Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Parting Shot

"The iron tongue of midnight hath tolled twelve"

During my college commencement ceremonies (which was longer ago than I would care to admit), my college president William "Billy the Kid" Cotter (Colby College - www.colby.edu) imparted one piece of really solid advice to my fellow graduates and me. I will paraphrase but the sage wisdom was this "wherever you go, out in the world, always carry a good book." To that point, I had already considered myself an avid reader. But as I went on my way, I found myself remembering this bit. I still pack a book for the normal stints at the beach, the doctor's office, the morning commute (on the train of course - I will save my rant on those that read the paper while driving for another time), and when I have a quiet moment to myself. But I will also carry a book on a hike, to get my car inspected, events at my kids school, etc.

You never know when you will have time to kill and have to wait. Admittedly, I am not the most up to date technologically. But I enjoy my Ipod shuffle, my travel DVD player, cell phone, and on occasion, my Blackberry. But a book will never run out of batteries. It's light (paperbacks, anyway) and portable. There is always the newspaper too. I like my actual paper. eBooks look cool, but give me a good, bound tome any day of the week. I have been thankful many times during extended airline delays, doctor's visits, waiting for concert tickets, or even just waiting for a ride.

Think about it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Summer Reading

On the last day of school, I challenged Caz to a summer reading contest. One book a week, that we would pick together. I would read it first. Then I would make up a list of questions. Caz would read it an answer the questions. It works on many levels: A) it gets him to continue his reading, B) we can increase the difficulty level as we go (and he's reading above his grade level already), C) It works on his writing skills, D) he has to reason out some answers, and E) gives us some Father/Son bonding time. Demi and I pushed back his bed time for the summer 30 min. But he has to be in bed doing something quiet for those 30 mins. This challenge is a perfect activity for that time period.

I will provide updates on our progress.

Coming soon: Chinny's summer reading picks

Friday, June 22, 2007


No. 529 isn't a part of the magic numbers from LOST. A 529 college savings plan is probably the best way for a parent to save for their child's college education that there is today. There were some doubts when I started up my 529 plan, back when Caz was born because the federal tax break it afforded you was only supposed to last until 2010. It was always assumed that the break would be permanent. Well now, it finally is.

In many ways, a 529 plan is like an IRA. It is a tax free way to save for college costs and invest those savings in an investment vehicle that will grow your assets over time (hopefully enough to actually cover the cost of tuition when your child is ready to go to college). Each state has their own 529 service provider. MA's happens to by Fidelity Investments (www.fidelity.com). Their website has a lot of good information on the specifics, along with a robust Q&A section that answers most common questions.

My best advice is to start one with an auto investment feature. Like many things today, they can deduct on a monthly basis, right from your bank account. I time mine with my paycheck so I don't really notice the hit. Like that informercial says: "Just set it and forget it." You will get to a point where you don't notice the deduction from your account and when you get a statement, it's a nice surprise to see how much you have accumulated.

When it's tied into a Upromise account, the growth is even sweeter. You can actually get a Fidelity 529 credit card. Like frequent flyer miles, each purchase puts money into your 529 account. Each quarter your 529 points get invested in your 529.

What is nice as well, is that you have some investment choices that fit your style. You can choose a conservative strategy or an aggressive one. They have the popular Freedom Fund feature where you invest in an age based fund, based on the age of your child and when that child will enter college. As in infant the investment style of the fund is very aggressive. But as the child becomes older, the portfolio becomes more conservative. As the child enters college, the fund is basically an income fund or money market account.

