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After moving five times over the last eight years, my wife and I often debate about what ‘home’ means to us. We’ve jumped from one single family home rental to another – chasing our occupational dreams in markets that support our experience.

We’ve spent many holidays away from our ‘house’, visiting family in either Atlanta or Philadelphia. Is there a difference between a house and a home?

Part of the reason that we haven’t established hard holiday traditions in our house is because, in my wife’s eyes, it’s exactly that. It’s just a house. We didn’t own it and knew that we would eventually be leaving it behind. My argument has always been that home is where the heart is. It’s where we’re all together, under the same roof – rental or not.

Luckily, we’ll never have this debate again. If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably seen that we’ve decided to take the home ownership plunge. This month, we moved from coastal Virginia to Nashville, Tennessee.

As part of that, my last post for Char-Broil found me having to say goodbye to my old Commercial Series TRU-Infrared gas grill.

It was a delicate subject, taking pictures of my old Char-Broil grill and posting them to Facebook Marketplace. I logged MANY hours on this grill, feeding the masses. We built a relationship with one another. For those of you laughing – I’m here to tell you that it’s real. I cared for this grill like I would care for a child. Washing and wiping it down after a hard day of play, keeping it fed with propane, protecting it from the elements and knowing exactly how to hug those temperature knobs so that they delivered the appropriate amount of heat to whatever we were cooking.

Because of the sheer amount of “stuff” we had, I was forced to leave it behind. It just wouldn’t fit on the truck. But, nothing made me happier than to see this member of the family get passed along to someone that cared. As I watched (helped) this older gentleman strap our grill to the back of his truck, he shook my hand, looked into my eye and said, “I’ll take good care of her.” He knew the deal.

I survived knowing the comfort I would feel when we arrived at our new home in Nashville. There, on the back patio, was a brand new Char-Broil Commercial Series TRU-Infrared gas grill, waiting for me to assemble in order to start our next journey together.

Since I was finishing up our drive to Nashville and unpacking a trailer on Father’s Day, there wasn’t much time to celebrate. This new stainless steel behemoth would be a present to myself. It would also be a great way to celebrate that first day of summer…

They’ve made some slight changes and improvements to this model since I last put together a new one two years ago.

For one, I’m assuming they’ve either got someone on staff that has a degree in design and packaging OR a Masters in Tetris. Every component was packed perfectly with little wasted space.

The only tool that I needed was a screwdriver; however, I opted for a set of channel locks to make it that much easier.

The heavy-duty castor wheels allow me to push this grill wherever I need it on the back patio.

The four burners controls connected, and what’s this? The right side has a flat-top griddle or you can pull that off and use the side-burner to boil water, steam vegetables, crabs or shrimp…

The heating elements were packed in styrofoam to avoid damage and were as easy as plugging into a main control box located near the ignitor.

Drop in the basin which is connected to the top and you’re ready for the rest–the magic inside Char-Broil TRU-Infrared grills

Located just above the stainless steel burners lies Char-Broil’s special emitter plate, which actually retains the heat from the burners and directs that heat it into whatever you’re grilling. It is this TRU-Infrared cooking technology that prevents flare-ups, eliminates hot and cold spots and delivers juicer, more flavorful food.

Before too long, all that was left with were the front bottom doors to hide the propane tank and the cast-iron grates that not only retain heat, but have a porcelain coating that makes them rust-resistant and easy to clean.

And just like that, my grillfriend was back in action.

Not only did we leave a ‘house’, but we finally found our ‘home’. And with this new addition to our back patio – we can forget about the debate and start focusing on a backyard tradition that will last for years to come.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was a sponsored post on behalf of Char-Broil, however, the relationship was all mine. For more information on Char-Broil, check them out HERE, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The post Turning Up the Heat on Summer. appeared first on Dad or Alive.

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I’m so thankful to say that I’m no stranger to The Great Smoky Mountains. Every year, the day after Christmas, we pile gear together in my father-in-law’s driveway along with his brother, my brothers-in-law and nephews. We squeeze and stuff everything into two SUVs and head north from Georgia. For the last ten years, I’ve only ever thought of Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the surrounding area as our point of entry to the Smokies – for us to spend a few post-holiday days hiking up to Mount Leconte to spend some quiet time in an adirondack shelter on top.

This summer finds me and our family packing up again, this time moving from coastal Virginia to Mount Juliet, Tennessee, just 15 miles east of Nashville and maybe 2 or 3 hours from a place they call Pigeon Forge. It just so happened that last month, during the same week we were scheduled to drive down there and look at houses, they asked if we’d like to come on through for a visit and we thought, why not?

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee was founded somewhere around 1820 and its name is a combination of an old Iron Forge built by a man named Isaac Love, along with the amount of passenger pigeons that frequented the banks of the Little Pigeon River. Since then, it’s become a mountain resort city in Sevier County. There’s nothing quite like the drive into town, skirting along the northern edge of the Smokies and winding through the foothills. It was truly one of the most gorgeous and scenic routes we’ve taken during our many road trips across the country.

