Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Daring Quest: Growing Sunflowers, A Photo Essay

Sunflowers are such calm, quiet, peaceful things, unlike boys. But my two boys, Hank and Gabe, are raising sunflowers in our backyard as part of The Daring Quest, and we want you to see the results so far, beginning at the, well, beginning.

Adding Fertilizer

Saturday, May 9, the day before Mother’s Day. Here are Jennifer and Gabe preparing the soil and planting the seeds. Each of us has our various jobs: Jennifer and I shovel dirt and mix in chicken manure to improve the soil in the bed, Hank stays inside the house working on his Alaska state project for school, and Gabe occasionally wields the shovel but mainly collects bugs that he finds in the dirt.

Handful of bugs

Lured by the prospect of seeing something gross, Hank comes outside to see Gabe’s bag of bugs. “Dude,” he says, “that’s awesome.” “Do you want to feel them?” Gabe asks. “No,” says Hank. I confess during the shoveling that in all my life I have never planted anything before-not one fruit, not one vegetable, and certainly not any sunflowers. “That’s amazing,” says Jennifer. “I’m so happy to be part of your first experience.” Hank adds, “I’ve never planted seeds in chicken dung before.”

Thursday, May 14. Gabe and I water the sunflowers. Like the American economy, no green shoots are visible yet. Watering the sunflowers quickly turns into watering Gabe. He starts running around the lawn giggling and exulting as the spray from the hose soaks him like a spring shower.

Hank picking off seeds_1

Sunday, May 17. Success! Here, Hank explores the eight to twelve tiny shoots that are suddenly bursting from the chicken manure soil. This is a testament to the wisdom of The Dangerous Book for Boys, our guide for The Daring Quest, which recommended sunflowers because they grow very fast and children (and their parents) can see immediate results. Afterward Gabe and I go up to my office to download the pictures he has taken, and I teach him how to use the Kodak photo editing  software. He quickly catches on and crops the photos and saves them to the desktop without my help. “I can do it,” Gabe says. “I know you can,” says his father.

In a moment Hank follows us into my office and learns to use the photo editing tools too. The two of them take turns editing photos, and it occurs to me that while the boys are ostensibly growing sunflowers, they are also learning some of the skills I hold dear: writing, editing, photography, design, publishing.

Tuesday, May 19. Before the finals of “American Idol,” I water the sunflowers and the other plants in the beds, something I’m doing much more than I ever have in the past. I feel more connected to the sunflowers because I helped plant them and they’re part of The Daring Quest. This seems a good lesson for teaching children as well: A thing that is done for them will never matter as much to them as when they do it themselves.

Saturday, May 30. I am brushing my teeth when Gabe runs into the bathroom to tell me something. This is not unusual. It is almost impossible to take a shower without Gabe coming in to tell Jennifer or me-whoever is in the shower at the time-his latest breaking news about how he can’t find one of his Warhammer toys or how he had a dream last night about a peanut butter sandwich. But this is truly a dramatic development. “I have good news and bad news about the sunflowers,” he says. “The good news is they’re growing. The bad news is they’re being eaten. By snails, I think.”

Springing into action,  I go down to the garage, find a bag of snail-killing pellets, toss some handfuls in the dirt, and create a snail Maginot Line along the edges of the bed. Take that, you pesky varmints!

Wednesday, June 10. The sunflowers are growing, and growing. According to Gabe’s measurements, the tallest is more than twenty inches high, and there are a bunch of other plants that are nearly as tall.


Thursday, June 18. Gabe measures again and the tallest is now two feet high. Two feet! It’s a miracle!

Big Growth!


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Eat a Peach: A Day in the Life of a Work-at-Home Dad

Peach Can For a work-at-home dad, the two most frightening words in the English language are: Summer vacation. The boys are out of school now, which means that the “work” part of “work-at-home” pretty much disappears. Here is one day in my life this week:

