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Mycology

28 Dec

 

mycology fixed header

 

letter Hiking is part of the routine around the DorkDaddy household. With three kids of varying maturity levels (and a dog with absolutely zero discipline) nature walks are usually more of an exercise in keeping your cool than they are Zen communing with nature. We live in the most spectacular redwood forests in California and it’s important to us that our kids learn to appreciate the natural world as much as the material world.

Episodes IV, VI and DorkDoggy.

Episodes IV, VI and DorkDoggy.

When our troupe isn’t bickering loud enough to scare away the wildlife, the redwood forest is a great opportunity for this DorkDaddy to display my encyclopedic knowledge of middle school-level science, and hopefully spread my enthusiasm for the subject. At this point Episodes IV and V could teach their own teachers a thing or two about banana slugs (arliomax californicus), ferns, conifers, life-cycles, photosynthesis, adaptations and natural selection. But on the down side, we’ve been through these forests so many times we’re running out of new things to discover and talk about.

A UCSC student having a mind-altering experience.

A UCSC student having a mind-altering experience.

This Christmas Eve morning we woke to a perfect, cloudless blue sky and decided it would be best for everyone to get out of the house for a walk before launching into the family obligations. Episode IV was already bitter about being forced to attend a church event for her cousin later in the day, so I was prepared for another bicker-fest hike, and indeed that’s how it started.

A beautiful cluster of... I don't k now the taxonomy here.

A beautiful cluster of… I don’t k now the taxonomy here.

“But I don’t want to go. Why do I have to go? It’s not fair that you’re making me go. We *ALWAYS* go to all of her things…” and on and on and on.

Zen communing with nature? I don’t think so.

Concentric fungal growth rings.

Concentric fungal growth rings.

But sometimes all it takes is a little bump to scratch the needle off the record, and as we walked (bickering) we began to notice that something was different about this trail we’d hiked a hundred times before. On past expeditions I’d taught my kids about producers (plants), consumers (animals) and decomposers (fungi, etc.) and in so doing explained that fungi flourish in a warm, dark, moist environment (like your gym socks). Recently our area had experienced torrential downpours, followed by unseasonably, ridiculously pleasant warm temperatures. Combine that with the decomposing leaf litter on a redwood forest floor and you have a fungal perfect storm.

We checked for Smurfs. There were none.

We checked for Smurfs. There were none.

Just like that we were shocked out of our standard bicker-fest and into a reverent (Zen communing with nature) frame of mind. There by our feet, along the trail we’ve walked countless times with jaded eyes, was a fungal firework display the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Anyone with their eyes open couldn’t help but bathe in wonder at nature’s splendor, and in the presence of such a marvel it was impossible to be snarky.

Lacy, jaw-droppingly beautiful fungi.

Lacy, jaw-droppingly beautiful fungi.

We walked the trail moving from discovery to discovery, indulging as much time as we wanted at each stop to take it all in. Episode IV and I waxed poetic about lifecycles, natural variation, and survival strategies. The conversation transitioned quite organically into the different ways that people choose to live their lives. Only now, as opposed to the snarky footing at the beginning of the hike, our conversation came from a more observant, philosophical posture. Instead of counting the minutes until we could get the kids back into the car, we lost ourselves in conversation, surrounded by a once-in-a-lifetime natural event.

We chose not to focus on what these were growing on.

We chose not to focus on what these were growing on.

For my part, I was able to have what I could only describe as the perfect outdoor experience: an intellectually stimulating conversation with someone I love, surrounded and inspired by natural wonder I have never seen before. For her part, Episode IV was able to come to an understanding about people who exist on different, sometimes seemingly incompatible points along the religious spectrum. She was able to reconcile how doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing and ultimately later that day she happily attended her cousin’s church event with no bitterness.

Standing sturdy and proud in the leaf litter.

Standing sturdy and proud in the leaf litter.

Not bad for a couple of silly mushrooms.

Best. Hike. Ever.

 

-Dork Dad

"Daddy, that one looks like it's made out of butter." Notice the banana slug sprinting away from us in the background.

