Our 80-Inch HD Screen (With Only 1 Channel)

My kids stare at an 80-inch widescreen for a good portion of the day. At times it’s hard to get their attention because they’re so zoned out. They just can’t seem to peel their eyes away from the vivid, high-definition action. Sometimes they even wander away from their lunch or dinner so they can watch that riveting rectangle a bit more, their eyes glazed over with excitement.

Honestly, I think it might be an addiction.

I’m talking, of course, about our dining room window. And the primary channel that is televised on this screen features a consistent slate of bird-oriented shows. We could perhaps name the channel BEAT, or the Birds Eating And Tweeting network.

Occasionally the BEAT broadcast will briefly shift to “cars pulling into neighbors’ driveways” or “person walking down the road” or “delivery woman dropping off a package” or, if it’s our lucky day, “heating oil guy pumping petroleum into our basement.” But invariably, the bird programming always resumes once the human-centered action dies down.

Greyson and Violet are consistently entertained by these bird shows, never asking us to change the channel. Birds apparently satisfy all their screen-time cravings. Unlike other rectangular panes of glass that can be stared at, this one doesn’t sedate; it exhilarates. And it has zero advertisements or product placement! (Well, other than the repeated sight of vans emblazoned with that smiley-looking Amazon logo.)

There is a notable reason why birds are broadcast so consistently on our cable-free, wire-free TV. Our very generous friend, my co-worker, out of the sheer goodness of her heart, bought us 3 bird feeders last month because she knows how much our kids adore all things avian. So now we have a seed tube feeder, a nugget tray feeder, and a suet cake feeder all hanging right outside our dining room window. Leaving no stone unturned — and no creature unfed — our friend even got us a corncob feeder for the squirrels. Our yard has become a veritable fast-food joint! A drive-through (or fly-through) Birder King, if you will.

It would be heartwarming enough to see either one of our kids watching the birds in rapt attention. But as it is, they both love to stand at the window side by side, teeny-tiny Violet teetering on her tippy-toes next to her big brother, on the exercise step that is their own little soapbox.

Their perch, if you will.

They gaze wide-eyed through their window to the world and comment excitedly on each new character that arrives on-screen.

“There’s a house finch! And a downy woodpecker’s eatin’ the suet!” Greyson might say.

“Chit-a-dee!” Violet might then say. Followed shortly thereafter by “Chit-a-dee away!”

(The “away” part happens because neither of them have yet mastered the art of using their quiet voices while bird-watching.)

It makes our hearts ache with giddy joy to see Greyson teach Violet the names of the birds, most of which he can identify with uncanny precision. Upon pinpointing a bird, Greyson sometimes likes to run to the living room to find the matching bird card, or to look up the bird in one of his well-worn, broken-spined, encyclopedic field guides.

For her part, Violet has largely absorbed her brother’s year-long bird obsession through osmosis and now gets just as excited as he does by our feathered friends in the front yard. Here she is after studying one of Greyson’s bird cards so studiously that she could no longer keep her eyes open.

Seeing both of them watch with contented enchantment at the comings and goings, the twittings and flittings, of the smaller members of Pennsylvania’s bird kingdom is a singular joy.

A joy that reminds us of all that is still sacred and sweet in the natural world. Not to mention all that remains unjaded and unspoiled in their little hearts.

(And it saves us a heck of a lot on the cable bill too.)

Thanks a lot for reading! Feel free to like and comment directly on my Facebook post… unless you somehow found this page while browsing the interwebs, in which case I’m honored. (And surprised, since I don’t yet know how to actually promote my page.) I hope you enjoyed getting to know my kids. They’re incredibly well worth knowing, so feel free to follow my page so you can vicariously enjoy our adventures!

Greysonisms and Violetisms, Volume I: Quarantine Winter Edition

The minds of my children are a pair of treasure chests, so it’s no surprise that their mouths expel glistening gems on a daily basis. Gems, I tell you.

I feel like I live on the set of Kids Say the Darnedest Things, except that my kids usually have no idea that they’re saying anything cute or profound. So I try to keep a straight face and not let them know that they’re spitting diamonds. Which is to say, I affirm them warmly but don’t convey to them how adorable it all is. (Then I hunker down in my Notes app for a quick transcription before their words fade in my mind.)

What follows is a carefully curated collection of quotes from Greyson (4½) and Violet (2½). For the time being, Greyson has a lion’s share of the cute-quote spotlight because of his sheer verbosity and his more highly developed penchant for pontificating.

All of the following quotes and exchanges took place between December 2020 and March 2021, which will henceforth be known as “the quarantine winter.” This was easily the most exhausting and weighed-down season of my life, or our life as a family. Which just goes to show that, especially when you have kids, the warmth of life can bloom from even the most frozen tundra.

So enjoy these warm, sparkling, budding, glistening, blooming diamonds. (And please forgive my mixed metaphors.)


Violet and Greyson were bird-watching at the dining room window. Our clothes-obsessed (and bird-curious) daughter stood on tiptoes next to her bird-obsessed brother.

