Toyota RAV4 – Wow!


When Toyota called to offer me a week-long test drive, I wished I would have had a long road-trip planned. No such luck. But as it turns out, a week of my regular 25-miles-each-way schlep to take my 10-year-old daughter to and from school, turned out to be a much better way to evaluate a car. So, evaluate it we did. And by “we” I really do mean we: My daughter has some pretty firm opinions about cars. In fact, she’s the one who picked the RAV4 from the list vehicles Toyota offered.

Before we go on, two disclosures. First, no money changed hands around this review, however, I did have the use of a brand spankin’ new Toyota RAV4 for a whole week. The opinions here are all mine—and I did pay for my own gas. Second, my current car is a 1992 Mercedes station wagon, which I got after my then 8-year old daughter and I were in a serious car accident (hit and run, other guy’s fault) and her mother insisted that I drive something safer. There’s no question that an old Mercedes wagon will make you feel safe. But the RAV 4 felt at least as safe—and was infinitely more comfortable.

The RAV4 comes with all sorts of cool features, including a reverse camera so you can see (on the dashboard touchscreen) exactly how close you’re getting to the car behind you. It also has monitor lights on each of the side-view mirrors that flash if someone slips into your blind spot.

I’m not sure how it happened, but half an hour after I got the RAV4, I started getting calls from people who needed large objects moved—objects that would have been too big to fit in my station wagon. The rear seats folded completely flat in about three seconds, and there was plenty of room for an enormous stuffed chair and a few other bulky things.
The RAV4 is pretty tall, so I wasn’t expecting much in the handling department, but I was pleasantly surprised. The car moved through curves with ease. Not quite like a sports car, but with very little sideways lean. Since we did almost equal amounts of highway and city driving, mileage was right in the middle of the advertised 24-city-31-highway range.

The steering wheel has all sorts of buttons that control the stereo and the touchscreen display. Unlike other cars I’ve driven where the buttons are strategically placed so that you change stations or adjust the volume every time you go around a corner, the RAV’s buttons stayed out of the way.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to try out some of the car’s other features, including the adjustable power liftgate, which sounds quite handy.

Bottom line, the RAV4 is comfortable, solid, safe (airbags all over the place and all the latest car-seat restraints), and a pleasure to drive. My daughter’s assessment? Two thumbs up. At the end of my week-long test drive, I briefly toyed with the idea of telling the folks at Toyota that the car had been stolen. My conscience won out, though, much to my daughter’s disappointment.

Game On!

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A Lovely Review of My Book, “The Military Father”

The Military Father

Sarah Smiley, military wife, mom, columnist, and author of Dinner with the Smileys, just reviewed my book, The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads. Over the years, my books have been reviewed hundreds of times, but this might be the nicest one ever.

Sarah calls The Military Father possibly “the most comprehensive and contemporary book about deployments that I’ve ever read.” And she concludes by saying that the book is “an easy and interesting read sure to make you chuckle. It’s a unique blend of parenting book and military how-to, and for anyone who is about to face a deployment, it will be on my list of recommendations.”

You can read the complete review here.

You can also listen to an interview I did with Sarah about her wonderful book, Dinner with the Smileys, on my radio show, “Positive Parenting,” by clicking here.

Oh, and just FYI, I just released an iOS app based on The Military Father. You (or someone in a military family close to you) can download it–for free–from the Apple App Store. Just look for “Mr. Dad on Military Dads.”

Full text of the article:
‘Military Father’ comes just in time. Or not.
From Ft. Hood Herald —

Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 4:30 am
By Sarah Smiley | 0 comments
Just in time (or not — keep reading), and on the heels of my previous columns about fatherhood and the military, comes Armin Brott’s book “The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads.”
Brott is a former Marine with a syndicated newspaper column, “Ask Mr. Dad,” and radio show, “Positive Parenting.” He has built his post-military career around writing and talking about issues of fatherhood and families. But in “The Military Father,” he has written what might possibly be the most comprehensive and contemporary book about deployments that I’ve ever read.

