Friday, 28 June 2013

Friday, Funday III

Hey team!

Some more cool things to show the kids next time you're on the internet:

Amazing artwork by Yasuaki Onishi (it looks like you're on the inside of a mountain!)

A fantastic Rube Goldberg machine for reading the morning paper (possible Idea For Dad?)

Extremely cool animated video for Jeremy Messersmith's song Tatooinie (real touching song and fun with craft paper!)

Cool websites:

The Scale Of The Universe (Prepare to have your mind blown)
We Are Lucky (Some nice guy gives away $1000 to a random person every day)

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Episode Seven: Baking

The oldest boy and I had some time to ourselves for a change so I decided to bake a variation of Pepperoni Pizza Monkey Bread. The recipe is at the bottom of this update.

For this idea you will need clean hands (!), a willing volunteer and a suitable recipe.

Do Dads bake? I'm not sure. I can tell you now that I am rubbish at cooking anything that doesn't require LPG gas, hot plates and a beer in my hand. The whole obsession with cooking shows and trying out new recipes is totally lost on me. One reason is that my wife is such an incredible cook that it often feels like there is no point even trying. The main reason though, is that it's just one of those things I can seem to do no matter how hard I try. Like juggling.

All that aside, I seem to be able to bake. I definitely make the best scones out of anyone I know, I have a great double chocolate chip cookie recipe that I nail every time and I've recently mastered soft dough pretzels. So although you won't see me marinating a leg of lamb ready to roast in the oven, you may see a few bookmarks for butterscotch banana crepe cake in my browser.

I have wanted to try the pizza bread recipe for some time but also, I knew that my son would be keen on the construction part of the idea. The bread is like a pull-apart so it requires making balls of dough and stuffing them with salami and cheese. This required an almost assembly line-style kitchen and that is right up my son's alley. Repetition, building and food all seem to tick his boxes. So we gave it a whirl.

I had originally planned to talk about gender roles and how it's good for your children to see you in the kitchen and take on some of the duties. But really, I like to think those days are over. Most men are sharing the cooking and, if my friends are anything to go by, are enjoying coming up with more interesting things to put on the barbie than sausages. I really think it might be just our household where I am hardly in the kitchen. It's not a 'being a man' thing, it's just that I'm not good at it. And my eldest boy knows that. 

So, it was in to the kitchen to face the fear and do it anyway. We are trying to teach him that sometimes you just have to do the things you aren't good at and you need to do them often. I don't know if my wife would let me get away with baking pizza bread all the time but this idea was still used as an example. Not only did the bread turn out great, my helper and I had a great time rolling out dough, talking about our techniques for sealing each individual ball of dough and basically have a good old bonding session over our favourite thing: food.

An important note about this idea is that it really does require a recipe that the children can get involved with. Whether that means you do the tricky parts and they put in the ingredients or you get them to press the fork down on the biscuits. Chose a recipe that gives them enough to do and they'll see the job all the way through to the end.

Have fun!

Recipe (modified from this recipe [Confections of a Foodie Bride - ha ha!])


2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 Tbsp butter or margerine
1 kg of pizza dough (I used a yeast-free pizza dough)
250g cheese, cut into small cubes (roughly 30)
30 slices of salami


Preheat oven to 200'C
Heat garlic and butter over medium heat just until the garlic begins to brown. Remove from heat and let sit.
Lightly brush the inside of a bundt pan (or other oven-safe dish) with garlic butter.
Pull off large marble-sized balls of dough and flatten.
Top with a slice of pepperoni and a cube of mozzarella.
Wrap the dough around the pepperoni and cheese, pinching well to seal.
Very lightly brush the pizza ball with garlic butter and place into the bundt pan.
Repeat until all of the dough is used.
Bake for ~35 minutes, until the top is very brown.
Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes.
Turn out onto a platter and serve with ketchup or other dipping sauce.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Dadism: Rules vs Values

Rules were made to be broken.

In our household at the moment we have a challenging eight year old boy who has us at our wits end. I don't mean a rolling our eyes, "boys will be boys" wits end. I mean real deal frustration. My eldest boy has a very quick but wandering mind. We go from being flabbergasted by his ability to recite facts and dates he read in a book two weeks ago and then equally astonished that every single day we need to remind him to do things like bring his shoes home from school.


Reading that last sentence doesn't make it seem such a big deal: Eight year old boys are notorious for being forgetful, having their mind 'somewhere else' and generally being the most frustrating creatures on Earth (will have to re-read this when I have teenagers). The thing is, my wife and I have to remind him to do the same things every single day. This has been going on for three years. I've gone full circle from being absolutely livid I have to have the same conversation each day about respecting his stuff, to just letting it go, to going back to feeling like tearing what hair I have left out.

It's got me thinking about what is really important. If I have to tell my son to bring his shoes home every single day what do I really care about? The shoes? Having the same conversation over and over again? The answer is always no. Shoes aren't cheap but they're replaceable. I'd rather not buy a new pair every week, but hey, such is parenthood.