This little town sits only 5 miles north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After living on the west coast for almost fifteen years, as my wife and I drove into town – we commented on how this looked like a family-friendly Nashvegas. The strip in the center of town is frequented mainly by tourists – hosting a bevvy of gift shops, outlets, amusements rides and parks, as well as restaurants and musical theaters. It’s like each attraction is trying to one-up the competition with who can have the most delicious food, cheapest dinner, or most outrageous decor.

We stopped just off the main strip to pick up our keys from the Eagles Ridge cabin rental company. YES – if you’re this close to the mountains, you’ve gotta get a cabin!

We checked into the Hillside Retreat, which is just outside of the action, lofted high enough in the hills that we had peace and quiet at the end of a long day.

The kids were completely over the moon, each with their own bedroom, a pool table, arcade and hot tub – it’s a miracle that they even came back to Virginia with us.

Our first day in town found us a bit road-weary, so we found comfort in diving into those beds made of old oak timbers. Day two began with me being woken up by my wife and kids enjoying an early morning soak in the patio jacuzzi. After listening to the birds chirping and fog coming off of the top of that heated water, I found myself inspired to join.

By mid-morning, I had pulled the kids aside and let them know one of the main reasons we were there – Dollywood. I definitely underestimated how excited MY WIFE was going to be… her “absolute favorite” park of all time. Bar… set.

The park initially opened in 1961, but it wasn’t until around 1986, that Dolly Parton partnered with the Herschend Brothers to bring this amusement park (and now Dollywood’s Splash Country) to life. It typically sees over 3 million visitors per year… and in case you’re wondering, 3 million is also approximately the number of times my wife made the kids listen to ‘9 to 5’ on the way there.

Although not all are featured in this post, Dollywood is organized into 10 themed areas: Showstreet, Rivertown Junction, Craftsman’s Valley, The Village, Country Fair, Timber Canyon, Wilderness Pass, and Jukebox Junction reflect the historical eras and culture of East Tennessee.

We arrived at the park around 10am and it took us a few hours to loop our way all the way up, around and down the east side of the park. Keep in mind, we were tugging four kids along with us and had it not been for our youngest (only a year old) reaching her expiration in the sun – we could’ve stayed until closing! There were so many little stands and places to grab a bite – who could turn down French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy? There’s also a spot to fish out your own oyster and they’ll put the pearl into jewelry… or you can stop and have glass blowers create a one-of-a-kind ornament for you based on glass colors you choose. It’s really an amazing family area.

After Dollywood, we ventured onto the main drag in Pigeon Forge and hit up Mel’s Original Diner – an old school joint that was head-to-toe polished chrome.

This place had, hands down, one of the best diner burgers I’ve had in years. The service was amazing and the boys got to share a float on the way out…

There are so many places up and down the strip in Pigeon Forge – we hit as many as we could. The ‘Track’ found us racing go-karts and shooting one another on the water from inner tubes. Charlie found it ridiculously funny to shoot me in the pants while I was on the sidelines wearing the baby… cut to Dad walking around with a five-year old asking “why’d you pee your pants dad, huh?” and giggling nonstop for the next hour.

We did some old-fashioned gem mining, with Ava finding her very own Ruby. The gang visited Paula Deen’s Restaurant, rode the Ferris Wheel, partook in a King Tut virtual escape room challenge, took a run through the crime museum Alcatraz East and made our way through a laser maze Bourne-style. We ate Italian food, marble slab creamery and one of the highlights of our trip was a place called Wonderworks – that is an AMAZING place to take children. They ran through the place, experiencing everything from rock climbing to lying on a bed of nails…

As my wife and I rounded out our 3-day trip, we talked about how much fun this little town was. There were things that we didn’t get to see and a few others under construction which has us thinking about setting course for this little gem nestled in the foothills of the Smokies once again this fall… after we are officially TENNESSEE RESIDENTS this month!

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was a sponsored post on behalf of the Tourism Board of Pigeon Forge, however, the good times were all ours! For more information on Pigeon Forge, check them out HERE, on Facebook or Instagram!

The post An Amazing Adventure to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. appeared first on Dad or Alive.

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I’ve been happily married for over a decade, so it’s been quite awhile since I’ve had to deal with any significant break ups. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t happen. Back in 2016, I started dating on the side. She was dropped off at my house on a Tuesday afternoon via box truck. A lovely gentleman whisked her from those confines to the comfort of my back patio with a pallet jack. As I peeled away her plastic strapping and cardboard clothes, I began to feel tingly inside. This definitely wasn’t like the other grills I had gone out with.

She was contoured perfectly. I did my very best in talking her up – from the curvy wheels that she stood on, up along those machined sides to the smooth and sultry shoulders made of stainless steel. This WAS the grill for me.

Her name was Char-Broil TRU-Infrared, but we used her nickname, Trudy.

Trudy had everything you could ever want in a grill. She prevented flare-ups with her TRU-Infrared cooking technology that created a barrier between my food and the flames so that I wouldn’t injure my delicate blogging hands in a horrific cookout disaster. She eliminated hot AND cold spots by distributing heat evenly across the grill surface. Her attitude (temperature) was always consistent – she never ran too hot nor too cold, no surprises.

And if there’s one thing Trudy was REALLY good at, it was making our food juicier by heating meat at the grill’s surface, retaining flavor other grills let escape.

