Thursday, December 30, 2010

Zombie or not Zombie? That is the Question.

I often give my wife a hard time for not listening to me. Look, I understand that she has important stuff to do, but what I have to tell her is important too. If it weren't for me, she would likely have no idea that the Destroyer armor is scheduled to make an appearance in the Thor movie coming out and she would probably be extremely deficient in her Star Wars knowledge which, in this house, is of ever-increasing importance.

She may still be lacking in the arts of geek-related trivia as far as I know because I can't determine the "Uh-huh" that means she's listening from the "Uh-huh" that translates into, "Shut up you nincompoop, I'm trying to focus!" The inflection on the two sounds more alike than you'd think.

For as often as she doesn't hear me because she's focused on something more worth her time (let me stress her time) than comic books or Lego assembly, she completely tunes me out in favor of Facebook. Those are the times when I speak and receive no response. The void in her gaze alerts me to make a mental note of what I just said because I know I will have to repeat it soon. I also remind myself not to get defensive when she claims I never told her something because, with her mind off in a completely different dimension, she can't be completely blamed for not hearing me the first time.

But, while saying something to her while she's in a zone and then staring at her until she looks up from what she's doing and asks "What?" then asking her "What did I just say?" knowing that she can't answer used to be my favorite way of not so subtly calling out, "Pay attention to me!" I'm going to have to curb it a little after her performance on Christmas.

While it may not have looked like much to some of you, I put a lot of time and effort into the TGD 2010 Holiday Gift Guide. I listed all sorts of products that I thought those who would enjoy this blog would want to find wrapped under their tree. When shopping for me, my wife knew how seriously I take this blog and the gift guide in particular and decided to consult it. Perhaps she thought the whole thing was an elaborate scheme to get her to notice what I really wanted for Christmas and feel loved through well-selected presents. She would have been partially right.

But while the Gift guide was grounded in things that I found awesome, I try to do right by my readers. I listed plenty of things that I wanted that I thought my readers might also want. I listed things I already had. But I also listed items I wasn't particularly interested in but that I thought all of you might enjoy.

Case in point: I don't like zombies. I don't like watching movies about them. I don't like playing video games that feature them. I have thus far successfully avoided trying out Plant vs. Zombies even though it's all cartoony and, though I play Bioshock, I sweat profusely while doing so. And those are technically mutants, not zombies.

But I know that there exists a fondness for all things zombie and zombie lore among the geeks of the world. Were I to omit anything from my gift guide due solely to its zombie content, I would be performing a disservice to my fans, regardless of how negligible fraction of the population they may be.

So when I unwrapped The Walking Dead: Compendium One on Christmas morning, a mix of emotions washed over me. I was touched by my wife's thoughtfulness and attention, knowing that the only way she could have known of this book was by looking at my gift guide. I was awed by the mere size and weight of the over thousand page tome. There was a twinge of regret for placing the volume on my gift guide. But more than anything else, there was the palm-dappening, gut-wrenching, short streaking, gripping terror I felt as I realized I would have to read this entire thing and have to endure every gory zombie scene it detailed, because if I didn't, I would provide my wife with an eternal excuse for not listening to me.

Reading began today. I must say, it isn't as bad as I anticipated. This particular story focuses more on the living and how they deal with existing in a world full of zombies than it does the dead. Plus, my zombie fearing brain (which, as a side note, is probably the best kind of brain) isn't overloaded with zombie sensory input since I can't actually hear the groans and the sloppy sounding tearing and chewing of flesh. The onomatopoeia of THOK and SHUKK as an axe splits a zombie skull and is then removed is far less off-putting in print than the realistic movie sound would be.

But you won't see me reading it anywhere other than in a well lit room. And you can be damn sure that I'm going to rave about it to my wife and tell her she ought to read it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Last Weekly Features of This Year

2010 has been fun, but all good things must come to an end. So let's get to the last weekly features of the year and not be all sappy about it, okay?

This week's top five is Christmas presents my sons received that I am sure to spend time playing with:

5. Flying Millenium Falcon - The mini-helicopter style ship is a little tough to maneuver at first, but with practice, I hope to be able to make the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.

4. Sing-a-ma-jigs - These are designed for infants, but the mouth-opening, singing stuffed animals are hypnotic. I can't help but play with these stocking stuffers.

3. Nerf guns - The Stampede has proven to be an even more formidable weapon than I had imagined it would be.

2. Lego trains - The cordless remote control and multiple speed settings are awesome.

1. Classic toy soldiers - Just like the ones my brothers and I used to play with, they have all the classic poses like crawling, mortar launcher, grenade tosser and even enemy guy getting shot.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is the original Lego yellow castle in its box. You can find them on eBay, but they are $400 and up including al the pieces and minifigures and the box that it came in. While I'm normally a believer in taking things out of the box regardless of collectible value, this iconic set would be cool to display unopened. However, I have yet to find anyone even mentioning they have one out there, probably for fear of nerd burglary.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you received a Lego Star Wars set for Christmas despite being over thirty years old. Yes, I did and I'm proud of it. Just to ensure I wasn't alone, I bought my brother one too.

This week's nemesis is the quiz book, Obsessed with Marvel. While I thought I knew most of what there is to be known about the Marvel Universe, my inability to get my score over 50% has left me humbled.

This week's lesson learned is to have a bucket or bin of some sort at the ready before allowing your kids to open their new Lego sets. Your knees will thank me for the reduction in time spent crawling around on the floor looking under furniture for the pieces they will inevitable spill out onto the floor and send bouncing in all directions.

This week's equation is:

The time that will elapse before the condition of your house returns back to normal (t) can be found by multiplying the number of kids you have (k) by the percentage of toys they received with small pieces (p) and adding to this product the number of days they are off from school (s) while subtracting the number of days you have off from work (w).

The Star Wars quote for this week is, "You've never heard of the Millenium Falcon? It's the ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs." That's the second time in one post that quote has been used. I bet that's a record.

Thanks for reading, as usual. Good luck in the new year. Get to work on those resolutions.


With Christmas behind us and as 2010 draws to a close, I wanted to handle a few matters regarding maintenance of this blog.

