even get into hiking trails that are magnificent, or natural habitats that will leave you breathless.  (Places you can drop Steve off and well . . . that’s up to you.  Remember murder is bad!!)  When you have only ten places to choose from, you go with what you have enjoyed the most.  For me, it’s all about connecting with my daughter.  I added some honorable mentions in there as well.  Hope you enjoyed my list, and definitely debate me, because Super Bowl!  Man! Ugh!  This is me, signing off.

David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life

If you liked my writing, I continue to blog at singledadsguidetolife.wordpress.com

Friday, February 3, 2017

Fitness Friday's - Or Not Another Fitness Blog! Ugh!


I was working on what I was going to write for today... maybe an anti Super Bowl screed. Not because I actually hate the Super Bowl. I actually think the game is ok, the commercials are interesting, and parties are fun to go to. But because I wanted to be contrarian. There I said it... I like to make people nervous.  Now that I got that off my chest I figured I would go in an entirely new direction for today.

I know last week I posted "Fitness Friday" on my social media.  And to be honest I haven't been going like I should have been. There have been a million reasons for this. But I decided that I'm going to stop giving myself excuses and take Fridays to blog about my fitness update.

So right now I'm going to lay out all my goals for the weeks ahead, and then I will keep myself accountable through this to follow through on them. I will also be talking about the things I chose to do during workouts for the day, and the process I took doing them. Finally I'm going to be covering my meal plans. Try not to judge me too much. I still eat meat.  So I'm not turning vegetarian here but I've lost weight before without having to do that.

I'm also not giving up Diet Coke.  I'm going to take a whole paragraph for the haters of Diet Coke. If you hate soda altogether I'm ok with that. I understand your misgivings, and your aversion to drink it, especially after the video depicting the miraculous way it cleans pennies. (As does Taco Bell hot sauce and that saved someone's life before... just saying)  But for those who still drink Coke as if it's somehow a better drink, while running around telling people Diet Coke causes people to gain weight, I have a thing to say. I lost almost 100 pounds before while still drinking the Diet Coke. So for me, it's not about Diet Coke or its properties. It's about my will power. Besides, if my only vice is Diet Coke, I'll deal with it.

As far as exercising this week, I'm going to do a half hour of cardio and an hour of weights. I don't Have a specific schedule as far as working on arms, legs, or abs.  Maybe I will make that along the way but this is the first day of my goal setting so I will cut myself some slack.  My goal is to be able to go five times a week but I will be happy with four if I get back into the habit. I used to do two sessions a day, six days a week so I know I'm not pushing myself too hard, or trying to lose weight too quickly.  I'll put the specifics of what I did in the weekly blogs later.

Also this coming week I'm going to make sure my caloric intake does not go above 2000 calories. This should allow me to lose some weight by the diet alone. I don't want to lose too fast, but my goal is to get to 200 lbs by the end of June. This means regular exercise. I know this takes dedication but it can be done and I have done it before.

I'm going to track my food choices every day for the week and hopefully I will start making better ones. Planning and preparation are going to go into this and if I can inspire anyone else to doing this, I will consider the whole thing a success. This does not mean that this is going to become a fitness blog.  This is my weekly personal journal about getting into shape, preferably not the round kind.

I know that when I have my daughter, things will be difficult, and this has been what has derailed my exercise regimen in the past. But I don't intend to let that happen this time. I'm doing this whole exercise and diet for my daughter and not in spite of my daughter. I still want to be healthy enough to keep up with my daughter as she gets older and wants to do bigger things. I want to be healthy enough so that when she gets married I can do the daddy daughter dance and not embarrass her. (This might also mean dance lessons but shhhh!!! One big hurdle at a time.) I want to focus on the right things that make me into the person that draws people to me. And I believe improving my health is the start of this.

I'm not going to try to do some fad diet to then push some companies stuff on my blog. I'm also not going to try to induce some celebrity to complain about my blog to get notoriety. (Even though I know you want to Christian Bale and Channing Tatum. You.  Want.  To. Or maybe I just meant Kevin Hart.) Someone already did that with the Rock and it is not my intent here.

I'm doing this for me, and maybe to inspire a few of you. I know I'm going to screw up at times and eat a cheeseburger at McDonald's.  But I'm laying down my marker here. I challenge you to change up something that you do for the next 21 weeks. And I want to hear about your successes or failures during this time. I'll be here tracking my progress every Friday so that's my pledge to you, and to myself.

So here I am again, on the precipice of Super Bowl Sunday, signing off.

