Alex Campbell

I am a hugger. It’s one of the main ways I express love, especially to my kids. (I think it has rubbed off on them, too, as I must get a hundred hugs a day! I love it! And I always welcome it, even if I don’t feel like I have the time.)

One time we definitely don’t miss the chance to give hugs is right before bed. Whether it’s after they are already in their beds and I am about to leave the room, or as they are heading up to get ready for bed, or after we finished reading under the low incandescent light in my office.

We don’t miss the good night hugs!

Tonight as Alex was hugging me good night following another very interesting chapter from the Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R.Tolkein (love his extra initial!) I had a brief realization that this nightly ritual was definitely only for a season. As I patted Alex on the back and got in one more squeeze, I slid back and gently grasped his arms and said, “You know Alex, there will come a time when you are living in your own home, with your own family, where we won’t get to do this hug every night.” (Alex is particularly good at remembering to get the good night hugs in… and sometimes he’s also good at forgetting that he already did get his good night hug in) 🙂

He looked at me and a look of understanding and realization swept quickly across his face. His words followed not too long after, “Yeah,” he admitted, “But… we’ll have sleepovers.”

My heart smiled at the quick remedy that Alex devised for the future reality he hadn’t ever really considered. What do you mean I won’t get to hug my Dad good night every night??

Like most things in life, we easily take such small (but meaningful) things for granted. Until they are gone, or in this case, until we realize we won’t have them forever.

I think Alex continued to elaborate on his plan, mentioning “playing Madden” in there somewhere. 🙂 I was honestly losing myself in my own realizations of that time that will someday come. Thinking of the quietness of the home … and the much fewer hugs.

I did manage to respond that I’m sure we’ll find some ways to get together for some “boys” time. And I’m sure we will.

Thankfully, these few hours later, I’ve also remembered that I do still get nightly hugs. I do have Alex here in my house, every night, and every day. And, if God has numbered my days so, I hope that though I may not have them as readily available, I should be the recipient and giver of many more hugs as time moves forward and this family increases. What a joy that will be, too.

But for now, I will take every chance I get to accept hugs and give hugs to these precious people God has given me. I’m so glad to be their Dad. 🙂

Project: Backyard Ice Rink (Part 3)

Who knew that this project would have so many hurdles and barriers and pitfalls? I knew it would be work, but aside from our being novices in building an ice rink in our back yard, we have also faced plenty of challenges from the weather!

Check out the forecast: 50º right now, and not a freezing temp in sight!

When are we gonna catch a break?!

The good news is, the kids are still having a blast with it, and what I wrote in Part 2 of this saga will still greatly improve next year’s rink, if we do get to do that. For now, we are happy with our little less-than-perfect ice rink.

We finally got usable ice after about a day and a half of super-freezing temps (10s). And then it was only “usable” by the lightest in our family. The heavier boys (who coincidentally also love using the rink the most) were a bit too much for the weaker ice, and it cracked in a few places under their weight. Still, they would not be deterred and have even set up a makeshift hockey goal for when the cold weather finally does arrive.

For now, we once again gaze out our window at a green lawn, and a surprisingly quickly melting “ice” rink, yearning for much more seasonal temperatures.

We are glad for those who like warmer weather, but not-so-secretly, anxiously awaiting the arrival of real Western NY winter weather!

Bring it on Old Man Winter!

Our still quite imperfect ice, close up

Project: Backyard Ice Rink (Part 2)

(continued from yesterday’s post)

We had heard that some people do just fine by stitching two sheets together with waterproof tape. I did a bit more research online and found waterproofing repair tape was indeed a real product, and might actually work.

And it might have, had the weather cooperated. And, had the second piece of plastic been at least close to the quality of the first.

Once we had pieced our liner together, we placed the seam and the poorer-quality plastic at the top of the grade, where the least water would be on it. (Unfortunately for us, this meant that it would also take way too long to get ANY water on it, to hold it down.)

Before the water, though, we had to paint!

The boys had the fun idea of painting all the hockey lines on their rink. They even had a name (and logo) for their rink! This was probably the most fun part of the entire project! Sadly, the day we were installing the liner and painting, was a very rainy, wet day. So, not much of their art was left the next morning when we began the “Big Fill”.

