Greyhounds are the Best Dogs! No, no, it’s Cocker Spaniels! Wait, it’s Pugs!

My Doberman Ivan at his 2nd birthday party.

Dog people are crazy.

We are.

Now, I make a distinction between “dog owners” and “dog people.” You can be a dog owner and not a dog person. Dog owners often call other dogs “it” instead of “he” or “she.” Dog owners are people who just have a dog kicking around the house. Usually it’s a lab. Maybe they walk it, maybe they don’t.

Close to the other end of the spectrum is the dog person.

They’re people like me who host birthday parties for their dogs, dress them in costumes, that sort of thing. They’re crazy about dogs and often do, uh, irregular things to show it.

There’s only one more extreme step on the dog craziness spectrum: the dog breeder. They’re especially nuts. I have known a number of them over time, and it’s amazing to me that they tend to believe their breed, the one they center their lives around, is the absolute best breed in the world. Actually that’s probably not extreme enough–they tend to think their breed is the best thing in the world.

It always amazes me that anyone would think a single dog breed could somehow be the best dog for everyone, but I hear that a lot from people who should know better.

German Shepherd people say shepherds are the best. Labrador people? Labs are the best. Of course, they might prefer a color (light or dark) and they’ll definitely say they’re the best dogs for kids. Golden Retrievers are the best, if you talk to “Golden” afficionados.

The crazy Chihuahua lady (whose trailer house was filled with about 30 Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes and smelled like an especially pee-soaked exhibit at the county fair) went on about how Chihuahuas are the most lovable, smartest, most fun to cuddle dogs around. Obviously she had never met Poncho, my great-aunt’s Chihuahua. He was a nasty little bastard who seemed to hate everyone except her. (I loved Dulce, our Chihuahua, and I like the breed quite a bit, but they aren’t for everyone).

The Great Dane maniacs I talked to before we found Clyde? Same deal. The Yorkie people? Same thing.

I'm holding Pepper (my grandma's Boston Terrier), who I dressed as a bee.

These people also, without exception, filled their houses with pictures and statues and paintings of their special breeds. They wore Great Dane shirts and Yorkie hats and had dog-themed cookie jars and neck ties–pretty much everything under the sun.

Karen, the really cool lady we bought Ivan (our Doberman) from, used to wear all Doberman stuff all the time (from her earrings to her shirt, to her socks, she was always decked out in Doberman gear). I love her, but she’s nutty as hell about Dobermans.

So what’s my point with all this? Well, I’m going to discuss the relationship between humans and dogs quite a bit in this blog, but for now, I have been considering the fact that so many dog maniacs believe that their breed is somehow the best dog for everyone.

But I have some news for you: there is no best dog breed.

It’s common sense, right? I’d think so, but it’s amazing how often people try to convince me that their breed is best.

Everybody has different lifestyles. We do different things. And not every dog breed excels at everything–in fact, that’s why humans developed different kinds of dogs–they all play different roles. I love Great Danes (at least I love Clyde, anyway, and I admire the breed for their gentle strength, among other things), but I’m sure not going to say they’re for everyone. They’re not. They might be statuesque and powerful, sleek and friendly, but they can reach pretty much anything they want throughout your house (including the top of the fridge).

And big dogs are dangerous. Clyde is careful around Gretel, Sally, and Gianna, but if he manages to step on one of them . . . well, he weighs 150 pounds.

Dulce Being Evil to Ivan
My Chihuahua, Dulce, threatening my Doberman.

Plus Great Danes eat and poop a lot! They’re expensive to feed, vet bills aren’t cheap. You get it.

Same deal for Chihuahuas, Yorkies, and other micro dogs (that’s what I call my tiny dogs). Many people assume they would be excellent kid dogs since they’re little and cute and kids love them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Micro dogs have thin little bones and can easily be hurt by kids, so they often preemptively defend themselves by biting kids.