David Elliott, Single Dad's Guide to Life

If you like my writing, I continue to blog at singledadsguidetolife.wordpress.com

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The End of Mr. Murphy. May He Rest in Peace


So there I am . . . staring at the ceiling, just waiting for tomorrow.  Tomorrow. . .  Tomorrow . . .  What was I waiting for again?  That’s right.  I was thinking that tomorrow would go more smoothly.  Oh!  You haven’t read the last two days’ worth of adventures.  Whether movie dates with parents, or Knott’s Berry Farm adventures, the rest of the weekend could not possibly be as crazy.  Feel free to peruse through the last two blogs to find out how I ended up at this moment.

And as I drift off to sleep from this long day, I know that things couldn’t get any worse.  I do keep telling myself that.  So you know you have parents who cannot stop being parents.  They are probably your parents for that matter. 

Who am I kidding?  I know that I’m never going to stop being a parent to my child either.  And I am sure I will be the obnoxious old curmudgeon who tells what it was like in the good old days before smart phones, cell phones, personal computers, televisions that didn’t have a billion channels. . .  Maybe I am doing that already.  Wait a second!!!  That makes me feel old, and it wasn’t that long ago, in relative terms.  Whether you believe in a several billion year-old planet or a 10,000 year-old planet, 40 years is like the blip on a radar screen. 

So these parents have been given a gift.  They have the gift of the screeching voice and bringing chaos to the quiet.  Maybe they got it from all the years that you tormented them growing up.  Maybe someone made them a deal in exchange for something dark and sinister. Whatever the case may be, they have had years of practice disturbing you enough into getting up from a slumber.  This can be through telephone calls or merely yelling loudly from the bottom of the stairs.  They got really good at this during your teen years, and it tapered off since then.  But sometimes they feel like they need to let you know they are still good at it.

Getting called early in the morning out of a dead sleep is one of those times.  (Well maybe not quite dead as you have a child and need to be available for anything.)  So in your death warmed over look you are shocked into alertness, desiring that you should remember that they want to help you get clothes for your daughter that day.  While you are not adverse to this adventure, you do know that your child, at this point, hates to try on clothes.  (Yes you are being tortured for hiding in the clothes racks to avoid trying on clothes when you were a child.)  And it’s not exactly the best way to have an enjoyable day.  But you know it needs to get done, for your daughter, and for your parent.

So after much prodding to get out in the morning, because after two days of crazy you know it’s not going to be easy, you get yourself and child out the door to start your day.  Forget that you may have had plans to do anything else in the morning as it’s been blown up by two days of crazy and you have to unwind.  This is mandatory not only for your sake but for the sake of your over extended child. 

So after attempts at completing your Sunday morning plans, the first stop we took on our detour is to a little Italian lunch place called Lascari’s.  I remember the amazing hot ham and cheese sandwiches that I had there when I was growing up, and I wanted something light. (Ham and cheese light?  It's lighter than pizza so there!)   But when I get there and look at the menu, they have a free child meal with the purchase of an adult meal on Sunday.  To get the deal, a sandwich is not going to cut it, but things have to be looking up because of the free meal.  It’s only right that things have got to be getting better.  And the meal is amazing.  Not only is the Lobster Ravioli I purchased well worth the price, my daughter ravaged her spaghetti and Meatballs.  I expected to see a half eaten plate.  There was not a noodle left to be seen.  I was half expecting snarling sounds from the other end of the table.

Then we go to the store to purchase something to make for dinner, which again goes smoothly.  Afterwards, we wait around for my parents to get home to be able to get the money and go to the store for clothes shopping.  My parents, whose promptness in the morning woke us earlier than we were ready, made sure that they were not quite as prompt on the way back.  They were two hours late.  On most weekends this wouldn’t be that much of a problem.  On the Sunday evening before I take my daughter back to school the next morning, it’s drama.

First, every parent has rituals that they practice with their kids.  Whether it’s prayer before a meal, or taking a shower and combing out hair at night, you have something you do to establish some kind of a schedule for your kids.  It’s good to give them something to count on.  Making us get to a clothing store at 5:00 P.M. on a Sunday evening and try on a bunch of clothes is like an atom bomb to the schedule.  (And it’s not exactly like we have been following the schedule this weekend as it is.)  At 6:00 is dinner, 7:00 is shower.  8:00 is watching a TV show while I comb out her hair.  8:45 is brushing her teeth and taking any medication she needs.   And 9:00 is bedtime. 

