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Paul Banas is a happy married dad of two kids and the editor of GreatDad.com as well as the Publisher of Pregnancy Magazine. He writes for and edits the annual "Pregnant Dad" issue, and also writes about technology and gadgets including baby monitors.

About Paul Banas

Paul Banas is happy married dad of two great kids living in San Francisco. He writes now about kids, new technology and how the two interact for GreatDad.com and for Pregnancy Magazine (pregnancymagazine.com) where he is also the publisher.

Here are my most recent posts

Kids Birthday Party – Top Tips for Throwing a Great Event

Kid’s birthday parties are fun for those of all ages. Kids over three get very excited over their birthdays, and always want to invite their friends and classmates to come and celebrate with them. While these moments are ones that parents everywhere cherish, a lot can go into organizing a party like this, so it’s best to be prepared. If your kid has a birthday coming up, here are a few tips to help you show them a great time. 

Where’s the Party?

First, you’re going to need to figure out where you’re having a party. Is it going to be at your house? Or is there somewhere like an activity center or theme park that your kid wants to go to? Most parents don’t want to know, but kids (and some parents do compare party venues. That doesn’t mean you have to play this social game, but you should be aware that depending on the age of your child, he or she might be very aware of who had the coolest party this year. 

Commonly, kids like to have parties at the same or at similar venues to their friends, so perhaps ask some of the other parents you know for recommendations and book the party there as soon as possible.

And remember, small kids don’t need big parties or splashy decorations. It’s fine if that kind of thing makes you happy, but don’t put pressure on yourself if you’re not into it. 

Your kid’s birthday party doesn’t have to be expensive

Of course,  you can go for a high-price venue or if the sky’s the limit, order up a pro magician or even the latest boy band. But if you don’t have tons of cash, there are still ways to make birthdays fun and memorable. You just might need to be a little more creative. Our best recommendation is to think of magical times you had when you were little and which ones of these are things kids just don’t do anymore. Two ideas we did with our kids: 

  • Kite-flying – A day at a park flying kites can be very low cost. Kids love to fly kites and it’s relatively easy to do. And kites are relatively inexpensive. A quick search on Amazon yields party packs of kites at around $2. 
  • Nerf gun battle – We rented a local community center big room for two hours and bought an extra 200 Nerf darts. We invited kids to bring their own Nerf guns and brought along some extras just in case. Then we set up the kids with some big cardboard boxes. After two hours of sweaty heart-stopping gun battles, we fed them cake from the local supermarket in the driveway. Our son’s friends said it was the best party ever (at least that year). 

Invitations

Once you know when and where the party is taking place you can send out invitations. Our advice:

  1. Plan early. You’ll be surprised by how long it will take for yoru child to choose u9p friends when attendance may be limited by venue or budget. 
  2. Make sure you give the other parents plenty of notice to avoid your kid being disappointed at the turnout. 
  3. You can buy invitations for your kid’s birthday party, but our recommendation is to use social media or Evite.  Not only does it save on paper, but you just don’t want the added hassle of pestering parents who’ve lost their invite in a stack of bills. Evite makes it easy to keep track of respondents and automatically remind them of the event. 
  4. Choose the time of your party and don’t forget about lunch. If you plan a party from 11-1, kids and parents are going to expect lunch. It’s also considered very insensitive to feed kids cake at 5PM right before they are supposed to go home and eat dinner.
  5. Be clear what you want in the invitation. If it’s “no gifts,” make that clear. A key thing to remember is to spell out whether it’s a drop-off event or whether parents need to stay to supervise. Of course, a lot of parents are excited to get a few hours to grab a coffee with friends during a party, but in some cases, like the kiting party mentioned above, you may need parents to supervise their child to avoid any dangers.

Games

If you’re having your party at home you will need to come up with some entertainment for the kids to enjoy. In the summertime perhaps they could have a water fight in the backyard, or play a game of soccer? You could set up a treasure hunt that is suitable for both inside and outside, or hang up a pinata. There are plenty of fun and exciting things to do at home that will keep them entertained for hours.

Remember that in our overly-scheduled and planned world, kids don’t often get a chance to just be kids. Just having free time to run around with their friends can sometimes be the most fun way for them to spend an afternoon, especially if there is cake!

Food

The most important thing is the birthday cake. Whether you made it yourself or bought it from the store, make sure it’s the centerpiece of the buffet. Again, know your audience.. There’s no reason to get a $100 cake for 7-year olds. They are far more excited by a store-bought cupcake that is half frosting.