Of course we’re raising Gianna among our pack of 3 dogs, and she’s learning fast which dogs not to mess with. Sally bit her a few days ago when she tried to manhandle the poor old dog. Gianna cried and pulled her hand away, and now she’s a lot more careful about grabbing Sally. She’ll still just grab Clyde, but that’s fine since he doesn’t really care.

Okay, enough soapboxing for one morning. The next time someone says their breed is the best one, you know where this dog maniac stands. What about you? What’s your favorite breed? Why? Do you think I’m wrong?

Feeling Bad For Telling Baby “No.”

Gianna Sad Face

Last night I made a nice Jasmine Rice Pudding for dessert. Gianna loved it (recipe to follow).

After giving her about 15 or 20 bites, I figured she had eaten enough. I mean, this was just dessert and she’s only 11-months-old. She doesn’t need dessert at all, and she certainly doesn’t need too much. Well, she didn’t agree.  She pointed at the bowl and gave a soft grunt, which is her caveman-babyspeak for “gimme.”

When I didn’t give her any more and told her she had already eaten enough, she threw her hands in the air and screeched. Again, I told her no. Then she wrinkled up her nose, leaned down closer to the bowl, and sort of growled. Yep, Gianna growled–she lives her life among dogs, after all.

When I said “no” and didn’t move to give her any more, she snapped back up and sort of swiped both hands at my face (as if that would get her any more pudding, right?). I could see that she was on the edge of a sudden outburst, which is a new thing for her (she’s just starting to explore asserting herself).

At this point, I’d had enough, so I gave her a very firm “no,” and drew her away. She reached for the bowl with such a desperate expression that I immediately felt terrible. Still, I pulled her back, deepened my voice, and told her she had eaten enough. Her face crumpled up, turned red, and she started to cry. For a second I wondered if she would try to actually hit my face (she considered it, I think).

You know what? I felt just about as bad about it as she did. I didn’t want to deny her something that would make her feel good. And here I was being the Big Meany who for no obvious reason (to her) insisted on preventing her from getting more tasty rice and raisins (and sugar). I wanted her to have more, to feel good, to make happy sounds.

This was a first for me, really.

For a second, I considered giving her more since it would make her happy, but reason and good parenting won out and I instantly knew she was done for the night. She didn’t need more, and I wasn’t going to tolerate her micro-tantrum by giving in. She didn’t cry long (about a minute) since I diverted her attention, and pretty quickly, the world was good again.

The moral of the story: I had to tell Gianna “no” and let her feel bad so she’ll become a better kid. She needs to learn that tantrums get her nowhere. And if that requires me to feel bad for her, well, so be it. As a parent it’s my job to do what’s right for her development, whether I like it or not.

What about you? How do you handle tantrums? Did I screw up? Did I do the right thing? What do you think?

Jasmine Rice Pudding:

This is so easy you don’t even need a recipe, really.
1 cup Jasmine Rice (you could use whole grain or Minute Rice, but Jasmine becomes creamy when you cook it).
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Skim Milk (approximately 1/2 cup)
1 tsp Vanilla
1 Tbsp Cinnamon
1/2-1 cup Raisins
Optional: add a bit of half and half to thicken it. I did tonight, but I don’t think it needs it.
It’s simple: just cook the rice until it’s tender (about 15 minutes), then add the other ingredients and cook on low heat for a few minutes (until the mixture thickens). It makes about 4 servings.
My grandma used to make “raisins and rice” all the time. It was good, but the Jasmine Rice makes this a lot better. It’s creamier and smells good, so that’s all I use for this and stir fry, which I have been making a lot lately).


40 Years! In This Day and Age?

John and Cindy's Wedding Chapel

Today, my parents have been married for 40 years.

Hooray for them!

Boy they’re old! Well, they’re not really old yet, but they have been married a long damn time.

Mom and Dad on vacation in the 1980s
My parents, John and Cindy Barba, on vacation in Canada in the 1980s.