It's been a fun and, I think, successful first year. I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for reading. The stats that Google provides with its Blogger service allows me to see that since February, when this blog began, the average number of people viewing this blog daily has skyrocketed. There are even people now Goole-ing "Transformer Generation Dad." I attribute this to you all, kindly readers, for spreading the word and I thank you for that as well.

That said, I have a few favors to ask of you as 2011 dawns:

1. Leave comments - I know you are out there and I know you're reading, so please take some time to let me know what you think of the things I'm posting. One of the reasons I started this blog was to improve my writing and that happens most from receiving feedback.

2. Follow me (I'm the Pied Piper) - If you don't already have one, create a Google account (look to the top bar of this very blog to find links to create one) and officially follow Transformer Generation Dad. You can see that six people have done so already. Join their legions and we can smite any enemy that comes our way. There is the added bonus of having a tag name when you leave comments so that we can build a regular rapport with one another. Finally, special kudos to those of you who recognize my reference to Del Shannon's 1966 hit.

3. Vote for me - The 2010 Blogger's Choice Awards voting has closed. While I did not make 2010's top ten, thanks to your votes, I placed in the mid-twenties out of several hundred dad blogs. Now, voting for 2011's awards has opened. I would like to get this blog in the top ten this year, so follow this link, create a Blogger's Choice Awards profile and vote for my blog.

4. Like me - If you are uncomfortable creating new accounts and profiles, I can completely understand. But, more than likely, you have a Facebook account. So, follow this link and head to Facebook and "like" Transformer Generation Dad. If you take it a step further and recommend that other friends of your "like" it as well, you won't hear me complain.

5. Check out the Gift Guide before it's gone - The 2010 TGD Gift Guide will remain up until after the first of the year. This is a service I am providing you so that you have a reference by which to decide how to spend any gift cards you might have received. You're welcome.

6. Vote on our polls - There remains but a few days to vote in this month's poll and another will be posted for January. Please vote monthly.

7. Exceptional will conclude! - I know that I left the final chapter just hanging in our continuing story, put I promise that I will finish it some time this week, so check back regularly.

That's about it. You see, I'm not really asking that much from you now, am I? Especially when you think of all the laughs we've shared together over the last ten months or so.

Thank you all again for reading and I hope that we can continue to connect through 2011 and beyond.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

'Twas the Day After Christmas

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and got just what they wanted. I decided not to post over the last two days because taking the time to do so would have come at the sacrifice of time with my family. So I produced some post-Christmas entertainment for you with the following poem, which I hope you enjoy:

‘Twas the day after Christmas and on my end of this blog,

My kids were still fired up like a blazing Yule log.

The stockings had been harvested for their Christmas Morning booty

After St. Nicholas had filled them per his Christmas Eve duty.

My children played with Paper Jamz, Lego and more,

Leaving toys in their wake strewn across our wood floor.

My wife in frustration and I with chagrin

Had underestimated how many presents there’d been.

As I picked up wrapping paper, a sneer crossed my face

And my wife mentioned wryly, “We could use some more space.”

I nodded agreement without using my voice

And realized I needed to make a tough choice.

While our sons played downstairs with the occasional shout,

I could search through the house for old crap to throw out.

But try as I did, I failed, I confess.

Our house did not look like there was anything less.

No matter how many bags to the garbage I schlepped,

When I walked through the house, I inevitably stepped

On Nerf darts, on Hot Wheels, on Lego brick scenes,

On Star Wars action figures, and on Mighty Beanz.

My feet very sore from stepping on toys,

I shouted out angrily, “Get your butts up here, boys!”

With a pause of the Wii and a drop of Nerf guns,

They came, unsuspecting I’d redden their buns.

But what I then saw prevented utter calamity.

The joy on their faces snapped me back to my sanity.

I decided right there not to wallow or sulk.

I decided it was no time to rage out like the Hulk.

My mood was suddenly improved without warning,

I asked, “Did you like what you opened last morning?”

They said they had maybe the best Christmas Day

Then I gave them each hugs and sent them back down to play.

Seeing small smiling faces led me to a simple deduction:

That’s precisely why we make the day such a production.

The spirit of giving is why we celebrate this season

But getting is also a pretty decent reason.

Instead of cleaning up mess after mess the whole day,

I had cool books to read and new video games to play.

So I put on warm pajamas and thick, comfy socks

And snuck up to my room where I played some Xbox.

Then I thought as I fired with my rifle’s thermal site

We had a pretty damn merry Christmas, alright.

Hope you had one too and your family had theirs

Now it’s on to the New Year and playoffs. Go Bears!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Throw Down a Gauntlet. Dare You Pick it Up?

Two years ago, I started a Christmas tradition (or at least a Christmas vacation tradition) with my sons. During their time off form school, we watch all six Star Wars movies together in chronological order.

Before you swoop down with your razor sharp talons of self-righteous nerdiness to exact swift and painful justice upon me, please hear me out.

I originally showed them the saga in the order the films were released, that is, Episodes IV-VI first, then Episodes I-III. This is the proper way for a new Star Wars fan to watch them. Once they have all been seen, however, I find it perfectly acceptable to then watch them in chronological order. On a side note, watching them in this order carries the benefit of having something to look forward to when you start to get sick of the prequel trilogy. You get the worst film out of the way first and can look forward to the original masterpieces.

This is my third year attempting the Lucas marathon and I plan to begin the journey Monday morning.

I write of this here because I want all my fellow Star Wars nerds out there to join me. See if you can watch all six films between now and the new year. I will allow New Year's weekend because many of you should be off. To those who complete the challenge, I offer a prize: my respect.

Now, off to your screens, readers, like you need any further excuse to sit on your ass in front of your television for an extended period of time and deprive yourself sunlight.

May the Force be with you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rock This Way

As a parent, you try to raise you kids right. You watch their development and pay attention to the decisions they make. Little day to day behaviors provide glimpses into their future. Before your eyes, the person that they will become later in life blossoms.

Whether they act in ways that you approve or disapprove of, you wonder how much of an influence you’ve had on their behavior. When they drop a swear word in the cereal aisle of the grocery store for other parents to hear, you think back to how many times you’ve slipped and said that particular one in front of them. Similarly, when they hold the door open for their mother because they’ve seen you do it countless times, you are prepared to take full credit for guiding them down the path to chivalry.