“Daddy, that one looks like it’s made out of butter.” Notice the banana slug sprinting away from us in the background.

Editor’s note: I’m aware that this post comes off as more-or-less a photo blog. That’s OK. Every one of these pictures was taken within the scope of a single 60 minute hike. If anyone out there has some legitimate scientific knowledge about the species I’ve shared here, please pass it along. My reverence at the experience was almost matched by my frustration at the holes in my knowledge about what we were looking at.

Not all fungi look like umbrellas. These look more like antlers.

Not all fungi look like umbrellas. These look more like antlers.

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It was almost like they were breathing through their gills.

It was almost like they were breathing through their gills.

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We called this one "the brain."

We called this one “the brain.”

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These tiny mushrooms seemed to cascade down (or up) the wood.

These tiny mushrooms seemed to cascade down (or up) the wood.

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A funnel.

A funnel.

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I believe the yellow growth isn't fungi. If memory serves, it's what we call a slime-mold.

I believe the yellow growth isn’t fungi. If memory serves, it’s what we call a slime-mold.

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Pretty sure this is a slime-mold too.

Pretty sure this is a slime-mold too.

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I bet this one would give you some interesting dreams. (do *NOT* even think about it)

I bet this one would give you some interesting dreams. (do *NOT* even think about it)

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We had pancakes for breakfast. You can guess what we called this one.

We had pancakes for breakfast. You can guess what we called this one.

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Mushrooms the size of dinner plates.

Mushrooms the size of dinner plates.

 

 

 

Spending Season

9 Dec

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letter Tis the season when it feels like there’s money constantly going out the door and relatively little going in. Between end of the year expenses, property taxes and Xmas gifts and all the little unforeseen incidentals, it’s easy to feel a little financially deflated at the end of the year. As my dad used to joke when we were kids, as long as there are checks in the checkbook there’s money in the account, right?

This is a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately. The debt-load you need to take on to become a dentist is nothing short of crushing, let alone a practice acquisition loan and a mortgage if you’re lucky. Weighed down by all that red ink it’s tough to look past the nose on your own face. Debt-reduction becomes something of a desperate quest and although my accountant assures me that paying off debt is exactly the same as building savings, I am acutely aware that I’m basically in survival mode — which is to say I’m paying off my debt, but my savings account isn’t anything I would call “comfortable”.

I’m just a few days away from turning 41. At best I’ve got another 30 workable years in me… if I’m lucky. My oldest is about to turn 9. That’s the 1/2 way point. The years we have to get her ready for college are just as few as the years we’ve had since she was born, and those years FLEW by.

I have realized that there are things a responsible member of society must do no matter how painful: Pay taxes, take care of your health (re: exercise), and financially plan for the future. That means it’s time to stop living week-to-week like we did in our 20’s and 30’s and start thinking about our 70’s and beyond. It’s time to start thinking about things like 401-k’s.

In short, it’s time to start saving.

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When you’re a moderately successful blogger *snort* sometimes opportunities present themselves to you. Recently I was invited to attend an event put on by ScholarShare, an organization that runs 529 accounts (I know… my eyes glaze over too with talk like that. But I have pledged to make this sort of knowledge part of the new “responsible” me… just like exercise.) 529 accounts are essentially the same thing as 401-k’s, only where 401-k’s are retirement accounts, 529’s are college savings accounts. Essentially, just like with 401-k’s, you invest your money with higher risk for larger gains in the beginning, and then as you get closer to the time when you need the money it gradually moves into lower risk investments. What particularly strikes my fancy is that for three kids that have more toys/junk than they can ever appreciate, during the holiday season family members and friends can contribute to an existing ScholarShare account or create one for a child as a holiday gifting option for as little as $25.