In a day and age where many people give up on each other, my parents have succeeded in creating a family who loves them, where everybody gets along. It’s pretty damn crazy that I can say that now, since this wasn’t always the case–my sister and I used to have explosive fights all the time. I mean real knock-down, drag-out fights. I came pretty close to wanting to kill her about when she was in high school (she wanted to do the same–we’re too much alike in many ways).

But these days, everybody gets along really well.

My mom:

My mom holding my brother Josh by Grandpa Bill's Bi-Plane
My mom holding my brother Josh by my Grandpa's Bi-Plane

She’s smart, kind, gentle, remembers almost everything, loyal, and she puts up with my grandma’s crap on a regular basis (which is really saying something–oh, the stories!).

She is an excellent mother and an even better mother-in-law. She has never been competitive with my wife Melissa, has never played any bullshit games with her, never done anything except welcome her into the family as a valuable member of the group. How rare is that?!?

And she’s also an excellent grandma. She takes care of Gianna Monday through Friday every week (free of charge), and is excited to do it. She is always disappointed when I decide to keep her with me at home (on days we’re not painting). There has never been any kind of issue about it, she never tries to tell us how to parent the baby, never second-guesses our decisions, nothing. She’s just excited to spend time with Gianna, which is a hell of a good quality in a grandma.

I also credit my mom with turning me onto fantasy stories when I was a kid by exposing me to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the Hobbit, and other stories of magic and mystery. This has been a huge influence on my life.

Family Except Mom in Spokane
My mom took this picture of the rest of the family in Spokane decades ago.

And my dad:

He’s also gentle, loyal and kind. He’s a problem solver who does everything possible to fix things and works extremely hard to make sure everybody is happy. He’s a work-a-holic who can make/repair/build just about anything.


As an example of my dad’s ingenuity, talent, and skill, check out his 1969 El Camino Super Sport restoration project. He did every bit of work on the car from the ground up except he had the bedliner sprayed in:

[nggallery id=3]

So yep, my parents are great people, and they’re still married after 40 years. I managed to find this picture of the chapel where they got married:

John and Cindy's Wedding Chapel
My parents got married at this wedding chapel in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho in 1972.

Congratulations, guys!

Even though there are more divorces all the time, everybody knows people who have been happily married a long time. Please jump on here and share your own stories (or those of people you know).

CthulhuBob: From Arch-Nemesis to . . . Playmate?

Gianna Smiling

So a while back, I made a huge parenting mistake with Gianna.

She didn’t want my friend CthulhuBob to hold her. In fact, she wanted nothing to do with him. We were over at my parents’ house (my mom takes care of Gianna all day on weekdays, which is something I love since they’re 2 peas in a pod) one afternoon. Gianna hadn’t spent much time around Bob and decided that he was very scary. And no, it’s not because he goes by CthulhuBob. Or at least I don’t think that’s the case.

CthulhuBob Lovely and Justin Barba MisCon 25
CthuhuBob is sitting to my right, asleep.

She kept crying whenever he touched her, and I stupidly thought that if I gave every sign that Bob was ok, she should accept that and be fine with him too. So even though she cried, I had Bob hold her for about half an hour while she just got more angry and upset. I thought that to give up was to admit defeat and allow her to “win.”

Eventually, we took her outside, which always calms her down, and she calmed down and stopped crying.

As soon as we went back inside, she started crying again and wanted to come to me or my mom.

The whole damn thing was a huge mistake!

Ever since, Gianna starts crying every time she sees Bob. He terrifies her.

It’s almost funny funny how scared she is of him just from that one stupid experience. Of course it’s not funny at all, but in a crowd of 30 people, if she sees him, she instantly tries to hide her face and get the hell away from him. People laugh and jokingly ask what he did to her.

She wants nothing to do with him.