I had a moment like this yesterday. It was one of those moments when you watch your kids, place your hands behind your head and take a deep, satisfied, that’s my kid breath.

While on the way home from the waning days of Christmas shopping, I flipped through radio stations attempting to find something we might all enjoy. My wife’s older brother listened to a lot of heavy metal and she still enjoys hearing it. I, being a male who grew up in the 80s, have an affinity for the genre as well, to say the least. I have been prompted to wonder if this is a genetic trait because my sons also seem to have a taste for it. So, when I recognized the first few bars of Metallica’s One, I stopped changing stations and turned up the volume.

“You guys know what band this is?” and asked my boys.

They didn’t at first, but once James Hetfield began singing, my eldest said, “Metallica?”

You’re damn straight, Metallica. That’s not what I said, but it’s how I felt. I was very proud at that moment that they recognized the greatest heavy metal band of all time. On the remainder of the drive home, we played air guitar and air drums. As we maneuvered through the side streets of our neighborhood, you could see confusion on the faces of other passing motorists and pedestrians at what appeared to be a carload of people flailing their arms around wildly. I have no doubt at least one call was placed to the police regarding a traveling domestic disturbance inside a moving vehicle.

But for as proud as I was of my sons for knowing the song we were rocking out to was played by Metallica, what happened next brought a tear to my eye in a manly, fatherly approval type of way, not in a show any other emotion publicly whatsoever type of way. The minute we got into our home, my sons headed to the basement and popped Guitar Hero: Metallica into the Wii. For the next few hours, the glorious sounds of such hits as For Whom the Bell Tolls and No Leaf Clover emanated from the downstairs television.

It’s moments like that, ladies and gentlemen, that make you feel like everything’s going to turn out alright. You realize that your kids have been paying attention to you and that they do in fact take your opinions seriously. Times like this make you proud to know your kids have such excellent taste.

Here I thought that it would take a few more years before they heard a heavy metal song and needed to then go play it for themselves. The combination of liking heavy metal, knowing the band and the resulting drive to play a video game is more than I could have hoped for at this point. It’s comforting to know that my influence upon my sons has been more immediate than I had anticipated…excellent.

(That last part should be read as if I am smiling menacingly and wringing my hands Monty Burns-style, because that’s exactly what I’m doing.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I Review Tron: Legacy and Plan on Re-viewing Tron Soon

My resistance to the charms of anything Tron related has never been strong. Even so, as a parent and normal person who needs to hold a full time job, I wasn’t sure when I would get around to seeing Tron: Legacy.

You see my boys weren’t excited about it (which raises paternity questions, but that’s for another post). I suppose that any movie without CGI furry animals dancing, spouting as many already out-dated buzz words (i.e.: dawg, the bomb) per minute possible and just plain overall sucking doesn’t illicit their attention. So, without being able to take them to see the movie, my time to view it was at a premium.

Thus, I was as surprised as anyone to find myself in a theater at 12:45 Saturday night, which would technically be Sunday morning (which I am easy like, by the way) to catch the long awaited sequel to Tron. So how did I like it? I thought you’d never ask.

If you are looking to go to a big action movie, this is not your pick. If you want deep, complex plot, again, not the movie you’re looking for. But, if you appreciate special effects, sci-fi and tech related story lines, this is the film for you. If you add in the fact that you are familiar with and enjoyed the original film, you should enjoy this movie.

Sure, Garrett Hedlund, who plays by Sam Flynn has a little too much Tom Cruise in Top Gun arrogance to him for my liking. Yes, they changed the lightcycles to look more like the Batcycle from The Dark Knight. But the lightcycle scene kicked ass, Jeff Bridges acts counter his younger self and there are tons of old ships and references to the old Tron, including a well masked homage to Bit who you may remember as the Yes/No floating ball that helped Kevin Flynn navigate through the Grid circa 1982 (winner is the first one to tell me where they saw it).

There were scenes in the film that made you nod in appreciation. Sometimes it was because the special effects looked awesome. Other times it was because you recognized something from the early eighties. Either way, the movie managed to keep you interested without being too cheesy.

At the heart of it, the story wasn’t so much about technology as it was a father-son relationship. This, too, was done without too much cheese, which was nice.

When it came down to it, my love for the original movie left me only hoping that this film would not fall flat on its face and make people think Tron was the stupidest thing since Paris Hilton. Not a lofty goal by any means, but at least it cleared the bar.

I enjoyed Tron: Legacy and if you aren’t expecting an Academy Award winner for anything other than special effects, you will too. Go out and see it, preferably in 3D and let me know if you agree. If you do, you can thank me for the tip. If you don’t, no refunds.

Bear Down!

The Bears have clinched the NFC North and are headed to the playoffs!

Those of you who thought they would struggle to be a five hundred team at best can now eat their words and admit that they are a force to be reckoned with. Don't try and pretend you never doubted them either, because I sure did. I was at all those Bear-bashing meetings and I saw you there and I should warn you that I am very good with faces. Not so great with names, but I will point at you and shout "A-ha!" with great veracity should you act like you've been on the bandwagon this entire time.

But while my excitement for the oncoming post-season can barely (or Bear-ly? Ha!) be contained, there is something even more important than a division championship that my beloved Bears cemented with their Monday Night Football win over the Vikings. If you read my post from December 15th, you would know that I was afraid of jinxing them. With their victory, they have confirmed that I am not a jinx.

Goodbye, last to be picked status in kickball.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Ho-Ho-Whole New Batch of Weekly Features

Christmas is this saturday and it is time to update the weekly features. Our top five this week is the top five Christmas presents that i received as a kid during the 80s:

5. Q-Bert - For some unknown reason, I still vividly remember unwrapping this particular game on the Atari 2600 more than any other video game cartridge I ever received. Maybe it has something to do with wanting to tear my hair out later that day as I kept leaping of the side of the pyramid.

4. Laser Tag - The original version with the red chest target and the Knight Rider style light going back and forth was the best.

3. Lego Blacktron - The black outfitted minifigure is still one of my all time favorites.

2. Super Nintendo - All my friends had the original NES before we did, so when my parents surprised us with the Super Nintendo when it first came out my brothers and I were ecstatic.