While kids will want the usual tasty party foods like pizza slices, mini-burgers, cookies, and chips put out plenty of healthy snacks available to balance it out.

Don’t forget other parents

If you weren’t clear in the invitation or your venue is inconvenient, some parents may decide to just hang out awkwardly if invited or not. At the same time, if you invited parents to hang out, watch and socialize, don’t forget to lay out some grown-up food for them to enjoy. You could even hire a private event bartender to serve adult beverages, as well as non-alcoholic drinks for the kids.

Decorations

No party is complete without some fun decorations to brighten up the room. Balloons are a staple for kid’s parties, as are paper streamers. If your kid has requested a theme for their parties, such as pirates, or their favorite movie, find some decorations to reflect that to help create the atmosphere. If you’re on a budget, search online retailers to find great deals that won’t hurt your wallet.

Make sure your kid has the best birthday this year and use these handy tips to help you plan their party.

How to build a treehouse for your kids

Do you want to encourage your children to spend more time outside? If so, you should seriously consider building them a treehouse. It may demand a lot of time and effort on your part, but this is one of the best things that you can do to entice your kids outdoors.

You don’t necessarily have to be good at DIY to perform this task. If you put the advice laid out below into practice, you’ll stand a chance at being able to build your kids the treehouse of their dreams.

Is your tree suitable?

The tree that you opt to build your treehouse upon will play a major role in the success of this venture. Quite simply, you can’t just use any old tree. It needs to be tall enough, strong enough, and thick enough to withstand the pressures of the building work that you perform on it. So before you get started on drawing up plans and digging out the toolbox, think about the following:

  • What type of tree do you have? For example, apple, oak, fir, ash, and beech are perfect choices
  • Will the treehouse cause trouble with your neighbors and block their sunlight or view? Be sure to take the boundaries of your premises into account. 
  • How old is your tree? 
  • Is the tree safe? A tree that is diseased or damaged (these types of trees aren’t stable, which ultimately means that building a treehouse upon them could endanger your kids)

Other stuff to worry about before selecting your tree

The tree is key, as they say in the treehouse business. Acuitlaly, I just made that up, but if you’ve found the perfect tree, you need to consider several other factors:

Do you need a  building permit

Do you need approval from a homeowners association? It always feels like homeowners’ associations are set up to destroy any possibility of fun. Make sure they are okay with what you are doing.

Will you require additional insurance for this type of structure? Some insurance carriers will require certain safety measures before adding a treehouse to your coverage.

A better option than a house built in the tree?

If you don’t have a tree that can safely hold even a small structure, consider a raised platform treehouse that is either built around the trunk of the tree or sits right below the branches. This design in many ways is a better choice. 

  • Easier to build 
  • Safer
  • Will hold together longer as the tree grows

You’re going to need a plan

You can easily find treehouse plans online, ranging from super-complicated to simple four posts platforms.  In fact, a quick search at Home Depot or Lowes on “tree house” yields prefab structures that can be fairly easly adapted to fit around a tree. 

If you go the full-on handyman route, get ready for some planning and construction. A fun project like this can be a fun time to involve the kids, especially if you have an older child who can truly assist without becoming a safety risk.

You can find literally thousands of treehouse plans with a simple search. Warning: you can spend a lot of time dreaming of the perfect tree fort. If you haven’t built a lot of things, keep it dead simple. 

We like the plans at morningchores.com/tree-house-plans because they include a list of every item you’ll need on your lumber yard shopping list. Their drawings are also detailed so you are measuring and cutting everything to their standards.

Equip yourself with the right tools

Once you’ve pinpointed the perfect tree, it’s time to get to work. No matter how ‘handy’ you consider yourself to be, you aren’t going to be able to perform this DIY project with your bare hands. If you want to build the perfect treehouse that is both safe and aesthetically appealing, you need to equip yourself with the right tools for the job.

This is the perfect time to buy a whole bunch of tools you’ve always wanted, but now are really going to need for this job. Sure, you can use handsaws and even manual drills, but you’ll qukcly fnd that doing it really old-school will not only be exhausting it will be time-consumign as well. Our advice is not to turn this into a 5-year project. There’s nothing like an unfinished construction site littering the backyard to create havoc even in the best marriages. 