 

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ScholarShare treated a bunch of bloggers to a fancy dinner to talk about 529’s and even offered a little compensation thanks to One2One Network (that was nice of them) if we shared the experience on our blogs. In truth, this is a talk I would have gone to whether or not there were blogger incentives. Saving for college is something I need to get serious about and I wanted to hear what they had to say.
The short story is the people from ScholarShare came off as very genuine and honest. I was wary of walking into a timeshare-pitch sort of evening. There was no salesmanship, nothing pushy, no used-car-salesman vibe at all. In fact, since they partner with TIAA-CREF they are a non-profit, so they don’t pay their bills with transaction fees like other financial planners. All they wanted was to get the word out that 529’s are the best way to plan ahead for college savings, and that they would love to be considered by anyone looking into one.

For my money, they seemed like a legit outfit worthy of consideration.

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That said, I’d like to try something a little different with this post.

For the sake of getting my head around how to financially prepare for my kids’ college, I’d like to start a little conversation in the comments below. How are you preparing for college expenses (or how did you prepare)? Do you think college is even an investment worth making in today’s world? (There’s a good argument to be made that it isn’t). What are your fears about saving for college/retirement? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

In the comments below share your knowledge. Share your fears. Share your questions. Maybe we can help each other out.

 

-Dork Dad

Dear Sephora

6 Nov

Dear Sephora Header

 

letter A text message flashed across my phone yesterday. It was a snapshot of a magazine ad my wife ran across that day… a magazine ad that my daughter had clearly come across earlier, and felt compelled to leave her social commentary for anyone else who should stumble upon it. This is what she saw:

dear Sephora

 

In case you need help translating 3rd grade handwriting it says,

“This lady is ugly. I think you should wear makeup if you want to, not ’cause you have to. Don’t over-do it.”

My daughter may be opinionated. She may be bossy. She may be dramatic. But nobody can say she doesn’t have a strong self-esteem, and there is nothing a young woman needs more, growing up in the world we live in, assaulted on all sides by magazine ads like this, than a strong self-esteem.

Way to push back, honey. You tell ‘em what real beauty is. That’s my girl.

 

-Dork Dad

Halloween 2014

31 Oct

Happy Halloween to all the dorks out there.

 

family halloween 2014

As You Wish

23 Oct

as you wish header

letter Memories are the currency of childhood. Whether it’s playing in the dirt on a Saturday or some epic, once-in-a-lifetime story they’ll be telling their grandchildren, it’s our job as parents to provide the experiences that those memories are made of. I make no bones about the fact that I try to tip the scales for my kids in the latter direction as much as possible. Hell, I’ve got an entire blog dedicated to it. Recently the planets aligned in just such a way as to turn what promised to be an awesome childhood memory into something truly epic. This is the story:

The last few years we’ve done the cheezy, family-Halloween thing. Last year we were all Harry Potter characters. Many, many months ago during family movie night watching “Princess Bride” we decided that that was going to be the theme this year. We divvied up the roles and the kids gradually got more excited as they pictured themselves dressing up in the rolls they would play. Meanwhile I started planning in my head how to get my entire family dressed up, because you know I wasn’t about to do no store-bought costumes.

The costume-making began in earnest last month when I took Episode IV out to Goodwill to hunt for Inigo Montoya gear. 20 minutes in the shop and she came out with all this gear. You can see she was already getting into character. The kids got more and more excited as each piece of the puzzle got put together and as Halloween approached.

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my DorkDaddy. Prepare to die.

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my DorkDaddy. Prepare to die.

Slowly but surely, piece by piece, hot-glue burn by hot-glue burn I got all 5 family costumes put together, posting updates on Facebook along the way.  as you wishDuring a long drive I heard on NPR an interview with Cary Elwes, the actor who played the main character in the story, the same character Episode V was dressing up as. Apparently he’d just written a book chronicling the making of the movie and was making the publicity rounds. That prompted me to post this picture of Episode V stating “It’s about 80% done. Still a couple details to get nailed down.”

80%

Later that day I got a message from a friend over Facebook:

“You know Cary Elwes is signing copies of his book in the area this week, right?”

My response was less than elegant. “Uh… now I do.”

It was time to swing into action.