Do yourself favor an check it out.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

WARNING: Recall on Thomas the Tank Engine

RC2 Corp. Recalls Various Thomas & Friends™ Wooden Railway Toys Due to Lead Poisoning HazardWASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with the firm named below, today announced a voluntary recall of the following consumer product. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed.
Name of Products: Various Thomas & Friends™ Wooden Railway Toys
Units: About 1.5 million
Importer/Distributor: RC2 Corp., of Oak Brook, Ill.
Hazard: Surface paints on the recalled products contain lead. Lead is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health effects.
Incidents/Injuries: None.
Description: The recall involves wooden vehicles, buildings and other train set components for young children listed in the chart below. The front of the packaging has the logo “Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway” on the upper left-hand corner. A manufacturing code may be located on the bottom of the product or inside the battery cover. Toys marked with codes containing “WJ” or “AZ” are not included in this recall.
Recalled Product Name
Red James Engine & Red James’ # 5 Coal Tender
Red Lights & Sounds James Engine & Red James’ #5 Lights & Sounds Coal Tender
James with Team Colors Engine & James with Team Colors #5 Coal Tender
Red Skarloey Engine
Brown & Yellow Old Slow Coach
Red Hook & Ladder Truck & Red Water Tanker Truck
Red Musical Caboose
Red Sodor Line Caboose
Red Coal Car labeled “2006 Day Out With Thomas” on the Side
Red Baggage Car
Red Holiday Caboose
Red “Sodor Mail” Car
Red Fire Brigade Truck
Red Fire Brigade Train
Deluxe Sodor Fire Station
Red Coal Car
Yellow Box Car
Red Stop Sign
Yellow Railroad Crossing Sign
Yellow “Sodor Cargo Company” Cargo Piece
Smelting Yard
Ice Cream Factory
Sold at: Toy stores and various retailers nationwide from January 2005 through June 2007 for between $10 and $70.
Manufactured in: China
Remedy: Consumers should take the recalled toys away from young children immediately and contact RC2 Corp. for a replacement toy.
Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact RC2 Corp. toll-free at (866) 725-4407 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Thursday and between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. CT Friday, or visit the firm’s Web site at recalls.rc2.com

Promise Post Script

Direct from the Upromise website:

Launched in April 2001, Upromise was created to help families save for college. By joining forces with some of America's leading companies, Upromise allows families to get back a percentage of their everyday spending into their Upromise accounts.
Upromise has built a simple way to help families learn more about their savings options, open investment accounts, and jumpstart their savings. The mission of Upromise is to make college more affordable for American families.
The College Savings Crisis in America The cost of college continues to rise exponentially, far outpacing inflation. Understandably, many families feel stymied when confronted with saving for college. Other families consider dipping into their retirement savings or deferring their own retirements to help fund educational expenses.
Coincidentally, student loans have mushroomed, leaving more graduates strapped with debt as they enter the workforce. Other students find it necessary to balance school workloads with part time jobs presenting a major challenge as they try to avoid the risk of dropping out.
The Solution: You, Upromise and America's Leading Companies The Upromise ServiceThe Upromise Service is free to join and allows members to save a percentage of their qualified spending with America's leading companies - including Citi®, ExxonMobil, McDonald's® and hundreds of others - as college savings in their Upromise account. Members can also get money for college by dining at more than 8,000 restaurants and shopping online at more than 500 online shopping sites. Since the launch of Upromise in April 2001, more than six million families have enrolled in the Upromise program, allowing them to chip away at the challenge of saving for college.
Upromise also includes Upromise Grocery, which gives members money back for college when they buy any of thousands of participating grocery, health and household items - including Elmer's Glue®, Lysol®, Tide® and Tylenol® products, among many others - at more than 20,000 grocery and drug stores nationwide.
Upromise Investments, Inc.Upromise Investments, Inc. (UII), a registered broker-dealer and wholly-owned subsidiary of Upromise, makes it easy to learn about college savings options and gives members access to two of America's top-rated 529 college savings plans, including the Upromise College Fund.
In November 2002, UII launched The Upromise College Fund, a nationally available 529 plan sponsored by The State of Nevada. Members can open an account online, get statements online and choose from several Vanguard investment options.
When a member links their Upromise account to a participating 529 plan, their Upromise savings are transferred automatically into their 529 plan on a periodic basis. Upromise members can also invite family and friends to join Upromise to accelerate their college savings.
The Upromise History Upromise was founded by Michael Bronner, who is Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Digitas, a leading marketing services firm. Bronner's interest in making college more affordable for families came from his own experience as a middle income, financial aid student. During his sophomore year, Bronner paid for much of his tuition by launching his first business - a couponing service for campus merchants. That company, now Digitas, employs approximately 1,500 professionals serving Fortune 50 clients like GM, American Express and AT&T.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Stock Up