In terms of tools, here are the basics you must have:

  1. Power drill and screwdriver attachment
  2. Power saw
  3. Hammer
  4. Pliers
  5. Measuring tape
  6. Saw horse
  7. Clamps
  8. Measuring squares
  9. Level

One tool that often comes in handy is a planer. A planer can customize the thickness of the wood that you use to build your treehouse. It also will come in handy if you need to make pieces fit together when measurements are off by just a tiny bit. 

There are plenty of planers out there on the market today. We like the DeWalt DCP580B 20V Max Brushless being one of the very best. To find out more information about this impressive piece of equipment, be sure to read this article from Home Fix Hobby. They have other tips as well.

Get your kids involved

Your kids are going to be the ones spending the most time in the treehouse, so why not involve them with the building process? Let them come up with their own fun designs and draw it out for you on paper. Although you might not be able to do everything they want, try to incorporate as many of their ideas into the final build as you can. If nothing else, this will be a fun experience that you and your little ones can share together. This could even encourage them to take up projects like this in the future. 

Changes to expect as your dog gets older

Change is a normal part of getting older for any animal, including dogs. Of course, not every dog is going to experience all the age-related changes and each dog will age differently to others.

The way that your dog ages will depend on a number of factors including his or her environment, general health, and genetics. Your dog’s breed or combination of breeds will also have an impact on the changes that you should expect. For example, certain dog breeds are more susceptible to issues like cancer or heart problems as they get older.

So, what can you expect to change for your dog as they get older? Here are some common things that occur with aging dogs. 

Different nutritional needs:

Compared to when he or she was younger, an older dog will generally require fewer calories. If you continue to feed your dog the same amount as you used to as he ages, chances are that he will gain weight, particularly if your dog is less active into his old age. It’s important to adjust your dog’s diet accordingly as obesity in dogs can be a serious problem that leads to various health problems like arthritis and heart disease.

You may want to consider switching your senior dog onto a raw food diet filled with all the nutrition they need as they age. Consider senior dog food from companies like Bella and Duke. As an example, Bella and Duke provide raw senior dog food that is pre-prepared, pre-packed, and easy to serve. 

Muscular problems and arthritis:

As dogs get older, arthritis is often quite a common problem. And it can affect your dog’s life to various degrees from mild stiffness upon waking up to debilitating pain and discomfort that could slow your dog down from doing the things that she used to do.

The good news is that there are several supplements you can give your dog to make him more comfortable if he is suffering from arthritis, including glucosamine. Your vet may also prescribe your dog with anti-inflammatory painkillers. You might also want to consider investing in a specially designed orthopaedic bed for your dog to make her more comfortable by distributing her weight more evenly.

Changes to the coat:

Many dogs will start to go a little grey as they get older, particularly around the eyes and on the muzzle. You might also notice some other changes to your dog’s coat as he ages, including a thinner coat than it once was.

However, a thinning coat can also be a sign of more serious problems, so if you notice that your dog is losing their hair in a substantial amount or their coat is suddenly a lot thinner than usual, it’s worth paying a visit to the vet. 

Dental issues:

Routine dental care becomes even more important for dogs as they get older, with dental disease increasingly common in older dogs. Your dog shouldn’t have bad breath as he gets older, and smelly breath can be a common sign of gum disease, which can have serious implications on other aspects of your dog’s health if left untreated.

Gum disease can affect the lungs, heart, kidney, and other vital organs and even contribute to life-threatening health issues. Proper oral hygiene is the best way to reduce your older dog’s risk of developing gum disease and taking your dog to the vet to have his teeth cleaned also gives your vet the opportunity to examine his mouth for any potential signs of disease. 

Heart problems:

Much like humans, as your dog gets older, her internal organs may not be able to function as well as they once did. Your dog’s heart might become less efficient and the heart valves are likely to lose some of their elasticity. Some heart changes are just a normal part of aging and will not usually pose any cause for concern with the right care, however, if your dog is of a breed that is more prone to heart problems or has had problems with his heart when he was younger, it’s a good idea to talk to your vet about regular screening for heart disease and other heart-specific care plans that you can put in place to ensure that your dog’s heart stays healthy for as long as possible. 

When to see a vet:

Most of the changes that you see occur in your dog as they age are normal and should not usually be a cause for concern. However, if your dog experiences a sudden loss of appetite or weight, is eating more than usual without gaining weight, drinking more than usual, coughing or panting a lot, or has vomiting or diarrhea that lasts for more than a day, it’s worth taking them to see the vet. For most dogs, physical changes are all a normal part of getting older.