Violet: “Blue-bird, hum-bird, fly, coat, shoes!”

Greyson: “Birds don’t wear coats or shoes! Or hats or pants or shirts or anything at all!”


On a hike with the kids, I mentioned something about a creek bed. Greyson, our boundlessly curious linguist who is constantly making connections in his mind, offered the following aquatic rumination:

Greyson: “Creek bed, stream bed, river bed… Does a sink or a bathtub have a bed?”


Two of our family’s most memorable trips have been to Ottawa. And because I miss Canada so much and eagerly await being able to cross their border again, I introduced Greyson to “O Canada.” He listened intently but was confused about one of the lines in the song.

Me: “Ooooh Canada, we stand on guard… for… thee…”

Greyson: “On guard for the what?”


While taking the kids on a drive, I played an album by Hammock called Everything and Nothing. (Side note: I very, very highly recommend Hammock.) Greyson always loves to know album and song titles, and he has an uncanny ability to remember them. When I told them what this album was called, he asked a probing metaphysical question:

Greyson: “How can there be everything but also nothing? That couldn’t happen. If there’s lots of things, there can’t be nothing!”


Greyson excitedly ran into my office, holding one of his hundreds of animals cards. With wide eyes, he said:

Greyson: “This says that elephants can be domesticated! But how could an elephant even fit through a door?”


Vi is similarly goofy and equally talkative, but not quite as easily transcribe-able. Here is my recollection of one of her favorite utterances from a few months ago, variations of which she euphorically recited on a daily basis throughout the holiday and post-holiday season. I love how affirmational it is! We should all aspire to be this positive and affirming.

Violet: “Mama great! Papa great! Bruvva great! Vi great! Mimi great! Gray-pa great! Jan great! Erin great! Vada great! Arlo great! Pad Thai great! Soup great! Day-o yites [our neighbor Dale’s Christmas lights] great! Charley great!”

(And on and on with her aunts, uncles, and any of her 9 Covid-distanced cousins besides baby Charley whose names she can remember on a given day.)


And here’s a new Violetism from this very morning! I was taking my pajama-clad girl for a walk in the woods just after sunrise.

Me: “Violet, how much does Papa love you?”

Violet: [grins roguishly]

Me: [trying to feed her the answer] “A l– …”

Violet: “A-leven!”


We watched the 2021 inauguration with our kids, our eyes as wide with relief as theirs were with the wonder that constantly animates them. In the days afterward, Greyson and I had the following exchange in the dark while he fell asleep:

[total silence]

Greyson: “Why haven’t there been any girl Presidents?

Me: “That’s a great question, buddy. It’s because a lot of people used to think girls shouldn’t be presidents. And some people — not as many, but some — still think that, which is very sad.”

Greyson: [thinks about this for 10 seconds] “But somebody must think there should be a girl vice president.”


This exchange took place a week before that one, and it was also in the dark shortly before Greyson fell asleep. That has proven to be one of the best times for these fun and eye-opening interactions.

Me: “I don’t have to work on Monday because of…”

Greyson: “Martin Luther King Jr. Day!” [tone quickly shifts] “But he died…”

Me: “Yes, he did.”

Greyson: “And lots of presidents died too.”

Me: “That’s right, they did.”

Greyson: “But Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama are staying alive!”

Thanks a lot for reading! Feel free to like and comment directly on my Facebook post… unless you somehow found this page while browsing the interwebs, in which case I’m honored. (And surprised, since I don’t yet know how to actually promote my page.) I hope you enjoyed getting to know my kids. They’re incredibly well worth knowing, so feel free to follow my page to follow our adventures!

How to Stay (Mostly) Sane During a Quarantine

It’s been one year since Covid made mincemeat of our best laid plans and our well-worn routines. (Mincemeat, I tell you! And rancid, undercooked mincemeat at that.)

What a year it’s been. The kind of year we’ll tell our wide-eyed grandchildren about decades from now. And for me, it’s the kind of year I’ll also tell my wide-eyed children about when they’re a little older. My innocent 4-year-old has only a faint concept of what’s going on (“because of the germs” is his go-to phrase), while my innocent 2-year-old is gloriously oblivious to all of it (thank heavens for small miracles), partly because she was only 18 months old when it started. When their older selves hear the grim details of what they lived through, their sweet little minds will be blown. It’s good that we have ample photographic evidence to prove to them that while the world temporarily collapsed, they spent the year having a high ol’ time! For which I will forever be grateful.

Living in quarantine for 12 months has been, if nothing else, a singular experience. There have been silver linings (Lunch break family walks! No grinding commutes! Never wearing a belt!), and I am grateful for each of them. But the homogeneity of experience that comes from keeping a short radius can breed tension and anxiety. Self-care measures need to be proactively taken in order to maintain sanity and, just as important, a durable sense of self.

So below I have listed the things that have kept me (somewhere in the ballpark of) mentally stable during this year-long quarantine. Even when my mind was pretty darkened during the late days of 2020, maintaining these rituals gave me helpful reference points and kept me from losing the plot.