And I do mean B-I-G.

Forty-five minutes into the “Big Fill”, I went to check on the progress, and it looked like a heavy rain had collected on our liner. Just a small puddle in the deepest end. Wow! Guess I’ll give it a lot more time!

Four hours later… only about a third of the rink had water in it! Deepest part was at most four inches deep. Holy smokes!

Twenty-four hours later of almost constant water flow (we had to stop it a few times because it was reducing water pressure to other things in our house like dish washer, washing machine and toilet!) it was about 10″ deep at the deepest spot, and about three quarters of the rink was covered. Nice! But really? Still not done???

I must back up one more time and explain what I think is the biggest reason.

The day we were doing the Big Fill, was also a very windy day. VERY windy. Like sustained 30 mph winds.

You’ve gotta be kidding me!

The plastic had already been blown off a few times, so I secured it to the frame with staples. All seemed good except wind can get into very tiny places. (And thin, flimsy plastic—like the Plan B plastic we used—likes to blow around!)

Unfortunately, the slow-rising water, and the high-velocity winds (and the poor-quality plastic) were a major setback for our rink. The wind kept whipping the plastic around, so much so that it tore apart the seem we had created with the waterproof tape. (Guess it’s not windproof.) Now there are very obvious holes in a couple spots in the seem, and being slightly submerged, we can no longer apply the tape (it needs a dry surface).

Our last attempt to make this work is to let the very cold air tonight and tomorrow freeze what’s in there (including some over part of the seem) and perhaps let the ice be enough of a seal as we add more water, little by little? The problem with this plan is that the ice will very likely melt in the next week or so (at least a little) … so, will our crazy ice-seam be enough to hold?

No idea. But we are going to be experts on this by next year! 🙂

  1. Get accurate measurements: angles, board lengths, full rink dimensions
  2. Get one, high-quality sheet of plastic liner!!! (Even MORE than you think you’ll need!)
  3. Only apply paint on dry, warmer days…
  4. Allow about THREE DAYS to fill the rink!!! Preferably NOT windy days!

I’m thinking the lessons are not done just yet … but that’s what we’ve learned so far. I’m pretty sure we’ll get to skate on this rink, even if it hasn’t worked out entirely as planned. And without a doubt, it has been a super fun family project the whole time. Unexpected turns of events and all!

Project: Backyard Ice Rink (Part 1)

We’ve got a project underway here at the Campbell home. We’re trying to freeze a large portion of our back yard. (Well, more accurately, a large quantity of water, covering our back yard…)

One thing is for sure: we’ve learned quite a bit of what not to do along the way!

It all started with a slight modification of the original plans.

When we first thought we’d attempt to make an ice rink in our back yard, we thought we’d follow my brother-in-law’s simple rectangular model. But then, being one to investigate online, I found a post with (very loose) instructions for setting up more of an oval rink, so pucks won’t get trapped as easily in the corners. It looked straightforward enough. All you do is add another board, cut in two, on the corners. Easy!

First mistake. 🙂

We determined the amount of wood needed. Even divided it up in the 2 x 8, 2 x 10, and 2 x 12s, according to where they would be placed in relation to the grade of the land. (Which, is probably a tad too steep for an ice rink!) We had it all nicely planned out, and even laid out.

And that’s when I discovered I hadn’t really though far enough ahead…

See, not only did we not account for the different angles needed (two boards cut to make a “corner” of an oval are not cut at 45º angles… it’s true! They’re not!) we—or rather, I?—did not remember that the length of the boards was also an important factor!

So that meant breaking out old algebraic formulas (and some very handy angle calculators on the internets…) to figure out that we needed cuts of 22.5º to but up against the long flat boards, and cuts of 11.25º in the middle of the two cut boards. Nice! The fun part there was trying to set the saw to an angle of 11.25º!

Once we had cut all the boards, we had to fit them all together. Sadly, we did not measure the length of the angled boards very meticulously. What we did was just push the boards out as far as the angled boards “forced” us to go. (This will come into play just a bit later in the story. Stay tuned.) Once we had made our oval based upon that, we discovered that we had about an 8-to-10″ gap left! HA! NOT what we were expecting, but we knew we could fix it later.

Now all we needed was to get the plastic liner.