1. The U.S.S. Flagg - G.I. Joe's 7-foot long aircraft carrier nearly tipped over and crushed me when my brothers pulled the blanket off that was concealing the enormous box. It then took up major space in our basement for several years...the best years of my childhood.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is a lightcycle. More difficult to obtain than the lightcycle itself would be a method of transporting yourself to "the grid." But wouldn't it be awesome to commute to work with a solid beam of light trailing behind you, destroying competing traffic.

This week's sign that you are a nerd is that you've drawn up plans to install heating elements beneath your driveway surface next year so that you don't have to worry about traction or even shoveling.

This week's nemesis is Dr. Mario level #18. I wasted two hours trying to clear it when I could have been doing something else infinitely more productive like sleeping or watching television.

This week's lesson learned is that bouncy house obstacle courses were not designed for grown men to try and maneuver their way through.

This week's equation is:

In order to determine the number of extra Nerf darts you will need to purchase for your kids (n), you need to multiply the area in square feet of your home (a), the number of Nerf guns (g) and the average magazine capacity of these guns (c), then take that product to the power of how many kids you have (k) and multiply all that by the average rate of fire in darts per minute of the Nerf guns (r). If you actually work this out, you'll see you need a lot of extra darts.

Finally, this week's Star Wars quote is, "Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is."

Happy Holidays. Hope everyone gets what they've been wanting, unless you've been naughty, in which case I hope you get the lump of coal that you deserve...sinner.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Growing Up With Tron

Some things are better off left unexplored.

When I was applying to colleges, I didn’t apply to Notre Dame. I was a huge fan of their football team in the eighties (hate me if you will, but Lou Holtz could coach, speech impediment or not). I had been there in high school for some very fulfilling experiences. In fact, the time I spent there was so meaningful that despite never having attended I proposed to my wife on the campus. But when the time came to fill out applications, I knew whatever college I attended, I would end up hating after spending four years there. So, I left it completely off the list and have never regretted that decision. I wanted to keep Notre Dame as a pristine, unsullied memory of all that is pure and good. I can return there now with only happy memories. I don’t look at stairwells and remember passing out there in a puddle of my own vomit. I have no fears of awkward moments like running into that old professor that screwed me on my Physics grade second semester.

But while the seedy underbelly of some things can be avoided, there are certain other experiences that one must face. What was once wholesome and right must be explored further and exposed for that which it truly is and very little, if anything, is perfect.

I’m reminded of this now that the new Tron movie is out. When the first movie was released (which coincidentally was around the last time Notre Dame had a decent season), I was in love with it. It was one of the first movies I ever recall watching on VHS. I must have watched it a thousand times. The yellow light cycle I owned from it often causes me to consider a headlamp wearing expedition into the crawl space above my parents’ garage to retrieve it.

So now I’m burdened with the responsibility of watching Tron: Legacy. To not watch it would be like betraying old childhood friends who provided me with countless hours of entertainment and cherished memories. But to watch the sequel to what is already one of my favorite movies of all time may only bring the ivory tower that is the original Tron crashing down to earth. Nothing exposes the holes in a plot like having to build a whole new movie on the already faulty foundation.

But I’ll see it. And I’m sure that even if it’s not everything that I hope it will be, I’ll deal with it and find a way to still enjoy the original. I suppose watching your ideals dragged through the mud is part of growing up. Circa 1982 when I was watching Tron on a near daily basis, I had no concerns over women. They were pretty and some of them made my face turn red, but that was the extent of it at the time. But that innocence too came to an end. Since then, I have discovered both the benefits and the horrors of the feminine charms. We take the good with the bad.

Whether Tron: Legacy is placed on a pedestal next to the original or is cast down to the depths of terrible sequels alongside Jaws 2 through 4, Blues Brothers 2000 and Teen Wolf Too has yet to be seen. But one thing is for sure. It is time for me to move forward. For better or worse, I will see soon what Tron has to offer.

Friday, December 17, 2010

It's a Gr-Eight Day

Blog titles are a very personal thing. A blog creator is more than likely doing so in order to express themselves in some way that is meaningful, at least to them. Thus, the title needs to sum up the character of the author and the theme of the blog.

I grew up in the eighties. Toys and cartoons and the marketing of each made me part of what I refer to as the Transformer Generation. That's a fundamental part of who I am and it colors all my experiences.

But the "Dad" in Transformer Generation Dad, that's the special part.

Today is the eight year anniversary of my official acceptance of that title. That is to say, today, my eldest son turned eight years old. Eight years old again, my life was changed permanently, for the better. I instant knew a love I had never been able to fathom before and realized that I was capable of making something beautiful...or least helping make something beautiful.

It's been a long, crazy, sometimes ridiculous road from there, but I wouldn't give up a single moment of diaper changing or feeding or jumping on my already aching back for anything. It's been more fun than I ever would have guessed.

Happy birthday, son. I love you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Cake I Wanted Just Wasn't in the Cards

This week, my oldest son will turn eight. As you can imagine, this requires a lot of planning. The fact that his birthday falls during the holiday season doesn’t make it any easier. On top of the usual holiday madness, there are extra gifts to buy, there is food to order and there are party details to arrange.

Not the least important of these extra details is the birthday cake. When it’s the at home dinner amongst family, it is the best tasting cake, decorations be damned, with a few candles stuck into it. But for the kids’ party, with friends and classmates, the pressure is on.

All his peers will be on hand. Sure, they’ll be singing, “Happy birthday to you, cha-cha-cha!” but while they act like they’re into the music, their judging little eyes will be scanning the cake surface behind the candles. “What did he choose for his cake?” they’ll wonder. Is it something that arbitrarily became too baby-ish at the ripe old age of eight or is it the coolest new thing that every second grader in the world is completely obsessed with for no understandable reason?

In the week leading up to our trip to the bakery, he changed his mind at least four thousand times. It was Star Wars, then it was Pokemon, then it was ninjas, then Army men. As we walked into the front door, it was the Chicago Blackhawks and had been for a solid forty-eight hours.

I was pleased to say the least. Any interest in sports is welcome and they have been very interested as of late (see: December 8th’s post). Hockey in particular is something I’m quite happy to see them excited about because I’ll get to watch more of it with them. Yes, for as critical as I am of the judgmental little eyes of his classmates I, too, was wondering what his cake theme would be. So sue me.

