The Giving Tree

As this summer comes to an end I am once again thinking about my time as a teenager working at Madison County Children’s Camp (Camp Lookout). It was a place that changed me as a person for the better. I often think about it and hope that one day my children will be able to attend a camp like Camp Lookout.

You see, Camp Lookout has been a refuge for needy children. Every child who comes to camp is there because they needed the love and respect that every child is given every day. They do not come from rich families, they do not come from perfect homes. Often, they are broken and need to be built back up. And the best thing is that the families do not have to spend a dime for their children to be there. Camp Lookout is run entirely on donations, grants, Community Chests, and the Madison County Board of Supervisors. Every child’s stay is paid for by the generosity of the community.

Every time I think about my years as part of the staff there, I can’t help to think of “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. It was a man stay on our last night of camp. We read it to the campers and it has basically become symbolic of what the staff does and why we do it for the campers.

For those of you who don’t know, the story is about a tree, and a boy (who grows up throughout the story). The tree gives to the boy everything she has, and the boy takes everything she has. I have realized as I read this story to my children that as you hear this story at different points in your life it means something totally different. As a child you understand it as a parent loving their child and giving them everything they need and want. As a teenager reading this to the children at a camp, I understood it to be about an adult figure giving children the love that they need. As a parent I understand it as a love so strong you will give your children everything they want and want nothing in return. Why? Because you love the boy, very much.

So as I think about my own children and being that tree, I straighten myself up as much as I can and tell my children to sit down and rest. And this tree is indeed very happy.

And the tree was happy.

And the tree was happy.

For those of you who want to make a donation to Madison county children’s camp so that some of the county’s most vulnerable children can attend please go to Camp Lookout Donations for directions on how to make donations.


Weekend Review August 25, 2014

Utility Belt


Muppets Most Wanted

We rented Muppets Most Wanted last night from rebox for the boys to watch after a long day of outside play, water guns, water balloons, and getting soaked with the hose. It was a good cap to a fun day and a busy 4 days.


I grew up on the Muppets Show. I was glad when Disney decided to do a new movie and was excited to see the sequel too. I love the fact that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously and that they are not afraid to poke fun at themselves.

Muppets Most Wanted literally picks up right where The Muppets ended in 2011. As soon as the movie ends, this one begins. They are approached by Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) to go on a world tour to capitalize on their recent success. What they don’t know is that Badguy is working with Constantine, the worlds number one criminal (also Kermit’s doppelganger) who just broke out of prison. Constantine ends up pretending he is Kermit as the Muppets travel Europe on their world tour. At each stop of the tour Constantine and Badguy break into museums.

It isn’t until Walter, Fozzie, and Animal (who knew from the very beginning) figure out that Kermit isn’t himself that the Muppets are able to stop Constantine in his evil plot to steal the Crown Jewels in London.


While I love the Muppets and this was a funny movie, it does bother me (as an adult) that none of the Muppets could tell that something was amiss with Kermit. But then I remembered that this was a kids movie and my kids were laughing at the story and the fact that the Muppets couldn’t tell that it wasn’t Kermit while they knew. To them it was hilarious. Isn’t that what it is about? Making kids laugh. Right? I love the Muppets, and I liked this movie enough to say you should at least rent it, even if you don’t add it to your Disney collection.

Weekend Review July 28, 2014

Utility Belt


The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

This week I am just going to talk to you about Lego®. I grew up on Lego®, and my kids are growing up on Lego®. I do not feel that parents should force their love of things on their children and I have never pushed anything onto them. I am glad I never had to with Lego®. I have always loved building with the blocks and it is relaxing and can take quite a bit of time to build a complicated set. The great thing about this versatile little brick is that it makes for great imaginative play. While putting together the sets is a lot of fun. The great part that I see with my boys is everything else they make out of them and how long it holds their imagination.


Lego® began making the “interlocking brick” in 1949 and has grown (through some ups and downs) into a huge company with more then just the brick. They now have many video games, clothing, movies, and even theme parks. But what it all really comes down to is the tiny little brick that can make imaginations run wild.