I’ve been a military dependent since the day I was born 36 years ago, so you’d think I know it all. I don’t. I devoured “The Military Father” in the course of a day. And although the advice comes nearly one year too late for me, perhaps it can help someone else.
I knew “The Military Father” was no “Service Etiquette” rerun when I opened to the third page and found a cartoon that in one ink-and-paper sketch sums up many of my deployment experiences, and in particular the year in which we did our “Dinner with the Smileys” project. A mother and two children are eating dinner with a computer at the head of the table. Above the mother it reads, “Julie honey, please refresh your father.”
But of course Brott “gets it;” He’s been there, done that. In the beginning, he introduces himself as a “former Marine,” but quickly follows that up with, “I know, I know, once a Marine, always a Marine.” He was busy writing books (six of them, actually) about fatherhood in general, when he noticed an uptick in 2001 of parenting questions from service members. (Hmmmm. 2001? Probably not a coincidence.) So he decided to write a different kind of book about fatherhood, one geared toward the military family in particular.
Soon after the introduction, Brott further proves his military experience with a text box titled “When you’re in, you’re in. When you’re out, you could still be in.” This made me smile — perhaps you are smiling, too — and my confidence in Brott was sealed. He’s referring to the military’s ability to recall supposedly discharged members who are automatically placed in the Individual Ready Reserve and the “stop loss” fine print whereby a former service member with special training can be called back into service at any time.
Later, Brott had me squarely in his back pocket when he addressed the pink-elephant of a question that surrounds nearly all military deployments. Maybe you are thinking it right now. “Why do military families need a book about coping with deployments? Didn’t they sign up for this? Didn’t they know all this before they married someone in the military?” Brott assures readers — even seasoned military families — that shock, sadness and fear are a natural response to deployments … even when you know that deployments are bound to happen.
“The Military Father” is peppered with great moments like this to make you feel normal. It’s also full of what I’ve come to realize is Brott’s natural wit and humor.
His style is conversational and funny. “Having an argument by e-mail,” he writes, “is like skiing through a revolving door: neither fun nor effective.”
Although Brott makes a disclaimer in the beginning that he is not a doctor (nor a financial planner, accountant, lawyer or congressman), in the section titled “A Brief Overview of Your Child’s Development,” he pegs some of my children as if he lives next door to them (he doesn’t):
“There are pouts galore as your six-to-seven-year-old becomes increasingly taken with the notion that people are unfair and favor everyone else — especially younger children.”
The book is divided into three sections: pre-deployment, deployment and post-deployment. Each section addresses the concerns of the service member (“What’s going on with you”), the concerns of the spouse (“What’s going on with your wife”), and the concerns of the children (“What’s going on with your children”).
There is page after page of advice and concrete ways to deal with deployments. Some of these ideas are tired (like counting down the days to homecoming with a jar full of M&Ms), but many of them aren’t, like writing a letter to your child and then cutting it up into a puzzle for them to put together first.
In any case, “The Military Father” is an easy and interesting read sure to make you chuckle. It’s a unique blend of parenting book and military how-to, and for anyone who is about to face a deployment, it will be on my list of recommendations.
Navy spouse Sarah Smiley is a syndicated columnist and author of “Dinner With the Smileys,” a memoir of a year of dinners and motherhood.

Seal of Approval Winners, Holidays 2012

mr. dad seal of approval

mr. dad seal of approval

Seal of Approval winners, Holidays 2012


connect internet baby camera from summer infantConnect Internet Baby Camera Set (Summer Infant)
Summer Infant has a new set of monitors, all optimized for local and remote viewing. The Connect monitor is easy to set up and use immediately to view your baby from the other room or from across town. There is no ongoing fee for the service and free apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, as well as a website, makes it all possible. We even tried the customer service help line and found knowledgable people anxious to help a dad in need. This is a great product for dads who want to move beyond old-fashioned sound or video monitors and take advantage of the Internet to view the baby from the next room or the next continent. This product is not only perfect for fathers, but for everyone in the household.