A quick glance at the week’s schedule. Yep… it was doable.

pieces

There was a panicked trip to the arts and crafts store, a few more hot-glue burns, an emergency Amazon.com purchase, but I was able to get the finishing touches put together on the big kids’ costumes just in the nick of time. On the day of the event I picked the kids up from school and whisked them away into the minivan for a long drive up to where we were headed. 2.5 hours later we made it up to the location to find people already lining up on the side of the building. One thing minivans are good for: changing into your Halloween costume without having to locate a public bathroom.

posing

Episode IV was a little nervous at the prospect of heading out into public in her full costume, which was understandable since there’s a cheesy moustache involved and she’s 8. I gave her the option of dressing down, but she decided she’d go for it and it was a good thing she did. The evening was all uphill from there. As the three of us crossed the street and they came into view of the people in line, the crowd erupted in applause. We worked our way to the back of the line and everyone along the way complimented them on how amazing they looked. The wait was shortened by people coming up asking to take pictures with my kids in their costumes. They ate it up.

As we walked into the building the manager told them “Wow. Those are the best costumes I have ever seen.”

As we took our seats people turned around to tell my kids “Oh my gosh. You guys look amazing.”

Then the main event. Mr. Elwes came out and told some fun stories about making the movie. He was funny, charming, gracious… and 5 minutes into his schtick he stopped suddenly, looked at Episode IV, pointed to her and in front of 300 people in the room said “You, with the moustache. God bless you.” At one point he asked the audience “How many Men In Black are there here tonight?” Episode V stood up and again the crowd cheered.

nice

When it came time to sign autographs and meet the fans he was particularly gracious when Episodes IV and V came around. He came out from behind the table, again to the cheers of the whole crowd, and gave some extra time to my kids. He played with them. Mugged for photos with them, and was an all-around gentleman.

this

When it was all done I loaded two exhausted kids into the minivan for a very long, very late drive home. Along the way I got this text message from my wife, and I knew it was all worth it:

textmessage

-Dork Dad

Healthy Dad

21 Oct Healthy Dad

Healthy Dad   letter My wife asked me if I liked it.

“No. Who the hell likes getting up at 5:00 am to get bossed around and beat up before going to work?”

My wife asked me if I feel better.

“No. My trainers are incredibly effective. They hit a different muscle group each time so I’m sore EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.”

My wife asked me if I’m going to keep doing it.

“Yes. I’m going to keep doing it.”

The truth is I do feel better. I can get up and down off the ground more easily when I’m wrestling with the kids. I can pick up Episode VI and throw him on my shoulders now without feeling like I’m on the verge of collapse. I’m don’t seem to be losing pounds or inches, but I can feel my arms and shoulders are thicker and my core is more solid… or at least it doesn’t jiggle as much.

I plan on bitching and moaning every step of the way. I’ll never be one of those people who enjoys exercise, but it’s still got to get done. It’s one of those things that responsible people have to do… like paying taxes. Here’s to being a #HealthyDad. Thanks to Anthem Blue Cross, who sponsored the campaign, for including dads in this important discussion about family health care. My views are based solely on my experience as a parent, and not as a medical professional.

-Dork Dad

Holding Hands

9 Sep

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letter The other day I had Episodes IV and V loaded up in the minivan running an errand to who-can-remember-where in order to get who-can-remember-what accomplished when we came upon a large gaggle of middle school students just leaving the school, walking across the intersection where we were parked. Two of the students were lagging behind the pack, and my kids quickly picked up on the slightly different behavior they were exhibiting:

***

Episode V: “Daddy, why are those two big kids holding hands?”

Episode IV: “It’s because they’re brother and sister, or maybe it’s because they’re best friends!”

Episode V: “Aha! Just like me and Macayla!!”

***

Yeah, kids. That’s exactly it.

batmanlove

-Dork Dad

(Editor’s note: Macayla is the little girl from Episode V’s kindergarten class whom he informed us he would be marrying. She’s the same girl who just wrote a bunch of I-love-you’s all over his birthday card. We are currently in negotiations with Macayla’s parents regarding a dowry.)

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