FallingwaterThe great thing about Lego® is that anyone of any age can find enjoyment in them. I received them as gifts up until my 21st birthday when I was sadly told I was too old to get them anymore. But I have gotten one of the Architecture series sets. While it did sit in the box for quite some time, “A” and I put together the replica of one of my favorite buildings in the world, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater®. It now sits on my desk with Benny (if you watched The Lego® Movie you know who I am talking about) standing on the bridge holding my phone charger.

The TableThat is another great thing about Lego®. “A” uses all my old bricks to build and add to his collection. He has a table full of all these old sets that he uses to make his new buildings. Some of these bricks are 30+ years old and he still is able to use them and they look the exact same as the new bricks he has today. It gives me great enjoyment and satisfaction to know he is playing with them and enjoys them as much as I do.

Pros (+)

+ Easy to build
+ Great for imaginative play
+ Many different sets.

Cons (-)

– Pricey.


Who doesn’t want Lego®? I love them, my kids love them, everyone loves them. Great fun, hours upon hours of imaginative play. What other toy can say that?

The Fort

The BatcaveThe BatcaveWhen I was a kid I used to love making forts out of pillows and blankets at my grandparents house on a rainy day. Now as a dad there is nothing I like more then seeing my kids enjoy the same fun.

Inside the fortWith the help of the lead architect “N” we built one on a recent rainy day. I love listening to them play inside. I sat outside and just listened to their great imaginations at work. This is so much better then any video game or electronic device because everything they did inside and around it was them creating it and doing it and thinking it themselves. They were not being led by some device. They were leading. This is what childhood is all about to me.  This is what will help them survive out in the world outside of school. Imaginative play helps create imaginative individuals who will have great and imaginative lives.

But that is not what it is about for them. It is about fun. More then anything I enjoy that they are having fun with something so simple. “N” liked it so much he even took his nap in it.

Sometime, I love rainy days.


just a dad with disney questions

I always try to add a touch of sarcasm & wit on this blog, but the news I just read has made me place that on hold for this post. I just read that Robin Williams has died. I am not trying to capitalize on this tragedy or ‘break this news,’ I am merely trying to give a little salute to this Disney icon. When I first saw Aladdin, I wanted to be Robin Williams. His voices, comedic timing and pure insanity amazed me and inspired me to embrace my inner goof and pursue theater. The Genie will remain one of my favorite Disney characters of all time. He will be missed.


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Weekend Review August 11, 2014

Utility Belt

Episode 4

2014-04-12 18.17.07

So here we are with the final installment of our Outdoor Theatre. This is probably the most important part of the setup because without the screen you would have to project your movie onto your house or a sheet or your Uncle Ned’s backside.

If you would like to know about the other parts of the setup please check out Episode One for my review on the Sony 3D Blu-ray Player, Episode Two for my review of the Arion Legacy speaker System and Episode Three for the ViewSonic Projector.

When we were looking for a screen there were a ton of options to choose from. We thought about going with a blow-up screen for easy set-up but we ultimately decided against it because we didn’t want our sound system to compete with the blower for us to hear it for the whole movie. Like all the other components of our set-up the driving factor is portability and ease of setting it up and taking it down as we would not be leaving it up after a movie. This brings us to the one that we ended up buying.

Visual Apex ProjectoScreen120HD Projector Accessory


I went with the Visual Apex because the reviews were good and it looked like it would be easy to set it up and take it down. It was big without being huge at 120″ diagonally. The screen and all the components come in a nice heavy duty carrying case which everything folds up nicely to fit back in the case. It comes with the frame, legs, screen, rope, stakes, and eye hooks. Everything can be set up by one person, but I recommend two people do it to make it go quicker and a little bit easier for some portions.

The frame for the screen unfolds easily and locks into place with minimal effort. I attached the eye hooks to the top and left them there to take one step out of set up each time. They do not get in the way when packing it back in the carry case. The eye hooks have two uses. You can use them for hanging the screen if you want to go that route or for running the rope through for stability when you use the legs.

 Now they recommend that you put the screen on while it is laying flat on the ground but I do it differently as the screen can be hard to attach on the ground. So now I attach the legs fold them open and stand up the frame. It is light so you can do this by yourself. The frame now stands at over 9 feet so you will need a step stool to attach the screen to the top portion of the frame.