A few calls to various local hardware stores (and a trip to big-box Lowe’s) revealed that this was not actually an easy part of the process. Not many places have a plastic sheet big enough to fill a rink area of approximately 24′ x 32′. My brother-in-law had gotten a piece big enough for his rink last year at a local store in Buffalo, so I figured I’d give them a call. Bingo! They had it, I purchased it right there on the phone, planning to either make the trip all the way over there, or meet brother-in-law in the middle somewhere.

The biggest issue we were facing at this point, early December, was that the weather was NOT cooperating! No sign of freezing temperatures anywhere in the near future!

This meant that we didn’t make getting that plastic liner a priority. And that would turn into several snafus later down the line.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the next spot things went south. (Why is the south equal to “bad”?)

Being the generous sort (and quick with numbers), my brother-in-law had a proposal. Once he used what he needed for his rink, the remaining liner would be enough (according to our stated dimensions) for our smaller rink! This is quite generous because the plastic we bought ran just slightly over $100, and that was the cheapest option out there!

I hesitated slightly—no, more than slightly—because I wondered if the dimensions of his rink were wrong, or the plastic might be cut wrong, or we might have the wrong dimensions… so many things could possibly go wrong here, and we’d be out of luck as the place we got our liner would be out of stock by the time we figured it out. But, after much thought, I decided to go with the generous offer, since it sure seemed that we’d have more than enough.

ALWAYS trust your gut. Always.

Once we got the plastic upon a post-Christmas visit with family in Buffalo, we were eager to get it installed in our rink. We had to wait a day, due to inclement weather. (That was slightly encouraging though, as we knew the cold was on its way!)

Two days post acquisition of the liner remnants, the boys and I headed out to Lowe’s to get another board and the remaining stakes needed for the frame. (Unfortunately, it took us three trips to correctly acquire all we needed!)

We cut the board, placed it, and hammered in the remaining stakes. Now it was time to lay out the plastic liner! Whoohoo!

But, huh… is that really going to fit???

Though that small piece of plastic, well-rolled, did surprise us with its coverage area, we were definitely short. By probably about three feet on either side, length-wise.

“I knew it!!” were the only words I could say. I knew this would happen… I should have trusted my gut!

Now, before you go blaming my brother-in-law, read on.

Since it was clearly short, I wanted to know if he had been shorted on what he purchased, or, well, just what in the world went wrong. We broke out the measuring tape and walked it off. “Huh. Look at that…” 40.5 feet long? Weird. Measured the width. 28.5″ wide. Strange!

We had forgotten to measure again, once we resized the frame according to the angled/cut boards (as I mentioned earlier).

Now what?!?!

Sadly, it was unlikely that the 30′ x 100′ plastic we had purchased previously and returned were still available, so we went with Plan B: tape!

(Yes… tape.)

… to be continued tomorrow!

Good (Competitive) Family Fun!

NFL LogoFor the last two, or maybe three years we Campbells have been having some more interactive fun with the weekly NFL games. Not only do we enjoy watching as much of them as we can on weekends, we also try to predict the outcome of each, and we have quite the “set up” to track our results!

Before the season begins we print out all the NFL logos on card stock (6 total sets) and then we set to work cutting each one out. That’s a pretty fun part, too, as the kids enjoy cutting out the shapes of the logos. (And Alex enjoys making the shapes even more interesting!) Then we put them all in little ziploc baggies that bear our names and we’re ready to go.

Then each week, I print out the schedule of games and one of us sets up the bulletin board with the week’s games. Everybody then pins up the logo of the team they expect to win and we have a nice little pick’s board hanging on our dining room wall. On Sundays we put up big colorful thumbtacks next to the choices that were correct.

There are five columns of predictions next to the game list. Dad, Ian, Alex (the original three participants), Mom & “The Girls” (our six- and four-year-old girls who work as a team). So far Emma and Cameron are not participating. But I’m sure they will!

Now, the best part this year is the current standings. The first year, I finished as the winner, but only by a narrow margin over our then 6-year-old son. Last year I believe Ian won, by a good amount of games (Dad finishing second) and this year? I know it’s only two weeks, but… the girls are SIX games ahead of the rest of us!!!