As a follow up to my Upromise post, one of the companies that participates in the program is Overstock (www.overstock.com). That site is fantastic. Maximum shipping is $2.95. We have orderd coffee tables and it was still only $2.95 to ship them. They have everything. I mean, clothing is pretty slim pickings, but DVDs, CDs, and book are great deals. Bedding. We bought all of our master bedroom lines and comforters from there. They have free shipping deals and special sales all the time. Don't forget 3 or 4% of your spending goes to your Upromise account.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Promise of a New Day

"All that glistens is not gold"

A penny saved, is a penny earned. A free penny is both and tastes sweeter. A while ago, I advised prospective fathers to start early. That includes the college savings. One great way to save some extra money and not necessarily change your spending habits is to set up a Upromise account (www.upromise.com). What is Upromise? What if I told you, you could get some of your money back on purchases that goes directly to an account designed to feed a college savings fund? No mail in rebates. Nothing to fill out or track down. Sound to good to be true? It's not. All you have to do is log on to the website, follow the sign up instructions and start savings. Now it's true you have to give some personal information, including credit cards, but they do not charge your cards. They just track your purchases on your cards, and if you make a purchase from a contributing company, that company gives a certain percentage to your Upromise account (usually 1-4% of your purchase). Former US Senator and NBA star, Bill Bradley, in conjunction with others, came up with a way to help the common man save for college. You get some built in college savings, the contributing companies get some advertising and good press. Not only do you log in your credit cards, but grocery cards too. If you buys Keebler cookies for instances, your grocery cards tracks that, feeds it to Upromise. Upromise works with the company to get that percentage back to your Upromise account. You just spend as normal. Can you change your habits to buy from participating companies? Sure. You you have to? No. But you will find that many companies participate: LL Bean, Target, Flowers.com, Mobil/Exxon, Eddie Bauer, Toys R Us, Restaurants. I find myself getting restaurant monies back all the time without realizing it.
If you have multiple kids, you can direct certain percentages of your account to each child. I split mine 50/50 with both boys. You can have your friends and family sign up and they can contribute to your children, or split it with lots of children (nephews, nieces, grandchildren, etc). This money in your Upromise account is then eligible to be transfer to a 529 College Savings plan for you child (529 plans will be a whole separate post). Don't take my word for it, check out the website when you get a chance. I have had saved a substantial amount for the boys this way.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

This is a good way to celebrate 50 posts to the site:

Happy Father's Day, Dad! I love you.

And I hope all you other Dads have a good day too.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Prologue: "Man"-ing up!

Caz did not make the traveling team. And I am even more proud of him, than I was after tryouts. He took the disappoint really well. He accepts that not everyone was going to get picked. He admits that maybe he didn't prepare or try as hard as he could have. We had a long talk about how to learn from this experience. We talked about not letting it impact playing down the road. If he wants to work harder, he can prove next year that he deserves to be there. It was all the learning experience that I thought this event would be. And more. Caz gets an A for this life lesson. I think his Dad did pretty well too.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Father's Day DVDs

The following is a list of 10 essential Man DVD's that a Father may not own but should. The list is in no particular order:

1. Die Hard - Bruno at his action best. The break out of Alan Rickman before Snape came along. Of course you couldn't go wrong with the Last Boyscout. Hudson Hawk is an underated Willis comedy.

2. Aliens - "Game over, man!" Chet is still not having any luck with other life forms. Great Sci-fi action movie. Predator is a close runner up in this category.