Above all, I have to say that even on my toughest days, when life had pushed me to the brink of frustration – Trudy was forgiving. All of her Char-Broil relatives are forgiving as well… it’s their thing.

So she and I were having the time of our lives. Hiding out back, talking to one another with whispers of fat sizzling on the grates and little pops from blistering pepper skin. I even found her a friend to hang out with when I wasn’t home.

And one day…we were caught. My wife had become wise to my disappearing act.

The best part? She wasn’t even angry. In fact, she joined the party as well.

Man, did we have some wild times together over the last two summers. Trudy brought the heat and delivered – some of the best dang burgers, steaks, wings, ribs, veggies and kabobs that you could ask for.

With Memorial Day weekend coming up – I’ve been dreaming, waiting anxiously to go out on the back patio and relive the great times. But sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes you have to know when to say good-bye.

I’ve decided to take a new job in Nashville, Tennessee, so we’ll be saying ‘so long’ to our home in coastal Virginia this weekend. Sometimes it’s easier to let this grill spread her wings and fly – to someone else that can offer her (if possible) more love than we gave her. And I can’t say that it was easy…

…to tear me away from such a great relationship. And perhaps it was difficult for the kids to see me this way.

But they convinced me that it’s okay to upgrade sometimes. This grill was my first and it was special to me.

But life goes on…

So it’s goodbye for now… but you gotta be kidding me if a darn new Char-Broil Commercial Series TRU-Infrared 4-Burner Gas Grill isn’t riding with me in the U-Haul to Music City!

For all those beautiful grills out there and the company that they keep (or keeps them), we hope you enjoy this Memorial Day Holiday!

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was a sponsored post on behalf of Char-Broil and their TRU-Infrared cooking technology, however, the relationship was all mine. For more information on Char-Broil, check them out HERE, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The post Breaking Up with Your Grillfriend is Hard Stuff. appeared first on Dad or Alive.

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As you cross the threshold into your 40s, it’s inevitable that you begin to see friends and family disappear. I’m not talking about the fact that they may have moved away or found a new social network to vibe with. While both of those are valid excuses, I’m talking about the word that, if anyone mentions it at all – it’s at a whisper. In the last few months, I’ve had a handful of those close to me become affected by cancer. In fact, just last week the world lost a beautiful soul named Trisha, with whom I went to high school with. She lost her battle with stage 3b non-small cell lung cancer (as a non-smoker) which had metastasized to her bones. After her diagnosis, she spent her time as a motivational speaker, sharing her journey and positivity with the world. She reached countless individuals and, no doubt, provided strength and words of encouragement to many.

These days, I’m watching a few close friends and friends of our family endure chemotherapy treatments. I’m also watching them battle illnesses in between those treatments due to a compromised immune system. Some of them are married and have young children waiting in the balance. The entire situation makes me feel helpless and heartbroken. In most instances, I’m hundreds if not thousands of miles away, so I do my best to reach out, engage with their struggle on social media and donate if there’s a platform or cause that’s available.

I know that this topic is difficult to talk about and I’ve confided in my wife recently how much respect and admiration I have for my friends who have shared their journey online. I know that it’s not for everyone, but I think it helps those who are also suffering. It helps to know that they’re not alone and also helps us to understand how we can be there in support of their recovery.

One of the most important things to remember is that, while treatments are ongoing, aside from your close network of family and friends, you’ve more than likely also got a care team in place. This team will have explicit knowledge about common side effects of treatment, how long they might last, how severe they could be and when to call for help.

In some instances, the healthcare provider may prescribe medications the help prevent or lessen the side effects. Better control of these side effects can help cancer treatment go more smoothly. It’s important to share ANY information (even if some side effects are rare and not necessarily mentioned in general treatment conversation) with the oncology team. The patient shouldn’t make medical judgments as to whether they are or aren’t significant.

There are a few ways to best track symptoms and side effects of treatment. These side effects worksheets, a pain diary and a list of medicines from the American Cancer Society are a great start. The worksheets will allow you to note side effects of surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. You can use a scale of 1-5 to indicate how severe they are – this should be done daily. A pain diary also includes a pain rating, as well as an opportunity to note where you’re feeling it, what it feels like and what might make it better or worse. A list of medicines allows you to track meds, vitamins and supplements. One thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t take ANY additional vitamins/supplements without your doctor’s approval – even if they’re OTC (over the counter).

If you’re a patient, a family member or friend – one of the most frequently asked questions is – when do I reach out to the care team about potential side effects? While some can be easily managed, others may need medical attention, including:

  • A fever of 100.5 degrees or higher
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased pain
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Confusion
  • Uncontrollable diarrhea
  • Swelling in the legs or arms
  • Bleeding

As I continue to invest myself in the ongoing treatments of my friends who are going through this, education and knowledge seems to be of paramount importance. If you have questions about post-care distress or managing symptoms that might be of concern, I implore you to speak with your healthcare professionals.

Med-IQ is conducting a survey and would appreciate your input. The survey, which includes additional education on this topic, will take less than 15 minutes to complete. Survey responses are anonymous and will be shared only in aggregate.

Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ with important information about your experiences with cancer symptoms, treatment-related side effects, and your care team, which will help us develop future educational initiatives for healthcare providers to improve care.

Once you’ve completed the survey, you will be asked to provide your email address if you’d like to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 5 $100 VISA gift cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will not be sold, kept, or stored; email addresses are used only to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize. Take the survey HERE.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a sponsored post on behalf of MED-IQ and I was compensated by Med-IQ through educational grants from AbbVie, Astellas, and Genentech to write about communicating symptoms and treatment side effects with the healthcare team. All opinions are my own. For more information about getting help and support for yourself or anyone close to you that’s been diagnosed with cancer, please visit cancersupportcommunity.org.

Links to external sites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice; nor are they endorsements of any organization. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of any external site. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.

Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals.

The post The Thing That No One Wants to Talk About. appeared first on Dad or Alive.

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Our family is coming up on the one-year birthday celebration of our youngest, Evelyn. Last April, as we sat in our room in the Labor & Delivery section of the hospital, I caught myself staring out the window – already knowing that this would more than likely be the last time that I was experiencing the beginning of the fatherhood journey. Having just turned 42, I was running the numbers through my head. I looked over at my beautiful wife as she was being hooked up to the heart monitor. I wasn’t necessarily expecting a positive or negative response from her, but nonetheless, felt compelled to ask if she realized that I would be 60 years old at our soon-to-be-born baby’s high school graduation.

As a red Porsche drove by on the street below, I pictured myself inside of it. The top was down. A few tassels of long gray hair blowing in the wind (I see Fabio as my hair insp, obviously), my flacid triceps exposed in a shirt that I had cut the sleeves from, boat shorts and flip-flops. No, I wasn’t auditioning for a Viagra commercial, simply seeing myself in a ‘mid-life crisis’ setting. But what is mid-life these days? Recent data supports the idea that kids born in this era have a 50% chance of living until 104. I can’t even fathom my quality of life at that age…

Isn’t Age Just a Number?

As I waited for her reply to my numerical observation, I attempted to lunge myself up and out of the chair, but found myself stuck in this vintage reclining behemoth. Let’s be honest, when I say vintage, I really mean that it was an absolute piece of shit. My guess is that it was broken long before a million expectant father’s asses had blessed it with their warmth and nervous flatulence. Its’ functionality was questionable, but it still served it’s purpose. Ironically, it was there to support me as I was having trouble supporting myself.

Living a Metaphor

I was fully reclined and as the nurse re-entered the room, I found myself flailing like a fish that had just been pulled onto the deck of the boat. This damn chair was unrelenting. It was as if it was trying to break my spirit. I refused to allow this hunk of metal, soiled foam and torn vinyl break my spirit. While taking a deep breath, I thought about how I was about to allow a 3-minute struggle with a piece of furniture determine the next few hours of my day. I reminded myself that life isn’t always a sprint, but rather a marathon.

As my wife’s heart rate accelerated due to laughter, I took a minute, smiled and found a way to contort and slither from the confines of the chair with our delivery team watching in laughter.

I made some asinine comment about how they needed to get rid of the clunker. I was talking about the chair–the irony is they probably thought I was talking about myself.

If you think about it, many of us take old things and throw them away. We see them as clutter and replace them with newer models. (NOTE TO MY CHILDREN: IF YOU EVER DO THIS TO ME, I’LL FIND YOU AND HURT YOU). But the reality is that mileage = experience. One of the quickest way for those younger than us to grow and evolve is to listen to the successes and failures of the generations that came before us.

And while I may not be as spry as I once was, I’m young at heart. I’m able to forget about the stigma attached to that POS chair as it tried to hold me down – and find time to smile and enjoy everything life is throwing at me.

Age is relative. It’s the heart and mind that counts.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a sponsored post on behalf of AARP and their #DadsDisruptAging campaign, however, the struggles with hospital recliners remain all mine. For more information on AARP, please visit them HERE, on Twitter or Instagram!

The post Age is Relative. It’s the Heart and Mind that Count. appeared first on Dad or Alive.

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Back in 2006, my girlfriend and I made the decision to adopt a small puppy. Well, my girlfriend made the decision, and I didn’t say no because I was too verklempt and also wanting to sleep in the same bed. That ‘girlfriend’ would somehow become convinced to marry me. And that Boston Terrier, ‘Cooper’, would somehow begin to become solely my responsibility for the next decade as we began having many, many children. Pardon me, while I step aside – my wife is swatting me in the head and torso as she argues against that statement… we BOTH took turns walking the dog and wiping messes from its paws.

The reality is that I spent most of my adolescence taking care of our golden labrador retriever, Cara, until my junior year in high school, when she passed.

My dad brought her home as a puppy when I was only 6 years old.  We made an attempt at potty-training her inside – using window screens to block off the kitchen and the daily newspaper to cover the floor. If my memory serves correctly, the mess and stink of this process certainly could’ve used some Febreze, but we were ahead of its time.

Cara ultimately ended up being an outside dog and loved our property in rural Pennsylvania. We built her a ‘home’, complete with blue flagstone that she could lay on to warm herself in the afternoon sun. Her handcrafted doghouse was insulated and lined with cedar chips to keep her warm through winter.