The screen is a heavy duty .32mm PVC elastic bright white material surrounded by a boarder of black with a black backing which they say helps prevent light loss. The screen is washable so if you get it dirty you can clean it with mild soap and water. On the frame there are snaps and on the screen there are the other side of the snaps so it is supposed to go on easily. This, however, is why I stand up the screen and have a second person (my wife) help with set-up. I do not think they recommend my main method for attaching the screen but have found it useful. If you have time leave the screen in its protective case and lay it in the sun for a while so that it can heat up and expand. The screen is supposed to stretch so that it is a tight fit so there will be no lines and wrinkles from when it is folded for storage. However, if you just try to attach it to the frame it is really hard to stretch to fit by yourself. This is why you leave it out in the sun so that it can warm up and be easier to stretch so that you can snap the buttons into place. We usually don’t do that though as one we never have enough light in our yard and we usually set it up just before movie time. So we have come up with another way. I will start at one of the top corners and attach the screen. My wife will go along the back with a hair dryer and heat up the material slightly so that it stretches easier. We are careful not to stay in one place too long so that it doesn’t melt as this is plastic after all. It really makes attaching the screen a lot easier and we have mastered this pretty quickly. After the screen is attached we attach the guide ropes and the stakes so it doesn’t fall over, because a small gust of wind will catch it and send it over very easily. Overall, when we first set it up it would take us about 25 minutes. Now we do it in about 10-15 minutes.

Take down, is even easier. Just pull the screen off, take the stakes out and fold everything up and put it in the bag. It takes about 10 minutes to take down. Now do be careful though. As you are folding up the screen, make sure you are not in range of the frame as your wife is pulling the stakes out, because the screen will topple over and it will hit you in the head and you will bleed and curse.

Pros (+)

+ Easy set-up in about 15 minutes
+ Easy take down in about 10 minutes
+ Light weight
+ Good price at $220.00
+ Can stand it up on legs or hang it for multiple set ups and applications.

Cons (-)

– It does take some ingenuity to get the screen attached to the frame.
– It really does hurt to get hit in the head with it.


Add it to your utility belt. Set-up is quick and easy. Take-down is even easier. The screen is bright white and this makes for a great picture from your projector. We love this screen and its ease of use. Would love to have the 144″ screen when we upgrade our system.

Our Living-Room Set-up

Our Living-Room Set-up

The View From My Office

The Batcave

My Office

My Office

This is the best thing about being a SAHD (Stay-at-home dad). This was my office yesterday. I got to spend time with my kids and have fun at the park. I am not stuck in some tiny cubicle breathing recirculated air. I am out in the fresh air playing with my kids. Sure, I don’t get paid for it. But the perks are amazing. I bet you don’t get this with your job.

These are the days that remind me why I am a SAHD. These are the days that recharge my batteries and keep me going. These are the days that I am not worried about the cleaning, and the housework. These are the days I am not thinking about the money I don’t earn. These are the days that I just sit back and enjoy the ride.

These are the days that remind me that I have the best job in the world. Now excuse me, I have a board meeting to attend to (ie. go play with my kids).

Go Play Already

Go Play Already

Video Games

The TrainingWhen someone talks about video games and kids, it seems like everyone has opinions. I am not going to talk about the merits or perils of Grand Theft Auto or First Person Shooters. I grew up playing video games, at home (when it was first becoming popular with the Atari 2600), and in arcades (these were buildings people went to for the sole purpose of putting a quarter into a slot on the front of a giant machine to play a game). I am horrible at video games but I love video games. I love the escape from reality for a short period of time.

Playing Video GamesNow I have two little gamers that I can play games with. While there are games I will not let them play at this point in time, I do love playing with them, and they appear to enjoy playing with me. To me it isn’t about the game any more, it is more about the bonding and doing something we truly enjoy together. I know, I know. We should be outside playing and running. After all, it is summer. But this is something we can all do together and laugh and talk about. This is something we all share in common. Don’t get me wrong, we do play outside too. We do enjoy going to the pool at the school. However, if I can do something I grew up enjoying with my kids, I will.