Nope, the real lesson for him and for me is Rules vs Values. The rule is that you bring your shoes home. The value is that we respect our belongings. When I dig deep down to my frustration I keep coming back to the same mantra: Rules were made to be broken. Kids break rules. Kids test the boundaries. Kids forget things and need to be told over and over again. But, in my heart, what absolutely cannot be ignored are values.

Respect for others, respect your elders, look after your belongings, treat people how you want to be treated. All first day stuff really. It's what matters to me. It's what I want my children to carry with them throughout their life. I want them to know that those values are the cornerstone of what our family is about.

Rules? I can't get angry that you put an empty carton of milk back in the fridge because, hey, I do the same thing sometimes. But hitting your brother for accidentally stepping on your car you made out of Lego. That doesn't line up with our values.

At the end of the day what is really important? What can I let myself run around in circles about? What do I want to spend what little time I have with my boy enforcing? Rules or values? That's what I'm going to be working on this forthcoming week. As a sticker on my Aunty's fridge said, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing". Amene.

The Larsen Family Values

  • Care for other people
  • Honesty
  • Respect for our belongings
  • Putting other people before ourselves
  • Do things to the best of our ability
  • Respect our elders

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Episode Six: Ice Excavation

This idea is a bit of a favourite around our ways and for good reason. It combines one of my favourite materials to work with (ice) and the adventure of discovery.

For this idea you will need a freezable container (ice cream containers work best), some sort of child-friendly hammer, some treasure and water.

Get your children to choose out their treasure. In this instance, my middle boy was helping me so he chose two jewels for himself and two for his older brother. We put the treasure in the bottom of the container, filled it up with water and stuck it in the freezer. In about three hours you should have a solid block of ice ready to be hacked away at.

Just a few notes from experience: As you can see in our photos we had no foot or eye protection. This is up to you. In hindsight, when giving my children hammers to swing around a pair of covered shoes would probably be a good idea. Also, with all that ice being struck with the hammer, eye protection might be a good idea - even a pair of sunglasses would do the trick.

The boys had great fun smashing the ice with the hammer. Both the older and middle boy enjoyed the destruction of it all - the treasure was definitely an after thought. They were having so much fun that my baby daughter came out to see what all the fuss was about.

This is a simple, simple idea but hopefully your children will get a lot of joy out of it, as will you. Have a go chipping away at the ice with a screwdriver (or chisel) and a hammer yourself - there's something pretty satisfying about banging away at a piece of ice, flecks spraying everywhere and getting your hands wet. It's the ultimate tactile activity but there's no mess and all of the remains will melt in the sun after a few hours.

My children enjoyed this idea so much that they were still going long after I went inside to get lunch ready. Not only that, they raced back inside to choose new treasure, fill up the containers again and put them in the freezer.That is a huge sign of success in my book.

Have fun!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Friday, Funday II

Hey team,

Some more cool things to show your kids:

Some clever person made a flip book made up of photos of clouds passing across the sky. Hard to explain to press play!

How jeans are made. The machinery in this video is very industrial and cool and fun to look at.

This is a classic that gets a laugh from me every time. Hope it works with you too!

Some cool website action to check out:

Here is Today (A visual representation of time and where we are currently)
The Adventures of Mr Fly (Mr Fly is a very, very, busy and cool guy)
Lego Characters (Bonus points if you can guess all of them)

Have fun!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Episode Five: Scavenger Hunt Walk

There's nothing like a quick stroll around the block after dinner in Autumn; the leaves crunching underfoot. Or perhaps a trek along a windswept beach on a rainy day; sea spray flying about. I use these little excursions to break up the monotony of the week. The children and I walk through our neighbourhood pointing out which houses we like, making up stories about who might live in them. Doing this gave me a great idea for a very easy idea.

For this idea you need a pen, a piece of paper and well-trained eyes. 

During the warmer months our family were doing a walk around the block every night. For some reason my eldest son decided he was going to look out for bits of metal or steel on our way. We all scoured the footpaths and the gutters looking for screws, bolts or anything similar. What was an easy walk around the streets became a scavenger hunt and that's where this idea came from.

On a piece of paper write down sights or objects they might encounter. The premise being that as they spot this item, they tick it off the list. It's a simple idea but it will add another dimension to a walk and possibly encourage the reluctant walkers in your tribe to get out there. 

Knowing the route you will be taking in advance will help. If you're walking down your street you might know of a letterbox that has a number missing. This would be a great item to put on your scavenger hunt list. So have a think about the route you will take and what significant sights your children might encounter. Not only does this encourage them to pay attention to the world around them, it creates that community awareness we talked about in Episode Two. This is a value I think is important to instill in our children: Awareness of their surroundings.

To test drive this idea, the family and I headed over to our local beach about ten minutes away. I created the list ahead of time and knew that we have two visible off-shore islands so I put one of them on the list. I also knew that it is a family tradition to have an ice cream at the end of a beach walk so that went on the list too. I put a few items that would require them to scout around. For example the 'fan shaped' shell on the list meant they really had to look at each pile of shells and see if the right one was to be found. 


Another thing I put on the list was a friendly dog. We don't have a dog in our family and our two boys are quite weary of them so I wanted to encourage them to look for them and interact with them. It was a way to show them that dogs can be friendly (but first check with the owners if they are child-friendly). I'm not recommending this as an idea but merely giving you an idea of how you can be creative with your own list.