While it wasn’t optimal having to go outside (rain, snow or shine) two times a day to take care of her, we built a bond that could never be broken.

Almost ten years had passed before my wife persuaded me to get on board with ‘Cooper’. I knew the heartache associated with saying goodbye to Cara, but I also remembered how amazing it was to see the wag of her tail, the love in her eyes everyday as I came home from school, baseball and track practice each day.

Cooper was with us until the summer of 2018. He was part of the lives of all of our children and while I had my own selfish hang-ups associated with having to clean up after him in his final months (my wife was in her third trimester of pregnancy), he was such a vital part of our family.

I had pegged myself as someone who was ‘done’ with having anymore pets. Perhaps it was the emotions that rode along with losing both dogs. But with those losses, came a space that needed to be filled. So we refreshed our fish tank and when my son graduated from Pre-K, I made him a promise for a tortoise, unbeknownst that ‘Ella’ would live well beyond me. And then there was my daughter, who came to me several weeks later with teary eyes, weeping about how badly she wanted a cat. As my wife and daughter both worked me over, I forecasted what the future would bring. My prediction was that the nostalgia of a cat would wear off after a few weeks. I finally relented, and Katy was adopted. The next morning we adopted her sister. And just like that, we were a two-cat family. These little balls of fur were sneaky and loved to pull their claws on anything in sight…

So here we are, with a Russian Testudo that will live until we have flying cars, a 30-gallon fish tank with a half-dozen different species and not one, but two felines. They go by the name of ‘Katy’ and ‘Purry’. If you don’t get the ‘Katy Perry’ reference, I won’t hold it against you.

Yes, we’re enduring the smell of the tortoise terrarium when Charlie isn’t paying enough attention. Yes, we have the occasional fish that needs to be removed from the tank and we’re certainly in the throes of scolding our cats, as they stretch out their claws on our leather sofa, club chairs and almost anything with valuable fabric.

The difference in owning pets over the years is that, now, the smell is easily eviscerated with a couple of quick sprays from both Febreze AIR Heavy Duty Pet Odor Eliminator and Febreze FABRIC Pet Odor Eliminator. I pull the trigger, forget about the bag of clumpy cat poop that my daughter leaves by the front door every other day and let the smell of fresh linens bring down my blood pressure.

Despite all of the negativity I have towards the maintenance behind owning pets, the smiles and hugs that are showered across the pet landscape by my kids each day when they get home from school, makes it all worth it. NOTE: I won’t freely admit it, but I do find myself snuggling with the cats while they’re off at class… they’ve found daily spots on the windowsill of my office.

So whether you’re in the ‘thinking’, ‘plunging’ or ‘loving’ stage of pet ownership, let Febreze be part of that love story (and make your house smell better).

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a sponsored campaign on behalf of the #DontSweatYourPet campaign for Febreze, however, all torn up leather sofas and soiled carpet stair runners are mine (and my kids). For more information, follow Febreze on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to get your own at Walmart!

The post The Sweet Smell of Owning a Pet. appeared first on Dad or Alive.

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Most of these stories start the same way. You may remember a familiar voice saying, “When I was your age, we didn’t have color television and walked uphill to school both ways. In the snow, wearing egg cartons for shoes and ate sawdust for lunch.”

We heard it time and again from our grandparents and then were exposed to a slightly different version from our own parents. And now, I’m beginning to see the same stories trickle down to our kids, as my wife and I have become the elders.

“When I was your age, we didn’t have iPhones or tablets. We were forced to sit idle by our boomboxes and wait for OUR song to come on the TOP 8 at 8 and find the dexterity to push two buttons down at the same time, so it properly recorded on our Memorex 60. I had to physically rewind a song to hear it again – not just swipe left or ask Alexa. Our generation dealt with appointment television and didn’t have the luxury of on-demand or streaming.”

I’d like to think that in this age of amazing digital technology, the pros far outweigh the cons. Personally, we live several hundreds of miles away from both sets of our parents and extended families, however, technology affords us the ability to share intimate moments in real-time.

The Benefit of Technology

Just last night, I walked in on my wife Facetiming with her mom from the bathroom. She was sitting submerged in the tub, while giving Evelyn a bubble bath. A little odd? Ummm… yeah, but I’m old school.

This past weekend, I was in San Antonio speaking at the Dad 2.0 Summit. Of all things, my panel was titled ‘Saving Social Media’. While in Texas, my wife recorded our daughter getting her first earrings and shared it instantly to our family text thread. My nine year-old daughter texted me from her Gizmo watch to tell me she loved me. Upon my return, I was able to join a neurologist appointment for our son while never leaving my office. The long and the short of it is that for us and I’m guessing most of you – technology is amazing.

But with this age of incredible advancements brings a lot of additional stress.

As parents, we all try our hardest to do what’s necessary to protect our young children while they explore digital technology. If you’re like us, we bought them smart watches in an effort to monitor there whereabouts via GPS. It also served as a quick way to contact them without the hefty price of a cell phone. We’ve installed products like Disney Circle to monitor screen time and filter age-appropriate content.