I know that games are more realistic then when I was a kid. I know they are more violent then when I was a kid. As a parent it is my job to police what they have access to. They do not play the violent games so I am not worried about that. Besides, I do not believe violent video games make violent kids. I believe violent kids, and violent environments make violent kids. I am not concerned about them becoming obese children. I played videogames for hours on end as a kid but I also ran around my neighborhood plenty with my friends. I never got obese as a kid. My kids play plenty outside. My kids burn tons of energy during the day. I am not concerned.

I am just glad that I have something that my boys and I can enjoy and bond over together. Especially since they are both so different in there likes and dislikes. It is great to have one thing we all can do and enjoy together. So go out, find what you and your children like doing together and tell me about it. I would love to hear what you all love doing together.

Weekend Review August 4, 2014

Utility Belt

Episode 3

2014-04-12 18.17.07

Part 3 of our 4 Part series on our at-home drive-in theatre is coming at you. If you want to see Part 1 on the Blu-ray Player Click Here or Part 2 on the Speaker System Click Here .  Today, the projector is what I will be talking to you about, because lets admit it, without the projector, you don’t really have an outdoor theater do you?

ViewSonic PJD5134 SVGA DLP Projector, 3000 Lumens,3D Blu-Ray w/HDMI, 120Hz

We went with the ViewSonic because after doing a little research (as I know nothing about projectors) I found that to get a decent picture you want over 2800 Lumens. Lumens are basically how bright the picture is going to be. So in other words the lower the lumens the, darker the room (or outdoors) needs to be to be able to see a decent picture. Also, to go with the 3D Sony Blu-ray player from Part 1 we wanted it to be able to project 3D images if we ever decide to go that route. It also has a plethora of different ways to plug into the back so you can plug in everything from your HDMI blu-ray player to a PC. It really is the workhorse of the setup.


The ViewSonic Projector is the workhorse of our setup and it really is a great little unit. It is big, but lightweight and easy to move around which is key for us as we pack it up and put it in the closet after every use. The ViewSonic projector is very bright with 3000 Lumens and a 15,000:1 contrast ratio (according  to Amazon). You want Lumens over 2800 so that you can watch when it isn’t completely dark. This means we don’t have to wait until 10:00pm to watch a movie during the summer. We usually start just when it is getting to be dusk and you can see the movie pretty good as long as it isn’t too dark of a movie. It doesn’t have a filter like most higher-end projectors so it doesn’t need any real maintenance. The light bulb should last about 10,000 hours, which is good because those things are pricey at about $120 a piece. It has a built in speaker, but to be honest with you, it sucks. You are going to need an external speaker to get the sound you need.

It does have a couple of cool features that come in handy for us. It has automatic source detection so you don’t have to flip through sources to figure out which source your equipment is plugged into. It does it all for you automatically. It also has something they call Vertical Keynote Correction. It is a fancy way to say that you can adjust the image so that it is skinnier at the top or bottom. This is good for us as our lawn is anything but flat and the projector is not always level with the screen. Normally it would make a trapezoid on the screen. But you push the button on the projector or the remote and it makes small adjustments so you can make it a rectangle again.


Although it isn’t important to us, it may be to you and many projectors just allow you to projector your image one way. This one however, you can do it on a table (like us) or hang it from a ceiling and project straight on. However, if you have a way (and a screen that allows) you can also project from behind the screen with either a table or ceiling setup that way too. Pretty cool if you ask me.

One thing I really don’t like, is that the remote is pretty much useless when you are watching a movie. You have to be in front of the projector to use it, and with our set up, we are not in front of the projector so it is pretty much useless as I have to get up and in front of it to do any adjustments.

Also, like I said, it is 3D blu-ray player ready, so when we are ready to get the glasses and a 3D movie we will be able to watch it on this setup. I can’t wait for that and will update you on the experience once I do.

Pros (+)

+ Easy set-up
+ Decent Price at $350 for a 3000 Lumens Projector
+ Good Picture at 120 Inches.

Cons (-)

– Horrible Sound. Need external Speakers
– Remote doesn’t work behind projector, Need to be in front for it to work.


Great Projector. Add it to your Utility Belt as you will want anything else. It has everything you need from being bright enough for use outdoors before dark to having HDMI and 3D capability. It is light and easy to move around so setup is a snap.