my first career gear, astronaut from aeromax toysmy first career gear, pirate princess from aeromax toysMy First Career Gear (Aeromax Toys)
What’s not to like for dads in a collection of job uniforms sized for kids called “I WANNA BE LIKE DAD.” Aeromax, long a maker of quality “costumes” for creative play for kids (and older kids), has made this My 1st Career Gear series fitting most most kids from ages 3 – 5 years, for both boys and girls. My 1st Career Gear shirts are made of high quality print in great detail with most of the tools you will need to complete most jobs. Ideally, if you’re doing it right, it’s great that kids pass through a phase when they want to be exactly like mom or dad. This collection allows kids to dress up just like dad.

kimochisKimochis (Kimochis)
As parents, we all know that young children sometimes have a really tough time articulating their feelings. Sure, they can jump up and down when they’re excited, and cry when they’re sad, but what about all those times in between? Enter Kimochis, a completely unique line of toys that help very young kids tell us what they’re thinking. Each Kimochi (which means feelings in Japanese) is a soft and cuddly roundish mini pillow that has a facial expression on one side and the name of the emotion on the other. Those little pillow guys live inside one of five larger characters. Dads can use the Kimochis to help their little one recognize, better manager, communicate, and express their emotions. Ages 2 and up.

bubble ride CD from Vanessa TrienBubble Ride (CD by Vanessa Trien)
We’re big believers in the importance of music—and its power to create memorable experiences that families can share. Bubble Ride, Vanessa Trien’s third CD, fits the bill nicely. It’s a sweet collection of imagination-activating, movement-inspiring, conversation-sparking songs that cover a wide range of topics from silly to thoughtful. Dads and their kids will have no problem listening to quietly or jumping around and dancing along. Ages 3 and up.




Bypassbypass from simply fun (SimplyFun)
Like many games, the basic challenge is pretty simple: Get from one side of the board to the other—in this case by building a road, piece by piece. The problem is that the other players are trying to build their own roads, and they’re trying to shut yours down in the process. Bypass! Doesn’t involve as much strategy as, say, Chess, but it does require a bit of spatial analysis, critical thinking, and flexibility to adapt to a constantly changing board. And besides being lot so fun and a great way to hang with the kids, particularly on those cold, rainy winter days, it’s also a great way for dads to admire their children’s ever developing brains in action. Ages 8 and up.

don't rock the boat from patch productsDon’t Rock the Boat (Patch Products)
With all the high-tech toys that are out there, it’s surprising that anyone makes non-electronic toys anymore. Fortunately, Patch Products does. Don’t Rock the Boat is a really fun, easy-to-set-up and easy-to-clean-up. Think Suspend (a March, 2012 Seal of Approval winner), but with penguins. The boat in question is balanced precariously on a wave and each penguin sends the boat reeling in a different direction. See who can get the most penguins on the ship without knocking the whole thing over. And if you feel you absolutely must turn everything into a learning experience, there are some valuable lessons here in balance and load-distribution. Ages 6 and up.

Lite Brix Building System - Extreme City Lights from Cra-Z-ArtLite Brix Building System – Extreme City Lights (Cra-Z-Art)
When you first start taking the Lite Brix out of the box, they look kind of boring. Almost all the bricks (which, in shape, look a lot like Lego) are the same color—kind of a translucent white. But once you and your child have built the first skyscraper and turned on the battery-powered LEDs, wow! And when you finally get all three up and running, wowie wow! The buildings seem almost alive. The detailed directions make it pretty easy for dad and child to assemble cooperatively—better yet, let your child read the instructions and show how well you can follow orders, Dad. The three buildings that are part of this kit can be rebuilt into a single structure and they can be combined with other Lite Brix kits. But don’t feel limited by the instructions. Lite Brix also combine with Lego, so you can build even bigger and even more amazing structures. Ages 6 and up.

Lay-N-GoLay-N-Go (Lay-N-Go)
If your kids have LEGOs, you also have LEGOs everywhere. Little pieces on the floor and sprinkled over random pieces of furniture. Lay-n-Go helps tame this problem by fencing in an area to keep the pieces while building. Drawstrings bring the play area together to make cleanup and carry a lot easier. This helps keep each project together with its pieces. Dads will want to get an extra one for other projects that involve small pieces.