In this age of instant-gratification, the thing that we sometimes forget or at least take for granted, is that our kids have INSTANT ACCESS to things that we’re sometimes unable to control. Even after giving our best efforts.

What is the ‘Momo Challenge’?

A few months ago, we were alerted to something that is referred to by the name “Momo”. This frightening character initiated by popping up on SnapChat and What’s App. It didn’t necessarily cross our periphery until its hackers made their way into YouTube and YouTube Kids.

The Momo Challenge started about six months ago. To me, it’s just another form of cyberbullying with incredibly dangerous and life threatening undertones. It seems to have originated in Japan, with its initial creator reaching out to users. They encouraged users to contact someone named “Momo”. They received graphic threats from the user and are instructed to perform a series of dangerous tasks. Some of them like turning on the stove while their parents sleep or even instructing kids to kill themselves by hanging or stabbing a knife into their neck. Momo uses the idea that “she” will harm their friends or family as a means to get kids to do things “she” asks and sends scary photos to encourage compliance.

Momo Challenge Debunked - What Parents Need to Know - YouTube

That element died down, but it inspired copycats. The idea has recently resurfaced as still images of Momo that have been inserted into some YouTube and YouTube Kids videos like video game commentary for Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite and has been reported to pop up in some Peppa Pig videos. It seems to be just visuals and some poorly crafted voiceover threatening kids while asking them to do things.

With user-generated content screenings almost impossible to stay on top of, it can be so hard to know if your child has been exposed to the terrifying message. YouTube released the following message via Twitter:

We want to clear something up regarding the Momo Challenge: We’ve seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies.

— YouTube (@YouTube) February 27, 2019

A Difficult Discussion

Last night, my wife and I were faced with the idea of having to discuss this with our kids. My fear was that if they WEREN’T aware of Momo, would this inspire a curiosity of the unknown–and a desire to look up this disturbing image? And if they were aware, were we really going to have a discussion with a 9, 7 and potentially 5-year old about self-harm and suicide??

We asked our oldest child, Ava, if she had ever heard of Momo before. She had not and my wife and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then we asked our seven year-old, who immediately replied with “Oh yeah, I know about that.” He didn’t seem concerned, but my stomach dropped into my shoes.

We immediately contacted several of our neighbors and almost all of their children not only knew who Momo was, but had violent, visceral emotional reactions when their parents even brought up the name. One immediately started crying, the other hid behind her hands.

The picture itself is actually of a Japanese sculpture and the body is essentially a chicken. The body has been removed in almost every photo online so that kids are led to believe it’s a person.

As Parents, What Are We Supposed to Do?

Regardless of where you net out on Momo, whether you believe the internet hype or think it’s overblown, there’s a more pressing and sad component: this is the idea of having to talk to our kids about suicide.

We feel like they’re too young to even know that people sometimes want to take their own lives. These kids are happy and don’t have a care in the world. Telling them that this even exists rips away a piece of their innocence. And that’s a horrible thing to face as a parent. The flip side is, what if WE choose to say nothing about suicide at all – this Momo Challenge is proof that someone else will. According to a recent CNN article, every five days one child between the ages of 5-12 takes their own life.

Every. Five. Days.

I’d like to think most of us are incredibly tuned in to the dangers that surround our kids every day. But the last couple of days have been eye opening for us as parents. As much as we tend to badmouth TV (even though we are both responsible for creating some of it),the reality is nothing makes it on the broadcast air without a lot of eyeballs and an abundance of standards.

Conversely these days, in the age of user-generated content, instant access to platforms like Snapchat or YouTube Kids offers an amazing array of educational videos for children. However, it’s nearly impossible to have 100% content oversight from the platform, and that can be dangerous. My wife and I have come to the realization that beginning an open dialogue about mental health and continuing our previous conversations with our children about safety – both online and in real life – is paramount.

The post The ‘Momo Challenge’ has Forced my Hand. appeared first on Dad or Alive.

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Here we sit, with January gone and February removing us from the holiday mindset. Even with the polar vortex sweeping down from the north, we’ve got our sights set on warmer weather appearing on the horizon.

For me, the holidays have been and always will be a time of year to gather with loved ones and remember those who aren’t with us anymore. I often find myself starting conversations with ‘remember when’ and ‘wasn’t that funny when…’ to frame a memory or story of those who may have left us too soon.

We just recently returned from a trip up north to see my family. As I walked through my childhood home, I realized that it’s been almost 25 years since I lived there. The ceilings seem lower, the kitchen smaller and hallways shorter. There are very few remaining indications that three young boys once built living room forts with linens or wrestled one another from wall to wall.

As I looked at the family pictures lined up along the mantle above the fireplace and on top of the pie safe (you’ll have to look that one up), I came across a picture of my Pop-Pop. He was sitting in our kitchen, looking on as I blew out the candles on my 16th birthday cake. The year was 1992.

I would only see him a few more times before I graduated from high school in the summer of 1994 and officially left for college that fall.

It was only two or three weeks into my first semester at school that I remember my mom calling my dorm room. Initially, it didn’t seem like a matter of dire emergency. She had mentioned that my grandfather had experienced some discoloration of his urine and his family doctor (we didn’t really use the term ‘primary care physician’ yet) advised him to go to the hospital for some tests beyond what his office was capable of.