So, we made our way to the giant laminated book of cake decorations and I flipped directly to the sports pages, being sure to bypass all the lamer themes just in case.

“There you go,” I announced on the NHL page and placed an authoritative finger on the Blackhawks logo.

“Oooh, wait,” my son said suddenly and began leafing backwards to a page I had inadvertently allowed him to see.

I’ll be honest. I started to panic. For a few seconds, I swore he was going to turn to Dora the Explorer or the Disney Princesses page and say, “That one.” But as it turned out, he flipped only a few pages in reverse to the NFL page.

“Awesome,” I said. “A Bears cake.”

“No,” he replied. Then his index finger rose skyward.

I started to panic again. This time, the visions came of his innocent little finger landing square on the Packers and my having to sanitize it immediately. I would then scold him, “You never touch the G!” Everything went slow motion as his finger descended upon the page.

What would he choose? Packers? Vikings? Patriots? Nooooo! I couldn’t bare to watch. Yet I did, like a gruesome car wreck.


I stared at him and blinked. “Oh,” was all I said at first. “Really? The Cardinals?” I suppose it could have been much worse and part of me was tempted to put my foot down and tell him he was just getting a Bears cake and that was that.

But then I remembered something my wife once said when I was being too controlling. “The more you push them one way, the more they might push back.” And I realized then that maybe the Bears weren’t his favorite team, but if I tried to force them down his throat now, maybe he would become a Packer or Viking fan down the road. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if that happened.

So, my eight year old son will have an Arizona Cardinals cake for his birthday this year. It’s what he wants and I’m not concerned about it. Besides, when the Bears make the playoffs (provided I haven’t just jinxed them), I’ll simply call attention to the fact that they are still playing and the Cardinals are already done for the season. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the fudge icing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Being Friends Without Being Friends

I plan on always being friends with my sons. Having kids, especially boys, was like manufacturing playmates in my mind to a degree. I pictured us playing basketball in the alley, watching hockey games together and, when they get old enough, talking about grilling techniques in the backyard over beers.

My vow to remain lifelong friends with them has already met a challenge, or at least a technical glich, however. The modern day definition of “friends” has changed.

My boys are years off from having a Facebook account, but they undoubtedly will someday. Once they are old enough for me to trust that they will not arrange a meeting with the deposed prince of Uganda in order to give him just the small amount of cash he needs to make a glorious return to his country, which he will then repay sevenfold, I’ll let them have one. Maybe it won’t be Facebook, but there will be some social networking site that all the cool kids will be using and they will beg and plead to have a profile. My wife and I will concede before they figure out a way to go behind our backs and create one anyway.

You may think my chagrin over what Facebook and other sites have done to the social landscape has something to do with my reluctance to allow them to use new technology. You may picture me as some button down sweater, black socks and slippers wearing, grey haired old fuddy-duddy who thinks social networking and rock ‘n roll are the devil’s work and won’t have any son of mine messing around with them new fangled things and such.

Rest assured that I am nothing like this. I much prefer pullover sweaters and only have a smattering of grey hair. Hear that? A smattering. And it’s a very distinguished smattering at that.

Furthermore, I am all about wanting my kids to be more tech savvy than I am. I have no problem accepting the fact that they will know how to do things that are totally beyond my skill set. My dad didn’t have a computer or video games as a kid while I’ve heard stories that I was born with an Atari 2600 in my hand. Still, we have a perfectly healthy bond. A father and son being friends has more to do with the commonality of their experiences. If they didn’t like Star Wars, Marvel comics or sports in general, we would have a problem on our hands.

My concern about the potential strain Facebook may cause on our friendship has to do with “friend” as Facebook uses the term. We all friend (verb, to request or accept a request to link social network profiles) one another. If you are my friend, I’ll friend you. If you aren’t, I won’t friend you, but I might friend you if you friend me first. But for some reason, I have no problem friending the guy who I just met yesterday who used to be friends (real life friends) with my friend’s (real life friend) college roommate. We work with a pretty loose definition of the word and the line between friend and non-friend is blurred to say the least. While you may be FB friends with someone you aren’t real life friends with, you are FB friends with all of your real life friends.

I want to be friends with my sons. Forever. They will eventually be on Facebook. It would make sense then that I will have to be friends with them. I would be insulted, in fact, were I not to receive a friend request from them within the first five minutes after their profile is created.

But I may not want to know everything they are posting on Facebook. Sure, there will be a time for it, when they have their own families and I want to see the grandkids’ pictures, but there will be other times when I want to enjoy blissful ignorance as to their behavior. I’m thinking high school through the first few years of college.

I won’t want to see the drunken posts in all their misspelled glory and hope that they didn’t fall asleep in the bushes out in front of the frat house. I won’t want to see their relationship status change every other day and worry about become a grandfather in my mid forties. I don’t want to be the over-protective parent who call every day and asks, “Are you okay? Your status says…”

There is also the potential to have my sons try and tell me something via Facebook that I would much rather have a face-to-face conversation about. Sometimes people try to use the detached nature of status updates to avoid breaking tough news to their loved ones in person. I’m telling you right now that if I see the Green Bay Packers or the St. Louis Cardinals in their “like” section, I am totally defriending them.

So I’m wondering if I can be real life friends with them without being Facebook friends for a little while during the “years of questionable judgment”. Hopefully, they love me enough to understand and accept my friend request later on down the road. And hopefully they’ve gotten Farmville and Mafia Wars out of their system by then because I hate getting updates and requests about those stupid games.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Can't Believe I Forgot to Post This Yesterday! Stan Lee, Forgive Me!

The other day, I saw something that blew my mind. The official trailer for Thor. Go ahead, follow the link and watch it. I'll wait...

Awesome, right?

I know!!!

If you are anything like me, you watched that at least three times and had to wait at least twenty minutes until you could get back to reading this. It's alright. I understand and I'm here for you.

When I first saw that Chris Hemsworth (an actor I didn't recognize) was cast in the title role, I was underwhelmed. Now that I see him in action, however, he makes a damn good god of thunder. The only thing I'm concerned about is whether or not they make him appear taller than everyone else in the film. I imagine they can just use camera angles like they did in Lord of the Rings and Elf (did they have the same director?) but I didn;t get a good look at Thor next to any mortals in the trailer, so I can't tell.