Mind you, I haven’t listed the most substantive stuff, like love and the laughter of my children. Just my daily habits, the nuts and bolts that I have drilled into the foundation of my daily routine. Each nut and each bolt has bolstered the structural integrity of my emotional edifice and helped keep it from teetering in the wind.

I’m the farthest thing from a handyman when it comes to our physical house, but this is one type of home improvement I can intuitively grasp. Just call me Jer “The Toolman” Wingert. (On second thought, I’m not a big Tim Taylor guy. So you can call me Al.)

On that superlatively cheesy note, which Mr. Borland might have appreciated, here is my own personal quarantine toolbelt.

Tee up some tea with a capital T.

Two-thirds of a cup of coffee makes me an energetic sprite. But any more than one full cup and I gradually morph into a grumpy troll by the time the sun sets. (You don’t want to cross the bridge that guy lives under, believe me.) Coffee caffeine does quite a number on me, taking me on an unsustainable emotional rollercoaster. Drinking no caffeine at all, on the other hand, flattens me out.

But black tea? That’s the sweet spot in the middle. I elegantly sip it like a gilded Victorian aristocrat, stretching out my two double-bagged, nothing-added mugs of Lord Kensington black tea (yes, that’s a real thing) over the course of my first 12 waking hours each day. And it gives me the wide-awake-but-not-even-a-tiny-bit-jittery energy level I need for a day of navigating remote work along with two attention-craving toddlers. It’s my own magic energy elixir in these energy-depleting times.

And it doesn’t hurt that sipping it makes me feel as sophisticated as Lord Kensington himself.

Be like Mario and power up.

Danielle and I have been in the daily habit of “nap swapping” since last summer, and it has truly preserved much of our parental and personal sanity. After all, toddler parenting is exhausting. And toddler parenting while in quarantine is doubly exhausting. But toddler parenting while in quarantine when you’re 40+ is triply exhausting. (God bless all the single parents, and everyone who has 3, 4, 5, or 6+ children! You each deserve a Nobel Peace Prize in my book.)

To counter that exhaustion, taking an afternoon nap is the equivalent of a cup of coffee or an ice-cold shower. And for me, a 20-minute power nap is all I need. I lay down at 3:03, I set the alarm for 3:25, I fall asleep by 3:05 (because I’m one of the lucky ones who can fall asleep on command), and 20 minutes later I wake up with my alarm. *Bing!* Like my smartphone after a night of recharging, I’m all powered up. And like Mario after snacking on one of those giant red mushrooms, I feel twice as big and twice as strong. I come downstairs with a spring in my step, ready to resume my work day. And ready to be patient — more so than I was when I hit my daily afternoon wall an hour earlier — with my energetic kids and their endless quirks and queries.

Let yourself be a cereal killer.

I go for a morning run 5 times a week. I also knock back late-night bowls of sweet cereal at least 5 (but more often 7) times a week. And I’ve decided this constitutes a perfect endorphin-to-sugar balance. The Golden Grahams ratio, if you will.

I push myself in the morning. I coddle myself at night!

I burn calories when the sun comes up. I bury my face in calories after the sun goes down!

It all evens out nicely.

Each of us needs the familiarity of creature comforts, and even more so during quarantine. Well, this creature (of habit) finds comfort in a bowl of Cinnamon Chex eaten in the dark while watching Colbert clips. Especially since I know I’ll burn it off as soon as I wake up. Win-win.

Think outside the box (that is your home).

This one is the linchpin. Without this, the whole sanity-preserving effort collapses.

Human beings were not made to spend a large majority of their lives surrounded by 4 walls. Which is a big reason why quarantine is so unnatural and so detrimental to our mental (and physical) health. It makes people more inclined to cloister themselves in enclosed spaces for extended periods of time. They do this to stay healthy, but in doing so they become significantly less healthy.

Contrary to belief (or at least the prevailing belief last summer), an airborne virus doesn’t mean that we should stay indoors. If anything, Covid made it more imperative than ever that we learn to make ourselves at home in the great outdoors. We need nature, fresh air, and wide open spaces. We need to hear birds chirping and see squirrels scampering and feel the breeze rustling the branches. And yet somehow, roughly half of the 300 times I’ve taken the kids to our wooded park over the past year, we’ve been the only ones there. How can that be?

Lunch-break family walks and pre-dinner visits to the park have been a form of therapy for me in these strange, strained times. As Thoreau said about his time at Walden Pond, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately… and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” On a philosophical level, that’s exactly why I go to the woods too.

But on a more granular level, I go to the woods to watch with warm affection as two tiny, pure-hearted human beings — who have no idea that the world has been enduring bitter acrimony and massive upheaval — play happily with toy animals under tall trees and a vast, strangely reassuring sky.

Thus have I retained my sanity. Not to mention my innate sense of hope.

Both of which, I find, are helpful to have in a pinch.