Understanding what to expect will help you give your dog the best care as they age

How dads can ease the quarantine blues

Conflict, stress, and spending more time than usual together can create new disagreements or aggravate past issues. If you feel yourself getting irritated or annoyed with your family and children, don’t be too hard on yourself. This is a challenging time for everyone. Here are some avenues to help keep the worst of COVID quarantine blues in check: 

Acknowledge what’s going on

In 2020, we are all experiencing something brand new. It’s easy to acknowledge the financial pressures or the health worries. However, it is harder for many people to say, “This time together might be really hard on our family.”  If you know as a dad that this will be a challenge for you, your partner and your kids, it’s easier to imagine what you’re going to do about it. 

Think with the end in mind. When a cure or end comes, how do you want your family to remember this time?  Was it a time that you all came together and made the best of it? Or were you all constantly frustrated being stuck in the house in the most irritating scenarios from “Groundhog Day.”

Set boundaries

It’s important to set up new expectations and guidelines that correspond to the constantly evolving situations that we are facing.

You can discuss routines, chores, work, and learning and how you can all share the spaces in your home to make this time as easy as possible. 

Plan some family time

Does this sound familiar? Your child is in Zoom classes all day. When you see them at lunch or a the end of the day, you immediately remember to ask them to take out the trash. Rolled eyes, or worse, ensues.

Pro tip: don’t make your time confined together as a family solely about chores to get done and rules to follow.  

It’s important to plan some conscious time together where you can all enjoy each other and have fun. There’s a reason there has been a run on puzzles and board games. Families especially, need to find ways to distract themselves. It’s easy for each person to escape into their own world, but far better for your family if you can frequently find things that everyone can have fun doing together.

If you are dealing with too much work and stress, it’s also useful to plan some activities for your kids to enjoy by themselves to keep them occupied. We found this fun list of indoor activity ideas to give you a start

Plan some time alone. 

With your family confined under one roof, your previous outlets for personal time are probably gone. Make it a point to schedule some time for yourself, even if it’s just time alone with headphones, in a different room. Some obvious ideas are taking a walk alone, reading a book, or watching TV but don’t overdo it on these escapist tactics.  If you’ve never tried it, we recommend downloading one of the many meditation apps. With apps like Calm and the free Simply Being, you can take a mini-vacation from constantly reacting to what life is throwing at you.  It may sound silly but it works.

Notice what’s going well

Living in close quarters, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of only noticing what is going wrong. Constant nagging and criticism as the only interaction between you and your child can lead to resentment and resistance to helping out.   

While your annoyances won’t disappear overnight, praising your kids appropriately and letting them know that you appreciate their efforts is essential. This helps to foster more positive behavior and ultimately enriches your relationship.

Remember that you are not alone

Connect with other families who are experiencing the same things you are. Exchange tips for keeping your kids occupied and engaged. You can also organize a virtual activity or study group, which helps to provide social interaction for your child. Collaborating and discussing your frustrations with others will help with feelings of isolation and loneliness. 

Although the present situation can create unnecessary conflict, it also has the possibility of bringing your family together. Figuring out what works for you can ensure that your family comes out of quarantine stronger than ever. Whenever that may be, or if you have the chance to get away right now, you deserve a vacation and a change of pace.

Review: Aerogarden Harvest

We review the Aerogarden Harvest (6-pod 2019 version) $81 on Amazon:

INCLUDES GOURMET HERB SEED KIT (6 POD) – Genovese Basil, Curly Parsley, Dill, Thyme, Thai Basil and Mint & a 3oz bottle of our patented, all natural plant nutrients (enough for a full season of growth)

PLANT TO PLATE – Up to 6 plants grow at a time, up to 12 inches Tall with this indoor garden; Grows in water no soil, no mess, Made simple

EASY TO USE – Control panel tells you when to add water, reminds you when to add plant food (included), automatically turns lights on and off for your hydroponics growing system.Do not allow water to contact hot LED Grow Lights LED GROW LIGHTS – High performance, full Spectrum 20 watt LED high efficiency grow lighting system in your herb garden is tuned to the specific needs of plants to maximize photosynthesis, resulting in rapid, natural growth and abundant harvests

IN HOME GARDEN SYSTEM – Grow fresh herbs & veggies all Year Round in this indoor herb garden. Always fresh, always local, always in season