7:41 a.m. Kiss the wife goodbye as she leaves for her blessedly steady job with salary and benefits.
7:42-8:00 a.m. Race upstairs and take shower. Do morning stretches. Run back down to fix double-bag English tea. Transport tea back up to my office, turn on laptop.
8:01 a.m. Sit down to check my e-mail and possibly do some writing before the boys wake.
8:02 a.m. Boys wake. Both visit me in my office. Start turning things on, pulling things out of drawers, telling me their dreams. To get them to leave, I agree to fix their breakfast.
8:20 a.m. Take Hank to swim practice. Also mail a book order at the post office, which makes me feel good because at least it has something to do with making a living.
9:50 a.m. Return to pool to get Hank. On return trip home, announce to the boys that we are seeing “Up” this afternoon.
10-11:15 a.m. Boys actually play contentedly without fighting or yelling, I suspect because of the movie carrot I have dangled in front of them. This gives me a chance to check the e-mails I didn’t get to earlier.
11:30 a.m. From upstairs I hear the boys ‘ voices getting louder, a clear signal that the peaceful calm of the morning is about to turn ugly. Rush downstairs to put food in their mouths.
11:45 a.m. During lunch I do not notice that Gabe is eating peaches out of a can. But I do notice when he starts drinking the peach juice out of the can. I tell him how disgusting this is, and he stops.
11:59 a.m. I drink the rest of the juice from the can when the boys aren’t looking.
12:07 p.m. Gabe accidentally pulls the toilet roll dispenser off the wall and hands it to me asking me to do something with it.
12:24 p.m. Pack snacks for the movie. Find leftover Gummy Worms to throw into the snack bag with the Pirate’s Booty white cheddar puffs and Capri Sun juice drinks. Offer the boys a box of raisins for a “healthy treat.” Both emphatically turn it down.
12:44 p.m. Grab snacks and 3D glasses and we’re off. Nope, not quite. I ask Hank to make sure the front door is locked. He says it is. I walk back and check the door. It isn’t. I lock it.
1:12 p.m. Stop at Costco before the movie to look at bicycles. While there, we walk past the Books section and I think wistfully of all the authors who are home at this very instant working hard on their writing.
1:45-3:35 p.m. See “Up” in 3D with our 3D glasses (totally recommended, by the way, a terrific movie for kids and adults). Note with pleasure the references in the movie to snipe hunting, showing that Kevin Nelson, Writer is on top of the latest Hollywood trends. (See our recent post on snipe hunting.)
4 p.m. Return home. Gabe leaves to go ride his bike on the court, complaining that the other kids are making fun of him because his bike is too small. Hank asks if he can have some peaches. I say yes.
4:05 p.m. I notice that Hank has poured entire can of peaches into a glass, not a bowl. Gabe walks in the door and copies his brother. Oh well, at least they’re not eating from the can.
4:36 p.m. Count the seconds until 4:45 p.m. when my wife returns from work and I get to take a walk.
4:46 p.m. Oh no, she’s a minute late! Where is she? This isn’t fair. Doesn’t she know I’m home with the kids all day and…Ah, there she is. “Tag you’re it, honey.”


Filed under Adventures in Writing, Parenting, Personal

More Work-at-Home Dad: Why Children Learn to Read. So They Can Work the TV Remote

KN with flipperIn my never-ending quest to prepare my sons for the real world, now re-branded The Daring Quest, I have spent countless hours teaching them how to operate a television remote. Holding the flipper in the palm of your hand and manipulating the controls with your thumb while stretched out on the couch watching “Man vs. Wild” or “The Brady Bunch Movie”-this is a lifelong learning skill I feel confident my sons will use all their days. And my daughter too. Now in college, Annie can handle a remote with the skill of an expert.

This morning, while playing on an old laptop of mine, Hank discovered a 2005 journal entry in which I talked about teaching Gabe, then four years old, how to use a remote. Here is what I said:

The flipper is our name for the TV remote. Gabe wanted to turn on the TV and video and I was trying to teach him how to do it. The top of the remote says “Mute” and “Power” and some other words. I said to him, “Find the P. Where’s the P word?”
“The P word?” he asked.
“There it is: Power,” I said. “That’s why you learn to read. So you can work the flipper.”

I actually said that: “That’s why you learn to read. So you can work the flipper.” Around this same time, apparently during a sterling period in my career, I also noted this in my journal:

I mopped the floor this morning to feel useful and productive. That’s how bad it’s gotten for me: I’m mopping the floors to feel useful. I have been developing my floor mopping techniques, however. I’ve used powdered cleansers in the past. Put a heap in a bucket, add water, and mop. But I find that they, or at least the one I used, did not leave the floor with much of a shine. Now I use a liquid cleanser. It seems to give the floors a bit more luster. [AND HERE IS THE RELEVANT PART OF ALL THIS…] I mopped the kitchen and three bathroom floors this morning, while Gabe practiced his reading while using the TV remote.

You’re not sticking your children in front of the TV. You’re giving them a chance to practice their reading while they operate the remote, allowing you to do something else in the house. And I sincerely hope that something else is not mopping.

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Filed under Adventures in Writing, Parenting, Personal, Work-at-home dad

The Dangerous Quest: Two Posts This Week

1. Bribing Boys To Learn Shakespeare [ read article here ] 2. Speaking of Matters Literary [ read article here ]

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