My own attempt proved to be a mixed bag. The three year old loved the idea and was tearing about trying to find each item. The eight year old wasn't keen on sifting through piles of shells to find the right shape. I put this down to age so maybe keep this in mind when doing your own list.

No matter what, every age group would be interested in an ice cream - including Dads.

Have fun!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Dadism: Being A Dad

I had a job interview a few months ago and one of the last questions they asked me was, "What are you most proud of?". My brain didn't even think and I said, "Being a Dad". I took myself by surprise and expanded on the answer.

Being a Dad is a hard thing to do. I've only been doing it for eight years but for the last thirty-odd years I've had a pretty strong idea of how I was going to approach it. What I would do, what I wouldn't do. Cues from my own Dad and father figures in my life. What did they do that I enjoyed? What did they teach me? But most importantly: What did I learn from them?


I grew up without a Dad in the house. I was five when my parents divorced and although I got to see him every second school holiday, my Dad wasn't there for the day to day things. My Mother was and she did the best she could raising me.

The way I look at it is this: Any man can be a Father; any man can have a child. Not every man can be a Dad. Being a great Dad is a never-ending journey. Being a Dad means doing a lot of things. It varies from house to house. It might mean taking out the rubbish, teaching your kids to ride their bikes, washing the car. It might not.

On those school holidays with my own Dad, being a Dad meant catching fish. It meant walking through 11 acres of bush looking for the night's bonfire wood. It meant drawing pictures and making up songs about our day. My Dad could build houses, fix cars and chop down trees - but he never showed me how. Instead he showed me how to be creative, what to listen for in music, how to be a gentle man. I used to come home to my every day life and wonder why my Dad didn't show me how to hammer a nail or fix a bike puncture. Now that I look back on it, I realise it's because there are more important things a Dad does: He was showing me how to be.

To be a Dad is to be present. To have the role and own it. To not shy away from that responsibility and to take on the challenge of parenthood. It means getting down on the floor and engaging with your children. It means to just... be.


This blog shares a lot of ideas for things to do with your children. Mothers, grandparents, aunties, uncles, teachers and other caregivers are welcome to use the ideas. It's not the ideas that are important. Investing time and energy into our tamariki, our children is the big lesson here. Yes, you will find out how to make a marble run with your kids, but that's not the point. The point is doing things with your children.

Ultimately, being a Dad is something to be proud of. Sometimes it's hard; you're at your wits end. Other times it's so easy you feel like a natural. Either way, the more you put in the more you will get out of it. Cliches are cliches for a reason: because most often they are true. If you make your children your world, they will go out and conquer the world.

So please join me as I try out ideas with my children all while trying my hardest to be a Dad.

Have fun!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Episode Four: Lego Ice Skating Rink

This was a big learning experience for me and I'll explain why further on. When I was young Lego put out a themed series of sets based on a fictional ice planet. That year their catalogue featured perfectly orchestrated scenes involving Lego men trapped in ice cubes and full landscapes of glistening ice. It goes without saying that those pages sparked my imagination.

Ice is a cheap, accessible and fascinating material to work with. It is abundant as you want it to be and, as those glossy pages of the catalogue proved, it can be manipulated in many ways. Case in point: The Lego Ice Skating Rink.

I originally saw this idea on Pinterest via this blog post and thought of my Lego-obsessed boys and my own ice fascination straight away.

It's dead simple: Fill a baking dish half full of water and put it in the freezer. Then, put Lego mini figures into a ice cube tray, standing up, fill with water then freeze.

I made a few variations on these instructions and I'm sure you and your children can come up with some others. First, I stored the tray in the freezer with one end propped up on a box of Popsicles. This created an ice ramp that the figurines could use as a jump. Very cool.

Now with these instructions hopefully that's pretty self-explanatory. It does take some prep, typically the night before and this is where I came unstuck.

The lesson I learnt here, and I guess this can be applied to most of the ideas, is: preparation is not a one man job.

You see, I thought that I would save my children the wait and freeze the tray and figurines the night before. Then I could show it to them using a 'Here are some I prepared earlier' scenario. I was worried that if I showed them the idea, then told them we had to wait overnight while the water froze, they would lose interest.

In business terms I had no buy in. The kids were not interested and had no investment in the idea. In bloke terms the idea died on its arse. Here's why: the night before I had gone through their mountain of Lego choosing out various Lego figurines who I thought would feature in the ice scape. Apparently I chose wrong. That makes sense. There is no way Zurg could have happily skated next to Woody and the Octan truck driver - I should have known that.

Children don't like things sprung on them. This is why we tell them that we're leaving in ten minutes. Or let them know how long they have to play until bed time. We know that if we drop something like that on them, they start to act up. These kids were put out by the fact that this awesome activity was thrust upon them. They wanted more say in how this idea was laid out and I can't fault them for it.

Now I'm not saying you have to run every single thing you do together past them. But, when its a cool idea that will inspire play, their input can really help secure their participation.I'll be keeping this in mind moving forward.

Have fun!