Anyway, now that I've seen this trailer, Christmas is going to just be another day that I need to get through in order to get just a little bit closer to its release.

I'm sorry if watching it has done the same to you, but I couldn't very well keep it from you. Our relationship is based on trust and honesty and I respect that too much to not show you the Thor trailer. I know every passing day may feel like sheer emptiness until we are able to watch the movie, but at least we'll be experiencing that together.

May Odin help us.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Do You Recall the Most Famous Weekly Feature of All

Out of dedication to my loyal readers, I am distracting myself from an amazing day of football to update the weekly features. Okay, so I'm typing between plays of Bears/Patriots, so sue me.

This week's top five is reindeer:

5. Donner - I'm not sure what his name means, but he's a definite nod over Dancer, Prancer, Vixen and Cupid.

4. Dasher - You've gotta respect speed.

3. Comet - I wonder if they named him this due to the tail of gas he trailed behind. I bet they had him push the sleight from the rear.

2. Blitzen - During football season, there is only one reindeer that could beat this name.

1. Rudolph - The only reindeer with his own theme song. And a built in headlight on the nose makes him so versatile.

This week's cool ass thing you will never own is the snowman pictured in the left hand column that I made with my sons. Sure, you can try and duplicate it based on the picture, but it will not be the same. Good luck, though.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you linked your home's Christmas lights to music this year, like this. In fact, if you watch this video and even have the fondest clue as to how to hook up your house to look like this, you are a nerd. One bad-ass, Christmas loving nerd, but a nerd nonetheless.

This week's nemesis is winter rain. It makes everything slushy and nasty and then inevitably turns into black ice. I would honest;y rather just have snow. At least there's the aesthetic quality to it.

This week's lesson learned is to explain to your kids prior to beginning work on the gingerbread house that it will most likely not be edible come Christmas Day. You will save them heartbreak and possibly yourself a lot of work this way.

This week's equation explains the difference between rain and snow:

This week's Star Wars quote is: "Let the Wookie win."

That's all for now. Don't forget to check out the gift guide, drive safely if you're dealing with winter weather and check back later for more posts and additions to the gift guide.

As always, thank you for reading and go Bears.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gift Guide is Up and Ever-Expanding

With two weeks to go, I have finally unleashed my gift giving expertise on the world. I have so much advice to give that I wanted to publish the list now and add to it as time goes on. Check out what is already available by clicking on the picture at the top of the left hand column and check back regularly for more ideas.

I hope you enjoy it and I hope it makes your holiday shopping just a tad easier. Consider it my gift to you. It is the gift of sanity.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Transformer Generation Dad.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

They Are Ready For Some Football!

I had begun to think that the hours upon hours of sitting in front of football games and playing ascending year versions of Madden with sleeping infants on my lap all those years ago were for naught. My sons showed zero interest in football.

In fact, I was afraid that I might have inadvertently fostered a subconscious hatred for football in them. Their developing baby brains might have recognized that they were being subjected to something against their will for purely selfish reasons on my part and somewhere deep inside their psyches, an instinctive drive to either punish or rebel against me was triggered. Not only did they lack any interest in football, they were vehemently opposed to any interest I showed in football.

I had become forced to hide away in my room on Sundays, using the inferior of the two household televisions to watch my team’s performances. I kept the volume down and I tried to repress my instinct to call out to the screen, though I wondered how the players would know what to do without my help, so that my football viewing would not be detected and, thus, interrupted.

But as with most changes in kids, something happened suddenly one day. I awoke on a late weekend morning to the sound of John Madden and Al Michaels. At first I thought it was the old recurring dream where they stop by and talk shop over coffee, pancakes and bacon (John Madden is particularly fond of my pancakes in this one and even asks for the recipe…I don’t have the heart to tell him it’s just Aunt Jemima mix). But I knew I wasn’t dreaming because instead of consistently adding Bailey’s Irish Cream to our coffee (another fixture of the dream), my wife was still asleep.

Soon enough, I realized that my sons were playing Madden in the basement together. Granted, it was Madden ’07 for the Gamecube, but the obsolete rosters were of no concern to me. They were finally interested in football on their own.

“Dad, I just got a touchdown,” my seven-year-old announced excitedly.

“Yeah,” my six-year-old chimed in, “he made the guy fumble then he picked it up and ran the other way and scored a touchdown!”

So not only were they interested in football and not only were they playing Madden and not only did they understand what was happening in the game but they were scoring on defense. My wildest dreams had come true.

This happened for several mornings and after school evenings. They couldn’t seem to wait to get their hands on a controller and play a game of Madden. Before I knew it, they were asking me to play with them. Then they were switching off between head to head and co-op modes with one another. They even started explaining things to my wife.

“The Hamburg Sea Devil’s are a European League team not an real NFL team, but they are easy to beat so that’s why we play against them.”

I was so proud I was nearly moved to tears.

But it got better. They wanted to actually watch the Bears’ game with me. They were reacting to plays. They even wanted to watch the Sunday night game between the Steelers and the Ravens, teams neither of them had expressed any interest in prior to that day. They began discussing which teams they liked and didn’t like and they both said they didn’t like the Packers.

I honestly began wondering what I had done right to deserve such good fortune. Was there an old man with a magical glint in his eye to whom I had given a dollar? Had I held a door open for an old gypsy woman recently? I couldn’t think of anything.

Then the other shoe dropped.

“Daddy, can we play Madden on Xbox with you one day?”

So that was their angle. Butter me up with interest in football and then work their grubby little hands onto my wireless 360 controllers. I was skeptical, but figured there ought to be a little give and take. I could at least respect the initiative they had taken. A little giving of my game system was a small price to pay for football to be a part of our father-son relationship.

Well played, boys.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How to Fill Out Mad-Libs Like My Sons

Who doesn't love Mad-Libs? I had tons of fun filling these out with my brothers and my friends as a kid. To be honest, I think the majority of my knowledge regarding grammar comes from my Mad-Lib experience (which explains an very very much). That's why my wife and I have encouraged to do Mad-Libs as often as possible. We hope it will translate, however loosely, into good grades.