The Girls: 23-9
Dad: 18-14
Mom: 17-15
Alex: 16-16
Ian: 14-18

Too funny! I mean… those little girls probably have the best record of any prognosticators anywhere. And the best part is, they’re not just completely guessing! They actually know the teams, which ones tend to win more or less, and that home teams generally have the advantage over road teams. Incredible!

Family Fantasy SportsSo, along with our own family fantasy football league (hosted at we have quite a bit of fun here in the Campbell household during football season!

(Fun except when Ian steals all of the free agent running backs that I am trying to pick up!!!)


A Few Things I Love

Tonight I was noticing several things I love about our family, and I just wanted to write them down.

I love that our family reads. I mean really reads. We took our customary Monday walk to the library this afternoon (with MOM this time, since Grammy & Grandpa were here to stay home with the sleeping babies!) and each time we go to the library we can’t get less than a dozen books! (To be fair, there are MANY of us in this house…) And, when we get home, each kid finds a seat in the living room and begins devouring their new literary treasures. So great.

And then tonight, after giving the babies a bath, I asked Emma to pick out a book and read while I helped her older sisters get cleaned up themselves. I found her a very thick story book (with pictures) and once I showed her what a neat book it was she got very excited and ran to her bed to start reading it. Five or ten minutes later, she was still sitting on her bed, happily “reading” her book. She’s two!

All day long we are reading. Separately, together, doesn’t matter. And often we are telling one or more of the others something we’ve found interesting from one of those books. I love that our family reads.

I love that our family loves music. Tonight after the reading fun, we were finishing up getting ready for bed and I just decided to sing a couple songs with the girls. I didn’t think anyone was picking up on it, so I stopped after a verse of one song. A few moments after I was done, a tiny voice expectantly asked from her bed, “Sing more, Dad?” I looked over to see Emma, face and eyes beaming, slightly tilting her head… how could I say no? I sang another verse and she just giggled when I finished. She loved it!

So, I grabbed my guitar and we sang a few songs together in our extended bedtime routine. As soon as I grabbed my guitar, Emma found her little clay flute (from Argentina) and started playing that. Next thing I knew, she was out of her bed, standing in front of me waving her arms and dancing “ballet” with me. 🙂 She invited her sisters, and without much hesitation, the other two girls were doing the same!

We belted out the chorus, “How great is our God, sing with me, how great is our God!” until it was really time to be done. I put the guitar down and hugged each girl good night. As Emma was waiting her turn she continued to belt out, “How greaaaaaat….. is Goooooooooood!” And of course, always with a giant smile on her face.

Just beautiful.

And, just a day or two ago, we decided it was time to enjoy some other people’s music. And to enjoy it loudly. (I think I have passed along a great love for very loud music to my children from their Grammy, whom I believe still enjoys feeling her music!) We were boogying to some Michael Jackson (from his album Off The Wall.) Even Cam, our now one-year-old little guy was smiling, laughing, and dancing!

I love that our family loves music.

I also really love that our family knows God. Really knows him. Not just about him, or the concept of God. But that they think of him as a person, as I have come to know him in my adult life. I mean no slight to my parents (I am especially thankful for them today, too, as we’ve gotten to spend the last two days with them) but I do not recall growing up knowing the reality of God in our everyday life. Where he is part of our everyday thoughts, and speech, and actions. Not just doing “God” things either—like going to church, reading the Bible, and praying—but that he’s just part of who we are; we, the Campbells. I hope that will be a great foundation for all of our kids to have full and rich lives lived with and through him.

It’s been fun to watch it developing already. My morning reading with the boys involves reading some scripture (varying amounts) and then talking about it as we go. I love hearing their reactions, and thoughts, and questions… and then just working through them together. Me not necessarily teaching… more facilitating, and learning just as much as they are as we go.

There’s more, but this is already getting long. No way I could present an exhaustive list here. Perhaps I’ll pick up this thread again later, but suffice it to say… I just plain love my family. 🙂

Do A Great Job, Not Just An ‘OK’ Job

This afternoon, what started out as some outside playing time, turned into the great deforestation project of 2010. While the boys and I were tossing the football around, Grandpa decided to climb up on top of their fifth-wheel camper and clear off some things. Well, that reminded me of a few low-hanging tree branches I had wanted to cut down. One thing led to another and before we knew it, all five of us were deep into an hour or two of some pretty intense yard work!