Because I had only just started school, I made the decision to track his condition and wait to see what happened, which I ultimately regret.

My grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which required a Whipple procedure—a complex operation to remove the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder and the bile duct.

He never left the hospital. He passed away in mid-September of 1994 at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia at the age of 71. I never got to see him again.

A gentle giant, standing at 6’3”, he served as a postman while being stationed in Guam in World War II; he was a Freemason, he was well-liked at the local VFW and was a leading regional salesman of Chrysler cars when Lee Iacocca revived the brand in the 1980s.

He lived a very full life, but it was difficult to watch him—so big—succumb to something so small and silent.

My Pop-Pop wasn’t afforded the opportunity to return home and take advantage of a care team. He didn’t have the ability to keep a pain diary or share his distress with those around him. His cancer and the implications that resulted from surgery ultimately caused him to leave us, far too soon.

Over these last 25 years, things have certainly changed. Our knowledge in the field has increased, as has the development of new technology when it comes to chemotherapy and ongoing care.

What hasn’t changed is that everyone who falls under a cancer diagnosis will experience some form of distress: feeling sad, hopeless, powerless, uncertain, guilty, etc. It not only affects the patient, but also family. It can also include mental, physical, social or spiritual suffering.

Without a home care team, my grandfather relied on hospital staff, as well as his son and daughters to help track his pain and be an advocate for aiding him through any distress.

My mom spent her entire life as a nurse in the hospital system. She devoted decades to helping patients in need, but when it came time to care for her dad, she was always dancing a fine line in separating the emotions between being a daughter and being a nurse.

If you’ve known anyone or had a family member diagnosed with cancer and they’re beginning or  continuing treatments, it’s best to take some time and educate yourself about what they’re going through and the best way to help them. Being able to recognize symptoms of distress and/or side effects in an important part of helping the patient to manage their treatment.

Now that I have my own kids, my wife and I have learned that we have to be their sole medical advocates in life… and advocating for them means knowing everything I can about whatever illness they’re facing.

Since moving to coastal Virginia, somehow we have become friends with a group of families who have a common thread of having experienced childhood cancer. One of the things that we’ve learned from this amazing tribe is to be aware of signs and symptoms of severe distress, not only in the patients themselves, but also in the family members responsible for their care. It seems kind of ridiculous in a way, right? OF COURSE, someone facing a serious and life-threatening illness is going to have some anxiety and panicked thoughts and anger—but rarely do people ask how the care providers themselves are doing.

Caring for someone ailing is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually draining… you’re worried about juggling work, child care, finances, household duties, family and friend relationships on top of the daunting care of your loved one. As a parent dealing with a sick child, you too need and deserve resources.

Please take a moment to participate in this survey, which will take less than 15 minutes to complete. You will be entered to win one of ten $100 VISA gift cards. No personal information is kept, sold, or stored in the survey completion process.

PLEASE take the survey HERE.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a sponsored post on behalf of MED-IQ and I was compensated by Med-IQ through educational grants from AbbVie, Astellas, and Genentech to write about managing distress for cancer patients and their caregivers. All opinions are my own, however, the story of my grandfather is all ours. For more information about getting help and support for yourself or anyone close to you that’s been diagnosed with cancer, please visit cancersupportcommunity.org.

Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals.

 

The post A Walk Down Cancer Lane. appeared first on Dad or Alive.

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When I was a kid, there was no social media. As a 15-year old in 1991, I got my first brick-sized ‘Zack Morris’ cell phone – which was for ‘emergencies’ only. There was no texting – its only real function was to call landlines. It came with a carrying case and an antenna long enough that, whenever I used it, it looked like I was calling in an airstrike.

Gas was about $1.12 per gallon, Anthony Hopkins creeped us out with his fava beans in Silence of the Lambs and Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Van Halen ruled the world of music. That same year, the internet made its debut with the first website being published in early August.

From this point on, the flood gates were open. Texting only really became a thing when I was in college in the latter part of the 90’s. We used the multi-tap system on the SMS. NOTE: Millennials might have to look that up.

Out of nowhere, we began seeing an incredible boom in technology. Whether it was video games, the Apple II, Tivo or search engines like Google. It was just the beginning.

We’re now well beyond the days of Friendster and MySpace and the tech landscape has now fully wrapped its arms around our daily lives. Almost EVERYTHING we do is somehow connected to social media or the internet.

My folks didn’t have these worries. The only time I ever sat down with my parents for a ‘meeting’ was to talk about the birds and the bees – which lasted about 36 seconds before I told them that everything I needed to know, I learned on the school bus.

Today, it’s different. Now, I’m actually a parent. As if that weren’t difficult enough, now I’ve got to navigate conversations with my kids about online etiquette, the damage of excessive screen-time and predators who lurk on the web, looking for an opportunity to steal information and identities, amongst other much more nefarious things.

With four kids under 9, and three of them already extremely proficient with all forms of technology, it was time for my wife and I to start REALLY talking about boundaries.