CthulhuBob Talking to Neil Gaiman at WFC 2011
Author Neil Gaiman wasn't scared to talk to CthulhuBob when we were at WFC 2011

At least this was the case until yesterday. He was over at our house with his daughter Sarah and her boyfriend Daniel-san (he’s not Asian nor does he look like Ralph Macchio, but we call him Daniel-san anyway), just hanging out in an effort to spend more time around her and see if she would finally decide on her own that he’s ok.

And she did!

CthulhuBob, Gretel, and Gianna
CthulhuBob, Gretel, and Gianna being friendly.

It started slowly at first, with her hanging out with Sarah (whom she likes) and sort of looking at Bob from across the room. Then after a while, she  waved at him. The waving grew fevered and she kept it up for a while. Then the miraculous happened: she walked over to him and started sharing her socks with him, moving them from one of his hands to the other. It was some sort of game only she knew the rules to, but she played with him for a good ten minutes.

It ended on a positive note between them, and we’ll see how it goes next time. So far so good, and she wasn’t scarred for life.

So have you done stupid parenting things like this? How did it work out?

Not Babyproofing Takes Work

So I’m at home with Gianna today.

It’s been fun, and aside from doing some behind-the-scenes stuff with the blog and making a ham and bean soup, I have mostly played with her. While I sit at the laptop, she has been roaming the living room and the kitchen, playing with toys and exploring. And as usual, she has spent some time looking longingly at the tv remote and the laptop keyboard (some of her most-wanted-things in the world).

Usually, she looks at these things, glances at me, then wanders off without touching them. She knows she isn’t supposed to grab them, so she doesn’t. Of course yesterday she came walking into the kitchen carrying the remote and smiling at me, but I hadn’t been in the room when she went for it, so she did.

That’s part of our non-babyproofing approach. Since we leave non-harmful things within her reach, it gives her an opportunity to learn her boundaries. Sometimes she still gets things we don’t want her to have, but in general she’s learning.

Today was no exception, since she decided it was time to play with her diapers.

The Diaper Holder

While I was on the laptop and not watching her, she grabbed every diaper from the holder on the side of the playpen and crawled away as fast as possible toward the door in the picture. Of course her knees thumping against he floor caught my attention, so I got up, took them away, and returned the diapers to the holder.

She did the same thing a few more times, but on the third attempt, she looked at me before she reached for them.

By having the object of her desire down at her level, and accessible, she learned that I don’t want her to get them. So far so good!

This approach only works if you’re paying attention at the right time (same thing works with dogs, which I learned from Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer). You have to pay attention to what your baby is doing, be willing to allow them to break the rules, catch them at the right time, then correct them.

It takes more effort than just plunking them in the playpen (or babyproofing everything), but it’s worth it.

Do you babyproof your place? Do you have a “problem” child? Do you let your kid get into everything? Most parents have more experience than I do, so if you want to weigh in, please do!

Hey! Gimme That Camera!

Kids want what they want, and they want it now. Should we just give in? Sometimes. Maybe. Maybe not.

Have you experienced other people’s kids running all over the place, grabbing your stuff, throwing it around, treating your house like a playground? Maybe you’ve seen kids doing the same thing in the mall or grocery store, wherever. I expect most people have dealt with these little “cuties” at one time or another.

I can’t claim to have all the answers. I sure as hell don’t! But I have observed one reason I think increasingly more parents let their kids run amok: FEAR.

I have seen a lot of parents who are afraid that if they don’t indulge their kids’ every whim, they might somehow screw them up for life. They think their kids need to run around without boundaries so they can develop creativity, independence, individuality. They’re afraid to assume a leadership position and tell their kids “no.”

I call bullshit on this “parenting method.” These parents are misguided as hell (and it drives me crazy).

These people fail to recognize that if you indulge your kid too much, give them everything they want, even babies (especially babies!), you make them the boss. You let them choose what’s good for them. If I handed Gianna my new camera, what would she do with it? Plop it in her mouth, bang it against something hard, then toss it on the ground, of course. That’s not good for anyone, since it might screw up my camera, and it teaches her that it’s okay to grab other people’s stuff. And where’s the creativity in that? There’s nothing creative or educational about grabbing whatever gadget you come across and “exploring” it by smashing it against stuff.