3. Striptease - Demi Moore and a stripper pole. 'nuff said.

4. Terminator - The Govenators break out movie. Time travel. Sarah Connor. "Come with me if you want to live."

5. T2 - Judgement Day - Sarah Connor gets buff and pissed off. Ah'nold is now a good guy. Liquid metal? Good thinking.

6. Platoon - Charlie Sheen's best bit of acting outside of Men at Work. Actually this one always reminds me of my Dad. One of my best friends and his Marine father, decided me and my Marine father needed to see it together.

7. Steel Magnolias NOT! Just seeing if you are paying attention - Spinal Tap. Everyone should have this one in their collection but not all do. Brilliant piece of writing. "There is such a fine line between stupid and....clever."

8. Batman Begins - Batman is tied here. The original with Jack as the Joker is a classic. Begins brings back all that thrill and revitalizes the series. Christian Bale is a great pick. The background with Liam Neeson is clutch.

9. Demolition Man - Classic Sly, Bad *ss Wesley Snipe, and hottie Sandra Bullock before she floated hope and became Ms. Congeniality. Dennis Leary has a great role.

10. Tomb Raider - Ahh......Angelina Jolie in spandex with guns. It's like Baywatch in the jungle.

Some of you may be wondering: Where is Caddyshack? Old School? Star Wars? Refer to the first sentence. You should own those already!

"Man"-ning Up!

There was a valuable life lesson learned this past weekend, for both Father and Son. You would think that 8 years old is too young to have your first life test, but you would be wrong. It so happened that this lesson involved sports, and in particular baseball, but really, it could have been anything. It incorporated elements of fear, challenge, self conquering, and achievement. And Caz triumphed with flying colors. I was a very proud Father on Saturday.

It all started a few weeks ago, when the Youth Baseball league announce that they were fielding a traveling team for 8 year olds and would be holding try outs June 2. Seemed innocuous at first. But I could read into it. If Caz wanted to try out, this would be his first test. The first chance that he might not be picked for something. I don't think I was faced with being cut from a team until I was a freshman in high school (that is a story for another day). A small part of me didn't even want to tell Caz about the team. That was based on the same old feelings: protect your child and wanting your child to succeed. But you can't live their lives for them. Also, I thought it might be better to face something like this earlier than later. I made up my mind. I was going to let Caz decide what to do.

I casually mentioned that the league was fielding a team but there were try-outs. Not everyone was going to be picked. He decided that he wanted to try. I explained that I thought he would do well but how well he performed was up to him. He had to be the one to pay attention, hustle, make the effort, and show what he could do. No one was going to do it for him. He said he understood. He wanted to practice on his own. He spent time by himself with the pitchback. He asked me to play catch when I got home from work. He was really into it and making the effort to be ready.

And then........it hit. He announced the Friday night before the try out that he didn't want to go to the clinic, in the morning. (The clinic was a training session the league put together for all 8-9 year olds on Saturday mornings to work on skills. It was designed to draw more interest in baseball and give the kids more practice. A great idea. And the league commissioner who was in charge is really great with the kids.) I asked him why and he answered that he didn't want to tire himself out. But then when I pressed and said it was a good chance to practice for the try-out, he said that he didn't want to try out.

"Why don't you want to try out?"

"I don't really want to play baseball this summer."

"Is it that? Or are you a little scared?"

"I'm nervous."

I had finally gotten to the bottom of it. Now what?

We talked about fear and overcoming it. We talked about giving it your best shot. We talked about not making the team and it would be fine. Not everyone was going to make it. He wouldn't be alone. This all took course over intervals in a long time span during the night and next day.

He ended up going to the clinic on Saturday. On the way home he said he didn't want to go to try-outs. I said to rest a little and think on whether he wanted to try out. I was torn. I didn't want to force him into anything. But now it wasn't a Father fear about him failing. It was not wanting him to fail by not even trying. That just couldn't be allowed to happen.