For as funny as I always thought they were, I don't remember laughing anywhere near as hard as my sons laugh when they fill them out. I have honestly been jealous of how much fun they have been having, laughing hysterically (and quite loudly) as I try to get work done.

So I decided to do a quick analysis of their technique. This way, should you or I need a good laugh, we can just recreate their methods and hopefully laugh as hard as they do. It seems my boys have a few standard words which they do not deviate from and this results in a .988 hilarity rate. Below, I have compiled a fairly comprehensive list of the words organized by the standard Mad-Lib blank categories so that you may benefit from their usage.

  • Nouns: butt, fart, poo, toilet
  • Plural Nouns: butts, farts, poos, toilets
  • Verbs: fart, poo
  • Adjectives: stinky, smelly, juicy, poopy
  • Adverbs: stinkily, stupidly
  • Type of Liquid: pee
  • Famous Person: Will Ferrell, Bear Grylls
  • Name of Person in Room: Daddy

So maybe this won't translate into school knowledge quite as easily as I hoped (Lord help me if they use this in school), but at least they're having a good time.

Note: I am well aware of the fact that the "person in the room" usually gets screwed over in the narrative of the Mad-Lib. The significance of my sons always choosing me is not lost.

The Advent of Patience

The holiday season requires patience. Few things test one’s patience like having to shop for gifts this time of year. Fellow customers (or competitors) seem to be pushier, smellier and less respectful of personal space. Those who have patience survive with their sanity intact. Those who don’t end up mentioned in the newspaper where their acts of aggression toward their fellow shoppers read like an Onion article.

Kids have it worse. I can remember sitting in the front room, thinking about my presents, staring at the tree the way people step off the curb and stare down the street looking for the bus on a cold day, as if staring is going to make it get there any faster. I focused all my mental energy at the empty void beneath the tree and tried to will my presents to appear but only succeeded in giving myself a headache.

Now, with Christmas decorations going up and holiday sections of department stores getting stocked immediately after Halloween, the seed of anticipation is planted even earlier these days than it used to be. It’s no wonder that my sons seem on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

They’ve already been waiting so long for December to get here, they reason Christmas must be just around the corner. The concept of time has completely escaped them. I imagine they feel like they’ve stepped into an M.C. Escher sketch where each step forward leaves them just as far or somehow further from their destination than they were previously. I sense they have reached the limits of their sanity.

As if this weren’t enough, enter: advent calendars. Their grandparents gave them each their own Lego Advent Calendars (City, model #2824 and Kingdoms, model #7952) on Thanksgiving and they could barely even wait until the first of December to open the first door. Now, with each door opened, they take the opportunity to try and peek into the other parts of the box and see what awaits them.

While this has strained their patience even further, it has also given them an outlet for their aggression. Now, instead of tearing through the house, looking for hidden gifts, they focus on the boxes containing twenty-four tiny doors, wondering how they might convince me to allow them to open them all up early. Instead of rolling around on the floor beneath the tree in mental anguish, the think of ways to concoct excuses to tear open the entire box at once.

They still whine and beg from time to time, but it’s becoming more bearable. Slowly they are relenting on the pressure. Perhaps they will learn more patience from this whole ordeal. That would be a gift I’d like to receive this Christmas. Then I can sleep in heavenly peace.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thanks for Reminding Me to Avoid Tripping Over Shoes Tomorrow Morning

School has been pretty intense this year for my sons compared to the previous years. They are assigned homework far more consistently and have a lot of side projects and school related events that they need to participate in. They have some after school activities and are even beginning some sports. On top of it, their teachers are expecting them to be more responsible for being organized and prepared for class.

I have to say, although I was worried about the stress they might suffer from this new level of challenges, they have responded pretty well. They slight amount of pressure they felt at the beginning of the year has past and they have fallen into a routine through which they stay on top of their studies and perform well. I can see their confidence growing and I’m proud of them for it.

The transition hasn’t been so easy for me.

I feel like there is constantly something I’m forgetting to take care of for them for school. And I’m usually right.

One week I’m packing art projects into book bags and making sure their book report isn’t due until next Monday while I make lunches and send in the canned food donation. But sure enough, I completely for got to send the tuition in. The school gets upset when you do that. But at least I remember it the next day. And the following month I’m sure to get it in a few days early. But then I forget to make them lunches and I have the image of them sitting in a lunch room full of children who are eating particularly delicious looking food. The look of dismay on their lost little faces in my imagination is enough to make me want to cry.

I would normally try and overcompensate in such an instance. This is when I would come barging into the school cafeteria after having hired a quartet of trumpeters to announce my arrival with a great deal of to do and hub-bub and fanfare. I would have a McDonald’s Happy meal in each hand (with a shake substituted for the usual boring old drink, no less) and shout, “Taa-daa! You thought I forgot, didn’t you?” Then I would make sure I waved the aromatic fries beneath as many jealous little noses as possible on my victory walk through the school ranks.

Alas, their school does not allow you to deliver lunches in the middle of the day for some unknown reason. I know this because I was sternly warned after the first time I pulled this stunt that it would not be accepted from this point on. Apparently the “man” is trying to get the poor kids whose parents forget lunches to fork money over to the cafeteria. But when your kids are 6 and 7, they generally don’t carry wallets or any money for fear of it becoming lost, so I’m not sure what the angle is here.

Anyway, it’s tough to keep up with all the stuff coming home in their folders. When all the homework gets done, I consider it a successful day. Especially because on top of all the official school documents and notices included, my kids’ school decides to include an oddly large number of advertisements for local businesses. I get enough junk mail as it is without having to sort through my sons’ book bags to rid myself of even more. Yet there it always is. Catering menus form the pizza place that opened up. Flyers for the arts and crafts bonanza at the local mall. Coloring contests from a nearby bar of all places. It’s amazing that my sons can attend field trips because as soon as I see a location other than their school written on a sheet of paper, my first instinct is to throw it away.

But for all the unnecessary paperwork and reminders that get sent home, every now and then a live saver makes its way through. For instance, today, my sons’ teachers reminded them that it is the feast of St. Nicholas. They are supposed to leave their shoes on the steps overnight and small toys or treats are to be placed in them. They were very excited to leave their shoes where St. Nick is sure to see them and I’m probably sure to break my neck tripping over them in the morning.