That’s what baby toys are for.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Kids need to make their own choices. If they don’t, they’ll become wishy-washy, indecisive adults. Nobody wants that for their kids. I knew a kid growing up whose parents ruled with an iron fist and never let him make a decision of his own. They second-guessed his every move, criticizing him all the time, cracking the proverbial whip over just about everything he did. As a result, he is one of the most indecisive, hesitant people on the planet.

I don’t want Gianna to end up like him.

And really, seeing the result of their dictatorial parenting method, I wouldn’t ever do that to my kid. I want her to make decisions. Even now, at 11-months-old, Gianna gets to make some. They don’t include just seizing the tv remote or screaming in the grocery store, but as much as she can, she gets to choose which toys she plays with, some of the food she eats, and even when she’s going to take a nap (if you can believe that, although it’s true).

So in all my infinite wisdom, (yeah right–what the hell do I know?) what’s my answer to all this?

Balance. Like everything else in life, it comes down to balance.

Too much free-roaming playtime and your baby might become a monster. Too much playpen lockdown and your kid might be stunted. You need to constantly monitor what you’re doing as a parent. Are you giving the kid the right amount of free roaming playtime? How about the right amount of playpen time? We often realize we haven’t had Gianna in the playpen for a day or so and have just been letting her roam free, so we put her in there for a while.

It’s your job as a parent to determine when your kid is ready to make certain choices. As they get older, they should gradually be given more responsibility, which allows them to make more choices. It’s your job to prepare them for adulthood.

In Gianna’s case, I want her to become a responsible member of society, someone who contributes to the good of everyone. I know, I know, she’s going to have a green mohawk, wear anarchy shirts, pierce weird body parts, maybe snort coke off mirrors, all that crap. I’m preparing for that eventuality too (boy, I hope that doesn’t come to pass). In order to make this happen, we’re striving for a balanced parenting approach. So far, so good.

Did I just piss you off? Do you agree/disagree? Thoughts? Please rip me apart now! Let’s get the discussion going. I’m ready.

Feeding the Baby: Boring Task or Fun Stuff?

Before having Gianna, I would have thought doing daily kid-related chores (changing diapers, dressing her, feeding her, etc) would be boring, humdrum tasks I wouldn’t want to do. I figured it would be like my own mind-numbing morning ritual of showering, shaving, and putting in my contacts. If you had asked me if I thought feeding her would be fun, I would have said no. I would expect it to be just like changing a diaper.

But you know what?

I get a huge kick out of feeding her.

Feeding the baby
Gianna loves applesauce

I probably love feeding her as much as she loves applesauce.

After doing a bit of thinking about it, I realized that I like it for many reasons:

1. She gets a lot of satisfaction out of eating adult food.

2. It’s a great way to take time out of my day to connect with her on a very personal level.

3. I like introducing her to new foods and seeing her reaction.

4. I love to hear her say “mmmm.” if she finds something particularly tasty.

5. It’s gratifying to see her not touch the spoon or bowl or anything except her water bottle when she wants a drink. (We have taught her when to touch things and when to leave them alone during mealtime. When I feed her breakfast, I like to set my coffee on the tray right on front of her, well within her reach. And you know how many times she has knocked it over? Zero. Of course I don’t walk off very far and allow her the chance to spill it.) There is just something about seeing her become well-mannered that makes me feel good.

I guess there’s also the fact that this stage won’t last forever–she’s 11-months-old, after all, and pretty soon, she’ll be using her own silverware and feeding herself more than just finger food. A friend recently told me that the first few years are a golden age and that I should really try to savor it. I have been thinking about that a lot lately, especially as I watch her make such huge leaps weekly.

Every time I feed her, I am reminded that she will be a big kid soon enough.