We’ve taken the opportunity to partner with Google Kids & Families this holiday season to encourage conversations about how to be safer online and building positive relationships with technology.

With that in mind, we’d like to encourage you to do the try out the following process that might help guide you along the way.

  • Set up Family Link on Android mobile devices(s) HERE.
    • Guide your child to good content – you can view their activity, manage their apps and view teacher-recommended apps that you add directly to their devices.
    • Keep an eye on screen-time – set time limits and lock their device when it’s time to have dinner, do homework or just spend time together. You can also remotely lock their device if it’s time to take a break.
    • See where they are – locate them, use Family Link to figure out where there are, so long as they’re using an Android device.
  • Have your kids play Be Internet Awesome’s Interland Game HERE.
  • Establish family screen time rules…

Here are the family screen time rules my wife and I came up with…

DAD OR ALIVE HOUSEHOLD RULES FOR DEVICE USAGE:

  1. The use of electronics in our home is monitored. It is a Privilege, not a Right.
  2. You may not use your real identifying information (name, address, email nor phone numbers).
  3. You may not interact with anyone whom you don’t personally know from school or the neighborhood. “Friends” must be in your age group.
  4. Chat modes must be turned off when possible.
  5. Apps may only be downloaded by Mom & Dad.
  6. Devices must be turned off during dinner.
  7. Your morning chores must be done before you can use your devices.
  8. Mom & Dad will set your password.

I encourage you to join the conversation – what are we missing? What rules does your family have when it comes to online freedoms?

Our hope is that these simple steps encourage you and your family to begin a conversation – which hopefully leads to a safe and FUN holiday and new year online – for YOU and your KIDS.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Google Kids & Families, however the rules will be happily enforced by us! For more information on Family Link, click HERE and if you’d like to introduce your kids to Be Internet Awesome, check it out HERE.

The post Kids, Devices and Our Family Rules. appeared first on Dad or Alive.

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In our last stain-fighting adventure, we talked extensively about my son, Charlie, the ‘Captain of Filth’. He is also known locally as The Stain Whisperer or sometimes The Commodore of Crud. His uncanny ability to find the grit and grime is unparalleled.

But he’s not the only clown in my circus. And he’s certainly not the only one that can dribble toothpaste down their brand-new shirt before school or manage to sit in bird poop on a park bench, ruining yet another pair of pants.

With all of the money we shell out as parents to keep the young tribe looking spiffy – there’s a certain amount of attention that we pay to their clothes. If we can’t manage to stop them before the damage is done, we’re forced to head to the laundry room to break out the Carbona and use their arsenal of 9 different Stain Devils to bring their clothes back to life.

If the kids weren’t enough to handle, there’s also the pets…

Jen and I had our Boston Terrier, Cooper, since we first started dating. He recently passed away last year after 13 years of standing by our side and slobbering on our pants…

This had been my second tour of duty in taking a care of a dog through his or her lifespan. As his health began to fail, I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a small, selfish part of my brain that hadn’t thought about what life might be like without constantly going for walks at midnight in the cold December air or cleaning up vomit or diarrhea from the bedroom carpet.

It was right around that time that we inherited a 30-gallon fish tank from my in-laws. It was also around the time that I foolishly promised Charlie (Captain Filth) a tortoise for graduating from kindergarten – only to find out that the Russian Testudo that I had purchased has a life expectancy of 25-50 years. And then there was Ava (or oldest), begging and pleading with me to get her a cat.

I held firm on this one. Each and every night, she had thrown herself at me, almost in tears about how much she would love, care for and look after a kitty. I had strong reservations about the fact that the nostalgia would wear eventually wear off and I’d find myself, once again, thrust into the role of ‘animal caretaker’ for an extended period of time.

For weeks, I refused to budge. The guilt was coming from all directions, including my wife. The sentiment was that I wouldn’t want to be the one that she resented for always saying no. It was a combination of this rhetoric and the repeated pleading that eventually caused my collapse.

And on July 4th weekend last year, not only did we get one cat, but OF COURSE, we ended up with two. WOULDN’T ONE GET LONELY, DADDY?

So here I am, The Greatest Showman, standing in the center ring with my cavalcade of kids and animals…all making the biggest mess they can.

I’ll admit that the fish, turtles and cats have been arguably less work than our beloved Cooper – but they still have their days.

So I’m now tasked with taking long parades around the house on weekend mornings, armed with my Carbona Pet Stain & Odor Remover. Whether it be removing the old stains (and ODOR!) from man’s best friend, or the turtle ‘drippings’ or cat barf that occasionally adorn the playroom – their formulas aren’t just for clothing, but fabrics and bedroom carpet. In fact, it’s brush top applicator actually helps you get ‘into’ the stain more fully to clean it.

I’m not sure where I got the idea that things were going to calm down for me when I became a parent, but I’m always reconsidering my expectations and I’m happy being the Ringmaster for this wild bunch. No matter how dirty they are.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was a sponsored post on behalf of Carbona and their #lifeunstained campaign, however, the cheesy stains are all ours. For more on Carbona and their amazing stain-lifting wizard powers, check them out HERE, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The post What Kind of a Circus Am I Running? appeared first on Dad or Alive.

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