So I got him changed into his uniform and while I did he was telling me he didn't want to go. I said we'd go down to the field and I would throw with him. We would see what was going on and who was there. I knew he'd see some friends. And as we played catch he told his buddies that he wasn't going to try out. He'd watch and cheer them on. I let him go on his own and suggested he play catch with a friend. As he did that, I signed him up and got him a number. I was prepared mentally to walk away if he insisted on not making the attempt but I was going to make an effort up until the last moment. So I slapped the number on his chest as they called the kids in to make announcements. I told him to go sit with his friends and see what happens. So they called groups of numbers......and off he went with his friends. Thankfully, his best friend was in the same grouping.

I ended up helping out at the batting station, shagging fly balls. (what a sight that was for spectators - the football guy trying to make catches). Sure enough Caz's first station was batting. I didn't go near the bench. He was in the middle of the order. I watched as him as his time approached. I saw him take a helmet, head to the on deck circle, take some cuts, and wait for his turn. Then he was up. Each kid got three hits. Didn't matter how many they missed. Caz hit 3 line drives on 4 pitches, he took one that he didn't like. Great at bat. And he was fine for the rest of the try out.

When it was over, I went right over to him and gave him a huge hug.

"I am so proud of you! I can't even say how I am feeling right now."

"Because I faced my fear, Dad?"

"Exactly. I love you, Son."

"Thanks, Dad. I love you too."

Monday, June 4, 2007

Father's Day Top Ten

Top Ten Father's Day Gifts

10. a nap in the hammock

9. a power tool

8. a nap on the beach

7. six pack of Gritty's Best Bitter

6. another nap

5. a bagel and cream cheese on the beach

4. electronics - speakers, stereo, camera, CD's or DVD's

3. Patriots tickets (would have been a tie with #1 but you have to wait till the fall)

2. Sox tickets

1. a medium rare Rib Eye

Cooking With Gas Part Deux


The math is obvious but it's helpful. It's reinforcement. Give them a one cup measuring cup. You need three cups of flour. Then you ask how many scoops they need? Same with the teaspoons and table spoons. Cooking is great for fractions too. You constantly see fractions in recipes. You can also work your way up, to halving a recipe. Division. Get it?

Cooking is a good way to work on reading skills. My six year old scans the recipe for his "everyday words." These are the words given to my son on a list to practice, as a part of his class curriculum. My 8 year old can actually read the recipe as we go along. Again, everyone wins.

Add the science factor, and you have a slam dunk win for all. No, we are not talking melting pen caps with a Bunsen burner just yet. But you can fascinate a six year old by whipping egg whites into a meringue, or rolling out pizza dough into a calzone. Rock candy. That's always a good one. Melting sugar in boiling what and letting it crystallize? Perfect. And the kids get to eat it too.

Self reliance. The kids get to learn a life skill that they can actually use later in life. Again. Start small. Let them make their own pizzas. Still to tough? Make it bagel pizza's in the toaster oven. Caz made a chocolate pudding pie in about 15 mins. The boys love making pancakes with me and Demi. They probably like Demi's version better actually, since she tends to use chocolate chips and/or M &M's.

It's also a good time to introduce them to a male right of passage: The Grill. Grill some individual pizzas. Let the kids make some burger patties. Of course you have to worry about the safety factor. My kids were (I was going to say "grilled" but the pun seemed to over the top) schooled on the etiquette around the grill early on.

Improvisation. Let them create their own concoctions. Sure you have to eats some cold "soup" once in while (I don't know how Demi choked down the cucumber, apple, banana, milk, and syrup "soup" the boys made. 1,000Bonus Chin points awarded to her for that.), but it is worth it in the long run. I got a sausage, bacon, ham, pepperoni, and three cheese omelet (a heart attack special0 in bed one Father's Day from the boys. A meat lover's special. How can you go wrong with that?

Take the time gentlemen. It's worth it's weight in steak