Bully Goats Gruff/Little Red Hen CD by Yvette LewisBully Goats Gruff/Little Red Hen(CD by Yvette Lewis)
No, that’s not a typo—Bully Goats Gruff is correct, and, as you might guess, it includes an anti-bullying message. The other piece on this CD, the Little Red Hen, also has a message, this one about sharing and cooperation. But in our view, the real value here is in the music. Professional opera singer Yvette Lewis (who wrote and sung the music) and Grammy award nominee Jimmy Hammer (who did the arranging) bring some serious musical firepower to the table and do a great job of introducing kids to the concept of opera as a singing story. The music is catchy enough that dads and kids will be able to sing along. Plus, each piece is followed by an instrumental version which gives everyone a chance to make up their own story and lyrics.

Children's Spirit Animal Stories, Volume II, CD by Steven D. FarmerChildren’s Spirit Animal Stories, Volume II (CD by Steven D. Farmer)
There’s no substitute for reading to your child—it builds vocabulary, focus, concentration, opens up doors to the imagination, and is a wonderful opportunity to spend time cuddling with your children (no matter how old they are). Sometimes, though, it’s nice for dad and kids to listen to someone else read a story. And it’s especially nice if that story sparks interesting discussions. That’s exactly what Steven D. Farmer does in Volume II of Children’s Spirit Animal Stories. Witten and read by Farmer, the stories feature various animals (an elephant, a dolphin, a unicorn, and others) who are dealing with the same kinds of problems as we humans do. Farmer’s voice and reading style are engaging and he keeps the messages from being too heavy handed. We found that the real value is in the conversations that the stories spark. Dads can jump start things with questions like, “What would you do if you were Emma?” But most kids will already see themselves in the animals and will have plenty to say on their own. Ages 5 and up.

mungi bands from techno sourceMungi Bands (Techno Soursce)
Taking the Silly Bandz concept (that is soooo last year) up a couple of notches, these clever, magnetic silicon bands let kids mix and match to create necklaces, bracelets, rings, anklets, hair ties, and more. And, although Mungi Bands were created by the father of three girls, boys will like them too–especially the sports-themed ones. And dads who are willing to wear Mungi Bands will earn the respect and admiration of their kids (well, maybe not), and will have a great opportunity to keep up to date on their kids’ interest in popular culture. Ages 6 and up.

Skylander Giants from Toys for Bob/ActivisionSkylanders Giants
(Toys for Bob/Activision)
The sequel the monster 2011 hit, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. If you haven’t met the Skylanders, there learning curve to get you up to speed is a little steep—but well worth it (though be warned: it will take you ten times longer than it takes your kids to master the game play). As with Sypro, the Skylanders characters exist both in the real world (beautifully crafted figurines) as well as in the video game world—place your figurines on the Portal of Power and they appear in the game. Having the figurines increases the opportunities for imaginative play. Whether you play with your child, against your child, or you wait until he’s gone to bed and you play by yourself, this game is a real blast. And with more than a dozen increasingly challenging levels, you’ll be busy for quite a while. We reviewed the Wii version, but the same figures (a total of around 50 ight now) can be used on Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii U. 10 and up.

JT Splatmaster Z200 ShotgunJT Splatmaster Z200 Shotgunn (JT Splatmaster)
JT SplatMaster is designed to be an outdoor shooting experience. But I must confess that my 9-year old daughter and I have used it inside too (our living room is really long and my daughter is a crack shot). The Z200 shoots small paint-filled pellets that do exactly what the name of the product promises: Splat! But don’t mistake Splat! for a lack of accuracy. Not at all. In fact the SplatMaster is so accurate that you can actually have shooting competitions. Another nice thing—especially if you’re shooting inside—is that cleanup is really easy. If you get to it quickly, the paint wipes right up. And the manufacturer says it won’t hurt the environment. A warning: Although the shotgun is a great fund, we strongly suggest that dads spend some time going over safety rules with their kids. Because there’s a lot of force behind those pellets, it’s extremely easy to get hurt. Goggles are essential and, if you’re planning to shoot at another person, everyone needs to be wearing appropriate protective gear. You can get all of that through the splatmaster website. Ages 9 and up.

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