But, again, the teachers saved me on this one and I ought to offer my thanks. I had forgotten all about it. To think, I nearly forgot put my shoes out and then I wouldn’t have gotten anything. That would have sucked.

Weathered Weekly Features

My house is officially decorated for Christmas, so this week's top 5 is Christmas ornaments:

5. Glass Globe - The traditional, colorful, classy standard. It only makes the five spot, however, due to its fragility. With kids and/or pets in the house, you're sure to lose a few of these every year.

4. Jingle Bells - Though best suited on a doorknob or somewhere else where they are more likely to be jostled and caused to make their cheery noise, they look good on a tree too.

3. Hallmark Character Ornaments - They've done everything from Optimus Prime to Blue's Clues. One of my favorite forms of pop culture expression below the t-shirt.

2. Candy Canes - Look good on a tree, built in hanging system and edible afterward. Most efficient ornament...ever.

1. Childhood School Crafts - Wether it is something you did as a kid or your own kids brought home a few years back or just this year, they make for the best memories and are more authentic than the sterile "Baby's First Christmas 2004" ornaments that just have a picture slot. My parents still have a preserved bagel with my kindergarten picture in the middle of it that they hang on their tree. All together now...Awwwwwww.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is a flying sleigh. Along with last week's cool-ass thing you'll never own, a harrier jet, it is also a good way to avoid weather related traffic complications. Un like the jet, the magic sleigh has a deceptively roomy interior perfect for cramming those overloaded bags of presents in after a successful trip to the mall.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you build your own sled. It may feature a Teflon coating on the underside or it may rely on more simple physics involving aerodynamics or gravity. Or you may have even decided to go green and build a slope racer out of entirely organic and biodegradable materials. Regardless, you're still putting too much thought into it.

This week's nemesis is rubber wiper blades. These things stick to icy windshield's like Flick's tongue to a flagpole. That's why I've outfitted my car with Ginsu knives as wiper blades. They may scratch the hell out of my windshield, but they obliterate ice. Take that, mother nature!

This week's lesson learned is to have an extra pair of dry clothes ready for your kids if you let them outside for the first time with their new boots on. Apparently, they think the water protection their feet are experiencing extends to the rest of their body.

This week's equation is:

The weight in pounds of salt you will need to store for the winter (w) can be determined by multiplying the area in square feet of your awning (a), the color of your awning (c) on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the darkest and the area of your porch in square feet (p). This product can then be divided by the average daily temperature (T) and added to this result should be the number of steps on your porch (n). Good luck avoiding lawsuits from the mailman.

This week's Star Wars quote is: "Echo station 3T8, we have spotted Imperial Walkers." Come to think of it, I think I know what next week's cool-ass thing you'll never own is going to be.

Thanks for reading. Stay warm.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Odd Jobs (Not Steve, But He's Odd, Too)

When I was a kid, there were certain careers you aspired to. Fireman, policeman, teacher, doctor, lawyer, construction worker, those kinds of jobs. If there was a kid in the class who wanted to be a veterinarian, photographer or professional athlete, they were considered the dreamers. Working with animals all day, taking pictures or playing a game for a living? Even as kids, we seemed to understand that a job wasn’t something you were suppose to take any enjoyment from. How right we were.

Though my sons are far from entering the work force due to the strict child labor laws in this country (honestly, if we were in China the little freeloaders would at least be making me some money already) I sometimes think of the job opportunities that are going to be available to them. They can do things that I never would have considered. Had a kid told their parents they wanted to play video games or build Lego models as a career, everyone would have known who the neighborhood pot dealer was going to be.

But these are legitimate options these days. I sometimes lament the fact that I wasn’t more obsessive over my hobbies as a child. I mean, I was obsessive enough that they kept me from having a girlfriend, but not to the point that they made me money. I look at the giant Lego collection in my basement and think about what might have been. Had I been tenacious enough to insist that I could make a living building with Lego, maybe I could be doing that right now. Just the thought of being able to get paid to go to work each day and build instead of having to shell out cash to do so is enough to make me begin to understand why some people just walk into their offices one day and start firing.

So, every now and then, when the topic of what they want to “be” when they grow up arises, I try to be open-minded with my boys. When they say they want to fish for a living, I no longer picture the yellow hat, rain slicker and ship with nets off the side like the man on the box of frozen cod fillets wears. I tell my boys that if they are good enough at it, they could catch fish professionally in tournaments or be a fishing guide on a lake they happen to like. They would have to have an extra room and keep a slot open every Saturday for their old man too, of course.

This is just one such career path they have suggested they may decide to pursue. Apparently, they’re keeping roller coaster reviewer as their fallback option.

While I write this blog, I try to take it seriously (at least in front of them). I want them to see that anything one enjoys doing could be taken seriously enough to be a profession. I don’t want them to think I’m writing and enjoying it but never expect anything to come from it. I want them to see potential in everything they do.

The sky’s the limit. Even if they think up something completely off the wall, who knows what careers will develop over the coming years. And if they end up selecting a job they love and doing it every day, I will be one proud daddy. Now if the rest of us could just do the same.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Congrats to Hawkeye. What Are Your Feelings on Christmas Trees?

Happy December!

With one month over, we close the voting in our November poll. The first place prize goes to Hawkeye. He was deemed your favorite Avenger. Captain America was a close second, Thor and Iron Man tied for third and the poor, poor Hulk failed to get a spot on the platform. By the way, the prize for first place is my unending respect and admiration. Who could really ask for more than that? (Note: This is a rhetorical question)

And per out monthly tradition, I now provide you with this extremely cheesy picture depicting the poll winner's jubilant victory. Here it is:

With that business dispatched, let us move on to this month's poll. It's December and we in the TGD household happen to celebrate Christmas. No disrespect to the other fine holidays out there, but Christmas is our bag, baby. Thus, the new poll will ask all you loyal readers out there whether you prefer real or artificial Christmas trees. Your reasons are of no consequence to me. You may use your real tree for mulch in the spring. You may choose artificial trees because you are a hippy who doesn't want to see a living thing cut down for your own aesthetic purposes.

Regardless, please vote early and vote often. Let's go into the new year with a healthy showing in our latest poll.