First, I cut down the branches I wanted to bring down. The boys thought that was fun and helped remove the limbs I brought down. I spied a few more that I wanted to cut, so I did that. My dad suggested a few more that could use trimming… and then while our neighbor was outside with us, I saw/remembered a dead tree that needed to be cut down with a chainsaw. It just so happens our neighbor has a chainsaw! 🙂 (And it just so happens my Dad is quite experienced with such implements, having his own tree cutting business a few decades ago.)

So… it was on.

We even got the neighbor on the other side of our property involved. It was a deforestation party! We brought that tree down, and a couple other fairly large branches that were hanging over the house next to our property (from a tree on our property). It was definitely a good bit of work, but quite fun.

I was pretty impressed that all three of the oldest kids were not just being helpful, but even happy to be helping, enjoying themselves. Once the cutting was done the yard was pretty full of felled limbs, branches, twigs, walnuts, leaves, and other clutter. There was a good deal more work to do.

I spotted a bunch of smaller branches strewn across our driveway that had fallen from the branches being dragged to the big pile, and decided to offer some encouragement to the helpful young workers.

“Now be sure to get all of these smaller branches, too guys. It’s a bit more work, but let’s make sure we do it. Let’s make sure we do a great job, not just an ‘OK’ job.”

As I said it I thought, Hey… that’s what I always try to say to them, in many more words! I remember my Dad saying, “Do it right the first time,” and so I have repeated that a time or two. Or ten. Or fifty. But really the heart of what I’m wanting to say is to just always do your best. Never cut corners. Never settle for less.

Do a great job, not just an ‘OK’ job.

I don’t think that’s common. At least, not in our current American culture. Do you? Do you see people around you doing everything with excellence. Trying to do their job (or really, anything they do) with greatness, not just the minimum effort and results? Perhaps it’s our educational system that passes “satisfactory” as the standard, or just a natural cycle of a society. Not sure, but I am hoping that such an attitude toward anything we undertake will be how we Campbells are known.

Today that worked pretty well. 🙂

What things are part of your family identity? We have a few others. And there are some that we are still working on passing along/training into our kids. It will be interesting to see what our efforts—and maybe even more so, the unintentional stuff we are passing along—looks like in our kids and their families down the road. Till then we’ll keep reaching for the great, not just the OK.

The Family That Reads Together…

Time Pirate by Ted BellI absolutely love reading with my kids. Love it. I think I especially love reading stories that stretch out over days and weeks (even months in the case of some longer books the boys and I have read together, like Oliver Twist, and Nick of Time). The pure joy of entering new worlds every time you crack open the book and smell the fantastic aroma of time worn pages, or brand new pages for that matter.

I love reading, period.

The boys and I are currently reading Time Pirate by Ted Bell. It’s an historical adventure (a fictional adventure story set in an historically accurate setting) so it brings up plenty of questions about true stories from the past. The two “Nick McIver adventures” books have been set near World War II, as well as some time in the 18th century (he’s a time traveler, so… that helps for exploring several historical eras). We’ve also touched on WWI since the people Nick looks up to (his Dad, and his older friend, Gunner) served in that war. Nick rebuilt and learned to fly a Sopwith Camel bi-plane from WWI, which means we also are learning about flying (and sailing in the previous book).

There’s so much to learn, and it’s fun doing it!

Here’s a list of books (not comprehensive) that are currently in progress in the Campbell home (Dad & kids reading … Mom has a whole list of her own to add – maybe she’ll comment?) 🙂

  • Time Pirate by Ted Bell
  • The Story of Winston Churchill by Alida Sims Maklus
  • Voyager: an adventure to the edge of the solar system by Sally Ride
  • The Sun and Other Stars (from World Book’s Solar System & Space Exploration Library)
  • Galaxies and the Universe (from World Book’s Solar System & Space Exploration Library)
  • The book of Acts (Today’s English Version) by Luke (and God…)
  • Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (I read this with only the girls)
  • Anything and everything by Mo Willems! (He’s great!)