Now I admit that we fudge on that schedule from time to time.  There are things that throw you off.  But if you are trying to get clothing that you want your child to try on that makes it so you don’t get home until 6:30 in the evening, and you haven’t even started to make your dinner, things are not going your way.  And of course to try to explain this to your parent, whose sole purpose for this misadventure was to get your daughter to try on the clothing rather than just purchasing it and never trying it on, is a non-starter.  So we go to the store.

I had counted on a friend of mine who works at this clothing store to be there, but was not.  Thankfully we found a helpful female sales associate to get some clothes my daughter would appreciate for someone her size.  She’s that fun size which is every dad’s nightmare.  Everyone wants their child to be tall.  Being short leaves you opportunity to be bullied and picked on, even as a female.  Tallness is great, until the moment just before your child reaches that magical stage called puberty.  It’s not at puberty that is the problem with clothing.  At least then they are filling out the clothes the stores have designed.  It’s just before that with your taller child that there is a problem.  They are too tall to be wearing the kids’ sizes, even in the extra-large category.  Their height makes it so that they need to wear something in the women’s size, even as large as a medium.  But by the time you reach a medium in women’s clothing, they expect you to have a bust.  A ten year old usually does not.  And if they did, it would be a whole other problem.

I would go into details about what happened next, but I am going to spare my daughter and myself the embarrassment.  I am sure as a parent that you can understand all of the fun things that could possibly happen in a clothing changing area.  Thankfully the sales associate was very good about it all and we were able to get some clothing.  The hard thing was to actually pay for the women’s clothing and realizing how little you were getting for how much.  One size smaller in the kids section and the clothes would be relatively cheap.  But by the time you paying for adult clothing, you can forget it.  Ah the advantages of growing up!

On the drive home I am sitting listening to my daughter explain to me about the benefits of shopping at Target, which may not be as good as she thinks but certainly has been good to us.  I’m trying to explain to her why my mother wanted us to shop where she wanted us to shop.  It really would have been alright had my friend, who my daughter knows and trusts, been there to help us with the clothes.  But there is nothing I can do about that now.  And my head is spinning with all that needs to get done before I get my daughter to bed. 

It’s all one big blur from there.  Get in the shower.  Get your night clothes on.  Choose some things you want to wear in the morning.  Get your stuff together in the morning to get packed.  Find your medicine.  It’s one command after another as my daughter winds down from the wild and crazy weekend.  I’m getting the dinner prepared and having her eat it while I get mine ready and sit down to eat with her.  After we finish, my daughter is working on a puzzle with Rapunzel as I comb out her hair and she watches a little TV.  That is followed by me giving her medication and then getting her into bed.  Usually, I let her watch about 20 minutes of TV in her room before calling it a night, but tonight we cannot find the channel changers for her TV.  Of course!  So she lies back and gets herself under her "quilty" as she relaxes herself in bed.

I don’t know whether any of you father’s do this but my daughter likes me to be there until she can fall asleep.  I know that this is changing very soon, and has already begun to change.  But for now she appreciates that.  So I’m lying on the floor waiting for her breaths to slow and even possibly to hear a little snore before I pick myself off the bedroom carpet and head back to my room. 

My day is finished!  My weekend is finished!  I am finished!  Well not quite . . . I do have to get her up for school the next morning, and I am wiped out by the entire weekend.  But I still wouldn’t have missed a moment of it.  I’m already missing her by the middle of Monday, and of course this is Wednesday as I type up these last words on the page and I am missing her already.

But the moral?  The thing I promised you a couple of days ago and haven’t told you yet…  What is the moral?  Let me see.   What I will tell you is this.  We get so busy in our lives that we rarely take the time to engage with our kids.  And while I was the most exhausted parent, sleepwalking through my Monday, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else.  Yes, dads, it is important to give your kids structure.  And it is essential that you help them develop the habits that will make them successful as adults.  But we cannot do this from the front seat of a car, or two minutes before bed time with that good night kiss.  We develop those relationships through time and effort.  Whether this means going on a long road trip, camping out in the stars under the beach, or planning a wild and crazy weekend where you barely have time to take a breath, we establish those connections to aid our kidswhen they really need us.  And as a single parent, it’s even more important with the little time we have to build those bridges with our kids.  That way when they talk about Lexington and Concord (the city and not the jelly), or their friend at school who has stopped talking to them, or even their dreams about what they want to do when they grow up, you can speak into their lives in a meaningful way that they will appreciate.  So my answer is just do it!  And don’t forget the energy drink on Monday!

Would love to hear about your crazy weekends.  This is me signing off.

David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life

If you like my writing, continue to check in my blog at the new location. singledadsguidetolife.wordpress.com