As I said, that’s not comprehensive… perhaps it would be fun to share a more comprehensive list? If you’ve not noticed it yet, there is a list of books that I am currently reading (and sometimes I’ll share videos/movies/TV that I am watching there as well) linked at the very top of this site. (Or just click here.) You can also see (when I’m feeling ambitious and keep it up to date) a few of the current reads along the right sidebar. But those don’t always include books that I’m reading with the kids. Perhaps I’ll share some of our favorites as a new page there: Books I’m Reading With the Kids.

One thing is for certain: BOOKS are definitely part of the Campbell family identity!

Unexpected Fun at Swift’s Landing Park

Swift's Landing Park

Following some errands yesterday (which mostly didn’t go as planned, since, due to a much later start to our excursion, everything was closing on us!) on a lovely, nearly-summer’s night with a beautiful sunset, I decided that we should finish off the day with a visit to a local park.

It’s a small county park that features lots of grass, lots of picnic tables, and a few creeks running through and around it. There’s a baseball backstop which we have employed a time or two. And the train tracks which run through our town are just across the creek, so we’ve been known to spend an evening or two sitting on the bank of the creek watching for trains. (The kids—and Dad—love it!)

Last night, thanks to the recommendation of a friend who heads up this group, we headed to the other end of the park to see some “waterfalls”. Now, these are not regular, natural waterfalls, but spillover from the Erie Canal. However… there is water… falling… and so, we enjoyed seeing the waterfalls!

More than enjoyed, Alex was ecstatic! He was at the lead of our train of people, and when he caught the first glimpse of the rather long/wide “waterfalls” he squealed, “Whoa!! Come here!!! Look at these!!!!” I love seeing my kids excited. I think it’s one of my favorite things. 🙂

So we crossed a pretty cool-looking bridge to the other side where Alex was seeing these exciting waterfalls, and observed all that there was to observe for a while. After a few minutes, we observed a beaver! He swam out from one of the banks, heading up the creek where the path ahead of us went.

Always the explorers, the older three kids (followed by their younger sister, number four) ran up the path to see if they could see Mr. Beaver up there. Sure enough, there was another bridge where they could watch him swimming right to them! Mom & Dad and the babies finally caught up and watched as Mr. Beaver swam up as close as I’ve ever seen a beaver… just under the bridge there was a small “island” that he came up on for a moment… then he swam back where he came from! Funny!

So, if you’re in Wayne County, NY, and want to explore a new park … we recommend Swift’s Landing on the east side of Palmyra. Actually, it’s on the Canalway Trail which goes along the Erie Canal for… well, I have no idea how far. Perhaps this website will tell us? (Looks like it goes from Buffalo to Albany! Wow!)

As it has been in the past, and maybe even more now, the Canalway Trail and the parks it connects us to will be much frequented by the Campbells this summer!

Alexander The Great

Alex CampbellIf you’ll permit me here, I felt compelled to post something of a more personal (and highly subjective) nature tonight.

There is some greatness in our son, Alex. I’m almost certain I could not point to a specific event or events, nor any one particular attribute or quality of his character or personality just yet to support that claim, but I can just sense that it is true.

(His name does, after all, mean “Defender of Mankind”…)

Of course, I do feel that I can see the greatness in each of our children—what parent doesn’t? There is just something beyond that, some uniqueness that I feel will at some point in his life—whether sooner or later, I don’t know—distance him from his peers.

I was noticing it in particular these past couple days for some reason, and just wanted to write it down. Perhaps some day we’ll look back on this and smile that “even when he was only eight, we could see it!” The way he can instantly engender himself to any person he meets. The many physical talents he has, and the passion and joy with which he pursues them. The mental clarity he also possesses. (Sometimes that gets overlooked as his older brother, Ian, was blessed with an astonishing photographic memory—even “photographic” aurally, and really, using any of the senses!)

Alexander Caedon Campbell may one day be a name you hear mentioned along with other great names, or, in any of its possible iterations: Alex Campbell, Alexander Campbell, A. Caedon Campbell, A. C. Campbell, etc. One can never know such a futuristic thing with certainty, but seeing the faint (and sometimes not-so-faint) glimmer of it in the very young Alexander, we shall endeavor to do all that we can as his parents to prepare him for that greatness.

And wait eagerly to see what Greatness will occur around and through him.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Karl (Thanks, Lindsay!)